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Future Classic Friday: Rover 600

Published 16 March 2018

In many respects, the Rover 600 is the unsung hero of the 1990s Rover range – a line-up of cars that were, in several ways, a high watermark for the troubled British company.

Admittedly, Rover Group’s financial woes weren’t addressed by a range of cars that were among the very best in their class at the time, and every single model on offer at the time contained at least half Honda content, but to look at the 600 today does raise the question about whether Rover would still be with us today had it stayed in bed with Honda, rather than become a subsidiary company of BMW in 1994.

At the time of the BMW takeover, the 600 was a relatively young car, and one that contained more Honda content than any of the other shared model strategies that the two companies worked on during the time. Indeed, with the exception of the turbocharged 620ti (a real street sleeper), all of the petrol engines were supplied by the Japanese company, while the fleet-friendly 2.0-litre diesel was Rover’s own L-series – clattery, but devilishly quick for its era.

Despite using the Honda Accord bodyshell, Rover’s design team were given carte blanche to make the 600 their own, and the result was really quite striking. Led by Richard Woolley, who went on to pen the Rover 75, the 600 looked far removed from its Japanese origins. It was low, lean and quite striking, somehow managing to look contemporary and modern despite the traditional Rover design cues of a chrome grille and a wood-encased gentlemen’s club interior. Indeed, with the biscuit-coloured leather fitted to the GSi and GSDi models, the cabin was a very classy place to sit, with only the odd hint of Japanese switchgear suggesting the car wasn’t a wholly British offering.

Rover 600 (7)

It drove superbly, too. The steering was perhaps a tad vague in the straight-ahead position, but the ride quality was streets ahead of its Honda counterpart, while it also handled with poise and confidence. Even though the lower models were marketed against the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Cavalier, the 600 felt like a car from the class above. Then there was Rover’s paint quality – dark pearlescent and metallic shades from the company’s advanced new paint shop gave them a real lustre. A minor detail, but one that won a few votes on the showroom floor.

The 600 was the mainstay of Rover’s fleet line-up for six years, before it and the larger (and much older) 800 were both ousted in favour of the new 75 in 1999.

Today, it’s largely forgotten. Yet of the 117,000 sold in the UK, fewer than 3500 are currently on the road and numbers are still in freefall. In some ways, it’s a victim of its own success – the 600 was by far the most reliable of the Rovers of its era, so was bought by many as a workaday, spacious and dependable family banger, before being condemned at the MoT station by rampant rear wheelarch corrosion.

Those that were properly looked after, though, are still terrific cars, with a bit more style and panache than most 1990s family saloons, excellent road manners and plenty of practicality. As something different that’s still capable of everyday use, they take some beating.

Rover 600 (8)

But in terms of classic potential, while the Rover Metro, 200/400 and 800 all have a large internet following and keen owners’ clubs, the 600 is less well catered-for. For now, at least.

As they become a rarer and rarer sight on our roads, however, it falls to those who remember them fondly to preserve the best ones for future generations. Those that do surely won’t regret it – it’s the one car from the Anglo-Japanese collaboration that has just the right balance of Rover’s luxurious good looks and Honda’s reliability. And had things turned out differently, it could have been a car that marked a major turning point for the now-defunct British brand.

Comments

The Gingerous One    on 18 March 2018

Oh I still use mine as my daily, and those plastic sill covers can hide some rust.....especially after 20 years!

A Daley    on 20 March 2018

It was a nice looking motor. And the interior was a pleasant and comfortable place to sit. If only we got the hang of rust prevention...

Chris Kanoutas    on 14 October 2018

This car has one of the best designs ever. Give it a good polish and it looks more modern than quite a few models 27 years younger! For me, and any mechanic from the AA you will talk to, the 623 GSI was easily the best model Rover ever made. A sleek fast and affordable luxury family car with zero real problems. I had people complaining to me that it just won’t die on them so they find it hard to change it! The ones who still own them are too emotionally attached to them to let them go. Rover could have done so much more with this car but unfortunately by the time the 600 came out the brand was already in decline. It seems that this car received a lot more respect abroad than it did in the U.K.

Edited by Chris Kanoutas on 14/10/2018 at 05:39

John cadman    on 4 September 2019

What an excellent write up, I agree totally with the comments regarding BMW, it’s such a shame that very British company was resigned to the history books, having produced some very innovative cars over the years. I think the 600 was probably one of the most under stated cars they produced and one day It will be truly recognised.

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