Silence is golden? Well, British Racing Green actually!

All the bugs have been banished on the bargain Project HHR 420 following a delivery of a large bent metal pipe. Summer is here – time to enjoy!

All mechanical work completed - the HHR is now on the road!

Words and Photographs: Mike Humble

Funny isn’t it when the Postman knocks on your door? Your heart skips a beat in anticipation of a letter from a long lost friend, lover or a cheque from Vernons for £250,000. It’s that same butterfly in the tummy feeling which you have when the ‘phone rings at 1.30am. I just popped home this morning to grab my butties from the fridge as I drive around the Home Counties selling my buses and coaches when a clatter of a van outside aroused my attention. Nonchalantly half-looking out the front room window, I saw a trusty Parcel Force driver rummaging around in his Sprinter – was his delivery for me?

The rat a tat tat on the door confirms that, yes, the new centre pipe has arrived for my 420 – it’s great how the silliest of things can excite you as you reach 40, eh?. My resplendent bargain Rover went through its test in the end with a considerable heap of Gun Gum slapped onto the middle pipe – time and funding issues meant that only the new rear section could be fitted prior to the MoT. Steve, my trusty Tester, winced at the sight of “half a ton of bog” (as he so eloquently put it) liberally slapped here and there but he knows I will do the work and let it go with an advisory comment.

Not the prettiest sight - the lashed up centre pipe!

Arriving back home later in the day, the suit and tie were substituted for my trusty Roveralls and the peace of West Sussex was shattered by the clanking and clattering of me scouring my tool boxes for spanners, sockets and a can of trusty releasing spray. Once, I would dread fitting exhausts to BL cars – A-Series Metros would require you to have a skin graft if you failed to remove the carb on a hot engine, the Montego/Maestro 1.6’s party trick would be to shear a stud on the manifold quite often and Rover 3.5-litre engined models were a bugger to align properly if you were working on your own.

My essential DIY items - releasing fluid and Rover Special Tool 10-LB

I don’t know whether or not Rover saw sense and used better quality fastenings in later years, but the flanged type of exhaust they fitted to Honda joint venture cars with a steel shim joint gasket makes fitting a system yourself a whole lot better than the previous Austin-Rover cars. The 10mm metric studs on the cat are far less likely to shear off – and many of us will never forget that shrieking sound as yet another stud snaps clean off. I fitted a new exhaust to my Ital 1700 some decades ago and the pain and effort required knocking the rusty pipe from its sleeve with a rubber mallet with barely 18 inches of room underneath to work on is an experience I never want to go through again!

I take my hat off to Exhaust and Tyre Fitters – it’s a horrible, smelly and tiresome affair. Going back to the times when I worked on the tools full-time, I loathed the fast fit aspect of the job when another car would require attention to its middle silencer – as often as not, it would be another rep’s Sierra which would be so hot underneath that you would have thought it had just done the Le Mans 24 Hour race!

What does interest me is how the bloody nuts seem to shrink, a 15mm socket is too slack and a 14mm is too tight. I never throw away sockets – even if they are worn – and you would be amazed at how effective a worn-out 14mm socket can be on a stubborn Rover exhaust nut when you bray them on the nut with a manly hammer!

Conclusive proof that old sockets and big hammers don't mix.

How evocative smells can be though? The whiff of releasing fluid, exhaust putty and the aroma of a new exhaust as the surface grease and paint burns off are wonderful – or is it just me? The missus simply doesn’t understand. The new part went on without too much trouble and now the car sounds like never before – burbling on idle and silent as you drive her and, after a shower and a late dinner, I put my feet up relaxing in the smugness that everything mechanical is now taken care of and it’s time to seriously enjoy the torquey, walnuty and leathery Rover 420 iL.

Looking outside the window the late evening summer sun gleams off the deep British Racing Green paintwork showing off the recently applied gold pinstripe – I’m so glad I bought another Rover and my missus is so glad there is a rusty old centre pipe propped up against the garden fence!

Looking on reflection, I'm glad to be owning a Rover again.

The only other issue of late has been a blown headlamp bulb. Saying that, the fitting of the sod turned out to be an adventure. The driver’s side failed and, after buying a pair with my trade card at the local Hellfrauds, I thought, that with one blowing, I would change the pair and keep the working old one as a spare.

The driver’s side bulb went in with no problem, but the passenger side wiring plug and retaining spring would not budge. The battery sits right behind the lamp and, unless you have the hands of a toddler, access is pretty tight. I ended up having to remove the battery and give the wiring plug a good heave. Unfortunately, the plastic shroud covering the spade connectors collapsed and a shard embedded in the thumb resulting in the use of some colourful metaphors and blasphemy!

Anyway, to close my mumblings, I hear that Keith’s Rover has returned to its owner in the South Midlands following its lengthy stay and minor re-commissioning programme with myself and a brief sojurn with fellow motoring man and SD1 fan, Scott Brownlee, from Toyota GB. I’m sure we all look forward to the blossoming love affair between Keith and the SD1. I will confess, though, that I’m jealous – I still miss that bloody white barge!

Mike Humble


  1. That’s a nice job, Mike and the car will be quieter now. The 420 looks great in BRG with those alloys and the gold pinstrpes.

    I remember the hassle of changing headlamp bulbs on my own Rover 414 and 45 – it took a couple of minutes to remove the old one and then about 30 minutes to position the new one (very restricted access as you say). I was lucky enough not to blow any on my ZS…

  2. @Hilton Davis
    I think that, to look at, the HHR has aged rather well. The ZS almost always looks good as do Rover versions if in the right spec and colour – BRG and alloys being a fine example. I have never been too sure about the rear spoiler on the five-door Rover though.

    I test drove a ZS and showed interest in a high spec 45 saloon before finally buying the 75.

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