Car of the Month : April 2005

The Rover R8 has been hailed by many as one of the best cars Rover ever built – certainly, during its production run, it gained a wide acceptance from family car buyers, wowed by its classy looks, advanced features and (just) accessible pricing…

Alexander’s R8 – the GSi model – headed the range in Germany in 1989 and 1990, and featured such niceties as a full leather interior and air conditioning as standard. Unsurprisngly, it sold well for a brief while and did wonders for Rover’s battered image in Germany – thanks in part to the importers majoring on Honda’s input…

If only the company could have maintained the momentum…

ALEXANDER Boucke’s Rover 216 GSi is in remarkably good shape considering its age – and it shows little sign of wear and tear that you might expect to find on a 15-year old car built in Longbridge. No doubt, he has kept on top of the maintenance of the car, because although the R8 was seen as an impressively screwed together piece of kit, it didn’t quite have the deep solidity one would find in the Volkswagen Golf for instance.

Not that any of that matters now of course – because so many years down the line any car of this age in such condition is going to impress…

This 216GSi still looks remarkably like it did when it rolled off the Longbridge production line, back in 1991. Note the optional alloy wheels and leather interior – it also comes equipped with the desirable option of air conditioning…

We actually got a chance to drive the car last October during the Staples2Naples rally (see, it wasn’t all fun!) We took an hour out of our hectic day one schedule (Eight countries in one day) to drive it around a series of demanding roads near the Dutch/Belgian/German border, and to see just how well this car has withstood the test of time – as well as comparing it to our altogether more sporty 216GTi.

And it it has to be said that Alexander’s car did not fail to impress – the interior had a nice, tight, feel to it, which ours (and almost all other R8s I’ve driven) seemed to lack, and the full-leather driver’s seat made up in comfort and overall ambience what it lacked in sideways support. The Honda power assisted steering was nicely weighted, and although it didn’t have the feel you’d find on a PCF (Positive Centre Feel) equipped 214, it was more than acceptable. The gearbox was also nice and accurate, and featured little of the slop you’d expect to find in other ageing PG1 set-ups.

The single-cam Honda engine remained the jewel it always was – and although it lacked the killer top-end bite of our twin-cam GTi, it more than made up for it in the mid-range, where it seemed to have more torque to do your bidding. Performance was certainly not sluggish, and it would be easy to beat 10 seconds in the 0-60mph dash in this car – Alexander also confimed this car would max out at an indicated 125mph on the autobahn (whereas our GTi continued on to an indcated 135mph), so it was more than enough to keep 1990’s middle manager happy in the fast lane.

So, in terms of the performance/day-to-day running compromise, the GSi scores very well indeed, thanks to its longer, lazier gearing, and quick-enough acceleration. Out of the two, the GSi makes for a much more refined prospect for long term ownership. Lower fuel consumption should also sweeten the deal…

Alexander’s car poses next to the S2N car… It may have lacked a little top end bite, but overall, it was a much more civilised package.

On our test route, the GSi’s softer ride was immediately apparent, and allied to what seemed to be a slightly more commanding driving position (both the GTi and GSi were fully adjustable for height) , it seemed to be a much more ‘friendly’ car than the rather hard core GTi. However, throw the car at a more demanding road, and it soon becomes apparent that the this car has a less than sporting set-up. Body control is slightly lacking, and in the most extreme cases, you’ll find yourself hitting the bumpstops on bumpy roads, thanks to the softish suspension set-up.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as bad as all that – and in the day-to-day life of a real world car, it is perfectly acceptable…

It’s just that compared with the stiffer, but more compliantly damped GTi, it comes as something of a disappointment. Perhaps that’s down to the boy-racer in me… But the overall impression of this car’s suspension set-up is that it’s a good one, but you can’t help but feel there’s a great car trying to get out.

Still, it’s a great car, and its condition is a testament to Alexander’s diligent maintenance programme. And I can’t help but think that it looks extremely handsome in its duo-tone colour scheme and grey leather interior. And to those who feel these cars are a little ordinary right now, this example places the R8 into perfect context – line it up against a Volkswagen Golf, Ford Escort or Vauxhall Astra of the same era, and tell me that the Rover doesn’t look at least two classes higher up the food chain.

Shame the same can’t be said about the Rover 45 today – but that’s a different story.

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created 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

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