Okay, it’s confession time… Back in the summer, when I picked up the reins of AROnline from the legend that is Keith Adams, one of the first stories I covered was the imminent appearance at Anglia Car Auctions of an ultra-rare low-mileage Rover 820e – almost, but not quite, the base of base models.
A year earlier, I’d been the proud owner of an early F-plate 820Se. Having not owned an 800 for five years, it rekindled my enthusiasm. I sold it to fellow Austin-Rover enthusiast John Marston-Jones in a deal involving his Nightfire Red 214SEi, not because I desperately wanted the R8, but because I could see from his reaction that John didn’t just want my 820Se, but categorically needed it in his life.
I regretted it the day it left. Much as I like the 214, the rarity value of the 800 these days, coupled to the fact I’ve always admired them, meant I had an aching for another.
That was answered, in part, by rescuing my N-plate Sterling 12 months ago and treating it to a cosmetic nip and tuck, and almost satiated completely when I found my dream 800, an early Mk2 Vitesse, hidden away in Amsterdam. What more could a man want than two Rover 800s? The answer, of course, was three…
I’d have got myself to Anglia Car Auctions like a shot if I’d have been able to, but that particular week I was on holiday in the Scottish Highlands with the family. Indeed, it was whilst driving up the M6 in Lancashire that I decided to bite the bullet… My wife and kids were travelling to Inverness on the train, so it was just me, a lonely highway and my wife’s Discovery 2 ES Automatic that allowed for a bit of solo thinking time. Thinking time that ended up with me pulling into Tebay Services the day before the ACA sale, and placing a fixed bid over the phone…
The rest, as they say, is history – and the reason I didn’t fess up at the time is because I wasn’t sure, at first, if this was the car I wanted or not. After all, I’d done everything you’re not supposed to do. Yes, I, a supposed expert in my field, had bought a car unseen, at auction, over the phone with my credit card. Clever me…
When it turned up, I was initially disappointed. No beef at all with ACA here, I hasten to add – an auction’s an auction, and if you’re stupid enough to place a bid without even turning up then you deserve what you get! In my case, for £950 I got a prosthetic limb beige basic Rover 800 Fastback with a scabby door, a rusty sill, one scabby wheelarch and a slipping clutch. A few years ago, that would have been a £300 car…
For the first three weeks I fell into the ‘move it on’ mindset. On the plus side, it had just 38k on the clock, some interesting history (including some details of its early life as a Rover Group Management Plan vehicle) and a truly immaculate, new-smelling interior. It also drove superbly, aside from a slight exhaust blow and the aforementioned slipping clutch. But I wasn’t feeling the love.
The positive tipping point came a few weeks later, when I showed some photos of it to a mate of mine of a similar age. The guy in question is a car nut, but tends to like the more conventional ‘enthusiast’ stuff – y’know, fast cars, exotics, that kind of thing. His reaction was incredible, so much so that he begged me to get it out of the lock-up and take him for a spin.
From that day until recently, I haven’t been able to put the car up on here for the simple reason that it’s been ‘away for a while’, and what I now have in my possession, I truly believe to be one of the best surviving XX Fastbacks in the country.
Allow me, then, to firstly doff my hat to the incredible Tony Coles, my long-time friend and regular mechanic, for his sterling (no pun intended) efforts. Not only did Tony source me a replacement Borg and Beck clutch, new-old stock from his usual factor, for the princely sum of £15, but he also hand-crafted a new exhaust front pipe from a similar piece of pipe he had ‘lying around’. Mechanics who go out of their way to save their customers money by coming up with creative ways around such problems are legends, in my book.
With that out of the way, Tony stripped back the scabby arch and sill, lead-loading the rear arch and doing the repair properly. The end of the rear sill was cut away, and new metal let in, while he also went around the car filling in various small scrapes and dents. The end result, I’m sure you’ll agree, looks sensational – in a beige kind of way.
What’s more, he carried out all of the necessary repair work for £450 all in, meaning that, for £1,400, I now have an almost mint 820e – and in my book that’s damned cheap. Funny how a little bit of foresight and enforced enthusiasm can alter your mindset.
It drives, as you might expect, brilliantly – and luckily I have the necessary FastCheck equipment should I ever need to remove the battery (thought I’d beat whoever to the punchline on that one).
So, what next for this little project? Well, now it’s painted it’s probably the best old car I’ve ever owned in terms of its overall condition, and because it has a little bit of my own story behind it – the decision to buy it in the first place, my initial concerns and my ultimate decision to give it what it needed (at far less expense than I expected), it’s a keeper. A proper keeper, because those who know me will tell you they’ve heard all that before! On the job list, I need to sort out the driver’s side wiper, which oversweeps the screen and strikes the A-pillar, and fix a leak from the power steering cooler pipe – a common 800 fault…
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