Rover Road Trippin’ Part Two

In the first part of this journey, I had travelled about 250 miles from home to Kent. I was in high spirits about the car and looking forward to the rest of the journey. The next stint saw me drive to Solihull. That meant another battle with the M25 so I left fairly early in the morning. This was a Bank Holiday after all. That strategy worked well and while the orbital was certainly busy, I barely had to drop out of fifth gear.

Once on the M40, things improved dramatically. As I was ahead of schedule, I took the unusual step of going into fuel-saving mode. A 60mph cruise. It certainly made a dramatic difference to noise levels. Instead of buzzing incessantly, the engine was near-silent. This was extremely relaxing. I may have even selected BBC Radio 3 on the wireless. I managed to avoid buying Werther’s Originals and a tartan blanket, but did go as far as to stop at a garden centre for a nice cup of tea. Sure beats the manic rush of the South East.

After a successful evening of beating a friend at Scrabble, it was then off to Northamptonshire. Again, I was in no rush and found myself heading towards Coventry – where there was a Transport Festival that very weekend. Once again, the smart phone came in handy and I was able to discover that there was a road run, that very day. It made sense to try and meet it, so off I went to rural Warwickshire, very close to a village I called home for several years.

A Swift, a Beetle, a Jag and a ropey old Rover

A Swift, a Beetle, a Jag and a ropey old Rover

You can just spot the Rover in the background of this picture of a Swift – a little-known Coventry manufacturer that sadly left this world in 1931. Note excellent headgear. I was truly in seventh heaven here as all manner of wondrous machinery paraded past. Static shows do bore me. It’s so good to see even really old vehicles heading out for a drive. There were over 400 vehicles, but I sadly didn’t have time to watch them all – or listen to them. The Ferrari 250GT sounded glorious in exactly the way an F40 didn’t. Bentleys wafted past while Triumph Vitesses attempted to use sonorous decibels to hide their Herald origins.

I headed to Northamptonshire for a night with more friends and the utterly addictive world of Mythbusters. Oh and they let me drive their Citroen XM, which only made me want one even more. Certainly, it was more comfortable than the Rover, and far better over unsmooth roads. However, after a bright and breezy start the next day, it was to Rockingham Motor Speedway I headed, just 20 minutes away.

The weather was bloody appalling, but a few hardy souls still came out to play. The day was made up of static displays, tea-drinking and then, for those of a lively disposition, an introductory track session. I skipped this bit, but did opt for a session on the skid pan – primarily to test the Uniroyal RainSport 3 tyres I’d had the Rover equipped with.

Rover finds another Citroen companion at Rockingham

Sadly, no photos exist of my hilarious antics aboard the Rover, but much fun was had. The tiled surface offered as much grip as sheet ice and even my tyres couldn’t save me. The ‘kicker’ that induces a tail slide I found quite easy to counteract. Am I surprisingly gifted or were the tyres an unfair advantage? I went through and lifted off the throttle and much spinning occurred! Not just the tyres then. I was impressed though. Even on doused tarmac, the car remained fully in control. It took yanking the handbrake on at 40mph to induce a rather hefty slide. Impressive.

I was glad I’d had this opportunity to test the limits in the wet as the M in M6 appeared to stand for Monsoon. There was horrific standing water, yet the Rover felt planted and comfortable. In fact, I’d say that’s the only downside of the tyres. Perhaps they inspire a bit too much confidence.

A few hours later, I was home. The Rover had averaged 37mpg again, which is mightily impressive given the on-skidpan hoonery it had endured. Even better, it appears not to have used a drop of oil. Changing it before departure, even though it wasn’t yet due, has clearly helped clean up those piston rings. I haven’t seen any puffs of blue smoke either. If I’ve cured the Honda D-series blue smoke issue with a simple oil change  – it worked with my smoky Sirion – then I will be pleased.

Now, the Rover can rest. The 2CV is being prepared (well, I changed the gearbox oil) for the 2CVGB National meeting on Anglesey this weekend, which includes the 24-hour 2CV race and hopefully a chance for some on-track antics for us non-race drivers too. Should be fun!

Rover Road Trippin’ Part 1

There’s nothing like a lengthy road trip to really give you a feel for a car. What felt fine pottering around the lanes at home can come unstuck when it comes to covering distance. How did the Rover fare?

After clocking up nearly 300 miles yesterday, I’m in a fair position to comment. And the news certainly isn’t bad. I wasn’t crippled by backache after a five-hour drive (with short breaks) and the car didn’t put a foot wrong. Ok, so the suspension could perhaps be slightly more compliant, but it’s fine on motorways – just a bit uncomfortable on the hideous mess Kent seems to have for a road infrastructure. If this really is the Garden of England, then the roads seem to be crazy paving.

Rover 400 with grille

Rover in Tunbridge Wells, looking a bit scruffy

I do feel that this car has a lack of power though. It makes a lot of noise, but doesn’t really seem to want to accelerate. I’m not sure if I’m expecting too much of a 1.6, or whether the exhaust is clogged. It has a catalyst, so it could be a fault there. Pleasingly, it’s just early enough for me to entirely legally remove the catalyst. I might do just that.

The brakes are also poor, but that might be because I’m used to hydraulic Citroens and the surprisingly ferocious stoppers of the sadly-departed Sirion. Certainly there’s a nasty judder, so new discs may be in order. I suspect it’d feel a lot better for a fluid change too as the pedal feels horrible. I may well discover there are no rear shoes left too. I need to investigate.

While the gearing is a touch short – 70mph is a buzzy 3500rpm – it certainly sails along at motorway speeds well enough. The controls are nicely weighted so even when you’re really tired, driving it is no effort at all – though it can be tricky to potter smoothly around town. I seem to recall this was also a problem with our old ‘bubble’ 400 too. That was an absolute nightmare to drive in slow traffic.

Overall though, it’s hard to be that picky with a car that cost just £300. This truly is glorious cheap motoring. After another night down here in Kent, I’m off to visit The Midlands before heading to Rockingham Raceway for Retro Cars at The Rock. It’s a free show if you want to turn up, with the only cost being track time if you fancy it. I’m planning to put the Rover’s Uniroyal RainSport 3 tyres to the test by conducting a review of their grip levels on a skid pan. Should be fun! Or, if the tyres are really good, it’ll be no fun at all…

Rover 400: Don’t believe the Honda hype!

According to the Logic of the Internet ExpertS (LIES), buying a Rover 200/400 with the K-Series engine is about as sensible as trying to use rattlesnakes for shoe laces. “Oh they’re hideously unreliable and the head gaskets ALWAYS go. You want one with the reliable Honda engine.”

I’m not convinced.

For a start, I really rate the K-Series engine. Yes, OMGHGF is possible, but then that’s the case with LOTS of engines. Even BMWs, Hondas and Toyotas – the latter’s diesels as fitted to the Lucida and Hilux Surf seem to use cylinder heads made out of rice paper. For sure, there are some weaknesses in the K-Series that seem to make it more prone than most, but the news certainly isn’t all bad. 100bhp from a 1400cc engine isn’t too shabby, and they’ll deliver in excess of 40mpg too.

Rover gets new boots. Sills apparently quite solid!

Rover gets new boots. Sills apparently quite solid!

But, I’ve got a Honda with the super reliable, bullet proof Honda engine. Only it’s all a bit myth. The Honda engines can blow head gaskets too. Worse, they seem absolutely shocking for piston ring problems. I know this because my 416 will regularly pump out a cloud of blue smoke. That can mean only one thing – it’s burning oil. A quick search of various forums backs this up as far from unusual. From 80,000 miles upwards, it’s really rather common. Given that I know of K-Series engines with over 200,000 miles on them, the battle between the two engines is looking far from one-sided.

I’m not fretting just yet. Cheap motoring is full of situations like this. The Daihatsu Sirion was an oil burner when I got it and they also suffer from piston ring issues. Despite it only covering 2000 miles since its last oil change, I decided to do it again before thrashing it all the way to Northern Scotland. The Sirion was then vastly better. I shall employ a similar technique with the Rover. It’s not so much wear that’s the issue, but carbon forming around the ring, preventing it from sealing properly against the cylinder wall. This seal is necessary to keep the oil in the sump from squirting into the cylinders and making your car look (and smell) like a two-stroke. What didn’t help was Rover changing the recommended oil change period from 6000 miles to 12,000! I’ve also got no history with mine, so it could well have been neglected even more than that during its 85,000 miles.

I shall therefore treat it to an oil change, and will do so again in another few thousand miles. Hopefully that will help. I’m also hoping to get the timing belt replaced – again the lack of history is a concern. Has it ever been replaced? It should have been at around 60,000 miles, but there’s no way of knowing. Five years is generally considered a good innings for a cambelt anyway, so even if it was replaced at 60,000, that could be years ago for all I know.

Other minor improvements have also been made. Touch-up paint has been carelessly applied to previously rusty (treated and zinc primered) areas. It looks crap close-up, but will do from a distance. I’ve also fitted a missing piece of trim to the rear wheelarch and replaced the disfunctional clock. The main change since I last wrote about it is the fitment of four brand new Uniroyal RainSport 3 tyres. A-rated for wet weather grip, they certainly give a lot more confidence than the very worn/Chinese mix it wore before. A full alignment check has also improved things – the tracking was out front and rear. I’m looking forward to properly testing these tyres later in the month.

Can you spot the new bit of trim? It's tiny

Can you spot the new bit of trim? It’s tiny

I’ve got some serious mileage to do in this car later this week too. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m liking this car a lot more than I expected to.

Ventilation exasperation – and relief

If a Citroen 2CV can do it, and a Land Rover can do it, and a Rover P6 can do it, many Mercs can do it so why can many cars NOT do it?

I talk of course of the ability of a car to provide warm air to the windscreen and/or feet, while also supplying cool air to the face. A Citroen BX can’t do it, a Saab 9000 finds it a struggle and I’m pretty sure my Alfa Romeo 164 found such a scenario too perplexing.

Happily, my Rover 400 CAN do it. I spent a decent chunk of today driving around in horrendous weather. To keep the windscreen clear, I had to direct warm air upon it. But it’s summer, so I don’t really want to heat up the interior, which is why being able to use the face-level vents to provide fresh air to ones nostrils is so pleasant.

Rover's ventilation is rather wonderful

Rover’s ventilation is rather wonderful

The magic happens thanks to that slider, bottom right in the picture above. Though it doesn’t much seem to reduce the air flow when you move it…

However, I’m still very glad of it! With air-conditioning becoming more prevalent, such controls aren’t really needed. That’s because air-con dries the air, so you can set it to a comfortable temperature and still see where you’re going – though I don’t much like the way it also dries out my sinuses.

That makes the set-up in the Rover just about perfect. The 2CV is rather more direct about it – just open the flap beneath the windscreen – but it’s still a feature I welcome. That was refined somewhat on Dyanes, with individually controlled air vents at each end of the dashboard – though it must be said that I once had hail come flying in during a particularly bad storm, so simple isn’t always best!

I still find it odd that manufacturers found it acceptable to do away with any form of fresh air ingress. Quarter lights had their uses, but then they became fixed to boost security, and then vanished altogether. I guess it’s much more simple to not bother with fresh air vents, which is presumably why Vauxhall and Ford did away with them – other mainstream manufacturers followed suit.

Of course, more ventilation joy comes from the tilt/slide sunroof. That is also a good way of bringing more fresh air in as well as more natural light. I really am starting to like this car an awful lot! Apart from the lack of rear wiper perhaps. That is annoying. Mind you, I’m not sure I could fit four full-size tyres in the boot of a 200 hatchback. Swings and roundabouts as ever!

Rover – first week review

A week today, I was sitting in The Midlands, frantically browsing the internet to find a car to buy and drive home in. The things we do to avoid three hours on a train.

Eight days and 250 miles later, I’m very pleased with the way my emergency purchase has panned out! In the past two days, I’ve been tackling issues. The wheels have been balanced to cure an annoying wobble and the loose catalyst heat shield has been silenced with an exhaust clamp. I’ve also had a new oxygen sensor fitted, which means the Check Engine light has finally gone away. A frustrating rattle from the back end turned out to be the bars that hold the boot open. A bit of insulation tape padding cured this. Obviously, there was a fair ol’ burst of sticker removal too.

Rover receives rectification

But the more I drive this car, the more I like it. A lot of people seem to write the car off as nothing but a Honda wearing Rover badges. That’s seriously unfair. Honda were not at all keen on the MacPherson strut front suspension for a start, preferring double wishbones (as used on the Japanese-market Concerto). Rover won out though, using its experience at providing good European-friendly suspension. It’s a good history too, when you consider the different techniques used – baffling bulkhead-mounted springs on the Rover P6, Hydrolastic, Hydragas, rubber cone, torsion bars. With the Rover SD1, Spen King even proved that a simple live rear axle with coil springs could be good!

I digress. Rover also had the main say on the interior, and that’s one reason it’s such a happy place to sit. It’s one of those cars that just feels ‘right’ as soon as you clamber aboard. There’s a hint of Honda-esque low scuttle, but it’s not too low. Visibility is superb and the steering wheel, which has a surprising amount of rake to it, feels wonderful in the hand.

This is a lovely place to sit

This is a lovely place to sit

What really impresses is that it’s nice to drive quickly, but also relaxing due to the lack of engine revs. I was pretty sure it’d be a rev-happy monster, and it just isn’t. I also thought it might be a bit genteel – perhaps because the flat cap brigade like them so much. It isn’t though. It has a lovely poise about it when cornering, and the steering is surprisingly pleasant. A touch light perhaps, but not alarmingly so.

The power steering pump does make alarming noises though – I fear for its future! Other than that though, the car seems really good. I’m hoping to get the sill patched up tomorrow and then it’s just a case of driving it and seeing how much I like it in a few week’s time!

Well, almost. I do have one big problem with the car and I don’t know what to do about it. Dating from 1992, this car is a late pre-facelift model. But it now wears a later grille and later two-tone bumpers. At this age, it should have grey bumper and grey lower body colour. The rear lights are also incorrect later items and of course that silly 200GTi rear spoiler is definitely not right! The alloy wheels are from a later Rover too. It’s very wrong. EDIT – actually, this car is from a rare period when they did have body-coloured lower edges and small indicators, but no fancy grille.

Many details are incorrect. Do I care?

Many details are incorrect. Do I care?

But, I’m not sure I’m really bothered. My 2CV is nowhere near stock condition after all. It also has the ‘wrong’ bumpers and many detail inaccuracies. I wanted to put my own stamp on it and I did. Why would I try and make it look like original factory spec? Is it not better for a car to show how it has evolved over the years?

So, I’m not sure I care about the wrongness of my Rover. It’s a nice looking car as it is, so let it be, let it be.


Video: Rover 416 – initial thoughts

This one took a bit of making. Sadly, my laptop is increasingly unhappy with the world of video editing, so this one isn’t as clean-cut as I’d like.

That’s a shame as I feel the car deserves better! I’ve been busy today getting the catalyst heat shield repaired and yesterday I managed to quieten the rattle you’ll occasionally here from the rear of the car. A spot of wheel balancing completes the minor jobs that have really improved how the car feels.

Regardless, here’s my real world video review of my 1992 Rover 400.

The best Rover since the P6

With the mileage covered since purchase on Tuesday now standing at over 210, I’m able to reflect more on my feelings about the car. I don’t feel any disappointment that it isn’t a 600 –  I will still own one at some point.

There’s naturally a big nostalgia kick with this car. The 200 (project R8) was launched in 1989 – the year I started Secondary School. The 400 saloon followed on early in 1990. In 1993, I had my school work experience at the Land Rover factory, and I still  remember being driven up to the Gaydon test facility in a Rover 200 – though I can’t recall which engine it had. I do remember that the bloke, a test driver, borrowed it from a colleague, and then gave it a darned good thrashing. “It’s good to blow the cobwebs out,” he said. As he spent his days driving the Discovery Mpi, he was probably glad to be driving something with a bit of oomph…

Rover's high point?

Rover’s high point?

A few years later, my dad owned a 414 – an M-plate one, so fairly near the end of production for the R8. I was driving myself by then, so don’t have many memories of travelling in it other than the occasional time I borrowed it. These cars were everywhere at this time though, especially if you travelled around Longbridge – where the cars were built alongside Honda’s Concerto.

This may cause arguements, but I reckon the R8 was the first Rover since the P6 that was actually any good. Don’t get me wrong, I like pretty much everything Austin-Rover/BL built, but the R8 was a real move forward. Maybe that was the influence of parent company BAe, but I’m sure it has more to do with the increasingly happy relationship that Rover and Honda enjoyed. The Triumph Acclaim was the first flowering of this relatoinship, but really was just a Honda Ballade with different seats. The SD3 Rover 200 that followed was pretty good, but also clearly very Honda, even if the 216 used a Rover engine. The Rover 800 may have shared the Honda Legend’s underpinnings, but managed to look and feel very different indeed. A shame then that build quality was just not quite there.

The R8 changed that. It had the quality but you also felt that Rover had a far larger say in the design of the car than what had gone before. Honda’s double-wishbone suspension was replaced by good old MacPherson struts up front and a clever-Accord-esque four-link rear suspension. The driving experience was a great deal better too, with far more concession to the European market. Greater ride comfort allied to improved (if still not perfect) ergonomics. Now the 216 used a Honda engine while the 214 used Rover’s new K-Series engine. A great engine in my experience, ruined by cost-cutting and production issues that harmed reliability. Something British Leyland knew a lot about! Head Gasket Failure became sadly common-place, but far less so on earlier cars. When it began production, it was a corker – 96bhp from just 1.4-litres and also 45mpg economy. It made Ford’s Escort and Vauxhall’s Astra seem woefully outdated.

The Rover 600 was perhaps even better, being more like the 800 and looking very different to its Accord sibling. But all was not well. The re-skinned 800 was not entirely successful, hindered by a need to retain the flat roofline of the earlier model. Then BMW took over and the Honda relationship was utterly doomed. 1995’s new Rover 400 was also a good car – the ride in particular was especially fine from personal experience – but it somehow lacked the clean-cut lines of the R8 and the view of it has been somewhat tainted by the fact that it remained in production, as the 45, until the very end of MG Rover in 2005. Also, the main beam was absolutely hopeless. I certainly remember that! We flogged it and bought our 1986 Mini instead. I think the headlamps were better.

Our previous Rover 400. Looks were always a bit bland

Our previous Rover 400. Looks were always a bit bland

So, I shall just bask in the enjoyment my R8 gives me. It demonstrates just how good Rover could be, and perhaps could have remained if the Honda partnership had been maintained. After all, platform sharing is no bad thing. Just ask Volkswagen.