The Rover Tomcat

Imagine a fight between Batman, The Terminator, Predator and Chuck Norris. The same fight was happening when Rover entered the Coupe market in 1993.

The Rover was up against serious opposition, the likes of which remain landmark cars to this day. Mid nineties mega coupes included: Ford Escort RS Cosworth, Fiat Coupe, Nissan 200sx, Honda Prelude, Toyota MR2, VW Corrado and BMW 325i.

The Rover Tomcat
The lesser spotted Tomcat

How would Rover’s new car cope in the face of such opposition? To contend with these super coupes, Rover had prepared the most powerful variant of its R8 200 series, the 220 Turbo Coupe or Tomcat for short.

“Nicknamed the Tomcat due to a Rover engineer thinking the side profile resembled an F14 Tomcat fighter jet. It doesn’t sound as cool in a brummy accent”

While the 200 itself was based on the Honda Concerto platform (See the advert below) – the engine was Rover’s own creation; the T16. With around 200bhp it had more than enough power to rival the competition. Rover had priced the car at just £18k too, making the Tomcat a veritable bargain.

The Rover Tomcat was pretty too with elegant proportions, leather seats and that wooden dashboard trim that resembled a melted Mars bar. The problem was not with the statistics, styling or price, but the way it drove.

Tomcat or dog?

Contemporary testers agreed, while fast in a straight line, the Tomcat needed to be coaxed around corners. The limited slip diff didn’t really do enough to keep the car from smoking its front tyres and understeering towards a hedge.

Talking of smoking tyres, here’s Tiff Needell thrashing the Rover Tomcat around the Nurburgring:

Ancient footage of Tiff Needell thrashing a Tomcat around the Nurburgring

Tiff Needell praised the performance but questioned the lack of traction control, adding that the limited slip diff didn’t do enough to quell the unpredictable handling. Tiff added that for “driver involvement” the Escort Cosworth would beat the Tomcat. In this keen market filled with agile star performers, the Rover struggled to fight back.

“Under its chic, feline skin, this Tomcat’s a dog. A howler… Under power the whole car writhes and squirms as if an exorcist were trying to rid its body of a plague of demons… It doesn’t just finish fourth in this comparison, it finishes rock-bottom last. It’s the company’s calamity coupe”

Car Magazine 1993 Rover Tomcat Group Test

Despite having the power to compete, the Tomcat didn’t handle as well as competitors. This was clearly a strong area for cars like the Escort RS Cosworth, Nissan 200sx and Toyota MR2.

The Rover Tomcat driving experience

While the Rover Tomcat was clearly a ragged driving experience and didn’t sell as well as it could, it’s a car I remember fondly. It looked good and went well, it’s just a shame Rover couldn’t get it to compete with it’s contemporaries at the time. The Tomcat remains a charismatic and striking car, memorable too potentially for the wrong reasons – it’s the underdog you always wanted to win.

In 2005 Rover shut the factory doors for the last time and the Tomcat would remain the fastest Rover ever made.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.