The following anecdote has got nothing to do with Ben Hooper’s delightful Rover 220 GSi. However, it might explain my ambivalence to Rover.
At the turn of the millennium, I found myself in the wrong job. The one saving grace was the Rover 420 company car – a vehicle that was well above my pay grade. It probably aged me 20 years, but it was comfortable and competent.
Then, with little warning, the Rover 420 was replaced by a base-spec Rover 214, which was neither comfortable or competent. I hated it almost as much as I despised the job.
I felt like that sales dude from the classic BBC series From A to B: Tales of Modern Motoring. Having enjoyed a Citroën BX and Vauxhall Cavalier, the guy was distraught to discover that his company had ‘treated’ him to a Rover Maestro Clubman D.
“Basically, this Maestro is crap. I feel as though the company have… quite frankly… s*** on me, for want of a better word,” he grumbled. He and his wife shed actual tears over the Rover Maestro, with Mrs Sales Rep refusing to set foot in the car.
It speaks volumes that the Rover Maestro was last on the road in 1994 – a year after the documentary was filmed. It was most likely parked in a Granada services car park and torched. Or driven into one of the HGVs that were forever overtaking him on the M1.
For 20 years I’ve been in Rover denial. The rental-spec 214 (R3) left such a deep scar, the Rover badge has been all but removed from my inner filing cabinet. That was until Ben Hooper got in touch with details of his Rover 220 GSi.
Launched in 1989, the story of the Rover 200 (R8) is a bittersweet chapter in the history of the British car industry. Good enough to outclass all of its rivals, the Rover R8 should have catapulted the company to greatness. It spawned a four-door saloon (400), a three-door hatchback, a two-door Coupe, an estate and even a convertible.
Yet by the time it was facelifted in 1993, the industry had caught up and overtaken the Rover like a lorry passing a Maestro diesel on the M1. It remained competitive until the R3 arrived in 1995, but it was no longer the class leader of before. The rest is a history of facelifts, rebadging and failure.
Ben’s Rover 220 GSi is a relatively late 1994 model. Sold new by LJ Irvine and Sons of Bridgwater, the car would have cost £13,500. That’s around £3,750 less than the ultra-rare and super-desirable Rover 220 GSi Turbo.
The performance figures are impressive, even by today’s standards. The 2.0-litre engine produced 136hp, which was enough for a top speed of 127mph and a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds. A recent dyno test of Ben’s 220 GSi showed that the car is producing 123hp in 2020.
Ben purchased the Rover in October 2019. It was to be used as part of a school project to see how much horsepower could be restored without any modifications. However, he has since discovered that the car is “far too good for this project”, so he has decided to move it on.
The history reveals that the Rover 220 GSi was used as a demonstrator at the dealer in Somerset before being sold to a guy from the Royal Navy who chopped in his Rover 216 Vanden Plas. It was used for commuting to the naval base in Portsmouth, before the car was retired from active service in 2006.
A recommissioning in 2018 included a cylinder head rebuild. During Ben’s care, it has had an oil change, new spark plugs, new oil filter and new tyres. Jobs to do include a leak from the rocker cover gasket, a couple of spots of rust and a misbehaving battery.
Ben points to the original dealer number plates and stickers, original brochures and documented purchase history as examples of the Rover 220 GSi’s provenance. He says that it is “one of the finest cars I have owned, but I feel I haven’t done it justice. It needs a home where it can be cherished”.
If you can give the car a good home, get in touch with PetrolBlog. Ben is asking £3,750.
Alternatively, if you’ve stumbled across a purple Rover Maestro nestled in a hedge somewhere in the proximity of the M1, let us know.