Opinion : Rover P10 saloon – What does it tell us?

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, a new (to you) image comes along and surprises you. I had the pleasure of finding the two black and white  photographs (above and below) in my Twitter inbox today – they were from long-time friend and colleague Richard Porter and he’d spotted them on the MG Rover Prototypes 1950-2000 Facebook Group. They were originally published in an article by Jon Presnell in Classic & Sports Car back in 1992, and Richard thought I’d be interested in seeing them.

He wasn’t kidding. In all the years of running AROnline, it never ceases to amaze me that we can still get to see new (to me) images and hear new stories. You’d think at some point things would start to dry up, then… pow! Anyway, Richard said that he thought it was, ‘an early, pre-Ferrari/Maserati rip-off re-design SD1 prototype that had been crudely re-worked into a saloon.’

I can see where he’s coming from and would agree. I’m going to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that this car is a Rover P10 cut ‘n’shut into a four-door saloon, probably as part of some feasibility study. The doors and flanks are identical to the prototype featured in our P10 page and the rear window line and bootlid look really quite crudely fashioned.

There’s certainly a very real chance that the prototype in these images is related to the cars that Rover showed us in its own publicity films and photography around the time – most famously MLY 375L, which, as we now know, was a P10 prototype. You can see the images of this car below…

Rover P10 in the wind tunnel

The rear door shut lines look different, so it’s unlikely to be the same car, but certainly there’s enough shared DNA to say with a great deal of confidence that it’s a P10. The question is why would they build a saloon P10 when the Design Team was so obviously committed to the fastback format?

Why indeed? Given the crudity of this cut ‘n’ shut, I suspect that it was lashed up quickly, possibly as a way of making a damaged prototype usable. Possibly… Maybe a request had been put in from above to see what a saloon P10 would look like, and what I find fascinating is that, despite the crudity of this prototype, there’s something quite interesting about it.

The reason for it could have been much simpler. Site contributor Stephen Marvin comments, ‘As my father, Rex Marvin, worked at Rover in the 1960s and ’70s, I vaguely remember this car. It was a crude notchback converted so it could be lent to a supplier (possibly Girling) for testing without camouflage and removing the risk of anyone discovering the hatchback USP of the Rover SD1. Based on an A-batch SD1 prototype, as shown in the other photos, but maybe with a modified front end. Some of these cars had upside-down Citroën GS front grilles, if my childhood memories are correct…’

The low-line and flat rear deck and near-vertical rear screen have a hint of 1980s Amercana about them – or at least a passing similarity with the Volvo 760. From the front, it gives off a healthy slug of Rover P6 and P8 vibes, which is surprising, given the two cars’ evolutionary diversity. Point is, it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as I thought it might.

And it also offers up another tantalising prospect. Was there a faction within the Solihull Design Team which favoured a saloon SD1 over a fastback one? Were there Engineers or Managers who thought what an executive car buyer really wanted was a saloon? In hindsight, they might have been right – but, in the event, the styling of what became the SD1 was the least of its problems, even if it would transpire that European executives did prefer saloons over hatchbacks…

…it’s just that it took the carmakers a decade or so to realise the fact.

Keith Adams
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13 Comments

  1. Is this the claimed David Bache Daimler proposal that was based on the SD1? I think it was mentioned in a book by James Taylor.

    • Just glanced at the photos in the book by James Taylor (Rover SD1 The full story p.39). But that Daimler proposal is different in several ways – the C pillar especially – which incorporates the air extraction vent like the hatchback. It also appears to carry over the hatchback outer door skins unchanged (with Bache “scallop” groove) while as far as I can make out the prototype pictured does not – suggesting a one-off disguise as mentioned in the next comment.

      • Thanks Chris – it was a while ago that i read it and couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like!

        The Blue supposedly P10 prototype just looks to narrow to be part of that programme – it looks to have the proportions of the later SD2.

        • We had that debate about the width and think what’s happened with it is that the image was squashed at some point… it is definitely a P10, just that it’s been distorted…

          I’ve replaced that image with one more correctly scaled

  2. As my father worked at Rover in the 60s and 70s, I vaguely remember this car. It was a crude notchback converted so it could be lent to a supplier (Girling?) for testing without camouflage and removing the risk of anyone discovering the hatchback USP of the SD1. Based on an A-batch SD1 prototype, as shown in the other photos, but maybe with a modified front end. Some of these cars had upside-down Citroen GS front grilles, if my childhood memories are correct…

    • Hi Stephen,

      That’s really useful information – will add this to the story. I have to say that it’s interesting how this stuff comes out…

      Regards
      Keith

      • Thanks, Keith, just a shame that the people who could really confirm it are no longer with us.

    • The Driven to Write suggestion that a re-clothed P6 would have been a better idea is not plausible. Neither is the basis for the theory – that the P6 was a commercial success (350,000 P6 compared to 1.5m DS, with the Peugeot 404 or 504, Merc W114…the list goes on). It was an also ran, outside the UK. Likewise the SD1 – we all love it but it sold only 300k. By any international comparison, it was not a major player, volume wise

      Also, the specifications quoted don’t make sense – the difference in size was bigger than quoted and the SD1 was mush more “right sized” for the role than the P6, which was effectively a class smaller.

      But the idea that a re-bodied P6 could fill the role the SD1 was aimed at is mistaken, as well as economically not viable. One aspect of the SD1 was that it essentially cheaper to build than the complex P6, a car so spacious and well packaged it carried its spare wheel on the boot lid.

  3. With enough development funding(!) perhaps a saloon SD1 could have made a plausible Triumph 2500 replacement with the 2300/2600 engines, along with the SD1 estate? Of course there wasn’t the money.

    • The SD1 to me would make a better Triumph than a Rover. More sporty, slightly downmarket

      The Rover version could then have been a more staid saloon, more like a W123 or Volvo 240 than a Granada.

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