Opinion : Back catalogue creations

The recent series of excellent I was there stories from those at the coalface of ARG-life has shown us that there was ample opportunity to create the amazing from the available – whether that’s the latent and largely underutilised engineering talent or the huge back catalogue of inventory available from all the marques. Given the empowerment and a couple of quid, it was possible that the already extensive product range could have been made bigger and better and skunkworks projects made official.

While this is a foray into festive fantasy, we know that, when such creations were made (usually under the radar of management), they could lead to a new and profitable product lines. Take the unloved Rover 400 HHR. Nobody ever lusted after this car, but a small team from the Flightshed lead by Wayne Nation took a Rover Vitesse 2.0-litre T-Series engine and dropped it in.

It went hill climbing and then went on to give us the MG ZS against management will. Remember, this car was already engineered to accept the T-Series engine. Cost to engineer? Nowt, as even the front suspension modifications were as simple as swapping over upper wishbones.

Streetwise: years ahead of time

Then there was the Rover Streetwise. A few grey plastic mouldings on an already ancient platform created a whole genre of cars which, even 20 years on, still commands a premium for said ‘life-style’ add-ons and a raised ride height.

This idea was first mooted by BL on the Marina, was taken seriously enough to create the first Freelander (this was actually a Rover Cars concept, but was given to Land Rover to make real). How many manufacturers have copied this idea of roof rails, ride height and injection moulded plastic cladding to wheel arches with black bumpers and ran with it?

We all know the Rover Streetwise itself was a tarted-up 25, which was a facelifted 200 which was a R8 Rover 200 with a Maestro back axle. The MG ZR (Britain’s number 1 hot hatch from day one until death) was a skunkworks Rover 200. Some say the MG3 is just a heavily facelifted 214… certainly the MG6 was a rehashed Rover 75 with a resolved K-Series engine.

Rover 800 improvements

I was discussing with Keith Adams earlier that probably the most surprisingly good Rover model I ever sold was the Rover 825 Diesel. This engine ran the VM diesel which is still around in much modified form these days. The engine turned out so much torque, Rover had to couple it to a Chrysler gearbox.

This was a heavy-duty but sweet box, with a far higher torque rating that the PG1 ‘box. Why then did Rover not go Volvo 850R chasing by giving us a 250bhp Rover Vitesse Sport Special? The Turbo T-Series was more than capable of reliably producing this power and, as Andy Kitson showed us with the 200bhp Vitesse Sport, the old 800 chassis was more than good enough. And if that powertrain went in the 800, then it’d go in the 600.

Did you also know that the tooling was out there to convert the Chapman Struts used on the rear of the Rover 800 into double wishbones in the same vain as the suspension on the Rover 600? Nor did I, but that’s what Honda did after 18 months of building the first Legends alongside the XX. Honda never stopped innovating with their cars. The Concerto was available in Japan with double wishbones up front, fully electric and heated seats and an incredibly advanced four-wheel-drive system – if it went into Concerto, it’d go into R8 200.

Rover 825 SD

More Rover Group surprises

I also only learned the other day that the MG RV8, itself a parts bin special created for £5 million, was tooled-up for LHD but never made. Imagine if Rover had fully exhumed the old MGB line giving us the MGB GT as well, and then produced both bodyshells in LHD and RHD and then slotted in another Land Rover powertrain, the longitudinal Rover T-series with the R380 box.

Certainly, that was currently being used in the Disco and Defender. And if the MG RV8 was successfully reimagined, imagine a recreated TR7/8. It worked for the Jaguar XJ-S.

Meanwhile, Alex Moulton CBE re-engineered the Mini’s rubber cone suspension in the same way he re-engineered the Austin Metro’s Hydragas suspension system to give us the Rover Metro’s chassis. Cost to Rover? Virtually nothing as even the standard factory dampers were used. We could have had a smooth riding, more refined Mini rather than the bouncy box we endured.

Moulton even re-engineered the suspension for those daft enough to specify the ‘Sports Pack’ which was anything but. Kevin Morley never sanctioned a more refined Mini back in 1990 as he couldn’t believe sales would increase if the Mini got better. So, that was that…

Mini Cooper

Ingenious engineering all the way

Speaking of the Metro, the MGF (itself a parts-bin special with Metro, Montego and R200 bits) introduced a number of chassis changes which could have been transferred to Metro such as more refined Hydragas hardware (hard to comprehend I know) and e-PAS. The VVC mechanism, so advanced in 1995 was an old BMC idea, patented in the 1960s. An Engineer called Phillips was Rover’s Hydragas specialist who stuck Hydragas into the Mini in the 1990s and then used the engine for the interconnected damping in prototype Metros.

Going back further, take a look at the rather sad Austin Maestro and Montego range. Already in production was the S-Series engine, fully engineered with fuel injection for the 216 Vitesse. Remember also the S-Series was a parts-bin special by way of E- and R-series engines. Why, then, was the disastrous auto-choked SU in the Maestro/Montego never replaced by this? Back in the day the way to add value and sex appeal to any car was to add the ‘I’ badge on the boot.

And the one thing this range needed was sex appeal.

Unsung hero: T-Series engine

Two engines which never blotted their copy book were the M and T-Series units. As demonstrated by the MGOC’s Roger Parker, these lumps slotted straight into these the Maestro and Montego with no sheet metal changes. Could you imagine the effortless performance that would have been so readily available with this powertrain?

The Maestro and Montego were also available (along with the Mini and Metro) with Air-Con, so why was this never offered as an option?

There are loads more examples you could conjure-up to diversify and add value. From Rover 75s, already with Freelander engines and ‘boxes which could have taken Freelander 4wd systems. Even the Acclaim could have been made into a Vitesse in 1981 buy slotting in the 1.5 version of the 1.3 Honda engine we got and which the Ballade was already fitted with.

What would you create given the chance?

Steven Ward


  1. There was a clear gap in the Marina range between the 1800 and the 1300 why not put in the E-series 1500.

    The TR7 why not with the dolomite sprint engine. Why not with the E6 engines or the Rover 6 engines from SD1
    The MGB why not with the E6 engines.
    Think the Allegro would have worked well with the steetwise treatment. and even better with four wheel drive.
    The bigger E6 in the Princess with sportier suspension.
    The E6 in the maxi.
    The maxi with the streetwise treatment.

    Must be loads more

  2. What about a shortened wheelbase 3 door version of the Rover 600 with Freelander derived 4X4?? Like a Quattro reimagined. Make it lightweight with minimal trim, then offer it at a low price to competitors in a motorsports series like the old Maestro Challenge.

    Would have boosted the image wonderfully amongst the under 40s who wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead in a Rover.

    Win on Sunday sell on Monday as they used to say in the US.

  3. Oh there’s loads….

    Off the top of my head…

    – Austin A40 with Sprite running gear and brakes? All bolt on. A cheap A40 GT and first ‘hot hatch’?

    – Why never fit the 1275cc engine into the Minor? Even a detuned Spriget engine would have been adequate instead of the 1098cc engine.

    – MGB overdrive gearbox into the Marina, a very useful sales tool to US versions and a gearbox capable of handling TC Marina power instead of the puny Triumph single rail item.

    – 1275cc or B Series power in the Marina van and pick up?

    – Marina TC Estate? All the parts were there sitting on the shelf…

  4. The idea of a smooth riding more refined Mini and the prospect of MGF chassis changes (plus e-PAS), which could have been transferred to Metro and by extension also the Mini does sound very appealing.

    Recall reading a 3.6-3.8 VM Motori 6-cylinder 6-diesel being looked at for the Jaguar XJ before Sir William Lyons put dismissed the idea outright. The same goes regarding a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder VM Motori diesel planned for the Austin Metro seen in some motoring magazine excerpt online a few years back (basically a smaller version of the 1.8 diesel used in the Alfa Romeo 33), because BL were said to have looked at using VM Motori diesels in a number of models besides what actually reached production.

    There are indeed more that do not immediately come to mind, where there any limitations or ground rules on what could be created?

  5. 4wd Mk1 Rover 800 with 200+ brake and full Sterling trim
    Would have left the Audi 100 Quattro and Merc 4-MAtic for dust!

  6. @Mowog:

    Quote: “What about a shortened wheelbase 3 door version of the Rover 600 with Freelander derived 4X4?? Like a Quattro reimagined. Make it lightweight with minimal trim, then offer it at a low price to competitors in a motorsports series like the old Maestro Challenge.

    Would have boosted the image wonderfully amongst the under 40s who wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead in a Rover.”

    Speak for yourself, as back in the 1990s when I was in my early twenties, there were plenty of Rovers I would have been happy to have been seen ‘alive’ in, whether a performance offering or something more economical and with less spec. The Rover brand held a high kudos with me and I knew quite a few people in their early twenties who felt the same and were buying low to medium spec R8 and R3 Rover 200s and 400s, as well as one who had just passed out as a police officer and went out and bought himself a Rover 800 Vitesse. In the early millennium, a friend of mine in his late twenties even bought himself a three-year-old Rover 75 because he loved its styling and quality feel.

    @Dave H:

    In 1994 I did as a young enthusiast suggest to Rover Cars that they build a Rover 400 Tourer powered by the 200Ps turbocharged T Series engine. The spec was similar to that of the 220 GSI Turbo three-door offering, namely half-leather seat coverings, colour-coded bumper tops and side protection strips and the standard fitment of those six-spoke “Turbo” alloy wheels seen on other R8 model variants. However, I did suggest it could also benefit from a Metro GTi-style subtle tailgate spoiler sitting above the rear windscreen to make it look more squat at the rear. The name for this idea was 420 TS which stood for ‘Tourer Sport’, although from a distance might have looked like T5 (as in the bigger Volvo 850 T5). A bit of creative artistic licence going on there!

    • I loved the R8 tourer, and a turbo version would have given it a Halo model. But I was talking of the HHR, which we didn’t get, even if the HHH Civic did get one. I sort of remember reading in the rumour columns that Phoenix had spoken to Honda about buying in the tooling for Civic estate.

  7. I had already asked a few colleagues about the possibiliy of a fuel-injected S series in a Maestro, but had been told that the engine was too tall to fit.
    I know someone with a turbocharged T series in a Maestro but when was that engine being developed? Surely a bit late for consideration in a production Maestro? Does make for a monster performer though 🙂

  8. I wonder if more could have been derived from the 1980s Metro 6R4 drivetrain?

    Turn it round so the engine is front-mounted, replace the rorty and uncouth V64V with the rather more-civilized-but-still-exquisitely-revvable Honda V6, and clad it with an Estate version of the original Rover-800 [including a nod to the LR Discovery in the form of a little step in the roofline to give extra rear headroom over the rear diff installation].

    Plain black bumpers front/rear and plastic wheelarch extensions [like was later used on the Rover Streetwize?] and you’d have been 30 years ahead of the Audi Allroad/Subaru Outback/Legacy – and the rural estate-agents/vets/pony-clubbers round here would have had something Rover to move to when Ford discontinued the beloved V6 Sierra XR4x4.

    Going back in time, I always thought there would have been a niche in the late-50s/early-60s for MG-ized versions of the A40 Farina and Minor Traveller. Reach to the Spridget/MGA parts-bin, along with a smattering of bits from the similar-era ZA/ZB Magnette. I’m thinking B-series engine/transmission [with optional overdrive], enlarged drum brakes [or even discs!], Wire wheel option, full six-dial instrumentation [revcounter, ammeter, oil-presure gauge, fuel, temp, speedo], bucket seats, even little roof-rails – and you’d have invented the ‘sporty lifestyle estate-car’ or hot-hatchback [the A40 Farina was after all one of the first hatchback-style cars, beating the Renault 16 by quite a few years] in miniature.

  9. Even though RSP were looking at fitting a 1.4-litre K-Series Turbo in the Metro to create the Metro SP, a case could have been made to fit the 108-118 hp 1.6-1.8-litre non-VVC K-Series into the Metro to take on the 106 GTI/Saxo VTS as seen in a number of conversions over the years.

    Also had the S-Series received 16-valves, provided it was light enough (a comment in the S-Series, the missed bargain article claims a 25lbs difference between it and the A-Series) how plausible would it have been to fit it into the Metro given it was compact to give the Montego a lower bonnet line or would it have entailed the Metro needing to be adapted to an end-on gearbox beforehand?

    IMHO the Minor not the A35 should have largely formed the basis of the A40 Farina and Spridget, although not without incorporating what would have been advantageous elements of the latter two to create what amounts to a British 1098-1275cc Minor Farina version of the Fiat 1100/1200 and Pininfarina Cabriolet capable of also replacing the Riley 1.5-litre / Wolseley 1500 (and MG sub-Magnette variant) in 1500-1600cc guise. The Riley 1.5-litre / Wolseley 1500 should have been an MG resembling a down-sized Palmer-styled Magnette and equipped with a reliable version of the 1.6 Twin-Cam, whereas the Magnette should have been equipped with a 2.4-litre Twin-Cam Six with inspiration coming from the experimental 6-cylinder Magnette prototype.

    The Farina B/C should have been largely derived from the MG Magnette ZB, Riley Pathfinder and Morris Oxford Series III / Isis Series II instead of the Cambridge and Westminster.

    BMC should have embraced a more modern Pininfarina styling language for its entire Farina range of cars with greater longevity, reminiscent of the Fiat 1300/1500 and Fiat 1800/2100/2300 (later Fiat 125) or the reputedly loosely Austin-derived Nissan Cedric 30 and Nissan Bluebird 310/410 (the Fiat 1100/1200-sized Bluebird 410 also making a case for the Farina cars being underpinned by something amounting to a modular Marina-esque platform clothed in a more modern Pininfarina body).

    Rover should have acquired the rights to the Buick V6 when GM offered a license for it together with the 215 Buick V8 (the offer was still available even after Kaiser-Jeep acquired a license for the Buick V6), they could have then incorporated the improvements the Australians allegedly made when creating the 3.3-litre V6 from the 4.4 V8 in contrast to GM’s efforts that entailed two redesigns.

    Instead of being distorted into something it wasn’t intended to be as an ill-conceived all-in-one replacement for BMC’s entire engine range, the E-Series should have ideally been a composite of the original compact experimental 1.3-litre crossflow belt-driven OHC prototype, with elements of other possibly related experimental designs like the stillborn F-Series and H/K-Series along with the production S-Series engines featuring a bore/stroke range of 72-76.2mm and 61.2-87.6mm for 998-1598cc displacements.

    It would essentially be the earlier BMC analogue of the similarly sized Nissan E OHC, which would go on to evolve into the GA/QG. Also unlike BMC in real-life, Nissan would take a more sensible approach in replacing its other engines by scaling up the E OHC as the Nissan CA/CD as well as scaling it down as the Nissan MA/CG engine with the BMC analogue also playing a similar function as the Nissan-inspired basis for eventual A-Plus / A-OHC and early 4/6-cylinder O-Series successors.

    The Leyland Marina article mentions the likes of the A-Series (and possibly other BMC engines) could have benefited from a cross-flow head to better comply with emissions standards, whilst recall others bringing up hardened valve seats for low-to-no leaded fuel.

    O-Series should have appeared much earlier in 4/6-cylinder form to replace the B-Series and C-Series from the mid-to-late 1960s in place of the revised C-Series. Even better if the Morris designed C-Series was not a factor, with a 6-cylinder B-Series taking its place from the outset. The same goes with an earlier A-Plus and A-OHC via new tooling and machinery.

    The Longbridge MG ADO34 would have also been a better basis for a more upmarket commercially successful 2/4-door MG and VDP badged three-box saloon in place of the Elf/Hornet, which would have still been a few inches shorter than the first two generations of the 2-door only Toyota Publica.

  10. Just add a bit of reality.

    Issigonis developed a number of 9x prototypes including a steam turbine version and a gearless drive chain.

    The early prototype for Marina was an upgraded Morris Minor using the 1275cc engine.

    3 Rover V8 cars based on Austin 3litre chassis were prototyped and mainly used by directors.

    A number of Marina prototypes were fitted with an overdrive gearbox.

    A Marina prototype was developed and run with a 1275 Dry Sump engine. The sump oil was drawn into the supply tank using manifold vacuum. This ran for many thousands of miles testing during the first fuel crisis. It used less than 2 pints of oil in the total system.

    The E Series engine was very tall which ruled out its fitment to many cars.

    Some Australian versions of Marina were fitted with an inline straight 6 E Series. Very hairy to drive!

    2 LWB versions of Rover 75 were developed and sold.

    A 4WD version of Rover 75 tourer was developed.

    The first MG Rover 200 (later badged as MG ZR) was built by engineers in South Experimental by engineers without the knowledge of management. They were bored during the various management changes and produced it to show the cars potential.

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