(first posted 9/12/2015) One of the hangovers BL had from its heritage of being a combination of numerous brands was an obligation (as the company seemed to see it anyway) to offer not a just a wide range of cars, but also a range with depth, offering smaller, premium (or semi premium or aspirant premium) models to complement the larger mass market offer. BL were not content just to offer the complementary Austin Allegro and Morris Marina, for example.
Cars like the Triumph Dolomite were offered alongside the larger Austin-Morris 1800 Landcrab and Princes; even in the 1950s BMC offered the earlier Riley One-Point-Five (yes that was the name) and its Wolseley 1500 twin against the more spacious Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford, as well as the badge engineered Riley, Wolseley and MG versions of the Cambridge-Oxford twins. Confusion reigned. A modern parallel might be a VW-Audi dealership, with the choice of a VW Passat or an Audi A3 for example. There was a benefit to this full range of brands though.
One of the last of these semi-premium alternatives was the Triumph Acclaim saloon (above), which was incidentally also the last Triumph. And the last one, though no one realised it at the time, was the 1984 Rover 213 and 216, also known as the 200 series. This is was car that gave BL, or Austin-Rover as it renamed itself in 1983, a chance to position itself credibly away the Austin – Ford – Vauxhall – Talbot spot of the market.
The Acclaim was essentially the first-generation Honda Ballade, a Japanese market four door sedan version of the second generation Civic, and lasted only three years in production, to 1984, as BL had joined the project relatively late in the development. But they were in at the beginning of the next one and were able to make a larger contribution. It even gained a BL project number, SD3, following the iconic SD1 and stillborn SD2, although all other contemporary projects had Austin-Rover “AR” codes.
Essentially, the Rover 200 (as this family of cars was called) was the second generation of the Honda Ballade (Civic variant), except for the BL engine in the 1.6 litre version, but unlike the Acclaim, the 1984 version of the Ballade was more suitably sized for the European market. It was based on the third generation Honda Civic, but with a somewhat longer wheelbase of 96.5 inches, 5.5 inches longer than the Acclaim. As such, it matched a contemporary Ford Escort, and gave the 200 considerably more interior room than the cramped Acclaim. The revisions to the interior undertaken by BL certainly succeeded in giving the new car a more upmarket ambiance. This quality was played upon with relish by Austin-Rover, who focused on this aspect of the car above all others in marketing it.
Rover’s wood and leather interior in the 200 was not as traditional as in previous cars of the marque, as the interior layout was pure Honda, with Austin-Rover only being able to add trim pieces and select materials. But it was done well, with leather and wood available in most versions and standard on many. Not everyone likes the effect, but Rover did such interiors better than any other mass market brand, and used it in advertising the cars to add the feel of exclusivity and prestige associated with the Rover name. The positive showroom impact of this style of interior can be easily measured by the number of imitators.
The engines used were a Honda 70 bhp 1.3 litre and the BL S series 1.6 litre from the Austin Maestro and Montego. All models were fitted with a five speed Honda gearbox or automatic, driving the front wheels in what was the first front wheel drive Rover. The 1.6 litre engine was also offered with fuel injection, as the Rover 216 Vitesse, and later the 216 Vanden Plas EFi as well, which was pitched as a latter day Triumph Dolomite Sprint (above) and feeding off the name and image of the Rover Vitesse V8, albeit with just 102 bhp.
The 213 and 216 were available in a range of trim levels, from S, SE, Vitesse and Vanden Plas, as well some special versions. The feature car is 1.6 litre 216 Vanden Plas EFi Automatic, which was fully recorded on the boot lid for all to see. From 1983-4, Austin-Rover were using the Vanden Plas badge in the same way Ford used the Ghia moniker, but with leather rather than velour, and real wood, albeit in thin veneers. This car has everything Austin-Rover had to put on it, from electric mirrors to a sunroof.
Austin-Rover were able also make some further changes to Honda’s suspension settings. The Civic/Ballade used MacPherson struts at the front and a semi-independent beam axle at the back. Austin-Rover felt the need to fine-tune the suspension for a more European feel, suitable for what was being sold as a small but premium brand car. Whilst the relatively short wheelbase and limited wheel travel were always going to limit the ride comfort, Austin-Rover managed to get an acceptable, if not great, compromise. Ride and handling were class average, and Austin-Rover’s modifications were accepted by Honda for the European market Ballade as well. A further side effect of the new rear suspension was increased rear seat and boot space, compared with rear struts used in the Acclaim, .
This Ballade was the first Honda badged car built in the UK, by Austin-Rover at Longbridge, Birmingham, alongside the Rover. The Acclaim had been built at Cowley in Oxford, but this was now to be dedicated to Austin Maestro and Montego production, so the SD3 went to Longbridge with the Mini and Austin Metro.
The 1.6 litre version, with the Austin-Rover engine, came on stream in 1985, and production went to 65,000 in the year, ahead of anything the Acclaim or Dolomite range had ever achieved. In fact, this car was one of the few for which sales increased as time went by – it was launched in 1984, just two months after the Montego (a fact which alone makes you realise how much BL were at the mercy of others and events) and its best sales performance was in 1988, when 95,000 were built, dropping only in 1989 when the new Rover Rover 214 and 216 came on stream, co-developed with rather than simply borrowed from Honda. From 1986, it outsold the Austin Maestro and in 1988 it outsold the Austin Montego as well. In five years, around 425,000 were built, and it was outselling all Austin-Rover cars except the Metro.
There was one mid-life freshening, when Austin-Rover added a full depth boot lid and revised tail lamps, and added some more Austin-Rover switchgear (such as the electric window switches ahead of the gear selector in the feature car) but it is probably fair to say that Austin-Rover achieved the growing sales through the reputation of the Honda-based product and effective marketing. This car was extensively marketed, as a premium car compared with an Escort or an Astra. Austin-Rover clearly wanted to gain a reputation and image for the car as being something equivalent to a VW Golf or Jetta, then as now the European mid-market datum point for a better than ordinary car. The Japanese link, with the well-founded perception of reliability, was a strong help here.
This car is rare now on the roads f Britian – the notorious tin worm saw to that, along with the 2008 scrappages scheme, under which the Government offered £2000 for anything that was still road-legal if you purchased a new car. Tales abounded of Morris Minors and 1950 Hillman Minxs being turned in for Hyundai i10s and Kia Picantos, as well as many 1970s and 1980s ordinary fare.
Indeed, this generation of Rover 200 was so successful that at one point Rover planned to reskin the car to update it, as a complement to an Austin-badged hatchback, which actually appeared as the Rover 214 in 1989.
In 1988, the UK Government sold what was by then known as the Rover Group to British Aerospace (BAe, now BAE Systems) and, apart from the Austin Metro and Mini, Rover production exceeded that for Austin for the first time, as the Maestro and Montego disappointed and faded, while the Rover 200 and 800 reached their respective peaks. Within three years, the Rover 214 and 216, together with the 400 series saloon version derivative, would be outselling the Austins by four to one, and the idea of deep and wide range of cars, with mass market and premium brands from the same corporation, was truly put into a box.
When BMW bought Rover in 1994, the company was selling 270,000 Rovers and just 76,000 Austin Metros a year, along with fewer than 20,000 Maestros and Montegos. BMW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder did not know that the company was still building the Austin Maestro and Montego – that’s how complete the transformation from the a business dominated by the mass market Austin brand to semi-premium Rover brand was, a process which was effectively started with this car.
Basically a 3rd gen 1984-87 Civic, with what looks like a 1984-85 2nd gen Accord sedan’s grille.
Always found this car and the Triumph Acclaim, back in the 80’s to be a joke.
Kinda sad some early British and some American cars were so unreliable or those companies were too CHEAP to research and develop an all new model… They had to rely on captive imports, and be lazy and slap their badges onto Japanese automobiles. ( Triumph Acclaim, Chevy Spectrum, Geo Prizm, Dodge Colt, etc.)
Funny, for the non-car people who bought those, thinking they were buying real British or American cars. Poor, naive saps.
Anyway, my dad had an 87 Civic sedan, metallic blue. What a nice car, quiet engine, zippy transmission and upscale velour interior. I delivered pizza with it, when I was in college, and when my 85 Subaru RX AWD Turbo, was being fixed.
I wish he still had it(as a classic, antique car), it was his commuter to work… 90 miles a day each way.
To me, the 3rd gen Civics, and the 2nd gen 1982-85 Accords, were the cars, that made the Honda we know today… With their upscale, quality, Japanese car feel. A smooth drivetrain and better quality materials used than in previous generations… Along with better sound insulation.
These models showed the world, Honda is company to be taken seriously when it comes to building a reliable, high quality automobile.
I miss my 85 Civic hatchback, with a 1.3 engine and fun to drive 4spd… With that gas mileage, who needs an ugly Prius. 🙂
* My dad’s 87 Civic was similar
In British Leyland’s case, it wasn’t so much a matter of “too cheap” as “too broke.” The Ballade-based Acclaim was a hasty and rather desperate substitute for the in-house SD2, which was originally supposed to replace the Dolomite and Toledo. (I’ve seen pictures of the SD2, which was a very odd-looking thing and shared a lot of mechanical bits with the TR7.) The SD2 ended up being canceled during BL’s mid-seventies financial calamity and most in-house alternatives (which in all likelihood would have amounted to a Triumph-badged Montego) either were also canceled or weren’t going to be ready in time.
I’d second that, and add that any other plan for a Triumph was almost certainly only a paper project.
And if you’re building the Maestro and Montego Vanden Plas, then do you need a compact Triumph as well?
FWIU most people who bought the NUMMI Novas (and their successors) did so knowing full well that it was a Toyota Corolla with GM cash on the hood rather than the “market premium” tacked on the sticker that VRA-era Corollas and Civics.
I suspect the same thing was happening with these, with a nicer interior thrown in; the only “poor sap” who bought one was Richard Bucket (and he counts as that from who he married, not what he’s driving).
Yes, the Corolla Nova, produced at the NUMMI plant in California, was a great car.
I had a white 86 Chevy Nova, automatic, with a 1.6 sohc engine.
The 88 model Nova CL, got the potent twin cam 4AgE… Same engine as the MR2 and AE86 Corolla GT-S(mounted longitudinally in the RWD Corolla).
The same with the Chevy Sprint, buyers knew they were buying a Japanese import small car with a Chevy badge. I think they were well aware of the reliability of Japanese vehicles in the 80’s, made by the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Datsun 210 and Dodge Colt.
I actually think loyal Chevy families welcomed the captive imports, seeing since the Vega and Chevette weren’t up to task. 🙂
Is Toyota too “cheap” to develop their own cars when they rebadge the Subaru BRZ and Mazda 2 into Scions? Was Honda/Acura too cheap when almost their entire line of SUVs were rebadged Isuzus? The point is all major automakers have rebadged cars at some point.
No, just too LAZY… What did Toyota contribute to the all around BRZ/FRS/GT86 project?
Subaru designed the body, and, HELLO… Both cars are rocking a Subaru Boxer engine. Thanks, Toyota for adding your emblems. Unreal.
If it walks like a duck(Subaru), and sounds like a duck(Subaru)… Guess what? It’s a DUCK.
Many Toyota enthusiasts, felt disappointed and thought Toyota could have put ALOT more effort than that into making a successor to the AE86…. As a former AE86 owner, that’s NOT a Toyota OR an AE86.
What a joke.
Don, just because SOME, not all have… Had rebadged cars, does it make it right?
If it were me and I was in the market for a certain brand of car, TRUST me, I’ll do my research and not be a naive, blind consumer who buys a Daewoo POS with, say a Nissan badge, than a real Nissan.
Never been THAT gullible. 😉
I don’t think rebadging is always a bad thing. It can quickly fill a hole in a line-up. In the case of the Chevy Nova/Prism/Vibe, it was a good thing for the customer because they could get a first tier Japanese car without the Toyota/Honda mark-up. In the case of the Chevy Aveo, or the various rebadged Scions, not as much.
Before you jump on Rover’s being just a “cheap copy” of something Japanese, keep in my that British Leyland at that point was where General Motors would be roughly twenty years later – absolutely desperate for product that somebody would buy for any reason other than it was the cheapest item in class.
I’ve always felt that the BMW/Rover tie-up killed what would have been the way for Rover to have survived in the long term – a Honda/Rover tie-up. By the early 80’s, the independent British car industry was a dead duck that just hadn’t realized it should be dead. There was no way in hell that Austin/Rover/MG/whatever else was going to survive as an independent British organization – the 70’s had seen to that. They had to team up with another international firm. And get some product out fast.
It’s Richard and Hyacinth Bucket’s car. “Mind the pot hole, dear”.
Yes!! I thought of the same thing!
It’s pronounced “Boo-Kay” LOL. Always thought Richard and Hyacinth were driving around in a Honda Civic, never realized until recently that it was a Rover. Makes perfect sense, though, as the Honda would have been far too downmarket and workaday for Hyacinth, who had such royal pretensions. Love that show!
Lots of room for some of Dowager Lady Ursula’s Homemade Gooseberry Wine. Great stop gap car for Austin Rover. Nicely equipped subcompact. All the luxury in a quietly handsome package.
*Pom pom pom pom pom pom pom*
cue Keeping Up Appearances theme
There’s no way to take this car seriously anymore since that.
That being said, they did manage to make a bare-bones Civic interior appear very upscale. Too bad only Peugeot puts such an effort into interior feel these days (and Rover lost its way with the faux-retro stuff of the late ’90s).
That’s an upmarket car? Maybe if it were a Honda Civic. But for a Rover it looks rather inferior.
Disguise it any way you like that dashboard was in my 84 Civic 5 door, Ive never driven a Rover version but my little Honda drove and handled well for a Japanese car and better than lots of later JDM cars it didnt have any power though and you had to keep the ricegrinder spinning for any effect but it was a good little work heap. We do have some of the Rhondas or Hovers they are getting thin on the ground now.
I wonder if the real reason why the “Big 3” in this country used captive imports was that they persisted in the idea that “real Americans” wanted “real” cars….that is, something with at least 6 cylinders under the hood?
Cash strapped car companies have “borrowed” designs from other car companies almost as long as the industry has been around. What is sad is when a company borrows a design and still “screws it up” or when the borrowed design doesn’t save a once great marque from dying.
BTW, BL wasn’t the only CAR company to “re-badge a Honda and still go out of business. Isuzus last cars (which were never sold in the U.S.) were re-badged Honda Accords.
There have been cross badging with a few companies that do sometimes work, Howard… The 70’s Ford Courier/ Mazda REPU pickups, 93 Ford Ranger/Mazda B series trucks. These were pretty successful.
The Chevy Luv/Isuzu pickups… Were more successful on the Luv’s end.
The Luv lost identity and sales, in the 1980-81 model, with the advent of the S10… Which was better for it’s Isuzu twin, which gave Isuzu more brand identity among US consumers.
The cross branding I never understood was the Honda/ Isuzu partnership. I know Honda didn’t have an SUV available, yet… Only the AWD Civic Wagovan, which was more a station wagon than 4×4 truck.
Honda didn’t have their own produced SUV, till 1997, with the CRV.
That’s when the Isuzu Rodeo was rebadged as the Honda Passport. Whenever I saw a Passport, I’d think to myself, “That’s not a real Honda, plus, Isuzus are nowhere as reliable as Hondas are.”
Although, the RWD 1980-83 Isuzu I-Mark diesels and some 80’s-93 Isuzu pickups are pretty durable.
Honda has rebadged anything it can lay its hands on from Mazda Capella wagons to Landrover Discoveries, We have them all here and some virtually nobody knows about.
Isuzu is far from out of business. Their medium-duty trucks are all over the road here, and they still do good business in pickups and SUVs in the rest of the world. The D-Max pickup is rebadged as the Chevy Colorado in some markets (not the same as the US-market Colorado).
The D-Max truck was also known as the Chevy Luv, two generations after the US Chevy Luv was discontinued in 1982.
The Chevy Luv version of the Isuzu D-Max went all the way to 2012. Niceness.
Isuzu is far from out of business its core is heavy trucks not the puddle jumpers some of their larger offerings are really good trucks, very durable and reliable Ive driven some that are at or past 1,000,000 km and they still go and drive just fine
Always reminds me of “Keeping up Appearances” lol
Such a great show! Poor Richard!
Turnabout is fair play, I guess…. Japan’s auto industry got running in the ’30s with rebadged Austins. Now BMC dies with rebadged Hondas.
But really! One wood insert makes it a Vanden Plas? Are there no limits to degradation?
Datsun started with a cloned Austin 7, so did BMW, however BMW’s Dixie was licensed by Austin the Datsun was just cloned, Toyota built a Chevrolet in 1941 an exact copy however other circumstances prevented it coming to market, post WW2 Austins were built under license by Datsun Isuzu built Hillmans and Hino built Renaults.
The rush of Rover down market was sad to watch. The Civic of this generation was one of the best cars of it’s size in the world. What it wasn’t was a Rover. Not even a Triumph. I wish BL had just concentrated on the Maestro, SD1, TR8, Land Rover and Metro and kept them British and world class. They still may have failed, but not as some loss leading loser for a foreign company.
Great piece, Roger. It sounds like the 2008 car scrappage you wrote of was like the “Cash For Clunkers” program in the U.S. In your opinion, did the UK public generally seem to like or dislike that project?
Also, the parent company’s push of upmarket Rover vs. everyman Austin reminds me a little of Chrysler’s emphasis of Dodge over Plymouth. And we all know how that ended.
The scrapage scheme in the UK in 2009 was a response to the financial crash and offered £2000.00 trade in effectively to buyers of any new car offering anything roadworthy in exchange, and there cars were then crushed
The consequence was that a large qty of 1980s cars were crushed arguably prematurely but I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. The UK motor trade was truly suffering.
I feel a QOTD coming on……
Residuals in the UK being what they were, I’m assuming £2,000 was a good deal more than a lot of those cars would otherwise have been worth for resale…
I think that’s a cool looking little car. The big flat shelf on the dash reminds me of the interior of my 77 Civic…it had woodgrain on the dash too, as I recall. Alluvian Gold with a weird orange-ish woven vinyl interior.
Are the rear license lamps bumper mounted? Why not just have lamps inset above the license pocket in the decklid?
The rear bumper is Honda.
Yes, mounted on the top lip of the bumper.
As you note, exposed and vulnerable
Was it this generation of 200 or the next one that really “got it all together” so to speak? I ask, because I seem to remember various mini-road tests in CAR magazine magazine that actually praised 200s and called them the best models the company built.
I wonder if these cars had the same quality control problems that the short lived (’87-’91) Sterling 800 (rebadged Rover 800 series) we received in the US?
I wonder if these cars had the same quality control problems that the short lived (’87-’91) Sterling 800 (rebadged Rover 800 series) we received in the US?
I remember a test, probably in R&T, that noted the Sterling had it’s own brand of British electrical wierdness: when the ignition was turned on, a number of relays in the car started clicking on and off continuously. Once the engine started, the relays calmed down. You had to wonder what electrical fault only needed time to result in being dead on the side of the road.
Of course, calling it a Sterling in the first place was proof how toxic the Rover name had become in the US.
Nice looking car tho.
I still remember the Car and Driver test of the Stirling – the car suddenly shut down (electrics) totally, then came back on while in motion. It never happened again, and the C&D crew had no idea why it happened, but it was mentioned at the end of an otherwise very positive review.
Which completely negated everything else they had written.
I was wondering the same thing. People insist that USA-built Hondas aren’t at the same level of quality as Japan-built Hondas, so are British-built Hondas as bad or worse?
Ex JDM used Hondas break down and rust just like everything else you arent missing out on anything with locally built versions, this country is drowning in imported used cars from Japan the repair industry and wrecking industry is thriving with keeping them going.
Do you remember the QE2 episode of “Keeping Up Appearances,” in particular the scene in which Hyacinth had to push the Rover out of the yard in the farm? Richard just nailed the gas, causing Hyacinth to be splattered with mud and prompting wild laughter from the audience! 🙂
I have to confess that I was not a regular viewer of Keeping up Appearances, though clearly many people enjoyed it.
From what I’ve heard, the car fits the character exactly.
These were a great car,fast comfortable and reliable. OK it’s often dismissed as a Honda in drag but it bought Rover a bit more time.
My first hire car from work, a red 214 SLI.
Didn’t Barbara the transexual taxi driver from the League of Gentlemen drive a pink Rover for her firm Bab’s Cabs?
A hire car?
I’m an American, so, please excuse my ignorance of the term…
Is that a taxi, livery or delivery vehicle?
Hire cars in the UK are for rent to be driven by the person renting or in my case it was a company car hired out to employees when the need arose.
Okay, thanks, Gem.
Rental car, Sarcasmo. What you call a “livery car” we would call a “private hire car”, “minicab” or “scab cab”.
A delivery vehicle is a delivery vehicle.
In and of itself, the 200 was a competent car. However, I do think it cemented the view that a Rover was an “old man’s car”. Obviously, the sitcom clichés didn’t help, but whereas previous generations of Rover (P6, SD1) had been exciting, this model took the marque down the Werthers Originals road – a route cemented by the later retro grilles on every model. By the late 90s, anything in the range with performance credentials was reworked quite substantially as an MG boy racer – a long way from the SD1 Vitesse.
It is tragic that Rover became a pipe’n’slippers brand – particularly in light of what happened subsequently to it 4WD division…
Well, it depends on your point of view. Rover had traditionally been a deeply conservative brand — the “Auntie Rover” of legend was not your trash-talking, sports-car-driving cool aunt, but the middle-aged, blue-haired one with plastic covers on all the furniture and a lot of public utility stock dividends. The P6 was originally a major deviation from that image and prompted a lot of “What will people think?” muttering even from the Rover sales organization. Because it sold well, Rover sort of rolled with it and continued in that direction with the SD1, but it created two visions of what Rover was supposed to be. (The later Rover 75 was basically “Auntie Come Back,” since BMW was not interested in having Rover appear to compete with the 3-Series or 5-Series.)
I think the bigger issue was more BL/AR/RG’s determination to stick the Rover badge on everything, including the Metro, which tended to undermine any badge cachet, even beyond the question of whether a Rover should be sporty or luxurious.
Actually the label “Auntie” was not applied in the sense that the car suited the demographic. Denis Jenkinson is responsible. After Jenkinson (of Motor Sport), Ted Eves (The Autocar) and Jesse Alexander (Sports Car Illustrated) took a P4 90 Reg UUE 991 to Morocco to cover the 1958 Grand Prix, returning via Turin, using not a drop of water nor oil in safety and comfort he remarked the odyssey was no more of an issue for the car than going to Auntie’s for tea.
Source “Rover P4” Malcolm Bobbitt Veloce 1994
Fair enough, although the connotations nicknames take on is not necessarily where they started.
P&O for the continent, Rover for the incontinent.
Agree with you, but only up to a point. When the P4 was introduced, it was a pretty up-to-the-minute vehicle; and the P5 was arguably Rover’s take on the big American saloon (I see 1955-56 Imperial in its styling). At the same time, they were experimenting with jet turbine engines.
You’re right about sticking the Rover badge on everything. After SD1, each Rover-branded car expressed something different, from the R8 (closest thing AR ever did to creating a successor to ADO16) to the 75 (what Germany thinks a British car should look like) to the cheap and nasty CityRover.
I certainly won’t deny that Rover was doing some interesting stuff in the ’50s and early ’60s, but I would say there was a significant discontinuity, if you will, between what the younger and more adventuresome engineers were doing or wanted to do and the image the sales force was actually selling. (I also have a hard time seeing the 3-Litre P5 as anything other than a profoundly conservative car for profoundly conservative buyers, its rally career notwithstanding.) I think a comparison to Buick is probably apt — Buick at various points throughout its history had some very interesting technology, its engineering was always at least modern, and it had some surprisingly high-performance cars, but they could never quite get by the image of being the kind of car your dad’s prosperous Republican lawyer would drive.
In that light, the sales organization and dealers were exceedingly wary of the P6, thinking it not sufficiently Rover-like (and kyboshing the original pointy nose). Obviously, it ended up being very, very successful, but I think it appealed to a different crowd than the P4 and P5 had.
You’ve summed it up! There’s a book to be written called: “Significant Discontinuity: A History of Rover”.
(But I’m glad the P6 got a sensible nose.)
Rover or actually BMC/BL got tied together in NZ with the Civic gen one, British Motor Holdings distributed Hondas when they first appeared in any numbers and also assembled them for local consumption later on and though I wasnt here when Rhondas turned up having both the Honda and Rover versions in the same showroom together would not be the first time that happened GM dealerships had that issue with Vauxhall and Izuzu/Holden badged T cars and in a few cases Holden and Chevrolet badged HQ Statesmans.