Talking Motors: Knowing me knowing the Rover 800 - A-Ha!

Rover 800 driver Alan Partridge
Rover 800 driver Alan Partridge

The Rover 800 is 30.

Who feels old? I certainly do.

Rally action at the Manchester Classic Car Show

Rally action at the Manchester Classic Car Show

Okay, so when the Rover 800 made its debut on July 10, 1986, I was still 16 months away from being born in a cupboard in Billinge Hospital (it’s true - there were no beds on the ward).

But the reason the anniversary of the launch of a car that is older than I am has had me looking for greys is because I very distinctly remember this stable of cars in my childhood.

Think of the Rover 800 and you think of Alan Partridge. Despite the fact this car was seen by Rover as an executive model, and that the media were generally quite nice about it when it launched, it didn’t ensure the 800 got an enduring status in the same way the marque’s SD1 did.

But it wouldn’t have been romantic if what is actually quite a significant car was revered beyond niche cult status.

A collaboration between Austin Rover and Honda, sure we had the Honda Ballade re-dressed as the Triumph Acclaim and then the Rover 200, but the 800 was the first ground-up development between the two.

As a result, Rover got a replacement for the SD1 and Honda were given ammo to get a foothold in the US.

Despite miserable trim which could neither be described as grey or beige, the 800 was a huge success, becoming the UK’s best selling executive car.

And that made Austin Rover, which was to become the Rover Group, take the 800 further with the 800 fastback and Vitesse performance models.

It’s that trim which sticks in my mind.

I couldn’t have been much older than three when we got a Rover-badged Montego - a very close relative to the 800, right down to the inside which was about as exciting as a trip to Hull.

A lot of childhood memories have that car lurking in the background. We had it so long the fuel gauge stopped working and it lost a hubcap, though the incidents aren’t related. It had seven seats, two in the boot that faced backwards, and that was my territory until we ran that car into the ground.

There were handy plastic moulded pockets to the sides of each seat, which would become my first man drawer. Here you could find old and chewed up biros, the treacle-like residue of years’ worth of spilled Dr Pepper, old chewing gum, comics, the backs of the stickers from whichever album I was unsuccessfully trying to complete at the time and Monster Munch crumbs.

And if you fell asleep across the bench seats on a long journey, you could terrify other drivers when you sat up and stared back at them.

Getting an early start on the Christmas shopping with a trip to the Trafford Centre probably sounds like hell on earth to you – I know it does for me.

But it might act as a leveller thanks to the location of the Footman James Classic car show.

It takes place over the weekend of September 17 and 18 at Event City - a stone’s throw from the shopping arcade of evil doom - and having gone for the past couple of years, I am able to state with authority that it provides an agreeable way to spend an afternoon.

Although meandering through rows of lovingly-polished classics, paper cup of coffee in hand, is a scenario a lot of us daydream about, it isn’t all you get for your £15 on the door entry (or £12.50 in advance).

There will be restoration demonstrations, club stands, classic rally demonstrations and traders selling everything from spares, to cars.

And I will be there with two people who would rather be in the shops than standing around while I chat to a 
Triumph Spitfire owner about the pitfalls of his 1500 engine but why he wouldn’t want to swap it for a mark IV, and in my grip will be a bag full of spares I don’t need and 
nostalgic sales brochures which I already know word for word.

One of these people understands, and she is accepting of my condition and will humour me for a least a couple of laps of the car show before leading me away like a like a child from Toys R Us.

The other isn’t as understanding - and will use his developing teenage demeanour to let his big brother know exactly what he thinks about any delay in a trip to McDonald’s.

But that’s the beauty of compromise – and why when you see me in the Trafford Centre that weekend, I won’t be pulling a face, or swinging my arms about, or huffing.

Find out more: www.
manchesterclassiccarshow.com