Opinion : When Rover met Bugatti

2005 Rover RDX

I always love emails like the one that delivered these stunning design images. It came from John Turner, former Chief Engineer, MG Rover Projects, and depicts one of MG Rover’s design ideas to extend and modernise its very capable Rover 75 platform, and move it beyond the RDX60 hatchback project.

The background to these images is fascinating. MG Rover was facing an existential crisis – since the beginning of 2004, the company had desperately been trying to land a deal with SAIC Motor to produce its cars in China and join forces on future product development. The talks were proving famously inconclusive, and the Chinese were proving elusive when it came to signing on the dotted line.

In early 2005, and with months left, the company went on a major charm offensive to get the Chinese on board. It had been accepted that the rather unsexy RDX60 wasn’t enough to do the deed by itself so the company’s talented young Designers were tasked with creating some design concepts to show to SAIC Motor’s executives and demonstrate what they – and the platform – were capable of.

A race against time

MG Rover’s future lay ahead of it – and it could be measured in weeks. And with a team led by the brilliant Peter Stevens, and including such young talent as Lee Mitchell, Adam Gompertz and Dan Bowen among others, they were bound to come up with some interesting ideas!

You can see the results of the last ditch plan to turn things around in the RDX60 development story page (linked above), but these previously unseen images – which appear to have been penned by Dan Bowen – demonstrate that MG Rover wanted to show the Chinese that it was deadly serious about taking the Rover marque back upmarket for a launch in the world’s fastest-growing car market.

Sadly, we all know the ending. SAIC Motor walked away at Easter 2005 and, by the following month, it was over for MG Rover. The company went into administration, with Nanjing Automobile Corporation picking up the bones, and the much of the firm’s workforce, including its Design Team, being scattered to the four winds.

All the design

What I find fascinating about these images is just how natural Rover’s developing design language worked in a more upmarket direction. This curvaceous coupe/saloon, cast in the Mercedes-Benz CLS mould, was clearly inspired by the Bugatti Veyron as well as the Rover P5B and it works rather well.

Looking at it with the benefit of 20 years’ worth of hindsight, it’s a car that, had it made it into production by some miracle, would have sunk without a trace in a world that was about to be overrun by an absolute avalanche of SUVs. But, still, this is a lovely-looking idea and Rover-ish enough to help take the brand forwards in a new and exciting direction.

Interestingly, though, in today’s EV-centric world, the idea of a fast, beautiful saloon is making a return on the coat tails of cars like the BYD Han, HiPhi Z Sedan, Lucid Air and Volkswagen ID.7, so here’s an intriguing thought: could this Rover/Bugatti mash-up have been just the thing for here and now?

2005 Rover RDX

Keith Adams
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15 Comments

  1. Mmm. Not sure on its looks. Reminds not just of Bugatti but also Mercedes CLS which I always found s bit awkward. The problem for MG Rover was that it’s design talent was good, its senior management were not, and they had picked the ugliest of the designs to develop into the RDX60.

  2. If this had made it to production I seriously doubt it would have looked much like this rendering. The proportions are ridiculously exaggerated and the wheels absurd. I’m guessing the productionised car would have looked something like a Lexus GS 300.

  3. @Standhill:

    Fair point, although this is usually how those initial design renderings start out before there is a more formal process of thinking about how those renderings need to consider the reality of becoming production feasible. Designers love showing design renderings with oversized/exaggerated wheel sizes etc as it looks more dynamic and exciting.

    Despite this, its good to see there was actually a serious intention within MG Rover Group to explore ways to try and restore the upmarket aspirations of the Rover brand with new product actions, should time and finances have been on their side. Hopefully, if there had been a realistic opportunity of this happening, they would have been more aesthetically appealing in production form than the 2004 facelifted Rover 25, 45 and 75 models were (Rover 75s fitted with the premium front grille being the exception to this criticism).

  4. That car would’ve been interesting had MG Rover not crashed, and offered something exciting to the product lineup. A nice four door sporty car with room for four adults and a decent boot, plus those swoopy curvy looks. A sadly missed opportunity.

  5. Yes, an interesting design and very appealing to me at least. I see this as a car to have easily rivalled Jaguar, Merc, Audi and BMW. Sadly, as mentioned here, it would have been outnumbered by the SUV brigade. Shame, but thanks for sharing these images.
    ps. I loved the R75 premium grille too!

    • I can’t see the faintest evidence to suggest that the P5 Coupe influenced this design as the original article suggests . It’s not bad looking if you like the jelly-mould era of styling , but it’s no XJ6 which had a crisp beauty that in my view has never been equalled

  6. Looks OK, although as others have said it would have to have looked very different in production. Sadly Rover weren’t in any position to develop new products without massive external investment.

  7. These renderings, with their ludicrously oversized wheels, small glass area and low roof line need to be considered in the way the similar “sexed up” sketches that led to the 75 looked, yet translated into something far more mundane.

    Also as SAIC’s later reskin of the Rover 75, the MG6 showed, the 75 whilst decent enough in 99 was by 2009 very mediocre would have been well behind the A4, 3 Series, C Class curve that a new Rover exec would have been pitched against.

  8. In reality this is vapourware, a nice (or ugly) sketch that is pointless without the vast resources needed to bring it into production.

  9. Nobody seems to notice but Maserati Ghibli has produced the type of car you’re talking about, a very smooth and exciting four door saloon with loads of power from a Ferrari diesel engine. ???

    • A Ferrari diesel? Are you sure about that? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but then I don’t have my finger on the pulse of present day automotive technology.

        • I just had to look this up. According to Wiki the V6 diesel is developed by Ferrari’s Paolo Martinelli from the engine used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. So I suppose it’s sort of Ferrari, but not really.

  10. Way ahead of its time but also out of time and money. Hyundai would appreciate such optimistic flair today looking at their iconic Ioniq 6.

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