My fourth in a line of Tomcats, this is becoming a habit! I’ve had a thing about Rover 200s since I owned a Flame Red 216 GTi in the late nineties. It drove beautifully, was brilliantly screwed together and had an engine – the Honda D16 also seen in the eighties CRX – that you could thrash the living daylights out of, with sadistic glee.
Nice as the three door GTi was, the Coupe was always the one to have, thanks to its really rather neatly designed T-bar and moonroof. In one of those magic moments when the sun breaks through the clouds, you screech to a halt and pull both panels out of the roof – and even the T-bar should you so wish. Stow them in the bag in the boot, speed off into the distance and feel the air in your hair – without having to pfaff around with hoods and the like. It’s a really rather elegant compromise.
This really makes the Coupe, although it would still be nice enough without it. The handling is crisp, the roadholding fine and the car possesses a curious mix of feeling like a low volume, bespoke bolide and something that could only have been made by a professional car company to rather high standards. Indeed, it’s a perfect example of the once blissfully happy marriage between Rover and Honda, with all the best bits of each. It’s got neat looks, fine packaging and smooth ride courtesy of Longbridge, and a gorgeous engine and gearbox, plus a precision feel, from Tokyo.
The Tomcat (that was its internal Rover codename, which rather stuck around after – as per the SD1) came in a range of engines, the earlier ones sporting 1.6 Honda D16 or 2.0 T16 Rover power, the latter with the option of a turbocharger, making it stupidly fast and rear lairy. The Honda 1.6 isn’t especially quick, but the way it drives is a joy – the engine loves revs as much as any motorbike the company’s ever made, and the gearbox is as slick as James Bond. The normally aspirated Rover 2.0 is an interesting variant; the motor is a little heavier, slowing the turn in slightly but giving a greater sense of solidity. Unlike the Honda, it’s got torque everywhere and is a relaxing and surprisingly economical, yet very swift, mile muncher.
Right now, Tomcats are so cheap they’re almost free – but most have been tampered with, and are on to their umpteenth owner. Find a good, low mileage, unsullied one and you’ll have a characterful, fun and practical classic that costs pennies to run. One of the best kept modern classic car secrets.