The miles continue to rack up, and it is a good time to take stock. My trusty 1997 Rover Vitesse Sport Coupé, bought at a premium at the start of the year has now been in my hands for six months and 10,000 miles. How do I feel about owning a fine example of one of the UK’s most misunderstood cars?
One thing is for sure, objectively, I could say that it is simply not good enough for the task it was bought for. It is not quiet at speed for one thing, and with a 100-mile daily commute on the M1, quiet and restful cruising should be an absolute must. It also chews through tyres at an alarming rate: the Dunlop D8s were new in late-2003, now the fronts are down to 2mm. Fuel consumption is not bad if the car is driven gently, but as it has 200PS to play with, it is sometimes difficult to drive in that manner (AUTOCAR managed an average of 19.8mpg in their road test, I can believe it).
Beyond that, it is not that practical (for a family man with two kids), and thanks to its immensely long doors, I have taken up the habit of occupying two bays in car parks in order to allow for clearance. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the gearbox crying enough at 48,000 miles… which it, to put it mildly, a joke.
And there’s one more thing, which I still find amusing: when people ask me what I drive, if I tell them it’s a Rover 800, you could almost see the subconscious statement forming: ‘…and you call yourself a car enthusiast?’. If I tell them it’s a Rover 800 Coupé, more often than not, people had not heard of it. And there’s the problem… no image.
We all know why this is: Rover did not get a chance to market its flagship properly (I do not recall the Coupé being advertised after about 1994), even though, more often than not, a flagship model is supposed to give a nice halo effect on the rest of the range. If customers are not aware of the car, how the hell is it supposed to lift the company’s reputation?
So it’s misunderstood, chews up tyres and fuel, and has a gearbox made from cheese. Surely reason enough to get rid of the car and never speak of the experience again..?
Not so, sadly.
Cars are not white goods, and as such, it is impossible to buy a car on totally rational grounds. If we did, we would all be driving around in Fiat Multiplas or Vauxhall Zafiras. No, cars tug the heartstrings as well as sooth the head, and as such, we buy them for irrational reasons. Once we have decided what car they want to drive, any faults are swept under the carpet as eccentricities.
In the case of the Vitesse Sport Coupé, the faults listed above can be brushed aside easily:
It may be uneconomical and have a voracious appetite for tyres, but that is the price to pay for the limpet like grip and ample straight-line performance.
Misundertood? No-one’s heard of it? So what, that makes it a Q-car!
Impractical? Ahh, break the bank and buy a hatchback as a second car!
Broken gearbox? Put it down to day-to-day running costs..!
And that leaves only positives: the great profile, the luxurious interior and the obvious speed and handling issues… It does not sound like a long list of things right about the car, and that would probably be wrong. There are other things, which count in the Rover’s favour, but most of these are mundane day-to-day benefits, which are in no way linked to why I bought it. If nothing else, this proves the thoery that us car enthusiasts decide what we want and only then do we rationalise around that decision, and in the end it comes down to this: Perhaps I just like it, and it just floats my boat…
10,000 miles on, and I couldn’t part with it. Says it all really.
We’re an irrational lot, us car enthusiasts…
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.