Stop it. Stop right now with your Alan Partridge references. We’ve heard them all, and we have heard them often. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not really fair. Yes, Alan was something of a cringe-worthy caricature of a human being, but his cars were actually solid. The Lexus was a good car, but so too was his Rover. Okay, so it was racing beige and specced in the most elderly way possible, but we’ll overlook that.
It’s fun and frankly easy to hear the name Rover and scoff before reeling off the head gasket jokes. You’re a fool if you do though. Rover wasn’t a ‘have a go’ company, it was around for a long time, and it knew how to make a decent car. The fact they were screwed together by people that had more strikes than tea breaks was the problem. Not the cars.
A case in point would Alan’s ride and ours, the Rover 800. It is, or should we say, was a good car. The Rover 800 wasn’t just a Rover, either. It was a Honda, too. Codenamed Project XX, the two companies came together to create a large luxury car. Rover needed to replace the ageing SD1. Honda wasn’t replacing anything – it simply didn’t have a large luxury car. The two companies had worked together on the Triumph Acclaim/Honda Prelude, so it made sense to do it again. Both developed and shared the core shell and chassis structure, Rover did the electrics and the four-cylinder engines, Honda did the V6 lumps and the automatic transmissions.
The two resulting cars – despite sharing the same core body – were worlds apart. And this isn’t our biased eye saying this; the Rover was the better car. At least in the sense of being large and being laden with luxury. The Honda car, named the Legend, was somewhat stale and muted. The Rover, shockingly, had a bit more flair.
The Rover also had performance. From the off, the 800 was available in Vitesse guise. In the case of early cars, that meant a 2.7 Honda V6, lots of sporty trim and lots of get up and go. And if you think we’re lying, there’s something you should know. In 1990, rally supremo Tony Pond took a standard Rover 827 Vitesse and did a lap of the Isle of Man. With an average speed of 101mph. That’s… fast. So fast, in fact, that the record stood for 21 years, and was only beaten by a Subaru Impreza.
The 800’s later performance guise came in the form of what we have. Again, it was called the Vitesse. However, it has two fewer cylinders but gained a turbo. Later cars, like ours, also had a coil pack ignition, bumping the power up to 200bhp in the process. Add in the Torsen limited-slip differential, the big 17 x 7.5 wheels and fully independent suspension and it makes for a car with some serious pace and road-holding.
And that’s sort of why we love it. It’s a real ‘if you know, you know’ car. People are keen to mock it until we reel off the spec, or until we mention the Isle of Man. People mocked Rover because it was easy, but as soon as you talk about the company and what it achieved, that all changes. People are interested.
We’re more than interested though, we’re proud. We love Rovers, we love our Rover, and we’ll shout that from the rooftops. Yes, the company was mismanaged, the quality control left more than a little to be desired and some products were naff (looking at you, City Rover), but the cars were ours, they were British. And Rover was, let’s not forget, the last big British car manufacturer. It’s sad that it’s gone. So what’s wrong with celebrating Rover’s legacy than by keeping the old stuff on the road?
Now if you don’t mind, we have to go. Someone has sprayed “Cock, Piss, Partridge” down the side of our Vitesse…