The cars : Rover 200/400 (R8) development story

The Rover 200/400 (R8) was good enough to turn around the fortunes of its embattled maker. Here you can read the Internet’s fullest account of its development; a vehicle that literally saved Rover’s bacon.

Had Rover finally turned the corner? Was it about to make a miraculous recovery? For a few short years in the 1990s, that certainly appeared to be the case.

Rover 200/400: Longbridge comes good

Rover 214 Si

With Rover ‘safely’ tucked under the wing of British Aerospace, the company was starting to begin to look like a viable, going concern: Graham Day had made some painful cuts in the business during his short tenure as Chairman and Managing Director of Rover but, thanks to the comparative excellence of the Rover 800, his rather risky strategy of taking the company up market was beginning to look like it could actually work.

If the idea of BL moving up market, to form some kind of ‘British BMW’ was the stuff of fantasy as recently as 1985, by 1988 it was actually beginning to happen.

The Rover 213 and 216s were certainly proving popular – and, unlike with the previous Triumph Acclaim, not just with the elderly. With the smaller Rover enjoying an Indian Summer in its later years, at the expense of the Austin Maestro, which had by this time dropped out of the SMMT Top 10 sellers list in the UK, it was inevitable that the R8 Rover 213/216 replacement would be refined into a replacement for the Maestro as well as the older Rover. This was the rationale for Rover’s decision to go with Honda’s plan for its version of the car – a five-door hatchback, not the more exclusive four-door saloon configuration of the then current small Rover.

Early development of the Rover R8

The development of this version of the Rover 200 model commenced in late 1984, when Austin Rover and Honda signed a fourth collaborative venture. Unlike in the case of the Rover 800, where Honda and Austin Rover ended up designing their own cars side by side, the ‘YY’ project as it was called at the start of the venture, would be conducted in a very different way.

Rover and Honda both learned a very hard lesson that collaboration is only successful when both companies concerned know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and use that to their mutual advantage. With the 800 and Legend, the end result of pride and independent thinking for the sake of it was a pair of cars that, although part of a joint venture, only shared 20 per cent of their parts.

What had to happen with the YY and HY programmes was that, whenever the Designers or Engineers disagreed on something, a decision should be made: go with Honda’s or Rover’s solution. There would be pain initially in this, but pride soon gave way to pragmatism in the decision-making process – and the result would be a much smoother development programme.

The consequence of this change in approach was that the two cars would share no less than 80 per cent of their componentry.

Honda eyes up Europe

For Honda, this was no disaster because they had long since harboured the ambition of producing a more European-focused car than their previous offerings in the sector, the smaller Civic, larger Accord and the forgettable Honda Quintet. Because of this, Honda deferred to Austin Rover’s expertise in interior packaging, seats, cabin styling, but most significantly British Engineers led the suspension tuning, if not the complete design.

Honda engineering project leader, Kenzo Suzuki, summed up the situation perfectly, ‘Rather than having separate teams of Engineers doing related jobs separately in both countries the majority of the work was done at Honda’s facilities in Japan.’

As discussed on the Rover 800 page, the design of the Honda and Rover versions was initially undertaken in Canley, then the teams separated and worked in their own countries. Only after development programme problems, did the two designs converge again in Canley. Both companies were keen to avoid this – and, as a result, the YY and HY were developed mainly in Japan; only late tinkering took place back in Britain. Suzuki again: ‘The British side was deeply involved in the concept and design stage, and subsequently had up to 20 or 30 Engineers at a time working with Honda in Japan.’

Styling it for Japan and the UK

The decision to adopt one styling solution for both cars was made very early in the design process: both Honda’s and Austin Rover’s early clay models looked so similar that the decision was made for them. There would be superficial differences between the two cars, (such as their grilles, headlights, front wings and tailgates) but both teams working side-by-side, this time in Japan, would design these, whilst co-developing their shared centre section.

During 1985 and 1986, the British Engineers would shuttle forwards and backwards to Japan in order to keep in touch with the ‘YY’ programme, now known by Austin Rover as the AR8. The British had influenced a great deal of the design in the initial stages of conception but, by this time, they were offering no material input to the design – Honda were leading the programme.

If this seemingly devalued the abilities of Austin Rover’s Engineers, it should not have, because Honda relied very much on them at the start of the car’s gestation – and, without Austin Rover’s expertise, it is doubtful whether Honda would have produced a car so well tailored to the European market.

Conservative or progressive? Let’s do both

Full-size clay models of the first three R8 derivatives. Note the alternative spoiler treatment on the three-door sports model ...Full-size clay models of the first three R8 derivatives. Note the alternative spoiler treatment on the three-door sports model ...
Full-size clay models of the first three R8 derivatives. Note the alternative spoiler treatment on the three-door sports model…

In terms of design, right from the beginning, Austin Rover made the conscious decision to style the new car very conservatively. Whereas the Maestro maintained links with its forebears – and, as a result of the car’s hideously elongated development programme, it ended up looking very old very quickly; the intention was for the new car to tread a rather different design path.

Like the XX, which by this time had its styling finalised for production, the smaller car would continue the same neat, contemporary, if slightly anodyne family look. As in the case of the larger car, Roy Axe would have responsibility over the entire design of the car and, as a result of his team’s acknowledged excellence, and unlike the XX/HX programme; they would have far more influence over the joint look of the car than Honda would.

Axe defined that the understated look would be continued but, because the YY/HY was an altogether smaller car than the XX/HX, a softer and more rounded shape was evolved. Compared with the 800, the new car was treated to a subtle deepening of its flanks, which resulted in a more compact glass area and, as a result, a visual feeling of solidity was added to the design. Other styling features were carried across pretty much unaltered, such as the headlamp/grille treatment, which was pure 1982 XX – another area that the smaller car continued the theme was in the handling of its glasshouse.

In the case of the 800, where the A-posts were painted black as well as the B and C-posts, this styling idea was continued to its logical conclusion by also blacking out the D-posts. The result was a neat and very contemporary look that defined the ‘floating roof’ look that became a Rover trademark during the following decade. If this seems like a fairly insignificant detail, it should not, because whereas the broadly similar 1990 Ford Escort shared the Rover’s proportions and ‘six-light’ configuration, the application of this black-pillared look on the Rover made it look somehow classier and sleeker than the more aerodynamic Ford.

Honda’s input meets Austin Rover’s needs

Honda also proposed that the new car would follow their traditional practice of having a very low scuttle and deep windscreen. When the initial clay models were prepared, following Honda’s wishes, the car appeared as being rather top-heavy (a crime the Maestro was guilty of) and, as a result of Roy Axe’s persuasive arguments, Honda raised the ‘shoulder’ line of the car to resemble something more classically European.

In fact, with regards to styling – inside and out – Rover led the programme: the end result was a British design. Given the very obvious ambition for the XX to be ‘aerodynamically’ styled, it came as a disappointment that the YY would pay no real attention to smoothing the design of the car – it did eventually appear with a rather indifferent figure of 0.35Cd about which, Roy Axe stated, ‘it certainly isn’t the best in class in aerodynamic terms.’

Inside, Rover designed the dashboard, and this fact was very obvious from the first look at the low-line dash, which like so many Rover and BL cars before it featured a prominent instrument binnacle and tray beside it. The design was no worse for that, although Gordon Sked described the design as being an evolution of the then-current Rover 213 model, a model whose success the company was very keen to repeat. The British could also claim responsibility for the excellent seating and driving position, which they carried over almost unchanged from the Rover 800. However, Austin Rover’s Designers swallowed their pride when it came to the switchgear and dashboard instrumentation, because they deferred to the acknowledged excellence of Honda.

K-Series – Austin Rover’s most important engine

K-Series engine sectioned for viewing: What is evident from this picture is that the design was compact, revolutionary for Rover and finally, and refreshingly, very competitive. In 1396cc 16-valve form the outputs were a very healthy 95bhp at 6250rpm and 91lb ft at 4000rpm.
K-Series engine sectioned for viewing: what is evident from this picture is that the design was compact, revolutionary for Rover and finally, and refreshingly, very competitive. In 1396cc 16-valve form the outputs were a very healthy 95bhp at 6250rpm and 91lb ft at 4000rpm

Austin Rover had no doubts about the engine that they would use: the new K-Series engine that had been under development since 1983, and which had been so stoutly fought for by Harold Musgrove when asked by the Government to lower the company’s borrowing.

Musgrove and Horrocks had won the battle with senior Conservatives, who argued that Austin Rover needed to be realistic in their expectations of what state aid they would be receiving from the Government: stopping the K-Series programme would trim at least £250 million from their company’s demands. Needless to say, Musgrove won this argument and, as a result, Roland Bertodo was allowed to complete the promising programme.

Speaking to AROnline in 2017, Musgrove confirmed this. ‘They wanted us to cancel the new engine and get Honda to build a plant in the UK and supply us with Honda engines. I told the Chairman of Honda to tell them that Honda was not prepared to do that, which was probably true. So, the K-Series eventually got signed off.’

New engine gets all the toys

And promising it was: the new unit, conceived as a replacement for the (what must have seemed) irreplaceable A-Series, radically differed in design from its antecedent. When conceiving the K-Series engine (which incidentally shared its name with the engine developed for use in the ADO74, during 1972), Bertodo’s team put into practice many of the lessons they had already learned while optimising the O-Series engine.

Like the recently-launched M16 engine, the K-Series was designed primarily as a double-overhead cam 16-valve unit with pent roof combustion chambers, in order to reach a high specific output, while retaining a lean-burn configuration, which allowed for low emissions.

Where the K-Series differed from the M16 – and all of its rivals for that matter – was that the all-alloy engine was of layered construction, the whole lot being held together by a set of 16-inch long bolts, which ran from the cylinder head through to the crank case, and whose passages doubled as crankcase breathers and oil passageways. The radical (and Rover-patented) arrangement allowed for the top and bottom end stresses on the engine block to be distributed equally, and therefore help lessen the risk of cylinder block distortion that alloy engines were known to suffer from when subjected to extreme operating conditions.

Initially, 1.1-litre 8-Valve, 1.4-litre 8-Valve and 16-Valve versions were produced, but the Engineers left a degree of upward expandability in the design – and that would become evident in the years following the launch of the AR8.

Changes at the top…

Following the 1986 departure of Harold Musgrove and the re-branding of the parent company to become The Rover Group, the car division was also re-branded in the same way, becoming The Rover Car Company. As a result, the AR8 (and AR6) programme was renamed the R8, in deference to the fact that the Austin component of the car division was now well and truly moribund.

In the later stages of R8 development, the engine line-up was finalised and it was decided that the entry level for the new car would be 1.4-litres: this decision was made by Head of Marketing, Kevin Morley, who realised that, in order to move upmarket into the higher profitability zone, the company would no longer be prepared to produce loss leaders – that would be left to Ford and Vauxhall, with their ‘Popular’ and ‘Merit’ models.

R8 Cabriolet prototype
Cabriolet was designed into the programme at an early stage, as this full-size model, photographed at Canley in 1988, clearly shows
Rover always knew it wanted to diverge from Honda when it came to body variations of the car: this MG-badged R8 prototype, produced in 1988 shows just how the company was thinking. Like the later Tomcat Coupé, this model was pure-R8 from the waist down, but significant variance was made on the roofline. The design of the car was somewhat refined between this version and the Tomcat, even if the concept remained the same, but also the idea of it being an MG was also dropped when it became clear that BAe had released the funds for the company to produce a convertible MG based on a unique floorpan.
Rover always knew it wanted to diverge from Honda when it came to body variations of the car: this MG-badged R8 prototype, produced in 1988 shows just how the company was thinking. Like the later Tomcat Coupé, this model was pure-R8 from the waist down, but significant variance was made on the roofline. The design of the car was somewhat refined between this version and the Tomcat, even if the concept remained the same, but also the idea of it being an MG was also dropped when it became clear that BAe had released the funds for the company to produce a convertible MG based on a unique floorpan

MG-badged Rover Coupe

Because of this, and the fact that Honda would be supplying the high-tech 1.6-litre engine for the new car, Rover justifiably felt that they would be in a position to back up their ambition of producing a ‘premium’ range of medium-sized cars. Interestingly, given the excellence of the K-Series engine, the British power units would no longer be the weaker link in the engine range – in fact, if anything, the Honda D-Series engine (derived from the Civic Shuttle) would be put in the shade.

It is not often that one can say that Honda had been beaten in terms of a four-cylinder power unit – that situation would be turned around later, when the Honda CR-X engine would find its way under the bonnet of the GTi.

Suspension disagreements

After the £250 million expenditure on the K-Series engine, Austin Rover, had no resources to produce its own gearbox, so following the example of the Maestro, the company bought in a rival’s unit: this time from PSA. However, unlike the previous car’s gearbox, Rover expended much effort in refining the package, producing their own well-engineered linkages and strengthening the casting in order to cope with the extra torque that the K-Series engine produced, compared with the Citroën AX and Peugeot 205.

Unsurprisingly, and very early in the project, Honda conceded that Austin Rover were better placed than themselves to make decisions about what chassis configuration would be most suitable for European consumption.

As a result, the R8 and European-market Hondas would be available with McPherson strut front suspension, while maintaining the Honda layout of fully independent wishbones at the rear. The British took this decision in order to give the new car longer suspension travel and because the McPherson struts were cheaper to produce and were rather easier to package. Honda took this view but, as we shall see, they obviously did not entirely agree.

During 1988 and 1989, different versions of the R8 were worked on at Canley: this version was the unique-to-Rover three-door hatchback that eventually formed the basis of the GTi version.
During 1988 and 1989, different versions of the R8 were worked on at Canley: this version was the unique-to-Rover three-door hatchback that eventually formed the basis of the GTi version

Rover R8 three-door prototype

Moving upmarket takes more significance

During 1987, with the engineering programme all-but finished, Rover knew that they had an excellent package with which to base their future upon. Needless to say that, when embroiled in negotiations with British Aerospace, the R8 and its K-Series engine were cited time and time again as examples of the company’s engineering excellence.

Graham Day pointed to the desire to move the company upmarket, something that Professor Roland Smith could see would be healthy for his shareholders’ returns, and as a result the R8 was soon the subject of late model development programme in order to eke out the most profit from the car. Because of this, and following the sale of Rover to BAe, the nod was given by management for Gordon Sked to expand the range to include cabriolet, coupé, three-door and estate versions. Honda, on the other hand, would never produce anything other than four and five door versions of their Concerto model.

As with the Legend/800 before it, it was the Honda version of the car that was announced first, this time some 16 months before the Rover R8. If the Japanese were disappointed by the new car, the significance of the model was not lost on the international media – it was very evident that, although the Concerto was a rather conservative design, especially given the advanced styling of the recently-launched 1988 Civic, it would provide Honda with the perfect springboard with which to attack the European market. Not only that, but it was an easy car to imagine with Rover badges front and rear and duotone paintwork.

Launch-time publicity shot put out by Honda to show how the European version of the Concerto would look. Honda’s version proved to be a steady, if unspectacular seller, but it did demonstrate that collaboration could benefit Honda, as well as Rover because it taught the Japanese a lot about what it was that the Europeans wanted in their mid-sized cars.
Launch-time publicity shot put out by Honda to show how the European version of the Concerto would look. Honda’s version proved to be a steady, if unspectacular seller, but it did demonstrate that collaboration could benefit Honda, as well as Rover because it taught the Japanese a lot about what it was that the Europeans wanted in their mid-sized cars

Honda has big praise for Rover

Pre-production Rover 200 undergoing final testing at the Gaydon proving ground
Pre-production Rover 200 undergoing final testing at the Gaydon proving ground (picture: Charlie Draper)

Honda was complimentary about the British input in the design of the car; as Kenzo Suzuki of Honda said about the rather obvious Rover design cues, ‘We learned from the collaboration that when ARG design a car they determine the packaging first and style the car around it. We tend to style our cars first and then design the interior. In the Concerto, though, we have tried to benefit from what we have learned.’

Interestingly, the Honda Concerto, in Japanese form, was treated to all independent double-wishbone suspension, front and rear (which required different floorpans for their European and Japanese versions!) – because Honda wanted to maintain their engineering purity. Honda also developed a four-wheel-drive version of the Concerto, which used the company’s ‘INTRAC’ transmission system first seen in the four-wheel-drive Civic Shuttle.

However, because this system was developed for the Japanese version of the Concerto and Honda wanted to keep it for itself, this desirable option never made it over to the Rover R8 (a shame, given the traction problems that the later, Turbocharged 220 Coupé would suffer from).

‘We learned from the collaboration that when ARG design a car they determine the packaging first and style the car around it. We tend to style our cars first and then design the interior. In the Concerto, though, we have tried to benefit from what we have learned.’
– Kenzo Suzuki, Honda R&D

As related earlier though, the company recognised that the British knew more about the state of the art when it came to European suspension tuning and, as a result, all European Concertos shared their suspension system with the Rover R8.

Launching the upwardly-mobile Rover

During 1989, the final marketing decisions for the Rover R8 were made: naming the car was easy, because it was replacing the well-established Rover 200 model, it would continue this simple and straightforward naming convention – 214 for the K-Series 1.4-litre version and 216 for the Honda-powered 1.6-litre version. No accommodation for the Maestro would need to be made, as during 1988, it was decided to leave it in production in order to keep Cowley producing cars.

By this point, the factory was now well and truly under-utilised. On the quiet, the Maestro remained in production to counter the company’s bottom of the range rivals, such as the Escort Popular and Astra Merit – it would also act as a useful insurance policy against the unlikely event of there being a buyer backlash against the high prices of the new Rover.

Launched at last: after an interminable wait following the launch of the Honda Concerto in June 1988, the Rover 214 and 216 duly followed in October 1989. The new cars were worth the wait, with their sophisticated range of 16-Valve engines and luxurious (if not particularly well-equipped) interiors. Fortunately for Rover, the new car seemed to capture the spirit of the moment and it went on to become a best seller in the UK within weeks of its launch.
Launched at last: after an interminable wait following the launch of the Honda Concerto in June 1988, the Rover 214 and 216 duly followed in October 1989. The new cars were worth the wait, with their sophisticated range of 16-Valve engines and luxurious (if not particularly well-equipped) interiors. Fortunately for Rover, the new car seemed to capture the spirit of the moment and it went on to become a best seller in the UK within weeks of its launch

Like the Rover 800 before it in 1986, the new range would also be launched in stages, but this time, the same mistakes of limiting supply and emphasising the top of the range would not be made. Right from the start at the time of the launch, it would be stressed that the Rover 200 Series would be offered in a range of cars – and the entry-level car, the Rover 214Si, would be priced at the same level as the mid-range 1.6-litre opposition.

It was an outwardly risky ploy by Rover but, given the sophistication and sheer classiness of the new Rover 200, one that might succeed. So, pricing the car, was settled – but marketing it would also prove difficult because what Rover was trying to achieve with the car was something that the company had not done before – and that is successfully sell their car at a premium. However, fortuitously for the company, the timing of the new car’s launch was perfect. Kevin Morley stated that, at the time, the buyers of mid-range cars were disillusioned with their Escorts and Astras, finding them, ‘ageing’ and ‘samey’.

So, on 11 October 1989, the Rover 200 was launched to the public – and what an impression it made on the road testers! No Rover received such a warm welcome when it was launched as this one did – and it is easy to see why. In a class dominated by the 1980 Ford Escort, 1984 Volkswagen Golf and 1984 Vauxhall Astra, the new car immediately created an impression of being something fresh, new and welcome.

Straight to the top of the class with the R8

Rover knew that their rivals had new cars coming, but they were still at least a year away (in the case of the Ford) and, as such, in their desired ambition to sit at the top of their given market niche, the company was unchallenged. There were other premium mid-sized hatchbacks on the market at the time, but they amounted to nothing more credible than the Alfa Romeo 33 and Volvo 340 – neither of which was in the same league as the Rover when it came to packaging and driver appeal.

Leather-clad interior of the Rover 216GSi demonstrated just how far the company had moved on the period of six short years since the Maestro first appeared. There was nothing actually wrong with the interior of the old Austin model, but compared with the classy new Rover, it somehow looked like the product of a previous generation. At the time of the launch of this car, there really was no comparison in the class.
Leather-clad interior of the Rover 216GSi demonstrated just how far the company had moved on the period of six short years since the Maestro first appeared. There was nothing actually wrong with the interior of the old Austin model, but compared with the classy new Rover, it somehow looked like the product of a previous generation. At the time of the launch of this car, there really was no comparison in the class

Rover, of course, expected people to pay for the privilege of driving something that they considered to be such a cut above the rest and, as a result, they priced the car accordingly:

Car: Rover 214Si Rover 216GSi Escort 1.6 Ghia VW Golf GTi 8v
Price (UK): £8775 £10,940 £10,244 £10,999
Engine Capacity: 1396cc 1590cc 1597cc 1781cc
Maximum Power: 95bhp 114bhp 90bhp 112bhp
Maximum Speed: 104mph (168km/h) 120mph (192km/h) 110mph (178km/h) 114mph (184km/h)
0-60mph (97km/h): 11.3 secs 10.0 secs 9.2 secs 8.6 secs


Autocar on the 416GSi: 'It has an eager responsive chassis and spreads grip evenly over four wheels...'
Autocar on the 416GSi: ‘It has an eager responsive chassis and spreads grip evenly over four wheels…’

Looking at the table above, it is easy to see why the press and the public were soon so carried away by the car at the time of its launch: in the case of the Rover 214Si, here was a car that offered quality and performance that most of the 1.6-litre opposition struggled to match. However, the costly top-of-the-range 216GSi, offered something that the (better equipped) cost rival, the Ford Escort 1.6 Ghia could not hope to match, and that was sheer pace and overall showroom appeal. In fact, during that time, the 216GSi offered ‘MG’ levels of go and ‘Vanden Plas’ levels of interior opulence – and, quite simply, no rival had an answer to this.

In fact, it soon became clear that Rover’s advantage over the Class of ’89 was so great that Rover Cars new Managing Director, George Simpson, was rumoured to have given Kevin Morley’s marketing team a severely hard time for not making the Rover 200 more expensive than it was when it finally appeared.

Simpson stated, when interviewed by Autocar magazine in 1989, that the company wanted to realise their dream of going further upmarket, but also, not abandoning the volume market sector. ‘We’re not aiming at BMW, nor will we ever be BMW. We have no intention of getting out of the volume market. What we are doing, and the 200 is the start of this, is aiming our cars away from the popular sections of the mass market and more at the top end, where the Rover name, and all it stands for can make an impact.’

The opposition: like lambs to slaughter

And it did make an impact: Autocar magazine pitched the 216GSi against the then current class leaders, the Fiat Tipo and Renault 19, as well as the venerable Ford Escort 1.6 Ghia – and the scale of the Rover’s dominance over the other cars is manifestly clear. ‘In the final analysis, however, it’s [the Tipo] simply out-gunned and out-gripped by the Rover which turns out to be a remarkably complete and well-executed car. Rover’s real achievement with the 216 has been to give it some class.

‘Its shape is essentially no more adventurous than the Renault’s but thoughtful detailing lifts it out of potential anonymity. The cabin is a minor triumph too, the mixture of textured plastics, leather and wood substituting a warm and inviting ambience that is traditionally Rover for a smart and slightly clinical one that is Honda. Bear in mind that the Rover is roomy, refined and well equipped and it’s hard to see how it can lose this contest. It’s worth the extra money: the quality shows.’

If the 216 was viewed as a triumph when compared to its rivals, it must be said that this model made a slightly less convincing case for itself when viewed alongside the 214, with its K-Series engine. Rover was very proud with what they achieved with the K-Series engine – and its long life (in an era where power units would need to be upgraded regularly to keep up with ever-changing emissions regulations) was a testimony to its fundamentally good design.

Fiat Tipo
The Fiat Tipo was the cream of the hatchback crop when launched in 1988. Then the Rover 200 arrives and reset the class standards

Mid-range 214 makes a big impression

Following its lukewarm response to the Rover 800 in 1986, CAR magazine would unconditionally praise the 214SLi model when tested against its rivals. The levels of equipment in this middle of the range model were less than generous but, given that, the essentials were there and it was not only the performance, ride and handling that impressed, but the interior ambience. ‘The wood works well, every piece of plastic is nicely finished and textured, the seat fabrics are subtle and even the carpets suggested Wilton to the Carpetland of the others.

‘And there’s a chromed ‘Rover’ kickplate on the sill to remind you why you’ve paid that little bit extra. Somehow, when other manufacturers try to recreate this sort of image, they fail – witness the Orion 1600E.’ As with the Autocar test result, where the Rover mauled the opposition, the CAR Magazine result read similarly: ‘Rover has achieved what it set out to do with the 200. It has distanced it from the competition, yet kept it accessible. You get a car high on refinement, quality and driver appeal. It’s not perfect, but it is desirable. At last, Rover has got it right.’

Like the SD1 before it in 1976, the impressive new Rover received a raft of awards from the motoring press in Europe as well as the UK (although it lost out in the International Car of The Year contest to the Citroën XM). The 214 was without doubt the best received car from the Midlands company since the SD1 and, unlike the older ancestor, the company built the car to Japanese standards right from the beginning of the production run at Longbridge.

Rover was careful to ensure that the £400 million’s worth of Honda robots installed in its factory were producing the car to the same high standards as the Suzuka factory, and so used forty Honda Production Engineers, who acted as consultants, when building up to the beginning of the Rover’s production run.

Range extensions come thick and fast

Rover 216 GTI
Following the launch of the booted Rover 400 in April 1990, the next variation on the theme was the three-door version, which to some evoked memories of the short-lived Ford Sierra XR4i in the way that its C-posts were arranged. The bodyshell heralded the arrival of a new base model, the 214S, and a fully-fledged GTi version – sharing its engine with the 416GTi saloon

The following April, Rover finally pensioned off the existing Rover 213/216 to make way for the saloon version of the R8, called the 400. In line with Rover’s new upmarket pricing policy, the saloon was priced rather ambitiously at a premium of between £200 and £600 model-on-model.

Rover justified this by stating that the new saloon had an identity all of its own, compared with the hatchback 200 model. This was a daring thing for Rover to try although the premiums were not that great – on top of the already steep price of the Rover 200, the new 400 Series amounted to a rather expensive car. In addition to the standard model range, a new flagship was launched: the Rover 416GTi 16v.

Stretching the point: six body styles from one platform

Although George Simpson had stated that he had no intention for Rover to become a ‘British BMW’, the 416GTi was certainly an attempt by the company to establish themselves in the 3 Series sector of the market. The ingredients that made up the GTi were predictable enough: the car was fully equipped with standard leather upholstery and the all the options available on the car added as a standard fitting. What differentiated this car from the lesser GSi version was its twin-cam version of the Honda engine, which produced 128bhp, as opposed to the 114bhp of the single-cam version – this was an incredibly high output for a naturally-aspirated 1590cc engine.

Its high state of tune was reflected by the fact that the maximum power was developed, Honda style, and way up the rev range at 6800rpm. Torque was also notably absent from this engine but, as the engine was lifted straight from the Honda CR-X, it was fitting for the small two-seater to be fitted with such a zingy engine. However, in the luxurious GTi version of the 400, it was somewhat misplaced: this point being borne out by the fact that the top-of-the-range car was priced to directly compete with the Audi 80 2.0E, BMW 318i and Mercedes-Benz 190E.

Needless to say, the GTi was not an unqualified success, amounting to a confusing clash of ideals – the sporty, under-geared demeanor of the car not matching the out and out luxury of the cabin. The result was the Rover 416GTi 16v was neither fish nor fowl – worse than that, though, as a plush hatchback, competing against the Escort and Golf, it was supremely impressive but, when pitched against the premium Germans, it was most certainly out of its depth.

Rover 416 GTI
The rather raucous Rover 416GTi

Taking the fight to the Golf GTI

The engine was certainly more suited to the next model to appear: the three-door GTi model – a car that was designed to go eyeball to eyeball with the iconic Golf GTi. Kevin Morley had always made it clear that the car that he most wanted to emulate was the Volkswagen – and, with the three-door GTi, he knew that the company possessed a car that was certainly capable of tilting at the German.

Ironically enough, the sports GTis never seemed to score well with the customers – whether it was because the Rover image was incompatible with a sports car or the sporting hatch somehow did not add up to the sum of its parts, like the 416GTi, they emerged as a rather uninspiring addition to the ‘hot hatch’ pack.

By 1992, the range was further expanded by the addition of the 2.0-litre T16 engine, lifted straight from the Rover 800 – and, after the Honda-powered cars with their stratospheric rev limits, the torquey British-designed engines certainly added up to a more relaxed (if unexpectedly unrefined) drive. As time passed, Rover continued to add more and more derivatives to the range: the Tomcat coupé was added at the end of 1992, the cabriolet version followed in 1993, then the estate version, which Rover badged as the ‘Tourer’.

Momentum maintained into the 1990s

Rover 220 Coupe
Tomcat coupé was a well-styled variation on the R8 theme – and it saw the introduction of the T16 Turbo engine in the compact chassis. Acceleration from this car was truly vivid, dispatching 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds, but a side effect of all this power (200PS) being fed through the front wheels was vicious torque steer and a tendency for the car to chew through front tyres. With Honda’s INTRAC system, perhaps might have been a little more cultured…

Rover certainly maximised the R8 platform to the full, as planned back in 1987, but it was a marketing operation as well. Initially, the intention was for the Tomcat coupé and three-door GTis to be badged as MGs, but once the full implications of the Mazda MX-5 Miata became clear, BAe ensured that Rover placed added impetus into the fledgling PR3 roadster programme (which would emerge in 1995 as the MGF). Because of the desire to compete with Mazda, BAe did not wish for the MG nameplate to be ‘devalued’ by being applied to humble saloon-based cars, as they had been during the 1980s.

All performance and open-topped R8s would therefore emerge as Rovers – as a result, and thanks to its ‘soft tooling’, the largest range of separate body styles on any car from the company was created:

1989 Five-door hatchback 214/216 (later, 216 DOHC, 220, 220T, 218D and 218TD)
1990 Four-door saloon 414/416 SOHC and DOHC (later 420, 420T, 418D and 418TD)
1991 Three-door hatchback 214 8v and 214 16v, 216 SOHC, 216 DOHC and 220
1992 Two-door coupé 216/220/220T (later K-Series 1.8VVC)
1993 Two-door cabriolet 214/216
1994 Five-door Tourer 416/420/418TD
Rover 420 GSI Tourer
Tourer model was not so much as a capacious hold-all, but a lifestyle estate cast in the mould of the Audi 80 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring

As can be seen from the above list, the Rover 200 eventually was built in no less than six body variations – that was the maximum which could be extracted from the platform. In the past, BMC, Leyland and Austin Rover relied on badging variations to give depth to the range (an example of this was the ADO16 which was produced in six flavours: Austin, Morris, MG, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas – but the only bodily differences between them, simplistically put, were their radiator grilles); with the R8, Rover became a niche manufacturer – and, in its sector, the company produced a variation to plug any gaps that they identified in the marketplace.

Giving the 200 and 400 a grilling

By 1994, both the 200 and 400 received a chrome grille – a simple screwed on item – in order to instill the range with the ‘Rover’ identity, but also to tie the car in with the newly-launched Rover 600. They ploy was a partial success – by this time, the car was beginning to look a little past its prime. It was not so much a case that the car was uncompetitive, but that rival companies launched replacements for their mainstream cars: in 1991, an improved Astra was announced, the Golf Mk3 followed it onto the market months later – the competition soon caught and passed the impressive small Rover.

This phenomenon soon exposed a weakness of the R8 and that was one that befell the larger Rover 800 as well: it was based on a Honda – and Hondas were tied in to a five-year lifecycle, and cars which have short planned lifecycles are invariably not designed in a ‘timeless’ way.

Not that it mattered, of course: Rover was already working on the replacement for the 200/400 and had been since 1990 – but, unlike the excellent R8 and most disappointingly for Rover and its fans, that car designated ‘Theta’ and ‘HH-R‘, would be almost entirely designed by Honda – and we know what happened to that.

As for the R8, it proved that Rover was eminently salvageable in the 1990s. More than that, it had transformed the company into the maker of desirable and dependable cars again. With a production run of 953,699 cars between 1989 and 1998, it’s one of the company’s most successful models – even topping the UK sales charts at times during 1991. Amazing, really…

Rover 214 Si

Keith Adams


  1. What a great range! R8’s had real class and a feeling of quality – I had a 416GTi and a 220GTi they were very nice.

    Sadly for Rover, it was downhill thereafter as far as strategic decisions were concerned…

    The replacement 200 and 400 Series weren’t a patch on these – not for style, not for perceived quality and not for image. The last 200/400/25/45 cars never made the impact the R8 achieved and must have given away market share to the competition in a big way.

  2. The reason why the chrome grille was fitted on the 200 Series from November 1993 (not 1994) was not to simply “instill the range with the ‘Rover’ identity”, but to meet the growing demand for this feature by customers.

    The grille was introduced on the 400 Series in October 1992 and that resulted in Rover Cars dealers being inundated with requests from buyers of new 200 Series derivatives to retro-fit the grille. Indeed, Rover Cars did not originally envisage fitting the grille to the 200 Series as it felt that reserving it for the 400 Series would give it a more obvious premium appeal.

    However, a year later, Rover Cars decided that the grille would form part of a minor trim level update already planned for the three and five-door 200 Series for the 1994 Model Year.

  3. A lot of the K-Series development was sub-contracted to Tickford in Milton Keynes (then recently separated from Aston Martin). We had a large team of guys working on that engine family for many years.

  4. The Rover chrome grill was also the start of other car companies making there own types of chrome front ends. Example Ford with the chrome nosetrl, Vauxhall with the (V) Opel used strips and also Nissan with the wing shapes.

    Rover made chrome back in fashion once again during the nineties and it feel like the traditional grills in some shape or form were here to stay on all cars.

    • Funny thing – I was working for Kenworth Trucks at the time and their cheapest model featured – ta da da – a chrome grille. The buyers loved it.

  5. I remember hearing the story about R200 owners liking the revised Rover grille on the 400 and asking for one to be fitted on their cars. At least Rover did take the hint! A shame that not many R400 Tourers were built, it looked a good version and a useful load carrier.

  6. Usually the problem with BMC/BL/ARG etc products is they live too long – 13 years for the Marina/Ital for example. The problem with the R8 is it was killed off too soon. The car was still in its prime when Rover replaced it with an inferior product (HHR) and then confused matters by rebodying it on a shorter wheel base to create the 1995 200 series.

  7. @Hilton Davis

    Production of the 400 Tourer was actually limited to no more than 150 examples per week, making it the rarest of the R8 200/400 variants.

    Incidentally, the very last R8 200/400 to be built was a 416 Si Tourer finished in Platinum Silver, which left the assembly line in July 1998.

  8. In my opinion, putting a grille on the front of the R8 range is what ultimately killed the company. The R8 was a modern car when launched, and the replacement could have capitalised on that and developed the concept further taking Rover into a whole new, modern direction and image. As it was, the Grile simply put Rover right back into the old fashioned pip-and-slippers image it had been so saddled with for so long. It was the worst thing they could have done. No one felt the R8 Rovers were for old people, but within 5 years the whole company was seen that way. With it went sales and market share.

    • so, so true !
      we han a 214si and when bought , we felt that we han a car of a new era (for rover at least)
      When the mk2 grille showed up ,it totally distroyed this feeling.
      Just a screwed funny chromed comb

    • Was waiting for someone to say this. The grills looked so cheap, because they were basically glued on top of the existing bonnet, they totally ruined the car’s slightly premium image. Also agree that this obsession with “olde worlde” was the wrong image for the new millennium you Jaguars X and S types had the same problem. That and the next 200 not replacing the Metro were huge mistakes.

  9. @Jonathan Carling

    If Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) ever decides to bring back the Rover marque and create a range of models from the Medium sector onwards, then the R8 is an ideal product strategy to look at in terms of how to do it well. In fact, do it very well.

    Six bodystyles based on one platform and each one looking very distinctive and appealing, with little comprise in visual design. Even the 400 Series saloon looked both modern and upmarket compared to the opposition.

    The quality was good too, the Rover image so right for this range of cars and the marketing being confident in promoting the R8 200/400 as an aspirational car. All in all, a car that helped transform the fortunes of Rover Cars in the early 1990s.

  10. I still have got since 1990 a Rover 216 GSi whit all extras except metallic paint which is a pree production car. On many parts of the car there is standing prototype.
    I have never had a Rover which was so reliable like that car and I am sure it was one of the best Rover which were built. The only problem I have had with the car is that the ALB brake moto will not work any more and that part is not very easy to get.

  11. @Vava1
    The models which came after R8 were not so much Rover making the wrong stategic decisions, more a case of Honda so much controlling what came next. It seemed that the nature of the partnership had changed. Instead of a joint venture situation with Honda benefiting from the link with Rover, the HHR signalled the start of simply “Roverising” pure Honda designs. Surely this was the start of the end as far as the R8 led recovery was concerned.
    Had BMW acquired a company with the right R8 replacement, sales would not have dwindled like they did with HHR and again you can see the scenario where BMW kept hold of Rover…..

  12. Great car and I feel if JLR wanted to bring the Rover name back a car of this type would sell like hotcakes… If only they had the nerve to do it.

  13. I had a Rover 214 SLi 5 dr an M reg 95 (R8) and it was very comfortable, handled well and really was a lovely car to drive and reliable, and compared with the then equivalent Escort, the interior was in a different class

  14. Does anyone know precisely when the front indicator shape changed on the R8? (Seeking on for my April ’92 216 GSi). As far as I can tell it had happened by 1993 L-reg, well before the chrome grille. Thanks for your insights!

  15. @ Patrick Walker

    The shape of the front indicator unit changed in September/October 1992 as one of a number of design enhancements for the 1993 Model Year. Therefore, in terms of build, it would have been used (together with the revised front wings design) from September 1992.

    The chrome grille was first introduced in September/October 1992 for the updated 1993 Model Year Rover 400 Series, and then from November 1993 for the 1994 Model Year 200 Series ranges (3- and 5-door, Cabriolet, Coupe). However, before this November 1993 date, some examples of the 200 Series had been retro-fitted with the Chrome grille by Rover dealers upon request.

  16. @ WillHC, David 3500

    I also think JLR should consider bringing back the Rover brand on an R8-style model. Autocar alleges that there will be a new Jaguar-branded FWD compact car, and this car (a rival to the 1-Series and A3) seems to be a spiritual successor to the R8. Would another FWD Jaguar tarnish the brand like the X-Type did?

    It’s not just a C-segment car that the Rover brand could be used for. There could be a B-segment supermini to rival the Audi A1 and Citroen DS3, an A-segment city car and a range of electric cars to rival the BMW i-Series. The turbine/EREV technology of the Jaguar C-X75 could be used in a Rover-branded Fisker Karma or Cadillac ELR rival.

    There would be no conflict with the Jaguar range, as a reborn Rover would simply focus on FWD small cars while Jaguar focuses on RWD medium/large cars. Jaguar retains its exclusivity. A few years down the line, Tata could use cheapened FWD Rover platforms for a more competitive range of budget cars, much like how Dacia uses old Renault platforms.

    The R8 truly is a paragon of what Rover Group could achieve. Some would argue that it was the very first of the compact luxury hatchbacks that are now a fixture of the car market from Stockholm to Shanghai. It’s a shame Rover failed to capitalise on this development.

  17. Agree with majority of comments here, This was Rover at its best despite the flawed and compromised package and despite the write up detailing Rover as the Design Leader there was still too much Honda input that for me spoilt the ingredients.

    There has been a lot said about how BAe robbed and bled Rover dry, But at that time it was possibly Rovers all time high (under the former BL/A/R), Even the brochures looked quality with lots of attention to lights/shadows used in the publicity photographs, something A/R hadn’t seen before and shocked the establishment Ford/Vauxhall etc, which despite their sales success were little more than so so rans!.

    Rover appeared to be on a high at the time, with this stylish and upmarket miniature mk3 Ford Granada look alike, (I always thought the later colour coded cars looked better) the reinvented Metro was a major talking point, the 600 wasn’t far away the 800 would soon receive a new suit, only the old Maestro/Montego were seen as letting the sides down.

    And look how much they squeezed out of the one platform, which was never to be repeated. However at the time of the 3door model launch I worked at a Rover Franchise, there was an issue with the door courtesy light switch’s and the front down pie exhausts which tended to crack, scary parts prices on these, but we were yet to experience the HGF .

    I still couldn’t help but wonder why did they compromise themselves by going the Honda route? could the money spent in R8 have been better utilised in converting Maestro/Montego (Dip into the Honda parts bin but avoid the donor, Remember the 800 had a smaller boot and less rear legroom than a Montego, also less royalties to Honda) The M cars were themselves a flawed but were more complete package (looks and quality aside, although quality was much improved late in life) They had more room inside and easier entry which was a bit painful watching the older generation trying to bend and squeeze down to the R8, though some thought it was a good thing as even then Rovers were considered to be driven by “people who were older”.

    Our parts manager even commented on the parts which had to go through Honda then Rover stick their bit on then our own Franchise putting their bit meant we struggled to give “Trade prices” He came to the conclusion that Honda really were taking their pants down, which after the R8 which was cut off in its prime Rover were to be handed down the HHR replacement. somehow I got the impression Honda were slightly jealous of what Rover could achieve on a budget (R3 was a good example) But were still fixed and stuck in their ways meaning in many ways a very flawed partner, It was all down hill from this point.

  18. How would a Jaguar Rover R8 look?

    The grille could be similar to current Skodas, with a minimalist longship. Perhaps elongated vertically, as per the 75 V8, with the numberplate halfway down it, as is the current trend.

    Floating roof similar to the Mini Clubman, could be provided in different colours (eg. white on red body) to emulate the sports look of the MINI, DS3, Fabia etc.

    Overall shape, 200 a hatchback, but a “truncated” hatch like the Focus and currently sold Lancer, or a “fastback” hatch similar to the upcoming Skoda Rapid and the old Xantia?

    400, would this be a saloon version of the above? If it is a fastback, this could be surplus. This could be the next model up, perhaps based on a shortened XF. 3/4 floating roof, similar to the XX 800, but with a beefy solid looking C pillar.

  19. A friend of mine has a K reg 216, which I borrowed one day when my car was being serviced. That 216 looks very tatty, with the mirrors taped up, and the rest of the car otherwise unkempt, so I didn’t expect it to be much cop to drive.

    I was very surprised at how eager and torquey it was (and torque isn’t something usually associated with Honda engines), and the gearbox, despite an unfashionably long stick, was very precise. A very pleasant car all in all.

  20. my dad had a H reg 216 GSI he got rid of it and bought a Citroen Berlingo multispace no where near as fast or classy.

  21. @dontbuybluemotion (why ever not?) – I remember the Honda associations did Rover the power of good in the late 80s/early 90s. There is no way buyers would have taken to a rebodied Maestro with its airfix switchgear and rattly E series derived Engines. Honda then was cansidered almost premium and noted for its Engineering excellence. It was all part of the jigsaw that made the R8 far and away the best car BMC/BL/ARG/Rover whatever, ever made.

  22. @ Paul … It is all down to personal opinion, The point I am getting at is the R8 was a fine example for its time, But Honda charged handsomely for licensing and parts meaning there wasn’t much left for Rover, The R3 and MGF are prime examples what Rover could do on their own without the help of a claustrophobic Marriage.

    I am almost sure they could of put wrong to right with the Maestro/Montego, (New Clothes, K powered not S series Engines etc) as it was quality improved markedly towards the end, there would be ££s going into the kitty, rather than a few penny’s going into a jar, The rest all Royalties etc going out the front door!.

    As mentioned Honda were in their own world back then (some say little has changed??) without Rover input we got the HHR, better in some ways over R8 but has been described as Dull but Worthy with Dumpy styling..

  23. The late eighties, early nineties were a definite high point in terms of image, sales success, products – R8 and all it’s derivatives, Rover Metro, new 800, high quality Roverised Montego, Mini Cooper…

    However, I agree with the point in 26 & 32. Would a more profitable re-working of Maestro/Montego (instead of R8) have been better for the company’s financial strengh, survival?

  24. Also @ 26 – dontbuybluemotion

    I too reckon Honda must have been slightly envious of Rover’s success with R8 and their general ability to acheive much from not a lot.

  25. The R8 showed Rover just about at the top of their game. Such a shame that it all went wrong around and after year 2000.

    As has been well documented here, the R8 200 series in all its variants had a more classy image than the similar Astra, Escort and sometimes even the Golf. If only Honda had taken eventual control of Rover Group…

  26. @ James (14)

    You’re spot on.

    It’s sooo easy to forget now, but since 1964’s P6, Rover had positioned itself as a purveyor of leading edge, technically advanced cars. The P6 was packed with innovative engineering touches, the SD1 was visually and conceptually very futuristic (even it mechanically it was more orthodox), the 800 series was way ahead of the pack with those stunning Honda V6s and wedge styling.

    It was really only the Mk.2 800, with its retro grille, and then the grille-isation of the rest of the range, that started moving Rover back to ‘pipe and slippers’ motoring. The 75 was the epitome of this – a great car – but it’s name was close to the average age of its customer, or so it seemed!

    Rover needed to push forward, to make SD1-esque styling/engineering leaps forward with every generation; instead the 1992 800 mk 2 was less modern looking than the 1976 SD1…

    The ‘Relax, it’s a Rover’ byline was lazy, and (although apt), talked to the SAGA generation rather than the SEGA one they needed to appeal to…

  27. @37 – I suppose anybody past retirement age should be happy with a bus pass then? Beats me why everbody derides older people buying cars. Generally these are the people with the money and inclination to own a decent car. The “Sega” generation by comparison can hardly afford a pot to piss in and would rather sit in a darkened room playing with their Segas!

  28. @38

    Sega stopped making gaming consoles around 2000. You have Playstation, Xbox and Wii generations now. This is the generation that can’t get a job more or less because the saga and sega generations were greedy with buying all the houses.

    The sega generation (assuming Master System / Mega Drives) moved on via ‘Mondeo man’ to coveting germanic offerings.

  29. We owned both a 214GSi and a 216SLi in our Family. They were both pretty good cars, but the 214 engine wasn’t a patch on the Honda unit despite what the review says above.
    The Honda unit sounded better, went better was smoother and wasn’t any worse on fuel. Also our 214 suffered the infamous headgasket failure.
    the R8 216 was probably the best car Rover ever made, shame the tie up with Honda wasn’t to last otherwise Rover may still be around today.

  30. It’s that multilink rear suspension that makes the differance .It took vw a long time to understand the importance of this development,longer than even ford.The galvanised body would out last the car,some thing the 213 would not do. I still think the cab model was the best,they were very well made and so characterful,i dont think any one has made a car like it.The k series will always be under rated,it does not have a waterpump made out of plastic,does not suffer from premature cam belt failure,does not drink engine oil,does not have an egr valve,does not suffer from engine management problems,does not suffer from dual mass flywheel problems,cat problems are rare,does not have breather problems and has a good oldfashioned throtle cable.It also does not have to run on an expensive ‘long life oil’that then has to be changed after 3000 miles.

  31. I worked on the R8 collaboration at Honda in Japan in the mid 80’s.
    We found their engineers impressive, with a very keen practical approach to their engineering design.

    Above all, even at the lowest level they exhibited a deep basic engineering knowledge, with a detailed ‘hands on’ approach by their senior engineers.

    On a personal level they were very friendly with us and we enjoyed social contact with them on many occasions.
    We learnt a lot from them.

    One quirky habit that amused us was their practice of bowing to the handset following a telephone conversation with their seniors.

  32. @Pilar Peon

    Really interesting Pilar, I had always wondered how would be the relation between Rover and Honda engineers.
    Im sure you know a lot of stories about this car..

    Once, I read some 214´s and a few maestros with K-Series engines were sent to Death Valley (USA) to test their behavior at high temperatures… Do you know something about it?

    It would have been really cool that 200-400 series had been sold in USA 😀 but probably they wouldnt have been successful

  33. I also remember, in Spain, some Rover dealers said that the name Concerto came from concert (in spanish concierto) which is a composition of an orchesta but also means agreement in purpose, feeling or action… In this case agreement between Honda and Rover.

  34. There is no doubt that it was a beautiful hatchback with a very atractive desing and luxury interior. My parents bought in 1994 a 214 SLI and I really loved it… in fact, when I was a child my dream´s was the rover 220 GSI black that appeared in the brochure… 😀

    by the way… have you people ever seen the japanese concerto??? In my opinion it is much uglier.. specially the latest version…

    Here you can see some pics and videos:

    Concerto with chrome grille 😀

    And finally, a few comments ago.. dontbuybluemotion, you said r8 was like a smaller granada mkIII… And yeah, I agree, I have always thought that the R8 was pretty similar to it, specially the back side…
    But in my opinion there was a car even more similar… 90s Toyota Corolla Hatchback

  35. Interesting pictures there Alberto 16v.

    It always amazed me how Rover were able to take a Honda product, and somehow make it look more elegant and classier.

    Of the R8 and Concerto, somehow the small Roverised tweaks make it look like a more upmarket car.

    And of the Accord / 800, the 800 was classy especially in R17 form where it looked almost Jaguar.

    Another car that looked like the R8 was the 90s Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback. Give it the chrome grille that Irish Colts had and it would’ve looked straight out of Longbridge!

    Given that, in the 90s, Honda sold a whole range of coupes – more or less every model had a coupe variant – Civic, Accord ;), Legend etc. it would’ve been interesting if they had licenced the Tomcat for their own sale

    The facelift Concerto looks quite good

  36. I own (and love) a Rover 416 tourer.

    I had a Nightfire Red 416 which got totaled between two VW’s (a passat CC & a Golf cross). I uses the insurrance money (and then some more) to get another one rightaway… Paid a premium price but a wanted the nicest one i could find.

    Its a 1998 Brooklands (beige seats with green dotted center, wood surroundings around the vents, gearlever. A half wooden steeringwheel and a wooden gearknob). The colour of the car itself is … yes, brooklands green.

    It had one previous owner and had always been kept inside and dealerserviced.

    Love this site and the great stories and therefor:
    If you ever need a (non brochure) picture of a prestine looking, like new condition then send me an e-mail. (i am a photographer by profession).

    I also own a 85 targa red vitesse which next year gets a lot of work done to finally get it on the road again (been sitting for 7 years now)…


  37. “Rover, it seems had learned nothing from Honda, but Honda had learned everything from Rover”
    Can someone explain to me and/or give examples of how Rover had learned nothing while Honda had learned everything?
    I’m fascinated by what, if anything, Honda took from Rover that showed itself in their models after the collaboration. Can anyone enlighten me, please?

  38. Honda learned a lot about how to package their vehicles to enable them to have greater sales success in the European markets, as Honda models were tailored more towards Japan than Europe. This was clearly a weakness of Hondas sold in the UK from the 1970s into the late 1980s; interior packaging in terms of seat comfort, seat fabrics, materials and colourways was rather basic compared to something from the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and Austin Rover Group. The interiors in Hondas also majored too much on function than considering form.

    In later years Rover Cars also gave Honda their first taste of diesel engines in 1996 in models such as the Concerto, which helped them sell more vehicles (albeit not a huge proportion). This was of course the L Series diesel engine that Rover had launched in 1995. Honda was a late player in recognising the importance of diesel engines in European markets such as France, Spain and Portugal. Finally, Rover not only showed Honda how a particular model range could tap into different buyer profiles through trim level (think performance/sporty versus luxury versus value-for-money), but how the platform design of a model such as the R8 200/400 could yield them a presence in different niche sectors which further contributed to overall sales, thus delivering further economies of scale. And based on a premium proposition rather than the usual stake ’em high, sell ’em cheap approach.

    Look at a Honda now and they are no longer aggressively priced against other Japanese marques, but seem to have adopted the premium approach that Rover Cars enjoyed in the early 1990s over Ford and Vauxhall.

  39. Great article, but no mention of the diesel variants! 218/418, using the XUD engine. I had a 418 SLD, it was totally reliable, economical, reasonably refined, and very, very, long lived. As much as I think the K Series was a fine engine (head gasket apart), the XUD was fantastic, and suited the car well. I remember on one occasion driving from Brittany to Calais, Dover to Devon in one hit! The car took it in it’s stride!

    • Rover could have used the Perkins Prima engines from the Maestro, but good as they were, the Perkins engines weren’t as refined as the XUD, which was the class leader. ( Rover would develop their own diesel engine for the next generation 200). Maybe if the XUD was the non turbo, this would have been no ball of fire, but still capable of very high mileages, decent motorway performance and 50 mpg in everyday use. I’ve experienced an XUD in its eatliest form in a Talbot Horizon and in the Citroen BX and been impressed. Also compared with the over complioated modern diesels, the XUD was easy to work on and usually reliable.

  40. I still own the 1992 216 Cabrio (Honda D16 engine) which I bought in late 2011 for the princely sum of … wait for it …


    Yup! Fifty quid. After trailering it to my home at a total cost of another £75 (trailer hire and fuel) I had a go at recommissioning it. Having stood for 5 years it needed a new battery, oil & filters plus coolant. But … there was an almost full tank of unleaded in it. Not bad, eh? As an experiment I attached an old 25 A/H mobility scooter battery to it and first tested the power roof. Perfect working order, although the hydraulic fluid needed a bit of a top up. Then I turned my attention to the engine.

    Despite the lack of oomph in the battery the car started first turn of the key and immediately settled down to a sweet idle sounding more like a sewing machine than an infernal combustion engine burning jungle juice. The only down side was that the radiator was well past its use by date and there was a whisp of steam from the back of the head. As a quick fix I just tipped a bottle of K-Seal into the expansion bottle.

    Since then I’ve covered thousands of miles in it – often towing a trailer tent or Dandy folding camper and it’s only let me down once. That was due to the rad finally almost falling apart and losing nearly all the coolant. Fortunately a couple of bottles of rad sealant and a couple of gallons of water obtained from a nearby canal got me, the Dandy and my dogs home again. That was last September and since then it’s stood waiting for my new garage to be erected so I can strip and rebuild the engine and fit a new rad.

    Now circumstances have conspired to force me into having the work done by a local garage as my garage is still in pieces on my back garden and some thieving git has stolen my other car along with most of my new hand tools, many of which have yet to be used in anger. By the end of the week the Cabby should be back on the road, taxed, tested, insured and raring to go. However I won’t be doing anywhere near the mileage in it as I used to. This because I’ve now got a 4.6 tonne Dodge 50 motor home and a trailer for the Rover. It will be towed behind the Dodge so that I’m still fully mobile once I’ve got ‘there’ and set up for the holiday.

    Would I recommend this car to others? You bet! And twice on Sundays. If it got written off in a accident would I use the payout to buy another one? In a heart beat! 22 years old and with 126K+ on the clock and it still goes like a rocket – on steroids. The throttle reaction is immediate, the gears, steering and suspension are still crisp and responsive. The seating is comfortable enough for long journeys (600 miles in under 24 hours) and with the top down there’s nothing like it. Much better than some new cars. What more could you ask for?

  41. Thanks Keith – a very interesting and informative article. I have recently purchased a 1989 216 GSI, originally bought from the dealer on 20th October 1989 – I wonder if it’s the oldest one still in existence. Cheers, Duncan.

  42. I briefly had one of these as a company car at Unipart around 1994, a J reg 218D powered by the non turbo 1.9 XUD Peugeot engine. It had already done 100’000 miles and was pretty slow, but it was also a solidly built and very comfortable car that would just go anywhere at 50 mpg. A very good car and the later Rover 200 was never as good.
    As a side note, I passed my test nearly 30 years ago in an A reg Rover 213S – it was an almost new car……….

    Such a shame that Rover so nearly made it, but failed. They made some great cars.

  43. my dad introduced me to the rover models about 4 years ago (my dad always had a sense of humor but love cars (by the way he has a Jensen interceptor convertible).He first bought me a Nissan Pulser saloon straight after my test which i hated,(all my friends had Subaru imprezza sti/Honda integra type R/b18c)then he took me to look at the rover 220 coupe turbo in flame red which i must say was better than the Nissan and i must say felt nice to drive/classy interior/and quite quick, my love affair then started so now i have 6 turbo coupes Tahiti blue/flame red Polynesian green/BRG/and two Knighfire red,most are Japanese spec with full leather/arch extension/air con, i have just acquired 2 more rovers but they are the 3 door hatchback 220GTI (black)and 220 GSI(charcoal)both are turbo models and Japanese spec with all the options both cars are badged as GTIs as the GSI logo was not used in japan,these cars are so underrated but as of yet they have not received admiration/recognition from classic car magazines this surely must change as they are far better than most fords/vauxhauls/Peugeots from the same time period they must wake up and smell the leather(i mean coffee),
    Tom Martin
    new Zealand

  44. Spotted an R8 in the distance yesterday, out and about. I thought “I recognises those rear lights”. It was a good way off, not sure if a 200 or a 400 it was that far away. Definitely an R8 though and an early one I’d say – totally grey bumpers. Not seen one for a bit.

  45. Looking at that interior shot, it still looks so right, so good.

    The R8 really was leagues ahead of Astras, Escorts etc of the time.

  46. I have had my Rover 416SLi for 17.5yrs now and she’s 21yr old in May. Carribean Blue, she is a stunning colour.
    She’s currently SORNED but should be back on the road in the Summer. I still admire its looks inside and out and love driving it. I will never sell her.

  47. Love the article above,fascinating.
    I’ve had numerous cars over the years,my 1st car being a 15 year old Volkswagen Beetle,then it was a selection of Triumphs: a Spitfire, Vitesse and Tr7 in my 20’s,followed by an AlfaSud, Vauxall Chevette, Honda Acclaim, Mini, Datsun Cherry, Mitsubishi Galant, Peugeot 305 and a few more besides.
    Then it was brand new company cars, a Renault Scenic, Mitsubishi Charisma, Alfa Romeo 156, Audi A4,Toyota Avensis.
    When I decided to give up the company car thing I bought an 8 year old Alfa 156 2.5 litre, what can I say I like Alfas! I still admire them now, even after the Alfa shredded it’s cam belt on the dual carriageway and proved uneconomical to repair, still a beautiful car to look at albeit stationary.
    At that point it was spring 2008 and I fancied a convertible so I bought a Tahiti blue 1994 216. I wasn’t expecting much as it was in sub grand territory. I had always liked the styling on the 214 and 216, but my goodness what a complete package it proved to be, bullet proof Honda engine, great gearbox, electric roof and responsive supple suspension. It was like somebody had taken all the good bits from every car I had previously owned and combined them together. I loved it.
    Sadly it was written off in a minor knock; beyond economical repair I was told.
    Luckily I have a 2nd vehicle, a 1969 series 2a Landrover which I drove around for a year. That’s until I accidently (ahem I say accidently) bid on a tatty old Rover on ebay,well when I say I bid,it was rather I was intrigued to find out what the chap had set the reserve at… well that happened to be all of £170!
    So I was now the proud owner of a 1994 Rover 216 Sli Auto in silver. When I went to pick the car up my partner looked aghast, now I’ve had some tired ropey looking cars in my youth but this thing was really tired looking and unloved. I was expecting it to break down at any point on the 60 mile drive home, but to my surprise everything worked on it, even the electric sunroof! That was over 2 years ago and it went through its last Mot recently having cost me just £30 on a suspension bush. The paint work is different shades of silver on some panels, it has dents all over it but no rust. It lowers the tone of the street I live in, cars pull over for me down country lanes,I can park it any where and not worry about it being scratched but above all its probably one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever had. I change the oil and filters and that’s it. The Honda engine is on 126k but pulls like it’s on 26k the gearbox is the best auto I’ve ever had, the car takes regular trips down to Cornwall on a 500 mile round journey it cruises at 75-80 and doesn’t miss a beat. I love it. Best car ever!
    Ive just started a new business and my business partner is suggesting we lease new Jags each… I’m stalling as I can’t see the point. OK my 216 is what it is… that’s a 21 year old car that looks like a bomb squad has had a go at it… but mechanically it’s perfect and I would and do drive it all over the country on appointments.
    Although I never park directly outside my meetings, more a case of hiding the 216 up the road somewhere and walking the last bit. I’m sure it forgives me this bit of deception.
    All that’s left now is to find my dream car, that would be a 216 Honda engined convertible in silver or blue with leather interior and auto gearbox. I’m wondering if I could slip the Tomcat engine into it and have the ultimate classic convertible with 200hp on tap?
    Hmm… just need to check with our accountant to see if he’ll sign that off 🙂

  48. just bought a rover gti tc in white on a j reg-very rare now-only 30 on the road and 41 sorned.
    She s been standing a while but has been turned over reguarly and is surprisingly in very good condition.
    Bought it to put it back on the road and to stick two fingers up to all the ultra modern stuff on the road, you just don t see the r8 on uk roads now, especially a Gti twin cam in good condition.
    Well worth saving just for the rarity of these brilliant, well made cars-a blast from the past.

    • No mention of the M series R8s which I distinctly remember. Did a few head gaskets on them back in the day, but they never seemed to suffer from the noisy pistons that plagued the later T series.

      Back in around 2002 I part exchanged my k plate 218d, non turbo (glacial) with windey windows and no power steering, for an M plate 420gsi turbo in Nightfire red. It had the later darker half leather, with the colour coded rear number plate surround. It was bloody gorgeous. I believe it was one of the last of the T16 turbo cars before the VVC engined, R3 dash models appeared. It would wipe the floor with all my pals cars at the time, (punto gt turbos, mk4 escort RSTs, Astra GSIs etc etc). I’ll never forget the frankly ludicrous gearing in that car, it would hit 72 in second gear! And the LSD just launched it out of corners. All the time offering a superb quality feel with mature ride quality and extremely understated looks. It was my absolute pride and joy until some scrote half-inched it from outside my bedroom window one night. I’ve had many different cars since, but nothing ever really gels with me the same as that car did.
      As a mechanic, I look after an old lady’s, white 5 door 216gti. It’s an H reg pre cat model which she has had since new. Every time I drive it I’m amazed at how good it still feels compared to the much more modern stuff I get to drive. I keep badgering her to sell it to me but she loves it even more than I do. This has lead me to sell my 2008 1.8 I-vtec Civic, and go and buy a 92 twin cam Concerto auto, which compared to the Civic, goes better, sounds better, is built better and has an infinitely better ride quality. That’s progress eh?
      I strongly believe the R8 was Rovers finest hour (apart from the P5B of course).

  49. I had two of these beauties and loved both. The first was a 416SLi with the SOHC Honda engine. 168k on the clock when I bought it at 12 years old and ran like an absolute dream. These engines loved being revved and sounded great at 6000rpm. Had it for a few months before selling it and replacing it with an Audi 80 16v.

    Second one was a stopgap car after my 620ti was written off and I needed some wheels. Bought off eBay for £75 with 4 months tax and test, it was a battered, dented 414SLi. Other than a bit of rough running, sorted with new plugs and leads, it was very reliable, given that it was 15 years old and had done 140k. Ran it for four months in the depths of a snowy winter with no problems at all and finally scrapped it on the day its tax and test was due as the MOT failure list was a long as my arm. It’s the only car I have ever made money on as I got £140 from the scrapyard for it!

    Much preferred the pre-chrome grille facelift cars, they’re a rare sight these days.

  50. Keith, hi, great story on R8 and Rover 200 series development.

    I worked at Rolls-Royce (the aero-engines division)and we shared many workshops with Rover engineers back in 1991-1994 period while at the Warwick Manufacturing Group’s HQ (Warwick University).What I heard and saw from the Rover engineers convinced me to buy a Rover 216Gti.

    My Rover (H696WTV) was first registered in 1990, I bought it with 15,000 miles on it, ran it up to 136,000 by 1998 and then went to work in USA, so I put it on SORN until now.

    After work since 2003, mechanically, and perhaps cosmetically, it’s probably the best 216Gti in the country now. Only 72-ish left on road according to DVLA

    My restoration is finished now!(is it ever?) It will go back on the road next spring. It is finished and fully roadworthy and I am sure it will pass an MOT. Have catalogued the restoration since 2003 with pictures in a photo-book, not quite finished writing all the text yet, but could send you a PDF version of the draft if you like?

    By the way, would you mind if I use a credited link to your article in my book?

    Best wishes

    John Anfield
    07766 211498

  51. Maybe the new Road Rover can find inspiration in this era of Rover as well as in the Rover of the late 60s.

  52. Actually, what do people think of the whole Road Rover thing? I thought the almost return of Rover would be a cause for celebration on here.

  53. IMO the Road in Road Rover is superfluous and could imply wandering from side to side?

    I have only just become aware of the Japanese market 1.6 Concerto 4 door 4wd – anyone know if any have been grey imported into the UK?

  54. Can someone explain how Rover was able to stretch the platform to provide a coupe, cabriolet, estate etc all for apparent low cost but this wasnt able to be done to the Rover 75 platform as the costs couldnt be justified?

  55. Can someone explain how Rover was able to stretch the platform to provide a coupe, cabriolet, estate etc all for apparent low cost but this wasnt able to be done to the Rover 75 platform as the costs couldnt be justified?

    • But “they” could “justify” the cost of doing the V8 version with its different floorpan, etc… Big coupes never really sold and of course there was an estate 75/ZT.

    • The R8 ‘platform’ was largely common across all 6 body styles – 3/4/5door, Cabriolet, Coupe and Tourer. They had shared the same wheelbase and tracks, only the Cabriolet had significant strengthening to compensate for the lack of the roof – and it sat in the C sector of the market where all these bodystyles sold well enough.

      The 75 sat in the D sector where not all of these were thought viable. 2 bodystyles made it and a 3rd, the Coupe, nearly did and there was the V8, of course.

      Then the money ran out…

  56. Not sure that big coupes never sold. There’s loads od Audi A5, Bmw 6 series about. The Passat CC is another clever variant.

  57. The R8 really was a leap forward from the Maestro and the original 200. When the R8 was launched in October 1989, it really was head and shoulders above the Ford Escort, which was an ageing design with harsh engines and cheap interiors, the dull as dishwater Mark 2 Astra, and even the Volkswagen Golf, which couldn’t match the 200 for refinement and interior quality. The R8 certainly was the class leader for engine refinement, driving abilities, interior ambience and styling, and thankfully reliability and build quality were almost Germanic, and sales boomed.

  58. R8 was a fantastic product. I saw a pre. grille one the other day – it looked like new and had not dated at all. Longbridge proved with this car that they could build a high quality car at high volumes . 60 cars an hour was unheard of in the UK prior to R8!
    R8 was a hot car and sold really well. When this happens car companies have hit the jackpot and revenue should be off the scale.
    This was not the case for Rover: the margins were not high enough. I don’t know where the issue was – it wasn’t material cost. Honda were really good at watching the pennies, and were ruthless in negotiations (they were party to all negotiations due to their own Concerto product). Maybe the Honda royalties were too high, maybe the selling price was too low. In either case its the Rover management strategy that is at fault.
    It was a missed opportunity for Rover group, and one that would never be repeated.

    • While the R8 was a great seller, the production volumes were still relatively low when compared to its rivals, due to their greater sales across Europe (and indeed the world).

      • I think the R8 was supposed to be more of a niche product than the Ford Escort, which was mass produced from three factories across Europe. It was aimed at the sort of car buyer who would buy Volkswagen Golfs and entry level BMWs, the sort of reasonably well off car buyer who wanted a car that was still within their budget, but of a far better standard than a Ford or Vauxhall. The R8 was aimed more at the Golf market than the Escort market, although sales were still very high and for once there were no reliability issues to hurt it.

  59. My father was a pure « citroenist » : one 2CV, 1 Ami6, 2 GS, 2 GSA (Spécial and X3), 2 BX16… and then he came across the Rover 416. He changed it for the 2nd generation 400, before switching again to a Xsara and a C4 once Rover had disapppeared. I remember him saying the 416 was the car he enjoyed the most….

    • The Rover 200 & 400 Owners Club celebrated the anniversary in style yesterday by returning to Lucknam Park Hotel in Wiltshire where the car was launched to the press 30 years ago. As well as a great selection of cars brought along by club members, former Rover employees and press, some of whom were present at the launch attended the event. A presentation was given by club chairman John Batchelor and former Rover Group’s Press Officer Denis Chick before a road run, following the same route that was taken by members of the press 30 years ago.

  60. In 1990 there were waiting lists for this car, excellent at a time when the country was slipping into recession, and every motoring pundit was saying how good the 200 and 400 were. Also no horror stories about reliability, which was often the case with new BLARG products,, and great to see the odd R8 still running now. Always rated the models with two tone bodies as they looked so classy and so unlike other bland Euroboxes at the time.
    Yes we know the Rover story went bad again later in the nineties, but from 1990 and 1995 it seemed Rover had turned the corner and people were buying their cars again.

  61. JLR really should build a spiritual successor to R8. It could share a platform with Tata, compete with the A3, B class and 2 series. They need
    the volume and jaguar can never go down to that level

  62. I recently bought a one owner 68,000m Nightfire red 216 cabriolet first registered in June 1992. There’s not much history with it but I know it was bought from Caffyns. From the information here though, it sounds like the cabriolet didn’t go on sale until 1993? It’ll hopefully be returning to the road soon, for the first time in four years!

  63. Rover are credited with designing the dashboard whenever the R8 is talked about, but their contribution was more with materials and the layout of controls. The actual dashboard design, shape etc including the tray on the passenger side and the “wraparound” panel above was a Honda thing, it was present on the ‘82 Civic

  64. Had a 416Si Tourer when we lived in Singapore in metallic red with a grey leather interior. Great car for city traffic and occasional trips to Malaysia.

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