Our Cars : Mike’s 416 GSi – Faster… Lighter!

Sometimes an old banger struggles to make for an interesting read, especially when it just trundles along without so much as a minor hiccup. But some good old traditional fettling has been taking place with our R8 416 – and what a difference a day makes!

Mike Humble

Loving it more by the minute - especially now all the zing and zest has returned
Loving it more by the minute – especially now all the zing and zest has returned

Well, as the headline states, there’s not been that much to report on the recently acquired Rover 400. Yet, from an owner’s point of view it’s sheer bliss. Pushed into squadron service with not so much as a look-see underneath, it behaves just as you would expect from a Honda-powered vehicle. Apart from the slightly thirsty nature of the driveline – correction – flipping juicy nature of the driveline at first, it’s one hell of a good motor to lark around in. A decent ride, really quick steering turn-in with tidy handling despite the suspension travel being longer than a Whippet’s hind leg and, of course, that lovely distinctive aroma of a ’90s Rover when you hop in on a hot day.

Right from day one I was absolutely convinced there was more to glean from the engine room, it just seemed… well… you know? – lacking in outright zing. These D-Series-powered models were famous back in the day (especially the manual ones) for shifting like the proverbial stabbed rat when you mashed the gas into the carpet. This automatic example certainly licked along quite nicely but struggled to give you a nudge in the small of the back when you really wanted to chase the horizon rather than trundle to Tesco. Yes, I know it’s a slush box hampered with only four cogs but, in the words of Mr Hill, my old history teacher, could try harder!

Well, I did try and, during one warm weekend, the kettle was filled, the tools were carefully unpacked and some good old fashioned fettling broke out on the driveway – one of the first spots was the engine timing. Unpacking my rarely-used, gas-powered timing light and thumbing through my huge Rover R8 Dealer Workshop Manual that weighs about 5kg, the engine timing was found to be a fair few degrees retarded and needed correcting. Improvements were noted right away and, after the valve clearances were checked (none of this hydraulic tappet malarkey here chums) and a bottle of Texaco-branded fuel treatment added, it was notably better out on the road right away.

The fuel filter seemed original and was duly changed. Readers of discerning taste may appreciate my new tea mug!
The fuel filter seemed original and was duly changed – and a fiddly little blighter it was, too. Readers of discerning taste may appreciate my new tea mug!

And yet I still thought it could be better. Remembering what Neil Rapsey told me he had either changed/replaced or whacked with a hammer, the bowl-type fuel filter came in for some scrutinising. Looking closer, it looked like it had last been touched, to quote my late father, when Hitler was a Lance Corporal. A quick visit to my factor chappie sourced a shiny new item that was fitted into place – what a fiddly job that was – nothing like as simple as the barrel-shaped affairs you find in a K-Series engine bay. Some Optimax was trickled into the tank and a spirited good hiding road test released that hidden power I knew the car possessed.

Performance was up, consumption was down and general driveability has been improved to a point whereby its a transformed car to the one that first appeared on the drive a little while ago. I can’t wait for Neil to give it a whirl, it really is that good now. Thanks to the new-found character of the car, I have no reservations about driving what is, in essence, a small automatic saloon. She changes gear so smoothly that only the engine note and sudden falling of the tacho needle lets you know progress is taking place in the engine room. Because most of my driving and commuting is motorway/dual-carriageway based, fuel economy isn’t really that bad if I dwell on it.

To adjust the handbrake and replace the cigar lighter barrel required the time-consuming removal of a whole raft of trim. These things really were screwed together well - perhaps too well in some cases
To adjust the handbrake and replace the cigar lighter barrel required the time-consuming removal of a whole raft of trim. These things really were screwed together well – perhaps too well in some cases

Besides, I don’t mind chucking in the odd gallon if a car gives something in return for your troubles and its such a happy little steed, too. If I close my eyes, metaphorically speaking of course, I swear you can almost hear it humming a jolly little tra-la-la-la melody as it goes about its daily business. Only one little item caused a bit of frustration and that was the cigar lighter that won’t seem to operate a satnav unless you fold a piece of paper four times to wedge the plug into the barrel. A trip to the breaker’s sourced a replacement from a Rover 25 which not only cures the slack socket but also glows in the dark much better than before and the ashtray now has working illumination too.

Just like the fuel filter, all the above required more than average tinkering time. The cubby box/centre armrest, radio and whole centre console had to be removed in the process – the R8 really was well engineered, a little too well perhaps. While the floor console was out the handbrake cable was adjusted and, after all that copious amount of trim was re-installed back into the car, a celebratory brew was made to mark officially the completion of a good afternoon’s worth of spannering.

Mike Humble


  1. Interesting stuff Mike and good to see.

    Some old cars are worth a bit of TLC and the payback can result in a nice car. A I and you have no doubt found time and again.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Oh the joys of removing the centre console for something oh so simple or, not so simple as changing the heater surround, but that’s a blog in its self.
    The filter never seen my spanners so that filter was 23 years old, and I always thought the cars lethargy was down to the auto box robbing the sweet D16 Honda lump of its legendary zest.
    But after the Humble fettle-a-thon I look forward to my drive in the old girl in the coming weeks.

  3. The black hockey stick centre console moulding was originally two pieces but Purchasing got it redesigned as a single unit as a cost saving – well before Project Drive and it seems odd it wasn’t done that way originally although I vaguely remember that Honda didn’t think it could be done – it reduced squeaks, rattles and assembly time but made servicing/repairs a bit more fiddly.

    • Indeed, but compared to our 1990 model, these post-single-centre-console cars felt seriously cheapened in the interior, the centre console playing a large part in that. It was cheaper – and one could see and feel that from a distance. But when looking at the late (bubble) dash, it can be seen how to reduce the amount of screws on the dash assembly next to nil and still have a complete car…. The amount of screws and fasteners used on the early R8 is insane.

      • Agreed! I had 3 pre-’93 R8’s and their black centre consoles were much classier looking than the later matching colour ones.

  4. Mike, Alexander: at some risk of sounding like one of the Three Yorkshiremen, if you think there’s a lot of screws on an R8, try dismantling an SD3. My dad complained that his interior driver’s door handle was acting up, so I stripped off his door trim to replace it. Looking at the back of said trim, it was clear that Honda wanted one set of screws, Rover wanted another, so they fitted both!
    By coincidence, I did the same job on my 216GSi, and found to my relief that there were just one set of screws on that door trim. I think they put the metal in the body on the R8, which they certainly didn’t on the SD3.

    Centre console: I took it out on my 1990 car, it was a two-piece. The part I wanted to remove was located with two self-tapping screws which passed through the floor; their threads were then exposed beneath the car. Unfortunately they rusted in place, and had to be drilled out. So that particular feature of the early R8 was by no means well built.

    It used to be best to buy a car made at the end of its run, because nice features often trickled down from the high-spec’ models to the base models to maintain their saleability. But now we live in an era of cost-down, so it’s best to buy the first off the line, and live with any teething problems.

    Fuel filters: never buy one for a 216/416 from a certain chain store starting with H. I tried it, and had to take it back; the filter would not fit within its bracket.

    • Never a truer word spoken than in your third paragraph. Many manufacturers look for savings as production continues and even provide rewards to those employees who come up with them. The Rover 75 is the best documented case of this as we know, but it goes on all over the place.

      Still love the R8 though

  5. I thought they loaded cars with optional extras near the end of the planned production run to simply clear the optional extra parts shelves. Does make them more attractive though which at the end of a production run helps clear so called aged stocks. A bonus for the manufacturer and the buyer.

    I had one of the last 1750 ( Twin Carb ) high spec “loaded” Allegros off the production line as a company car.

    Unlike just about everyone I know, I did have a good word to say about the Allegro. That was a fine car by ordinary production car standards at that time. Left so called “better” cars for dead, not just on straight line speed either … nice place to be.

    Actually, not just me, a life-long friend had a 1500 Allegro at the time and liked that car. It’s ability to fly up the nearby steep roads up the Cotswold Hills scarp never failed to impress him. He now drives a BMW coupe. Nothing lasts forever… 😉 Gave him a lift in my 620ti recently and used the acceleration of the old ROVER to pass a line of cars very swiftly. Cue his enquiry.. What power has this car John? Wow, more than my BMW.

    Now there’s a thing… Another who knew scenario?

  6. I always expect Auto cars to be down on acceleration and performance compared to manuals but Mike’s description of this since his spannering, seems to contradict that. My Dad owned one autobox car (Toyota Corolla) but I’ve never owned one – Yet.

    Reading Mike’s comments may sway me into going Auto next time…

    • Try them!

      My first auto was a Honda, a big Accord coupe just like Richards.

      Before that I’d dabbled in occasionally driving my dad’s old 7 series beemer, but could never get used to the handbrake control being where the clutch should be, and thought they were just for big lazy luxury cars.

      But the Honda was so easy to drive, and performance was always there – mash the pedal into the carpet and it drops down a gear or two, 2 litre VTec never felt slow.

      Went onto a manual Celica after that, but just missed the ease of Autobox for commuting, no clutch control, bitepoint, hillstart revs etc.

      Traded it in for another autobox, a GM product. Thirsty on fuel, 2 litre petrol turbo so never feels slow, but again just so easy to use.

      Most people I speak to say that they don’t like automatics, they don’t like losing control of changing gear, or having to brake going downhill (most autoboxes do have a semi-auto +/- override, or at least in the Honda’s case a D1-D2 low gear setting). I feel like it is a bit of a life cheat for driving in heavy traffic.

      Locally there was an R8 style Concerto automatic for sale at a dealer, 30k miles, was tempting….

      • Might take your advice Will. Of course there are not as many Auto’s around in the UK, of models like Astra’s & Focus’s. I remember the Honda Concerto R8 style like the Rover’s… nice enough car even if there were not as many on the UK roads – I like rarer cars though!

      • ‘Manual-only’ drivers never seem to twig that you can still change gear yourself on any ‘proper’ torque converter coupling automatic –
        it’s just that with most of them you rarely feel the need to do so.

        I believed the ‘received wisdom’ about autos being slower than manuals for years without questioning. An Austin 1800, a mere 3-speed auto I bought for a giggle once, easily managed to out-drag a, (half-kna*kered, it has to be said) 2 litre Sierra and started my enlightenment process.

        On real roads, most autos are as good overall and if anything faster at overtaking and steep hill climbing at speed, as in both cases it will change-down a lot quicker than any manual can be made to do.

        At other times, manually holding the car in a particular gear or just ‘locking-out’ top will give you all the ‘control’ needed.

        • I’m conflicted.

          2 years in a 13 year old 1.8 Marina, with a 3 speed auto. Fine, but if I’d had a choice, would have had a manual before and after

          6 months in a 2.5l Alfa 166 4 speed auto. Nice, but as Carroll says, you can select yourself, and I largely did

          Various times in a VW with their DSG auto – quickly realised it was better at changing than I was

          Mrs Hill has a problem with her left foot that occasionally gives her sharp stabbing pains, and we’re just about to change cars. I actually am ok about her preference for an auto

          • On another site there was a good discussion on automatics which started with someone restoring a Rover P6 3500.

            At one time they seemed to be only fitted to executive cars, & as an expensive extra for older & disabled drivers, but seem to be much more common now.

  7. One of these has just been posted for sale on the Rover 200 Owners Club Facebook page and no it’s not mine 🙂

  8. Mike, I get the distinct impression you’re bonding with this R8. Something which wasn’t happening with the Project Drive 75.

    Oh, if I had my time again, I would not have listened to all the careers advice I got. I’d have followed my heart and become a motor mechanic. How I envy you, Mike, spending the weekend ‘fettling’ !!

  9. I liked the R8 with the Honda engine, and folks rave about its reliability.

    But of the two pals who ran R8’s with Honda 1.6’s (a 90 GSi, and a 94 Tomcat), both suffered complete engine failure at around 75,000 mules for no apparent reason. Both started using water, had head gaskets changed only to find the same problem return quickly. Both engines were then diagnosed as ‘shot’ and had full engine changes. And not by the same garge, they were 120 miles apart. Strange

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