The problem with owning a rather vast fleet of vehicles is that sometimes you forget exactly what you own…
I hadn’t forgotten about this one, per se, and to tell you the truth I wanted to take it to the R8 25th birthday bash at Gaydon a couple of months ago, but as with all best laid plans it never happened – not the fault of the car, nor of the driver, but of simple circumstance, as my lovely 214 SEi has been out on loan for for about half the time I’ve owned it.
It’s currently providing sterling service as a stand-in learner vehicle for our childminder’s 18-year old daughter, who can’t use the family Passat for her driving practice because the VW has an electronic handbrake. It’s taking her a little longer than anticipated to pass her test, but while the car is safely stored in her parents’ garage and its tax, insurance and other costs are paid for by them, I’m happy to leave it there until such a time as it finds its way home… Indeed, I only feel compelled to introduce it here right now because I’m about to acquire another R8 (all will be revealed in good time) and that reminded me I needed to check up on this one…
Like many people on here, I’ve always been a fan of Rover’s second generation 200/400-Series. It’s a design that, in my view, epitomises the absolute best of the Rover/Honda collaborative years, even more so than the 800, which I adore for different reasons, and the 600, which was probably the best dynamic package from the collaboration, but in time has shown to be lacking the same durability and quality, particularly in terms of corrosion. The SEi wasn’t so much a run-out model, as perceived by many, but a ‘retail special’ – a showroom Christmas Tree of a car with all the bells and whistles that lifted it above anything rivals such as Ford and Vauxhall could provide for the aspirational, upwardly mobile middle-class motorist. A fellow enthusiast described it to me as the ‘Vanden Plas of the Nineties’, which I think is a nice way of putting it…
Mine’s a cracker. It’s not perfect, and to make it a show car it would need some of the panels re-lacquering to compensate for small areas of peeling, a minor scuff touching up on the back bumper and a couple of supermarket dings running under the iron, but overall it’s a very smart and presentable example, finished in Nightfire Red, which I’ve always believed to be the best colour for post-facelift R8s. Parked alongside my Charcoal 800 Vitesse, with their matching alloys and half-leather interiors, they’re a fine looking pair – and I find it hard to believe that each is fast approaching its 20th birthday. I was 17 when these cars were new, so it’s clear they must have left an impression on me.
Like so many of my cars, I never actually intended to buy this one. Back in August 2013, after returning from a year working in Australia, I acquired an F-plate Rover 820 Se Fastback off eBay, primarily as a short-term transport solution. What I acquired, though, was a much, much nicer car than I expected, and was significantly better than I expected for the sub-£500 asking price.
The weekend after I bought it, I had a houseful of mates as we were driving in convoy to the BMC/BL Show in Peterborough. I won’t say it was love at first sight (though I suspect it may well have been), but my good friend John Marston-Jones, a serial BL/Rover owner, expressed an interest in buying it over a beer or two. After three or four beers, or possibly five or six, a deal had been done that involved me taking the SEi in part-exchange, but in need of a new windscreen.
We swapped cars a fortnight later at the Tatton Park Classic Vehicle Show – I’d already sourced a windscreen fitter local to Cheshire who did the job before my drive home for £112 all-in, which I can’t help but think is pretty good value. The windscreen fitter himself loved the car and remarked on its overall condition, and it’s understandable really. The 214 has covered just 46,000 miles from new (with a new head gasket before anyone asks), the alloys are unmarked, it has a host of interesting period accessories, such as genuine 200-Series overmats, headlamp protectors, rear sun blinds and number plates from the original supplying dealer, albeit with Nissan logos suggesting the car was bought there and traded back in after the dealer had changed brands.
It drives brilliantly, too. A rattle from the front when I first bought it turned out to be nothing more sinister than a loose brake dust shield, and other than that I haven’t spent a penny on it in 14 months.
If anyone fancies a nice late R8, do let me know, because there’s another R8 coming my way very shortly, which isn’t as posh or as smart, but is a much rarer and earlier survivor. As such, I can’t justify keeping both, and I’d rather it stayed ‘in the family’ than was farmed out to eBay – and if you’re a genuine AROnliner, I’m happy to let it go for mates’ rates on the promise of a good and genuine home. It’s completely rot free, looks sensational from 10 paces, and is a genuine low owner, low mileage car that still keeps pace with modern traffic. It’ll be up for grabs as soon as our babysitter has passed her test, that is, as apparently she intends to buy something a little more sexy than her ‘grandad car’. The youth of today, etc, etc…
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