Blog : What’s the Rover appeal?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Charlie Johnson

On more than one occasion I’ve been asked by my friends and family to explain why I want to own a Rover. To them, it’s a marque usually associated with your granddad – who takes it to Tesco and back for his shopping once a week. However, it’s straightforward for me – in my more youthful days (I’m 20 now), I accidentally came across AROnline while looking at old cars rather than doing my homework set that the day.

The appreciation of Rovers stuck, as did my new found interest in the Rover 416 and white Rover 400 which my neighbours owned during that time. As my taste of cars broadened during my teens, the modified Saxos and Fiestas which were all the rage were replaced with Aston Martin V8 Vantage XPacks, Monteverdis and Rovers, along with various classics. Like most kids that age I kept my mouth shut, as liking Rover was somewhat frowned upon, let alone to be spoken of in the playground during break.

It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my secondary school days did I decide that I’d openly talk about the passion I had for  Rovers . To most of my friends Rovers either existed as a platform to add bodykits and neons, or the classic cliché I mentioned earlier. During the late-’90s and even into the early 2000s I recall Rovers being disregarded by friends and family due to reliability and build quality claims. Whether this image stuck due to the media, I shall never know, but owning a Rover goes somewhat past the claims that circulated along with the ‘old man’ image.

I have a very good friend who owns a Rover 45 – many of you have seen his posts on Retro and Classic Cars previously and may have noticed that he may not meet the original cliché you thought went with Rovers. Scott takes a lot of pride in his 45 (HHR/Oyster to the anoraks amongst us), he spends many hours making sure that every little detail is perfect and presentable. The 45 offered character and charm where the competition didn’t and has aged well with time, unlike some of its counter-parts.

While I was growing up, my brother bought a Rover R8 216 in white. To him it was a run around for £500. The attraction of wanting a R8 became attainable in my mind, even if I didn’t have a driving licence, and while it wasn’t a GTi, only a touch of rust needed doing and it was an honest example for a few months before it was in the hands on the scrap man. Sure, it wasn’t mine, but it’s one of the Rovers that I’ll always remember and played a part in my early influences.

This brings me onto the Rover 45 1.6 Spirit and Rover 75 1.8 Club that have caught my interest as a replacement for my car, Atomic, the Mini. I have been chopping and changing my mind, but these two have stood out compared to the Audi A4 1.8T and BMW 520 E39 I had on the possibles list. Why, you’re probably asking, mechanically the 75 shares a lot in common with the BMW 3-Series along with shared diesel engines that have been de-tuned. The 75, much like the BMW 3-Series, is built to last, with retro touches and added gentleman’s flair that the competition don’t quite have. Sure, it may be reminiscent of Rovers of old but it offers all the modern comforts a driver demands. The perfect modern gentleman’s express without troubles of old? Quite possibly, yes.

Onto the Rover 45: Not an obvious candidate? To others, maybe not. My Godfather used to take me on trips out in his early Rover 416, which was an honest, yet reliable steed for his needs. Before I knew it, I had come round to the appeal of them. Certainly, the 45 won’t out-manoeuvre any Ford Focus or have the same reputation as the Mondeo or Passat but that isn’t what 45 is about. The 45 is the small, premium saloon that is often forgotten, with more character than you can throw a stick at and with a comfy ride that would put many of the competition to shame.

So yes, I may have not been bought up around many Rovers but I’ve long had an appreciation for the craftsmanship, the tales and interesting history the company has with cars that have more comfort than you’d find in a armchair.

Thank you AROnline for introducing me to Rover.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

21 Comments

  1. @ Charlie Johnson:

    Wow, what an interesting article as it almost mirrors my own issues of liking Rovers when I was a teenager growing up in the late 1980s. Admittedly I was not into the usual bedroom wall porn of Lamborghinis or Ferraris, or planning to buy an XR or GTi with my first big pay packet. No. Instead the love of my life at that time was (and still is to this day) the Rover SD1 Vitesse. None of friends could understand why I liked this big Rover compared to a motorised white stilletto from Ford.

    I own an MG Maestro 2.0i (which is fabulous fun to drive) and the last diesel-powered MG ZR Trophy SE edition to be registered (again, an entertaining car to drive). But I still yearn to own a Rover one day.

    I have driven numerous 75s in the past (thank you, MG Rover Group press office) and find they offer something that their rivals didn’t: character, charm and warmth. Even now, I still stop and admire a well cared for 75, particularly the pre-facelift examples. I still get a volt of excitement over the sight of a Rover 200 BRM LE with its eccentric personality. I still admire the luxury and exclusivity of the Rover 800 Coupe. The Rover 800 Vitesse Sport is still a creditable executive sports saloon that offers driving entertainment. I also admire the clever packaging and design flexibility of the R8 200/400 that allowed itself to transcend into a total of six rather convincing bodystyles powered by some of the industry’s most advanced petrol and diesel engines. A range which could also justify a premium price for its build quality and sense of wellbeing.

    Yes, I have already mentioned the SD1. But the Rover P5, particularly the P5B 3.5 Litre Coupe, is something that exudes such dignity and class without having to try. From a genuine age-related perspective, there is no other classic luxury British saloon that touches it, in my eyes.

    During the MG Rover Group era I rather liked the more understated Rover 25 GTi and 45 2-litre V6 variants compared to the ASBO-styled MG Z saloons. But the marketing was dire, inconsistent and anything but inspiring.

    Now in my thirties I still love the marque and the many models that have carried the Viking longship badge.

    I know this post will get berrated by those who have either never owned a Rover, don’t understand the marque’s many achievements or appeal beyond the four walls of Blighty, or are so blinded by the survival of MG and Jaguar. But, like you, Charlie, I have a genuine enthusiasm and affection for the Viking longship badge and desire to own one one day. For me it will probably be a Rover 75 that I will look to keep as a reminder of one of Britain’s fine cars.

    Right, now for the insults from other readers…

  2. I think I’d do a Rover 75 V8. However there seems to be a policy of sticking crap to the front of them if my experience at Peterborough today is anything to go by…

  3. @Keith Adams:

    Are we talking add-on ‘horse’ badges or other tasteless adornments?

    The Rover 75 V8 is by no means perfect. A flawed gem, even. But when you have driven one (as you and I both have in the form of the Chatsworth example), you still come away admiring it for being splendidly un-PC in an eco-world. As a likely modern classic, in my eyes it is right up there with a late example of the Range Rover Classic in terms of desirability.

  4. I recently had to avoid ebay until a R8 with leather interior had run its course, I do find old Rovers very tempting especially when they are ridiculously cheap, which these days they often are.

  5. I have nothing but admiration for the 75V8, first time I saw one was in a contra-flow near York we rolled our windows down to hear the glorious noise as it passed. I used to drive my SD1V8 through the ringroad tunnels in Leeds with the windows down for the noise too. You don’t need extra badges just (to repeat myself) your windows down.

  6. I’ve owned 3 MG-Rovers, a 414Si, 45 Olympic S and an MG ZS. My favourite and more powerful one was the ZS 1.8. They were all nice and fairly trouble free cars though and I’m pleased I owned them… I always felt that Rover products had a more class image than equivalent Vauxhalls & Fords etc.

  7. One car that had the ‘Rover’ name was appealing as a dose of herpes, yup that horrid little Indian takeaway. Rovers of old had the image of ‘middle management’ and were the sort of cars your bank manager would own, and the P5 was the choice of the powers that be for a fair old while too. Before BL buggered it up, Rover was a badge to aspire to, and in the 80s, the 200 series really did show thanks to the help of those friendly Japanese, that Rovers could be a good car again, just that Longbridge couldn’t resist meddling, and fitting the K series.

  8. I like mine because its FUN! it really is. It feels solid, not too big not too small. The door clunk shut not clang, the seat fit my 6 foot+ frame, the wooden dash wreaks quality but for me its that 2.5 KV6 that makes my car.It is such a great engine and yes no doubt there are loads of horror stories about it but I don’t care, it sounds fantastic. I love it when the Monochrome Germanic TDi’s get up my chuff, a little bleep of the right foot and its goodnight Vienna for the vending machine rep in his twit box. I really love my 75, its brilliant!

  9. I like to think of Rovers as big, thundering cars, wafting along in comfort and power, P5’s P6’s and SD1’s, modern and powerful.

    The 75 should have carried this tradition on (I owned 2, and do love ’em) but it harked back a little too much to the past I think.

    The Rover 600 is underated and I think, could become a classic before the 75.

    Still, I hear there is a Rover on Mars at the moment…..

  10. Since I was a child I have always loved Volvo’s. I am in my early 20’s now and always receive a muted reaction from my peers whenever I bring them up in discussion. Although things in recent years like the C30 being used in the Twilight films and the Focus ST/RS being powered by their five cylinder engines have added credibility to the brand and helped my case slightly, I still have to explain myself when I say my aspiration in the future is the likes of a really well looked after 850R.

    Unless your passion is towards an acceptable German brand, a performance Ford or some high revving Japanese car, life as a young car enthusiast can be frustrating.

  11. I was born in 1972, so the first Rover that made an impression on me was the magnificent SD1. The ferocious Vitesse set my 12-year-old car-mad heart on fire. A couple of years later the 800 only caught my attention long enough for me to turn away in disappointment. A perfectly good car, I’m sure, but it did nothing to capture my imagination like the SD1. That was the end of the Rover brand for me. 10 years later, looking to buy a classic, I was heavily influenced by the Mk 2 Jaguar I’d grown up with in the family garage, but I wanted none of the pain. Rover came to my rescue with the fantastic P6, and after 16 years of ownership I doubt I could ever part with my sturdy, reliable, beloved V8. There was, and really is, nothing to compare with this car, and 40 years on it stands the test of time in remarkable fashion. A true Rover, and arguably the definitive one.

    And then came the 75. We all argue about the retro bits, but in my opinion a little classicism has helped the design age well. It still looks good, 14 years later. Sitting in a 75 is always special. But is it a real Rover? A “classic” Rover owner will certainly feel right at home in the 75, but I think it missed the mark in many ways. The old Rover was a company that set the goalposts for others. It deftly walked a line between the traditional and the innovative. Its products were ahead of their time, but oh-so-English. The 75, lovely car that it is, is a pastiche of perceived brand values that bear little relation to what Rover stood for in its heyday. It was always doomed to not quite succeed.

  12. The Mk1 800 did a hell of a lot of damage to the Rover brand. Although crisply styled, it was so poorly made, that it no doubt pushed more people into the arms of BMW and Mercedes, which was a shame to be honest, as the Mk1 200 was going down a storm, and seemed to be pretty well screwed together. The merger of the brands also made the name more down market, because Rover was a perceived premium brand, and a 1.0 Metro City was not a premium product, and neither was the Sherpa van. They should have kept the brands separate.

  13. Always had respect for Rovers, my friends parents were nicely well off and had an R8, it always seemed a very classy little car.

    As a young car enthusiast I liked Citroens – comfortable and the XUDs were reliable to keep repair bills for poor student/grad down. Had a couple of ZXs and a Xantia.

    Unless you drive a German car no-one seems to respect your opinion.
    (Though I do know a couple of Vauxhall enthusiasts, not my cup of tea, but fair play to them).

    (Currently have a big US built Honda coupe. High revving Japanese engine. It isn’t a Civic though.)

  14. Very interesting article, I feel that Rovers had more to offer than a Ford or Vauxhall with the Rover feel in wood and leather, hope to obtain MG 2.0l ZS to replace my Rover 420GSI one day, but I also still fancy a R45 though!. Of course R75 and MG ZT are great cars, the tourer became a good work horse as did the Montego estate did before. Rover 800 vitesse is always been my favorite car to drive, like my R825 Sterling too , Rover has always given the feel of quailty and tradition, people in the past slagged of Rover 200/400 but as well as R8 they are nice compact well built cars, The R600 again a well made underated car too and seem to last as there are quite a few still driving around.You can get good valve for money on Rovers like the great Rover 200 BRM, and later the Rover 25Gti. I do like the V8 MG Zt-t and R75 and hope to own one, Dream on !! Regards Mark

  15. Note in particular your comments regarding the 45. I too think they’ve aged very well. Some can look rather poor but get a mint one (there’s a good few about) in the right colour & trim and they look pretty good – special, different. Several years on, they can look more baby Rover, than Roverised Honda.

  16. @13 the 75 will always have something a BMW will never have and that is character,after all these years i still think what a nice place to be,the dash has a tone of P6 about it and looking at the front says Downing st dragster-P5B of course my choice is KV6 and above.

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