Essays : Short-selling the Syncro

Steven Ward, ever the critical second-rate Salesman, lays bare some of the 600’s faults and failures.

Later 600s received body coloured addenda; a styling trick that should have been employed from the start...
Later 600s received body coloured addenda; a styling trick that should have been employed from the start...

I’m annoyed, very annoyed – and have been for quite a while now – by this subject. It could be argued that Volkswagen’s recent ‘trendiness’ and profitable trading is down to two factors: the success of the Mk5 Volkswagen Passat (MY96) and the high-speed direct injection diesel.  However, its successful recipe is nothing new and was indeed laid-down by our very own Rover Group in 1993 to critical acclaim.

Sadly, our own home-brewed Honda hybrid mid-ranger was sunk before it was even launched with arguably devastating results for the volume, passenger car side of Rover Group.  As much as I love the Rover 600, let me relay some thoughts and stories relating to what could well be Rover’s ‘cockroach’ car. The car that the Passat could have been or vice-versa – a swoopy saloon with a performance direct injection diesel sold at a premium?  You decide.

Launched in 1993, this car was the follow-up to the astonishingly good and successful Rover 200 (R8) of 1989 and was supposed to replace the failed and all-but-dead Montego –BL’s last hurrah.  Sadly, for the dealer network, the paying public and the Fleet Gods, the car arrived over-priced and under detailed.  Many of the delightful design intricacies featured in the R8s inherent ‘rightness’ were missing from Syncro.

Not necessarily the end of the world but, when the car arrived priced at least £2k too expensive, it was inexcusable.  Right from the off, the car never captured anyone’s imagination.  Indeed, we were the talk of the dealer network as we sold our pre-registered demo – that was absolutely unheard of in Dealer Council Meetings.  This was thanks to our extensive, valued and trusted list of company car choosers; otherwise our Nightfire Red example wouldn’t have turned a wheel with a paying member of the public behind the steering-wheel.

Forced to register a 620Si on the K-plate, we paid over £14k for the privilege. If we’d bought that car at a closed Rover auction – notorious for inflated prices – we’d have paid under £10k, including the ‘out’.  Prices were that inflated from the outset and the equipment list was too sparse.  Added to which, competition for Syncro was very stiff – less than a mile away, Ford were plying their dealer with buy now, pay later Mondeos, all fully loaded with options and, indeed, offered on the flexible Options finance package. Air-Con?

Cough-up and fit it yourself, that was Rover line, and there’d be a blank switch otherwise.  Air-bags, alloys, even decent size ‘steelies’ and colour-coding were all for the taking, but only on the Optional (at considerable) Extra (cost) list.  Ford, with its world beating, JYS-promoted Mondeo just shrugged off the threat and marched on.  Quietly, we were concerned that the 600 just didn’t cosset as well as the already compromised 800.

It need not have been this way.  The 600 was exceptionally good looking and thoroughly engineered in the mechanically proven sense.  It won awards in Italy for its suave style and the critical CAR Magazine rated it ahead of the pack, 3-Series, Xantia, Mondeo, et al.  Let us not even mention the crude Cavalier with its struts and compound rear axle where Syncro strode with double wishbones all round.

However, Honda charged dearly for the use of its hardware, something which Rover found hard to bear, but should have fully utilised to its benefit. It was said that the most basic Honda 2.0 lump, sans counter balancers, cost Rover over one thousand pounds more than a T-Series to fit and supply.  You could, though, bet your Granny that the resultant powertrain was good for ten trips around the globe without issue.  Why then Rover didn’t bank the risk and offer a class leading 3 year warranty on guaranteed-good-for-a-decade components is anyone’s risk assessment.  Sad then we only got to see the worse aspects of the powertrain; expensive parts, lengthy (recommended) servicing times and higher than average fuel consumption.

It was this blind ignorance of the first and most critical purchaser of the 600 that Rover so badly ignored.  The fact that in three years and 60,000 miles hence it is just about run-in is no good to the penny-pinching Fleet market.  Rover should have specified a standard airbag to rid the car of the truly awful steering wheel and place it on a level pegging with Cavalier and Mondeo.  Likewise coarse black bumpers, mirrors and handles gave the elegant car the grace of a carthorse when all of its rivals had cottoned-on to colour coding.

Even R8 cleverly concealed its grey bumpers and plastics under the euphemism of the Home Service two-tone scheming, while soon-to-be parent company and inspirational BMW pretended such meanness was in the name of environmentalism.

Rover 620ti was a flawed gem...
Rover 620ti was a flawed gem...

With all of this in mind, it is no surprise then that the 600 never really took off with regard to sales figures. It’s irrelevant that Rover irrationally mumbled something about never producing more that 1000 per working week from its Cowley factory.  Even in Rover’s wildest dreams, the car was never going to take off.  Sad, because this was probably the best all round car ever to leave Cowley since the Minor.  It looked terrific in its more upmarket guises and went with great gusto, especially in 2.3-litre format.  It really was worthy competition to it rivals, but let us just recap what its rivals all offered, usually for a lot less in purchase price, in depreciation and in the competitive cost-per-mile comparisons.

Citroen gave a truly inspiration ride and Italian styling, BMW give you a thrusting, ruthlessly efficient aggression, Cavalier gave eye-opening safety and a trifling c-p-m, Ford gave you world class dynamics and fleet management; Honda gave you Japanese reliability and, now, British build.

Rover? Well there was the large dealer network and this promise of never passing another 600.  A theme which was translated into the rather nice advert pitched on a dubious bridge in Tuscany. Odd and somewhat prophetic that a car was marketed on the assumption you’d never see another…

With sales figures not reaching expectations and falling, Rover was keen to keep the faith with its new parent company and so embarked on an ambitious plan to clear the stocks and gain new orders. Rover, sensing a last throw of the dice, ambitiously believed its residual hype and offered the car on most favourable monthly terms to business customers.  Fever pitch was inflicted on the ambitious within the dealer network to those who could place 600 among the high-flying.  I clearly remember working in a dealership, where the Business Manager flogged, in every sense, the 600 up and down the length of the A19 to anyone that qualified for the scheme.  It was a qualified success as I’ll come to later…

The revised 600 was a much needed improvement, it boasted Rover’s theoretically good 1-2-1 damping which conceded control for comfort, better (Rover designed) seats, useable door pockets, more colours and, indeed, colour coding, airbags and a general sense of well being as standard.  It gave the car additional Rover qualities over the traditional and long-standing Honda slickness. It was now the car it should have been.  Then, Rover waded in with its own home-grown engines.

There was the fire-breathing yet utterly docile turbocharged T-Series with unique TorSen Diff.  A beast of a car that won praise from every quarter. A pity, then, early examples chewed gearboxes and lunched pistons while leaking oil everywhere.  However, the big news for those who knew came in the form of the direct injection, turbo intercooled diesel.  Possibly the best engine ever to come from anything under the BL umbrella – ever.  Here was an engine at the cutting edge of technology that delivered all it promised: economy, refinement, performance, minimal servicing costs, reliability and a general ease of usability.

The L-Series, as it was known, was pilot-built in Longbridge for this application before being transferred to Solihull for mass Rover application. Like the Turbo T-series, its lineage could be traced via M-Series, to O-Series and therefore to BMC B-Series.  Heritage in action if you like; and one that worked and earned cash money from all quarters. Indeed, it was so good Honda used it for Civic and Accord while Land Rover used it in Freelander. It never gave anyone a moment’s worth of trouble and could rattle up 200k without effort or serious strip-down.  If only current Honda diesels were nearly as good…

However, for the run-of-the-mill cars, Rover was contractually obliged to buy from Honda.  Previously expensive at the outset, but worth it long term was the view of Honda Powertrains, but things had suddenly and unexpectedly changed. When Rover launched the 618, we all expected to see the new K-Series under the bonnet, not a cheapened Honda unit.  Honda had skilfully and rightfully renegotiated its supply contract now that BMW, as opposed to BAe, was its customer.  The 600 was now was costing fortunes to produce for a shrinking crowd and congesting airbases where unordered cars were being stacked for potential delivery.  In hindsight, we were very lucky it didn’t feature the disastrous and ruinous ‘damp’ stretched K-Series.

Rover were daft and short-sighted in my opinion. Alloys, leather and air-con returned more in residuals than it cost Rover to specify them in my buying experience. It was because of this meanness and slavish following of BMW’s example that Rover Group as we knew it became seriously and terminally unstuck.

Rover had leased many thousands of 600s to Business Users for cheap Long Term Contracts in the belief that its projected residuals were honest and accurate and likely to hold-up long term.  These cars started returning by which time any romance with the 600 had long since left in a haze of failed Britishness and ruthless Germaness.  You see, 600 residuals were at rock bottom, but Rover couldn’t ignore this with the returning leased cars and their guaranteed residuals which had been even extended to private users.  Or could they?

Yes, they could. Rover cleverly hired an airbase and some netting and promptly hid the returned 600s in a field while the accountants cooked the books to pretended that these used, unwanted cars were valuable assets to BMW’s cruelly termed English Patient.  All was well.  Until some German accountants were parachuted-in to balance the books the Munich way.  Then the balloon, so to speak, went up.

The hidden 600s were found and placed onto the open market for the best offer.  However, by now, the 75 was supposed to be around the corner… BMW was aghast at this discovery and the resultant loss on Rover’s balance sheet proved to be the straw that broke the Camel’s back with regard to Rover.  It was at this point BMW decided enough was enough and the rest is industrial history.  I was told this story whilst sipping tea in Cowley a few years ago and found it unbelievable but, when one examines the evidence leading up to and following the split, it fits.

Sadly for owners and prospective owners, such bad feeling towards 600 was to prove fatal for the cars in many instances.  Parts become NLA (no longer available) long before the statutory legal limit of 10 years, resulting in write-offs.  I know of one salesman, fond of 600s, who bought one with some damage on its rear wing and lost his job over the debacle that followed as the part was NLA and the labour costs to recondition the car wiped out any potential sales profit.

Anyway, if you can find a bodily sound 600, then the chances are you’ll drive a classic which will outlast virtually any Rover out there.  Certainly, the 75 and the K-Series cars will imminently be on the endangered list unless carefully cared for. That’s the 600 then: the ultimate bounty for those who appreciated Honda’s engineering diligence allied to Rover’s design flair and British build.

It looked superb, drove great and was (largely) utterly reliable. The 75, which replaced it, never really did that in my book for various reasons.  I will never forget the Friday afternoon I got my hands on a pre-production 2-litre 75 KV6 manual and feeling that Rover had lost their design direction.  75 was claustrophobic, heavy in detail and stodgy to drive compared to the 600.

The 75 was nice but never special in the way the 600 was.

Keith Adams


  1. An utterly flawed article in terms of academic thought. Firstly, Rover was limited in what they could do with the 600 Series due to the licensing agreement they had signed with Honda. Honda knew full well what Rover could successfully achieve when not restricted – look at the number of bodystyles Rover developed from the R8 programme. This limitation even extended to trim detailing. I am sure that Rover wanted to produce an estate version, but the licensing agreement prevented that. What else could Rover have done without the 600 Series? Carried on indefinitely with the by now dated and sales tumbling Montego?

    Was the Citroen Xantia really that good when compared with its predecessor, the BX? From what I remember, it had little in the way of gallic flair in its styling compared to the BX, ZX or XM – and a rather cheap looking interior with no sense of occassion. Granted, the ride was good, but the rest of the package was never up there with the Mondeo, 3 Series or 600.

    Rover, as with other car companies, made a lot of money out of selling optional extras. However, I do agree that more derivatives should have had alloy wheels and wood inserts in the doors as standard to reinforce the premium kudos of the Rover name.

    Make no mistake, I am not blinkered by the Rover name or 600 Series and can recognise that there were issues with both. However, it’s wrong to imply that the 600 was a failure when it was still selling in strong numbers right up to when it ended production and was also reinforcing the aspirational appeal of the Rover name in export markets such as Germany and Italy? It didn’t do that badly.

  2. @David
    The Xantia was a revelation compared to the BX (I am biased, though, as I owned one).

    While the Xantia lost some gallic quirkiness, it gained solid build quality and rust proofing (when did you last see a rusty Citroen?). The styling was handsome, if a little anonymous, though the upturn on the bootlid detailing did hint at the contemporary 3 Series. It did not look quirky nor flashy nor ugly, it was just a nicely designed large hatchback. The interior is somewhat architectural, compared to Rover’s wood-and-chrome, but my model had all the toys and was far from basic.

    Ride quality was superb (thanks to the hydraulic suspension) and it could be had with what was then thought of as the best turbodiesel engine on the market (XUDT examples could go on to 400k+).

  3. The 600 failed because BAe had ideas above their station i.e. Rover to compete against BMW. They priced their cars above their market with a car that was not as good as their premium counterparts – the 600 was never a good a drive as a 3 Series. This continued with the next gen 200 and 400 models, with a 200 priced at the same price as a much larger Escort or Astra!

    Unfortunately, this was made worse by Honda being hacked off by Rover being sold off behind their back and re-negotiating their deal at even higher prices.

    It is a shame this happened as the market now calls for sharing to save costs and BMW and Honda could have worked together and, with all three companies’ engineering abilities, could have taken a long-term market lead in both technology and products.

  4. @Will
    My friend John had a Xantia – a green estate with HDI engine. It was a lovely car which was, sadly, written off by a lorry. He replaced it with a Xsara Estate (which he still has) but this was not as nice although has been extremely reliable – contrary to my jokes about Gallic reliability.

  5. I like 600s a lot – especially the ti model – and I understand the diesel version is still sought after by Taxi firms for the big mileage capability.

    I think the later coloured-coded 600s looked great and I have always thought the 75 was a step backwards in terms of style though this was latter rectified with the MG ZTs.

    I never got the ‘Relax, it’s a Rover’ 75 when the P6, SD1, 800 and 600 were always aimed at a younger, sportier market.

  6. I agree with (some of) Steven’s comments here. I recall all initial 600s had colour-coded bumpers and nothing else, then the 620i came for a short while with black bumpers that cheapened the look of the car. Luckily, Rover seemed to realise this error and hastily reverted to colour-coding.

    I had a Honda Accord 2.0is saloon (’96) and thought the Honda engine was good… 131ps. I really liked that car but still think the 600 was more classy in looks! Probably the Honda 1.8 was better than the 1.8K?

    By 1998/99 Rover had the best versions of the 600 with full colour-coding and alloys/leather on run-out models at discount prices just as the 75 was launching. Pity they hadn’t done this in 1994/5 – it may have appealed to more customers then.

  7. The Honda 1.8 was more thirsty than the K-Series and obviously came with the premium of having to buy it in from Honda. I assume this paid dividends though in terms of warranty claim issues – the 1.8 was woeful in other heavy duty applications. What price reliability?

    The 600 was a better drive than the E36 3 Series in production when the 600 was launched. It rode better and handled better – the 3 Series was only ahead on road/wind noise at high speeds and, obviously, its promise of strong German residuals. BMW didn’t catch up (both in terms of styling and driveability) until 1998 when the all new E46 came out.

  8. I think it’s a good article, showing new perspectives and failings where it mattered – in the showroom – and also highlighting the issue of poor parts support – this is where the real money is made and it has a major effect on customer loyalty.

    Some of the limitations were down to the batch-build philosophy/Honda bureaucracy but much can be pointed in the direction of poor planning/marketing. I remember the pain in getting Honda to agree to direct purchase/line fit of aircon – the Japanese are meticulous planners so why was its British partner changing its plans so drastically and so late in the day?

    I also recall a really embarrassed sales rep visiting in his new white 600 with awful black unpainted bumpers. Still, at least, shifting 600s was presumably easier than selling its unloved Swindon sister, the Accord?

  9. I think that the main problem with the 600 was that, once again, Rover produced a product that didn’t fit established market segments – too big and expensive to rival a Mondeo, too small to challenge the Granada.

    The 600 almost tripped over the 800 rather than slotting in below it. This was recognised when the 75 replaced both cars.

    They did this before, of course, with the Marina, Maxi and Princess. They also went on to do it again with the 1995 200 and 400 models. Tragically, it looks as though SAIC/MG are about to do it again with the MG6.

  10. The 600 is the car that first got me enthused with Rover Cars. I think that, even today, it’s one of the best-looking cars out there and they’re still a common enough sight whereas I can’t remember when I last saw an 800!

    Clearly the car was never developed to its full potential a consequence of Honda and BMW not wanting to be upstaged which is sad because, if properly developed, it could have been a major success for Rover.

  11. Our user chooser company car fleet was fully of 600s – mostly in maroon – was that, by far, the most popular colour?

    The 600 was a lovely looking car but, as stated above, confusingly placed in the market. The Mondeo was a serious problem too, not as good-looking, but overall a better car and cheaper…

    The later HH-R 400 saloon didn’t have the nice proportions and was, instead, slightly smaller than rival mid-sizers!

  12. A friend had around a dozen 600 diesels as taxis about 5/6 years ago. He loved them as they were amazingly reliable – from memory only window winding mechanisms and a pulley which disabled pas and brake servo(?) ever failed on a regular basis.

    His drivers liked them as they were so economical and even passengers thought they were a bit more ‘executive’ than Vectras and Mondeos. Eventually, when they’d all done at least 300,000 miles, he replaced them with Skodas.

  13. @Will
    BXs never rusted either so there wasn’t any improvement to be made. The Xantia wasn’t a volume seller really – the 405/406 sold much better and should have been in the comparison instead of the Citroen.

  14. Like the 600, the Xantia is still a good-looking car today. Their interiors were nothing to write home about but they were as reliable as anything out there – easily Citroëns most reliable car ever. I can say this as an ex-CX, BX, GSA, Xantia, XM and (current) C5 owner. The ride/handling compromise was excellent – it had particularly good grip in the wet. The 600 was a good car but it didn’t seem to fit any particular segment properly.

    IMHO the hidden 600s were nothing to do with BMW dumping Rover – this was BMW’s intent all along – they made the same RWD saloons in three (diminishing) segments. Talk in the industry of BMW being taken over was rife but buying Rover killed BMW takeover bids stone dead.

    The purchase also gave BMW instant access to the fastest growing segments (small FWD cars and SUVs) with two premium brands (MINI and Land Rover) – as soon as the X5 was ready they sold Land Rover at a huge profit (many, many times the orginal purchase price of Rover and comfortably more than they invested in tooling) to Ford. Rover’s invention (electric power steering) was sold to Bosch (now earning Bosch a fortune) Rover-owned dealerships were sold off and some parts manufacture moved to BMW-owned companies.

    Buying Rover saved BMW – they asset-stripped it and left it to die – that was the plan all along.

  15. The main problems with the Rover 600 were class and image – it was a car that struggled to have any form of wow factor or the ability to impress in the mind’s eye.

    I will agree that, in later form, it really did look a nice car and, speaking from personal experience, the ti was a formidable bit of machinery. However, class and pedigree are gained from experience and they’re something you just can’t buy or add on. Rather akin to Cadillac or Lexus, there`s always that something missing that flaws the package!

    The 75 put many issues to bed in terms of class and eye candy but, whereas the 600 had it all engineering-wise, the 75 dismally failed to hit the mark thanks to the Germans buggering its launch and the unforgivable fragile petrol engines especially the entry 1.8 open deck K-Series.

  16. I think the 600 did have the WOW factor. It was too expensive Mike. It was Rover’s Xedos really.

    Would “Triumph” have been the answer instead of Rover 600?

  17. @Steve Lee
    I agree that the 600, as stand-alone 4 door saloon, was in a reducing market – just as well, then, that they didn’t do the predicted coupe but an estate would have been good.

    BMW may well have ended up asset-stripping – they did a similar thing in the 1960s with Goggomobil which, like Rover, they saw as an increasingly competitive threat. However, a lot boils down to internal BMW politics, eg. Pichetsreider/Reitzle and a fundamental misunderstanding of Rover’s Honda-influenced mindset which Land Rover had not inherited.

    Let’s not forget what BMW has done successfully for UK car manufacture/assembly with MINI, Hams Hall and Rolls-Royce – at least they didn’t completely pack their bags and retreat en masse to Munich.

    Incidentally, I thought electric power steering, eg. as pioneered on the MGF, was TRW technology?

  18. @Steve
    I have fond memories of the BX as my Dad had two. They were comfortable and quirky.

    I was once offered a BX for sale, an estate, but the rear floor was rusting away. The vendor also had another BX for parts and the engine bay on that was rusting badly. Mind you, this was about 5 years ago so the cars were easily 15 year old.

    The Xantia interior doesn’t quite have the ambience of a Jaguar (or a Rover for that matter), but then the ‘wood and leather’ market wasn’t what the car was targeted at. It was no worse than the competition and certainly more functional than some German competitors. The grab handle gave it some character, though this was deleted with the Phase 3 airbag.

    The Xantia felt solid and as though it would withstand a bit of abuse. The BX I was looking at did have a lot of character but felt a bit flimsy in comparison to the Xantia.

    You are right that the Xantia was not a huge volume seller, selling mostly to private buyers. The 406 was built on the same platform (I have a D9 now) and was probably a bigger competitor to the 600 and 75. The 406 was not as comfortable as the Xantia, though the handling is uncanny for a big saloon (excluding Xantia Activas). The HDi is a good engine but the interior does feel a bit mass-produced compared to the interior of a Rover or a Jaguar.

    My original point was a response to David’s and was that the Xantia brought quality to the mid-range Citroens. Indeed, as Steve Lee points out, it was probably their finest hour before they went all “German”… (reference to latest C5).

  19. Chris Chapman :

    @Steve Lee

    BMW may well have ended up asset stripping – they did a similar thing with Goggomobil in the 1960′s who, like Rover, they saw as an increasingly competitive threat.

    That’s complete nonsense. Glas Automobile ran into financial trouble – too ambitious projects can be identified as culprits – so the owners agreed on a buy-out by BMW. BMW was, at the time, in need of production capacity and, while Glas cars (such as the Goggomobil) were phased out, BMW’s own production moved in.

    The Dingolfing factory is now the core of car production for BMW. Hans Glas (Jr., the grandson of the founder) ran the factory until reaching pension age in 2004. I think it is VERY hard to see any similarities with the Rover debacle.

    Turning to the Rover 600, I always thought it was a very bland and boring car. I never bothered even sitting in one in a showroom when it was still on sale. However, that was probably right for the market place it was slotted in. Here, in Germany, the 600 was typically pitched against the Audi A4 and did not do too badly – in particular the Diesel received some praise. It sold quite well too in Germany and the Benelux countries.

    The cars for our markets were specced better – it is very difficult to find one not delivered with two airbags. The ti got spared that ugly black interior and came with full leather here in Germany. No black bumper models reached our shores…

  20. I had a V-registered 620LD in late 1999, pre-registered and unused – albeit about 18 months old according to the stickers under the bonnet.

    It cost £12,700 which was about £4,000 less than they had been asking when I first looked at them a few months previously, just after they first went into ‘runout’. By the way, Lookers in Stockport were trying to sell some of them for ‘List’ at about this time.

    I believe mine was one of the last batch of unused ones to be sold. Various garages were advertising the same cars from presumably central stock and I just missed a higher-spec Nightfire car, ending up with a white one. Incidentally, it only had one airbag.

    Anyway, it was nicely made and performed reliably for about 120,000 miles, alhough it was hard to get enthusiastic about it and the economy never came close to the Montego it replaced. I never felt it handled well and passengers complained about the seat comfort. It’s still with its third owner and on about 170,000 miles.

  21. Electric power steering debuted, AFAIK, on the Honda NSX in 1990, before the MGF in 1995.

    The first mass-produced electric power steering system was developed by Japanese OEM parts manufacturer JTEKT/Koyo in 1988 and then produced in a joint venture with TRW. JTEKT/Koyo bought out TRW’s part of this venture in 2003.

    Yes, MGR were innovative in using it, but it was by no means “their” technology, nor something unavailable by other routes.

  22. @Infradig

    Infradig :
    A friend had around a dozen 600 diesels as taxis about 5/6 years ago. He loved them as they were amazingly reliable – from memory only window winding mechanisms and a pulley which disabled pas and brake servo(?) ever failed on a regular basis.
    His drivers liked them as they were so economical and even passengers thought they were a bit more ‘executive’ than Vectras and Mondeos. Eventually, when they’d all done at least 300,000 miles, he replaced them with Skodas.

    Yes, Skodas seem very popular as taxis these days. In my neck of the woods (Portsmouth), taxis all seemed to be BRG Peugeot 406s until about 5 years ago, whereupon, seemingly overnight, they were replaced by Skodas…

  23. I never liked the 600. The styling and image never floated my boat and both the interior and boot were too long and low. Besides, I had driven my boss’ Accord, which struck me as phenomenally dull compared to my 216.

    However, other people thought differently – Autocar raved about the styling – and I remember a dark coloured 600 being presented as very classy transport for a lady doctor in a TV drama.

    Honda’s insistence on “no estate, no sunroof, no CD player” did a lot of damage to fleet sales.

    The 600 was too big to replace the Montego, just as the Austin 1800 was too big to be one step up from the Austin 1100.

  24. @Adrian
    Skodas are popular as taxis all over the place. Belfast has fleets of Octavias and Superbs.

    With their grille, they almost look a bit like a Rover…

  25. A good article and exactly right. The 600 was always too expensive – for that money you could have a BMW.

    I was a salesman at a Rover Dealers from 1994 to 1997. We hardly ever sold a 600, only ever keeping a demo for 6 months and then ‘blowing our brains’ on the price.
    I remember the cheap contract hire deals for business and, in 1996/97, the options packs for retail sales, free alloys, fogs, roofbars etc, to try an entice buyers in.

    I always found the Honda 1.8 and 2.0 engines a bit underpowered but the diesel was a lot better. The window regulators packed up, glass dropping out etc, and the high level brake light’s glass glue would fail.

    A pretty car, well made – it’s such a shame they pitched it completely wrongly. That ultimately cost me my job and the dealership gave up Rover shortly afterwards.

  26. I had a 620Si auto, with sunroof and aircon, in Zircon. It was probably my favourite car and supremely dependable. It never averaged much above 25mpg on its ‘superior’ and somewhat tinny sounding Honda engine and it was frustrating to find that the rear seat ‘bottomed’ out when you sat on it. There was no under bonnet sound insulation or lamp and not even tweeters in the dash.

    I replaced the 600 with a Peugeot 406 HDi estate which was better in almost every way but I still prefered the 600. Rover Group should have got it really right instead of nearly right. It’s easy to say about cost cutting but they should have asked themselves not “can we afford to put it in?” but “can we afford not to put it in?” Tight!

  27. @David Flower
    I find the Peugeot 406 offers a nice ride/handling combination. It isn’t without it’s faults though – if yours is like mine it eats COM2000s and chews flexipipe for fun 🙂

  28. The company I worked for had a 600 fleet car which was only about 2 years and 100k miles old – a 620Si, with options, in metallic BRG. It was already falling to pieces – the rubber surrounding the windows split letting in water, the rear brake light fell off and some of the electrics sort of worked and then didn’t. We were banned from choosing Rovers as a result – too much hassle for the Fleet Manager.

  29. Our Nightfire Red example is still a very good looking car – no rust, never garaged, alloys, half-leather seats, a nice place to be. The Honda 2.0 litre engine is OK, nothing special, but the car itself is solid. They still look good.

    I always wanted to try a Ti but never got the chance. We use ours as a family swap – sometimes we have it, sometimes my parents, aunts or uncles, nephews etc. It’s now done 80,000 miles and is still going well.

  30. Chris :The company I worked for had a 600 fleet car which was only about 2 years and 100k miles old – a 620Si, with options, in metallic BRG. It was already falling to pieces – the rubber surrounding the windows split letting in water, the rear brake light fell off and some of the electrics sort of worked and then didn’t. We were banned from choosing Rovers as a result – too much hassle for the Fleet Manager.

    My old company fleet had similar problems with Peugeot 406s which suffered from a litany of build quality and electrical problems. The same issues afflicted the Renault Lagunas we had at the same time. If decisions on what ends up in company car parks are made on reliability and build quality, why are the French are still bulding cars when Rover aren’t?

    Equally, was the 600 such a flop? Sure it would be in the “could do better” league when it came to sales but, IIRC, it outsold its Honda sibling 3:1 in spite of having a higher price tag and a worse warranty. There are a couple still doing service as taxis in Helensburgh and they seem to wear very well – one is a 618iS which strikes me as a brave choice, mechanically speaking.

  31. @Tim Burgess
    The 406 HDi hasn’t been too bad. I was speaking to someone who once had joint responsibility of a small fleet of mileage-building workhorses and he said that the 406 was one of their better cars but that the 407 was a huge disappointment.

    They did get a 75 diesel for a while as a courtesy vehicle and were hugely impressed.

    He also said that the reason why Xantias (and C5s) weren’t available through some fleet companies was due to the huge depreciation (people were scared of the suspension) which affected end-of-life auction value (and possibly explains why most new C5s now are steel sprung).

  32. I can’t remember the 600 being any larger than its competitors and, consequently, nor can I remember it being nearly as big as an 800. This is a sentiment that any rear passenger in one would be able to identify with.

    To back up my size argument, I wouldn’t consider the equivalent Honda versions, the Accord and the Legend, as being practically the same size.

  33. @Will
    I agree the Xantia was a great car and far better looking than the C5 which replaced it. Didn’t BXs have some plastic body panels such as the bonnet? Obviously, the French thought that was enough rust protection!

    Here, in Birmingham, there used to be, in the ’80s/’90s, a small car museum called the Patrick Motor Collection in Lifford Lane, Stirchley (not a million miles away from the Austin). They had a collection of Group ‘B’ rally cars including a BX Rally car complete with 4 doors and a bank of 6 small quartz headlights – it was very odd but I think it was launched about the same time as Group ‘B’ was banned although I’m not sure.

    I have read, in the past, about a multi-storey car park full of Citroen’s prototypes etc. that is open to the public from time to time. Does anyone have some more details?

  34. I don’t agree with everything being said on here,

    I owned a 623GSI for nearly 4 years. It had electric everything, sunroof and air con, cruise, leather etc.

    I don’t think the later painting of the door handles and the mirrors really made much difference to the looks. Nothing else at all was changed on the exterior of the car the whole time it was in production, apart from the wheels/ wheel trims.

    My car was fast, pretty, comfortable and very very reliable, was just showing the first signs of rusty wheel arches, and was a bit too thirsty. The exact opposite of the economical, galvanised, but painfully unreliable Shitroen that replaced it.

  35. When launched back in 1993, the range was incredibly restrictive. There were only five colours (Nightfire Red, Caribbean Blue, White Diamond, British Racing Green and Black).

    Also, they were incredibly arrogant about what customers wanted. There were few optional extras, and it was assumed that the buyers of a 623iS wouldn’t want an automatic gearbox, and 623GSi wouldn’t want a manual.

    Just the 620i entry level model had black bumpers – the rest of the range had colour coded bumpers.

    I had a 620SLi Automatic in Nightfire Red as a company car and it was comfortable, swift and looked good. I didn’t choose another though – I latterly went for 416SLi Automatic and then 75’s.

  36. Simon Woodward :
    I agree the Xantia was a great car and far better looking than the C5 which replaced it. Didn’t BXs have some plastic body panels such as the bonnet? Obviously, the French thought that was enough rust protection!
    Here, in Birmingham, there used to be, in the ’80s/’90s, a small car museum called the Patrick Motor Collection in Lifford Lane, Stirchley (not a million miles away from the Austin). They had a collection of Group ‘B’ rally cars including a BX Rally car complete with 4 doors and a bank of 6 small quartz headlights – it was very odd but I think it was launched about the same time as Group ‘B’ was banned although I’m not sure.
    I have read, in the past, about a multi-storey car park full of Citroen’s prototypes etc. that is open to the public from time to time. Does anyone have some more details?

    Did you mean the Citroen BX 4TC?

    I think you mean La Conservatoire which is located at PSA’s Paris plant. It isn’t a multi-storey car park, it is a small warehouse style museum.

    Peugeot has a multi-storey car park ‘Reserve’ collection at the Mulhouse plant in France. That is very interesting indeed.

    I’ve been to both and they are incredibly interesting. I uncovered an XM facelift that never transpired in the Citroen one.

  37. Chris :
    The company I worked for had a 600 fleet car which was only about 2 years and 100k miles old – a 620Si, with options, in metallic BRG. It was already falling to pieces – the rubber surrounding the windows split letting in water, the rear brake light fell off and some of the electrics sort of worked and then didn’t. We were banned from choosing Rovers as a result – too much hassle for the Fleet Manager.

    I wonder how the rear brake light fell off when it was all part of the rear tail light assembly. Clearly it wasn’t secured properly if that was the case, and was more likely to be as a result of a careless bulb change than a problem with the car.

  38. The thrust of this article is right – the 600 was a very appealing prospect at launch, but overpriced and underspecced. I remember people looking admiringly in a supermarket car park at an early BRG SLi (the nicely specced one, towards the top of the range). It did create a brief sense of excitement.

    My later 620ti was almost great – a less clumsy passenger airbag (it displaced the classy wood facing the passenger in early cars), better steering feel and quality that didn’t need a top-end skim and new radiator within 42,000 miles/3 years would all have sealed its appeal.

  39. Not quite sure history will be quite so kind to the L-Series diesel. You’re right, a very small number of Honda Accords were manufactured using it, but the company almost immediately regretted doing so and I think it was withdrawn from sale after as little as 2 years.

    I know that several Accord diesels were sold cheap to users who guaranteed never to sell them onto the ‘public’ – if you ever go to the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire you’ll find the security staff still drive ’em.

    I was working in the trade when the VW TDI 90 motor came out in 1993, initially in the Audi 80 and the VW Golf/ Passat. I can assure you it became a hell of a lot harder to interest someone in a 1.8 TD Mondeo at that point. I honestly don’t remember anyone cross-shopping the 620 (although I was always amused that some were badged ‘620 SDI’!)

    Oh, and on the subject of Skoda taxis, yes, there are loads of ’em and it’s not rocket science as to why. Skoda offers the best private hire purchase scheme there is. Octavias and Superbs are both sold in taxi spec from UK dealers, including wipe-down mats, pre-wiring for meters and radios etc. with extended servicing contracts etc. They tend to be bought new in areas where taxi drivers make more money, and ‘cascade’ down to cheaper areas (and mixed up with ex-‘civilian’ cars) as they get older and leggier. In some towns – Brighton springs to mind – they gain critical mass and effectively take over!

  40. Oh, and for my money, the best minicab of all time remains the Nissan Bluebird 2.0D. Utterly dog slow – I think it clocked 0-60 in something like 25 seconds – it had a non-turbocharged, old school diesel lump that could manage 500,000 miles without drawing breath.

    I once got in one in Manchester and had the old boy driving it sounding off because it had only managed to get round the odo six times before the transmission failed (and he was putting it in ‘top’ at about 27.5mph!), which he reckoned was a poor show.

    One of the main reasons Skoda carried on selling a non-turbocharged diesel Octavia, even into the current ‘shape’, was for ultra cost-conscious fleet users. I think it eventually died because of emissions, although they may still sell it in other Euro markets.

  41. @Simon Woodward
    I believe the bonnet was plastic, possibly the rear hatch (as it was plastic on the Xantia) and, obviously, the trim such as the rear wheel cover.

    The rallying BX was the 4TC – you are right in that they got in the game late just as Group B was axed.

    The Citroen exhibition in Paris is the Conservatoire. A friend visited it – he has an XM and was intrigued by the XM saloon and facelift proposals.

  42. I currently own a 620ti, in White Diamond and on an R plate, that has been in the family since 2008. It’s got 121k on the clock and it has had its fair few share of faults, both whilst in our ownership and previously, since starting its life as a company car for a Project Architect at American Express in Brighton.

    I can imagine he was very happy and proud to take delivery of it at roughly noon on the 23rd November 1997, having chosen it to replace his J reg Audi 80. I reckon that he must have continued to be very happy with the car – the original lease bill is still in the folder of paperwork with the car and the owners prior to ourselves have told us that he purchased it from the leasing company as it was such a good car and that they, in fact, bought the car from him.

    I can see why he would have been: there are many aspects of the car that I love – the styling, the equipment, the engine – there are also some that irritate me, such as the rear legroom, the slightly unsettled drive and ride and the fragility of certain components (the alternator and window regulators spring to mind…).

    However, it is leagues better than the car that I owned before it, an R plate Citroen Xantia LX Turbo D Estate. Admittedly, it was hardly a mint example but, even so, the Rover beats it hands down on every aspect (excepting rear legroom).

    The styling – even now, to think of the area on the Xantia where the wing meets the door mirror causes me to feel nauseous, ignoring the “beached speedboat” side profile and the general “half-arsed” feel the whole front end has (mine was a facelift – I concede by that time they’d really given up, see the Xsara).

    The equipment – at least the Rover’s works and intuitively – did anyone actually figure out that in a Xantia, to demist the windscreen, you need to set the slider a little to the left of the windscreen icon otherwise it will decide for you where to distribute the air and thus hasten the entire system’s demise?

    The engine – hardly fair to compare these two but, comparing them to their equals, I’ve never driven a petrol turbo or a V6 Xantia, but I know both are troublesome in their own way and that they have drawbacks unrelated to reliability over the T series – the turbo being not as powerful and the V6 being far thirstier.

    Comparing the L-Series to the XUD is far easier, though – the L-Series is more economical but, in my experience, slightly more uncouth with its power delivery, but is more powerful and a much easier engine to live with on a day to day basis than the XUD found in most PSA cars from ’96 to ’98.

    However, in the Xantia, the XUD was particularly aggravating – if the auxiliary belt failed (which was more likely to happen due to a sub-standard design of automatic tensioner) you would lose power steering, suspension and brakes. Even simple tasks such as replacing the glow plugs required the patience of a saint. I never did manage to get to the plug behind the pump – I’m not too sure it was actually possible without removing the pump, which would necessitate cambelt removal…

    The drive and ride – whilst the Rover does wobble a little over bumps and hardly inspires you to chuck it into a corner, you are, at least, constantly aware of what is going on and hence know how far you can push it. In stark contrast, whilst the ride may be excellent in the Xantia, it comes with a compromise – feel. The Xantia did grip well but any other feeling was utterly robbed from it by a few litres of LHM, which did its level best to convince you not to try and find out exactly how well the car did grip.

    Fragility of components – I do get mildly irritated at the niggles that have beset the 600 whilst our family has owned it – two window regulators, an alternator and a windscreen washer pump – they pale in comparison to the constant albatross the Xantia was with its front suspension mountings. When I had that car my biggest fear was of suddenly finding that the mounting plate had given way, allowing the whole sphere/strut assembly to punch into the bonnet, effectively rendering the car scrap (I was quoted £240 from a Citroen Dealer for the driver side mounting plate), not to mention the worrying consequences of that possibly happening at motorway speeds…

    In summary, I would say that the Rover, whilst flawed, certainly has a feeling of being upmarket and slightly “special” but, in contrast, the Xantia, to quote (I believe Parkers), is “rather forgettable.”

  43. I reckon the 600 is going to be one of those cars you’ll see in 30 years time and go ‘I remember them’ and the odd low milage one will pop up in classy classic car dealers for stupid amounts of money.

    Indeed, if I had the money and room I’d get a ti, restore it and store it. I suppose, though, that it’s all down to foresight. Any Rover now, dirt cheap on Auto Trader, will be worth £££££s in years to come – if only my Dad had thought to buy an old P5 in the 80s or a SD1 when you couldn’t give them away!

  44. An interesting article (the 600 from a Dealer-back-in-the-day’s perspective) followed by some really interesting comments.

    I was a Rover Graduate Trainee back in the 1990s and helped build 600s, borrowed 600s for errands and trips, rode in Area Managers’ 600s for many miles and, on one memorable occasion, evaluated a prototype 600 with the 2-litre KV6 motor installed. I was even daft enough to try driving a 620ti fast down the A38 in the rain.

    600s handled as well as any medium-segment fwd car could be expected to in the 1990s and certainly rode better than 800s did. I therefore find some of the comments about ride and handling odd and possibly influenced by many intervening years’ worth of development which has so improved the fwd saloon car.

  45. Maybe I’m missing something but, buried in this article, is the reason BMW pulled the plug (and let’s ignore silly asset-stripping nonsense).

    Rover were cooking the books…

  46. The problem with the 600 (for me) is the bland styling. The early ’90s does appear to have been the “Day of the Dull” for the automotive industry. Chintzed up with the later styling revisions, the 600 did, at least, look stylish and classy – something which the early models did fail to do.

    The 600 didn’t look like part of the family, either. The R8, XX, R17, Montego and even the Metro were clearly all from the same family. The 600 was that odd looking brother who made you wonder if your mum had had a fling with the milkman.

    They’re good cars – REALLY good cars – but, whilst they make good sense for the wallet as a used buy, they don’t do anything for the emotions (with the exception of a Ti if you’re INSIDE).

  47. The 600 won awards for elegance in Italy, where it was surprisingly popular and probably replaced Lancia, whose Dedra lacked any of the charm of its antecedents…

    BAE-driven insane pricing killed all of the Portfolio models over here, which was a shame. The 600 was a lovely ‘Deluxe Accord’ and, really, Honda’s Acura division could learn a lot from it.

    I agree the styling was too big a jump from the Roy Axe-influenced cars – it only suddenly made sense when the 75 was launched as its replacement, not as the next 800!

    My parents replaced an ugly, if sweet-handling, lightweight BX with a Xantia. What a heavy, understeery, headlightless, ergonomic-free (bad-driving-position), unreliable, if elegant, PoS. It marked the point that Citroen ceased to exist and became the new Talbots.

  48. I have owned many 600s over the years and, for those who know(!), it’s acknowleged as one of the most underrated cars of the 1990s and a far better car than its Honda Accord sibling.

    Sadly, Rover marketed the car away from volume competition in an attempt to push the brand upmarket. Unfortunately, this meant it WAS too sparsely specified and expensive when launched. The gradual raising of specifications improved the car AND the widening of the range helped broaden its appeal. This was a Rover which simply got better and better – the cleverest derivatives from a salesman’s point of view were, of course, the run-out iL and iS models which looked like a GSi and a Ti respectively but were actually based on the entry-level 600!

    We all love a nice Ti (I’ve still got a 1998 example) but how many of the little known 623iS (the sports model at launch) models are still out there? I suspect very, very few…

  49. Talking as a 620i owner, I have never exprenced anything like the problems people have mentioned here, nor have I ever herd these problems aired before and I know many 600 owners. Can anyone link me to any sources for such things like windows falling out and the like?

    My dear car is a rather early model (1993), that has been in my family since new (as a child I was asked to make the final decision that lead to us getting her in the first place) and till I took ownership in 06 she had sadly suffered from my fathers lack of interest and the lack of interest of local garages, something I’ve corrected, and has kept running with few hiccups, dispite of this.

    As for styling wise, I wouldn’t swap her for the world, something my father understands not, offering me gifts from jags to bmws but I’m not interested, I adore her the way she is, granted I’d love to run a xj or 75 along side too but.

    I really do think she’s easy one of the best looking cars ever made, defiantly one of the two best looking modern rovers (pre facelift 75 and 600), a fun car to drive and reliable. What more could I want.

  50. @54 What a lovely post,gave me a smile, a friend at work has one,an auto, and his wife wont let him trade it in she adores the thing!

  51. The 600 was without doubt a good car. Well engineered and beautiful to look at. There was, however, something lacking and that was the R8 factor. I think the strict licensing agreement held the 600 back, deprived it of image, appeal to some extent. Just imagine if the 600 had spawned numerous derivatives as per R8. Estate, Fastback, Coupe

    As I’ve said before it was Honda who first restricted the recovery signposted by the R8.

  52. The 600 was without doubt a good car. Well engineered and beautiful to look at. There was, however, something lacking and that was the R8 factor. I think the strict licensing agreement held the 600 back, deprived it of image, appeal to some extent. Just imagine if the 600 had spawned numerous derivatives as per R8. Estate, Fastback, Coupe (?) The extra sales, enhanced image….

    As I’ve said before it was Honda who first restricted the recovery signposted by the R8.

  53. Yet another anti-Rover article! Why do you let them on to this site?? For your information, only the very base model 600, the 620i (very rare) didn’t have colour coded bumpers, all the rest (99%) did, as did they have colour coded handles, also, neither the Mondeo or the Cavalier/Vectra had colour coded handles other than the very top spec models. Plus, as far as I can remember, other premium brands like BMW and Mercedes were stingy with the standard equipment, but I don’t hear you criticising them?

  54. In 1999 I saw a new “run out” R600 in light green metallic, fully color coded, Alloys, Auto box & leather seats. At the time it looked really desirable – to me at least.

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