Tough, small multi-activity hatchbacks such as the Skoda Roomster Scout are all the rage now, but Rover could have got in on the act 15 years ago… and been at the head of the queue…
Keith Adams compares and contrasts two remarkably similar packages, separated by a mere 15-years…
WITH its uber-trendy multi-function interior, fat wheels, a funky colour scheme, and big black plastic bumpers, it’s hard to believe that the prototype Metro in which we’ve travelled to darkest Hertfordshire is well over 15-years old, and not straight off the motor show circuit. But here we are again, marrying the expression ‘missed opportunity’ with Rover – and ruing what might have been.
What makes the strident yellow prototype’s appearance all the more poignant, is the Skoda Roomster Scout parked alongside. Lauded by the press for its sharp design and rough tough detailing, Skoda’s trendy new faux off-roader looks so right for now… and yet next to the ADC Metro Scout, first shown at the 1991 NEC Engineering and Design Show, it suddenly appears to be an act of Czech plagiarism.
We doubt that Skoda’s resourceful design team had even heard of this Metro when they devised their Scout. It’s very much a 21st century car created to meet the demands of a burgeoning market sector; one that’s inhabited with SUV drivers now looking for suitable new wheels with a bit more social conscience. But green doesn’t mean soft – big wheels and high ground clearance are still needed to make easy meat of traffic calming measures, and big unpainted bumpers take care of the odd parking scrape.
Back in early 1991, ADC, a small automotive consultancy firm based in Dunstable hit upon the idea of creating a vehicle that ticked all of those boxes – but without the need to resort to the eco-friendly message that’s behind the current generation. Inspired, perhaps, by the Matra-Simca Rancho, it came up with the novel idea of creating a range of lifestyle vehicles to fulfil the needs of outdoor professionals, basing them on the recently launched Rover Metro.
According to Jim Ragless, a former Manager at ADC, “It was conceived and built by ADC as a showcase of our concept, design and build capabilities for the Automotive Engineering show at the NEC. The original idea was a possible evolution of the Metro range with more space, more utility and easier entry-exit to the back seats.”
However, the Scout project expanded into a six-car range using the same basic body style, but featuring multi-purpose interiors. Based on the five-door Metro, but with a taller roofline, longer wheelbase, and upright side-opening tailgate, the Scout would be tailored for a range of customers as diverse as outdoor photographers, and on-the-move businessmen. There was even a La Femme variation planned, which boasted an integrated hairdryer and parking ticket holder. Perhaps that wouldn’t make it today.
However, it evolved into a soft-roader as the full-sized model was fashioned in clay. Jim recalled, “We showed it with cycle racks and mountain bikes and a fitted picnic set in the back.”
The full-sized Scout eventually appeared at the NEC in what ADC described as ‘Specialist’ form – and it even attracted the interest of Prince Charles, a high-profile visitor to the show. Rover’s interest in the project was incidental and remained aloof – it donated the donor car to ADC, and continued its relationship with the consultancy firm… but the concept was never seriously investigated as it had its own off-road crossover vehicle in development. That would eventually sire the bigger, bulkier and more expensive Freelander.
As a result, the Scout was soon forgotten, consigned to the wheelie-bin of history.
However, nosing around the prototype today, it’s clear that the engineers and designers at ADC had pretty much got the formula right with its show car. Rear passengers are treated to individually adjustable seats, masses of head and legroom, and a myriad of nooks and crannies to stow their stuff. The driver’s view benefited from jacked-up suspension (which has now sadly sagged), and on the mean city streets, those fat wheels, big bumpers and wheelarch protectors were a very good thing to have.
It might have been conceived to meet the needs of the busy and outgoing professional of 1991, but the same formula seems to work perfectly well for the 21st century family.
Was the ADC Scout ahead of its time, and its non-appearance a missed opportunity? Undoubtedly. Looking at what turns the practical Skoda Roomster into the funky Scout, it’s hard to see how it can’t be. The formula’s identical – right down to the name – and families seem to be falling over themselves to buy cars like these. Jim certainly agrees, ‘In some ways maybe it was one forerunner of the mini-SUVs and small people carriers of today.’
It’s doubtful whether producing the Metro Scout would have caused a positive direction change in future history, but perhaps it would have been seen as a plucky pacesetter when events overtook it in 2005…