Our Cars : Mike’s Rover – don’t neglect your loved ones

Mike Humble


Since the R8 has come back into the fold not a great deal has been reported, quite simply because just like the time under my previous ownership, it’s simply just got on with the job. Over the past few weeks owing to running a couple of test cars, the 214 was seconded to the lay-by opposite my driveway often causing me to think that I must make a conscious effort to give the old girl a run out.

Of course, this hasn’t happened until just this week when I needed to nip into town on an errand. Slipping the ignition key into the barrel she started on a flick, only to stall rather abruptly a split second later. Twisting the key once again, I was greeted with the sound of doom – an engine with little compression and to say that I felt physically sick would not be an exaggeration.

To those who know a little about engines, this stomach churning experience on any car with a toothed rubber timing belt usually heralds the fact you are in for some considerable open heart surgery or in the worst case, a second hand engine. The K16 1.4-litre engine is not known for timing belt failure when routine servicing is adhered to, but when they go, just like the Ford CVH unit of a similar vintage, they pretty much tend to destroy themselves.

Summoning the assistance of the missus who would in any other circumstance moan like a bored child at the thought of shoving old knackers up the street, we pushed the stricken Rover onto the driveway and my best lead lights were switched on.

After I was lovingly handed a mug of hot sweet tea, in the cold Sussex darkness I slowly and solemnly slackened the 8mm bolts that secure the upper timing cover and after a good wriggle and a wrench, the cover came away. The sight was surprising as I expected to see shards of braided rubber like you would with a failed cam belt yet there laid the belt looking pretty normal. By now the diagnosis seemed to be pointing to a slipped belt, so the front off-side wheel was raised, fourth gear was selected and by turning the wheel the timing marks on the cam sprockets were checked. They aligned perfectly and this was confirmed by shining a torch onto the bottom pulley – the cut out mark aligned perfectly with the timing cover.

Expecting to see shards of frayed rubber once the timing cover was removed, I felt a little happier too see perfect timing marks and an intact belt.
Expecting to see shards of frayed rubber once the timing cover was removed, I felt a little happier to see perfect timing marks and an intact belt.

All of a sudden I felt much happier, my engine was not scrap alloy after all and I now knew exactly what was wrong. To be fair, the car was well overdue for an oil change and after a period of lay up, the tappets had sunk. The thick old engine oil was simply too gloopy to inflate the hydraulic tappets thus giving poor compression and the sound of a failed timing belt.

So after some prolonged cranking, the engine spluttered into life eventually settling to the normal buzzy sounding K-Series song. I went to bed that night snug at the thought of how that little car simply refuses to die promising myself that the very next day to give her a service and some attention that I have uncharacteristically not done.

That next day I drove to my trusted motor factor and also noted it was not warming through as quickly as I had previously expected. On top of the list of service components which included a driveshaft to cure a worn CV joint and a timing belt just be safe, a thermostat was also purchased and my heart sank at the thought of a very busy day ahead.

The oil was changed along with the filters and the cam belt went on with no problem, such a shame the same couldn’t be said with the thermostat. The early single point injected K series engine has a large alloy inlet manifold with support struts bolting into the engine block that hampers access to the thermostat as it sits right underneath this mid way up the back of the engine block.

I opted to do this task from under the bonnet as the other option under the car is to get soaked to the skin with anti-freeze once you remove the metal flow pipe and split the thermostat housing. Using a combination of lights, quarter-inch sockets, knuckle joints and much cursing, the thermostat came out only for me to find none of the gaskets in the box were anywhere near matching the alloy housing. A call to the factors was put in only to be told they had no other option in stock. A rummage into my parts bins found me a sheet of gasket paper so with the skilful use of a pencil and a craft knife I purchased to assemble a model of Concorde that still lives in its box, I made my own gasket and with a blob of anaerobic flange sealant – all was refitted.

One thing did cause me to ponder while having my arms wedged behind the inlet manifold, and that was how criminal Rover became about stripping out the quality from key components. Later Ks feature a plastic thermostat housing, which gets brittle over time and is prone to snapping whereby mine is made of alloy and feels tough enough to go the distance – which of course it has for over 23 years and 134.000 miles. The following day saw the new nearside driveshaft fitted with little hassle, so she’s now fully serviced and fully prepared for winter and I have smacked my own wrist for not practicing what I so often preach – don’t wait till it stops before doing anything!

The outer CV was knackered while the inner joint is at least 23 years old. For a little extra money and a job less labour intensive, I change the whole shaft.
The outer CV was knackered while the inner joint is at least 23 years old. For just a little extra money and a job less labour intensive, I changed the whole shaft.
Mike Humble


  1. Great to hear the old girl is running with just a little TLC.

    Some cars just don’t die, just the servicing and maintenance becomes too much…

  2. The plastic thermostat housing was probably inherited from BMW, it’s a habit of theirs too, and I’ve replaced more than one with an alloy unit.

  3. I had a similar non-start situation with my 1997 Volvo V70 last year after I had left it standing for a few weeks. Pretty nerve-wracking!

  4. It’s that time of year that occasional use cars don’t like.
    I work from home and don’t have need to drive everyday, I frantically rotate vehicles in an attempt to keep the batteries charged.
    But fail miserably- when short journeys often with lights on drain as much as the journey puts in!
    In years past before immobilizers I don’t recall it being a problem?

  5. Mine is due a thermostat but the location is really putting me off, does the new drive shaft come with a new damper or do you need to transfer that from the old one.

    It’s amazing what some fresh oil and some TLC can make, brings it back to life, but in the wrong hands a car like this can descend into scrapper/banger territory very very quickly.

  6. @neil rapsey

    At 20+ years old hopefully the R8 is starting to make it to classic territory.
    I’ve started seeing SD3s at classic car shows mixing it up with Maestros and Allegros.

  7. My 214 suffered cam belt failure on the A2 at 50mph a few years ago. Luckily I had a replacement head and had that fitted along with a new belt, water pump etc and the engine has run fine since.
    The belt had failed because despite asking my local mechanic at the time to change it along with fitting a new MLS head gasket a few months previously it transpired he reused the old one which was at its limit milage and time wise.
    Persevere with this old car Mike, the R8 is the modern day Morris Minor in many ways, they are cheap to buy and run, drive well and are reliable and economical.

  8. Will M @6

    In some way it’s hard to think of the R8 becoming a classic – In my mind it still seems too current, too contemporary. How time flies!

  9. Stevo @10
    “……wish I had your skills!”

    Yes Mike, I strongly believe I took the wrong career path. Do I wish I could own an older car AND have your mechanical ability, skill.

    In fact, very recently I did explore the possibility of joining what I thought would be relatively easy to find – a basic, elementary car mechanics night course. Such a course proved almost impossible to find. It was either full time, professional level or “How to top up your washer fluid etc”. There seemed to be no middle ground. I want to learn service, basic maintenance. At this stage at least, the more major jobs and electronics can wait.
    Any advice, comment anyone……….

  10. It reminds me of the time I was between jobs & wanted to take an IT course to brush up my computing skills.

    The only ones I could find were either for technicians that cost a small fortune to go on, or “how to word process” courses where I wouldn’t learn anything I didn’t already know.

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