Blog : Was David Bache right to go skeletal?

David Bache

If David Bache was still alive, I’m sure he would respond to criticism of the so-called ‘Skeletal’ badge on the front of the first Rover SD1s. When I interviewed him to write the press kit for the original launch back in 1976, he laid some emphasis on the inspiration behind this, which was contemporary Scandinavian jewellery (Vikings, see?).

If you look closely at the badge, especially off the car, you’ll see that it is quite exquisitely detailed and, far from being a ‘cheap’ substitute, was in fact very expensive to make! However, the subtlety of it was lost on the general public, so customer pressure caused the reversion to the old-style acrylic badge on the late 1970s cars.

In a similar way, David Bache was pushed into bringing a smattering of wood veneer back into the interiors on the Series 2 SD1s when they were launched in 1982. I was quite shocked when I saw the very first pre-production SD1 cars in the Solihull Press Garage in early 1976, because the interiors were so purist and minimalist compared with the preceding Rover P6 and P5B cars – there wasn’t even a Rover badge visible inside, yet alone any wood!

With the perspective of more than four decades, was DEB right to move things on?

20 Comments

  1. The “Skeletal” Rover badge that was introduced on the SD1 was one of the many details that made the car such a departure from previous Rover products. To me what looked good in the mid seventies hasn’t really stood the test of time, personally I think that the SD1 didn’t have the same presence as the 2000/3500 and the 3-5 litre both look a higher quality product than the SD1. .Eventually Rover reverted to the original style badge which did give the cars a certain air that was a cut above what they actually were

    • The Triumph 2000 and the P6 looked higher quality because they were. In engineering terms the SD1 was something of a step backwards. Live rear axle replacing the fully independent setup of the cars it replaced.

      Allot of this was internal Leyland politics, Jaguar has too much influence and wouldn’t let Rover or Triumph compete in their sector of the market.

      I suppose simpler engineering was fine if was done well but there is no getting away from the fact the lack of interior quality and the limited range, only a hatchback, of the SD1, hurt sales. The market was basically surrendered to the Germans.

      If British Leyland had stayed away from the BMC basket case.

        • As per a famous online encyclopaedia – “A de Dion tube is an automobile suspension technology. It is a sophisticated form of non-independent suspension and is a considerable improvement over the swing axle, Hotchkiss drive, or live axle. Because it plays no part in transmitting power to the drive wheels, it is sometimes called a “dead axle”.

  2. He was proven right on many counts, even his downfall, the Montego rear quarter glass. I remember him well for his words and influence. The badge has seen many immitators over the years, so holds its ground well, and his aversion to sticking bits of tree and shiny metal were shown to be good design, as seen with Apple etc. His Cuban heels and odd hair made him a target for grumpy gutter Musgrove and Barr, and those immortal words from old Harold, of ‘feck off David’ still echo around the Round House I’m sure

    • Was DB right about the Montego rear quarter glass, Steve? Was it not claimed that he was pursuing some very of-the-time American-looking schemes with opera windows and such, and that this was what caused the ultimate Musgrovian dismissal you mention above?

    • Was he right about the Montego rear quarter glass? I thought he was pursuing some very of-the-time-in-America themes with opera windows and such, and this is what triggered the final goodbye from Musgrove you mention above?

  3. Personally always thought the series 2 Sd1 was the more attractive car still looking modern today, acrylic badge and interior wood all for the better.

    • It was better made and the reintroduction of the 2000 and better equipment levels on six cylinder Rovers kept the SD1 competitive. Then not forgetting the Vitesse, the fastest hatchback in the world in 1982 and the ultimate development of the Rover V8.

    • I disagree, the series 1 looked more svelte and elegant. The series 2 looked as if they just bolted stuff on. To my eyes, the flush headlights and new grille did not improve its looks.

  4. How ironic this interesting blog appears forty years after the ‘Skeletal’ badge was phased out on the SD1.

    The Skeletal badge wasn’t really anything that new to be honest. Look at the rear pillars of the P5B 3.5 Litre and P6 and there was a more ‘minimalist’ rendition of the Viking longship design finished in a bright finish metal. Even the grill badge on the P5B was a less ornate badge with its gilded finish than the larger enamel rendition on the 3-litre and P6.

    In my eyes the appeal of a good car designs goes further than the mere rendition of the badge on the grille or bonnet. If this wasn’t the case then I would never have bought an MG Maestro 2.0i with its fade-to-pink and flaking silver octagon badge, a late build MG ZR with delaminating acrylic… No. For me, the real appeal of owning these two models went way beyond the poor quality badges they were issued with.

    We have to remember that Mr Bache wanted to push forward new car design (and quite rightly so), right down to finer trim items such as badges. That’s one of the main reasons why many of his designs have stood the test of time so well and have provided inspiration for new generations of car designers.

    • I also owned a 2003 MG ZS with a grille badge that faded and started to lose its laminate. However I was lucky to get a replacement from XPart. In more recent times I’ve had Focus MK2 & 3 with badges that have deteriorated too, so some things don’t change. That’s why manufacturers exclude trim items and badges from warranty’s.

      I think the later Rover badge looked better but the skeletal was probably novel when launched. I agree that the Rover SD1 Vitesse was a fine pinnacle of the range.

  5. As it says in the article customer pressure resulted in reversion to a proper badge and a richer interior. So no,obviously he wasn’t right!

  6. I loved my 1978 3500 SD1, even though it did have its share of warranty problems. It was believe it or not a far better driving car than the 4.2 XJ6 ( terribly unreliable ) it replaced, and somehow the interior never felt as spartan as people now try to make out. ( Incidentally the early Rover 2000s were also uncharacteristically a departure from earlier Rovers in interior fittings) . Similarly, its handling was in fact better than the 3 Triumph 2.5PIs I had, because it did not suffer from the locking splines on the driveshafts under significant cornering forces. It was a car let down by the internal strife of the times

    • Taste is personal. David Bache’s was dodgy but then it was the 70s.

      Not agreeing that the skeletal badge was wrong – in fact it I think although it was stylish and simple in the scandi style. However it on certain colours you cant see it in bright light. The interior however was based on Bache’s ideas for the P8, but because of the budget constraints it looked cheap. If the original high quality materials in the P8 had been used maybe people would have not complained.

  7. In 1995 at age 25 in Aus I bought the dream car of my BL obsessed childhood. My Mum & Dad both worked for Rover when I was conceived & the Rover blood ran thick. My 1982 Sd1 was beautiful to look at, but almost sent me bankrupt despite being well looked after. Switches failed, a back door swung open on a roundabout & there were all sorts of odd issues. Like the rear wiper that didn’t work when I used it when reversing, but would once Drive was engaged. The sunroof that almost caused a brown moment when it wouldn’t close when a shower started. I rode a bicycle most places to keep it from mundane duties, but it seemed every time I touched it, something else would go wrong. Great concept, flawed execution that turned a diehard fan off. But if I had my time again, I’d repeat it.

  8. The original 2300 was cheap and nasty inside, with acres of cheap plastic on the dashboard and cheap looking cloth seats. Also lacking a rev counter made the dashboard look especially austere.

  9. The P6 didn’t actually feature wood but a thin Formica like material to my eyes as a kid.
    The skeletal badge looks so much more modern and wouldn’t look out of place now I think. How about softly backlit like a wolseley?!
    The interior was simply a different class to all the older stodgy BL And Ford fare with just flat hardboard door panels and shelves etc. This was sculpted, innovative and literally “designed” hi nterrior. its material and build quality let it all down. Such a shame. Outside, things like those rear lights ribbed so they wouldn’t just disappear with dirt was so different.
    I’ve owned 7 3500s (all worries 1s) and liked them all. My favourite was a sorted ‘79 in Persian aqua – no leaks, no rust, straight and amazing to drive and own. I was 21 at the time and simply outclassed everyone else with their capris and cavalier mark 1s. Such a shame it got driven into by a Merc at a junction by an idiot which killed it.

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