New Model Launches

by Wheelnut

For many years now, it has been common for scale models of cars to be launched simultaneously with the real car. It is in the interests of both the carmaker and the model maker to do this, as there is a multiplying effect in the launch publicity that helps both parties. Many of us within the companies that made up the Rover Group got to know the Corgi Toys top designer, Marcel Van Cleemput, over the years as we worked with him confidentially to ensure that new Corgi models appeared in parallel with our own new full size vehicles. The last such exercise I was personally involved with was for an MG Maestro 1600 model (with working front and rear lights) timed for the Maestro’s debut at Geneva in March 1983.

Regrettably, Corgi’s parent company, Mettoy, fell into hands of the Official Receiver in October 1983. (The present Corgi company grew out of a management buy-out in 1984). Marcel Van Cleemput made excellent use of his inside knowledge and a huge archive of Corgi models and literature to produce a massive (3kg) full colour book covering the definitive history of the Mettoy/Corgi era. I’d recommend this tome to any model enthusiast (New Cavendish Books – published 1989 – ISBN 0 904568 53 9)

One of the ‘now it can be told’ stories in this book relates the saga of a Corgi model that was ready for launch in parallel with a hush-hush new model from Rover in 1958. This was a rather strange concept that would have been launched as the ‘Road Rover’. It was based on a shortened Rover 4-cylinder (60 then 80) P4 chassis, and had an odd two-door estate car body design. In some ways it anticipated the 1970 Range Rover, but without that vehicle’s iconic style and 4x4 versatility. It represented a most unusual lapse of judgement by the Wilks brothers, Spencer and Maurice, who ran the Rover Company so successfully in those days, because they really did intend to produce and sell this curious-looking car. Corgi went to great lengths to keep the details of this new model secret while they were tooling up their version. They even created two separate embossing tools for the chassis pressing, one reading ‘Road Hawk’ and the other ‘Rover 90’, the idea being that the ‘Hawk’ and ‘90’ sections would be machined off at the last minute to create a composite ‘Road Rover’ legend on the underside.


Original Rover prototype
There must have been considerable internal debate about the Road Rover at Solihull (we’re sure, for example, that Rover’s Stylist, David Bache, was very anxious not to be blamed for the looks!) because after many postponements, it was cancelled. This left Corgi with some useless tooling and box-printing plates, but Marcel kept the one prototype and its proof-printed box for posterity. Rover had built eleven full size prototype Road Rovers, and several of them were used as hacks for years – Spencer Wilks kept one at his estate in Islay. At least two Road Rovers survive to this day. The Rover engineer Dick Oxley was once re-fuelling a Road Rover at a petrol station, when a fellow motorist called across: “That’s nice, did you make it yourself?” Somehow, that summed it up.  

The one and only prototype of Corgi's model

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