Buying an R8
Fancy a Rover 200/400? Here’s what to look out for…
Words: Mike Humble
|Body style:||three- and five-door hatchback, four-door saloon, two-door coupé
two-door cabriolet, five-door estate.
|Engine options:||Petrol: 1.4 (8v), 1.4 (16v), 1.6-1.8 and 2.0
Diesel: 1.8-1.8 (turbo)
|Transmission options:||Five-speed manual; four-speed Honda auto, and CVT|
Following on from the reasonable success of thefrom 1984-’89, Rover entered into more collaboration with Honda for the new Rover 200/400 launched with much fanfare in the autumn of 1989 Rover Group had much more influence over issues such as power units and trim; and this, allied with the groundbreaking , gave the company a real fighting chance against competition from Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.
What to look for
Engine & transmission:
Engine wise, the 1100, 1400, post-1996 1600, 1800 K-Series petrol engines and the 2.0-litreare produced by Rover. The 1100, although silky smooth, is a bit lacking out on the open road, but the 1.4 with 16 valves is an eager free-revving engines. What it lacks in low-down torque it makes up for with a good power delivery and the ability to rev without the teeth-clenching pain of a similarly-engined Ford unit. Fuel economy is reasonably good on the K-Series and average for the 2.0. The larger 2.0 units are gutsy, powerful engines.
Check: Condition of radiator for fins missing and water leaks thoroughly, pay special attention to the bottom rail that strengthens the radiator, these often corrode and fall off allowing the cooling fan to detach and/or dump all of its coolant! Check all coolant pipes paying special attention to the steel pipe that runs sideways below the radiator, it’s clipped to the front crossmember and readily corrodes. Also make sure the pipe that runs behind the engine block from the water pump is in good order.
Check: Condition of the expansion tank, is the coolant clean containing antifreeze? Run your middle finger round the inside of the neck of the tank (when cool) looking for silt and grime. Look for evidence of overheating such as rusty stains near the cap. Look for oil in the water or oily gunk inside the filler neck. Also smell inside the neck for the whiff of petrol or exhaust fumes indicating possible head gasket issues. Check for coolant leaks around the inlet manifold area on the back of the head.
Check: Oil leaks from the camshaft cover, common but a cheap easy fix. Look for evidence of excessive oil leaking from the camshaft carrier and cylinder block/head just behind the timing cover. Other oil leak checks are from the underside of the distributor, around the oil filter and around the sump. 2.0 engines are prone to weeping oil from the front right hand corner of the cylinder head / block area, if this is a minor weep its not a serious issue.
Look inside the oil cap for mayonnaise on K-Series engines, indicating to cylinder head problems.
Listen: For undue tapping or knocking. The K-Series engines are known for minor piston slap after a few moments from a cold start, this should fade away after a minute or two. Listen for the sound of a misfire from the exhaust, this could be sticking valves on a low mileage car but once again, this should fade away after a minute. From a cold start remove to water cap after a few minutes and check for excessive pressure, once again, this is a symptom of head gasket trouble. Unstable idle speed once warm could be vaccum pipe issues.
K-Sseries engines, once fully warm, should show just under midway on the gauge and stay there, any major fluctuation should be a cause for concern. 2.0 T-Series are notorious for running too cool, the faster you drive, the cooler they run. If this is the case, the thermostat needs replacing.
1.6 Honda D-Series engines are good power units, but costly to service and fix. Items of note are faulty distributors, oil leaks, noisy tappets. These engines are often skimped when it comes to servicing, hence why there are more 1.4s available. Performance is superb, but the pay off is very high fuel consumption.
2.0 engines are known for exhaust blows from the front of the engine, be sure to check that the exhaust manifold has not cracked or has stripped studs in the cylinder head.
1.8 diesels are PSA sourced, avoid the non turbo as this is unrefined. Turbo diesel 1.8s are brisk, economical and on the whole reliable. Look out for evidence of blown head gaskets.
All major servicing on all engines is easy. Access to items such as the timing belt, water pump etc are all straight forward requiring nothing more than a little know how and basic tools.
Gearboxes are either the Rover/PSA R65 or Rover PG1 all are five-speed.
On the R65 gearbox pay attention to the differential casing for oil leaks and whining in third once warm. The clutch is not quite man enough on engines up to 1.6 and can wear out after as little as 40,000 miles if the car has been driven hard all its life. My own Rover’s original clutch gave out at 110,000 so it goes to show its how the car is looked after. A sloppy, reluctant gearchange could be as simple as worn selector linkages. The clutch cable is prone to problems, this can be demonstrated by a floppy clutch pedal and/or a loud clunk when pressing the pedal. The cable is easy and cheap to replace. The clutch should start to disengage half way on the upstroke of the pedal; if it bites with an inch or two from the top of the travel, the clutch is gone! – also an easy DIY job.
On Rover PG1 gearboxes, check for whining from the differential by applying plenty of lock and driving the car hard left or hard right – a T junction normally causes the noise. Listen for whirring or rattling when idling in neutral (press the clutch to see if the noise quietens) if so negotiate or walk away. Pay attention for oil leaks from the inner CV joints to identify a possible failure of the diff bearings. A sloppy gearchange often turns out to be wear in the roll pin that secures the selector rod to the gearbox, a reasonably cheap and easy fix. If however, the gearchange is stiff and reluctant to shift, the gearbox has had it. Clutches on the 2.0 are tough and present no more issues than any other cars, the same applies to the driveshafts and CV joints.
Automatic cars post 1996 are best avoided, owing to complexity of the system and not being the most reliable. Any loud chattering in the drive position is best avoided!
The suspension on the 200 and 400 is a Honda-derived fully independent system (but McPherson strut set-up on European cars was at Rover’s behest). Items worth checking are front anti roll bar bushes and linkages. On the 400 post-’96, pay attention to the upper ball joints and wishbone bushes. On the rear, check the condition of the shock absorbers and trailing arm bushes, the latter being a common MoT failiure. A giveaway clue to rear suspension issues are the tyres wearing unevenly.
On cars with power steering, look for evidence of fluid leaks from the pipework. Look at the fluid bottle under the bonnet as the hose clips are not the best quality, there may a leak.
Cars without ABS present no real issues in this area with the exception of weeping rear cylinders. Cars with rear discs and ABS need to be checked for the operation of the handbrake. The rear calipers can easliy seize with age. Dont expect the handbrake to lock the rear wheels, even when fully operational, it really only just holds the car. Look through the wheels for uneven wearing of the discs for clues of caliper problems.
Check all the usual things such as buttons, switches etc. Common problems can be alternators on earlier models, noisy starters on K series, jamming starters on the 2.0 & non functioning interior lights.
Look for general corrosion paying close attention to the following:
- Hatchback roof hinges
- The rear edge of the sills
- Front crossmember
- Leading edges of the wings and around the side repeaters
- Spare wheel area
- Around the windscreen
Does everything work as it should? Does it smell damp? Pay close
attention to the following:
- Heated Rear Window Operation
- Heater Fan only working on 3 or 4
- Broken clocks (an easy fix on R8 shape but a nightmare on later 400)
- Trip meter not working on later 400s
- Sagging roof lining
- Sunroof operation
- Operation of electric windows
Out on the road look out for sloppy handling, creaking front suspension,
missfires, juddering brakes, slipping clutches on 1.1 & 1.4, noisy or stiff
With values on the floor for all but the finest examples, Rover 200/400s represent incredible value for money for those who aren’t fashion conscious. Faults are few and far between and most are easily rectified. Buying cheap might tempt you into skimping on servicing, but to do so would really do any R8 an injustice.
After all, these cars represent Rover’s renaissance of the early 1990s, and if they all disappear, what will we be left with?
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.