Opinion : RD1 early Design photos come to light

Rover RD1 early model

In AROnline’s recent article on the design of the Rover 75,  Richard Woolley says, ‘There was only one design theme and, apart from some minor changes, it became the production 75’. Now, photos of this early design have come to light, so we can see how true that is.

These photos were inside boxes recovered from a lock-up garage in Leamington Spa, containing more than 130 VHS cassettes from Rover Group’s Sales and Marketing Department. They were all due to be binned when the department moved out of Ivy Cottage, on the Canley site in the late 1990s, but luckily, they weren’t.

They remained hidden for over 20 years before they were donated to the Rover 200 & 400 Owners Club, digitised and then posted on YouTube for all to see.

Rover RD1 early model

A brown envelope containing these photos was also in one of the boxes. The exterior shots show the full-size Design model in the viewing garden of the then-new Design Studio at Gaydon. It carries the early ‘RD1’ codename on the number plates but is remarkably similar to the production 75.

There are several detail differences between the two, but how many can you spot? The interior photos of one theme show more changes and display just how ‘Art Deco’ the 75 could have been.

The ‘Rover D’ codename was part of the planned model line-up covering the ‘A sector’ (Mini/Metro), ‘B/C Sector’ (200/400) and ‘D Sector’ (600/800).

The recovered videos can be seen via either the Rover 200 & 400 Owners Club’s or the ARRG alumni’s YouTube channels.

Rover RD1 early model

Rover RD1 early model

Rover RD1 early model

Rover RD1 early model

Rover RD1 early model


  1. If it looks right, it is right, as the old saying goes. I remember Autocar et al had got numerous exterior scoop shots before the official announcement, show reveal etc but no one had got the interior yet. Having taken a break from auto journalism into PR I was driving home one afternoon and spotted an undisguised prototype with apparently uncovered dashboard in a lay-by on the opposite carriageway. Looped around next junction, came back down into the lay-by some distance behind him and sneaked up into the field above for a planned scoop shot through the front passenger window. Just as I am about to press the mobile phone camera ‘shutter’, the driver detected some movement, covered the dash and gunned the car away. Dang! I wondered a long time if the shot would have been ok and what I could have got for it.

  2. Still a good looking car to me. I always liked the 75’s two tone black & cream dashboard. I can only notice two changes to a production car.

  3. interesting to see it was badged as 725, suggesting that pre-BMW the 75 was intended to be the 700-Series. I always suspected that one reason BMW were interested in Rover was the fact they used the same BMW style of model designation, and I imagine BMW were keen to have it to themselves.

  4. Badging it as a 725 seems odd to me; people who already had an 8xx-series would see it as a downgrade to move to a 7xx-numbered car.

    That dashboard is a total horror! It looks like a juke-box had a collision with a 1970s VHS player.

    The rear view of the car shows dual tailpipes; I guess that would be for the V6. As a market-distinction feature it would have made sense to do the V6 ones with dual tailpipes and the lower-prestige 4-cylinder ones with a single pipe.

    Also interesting how in the side-view the dividing-line in the silly rear door quarter-light looks to be inclined backwards whereas the production version had it vertical. Personally I always hated quarter-lights, whether applied to front or rear doors. They break up the flowing profile of the doors and serve no real purpose. I guess it must make production cheaper than using curved glass?

    • yes I think the idea of a 700 series would have been a bit of a marketing fail, much like Rover trying to push the 200 and 400 series up a class in the mid 90s it would have been seen as a 600-series size car out of its depth replacing the much larger 800. I recall reading that Rover were working on a proper flagship 800-series replacement that would have sat above the 75/700 but it was cancelled, I assume due to lack of funds or possibly by BMW who didn’t believe Rover could compete in that segment profitably. Oh, and the quarter-lights are necessary to allow the rear windows to open, if you wanted the whole rear window to lower into the door it would have needed a much longer wheelbase

        • Thats part of the problem with the 75. What Rover needed was a 600 and 800 replacement to align with BMW, Mercedes, Audi and every other manufacturer. Instead it was up to its old Marina, Maxi, Princess tricks trying to straddle markets on the cheap with oddly sized cars that appeal to no one. The automotive world of course is littered with other such failures – Victor FE and Chrysler 180/200 to name but two.

  5. Lovely to see these important photos have been brought to light. I’m new to 75 ownership, and love every mile I cover.

  6. The heavily fluted leather and chrome control panel make it look much less retro. Anyone got images of the canned larger 800 replacement?

  7. The wheelbase and the rear door both look longer than the production car. It’s more along the length of the Limousine (Vanden Plas) then the standard production 75

  8. The retro look was a disaster, harping back to the old fat-cat Rovers before the P6. If only they had tried to take the styling from the P6, the car would have appealed to the younger generation.

    • I agree with you, but have always suspected that if you made a modern interpretation of a P6, you would end up something that would be very BMW 5 series shaped.

    • The basic problem was that Rover had no clear market position.

      Ask the public then “what is a Rover” and what came to mind?

      The R8 200 was a fantastic thing. It was clearly a cut above an equivalent Escort of the day, with a great engine, good handling, and a distinctive style.

      The XX 800 was likewise distinctive. A touch cheap in places. But the big problem with that design was it lacked the subtle “this metal is really thick” curves that marked out a C3 Audi 100 or a W124 Mercedes (and, yes, I realise those were very different price points, but premium was the game).

      Sticking a grille on the front of R8 just about worked. On XX it looked appliqué. On R6, likewise surprisingly worked (again, the interior really saved that one).

      But then it all started to unravel. R3 was a supermini trying to break into a class above. HH-R was just a total disaster. R40 was trying to make sense of a range screwed up reliance upon Honda styling, pitching at a market that was already half dead.

      It is such a shame. R40 had a great chassis. BMW’s olde-worlde obsession dragged Rover down a dead-end path, somewhat akin to where Jaguar ended up (and we’ve all seen the pain Jaguar have had trying to reinvent themselves).

      If you can’t answer “what is a Rover” before you start designing, you’re never going to come up with a great Rover, sadly.

  9. Looks a little longer and or has a lower roof line than the end product, which makes it look a good bit sleeker.

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