Unsung Heroes : Rover 213/216

One car that marked a milestone in the long and chequered history of BL Cars Ltd was the Rover 200 range of 1984. Another collaboration with Honda akin to the Acclaim, but with much more British input and proving to the world that we could screw a car together.

Nimble, compact and with svelte interiors – Mike Humble pays to tribute to the most British of Japanese cars.

Faking it but also making it

In original 1984 guise: The Rover 213 Vanden Plas

I was thinking about how quickly two years can pass, by flicking through a range brochure for 1982. Models like the Acclaim, Allegro, Ambassador, Ital and TR7 beautifully photographed in all their glory. Yet, thumb through the pages of an Autumn 1984 Austin Rover brochure, and almost as if you are in another generation Mini,  Metro, Maestro, Montego and Rover SD1, a streamlined range heralding a new feeling of confidence, pride and British design ingenuity.

On a personal note, if one car was sum up the then recently-formed Austin Rover Group’s new found mojo, that would be the Rover 200. A vehicle that single handedly crushed the image of all the things we came to know the company for such as poor efficiency, strikes, Derek Robinson, chronic underinvestment and dismal quality – as well as shaping the range of things to come in the future.

Say what you will regarding the technical input or engineering strength of Honda in Austin Rover, but without this, both Cowley and Longbridge would have been huge retail parks long before the events of 2005. The Acclaim proved that we could (given the right tools and ingredients) build a decent car of quality that people would buy, yes okay it was built rather like a flat pack furniture, but our guys could do it right and meeting Honda’s own high quality threshold – no mean feat.

The next collaboration came in the form of the Rover 200 of which Austin Rover (and quite rightly so) opted to call it a Rover rather than a Triumph. What made the whole gig that little bit more impressive, was the fact that both the Rover and Honda’s own version – the Ballade, were to be assembled at Longbridge side by side with officials from both company overseeing matters such as quality control.

The 200 was proportioned similarly to the Dolomite, and also nearly branded as a Triumph.

Quick as a flash, out went the creaking leaf-sprung Ital and in came this exciting and not bad looking small four door car offering features and engineering integrity never seen before at Longbridge. Wrap over doors and aluminium engines promised refinement and efficiency while a genuine quality feel of the interior everywhere you looked and felt shouted out the new found confidence of ARG.

Yes, the car was very much a Honda-engineered product, but UK stylists had much more input and say so over matters such as minor styling and interior trim, in fact visually, the Rover looked different enough over the Honda to maybe justify the makers claims that this car was Born To Be A Rover. It certainly looked more European than previous Honda offerings while also giving a look of a genuine premium three box saloon that also looked quite good on the eye.

Engines came in the form of a single cam all alloy 1342cc giving an unstressed 70bhp – a similar engine to the Acclaim yet breathing through a single carburettor and featuring a novel three valves per cylinder format – also capable of running on (cheaper) two star fuel. A five speed gearbox was standard with the option of an automatic transmission, models came in base 213 level through to an opulent Vanden Plas version offering the traditional Connolly hide and burr walnut treatment.

Other significant changes over the outgoing Acclaim included front torsion bar suspension and a simplified rear coil sprung beam axle that freed up more boot space than the double wishbone rear system that cramped luggage space in the Acclaim. Passenger accomodation was also better too, though the neat folding rear seat backrest function carried over on most models.

1985 saw the launch of it’s bigger engined brother – the Rover 216, utilising Austin Rover’s recently introduced 1.6-litre S-Series engine coupled to the same Honda designed but Austin-built T5AR gearbox found in the 2.0-litre Montego. Engineers opted for this rather than the Volkswagen-sourced gearbox found in Maestro and Montego, owing to issues relating to poor gear shift quality.

The new version featured an engine in two states of tune offering carburettor or fuel injection, which also enabled an additional model that would cater for the more youthful sporting owner – the 216 Vitesse. At the top of the range you had the 216 Vanden Plas EFi, but for buyers who wanted equipment while still wishing for a smaller engine, ARG introduced the 213 SE which still offered the power windows and walnut trim features.

Soon after launch, the 200 range was outselling the main volume models of Maestro and Montego, and after some considerable success, the company saw fit to really make the car an aspirational purchase with some glossy advertising. Following on from the launch of the 800 series, the Rover 200 gained some useful trim revisions and minor detail changes that came as redesigned front seats with higher quality upholstery, revised electric window switchgear with the radio re-positioned to a new centre console, re-designed rear light clusters and an improved boot lid with bumper level sill making the loading of objects much easier. The 200 series was now a quality product that people certainly aspired to purchase and some lovely new colour schemes were introduced for the 1987 model range making a class car that little bit classier.

On the whole, the 200 range was a reliable little car with both the manual 1.3 and 1.6 offering superb fuel consumption and spirited performance. Some problems regarding ECU gripes were common on 1.6 vehicles as were some reports of oil leaks, but on the whole, owners liked them and often repeat purchased.

Corrosion either oddly seemed to be none existant or rampant however, and many examples came to an early end owing to serious structural weakening due to rust. The 200 in SD3 form continued up to 1989 with a run out limited edition known as the 216 Sprint being the only 200 to be offered as a factory special, and this carburettor-fed engined edition was only to use up stocks of close ratio gearboxes and uprated suspension components that would have been fitted to the injected Vitesse.

JDM Honda Ballade was a very different looking beast... at first glance.
JDM Honda Ballade was a very different looking beast... at first glance.

Critics panned the car for its knobbly ride comfort and bland middle class England appeal, this was exactly what Rover wanted, as middle class people bought new cars, with cash and seldom haggled for a discount. Austin Rover had won the fight for survival and were now rightly so fighting the battle to make a profit – especially as Mrs Thatcher was drawing plans for privatisation.

A former dealer owner once told me that the 200 made a substantial sum of money for Austin Rover, and many owners who had been less than happy with Maestro or Montego purchases came back to try a 200 instead. And that kept customers who otherwise may have jumped brands – the 200 more by luck and timing rather than judgement, may have saved the companies fortunes.

To close, the 200 range gave Austin Rover a vital shot in the arm, the R8 shape 200 series even further proved a point that with the right collaboration and forward thinking management, Rover were now a serious contender on a global scale capable of building a first class – even top class product to that matter, that people were prepared to both wait, and pay a premium for.

The restrained yet smart looking Rover 216 Vitesse in 1988 model year guise
Mike Humble


  1. A friend of mine owned a 213SE for a couple of years.
    It was a nice comfortable & very reliable car. It wasnt the kind of car you expected a young lad of 19 yrs to be driving around in, but he loved it. Sadly is rusted away so quickly. It ended up as scrap.
    I don’t know why, but there was something about the Vitesse which appealed to me. I hear they were pretty quick for a 1.6 at the time too.

  2. Good looking but generally horrible to drive, heavy steering which would pull the wheel out of your hand going over bumps and uneveness in the road, nasty handling, cramped cabin and a propensity to rust terribly, I’d rather have owned a Montego (apart from the rusting issue, they were as bad as each other)….

    • I am the proud owner of a 213S Rover she has 50,000 miles on clock, a perfect body & after fitting new continental tyres is even lighter on steering. An E reg. Just passed her mot which she has always done.

  3. I had a Maestro VDP, a Montego 1.6 base and an early 213 (at different times of course) – and the 213 was the nicest of the three (no rust), the VDP the poshest (I traded it for an Audi Coupe) – yet the Montego with the rusty wheel arches lasted the longest! And why did I get rid of the 213? Someone offered me enough money for it for me to buy a Stag :-)……ohh look, a shiney thing!

  4. I’ve fond memories of travelling in a Flame Red G reg Vitesse during my formative years. Undeniably the best looking car in the range. I should probably credit that car with my passion for ARG products now. I’d also probably own my own now, had they all not rotted away! What a shame!

  5. SD3 made an excellent Dolomite replacement, and had genuine showroom appeal, it seemed classier than the Ford Orion, and seemed more aspirational than the Maestro. I drove a pool car Vitesse for a few weeks, and it was quite lively, and for a boxy design, the front and rear styling, especially with the facelifted models, was well done. It seems a waste that the injected S series didn’t go into any other models?

    Was it alwsys the intention to badge it a Rover, as it would have been a perfect Triumph?

  6. I’ve always wondered if there were any plans to expand the SD3 by including for example, a Rover SD3-ized version of the 3-door 3rd generation Civic or if a more wider range of engines could have been added to the SD3 during its life-cycle beyond the 1.6 S-Series and Honda 1.3 E-Series.

    Weren’t 16v versions of the A-Plus and S-Series engine looked into around that time while they were developing the K-Series?

  7. This was the car that led to the impressive ’90s Rover range. Based on a Honda but with enough ARG input to give it home market appeal. The interior was pleasant, in a British upmarket way, even in the poorly equipped lower models in the range. It was the first use of of BMW-copying number/name sequence too. More than anything, it was the cheapest Rover for decades and, because of its quality, pulled off that risky stratgey for ARG. Up to 1984, family cars from ARG and its predecessors were Austins and Morrises. By 1987, both brands had been dropped.

  8. Actually Mike, there was another special edition, the run-out 216EX with dealer-fitted in-car ‘phone, featured in a rather cheesy TV ad’ where the prospect was driving it round the MoD test track at Chobham (also famous for its use in the Morecambe and Wise edition of the Sweeney) and the dealer rang the prospect to ask if he was going to bring it back. My dad bought one, but told the dealer to NOT fit the ‘phone, as he wasn’t going to use it! He traded up to a 416Si saloon, the 216 was sold to a neighbour for a good price without even advertising it. RIP G582JAW.

  9. Fitting the “BL” engines in to this Honda derived car wouldn’t be so easy. Honda engines spin backwards (realtive to everyone else) so the engine bay is packaged in reverse. not doubt there’s enough space but re-engineering everthing else (battery, brake servo, radiator fan, etc) would be an exspensive exercise.

  10. My mate’s 213SE did look the part. It was very shiny & classy looking. He was so chuffed with it. He tried to impress the ladies with the “babe magnet”.
    Cruising around, he saw some “chicks” he knew and headed in their direction.
    Playing it cool, shades on, windows down & arm out of the window.
    He slowed right down. The “chicks” hadn’t noticed him, so he slowed down still further. Almost stopped, in the road & frustrated that the “chicks” were still unaware of his presence. He decided to push the car horn to get their attention – Imagine his embarrassment went the Rover produced a little “Beep!” (think, postman Pat van) 🙂
    Mortified, he raced off! Straight round to the local Motorworld for the biggest dual tone car horn he could afford to buy! 🙂

  11. My Missus had one of these many years ago – a bright blue G-reg 216S. It was smart (in a Marks & Spencer sort of way), compact, well equipped and comfortable.
    These were thoroughly decent little cars which like the Acclaim before them did very well for ARG’s push up-market.

  12. “Fitting the “BL” engines in to this Honda derived car wouldn’t be so easy. Honda engines spin backwards (realtive to everyone else) so the engine bay is packaged in reverse. not doubt there’s enough space but re-engineering everthing else (battery, brake servo, radiator fan, etc) would be an exspensive exercise.”

    But the S-Series was a ‘BL’ engine? These either came with the 1.3 Honda engine or the 1.6 BL engine.

    • & my Dad recommended I bought the 213 honda engine – an engineer for 48 yrs. I still have this car a 213S E reg & she’s lovely!

  13. For me it will always be the car used in the TV series “Keeping up apearances” with Hyacinth Bucket and her husband. Sums it all up perfectly.

  14. Honda engines. Serviced my VTEC recently, the oil filter was an absolute pain to get at, right at the back in the middle above steering racks!
    Compared to the likes of Peugeot/Citroen engines which usually had the oil filter right at the front!

    213/216 was a classy proposition, compared to the mk3/4 Escort and mk2 Astra. Surprised noone has mentioned it’s appearance in a certain ‘Mrs Buck-et’ TV programme.

    Fondly remembered as the ‘Raffle’ car in Father Ted, where it was incorrectly registered on 1996 Dublin plates http://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_70110-Rover-213-SE-SD3-1985.html . There was more than one, as one had the rear half squashed, and the other was ridiculously dented as Ted had tried to hammer out a small dent!

  15. I almost bought one of these new in the late 80s. They looked classy, were maade in England and seemed reliable. I decided I could overlook the Japanese dashboard. I went for a test drive with my local ARG dealer and sadly found it was awful to drive. Not a patch on the Maestro dynamically.

    I remember the view through the rear window was very curious with a fish-eye lens style distortion.

  16. As you say, it was definitely a car that took Austin Rover Group in the right direction by introducing them to the reality of Japanese style efficiency and build quality.

    But I really do have mixed feelings about it being badged as a Rover. For starters, the input in the design was minimal (some would say that was a good thing!) and it really did not share any of the visual design language of previous Rovers. Therefore, beyond the badge, seat designs and the use of the S Series engine, it was heavily influenced by Honda and looked unmistakeably oriental in its design, not European.

    It also took the Rover brand too downmarket below the SD1 – then again, Volvo had done the same with the 340/360 Series and Mercedes with the 190 to the upper medium sector without these models impacting on the status of the brands.

    You could argue that this sealed the fait of the Rover brand to become a volume-oriented brand that would, in the space of nine years, adorn everything from a supermini to medium-sized models, upper-medium sized models and an executive range. With the exception of the R8, all these models were either reheated ageing designs or heavily compromised in their design and engineering by licensing agreements with Honda. All rather intensive (and possibly insensitive) activity for a premium brand.

    The SD3, in my mind, should have been badged as a Triumph, with the lovely 216 Vitesse version being the new Sprint. Then again, in May 1988 there was the special edition 216 Sprint – who remembers it?

    The last photo featuring a British Racing Green 216 Vitesse is actually the last SD3 to be built, which left the assembly line in December 1989.

  17. As Ken points out, there was the runout 216 SX with colour-coded body strips. However, in 1988 there was also the special edition 213 EX complete with an electric sunroof.

  18. Re: “Weren’t 16v versions of the A-Plus and S-Series engine looked into around that time while they were developing the K-Series?”
    S-Series 4 valve definitely existed and could have gone into the R8, but was dropped in favour of the 1.6 Honda engine.
    An overhead cam A-Series was considered, but much earlier and I’m sure it would have been a 2 valve.
    Wackiest SD3 I remember had a 1.4 turbo K-Series in it. Very much a one off and a real wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  19. My Dad had a late 216 SE as a company car, those late 216 SE models were fitted with the EFI engine from the Vitesse. In the showroom the general build quality felt very solid, things like the upholstery and trim seemed very classy, it all felt like a quality car that was almost up to the standard of the German competition at the time, but not so expensive. It appealed to my Mum and Dad as quite an aspirational, I suppose premium product. I remember he turned down a decent mid-range Cavalier and a Sierra in favour of the 216. Choosing a Rover was not without it’s problems though. In those days my Dad’s company bought (rather than leased) their company cars and Austin Rover only gave them a modest discount compared to Ford and Vauxhall so it seemed to me that we could have had a much better car if my Dad hadn’t gone for a Rover. In that respect Rover’s marketing people had done their jobs well to make it appeal despite the price and the competition. Having been originally promised the car would be delivered 4-6 weeks from ordering, it took 16 weeks to arrive, and it didn’t arrive in the colour we ordered. The dealer could not provide a satisfactory explanation for any of this and did nothing to make amends, they just blamed the factory. That’s just rubbish customer service. When we finally got it the ECU repeatedly stalled the car in traffic, a fault that took several trips to the dealer to fix. On one occasion the dealer put a cigarette burn in the upholstery while servicing it, another trip to the garage to resolve that. The factory tilt/slide sunroof leaked like a sieve, several more trips to solve that. The head gasket went very prematurely at about 30000 miles, and it took the dealer a week to fix it. I got to drive the 216 after I passed my test, it was about 5 years old then and I have to say I wasn’t a fan. I hated the heavy steering, and the gearchange was awful as well. I actually preferred driving my 10 year old 1.2 basic Astra. For me it was a car that over promised in the showroom and under-delivered in reality, thanks to poor dealer service and poor engineering of some of the details. For some reason I can’t quite fathom my Dad still loved it and had an R8 214 after the 216, then after that another R8 – a 414. Both of the R8 cars were so much better in every respect. More reliable and much better made. The customer service seemed to improve a bit too. I still can’t stand fake (or real) wood on car dashboards though, I can’t understand why Rover kept insisting on putting it in their cars!

  20. @14 IanS Spot on about the Marks and Spencers comment — had British overtones and was solid and reliable, with a decent image, if not totally cool. My sister’s ex had one of these (a 216 I think) and the three of us drove round Germany in the late summer of 1989 with it and it was no embarassment at all. It had the same slate blue colour as in the top picture. That year was very much the high-water mark for Rover I felt: the 200’s replacement came out a few months later and things were looking good. Hey ho.

  21. my Aunt had a 1.3 SE which was lovely, and my uncle the 1.6 that wasnt as smooth. They sold both amd got a montego estate that was sold running with 188K on the clock. not bad at all, especially if you consider something like an escort MK3 to compare with.

  22. These things were one of the rustiest cars around, a true successor to the 1100/1300. Door tops, bottoms, wheelarches, sills, floors, horrendous! They were made out of tinfoil as well, you could go from a slight brown mark to a gaping rusty hole in a week. Terrible.

  23. @ Mr. Bol

    Yes – my Dad’s car rusted from about 4 years old, I had forgotten about that amongst all the other problems!

    @ IanS and DoctorD

    Totally spot on about the M&S comments, solid, classy but not very cool.

  24. But then M&S has gone a bit downmarket since, as sales were plummeting. No greater evidence of this than the surprisingly low rent recent ITV karaoke singers Christmas adverts.
    Wouldn’t see Waitrose putting out such adverts.

    Should Rover have been marketed as a Vauxhall-par brand accordingly?

  25. My Gran had a D reg one from 1989 to 2000. It was in the near default metallic light blue.

    It seemed to suit her well for that time.

  26. I owned a Rover 213VDP for a little less than 6 years.
    60000 miles on the clock, comfortable, reliable, not really responsive. Sadly prone to rust. I sold the car to buy another Rover: a 214 Si, same comfort and reliability but more responsive and…no rust. Not bad for 16 years old car.

  27. I had a couple, both early 213s and I loved em. One day I would like a 216 Vitesse but I fear that day may have passed a long time ago.

    • glad u loved yr 213s. I do too & she is an E reg. 50,000 on clock, smooth gear change, doesn’t drink fuel v. economic, reliable & a joy to drive. No rust, clean underneath & passes her mot annually. Owes me nothing & I love her!!

  28. I still drive my Dolomite 1850HL with the same satisfaction. I ordered a Brown car but it arrived in…Inca Yellow with already some rust spots here and there. Gearbox trouble on the motorway at only 1000 miles. “A sabotaged car” my dealer said. Once repaired, the Dolomite has been a very reliable car, still with me today but now in British R.Green and more than 100000 miles on the clock. I love that car.

  29. “Honda engines. Serviced my VTEC recently, the oil filter was an absolute pain to get at, right at the back in the middle above steering racks!
    Compared to the likes of Peugeot/Citroen engines which usually had the oil filter right at the front!”

    A lot of cars have this, because when they’re in a garage on a hoist it makes sense to be able to drain the oil and change the filter while it’s up in the air. Then all the messy bit is accessed from underneath.

    “You could argue that this sealed the fait of the Rover brand to become a volume-oriented brand that would, in the space of nine years, adorn everything from a supermini to medium-sized models, upper-medium sized models and an executive range. With the exception of the R8, all these models were either reheated ageing designs or heavily compromised in their design and engineering by licensing agreements with Honda. All rather intensive (and possibly insensitive) activity for a premium brand.”

    But then the R8 was the most successful Rover ever. What they needed were more new models like the R8, branding it a Triumph wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference to the final outcome. We’d have just ended up with MG-Triumph Group or MG-Rover-Triumph group going bust in 2005 rather than MG-Rover.

  30. Frankie, David:

    Fair enough 🙂

    Just demonstrating that even the most middle-England of brands have been struggling and had to reposition.

  31. I had an “almost new” (6 months old) 213S for just over a year in my very early 20s. Sold it when I got a company car (Vauxhall Astra – choice was that or run-out model Escort).

    The Astra was awfull. So many times I wish I had kept the 213 – Very nice car to drive and look at.

    Shame you don’t see many on the roads now (can’t remember when I last saw one)

  32. @ Dennis:

    Exactly. The R8 was a very convincing proposition to wear the Rover badge and also highlight values such as high build quality, modern engineering and elegant designs and justifiably also charged a premium price in the process that buyers were prepared to pay.

    We all liked it, including more traditional Rover afficiandos, and just as importantly a lot of buyers who were not trading up from an existing BL/ARG product. Add to this the fact that almost one million examples were built between October 1989 and July 1998 and it was no wonder it became the best selling Rover car ever.

  33. I was at the launch of the original R200 in Northumberland attended by Harold Musgrove who stated the small Rover was aimed at “young 30 somethings who saw their careers blossoming and wanted an upmarket car but not a large one”.

    The versions loaned to the Press had gaffer tape stuck over nameplates and badges so the public thought it was another “Japanese” car. I personally liked the 200 series particularly the SE & Vitesse model. I aspired to own one in the late 80s, but as usual couldn’t afford to having got married and buying a house.

  34. R8 was much better than competing Fords and Vauxhalls, so deserved the premium Rover badge, and higher price. SD3 wasn’t better than the opposition, but had showroom appeal when compared with the dreary Orion and Jetta/Vento.

    Unfortunately HH-R and R3 weren’t relatively so good when the opposition started getting their act together. By the late 90s, the Focus and Golf IV had set new benchmarks for the class, and the K series was no longer the class leading engine. Add in the currency rise and BMW getting cold feet…

  35. Wheb I sold Austin Rover cars in the 80’s it was the only model we had a waiting list for we could never get enough of them.

  36. “Look out for that pedestrian, Richard!”
    “But he’s on the sidewalk, Hyacinth”
    Sums it up perfectly…

  37. British car magazines are widely available in the U.S. these days but there was a time when they were very hard to find. The occasional purchase of an issue of “Car Magazine” was a rare treat. Perhaps because I had my hands on so few of them, some articles stand out and I distinctly recall Car magazine titling a road test of this car “Dog’s Breakfast”. However as compared to the small cars the U.S. makers were offering and the knowing how excellent the very similar Civic was, I couldn’t imagine this car was really all that bad.

  38. My friend had a 213, he had it for sometime, he found it to be nice car, my other friend had a 216SE, well equiped, and a nice drive. I always fancied a V Plas efi, quite good performance with the luxury. Good feature, Regards Mark

  39. I remember going to the internal marketing launch for the 216 Vitesse and Vanden Plas EFi at the Standard Triumph sports and social club in 1985. they were great little cars with the best interiors in their class in my opinion.

  40. I had a Targa red 1985 216 Vitesse from 1990 to 1994. A good car to drive and mechanically it was brilliant, but every year it needed welding for the MoT. Eventually the drivers door almost fell off as the bottom hinge had rotted away. I bodge repaired and sold it! C780 YOW, RIP.

    I wouldn’t have another one, and they will never be a classic; they’re just too ordinary, but they should be hailed as the car that made Rover respectable.

  41. The only car I’ve ever bought new by visiting a dealer was a Moonraker Blue 213S. It was an early ’87MY, with the different rear lights to the earlier models. One advantage of the Honda engine was its ability to run on unleaded during a period when ARG were somewhat caught out by the government deciding to give unleaded a price advantage over 4-star.

  42. This was the begining of the end of rover as a prestige marque, it really should have been the triumph acclaim Mk2.

    Rather than bringing the samll cars upmarket it brought the whole rover range slightly down market and as such ended any chance the ‘rover’ badge had of competing with BMW and Mercedes and atsrted the process that ended with Rovers being seen as comptitors of Ford and Vauxhall, where as they had been the chosen transport of Prime Minitsers presidents and royalty

  43. Assuming a typical car model stays in production for 6 years and as the first R200 was launched in 1984, that means the Acclaim was only produced by BL for 3 years. I presume the Honda Ballade doner car had been built in Japan since 1978/79?

  44. My stedad owned a base 1985 213 and a 1988 213 S and never encountered a single problem with these cars, which he also liked for their 40 mpg economy, smooth engines and quality interiors. I ran the first car for 12 months and had no problems until the tinworm killed it at MOT time when it was 12 years old. However,I still rate it far more highly than a similar aged Toyota I bought next which died after 6 months as the engine and body were shot and the infamous Montego I mentioned earlier. Actually the later Rover we managed to sell after he died for £ 500 to a Rover dealer as they were setting up a budget car lot.

  45. Great little car. The Rover engined 216, which I owned had better fuel consumption figures than the Honda engined 213. Did loads of miles and it was great. Yes the steering was heavy but a very sensible interior package set in a small length car. Just like the lovely Dolomite only far better put together. Mine rusted very badly but then I live near the sea and everything rusts badly. Nothing much went wrong with it apart from ignition problems when really wet. Would I have another ? Looking through the cheap adds a couple of years ago and saw a 2 owner Vanden Plas manual 216 for peanuts. Gorgeous. Ran it for 6 months and it was super. Re montego maestro comparisons, I also had 2 montegos. They were both turbo diesels. Different beasts all together. Harsher and noisier, but terrific fuel consumption and reliability. Driving experience – 216 was better but you had to accept the steering for being very heavy.

  46. That nice photo of the 2 tone Ballade is described as a “JDM Honda Ballade” – what does JDM mean? (joint donor model?)

  47. Speaking from a purely personal perspective, I always thought the earlier cars were more for the older buyer.
    However, the facelift (lower boot sill, centre console etc) gave the car quite a big shot of appeal especially in Vitesse form!

    The appeal to a certain segment of the market and business benefits were obvious!

    Didn’t they disappear off the roads quickly though once out of production. Can’t remember when I last saw one.

  48. We have had 216 Sprint’s and Vitesse’s and never had a single issue with them.

    My other half only changed hers for a 94 414 sli as her dad said it was time it went.
    Big mistake, we should have kept the Vitty and left the 414 well alone.

    I am constanly on the look out for another mint Black 216 vitesse, and when I find the right one, we will not be selling .

  49. I still recall seeing a G plate 216 dark green model around when the new 200 (R8) hatchbacks filled the streets back in 89/1990’s. Not sure its spec but the red EFI badges seemed to glow bright on its boot lit.
    My ant and uncle had a C plate 216 in the late 80’S before trading it for an early 820 and thier had less problems with BL/ARG cars that other makes they once owned.

    The thing I regret most was not taking photos of a Rover 216 Vanden Plas D157VRS rusting up a driveway in front of a garage from 1993-2004. During that time it fell to bits doors off in heaps exposing leather trim I went around too take an image of it for practical classics rust in peace but to late it was gone. would have made interesting time line of a car rusting photos if i knew it would stay that long?.

  50. g928fwo was my first rover a 216 efi went quite well i put a ramair airfilter in it and it went a bit better!! being a s series engined job i had to have the head gasket done twice!! broke down coming back from a mini event at of all places the heritage motor centre at gaydon!! i got called hyacinth many times by me mates!!lol!!

  51. My first car was a 1986 213 in Moonraker blue.

    I fitted a Vitesse boot spoiler and badges.

    It was a fantastic car and probably better in some respects than the R3 I bought new a few years later.

  52. My father replaced a Dolomite with one,- an early 213s.

    He kept it 11 years during which he clocked up 39k, and it was totally reliable.

    A gripe- was the early boot lid, high sill and very narrow aperture- items the dolly would swallow had to carried on the back seat of the 213!
    Thankfully late cars had the revised boot lid.

    Father’s example rusted quite badly, but not quicker than the Dolomite, however we also owned a Maestro in the same time period and that showed very little rust at 11 years!
    Father preferred the 213, I preferred the Maestro.

  53. Ahh.my first Rover. C489 PRC which mum used to say stood for ‘Perry’s Rover Car’. Lol. It was a dark blue 213 base model but I loved it. Still felt like class despite it being the entry model.

    I remember the face lifted model got the new back end light layout with the fogs and reverse lights incorporated into the main clusters, and the boot lid became cut out around the number plate for better loading. Good move.

    There was just something about the design of those Rovers which I can’t quite sum up but very appealing.

    I seem to remember the BL/ARG engines in the early A reg cars were damned awful and despite reading the above write, up seem to recall being told they were swapped for Honda engines by 1986. I remember having to have a new engine in mine after the belt snapped as I came off the bypass and like a young fool, tried to turn it over with a dashboard full of ‘red’ warning lights. I think I paid £500 for a new lump but also remember the wing mirrors costing £50 a throw after some kind soul knocked one off in passing.

    Nothing but fond memories of this particular Rover, which I traded in for a 414SLI H543 VNN, 414SI N521 DWF, then went to a 45 Impression 02 plate, and now my most treasured 75 Tourer Connoisseur, so the old 213 really did set me off well for my love of all things Rover.

  54. Was it the Rover 213 which had a special rear light lens which looked red except for when reverse gear was selected, whereupon it shone white?


  56. I currently have a 1985 216S, one previous owner with 42,000 on the clock. Fortunately it has been garaged for most of its life and is relatively rust free, though it has had one bit of welding for an MOT in the past. It must leak very badly somewhere I’ve yet to find, as it mists up dreadfully if I’ve either used it, or left it out in the rain.

  57. Regarding the misting up,did the 213/216 have a recirculation switch on the heater like the ‘new shape’ 200.

  58. No recirculation, just a straightforward cold air intake heater. Fortunately with a very effective rear window demister which works considerably better than the windscreen’s. I have to use a supplementary plug-in ceramic heater to supplement it.

  59. Hi all I used to own two of this model of Rover , my first one was a 1985 213s in Oplaine green ,lovely sweet little engine but very gutless ,I longed for a 216 Vitesse but due to insurance prices had to do with the 213 for a few years , however the happy day arrived in 1990 I purchased a Diamond white late 1986 Vitesse with 30k on the clock I was in heaven ,I found the vitesse to be everything I had hoped it would be and I drove it daily until late 1990 and by this time my Viteese had done 170k and nothing had gone wrong with the car a part from one altenator and one stepper motor but rust had taken my baby , I longed for another Vitesse and was lucky enough to find a mint F reg one in Pulsar silver with only 35k on it !I currently have it and a mint 1987 216 VDP EFI !so long live the SD3 !!!!

  60. Hi, just noticed I said I drove my first 216 vitesse until late 1990 , however that should be late 1998 you must have all thought how I could have put up so many miles in a year !!!

  61. @ Sammy Leslie:

    I am pleased to read you still have a 216 Vitesse EFi, as they are cracking little sports saloons. If it is not too far to bring it, why not take it along to Pride of Longbridge next year, as there was only one SD3 in attendence this year?

  62. Hi, would love to if I lived on the mainland , unfortunately I live in Northern Ireland , but you never know you may see me there one day, I believe there is only 12 left in the whole U.K and mine is in exceptional condition over here I think I have the only vitesse at least I have not seen another in years !

  63. I do remamber seeing a late plate model in circa 1988 that already had a rust hole in the door! Whay oh why did Rover spend a fortune to shoe horn an all iron, tarted up E series (S series) engine into this car when Honda could have supplied a state of the art 1.6 that would have slotted straight in. Would have been a far better car.

  64. Yea, a Honda engine would have been quieter but at the time the 216 vitesse was launched 1985 Honda had nothing special an a 1.6 litre it wasn’t until late 1986 that they launched the lovely 1590 cc twincam in the crx , I have often thought of putting one of these into a vitesse ! I know I would also need a bonnet from a 1986/87 crx as it had a bulge for the second camshaft !! Saying all that a vitesse sounded far sportier with the long stroke cast iron block and big bore exhaust than any alloy blocked Honda , you can’t have it all !!

  65. It’s interesting to compare the door cards of an SD3 and an R8, my dad had an SD3 and I had an R8 – by coincidence, I changed a driver’s internal door handle on each. The SD3 had masses of screws and clips to hold the Rover bits on – wood trim etc. – but the R8 door trim was obviously designed for it to start with, much simpler.

  66. This was the best car Austin Rover produced in the mid and late eighties, no horror stories with reliability, excellent styling and an aspirational image. Perhaps when Graham Day took over Austin Rover in 1986 and the company was being prepared for privatisation, the 200 was how he wanted the company to develop by ditching the unloved Austin badge and making upmarket small and medium cars with Rover badges, as well as the traditional big Rovers. The original 200 was certainly the start of the move upmarket and a well loved car during its five year career. Elderly ones in good nick and a long MOT were still popular in the late nineties, something that couldn’t be said of the M cars.

  67. My 87 216VdP is sitting waiting to be restored. I bought it new after my Acclaim was rear ended. Sitting in the barn is a NEW Bodyshell, doors, boot lid and bonnet, all in primer.
    Will I ever, realistically, get round to doing it.

  68. Looking back, the 2 most successful mid range ARG/Rover models, the SD3 and R8 were both replaced when they were still selling well and were competitive, whereas the less successful ones were left in production well after their sell by date…

  69. Can’t understand the enthusiasm for this most anonymous little car.If it had never worn a Rover badge and only ever been a deeply underwhelming Honda nobody would even remember it.

    • @ Standhill, a P6B it certainly isn’t, but the SD3 helped Austin Rover through yet another difficult period when the Maestro and Montego failed to sell in big numbers. I wouldn’t say it was a classic, in the same way a Ford Orion never could be, just a car that sold in decent numbers and paved the way for much better Rovers in the nineties.

      • It seemed to fill the “big name on a small car” gap in the market which had been vacant ever since Wolseley was dropped, & Vanden Plas had been relegated to a trim level.

  70. SD3 shows that when the basic car is “normally” proportioned, you can dress it up successfully to look premium, as with the top of the range 216 Vitesses and VDP EFI, which by the end of their production run looked pretty smart.

    By contrast the Maestros and Montegos always looked awkward, even in the top of the range versions.

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