Practical Classics (UK)
Launched in 1986, the Rover 800 was a classy looking, contemporarily engineered executive car with all the ingredients to fight the best that Europe had to offer. Designed and engineered in conjunction with Honda, and wearing a smart British-styled suit, this was just the car Rover needed for the end of the Eighties.
Four-cylinder engines were powerful and loved revs, while the Honda V6 was creamy and punched with the best of the Germans. On the road, it was good enough. A firm ride, quick steering (for the four-cylinder cars) and tidy handling were enough for the 800 not to embarrass itself without troubling the best cars in its class.
As crisp as it looked on the road, it was so much better on the inside. The interiors were bright and finished in some confidently upmarket colours and trims, the seats were big, supportive and comfortable, and the dashboard was literally a work of art. Within a couple of years of its launch it was consistently the bestselling executive car in the UK, outstripping even the Ford Granada.
Today, there’s a phalanx of enthusiasts who won’t forgive it for replacing the V8-powered fivedoor Daytona – sorry Rover SD1 – but in ’86, the outgoing car looked like a dinosaur compared with the Audi 100 (C3) or Saab 9000. Unfortunately, the 800 also had a welter of quality and reliability issues that harked back to the SD1’S darkest days. But the difference here is that Rover worked so hard to put them right quickly, and once the five-door Fastback version came on stream in 1988, with the sexy Vitesse version adding some welcome glamour, these barges were as dependable as they needed to be in the context of the cars they were up against.
The Rover 800 is picking up
a bit of a following these days, especially with younger fans, so values are starting to harden. Yes, they did suffer from flaky reliability in period, but there’s plenty of expertise out there now, and what were once considered tough electrical gremlins to sort back in the day are now easy meat for your average enthusiast brought up on Nineties and Noughties metal. In short – buy, fiddle and enjoy!