Our Cars : Mike’s Rover 214SLi

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Mike's Rover 214Si

 

Friends reunited

Out of the huge number of cars I’ve owned during the past 24 years, only a handful have tugged at the heartstrings when it’s been time to move on and sell. A really nice Saab Turbo was sold to make way for a company Audi, and of course there was my Rover 75 that relocated to Essex – both being really great cars I truly enjoyed owning along with racking up some considerable mileages too. I regard motors with a certain charm that cannot be fully explained as ‘happy cars’ – vehicles that make you smile and nod in appreciation even if they are not that special in the grand scheme of things, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Rover’s finest hour back in the days must have surely been the R8 200/400, first introduced in 1989. It was not only was the first British car to meet the competition on merit rather than a patriotic whim, but it was also streets ahead of every European rival in terms of sheer talent and ability. For a few years it seemed Rover were climbing back into the big time with a corporate re-brand after being sold out to British Aerospace and the fruits of an ever closer working partnership with Honda had never looked nor tasted sweeter. Hard to believe now but as the `90s began – Rover was cool Britannia and coming good!

The new 200 was a classic lesson in style and substance using the very best of Japanese engineering and English packaging, this coupled with a re-motivated management and workforce made the new R6 Metro and R8 range instant winners. The critics and general public agreed as sales outstripped demand as the R8 made the Astra, Escort and even the Golf look quite lacking. Without a doubt the earliest examples were the best with its sumptuous carpet and trim, traditional planks of genuine walnut and those clever multi density foam seats that were expensive to produce but a joy to nestle into.

IMAG0216
The R8 200 was by far a classier environment than all of the competition back in 1989.

The award winning 1.4-litre K-Series engine in ‘closed deck’ form was a superb piece of kit that begged to be revved and driven in a manner that older BL designs would have been the impossible. A former time served Rover work mate once told me that if you attempted 6800rpm with a 2.0 Montego, you would need a metal detector and a dustpan to find the bottom half of the block. The 200 looked classy but also rewarded you as a drivers car as well with keen steering turn in allied to a proper sporting double wishbone rear suspension set up.

Some readers may recall I owned a very early R8 a few years back which was a right state when I purchased it. Bought from eBay for less than the price of meal for three, it was unloved and almost at the point of no return having been used by the previous owner for the transportation of three manic Terrier dogs. The parcel shelf and both rear door cards had been eaten by the aforementioned mutts and it stank to high heaven but the car had been in the family since new, a huge envelope of bills and service history confirmed it had been taken care of too.

I nurtured the R8 back to its former glory and enjoyed a lengthy period of fairly hassle free ownership and a strong bond grew between myself and my banger. Following some cosmetic and interior fettling she visited Pride of Longbridge whereby a considerable degree of fuss and comments were bestowed upon it – who would have thought a cheap little car could attract some genuinely nice attention. It was through owning the 214 that my involvement with this site took on a whole new dimension but dark clouds were on the horizon and I made a choice that I soon bitterly regretted.

After being offered a seriously cheap 25, I sold the 214 to a chap in nearby Midhurst with the understanding that should he ever tire of the old girl he would sell it back to me. Shortly after this, the 25 spat out its dummy by detonating the gearbox without any warning and I got rid on a spares or repair basis – I never gelled with the 25 one bit, despite it being a smooth and perky little car, it lacked the plucky determination of the R8 I came to know and dare I say it – love. Now some of you may think I’m being overly romantic about this little Rover but out of everything I have previously owned, this one caused the most heartache when sold.

Recently on our Facebook page, the 214 was spotted for sale in Kent and, that was it – I had to get it back at any cost. A call was made to the owner, a viewing arranged that same day and in next to no time I was speeding to Tunbridge Wells to re-acquaint myself with an old flame. Arriving at the address the 214 sat there basking in the evening sunshine looking barely different to the sight I last witnessed almost three years ago. I drove the car, my bid was accepted and I came clean about being a previous incumbent and the  owners face lit up like a Christmas tree.

Mike Dobbs had replaced the 214 with a tidy Ledbury Maestro and was pleased it had gone to a new home but I was lucky to get her back as he had taken a few enquiries from all over Southern England. The car was collected the two days later and the journey back to leafy Horsham was an enjoyable one. I had forgotten how sprightly the performance was, how frugal the fuel consumption was and how buzzy the engine is – not at all unpleasant but it certainly lets you know its working. Pressed straight into daily smoke mode she became my commute to work and all went without a hitch – well that was until I arrived home later that evening!

Elation short lived - 23 years had taken its toll on the off side shaft.
Elation short lived – 23 years had taken its toll on the off side shaft.

Just as I was pulling onto the driveway, she lost all traction to the wheels. With just enough momentum to complete the parking manoeuvre I peered under the front end to see a sorry looking drive-shaft sheared clean off almost touching the floor. Of course my heart sank but just then I felt proud in the knowing she had got me all the way home through dual carriageways and local rush hour traffic before taking no more. Old engine drivers often tell stories about how steam locomotives had individual traits and characters of almost human like proportions – I’m convinced the same can apply to cars regardless of what others may think.

A brand new shaft was sourced for a very favourable price and was fitted the next day in around an hour and closer inspection revealed metal fatigue as being the culprit. The old shaft was the original item fitted to the car back in the day when Margaret Thatcher ruled the waves so I’m not complaining one bit. This 214 is quite a special thing to me and its one car I am keeping regardless of personal circumstances. Rover R8’s are now becoming quite rare these days and models of pre 92 vintage with single point injection and no catalytic converter are in almost penny numbers – now is the time to get one while you can!

A good usable Rover R8 200  really does demonstrate Rovers high watermark before passing into foreign ownership. Great to drive, easy to maintain with surprising spares availability all available for loose change money yet amazingly still classy and capable to put you… up where you belong!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

50 Comments

  1. That’s a nice motor Mike. Sunroof too. So spacious and airy inside compared to modern small hatches.

    A relative only recently got rid of his 20 year old 214 due to rust taking hold – he lives only 50m from the seafront. Don’t think he would have sold it but for that.

    • Hi I have a rover 214si 1991 in red grey and it’s only done 34k. It’s in immaculate condition and is a lovely car. The only thing is I can’t find the code for the cassette player does anyone know where I can find the code? Help would be appreciative

  2. In 1998 we bought an almost identical Rover 214 Si – an early J reg 1991 example, one owner from new with 70k on the clock. We paid £2k for the car which was a little over the odds but she was immaculate and gave us great service. The seats were so comfortable and the fascia and whole interior of very high quality – far better than a Golf, Astra or Escort. If only Rover had kept the momentum going instead of launching the much inferior Rover 200 and 400 in 1995. It was Rover’s high water mark.

  3. Nice buy Mike, be warned mine sheared both drive shafts within three weeks, metal fatigue as well I guess but they had done @185k miles at the time.

  4. Superb period advert! i remember it now!

    My 416 GTi broke a driveshaft on boxing day,god i miss that thing….

  5. I parked my ‘G’ reg’d 214GSI nine years ago and there she still sits.
    Despite major engine failure I can’t bare to part with it; I occasionally sit in the lovely cockpit and stare at the wonderful controls and tasteful two-tone grey decor.
    I also can’t resist lifting the ‘reverse collar’ reminiscent of grandad’s P6’s.
    I put over 100k road miles on the GSi ‘happy days’

  6. Ok, I must have missed something here – I had a R8 400 for a very short while and that thing was downright terrifying to drive.. it went ok, stopped ok, was comfortable enough – but had the handling of an SD1 on black ice, diesel and bald tires.. the back end was lighter than a chavs braincase. Did they do something to the 400 akin to what they did to the Pathfinder – put the decent suspension in the 200 and put the welded up house railings on the 400? Or did I just have the luck to find a bad one?

    It was actually scarier to drive than the Mk 5 Ford Orion – and that takes alot of doing.

  7. The picture of the driveshaft reminds me of a similar thing with the Safranes rear track rod – some bright spark previous owner had tried to tow with same (for heavens sake theres a 2 inch wide towing eye poking out of the bumper…) and bent it six ways to sunday; which made a weak point that failed on me at low speed – not a pleasant experience and it would have been a fatal one at anything over 40mph.
    It is ALWAYS a good idea either before or right after you buy a second hand car to inspect or have an inspection done. Suspension & Driveshaft problems can be either very lethal or very expensive.

  8. I owned a 214SEi for two years and it was as good as anything I’ve had. Nothing went wrong, it was comfortable, light and easy to drive, and classy inside. Pity they weren’t able to keep the momentum going.

  9. Ah the run out model SEi.

    Anybody remember the factory refurbished Vanden Plas models that were also turned out towards the end, complete with natty faux wire wheel alloys?

  10. It was a truly impressive car when it came out I remember wondering how they could afford to build it for the price. From outside all looked to be going in the right direction for Rover, when the 600 followed on in equally impressive fashion.

    But we now know underneath all was not well, the old issues poor productivity combined with weak product profitability (not helped by so much being bought in from Honda, Peugeot etc)and the still high level of warranty claims had not been properly addressed and meant there was never going to be enough cash to keep Honda interest alive let alone develop new platforms and powertrains.

  11. @ Shep: 10

    Oh aye.. the wireless is horrible to look at as you say.

    Though plans are afoot to change it to a Phillips / Rover branded head unit and CD changer.

    Alloy wheel upgrade is also on the cards.

  12. @Jemma
    I’d not be surprised if the rear trailing arm bushes had failed in a big way if yours was driving that badly, it should have been far better than that!. They commonly fail, and I had to change then on my R8 VVC coupe (caught before it did much other than cause odd wear on the tyres), not actually that bad a job, can even be done without taking the trailing arms off! One it was right that thing drove like it was on rails

  13. Between my Father and I, we’ve had 4 R8s. Two 1992J 214 Si’s, one 1992K 214SLi (bought new by Dad) and a 1994M 216SLi. I loved our new 92 214. It was lovely and we’d probably still have it, had Dad not written it off. One of my Si’s got written off too. Mr Humble, you have a very early SLi there with the Maestro gear knob and manual windows; somewhere I may have a set of the original wheel trims which (if I can find them) you can have for the postage if you wish. A great car and one I would dearly love to own again.

  14. Oh yes, forgot to mention. Even the ’94 one had real wood on the doors and dash. I even kept a piece when Dad sent it for scrap.

  15. Lovely car. Excellent condition.
    See a surprising few R8s about, which for a model over its second decade is good going.
    Know full well the heartache of selling a car you really like. Like ending a relationship. Sometimes saddening, other times glad to be gone of it.

    At least it limped home, like a wounded soldier, weary of battle, who just makes it back to base before collapsing where they can be rescued.

  16. I owned a J reg 214 Si back in the 90s and when the time came to sell it on there was a tear in my eye. It was a wonderful car, streets ahead of anything I’d owned before. Mine was in red/grey like to one in the advert – that was always my favourite colour combination. Despite having excessive play in the steering it gave many years of reliable service, never broke down or failed an MOT, and took everything that my young family could throw at it.
    I traded it in for a Citroen Xsara. Big mistake…

  17. Ahhhhh Rover in the 90’s.

    I bought a 3 year old 216sli (honda engine) with 100000 miles on & did another 45k.

    What a car, fast (really much faster then it looked) comfy & well built.

    Had a few faults-ecu chip failed twice and tailgate hinge snapped which dented the roof as i was opening the hatch at the time (never heard of that said the bodyshop).

    All in all a much better than the opposition, but they are still going & we arent.

    Sad.

  18. Its looking better already Mike,And I know exactly what you mean that you just can’t part with it.
    It would be interesting to see what the difference is between my Gsi and your sli, and as your being about 12 months older than mine it probably has got the rear shock access caps in the boot lining which they deleted shortly after the first year of production.

  19. @6 Jemma

    You must have had bad example. One of my favorite cars back in the 90s was a 420SLi which I had as a fleet demo for a couple of months. A real Q car with plastic wheel trims and skinny tyres – 155s I think. It flew ! And the handling on those skinny Dunlops was sublime – it drifted anyway you wanted it.

  20. Another clever thing about R8 was they spun 6 derivatives off the basic platform. Five door, three door, Coupe, Convertible, 4 door saloon and Estate tourer towards the end. They used something called ‘soft engineering?’ for the body dies on the limited run models which kept costs down. The Jaguar dealer locally tells me that they need four derivatives for the new X Type replacement – 4 door, couple, convertible, and SUV but cannot afford the tooling because the volumes don’t come close to the BMW 3 series. How did Rover manage to spin off 6 versions then?

  21. I always thought the Rover 400 derivative of R8 was of limited appeal and style. If only they had created a 400 Fastback version with a hatchback but more room and rackish than the 200 hatchback? If it was not for cost cutting at design stage Roy Axe would have put a really nice Rover 800 Style fascia and trim in the car which would have made in perfect!

  22. Modern hatchbacks don’t really appeal to me.

    Since the Focus they’ve all had the same 2 box Tortoise shape outline.

    The R8 was a nice fastback design that I would’ve been proud to own (tried to buy one off an elderly lady I worked in a kitchen once, but she traded it in at the dealer against a Daewoo).

    What became of Fastback designs? They seem to be relegated to what is left of the D segment eg. Mondeo, Insignia hatches – C segment hatchbacks have become very upright, almost trying to turn into Estate cars.

  23. @12 Mike:

    I really rated the standard fit Philips head unit in my 1994 214Si, but I replaced it with a Blaupunkt Ontario (not dissimilar to the blue thing in your car, albeit with a black fascia and a cassette player)and a boot-mounted 10-disc CD changer not long after I bought the car in 2000, as I was really into music on CD back then. The changer has been installed in my Volvo 740 estate since 2004 😉

  24. What a lovely write up, a great story!

    The R8’s were such lovely cars… fond memories of how brilliant these cars were back in the early 90’s, where the Rover badge started to mean something classy again, thanks to the involvement of Honda, but the Rover’s slightly nicer interiors (which Honda learnt a lot from) made them so appealing, with the wood and materials judged to perfection and a real cut above anything else in the class. Isn’t is sad to think how Rover were on such a roll back then, winning group tests left, right and centre, and seeing how it all ended up?!

    In our family, we had a VERY rare model. It was a J reg 216Si, 3 door in red. You would not find this model in any of the price listings, What Car specs etc. Only a handful of them were made and were for Rover management initially. We have always had Hondas in the family, and this was the only car that my Dad would consider that was not a Honda, because effectively of course it was a Honda underneath, with that beautifully peachy 1.6 SOHC 16v engine (the 116bhp version) and superb gearbox. We believe the suspension settings were based on the 216GTi single cam model, it had non-power steering, but with the “Si” interior trim spec and exterior with the grey lower half. So the seats looked just like those in the example in this article. It had unusual wheel trims too, that were not found on any other R8 Rover model. We had it for a good few years, and I remember using it when my CRX was in for service on occasion and always enjoyed the drive. It was sold in the end because the heavy steering was a bit too much for my Mum to handle, so it was swapped for a Civic, but we must have had it for a good 8 years.

    I also used an early G plate 214Si as a company pool car on occasion back in about 1995 (yes they held onto it for a few years but it used to be one of the manager’s cars), and this iteration of the K-series seemed much better and nippier than later versions of this engine (though nowhere near as sweet as the Honda engine in the 216).

    @21 Cliff – the tyres would have been 175s or 185’s at least – my old boss had a 420 SLi which I used a couple of times (with wheel trims), but the Si we had was on 175’s I think (wheel trims too).

    Incidentally, the Rover engines in the 420’s were not on a par with the Honda units in terms of smoothness or reliability (as you would expect – the old boss’s 420 had the engine replaced well before it got to 100K), but in isolation weren’t a bad engine. But, if you had the choice of an R8, it would have to be one of the 1.6 Honda engines, which were peaches whether in SOHC or DOHC form. I notice that the majority of the R8’s left on the roads seem to be 216’s, again as to be expected with the reliability of the Honda units.

    Great cars…

  25. @6 Your 414 must’ve had a serious problem. Mine handled just fine. Not anything to set the world on fire, but it would go where you pointed it quite happily.

    G762CMO was my 414 SLi. It was tatty on the outside but was mechanically solid and is one of the few cars I regret selling.

  26. Amazing, no really negative comments, the Meastro and Montego owners club have some suberb ARG training and development films on Youtube-well worth a watch.

  27. By far the best car to ever roll out of any BMC/BL/ARG/whatever factory. And it even made a profit! Of course as soon as time the time came to replace it old habits returned and they completely cocked up.

  28. God how I loved the R8. Can remember having a waiting list for those for quite some time after launch. I don’t recall the later cars being much lower quality but I guess I was always driving new ones.

    Happy days.

  29. Brings back memories of my 220 turbo Tomcat and much later a very good value 214i convertible. Both were very reliable and good to drive even though the 220 could be a bit of a handful in the wet.

    Have just completed a 2000 mile trip round northern Italy with my 750 pound Rover 25 where it also performed flawlessly. Handling of this car is also a delight so contrary to popular opinion I think it was quite a good replacement bar the interior.

  30. @33

    I guess the 25 gets a bad reputation because it really should’ve been a Rover 100 replacement rather than an R8 replacement.

    Bit like replacing the Ford Escort with the new-edge Fiesta, similar size but not really equivalent.

    HH-R was the spiritual successor to the R8, in hatchback and saloon form.

  31. 34) Will M

    Always wondered in the case of the 200 / 25 (R3) if Rover was better off making the R3 a larger Fiesta class rival, while having the Rover Metro / 100 (R6 or R6X) evolve into a lower Fiesta (or Ka) class rival, similar to how the smaller Peugeot 106 was made roughly during the production runs of both the Peugeot 205 and Peugeot 206 despite appearing to be in the same segment competing against each other.

  32. @26 Kevin

    Yep, you were right about the tyre size. KwikFit’s website indicates they were 175/65H14.

    Amazing – 14 inch wheels on a 2 litre car !!

  33. My ex girlfriend had an old rover 400 a silver L reg diesel. This car had been really abused before she had it and she unfortunately crashed it taking the bonnet and both wings. The car sat for around 3 weeks in the heavy snow while it was waiting repair. Her brother turned up and put on a new battery and with a quarter turn it fired! What great respect I had for that car. Totally brilliant.

  34. #36 The 1987 2.9 V6 Granada Scorpio came with 14″ wheels as standard !!

    I had a G plate 214Si 12-odd years ago. My main gripe with it was interior noise from the engine. It was quite bad. One of the the guys I was working with, who was ex-Rover piped up “Yeah, we never did get that right”.

  35. @Adam

    That’d be the PSA XUD.
    Reliable engine, though if the glow plugs were gone (mechanics would often change 3 as the 4th was awkward to get at) mightn’t have started in the cold snow…

  36. Mike’s right… the R8 was classier than the competition at that time. In 1992 I had a test drive in a 214 and remember the interior dash and trim quality were much better than the Escort MKIV company car I drove. I liked the original 200 series (Ballade type) in the 80’s too.

  37. My Dad had a 93 K reg 214SLi (with the 103bhp engine). It probably is the best “round-town” driving car i’ve ever driven, with the big glasshouse and sunroof giving it a light airy feel inside, fantastic (if not power assisted) steering and the gearbox was terrific. The only issues I remember were the exhaust back box failed relatively early, the dealer stuffed it up at a service so occasionally it wouldn’t start when cold. My Dad took it back but they didn’t rectify the fault. I took it in and gave them merry hell. They insisted that the car was okay and they hadn’t done anything, but when I drove the car off it felt back to the way it was before the service and never caused a problem again. The other issue was a dodgy clutch; very occasionally when feeding the clutch in in first gear the car would hang without moving for a short time, before the clutch engaged and the thing took off like a scalded cat! It first happened to me pulling onto a busy roundabout and scared the bejesus out of me. When I mentioned it to my Dad he had experienced the same problem. The dealer never rectified it though. Still, fantastic cars. Pity what happened further down the line.

  38. Mines 20 years old on the 24th August, 200,000 miles and still going strong, I use it for work too…
    The only issues have been back boxes (it’s had @6 in the 20 years me and my old man have had it), the non vented front discs can easily warp and the pads don’t last long, but it’s never had a wheel bearing changed or any suspension component apart from the rear arm bushes and servicing. The two drive shafts failed @185,000 miles but apart from that it’s been a treat.
    One modification you could do Mike is to fit a set of wiper blades from a Focus, the longer drivers blade cleans the whole screen compared to the short item Rover specified from new.

  39. I’m well aware of exhaust issues on these… That said.. The rear box is still the same one fitted from when I owned it.

    catalyst equipped cars were far worse, especially if tootled around town. 2 pints of water car easily stay in the silencer. Regular good blasts cure this a treat.

    Rear boxes are cheap though and are only located with two bolts and a flange gasket.

  40. LOVE these cars – in fact I still have a set of brand spanking new, still in their wrappings GTI cross spoke alloy wheels and centre caps I bought but never fitted. Anyone know of anyone that would be interested in them?

  41. Just bought a 1990 214 Si done 35,000 miles, to replace a chrysler pt cruiser which was written off after a rear ender.
    Have had 3 214’s in the past. Paid peanuts for it and drove it 100 miles home with a big smile on my face. We are going to have this car for a long time. How easy is it to fit power steering?

  42. I done this upgrade on my old 216, and Mike is right, a different sub-frame is needed for the power rack plus also the pump and bottom crank pulley, reservoir and associated plumbing

  43. I enjoyed my white over grey 214SLi bought in 1998 on a ‘K’ plate. We only got rid of it when our daughter was born and we needed something bigger (75 Tourer). I loved it to bits and it looked the class act it was at the time. The only major issue was coming back on the big yellow lorry when the water pump let go and dumped the coolant on the road.

    We gave it to my stepson and he turned it into a mobile rubbish dump within weeks. Sadly, it didn’t last very long in his uncaring hands

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