We take yet another look at the cars which once littered the highways and by-ways of the UK. This one is often regarded as a talented machine which was handsome, refined, well built and astonishingly capable when driven hard.
Mike Humble explains all – and gets emotional. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury… The Rover 620ti
The quiet hooligan
As most would agree, the 1990s were pretty good times for Rover. At the start of the decade, we saw the brilliant R8; the MGF in the middle; and the 75 towards the end. The 600 launched in 1993, was in the tradition at that time, jointly developed with Honda. And at a glance, it looked similar to the Accord, sharing both the same powertrain and suspension system. Rover changed the styling above the window sills and altered the front and rear appearance. This was skilfully achieved by Richard Woolley.
The 600 was a good car, which was well made, looked fine – but also lacked any feel. It felt ever so slightly artificial, and lacked any kind of sporting prowess or visual intimidation to woo the thrusting executive out of his BMW 3-Series. In its original format, the 600 was a Rover of the ’90s for drivers approaching their 90s!
Plans were in place to address the balance, though. For a headline model, which would go some way towards shrugging off the plain Jane image of the 600 and give the car some well deserved credibility, and the talent which was to come was home grown.
The Rover 620ti was launched in the UK a year after the standard car, and featured the Rover 2.0-litre T-Series engine in turbocharged guise, allied with a close-ratio PG1 gearbox (with built-in TorSen differential) – the same drivetrain as used in the 820 Vitesse Sport. Engineers also took this chance to alter the suspension settings, giving the 620ti truly superb road manners. With this brilliant engine kicking out close to 200bhp, and having a totally flat torque curve from 2000rpm to beyond 5000, the new model gained shattering performance. Rover had finally added that vital ingredient to the 600: soul!
It didn’t just end their either, the ti also had better fuel economy than the basic 1.8-litre when being driven out of pursuit mode, though urban economy could make a grown man weep if you weren’t wearing slippers. Visually, the ti didn’t give much away from other models, only the 16in alloys and a little glimpse of the intercooler from the lower front bumper could indicate this new model. On the inside, the Ti was treated to Rover’s appealing ‘Silverstone’ half leather trim with body hugging front seats – once again, similar to the then-current 800 Vitesse.
Rover now had a Q-car, or which I used call the ‘stealth bomber’, and out on the road the car behaved just as well as the on paper figures suggested. The sheer power of the engine gave no turbo lag, just a solid non stop surge of effortless grunt – a gulf apart from the ‘wait for it… wait for it… BANG’ power delivery of early turbo engines. Off the boil, the Rover 620ti simmered down to be as smooth and creamy as bar of Galaxy, while at the same time, being as refined as Audrey Hepburn. 0-60mph sir? just wait 7 seconds. Only Rover could pull off this trick!
Where the Tomcat turbo and 800 Vitesse felt out of depth in their ‘on the limit’ handling, the 600Ti using an uprated Honda double wishbone system, felt great and the TorSen differential kept things in check during hard cornering. I reckon the T-Series turbo engine found its ideal home in the 600 – and my own 1999 model I owned a few years back never failed to reward, entertain, set fire to or reward my senses in equal proportions. Equipment levels were good too with all round electrics, power sunroof, remote locking and a decent wireless.
After the 1996 range revision (marked technically, by the fitment of PCF steering), the 620ti became cheaper to buy and gained extra features including front fogs, CD changer and an excellent air con system. The already talented road manners were improved by the fitting of the superb Rover 1-2-1 damping system and some new paint schemes made the ti an even prettier car than before. Technical revisions came in the form of an MLS head gasket to cure the common fault of oil leaks from the front right corner of the cylinder head and fuel efficiency was slightly improved through the use of a new engine management system and distributor-less ignition system.
Underbonnet access was also impressive, the ti required only annual servicing and everything was easy to get at and work with. Selling well in the fleet market, this made sure whole life costs and vehicle downtime were minimal but the braking system could cause concern. Owing to the high performance nature of the car and its size, the 620ti if abused, would eat the front pads and discs alarmingly quickly. The brake pads were simplicity itself to change, but the front discs required skill and special procedures to change to avoid costly damage to the wheel bearings.
Other in-service concerns included the differential carrier bearings which for cost reasons, were encased in a nylon cage and were simply not manly enough for the job. Many used and abused models suffered gearbox failure at early mileages and the electronic boost control that the T series employed was in fact partly in reason to prolong the life of the gearbox. Various engineering firms today will supply a modified gearbox with a steel bearing race to combat this fault, but my own Ti which had 110,000 miles on the clock still ran the original box when I sold it.
Today, the 620ti is slowly dwindling in numbers. High insurance costs, increasing fuel prices and the recent Scrappage scheme have seen many cars go to automotive heaven. Models still running today seem to either be owned by brand enthusiasts or have been customised to the point of making you want to cry. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the 620Ti was a fine car that looks best when unmolested and in standard visual appearance – one of the few cars that I bitterly regretted selling owing to raising capital for a self employed business venture.
Would I own another? You betcha!