Changing up from first to second gear, to use their expression, the Austin-Rover Group has announced a major sporting programme for 1984. Two or three Rover Vitesse models in every round of the European Touring Car Championship is a welcome commitment, as will be the intention to run a limited rally programme for the 280 bhp models, but the real surprise of the announcement was the introduction of the rear-engined Metro 6R4 rally car which will, if all goes well, be put into production early next year for homologation around April 1985.
For two years now the Frank Williams Grand Prix team has been involved in the design of the four-wheel-drive Metro, chief designer Patrick Head and four assistants working on the general concept of the car alongside four Austin Rover Group engineers. The 6R4 started its trials a year ago, and will run as a prototype in selected events this year. Assuming a degree of success and reliability, 200 replicas will be built in an area already reserved at Longbridge and will be sold, according to sport director John Davenport, “at reasonable, not exotic, prices”.
The 6R4 is powered by a “sawn off’ six-cylinder version of the Rover V8 engine, of 2.5-litre capacity and developing about 250 bhp, though by next year a works car, or cars, should be developing up to 320 bhp in a machine weighing about 900 kg.
Significantly the Metro is not turbocharged, and Davenport hopes that it will not be necessary to find extra power at the expense of weight, complexity and the inevitable turbo lag. The whole concept is based on a simple design which will be easy to service in the field, light weight and ideal handling characteristics.
To their credit the team have concentrated on a complete “in-house” development, designing a new five-speed gearbox and their own 4wd system with three differentials. The V6 engine is mounted longitudinally in the rear, with the gearbox ahead of it and transmitting power via a transfer box.
The Group has announced a complete competitions package which builds upon existing programmes with the Metro Challenge in three countries (run to identical regulations, and including an international series), a pair of MG Metro Turbos and a pair of Rover Vitesses in the British Saloon Car Championship, plus works cars in the German and French saloon car championships.
Tony Pond and the Belgian driver, Marc Duez, will drive the Metro 6R4 in selected rallies and Pond will also drive the rally Vitesse, which is prepared by TWR Racing and will see Tom Walkinshaw at the wheel in some events. Pond and Peter Lovett will handle the Rovers in the British saloon car championship, while in Europe the team will be led by Jeff Allam, Steve Soper, and German driver Armin Hahne.