May 1990 and Rover Cars Limited unveiled Project R6, the new K-Series-powered Rover Metro. Benefiting from a £200 million investment in updating the original Metro design, its production facilities, interior trim and, of course, heralding the launch of the new 8-valve versions of the K-Series engine, the Rover Metro became a popular seller.
“The World’s Best Small Car” (or similar words to that effect) is how Autocar described it. Similar sentiments and praise were soon ringing across the land for this first small car to wear a Rover Viking longship badge, while awards were soon adorning Rover Cars’ trophy cabinet in Longbridge. It really did show how well the newly renamed Rover Cars division of the Rover Group had finally come good after a decade of uncertainty, management upheaval and, of course, chronic under-investment in new products.
The entry level 1.1 C model may well have felt rather impoverished in the equipment levels, but it still exuded a sense of quality, interior comfort and point and squirt cornering prowess that put many of its rivals to shame. Meanwhile, the range-topping 1.4 GTi powered by the same 95Ps 16-valve engine as found in the R8 Rover 200 Series was a seriously competent small hatch that could take on the opposition and show it was worthy of the evocative three letters (G-T-i), as also found on a sporty-looking Montego and 130bhp Rover 416 GTi.
In 1992 the Metro experienced a few ‘firsts’ in its life – the availability of a diesel engine option, courtesy of Peugeot, and the unveiling of a production-spec Cabriolet version conceived and developed by Rover Special Projects.
There were also a few memorable special editions along the way, usually based around value-for-money incentives and colour and trim enhancements. These included the Impression, Tahiti, Manhatten, Quest/Quest Plus and, of course, the Rio and Rio Grande which featured its own television advert with Brummie group Duran Duran’s hit ‘Rio’ as the soundtrack. Even Joan Collins was driving a Metro 1.4 GTi for a television advert with a voice-over by Jonathan Ross…
On 26 December 1994 the Metro name was finally put to bed and the 100 Series nomenclature, as had already been used in export markets since 1990, was adopted for all markets. Despite a few cosmetic nips ‘n’ tucks to keep it looking fresh, a 1.5-litre diesel engine (again, courtesy of the PSA Group) and a red card being shown to the GTi 16-valve version in preference to the 8-valve GTa, it was business as usual. With a healthy dose of pomp and middle class aspiration in the advertising strategy, aided by actress Natalie Rolls for the television advertisement depicting feminine independence, the Rover 100 Series could not have been further removed from its more humble, Austin origins it if tried. Well, at least, in terms of brand image and how it was projected.
The final example of the R6 generation Rover 100 Series (nee Metro) had left the assembly line at Longbridge on 23 December 1997.
However, let us not mourn the passing of Longbridge’s last great supermini-sized, small hatchback – the Metro (unless, of course, you think the CityRover was even better). Now, May 2015, is a time to remember and toast the Rover Metro.