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Rover RDX60 uncovered (2006)

Published: 21 November 2006

Rover RDX60: the lowdown

The car charged with saving MG Rover has been uncovered deep within Longbridge. Codenamed RDX60, this is an early model of the five-seat hatchback designed to replace the Rover 45, and do battle with the Focus and Golf. Languishing in the corner of Longbridge's flight shed, the aero test model now looks dusty and unloved, but this top-secret prototype once formed the centrepiece of MG Rover's future model plans – and with it, the prosperity of the ailing carmaker. Based on the Rover 75 platform, the Golf rival was co-developed with consultants TWR in Worthing. Underneath the ungainly bodyshell, which dates back to 2002, beats the heart of a Rover 75. MG Rover originally planned to get the car into production in 2004, but delays and a lack of cash eventually meant RDX60 was stillborn.

Managers at war

One look at this styling buck and you're probably thankful that the RDX60 never saw the light of day. This model has heavily chiselled flanks, and a bulky, truck-like front. While practicality may have been impressive, it was far from good-looking. Rover sources claim that MG Rover boss Kevin Howe over-ruled design chief Peter Stevens, who designed the McLaren F1, urging him to develop this theme. 'Howe chose the final design over some much more stylish options,' said an RDX60 engineer, adding: 'When styling departments present their design themes to the directors, they usually already know which one they want, and present a couple of lame ducks as alternatives. To me, it looked like Howe had gone for the lame duck.'

Under the skin

Although the RDX60 was more compact than the Rover 75, its wheelbase remained the same. This enabled the retention of its bulkhead and scuttle, keeping things simple and cheap. The suspension was changed, with BMW's expensive and patented Z-axle set-up dropped from the RDX60 in favour of a beam axle. The engines were the K-Series units used in the 75/ZT tweaked for Euro4 emissions, and the diesel was a heavily revised common-rail version of the existing L-Series power unit developed with help from Siemens. Plans to use the Fiat JTD unit in 1.9-litre form were investigated and quietly dropped.

Trouble at TWR

Engineering consultancy, TWR, was contracted to assist MG Rover with the RDX60. In January 2002, the group was called in to help push the car more rapidly towards production, using some of the industry's most advanced computer aided modelling. TWR used virtual prototyping on the RDX60, to accelerate the project. With so much modelling being done on computer, time was shaved from the programme – enough for MG Rover to confidently tell suppliers that the new car would be on sale in early 2004. However, when TWR went into administration in early 2003, the project data was with-held from MGR for at least six months, a massive setback for the programme.

The end for RDX60

Delayed and overweight, MG Rover needed a partner in order to share the cost of getting the RDX60 into production. After a failed alliance with China Brilliance, MGR planned to form a joint venture with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) in 2004. The Chinese weren't keen on RDX60's styling, and began demanding changes. Deadlines to finally sign the joint venture came and went, as did facelift proposals for the ugly Golf rival. In the end, SAIC wouldn't commit, terrified of MG R's heavy losses and fearing it might be liable if Longbridge went under. Sure enough, in April 2005 MG Rover died, taking the RDX60 with it to its grave.

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