Wednesday 13th March 2013


Old and flaky its reputation may be these days, but the 800 cut quite a dash in its time

You’d hardly believe it now, but the early 90s were an optimistic time for Rover. After a torrid period in the early 80s, the company’s partnership with Honda was starting to pay dividends, and the Rover 213 and 216 – Honda Ballades, in all but name – had met with agreeable reviews and become a successful model for the company.

Rover's most unintentionally ironic subtitle?
Rover's most unintentionally ironic subtitle?
The next Rover to come out of this partnership was the 800, codenamed XX, and it continued the trend. Closely related to the first-generation Honda Legend, it featured a combination of Rover 2.0-litre M-Series engines and Honda V6s, and equipped with the latter, it spawned the second big Rover to wear the Vitesse name.

The first, of course, had been the big, brutish SD1 – but the 800 was an altogether different animal. Front-wheel drive, and more of an executive cruiser than a touring car tearaway, it’s no surprise that it’s barely remembered today while the SD1 is feted. But in its own right, and in its day, it was – take a deep breath, now – a good car. The V6 gave it 180hp, enough to propel it to 60mph in eight seconds dead, and it handled well. “Unlike the Legend, this car has the heart of a lion,” said Car magazine. “The Vitesse wipes aside the ills of earlier Rovers.” Let’s not forget, while we’re on the subject, that it was a completely standard 827 Vitesse that was the first production car to average 100mph around the Isle Of Man TT circuit, a feat achieved with Tony Pond at the wheel in 1990.

'I remember when these were all Ambassadors...'
'I remember when these were all Ambassadors...'
This particular ad, for the whole 800 range but featuring the Vitesse most heavily, was one of Rover’s better efforts of the 90s – all subtlety and innuendo, clever camerawork and neat asides. In fact it wouldn’t be out of place if it appeared on our screens today. In one fell swoop it takes a delightfully unsubtle swipe at Rover’s main rivals from the German car industry (then in its ascendancy, and just a few short years away from taking over the company in its entirety), and then addresses concerns about Rover’s fit and finish (although, clearly, the supposed owner who “likes the way it’s put together” enjoys the odd panel gap), before referring to its sporting credo (while cutting to a shot of a four-speed auto box being shifted between gears). Ahem. OK, so it’s not the greatest ad in the world in terms of its accuracy, but who cares? It looks great, the concept’s neat, and the car’s... well, it’s actually looking rather good these days, we reckon. Enjoy!

PS. If you want a giggle, check out this earlier example of XX 800 advertising to see how well they moved the game on. Keep an eye out for the head-on shot with a main-beam bulb out. Only a company formed from the ashes of British Leyland could manage that one...

Author: Alex Robbins
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