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Rover 220 Coupe Turbo | Spotted

Rover's Tomcat lived up to its nickname: assertive, vigorous and more than a little wayward...

By Dafydd Wood / Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Rover 220 Coupe Turbo's hero status is well established amongst brand aficionados at this point. With its 16-valve, 2.0-litre turbo engine producing 200hp and 174lb ft of torque, it was the fastest production car the manufacturer had built up to that point. Its 150mph top speed and 6.2-second-to-sixty figures were 23mph and 2.0 seconds superior to the benchmarks set by the non-turbo 220. And it received upgrades like anti-lock disc brakes all around, a Torsen diff - which was marketed as traction control - uprated suspension and 15-inch 'Turbo' alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot tyres.

Known as the "Tomcat" thanks to its pre-production nickname, the Coupe Turbo looked all set to go head to head with the likes of the Vauxhall Calibra Turbo, Volkswagen Corrado and Ford Escort Cosworth. That wasn't quite the case, though, as Tiff Needell found when he took a 220 Turbo to Germany for a vintage episode of Top Gear.

The powerful Rover was indeed rather refined in a high speed motorway cruise, with a comfortable cabin, smooth power delivery and excellent stability. Try to exploit its plentiful power somewhere twistier, however, and despite its Torsen diff, the front-wheel drive layout, vague steering and lack of genuine traction control left it wanting. He at least seemed to enjoy himself, though.

Car magazine was considerably less forgiving in its 1993 group test, which may be the most damning critique of a car ever written: "Under its chic, feline skin, this Tomcat's a dog. A howler ... Under power the whole car writhes and squirms as if an exorcist were trying to rid its body of a plague of demons ... Powering hard through corners is not recommended. Unless you enjoy that much understeer ... Matters are worsened by the stiff suspension set-up ... The 220 Turbo is totally without finesse, unless you care to drive using only a fraction of its potential ... It doesn't just finish fourth in this comparison, it finishes rock-bottom last. It's the company's calamity coupe." Ah.

Still, there are no shortage of cars whose legends remain untarnished by the limits of their real-world abilities. Sure, it may not be the best handling sports coupe on the market (it could in fact be the worst ever, apparently) but the 220 Coupe Turbo's handsome looks, comfortable cruising capacity and record-setting top speed ensure its hero status remains intact.

Today's Spotted is more noteworthy still, being as it is an 'FDH' registered car. As the ad explains, that makes it one of around 200 fully-specced examples which were built in the UK for export to Japan. A change in Japanese emissions legislation before their sale left them in limbo, however, and each car was returned to Blighty where, after a long delay, it was registered to Rover in Dudley DVLA office - resulting in an ****FDH plate - before being sold on at a discount either to an employee or the dealer network.

While curio kudos may be in the eye of the beholder, though, a car's outright ability is a little less subjective. Nonetheless, there'll be plenty of PHers intrigued by sight of an icon like the 220 Coupe Turbo. And if it's the absolute best example of Rover's Tomcat they're after, they need look no further.

Engine: 1,994cc, inline-four
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 175@2,100rpm
CO2: N/A
Recorded mileage: 6,646
First registered: 1998
Price new: £18,400 (around £36,000 after inflation)
Yours for: £15,995

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