Something Rotten in […] Denmark: The Baby Bentley

The quality of the interior has held up better than the quality of the concept of the Rover 827.

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Given the depredations of the Danish climate and the fact this car was assembled in the UK, today’s discovery, a Rover 827 coupe, has held up rather well. Goodness, the leather interior is even developing a patina which I used think was only possible on cars made before I was born.

The Rover 827 seems to be more older than its 21-years would suggest. The underlying concept is even more ancient than the chassis upon which the car was based. The idea is of a prestigious range-topping coupe. Although 1993 seems to me to be part of the modern era, there must still have been engineers at Rover who had their roots firmly in the 60s and 70s when it seemed natural to propose a coupe spin-off of whatever saloon happened to be going and just did one like they always did (or would like to have done).

Lancia had a similar idea with their Kappa. Neither fared so very well in the market which didn’t want so very many two doors cars with large engines (or even two-litre jobs in the case of the Lancia). Customers were expressing their automotive desires in other ways and avoided these cars. The idea was of another time.

The 800 was produced with the American market in mind but after a disastrous experience with the Rover Sterling*, Rover withdrew from the US market leaving the 827 stranded in Britain, miles from the Houston dentists and Millwaukee realtors for whom the car was intended. They ended up making company cars for their executives and their main dealers.

But as well as a change in fashion, the car industry was entering a rigid period where economies of scale had altered so that it wasn’t profitable to make smaller runs of cars even if the variation amounted to no more than chopping out some doors and centre-section. The manufacturing process was being geared to greater and greater volumes and CAD had not yet become so systemically integrated that variations could be easily be made either. CAD was just guaranteeing data quality but it was not doing anything to speed up design; possibly it was even slowing things down. Because of this, the 800 was sequestered from the process and had to be mostly finished by hand. Quite possibly there hasn’t been a volume-car produced with so much intensive hand-labour since then.

Into this process where hand-crafted deviations from the mass design/production process were more and more intolerable came the Rover 827 in 1992. It was what you might call a halo model. Such a car might have had this effect a decade earlier but perhaps not since the late 70s did this kind of strategy work. Kevin Morley, who was marketing director of Rover, left the same year as the car came out, perhaps daunted by the challenge of selling a 70s car in the 1990s market. That said, his next job was as director of his own marketing firm which had one client, Rover Group.

With hindsight we can see clearly that in many ways this car was an revenant from the 1970s, its concept and ethos redolent of an era where neighbours noticed each other and where Rover’s style of middle-class comfort still had some value. This was not true of 1993, and not even 1983. Just a few short years later all this became very clear as Rover was reduced to rebadging its own cars as MGs and applying plastic cladding to 25s to make them into Streetwise variants. In 2000 Rover withdrew from the world market.

Looking at this car, a guaranteed rarity in Denmark (it might be the only one), you can see an opportunity to have a blend of Japanese engineering and British upholstery on your driveway. Normally to have a vehicle with this Cinzano-era feel you’d need to be thinking of something a good deal older and a lot more rust-prone; I am now seeing thick flat burgundy paint and a pimpled chrome Jaguar badge.

Now that I come to think of if, there weren’t all that many luxury coupes made in Britain that weren’t Bentleys, Rolls-Royces or Jaguars. So, this Rover is – if you can stand the rather inelegant dashboard and tiny-grille – a rare chance to have affordable British comfort in a comparatively modern package. The price here is just under DKK 50,000 which is about £5,500. The mileage is rather too high though: 238,000 miles and that’s why in this case there is something rotten in the state of Denmark today.

1993 Rover 827 interior

*but not as bad an experience as that of the few customers the car garnered.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: The Baby Bentley”

  1. It’s a peculiar car, and you, Richard, should get your hands on one and a Kappa coupé soon to give us a verdict on the War Of The Misfit Coupés.

    To give the Rover its due, it’s not an eyesore and more easily digestible than Lancia’s bloated prestige coupé. The same applies to the 800 saloon, but in both cases I had, and still have my problems with the “marriage of Asian precision and British craftsmanship”, or, to be less kind, the clashing of cold high tech aesthetics and Ye Olde Worlde cuddliness. To some eyes it may very well be a more successful design than the Jag XJ40, which strived for a similar effect, but I prefer the Coventry car not just due to certain allegiances, but because it failed at being as modern as the Rover (whose internal code was, if I’m not mistaken, XX – which makes it sound much more futuristic in a mysterious way than the car turned out to be). Some things just don’t mix well.

    As for the leather, I also seem to remember that it’s of Connolly provenance, which might explain its appealing patina. Now that you mention it, I feel obliged to mention a truly wonderful Lancia Thema 8.32 I came across recently, which featured a spotless (rather than, as in most cases, sun-dried) Poltrona Frau leather interior and boasted the best kind of stitching craftsmanship this side of a Rolls-Royce. It’s located in Frankfurt, just in case you’re planning a holiday break over the coming weeks…

    Oh and last, as well as least: the AROnline crowd, god bless ’em, liken the 800 in general to a second, or third, or fourth coming. It was, apparently, mighty good and killed off by the Germans because they feared people might at some point realised how good it was and immediately send their BMW E34s and Merc C124s to the crusher, promising never again to do anything other than “buy British”.

  2. That would be an excellent dual test, the Lancia and the Rover. I must admit that I find the Lancia Kappa is the more appealing, precisely because of its odd appearance. I like the way both cars fail for distinctly different reasons. In the case of the Lancia the proportions were subtly wrong and in the case of the Rover it was the details. The grille reminds me of the undersized letterbox tacked on to the Aston Martin Lagonda. I have thought about car testing but the logistical problems mean I seem to be condemned to be an arm-chair road tester. If memory serves, Alexei Sayle ran one of these and liked it a lot. Generally, Car seemed to think that the 800 outstayed its welcome and by the time it was killed off the Legend upon which it was based went through three model cycles, indicative of Rover´s paltry capacity to develop its products.

  3. There is actually a four car test waiting to happen here – pitching the Rover against a contemporary Mercedes 300CE, Volvo 780 and Kappa coupé. The second generation Honda Legend coupé could also make for an interesting contrast, if any of the others had a sick note from their mum. Someone ought to do this before Martin Buckley thinks of it…

  4. Kris.

    “It was, apparently, mighty good and killed off by the Germans because they feared …”

    You seem to think that was some sort of myth, but it was totally true. Absolutely. Honestly. Here’s the proof.

  5. There is a worn out looking Rover 800 (die Fastback!) always parked in the same space down the road from me. I realise that, without really being conscious of it, I make assumptions of certain cars I see, creating scenarios for them. In the case of this Rover it probably goes thus. The owner got it new, having been impressed by a TV advertisement he saw. For the first few months, he boasted to his BMW driving colleagues, scarcely even acknowledging the streamlined upstart Audi 100 that another work mate had. After the Rover was towed from the work car park for the third time, he stopped bragging quite so much. Nevertheless, when he retired he bought it from the company and has kept it to this day. Now and then his wife looks out at it, ragged and scarcely driven, and suggests he gets rid of it. She doesn’t do it that often though, because she knows that all she’ll hear is “Get rid of the Rover? That was when we made real cars. It still smells of leather. Do you know the Germans were so scared ……”

  6. Sean,

    the most intriguing/surprising/irritating element of this filmic reminder of The Good Old Times is that the (voice) actors playing the two gobsmacked Germans are British. Their text is absolutely correct in terms of semantics and grammar, and even the pronunciation is very good, but these lads have certainly been raised learning the Queen’s Tongue. Is/was German spoken by Germans too offensive for British TV audiences? Is even the subtlest of English inflexion a prerequisite if one does not intend to alienate the British public?

    Something’s rotten, indeed.

  7. Kris

    Niceties of accent always pass us by (unless of course you are speaking English in which case we miss nothing) but I think it might be that they couldn’t find two German actors who could keep a straight face. And do remember this was probably made at a time when Allo, Allo was still being broadcast, so I think it shows remarkable cosmopolitan restraint that they didn’t do it in ze Cherman achsents aber in ze Hinglish, nein?

  8. I owned one of these, a 1997 Vitesse (2.0 turbo) that cost me a grand when it was just 7 years old with less than 100k on the clock. I always thought they were very elegant cars and the interior upholstery and trim really was lovely, although the dash looked extremely dated. The Vitesse variants were good to drive, but the 827 and later 825 Sterling models were really quite poor. NVH was poor and the 2 litre 4 banger was rough and the vibrations at idle belied the ancient underpinnings. What it really wanted was the V6 but with the Vitesse suspension setup!

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