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Kat Design.

Kat Designs' innovative new Rover modifications transform the saloon into a veritable supercar.
In this exclusive interview, David Sumner Smith discusses the exciting new 150 mph Kat Rover with stylist Simon Saunders

"The world of car design Simon Saunders is quick to point out".
has got many British stylists as its leading lights. But looking around at all the biggest studios it would be easy to be fooled. They all seem to be abroad".
The young stylist is one of those few exceptions; a British born automotive stylist who has chosen to live and work in the land of his birth.

Having worked in the design studios of both Vauxhall and Aston Martin Tickford, the ambitious young designer showed some months ago that he was prepared to step out of line. Aiming for the very top of his profession, he recognised that the most important factor was to make a name for himself - to establish a reputation as a stylist to be reckoned with.
Though he has never disguised his ultimate aim of styling a new vehicle in its entirety, Saunders is realistic enough to recognise the financial constraints and sees the current boom in body modification packs as a great opportunity. Not only did it give him the chance to strike out on his own, but also the possibility of bringing his talents to the attention of the widest selection of enthusiasts "if nothing else, it will hopefully make more people aware of the fact that there are British stylists alive and working."

At the same time as presenting a great opportunity, the current boom in aftermarket body modifications does represent a risk area. "With the explosion in demand, it's tempting to try to offer styling kits for as many cars as possible. But while it's a factor to be borne in mind, I don't want to debase my skills as a professional stylist.
There's my long-term reputation as a designer to think about.

"Being British myself, it had always been in my mind that a British-built car should be the next in line. Recognising the fact that Rovers have been improved an awful lot over the years and with an admitted personal bias in favour of big cars, the choice of a panel kit for the Rover SD1 seemed an obvious one"

Though disappointed by BL's seeming total disinterest in the project and tempted by the offers of assistance from foreign car concessionaires, Saunders set to work "One of the most frequently heard criticisms of bodywork modification kits is that they are merely flippant and cosmetic." Bearing in mind the aerodynamic improvements, Saunders is quick to refute such a charge, but wanting to move evercloser to the design of complete cars he saw the possibilities of expanding the range of services offered by his company to include mechanical modifications as well as additional panels and retrimming. So even the most cynical of observers can now appreciate the changes which Kat can make.

On the Rover's exterior the modifications follow the already proven formula. The extra panels are moulded to the highest standards in GRP and supplied either ready to spray or already painted - or they can even be fitted by Kat Designs themselves.
Recognising the problems encountered by individuals selling modified production cars who have historically encountered a degree of opposition to the 'extras' and found it difficult to revert their cars to original specification Saunders set out to minimise the headaches. Whilst many bodywork modification packs involve the cutting of body panels or the use of filler to smooth in the additions, Saunders has tried from the beginning to avoid such work.

"It certainly does have advantages," he admits, "but it makes it virtually impossible to restore your car to standard "
For this reason the Kat panels are designed from the viewpoint of easy fitting and easy removal. Having first removed the straight (and all too easily dented) bumpers from their struts one can quickly attach the front and rear panels plus the side skirts using a combination of nuts and screws. Though pop rivets are also a possibility, Saunders prefers screws, finding that while less pleasing to the eye they can easily be tightened and are less prone to long term corrosion, Given the incon-spicuous nature of the fittings it's sound advice, for even should one opt for the less sightly screws then one could only see three on either side - and then only with the doors open, since the fittings are all hidden either underneath the car or in the door shuts.

Having chosen to follow the patterns set in this respect by the Kat Escort (his first conversion), Saunders also opted to duplicate the stylistic considerations of the firm's first model All the modifications are thus restricted to the area below the waist-line apart from a rear spoiler on the tailgate and the use of a red, reflective strip linking the tail lights. A single moulding now takes in the rear bumper, rear valance, lowered number plate mounting and the lower section of the rear fenders. Moving forward, the deep, flared sills are immediately apparent, but more telling is the way in which the panels extend upwards to bumper height, visually giving the lower section of the car an increase in width. The same is true of the frontal modifications, where once again the bumper and front fenders are taken in, combined with a deep front spoiler.

The one piece moulding also takes in two air intakes and mounting space for foglights. Beneath these are two vertical slots which tie up with deep slots in the rear modification. While ideally avoided in aesthetic terms, these slots serve a valuable purpose in allowing vital access to the Rover's four jacking points - a consideration all too often ignored by vehicle modifiers.

Though clearly treading in the foot steps of the Kat Escort with its flared sills, deep front spoiler and bulging wheelarches, the Kat Rover is subtly different For though the ingredients may be the same, the recipe has been altered All too aware (as any professional stylist would be) of the general softness of the Rover's form, Saunders has sought to capture the curve radii of the body panels in the modifications. While the Escort additions demanded fairly 'hard' edges, those for the Rover tended towards softness.

It is a tactic which has succeeded admirably. Indeed, far from looking like 'bolton goodies' (in the old, derogatory sense of the phrase) the Kat Rover modifications are entirely in harmony with the vehicle's overall shape. Ironically, Saunders has encountered one or two critics who tend to feel that the Kat Rover "doesn't look like it's got any extras at all." Perhaps he should have gone for a triple wing on the roof.

While the exterior modifications, which cost from 449 to 1095, are likely to form the core of the Kat Rover business, there are a number of other options that Saunders can offer. "Rovers can now be found at both ends of the market. With the number available and the cars tuning potential it will be both easy and cheap for someone to give their everyday motoring the kiss of life." But for those with slightly larger bank balances there is the option of luxury as well as individuality. A partial retrim, costing 1195, will take in new leather upholstery for the front and rear seats plus the interior door and side panels. thoug cheap at 2495, a total retrim takes in all this plus Wilton recarpetting new headlining and the use of leath cover virtually every speck of plastic to be seen.

The three weeks taken may seem excessive, but Saunders refuses to keep standaard colours in stock. The customer is fee to choose any colour combination he may wish and the cutting of the hides to fit is a lengthy process!
Best of all, a total retrim takes in a redesigned dashboard for the Rover, a unit that stretches the whole with of the car and is given a wooden facing.

If you would prefer your money to go in a different direction then Kat can offer yet another way in which you can transform your Rover SD1 into something special.
Indeed, far from being either flippant or cosmetic this is an opportunity to turn your saloon into a veritable supercar.

Through its newfound relationship with Turbo technics Kat Design can modify the V8 engine of the Rover SD1 by attaching an intercoller, twin turbochargers and other hardware. It's hardly a modification to be taken lightly, putting the four door saloon in the same bracket as establised supercars like Porsche 911 Turbo, Porsche 928S, De Tomaso Pantera, Ferrari 400i and Lamborghini Countach with power in excess of 300 bhp.

With his concern to retain his professional image, Saunders is quick to point out that the engine modification work consists of far more than merely a 'bolton' turbocharger. He is emphatic that all engine modifications must take place in conjunction with other mechanical work The package, costing 2900, also includes an uprated clutch and transmission, Koni suspension and four pot caliper front brakes.
Though he has underlined the 'Britishness' of the Kat Rover by using Compomotive wheels and Dunlop tyres he is also prepared to help in the supply of whatever wheels and tyres the customer might choose.

Opting for a complete Kat package for the Rover is far from being cheap. But recognising Saunders' professionalism and attention to quality it would appear to be money well spent. The phenomenal boost in power will give the hatchback family saloon a 0-60 mph time of around six seconds, while 100 mph is reached in merely fifteen. Above that figure the aerodynamic benefits of the panel kit are readily apparent, with the front air dam and the raer wing giving the lowered car easily appreciable downforce. It's a good job too, since the prototype Kat Rover has been timed on a test ground at fractionally more than 150 mph.

And with performance like that on tap, this is one conversion job which certainly doesn't merit the flippant tag!



© RWP dec. 2004