Our Cars : Mike’s 400 blots its copy book
After months of trouble free motoring it had to happen eventually. The old scrotter itself, our Project HHR, has finally given me a serious enough reason to dig deep into the pocket in order to keep the old girl rolling just that little bit longer…
It’s always the way, isn’t it? Just as you settle back into the driving seat snug in the knowledge nothing’s going to let you down, something happens. Let’s be honest, with a Rover, especially an old ‘un, you have to be accommodating and understand that things don’t always go to plan. When I say up until very recently the HHR has done absolutely nothing wrong, I mean just that. No fluid top ups, nothing hanging off, nothing knocking, banging, wheezing or clunking – in an ideal world, it’s been the ideal car. However, as far as copy for this site is concerned, it’s been a struggle to write anything captivating or interesting.
I’ve toyed this over in my mind a few times but I’m drawn to the conclusion that this might be the most dependable and satisfying project car we have run in recent years. Not the most-loved Rover of the company’s latter period – although not, perhaps, quite as forgotten as the 600 Series – but the HHR 400 series has to be one of comfiest, snuggliest and underrated bargains of its time. An equivalent Astra bumps and thumps over ruts and potholes while the last generation of Ford Escort had barely any redeeming features whatsoever. The 400, on the other hand, rides like no other conventionally coil sprung car of the era and even today – it’s just so smooth!
Anyway, back to the crux of reliability – it all went wrong a few days ago. There I was driving home to leafy Horsham in the wind and rain when I pulled up to the roundabout near Pease Pottage Services. Over the dulcet tones of LBCs Clive Bull on the wireless I heard someone pipping their horn to grab my attention. Looking over to my left there’s a Sussex Police X5 so I drop the nearside window down for the driver to quip: “you’ve got a number plate lamp out, sir.” Giving that silent doff of the forelock look that says you’ve noted it I arrived home, meandered round to the back and indeed spotted one of the lamps was out.
Despite a good rummage everywhere I could think of, there was no bulb to hand. But I could be in luck as there was ten minutes to go before my trusted motor factor closed for the day. A session of putting the world to rights and the handing over of 48 new pence gained me fresh new 501 bulb and, with a quick wiggle of a Philips, the car was legal once again before you could mutter “all Rovers are rubbish mate!” Joking aside though, the 414iE has been a superb little rattler to trundle around in. It bombs up and down the M23 safely, reliably and economically – what more can you ask of a car? I’ve endured more heartache with new motors – and that’s a fact!
You cannot fault the ride comfort, the slick gearchange, the overall refinement and the really solid deep-rooted build quality that most of the other class rivals couldn’t touch. For sure it has all the modern day social acceptance of loon pants and other fellow motorists in the Surrey/Sussex money belt may laugh and scoff but, if they only knew just how cheap dependable daily motoring can really be… Well, need I say more. These later 400 Series cars are underrated – in fact, almost ignored these days – but, for the buyer, that’s great news. If you are looking to step onto the tentative first rung of retro-modern Rovering safe enough for daily duties, grab one while you can.
Hold on a moment, though – earlier this evening, I finally decided to remove the small change from the ashtray that the previous owner so kindly left behind. It turned out there was 51p in silver and copper. Blimey! That’s the first time a car of mine has gone wrong, I’ve mended it, and I’m still up on the deal.
To the tune of thruppence… Now THAT’S motoring for you, eh?