History : Rover Special Products

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams tells the story of Rover Special Products and why this small group sprung into life and managed to create some very innovative products in its short and productive life.

Here are the details, and links to the cars that RSP was responsible for.


Adding appeal to the Rover range

Rover Special Products: The most well-known RSP car was the 1990 Mini Cooper – a project that turned around the Mini's fortunes.
The most well-known RSP car was the 1990 Mini Cooper – a project that turned around the Mini’s fortunes

The story of Rover Special Products (RSP) really begins in the mid-1980s with the creation of Project Jay. The car, which became the Land Rover Discovery was created by the Swift Team in super-quick time, and it served as a good example of how to create a new car quickly and efficiently.

Rover’s Board approved the creation of RSP after a feasibility study that kicked off at the beginning of 1990. It went live on 28 March 1990, and fell under the responsibility of Sales and Marketing, which was run by Marketing Director, Kevin Morley. It continued the design and development work by Rover’s Concept Studio, run by Richard Hamblin – the Rover Tomcat and MG Maestro Turbo were two models to emerge from there.

RSP was run by four Directors, Steve Schlemmer, Richard Hamblin, David Wiseman and John Stephenson, and the group was headquartered at Gaydon. The former BL Technology test track was the perfect place for a group that was charged with taking creative ideas and turning them into reality.

The RSP recipe for success

Rover Special Products: Rover 820 Turbo 16V was conceived by RSP and developed by Tickford.
Rover 820 Turbo 16V was conceived by RSP and developed by Tickford

In the early days, Rover Special Products’ business model was a simple one. It operated as a think tank for new model ideas – and the driving force for this process was Richard Hamblin. The ex-Ogle Design Rover Design Director had been closely involved with projects such as the Rover CCV and MG EX-E, which were arguably the best concepts to come out of BMC>MGR.

From the think tank, the best ideas were progressed to the engineering feasibility study stage. From here, the projects were handed over to selected third-party design consultancies, where they would be developed into prototypes before being handed over to the relevant engineering department to work into production reality.

‘The organisation was more about project management, but it relied on other departments to do the work!’

According to an ex-Rover insider, the RSP system wasn’t universally loved within the company. During the development of the Rover 820 Turbo 16V, this outsourcing was a source of aggravation within the existing engineering teams.

‘…there was a certain amount of politics around the RSP idea,’ he said. ‘Of course, the regular guys took it as a bit of an insult if RSP claimed to be able to fast-track a product. The organisation was more about project management, but it relied on other departments to do the work!’

A short-lived programme

RSP didn’t live long after the BMW takeover of Rover Group, when budgets were increased, and development resources were concentrated on core products, such as the MINI and Rover 75.

Here’s a list of some of the cars commissioned and overseen by Rover Special Products:

MG PR3 prototype from MGA Design - as commissioned by Rover Special Products
MG PR3 prototype from MGA Design – as commissioned by Rover Special Products
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

4 Comments

  1. Rover doing what it & BL did best. Developing cars on a shoestring budget. The Marina, Ital although to a lesser extent on account of the donor model’s age, R3 200, & MGF all sold well as did the MG models derived by MG-Rover from the existing product range. Even the light facelifts done in 2004 eeked a little more life out of the products until MG-Rover sadly folded.

  2. RSP also worked on the ‘launch edition’ of the R8 220GTi 3door.

    They employed Tony Pond to produce a new spec of springs and dampers for the first 500 vehicles – referred to internally as ‘220 RSP’ It’s identified by a unique from bumper and ‘3 tooth’ front grille bar.

  3. Another RSP model was the 400 Tourer, and some of the other R8 derivatives? Try and track down Ken Palframan who can probably tell you a lot about RSP including its work with RDS at Southam.
    RSP was similar to the longer established Land Rover SVO/Special Vehicles in developing features which would be developed into mainstream product if successful.

  4. RSP also did the mini convertible, brought in house from Lamm. They also did the metro convertible – project code name Troy. Both of these biw was done at rover body and pressings MEC (Midlands engineering centre) at Saltley. Saltley become the home for the prototype biw operation that was originally at Drews Lane because they were asked to vacate the then LDV plant.

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