The Rover 200 so dangerous that production was cancelled
Infamous for seeing inexperienced drivers off to the great beyond, the Rover 'Tomcat' 220 Turbo isn't for the fainthearted. However, for exclusive British power without the fatality rate, how about this Rover 220 GTI instead?
If seeking a performance project, the Rover badge trumpets all the excitement of wet paper. From clattery diesel hatchbacks to Maureen’s supermarket-bound saloon, most waif-look Rovers kangaroo out of blind junctions and proceed through town at 7000rpm. Well, except for the Rover 'Tomcat' – the black sheep of Longbridge.
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Known officially as the 220 Coupé Turbo but 'Tomcat' by enthusiasts, performance was rated at a whisker under 200bhp from Rover’s T-Series 2.0-litre 16v engine. Capable of breaching 150mph and cracking 62mph from a standstill in 6.2 seconds, the ‘Tomcat’ employed Torsen 'torque-sensing traction control', upgraded suspension and anti-lock brakes as standard.
Priced at £18,315 – around £36,000 ($46,100, €40,700) with current inflation – the 220 Turbo remained a proud flagship of the range. Besides bullying more expensive German rivals from the top lane, the 220 also boasted decadent luxury outstripping most rivals of the time. A leather trimmer steering wheel and gear knob was included as standard, alongside Michelin Pilot Tyres on 15” six-spoke alloy ‘Turbo’ wheels and a Turbo designation on the rear appliqué panel.
Problem was, people were crashing. A lot. While the Porsche 911 brought epic lashings of turbo tag, the Rover’s power delivery appeared to filter through a committee – sending a power surge through the controls sometime after it was required. This made overtaking manoeuvres, and hard cornering, something of a game for those without fear.
Then people started dying. As cars passed to the younger generation upon landing on the second-hand market, the naïve and unexperienced began wrapping themselves around trees and smashing through walls. Matters weren’t helped when salesman phrases such as ‘this car has traction control’ turned out to be a tad untrue.
The differential fitted to the Tomcat was a completely mechanical device which, by most manufacturer’s standards, would not have been considered a traction control system. Instead, there was little safety guard against 198bhp suddenly whirring into life when accelerating. It’s this factor that found Rover ceasing production, according to urban legend. An infamous repute awaited the car within culture’s status chamber.
As such, finding a good one is almost impossible. Very few Tomcats are left, making them somewhat more expensive, and more lethal, than lesser engines from within the 220 range.
This is where our project enters the picture. A genuine 1993 Rover 220 GTI Turbo T16, this was only one step down from the top. These cars were built in very limited numbers – only 500 are believed to have been constructed.
As you’ll be able to see, the GTI requires a fair amount of work. The engine is currently in bits, but dozens of parts are included in the sale, including a reconditioned radiator, new crankshaft and big-end bearings.
While the floor is in good condition, the wheel arches and flanks will require welding before any successful MOT can be attempted. However, everything is present and correct – it’s just a case of putting the drivetrain and bodywork back together again. Easier said than done, we agree, but the end result would be something really rather special.
While it may not be a full-on Tomcat, this project is far from castrated. Once running on all cylinders, you’ll have all the benefits and most of the power from Rover’s infamous powerhouse, but without the drawback of meeting your maker some thirty years too soon.
Get a closer look at the online auction here.