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Austin AR6 (1987)

Published: 08 October 2007

Surely a secret OLD car! Why should we care about Rover’s Metro marvel buried for 20 years?

If you reckon Rover brought about its own fate by offering poorly designed products, selling long after their sell-by dates, then think again. This exciting Austin AR6 prototype Metro replacement clearly shows that the company had the car to go straight to the top of the supermini class by the late 1980s… and who knows what might have happened had this one hit the market? One of many criticisms levelled at the original Austin Metro was that it was too old under the skin when launched in 1980 – and then it hung around for far too long before getting the chop. And when it did die, its replacement looked exactly the same. Had the designers and engineers got their own way, and the Government given them some money to play with, things could have been very different. Read CAR’s investigation into the MG Rover inquiry in the new November 2007 issue of CAR Magazine on sale now

This AR6 certainly looks more modern than the Rover Metro…

That’s because it is. Penned by stylists at Rover under the former Chrysler and Rover design director Roy Axe, the AR6 was forward-looking and heavily influenced by Italian concept cars, such as the Ital Design Megagamma. Readjust your artistic settings and today it still looks generically modern – it’s difficult to believe that the AR6 was created in the middle of yet another industrial maelstrom. It was meant to be part of the second wave in a product-led recovery for BL, and after the Rover 800, guaranteed to secure the company’s future into the 1990s and beyond. That was the idea, at any rate. The plan was to use the K-Series engine alongside a new diesel powerplant, and conventional suspension. A massive and airy interior would make it feel exceptionally grown up to drive after the Metro. As a British answer to the Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205, the AR6 certainly ticked all the right boxes – on paper at least.

So what went wrong?

In a word – money, or the lack of it. Product planners and designers had the AR6 penned it in for a 1988 launch, but when the £400m-or-so that was needed to get it into production wasn’t forthcoming in the run-up to the 1987 General Election, the programme was put on ice, and replaced by the R6 plan – re-engineering the existing Metro to accept K-Series power.

So futuristic was the AR6 back in the 80s?

Cheerily described in internal documents as an aluminium-bodied 100mpg supermini to beat all-comers, the AR6 project made it no further than the glassfibre bodied prototype that survives today at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon – and which was scooped in the pages of CAR Magazine back in 1986. When the political storm of the mid-Eighties robbed us of that car, Rover’s chances of long-term future survival were almost fatally damaged.

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR