ROVER 75 VANDEN PLAS (2002) by Ross Finlay (8 November 2002), carkeys.co.uk
Bit of a mystery car, this. Obviously a Rover 75, but, as it passes by, you can see some people doing a puzzled double-take, as if there's something curious about it that they haven't quite identified. Then, although it's good to see the Vanden Plas name back in circulation, if Rover is at Longbridge how come this model comes from Walsall?
Why are there no official performance, economy or CO2 emissions figures? Did I hear somebody mention a six-door variant? And what's all this stuff about the factory being equipped with a firing range where they blast off armour-piercing ammunition?
Yes, it's an intriguing prospect all round. Introduced at this year's Geneva Show and launched on the UK market in June, the 75 Vanden Plas is a special-order but very reasonably priced way into the limousine market. It may not have a glass partition behind the driver's seat, but it's a beautifully crafted long-wheelbase conversion absolutely not to be spoken of in the same breath as the expression "stretch limo".
While some cruder extended-length conversions need vinyl roof coverings to hide the hacksaw marks and welds, what old-established specialist coachbuilder S. MacNeillie & Son of Walsall produces is an impeccably finished V6-engined 75 Connoisseur automatic, fully approved by Rover, with 200mm or almost 8" of extra wheelbase and body length.
You might think the sky would be the limit when it comes to add-on cost, but the Vanden Plas attracts a premium of just £4425, and it's sold at under £28,000. That seems to me to be excellent value, and it's worth bearing in mind that Rover and MacNeillie worked very closely on the design, development, construction and engineering of the project. It's nothing like a Friday afternoon "Yeah, well, not a bad idea. Let's give it a whirl."
Going back to the questions at the top of the page, for an observer who hasn't noticed the extended wheelbase it's the unusually wide rear doors which seem out of kilter. The Vanden Plas starts as a standard 75 Connoisseur off the Longbridge production line and is then sent to MacNeillie's works at Walsall.
(Incidentally, while Vanden Plas was originally a Belgian coachbuilder, Austin bought its British branch in the late 1940s, which is why the name can be used by Rover today. Vanden Plas, of course, was a marque name in its own right for several years, when its catalogue included that rare machine the Princess R, fitted with a 3.9-litre Rolls-Royce military vehicle engine.)
While the standard car has audited performance, economy and CO2 emissions figures, there's no requirement to provide these for an after-production conversion. The six-door version is mainly for the funeral trade, which MacNeillie also supplies with hearses. It does minibuses too, for seated and wheelchair passengers.
And the firing range? Well, MacNeillie is a highly regarded company in the rarely publicised world of armoured VIP cars and police vehicles. In fact, to avoid drifting too far into James Bond territory in this report, we'll come back to that side of MacNeillie's work in a later feature.
What it does to the 75, as delivered from Longbridge, is - well, nobody likes to say cut the body in half, rather that it's "separated", and then has the 200mm extension inserted on a jig. New body parts include a full-length roof, different rear doors and windows, longer sill finishers and so on.
Once MacNeillie has finished, there's no sign from the outside that it's ever worked on the car at all, except that, according to my chauffeur (more about that in a moment) it's just possible, if you know what you're looking for, to see some evidence in the brightwork along the waistline.
Inside, the Vanden Plas is a revelation. The leather-trimmed 75 Connoisseur has a polished interior presentation in any case, and the far better rear passenger space completely transforms it. Limousine-like accommodation is exactly the phrase.
The new roof panel provided by the MacNeillie conversion has additional reading lights, plus one of those brilliant ideas which just "light up" a car. I've always admired the retro instrumentation on the 75, and there on the rear roof panel is a duplicate of the clock on the fascia. Lovely little touch.
When you get out on the open road, the 2.5-litre KV6 engine and standard JATCO five-speed automatic transmission don't find the extra weight of the Vanden Plas bodywork much of a problem. This is no sports saloon, of course, but it was much more "wieldy" than I'd been expecting on some country B-roads, still showing a fine ride quality, and it wafts easily along motorways.
I hardly noticed the extra inches in the wheelbase, although I did try to keep farther out and turn in less vigorously than usual on sharp left-hand bends. The one thing you have to keep particularly in mind in town driving is to avoid getting too close to the kerb when turning left into side roads or at crossroads and T-junctions. Swinging round too soon could cause alarm and despondency among pedestrians waiting on the edge of the pavement.
And the chauffeur? Well, Rover had the most acceptable idea of sending me out with one of its own staff, who after a while ushered me into the back seat and took the wheel himself. That was certainly a splendid way to continue motoring, but the Vanden Plas is just as convenient for an owner-driver whose family or colleagues would appreciate more rear seat space than the standard 75 offers.
Pearlescent finish on the Royal Blue paintwork seemed a reasonable £450 extra on the price quoted below, and I think I'd certainly pay the additional £225 for a wood-rimmed steering wheel. After all, the Vanden Plas is competitively enough priced to allow for a few extravagances.
Insurance: Group 14
Performance, economy, emissions - see above.
ROVER 75 LIMOUSINE (2004)
A new 2004 Rover 75 Limousine, derived from the successful Rover 75 Saloon with a 200mm longer wheelbase is now Longbridge-built and distinguished by the new large-grille treatment, first seen on the new Rover V8. The 75 Limousine is wholly reminiscent of previous high-powered and ministerial Rover cars and is available in high-specification Connoisseur SE trim, combining supreme rear compartment legroom and interior proportions with extra interior lighting and provision for bespoke Monogram features.
The 75 Limousine has a 200mm wheelbase extension over the acclaimed Rover 75 Saloon and utilises the considerable strength inherent in the saloon body’s torsional-rigidity of some 24,000Nm per degree. Available in high-specification Connoisseur SE trim, the longer-wheelbase Rover provides increased rear compartment legroom, extra interior lighting and bespoke Monogram features, as required.
Compared to other limousines, the Rover offers quite supreme value for money with similar interior proportions, but at a price sometimes half, or a tenth of the expense. The Rolls-Royce Phantom for example costs £252,037, yet offers just 3cm of extra legroom, a similar headroom and 2cm more shoulder room, yet in tests carried out by Autocar magazine (March 30, 2004) comparing the two, wrote: "That the 75 claws an advantage with its primary ride quality is a victory of which Rover can be proud."
The Rover 75 Limousine is produced at Longbridge on the same advanced production facility that produces similar Rover body style variants, thereby ensuring a consistent high quality build standard and continuity of process. The 75 Limousine can be specified with a quad-cam, 2.5-litre light-aluminium V6 petrol engine or the common-rail turbo-diesel with either manual or automatic transmission. Both engines are highly refined generating 240Nm of torque from the V6 and 300Nm from the turbo-diesel, matched to the 5-speed JATCO automatic gearbox.
The 75 Limousine is available in three engine/transmission choices:
2.5-litre V6 petrol with auto Connoisseur SE £29,995,
2.0-litre CDTi turbo-diesel with Connoisseur SE £27,295,
2.0-litre CDTi turbo-diesel with auto Connoisseur SE £28,495.
Bespoke orders can also be placed on equivalent powered models with Connoisseur, Contemporary and Contemporary SE trim specifications.
Rod Ramsay, MG Rover Group's Sales Operations Director, said: "The Rover 75 Limousine is an elegant extension to Rover's car line-up and represents a supreme product proposition for astute-minded individuals who need, or demand, the extra-legroom environment. The distinctive large grille combines exclusivity with a presence on arrival that is absent on a number of ‘equivalent' double-priced competitors."