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THE CAR THAT'S BIG ENOUGH FOR BLAIR; Rover's new stretch limo will hit the road this year.

Byline: PAUL MALLEY

PRIME Minister Tony Blair and his Cabinet could soon be whisked to official engagements in armour-plated MG Rover limousines.

The Sunday Mercury has learned that bullet-proof luxury stretched versions of the Birmingham car company's flagship Rover 75 2.5-litre V6 Connoisseur are set to hit the streets later this year.

MG Rover has signed a deal with Walsall limousine conversion specialists S MacNeille and Son to produce two differently-sized versions of the 75 saloon and a stretched version of the recently-launched estate car, the Tourer, for use as a hearse.

MG Rover already has a deal with Downing Street to supply ministerial cars for official government duties, and it was understood that Mr Blair and his Cabinet were to be first in line for the limousines.

The top-of-the-range models - bristling with hi-tech gadgets and security systems - will have a 3ft 8ins mid-section extension. There will be six doors and three rows of seats.

MG Rover chiefs are anxious to keep details of the limousines under wraps and yesterday refused to confirm plans surrounding the new range.

But MacNeille's - the Longbridge company's partner in the venture who turned Rover's previous top of the range 800 series into limousines - did confirm the new models.

Commercial director Chris Pickering told the Sunday Mercury: 'We have signed a contract with MG Rover to produce limousine versions of the Rover 75.

'There will be three derivatives, two of the 75 saloon and one of the estate car.

'It will probably be about four months before the first limousines roll off the production line, but we have already received a large number of inquiries.

'We are looking at producing several hundred of the limousines a year and we hope the deal is going to be worth more than pounds 1 million a year to us.'

Mr Pickering refused to name any potential customers but said armour-plated versions of the limousines would be produced, which would have particular appeal for high-profile people including politicians and pop stars.

As well as the top-of-the-range version of the saloon, there will also be a model measuring just eight inches longer - designed to provide more leg room.

'It will give eight inches of extra legroom in the back creating more space for the busy, harassed executive,' said Mr Pickering. 'One of the criticisms of the original 75 was the lack of space in the rear.'

The stretched 75 Tourer funeral hearse will complete the range.

Prices for the new models are not known but it was understood the eight-inch stretched version will cost about pounds 30,000.

News of the new range comes four years after the top secret project was first discussed.

Richard Woolley, director of Rover's design studio, penned the first sketches for the limousine in 1997.

At one stage it looked destined for the rubbish bin after BMW announced its decision to sell Rover.

CAPTION(S):

LONG ON STYLE... the new stretch Rover 75
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 10, 2001
Words:489
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