Our Cars : Mike’s 416 – torque about speaking too soon

Mike Humble’s Rover 416 seemed to be rolling along quite merrily and without so much as a problem – or rather it was.

What initially seemed quite terminal turned out to be a simple fix, but not without some time-served experience and the advice of a retired Workshop Manager…

Still loving the 416. Keith said "are you mad?" when I took ownership of it. Nope... never been happier!
Still loving the 416… Keith said, ‘are you mad?’ when I took ownership of it. Nope, never been happier!

Tsch! Me and my big mouth, eh? Within days of posting up the last article on the Project 416, it decided to have a turn. Not in a serious way, though. More like one of those little things that keep you awake in bed, wondering and pondering about what the hell’s gone wrong.

It all started with the speedo needle twitching every now and again – and I do mean just that: no warning, no pre-event symptoms, just a little flick, now and again. Of course, if you drive an early Metro or Montego, for example, you will be thinking, ‘what’s the fuss about that?’ But in an R8, Rover 200/400… well, they just don’t do such a thing.

The reliability of the Nippon Seiki-sourced dials is pretty much legendary. Once the Lucas instrument packs had been superseded with the aforementioned Nippon items in the Metro, Maestro and Montego, all the famous woes of noisy drive cables, wildly flaying needles and speedo heads ticking like a box full of angry grasshoppers disappeared almost overnight. Being Honda-based, the R8’s instrument pack is from the same manufacturer. With the exclusion of the odd dodgy fuel gauge, or a blown bulb, they quite simply never, ever, go wrong. Honestly!

Thanks to the speedo cable being of one piece, getting the clocks out is a right fiddly affair... and delicate work too that's not for the ham fisted.
Thanks to the speedo cable being a one-piece item, getting the clocks out is a right fiddly affair… and delicate work too that’s not for the ham-fisted

Well, not long after removing the centre console to replace the cigar lighter and a blown ashtray illumination bulb, the weird flick became more regular. Looking back now, this turns out to be nothing more than pure coincidence. However, you know how your mind plays tricks on you in these cases? Whereas, the twitch only happened at urban speeds, it was now much more pronounced at all speeds. Could it be the speedometer itself, or the drive gear in the gearbox? Not the foggiest idea had I, but then things took a turn.

After reversing off the drive in order to commute to work, the speedometer failed to work altogether. Not only that, but after upshifting into fourth, the torque convertor failed to lock up too. Just to add extra joy to the misery, the ‘CHECK ENGINE’ warning illuminated in the cluster. What a heart sinking journey to work that was…

The return journey home did even more to frustrate and annoy. The car behaved with its usual ruthless efficiency once again. With these cars being so mechanically sorted back in dealer times, you only ever dealt with them for routine servicing.

The lamp of doom. Initially I thought there was another problem but it turns out gearbox lock up problems are also warned by the check lamp - phew!

I spent some time trawling through the Honda forums online. Oh, how I hate doing this, as there was little mention of the problem anywhere. The only issues that reoccurred was the aforementioned dodgy fuel gauge. Indeed, what I could find remotely speedo-related, just pointed to checking things that seemed totally unrelated to the problem.

Top Tip: take forum advice with a pinch of salt. There really is a world full of armchair idiots out there with as much tangible motor trade experience as I have of organ transplant surgery. Forum trawling is a time-consuming and soul-destroying affair, I tend to find – not all of the time, but those who know where I am coming from, will be nodding at the screen.

There’s this chap close by who knows a retired Workshop Manager who used to work for a respected Honda dealer. We were put in touch with each other, and he diagnosed the fault on the driveway within less than a minute of me explaining the symptoms. Change the speedo, came the advice, and he explained further. There is an electronic speed sensor built into the speedo drive mechanism. Crikey! You learn something new every day.

This sensor tells the gearbox when 45mph, or thereabouts, has been reached, thus locking up the torque convertor when in top gear. The fault lamp is there to tell you something’s awry with this feature.

The two brass threads you can see here connect the speed sensor to the circuit board. If you are experience similar symptoms with a D16 powered automatic 200 or 400 suspect the speedo is faulty.
The two brass threads you can see here connect the speed sensor which is built into the speedo drive gubbins to the electrical circuit board. If you are experiencing similar symptoms with a D16 powered automatic 200 or 400, it may be prudent to suspect the speedo is faulty

The problem was the square hole in the back of the speedo wearing round. It’s made of plastic, whereas the cable is steel with a square end to fit the hole. This obviously was causing the speedometer to play merry havoc; cause the torque convertor to mess around and illuminate the danger of death warning lamp. By pure fluke, my local breakers had taken in an R8 auto saloon just days earlier, so I purchased the whole instrument cluster for a tenner. I did as instructed, and swapped the clock over. Job done!

Now, the odometer reads about 950 miles less than original one did. Perhaps, I have found a niche market in the South Downs for clocked Rover 416 automatic saloons. Looking for a genuine low-mileage, one local Vicar-owned automatic saloon, Sir?

Bear with me while I just pop into the caravan to peruse though my stock lists. Do feel free to browse!

Mike Humble


  1. Interesting stuff. Who would have thought a dodgy speedo would play havoc with the transmission?

    Those diamond shaped warning lights in the third photo bring back memories of my 1990 R8, but I don’t remember having a “Check Engine” light in my 214. Was this unique to the Honda-engined cars?

  2. Lovely motor. I quite fancies a 420D estate even having a test drive (which was impressive) until the dealer decided to try and take me for a mug [long story]. i was very impressed with the 400, in particular how nimble it felt compared to my Cavalier Mk3. However, gien the dealer issues I ended up woth a Mk2 Golf GTD and kept that for nearly 8 years.

    Interesting article that shows how electronics can make a mug of us all.

  3. “Forum trawling is a time-consuming and soul-destroying affair, I tend to find…”

    Tell us more about this! It sounds like there is a whole article’s worth of material on this subject.

    Perhaps it depends on your perspective. As someone with limited experience of working on cars, I enjoy reading the discussions on forums, and on several occasions they have encouraged me to undertake simple fixes myself, rather than take the car to a dealer.

    Admittedly, the one-eyed nature of single make forums is annoying sometimes. I have a Jag and a Honda and some of the anti-German sentiment on those forums can be ridiculous. Some individuals seem to take it very personally that other people prefer to drive an Audi or BMW or whatever. Getting angry about how others choose to spend their money is a fast route to madness!

    For you Mike, as someone who has been in the trade for a long time and has been there, done that and got the T-shirt when it comes to Rovers and BL, do you find it frustrating to trawl through the opinions of mere amateurs?

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