The History Of Rover 827

The Rover 800 series is an executive car introduced by the Austin Rover Group in 1986 and also marketed as the Sterling in the United States. Co-developed with Honda, it was a close relative to the Honda Legend and the successor to the Rover SD1.

Partnership with Honda

The Rover 800 was designed as a replacement for the Rover SD1. Development of the car began in 1981 as part of a venture with Honda under the XX codename; the corresponding Honda version was known as the Honda Legend, and was codenamed as HX. The development work was carried out at Rover's Canley plant and Honda's Tochigi development centre. The European market Legend was produced by Austin-Rover alongside the 800 in the former Morris plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire. US-market (Acura) Legends were built in Japan.

The basic versions of the 800 used two 2.0L 16-valve developments of British Leyland's stalwart O-Series engine, dubbed M-Series. The 820e, with single point injection, and the 820i with multi-point injection, i.e. 4 injectors. The top versions used a Honda designed V6 unit in 2.5L capacity. Initially, only a saloon body was offered; a liftback version — referred to as a fastback — became available in 1988.

Later, a diesel version of the car was launched in 1990 using a 2498 cc engine from Italian company VM Motori, which was related to the slightly smaller engine used in the 2400 SD Turbo model of the Rover SD1, and Range Rover Turbo D.

The Sterling badge was used in Europe and most global markets to denote the top saloon luxury version and the Vitesse badge used to denote the top fastback sporting version. The Vitesse became available at the same time as the 2675 cc Honda V6. Both of these top of the range models were initially only available in the UK with the V6. In some European markets, in particular Italy, the 2.0 litre petrol was badged as Sterling and later available (in turbo form) as Vitesse to avoid the punishing duties that made engines over 2.0 litres unviable for volume sales.

Towards the end of Mark 1 production the Vitesse had nearly as many "luxury" features as the Sterling (for example, electric seats). There was also a brief run of just over 500 820 Turbo 16v cars using a turbocharged version of the M-Series developed with help from Tickford, leading to this model often being referred to as the "Tickford Turbo". Utilising such enhancements as sodium-filled exhaust valves and Mahle forged pistons the car produced 180bhp (134kW), although there is much speculation about this figure being severely held back by the electronics as not to step on the toes of the 177bhp (132kW) V6 engined Vitesse model as well as to preserve the reliability of the gearbox. In reality the engine was capable of 250+hp while still preserving the realiability and drivability.[citation needed]

In the United States, the car was known as the Sterling, and was only available with the 2.5 litre Honda V6 petrol engine. Initial sales in America were strong, and the design was well received. However, early vehicles were soon found to have been under-developed and quality and reliability problems soon escalated to a crisis. The sales then fell as the reputation of the model deteriorated, especially as soon as J.D. Power surveys criticised initial quality and reliability publicly. This was especially damaging as at the same time, the same core vehicle, the Acura Legend was doing extremely well in America.

Many mechanical and chassis parts for the Sterling 825/ 827 are still readily available due to the fact that it was largely identical to the much more popular Acura Legend in these areas, save for engine cooling and braking systems. However, electrical, body, and interior parts are quite difficult to locate in the US now.

In Europe especially, the 800 was hampered by Honda's adherence to packaging its own characteristic double-wishbone front suspension. This allowed a low bonnet-line but restricted the total suspension-travel, which in turn could not give the 800 the executive car ride qualities and traction on poorly surfaced roads which were necessary for it to compete. The first 2.5L engine also lacked low-end torque, which particularly affected its "drivability". The 4-cylinder cars suffered from reliability problems, thanks to the fragile Lucas fuel injection systems which Rover used.

It should be noted that the 2.5L Honda V6 is a completely different engine from the Rover KV6 Engine introduced in 1996, although the two share the same nominal 2.5L capacity and a V6 architecture.

Early build quality of the 800 was reportedly fairly poor, (J.D. Power) with trim, electrics and paintwork problems. The 800 did have a roomy and luxurious interior but this did not save the car from gaining a poor reputation from which it never really recovered. Corrosion problems in early models also marred its reputation.

By 1989, the 2.5L engine was enlarged to 2.7L, the expensive Maestro-derived instrumentation had been changed to gauges sourced from a different component-builder (losing the oil pressure gauge and voltmeter in the process) and build quality had improved but cost-cutting had started.[citation needed] However these changes were too late to prevent the US-market version from being withdrawn after poor sales. A budget version of the 800 using an 8-valve (rather than 16) O-Series engine was introduced, but was short-lived.

The original version of the Rover 800 was one of the most popular cars in Britain's full-sized executive car market, which at this stage was effectively split into two strong sectors — mainstream brands such as Ford and Vauxhall, and prestige brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It was a strong competitor for the likes of the Ford Granada/ Scorpio and Vauxhall Carlton.[citation needed]

1992: the R17 major facelift

In early 1992, the 800 was re-skinned and re-engineered under the R17 codename This saw the re-introduction of the traditional Rover grille and more curvaceous bodywork. The scope of the design change was restricted by the need to retain the core XX structure, including the door structure and skin design.

The redesign was a partial answer to major press and market criticism of the "folded paper" school of design and the quest for better aerodynamics that had led to many cars appearing very similar, especially from the front. The redesign found much favour and as a result the car's sales enjoyed a renaissance, the 800 series becoming Britain's best selling executive car in the early to mid 1990s.

Following concerted efforts to learn from the problems that had hit the early model years, especially under the more extreme United States market and climatic conditions, quality in general had improved dramatically by this stage, but the decision to leave the US market had already been taken.

The 2.0L T16 replaces the M16 found in pre 1992 cars and comes in NASP and Turbo forms, the 2.0L turbo was fitted to the "Vitesse" and the later "Vitesse Sport" (1994–96).

Notable differences between the sport and non sport models were:

Vitesse Sport came with 17" six-spoke alloys (non sport was 16" seven-spoke), a power increase from 177bhp (132kW; 179PS) to 197bhp (147kW; 200PS) and revised stiffer suspension to aid handling.

The Rover 800s as fitted with the Honda 2.7 are very reliable if well serviced, however they suffered from noisy tappets, mostly in cases where oil changes were neglected.


A two-door ("three-box", booted) coupé version followed later that year. This had been originally developed with the American market in mind but was never sold there, Rover having pulled out of the US market before the coupé's launch. It was, however, sold to other export markets. Eighty percent of the interior and exterior of the 800 coupé was finished by hand.

1996 minor facelift

A facelift in 1996 provided few exterior changes, the most noticeable being the painting of previously black rubbing strips on all models except the coupé and the revision of the suspension system. Grille fins became silver in colour, instead of their former black. Climate control, passive immobilisation and a passenger airbag became standard, and a 6-disc CD auto-changer was fitted to all models apart from the entry-level ("i") model. Security technology was upgraded with a change from infra red to radio frequency for the remote door key. Wood finishes were expanded, with a coachwork line and "ROVER" on the door cards, accentuating the new, pleated seat finishes and deep pile rugs. Unusual pleated door card leather and fabric finishes capped off a comfortable interior, much of which was hand-made with what Rover called "the craftsman's touch".

Post 1996 Vitesses were all "Sport" specification so the sport badge was dropped, also from 1996 the 2.0L T16 engines used wasted spark ignition instead of distributor. Non-sport Vitesse models have approx 180 bhp, whilst the sport has 197 bhp.

Although the 800 had fallen behind the opposition considerably (few mechanical changes were made, apart from the introduction of the Rover KV6 Engine which replaced the Honda 2.7 V6 in 1996), it was a steady seller until 1999, when it was replaced by the Rover 75.

The Rover KV6 engine in the 800 series was hampered by reliability issues and head gasket failures. Rover at the time, with no understanding of the problems simply replaced the engines. In many cases repair would not have been an option due to liner problems. The modified version of the KV6 fitted into the 75 is not an easy swap.

The KV6 engine was in most cases mated to a JATCO gearbox which also in some cases suffered from reliability issues. This was sometimes due to incorrect gearbox fluid changes.

The Rover 820 Vitesse in most guises suffered from problems with gearbox bearings because of the large amount of power from the 2-litre turbo engine. The bearings can be replaced with more durable steel caged bearings.


On 6 June 1990 Tony Pond completed the first ever lap of the famous TT motorcycle course on the Isle Of Man at an average of over 100mph (160km/ h) in a car — a Rover 827 Vitesse, standard apart from safety features and racing tyres.

The 800 was a keystone of the British government's car fleet throughout its life, following a tradition of using British-made Rover and Jaguar models. The car was also used by many British police forces.

Famous owners include Neil Hamilton, Peter Mandelson, Clement Freud, Max Bygraves and Michael Parkinson. Tony Blair owned an early 800 in the 1980s, and the vice-chancellor of Middlesex University had two — one for personal use and one for official duties.

Unlike many other manufacturers who used numerical model naming systems, Rover never settled on a permanent standard for the majority of their cars. However, for the following designations are an approximate guide:

  • 820 – 4-cylinder 8-valve carburetted models (Rover O8)
  • 820e – 4-cylinder 16-valve single point injected models (Rover M16e)
  • 820i – 4-cylinder 16-valve multi point injected models (Rover M16i) Came in naturally aspirated form and turbocharged (Turbocharged model fitted to later Vitesse)
  • 825i – pre-1988 6-cylinder models (Honda)
  • 827i – post-1988 6-cylinder and US models (Honda C27)
  • Sterling – for most markets (except North America); luxury flagship model
  • Vitesse – for most markets; sports flagship model

Following the 1992 R17 facelift, the convention was simplified to:

  • 820i/ Si/ SLi/ sterling – 4-cylinder 16-valve multi point injected models (Rover T16) Came in naturally aspirated form and turbocharged (Turbocharged model fitted to Vitesse)
  • 825D/ SD – 4-cylinder diesel models (VM Motori 425)
  • 825i/ Si/ SLi/ sterling – 6-cylinder models (Rover KV6)
  • 827i/ Si/ SLi/ sterling – 6-cylinder models (Honda C27a)
  • Sterling – for most markets (except North America); luxury flagship model
  • Vitesse – for most markets; sports flagship model

In 1996, the engine size designations were dropped, and the model badges simply read "800".

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