Oh Rover! So many grand ideas, so little effort! The Rover CCV (Coupé Concept Vehicle) could have been the answer to the company’s prayers in the late 1980’s. But instead is just another one of those missed opportunities that we can only look back on and imagine a world where this idea had been taken up.
In the mid-1980’s, Rover was undergoing a turbulent time as the company’s ownership changed hands. Sick to death of having to deal with it, the Thatcher Government decided to break up the nationalised conglomerate known as British Leyland, which had been suffering from poor reliability and hopelessly bad car design. By the beginning of the 1980’s, BL faced a defining moment when it made a deal with Honda to help create cars of better engineering than the Allegro and Marina it was trying desperately to get rid of. The result was the Montego, the Maestro, the Triumph Acclaim and the Rover 200, based largely of Honda products such as the Ballade and the Legend. Though much more reliable and selling well, the profits reaped were nowhere near as great as those being collected by rivals Ford, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, largely due to two factors. One; the unreliability that had plagued BL throughout the 70’s was still very much in evidence during the 1980’s, and these well-engineered cars suffered greatly from that. Two; many people found themselves questioning why they should buy a Rover, especially when considering that Honda was providing a near identical car for half the price!
All these problems and more meant that British Leyland had to come up with a new strategy, and in the mid-1980’s assigned a crack team of engineers to create a new range that would help the company define the 1980’s. In 1986, Rover was sold by the UK Government to British Aerospace, with the Austin badge now dropped and the only remaining marques being MG, Rover and Land Rover, this new private company being dubbed Rover Group. In 1985, MG proposed a 180mph supercar known as the MG EX-E, a smooth and sophisticated machine that could have been a contender for one of the best supercars of the 1980’s if the company had decided to go through with it. Sadly the MG EX-E was never meant to be due to fears of spending huge amounts of cash on a not very profitable niche market, but attempts to create a car of similar design both on a technical and cosmetic level, this new machine being aimed at the mass customer market.
Dubbed the Rover CCV, the car made its debut at the 1986 Geneva Motor Show, and was intended to be a coupe version of the upcoming Rover 800. Designed by Roy Axe, the company’s chief designer, the CCV basically shared the same underpinnings as the 800, which share the same underpinnings as the Honda Legend including a 2.0L Rover Straight-4 or a 2.7L Honda V6. The design however carried over many assets of the MG EX-E project, including a large overall glass roof and windows, a low, smooth body profile, colour coded and blended bumpers, and just an overall handsome aesthetic. In fact, the styling looks almost like some American cars of the 1990’s such as the Chevrolet Corsica or the Buick Skylark. The interior was also mocked-up for his prototype and boasted solid state instrumentation and a dashboard mounted CD player (very novel back in 1986).
So beautiful and sleek was this machine that it even wooed the US market. In 1986, Rover Group, and the previous British Leyland, were desperate to regain a foothold in the United States, the last car that was sold there being the Rover SD1, of which only 774 left the showroom. The CCV however got many American investors on board, especially with a huge market for two-door coupe’s in the mid to late 1980’s. Rover’s enthusiasm was high for such a project, and many envisaged the CCV being the new California Cruiser, the primary ride for those aspiring business executives out in Los Angeles. The project to sell cars in the United States was eventually dubbed Sterling, as due to the unreliability of the Rover SD1 heavily damaging the Rover reputation in America, the company was reluctant to show its face again without going via a third-party or under an assumed name.
However, once again the biggest problem that hampered any good idea that Rover ever had, was itself. While US and British investors were highly enthusiastic of the CCV project, the Rover management refused to commit to such a project, largely due to the poor sales of the Sterling project. Sterling was launched in 1986, selling what were essentially rebadged Rover 800’s as the Sterling 825 sedan, and even though the Rover 800 is a good car in its own right, the rather humdrum design mixed with biblical unreliability and the fact that the Honda Legend was also on sale in America for half the price but twice the performance, meant that sales for the Sterling were abysmal, with only 14,000 of the forecast 30,000 cars actually being sold. These alarming results made Rover (in its usual cool, calm and collected manner) panic and the CCV project was scrapped entirely in 1987. The Sterling project would lumber helplessly on until 1991, when, after losing cash like water, it was removed from the US market, with no more British mass-production cars being sold in America ever again.
Guys, it breaks my heart! The Rover CCV truly could have been the answer to all the company’s prayers if they’d just bitten the bullet and put the thing into production! Rather than rushing into the project blindly in an attempt to get cash in ASAP, Rover should have delay the launch of Sterling by another year, launching both the Sterling 825 and CCV simultaneously, so if the 825 failed to sell the CCV and its beautifully crisp design and overall contemporary feel, could have picked up its slack. Also, an overhaul of the company’s quality control and work ethic should have also been a part of this major image change, sending cars out which actually were reliable, built properly, and had been constructed with at least a smidgen of integrity! Instead, the company went on a hide into nothing and ended up costing themselves an absolute fortune. There’s nothing to say that the CCV wouldn’t have sold here in the UK or in Europe, the 800 certainly did well on the domestic market, just enough to keep its head above water for the duration, so the addition of a highly futuristic model such as this could have easily helped reverse some of the company’s fortunes.
Sadly not, the CCV unfortunately became a victim of that fatal formula that plagued both British Leyland and Rover right up until the end. Great cars, poorly built, but managed even worse!