This came in from AROnline reader Julian Ridge – apparently the Art Car is alive and, er, well.
Can anyone shed any light?
I enjoyed your feature about the Rover 25 Art Car in December. In fact I think I saw it today, registered BP51 UBP (I think), crossing Lendal Bridge in York. Or perhaps there’s another rose gold Rover 25 with a pink interior out there…
Best wishes and thanks for an excellent site – I bet it’s hard work,
In 2002, MG Rover engaged young British fashion designer Matthew Williamson to create a one-off Rover 25 as a PR stunt. It certainly grabbed a few headlines, but were they for the right reasons?
Back in 2002, social media was, at best, in its infancy. There was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter was yet to even be thought of, and as such the acronym ‘WTF?’ was very rarely outed in public.
And that’s a good job, because if it had been a regular feature of English slang at the time, nowhere could it have been more appropriately applied than to Rover’s 25 Art Car, unveiled in February 2002 to (apparently) try and drive the attentions of younger, more fashion conscious motorists towards the model.
At the time, I was 25. It well and truly put me off, and I doubt I was the only one.
The car was conceived to coincide with the 2002 London Fashion Week and was revealed by supermodel Erin O’Connor, who had worked with the designer previously on more mainstream fashion projects. Like most thrusting young fashion designers, Matthew Williamson was somewhat avant-garde, so what happened when Rover gave him a three-door 25 to play with as a blank canvas was almost inevitable.
The idea of combining cars with fashionistas has become something of a phenomenon in the 21st century. The ‘Art Car’, however, has a more interesting history – BMW in particular being famed for commissioning famous artists to create works of art out of their cars. Maybe so soon after the famous divorce, Rover was trying to play BMW at its own game – but, if so, the consensus suggests that it failed.
In some respects, then, Rover was ahead of the curve in terms of predicting PR trends. It’s just a shame, therefore, that what came out the other end of the pipe was so truly and utterly hideous – a putrid pearlescent parody of a car that was already doing battle with an image problem. I dread to think what the hard-working, budget-less Designers and Engineers at MG Rover thought of the Marketing Department, and where it was directing its dollars. Perhaps MG Rover would have been better off investing in more advertising, or a good old special edition…
But no, along came the horrific Art Car, with its gold and pink flip paint scheme, light-up translucent pink instrument binnacle and glovebox surround and tailor made Persian rug in lieu of a carpet. The cabin looked like it should have been Barbara Cartland’s dressing room, not helped by its pink velour seats, nail varnish-coloured rear view mirror and doily effect speaker grilles…
According to the press release at the time, Matthew’s inspiration for the car was ‘Bollywood meets the Moulin Rouge’. In translation, perhaps that means ‘badly decorated curry house’, but we’re not sure.
The release went on : “In his inimitable style, this racy little number has been painted in a pearlescent antique gold that flips to pink, a colour scheme which is echoed throughout the interior of the ‘Art Car’. The interior of the doors and the ceiling have been dressed in fuscia (sic) and gold Indian silk, with a detailed screen-printed design, while on the floor is a beautiful fitted Persian rug. The dashboard has been moulded in translucent plastic and backlit in pink. A specially commissioned pink leather covers the steering wheel and gear-stick.”
Sorry guys, but you’re not selling it…
According to the release, Matthew Williamson was internationally heralded as one of the finest fashion designers working from the United Kingdom. His distinctly whimsical and ultimately feminine creations had won over the hearts of not only the fashion pundits but also celebrities such as Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Elizabeth Hurley, Kate Moss, Jade Jagger and Helena Christensen.
Despite Williamson’s claims that cars were ‘the ultimate fashion accessory’, he failed to win over the hearts of the British automotive media, most of whom didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry when the 25 Art Car made its colourful debut. I was there at the time, and while none of them actually printed it, I heard more than one of them utter the phrase, ‘What the…?’
If only we’d had the acronym back then…