Car of the Month : July 2003

July brings us an example of niche engineering – something that MG Rover would no doubt involve themselves in now, if they had the resources.

The example featured this month belongs to David Eastaugh of Norwich, and was saved from the ignomy of becoming an insurance write-off. After much attention was lavished upon it by David, the Tomcat became the shining example of the breed…

In Tahiti blue, this Tomcat looks particularly nice – the Rover grille has been added later in its life, and although, gave it a clear Rover identity (something of an achievement given the bolt-on nature of the device), did seem a little out of keeping with the sporting style of the car.

Given the fact that the Tomcat did not differ from the standard three-door R8 below the shoulder line, it always manages to impress just how effective a restyle of the car that Richard Woolley produced. Unlike some coupe from saloon conversions, the Tomcat really works. Unfortunately for Rover, there were not enough development resouces in the coffers to give it a hatchback rear door, so Tomcat owners have to make do with a rather small boot opening (shared with the cabriolet version).

The T16 powerplant was a development of the M16i engine (which was used the O-Series as a starting point) and was primarily designed with the Rover 800 in mind. Rover engineers, however, managed to shoehorn it into the R8. Given the fact that this 16V unit developed 140bhp in normally aspirated form and 197bhp in turbo charged form (as is the case with David’s car), it resulted in a small car with an almost frightening power-to-weight ratio. Maligned for its torque steer and voracious appetite for front tyres at the time of its launch, the Tomcat is now accepted as a quick and fun sporting coupe, with a goodly amount of tuning potential. It is a shame that because of emission regulations, the T16 was not used in the later R3 model, as it would have made for an interesting comparison with the K-Series VVC unit.

Keith Adams

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