He may have worn trousers in the manner of Simon Cowell, but the hero of the launch advert for the Rover 200 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLSI11cEWeg) had Britain’s jilted lovers sniffling into their Kleenex as he raced to the church to save his one true love from marrying a man she didn’t want to - all to the backdrop of Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warne’s Love Lifts us up Where We Belong. After all, who could possibly resist a man in an economical family hatchback with multi-link independent suspension?
Arranged marriages and messy separations were to form the backdrop for Rover Group during the R8’s production run, too, but back in 1989 the politics were yet to play out. BMW was nowhere to be seen, Rover was owned by British Aerospace and had an established technology and design sharing arrangement with Honda that was working out far better than the ad couple’s tumultuous relationship.
Instead, Britain’s motoring media were showering the R8 in confetti. Here was the best British car not just in a decade, but in an entire generation. If the globally important Metro had given hope to the beleaguered British Leyland (as it was then), then the three and five-door 200 ‘R8’ was the proof that persistence and patience paid off.
For a short while, Rover made the best compact hatchback in the world - an accolade bestowed on the car not just by our domestic media, but by those across Europe, too. Even the stubbornly patriotic French conceded that it was a little bit better than the Renault 19, but not by much, tu comprends?
The car was Rover Group’s great white hope. As the company repositioned the brand further upmarket, quality, comfort and driver appeal were the key attributes it needed, and with the R8 it got the lot.
It’s all too easy to look back at Rover as twee and traditional, but the R8 was a truly innovative and desirable car in its day. Compared to a Ford Escort or Vauxhall Astra, there was no contest. It was better in every department, from performance to refinement, quality to comfort.
The R8 was so popular at launch that there was a waiting list - something unheard of for Rover since the P6 made its debut in 1963.
In 1993, the R8 was face-lifted to incorporate a new front end, dominated by a chrome grille that aped the look of that on the 1991 ‘R17’ 800 update, the chrome grille being a status symbol in the driveways of suburbia that even led to a trend of owners of earlier models adding the shiny snout and darkened rear lights to their earlier cars.
And that’s what we have here – a late 216 SLi automatic in White Gold, with the 1.6-litre Honda ‘D16’ 16-valver under the bonnet. It’s not quite as posh as the range-topping GSi, but with electric windows, a sunroof and plush velour upholstery the SLi was good enough for aspiring Hyancinth Buckets. This one even more so as it has the ultra-rare option of factory-fitted air conditioning – one of only a handful known to still exist.
This completely unrestored and original car has spent more of its life parked up than being used. It was bought at six months’ old by the previous owner’s grandfather, but sadly he passed away in 1998 leaving the Rover in the garage of his bungalow until it was discovered by the family when his wife passed away in 2013, with just 16,000 miles on the clock.
The car was given to his granddaughter who then used it as her daily car from 2013 until it was acquired by the current owner in 2017. Sadly, she had no idea of its classic potential, so put an impressive 55,000 miles on it using it as a runaround.
Its current keeper, a Rover collector, was astonished by its overall condition (no doubt aided by its 15-year lay-up) so rescued it from daily use in 2017 and has gradually improved it since, sourcing some original wheel trims and a replacement tailgate spoiler among other items.
As well as a UK V5C in the name of the current owner, the car comes with its original handbook and bill of sale, documenting a £995 deposit and £9,000 balance paid to the main dealership it was acquired from by the grandfather. It also comes with a letter from the dealership congratulating him on his choice of a new Rover.
Sadly, there is no service book or bills with the car as these were misplaced during the house clearance. The current owner is a hands-on enthusiast and has serviced the car himself using OEM-spec parts. He fitted a new cam-belt on acquiring the car in 2017, though the Honda D16 is a non-interference engine so this is less of a worry than on some models.
Apart from a small burn on the passenger seat, which isn’t immediately noticeable, the interior of the 216 is in excellent order, with none of the cracks or sun-bleach damage to the wood dashboard and door cappings commonly seen on the model.
The driver’s side electric window judders suggesting the regulator is playing up, but the vendor has a replacement regulator that will be supplied with the car (any R8 enthusiast will tell you that such things are like hens’ teeth). Otherwise, everything works including the air conditioning, remote locking, electric roof and mirrors.
The car comes with a modern Phillips CD player, but the original Rover radio cassette is in the boot should you wish to go full retro.
It’s very hard to find fault with the paintwork on this car. Look closely and you’ll spot some fine stone chips on the bonnet along with a small mark on the nearside front wing. There’s also a scuff on the grey plastic front bumper, though it doesn’t really stand out.
Aside from a tiny spot of welding on the offside rear inner sill, carried out at the last MoT and which you can’t see from outside, the car is incredibly solid. The rear arches, front wings, inner tailgate and front struts are unmarked – and these are the places where R8s are renowned for corroding.
The paint is superb all over, while a matching set of recent Pirelli tyres are an added bonus.
The Honda D16 starts on the button and sounds terrific – it’s a really unusual and eager-sounding unit that has always had a distinctive thrum.
It idles happily and the automatic gearbox (the best combo in an R8) works smoothly through all four gears. It can also be operated manually through the ‘box, and it will do so with surprising alacrity. The car drives brilliantly – it’s quick, smooth and effortless, with that traditional balance of ride and handling sharpness that made the R8 such a resounding success in the first place.
If there was a car that encapsulated 1990s suburbia then this is it. What could be more evocative of a detached bungalow and a neatly mown lawn than this – a white gold Rover 216 automatic. It’s a veritable time capsule all of its own.
The fact that this is an unrestored and brilliantly preserved example means it’s also destined to be a Nineties icon for a long time to come. It represents a terrific introduction to the rapidly expanding MG Rover scene and promises to be a great value retro hatchback that’s still perfectly capable of being used every day. And with that ultra-rare air con, that includes hot ones!
Important: Although every care is taken to ensure this listing is as factual and transparent as possible, all details within the listing are subject to the information provided to us by the seller. Car & Classic does not take responsibility for any information missing from the listing.
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