The Rover 200 had all the ingredients to become a proper hot hatch when it was relaunched as conventional, two-box hatchback in the mid-1990s. Tipping the scales at just over a tonne and packing a range of revvy K-Series engines, it looked as though Rover was in with a shout of something properly enthusiast focused beyond the wood trim and staid styling.
We’d have to wait until the early 2000s and the revival of the MG brand before a mass-produced hot hatch based on the 200 (now called the 25) arrived on the scene, because the 200 Vi and 25 GTI were a bit half-hearted. While it was certainly a more focused offering to the 25, the MG ZR didn’t quite live up to the standards set by the likes of the Clio 172 and Honda Civic Type R. It did sell well, though, despite arriving in the wake of the bitter divorce between Rover and BMW, earning it a spot on the list of hot hatch legend – if not on outright pace alone.
Rover did, however, have a stab at building a hot hatch in the late 90s using the 200 as a basis - it just didn’t make many of them. It was called the 200 BRM LE and, yes, it’s named after the championship winning Formula 1 team of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and wears the badges to prove it. And that’s a bit odd because Rover had nothing to do with the F1 team in its heyday. Instead, the car was built to commemorate a gas-powered prototype racing car that BRM developed in conjunction with Rover, clocking up top ten finishes in the 1963 and 65 runnings of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Impressive, for sure, but did it warrant having a hot hatch named after it nearly four decades later?
Probably not. But what the 200 BRM LE lacked in prestige, it made up for in character. You can spot a BRM edition a mile off thanks to the comically bright orange grille, harking back to the orange noses of BRM’s old F1 machines. Those spray-on silver trim pieces certainly help the BRM edition stand out further, for better or worse, but there’s no denying the Brooklands Green finish looks fantastic on the hatch. If you thought the exterior was, er, impactful, just wait until you see the cabin. All BRM editions came with red quilted leather seats, red carpets and red highlights on the steering wheel. A bit like all-red cabins of early Honda Type R models, only more regal.
It wasn’t all for show, either. While power remained the same at 145hp from a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-pot, the 200 BRM LE gained a Torsen limited-slip differential to help transfer all that power from the front wheels to the tarmac and revised damping for a sportier ride. It sat 20mm lower to the ground, too, and shorter gear ratios were fitted to make it feel faster – even without the extra grunt you’d expect from a hot hatch.
Rover only built 795 examples for the UK market, though uptake was slower than anticipated. That’s probably because BRM went out of business 20 years before the 200 BRM LE arrived, and most young hot hatch buyers had probably never heard of it. But that just means it’s become a bit of a collector’s item – and a guilty pleasure for some. Plus, in a world where four-figure hot hatches are becoming ever rarer, the £6,995 price tag on this very tidy example (bar a dodgy looking exhaust) is a sight for sore eyes. Providing you don’t stare it in the mouth, that is…
SPECIFICATION | ROVER 200 BRM LE
Engine: 1,796cc four-cylinder
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 145@6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 128@4,000rpm
Year registered: 1997
Recorded mileage: 71,000
Price new: £18,000
Yours for: £6,995
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