Buying Guide : Rover 800

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Fancy a Rover 800? Here’s what to look out for…


Availability

Years produced: 1986-1998
Body style: 4 door saloon, 5 door fastback, 2 door coupe
Engine options: 1994cc O-Series inline-four
1994cc M-Series inline-four 16V (118, 138bhp)
1994cc T-Series inline-four 16V (136bhp, 180 and 197bhp turbocharged)
2498cc Honda V6 (170bhp)
2675cc Honda V6 (177bhp)
2497cc KV6 (177bhp)
2498cc inline-four turbodiesel (VM)
Transmission options: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, front wheel drive

Brief overview

THE Rover 800 can be divided neatly into two camps: Honda and Rover engined versions. Of course, as can be seen from the table above, the story is somewhat more complex than that, with a bewildering array of variations. However, between 1986 and 1996, all petrol engined 4-cylinder 800s were powered by British engines, whilst all 6-cylinder 800s were Honda powered. After 1996, the Honda units were dropped in favour of the original KV6 engine, a development of the K-Series inline-four found in the Metro/100 and 200/400.

As well as these, 1990 saw the launch of the VM-powered turbodiesel.

When launched in 1986, the 800 was only available as an angular (abeit attractive) four-door version, but was joined by a five-door “fastback” (not hatchback, if you please) in 1988. The fastback was also made available with the 8V O-Series engine, but this low-cost option did not prove popular. The line-up remained this way until its demise. In 1991, the R17 version of the 800 was launched – it is best described as a heavily revised version of the original (which shared its side-doors and some underpinnings). Unlike its predecessor, the R17 was launched in two forms, 4-door saloon, 5-door fastback. This was joined by a 2-door coupe in 1992. The body received no further significant revisions.

The M16 inline-fours were available in single and multi-point injected form, and both delivered good performance in relation to their opposition. Like all early 16Vs, these cars needed to be revved to get meaningful performance. The Honda V6 was ultra-smooth, but like the M-Series cars, needed to be revved in order to deliver its best. Excessive press criticism encouraged Honda to rectify the situation, and the 2.5-litre V6 was replaced by a 2.7-litre version in 1988. When the R17 appeared, M16 was replaced by the heavily revised T16 engine. Majoring on torque, the new power unit (effectively a nuts-and-bolts overhaul of the M16) was made available only in one normally aspirated state of tune. T16 was also available in turbocharged form (for the Vitesse); initially 180bhp, but this was supplanted by a 197bhp version. The Honda V6 engine remained unchanged. KV6 engines joined the fray in 1996, replacing the sweet and capable Honda unit.


What to look for

Engine & transmission:

The O-Series engine fitted to the 820 fastback is rugged and generally very reliable, but M16 and T16 engines had a tendency to leak oil – so check that this is not too bad and that oil levels are correct. These engines are critical for cambelts, so ensure that this has been done timeously. If there is no evidence of service history, think carefully before buying. The same holds true for the later M-Series engines, including the oil leaks. Turbocharged versions are mechanically rugged, but do suffer from problems with their ECUs and associated control systems.

The Honda V6 engines prove exceptionally reliable, although can develop noisy tappets in later life. This is not serious, it is recommended to keep these adjusted correctly. Cambelts need replacement every 46,000 miles (Rover recommended 90,000 later in life, but stick to the lower figure for piece of mind), and it is essential that this is adhered to. With careful maintenance, these engines will last over 350,000 miles without the need for a re-build.

KV6s, on the other hand, have proven troublesome in service. In particular, ensure that there is no evidence of “mayonaise” in the oil, as they are susceptible to head damage. pay careful attention to service history and walk away if there are any doubts.

Manual gearboxes: the PG-1 ‘box in the four cylinder versions is particularly sweet to use, but can chew differential bearings. Automatic gearboxes in M-Series versions, have proven particularly troublesome, with flexi-plate failures – not catastrophic, but costly to repair. V6 Honda autos are generally sound – although make sure that they have been filled with the correct Hondamatic fluid. The JATCO unit in the later KV6 has also been known to cause particular grief.

Suspension, steering & brakes:

The 800 does not appear to suffer too much in this department, and the police found that brakes lasted well on their V6s. Pedal feel is slightly “soft”, so don’t confuse this with “spongey”. On ABS models, make sure the warning tell-tale lights up when the car is switched on, but then goes straight out. If this light stays on, you’re looking at replacing the sensors, at the very least. A lot of hassle, and a safety issue.

The steering on the Honda version is speed sensitive, and should weigh-up with speed. Ensure there are no groans or knocking when turning from lock to lock at rest. Four cylinder versions use an entirely different “Positive Centre Feel” system, which is also very light.

Body & chassis:

The potential enemy of all Mark one 800s is rust.

The main areas of attention should be:
° Rear wheelarches, leading and trailing edge.
° Sunroof aperture.
° Sunroof mechanism and drain holes.
° Outer sills (on mark ones).
° Leading edge of the bonnet.

Mark two 800s should suffer much less thanks to better paint and underseal quality.

Interior:

Interior grab handles can break off in your hand on early models, switchgear is very fragile on pre-1990 models, wipers, headlamp control can cause problems.

Seats are excellent, front and rear, but show signs of ageing on the lighter coloured models.

Electrical system:

Electric windows can cause concern, trip computers can be erratic, ignition and ECU problems on earlier models, alarms with minds of their own and immobilisers that immobilise when you don’t want them to. Usually these problems are fixed by replacing sensors or micro-switches, but do test everything fully on a test drive to save heartache later on.

Airflow meters are known to fail on the multipoint 820s (ie., 820i, Si and SLi). Singlepoint 820s (i.e., 820E, SE) require ECU reprogramming after a battery disconnect, so ensure that if you buy one of these cars, the battery is connected and good, and that the car is running sweetly.

If buying a Mark two 800 from about 1995-onwards, ensure that the four figure immobiliser code is supplied with the car (about £10 from a Rover Dealer) otherwise if the remote keyfob fails, the car is very effectively immobilised.


Summary

Underrated “metal for money” buy that is set to remain deeply unfashionable for some time to come. Demand for early V6 Vitesses and Sterlings now strengthening, but it is still possible to buy well-cared for examples of the 800 for very little money. As there is still a wide choice to be had, if you want a good one, you can afford to be very choosy. As with all things in life, you get what you pay for, and if you buy one without service history, you can get your fingers severely burned.

Pick of the range would be a Honda V6 powered version, possibly an 827Si manual, which would benefit from the Japanese drivetrain, but has less in the way of electrics to go wrong. Post 1992 T-Series models also better than one would imagine, but with such a large amount of poor examples still out there, it pays to seek out one with a full service history and low mileage. Well cared for examples of T16 and T16 Turbo 800s should also give a long life, if well maintained.


With thanks to Chris Mills for his assistance in compiling this article.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up 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 Classics 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 unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

15 Comments

  1. I had a t16 197 bhp vitesse, very handy in overtake mode on motorway cruises, even today fantastic road presence. the nitty gritty of ownership, change the oil and filters frequently and check for oil leaks, if any get it sorted quickly, 1- oil is no longer cheap, 2- Value these engines they go like stink, i have done a test over 140 mph, belive me his is one under rated car. I have owned a few fast cars in my time, but they dont hold the road like these cars. the interior is very plush leather and wood. lecky windows and sunroof play up, simple cure ecu change under passenger seat and all is fixed.

  2. Best model to me would be 2.7 V6 fastback from the early nineties as it looks like an SD1 and also the early gremlins had been largely beaten by then. The Honda engine provides effortless and refined power and if well maintained, is trouble free.

  3. Good article. In addition to the engines listed there was also a turbo version of the M16. The engineering was by Tickford and it was intended as a runout model for the Mk1.

    Some additional problems were road speed sensors and high idle speeds, both with the Honda V6s. The speed sensor was required to interface between the Honda transmission and the Rover speedo and could be problematic. The high idle was aften due to there being an air lock in the coolant system after hose replacement or similar. Although there was an idle speed control system, the cold fast idle was completely mechanical and would remain open on a hot engine, if not supplied with coolant.

  4. During the 1990’s I had several 800’s for work. Each did over 60,000 in twelve months and were changed ever 17/18 months. Never a problem. The best was a 2.5 which I thought had an Italian diesel engine, but I may be wrong. Each of them pulled a twin axle caravan without any problem.
    Now looking at a 1990 registered 820 with 85,000 on the clock. Still to confirm mechanical condition but interior looks good except for the risen dash, not a problem that any of mine had.
    If anyone has a suggestion to improve the look of the thing, please let me know.

  5. I ran a number of these on company fleets in the 80s and 90s. No major issues at all, just the usual BL/ARG inconsistent quality that reared it’s head from time to time.

    The biggest problem in the longer term was the lack of development during its extended life. The facelift gave it a boost in 1991 but there was no way it could be expected to keep up with UK and German made competition for another 7 years.

    What’s also significant during this period was Ford Granada/Scorpio also going down the same slippery slope in the market place. The only non-premium large saloon that managed to maintain a user-chooser following was Vauxhall’s Carlton/Omega, and that was largely due to it having the feel of a German car but with a UK friendly badge.

    • Dismissed that car, but found a 1999 2.5 V6. Had one as new but no problems with leaks etc. It needs a cam belt change.

    • The Granada line was killed off by the 1994 Scorpio’s wacky looks. The large ‘oval’ styling theme should’ve been applied to the smaller cars – the Escort and Fiesta got a small oval grille, while keeping the larger car conservative.
      Killed off in 1998, they could direct potential customers to Volvo and the “new generation” S80, and Jaguar with the Lincoln based S type for RWD.
      Allowed the Mondeo to grow in size, the C/D car became a D/E segment spanner.

      The Omega was an attractive car, the BMW diesel engine was of interest to many. Had a look at an early model once – they rusted quite badly around the arches, possibly why there aren’t many left. Fleet discounts meant it was a strong seller. Killed off to allow the Vectra to grow and the strangely marketed Signum, and they owned Saab at the time who were introducing the mk2 9-3 “sport saloon”.

      The only real survivor of the non-premium E segment ‘large car’ is the Skoda Superb, which started life as a long wheelbase Passat, then an interesting saloon/hatchback combination, now as a mk3 Granada style hatchback with handsome styling.

      • My Dad had 2 Omegas as company cars, the first was a letdown after 2 Carltons, but the second was a facelift which was a lot better.

      • Ford had planned to launch Lincoln in Europe as a replacement for the Scorpio but this was ditched when they realised that there was no market.

  6. The mainstream executive car market declined after the early nineties. Then you had the obvious offerings from Rover, Ford and Vauxhall, but almost all major European and, to a lesser extent, Far Eastern manufacturers had a large saloon or hatchback on offer. I think what happened by the mid nineties, the Germans started to dominate this sector of the market and a BMW 5 Series was a lot more desirable than a Vauxhall Omega due to its badge. Also some like the Fiat Croma just didn’t sell due to the company’s past reputation, although one in Dumfries, when I was working there in 1994, seemed to be in regular use as a taxi.

    • A lot of these big cars sold as company cars.

      By the mid 90s, the Germans had realised that a low depreciation meant that they could offer attractive HP offers, and suddenly Mr/Mrs Rep found he/she could have a premium badge on their driveway for the same amount as their old Granada/Omega/Primera etc.

      When I worked for a large ‘blue’ corporate with a car scheme about 10 years ago, it actually cost less to lease a BMW than it did a Mondeo.

    • As per previous posts Ford and Rover lagged behind their German opposition as they failed to update, and so car mags started the German is best slant. It was just the “British” brands – SAAB and Volvo had also gone down the slippery slope with their offerings.

  7. A current Mondeo/Insignia is as large as an Omega/Scorpio anyway! Checking the stats, the current Mondeo is 15/16 inches longer than the first one…

    Add in the growth of SUVs and it’s not obvious how Ford could realistically sell something larger in Europe anyway

Add to the debate: leave a comment