Welcome to The Chronicle, a new series where I’ll discuss some of the fascinating but little-known stories of the car world. Let’s start with one of my personal favourites.
In 2000, the struggling British carmaker MG Rover, previously known as the Rover Group, was broken up and sold by BMW to the Phoenix Holdings consortium for a nominal sum of £10.
Work soon began on the ‘RDX60’ project, a rival for the Volkswagen Golf intended to replace the company’s existing Rover 45, which entered production five years earlier and was ageing rapidly. However, by mid-2001, not much progress had actually been made on the project. It was still its early stages, and no physical prototypes had been constructed. To ensure that the public remained unaware, the company’s PR department came up with a devious plan.
They grabbed a run-of-the-mill Wedgwood Blue Rover 75 sedan straight off the production line, and proceeded to ‘camouflage’ it by taping black rubbish bags to its body panels. It was parked at the MIRA test track for some photos, after which the 75’s boot was Photoshopped off to make the ‘test mule’ look like a hatchback.
To complete their plan, an MG Rover employee met with the editor of British magazine Autocar for lunch, and conveniently let it ‘slip out’ of his bag as he left.
Months later, Autocar ran the photo as their cover story, and everyone bought it. As far as the public was concerned, MG Rover’s all-new hatchback was in development, and was on track for a mid-2000s debut.
Many members of the car community believe this car would have saved the struggling British brand. Sadly, it never saw the light of day, as MG Rover went bankrupt in mid-2005, taking the RDX60 project with it to the grave.