History : Secret Rover and Triumph model plans (1978-1987)

Product planning documents are a unique snapshot of the forward plans for any company with its eye on the future. Here we share some of the best secret Rover and Triumph model plans.

Keith Adams reveals some of the more sensitive plans from the 1970s and ’80s, which showed that, even within the darkest of times with the tightest of resources, there was still optimism for the future…


Rover and Triumph: A planned future

We receive lots of historical titbits and recollections here at AROnline, and just about all of them are invaluable aids to building up a true sense of historical perspective. However, nothing beats documentary evidence of forthcoming model plans, be that styling sketches or internal documents. If you’re not familiar with product planning documents, then you’re in for a treat if you ever come across one – because they set out in black and white just what engines, gearboxes and body styling future models are going to use…

Product Planning must have been a nightmare within BL, though – what with the ever-changing management structure, and the shifting sands of Government funding…

Rewind to November 1978, and following the appointment of Sir Michael Edwardes to the post of Chairman and Chief Executive of British Leyland, the company’s car divisions were split into two. Hastily welded into one unwieldy organisation (called Leyland Cars) after the Ryder reorganisation of 1975, BL’s manufacturing divisions were once again given a measure of autonomy.

Separating the brands

Sir Michael Edwardes

Austin and Morris were separated from the ‘premium’ brands, leaving Austin Morris (AM) and Jaguar Rover Triumph (JRT). It wasn’t perfect (for a start, MG nestled with Austin Morris, when most of its adherents felt its future lay within JRT), but it was a whole lot better than the catch-all Leyland Cars.

These reorganisations were a regular part of life within BL after the Ryder years and, as a result, future model planning and strategy was a wholly unstable affair, which meant that many of the beneficial economies of scale, associated with large multi-marque carmakers today – such as platform and engine sharing – were simply not on the agenda.

Rewind further, and the story is similarly confused following the formation of BL in 1968. The post-Edwardes break-up of ‘premium’ and ‘bread-and-butter’ marques closely mirrored what Lord Stokes had already done. The knock-on effect of this was Product Planners for Austin Morris or Specialist Division (as JRT was known as in the Stokes era) tended to stick to their own platforms/engines/factories, even when further rationalisation could be made – with no policy within the company to push forwards with serious rationalisation.

Making sense of the mess

Rover SD1

Harry Webster saw the potential, dipping into the Triumph parts bin when devising the Morris Marina – but that was an act of desperation, borne out of the urgent need to get a new product on the market as quickly as possible. Other cars conceived within that fertile era were either Austin Morris products (Austin Allegro, Princess) or Specialist Division (Rover SD1), with cross-fertilisation.

With the Stokes-era management running BL effectively like two separate car companies, Product Planners from one division tended not to look ‘over the wall’ at what the other was doing. Decisions such as pursuing the slant-four Dolomite engine in the Triumph TR7 (instead of going with the O-Series), and the OHC Rover PE166 straight-six (instead of the E6-Series engine) in the SD1, came as the direct result of running BL as two distinct ‘car’ divisions – harking back to a bygone age.

When the company hit the rocks in 1974, and Ryder made his recommendations the following year, the divisions were broken down, and all marques (apart from Jaguar) were forced to work together. In hindsight, it was probably the correct policy to follow but, ironically, turned out to be the one that caused the most antagonism within the company.

Rationalisation… possibly too late

However, this period between 1975 and 1978 did result in the best talent BL had to offer combining and working together. An early result of this thinking was the merging of the rival Triumph SD2 and Austin Morris ADO77 projects to create the TM1 project – a good idea in theory, but one which time overtook…

Beyond that, both the LC8 and LC10 were conceived in these troubled times – and saw Rover Triumph Designers working more closely with their counterparts at Austin Morris in Longbridge…

However, in 1978, Edwardes decided to splinter the company again, and that meant a whole host of new Product Plans needed to be devised.

Rover Triumph 1979-1987 Product Planning

Triumph Broadside
Broadside was to be produced in Coupe and convertible form, and would form the basis of the replacement for the MGB.

In 1978, Rover Triumph still produced far too many product lines, but all that was about to change. The Dolomite, Spitfire and MG Midget were going to be left unreplaced (the BL-Honda deal had yet to be finalised when JRT was formed), and the MGB would disappear, to be replaced by the TR7 offshoot, Triumph Broadside.

Before the collaborative deal with Honda had been crystallised, the long-term future of the Rover SD1 posed many problems. Without much in the way of resources, its replacement would end up being heavily SD1-based and, as that car’s roots lay in the early 1970s, its performance in the late-1980s would probably end up being called into question.

The good news was that Rover Triumph would end up with a slimmed-down two model line – Rover Bravo and the Broadside – and that much needed rationalisation would result in significant economies of scale.

Of course, events unfolded in a much different way. Honda came to the rescue, allowing BL to produce the Rover 800, the  Triumph Acclaim came in to replace the Dolomite (before becoming a Rover), and the TR7 line (Broadside) died with the Solihull car plant being put on ice in 1982 – taking with it all of BL’s sports car sales for more than a decade.

What becomes patently clear from reading these plans, is that by the late 1970s, Rover Triumph was clutching at straws, and did not appear to have much in the way of new hardware for the upcoming decade, apart from the O-Series turbo engine. Plans to fit the 16-valve Dolomite Sprint engine were finally laid to rest in 1978, just after the publication of JRT’s first product strategy document.

Rover SD1 Series 2
Rover SD1 Series 2
PRODUCT PLAN: Model line SD1
Year Month Details
1980 Spring Project RT 003 – V8 North America
Introduction of this model into the USA, following the launch in Canada, Autumn 1979. Unique specification to comply with emission and safety legislation including four round headlamps, impact absorbing bumpers, strengthened doors. Level of specification essentially as V8S, but sunroof as option.
1980 Autumn Project RT 004 – Japan Phase I Type B
RHS model with SU Butec air conditioning succeeding LHS models with Alpinair air conditioning introduced into the market Autumn 1979. Emission levels as Swedish model.

Project RT 005 – Minor facelift ’81 model year
Increased exterior differential, improved interior refinement and changes to eliminate consumer identified criticisms. Main feature changes as identified in PPL SD1 74.
o New seats
o New interior Trim
o Revised bumpers with rubber insert
o Headlamp pressure wash system
o Electrically operated sunroof (V8-S)
o Electrically operated mirrors
o Body side rubbing strip.

1981 Spring Project RT026 – Australian Phase III
The NSW authorities have proposed all vehicles sold in this territory manufactured after January 1981 must comply with more stringent emissions legislation. To continue marketing in this territory, engineering propose modifying the V8 engine with an open-loop fuel injection system. It is proposed this specification will be adopted for all territories on the Australian continent.
1981 Autumn Project RT 008 – Diesel derivative
Installation of a bought out diesel engine (Citroën or VM) with minimal changes to suit. To be marketed in the UK and Europe alongside existing version.

Project RT 014 – 2.0-litre version
Introduction of O-Series engine with minimal changes to suit. To be marketed in the UK and Europe alongside existing model range.

Project RT 010 – Major facelift 1982 Model Year

A major facelift to all models in the range including:-
o Minimal BIW changes to front end, to provide facelift identity.
o Headlamps aligned with side/indicator lamps.
o Front spoiler.
o New rear lamp cluster.
o Rear wash/wipe, new parcel shelf, new instrument binnacle, braking improvements.[Previous product planning documents suggested the Estate version of the SD1 would be launched at the same time as this facelift – Ed.]
1985 Autumn Project RT 012 – Model year change
Autumn 1984: Run-out of O-Series engine, vehicle to continue with six-cylinder OHC engines and V8 versions only.Autumn 1985: Model range run-out.
1982 Autumn Project RT 022 – Possible opportunities on base plan.
Dependent on AM engine strategy, opportunity exists to increase model range with a 2.0-litre O-Series turbocharged engine.
1983 Autumn Project RT 012 – V8 diesel
Opportunity exists to further increase the model range by the addition of a diesel engine based on the V8 petrol unit.
[Project Iceberg – Ed.]

Bertone saloon proposal - 1980-81

PRODUCT PLAN: Model line Rover Bravo
Year Month Details
1984 Autumn Project RT 020 – four-door saloon
Introduction of the first, in a new model range to replace SD1 in established markets, with the exception of North America.Proposed specification
Underbody:
o Front end and suspension as TR7/8
o New mid-section similar to SD1
o Rear end and axle – combination of SD1 and Lynx engines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o 2.6-litre six-cylinder OHC
o Four-cylinder turbocharged diesel – bought out transmission:
o 77mm gearbox
o Mid-range axle

Dimensions:
o Wheelbase 105in
o Front track 55.5in/56in
o Rear track 56.5in/57in

Weight:
2194-2305lb (target)

[This project was also known as LC30 in earlier product strategy documents – Ed.]

1985 Autumn Project RT 023 – five-door hatchback
Introduction of five-door hatchback based on four-door underbody with extended front and rear ends to provide styling differential. Additional to model range in established Bravo markets and replaces SD1 in North America.

Engines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o 2.6-litre six-cylinder OHC
o V8 petrol engine
o Four-cylinder turbodiesel

Dimensions and other mechanicals as four-door.

Weight:
o 2379-2400lb (target)

1986 Model year change
Changes to meet mandatory legal requirements.
1987 Autumn Project RT 025 – Bravo facelift
A proposed facelift intended to maintain sales of the Bravo model range.

Possible opportunities on base plan
Autumn 1984:
Dependent on AM engine strategy, opportunity exists to increase the four-door model range with a 2.0-litre O-Series turbocharged engine in Autumn 1984 and five-door derivative in Autumn 1985.

Autumn 1985: Opportunity exists to further increase the five-door model range by the addition of a diesel engine based on the V8 petrol unit.

Triumph Broadside

PRODUCT PLAN: Model line Sports car
Year Month Details
1980 Autumn Project RT 057 – TR7/8 model year
Cosmetic changes and mandatory requirements effective September 1980.
1980 Autumn Spitfire model run out.
1980 End MGB and GT model run out.
1981 Spring Project RT 066 – TR7/8 hardtop
JRT have indicated that they will to continue with a hardtop development programme. It is proposed that design/production costs be assessed with a view to local fitment for NAS vehicles. Hardtops could then be imported from the USA for fitment to vehicles from other markets. Heated backlights are considered an essential feature of this product action.
1981 Spring Project RT 078 – Boxer
Introduction of a new model based on the TR7 convertible with the objective of replacing the MGB, initially in the North American market.
1981 Autumn Project RT 058 – TR7 O-Series
Introduction of a twin carburettored 2.0-litre O-Series engine into the TR7 and Boxer derivatives.
1983 Spring Run out of TR7/8 and Boxer derivatives
Model range replaced by Broadside.
1983 Spring Project RT 061 – Broadside, Triumph convertible and hardtop
MG 2+2 GT
A direct replacement for the TR7/8 model range and Boxer derivative. The vehicle will be based upon the TR7/8 underbody (with longer wheelbase) and mechanicals utilising some new panels previously developed for the discontinued Lynx programme.

Engines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o V8[In previous product strategy documents, this was referred to as project SC1, and would have come in two body sizes to replace the Spitfire/Midget as well as the MGB/TR7. Also, earlier documents suggested using the O-Series engine in 1.7-litre form as well – Ed.]

1984 Autumn Broadside electronic facelift
It is proposed to develop an electronic instrument pack vehicle. The main product feature being an electronic display.
1987 Autumn Run-out Broadside models
Dependent on the future possible opportunity of developing a new sports car in collaboration with Honda, together with a successful launch.

Possible opportunities on base plan
Dependent on Austin Morris engine strategy, an opportunity exists to install a turbocharged version of the O-Series from the introduction of the Broadside models.

Keith Adams

16 Comments

  1. The Broadside looks very good, with a fusion of SD1 & TR7 line. Just a shame about the crudely hinged tailgate & rear wing that looks like it shouldn’t slope back at the rear.

    The product plan looks good too.

  2. When I first started working at Canley in mid-1981 there was often a development TR7 in the car park next to the Metrology building (between buildings 50 and 40) that had the narrow SD1 type ‘side scollop’, as opposed to the wider one on this Broadside.

    It looked so much better than the much-criticised curved feature-line the TR7 had to live with all through its production run.

  3. Must point out that the photo here is nothing of an authentic, it´s clearly a photoshopped photo with different parts of the bodywork areas and styling & curves & details are taken from various different cars. Rearside window bottom-line has a very clear alingnment error just after the B-pillar, the whole rear side window-area with the black frame trim itself seems more like taken from Alfas GTV, only the black vertical divider (present in Alfa) also photoshopped out. The rear wheel-arch shape (partially the body panel up to the side window too) suggests the same source of origin via photoshop. The close rear-end corner has also a strange “rounded”-shape part just in the area where the corner slopes down strangely with clear alingnment error around it and an odd thick black line going downwards from the rear screen bottom corner towards the right side rearlight while the left there´s none , suggesting to a major problem in body panellins/openings/hatch measurements/tolerances problems? … Not really, more like a poor photoshop again, otherwise the whole rear-end looks like a crossing between a Citoen-born & SD1-born rear treatments. The rear window with the “crudely hinged” tailgate hints a Matra-Bagheera origin via photoshop. The passenger door handle is incomplete, maybe suffered in the photoshopping the overall door rea, where the door opening/door edge vertical line are also not a match and the door window bottom trim strangely fades from visibility towards the B-pillar and then suddenly right under the B-pillar the trim is again clear and sharp (just to dissappear again from under the rear side window as explained before). Also the fuel fill lid area, the red sidelight, the black (maybe plastic) air outlet vent & the black trim behind it are photoshopped from some other source photo.
    So this is far from anykind of an authentic photo of an existing prototype, but a simple photoshop creation.

  4. Judging by the wheel track (55 inches for TR7 rather than 59 for SD1) and other details it seems Bravo was more TR7/8/Lynx than SD1. An ‘SD1-like’ centre section does not mean any part of it was SD-1. More like a stretched Lynx.

    • The TR7 was reportedly related to the SD1 platform and was to form the basis for all Rover/Triumph cars in the 70s.

  5. The MG sports cars and the Spitfire were becoming old fashioned and lacking in performance by the late seventies. Whatever its early problems, the TR7 was a new design with a different engine and had the space to fit a Rover V8, which did occur for American buyers in 1980. The platform could have been used fore a new generation of sports cars and coupes to replace the elderly MGs and the Spitfires, but serious financial problems meant these were never developed and the TR7 was cancelled in 1981.

  6. Pragmatically, the introduction of the TR7 with only a 4 cylinder engine was a major mis-step, particularly in the US where a 2.0 four pot was a backwards step compared to the TR6 or the Datsun 240Z.

    The TR7 also looked wierd, with the odd crease along the side that the eye would follow and which tends to make the rear end look too high off the ground and the rear wheels appear too small.

    Shame that they didn’t do something more like the Scimitar GTE, as a sort of followon to the MGBGT and the Triumph GT6. The Broadside looks too hunchbacked to fill the MGB/GT6 – replacement role.

    If only they had called Tom Karen and not Harris Mann..

  7. That product plan shows how Rover-Triumph had been crippled by the meagre money left being used to produce the “M” cars. I’m not sure slimming down to Bravo and Broadside gives many economies of scale, as it’s more of case of older models being discontinued and not replaced than genuine platform sharing.

    The lack of an SD2 type model is glaring. You had 2 RWD platforms in the TR7 and SD1, the LT77 gearbox and plenty of existing engines to use. BMW would say thank you very much, and make a fortune with the premium 3 series, while AR battled forlornly with Ford and Vauxhall for heavily discounted fleet sales with the Montego…

  8. Triumph was doomed after a long strike in 1974 and the terrible quality issues with the Soeke built TR7. The abandonment of the SD2 project to replace the Marina and Dolonite in 1976/77 meant the marque was on borrowed time as there were no new models planned, and by 1980, Triumph had been reduced to making the TR7, which itself would go the following year. A shame, as in the earlier seventies, Triumph was like a British BMW, producing upmarket sporting saloons and sports cars that were well respected.

  9. Could either Rover or Triumph have been ditched in favour of the other, with the Bravo and Broadside sharing a similar family exterior (be it fixed or pop-up headlights)?

    Both marques have their advocates towards one over the other, although neither could compensate for the other due to how the marques were consolidated prior to the formation of BL.

    • I have always wondered why thr combined BL was trying to run both brands, with clearly one having to go. In my alternative universe I would have dropped Rover as an exec car brand, with the longship used only on the Landie and Rangie as an SUV brand, with Triumph being used on cars. Triumph already was known in the US, while trying to sell Rover when it wasn’t known doesn’t make sense

      • Rover did not help themselves by embracing a radical departure with the SD1 (better suited for MG then either Rover or Triumph) as opposed to a linear styling language, one that builds on the P6 (a more attractive progression compared to P8) as well as benefits from the international rub of success (and recognition) the Range Rover received.

        It would have made sense to continue with Triumph under BL even though eventual outcome would have likely been the same as MG-Rover in real-life regardless, in reality both companies should have not been acquired by LMC pre-merger.

        Even though the Michelotti styled Triumph Puma was an attractive looking conventional looking saloon, would they have risked it with more modern and radical styling like Rover did with the SD1?

        Particularly due to Triumph’s inclination towards pop-up headlights, based on the likes of Zest, Fury, 2nd 914-esque Michelotti Bullet and possibly one Spitfire prototype IIRC or even looked at aping Rover by upscaling the Triumph Bobcat’s styling to a larger car?

  10. I actually think this product plan looks good.

    A Broadside coupe and convertible, 100 inch wheelbase, o series turbo, and digital instruments, quality bugs ironed out, sold in the US in the mid 80s – that could have been a genuine hit.
    The pony cars / Nissan z / Toyota Celica were selling over half a million a year in those days.

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