Our Cars : Mike’s Rover 216GSi – welcome to the fleet

My dear little 216GSi – a wee bit tatty here and there, but as honest as day is long. I’m looking forward to getting some use out of this one once the bodywork is done. It’s original right down to the fading AA Relay stickers and factory-fitted Philips wireless – with Dolby you know!

I feel quite guilty about not getting something posted a bit sooner, but time has been against me. So here we have another Rover 200 (R8) model within our midst, and this one marks the fifth one I’ve owned – although one of those I had owned twice.

It’s been a slow start for this model, with money changing hands, and then it being rather unceremoniously parked up on the drive.

What exactly did I buy?

Despite what the number plate may lead you to think, it’s actually of 1990 vintage. But at least it’s pretty much launch spec, plus a few choice optional extras which include PAS, ABS, Alloys and an upgraded Philips radio cassette. Bought pretty much as spur of the moment affair, and requiring its fair share of fettling, progress hasn’t been as rapid compared with other project cars in my stewardship.

Sourced locally from another Rover apologist, I really should have been much more thorough in the old pre-purchase inspection. It drove reasonably well on the test drive, but come the day – or rather night when the handover took place some three weeks later – the rear brakes almost caught fire on the A23 northbound. It was a good job I pulled into a garage for a bottle of pop and noticed or they would have.

Anyway, that 20-odd-mile journey home confirmed the brakes were totally cream crackered. Plus, the faster you drove it, the cooler engine ran. Before even agreeing to purchase, I’d already noticed the radiator was living on borrowed time. So, my parts man had a rad on standby along with a medicinal thermostat. Not only were the brakes needing much love, the cooling system looked that way, too.

It didn’t start as well as I’d have liked

As you can imagine, ‘er indoors was banding around various phrases of comfort to my plight such as: ‘that’s a right one you’ve bought there,’ and, of course, the time-honoured: ‘if you think I’m driving that, you’re very much bloody mistaken!’ That’s what I like about my missus… always there with a soft shoulder to cry on with her gently spoken confidence building words of reassurance.

A few weeks passed, by which time I’d built up enough energy to change the radiator, flush out the coolant and replace the thermostat. Other jobs that required critical attention, such as the non-working cigar lighter and ashtray illumination, were also tackled in the same day. Once again, some time passed until the dreaded brakes were attended to – the only really costly job to tackle to date.

Working cigar lighter and ashtray illumination. Yes that’s right some jobs are top priority items of attention.

A thorough check found the driver’s side front and both rear brake calipers sticking. The front one responded to a good belt with a hammer, and the piston cleaning/greasing up. However, round at the back, I used my judgement – along with past experience to remove them. I then replaced them with a pair of new old stock items sourced for the laughably cheap price of just £63.

New pads all round were fitted as a precautionary measure, too. Besides, the rear ones were more brittle than a biscuit, and blacker than the bottom of a tandoori oven, thanks to the previous A23 smoke-a-thon. So, with a revitalised cooling system and anchors, the car was now good enough to use with relative confidence.

Then, there was another snag – by now the MoT was running out.

Testing times for the Rover

This brings me nicely up-to-speed, as the car (just about) flew through the MoT, albeit requiring some minor bodywork. As I type, the car has been sent up to Essex so that my Leyland Truck man Tony Gothard’s workshop boys can do their magic – call it a favour for a favour, if you like.

Prior to this, though, she’s been out and about and even managed to get up to Roverfest a few weeks back.

These rear brakes are prone to grief so I saw no point in messing around trying to free off the jammed calipers. Not when two new ones could be purchased for under £65

In true Rover/Honda fashion, it shifts like a stabbed rat, but burns more fuel than a moon rocket. That said, it’s great fun to drive, and gives many a new car a nasty surprise in the urban traffic light Grand Prix. That glorious D-Series 16-valve power unit just begs to driven… and driven hard. It has a sweet gearbox, and has still has that sumptuous Rover trim smell. Even the wireless is original and working.

I’m just waiting now for a Tilbury telephone call asking me collect the car, then perhaps I’ll sort out the Bedouin tent interior headlining. For now, here’s the run down of tasks taken care of so far:

  • Replaced two and rebuilt one brake caliper(s)
  • New brake pads front and rear
  • Replaced radiator and thermostat
  • Replaced blown bulbs to dash, ashtray and cigar lighter
  • Freed off the jammed radio aerial
  • Re-set distributor timing and replaced distributor O-ring seal
  • Cleaned out washer jets and replaced washer bottle
  • Sourced N/O/S fabric mats (genuine Rover)
  • Replaced the intermittently faulty fuel pump relay
  • Sorted out wonky low tone horn (by soaking with WD40 and thumping with small hammer)
  • Rubbed down and satin blacked the wiper arms
  • Refitted front bumper that had been pulled away from its side bracket (giffered)
Thanks to the Leyland men. The guys take a break from restoring trucks to tinker with my Rover. (L-R) Tony, Nick and Colin Gothard
Mike Humble


  1. My dad had a 216GSi in red when they were new, it was a cracking wee car, even though he couldn’t get used to the need to rev it to get power out of it (it replaced a Sierra 1.8). At the time it seemed so much more modern than equivalent offerings from ford or Vauxhall

  2. Excellent work. I do love an R8, especially one close to launch spec and before all the luxury was dialed out of them from 1993 onwards. I saw this one at Roverfest too.

  3. Interesting to see Mike is maintaining his interest in the R8 series. Sounds like a lot of work is getting done, but that’s what you would expect on a car 27 years old! Lucky it’s running so well at that age, when Vauxhall & Ford dealers are doing scrappage deals on 10 year old cars.

    Actually I always liked the two tone paint on these earlier 200 & 400 series and it doesn’t really look old fashioned either. Look forward to reading more progress reports.

    • That’s the worry, tens of thousands of perfectly decent late nineties cars were culled during the last scrappage scheme, and it looks like tens of thousands of cars from the noughties could go this time round. Sad to say, someone with an immaculate 13 year MG ZR could be tempted to trade it in for a Kia Picanto as the £ 2000 offer would prove too tempting, as privately the car would only be worth £ 500.

      • Do those dealers actually scrap the cars they take as part-exchanges when they offer a £2000 “scrappage” deal? Surely it’s not the same as 2009 when they were required by law to scrap the cars.

        More likely, they just punt them out to local small-time traders, or sell them on ebay.

        The supply of well maintained R3s, R8s and ZRs is not going to dry up any time soon.

  4. You listed: “Replaced the intermittently faulty fuel pump relay ” but never mentioned the symptom. I would imagine it’s been found and mend by the Leyland men Tony, Nick and Colin!

    • The soldered joints inside the fuel relay dry out, go brittle and eventually crack causing intermittent starting problems. This is sometimes a failure to start or more often a failure to restart when warm, which is usually more annoying as you’re often not parked somewhere convenient. For example stalling at a junction or filling up with fuel.

      If you wait long enough, a few minutes or a day, it’ll usually start again. You just need to re-solder the joints. And carry a spare one…

      Many Hondas of the 80s and early 90s share the same problem and it’s a carry-over Mitsuba-designed relay on the D16-engined R8s

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