Bridging the Gap: The Honda / Acura Legend and Rover 800

ROVER 800

The Rover 800 debuted in the U.K. in July 1986, shortly after Austin Rover changed its name to Rover Group.

As with the SD1 a decade earlier, Rover launched the 800 with the largest, most powerful engine: in this case, the Honda V-6. With a manual gearbox, the uncatalyzed C25A2 had 173 PS DIN (127 kW) and 160 lb-ft (217 N-m) of torque. Automatic cars had a different cam that reduced peak power to 167 PS DIN (123 kW), but provided slightly more torque — 163 lb-ft (221 N-m) — at lower RPM. Cars for certain export markets, including Australia, retained the catalyst and were rated at 150 PS DIN (110 kW) and 153 lb-ft (207 N-m) of torque. (Those figures, incidentally, make us question Honda’s JDM power ratings, which although ostensibly net figures seem rather generous.)

1986 Rover 825 Sterling front 3q and 1991 Rover Vitesse front 3q © 2013 Tim Hunter (with permission)

Early Rover 800s are now thin on the ground; this 1986 Rover Sterling (foreground) is the oldest still on British roads. The car behind it is one of the final pre-facelift cars, a 1991 Vitesse fastback. The early 800 was a bit smaller than the contemporary Legend in most dimensions and looks notably crisper. Rover claimed a Cd of 0.32, very good for the time. In Sterling form, the early four-door weighed around 3,150 lb (1,430 kg) with a full tank of fuel, roughly the same as a 2.5-liter Legend. (Photo: “1986 Rover 825 Sterling 1990 Rover 827 Vitesse” © 2013 Tim Hunter; used with permission)

Initially, Rover offered two grades: the 825i and the top-of-the-line Sterling, which had leather upholstery, self-leveling rear struts, power seats, sunroof, alloy wheels, and Bosch ABS, most of which were optional on the 825i. Both grades were expensive; although the 800 was assembled in Cowley, its dependence on components imported from Japan undoubtedly did its price no favors. In the U.K., the 825i started at nearly £16,000 (about $23,500) with tax and the Sterling added another £3,000 (about $4,400) on top of that. In the U.K., either was more than a BMW 528i SE and the Sterling was priced very close to the Mercedes 300E.

Perhaps the Rover’s bitterest rival in the British market was the new Jaguar XJ40, a car with which the 800 was not originally supposed to compete. The Rover was better equipped than the Jaguar, but that didn’t really soften the blow of the 800’s list price, which was actually higher than that of the XJ6 3.6, a bigger car with 50 more horsepower (38 kW) than the V-6 Rover. The fact that the government-owned Rover Group had produced a luxury car more expensive than the latest product of the re-privatized Jaguar went over poorly with the British press and didn’t endear Rover to the Tories, who had unhappily inherited the nationalized automaker from the previous Labour government.

1986 Rover 825 Sterling rear 3q and 1991 Rover Vitesse rear 3q © 2013 Tim Hunter (with permission)

At 184.8 inches (4,694 mm) overall, the Rover 800 was only fractionally longer than 5-number JDM Honda Legends, although it was wider (68.1 inches/1,730 mm) and a bit taller (55 inches/1,398 mm) on an identical wheelbase. V-6 Rover 800s had 15-inch wheels rather than the 14-inch wheels on early JDM cars, but air conditioning, standard on Japanese Legends, was an expensive option on the Rover. (Photo: “1986 Rover 825 Sterling 1990 Rover 827 Vitesse” © 2013 Tim Hunter; used with permission)

In general, the V-6 Rover drove much like the Legend did. (The uncatalyzed engine’s extra power appears to have had little effect on performance, presumably because torque output was little changed.) There was cautious praise for the Rover’s handling and smooth-road ride, but even the most generous European critics complained that the Rover’s firmer damping wasn’t enough to keep the car off the bump stops over rough surfaces, particularly at higher speeds. There were persistent complaints about inadequate suspension travel and the numb power steering, which some reviewers thought spoiled the handling. Mostly, though, the 800 was branded with that most damning of road tester epithets: bland.

Considering the 800’s Japanese roots — of which testers were well aware — that was predictable and to some extent a matter of taste. More worrisome was the 800’s haphazard build quality, which suggested that not all of the SD1’s gremlins had yet been banished. (On the other hand, Jaguar had nothing to brag about in that department either, but those shortcomings had failed to noticeably dampen British critics’ initial enthusiasm for the XJ40.)

1987 Rover Sterling dashboard © 2009 M. Mobarak (with permission)

The Rover 800 didn’t share the Legend’s dashboard and, particularly in Sterling trim, offered a richer ambiance that Honda only came close to emulating on later JDM Exclusive models. The Rover instrument panel also featured full instrumentation while the Legend’s ancillary gauges were limited to fuel level and water temperature. (Photo: “Rover 825 Sterling Cabin” © 2009 M. Mobarak; used with permission)

The 800’s bigger problem was that the luster of the Rover brand had been fading for some time and the 800 simply wasn’t exciting enough to restore that shine. In some ways, the new car was superior to the SD1 it replaced, but critics had wanted to like the SD1, whereas many of the plaudits the 800 received were guarded and grudging. Had it enjoyed the sort of price advantage the U.S.-market Legend did, the 800 might have been received more charitably, but against the formidable competition, Rover was asking too much for too little.

Much the same could be said of the European Honda Legend, which arrived in late 1986. The Legend had little price advantage over the Rover (in Germany, the Honda was actually more expensive), offered fewer features, and had even less appeal for status seekers. The Legend’s softer ride won few friends among European testers, and even Germany’s auto, motor und sport preferred the Rover’s wood and leather to the comparatively dour Honda cabin.

1990 Acura Legend sedan interior/dashboard © 2007 Hey Paul (CC BY 2.0 Generic)

The first-generation Legend sedan’s cabin was well-assembled and ergonomically sound, but not that fancy. Leather upholstery became available about a year after launch and later in the run, senior grades could be dressed up with wood interior trim, but the four-door Legend’s interior was not as rich as some European rivals or as flashy as many Japanese ones. Acura-badged cars had a minor interior restyling for 1989, including a standard driver’s airbag. (Photo: “car2” © 2007 Hey Paul; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The Legend’s main advantage was noticeably better assembly quality than the Rover’s. Although European Legends were also built in Cowley, Honda took the sensible precaution of establishing its own U.K. inspection center in Swindon to correct defects before shipping cars to dealers. For many European buyers, that wasn’t worth the sacrifice in brand prestige or the loss of items like ABS, compounded by the unavailability of more economical, affordable engine options.

LEGEND COUPE

Both Honda and Rover were interested in offering coupe versions of the XX and HX, but the two companies decided to go their own ways on the two-door models. Rover showed a flashy, futuristic concept car called CCV at the 1986 Turin show, months before the launch of the 800, but Honda would be the first to put a coupe into production.

The Honda Legend coupe (chassis code E-KA3) arrived at Japanese Clio stores in February 1987. The coupe had all-new exterior panels and was shorter, lower, and more aerodynamic than the sedan, with a claimed drag coefficient of 0.30. Coupes also had a new dashboard and distinct interior trim.

1987 Honda Legend Coupe 2.7i front 3q © 2014 mangopulp2008 (with permission - modified by Aaron Severson)

The KA3 Legend coupe was 0.8 inches (20 mm) lower than the sedan and had a smaller frontal area with a lower drag coefficient. How much lower is debatable. Honda claimed a Cd of 0.32 for the four-door Legend, the same as the Rover 800, but Rover engineers alleged that the Legend sedan’s actual Cd was more like 0.35. The 800 sedan looks sleeker than the Legend, but appearances can be deceiving; the bluff-looking Lexus LS400/Toyota Celsior had a lower Cd than either the Legend or the 800. (Photo: “1989 Honda Legend 2.7i immaculate and rare car in UK” © 2014 mangopulp2008; used with permission)

The coupe had some structural differences as well, in part to accommodate a new double wishbone rear suspension. Predictably, this was similar to the Accord’s: a trailing arm, two unequal-length lower lateral links, a twisted upper arm, and a single upper lateral link; a rear anti-roll bar was retained, but was 18% thicker than the sedan’s. The front suspension was similar to the Legend sedan’s, although the mounting points were altered and a larger front anti-roll bar was now connected with ball joints. Coupes also had firmer damping, bigger disc brakes, and wider tires on 15-inch wheels. Honda’s new three-channel ABS was standard on JDM coupes and optional elsewhere.

The revised chassis was accompanied by a new 2,675 cc (163 cu. in.) C27A engine with a dual-runner intake manifold like the C20A’s. On JDM cars, the C27A1 was rated at 180 PS JIS (132 kW) and 166 lb-ft (226 N-m) of torque; Honda said 85% of maximum torque was available from 1,500 rpm, providing much-improved low-speed muscle. In Japan, the bigger engine was offered only with a new dual-mode, electronically controlled four-speed automatic. Honda claimed the new engine and transmission trimmed 0.8 seconds from the sedan’s 0–62 mph (0–100 km/h) acceleration time. Export cars could also be ordered with the same five-speed manual gearbox offered the 2.5-liter sedans, which made the coupe capable of 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in around 8 seconds and a top speed of more than 130 mph (210 km/h).

1989 Honda Legend coupe 2.7i interior © 2014 mangopulp2008 (with permission)

The two-door Honda Legend had a distinct interior with camphor wood trim on the console, which also featured a motorized concealer panel for the manual climate controls. The later JDM Exclusive trim level added additional wood trim on the instrument panel and doors plus various dress-up options seldom seen on export cars. Leather upholstery was an extra-cost option in most markets, although it was relatively common. (Photo: “1989 Honda Legend 2.7i immaculate and rare car in UK” © 2014 mangopulp2008; used with permission)

Unlike the sedan, the JDM Legend coupe was offered only in a single well-equipped 3-number grade with the C27A1 engine and a hefty ¥3,850,000 price tag (around $21,500). Later in the year, Honda added a new Exclusive grade, which cost an additional ¥280,000 (about $1,600). Either grade actually cost more than a Toyota Soarer 3.0GT, which had substantially more power and greater prestige.

The two-door Legend was sleeker, faster, and sportier than the sedan, helping to endear the coupe even to British critics who’d been ho-hum about the four-door. Although the coupe was actually more expensive than the sedan — an Acura Legend LS coupe with leather and driver-side airbag listed for about $27,000 in the U.S. and the equivalent Honda-badged car cost £24,000 in the U.K. — the two-door Legend was cheaper than rivals from BMW or Mercedes.

1989 Honda Legend coupe 2.7i rear 3q © 2014 mangopulp2008 (with permission - modified by Aaron Severson)

In Japan, Honda marketed the two-door Legend as a hardtop, and from this view, it’s easy to see why. (Two- and four-door hardtops were very popular in Japan in the late eighties, although only a few were actually pillarless.) All KA3 Legend coupes were 188 inches (4,775 mm) long on a 106.5-inch (2,705mm) wheelbase, 68.7 inches (1,745 mm) wide, and 54 inches (1,370 mm) high — Honda didn’t bother with a smaller 5-number version — and were slightly heavier than the equivalent sedan. (Photo: “1989 Honda Legend 2.7i immaculate and rare car in UK” © 2014 mangopulp2008; used with permission)

Legend sedans initially retained the smaller engine, but the C27A replaced the C25A on export Legends and the JDM V6Xi (chassis code E-KA4) in September 1987 and on V-6 Rovers in early 1988. The bigger engine was accompanied by the new automatic, although most non-JDM cars could still be ordered with manual transmission. Legend sedans also gained three-channel ABS, optional leather upholstery, and, in some markets, the airbag.

ROVER FASTBACK AND VITESSE

Four-cylinder Rover 800s were previewed at the 800’s press introduction in 1986 and began arriving at dealers later in the year. First up was the 820i, which had the M16i engine with 140 PS DIN (103 kW) and 131 lb-ft (178 N-m) of torque. A five-speed 820i gave away little to the automatic 825i in straight-line performance, was more economical, had slightly better steering feel (thanks to a different TRW Cam Gears power steering system), and was significantly cheaper, albeit still on the pricey side for this class.

In early 1987, the 820i was joined by the 820E, which had less equipment and a simpler single-point injection system that reduced output to 120 PS (88 kW) and 119 lb-ft (161 N-m) of torque. Surprisingly, the 820E’s real-world performance wasn’t far behind that of the 820i, whose advantage was mostly at higher engine speeds. By mid-1988, there would also be an even cheaper 820 price-leader powered by the carbureted O-Series engine, here making only 100 PS (74 kW). The 820 was noisier and slower than the injected cars and wasn’t substantially less expensive.

1989 Sterling 827SLi five-door - Honda C27A engine © 2014 Aaron Severson

The Honda C27A V-6 engine, seen here in a U.S.-spec 1989 Sterling 827SLi. Honda (and later Rover) quoted the same output figures for the JDM C27A1 and the uncatalyzed European C27A2 — odd considering that uncatalyzed export cars were almost certainly more powerful — and 169 PS DIN (124 kW) and 167 lb-ft (226 N-m) of torque for catalyzed European engines. The U.S. version was rated at 161 hp SAE (120 kW) and 162 lb-ft (220 N-m) of torque. The variation had little impact on performance, the similarity in torque proving more significant than the difference in horsepower. (author photo)

The 800 coupe was still years away, but in 1988, Rover introduced a new five-door body, which the company called a fastback. Although the SD1 had been offered only as a five-door, Rover approached the 800 fastback with trepidation because the British executive car market of the mid-eighties was still ambivalent about hatchbacks. Those fears proved unfounded; the fastback 800 sold well in the U.K. and Europe.

Although the five-door was offered with the same engine options as the sedan (and eventually the same trim choices as well), there was also a new performance-oriented Vitesse model, reviving a badge previously used on the SD1. The Vitesse had equipment comparable to the Sterling’s, but added 205/60VR15 tires, a stiffer suspension, and bigger disc brakes, plus the obligatory spoilers and ground effects. Power came from the same 2.7-liter (163 cu. in.) V-6 as the latest 827i and Sterling.

The Vitesse drew mixed reactions from automotive critics. British testers appreciated the firmer damping (which some American reviewers found unduly harsh), but the overall handling balance was little changed and the steering was as lifeless as ever. Reviewers still mourning the old V-8 Vitesse also bemoaned the new car’s comparatively lackluster torque.

1989 Sterling 827SLi five-door side © 2014 Aaron Severson

Although it wears a Rover tail badge, this car is actually a LHD Sterling 827SLi, with longer bumpers that bring its overall length to 188.8 inches (4,796 mm), 4 inches (102 mm) longer than the European car. (author photo)

The specter of the old Vitesse was probably the new car’s greatest enemy. The SD1 Vitesse was flawed, but critics had always been fond of its booming V-8 and well-tuned live-axle chassis, which represented a novel alternative to the high-end Germans. The new Vitesse remained a middle-of-the-road car that desperately needed some defining virtue to stand out in a crowded pack.

To some extent, the rest of the line still suffered the same problem, although by the time the fastback was introduced, the 800’s fortunes were steadily improving. Rover’s early export efforts had been hampered by the senior models’ high running costs — the V-6 was an expensive proposition in many European markets — while the early cars’ poor repair record had scared British fleet buyers. The addition of the cheaper four-cylinder models helped and by 1988, reliability had improved enough for Rover to make inroads in the important British company car market. In 1989, the 800 briefly displaced the Ford Granada Scorpio as Great Britain’s bestselling executive car, due mainly to sales to business users. The Rover still wasn’t a compelling choice for private buyers, but for fleet customers concerned about benefit-in-kind tax, four-cylinder 800s were a decent value.

1989 Sterling 827SLi fastback rear 3q © 2014 Aaron Severson

The five-door Rover 800 was versatile as well as sporty-looking, although its utility was compromised by the narrow load opening, bulky rear strut towers, and one-piece folding rear seat. A split-folding rear seat was added with the 1992 facelift. (author photo)

By this time, Rover was no longer a ward of the state. The company had finally returned to profitability in 1987, but by March 1988, the government had arranged to sell Rover Group to the aviation firm British Aerospace.

32 Comments

Add a Comment
  1. The British version of the Honda Ballade you referred to was the last car marketed as a Triumph, sold in the UK as the Triumph Acclaim. Later editions were rebadged as Rovers two hundred series cars.

    Roger.

    1. I had talked about the Acclaim in the Ballade/CRX article earlier this year (which even includes a picture of it), so I didn’t want to belabor the point, but I did add a clarification to the Rover 213 caption for the benefit of those joining us late. The reason I cited the Rover 200 rather than the Ballade as the antecedent of the 800 is that the 200 had a bit more Rover content, including the 1.6-liter engines, whereas the Acclaim was really just a Ballade with new badges and whatever minor changes Rover had to make for local type approval.

  2. Another great article. I love my 2005 RL, which was one of the most brilliant (the SH-AWD in the RLs is amazing for dry cornering and not bad in wet/snow), yet bland and poorly marketed vehicles ever (towards the end of its like it was barely selling hundreds of cars a year in the whole US). Still see more older Legends than RLs here in the states.

    Such a shame Honda chose not to give everyone what they wanted (or thought they needed) in a V8 and RWD, but they also didn’t try to really explain how a V6 (and a relatively high performing one in 2005) and AWD (with unique RWD bias as needed) could be a better solution.

    1. The AWD RL wasn’t a bad car and in some ways it was kind of handsome, but it smacked too much of trying to talk a nightclub bouncer into letting you into the posh nightclub after he’s already said no.

      It’s not that RWD vs. FWD (or even AWD, except for certain types of really high-performance car) makes that much of a difference to the way most people drive or that anyone really needs a V-8. (Even with the 5-Series and E-Class, the large majority are sold with sixes or fours.) But that class is all about perception, particularly when you don’t have pedigree to fall back on.

  3. Outside the scope of the article, but when the British government was looking to off-load Rover Group, Ford was the first company that stepped forward to buy. But, the government was aware of the potential public relations problem of selling Britain’s largest automaker to a foreign firm and was under pressure to find a British buyer. British Aerospace had no interest at all in getting into the automotive business, but as a defense contractor heavily dependent on government contracts, they could be “persuaded” into taking the company off the government’s hands.

    By then, Rover had a relatively modern and competitive model range and was making money, but BAe was unwilling to make any significant investment in the business and kind of starved it. When they were looking to sell in 1994, they tried to interest Honda, but the most Honda was willing to do was raise their stake from 20% to 40% and BAe wanted to dispose of the whole thing. So, BMW it became.

    For their part, Ford went on to buy Jaguar instead and was later able to grab Land Rover when BMW broke up the Rover Group.

    1. I think Rover Group ended up spending much of its later existence as a sort of perpetual white elephant. Each of its successive owners recognized (or at least hoped) that it had value, but saw that value as either notional or hypothetical: “This will certainly be worth a lot to someone, somewhere, following some reversal of fortune we would rather not have to pay for.” BAe is often criticized for not investing more in development, but the same could be said of BMW. Other than the MINI — a saga in itself — the main additions were the 75, which began as a BMW castoff, and the MGF, which I assume must have been largely done by the time the BMW deal was closed. There was the KV6, but that was a derivative of an existing Rover engine and something that, as I understand it, Rover only hadn’t built previously because it was simpler to use the Honda V-6.

      I’m honestly not sure what Ford would have had to gain by buying Rover at that time other than some of the shuttered brands (which it’s not easy to envision Ford actually reviving). Of course, they later bought Land Rover, but the high-end SUV market wasn’t yet looking as gold-plated as it did a decade or so later. As much hindsight-driven criticism as the acquisition of Jaguar has since received, the original rationale isn’t hard to grasp. Rover, though… hmmm.

      1. In the ’80s, Ford was coveting a European prestige brand of its own due to the success of the Germans, and to a lesser extent the Swedes, in the US, and the Rover brand, though tarnished, still had some upscale equity in it at that point. Plus, it could potentially be had for cheap. The courting of Rover, the acquisition of Jaguar, and the creation of Merkur all stemmed from the same desire to appeal to a different sort of customer than Lincoln-Mercury was chasing.

        A final bit of irony is that the Sterling name was created partly to avoid any connections with Rover’s past bad reputation in the US, but soon developed such a poor image itself that Rover Group was seriously considering dropping Sterling in favor of Rover for 1992. By then, the Range Rover had been launched here and had been favorably received, helping to remove some of the name’s taint.

        The MGF and Rover 75 were both supposedly developed with US sales in mind, but BMW’s fears of internecine competition followed by the loss of the Land Rover dealer network in 2000 prevented that from ever happening. I believe there were some images of 75 styling clays that showed US-spec reflectors and lights in place.

        1. The idea of getting a premium brand to take over the niche of the Granada would have made some sense for Ford, since (as is mentioned in the text) the high-end Germans essentially devoured the “big, non-premium exec” niche. Whether replacing the 800 and Granada with a what presumably would have been essentially a new Granada with a Rover badge would have worked commercially is an interesting question, although I don’t think it would have done Rover’s image any more harm than was done by slapping the Rover badge on the Metro. (Creating a premium supermini is one thing, but the Metro was past its sell-by at that point.)

          The confusing bit is what Ford would have done with the rest of Rover Group. Ford certainly had no need of Austin or Morris and while the MG badge obviously had (and still has) some cachet, it’s hard to envision Ford doing anything with it or reviving Triumph or Riley.

          I heard rumors of Rover bringing the MGF to the U.S., which would have made a modicum of sense were the timing right (of which I’m not so sure). MG and the pre-TR7 Triumph sports cars were about the only BL products that consistently sold well here. (American buyers didn’t know what to make of the big Triumph sedans and to the extent that there was a market for the P6, it was torpedoed by reliability problems.) I think the decision not to try to federalize the 75 was the correct one. Americans would have perceived the 75 as underpowered, and since it would have had to vie with Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus, any reliability or service weaknesses would have been fatal in very short order. (The American luxury buyer mindset is that if you’re not getting a brag-worthy German or Italian brand, it had better be bulletproof and the dealers had better offer lavish VIP treatment.)

          1. And as to the Rover, 75 or an MG variant, they really needed a more robust engine than the KV6 which came to the USA in the Freelander and had significant engine reliability issues.

  4. I recognise that white Sterling badged as a Rover; it was at last April’s Queen’s English show in Los Angeles – and I have to give the owner full credit for persistence, obstinance, and perseverance.

    Rover (in its many incarnations) was a company that never figured out how it should capitalise on the engineering virtues of its vehicles through superior build quality, and this shows in the progression of their models from the P6 to the SD1 through to the 800-series – they just couldn’t make the cars <b>work</b>, at least not consistently – even when Honda was giving more than just assistance at the start of the end.

    In many ways, it pains me to say this because I am the past owner of a Rover P6. It was a great car, and mine was clearly built on a good day because it was incredibly reliable and a fantastic driver. But I also grew up with Rover at the end of the P6 era, through the SD1 into the 200-, 400-, and 800-series cars, as well as into the twilight days with the 100/Metro, and 45 and 75.

    With a bit more effort, Rover could have been where BMW is now, instead of ultimately being a part of them – and then nothing except a phonetic variation of the name in China. But no matter how much brilliance may shine through from time to time, if you can’t learn from history’s mistakes you will be doomed to repeat them.

  5. Stirling. I was excited as all get out when the car first arrived. Japanese reliability coupled with British class.

    To this day I still remember the one page Car and Driver review of the 825. They were reasonably impressed . . . . . . and then in the middle of the test drive, the electrics suddenly cut out (completely) and a second or so later, came back on again. Never to happen again, of course. While C&D had enough class not to start making Lucas jokes, the did make this incident the closing couple of paragraphs in the review.

    And my though upon reaching the end was, “It’s dead Jim.”

  6. Very interesting article. Good to read about the Japanese market products. Inevitably some errors creep in and where it says “Four-cylinder Rovers had either an Austin Rover-supplied five-speed gearbox…” although this is true it gives the wrong impression. The PG1 manual box, although built by Austin-Rover was a Honda design manufactured under license.

    A work colleague bought, new, one of the last Legends sold in the UK in 2009. Honda had to discount the price of the new car to the level of a well-used car to shift them. Given that this was during the financial crisis just after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers the timing wasn’t great and the price cut understandable.

    1. Thanks for the note on the manual gearbox. I double-checked and you’re quite right (I’d misread my own notes on that point). I’ve amended the text.

  7. This article was well worth the wait, especially in terms of filling in the blanks relating to the Legend. I didn’t know there was one with a smaller engine available on the Japanese market. I remember when the turbo version came out; “Car’s” comment after testing it was “Not as good as we had hoped”.
    Despite the technological advances in the latest model (I much prefer names rather than the alphanumeric thing everyone is doing these days), I don’t think enough is done to market the RL and I am surprised it hasn’t been dropped entirely.

    1. Did CAR at some point test the Japanese-market Wing Turbo Legend? Or did you mean the Rover Vitesse turbo? I haven’t read their test of the latter, although their reaction to the 220TC was quite harsh and they were never especially fond of the 800 in any form.

      I think the dilemma for the RLX now is that while some of its technology is impressive, most modern big executive cars could do double duty as a rolling display room for a consumer electronics chain. What Honda desperately needs is some compelling reason for a buyer to choose the RLX over, say, an Audi A6. Unfortunately, I don’t know how willing Honda is to sink more money into that platform (especially since I think the current RLX is now limited to North America). Given its sales, I can’t exactly blame them, but at present it seems likely that the RLX will just fade out, probably without replacement.

  8. The test of the Legend Wing Turbo was more of a driving impression than a full test in the “Newcomers” section of either the January or March 1989 issue of “Car”. Of course that was when Honda was on a high after having dominated F1 in 1988 with Senna and Prost and the McLaren Honda team. The January issue cover was a feature on the Cizeta-Moroder V16T (which was hailed as the new Lamborghini Countach), while the March issue was headlined “Japan Shows Europe How to Build Sports Cars”, which dealt with the Acura NSX, Mazda Miata and the 1990 Nissan 300ZX. Hope this helps.

    1. Thanks — that does help. I keep hoping that at some point I’ll find either factory performance figures or a Japanese road test with same. I’ve seen several driving impressions, but they don’t offer any factory or measured figures. The gist I’m getting from the impressions is that the V6Ti felt a bit like some later turbodiesel cars: somewhat lethargic off-idle and then robust mid-range. (The C20A actually claimed a bit more torque than the 2.7-liter normally aspirated engine and the torque peak was 1,000 rpm lower.) I suspect one of the reasons for only offering the turbo with automatic was to try to use the torque converter to bolster low-RPM response.

      I can certainly understand why Western automotive writers would be a little disappointed; one might initially assume “Legend turbo” would be a sportier edition, which really wasn’t the point. Most of these engines were driven by the desire to maximize performance within the bounds of the five-number class, which produced some fascinating solutions. During that era, Toyota simultaneously offered plain SOHC, cooking or performance-oriented DOHC 24-valve, twin-turbocharged, and supercharged versions of its 2-liter 1G engine — in some lines, you could take your choice!

  9. In the early 90’s there was a used Rover 800 sitting in the company carpark, which I drove a couple of times. Lovely interior, quite nice to drive, and it would have been even better if it ran on all four cylinders.Finding someone willing to work on a BL engine was proving difficult for the owner, who had already found a replacement car. I can recall long-term tests of the 800 in the 80’s commenting that the reason the electric windows sometimes ceased working was because the relay fell out of its’ intended location! In later years I was a real fan of the Rover 600, but when I found someone to let me drive one, there was no clutch pedal – just a metal spike to which the pedal had once been ( poorly) welded.
    As a true Brit, I have only bought Japanese-built cars for the last 20 years or so.

  10. Been watching Season 6 of the detective series George Gently.

    There is an eye catching blue 1964 Rover 2000 (P6) driven by George, featured in the shows. P6s were very stylish and Rover’s follow up SDI model despite it’s build issues was still an eye catcher. There were long waiting lists for these cars when they were introduced.

    Then we have the 800 and Sterling, “115% sized Accord”. Bland and anonymous. White bread. Only the fastback Vitesse looked decent.

    Rover and Triumph should have stayed well away from BMC.

    1. Certainly, I don’t think there are many (any?) people now who would argue that Leyland merging with BMC was a good idea — certainly not as far as Rover and Triumph were concerned. Of course, the point of the merger was that the government was understandably worried about BMC collapsing or ending up foreign-owned, fates the marriage didn’t so much prevent as protract.

      How well Rover and Triumph would have fared sans BMC is an interesting and difficult question. They would still have had a tough road after the U.K. entered the Common Market, which put the P6 and 2000/2500 into more direct competition with BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, and neither Rover nor Triumph had had much luck in the U.S. market beyond the TR and Spitfire. It would have been a tough road in any case.

      I think it’s important to emphasize that Rover’s alternatives as regards an SD1 replacement/successor were not encouraging. Whatever one thinks of the 800, it’s hard to argue that a thinly veiled SD1 re-skin (still with live axle but probably minus V-8) or a 115% Montego with a V-6 engine would have been better…

      1. Leyland motors needed some lower priced models below their Herald and Triumph 1300 (another interesting car that started off FWD and became RWD).

        Tony Benn and the UK Government of the time brokered the Leyland deal, when Leyland found out how much BMC was really worth they wanted to back out. Not a merger of equals. BMC was already in a big mess.

        The tie up killed a lot of new Rover models that the tooling was already purchased and done.

        There is no doubt that Rover needed Honda , just a shame the cars were so bland.

        The Rover P6 was one of the stars of the Movie Gattaca, along with an Avanti and a Citroen DS. Iconic vehicles. Not so the 800.

        1. Yeah, I know the merger did for the Rover P8 and the revival of Alvis as an automaker. (I think they kept making armored fighting vehicles for some time afterward.) I’ve never been sure exactly how serious Rover was about the P6BS mid-engine car; whether Rover- or Alvis-badged, it just seems like an unlikely idea.

          Honestly, I don’t know how much sense it would have made for Leyland to get into a lower-priced market than the 1300/Toledo/Dolomite. There was certainly more money to be made from those and the bigger sedans, and going lower just meant clashing with Ford, Vauxhall, Austin, and later the Japanese, the French, and the Germans. I think one of the various problems hampering BL was that they desperately wanted mass-market, low-priced cars even at the expense of the posher brands; the former were obviously more politically desirable, but significantly harder to achieve than it would have been to sustain/salvage the latter.

          Icons are a tricky thing. It’s difficult to create one on purpose (and trying too hard at it is a good way to become a joke) and if you have a few, they can handcuff you to your past whether you want them to or not. There are quite a few automakers who’ve fallen into the trap of clinging to iconic themes because any deviation from them elicits cries of outrage from loyalists while failing to convince anyone who finds the look dated or trite. It’s all the more difficult if you’re trying to make it in a class that has already become disinclined to take you seriously…

          1. Speaking of jokes, I remember a car book that described the Sterling this way: “If it was trying any harder to be British, it would be Madonna!”

    2. (This does remind me that I still want to do the Rover P5…)

      1. This site is great, please do something on the P5 , when you put the P5 and P6 alongside each other it’s difficult to believe they came from the same company. The P4 and P5 is definitely “Aunty Rover”.

        Without BMH, who knows what could have happened but Leyland , Rover, Triumph might have become the UKs own BMW.

        And in 1968 BMW was a niche player.

        1. That’s true, although by 1968, BMW was already more successful in the U.S. market than Rover (and certainly far more than the Triumph sedans, which never sold well in the States). Leyland certainly had a head start insofar as Rover and Triumph had well-established credentials in the British 2-liter prestige class, which those two marques essentially owned until around the mid-70s, and because prior to Britain’s entry to the ECE, BMW (and Mercedes) was more expensive than domestic rivals. The price of a 2002 in the U.K. would get you a Triumph 2.5 PI, which otherwise would be more comparable to a BMW 2500 in size and performance. The erosion of that price advantage was a major challenge for Triumph and Rover, compounded by the reliability problems and lower assembly quality. (The early SD1 3500 was really quite cheap for what it offered, but I think its problems ended up becoming a de facto advertisement for buying German.)

  11. The T series was not all aluminium. Like the M16 before it, it was a cast iron (O-series derived) block, and an aluminium head. In fact the T16 was a development of the M16.

    1. You’re right about the block material — that was a bit of confusion on my part and I’ve amended the text. Regarding the design, my impression was that while the T16 was designed to share some of the tooling of the M16 (derived, as you note, from the older O-series, which I think in turn had its roots in the ancient BMC B-series), the block and head architecture owed a lot to the much newer K-series and was to some extent a K-series/M16 hybrid.

  12. A very good article on the Honda side. However, there is, in my opinion, much more comprehensive information on the Austin/Rover O, M and T series engines at AROnline.co.uk.

    Also some reasonable criticism of the Honda approach to things, which has always seemed overly idiosyncratic to me, relying on things like Double A arms good, McPherson strut bad, 60/40 weight distribution ideal for FWD and other maxims that are more opinion than fact. Rather like BMW’s cuurrent insistence that 500cc is the ideal cylinder volume which has zero engineering basis I’m aware of. Why not 397.5 cc?

    I find that reading aronline’s numerous articles on the whole BL saga gives a good understanding of all the troubles, financial, political, personalities than the usual “once over lightly approach” of most magazines and books. You can read all the sagas on Rover, Triumph, Jaguar as well as Austin and Morris.

    I mention this aronline resource because I see only one reference to it in your source list.

    1. I’m a great admirer of AROnline’s and would certainly recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about the labyrinthine saga of British Leyland/Austin Rover/Rover Group. In this case, I delved into a lot of what I’m reasonably sure were AROnline’s original sources, including the many contemporary reports in the British press on the development of the XX and Austin-Rover’s ongoing travails in that period. The BL/AR saga is obviously very complex and there’s a lot of stuff that’s really beyond the scope of this article, which was already straining the limits of reasonable length. (As it is, it’s more than 12,000 words and left me asking myself difficult questions like, “Is anyone really going to care this much?”)

      I strongly disagree that this article is Honda-centric. Considering the circumstances of their development, I think the 800 and first-generation Legend really have to be considered together. The Rover side is much better-documented in English-language sources, but English-language sources are often hazy on why Honda was insistent on certain things, such as the width issue. I’ve also noticed over the years that British sources in general tend to take a decidedly chauvinistic attitude toward all things Japanese. Particularly in the ’80s and ’90s, British reviewers might praise a Japanese car’s gearbox or perhaps the engine, but beyond that, kind words are rare unless the reviewers have reason to think the car was developed in Europe (which is a fascinating contrast with the almost fetishistic admiration American reviewers had for Japanese cars in the ’80s).

      I’ve read the criticisms from Austin Rover engineers, some of which I’m inclined to take with a grain of salt. It’s not that I think Honda is above criticism, because I don’t, but a distinction must be drawn between quality of execution and differences of priority or approach. I don’t subscribe to the common car buff assumption that sophisticated = good / unsophisticated = crap; the well-considered application of a comparatively rustic principle may well be superior to the indifferent execution of a new and brilliant idea. However, I don’t think anyone would deny that certain technologies do have specific, quantifiable advantages. The eternal question of all production engineering is whether those advantages (which may be incremental) are worth the tradeoffs involved. Those questions have been raised about MacPherson struts versus double wishbones, live axles versus independent rear suspension, and overhead cams versus pushrods, and the answers are not always clear cut. For instance, the idea that 60/40 weight distribution is ideal is not necessarily an ill-founded one, but whether that ideal was worth the expensive contortions Honda went through to achieve it with the company’s longitudinal-engineed FWD cars is quite another matter.

      As for the cylinder volume issue, that particular maxim is not original to BMW, although the way I’ve usually heard it applied is to say that 500 cc is really the MAXIMUM desirable swept area of a single cylinder, beyond which combustion roughness and other drawbacks begin to outweigh the additional potential power. I’m not an engineer and so am not really equipped to comment on the theoretical foundation of that idea, although I can think of various examples of production engines that are sweet and smooth at around 500cc/cylinder that become noticeably less so above that threshold. On the other hand, some engines are noticeably smoother than others of similar displacement and there are certainly engines that are sweeter at 600cc/cylinder than rivals are at 400cc/cylinder. All else is not necessarily equal, in other words.

  13. Fascinating and well written story, but please fix the photos–most do not match their legends (eg, showing a Sterling badge but talking about a Legend, showing a coupe and talking about a sedan…).

    1. Adam,

      I’m concerned about the photo issue you mention, which I’m not seeing. I was tinkering with the photos early today to address a technical issue with the ALT tags, but I don’t think that should have caused the captions to be assigned to the wrong photos. May I ask which OS and browser you’re using? I checked the page in all the browsers available to me and didn’t see the problem you’re describing, but if you’re using a tablet or mobile device, I don’t have a way to test that behavior myself. Feel free to send me a note via the Contact Form and I’ll see if I can sort it out. (It’s conceivable that something very stupid happened as a result of my editing the tags, but if so, I can’t see what…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click here to read our comment policy. You must be at least 18 to comment. PLEASE DON'T POST COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU AREN'T AUTHORIZED TO USE!
Except as otherwise noted, all text and images are copyright © Aaron Severson dba Ate Up With Motor. (Terms of Use – Reprint/Reuse Policy) Trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners and are used here for informational/nominative purposes.