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.
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!
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!