Words and Photographs: Mike Humble
While Keith Adams’ 75 Connoisseur seemingly continues to provide a comfy commute to work and back on a daily basis without sounding like a child’s Tommy gun, my own 75 1.8 Club SE has been left on the drive – that’s, though, partly down to my use of the company’s 25 Commerce diesel van. Nipping around Sussex in a torquey van which seemingly runs for a billion miles on twenty sovs of heavy oil means that, in comparison, hopping into the 75 becomes a right pain in the pocket. Howver, at least once a week, I have been doing the obligatory trek to the paper shop in the aforementioned 75 just remind myself how the other half live as t`wer – oh, how I have missed the aircon, the comfort, the space and the silence of a well-built, well-presented and well-insulated cabin.
We have been having a bit of a clear out at work and two or three cars which we had kept purely for cannibalising have reached the point whereby they have served their purpose in keeping the Rover brand alive where original parts have no longer been readily available. One of the said vehicles was a ZT saloon which still sported its 18 inch ‘Hairpin’ alloys albeit with knackered tyres and, a few weeks back I had discussed with Keith during a celebratory post head gasket curry, how I quite fancied the idea of larger wheels. My own model was adorned with 16 inch ‘Union’ style alloys which suit the car rather well – much better than the alternative 15 inch alloy, the 17 inch ‘Serpent’ type look uber sleek, but are rare and expensive and source – but I wanted bigger and wider (ahem sniff)
I asked if I could swap over the wheels from the ZT and this I did following a phone call to Re-Tyred in Ditchling Common to source some 225/45/18 boots. They came up trumps supplying a pair of Goodyear run flats with almost no wear for a most agreeable price on a self-fit basis – I measured the tread depth to be over 8.5mm. Needless to say, the locals around ‘Swiss Towers’ must have shuddered at the sight of my 75 looking resplendent atop of four well used axle stands – it certainly caused one or two double takes from neighbours walking their dogs. Well, the tyres were fitted (oh, how I love doing that) and the rims were cleaned up both inside and out to the best of my ability and some 800 Coupe alloy centre caps were modified to replace the MG-branded items.
My luck got better when a customer brought in a 2003 75 Club 1.8 Turbo in burgundy with a potential head gasket failure – sadly, the engine was beyond saving on a financial basis and, with much regret, the customer asked if we could scrap the car. The seats were identical to my own in both style and colour, my driver’s side seat had one or two unsightly fag burns and, even though I am partial to the occasional ‘growler’, the burn marks were there when I bought the car last autumn. My trusty spline sockets had my seat out in a jot and I threw the seat into the back of the van to swap over with the redundant car at work the following day. So now, my 75 was sitting on the drive not only on stands, but also lacking a driver’s seat – god only knows what the locals must have thought!
The donor 75 had an almost unworn interior which was a perfect match for my own car’s, the seat was removed and my old one thrown in so, after work, I returnED home with four huge alloy wheels and a driver’s seat rammed into the van. I was honestly like a child in a sweet shop at the thought of a near unblemished interior allied to a set of stunning alloy rims – at least, I was until the task of bolting the seat onto the floorpan took place. I was mortified to find the new seat had an airbag connector seat modification soldered into the blue and yellow lead – the 75 and ZT are well known for having a problem with the under seat airbag wiring and MG Rover developed a different connector for an in service modification to cure the issue of the airbag fault lamp illuminating – bugger!
Removing the plug from my old seat the next day and bringing it back home, the battery was duly disconnected; some cardboard was laid on the carpet to avoid solder burns and I set upon soldering in the connector so it would match with the one that comes out from the floor. The airbag lamp was checked, the seat belt grabber fitted and the Captain’s chair was finally bolted into the floor and doused with valet spray for that ultimate spruce up. It could be the placebo effect, but I am convinced the seat is a tad firmer and more supportive than my old one but, either way, I’m happy that two dead R40 cars have done their bit for recycling and giving my own car what I consider to be an effective exterior visual improvement.
Anyway, after fitting the wheels, I was kind of worried that it would spoil the almost Jaguar-like ride quality at speed but this turned out not to be the case. Sure, at low traffic speeds, the bump thump effect is slightly more noticeable but nowhere near as miserably unbearable as say an old Mini or an Audi A4 S Line. Get up to speed and, yes, there is a hint of rubber roar but, again, nothing to spoil the well-insulated cabin. Howqever, where do you notice some change, which is certainly for the better, is in the feeling through your hands and fingers. At low speeds the 75 on larger rims corners with confidence as it always does but, out on the open road, swooping bends on a well-fettled road makes the car feel transformed, sharp and alive to an almost ‘point and squirt’ degree – well… as much as a 120bhp 1.8 will allow you to.
The dead ZT also liberated its perforated black leather steering wheel for upgrading purposes, but this one comes with a twist. My sandstone coloured airbag has been fitted to the ZT wheel giving a contrasting two tone effect and, besides, the rim of my old wheel was getting rather grubby round the edges. This was a quick and easy task to undertake – just remember to remove the earth lead from the battery for 15 minutes should you decide to do the same thing – some torx keys and a 17mm socket is all you need. I am tempted to think that in fitting the sleek, larger alloys and the switching the steering wheel I have created a sportier version of the 75 which still boasts all of the standard car’s olde worlde charm but with a little bit of added spice – somewhere between Masala and Madras maybe?
You decide and tell us what you think!