Rover Lightweight Cars 1904 to 2004.
Those of you who's interest in British cars pre-date's
the 1980's may consider the smaller cars produced in the twenty first century
with a Rover badge not in true tradition of the marque. But during hundred
years that Rover cars have been produced, lightweight cars were produced
for sixty-five of those years.
It was during the period from 1949 to 1984 when
the smallest Rover car produced was at least 2 litre that their image of
being exclusively a large car manufacturer was formed. For the first forty
years of the company's car producing history a lightweight car was always
in the catalogue alongside the larger more expensive models.
It was in 1904 after sixteen successful years
of bicycle manufacture in Coventry that The Rover Cycle Company Ltd produced
their first car the first Rover EIGHT. The name was changed to Rover Company
Ltd in 1905. It was of unusual design for the period, that consisted of
the 1,327cc single cylinder water-cooled engine, the three speed gearbox
and the propeller shaft in a large steel tube, the whole forming a backbone
chassis that terminated in an un-sprung rear axle. The EIGHT was followed
a year later by the SIX, with a 780cc engine, (later of 802cc.) also a
water-cooled single, but the chassis was of a more conventional design
for the period with a steel plated wooden frame. The front beam and rear
live axles were sprung on 1/2 elliptic springs. Both models were produced
For a year between 1911 and 1912, Rover produced
a car fitted with a 1,052cc single cylinder engine with patented "Knight",
sleeve valve gear normally found in expensive Daimlers. The English Daimler
Company held the European patents for a valve system devised by an American
Charles Y. Knight that used two sleeves that moved, one inside the other
inside cylinder covering and uncovering the ports. The great drawback of
this type of engine was the high rate of oil consumption and the resultant
smoky exhaust. The Knight-Rover EIGHT, cost £250 complete in 1911.
It had a wheelbase of 7 feet and a track of 4 foot 1 inch and a chassis
weight of 11cwt.
It wasn't until 1919 that Rover again produced
a lightweight car, this was also named a Rover EIGHT. All the previous
Rover cars had manufactured at their New Meteor Works in Coventry. This
model would be made in a factory Rover purchased at Tyseley in Birmingham,
minus the bodies; the bare chassis then were driven to Coventry for these
to be fitted. The Rover management recruited a young engineer Jack Sangster
that brought with him his design for a two seat ultra light car. This had
a 998cc air-cooled side-valve flat twin engine that produced 13bhp. The
engine size was increased to 1135cc in 1923. It was a proper light
car with a chassis frame of channel section steel, with 1/4 elliptic spring's
front and rear. The engine was mounted in the front with three-speed gearbox
and a propeller shaft to a worm gear rear axle. It had a reasonable performance
with a top speed around 45mpg with fuel consumption of 45 mpg. Originally
priced at £250, this was down to £139 by 1925 the last year
of production when a total of 17,700 had been made.
The model that was to supersede the Eight the
9/20 was introduced in 1924 and was virtually an Eight but fitted with
a 1075cc water-cooled OHV four cylinder engine that produced 20bhp at 3,000rpm.
Rovers answer to the Austin SEVEN and priced at £175, thirteen thousand
were made by 1927 and the arrival of its replacement the 10/25. The 9/20
had evolved during its years of production with chassis and engine
changes and with an engine of 1185cc, the 10/25 was the outcome. In 1930
the EIGHT chassis was replaced by a wider and lower frame and the car was
available with an all steel body produced complete, painted and trimmed
by Pressed Steel of Cowley. The car was completely assembled at Tyseley.
Between 1929 and 1931 Rover had been working on a radical light car design
the Scarab, but that didn't reach production. A
For 1932 there were three lightweight Rover
models, the Family 10 which was the 10/35 with a new radiator shell, the
10 Special that had the same body and engine as the family 10 but had a
new chassis frame with 1/2 elliptic springs front and rear, a four-speed
constant mesh gearbox that included a free wheel. The engine was rubber
mounted and a spiral bevel rear axle. These models were the last to be
assembled at Tyseley, the factory being used for component production after
The third lightweight car was the PILOT, fitted
with a fashionable six-cylinder engine of 1,410cc in a 10/25 chassis. This
was replaced with a 10 SPECIAL chassis the following year and the engine
size increased to 1577cc. This model was short lived, only available
between 1932 and 1933 and was assembled at Rovers Helen Street Coventry,
where Rover's larger models were made.
For the 1934 season the P1 10 and P1 12 models
were introduced. They were fitted with a 1,389cc and 1,496cc version of
a new four-cylinder OHV engine. In a chassis evolved from that of the SPEED
PILOT model 1931/32. The SPEED PILOT was a tuned version of the PILOT.
Its importance feature was its chassis, this incorporated all the advanced
features of the 10 SPECIAL and PILOT model chassis but utilised a new frame
that went under rather than over the rear axle. There was also the P1 14
using the 1,577cc six.
The model range was updated to become the P2
models for 1937 and apart from the P1 14 six, dropped in 1938 it was Rovers
lightweight line up until 1948. The term lightweight, could only refer
to engine sizes, the cars themselves were by then no lightweights weighing
1270kg. By then Rover cars were being assembled at Solihull Birmingham.
The only post war Rover Company Ltd models that
approached the extreme limit of the definition of a lightweight car were
the P3 60 of 1948/49 and the SERIES 1 LANDROVER of 1948/52. The P3 60 used
a similar body to the P2 models but there were a couple of major changes
to the specification. It was the first Rover model to be sold with independent
front suspension and the first to be fitted with a version of what was
to become the legendary sloping head I.O.E valve engine, in this case with
a capacity of 1,595cc. This model was even heavier than the P2 models and
was soon dropped due to poor performance. Rover had designed and developed
a true lightweight car in period 1945 to 1947 the M Type. It was of conventional
layout with a 699cc water-cooled inline four cylinder engine with their
inlet over exhaust valve layout, producing 28 BHP. With an light alloy
platform chassis,coil spring and wishbone I.F.s and a live axle with coils
spring, panard rod and radius rod rear suspension. The project was dropped
in favous of the LANDROVER and didn't get past the prototype stage.
The SERIES 1 LANDROVER the first of the breed
was Rovers rendering of a Jeep replacement for Britain and mirrored the
Jeep's dimensions and general layout with a weight of 1176Kg. For the first
few years of production it was fitted with a 1,595cc engine related to
that used in the P3 60.
The Rover Company Ltd never again produced lightweight
cars and it was only after absorption by Leyland Motors and the formation
of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, that in 1984 BL Cars Austin-Rover
division used the Rover name on a lightweight car. This was the first Rover
200 series saloon; it was assembled at Longbridge the long-term home of
Austin cars. The 200 was an adaptation of the Honda Ballade with a 1342cc
(213) or 1598cc (216) SOHC Honda engine and 408,521 were produced by 1989
when it was replaced by the second 200 series now a hatchback model also
based on a Honda design, by then the companies name had changed to Rover
Group. It was joined by the Rover 400 a saloon version of the 200 in 1990.
The new 200 series and 400 series cars reflected the latest trend in straddling
the light/medium car range by being fitted with engines from 1396cc to
1994cc. To accommodate these engines, where as the first 200 series
car weighted 859kg, the lightest of the new 200 series weighted 1025kg.
And the 400 1044kg.
Also in 1990 another lightcar was produced bearing
the Rover badge. The Austin METRO had been in production since 1984. The
Rover METRO was a much Revised Version of that model and was fitted with
the Rover Groups K Series engine (In 1.1 litre and 1.4 litre form.) and
revised from suspension. In 1994 it had another name change to the Rover
100. The Rover 100 was produced until 1998.
The Rover 400 were again revised in 1995 was
an updated version of the design shared with Honda. The new 200 hatchback
of 1995 was on the other hand; of Rover design throughout and with some
styling changes was renames Rover 25 in 1999. Also in 1999 the 400 had
the same styling changes and was renamed the Rover 45.
Despite many changes in ownership of the company,
all the Rover Group light cars had been produced in one place, Longbridge,
Birmingham, England for the last twenty years. In 2004 Rover Group began
marketing the CITYROVER, produced by Tata Indica in India adding a new
dimension to the story.