Our Cars : Project 75 – packhorse to thoroughbred

Mike Humble

Some holiday and decent weather creates a good oportunity to get the masking tape and rattle cans out. Some minor bodywork matters have been finally dealt with…

At purchase - Unloved by previous Jockeys with a whole host of niggling items, the 75 was slowly brought back to life with surprisingly little cost.

Well, I have been taking full advantage of the superb weather we seem to be blessed with in leafy West Sussex and, following a well-deserved week off, I have crossed out a few more of the little items which I deemed necessary on the Project Rover 75. The interior has now been scrubbed and dry foamed (twice) which has brought the speaker covers back to their lovely Sandstone colour, while a blast of Pledge has brought a stunning glow to the burr walnut veneers. I have also found a replacement Rover-branded spark cover too, which I cleaned thoroughly using an old toothbrush, and that has now been swapped over after I clumsily trod on and cracked the previous item I had fitted during a recent spark plug change.

As mentioned before, the wireless now works crackle free and the heated rear screen functions just as it did when leaving Longbridge in 2002. Also, I am pleased to report that the engine which benefited from a damn good service and upgraded gasket modification continues to provide a decent drive considering the cars bulk and only 120bhp on tap. Coolant consumption is zero and, in 5000 miles since the rebuild, she has just had her first drop of oil to the tune of a pint. Everything mechanical continues to be problem free and, on the whole, I am pleased and proud to be a Rover owner once again. Oh, and I have finally made a choice over one niggling item – the body sills.

A previous owner had caused these unsightly dents and scrapes to the nearside sill.

As many of you know, the Cowley-built models featured satin black coloured sills and bumper edges but that was deleted when production moved to Longbridge in 2000. Some have said they look better in body colour, while many say satin black looks best. This proved a tricky choice for me, on the one hand, my car is a Longbridge-built model and black detailing removes some originality, but I think it adds a touch of class while accentuating the lovely curved styling and the chrome plating. Well, after due consideration, I have opted to go back to black – as the late Amy Winehouse crooned, mainly due to the fact the previous owner(s) were not exactly been caring drivers.

The reason the last owner had sold the car was mainly because the lady of the house was only 4ft 10in and had some difficulty parking and manoeuvring such a bulky car. She had clipped the gatepost on more than one occasion which explains the minor scrapes on the rear wheel arches and some heavy grazing to the lower edges of both bumpers. This prompted me to go for the satin black treatment rather than expensive paintwork rectification, but I had been in two minds for a few months over this idea. You can’t beat getting overspray in your eyes, ears and nostrils, and it certainly takes you back to those halcyon teenage years repairing minor crash damage armed with only Plastic Padding, some 150 grit wet & dry and red oxide primer!

The nearside bumper bottom edge was badly grazed too - this was the prompt to go for black.

Rather than try to paint the scratches over (a skill I admit to be hopeless at) the satin black treatment nicely hides the imperfections and, besides, it’s my bloody car and I’ll do as I please. From a distance, it looks like a Cowley-built example anyway. The chrome bullet mirrors, torpedo badges and Rover decals to the C posts have all been added since my ownership. The faux wood trim was going to be swapped over to pre-2000 real walnut, but I find the veneer to be a touch too dark so I have kept the Project Drive walnut on the grounds that you can seen the grain effect better and of originality.

During this glorious weather, the wiper arms were quickly unbolted and thrown onto the special finessing and detailing jig – or, in other words, the rotary washing line – for a spruce up by means of yet some more vigorous rattle canning. Funny, isn’t it? Once you start on something, the next thing you know, `er indoors is due home and the driveway looks like a scene reminiscent of the aftermath of a crashed Spitfire. One comedic thing though, imagine my surprise to dash out to the shops only to use the washers and realise the wipers arms are still back at home drying out – oh, I did chortle, even though I couldn’t see anything for overspray and washer fluid.

Anyway, without spending serious cash on other minor gripes such as the small dents in the wheel arches, I have now just about wrapped things up with the 75. It’s all worked out quite well, with only the parts for the head upgrade, paint materials and other odds and ends totalling a whisker under £200. Add that on top of a genuinely refined cruiser which cost pretty much next to nothing in the real world, and I feel proud of the achievements made with only a driveway for a workshop, an understanding spouse and a hard-working kettle to stem that well-known medical condition known as Mechanics’ Dehydration.

The 75 was caught just in the nick of time from falling into banger territory as  the last two owners could have cared a little more – you simply would not have believed the colour of the water in my bucket after cleaning the upholstery and carpet. The car is far from perfect, though, nor do I wish it to be, but, for the time being at least, it’s clean, tidy and above all – utterly reliable. The 1.8 version of the 75 may not have the best of reputations, but it’s the only model in the range you can truly run on a pure DIY basis. Everything service wise is total simplicity and, of course, do the head/oil rail upgrades and you have a trustworthy engine which is surprisingly thrifty to run.

Your average Vauxhall Vectra or Ford Mondeo simply fail to hold a candle in terms of style, looks or feel good factor. Only a SAAB comes near for that certain snug feeling of budget luxury motoring but, when they go wrong – and they often do, they can not only break your bank but your heart too. A perfectly usable 1.8 Rover 75 can be purchased for a grand but, the funny thing is, they still feel and look like a million dollars and you will never tire of those curved and chrome adorned panels. That’s why, if you have been tempted, I urge you to take the plunge on a sorted 1.8 Rover 75 should all you require be a comfy, handsome cheap to run car – they’re great, but don’t hang about – values seem to be creeping up partly due to imminent cult status!

The MoT test is coming up soon and, sadly, my tester of choice Steve Anderson was forced to close his Gatwick-based premises not long after testing my 420 IL and Keith Adams’ SD1 last year. However, by a stroke of luck, I have managed to track him down to his new place of employment in Crawley where he is still testing, so the 75 will be once again subject to his weary, yet eagle eye. Some adjustment is required to the handbrake and I will also be crawling around underneath too with a torch and a pry bar but, to be fair, I’m quietly confident the Rover 75 will be fit for another year of Bangernomics motoring.

The sun may have set on Rover - But this 75 is only just begining to shine!

To conclude, I am still on the lookout for some mud flaps too – even used ones, so if anyone knows of some, please do give me a shout!

For those interested in the oily bits, here is a rundown of the work done or items which have required attention since ownership:

  • Victor Reinz multi-layer head and inlet gasket with later spec long bolts
  • Gates timing belt and tensioner kit*
  • Modified bottom oil rail*
  • Full service including O.E spec Iridium NGK spark plugs*
  • Early type Rover branded spark plug cover fitted*
  • Part throttle flat spot cured via MGR T4 software (stepper motor outside working parameters)*
  • 2 x part worn tyres
  • Earlier type boot plinth with ‘Rover” lettering
  • Chrome-plated door mirrors covers
  • Door edge torpedo badges*
  • Rover shield badges fitted to rear C pillars*
  • Union Flag badges fitted to front wings*
  • Replaced Radio/HRW electronic filter module
  • Leather gear knob and park brake lever fitted
  • Made good non-functioning cigar lighter*
  • Make good non-functioning heated rear window*
  • Plenum drain modification*
  • Replacement N/S/R lamp unit
  • Repair faulty wiring to number plate lamp unit*
  • Repair broken rear console air vents*
  • Replace horn ‘low’ tone*
  • Full interior valet including roof lining and carpets (twice)*
  • Paint body sills and bumper edges in Cowley spec satin black

* = Cost of job zero by means of parts already in stock or no materials required to undertake the repair/upgrade

 Average Fuel Consumption: 36 – 38mpg  Oil Consumption: 1 pint (over 5250 miles)

Mike Humble


  1. A fine report Mike and a comprehensive list of all the work you’ve put in. I agree the sills look good in black and may be less prone to damage & further marks too.

    My Rover 400 and 45 had black plastic sills which I liked (just needed washing – no chips to touch up). My later ZS had the colour painted sills. Your 75 looks better and better every time we see a photo of it and you are doing sterling work on it. Hope it repays you with reliability!

  2. yet another great read however i would just like to point out as being a woman driver and only being 2ins taller than the last owner and not having scraped my car or any others come to think of it in 30yrs its just the other idots on the road
    the 75 is looking great well done and its nice to see stella the ever loyal macs cat

  3. The 75 looks spot on Mike, well done.
    Good choice, the black paint just add’s to the classy finish.

    That’s it, I’ve decided, I’m getting one 🙂

  4. The black sills remind me of the halcyon days when owners of older cars painted sills with Holts Underseal before the test!

  5. Looking great Mike, mines got the black sills and is the same colour as yours and I reckon they look better black. Either way they need repainting due to the scratch and its a very reversible modification when you think about it. I have had mine two weeks now and I reckon I am getting about 28 mpg from my 2.5, which isn’t too bad as the car will only cover about 5k a year. I am after a rear light cluster to replace the chipped one, its not a huge chip but good used rear clusters are peanuts on e bay so I may as well get one rather regret it later. I am going to do the Cowley to Longbrige Pride day in April in my 75.

  6. It’s an impressive list, Mike – it makes me a fraction envious! Still, if I think about it, the list of work carried out on my 75 is hardly short.

  7. Looking better everytime. I prefer a bit of satin black trim on a car, I think it emphasises certain details, and in the case of the 75, accentuates the curves of the flanks of the car much better – the cills fall away leaving the cigar shape floating in space. I also prefer a bit of contrasting detail in a car – sometimes all of this body-coloured addenda can result in the car looking a bit ‘lost’ – a black panel here and there can enhance the styling – my favourite current example is the side rubbing strips on the early ’09 VW Siroccos……

  8. So glad you’ve gone with the satin black Mike! It really does give the car more presence and show off those lovely chrome strips along the side. Plus it’s how the designers no doubt intended it to look, before the later cost-cutting.

  9. Just put a tan leather interior in my grey ZT with the piano black wheel and interior. God it’s sexy! Also fitted the pipercross viper air filter. What a difference. I recommend one to all ZT/75 lovers.

  10. Just a note on your mention of checking the handbrake adjustment. Are you aware of the inherent design fault with this system and the simple fix? If not, take a look at the Rover 75 owners club forum and do a quick search. Chances are that the culprit is the cable bracket that joins the two rear cables to the single front cable becoming distorted. I was one of the first jobs I carried out on my own 75.

  11. Every blog written on this car makes it more and more tempting 🙂 Ideally I need something more practical than my MG TF LE500 and I keep coming back to either a 75 or a ZT, either K series 1.8 (which doesn’t scare me lol) or a diesel.

  12. Another great report Mike, your experiences almost mirror mine with my “workhorse” ZT-T 120+.

    Bought for a shade over a grand in October, I’ve had to replace the cooling fan motor, engine undertray and perform a full service, with the other little bits I think the car stands me in at round £1300, it sailed through the MOT so I’ll drive it on. So far I’ve done nearly 4000 miles and returned very similar MPG.

    Your oil consumption is spot on to my recently departed 1.8 75 which used a similar amount between services, and with MLS gasket in place never, ever needed a drop of coolant in 6 years of ownership.

  13. everyone keeps on about the diesels being more reliable just because they have the bmw engine but i had to have both fuel pumps replaced on its service at a cost of £700 a common problem with this particular model and a new alternater , dont get me wrong its still a great car and i love driving it but my old english engined 220 gti was more reliable , hopefully its sorted now and i can look forward to a more settled future.

  14. @21,these are indeed a problem and strangely differ depending on build,one pump in tank (delivery)one on inner wing and obviously the high pressure pump.Any of the first two can fail without fault codes,and can cause airflow/fuel rail correlation errors and then lack of power(sometimes without a owner realising it)then misdiagnosis occur,always check tank pump-if fitted,then inner wing pump(n/s/f)and i think the BMW sourced diesel is under powered in rover trim.Perhaps some BMW malevolance was built into the software!

  15. Mike,

    In readiness for the POL, I’m giving my 75 a treat!! –

    I’m trying to track down some badging. When I bought mine, the rear ’75’ badge was missing. I’ll want to replace this and maybe, like you, get some of the badging that adourned earlier models – mines a 53 plate.

    New bottle of Auto Glym wax is a must!

    I may even take her to the garage for a PLI (pre Longbridge inspection!) even though the dash indicator shows next service 10,000 miles.

    Then there’s the niggle!! The inch long scratch in the rear apron which I’ve already tried to improve the appearance of.
    Even after an artists brush it still bugs me!!

  16. I live in N.Ireland and I attended the centenary celebration at Cofton Park. I then owned a Rover 75 Tourer which I loved and regretted having to sell it because of my wifes illness. My wife had just undergone a major cancer operation the month before and when I arrived at the entrance to C.Park I explained the situation to the man at the gate and he let me in and asked me to park near the hut
    and he said they would keep an eye on her and this they did.
    This really impressed me and I was able to enjoy the day. Unfortunately my wife died two years later. The 75 was the most comfortable car and still is. It still comes tops in the “Auto Express” yearly survey and it still looks a very classy car. Wish I could justify buying another.

  17. @22. Totally agree re. the under powered diesel. I had an early 75 CDT and it was glacially slow.

    I had the local dealer do the “X Power 135” upgrade when it became available and it transformed the car.

  18. Well, it’s been a good so far!

    Successful trip to the scrapyard – the first yard I called at was well organised and right at the front was a ‘Y’ plate 75. Quite a bit taken from it already but I managed to get –

    – C pillar badges
    – 75 badge for boot lid along with Union flag
    – Old style boot lid plinth with Rover shield to sit

    All for a tenner.

    The torprdo wing badges were broken but it was a 2.5 anyway.

    Right, quick bite to eat and on to the drive to fit them!

  19. All fitted! The rear view no looks so much better for the extra detail. Somehow the old style boot ‘plinth’ with its Rover lettering looks to be of higher quality even though it’s essentially the same piece of plastic. Nice to finally have soom ’75’ badging too.

    All waxed as well. It’s the interior tomorrow.

  20. Odd, I’m sure those typing errors weren’t there when I clicked ‘submit’. Still, the cursor is behaving in a bizzare fashion at the moment.

  21. Today, in the life of ‘AD 53 LKE’. By coincidence that’s my Dad’s initials, Alan Dawson AND my daughter’s, Laina Kate.

    Well Mike, after our talk last night, I thought I’d get up a bit earlier this morning for a quick head gasket check. Paranoia,I knew but after two gasket failures in the first four of twenty two thousand miles I still ‘scare’ myself sometimes. Anyway, after visions last night of oil towards the left of the head I lifted the bonnet and after just a quick glance thought ” Don’t be stupid, David. All is well!”

    Forgot to say, but today was the Pre Longbridge Inspection.
    Very pleased with the results! Only things of note were –

    – Worn anti roll bar links, bushes but no alarm bells
    – Catalyst insides rattling a bit but could still pass MOT.

    I’ll get these matters sorted before MOT in July.

    Only £24 to pay after an initial quote of £44.

    Drove home tonight, appreciating the drive even more than usual – “Who wants to be a millionaire?” !!!

  22. Well, the thought of worn anti roll bar links, bushes niggled me this weekend – It is causing a slight degree of steering play. So, at lunch time today, I took a brief break from work (very unusual!) and walked over to the Land Rover Centre who’d performed the ‘Pre Longbridge Inspection’.
    They are now going to sort the anti roll bars. However, it seems they need to go on the net to source the parts. Motor factors apparently no longer stock the links (or was it the bushes?). Hope everything is sorted in time for The POL!!

    They reckoned the catalyst could wait until the MOT in late July and may even pass.

    Me and my 75! Unless it’s totally sorted my mind won’t rest!!

  23. New anti roll bar links, bushes arrived and were fitted today. The steering wheel play had not been so bad but the improvement is marked!! The drive now feels much tighter, more like a new car. The drive to POL will now be even more enjoyable!

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