The ADC Scout never went into production, but Skoda has now created a modern replica. Keith Adams on the car that could have been...

With its über-trendy multi-function interior, fat wheels, funky colour scheme, and big black plastic bumpers, it's hard to believe the prototype Metro we've travelled to darkest Bedfordshire to see is well over 15 years old, and not straight off the motor-show circuit. But here we are again, marrying the expression "missed opportunity" with Rover – and rueing what might have been.

What makes the strident yellow prototype's appearance all the more poignant, is the Skoda Roomster Scout parked alongside. Lauded by the press for its sharp design and rough, tough detailing, Skoda's trendy new faux off-roader looks so right for now... and yet next to the ADC Metro Scout, first shown at the 1991 NEC Engineering and Design Show, it suddenly appears to be an act of Czech plagiarism.

We doubt that Skoda's resourceful design team had even heard of this upgraded Metro when they devised their Scout. Theirs is very much a 21st-century car created to meet the demands of a burgeoning market sector: one that's inhabited by SUV drivers now looking for suitable new wheels with a bit more social conscience.

But green doesn't mean soft – big wheels and high ground clearance are still needed to make easy meat of traffic-calming measures, and big bumpers take care of the odd parking scrape.

Back in early 1991, ADC, a small automotive consultancy firm based in Dunstable, hit upon the idea of creating a vehicle that ticked all of those boxes – but without the need to resort to the eco-friendly message that's behind the current generation. Inspired, perhaps, by the Matra-Simca Rancho, it came up with the novel idea of creating a range of lifestyle vehicles to fulfil the needs of outdoor professionals, basing them on the recently launched Rover Metro.

According to Jim Ragless, a former manager at ADC: "It was conceived and built by ADC as a showcase of our concept, design and build capabilities for the Automotive Engineering show at the NEC. The idea was a possible evolution of the Metro range with more space, more utility and easier entry-exit to the back seats."

However, the Scout project expanded into a six-car range using the same basic body style, but featuring multipurpose interiors. Based on the five-door Metro, but with a taller roofline, longer wheelbase, and side-opening tailgate, the Scout would be tailored for customers as diverse as photographers and on-the-move businessmen. There was even a La Femme variation planned, which boasted an integrated hairdryer and parking ticket holder. Perhaps that wouldn't make it today.

However, it evolved into a soft-roader as the full-sized model was fashioned in clay, Ragless recalled, "We showed it with cycle racks and mountain bikes and a fitted picnic set in the back."

The full-sized Scout eventually appeared at the NEC in what ADC described as "Specialist" form – and it even attracted the interest of Prince Charles, a high-profile visitor to the show. Rover's interest in the project was incidental and it remained aloof – the company donated the original Metro to ADC, and continued its relationship with the consultancy firm, but the concept was never seriously investigated as Rover had its own off-road crossover vehicle in development. That would eventually sire the Freelander. As a result, the Scout was soon forgotten.

However, nosing around the prototype today, it's clear that the engineers and designers at ADC had pretty much got the formula right with the show car. Rear passengers are treated to individually adjustable seats, masses of headroom and legroom, and myriad nooks and crannies to stow their stuff. The driver's view benefits from jacked-up suspension, and on the mean city streets, those fat wheels, big bumpers and wheel-arch protectors are very good things to have.

It might have been conceived to meet the needs of the busy and outgoing professional of 1991, but the same formula seems to work perfectly well for the 21st-century family.

Was the ADC Scout ahead of its time, and its non-appearance a missed opportunity? Undoubtedly. Looking at what turns the practical Skoda Roomster into the funky Scout, it's hard to see how it can't be. The formula is identical – down to the name – and families seem to be falling over themselves to buy cars like these. Ragless certainly agrees. "In some ways maybe it was one forerunner of today's mini-SUVs and small people-carriers."

It's doubtful whether producing the Metro Scout would have caused a positive change at Rover, but perhaps it would have been seen as a plucky pacesetter when events overtook it a couple of years ago.



With thanks to: Stondon Transport Museum, Henlow, Bedfordshire (01462 850339; www.transportmuseum.co.uk.

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