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Your Cars : Tony Turner’s Rover 25 GTI

Now you see it…

Solar red in the sunshine – I think the shape’s aged quite well and unless you know, there’s not much to distinguish it from the usual pensioner’s shopping trolley.

Solar red in the sunshine – I think the shape’s aged quite well and unless you know, there’s not much to distinguish it from the usual pensioner’s shopping trolley

Tony Turner explains how a Rover 25 GTI came into his life.

Well, it was all my late wife’s fault – when she was still around, she decided she wanted a more practical long-distance vehicle than our long-serving Morris Minor, and that it would be a Rover 25. Mine not to reason why…

To be honest, it wasn’t a car I’d previously paid much attention to. ‘Think they have some issue with head gaskets,’ I suggested helpfully, calling on my vast fund of automotive knowledge. ‘If it breaks, we’ll get it fixed,’ I was told firmly. And it did, and we did.

After that, the car – a 2002 1.4 Impression – behaved impeccably, doing all the local stuff and also taking trips to Scotland and the West Country in its stride, fully loaded with wife and her two sisters plus their cargo, on missions to inspect old Celtic boulders and suchlike.

On the rare occasions I was allowed to drive it, I thought it was a pleasant little car, relaxed at motorway speeds and with a good ride-handling balance. When we found ourselves first-footing down the A1 after an unexpected  pre-Christmas snowfall, it also proved very sure-footed, with enough traction to nip round stranded HGVs confidently on the ups and downs of our local dual carriageway.

However, even its proud owner conceded it wasn’t exactly a ball of fire to drive, with overtaking on give-and-take roads needing a lot of pre-planning. Despite having the more powerful of the two 1.4 engine options (103bhp vs 84bhp), it always felt as though it was hauling a lot of weight around (and not just the occupants). Perhaps for that reason, it was also hard to get the hoped-for 40+ mpg, even on long runs. Even the Morris Minor – which admittedly during its many years with us had quietly become a Spridget under the skin – had more get up and go, with about the same thirst.

Anyway, not my problem – until I sadly inherited the Rover. While the sentimental side of me wanted to keep it, I was consoled by the thought that, in happier times, we’d both chatted vaguely about what to replace it with. So I set about that challenge with a reasonably clear conscience.

By then, I’d become a Rover 25 enthusiast – it wasn’t exactly cutting edge, but it seemed such an honest, friendly car, once its mechanical maladies were sorted out. That meant an MG ZR with the clever VVC engine was the obvious choice for extra performance – until you noticed its rather tacky sideskirts and big roof spoiler (would I really want to be seen in that?)

The Rover 200 BRM was another option – its suspension tweaks has been carried over to all the 25s and I’m ancient enough to remember fondly the Grand Prix cars with the same colour scheme. However, they were getting a bit scarce and pricy – and, oh my dear, that orange nose, that interior!  And then there was the Rover 200 vi, which shared the VVC engine but without all the BRM’s suspension mods – it was also getting quite elderly and, frankly, I prefer the 25’s four-headlight look anyway.

I then discovered that, for just 18 months, Rover had produced the 25 GTI, as a toe-in-the-water exercise before launching the ZR – as well as being slightly younger than the other VVC-powered Rovers, it was usefully understated, with just body-colour (as opposed to black) bumpers and roof spoiler, matte black grille and hairpin alloys to distinguish it from the run-of-the-mill 25s – truly, a proper Q-car.

There were only about 1300 25 GTIs produced by the time they stopped making them in early 2001.  When I was looking for mine in 2012, that figure had dwindled to just over 450 but there were still enough around to avoid choosing a bad one.  Not that I let that stop me…

How not to buy a car

I freely admit it – I’m hopeless at buying used cars. I know all the wise advice about going to look at several, choose the best you can afford, don’t be swayed by the distance travelled to view it – I know it all and I cheerfully ignore it.

Instead, I side with a friend of mine who, tasked by his wife with going to look at an old Fiesta as a potential first car for their daughter, returned triumphantly from his mission, reporting: ‘After some haggling, I persuaded the bloke to take the asking price.’ A kindred spirit – we’re the dream of anyone selling a car that’s seen better days. In my (feeble) defence, I actually quite enjoy putting Heart before Head, then putting a car through ‘rehab’, to get it back towards where it ought to be – it somehow makes it more personal to me, with the satisfaction that I’ve performed some sort of rescue exercise.

That would, of course, be fine, if I had Mike Humble-like mechanical skills, rather than having to entrust the latest project to local specialists to sort out.  This  could explain why the cat and I are sometimes in conflict over ownership of the last portion of bread and water.

Anyway, that’s how I came to be the slightly shamefaced owner of this particular 25 GTI, which popped up on eBay one Friday night. The seller informed me that he’d only bought it as a stop-gap while looking for  a nice MGF (not a Herculean quest, I would have thought), that it was basically okay but had a couple of issues – a leaky water pump and an ABS light that came on occasionally (read permanently).

Mind you, on the plus side, he had a garage receipt for its head gasket and oil rail having been replaced within living memory, there was some tread on the tyres (though a strange assortment of brands) and it was a three-door, which I personally think looks much more together than the five-door version.  The clincher was the Solar Red paintwork, one of the colours exclusive to the GTI when it appeared. Head said ‘Hmm, not sure’ but was inevitably shouted down by Heart demanding that £650 be handed over promptly.

Even taking it back home gently – and very conscious that the K-Series engine’s small coolant capacity means it can’t afford to dribble too much away through a leaky water pump – it was immediately clear that this was a much more purposeful car, with a deeper engine note than its little brother, sharper steering and a firmer ride.  Much firmer…  It also had such niceties as buttons for the radio on the steering wheel (though the code had gone AWOL when it gained a new battery) and aircon that, whilst not exactly Arctic, was at least slightly cooling on a July day.

Just those two little issues to sort out, then we could really start enjoying it…

Next time: Rudi goes into rehab

Despite the after-market appearance, the GTI badge is a genuine Rover embellishment – but the twin pipes come from a later ZR.

Despite the after-market appearance, the GTI badge is a genuine Rover embellishment – but the twin pipes come from a later MG ZR

Posted in: 200/25/MG ZR, Your Cars
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20 Comments on "Your Cars : Tony Turner’s Rover 25 GTI"

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  1. David 3500 says:

    Nice to read an article about the much underrated Rover 25 GTi at long last. I have total production figures (supplied by MG Rover Group and also matched by the SMMT) which suggest that 1,984 examples were built in total, split equally between the two bodystyles. I am guessing the figure of 1300 you quote may relate to the number sold in the Home Market.

    As you point out, the 25 GTi is quite an understated car in comparison to the much, much firmer and high impact dressed MG ZR (which I drive an example of) and the more eccentric 200 BRM LE. I do like the choice of two-tone finishes for the GTi’s seats and it having air conditioning as standard rather than a sunroof. For the Rover enthusiast, the 25 GTi represented the last sporting model to wear the Viking longship badge. The latest version I have seen was on a 51 registration finished in Solar Red, with most being on V, W, X or Y plates. For reasons unknown to me, a lot of them left the factory without the GTi tailgate badge.

    Again, a nice article and I hope you keep on enjoying one of the Rover 25′s real unsung star performers, the 25 GTi.

  2. Craig says:

    “After some haggling, I persuaded the bloke to take the asking price.” Lol. I howled with laughter when I read that!

    Well done, Tony, on choosing a great-looking car in just the right colour. I think you’re right that the GTI is the best of the Rover 25s because it combines a level of tasteful sportiness with Rover style. In GTI guise, the stance of the 25 is correct and the wheel arches are properly filled so that it no longer looks under-powered, weedy, and fit only for tootling down to the shops to pick up groceries.

    Your story made me think again about the relationship between the Rover and MG brands during the MG Rover Group era:

    While I loved the MG-badged derivatives of the 25, 45 and 75 that post-date your car, the problem was that they sucked the sportiness out of the Rover brand which worsened the ‘pipe-and-slippers’ image that BMW, under its ownership, had allowed to develop so that sales of its more sporty 3- and 5-series cars would not be adversely affected.

    Had the MG badge been reserved for the TF and SV models only and the Rover brand been built up by making sports derivatives of the 25, 45 and 75 (as per the 25 GTI), I have no doubt that the Rover marque would have retained more of its appeal to potential buyers. Without brand equity, everything falls away sooner or later.

    It is ironic that, actually, MG Rover didn’t need to look to BMW or any other manufacturer for lessons on combining luxury with sportiness in order to build brand equity. It had only to look at its own history! The Rover Vitesse, particularly in SD1 form, was a car that showed other car-makers how to strengthen, not weaken, a brand.

  3. Hilton D says:

    Nice top end version of the 25 and less boy racer than the ZR. I cant remember seeing any 25 GTi’s but have seen 25′s with the 16″” Active/Hairpin alloys so maybe I have seen a few after all.

  4. David 3500 says:

    @ Craig – Comment 2:

    Quote: “While I loved the MG-badged derivatives of the 25, 45 and 75 that post-date your car, the problem was that they sucked the sportiness out of the Rover brand which worsened the ‘pipe-and-slippers’ image that BMW, under its ownership, had allowed to develop so that sales of its more sporty 3- and 5-series cars would not be adversely affected.

    “It is ironic that, actually, MG Rover didn’t need to look to BMW or any other manufacturer for lessons on combining luxury with sportiness in order to build brand equity. It had only to look at its own history! The Rover Vitesse, particularly in SD1 form, was a car that showed other car-makers how to strengthen, not weaken, a brand.”

    Well put. I could not put it better myself and I am glad I am not the only one who had these thoughts.

  5. dzt103 Darren, lancs says:

    We’ll done Tony, a nice article.
    I agree with the above comments too. I think the GTI is a much better looking car than the “in you’re face” MG versions..
    I am far too old for the boy racer spoilers etc :)
    I prefer the understated look and how at first glance it looks like any standard less powerful Rover 25.

  6. Dave Dawson says:

    Looks absolutely beautiful !!

    Having driven an MG ZR for the past 18 months I keenly await “Rudi goes into Rehab”.

  7. Darren says:

    Excellent read, but needs a photo of the lovely black/red leather interior.

  8. Tony Turner says:

    Thanks for all the kind comments. David, I’m sure your production figures are more accurate than mine, which were the only ones I could find at the time (they also included one car with automatic transmission – unlikely, Shirley?). And I fully share the sadness of Rover being turned into a ‘pipes and slippers’ brand before its demise – remember the gas turbines, the Marauder and, of course, the SD1 Vitesse.

  9. Adrian says:

    Agree about the ‘pipe and slipper’ image. In my neck of the woods many houses used to have a Rover 200 or 400 parked in the drive with a folded tartan rug on the rear parcel shelf. 2 or 3 years ago I started to see Hyundais parked in the drives, also with a folded tartan rug on the rear parcel shelf..

  10. COKE STAR says:

    Fantastic car. I bought a racing green one in France (called 25vi this side of the channel) from new in 2001 and it was the perfect move from another Rover classic: the Rover 114 GTi (french name). Great memories and the car is still perfectly running near Soissons with more than 170.000 kms on clock. The friend who’s bought it is also delighted since day one.

  11. David 3500 says:

    @ Coke Star:

    Your posting has just solved an interesting mystery about why the examples featured in the pre-launch press photos for the Rover 25, released in October 1999, featured a red ‘Vi’ badge on the tailgate. I had naturally assumed the GTi moniker had been applicable to all market territories. Rather like the Vitesse moniker for the 2nd generation 800 Series being used in all markets for the very high performance derivative, when in some markets such as Italy, that particular model was known as the ‘TS’.

    Sorry to digress from the 25 GTi theme slightly, but I am assuming your Rover 114 GTi was a pre-1995 example fitted with the 103Ps 1.4-litre 16-valve engine?

  12. Andrew Elphick says:

    Come on then, where’s part 2! I must confess I was no fan of the hopeless fuel efficency (regardless of slip streaming milkfloats or trying to break the land speed record) the K-series offers.

  13. roverman68 neil rapsey says:

    Great article, my brother bought a silver 25 gti a few years ago, and while it was rapid and comfortable the vvc unit became ever more audible, until in the end the engine refused to start, after a couple of garages looked at it and scratched their heads he ended up scrapping it, shame really but at least it donated it’s leather steering wheel which now resides in my 91 214 gsi.

  14. Auntie Ian says:

    Absolutely gorgeous, never seen a red one before, with those 16″ wheels it’s the perfect spec for a 25. Lovely!

  15. Dave Dawson says:

    Ian, above

    Yes, it does look gorgeous in this red. The ‘Hairpin’ alloys as per my ZR look good on a Rover too. Mind, they always do!

  16. Mark says:

    not many about… i know of three on the rover 25/200 register on facebook, i have a 25 gti in amarinth 5dr, which is going under the HG knife and should be back soon.. but i’ll be at pride of longbridge with it..hopefully! :-D

  17. Mark Gorton says:

    is there anymore out there…? 386 on the road and 81 sorned according to not many left .com

  18. Duncan Duncan Macrae says:

    Very rare car now , I like it.

  19. Emma says:

    I have a silver Rover 25 GTI W reg & absolutely love it. Someone offered me a Nissan (they haven’t told me anymore details) but I love my car so am reluctant to get rid of it although I’m viewing the Nissan tomorrow. My car makes loads of strange ticking noises but has just past it’s MOT & runs well so I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, I’ve happily driven this car for 5 years & wasn’t even thinking of swapping. The noise it makes shows it’s age though so who knows, maybe it’s time for a change?

  20. Mitchell says:

    I have got a 3 door gold Rover 25 GTi Y reg, only 73k on the clock, I brought it with minor problems but now it runs good and I love it. If you want to see it Google image search ( rover 25 gti ebbw vale )

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