Two new additions to the fleet at Austin-Rover.co.uk Towers, and as you can see from the accompanying pictures, neither are from the BMC>Rover stable. It’s not as if I decided to pick up something non-Rover, but it just kinda happened…
Now normally, I wouldn’t bore you with the details of a bunch of funny foreign cars, but in the case of my two new additions, there are very real links to our beloved company. The first – as you can see – is an ageing Saab. There’s nothing significant in that, and as a driver’s machine it isn’t the sharpened tool you’d think it is. Compared with my old 800 Vitesse Sport, the steering is a little woolly, and the handling is not quite where you’d expect it to be for a car with lowered suspension and stiffened Koni damping.
Before I go off on how these Saabs drive like a sedated shopping trolley, I’ll rebush the suspension and anti-roll bars, and then take stock.
However, I do keep coming back to the engine. Basically, it’s an inline slant-four and to all those Triumph aficionados out there, it will have an air of familiarity about it. That’s because it was designed by Triumph and Ricardo for Saab, who at the time, was looking for a suitable engine for its upcoming 99 range. The design was interesting, efficient and light, and unsurprisingly, Triumph decided that the design was too good not to use for itself – and a few years after its introduction in Saab form, a Triumph version of the slant-four duly found its way under the bonnet of the Dolomite.
Looking at where the Saab engine is today (and the engine found in my Aero is still in production in the new 9-5 model) one can only wonder at what has been achieved by a process of continual development. Within BL, it was decided that it wasn’t any use for the slant-four outside of the Dolomite and TR7, and by as early as 1975, the company concluded it should be superceded by the forthcoming O-Series engine.
Interestingly, that engine was developed over time, and in its final incarnation, produced a very healthy 200bhp in turbocharged form under the bonnet of the 800, 600, 400 and 200 Turbos. Was it as good as the contemporary Saab engine? No comment.
So, could BL have developed the Dolomite/TR7 Slant-four engine as effectively as Saab did? Probably.
I say this, because there’s very little wrong with the T16, and given that it was very, very loosely based on the B-Series engine, one comes to the conclusion the company could perform miracles on engines. Imagine, therefore, if the starting point had been the Slant-Four – where would that be now? Could you imagine a range of sporting Rovers and Triumphs powered by engines as good as the Saab Turbos? One only has to look at the Swedish to see what could have been achieved…
I mentioned two cars. The second is a Bertone (nee Fiat) X1/9, and it is on long term loan from austin-rover co-designer and contributor, Declan Berridge who couldn’t bear to see it unused any longer. Again, there is a link with BL here – although it’s vague and contrived – and more precisely, it’s a link with MG.
You see, it’s a mid-engined sports car, priced to appeal to the masses, and using many off the shelf components from the company’s saloon parts bin. Sound familiar? Well, had MG been given the development funds it so richly deserved during the late Sixties and early Seventies, we could well have ended up with a mid-engined Midget and MGB replacement. Take a look at the ADO70 and ADO21 – had these made it onto the market, then the X1/9 wouldn’t have been seen as a pioneering design, but as a me-too MG clone.
The people who call it the ‘Italian TR7′ today would actually be calling it the ‘Italian MGD’ or some such…
Such a shame – and once again we have two more instances of what might have been had things been different…
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.
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)
- Opinion : Why Roy Haynes was ahead of his time - 20 February 2019
- Concepts and prototypes : Austin ADO22 (1966-1968) - 19 February 2019
- History : BMC, BL, Rover and other Development Codes - 19 February 2019