For much of the life of Rover Cars, the story seemed to be centred around arresting decline. It was almost taken as read that the company was in a slow motion nosedive into oblivion, and each new model that came along was about trying to stave off the inevitable.
However, when it hooked up with Honda in 1981, it began to look like Rover – just maybe – did have a future after all. Here was an up and coming Japanese manufacturer that had amazing strengths in some areas, and really rather serious weaknesses in others. Honda made the world’s finest small petrol engines and gearboxes, and was able to make consistent and reliable cars in high volumes. Rover was skilled at styling and packaging, and also did suspension very well. Put the two together and the sum was greater than the parts.
The first result of the Honda-Rover collaboration was the 800 series, and for a while it was immensely popular. It came out in saloon and coupe version as a Honda, whereas Rover’s variant had saloon and ‘fastback’ body options. This led to speculation that there was going to be a Rover coupe version, but for various reasons this didn’t initially happen, despite some very striking styling proposals for the series one car. Finally in 1991, at the time of the series two ‘range refresh’, the Richard Woolley-styled Rover 827 Coupe appeared.
Hand built at Longbridge, the bespoke Coupe body featured frameless windows, and huge, long, heavy doors. The interior was a study in opulence, beautifully trimmed in acres of high quality leather. The back seats were full size (unlike, say, the Jaguar XJ-S) making it a true four seater. The car was a real looker, and appeared totally different to the series one cars, despite still having an awful lot in common under the skin. The rear end treatment, especially the sleekly sloping rear window and pillars, was exceptionally well done.
Under the bonnet, the same Honda C27a engine was fitted, slightly detuned thanks to the fitment of a catalytic convertor as standard. It still provided ample power, even via the Honda automatic box with which it mated beautifully. The manual version was quite quick, but lacked the self-shifter’s seamless progress on the road, of course.
Rover’s most expensive car of the nineteen nineties was a lovely thing to drive, although it wasn’t a driver’s car. It made comfortable, unfussed progress and was an extremely cosy, secure place to sit. It’s biggest failing was the price – not far from the dynamically far superior Jaguar XJ-S, it was a far less salubrious and classy car, nice though it was.
Not surprisingly the 827 Coupe didn’t sell in particularly high volumes, so Rover tried some cheaper variants, dropping the T-series 2.0 engine in, in either normally aspirated (Sterling) or turbo-charged (Vitesse) form. These proved more popular, and finally, late in its life, it got the 2.5 KV6 Rover powerplant, a decent design but far less reliable than the Honda V6. Only the very last 1998-99 versions of these were debugged properly, and it’s these that still survive – the earlier 825s having popped their head gaskets and been scrapped.
It’s a very pleasant, characterful car, the big Rover Coupe. Not earth shattering but something that will surely carve a small niche for itself one day. After it, Rover never attempted such an opulent design, the subsequent 75 being a smaller and less exclusive machine.