Our Cars : Craig’s ‘new’ Rover 800 Fastback…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Craig Cheetham

Does this one look familiar by any chance?
Does this one look familiar by any chance?

Okay, it’s confession time… Back in the summer, when I picked up the reins of AROnline from the legend that is Keith Adams, one of the first stories I covered was the imminent appearance at Anglia Car Auctions of an ultra-rare low-mileage Rover 820e – almost, but not quite, the base of base models.

A year earlier, I’d been the proud owner of an early F-plate 820Se. Having not owned an 800 for five years, it rekindled my enthusiasm. I sold it to fellow Austin-Rover enthusiast John Marston-Jones in a deal involving his Nightfire Red 214SEi, not because I desperately wanted the R8, but because I could see from his reaction that John didn’t just want my 820Se, but categorically needed it in his life.

I'm still not entirely sure why I let this one go...
I’m still not entirely sure why I let this one go…

I regretted it the day it left. Much as I like the 214, the rarity value of the 800 these days, coupled to the fact I’ve always admired them, meant I had an aching for another.

That was answered, in part, by rescuing my N-plate Sterling 12 months ago and treating it to a cosmetic nip and tuck, and almost satiated completely when I found my dream 800, an early Mk2 Vitesse, hidden away in Amsterdam. What more could a man want than two Rover 800s? The answer, of course, was three…

Craig's Sterling was almost enough...
Craig’s Sterling was almost enough…

 

...some would say the Vitesse was definitely enough
… some would say the Vitesse was definitely enough

 

But then this happened...
But then this happened…

I’d have got myself to Anglia Car Auctions like a shot if I’d have been able to, but that particular week I was on holiday in the Scottish Highlands with the family. Indeed, it was whilst driving up the M6 in Lancashire that I decided to bite the bullet… My wife and kids were travelling to Inverness on the train, so it was just me, a lonely highway and my wife’s Discovery 2 ES Automatic that allowed for a bit of solo thinking time. Thinking time that ended up with me pulling into Tebay Services the day before the ACA sale, and placing a fixed bid over the phone…

The rest, as they say, is history – and the reason I didn’t fess up at the time is because I wasn’t sure, at first, if this was the car I wanted or not. After all, I’d done everything you’re not supposed to do. Yes, I, a supposed expert in my field, had bought a car unseen, at auction, over the phone with my credit card. Clever me…

When it turned up, I was initially disappointed. No beef at all with ACA here, I hasten to add – an auction’s an auction, and if you’re stupid enough to place a bid without even turning up then you deserve what you get! In my case, for £950 I got a prosthetic limb beige basic Rover 800 Fastback with a scabby door, a rusty sill, one scabby wheelarch and a slipping clutch. A few years ago, that would have been a £300 car…

Scabby wheelarch was worse than it looked
Scabby wheelarch was worse than it looked

 

As, indeed, was the trailing edge of the offside sill
As, indeed, was the trailing edge of the offside sill

For the first three weeks I fell into the ‘move it on’ mindset. On the plus side, it had just 38k on the clock, some interesting history (including some details of its early life as a Rover Group Management Plan vehicle) and a truly immaculate, new-smelling interior. It also drove superbly, aside from a slight exhaust blow and the aforementioned slipping clutch. But I wasn’t feeling the love.

On the plus side, 820e's cabin was immaculate
On the plus side, 820e’s cabin was immaculate, as you might expect for 38,000 miles

The positive tipping point came a few weeks later, when I showed some photos of it to a mate of mine of a similar age. The guy in question is a car nut, but tends to like the more conventional ‘enthusiast’ stuff – y’know, fast cars, exotics, that kind of thing. His reaction was incredible, so much so that he begged me to get it out of the lock-up and take him for a spin.

From that day until recently, I haven’t been able to put the car up on here for the simple reason that it’s been ‘away for a while’, and what I now have in my possession, I truly believe to be one of the best surviving XX Fastbacks in the country.

Craig's Fastback as it looks today - immaculate
Craig’s Fastback as it looks today – immaculate

Allow me, then, to firstly doff my hat to the incredible Tony Coles, my long-time friend and regular mechanic, for his sterling (no pun intended) efforts. Not only did Tony source me a replacement Borg and Beck clutch, new-old stock from his usual factor, for the princely sum of £15, but he also hand-crafted a new exhaust front pipe from a similar piece of pipe he had ‘lying around’. Mechanics who go out of their way to save their customers money by coming up with creative ways around such problems are legends, in my book.

With that out of the way, Tony stripped back the scabby arch and sill, lead-loading the rear arch and doing the repair properly. The end of the rear sill was cut away, and new metal let in, while he also went around the car filling in various small scrapes and dents. The end result, I’m sure you’ll agree, looks sensational – in a beige kind of way.

 

Dealer plates are a nice feature, along with corresponding dealer sticker in back window
Dealer plates are a nice feature, along with corresponding dealer sticker in back window

What’s more, he carried out all of the necessary repair work for £450 all in, meaning that, for £1,400, I now have an almost mint 820e – and in my book that’s damned cheap. Funny how a little bit of foresight and enforced enthusiasm can alter your mindset.

It drives, as you might expect, brilliantly – and luckily I have the necessary FastCheck equipment should I ever need to remove the battery (thought I’d beat whoever to the punchline on that one).

All very presentable under the bonnet - and I've already had the battery off to test my FastCheck...
All very presentable under the bonnet – and I’ve already had the battery off to test my FastCheck…

So, what next for this little project? Well, now it’s painted it’s probably the best old car I’ve ever owned in terms of its overall condition, and because it has a little bit of my own story behind it – the decision to buy it in the first place, my initial concerns and my ultimate decision to give it what it needed (at far less expense than I expected), it’s a keeper. A proper keeper, because those who know me will tell you they’ve heard all that before! On the job list, I need to sort out the driver’s side wiper, which oversweeps the screen and strikes the A-pillar, and fix a leak from the power steering cooler pipe – a common 800 fault…

Need to get the shoe polish out on those rubbing strips...
Need to get the shoe polish out on those rubbing strips…

 

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

20 Comments

  1. Craig, I really like this car. It may be a lowly 820e but it still looks fine. It does NOT have that base model appearance of bits missing here and there.
    I actually used to rather like this beige – the quality of the time shone through and it looked rather good, not like other beiges.

    I’ve just been tending to the offside sill, lower wheel arch on my ZR. I think when the driver’s door was replaced, the entire side was sprayed. I noticed a slight flaking by the wheel arch and just had to sort it!

  2. The pastel / beige colours are coming back into style, helped by the retro colour schemes of MINI/Fiat 500 etc.

    I could swear I’ve seen new-ish Nissan SUVs in this colour.

    It looks fantastic.

    It’s strange that the 800 fastback looks like the 80s squared off logical conclusion of the SD1 styling, but the saloon facelift model looks like a completely different car.

    Enjoy tootling about in what is definitely a rarity that is escaping banger valley.

    Interesting note about dealer sticker / plates. Usually when I buy a car, this is one of the first things I do – remove the dealer sticker as I am not paid to be a mobile advertisement. I usually look for some excuse that the plates are a bit scabby and change them for ‘plain’ looking non-dealer standard plates. However, sometimes I look at envy at other 9-3s that have the local Saab main dealer sticker on the window, and do think that they’ve probably been looked after….

  3. It’s beautiful. I think it’s basic specification and beige paint are its greatest appeal! It’s always amazes me how sunroofs used to be part of standard spec on nearly all 80s and early 90s run if the mill cars. To get one on a modern car is a rarity now and they only come as a factory option. For those who say “yes but it’s got air con” I don’t agree. They serve 2 completely different purposes!

  4. Nice car Craig, Im jealous of that one, beige is the new black!
    Just a query, how do you insure your cars? (assuming that you do) Do you have traders insurance / multicar policy or what way do you find cheapest to insure several at once?

  5. Great looking car Craig with a showroom fresh interior. Been many years since I was inside an 800. I think the last time it was one of the Rover 75 mules, which if I remember correctly was an 800 coupe body and interior on a 75 floorpan.

  6. That is a nice old thing. Would make a great daily drive and something to stand out in the supermarket car park. Really liked the shape of the fastback 800. It just looks right.

  7. A lovely looking car and as you say there are probably no more than a handful left now, and likely none at all as clean as that with such low mileage.

  8. Excellent purchase as 800s are getting rare now. I still think the 827Si is the best buy of the range as there are fewer electrical toys to go wrong and you get the Honda V6, which combines reliability with refinement. Still the 2 litre cars were largely sorted by 1988 and should give 30-35 mpg in everyday driving.

  9. I wonder about the quality of the rear exhaust! Only 38.000 Miles and a new rear exhaust from a later RS model! It looks not very well. The tail pipes were much too long for the early XS models with the smaler bumpers.

    • 26 years old though, little use is far worse for an exhaust than one that gets properly hot every day. 5 minutes with an angle grinder would sort out the length.

  10. An excellent purchase and nice to see a once common sight on the roads being preserved. I do prefer the 1991 facelift cars as the facelift moved the car on from the Austin Rover corporate look to the new Rover look with a chrome grille. Also by then any quality issues had been sorted, although by 1988 the 800 had most of its early gremlins fixed.

  11. Great car Craig, I think the colour suits it well. You just need to preserve it for future shows etc when people have totally forgotten about them

  12. Nearly as nice as mine, LOL…. unfortunately my car, which was a car of the month

    http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/ar-cars/car-month-jon-mowers-rover-827si/

    Is having to go, not what i really want, but i am just not using the car that much, and i fear that it will just end up being of no use whatsoever, so, what to do, eBay ! maybe, but it does need a fair bit of TLC, as the previous owner/s had not looked after it that well, and i just do not have the time to sort it all out, I really do not want to scrap that car, as it is so rare, so, maybe a museum, Stondon has shown an interest, so maybe a generous donation to them, but I don’t want it to go, I love it, and it goes like stink.

  13. @ lewblew, these cars need to be saved as they were last big Rover from the British Leyland/ Austin Rover era and are still capable cars now. SD1 fans always bemoan the lack of a V8 in the 800, but this was a thirsty engine and the Honda V6 was more economical and reliable.

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