Sometimes an old banger struggles to make for an interesting read, especially when it just trundles along without so much as a minor hiccup. But some good old traditional fettling has been taking place with our R8 416 – and what a difference a day makes!
Well, as the headline states, there’s not been that much to report on the recently acquired Rover 400. Yet, from an owner’s point of view it’s sheer bliss. Pushed into squadron service with not so much as a look-see underneath, it behaves just as you would expect from a Honda-powered vehicle. Apart from the slightly thirsty nature of the driveline – correction – flipping juicy nature of the driveline at first, it’s one hell of a good motor to lark around in. A decent ride, really quick steering turn-in with tidy handling despite the suspension travel being longer than a Whippet’s hind leg and, of course, that lovely distinctive aroma of a ’90s Rover when you hop in on a hot day.
Right from day one I was absolutely convinced there was more to glean from the engine room, it just seemed… well… you know? – lacking in outright zing. These D-Series-powered models were famous back in the day (especially the manual ones) for shifting like the proverbial stabbed rat when you mashed the gas into the carpet. This automatic example certainly licked along quite nicely but struggled to give you a nudge in the small of the back when you really wanted to chase the horizon rather than trundle to Tesco. Yes, I know it’s a slush box hampered with only four cogs but, in the words of Mr Hill, my old history teacher, could try harder!
Well, I did try and, during one warm weekend, the kettle was filled, the tools were carefully unpacked and some good old fashioned fettling broke out on the driveway – one of the first spots was the engine timing. Unpacking my rarely-used, gas-powered timing light and thumbing through my huge Rover R8 Dealer Workshop Manual that weighs about 5kg, the engine timing was found to be a fair few degrees retarded and needed correcting. Improvements were noted right away and, after the valve clearances were checked (none of this hydraulic tappet malarkey here chums) and a bottle of Texaco-branded fuel treatment added, it was notably better out on the road right away.
And yet I still thought it could be better. Remembering what Neil Rapsey told me he had either changed/replaced or whacked with a hammer, the bowl-type fuel filter came in for some scrutinising. Looking closer, it looked like it had last been touched, to quote my late father, when Hitler was a Lance Corporal. A quick visit to my factor chappie sourced a shiny new item that was fitted into place – what a fiddly job that was – nothing like as simple as the barrel-shaped affairs you find in a K-Series engine bay. Some Optimax was trickled into the tank and a spirited good hiding road test released that hidden power I knew the car possessed.
Performance was up, consumption was down and general driveability has been improved to a point whereby its a transformed car to the one that first appeared on the drive a little while ago. I can’t wait for Neil to give it a whirl, it really is that good now. Thanks to the new-found character of the car, I have no reservations about driving what is, in essence, a small automatic saloon. She changes gear so smoothly that only the engine note and sudden falling of the tacho needle lets you know progress is taking place in the engine room. Because most of my driving and commuting is motorway/dual-carriageway based, fuel economy isn’t really that bad if I dwell on it.
Besides, I don’t mind chucking in the odd gallon if a car gives something in return for your troubles and its such a happy little steed, too. If I close my eyes, metaphorically speaking of course, I swear you can almost hear it humming a jolly little tra-la-la-la melody as it goes about its daily business. Only one little item caused a bit of frustration and that was the cigar lighter that won’t seem to operate a satnav unless you fold a piece of paper four times to wedge the plug into the barrel. A trip to the breaker’s sourced a replacement from a Rover 25 which not only cures the slack socket but also glows in the dark much better than before and the ashtray now has working illumination too.
Just like the fuel filter, all the above required more than average tinkering time. The cubby box/centre armrest, radio and whole centre console had to be removed in the process – the R8 really was well engineered, a little too well perhaps. While the floor console was out the handbrake cable was adjusted and, after all that copious amount of trim was re-installed back into the car, a celebratory brew was made to mark officially the completion of a good afternoon’s worth of spannering.