Words / Pictures: Mike Humble
Living in a deathly quiet cul-de-sac, you get to know many of your local neighbours fairly well and I am lucky in the fact that quite a few of them are petrol heads. Two doors down there is a chap who owns a VR6 Corrado and an Elise, in turn, his next door resident hides a truly immaculate 1966 MGB GT in his garage, and to top it off a TVR Chimera is owned by a local BA pilot right at the bottom of the road.
On Sundays there are some nice machines glistening in the sunshine as we all march on parade sloping arms – well buckets and leathers anyway. One chap who lives nearby is a fairly quiet man, very unassuming and drives a Passat TDi who walks his dog every evening and simply says hello if I am on the drive hitting something with a hammer. Last night, he crossed the road making a bee line towards me using that well known conversation starter many alpha males use – “have you got a light chap?”
It transpires that Bob works for a nearby truck dealer as a service manager, but previously spent 30 years in the trade with some local BL / AR dealers working his way up to workshop manager. I love walking past your drive, he went on to say, there’s always something decent to look at. Continuing to gaze under the bonnet of my 420 he reckoned the T series was the best modern Rover engine ever made in terms of durability, warranty claims and drivability.
I am in complete agreement, the Rover 400 HHR is about as exiting as a caravan holiday in Barnsley and when fitted with a K series engine, is akin to keeping a pet Tiger at home – you just know that one day disaster will strike and without warning. This simple yet soothing dish can be spiced up with an extra 0.4-litres of alloy and Iron into the mixing bowl in the form of the 2.0 T series engine. As time and mileage passes by, I love it that little bit more!
Its recent voyage to Gaydon and then a recent whizz up to Northamptonshire to re-wire the headlamps of Keith Adams’ SD1 proved the fact that the T series is to Rover as the Rolls RB2-11 jet was to the aviation industry – rooted in turmoil yet damn good in practice. Along with the Peugeot 406 , Saab 9-3 and 2.0 Sierra Sapphire I have owned, the Rover 420 is a car I can drive for hours and hours mile after mile and just hop out at the end with not so much as a creak from my dodgy knee – very few cars do that for me.
I love the way it pulls without fuss in top gear from just above idle and goes on to give a meaty wad of torque right over the whole rev range – a gulf apart from your average K series. Its PG1 gearbox offers a nice definite gearchange and the combined weight of this driveline gives the car a feeling of solidity in its overall feel. Its a nice looking plant too, filling the engine bay area yet oddly easy to work on too.
Listening to it idling, Bob mentioned that my inlet manifold could probably do with a clean through, an even though all the filters had been done along with fresh oil and the throttle body scrubbed clean with an old toothbrush, it had suffered from a slightly uneven idle. My new found chum returned with a can of Valvoline cleaner, he then told me to do a stepper motor re-set but to unplug the motor wiring plug as it opens up to its fullest extent, thus giving 3000 rpm on the dial.
Leaving me with final instructions to give plenty of good sprays into the butterfly stopping when the engine nearly dies and a reminder of not worrying about the colour of the exhaust, he retired for his dinner. After some coughing and entertaining exhaust smoke, the engine seemed more responsive when you blipped the pedal, its ever so slight miss on initial acceleration vanished. One quick road test confirmed that the already nice drive had somewhat improved.
My car covered less than 1000 miles in its last three years of previous ownership, so I guess its to be expected that things may have got a little gummed up inside. The car does everything and features everything I like in a motor – wood, leather, a splash of brightwork, cossetting ride and a bit of get up and go. But I fear dark clouds are on the horizon – a certain Austin-Rover tribute website owner and assistant motoring editor, who shall remain nameless – has offered me a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo – and it’s the 16S three-door model too!
The story of my life, just as something becomes good – something slightly better comes my way. So if anyone out there wants to grab a low mileage Rover 420iL 5 door which is one of the nicest and rarest examples with full leather, full MoT, ice cold air con in stunning heritage pearlescent British Racing Green – no knocks, bangs or oil leaks, then feel free to contact myself or Keith!
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.