Concepts and prototypes : Rover Metro SP (1991)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Rover Special Products wanted to recreate the magic of the early-1980s by producing a spiritual successor to the MG Metro Turbo. The Metro SP was that car and it reached the stage of a full-sized styling prototype.


Rover Metro SP: Special K

While Rover Special Products had handed out the Montego Lifestyle and Maestro-based Tarka to Steve Harper at MGA to come up with some concepts, it also pondered the idea of a high-performance Metro, known as the SP. The car, which was to be powered by a 1.4-litre K-Series Turbo pushing out 120bhp, was meant to bolster appeal of the newly-revitalised Metro range, which at the time of its launch in 1990, was topped by the 95bhp GTi.

Steve describes the Metro SP as a true VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative), given its light weight and ample power output, and wanted to ensure that the styling reflected this. As can be seen from the sketches above, he penned a number of aerodynamic solutions stating: ‘adding a rear spoiler to such a compact hatchback is difficult, but I tried a number of radical ideas. The high spoiler was inspired by the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which I styled the year before – while a low-mounted option (shown on the blue car) shows an alternative solution that would eventually be adopted in the Peugeot 207 WRC many, many years later.’

The car made it to a full-size concept in early 1991, with MGA’s clay modellers bringing Steve’s design to life beautifully. As can be seen from the images below, Steve’s main focus was the car’s flanks, which received wheelarch blisters and filled-in side scollops, while the high rear spoiler looked to have come straight from his Cosworth.

Steve reflects: ‘The “hot hatch” was a booming market and, even though there were MG and Turbo derivatives before, it was felt that there were still more possibilities to explore that niche.’ Rover didn’t agree, and decided not to pursue the project, but it did lead to MGA being called in to cook-up a mid-engined concept for the upcoming MG PR3 project…

 

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

42 Comments

  1. An interesting concept that could have evolved into what the MG Metro Turbo should have been from the outset in terms of power output, since it ended up being detuned from 120-130 bhp to 93 bhp.

    Still, I’m not quite sure about the end result with the spoiler, unless there are more images available of the finished product.

    Also surprised they considered going down the 120 bhp 1.4 Turbo K-Series route for the Rover Metro SP rather than say a 1.6 or 1.8 non-Turbo K-Series with roughly the same power.

  2. It was detuned because of the age old TIS gearbox. The problem is if you share a high performance engine with a transmission, you get all sorts of problems with the stability of the oil. In some case it can end up frothy and simply won’t travel down any conduits at all resulting in serious damage. Then of course you had the strength limitations of the transmission itself – too much torque would have reduced it’s serviceable life.

    I do remember a modification using a standard 1.8K but the tuners had to use a honda gearbox and fabricated mounts in order to get the whole package to fit

  3. Ross A

    I was aware from another article on this site that they did not have enough money to develop a new gearbox that could reliably cope with the power and so had to detune it as a result if they wanted the gearbox to last.

    Seem to recall from various websites and mags that the 1.4-1.8 K-Series are more or less a straight swap (apart from the wiring and possibly one or two other things), given the Rover Groups product line at the time I’ve been thinking what other products could of used the 1.4 Turbo beyond the Metro SP since I would have assumed that they would of played it safe with the VHPD Metro by going down the non-turbo route with existing K-Series engines.

  4. Of course in 1991 there were no 1.6 or 1.8 K-series. These were introduced with the R3/HHR in 1996. A turbo would have given a cheap power boost to the reasonably solid 1.4 and would have had more appeal to the “yoof” market the car was aimed at.

    Also if you have a multipoint injection Metro GTi you can simply drop a 1.6 or 1.8 in to it, but the R65 gearbox will not take kindly to the extra power for very long. A PG1 can be persuaded to fit using MGF mounts however.

  5. @ Rhydian Edwards:

    Sorry to sound pedantic but the 1.6-litre was launched in the HHR 400 Series from March 1995, not in 1996.

    @ Others:

    The shown example registered as G101 BRW looks suspiciously like a former/early Press car as I recall that some of the early Rover Metro press cars had G…BRW registrations.

  6. Would have filled the gap between the street cred 6R4 and the otherwise shopping car look of the MG / GTi.

    The package was good, I took a run in a 114GTa – go kart handling, comfort, revvy little nippy engine. A look to differentiate it from what peoples grandparents were driving would have been a huge seller.

  7. @ Ross A..
    Rubish, take a look at the Lamboghini Miura, 350 BHP 4 litre V12 with TIS…. which copes with rather more torque than a mini gearbox and oddly few gearbox issues. There is nothing wrong with the TIS concept, it can and does work

  8. This would have been a big success if Rover had gone with it. Think of the Saxo VTR and VTS range. They sold by the transporter load simply because of that body kit. No other reason. Offer two power outputs, one mad bodykit and watch it sell.

    @David 3500; I admire your P.K.

  9. Wonderful.I love these concept stories that never made the showroom.I had a multi-point GTi new in 91 and loved it’s engine if not the ultimate ‘feel’ on the road.A turbo version would have been the cat’s whiskers or should it be the dogs ********.

      • Before this. . .

        They made an MPI K and put it into the Metro a little earlier than that.

        They called it a “Special Edition” or “Limited Edition”. I cannot remember exactly – ggrrr.

        I know this because my mother had one in and at age 18, I was insured on it. I think they were all nightfire red.

        They had 5 or 7 spoke alloys, half leather (grey) and silverstone bucket seats, upgraded stereo, electric front windows as standard, body coloured mirrors, some sort of body kit on the side in terms of side skirts.

        Our one was on an early J reg. J309 EMX.

        Was badged on the back as a:
        GTi
        16v
        Catalyst

        The engine had an alloy silver inlet manifold with Injection printed across it wheras the later K MPI units had a black ally one and then later on, a plastic one.

        • Absolutely correct. We sold our showroom MPi edition to an archetypal “little old lady” based purely on the Nightfire Red paint.
          Often wondered what became of that car.

  10. marvelous little mini racecar, i had a 114 GTi years ago, bought it from a dealer with 100000 km on it and drove more than halve a ton with it…enjoyed it very much 🙂

  11. I think the standard GTi was the best- the others look like they are trying too hard.

    That sort of unconvincing ‘stick on’ plastic ‘go slower’ kit is best left to Max-Power reading teenagers (if you could call that ‘reading’).

  12. Think the Metro is too small for such blatant body mods. The more subtle tweaks to the Gta, Gti looked great. Two of my favourite cars at the time.

  13. Why go for a 1.6 or 1.8 when the 1.4 is such a good engine too turbo and it would have more torque (which actually makes a car move). The 1.4 can easily be made to 300bhp and the Metro / 100 can be made to handle it too

    Such a shame they didnt make this car, the red one especially

  14. I think 300bhp in a Metro would have been lethal. Whilst it is possible to get it to this power level, keeping it in fine fettle and reliable would be another thing entirely- especially given the K Series famous tendency to turn into a mobile butter churner. Not to mention that the Metro was a bit of a death-trap, as the later NCAP tests would show.

    Letting Joe Public out on public roads in a 300bhp Metro would have been pretty outrageous- especially at the time. The Lotus Carlton made about 370bhp at the time with a much more stable platform and became infamous- with questions being asked in the House about the suitability of such cars on public roads. A 300bhp Metro would have had a vastly better power-to-weight ratio, and it is doubtful that the technology of the day would have rendered that usable on everyday damp B roads. The modifications needed would have been massively expensive, and would have priced it out of the market- look at the problems Ford had shifting the much more sensible Tickford-fettled Racing Puma. And around the turn of the 90s much humbler hot hatches were being priced off the roads by hefty insurance hikes.

  15. It would of been a bit pointless having 300 bhp in a production Metro model (aftermarket is another matter altogether), around 130-160 bhp maybe as a Limited Edition in line with the early-mid 90s opposition such as the Ford Fiesta RS Turbo (132 bhp), Fiat Punto GT Turbo (134 bhp), Renault Clio 1.8 16v (137 bhp) or even the Clio Williams (150 bhp).

    Still, I agree that the Metro SP was another missed opportunity (even if it could have been more tastefully styled) along with the 1.4 K-Series Turbo.

  16. Sometime ago there was a metro on trademe with a K1.8 in it. I imagine it would be quick, but also a realtively easy conversion as the block for the 1.4 and the 1.8 are much the same ,appart perhaps from the twin cam head. alex

  17. Guys i think you miss the point, the 1.4 is by far the better engine over the 1.8. Turbo it and its power to weight is pretty much untouchable even with modern engines

    As for engine choice even a vvc in a metro makes for a very quick car, and its easily done

    To make a Metro handle costs around £200 😉 i dont think thats expensive

  18. Had an MG Metro Turbo and then later a 114GTi both were brilliant in their own way but this one would have been great, on paper at least.

  19. On the subject of number plates, one of the cars looks to be G129JOF. As G48JOF was an ex-press car that was converted to a 1.4 mpi and used in tarmac rallying, this supports the ex-press car theory for the cars here.

    The 1.4 turbo had plenty of potential, but as a production reality it wasn’t just the R65 gearbox that restricted the performance. There was the question of torque steer due to the un-equal length drive shafts and the rear drum brakes. In the end, it wouldn’t have given a sufficient performance increase over the 1.4 mpi, so never made it to production.

  20. A good idea on paper, but it would of been a better idea to fit the 1.8 engine 120bhp or even the vvc engine.

  21. Something like this could of changed the mg/rover brand and who knows if this car was made maybe mg/rover would still be around.

    whicked looking car with the kind of engine that would have been good in the 1990’s as everyone was at it. ford fiesta rs turbo renault 5 gt turbo fiat uno turbo ie toyota starlet gt turbo who knows maybe rover metro sp would of sloted in nice in that kind of market. plus id say they would of sold well as they look really good infac if something like this was out now id buy one.

  22. Oddly, the original ’82 MG Metro managed to look sportier than this….it’s trying a bit too hard…..

  23. I agree with Will & Marcel, the GTi was a gem. After leaving the trade I managed a large fleet and so manufacturer demo cars were a permanent fixture.

    ARG sent in one of the first GTis so I just had to take it home for a proper run.

    My wife of the time had recently passed her test and I’d found her a nice little Metro City to run around in. So of course she wanted to have a spin in the GTi too. Being a new driver she was quite ‘steady’ at that time but keen to improve, so I found a long quiet straight on the Oxford to Banbury road, told her to put it in 3rd at 50 and floor it until it reached the red line and change up to 4th when she got there and just carry on.

    I can see her face now as it started to gather speed and kept on going and going. It was the first time she saw 90 on the clock without being in the passenger seat.

    When we got home she then had to sit in the car for a while as her legs were shaking.

    I couldn’t afford to buy her one, but her next car was an MG Metro, quickly followed by a 205GTi

  24. In powertrain we tested 1.4 turbo R100’s and R8’s

    We also had to make our R100 1.4 16V’s look like bog standard 1.1 as they seemed to get nicked alot

    Fun days 🙂

  25. Chris

    How did the 1.4 turbo-powered R8s compare with the 1.6 Honda D-Series powered R8s (particularly in 116 hp GSi and 122-128 hp GTi TC forms), could they have theoretically replaced the Honda units and acted as a better “downsized” alternative to the 1.8 K-Series in higher states of tune?

  26. @ Malcolm …. pictures from MGA Developments in Coventry …. also note that these were from Feb 1991, and you can clearly see the original theme sketches for the MGF on the Display Boards in the background …..

  27. @26 Tom, G48JOF was turned into a Group N tarmac rally car. Same spec as the Metro Challenge cars, but too late to compete in the Challenge itself, but ran in many events from single venues up to the Tour of Flanders in Belgium. It had a big off on the Tour of Mull and was re-shelled before being sold on. Its next owner competed in numerous tarmac rallies, including winning class N1 on the Catalunya Rally one year.

  28. Wow brilliant stuff, i race it in mg metro cup now, I dont suppose you have or know anyone who’s got any pictures of it? I am trying to get hold of a former owner, neil cooney, he drove the car around 96/97 i believe, i dont suppose you know him, or have anycontact details for him?
    Thanks again Tom.
    My email is dorcas@sc9sanderson.fsnet.co.uk if you do.

  29. The top car looks like a mini Delta. I love it and those Quattro/M3 blisters.

    I could have seen that selling well breathing life into an elderly line of cars with a “Halo” model. I’ll have mine in dark great with grey seats complete with red piping, carpets and seatbelts please.

  30. Picture 1 and Picture 4 i think are missed opportunities, the MG ZR showed what could be done with a warmed over Rover, the Metro could have been given the MG badge, which would have been better than the one it did get — so many missed opportunities, and i wonder how many more there are….

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