Our Cars : Mike’s Rover 214SLi
These boots are made for driving
From the outside, the only visual aspect of my R8 214 that I have never got used to are the spindly 14-inch wheels, shod with laughably skinny 175/70×14 tyres. It makes tyre replacement cheap, even though as time passes, a decreasing number of vehicles have tyres this size fitted. When driving at moderate pace in drier climes, the turn-in and grip is acceptable by today’s standards. But the car cleverly senses rain in the next County, and it’s very easy – sometimes without warning – for the handling to go all rather wonky should things get, as Top Gear describes, mildly moist.
Quite a few people have remarked about how small the wheels look and I reckon, with a bit of practice, I could change a front flexi-hose without removing a wheel, such is the space between the tyre and arch. Going right back to my first period of incumbency with the Rover, the thought of beefier wheels had been on the wish list. But it just never happened because of the usual time/effort/financial constraints. Well… fast forward to now, and the phrase ‘the best things in life are free’, comes to the fore, as the ancient first generation R8 now sports some new footwear that came free of charge.
As you will now note, she now tramps the highways and byways of leafy Sussex on a set of MG 16-inch ‘Active’ alloys that came up rather well after a damn good soaking with a mixture of Fairy liquid*, Washing powder and hot water. I did have to collect said wheels from North Devon, but my daily hack, the company Volkswagen Golf, did the work – and it was good to catch up with old friends at the same time. Some spigotted wheel nuts, and the correct centre caps were sourced, and off came the original steel rims. In no time, and part thanks to ‘er indoors providing some steaming hot tea, the wheels were swapped over without fuss.
My only concern was the worryingly close proximity of the top of the front tyre to the bottom of the strut, but a damn good session of hard cornering has proved there is no contact between the tyre and suspension. That said, 205mm is the absolute maximum width you would want to go to without using a spacer. I quite like the overall appearance of the car now the job’s done, and my fears of brutally heavy steering were unfounded. It’s actually lighter now. No real upset of the ride is noticeable either – it’s a fraction more nobbly at very low speed than before, but nothing to make your teeth clatter!
Cornering is transformed. Yes there is still some body roll when dialling-in some lock with vigour, but it no longer squeals like a stuck pig, or gives the impression that the tyre bead is about to pop off the rim at any moment. I have now decided to lower the ride height by about 40mm, and had the chance of some 216GTi struts, but I want to keep the standard dampers. So a set of lowering springs have been ordered. Other recent additions to the ongoing fettling programme have been the fitting of an MG ZR leather gear gaiter, and a heater surround liberated from a scrapped Rover Streetwise – the old ones were getting tatty.
So the Rover Sport programme lives on, if you like, and should anyone be looking to re-tyre their pram or racing cycle, I have a set of four steel rims with tyres going spare – buyer collects only!
* Other on the cheap alloy wheel refurbishment products are available.