Warren Loveridge, New Zealand
What’s with the Rover 75? It has plagued my dreams for years. Those sweeping lines, that unparalleled interior, the element of tragedy about what must surely be one of the best saloons the British have ever built. I’ve gazed at them admiringly ever since they first appeared. I sat in them at the local Rover dealer, drinking in the atmosphere and weeping over the price tag.
Twelve years later, the local market is peppered with shabby grey-import 2.0 V6 Classics from Japan. You can buy a ropey Rover and a whole bunch of heartache for beer money. As a mortgaged father on a modest salary, I don’t have much, but I do have beer money and perhaps enough left over to avoid a dodgy import. The auction sites beckon, much to my wife’s distress.
Much to my own distress I find that a low-mileage NZ-new 75 with a good history still attracts a lot more than beer money. I’ll stick to my ancient V8, I think. But there’s one car that keeps drawing my attention. A Cowley-built Connoisseur 2.5 auto, black with a burgundy interior. A very good price. But 171,000 kms, oh dear. Mind you, the photos look great. Good service history, cambelt and water pump replaced recently. Still, it’s a long way away, in the North Island, and I’m in the South. What should I do? I fire a few questions at net-based 75 fanatics. Sounds like a good car. I talk to the owner. Showroom condition, inside and out, he says. The temptation is awful!
The next bit is history, as they say. Friday sees me on a plane to go and buy a car I’ve never seen off a man I’ve never met. I’m picked up by his missus and taken to their home, where in their garage I spot my quarry. A shiny, clean Rover 75. Looks alright. Showroom condition? Well, there was always going to be a bit of hyperbole involved there, but it certainly is in good shape for a 12 year old car that’s seen more than 100,000 miles pass under its wheels. The old boy and I talk business, I hand over money, sign the ownership papers, and within minutes I’m on my way south to catch a ferry.
Here’s a funny thing. I’ve only ever had a very brief drive of a 75. Now I have nearly 700 kms to decide whether I actually like the car, and I’ve passed the point of no return. I own it now, for better or for worse. How does it feel? I can’t decide. I’m in somebody else’s car and it smells funny. I feel oddly out-of-place. But an hour later I’m starting to settle into the Rover rhythm. The engine pulls strongly and cleanly, and sounds great. The gearbox shifts almost imperceptibly. The car feels amazingly tight, and rides beautifully. The suspension is silent. No rattles or clunks. Great stuff. After years of new company cars I’m not used to high-mileage vehicles, and I’d lost sleep over that 171,000 kms. You have to understand, I’m not the most adventurous of men, and I’m now several steps out of my comfort zone. But as darkness envelopes the Rover, the interior lights up in a warm orange glow and I’m feeling OK.
I pull up at a gas station. ‘Nice car,’ says the attendant when I go in to pay. That puts a spring in my step. We sweep on into the night, and then we’re crossing Cook Strait, the Rover safe in the belly of the ferry while I doze away a couple of hours on a sofa up top. When we reach the other side it’s past 11pm and not worth stopping. I’m keen to get home to my own warm bed. Another top-up for the long, service station-free stretch down the lonely east coast of the South Island and I’m surprised to discover that despite the foot-down dash for the ferry, both the computer and my own calculations agree that the Rover has sipped a mere 8.3 litres per 100kms travelled. That’s roughly 33.5 mpg in the old currency. Not bad for an old pudding basin on wheels!
Heading south I have no ferry to catch, the roads are reasonably straight, and there’s no other traffic, so I slip into cruise control, stretch back and listen to talkback, the only radio station I can find in this lonely part of the country. The Rover and I roll through the night, the engine growling and the wind shusshing around us. It’s very quiet in the cabin, and the ride is superlative. No wonder this car won awards. 4 hours later we reach home, the embattled city of Christchurch. I top up again and discover that on this leg, despite hills and twisty bits, the Rover has managed 7.3l/100kms, or something better than 38 mpg! I walk in the door at 3.30 am after the best long-distance ride I think I’ve had in any car, ever.
Later, in the cold hard light of an autumn morning, I’m feeling a little less sure of things. I take stock of my purchase, and here’s the bad:
- A number of scratches and scrapes I hadn’t noticed upon first viewing.
- The front bumper has its fair share of stone chips.
- The headlights are starting to glaze over.
- A couple of patches on the alloy wheels where the lacquer is failing.
- Boot and side badges are clouded.
- The key fob has been mutilated by some incompetent, probably rendering it unrepairable.
- The driver’s seat base is starting to show signs of wear in the pleats – the leather is a bit stretched and the stitching is starting to pull.
- There is some discolouration of the lacquer around the clock and air vents (I thought these dashes were real wood – it feels like plastic to me!)
- The rear blind won’t work.
- The trip computer screen is suffering from vertical striping, although it is still readable.
- The right rear door won’t unlock with the central locking.
- The driver’s seatbelt has rubbed through the felt on the door pillar.
And so on. I won’t bore you with the finer details. But here’s the rub. I’m slightly mad. Possibly quite insane. Definitely obsessive. I’ve spent many years and much money obsessing over details on my ancient 3500 and it’s still only part way to where I’d like it, although I’m constantly told how beautiful it looks. I’m seized with a sudden panic and an insane desire to obliterate the 75’s imperfections, erase any evidence of its 12 years and 100,000-plus miles! This is where I have to get real. I don’t need this car. I only bought it because I really, really, really wanted to own a 75. It won’t be for every day use, the company car is for that. The wife won’t drive it. It’s going to join the 3500 in the garage where I can obsess over its details and spend lots of money. But I’m a mortgaged father on a modest salary, and there’s retirement to save for. Don’t think for a moment that I will give up my V8! But the fact is one of these cars is bad enough, and two is just plain Keith Adams crazy. I’m starting to regret my rashness. In the grey morning light the 75 actually scares me a little. But it is beautiful. Look at those sweeping lines, that unparalleled interior…
Maybe I’ll just enjoy it for a while and then pass it on. It was a cheap car, so even if I lose a bit of money, it will still represent low-cost dream fulfillment. I will tick the box and, after years of reading AROnline, finally join the in-crowd. ‘I owned a 75,’ I will say. ‘Lovely car.’