Blog : Rover 800@30 – Genesis

From the News archive


12 November 1981

Today in Tokyo, BL and Honda announced that they had reached an initial agreement to design and develop a car, code-named Project XX. The media were told that Project XX would be an 1800cc model pitted in the market just below the Rover SD1 range.

Under the terms of the deal, still only at letter-of-intent stage, BL would make both its own and Honda’s versions of the car in Britain then deliver them to the appropriate dealers. BL said the cars would be similar in design but each would have distinctive features. Honda would do the same in Japan, thus providing BL with its own ‘home-produced’ model for the Japanese market.

The cars would also be on sale throughout Europe and North America. 
Ray Horrocks, Chairman of BL Cars, said in Tokyo that the venture would be one of the most significant influences on the motor industry in the late 1980s and 1990s. He was confident that the British unions would support the project because it would protect as many as 2000 BL jobs and many more in component manufacturers. The car would be based on the design philosophy of BL’s LM10 range of medium-sized saloon cars, the first of which was due to be launched in Britain early in 1983.

Ray Horrocks added: ‘It will combine the very best of British and Japanese automotive skills and will be produced on their respective strengths in different parts of the world.’

We now know that Project XX became the Rover 800 of 1986 to 1998.

However, the resulting car did not have an 1800cc engine, but units of 2 litres and above. Neither did it slot below the Rover SD1, but actually replaced it.


So was Project XX originally meant to be an additional model to the BL Cars range, with the big Rover SD1 continuing in production?

Keith Adams


  1. It’s weird that the original spec for XX sounds more like what became the Rover 600 a decade later!

    • Probably not. It’s more likely that it was just too expensive to do a refresh with Honda engines, because those were fwd transverse and the sd1 was rwd north/south, so you’d need new engine mounts, new transmission tunnel mounts, new coolant system headers… Just designing new engine mounts for the Talbot Alpine was supposed to take six months. Let alone everything else.. A reskin would have been possible but then there’s all the electronics that were going into newer platforms and EFI (which meant redoing all the fuel lines and tank for higher pressure). To drag the SD1 up to where the 800 was starting from square one would have been a formidable undertaking for which the money was not available.

  2. I’ve always been a fan of the 800. I do wish that it had kept the purity of this concept’s design (i.e. with the ‘spats), though. It’s a pity that it never really fulfilled its potential due to production engineering and reliability issues.

  3. By the sound of it, XX was also to use Maestro/Montego underpinnings at this stage being based on LM10 “design philosophy” – Wonder how long it took Honda to realise what an unsophisticated bag of spanners this was and ship in their own platform?

  4. Looking at Roy Axe work on the 800 in these early stages I see a a similar points as with the work at Whitley with what became the Tagora ie semi enclosed rear wheels, cab forward glassy cabin in the drawing at the top.

    Whilst Axe was not at Whitley when the Tagora was being styled, many of the people who had worked on it at Whitley moved to Canley as PSA wound Whitley down.

    You do see a lot of Chrysler Alpine / Solara in the both the 800 and the R8, such as the big plastic bumbers, light big clusters, generous overhangs and the 800 fastback Mk1 in particular looking like a Series 2 Alpine.

    • It was the aro look that was making the ground at the time – if you look at Ford’s Probe III, which become the Sierra you can see the same styling cues.

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