History of the Coupe – 1996-1998 – Series 2 Cars

1996-1998 – Series 2

The “Rover Coupes”, as they were now known, saw major changes in 1996 for the 1996/7 model year. Whilst the existing R8 style 1992 bodyshell remained unchanged, there were very significant changes under the bonnet and in the cabin. Hence the reference to Tomcats incorporating these changes as Series 2 and those made to the previous specification as Series 1.

The Series 2 Tomcats were powered by DOHC 1.6 and 1.8VVC versions of the Rover’s “K” series engine which was already used in 1.4 litre form in the mainstream 3 and 5 door 200 Series models. Rover were very proud of their “K” series engine range which had an aluminium block and head with steel cylinder liners. The “K” series 1.6 and 1.8VVC engines gave the Series 2 cars very similar power and performance to their Honda “D” 1.6 litre SOHC and Rover “T” 2.0 litre normally aspirated Series 1 predecessors. Regrettably, there was no flagship Turbo version of the 1.8VVC, thereby reducing the range from 3 to 2 models. With the disappearance of the “T” Series 2 litre Turbo engine and the lack of a Turbo option for the 1.8VVC powered Tomcat, Rover were no longer in the same market as the BMW 3 Series. It is worth noting that BMW acquired Rover in 1994 from its previous owners British Aerospace.

Automatic transmission was still available, as an extra cost option with the 1.6 litre engine only, this time using the constantly variable transmission (“CVT”) box already used by Rover on some other “K” series powered cars. Interestingly, the Series 2 DOHC 1.6 “K” Series engine powered Tomcat paired with the CVT autobox had a 0-60mph time over a second faster than its SOHC 1.6 Honda engine and autobox Series 1 predecessor, but with the same 118mph top speed. As might be expected, both the Honda and Rover CVT automatics lagged slightly behind their manual equivalents in terms of acceleration and top speed..

To the exterior, the top of the range 1.8VVC had a new style of 5-spoke alloy wheel, whilst the 1.6 received d the 6 -spoke “Turbo” alloy wheel previously used on the Turbo and 216SE models. There was a new Pearlescent body colour, Amaranth, available as an extra cost option across both models. The interior gained the same “Bubble” dashboard  as 1995’s “R3” mainstream 3 and 5 door 200 Series models, partly restoring the visual link to the mainstream 200 Series cars, but not the “00 Series designation. There was also a new fabric design, Piccadilly, for the seat facings and interior trim, with a second colourway, Red, to complement the existing Ash Grey on all body colours apart from Amarnth where the Red interior was not an option. They retained their high level of specification and trim from Series 1 days, with only one level for each engine size.

Remaining outside of the 200 Series range despite having gained the same interior, they continued to be identified in the Rover range as the 1.6 and 1.8VVC Rover Coupe(s).

The Return of the SE Model

1997 saw the introduction for the 1997/8 model year of a new 2model” in the shape of an equipment/trim variant called the 1.6SE, which as can be guessed from its model name, used the 1.6 litre “K” series twin cam engine. This was handled in a different way by Rover to 1995’s 216SE as the introduction of 1997’s 1.6SE resulted in some downgrading of the standard equipment and changes to the options for the 1.6 model for the 1997/8 model year to make space for and differentiate it from its new and more expensive 1.6SE stablemate.

Another notable difference was that 1997’s 1.6SE was available in the full range of body colours and included a fuller range of options then its 1995 Series 1 predecessor. It received as standard equipment several items previously only available on the top of the range 1.8VVC, making it identical externally to the 1.8VVC, at least until the next “traffic light grand prix” – this time it got not only the boot lid spoiler and alloy wheels but also the front fog lamps!.

The 1.6SE became an integral part of the range, being included in the 1997/8 model year brochure and subsequent price lists alongside the 1.6 and 1.8VVC models where it remained until Tomcat production ceased.

Late Changes

Despite these changes, the end was in sight for the Tomcats, and, apart from the introduction of the 1.6SE and the consequent repositioning of the 1.6 model, there were no significant changes to the specifications between 1996 and the end of production in 1998. However, the range of body colours did change in early-mid 1998 with Charcoal being replaced by Anthracite and Diamond White rejoining Flame Red as a standard solid colour. However, the radio/cassette was downgraded slightly during 1998 from the R860 to the R770.

There was no 1998/9 model year for the Tomcats as production ended in July 1998, giving them a total lifespan of 6 years. Aside from the 1.6SE, there were no limited edition or specially equipped run-off models to help clear the last cars made into the retail market. The final registrations of Series 2 cars in early 1999 will have been of cars made in 1998 to the 1997/8 specification.

Thus ends the story of the Tomcats. Or it would have done were it not for the FDH Cars.