Video : Rover 800 design and development

The excellent ARRG Alumni Group has pulled another blinder by releasing this intriguing and insightful Rover 800 development video. It’s voiced over by the late Roy Axe, features a number of notable Designers and gives a brilliant overview of the Design Studios at Canley.

The Rover 800 development story is a particularly interesting one as it dovetailed with Honda’s increased involvement with British Leyland, and the huge expansion of the Canley Design Studio after Roy Axe’s appointment as Design Director in 1981. The results of this expansion of the studio are clear for all to see here, with large, brightly-lit, areas to work in and display styling models, and it all looks very well resourced – not always the case at the Longbridge Elephant House.

The real joy of this video is that it brings to life all of the Rover 800 design sketches (links below) we have on this site, as well as the characters behind it. Roy Axe, who voices over the video, was a warm and engaging character and it really comes across here, with his soft mid-Atlantic accent, no doubt picked up during his time working the USA for Chrysler.

Rover 800 styling

‘A classic British executive express’

In addition, you’ll see future Design Directors Geoff Upex and Gordon Sked in action, reviewing and viewing, as well as a plethora of IT systems that really were at the cutting edge of their industry back in the mid-1980s.

Roy Axe comments on the video, ‘looking at the interior, the key values here remain the traditional British values of wood and leather but interpreted in a contemporary style using soft leather and fabrics that you would find in designer furniture. There is a one-piece feel to the interior with excellent visibility for the driver and the passengers.’

He concludes: ‘To sum up, I believe the Rover 800 to be a driver’s car with superb passenger facilities – its proportions are right and attention to detail outstanding. What my team has done is to produce a classic British executive express for the age in which we live in now – and for the next decade of executive motoring.’

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Rover 800 in the wind tunnel

Keith Adams


  1. I thought it a very advanced car when I first saw one as an impressionable young 24 year old in 1987, I still hold that view today and am a proud owner of a very early surviving example.
    Great to be able to see the car at its design stage.

  2. This is a fascinating video, and I would have found it easier to watch if I could have suppressed the “Contour Lines” advertisement pasted over part of it.

  3. The size and depth of the monitors on the desks is a reminder of how far computer technology has progressed. I can remember working with things that size.

  4. Nice little video and shows the 800 was an imposing car (good collaboration with Honda). Interesting to see most of the design staff wearing jackets and ties at work – unlike these days. I used to work in video production and recognise the music used here was the same I used in a 1986 corporate video too. Hard to believe it was 36 years ago

  5. “These buyers don’t want ostentation – they’re looking for a quiet statement of excellence.”
    Qualities that you’d be hard-pressed to find in any of today’s executive cars. I’m a buyer who doesn’t want ostentation, but all I appear to be offered now is more and more in-your-face aggressive bling.

  6. Is it just me or does it sound like Roy Axe’s narration is actually being done by the actor Jim Carter? No slight at all on Roy, but it’s a fairly common PR stunt to call in a professional voiceman for such things.

    • I’d say so. I knew him reasonably well and that sounds like him. I always thought when we were talking that if I closed my eyes, it was Clive James I was sitting with.

      • Keith – that’s quite uncanny, Roy A does sound remarkably like the “Kid from Kogarah”! I had a chuckle given the 800 video has the authentic setting and genuine participants. I used to work in the R&D department of the Australian arm of an American company, they also had significant UK operations. Anyway, one night I was at home and a TV ad comes on, purporting to be depicting activity in that very R&D Dept. Suffice to say, I didn’t recognise the setting let alone the white lab-coated staff shown labouring away within. There was not a single mention of it from management before or after the event.
        You may be interested to have a look at this video which involves Leyland Australia at the time they developed the P76. Ignore the “Join the Club” messages etc., it’s also posted on YouTube as well.

        • I’ve noticed the link I posted might be inclined to start the video about 3mins before its ending. Be sure to drag the slider back to the start if that occurs!

  7. That was a superb video – car design was something I badly wanted to pursue as a career. I veered off course when it came to my degree and studied product design instead. Watching this reminds me why I was interested in automotive design in the first place. Designing a car always seemed to me to be just about the best job out there!

  8. Roy Axe “To sum up, I believe the Rover 800 to be a driver’s car with superb passenger facilities – its proportions are right and attention to detail outstanding. What my team has done is to produce a classic British executive express for the age in which we live in now – and for the next decade of executive motoring.”

    And this vision was arguably correct, at least for the start of the next decade. By 1995 800 was becoming rather long in the tooth and BMW had moved the game on significantly with E34 and then the game changing E39.

    I love Rover 800’s however and Roy Axe and the team did an amazing job considering the headwinds they had in the mess that was BL / AR / Rover.

  9. In reality the Rover 800 should have been updated onto the 1990 mk2 Legend platform rather then constrained to the previous one from the mid-1980s, which would have prevented it from rapidly falling behind the opposition by the time the 75 appeared. Although did wonder what would have happened had Rover already committed to producing a Roverized versions of the 1995 mk3 Legend prior to the BMW takeover.

    In better circumstances the 800 would have not needed either the Honda C nor Rover KV6 aka Merlin V6 engines, but instead have featured another in-house 2.7-litre V6 alternative that was developed sometime in the 1980s to be used in the 800 only to be canned near the end of the decade in 1988 because of a number of problems that needed to be resolved (the engine in question can apparently be found on display at the British Motor Museum).

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