Car of the Month : December 2002

December’s Car of the Month is another of those cars that Rover did so well, but for some reason did not manage to make them saleable: The Rover 800 Coupe.

This version, a 1997 Vitesse, as owned by John Capon is probably one of the finest Coupe 800s you will find on the roads today. The fact that it picked up the Concours d’elegance prize at this year’s Rover performance car owners’ club meeting in Gaydon this year demonstrates that the judges thought in the same terms. In fact, when John saw the car, he liked it so much, he bought it there and and then off the enthusiastic owner. A safer pair of hands, I cannot imagine.

Front nearside view shows how successfully Rover managed to convert the rather awkward looking R17 800 saloon into the rather elegant looking coupe. The roofline curves gently into a graceful ‘C’ pillar and the effect is to make the 800 coupe appear to have been a purpose built 2-door, rather than a modified saloon. The 17-inch Vitesse wheels also look purposeful without resorting to being too aggressive in their design… in all a true British Gentleman’s car.

In the case of the saloon and hatchback versions of the 800, it could be argued that the interior is the strongest part of the car. However, in the case of the coupe, which manages to look so much better than the car it is based upon, the interior can only be described as being equally as good. Looking at this picture, it is hard to believe that the design dates back to 1986, but the cabin, fixtures and fittings are lightly revised versions of the original 800. It just goes to show, that Roy Axe’s team got the design right first time.

Another fine view of this 800 coupe… WIth it’s 200BHP 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, this is the only view of the car that most people will get to see on the roads. Eagle eyed site watchers will have noticed that the car I describe as a Vitesse is badged as a Sterling – John Capon relays why that should be so: “it is not a Sterling Coupe! The previous owner did not want to attract attention from boy racers so stuck a Sterling badge on it”. It is of course a Vitesse. The interior is all optional being Sterling spec with leather seats and all. It left the factory with no badge at all.

John Capon loves his Vitesse coupe, but admits that it is probably not the most practical proposition in the world as a day to day car… that is why John has sensibly decided to view this car as a cherished one, and it now lives the life of a pampered classic. This is probably one of those cars that in ten years time, we will all be kicking ourselves about, because we never bought one when we could afford one.

Keith Adams

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