Our Cars : Mike Humble’s new 800 Coupe

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble buys himself a prime slice of 1990s two-door coupe prestige. How will he fare with AROnline’s latest project car?

So far the signs are looking good…

Mike's Rover 800 Coupe arrives on a flatbed. How long will it be before it's up and running?
Mike’s Rover 800 Coupe arrives on a flatbed. How long will it be before it’s up and running?

A Rover returns

Yeah, yeah, I can almost hear what you are saying to the monitor: ‘well, that didn’t take long before you got another Rover’. And you may be quite right, but this was very much a spur of the moment happening. Just like dear old Annie Walker – the respected pillar of the Weatherfield community and feared Publican down Coronation Street used to – I hold the keys to a big old Rover. Sure, I have driven many an 800 series – some good ones and some simply dismal – but owning one has eluded me, even after some 14 years since the deletion of the range.

Wow, can it really be that long since Rover called ‘Time gentlemen… Please!’ on the R17 Rover 800 series and subsequently replaced the model with the Rover 75?

My new car is a 1997 White Gold Vitesse Coupe, though owing to a wheel swap, it looks like a Sterling. I feel the mobile Gin palace image is better suited to the current 16-inch alloys than the 17-inch starfish type. It features the time-honoured package of T-Series engine (turbocharged, of course, Sir) and PG1 gearbox – a drivetrain many consider to be Rover’s finest.

The 200ps T series drivetrain - In my view Rovers finest creation in the latter years.
The 200PS (197bhp) T-Series drivetrain – in my view Rover’s finest creation in the later years.

Compared to my previous 75, the Coupe feels loose and flimsy to the touch whereas the 75 felt engineered and solid but where the 75 felt just ever so slightly too retro, the coop’s abundance of hide and dare I say – elegance – fits the image of heritage and class. However, it wears so many caps too, it’s a mobile drawing room, an executive long-distance tourer, a blisteringly quick 200bhp gold brick and, of course, they were shockingly expensive when new. I prefer to look upon it as my recently acquired, secondhand smoking jacket.

Faults, Sir? Well, yes there are some, of course; it is an 800 after all. The bumper brackets need attending to, the dash is lifting around the instrument pack and the exhaust manifold gasket is spitting when cold. Having not had the chance for a roll around the floor, the underside so far is an unknown quantity but I can confirm the rear ends of the inner sills are okay. The expansion tank is showing signs of distress while the whole car needs a damn good clean after being parked up for nearly three years. Mind you, after all that, she starts on the button and is mechanically tip top with a silent gearbox and sublime burble on idle.

Mobile drawing room or Continental cruiser - endless applications for the Coupe's talents.
Mobile drawing room or Continental cruiser – endless applications for the Coupe’s talents.

It’s caused a stir locally, too. My elderly neighbour, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, was crawling all over the car not half an hour after my trusty recovery guy Steve from SLS in Eastbourne untied ‘Connie the coop’ from his beavertail pick up truck – what the other neighbours must have thought about an old Rover covered in grime and plant life I wince at.

Anyway, there we go… another AROnline project car, the Rover 800 Vitesse Coupe – the car Alan Partridge aspired to own, I can’t wait to slip some Clannad into the boot-mounted CD changer!

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

68 Comments

  1. A very nice example, with the 200Ps Vitesse being the real gem of the R17 generation 800 Series. More of a forgotten gem in Coupe form too, as the numbers made were very small when compared with the Honda or KV6 versions or even the normally aspirated 2-litre Sterling Coupe. We are talking less than 500 examples for the steroid-induced gentleman’s carriage, Sir.

    And the Lightstone interior colourway is more welcoming (to me) than the alternative Granite Grey. Especially with the contrasting Cherry Red seat piping and carpets with matching overmats. I really do like the 800 Vitesse Coupe. Hopefully we might see this one at Pride of Longbridge, Mike?

    A great choice.

  2. Lovely car, a friend of mine had one which I used to service, it was fast and handled well for a big car. I coveted that car!!

  3. Mike you whispered about a coop the other week so I had a feeling this was coming. I think you should have a miniature ‘The Rovers Return’ sign above your front door, along with a ‘Newton & Ridley’s’ one LOL.

    You just couldn’t resist though. If they sliced you in half, you would have ROVER written all the way through you mate 🙂

  4. I am a secret fan of the 800. Mine would have to be a 5 door Sterling fastback. Almost bought one too but ended up with a 600 diesel. One day….

  5. Nice car Mike, I always liked them but was never brave enough to buy one, I will stick with the 75 for now. Good luck with it and I look forward to the write ups.

  6. Good call on the wheel change to 16″ rims. When I had one of these, I found the ride a little hard on the silly low profile tyres beloved of too many cars today.

  7. they said that about the sd1, the 75 is definitely a worthy badge carrier I think. I do like the 8oo coupe, were they not hand built interiors? still love my sd1 though but who knows a worthy edition one day…. good luck with it, meant in the nicest possible way of course…

  8. Those wheels and balloon tyres have to go. It’s a sports coupe and the wheels need to be 17″ spokes. Handles better with them too.

  9. But, watch the middle of the sills on these later coupes they applied sown very thick anti rust paint, which can hide some very bad rot. If you see any discolouration to the black sills grind it back to metal, you will find what looked to be a solid sill turns out to have a rust being held in place by the undersell coating! The sections not hard to fabricate.. But please repeat after me ‘a coupe is not a chicken shed’

  10. Would love to own another. The coupe is pick of the bunch for me. Vitesse in BRG or Nightfire pearl would be my choice although did have a sterling coupe in westminster blue pearl and an 820 fastback sterling in night fire pearl. Why can’t MG emulate the interior style and colourways with the MG6?

  11. Interesting. Quite a head turner I would have thought.

    How many miles? Interior looks very tidy, just in need of a good clean. Likewise the bodywork from what I can see. Sounds like you’ll be doing another head gasket change though.

    Will we see her at POL?

  12. @ Brian, yeah, but its Keith we are talking about here. He might find it impossible to resist wanting to have a play with it

  13. Welcome back to the 800 fold!

    As mentioned in your article there is something about the total package of the Vitesse Coupe that has to be experienced. I look forward to reading more.

    (Owner of a Bolero red Vitesse Coupe)

  14. Mike, after the Xantia and 18 I bet your neighbours are pleased to see the Road, the Close looking back to normal – respectable again!!!!

    I feel a tad envious. My ZR is going nowhere but does make me wish I could afford two cars!!

  15. Congratulations!!! I have always dreamed of owning one like this, maybe one day . . . (although I guess it will be hard to find a LHD example)

  16. Stop talking about these. One day I am going to give into temptation and get one, they look so nice inside.

    If I get one, hacksaw. I bet it’d look awesome without a roof.

  17. @25

    No. Annie Walker owned the car but Fred Gee used to ferry her around in it. One funny on screen moment involved Fred borrowing said P6 to take Bet Lynch on a date for a picnic by a lake, hapless Fred failed to pull the handbrake on properly and it rolled down the bank and into the drink!

  18. Mike nice “co-op”, I remember sitting in my Uncle’s box fresh nightfire one in 1993, it’s registration now adorns a Juke 🙂

  19. #31 As a juke that’s not even funny. Surely there must be a law against such a transfer. What about a sense of history or even common decency?
    ………the data protection act, human rights, there must be something!
    The RSPCA should be informed (I know, I’m clutching at straws now).

  20. @ Hector:

    Sadly, for you, the Rover 800 Coupe did not extend to the diesel engine,

    @ Michael Edwardes:

    Annie Walker’s own Rover was a P6 2200, occassionally driven by Fred Gee with her permission.

    However, in more recent times, the character Fred Elliott – I say, Fred Elliott – owned a P’ registered Rover 800 saloon, possibly an 820Si. As it was finished in Caribbean Blue pearlescent, it was new old stock built the previous year and registered in either late 1996 or early 1997. I have the registration number somewhere and recall it was originally a factory registered car…

  21. Can never understand why Rover designed and fitted alloy wheels that look like Halfords wheel trims. I expect when it comes to selling it those ‘wrong’ wheels will put buyers off.

    [img]http://www.aronline.co.uk/images/xxdev_13.jpg[/img]

    You see, that looks so much more purposeful.

  22. Good to see a coupe on here and as the owner of a 820 sterling coupe in BRG I look forward to reading more. I have owned a 820 saloon in the past but had always wanted a coupe after having seen my first one years ago at a petrol station off the A1 & thinking how right the shape looked, even now its a car that I do turn around and look at once parked, a perfect shape like the best coupes ( mgb gt or gt6 ). Its hard to believe these are so cheap to buy now as they are not as heavy on fuel as other older luxury cars such as the xj6 ( had a few of those and whilst still tempted, the cost of filling up is scary ). I do agree that they feel more fragile than the 75 , having owned a number of these, but so far mine has proved reliable and so suitable for long distance cruising.

  23. Love the cream interior Mike… good luck with it. Yes I remember Annie Walker (Doris Speed) – showing my age when I say that…

  24. I’m going to gang up with the others against Kev and his wish to add spoked wheels to this fine old bird. I don’t think the alloys it is wearing look too much like Halfords wheeltrims- they are understated and suit the ‘pipe and slippers’ nature of this car. Adding starfish alloys [i]would[/i] look like a Halford’s afterthought. May as well go the whole hog and fit a whale-tail aerofoil, paint the calipers red, and fill the entire boot cavity with a boom-box. And Mike is too old to be doing donuts or burnouts outside his local branch of McDonald’s.

    Really not sure about those burgundy carpets. Now those really have to go…

  25. @1 David on what information do you base your figures of fewer than 500 Vitesse Coupes?

    Nice car Mike, and yes none of my 800’s run on those 17″ rubberband tyres, its just not what an 800 is about. But each to their own.

    Dave

  26. I’m interest as the 2.7 was always thought to be the rare one, certainly it’s the one that comes up for sale less often than any of the other derivatives, in fact the Vitesse seems to be the most comment 800 coupe on E-bay followed closely by the 2.5 sterling

  27. Well you never know Keith…. all it might take is a nice Ital 1.3 to tempt me away from 200 nellies and a good hiding and it could be yours.

    (checks pulse and has a cold shower)

  28. Thank god you didn’t get a kv6,i got in a cold sweat when i saw the picture.
    The last models were very well built and BMW used them as practise to get the workforse ready for 75 production.
    Don’t forget if you disconnect the battery you will have to reset the windows and sunroof.

  29. @34

    I had an 820 Vitesse fastback on standard SLi 16″ wheels, (you may remeber it) it had also at some point had a front and rear shunt, and thus new bumbers, sans foglights and no Vitesse badge on the back. Best Q-Ship I ever had.. looked like an Si, embarased a LOT of BMWs

  30. Nice!!! Am a fan of big coupes, this is one of the best Rover put out. Almost Bristol or Bentley like in elegance.
    Shame the spiritual successor, the 75 coupe, never saw production.

  31. @ Dave Smart:

    The figures came from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, following my enquiry with them back in 2003. They gave me a breakdown of each engine size, with the 200Ps turbocharged T Series being the rarest of them all. The quoted figure would also include the 200Ps 800 Turbo Coupe (announced March 1996), but renamed as the 800 Vitesse Coupe in the following December.

    @ Ford Prefect:

    Going by the information of its specification, the example you owned would likely have been one of the 180Ps 800 Vitesses offered from March 1992 until December 1995. It really was an understated Q car.

  32. @56
    David could you email me those figures @ tr7sprint@talk21.com
    and also would they be UK figures only??
    I have been researching 800 production figures for nearly 3 years so any info would be appreciated.

    Dave

  33. Great interior, nearly as nice as my XJ and miles ahead of the Germans, bit of a pity the passenger airbag ate the passenger shelf, I always liked that AR feature. At the time the straight lines belied the 80s roots, but look great now that every car is a mishmash of ovoid shapes or if it’s really expensive ovoid shapes with half an ipad stuck in it.

  34. @56,
    No it was a ’96 vitesse sport, the guy I got it from had rebuild the engine compleletly (it had forged pistons as well!). He took the 17″ alloys and put them on his 827SLi, putting the 16″ wheels onto the vitesse, he sold it because after the rebuild found it would not run properly.. (Lambda sensor had failed I found) sometime prior it had lost it’s orginal bumpers (paint mismatch to the rest of the body).

    I also had a BRG vitesse Coupe, which had a gearbox rebuilt with steel chaged bearings. Lovley car after major sill surgury

  35. Didn’t Kevin Webster ‘win’ Fred’s Rover in a raffle where he only ended up selling about 10 tickets. I think Kevin then went banger racing with it!

    A great car and will one day – soon? – be as covetable as the P5 Coupe.

  36. Had a new Sterling hatchback company car with 2 years perfect motoring no faults and acres of space inside. My friends BMW525 spent more time in expensive services at the same time of ownership. She was amazed how quiet it was and way more leg room even behind my six foot two driving seat.

  37. Silly boy selling it! They make great wedding cars 😉

    Couple of little points – someone asked about them being hand-built. The coupe was 80% hand finished, not sure what the difference between hand-built and hand-finished is but there you go!
    The best engine/box combo in this is the Honda 2.7 and auto box IMHO – fair enough the Vit Sport engine is a great performer but not that much quicker and there’s something about the growl of a V6! 😀

    As for the Rover 75 it’s a matter of taste i suppose but for my money they don’t have the equipment of the 800 series and not as comfortable either. Also going on my limited experience of them, not as reliable as the 800 either, particularly the 827 version.

  38. Dave, whilst I think the 827 drivetrain is brilliant, in the Coupe package, the car was a bit of a dog because the engineers didn’t set up the suspension, steering and braking system very well. Dynamically, the car was a barge with quite poor ride to boot.

    The Vitesse Coupe was dynamically in a different league and surprisingly also rode much better than it’s 827 coupe cousin. It showed what was possible with the 800 platform when some time and effort was taken setting it up properly.

    Shame they didn’t make the effort for the 827 Coupe when it was launched in 1992. 🙁

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