Our Cars : Project 75 – The coming of (old) age?
Mike Humble hits a milestone and decides enough is enough with changing cars akin to changing razor blades. The project 75 seems to be here to stay!
A carriage clock charm of it’s own
According to the phrase ‘life begins at 40’ but I can truly say that I feel no different to when I was 39. While most of the world celebrated Valentine’s Day – I turned 40, but the lead up to it was quite a worrying experience. The feeling of woe and doom crept up on me about a week beforehand, but to be honest, I have no idea what the fuss was all about. My mum and close friends will confirm the sentiment that I was born an old man, and a good friend always laughs when I use the term ‘wireless’ instead of radio, but the real evidence comes in the form of the cars I have owned or adored over the years.
When yours truly was 17 and by rights, should have been smoking around in an Escort Mk2 or Cortina, I rattled and clanked around in an Ital 1.7 estate – I appreciated that added practicality and space even as a teenager, though I did add some sporting touches in the form of some twin tone horns. The Cortina did play a major role soon after, and will state here and now that my 1982 2.3-litre Ghia excelled as a mobile bedroom some 20 years ago. To get the picture, just add a quiet lane, removal of the headrests and a Level 42 cassette – who cares of both of you still lived at each others parent’s. Obviously, I failed to learn from the Ital I owned which required a brace of rear axles and a gearbox, as many Austin Rover models subsequently leaked oil onto my parent’s driveway during those adolescent years.
Some past cars have been brilliant, but some have also been complete trash, the Ital for example was a dreadful car, but I loved it too. I reckon it’s the English way of always backing the underdog that’s makes me come back for more. Saying that, out of all the cars I have owned, the Fiat 127 Sport I battled with for a short while was by far, the most appalling and unreliable heap I ever suffered the misfortune of holding the keys to. Handling and performance wise, only my well-fettled Mini came close for sheer ear to ear joy, but in terms of reliability? Forget it. The exhaust snapped off, the wiring for high beam burned out, the accelerator cable snapped (twice) and in the end I lost patience and scrapped it, but looking back on it, I manage a fond smile.
Some AR cars which were known for their share of horror stories gave me no real problems; I owned a 1990 Montego 1.6LX for a short while and found it to be an accomplished motorway cruiser as well as being frugal on the juice too. The K-plate Montego diesel estate was also an excellent car, often racking up the thick end of 650 miles before the fuel lamp came on. A surprising car came in the form of a 1996 Rover 115SD in tea pot blue, which cost me and my parents (of which I sold it on to) nothing to run except a battery and a set of glow plugs. I have also owned three R8 Rovers too, a pair of SEi models and an early 214SLi, to this day, I have maximum respect for the R8, a car which at launch beat the best of them all – even the Germans!
Over the years, I have even tried my hand at retro classics too; an X plate Dolomite 1500HL was my everyday car for a little while. Acres of walnut and carpet with that cute little overdrive switch on the gear knob; the Dolly is a car I have adored for more years than I care to mention. A former history teacher owned a brown 1850HL as did my friend’s dad from down Suffolk way and I vowed that one day I would own a Dolomite. At the same time, I owned a racing green 214SEi, so when the flywheel literally ‘fell off’ the Dolomites engine, a lack of time and space caused me to sell it onwards to an enthusiast – of which I bitterly regretted afterwards. The Dolomite was also by far, the most entertaining car in my ownership – for the wrong reasons.
Once the car was warmed up, by revving the engine and flicking the key off and on, the car would backfire like nothing else and shoot a yellow flame from the pea shooter exhaust. Imagine the fun of driving past a theatre at 10.00pm kick out time and watching 500 people jump for their lives on the pavement as you trundle by in a backfiring pageant blue Dolomite.
Once this trick was discovered, I seized every opportunity to cause racket and noise. Be it heaving town centres on market day, terraced streets and even a married couple with family and friends having the obligatory photo shoot outside the church; all suffered the might of the Dolomite’s party trick. Often, you would have to park up and compose yourself owing to uncontrollable laughter.
Well, after many other smokers, both pool and private including Sierras, Peugeot 406s and even a pair of Lada Rivas, I have come to the conclusion that my current motor, the 75 Club SE is quite possibly the best car I have owned this side of a SAAB 9000. It’s not rapid – more leisurely, the styling is more carriage clock charm than Rolex and the overall driving experience is akin to slumbering in front of an open fire, I’m starting to regard my 75 as being the automotive chocolate Labrador. So far, it’s been 4000 miles of motoring bliss and I have had enough of chopping and changing cars, that’s that! – The 75 is here to stay. Besides, I like carriage clocks and open fires, and I find it staggering the way a 75 seems to de-stress the body and mind.
This all hit home on my way back from work just yesterday. During the day, I could feel myself failing, succumbing to a monumental cold of which all the signs were there – aching joints, sore throat and a muggy head. I felt awful, and if it couldn’t get worse, I had a 25 mile drive home too. Sliding into the cockpit and turning the key, I set off into the dark feeling like death warmed up. What struck me as being odd was the way the car seemed to take on an uncanny nursing feeling. Just as you would expect with a K-Series, the interior of the car was as snug and warm as a log cabin at a precise 26 degrees within a few minutes. The ornate dials backlit with that sumptuous almost ember glow effect being a welcoming sight for tired sore eyes.
Activating the in lounge wireless combo, I fancied some Classic FM to work as Ovaltine for my ears, and I was treated to a favourite piece of music by Gustav Holst’s Planet Suite – Jupiter bringer of jollity, though the way I was feeling, Saturn would have been more apt – Holst fans will get the gag. The comfort of the seat, the serene nature of the ride and the superb heating system made me appreciate what a damn fine car the 75 really is, nothing seems to be a compromise and it’s the next most comfortable place to be after my King size bed. Fuel consumption remains near 40mpg, no usage of oil or water, in fact only this week has been the first occasion I have put air in the tyres. I can report one very minor issue with the car however.
Ever since doing the preventative head gasket job and strip down, there has been the slightest of partial throttle flat spot at mid revs. Many drivers wouldn’t notice it and my long suffering `er indoors has never mentioned anything either, but something is there. Nothing comes up on OBD2 but fellow Rover tech Patrick Warner down the road at Sterling Automotive in Eastbourne has kindly offered to scan the old girl on the T4 programme and supply a Flavia coffee before it develops into anything sinister.
The service history shows its been some time since its had any O.E software attention so we are thinking it may be something daft like a stepper motor out of calibration – a far cry from the days of cleaning points on an Ital at the side of the road using the girlfriends nail file eh?
I’ll keep you posted of the outcome.
Former MG Rover Salesperson, Mechanic and Self Employed Motor Trader with companies including Henlys - Reg Vardy - Stratstone - Evans Halshaw & Phoenix Venture Holdings (retail)