Requiem to a Rover

Sue James 

Rover 216GTi - is it the end of the road?

Rover 216GTi - is it the end of the road?

‘The time has come,’ the tester said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of rust — and brakes — and vehicle-tax—
Of bushes — and of springs —
And why it failed the flaming MoT —
And various other dings.’
Apologies to Lewis Carroll  

Unfortunately, my poor Rover has failed the MoT test again – last year it was a borderline decision as to whether it was worth the cost of putting it through, so I went for the devil I knew and got another year’s happy motoring. 

This time it’s rather more serious – though there is nothing seriously wrong, the cost of the garage’s time for all the little things combined is just too much so, reluctantly, I will have to take it off the road. It’s not the end though, as it will be going to a good home (one it could drive to itself I expect!). A few (awkward) welds, a couple of bushes and the rear brakes rebuilt and it’ll be good to go. 

Overall the car has been great. The Honda twin cam is sweet, though I personally think something lower revving would suit the leather and wood interior better – as a fast cruiser that can corner quite well. I’ve done a couple of 400+ mile trips in comfort and without it missing a beat. That said, it’s fun when the noise boys with all their bells and whistles try and take it at the lights or on some of the ‘interesting’ A- and B-Roads common to this part of the country. 

What has surprised me is the sheer number of Rovers with this body-shape on the road around here – all of the colours in all of the sizes, as Beattie used to say. (Those who don’t know what I mean are too young!) Green and red are top, as are the 1.4-litre engines. I know you notice specific models more when you own one but, all the same, I see two or three at least every day I’m out. (Which is quite a lot for a small country town). We know what’s good for us! 

Would I have another? Yes – for a relatively small car, it will seat four adults in the light and spacious cabin, you can get two large shopping trolleys worth of groceries in the boot, which opens wide enough and is low enough to collect your new washing machine – tried and tested – and, depending on the trim level, lots of electric things. Sunroof, mirrors, windows, wired for heated seats (could have done with those this winter – cold leather seat meets warm derrière is no laughing matter). 

The heater pumps warm long before the engine temperature even acknowledges you’ve been driving for ten minutes. The lights are obviously old, dip is good for about 40mph, but the separate main beams are literally brilliant. A good road at night and you can easily drive at the speed limit. The power steering is a little heavy in the car park, but just right as the speed rises, not too light once you get up to quite fast… I never took it to the max, as I am sympathetic to its age and the fact it has done well over 120k miles. Things start to shake a bit, but I can confirm it’s still damn quick. 

All in all, a great car – one which just shows we could get it right when we put our minds to it.

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

29 Comments on "Requiem to a Rover"

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  1. roverman68 Neil Rapsey says:

    These are great cars – I’ve been missing mine ever since I sold it two years ago, but would have another any day. I could be tempted by this one. 🙂

  2. Jon says:

    My Mum’s 1993 416GSI Auto was a victim of the Scrappage Scheme (178,000 miles terminal rust and a blown head gasket) and had to be topped up with water on the way to the Skoda Dealer when taking it’s last trip.

    What a brilliant car they were – nippy, a great auto box, an airy, comfortable interior and electric everything. Nightfire Red helped its looks and it gave her ten years of great service. The replacement Fabia has been in for petty warranty claims three times in 11,000 miles!!!

    Jon.

  3. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    This car has history and provenance – I’m close to taking it in myself, despite being overrun with unfinished projects and unsold sheds.

    See our series of articles about this Rover 216GTi’s participation in Staples2Naples 2004 as well as this series of Our Cars stories about the car.

    /K

  4. Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

    I sold my own early 214 last year and that’s still going great guns with its new owner. I still miss it and have enjoyed all three of the R8 200s I have owned. I never tired of opening and closing the well-fitted and well-built doors!

  5. Baz says:

    Not quite an R8, but its child the R3, our old, R-plate 200 succumbed to yet another HGF and went to the breakers this weekend. Just thought I might put a requiem here…

  6. X10Rich says:

    Sadly, it’s also nearly the end of the road for the R3 that’s pictured in the above article as well. Excessive corrosion is to blame, although most of it will live on in a donor car!

  7. Will says:

    I have always liked the shape of the R8 200.

    A friend’s parents had one from new back in the day. I always thought it was very classy with the wood strips and cream interior (compared to my dad’s dark BX). Rover at the time were almost sub-Jag.
    They used it as a “special occasion” / weekend car, with a Yugo 45 (!) taking the strain of weekday commuting.

    I even tried to buy one – an elderly lady I worked with in the kitchen was changing hers. Sadly, despite me saying I would give her a fair price, she traded it in for buttons to a Daewoo salesman for a Matiz.

    I didn’t have the same love for the bubble-shaped 200/25 which succeeded the R8 – that looked too much like a Daewoo Lanos. Ideally, the range should have just been the 100 with the 400/45 slotted in place of the 200/25.

  8. Roger Carr says:

    Hmm, 120k on an H plate – that’s a pretty low annual average. My ’06 Focus has already done 105k (all private) miles. Buy one now – they’re amazing cars!

    Do you agree that BAe’s failure to produce (i.e. put their hand in their pockets for) a decent follow up to this car was the Beginning of the End?

  9. Simon Woodward says:

    Roger Carr :
    Hmm, 120k on an H plate – that’s a pretty low annual average. My ’06 Focus has already done 105k (all private) miles. Buy one now – they’re amazing cars!

    Do you agree that BAe’s failure to produce (i.e. put their hand in their pockets for) a decent follow up to this car was the Beginning of the End?

    I totally agree with that: 3dr, 4dr, 5dr, Tourer, Convertible and a Coupe. Engines ranging from 1.1 petrol to 2.0Turbo and a half-decent diesel. What a fantastic range of cars the R8 was and still is because barely a day goes by without one seeing at least half a dozen in good nick and serving their owners well.

    The 400/45/ZR had turned into a half-decent car by the end of MGR but that was at least ten years after the demise of the R8. I always felt underwhelmed by the 400 which replaced the R8 – it just felt as though they couldn’t be bothered.

    The R8 range really did have a model for everyone which drove really well and looked smart. I say keep and restore it – they are great cars.

  10. Baz says:

    “I always felt underwhelmed by the 400 which replaced the R8 – it just felt as though they couldn’t be bothered.”

    I still think that Rover got the follow-up wrong. The HH-R should have followed the format established by the R8 of 200 for the hatch and 400 for the saloon. The R3 could have started the premium supermini trend as the 100, whilst the Metro could have fought the Hyundais, et al, as well, the Metro.

    This was then compounded by the failure to fix the HGF issue in the K-Series which just then drove away any repeat sales. The K-Series was a wonderful engine let down by a company which refused to spend to fix its most fundamental problem – that, in my opinion, eventually lead directly to the company’s demise.

    I saw a nice M-plate R8 on the way home tonight and wondered “was that a Honda powered 216”. Those do seem to survive better for obvious reasons.

  11. David 3500 says:

    I think there is an update to the HHR Rover 400 Series story on AROnline which contains the views (and disappointment) of Rover designer Richard Woolley on the Honda-designed car. Rover Cars might, perhaps, have been better spending the money on undertaking a heavy facelift of the R8 and prolonging its life – just as it did with the R17 update of the original ‘XX’ 800 Series.

    The efforts of Geoff Upex and his team in transforming the 400 Series into the 45 were particularly pleasing. Yet, what a shame that the restrictions of the Licensing Agreement with Honda meant that Mr. Upex and his team couldn’t deliver something this classy looking much sooner and also design additional bodystyles such as an estate. Honda did Rover Cars no favours with the HHR.

  12. Mark says:

    I’m on my second R8. I also had a diesel Bubble which went well until it had an argument with a Peugeot 406.

    My first R8 was a 214SEi in Nightfire Red – I loved the car to bits but regrettably sold it. I did not, though, have any problems with the K-Series engine.

    My second R8 is a 218SD Turbo in Nightfire Red with Rover 25 Minilite-style alloys – it’s done 181,500 miles and still pulls like a train. The body is tatty(ish) but I can live with that. I’ve not had no problems with MoTs. What are these bushes and they hard to replace? Thanks.

  13. Simon Woodward says:

    @David 3500
    There was a chap, a Vicar I think, from the Kings Norton area of Brum who ran a modified black Civic Estate with a MG front end and wheels etc. It looked really classy and would have been a real winner if Honda had been a little less stingy with the Licence Agreement.

    I liked the saloon version of the 400 but I always felt the hatch looked a bit dumpy and under-tyred. The later ZS worked really well because it addressed this by making the car look a lot sharper.

    However, the last of the breed in the dying days of MGR, where ruined by moving the numberplate from the boot to under the back bumper. It looked like it was designed by a spotty youth inspired by something out of Max Power or were MGR inspired by Daewoo?

    The saloon’s elongated boot reduced the dumpiness of the hatchback and made the car look more elegant – it looked really good as a ZS, especially the V6 model with the grilles in the front wings.

    I am not sure without looking but was the 400 launched at the same time as the BMW takeover and, if so, did this have a dramatic effect on its early years?

  14. Chris C says:

    @Mark
    I suspect the bushes which you are referring to are the rear suspension trailing arm bushes – they started to disintegrate on most of my R8s but they are relatively straightforward to replace with a good set of tools and a vice/workbench to hammer the old ones out with. There are pattern parts available to replace them quite cheaply.

    Actually, I reckon that the Achilles heel on R8s – head gaskets notwithstanding – is wheelarch rot, especially around the rear sill.

    I saw an original H reg red 200 on Saturday – the grey bumpers had faded like they all do while the red paint had degraded to a fetching uniform shade of pink. Twenty years old and still going though…

    It’s a shame that so many R8s have panel ripples, especially in the doors, despite being so solid – I’d be interested to know why.

    I wonder whether, proportionately, more Tomcats will survive – they seem to be very cheap future classics at the moment.

  15. David 3500 says:

    @Simon Woodward
    BMW acquired Rover Group in March 1994 after the BAe shareholders had been ‘consulted’ following the big announcement of the deal in late January and the ink had dried.

    The HHR 400 Series was announced in late March 1995. I seem to recall that any changes that Rover Cars (and latterly MG Rover Group) wanted to make to the HHR, whether it was colour and trim derived or engineering based, had to be run past Honda first to see if they objected because they owned the rights to the design.

    I am not sure about the role of BMW in the ongoing development of the model in those early days (1995/6) – I suspect, though, that they possibly didn’t want any ‘halo’ very high performance derivatives as this might have posed a threat to some of the derivatives in the 3 Series and 3 Series Compact ranges.

    I agree with your sentiments on the 4-door and 5-door versions – the 4-door saloon had an air of elegance about it. The 5-door version desperately needed the optional rear aerofoil to make it look visually more balanced and pleasing.

    Rover Cars were constrained in what they might have wanted to have done further with the HHR by both Honda and BMW. Honda was nursing ‘hurt pride’ through BAe selling out to BMW even though the Japanese company had been given the chance to up its stake in Rover. BMW was over-protective of its own brand and did not want the Rover brand to be seen as a credible alternative to the blue and white propellor badge. All very frustrating and rather sad for Rover Cars.

  16. Simon Woodward says:

    I wondered if there were any plans to make alternative, such as a coupe, or was this never considered?

  17. Robert Marsh says:

    I grew up with Rovers and maintain a keen interest in them to this day. I used to drive a 1987 Rover 213 S Auto, which I really loved. However, sadly, I ended up with the same sort of predicament as you have with your 216 – mine failed the MOT and just required too many niggly jobs doing to put it back on the road. I sold it for spares in the end but how I do miss that car. Wished I’d spent the money on it afterwards…

    My advice to you would be to spend the money on it, make it good and then put it in mothballs because, sooner or later, R8s will become very collectable. With that lovely Honda engine, it’s got to be worth your while.

    Happy motoring…

  18. Will101 says:

    Rover R8/200s will always be remembered by all who have driven, owned or even been a passenger in one.

    They really were in a class of their own compared to the other similarly sized motors on offer at the time. I hoped to see the new generation of clean-sheet design, Rover made cars keep moving the goal posts more under BMW’s control from 1994 on.

    Sadly, that was not to be but the 75 was worth the wait and I regarded the 1993 600 as the Rover P6 gap-filler of the 1990s – the 600 did not have the V8 but did fill niche occupied by the P6 2000/2200 models when they were a common sight on the roads.

    We know that the Honda Concerto came first, had an odd name and did not sell well or became as common place as its R8 twin but will anyone remember them? Probably not, but the later model Civics now seem to be the first choice for boy racers who want to chop and change the looks and boast about VTECs. I’ve got some of them at work. Unfortunately, Honda wins again.

  19. Dave Whittington says:

    I own a 1992 220 GTi which is still totally original and reliable after 17 years of ownership.

    I recently spent £700 on a new cambelt as well as various other items and, apart from some difficulty getting parts, it’s been worth putting back on the road.

    I really can’t think of anything I’d want to replace it with but the other reason for keeping the car running is that you never see any others around. I’d also like to mention that mine is one of the very early models with the M16 engine which makes it even more unique.

  20. Jon says:

    Chris C :
    @Mark

    I suspect the bushes which you are referring to are the rear suspension trailing arm bushes – they started to disintegrate on most of my R8s but they are relatively straightforward to replace with a good set of tools and a vice/workbench to hammer the old ones out with. There are pattern parts available to replace them quite cheaply.

    Actually, I reckon that the Achilles heel on R8s – head gaskets notwithstanding – is wheelarch rot, especially around the rear sill.

    I saw an original H reg red 200 on Saturday – the grey bumpers had faded like they all do while the red paint had degraded to a fetching uniform shade of pink. Twenty years old and still going though…

    It’s a shame that so many R8s have panel ripples, especially in the doors, despite being so solid – I’d be interested to know why.

    I wonder whether, proportionately, more Tomcats will survive – they seem to be very cheap future classics at the moment.

    Yep, rear arch rust helped kill ours off :-). The little K-Series motors weren’t, of course,much worse than the Honda 1.6 for HGF, whereas the 1.6 K-Series in the later Cabrio/Tourer/Tomcat models was a real bitch – one blew on my 1999 Cabriolet at three years and 40,000 miles.

    I don’t know anybody who has had a 1.6 or 1.8 K-Series who hasn’t had to deal with HGF, whether in an MGF, 400 or Freelander.

    Jon.

  21. Baz says:

    David 3500 :
    @Simon Woodward
    BMW was over-protective of its own brand and did not want the Rover brand to be seen as a credible alternative to the blue and white propellor badge. All very frustrating and rather sad for Rover Cars.

    This all reminds me of the highpoint to which the R8 managed to propel Rover – in the mid-90s we almost thought that it could be a credible rival to BMW.

    However, in hindsight, they really should have developed the performance oriented cars and pitched them against what were Rover’s real rivals: Ford, Vauxhall, VW, Honda, Toyota, et al. I believe that, if the two companies had adopted the approach of “any sale for BMW/Rover is a sale lost for anyone else”, they would have done much better. BMW fans would never have bought a Rover regardless of what they did, but they could have easily enticed people away from a Vectra SRi. Sadly, they were too inward-looking.

    Looking back 20 years, the R8 really was a defining car of the early 1990s – it was that good. I would rank it alongside the E36 3 Series as one of the cars which can easily define that era. The irony was, in 1994, both complimented each other well in their aspriational image, but covered different market segments. Had BMW allowed Rover to let its names sit so neatly between its models, that would have been a perfect marketing opportunity. Regrettably, common sense did not prevail.

  22. Simon Woodward says:

    @David 3500
    @Baz
    There was a good road test in CAR Magazine at the time of the takeover in which they compared a E36 BMW Compact and a R8 Rover 200 – if I remember the Rover came out pretty well.

    The R8 really was probably one of ARG’s highest points and probably the only time they truly had a comprehensive range to compete with the main players like Fiat, Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. It’s easy to forget this if, like me, you are not a owner past or present. The more I think about it, the R8 really is one of those unsung heroes and deserves far greater recognition for its achievements – just look at the amount of them still driving around each day.

    BMC/BL/ARG failed the day Honda got unceremoniously dumped by BAe – after that every thing seemed to slide down a very slippery slope but one thing’s for sure: the R8 can stand proud at its peak.

  23. Wilko says:

    Simon Woodward :
    @David 3500

    @Baz

    There was a good road test in CAR Magazine at the time of the takeover in which they compared a E36 BMW Compact and a R8 Rover 200 – if I remember the Rover came out pretty well.

    I don’t suppose you know if this is available online anywhere do you Simon? Alternatively, perhaps you could do a scan of the article and then upload that on the forum. I’m sure that the article would make very interesting reading for lots of us.

  24. Will says:

    The HHR-based 400 saloon was elegant considering that it was a saloon based on a hatch based on the ugly Honda Domani saloon. The 400 hatch looked truncated in a way that the E46 Compact did.

    I often wondered whether, following the takeover, BMW and Rover deliberately chose the designations of their respective model ranges so that the two dovetailed with each other.

    Rover 1xx
    Rover 2xx
    BMW 3xx
    Rover 4xx
    BMW 5xx
    Rover 6xx
    BMW 7xx
    Rover 8xx

    I suppose that, logically, the 400 was probably smaller than the 3 Series, the 600 sat between the 3 Series and the 5 Series while the 800 was smaller than the 7 Series. That was, of course, before the 1 Series and the re-introduced 6 Series.

    The theory does not apply to the sports cars, namely the MGF and Z3, and, pre-X range, SUVs were taken care of by Land Rover. Oh, and the Mini was a proper Mini!

  25. Simon Woodward says:

    @Wilko
    I have the relevant issue but – and it’s a big but – I also have around about 2500 + car magazines dating back fifty years!

    They all need a sorting out and bringing together as a collection which I am planning to do soon. However, I have seen this copy in the last 12 months and I will make the effort to track it down and scan it very soon.

    I will make a note and either send it to the site or contact you through the AROnline Facebook page.

    There are some great scoop photos and future model predictions in some of those 1980s and 1990s magazines but it’s also worth reading what people thought of the cars when they were brand new rather than in hindsight twenty years later.

  26. Wilko says:

    @Simon Woodward
    Thank you. Sounds like a fascinating collection. Good luck!

  27. Ianto says:

    @Will
    The 400 saloon was a fantastic car – much better than the hatch and much better than the Honda Domani.

  28. Simon Woodward says:

    Wilko :
    @Simon Woodward

    Thank you. Sounds like a fascinating collection. Good luck!

    Actually, to be honest, I am a ‘kleptomaniac’! but I reckon I have a plan here with all these old articles. I was going to sell them a while back but I think I’d rather share the articles on the net with fellow enthusiasts rather than sell them for a quid each at the local boot market. I will start with the 1980s and 1990s first, draw up a list of articles and then scan when requested.

  29. Tony says:

    Sue, I would love this car – how much is it going for? I, like yourself, live in Devon. My dad owned one and thought it was his best car. This car’s history works for me too as we live near our local “Staples” and my wife comes from… you’ve guessed Naples. Mia moglie e Napolitana 🙂 lol

    I could return it to Naples one day (my Mother-in-Law lives in centre of the city in Piazza Carlo 111) so it could do English Riviera (Torbay) to the Neapolitan Riviera! Anyway, this car has history, don’t crush it!!!

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