As is always the way, I had no intention of buying another car. Indeed, in recent times, I’ve been trying to downsize the fleet to more manageable levels, but sometimes one comes along that just needs saving – and this is a perfect example.
Had I not intervened, I fear this lovely 32,000-mile from new 214Si would now be nothing more than a cube of metal. What’s more, I’ve always loved R8s and, although I already have a 1995 214SEi, there’s something about the earlier models that has a real purity – even when they are in a pretty basic spec.
This one’s story goes as follows: I first spotted it on eBay, local to me. I watched it, and watched it, and watched it. Nothing happened… So I made a tentative enquiry.
It turns out that I did so just in the nick of time, as the seller was a breaker. He’d done the decent thing and not processed it the minute it came in, recognising it as far too good to just chuck into the crusher, but with no takers and a business to run, it was days away from being consigned to history.
Apparently, its one and only previous owner, an elderly lady, had decided to hang up her driving gloves, and (quite understandably given some of the idiots I’ve had to deal with over the years) didn’t want the stress of selling it privately, so called up her local breaker’s yard to take it away.
I knew as soon as I saw it that I was going to buy it. A deal was negotiated there and then and, having established via the DVLA Online Vehicle Enquiry Service that the Rover even still had a valid MoT, I insured it, taxed it and drove it back out of the gates of the yard. That’s how close it came to destruction…
And I’m extremely glad I saved it. Given the choice, I’d have had a higher spec and definitely a model with power steering (but then, I already had an SEi!), but this car wasn’t just a good, solid, worthy example. It had clearly been extremely well looked after for over 22 years, garaged all of its life, and with all of the original books and manuals, plus a couple of nice touches such as a rear-view mirror hanger from the supplying dealer, Marshalls of Peterborough, that dated back to its second service.
Despite still having a valid ticket, I put it into my local MoT test centre when I got it back, primarily to get a good understanding of what it was like underneath. The verdict – mint. Apart from a couple of tiny bubbles at the trailing edge of both sills, the shell is rock solid, and the paintwork is only marred by a couple of small trolley dinks and some small marks on the driver’s door and top of the tailgate from bashing against the inside of the owner’s garage. The MoT? A pass with no advisories whatsoever. The tyres are all nearly new, the hubcaps scuff-free, and it has all the original dealer stickers.
According to the odometer, the 214 has covered just shy of 31,882 miles in almost 23 years and, since 2011 until I bought it, had covered a mere 592, according to the MoT history. The 200-mile trip to Pride of Longbridge this coming weekend will, no doubt, be its longest run in years, though I have started to use it locally to iron out any potential problems.
The interior is exceptional, with none of the baggy seat material that tends to afflict older R8s and spotless carpets and headlining – indeed, the only faults other than the minor marks on the bodywork appear to be an annoying whistle when cruising (door seal?) and extremely stiff window winder handles, most probably due to lack of use. When I next get half an hour, I’ll take the door cards off and grease the mechanisms – there’s a certain pleasure to be had in working on such simple, mechanical systems.
My original plan was to rescue it, give it a good service and going over, clean it (for it was utterly filthy) and find a new home for it within the Austin-Rover community, but something about the car, its backstory and the fact that I was the one who rushed to its aid as it stared death in the face has made me think otherwise. Keeper status? Maybe… Let’s just say that, on the back of acquiring it, I sold my 214SEi instead, to fellow AR enthusiast and site follower Matt Whiteley. It was always going to take a lot to make me sell that car, so maybe, just maybe, there’s something a little bit special about it. Come and give it a once over at Pride of Longbridge, if you’re there, as I’d be keen to know what you make of it.
What started out as yet another cheap, old Rover that needed rescuing from almost certain death and needed a sympathetic, soft-hearted buffoon to offer it salvation (a set of circumstances so frequently familiar to me) may well have become a keep-it classic. After all, I do love my R8s, and there can’t be many early ones left that are this good – especially not in such an ordinary specification. Plus, the lack of power steering is good for my biceps…