Polish Restoration : Saving an SD1, part 2

IT started out as an idle thought, and soon became a mad-cap plan…

Back in 2005, we bought a £200 Rover SD1 as a project, in order to save it from a fate involving kit-car owners and the scrapyard… in the subsequent months, nothing happened, and the home restoration never happened. However an unusual plan to ship it out to Poland germinated in our minds, and thanks to Rimmer Bros for the loan of a Range Rover/trailer combination, and Alexander Boucke for his knowledge of the Polish scene, it all came together rather nicely.

In association with…

Words: Keith Adams, Pictures: Keith Adams, Alexander Boucke, Monica Halaja, Andrew Elphick and Matthew Hayward

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Part two: Autumn update

November 2007

MY return return to Poland is long overdue, and as I stand looking at my SD1 in Jerzy’s garage, I realise that this Polish restoration is going to be a little bit more hands-on than I thought it would be. You see, they began to work on my car back in May, but didn’t actually get very far with it. Before you wink knowingly, thinking that Keith’s been hoodwinked, let me be perfectly clear about this – the reason my resto’s not progressed as far as I should is down to Barclays Bank PLC, or at least its inability to let me know when things are going wrong…

Let’s rewind a few months, and to a time when I thought that I’d be celebrating Christmas with a shiny ‘new’ SD1 on my drive – it all seemed so simple. I’d shaken hands on a €2500 upfront deal that would see my SD1 fitted with all new panels, given a bare-metal respray, and a mechanical going over. I’d agreed to pay a €500 deposit, so they could crack on in lieu of me paying the balance when I collect the car.

I started a new job, became immersed in that, then had a long, long holiday in August, and before I knew it, Autumn was with us, and I hadn’t checked on the progress of my restoration in what seemed like months. So, early in October, I called my translator friend, Jarek, who I’d met on my first trip to Poland and asked him to call Jerzy for an update report. A quick email later, and the news wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. ‘Basically’, Jarek said, ‘Jerzy’s not done too much with your car, as he’d not received any payment from you’.

Oh bugger. As I thought I’d wired over some money in April, alarm bells began to chime. However, a quick call to my bank put my mind at rest – the payment I’d sent had never been honoured as the bank account number I’d been give didn’t exist. So, my bank hadn’t got back to me to let me know about the slip up, and Jerzy hadn’t been in touch asking me about my payment.

Still, I’d decided to go across to Poland and see what they had done – and in the process let the guys have some money, so they could get going.

I’d arranged a press car loan (for another story) of a Skoda Superb 2.0TDI, and decided while I had the car, I may as well use this to whisk me across to Poland. With its 600-mile fuel range and 45mpg consumption, it would be comfortable, painless, and most importantly, I’d blend in with everyone else. So, on a sunny Wednesday evening, I set-out for the Eurotunnel, cash in wallet, credit cards fully charged, and headed out East.

Delivering an exhaust system to Alexander. Lucky the Skoda has a large boot...

Delivering an exhaust system to Alexander. Lucky the Skoda has a large boot…

Not sure why this sign for a Pissoir amused me so much...

Not sure why this sign for a Pissoir amused me so much…

With the tank brimmed with in Belgium the following morning (after an overnight stay in Aachen) I pointed the Skoda’s nose East, and put my foot down. Although we all consider Germany to be a fast-driver’s happy dream, let’s just say that on any given day, whenever the de-restricted signs pop-up on the Autobahn, you’re almost guaranteed to be in heavier traffic, which when it finally does clear, bumps straight into a fresh set of roadworks.

Despite that, progress is pretty good, with the odd foray upto 130mph, and we hit the Polish border (after a 10.00am start) in the twighlight. Germany, therefore, can be ticked off as a place you can cross easily in a day… without refuelling.

However, once into Poland, and following a nice cheap refuel just after the order, the going gets much, much slower. The wonderful German A4 Autobahn peters out into a rutted and pot-hole-filled single carriageway affair – mostly unlit, and populated by drivers singularly intent on getting to where they want to go a damned sight quicker than you. Adopting a passive role on the road, I pull over to let anyone past, giving a flick of the right indicator to let them know the road is clear and then flashing the Xenons once they’re past. Poles might be quick and sometimes dangerous, but they always thank you for your courtesy with a dab of hazards.

In the end, the 100km or so of single carriageway passes reasonably stress-free, and by the time I hit the Autostrada part of the E40 (one of Poland’s two motorways, and beautifully built with EU money), I’m still pretty fresh and looking forwards to the 150-or-so miles to the town my car’s been left – Czestochowa. I make it there for 10.30pm, and just in time to get a steak and some Polish beer down me… and a very sound night’s sleep.

The Skoda Superb 2.0TDI might not be the most exciting conveyance, but trust me, it's perfect for a fast thrash to Poland. 550-600 miles between refuels, quiet cruising, excellent stereo, and 120mph cruising in Germany. A detour via the Czech Republic on the return journey, must have had it feeling at home...

The Skoda Superb 2.0TDI might not be the most exciting conveyance, but trust me, it’s perfect for a fast thrash to Poland. 550-600 miles between refuels, quiet cruising, excellent stereo, and 120mph cruising in Germany. A detour via the Czech Republic on the return journey, must have had it feeling at home…

Is there anywhere TESCO doesn't dominate the scenery? This is rural Poland.

Is there anywhere TESCO doesn’t dominate the scenery? This is rural Poland.

Filling up is agreeably cheap in Poland.

Filling up is agreeably cheap in Poland.

As it happens, when I met Jerzy the following morning to see the state of my SD1, I wasn’t too disappointed. Yes, they’ve not really got into the restoration yet, there’s plenty of evidence that they’ve been busy stripping the old girl and getting her ready for her titivation. The engine’s now been removed, the new panels supplied by Rimmer Bros (see below for details) are being prepared, and much of the stripping process has been carefully completed.

Attention to detail can be seen when you look at the car’s bonnet – they’ve attached little rubber feet to it, to stop any scratching (great considering it’s going to be resprayed anyway), and the suspension strut towers are now looking rot free, thanks to some high quality repairs. Jerzy was almost apologetic about the lack of progress, and once his son-in-law had turned up to act as a translator, it became clear that they’d had their own problems, having lost another mechanic, who’d moved to the UK in order to seek work. Apparently, this is a problem that has affected the entire region, and has influenced his decision to only undertake one restoration at a time – so get your order in quick once my car’s finished…

So, once I’d been shown around a German registered Mercedes-Benz they’d just finished restoring (to a very high standard, I might add), we got down to brass tacks. I handed over €800, and had a new delivery date of May confirmed. That’s not so bad – it gives me longer to save up, and it’s around the time of my birthday… so I’ll be giving myself a nice present.

The engine's out, and the strut-top rot is being attended to.

The engine’s out, and the strut-top rot is being attended to.

My trusty V8 will be getting a nice service and some much needed attention. With 44,000 miles on the clock, it should deliver plenty of service once back in the SD1.

My trusty V8 will be getting a nice service and some much needed attention. With 44,000 miles on the clock, it should deliver plenty of service once back in the SD1.

So, with the business of my restoration complete – and there’s now a bust clutch slave cylinder in the Skoda’s boot, which I need to get a replacement for. It’s time to head home again. It’s midday, and the road ahead beckons…

Heading back through Poland during daylight hours (for a change) it’s clear to see that this is a very beautiful country. Some of the smaller towns still display faded grandeur, and years of neglect, but away from the urban centres, rural Poland is beguilingly pretty, and the ever-present smell of burning coal and wood transports me back to a bygone age of my childhood. After a couple of hours of slow single carriageway slog, and a blast up the Autostrada, I reach Wroclaw, (with it’s ultra-modern out of town shopping experience that makes me think it’s more like Peterborough than Poland), see the signs for the Czech Republic, and take the split second decision to head South.

The run through the Tatra Mountains to Prague is a real eye-opener, and an unexpected treat. The Polish backroads get tighter and more sinuous as the altitute increases, and the real driving run begins as you run from one medieval village to another. There’s some traffic around, and you need to keep your wits around you, as road marking and signposting is scant, but as I reach the Czech border, I’ve already come to the conclusion that the route I take next time I visit Poland will be a more Southerly one. The rewards are more than worth the effort.

Our outbound route takes in a bit of everything - from smooth French Autoroutes, ultra-fast German 'Bahns, and Polish back lanes... The route back was a hell of a lot more interesting, though. (Image: Google Maps)

Our outbound route takes in a bit of everything – from smooth French Autoroutes, ultra-fast German ‘Bahns, and Polish back lanes… The route back was a hell of a lot more interesting, though. (Image: Google Maps)

The light’s already gone as I cruise through the Czech Republic, but if you like Skodas (the old ones) as I do, you’re in for a treat. There are plenty of Estelles and Favorits punctuating the bland anonymity of the more modern Octavias and Fabias, and for that reason alone, it’s an enjoyable petrolhead excursion. The other thing that’s very clear as I drive towards Prague – this is a very much richer country than Poland. The head-start of being in the European Union a few years longer, as well as being the Central European country of choice for manufacturers looking for additional production capacity are clearly paying dividends.

Prague itself is a wonderful city, and after a quick look round, and brief stop-off, I vow to return… then set off for Germany. And home…


Prague station was a highlight…


…as was this Citroen BX 16 Valve on the streets of the great city.

The night drive through Germany is an experience I’ll never forget – beautiful visibility, maximum speed running for mile after wonderful mile, and Propaganda belting out on the ICE, have me in a zone that I really don’t want to leave, but alas, I have to once we reach the anonymity of Belgium, and then speed limit-obsessed France beyond.

It was an intense weekend, and one I’m looking forward to repeating in a couple of month’s time once I have an exhaust and clutch slave cylinder to deliver. Lessons learned are simple – keep the communications channels open, chase the guys for regular updates, and make sure I get the bank account numbers right. I could get those parts posted out to Poland, but do you know what…

I’m itching for an excuse to take another drive out there – and I reckon that may well be it…


Part three: nearly a year on…

February 2008

WELL it looks like the restoration is going swimmingly now. After the project was delayed thanks to a misunderstanding over money, it now looks very much on track, with the work commencing at full speed. As you can see from the accompanying pictures, the rust on this early example of an SD1 is extensive, and has been attacked with gusto by the team at Jerzy’s garage…

The guys have sent me a few snaps, just to whet my appetite – and they’ve succeeded in doing just that. However, I do still need to get a clutch slave cylinder and exhaust system over to the guys, so will be paying another visit just as soon as I get the time and money together. It’s always enjoyable going on a long road trip out to Poland, as long as you have the right car to go along in.

But can I remind all of our readers that are interested in Polish restorations, Jerzy’s garage is off-limits now, as he’s had a manning crisis, and won’t take on any more UK restorations until mine’s finished.

Enjoy the pictures.


Even the hidden rust is dealt with. Take note, Autoglass.


Tailgate was in need of attention – I have reminded them that the Vitesse spoiler needs to go…


Rear panel is a real Spot The Grot moment…


Looking better now.


The doors are getting attention, inside and out…


The floor’s getting undersealed – and there’s no corner-cutting going on here.


…and this is why


Looking better now…


The bonnet’s getting prepped…


Attention to detail is paramount in this restoration. The bonnet is undergoing a complete overhaul.


All ready for paint now…


Top-side, too…


Those hard-to-do bottom corners…


Now look…


New Rimmer Bros inner wing and flitch panel inserted…


It’s all coming together now…


With the wing in place, the front of the car looks as it should…


All those scabs and pock marks are being dealt with…


A better view of the front end with all the new panels in place…


More pictures…

…to whet your appetite.

February 2008

THE pictures are coming through thick and fast from Poland now, and it looks like the work is advancing with real gusto. Much of the car is now in primer, and it will be interesting to see when the white paint goes on, what it’ll look like. I did consider asking for a colour-change, but at the end of the day, it seemed a shame to change things – and besides, come the next SD1 gathering, it will be nice to park it alongside all the other white Series 1 cars out there (and there are quite a few).

I’ve been asked about the plans for the car, once I get it back. Well, I hope this doesn’t upset the purists too much, but I’d rather like to use it as my daily runner. I’m guessing that the first port of call will be an LPG specialist in order to drive down the fuelling costs, and then perhaps Rimmer Bros for one of their really nice crated 3.9-litre engines, but we’ll see how it goes. All these things cost time and money, and I am rather short of both at the moment.

I am planning a trip to Poland to deliver a new clutch slave cylinder and exhaust system, and see see how the project is progressing at first hand. As you can probably gather, I am getting rather excited about the prospects, and look forward to getting the car back. I suppose my major dilemma now is – do I fly out and drive it back, or should I borrow a trailer (and meaty car to pull it), and bring it back?

If it’s the latter, I might well need to take another car out there… and that being the case, I’ll be looking for a suitable restoration project. Any offers?


New sill as seen from the driver’s door opening…


…and how it’s joined at the once-crusty rear corner.


The other side needed even more radical surgery.


Ah, the beauty that is a rust-free engine bay.


The passenger door is the subject of plenty of attention.


But it’s primed and ready to go…


Plenty of attention for the driver’s door, too…


But it’s now primed and ready to go.


The rear doors have been fully prepped and are ready for paint…


Tailgate’s now finished, too… although those spoiler holes will be filled with brass now.


Nearly there…


Looking good with the first coat of primer on it…


The opposite rear corner is now back in one piece – and as you can see, is now ready for paint.


The first coat of primer has been rubbed down…


You can’t help but be impressed by the attention to detail of this restoration.


It’s getting nearer to being finished

February 2008

I RECEIVED a welcome email from AROnline‘s Deputy Editor, Alexander Boucke, earlier this week. It seems his friend, Fritz Kremer, was over in Poland checking on the progress of his own restoration, a DAF 33. While he was there, he paid Jerzy a quick visit to see how my car was coming along, and came back with positive news – the work they’re doing on the Rover is fantastic, and they’re progressing nicely now.

Along with Alexander, Fritz has taken a number of classic cars out to Poland, and has so far been very happy with the work…

There’s no word as to whether the Rover will still be ready in time for my Birthday in May, but the chances are still looking pretty good going by the pictures he send me – taken last weekend. I’ve pretty much arranged to make the crossing on the weekend of the 8-9th March, although that still depends on whether I can get the parts I need in time. Otherwise there’s little point in going…

As can be seen from these new images, they’re working from the back forwards, and the rear of the car looks absolutely fantastic now, and a million miles away from the rotting hulk that spent far too much of its life parked up in long grass. We can’t wait to see the final paint, and although my heart does keep telling me a colour change from white might be the way forwards, I know that originality is always for the best.

Further updates will be coming, I’m sure…


Another view of the engine bay… when oh when will that V8 be back in it?


…the passenger side’s all in one piece now.


As is the driver’s…


Body in white…

March 2008

WELL, the paint’s on now – and we what appears to be a brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box looking body on the SD1. I know little more about the status of the restoration, as these pictures rolled in without comment, but I think sometimes words can be superfluous.


Mmmm wouldn’t a new V8 look good in there?


The interior received all the attention it deserved, too…


I can’t wait to see it all back together…


…and as if by magic.


Happy birthday to me

May 2008

LAST month, I commented on the AROnline forums that I’d received that long-awaited email from Poland to say that my car was finished. There was a qualifier attached to it, though, namely that I needed to supply some parts to get the job finished.

I sent an email back to my translator, and to Jerzy’s daughter, asking for an explanation of what was meant by the term ‘POMP COUPLER.’ I had simply no idea what that might be… However, as a picture paints a thousand words, the logical solution was to ask for a photo of the offending part – I also asked for some up to date pictures of the car.

Well, after waiting a couple of weeks, and on my birthday no less, the pictures arrived, and I have to say that I am intrigued. I suspect the restoration is now halted as they wait for the ‘POMP COUPLER’ from me. But at least I know what it is now…


Some refuelling difficulties are anticipated if this is not replaced.

So, it’s the pipe that runs from the fuel filler to the tank that needs changing. Wow. Looking at the mess that’s the original one, it’s understandable, but I’m absolutely amazed to see this in such a state. Could you imagine the hoo-har at the petrol station as you fill-up. One for me, one for the floor…

I’ll be checking with Rimmer Bros on Monday morning to see if they can help out, before packing up a car and heading out to Poland to drop it off. Along with a new exhaust system, and clutch slave cylinder. It looks like I’ll be going sometime around the beginning of June to do this, with a later collection of the Rover once they’ve finished putting the rest of it together, and stuck my old interior back in…

I’ve received a number of enquiries from readers about taking their car to Jerzy and, as he’s nearly finished mine, now’s the time to get in touch. If you’re genuinely interested in having your car restored out there, and would like to find out more, drop me an email – and there’s the possibility of riding with me to Poland in June to see the car and talk with Jerzy directly. A working knowledge of Polish or German will help you of course, but it’s not essential.

Oh, and I’ve also had the price… €4000 all in.

That’s considerably more than the original estimate, coming in at £3177 at the current rather rubbish Euro/Sterling exchange rate – but still economically viable. Not only that, but I do get the car of my dreams, and a daily runner that should turn heads on the drag into Peterborough.

Now all I have to do is find some work to pay for it all…


Some final assembly left to do, but it’s all now pretty much complete – let’s hope that the rain sealing
on the re-fitted windscreen is better than original…


Judging by the stance, I’d say that the engine and gearbox are back in…


Nearly there…


Looking good now, but due to not having all the parts they need, it’s still a non-runner…

May 2009

MORE delays at my end have meant that the restoration has dragged on far longer than it should have done. Well, when I say it’s been all my fault, maybe that’s stretching things a little bit really. During my last visit to Poland in November 2007 (was it that long ago), they guys had told me that we were going to need a new clutch slave cylinder assembly and that pesky POMP COUPLER that caused so much amusement with my friends.

I’d ordered the bits from Rimmer Bros, who had everything in stock, and intended to zip across towards the end of 2008. Except that job changes, and a full schedule meant that planning a four- to five-day trip away was difficult in the extreme. Weeks turned into months, and before I knew it, summer was on the horizon. To be fair on the guys in Poland, they’d always been patient, and were just keen to see me over there again – perhaps with the Discovery Channel’s film crew in tow again. Hmm, I thought I’d mentioned that.

So, those parts languished in my garage. The beautiful exhaust system seemed to be the biggest waste – fully stainless steel (Rimmers couldn’t supply mild steel, so I guess the system on the car will last well until it needs another restoration) and absolutely gorgeous to behold, I wondered what the car would sound like through it. As for the other parts – they were all boxed and new, once again clearly showing that as classic cars go, the Rover SD1 has few peers in terms of supply.

Luckily, a window of opportunity arose through work. I’d been offered a drive of the new AC MkVI, and that involved a trip to the company’s new factory near Dresden. As that’s in the East of Germany and pretty much on the way to Czestochowa, it seemed to make sense to me to drive out a few days early, pop over to Poland, drop off the bits, pay some more euros, and then go and do the job. What could be simpler? So, I packed up my What Diesel? magazine long-term Subaru Outback, threw a sleeping bag in the back, and headed east.


Road to nowhere: Poland’s uncharted territory as far as Subaru is concerned.

The plan was to leave England on Thursday evening, to arrive in Czestochowa the following evening, after a stop-over at my good friend, Alexander’s, place in Aachen. And duly, it happened. After a good night’s sleep, I hit the road early, and as usual, I found myself on the Autobahn on Friday, and encountered jam after jam, and cursed the German motorway system which is far more afflicted by roadworks than the UK. Still, when the roads cleared, I was able to sit quite comfortably at 120-130mph in the Subaru, impressed by its speed and refinement, if not its fuel consumption, which trailed the Skoda Superb I found myself in last time I did this journey.

However, it was getting dark as I drove into Poland, and the changes since I was last there were plain to see. For one, thanks to the Schengen Agreement, there are no longer any checks at the border. The traffic slows as we reach the crossing, but there’s no one to stop and check, so soon I’m speeding on my way again. The A4’s still not finished, though, and abot a mile into Poland, I peel off the beautifully finished motorway and onto the connecting A-road. The signs playfully tell me that the route will be complete by the end of June. Ah well.


Off the beaten track and Poland still has a run-down air about it…


Fatal accidents are not uncommon on rural roads in Poland, despite massive improvements.

Still, if you want to see Poland, where better to do it than on the back roads? As I drive through one town after another, it’s easy to appreciate the rustic charm of the place. Yes, it’s worn down and ever so salubrious in places – like those road side ‘night clubs’, but I like the variety and the scenery, and who cares if my average speed is taking a big hit. But after 40 miles, and nigh on an hour, I’m back on the A4, and it’s a straight run to Czestochowa from here. The first thing that strikes me once back on the three-lane stretch, is how many German registered cars there are… and how fast they are going. I’m trying to keep below 90mph, but am floundering in the wake of speeding D-plated cars…

After a couple of hours, there’s just a 40-mile section of A-road to contend with – last time I was here, it was unfinished, unlit, narrow, and frankly rather scary. However, in the two intervening years, a new A46 has been built, and my goodness, it’s great. It’s now pushing 11.00pm and this marvellous piece of road is a joy to drive along. Moderating the speed is tough, so I don’t bother. A speedling local in an Audi A6 2.5TDI whooshes past me in a cloud of black smoke, and I decide just to attach myself to his rear bumper – figuring he knows the road.

And that he does. Those final 30 or so miles pass by in a flurry of full throttle straights, on edge corners and wide-eyed overtaking manoevres. Wonderful stuff. When I check into the the main Ibis hotel in Czestochowa, I am rather wired… and looking forward to seeing my car the following morning.

I must admit that I’d been a little nervous. While driving over to Poland, I’d been screwing myself up a little wondering whether Jerzy’s garage would still be in business when I got to Czestochowa – I hadn’t, you see, heard from his English-speaking daughter, Monica, for quite some time. I was heading off eastwards without actually knowing what was going on. Some might say that was a little weird. Anyway, sitting in the hotel restaurant this morning, eating breakfast, I take a call from Monica. ‘What time will you be here?’ she asked… Phew!


Interior is back in, and as you can see, will need some work.


Rear seat’s a worry, and actually could do with replacing.

An hour later, I was at the garage looking at my car. And, wow, the SD1 looks the business. It’s not running yet, due to the fact that the clutch slave cylinder I brought along with me lacked the pipework (my fault for forgetting to bring the old one with me). D’oh. Other than that, though, the car’s ready to go. I handed over another €800, leaving me with €1200 left to pay when I collect the car. I know if I do this again, I’ll make a point of paying more regularly, or at least putting the money aside, as leaving it to the end of the restoration is not really the ideal situation. I ask if the car will be driveable when I come back, and in his inimitable style, Jerzy tells me that he’s not keen on me driving the car back to the UK, saying that it’s a long way to go, and recommended I bring a trailer with me next time. So, that’s what I’ll do. Sadly.

After about an hour looking at the car, sighing and generally preening over it, I jump back in the Subaru, and contemplate the drive back to Meissen, near Dresden, where the AC factory is. It’s an easy day’s drive, so instead of heading straight for the motorway, I drive 50 miles south to the small town of Oswiecim. You might know it better as Auschwitz-Birkenau – and it’s somewhere you really must visit if you get the chance. The two-hours I spent there had a profound effect.


If only I could have brought this home with me…

That done, it was time to start pushing west again, and unusally for me, it was still light when I reached my overnight stop in the beautiful river-side town of Meissen. And that included stopping to take regular photos of the Subaru… The next day, I spent working – if you can call it that – driving the AC MkVI, then stopped over in the same hotel, before heading home the day after on another Autobahn bash. It was a long few days, but immense fun as ever, and seeing the SD1 back in one piece, looking a million dollars (well, £5000 worth) has encouraged me to return at the earliest opportunity to bring the old girl home.

I can’t wait.


Back in Germany. Can you tell?


End game…


Rural Poland is one big photo location…

October 2009

FINALLY the SD1 is finished, and as I sit and write this, it’s on my drive, under the bedroom window. It’s been a long and sometimes tiring process, but I have to say that all the effort expended getting my August 1976 registered Rover 3500 restored in Poland has certainly been worth it. There were moments during the 1500-mile drive back from Czestochowa when I felt extremely low – it rained, it was windy, I was towing 1800kg, and the sat/nav nagged me about the unfeasable distances I needed to travel – but they were outweighed by the view in the rear view mirror… that shiny ‘new’ car. And the great company.

Plans to pick up the SD1 had been hatched during September, with the intention of going at the beginning of October. However, a cryptic ‘phone message from Jerzy’s daughter, Monica, saying that the garage would be shut, and could I make it after the middle of the month, had me a little worried. I mean, times are hard in Poland, too. So, I rearranged for the 31st October, and started making plans. Thanks to Ian Robertson at What Diesel magazine, I have the perfect towcar on long-term test – a 2009 Subaru Forester Boxer Diesel – and through the generosity of Rimmer Bros‘ boss, Graham Rimmer, I also had access to a twin-axle Brian James trailer. Sometimes I need to remind myself just how lucky I am.

Now, all I needed was good weather, a long weekend, and some decent company. In the end, I managed to pursuade Andrew Elphick, Steven Ward and Matthew Hayward to come along, and that was good – it’s always nice to have some entertainment along the way – even if it was largely at my expense!

So, on a cold, windy Thursday afternoon, we boarded a P&O Ferries crossing for France, and looked forward to what lay ahead.

The truth is that I pretty much knew what the state of play with the Rover was: as you can see on the page above, the restoration has been painstakingly photographed along the way, and I’d been to Czestochowa at the beginning of June to make further payment. At that point, the car was largely re-assembled, and looking frankly amazing. It was at that point that I think I’d been spurred on to work harder, save up those last few euros, and return with a trailer.


All looking good. The Poles have done us proud.

So, the long drive into the night didn’t seem so bad after all. We stopped off at Aachen and met up with Alexander again, who kindly put-up four dishevelled Brits for the night. From there, I knew that if I drove continually for a few hours, I’d be in Czestochowa before Midnight the following day. And sure enough, when we set off the following morning, I knew deep down, I’d be going all the way there – just so I could get to see the car a little earlier on Saturday morning. As I say, it was a punishing schedule, and crossing Germany on a Friday is never easy, so if you’re thinking of following in my tracks by having a car restored in Poland, do think very carefully about the logistics. I like driving, and that helps a lot, but even I struggled at times slogging along at 50mph in high-concentration mode.

Still, we made it in one piece, and when the following morning’s dawn broke, clear and frosty, I was already relishing seeing my car again. During breakfast, we all chatted about what we expected from the car – and how in the past couple of years, Poland has really modernised. In fact, it seems that during each of my four trips to see the restoration, the roads, housing, and access have all improved. At times, it seemed positively luxurious compared with England, but then if you wander of the beaten track, you can still see the Poland you’re expecting to see.


Admiration as we enjoy the sight and sound of the Rover SD1 in action…

On to the garage: and I can’t help but admit that my stomach was churning (and it was the nerves). We were all warmly greeted by Monica, and then by Jerzy himself. There were smiles all round at our end, as we were led into the garage – and under the artificial lighting, the paintwork looked absolutely flawless. Deep and shiny, too. Some people might grumble at what looks like two-pack being used, but personally, I think it looks fine. It sounds even better when the guys fire it up. It rasps and roars purposefully thanks to a new stainless steel exhaust system, care of Rimmer Bros. For the first time in over two years, I get to see the SD1 move under its own steam, as it’s backed out of the garage.

Monica warns me that there are a couple of items that need attending to before I start using the car: she says the radiator is damaged, the battery is dead, and the oil pressure switch needs replacing. That doesn’t sound like too long a list to worry about. And that can wait…


Finally, the deal is done, the money is paid, and the car is free to come back home..


Underside has been thoroughly looked after…


The team who put it all together… and Keith Adams forgetting to look at the camera.


Sadly it needs a battery…


Check out those flanks. The door fit is amazing – possibly better than when it was new.


And the other side… Monica seemed to like it.


The straps proved troubling for all… Andrew grapples while Keith looks on, bemused.


Now it’s Steven and Andrew’s turn to struggle…


All loaded up and ready to go…


On the tour of the garage, Steven finds this sticker amusing…


Without Jerzy’s daughter, Monica, to act as interpretor, we’d have been stuck more than once…

Time to load-up. If anything, picking up the car seems like a bit of an anti-climax. We’re all happy at our end, they’re happy at theirs, and sure enough, within seconds, Jerzy’s mechanic is getting the car ready to drive onto the trailer. I stop everyone and get everyone to pose for a team photo – but despite that humourous respite, I can sense that Jerzy has things to do, and we’re holding him up. Never mind, it’s all good, and getting a chance to look at the SD1 under natural lighting conditions reveal that my initial thoughts about a great job well done have been reinforced.

Steven and Andrew are impressed, and only find a couple of blemishes. And nothing to worry about. You can see they are impressed – and that reassures me that I’ve put my money into a good venture, as they are both hard-nosed car men, and wouldn’t be shy to tell me if they thought it was bad news. Matthew is simply rapt – and he’s already wondering whether it’s worth bringing a Citroen BX along for the same treatment.

After driving it it onto the trailer, playing with the straps for a few minutes, and casting further admiring at the car, we’re ready to go, and wave our goodbyes. Only 1500-miles and two days separate my home and the SD1. Once again, I find myself in an interesting place, and no time to appreciate it…


Pressing on through Poland…


That’s quite a queue forming…

Still we’re on our way, and I’m impressed by the Subaru. Considering the weight of what we’re pulling (about 1800kg all-in), we’re within towing limits and everything feels fine. And in fact, we can clip along at a reasonable pace, the trailer brakes doing what they need to at times. We leave Jerzy’s at around 1.00pm, and knowing that we need to be back in the UK by Monday, I decide that we need to get well into Eastern Germany before stopping over for the night. So, it’s time to head for the A4 Autostrada and back to the West…

It’s a beautiful day, though, and the autumnal shades and low sun combine to make Poland look very pretty indeed – a fact not lost on my travelling companions. All that’s missing are the legions of tired old Polski-Fiats and Wartburgs. Yes, they’ve just about all gone – and now the latest generation of Polish bangers seem to be ten-year old Daewoos, facelifted Polonezes and tricked up Audi 100s. Still, it’s interesting to see these cars out and about, and I can’t help but smile when every time we see a Rover, Steven squeals with delight. In fact, he positively jumps out of his seat when he spots a crew-cab LDV Convoy. ‘Sherpa’ he yells like a man possessed.


Beauty of the setting sun…


The paintwork looks flawless in the setting sun.


The team on the return trip…

 

But we push on – the Polish motorway must be the best in Europe. It’s smooth, well lit, and positively deserted. I could get used to to this. The miles roll by quietly and effortlessly, and although we’re only making 50-60mph, the day passes quickly. Maybe it’s Andrew’s jokes, Steven’s tales from the trade, or my shining optimism about the car we’re pulling – but either way, it’s a journey that’s proving enjoyable. Stop-offs for pictures are a must, even if Andrew needs to nag me about it from time to time. As the sun sets, we’re back in Germany, and I start thinking about where to stop for the night. Then it comes to me – Zwickau, the home of the Trabant!

That night, we pitch up at the town’s Etap, wander into town, only to find it shut. Or at least it seems to be. Where is everyone? It’s Halloween, too.

The following morning, after a sound night’s sleep and breakfast, we’re off to the Museum to have a look. It’s located in downtown Zwickau, and we get the feeling that a few years ago, this fading area would have been an industrious Motortown. The museum costs a mere 5 euros to enter, and it’s a great place to idle away a few hours. Our visit was all too brief, but long enough to admire the pre-war Horches and DKWs, but absolutely adore the prototype Trabants. Those joyous machines – and their aborted engines – will delight anyone who enjoys this site.


Zwickau and a very fine museum…


The Auto Unions and Horches are beautiful…


…as is the Presidential Sachsenring P240.


…and what we came for.


A Trabant for the 1970s?


A Trabant for the ’80s?

All too soon, we’re off again, and I’m a mere 800 miles from home. All I can say is the day that followed was long, but definitely worth it, and as I sit here trying to recall the long Autobahn slog, all I can really remember is the rain, the dark, snooping around the fascinating old East/West German border post at Chemnitz (which is now a motorway service station) and the refuelling stops. Getting onto the ferry at the end of it, I felt like I’d sleep for a week, but despite that, it was very much worth it.

So, the question we asked at the start of this two-year odyssey was whether it’s a good idea to take a £200 Rover SD1 and restore it in Poland. The answer right now, for me, is an emphatic yes. I’ve travelled, enjoyed good company, seen some amazing things, and have the car that I’ve always wanted. There were times when I wondered whether it would ever happen at all, and others where I could have done with not spending the money, but as it happens, I’m happy with the result, and don’t regret doing it for a moment.


The miles took far too long to reel of at 56mph…


…and it was too much for Steven.


On the P&O Ferries crossing home… not far to go now.

Financially, it’s on the borderline of being sensible. The outlay just exceeds £5000, and now the car is probably worth a little more than that. But projects like this don’t always come down to money (although that can be justification), and are more about satisfaction. The fact that so many SD1 parts are still available, and that they’re so well priced helps enormously, and makes this the perfect subject. The other question of whether it takes work away from the UK restoration industry also needs addressing – and I’d say it doesn’t. I estimate that the work done on this car would run to £15,000 in the UK, and although the work might have been better at that value, I also think it precludes cars like the SD1. In truth, it would never have happened at all, had it not been possible to do the work on the cheap – so no one loses out at all.

Of course what you really want to do is see the pictures – and here they are. More to follow once it’s on the road. But for now, enjoy. And I hope this story inspires you to do the same…


The fleet reunited…


Back home at last. Now the fun begins..

Want to do it yourself?

If you would like to do the same. please contact Friedrich Kremer, who found the garage for us and also established the first contact, via his website Fritzes Oldtimer.

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

4 Comments on "Polish Restoration : Saving an SD1, part 2"

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  1. stan tanner says:

    hi she looks magic how pleased was you with the work when it was all finished i’ve got a ford transit that i’ve had from new it’s 11 year’s old now but still runing well but i want to put her back to new state made i no but she mean’s the world to me she never let me down lol all the best stan

  2. Luciana says:

    Hello,
    I’m from Milan, Italy. I admire your work a lot.
    I have an SDTurbo, since year 1985.
    I would like to find a new owner who takes care of it,
    she is ok but now deserve a complete restoration.
    It will be a gift.
    Contact me please if you are interested.
    Thank you.
    Luciana

  3. Ray Johnson says:

    After watching wreck rescue & reading your story, I’m definitely going to look in to taking my VW Beetle to poland
    its a 1970 sunroof model, I’ve had quotes of upwards of £7000 to restore it in the UK
    Thanks for the inspiration
    Ray

  4. Lord Sward says:

    The repatriation of this SD1 still remains a truly epic road trip and I’m immensely proud to have been part of it. I cannot believe it was 7 years ago.

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