Blog : I’ll have a T please, Bob…

Words / Pictures: Mike Humble

The fleet...
The fleet...

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!

A very clean engine bay.
A very clean engine bay.
Keith Adams


  1. I can atest that this car is a bloody good looking bit of kit. When I was looking for a car I had decided on a T-series HHR (probably a 420 GSI) for said reliability reasons and luxury. Thing was, a dealer was selling a 45 1.8 with a precautionary HG change so I went for that. The 1.8 K is quite unfussed but I would like to try a T to see how the extra grunt and iron block make the car feel.

  2. I will have ago at cleaning my throttle body tomorrow, especially after reading this article.

    Orange indicators , grey ‘Paisley’ trimmed interiors and wheel trims , made early HHRs very bland looking. Higher specified versions always looked good and more upmarket when compared to the competition, in my opinion. Mike’s 400 just shows how smart the bland HHR can look.

  3. I have got a Rover with a T series engine which has now about 300.000 miles on the clock!
    I think it was a very reliable engine instead of the K series rubbish!

  4. I have long championed the T series as the forgotten gem of the Rover engine range. Torquey, reasonably refined, with good bhp/litre figures it does the job very nicely. I’ve always found them easy to get through the MOT emissions test as long as the spark plugs are fresh.

    They are also very easy to work on, especially in the 820 – no special tools required for a cambelt swap, the water pump can be changed without disturbing any belts, and if the occasional oil weep from the corner of the headgasket gets too bad then the gasket can be changed in an afternoon without the risk of disturbing any cylinder liners.

    Let’s face it, it has to be a better bet than the oh-so-fragile 1.8L K series!

  5. I owned 3 K engined Rovers – 414, 45 1.6 and MG ZS 1.8. All were reasonably good performers and no head gasket problems. The 1.6 however didn’t feel much faster than the 1.4. The 2.0T engined Rover 400 sounds a good bet, but sadly was never available in the 45 or ZS.

    I always thought a 2 litre ZS would have been a good link between the 1.8 & KV6 2.5 but they brought out a 1.6 ZS110 instead which I thought was pointless.

  6. Mike – have you tweaked the article since yesterday as I made some comments about the T Series engine and they no longer seem to be here under Responses?

  7. Few years back, I bought a 216 cabriolet fitted with all the Tomcat Turbo running gear and few tweaks(dump valve etc…)It was the most outrageous combination, tooooooooo much torque on a papier-mache chassis but oh boy, what an engine. I will always remember the face of a Saab turbo driver getting outguned. It never let me down, T16 engine was a peach in town then a monster as rev went up. HG aside, K16 in 1,6L was ok, it had the torque the 1,4L lacked off, and compared to my Golf cabrio(the so called GTI engine-2L/115bhp) had not much to envy given the difference in capacity. A 220 GSI cabrio-had it been produced- would have put the Avantgarde to shame. Ahhh, if and if and if and etc….

  8. It makes me wonder whether Rover ever considered fitting the T-Series to the 75. Surely it would have performed better in service that the 1.8 K-Series? The 1.8 K-Series isn’t exactly a paragon of refinement anyway.

  9. Wow! what a line-up. I sometimes take a peek in the Evo/Octane carpark if I’m passing,just to see what exotic test cars or examples of His Lordships fleet might be parked outside. But what looks like the first three cars through a provincial auction of about ten years ago is beyond my wildest dreams.

  10. The T series and the L series wear both the best engines in the Rover stable at the time. The later KV6 beating both if the cheap and cherful stat and manifold has not been made.

    The T is a sit back and relax engine with loads of low down grunt and it has a loverly burble at IDLE.

    One of the easiest engines to work on also. I have not seen it installed into a car with poor access. Lucky really.

    Ive always had a soft spot for it and to me its the best engine by far and then its the KV6.

    Stunning looking 400 also, but you have to much coolant in that tank, the MAX point is the halfway join in the plastic.

  11. @David 3500

    I had to tweak the article as when I promoted it to the front page, it crashed the site. Traced it to weird file names. But not after I’d resubmitted the piece myself. Sorry.

    Please resubmit your comments 🙂


  12. Great article. Intersting point about Valvoline cleaner – their oil is in my opinion the best you can get – anyone know where it is available midlands/north area?

  13. Using some carb/injector cleaner worked a treat on my 45 yesterday. It cleared up the slight unevenness at idle.

    Morrison’s petrol stations used to sell Valvoline oil at around £14 for 5 litres of 10w40 semi-synthetic.

  14. Loved reading this. Agree whole heartedly about the T series. Have had 2 now and love them. My first was in a 420 SLi R8, which was utterly reliable, effortless and very quick if a little noisy at times. The second is in an 820, which, although not as effortless as the 420, is still plenty quick enough, very smooth and very quiet. Massively underrated engine as everyone tars them with the same brush as the K. Never had a K myself but my Grandad had a few, and he swore by them.

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