The Rover 800 is a roomy, swift and stylish luxury cruiser. We explain why buying the right one can be a rewarding classic experience
Launched in 1986, the 800 was facelifted heavily in 1991 to become the Mk2 before it finally went out of production in 1998. The advent of the chrome grille, and bulbous new body panels were a partially-successful attempt to bulk up the 800’s appeal. The two-door coupé was a stylish addition that may have failed as a range flagship for Rover (exports to the USA, potentially its biggest market, had ceased the previous year), but today it’s a stylish classic that really does combine grace, pace and space.
1995 Rover 800 Vitesse Sport Coupe
Power (bhp@rpm) 197bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 184lb ft@4400rpm
Top speed 140mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The earlier the car, the less well protected it is, so the combination of age and poor rustproofing means that you need to check the front and rear wheelarches, sunroof aperture and mechanism, and inner and outer sills. You can still buy sill assemblies new, although as it’s a simple structure, most people will choose to repair, rather than replace. Another Mk2 foible is that it will rust merrily away behind the rear lamp clusters – you won’t be aware there’s anything amiss until a blister starts to appear at the edge of the inner rear lights – at that point it’s too late.
Despite Rover’s reputation for producing fragile four-pots, all of the in-house options are capable sloggers. The eight-valve O-Series engine fitted to the 820 fastback (rare now) won’t cause many problems, but it does have a tendency, along with the 16-valve M16 (1986-1991) and T16 (1991-1999) to leak oil, so check thoroughly around the distributor as the cylinder head tends to weep in this area. These engines are critical for cambelts, so ensure that these have been changed at the correct time and mileage. Turbocharged versions are mechanically rugged, but do suffer from problems with their ECUs and associated control systems. Gearboxes aren’t really strong enough for a long life, especially if the car has been ‘chipped’. Listen closely for differential bearing whine in fourth and fifth gear.
The Honda V6 (1986-1995) engines prove exceptionally reliable, though they can develop noisy tappets in later life (ticking at idle is a Honda speciality). This is not serious, but it is recommended to keep these adjusted correctly.
The 800 does not appear to suffer too much in this department, with the main issues associated with age – with tired dampers and bushes on the rear suspension points to look closely at. Brake pedal feel is soft, and you’ll know if the pads are anywhere near needing replacement because they squeal loudly when they get near to their backing plates. On ABS-equipped models, make sure the warning tell-tale lights up when the car is switched on, but then goes out immediately.
If this light stays on, you’re looking at replacing the sensors, at the very least, and these are now expensive new (£100-plus per sensor) and difficult to get hold of secondhand. The steering on the Honda version is speed sensitive, and should weight-up with speed. Ensure there are no groans or knocking sounds when turning from lock to lock
The 800’s main bugbear is its propensity for the fusebox to suffer from dry joints – and this leads to all manner of problems, such as windows that won’t work when the car is warm and central locking that doesn’t lock. So if you come across a car that suffers in this way, the faults can invariably be solved by repairing or replacing the fusebox. There are also ignition and ECU problems on earlier models, along with alarms with minds of their ownand immobilisers that immobilise when you don’t want them to. Failing batteries can cause windows to
A Rover 800 is an interesting and commodious classic that’s really quite nice to drive if you find a good one.
The principal appeal of the V6s is for cruising. The KV6 engined models sound and drive beautifully when they’re working. As for the four-pot naturally aspirated cars, all are efficient (30mpg is easily attained) and pleasant cruisers – but they’re overshadowed by the turbocharged Vitesse models, which in post-1994 Sport trim are amazingly good to drive. For less demanding drivers, a Honda V6 powered car will suit just fine, while keen drivers will love a nice tight Vitesse Sport.