Our Cars : Say hello to Project Connie

The MintEgo has moved on to pastures new so the chase has been on to find a suitable replacement. Even something as simple as finding a car was almost as emotional as selling the last one.

Mike Humble explains…

1.8 Connoisseur SE Turbo in Fire frost red. Not perfect but very sound and solid.
1.8 Connoisseur SE Turbo in Firefrost Red – not perfect, but very sound and solid

Who was I trying to kid? But I’ll be honest, I genuinely did want the Montego to use as a daily smoker. However you try to cook it round the edges or make it fit, I missed the creature comforts of 21st century motoring like climate control, power steering and so on. Although the Montego did drive like a almost brand new car, it wasn’t fair to pile on the miles like I was regardless of the fact it became as dependable as any other car on the road – eventually. Some serious enquiries came my way after the recent Restoration Show at the NEC, some serious thought was given and it quickly became a case of “first to enquire will buy” – an effortless sale.

I had to keep things fairly low key when I decided to part for obvious reasons. My allergic reaction to dolly daydreamers, picture collectors and time wasters is getting worse these days.  When a very serious prospect, who promised to admire, cosset and take care of the Montego, came on stream and offered the right kind of bunts which reflected the serious graft that’s been invested, the deal was done. . The handover went without problem, all parties were happy and, armed with a nice collection of high denomination bank notes, the next chase began. As is often the case, buying a car is just as much grief as selling one.

Julian Pearson takes the keys before his long drive to Wetherby.
Julian Pearson takes the keys before his long drive to Wetherby

Just as the late George Turnbull quipped in the BL film about the Marina development, I kept an open mind about the replacement. Options included a very late Cavalier that was fairly local to me, a Cavalier Mk2 that was an hour’s drive away and a brace of Jaguar X-Types – none seemed to whet the palate or hit the spot. One thing that became apparent very quickly were the rock bottom quality of the current vehicles out there on sale not to mention the lowest of the lows in terms of the traders I locked horns with. There were a Rover 75 diesel with a bad paint job and a broken gearbox and a Jaguar that looked like it had rolled down a cliff to name but two.

Anyway, in the end I heard from a trade contact about a late Rover 75 on the south coast that was “honest, straight but needs some TLC” sourced from a local group with prestige dealerships scattered around the local towns and cities. It had been part exchanged for an Evoque and, with a genuine 57,000 miles not to mention just a small number of previous owners, I thought it would be worth a look. Fast forward to the viewing it was everything as described – honest, straight, without previous traumas – even the part-time trade vendor was a decent chap. He mentioned he’d taken a punt with the car but had little interest in it – had Christmas come early for me here?

A thorough look over and a decent test drive revealed a small list of items that require attention but nothing to have me running away in fear. The pleasant pass-the-time small talk quickly evolved into the more serious tone of conclusions and number crunching. I was asked if the car was for me, I thought it was, I asked for a minute or two to collect my thoughts, he wandered off and I pondered and mentally totted up the work and costs involved. Making it clear I wasn’t here to mince or mess and that I was happy to drive away if the offer didn’t meet universal acceptance, I put my bid in with a pair of size nines… and waited for his response.

I didn’t have to wait long and he didn’t even mutter a word at first, he just slowly extended a hand to shake and muttered “Sod it… Let’s do it“. The car was a fair(ish) price to start with and, even though my offer reflected the fact it needs some input, the deal wasn’t exactly a steal – it has, though, very much worked in my favour and, my word, the car drives so amazingly well. It’s a facelift Connoisseur 75 1.8 Turbo with the SE pack in the optional pearlescent Firefrost Red colour – it does look a canny Connie when the sun shines. Except for one door lock, everything works and, at least, the hide and half-timber tiller are both in good condition.

Half timbered tiller and gear lever adds some class back. Seats are damage free and the dual zone climate works spot on. Project drive sadly robs the quality and some of the later fixtures and fittings are laughably poor... all in good time!
Half-timbered tiller and gear lever adds some class back. Seats are damage free and the dual-zone climate works spot on. Project Drive sadly robs the quality and some of the later fixtures and fittings are laughably poor… All in good time as they say, all in good time!

It’s far from perfect and there’s a lot to be done – that includes worn-out rear brakes, some minor top end oil leaks and those legendary cloudy headlamps but, out on the road, it drives just right. Being pushed straight into squadron service with not such much more than a local mini valet has brought up no gremlins. A recent sprint round the M25 to visit a newly-retired Derek Ketteringham saw the 75 get gridlocked in Bank Holiday traffic – the temp needle never even twitched from just below midway… Phew!

Normally, I would not have entertained a facelift 75. For sure they look a bit more business-like round the gills over the pre-2004 examples but some of the cost cutting and quality of components under close scrutiny are quite rubbish really as Project Drive really took hold. That said, it rides so beautifully well – even better than my last one before I swapped the alloys over and the gutsier engine brought a taller final drive – 70mph now shows 2800rpm rather than a busy sounding 3250. Other betterments include door cards trimmed in a decent wearing faux Alcantara fabric as opposed to the velour stuff that gets really grubby very quickly

The 150PS Turbo K pulls from its boots and seems HGF free. A couple of oil leaks, nothing major require attention but my fag packet calculator is showing around 40mpg.
The 150PS Turbo K-Series pulls from its boots and seems HGF free. A couple of oil leaks, but nothing  really major required just now, attention and my fag packet calculator is showing around 40mpg

As mentioned, it was one of those nice easy-going sales that hammers home the time-honoured showroom saying that people only buy from people”. Had I not bought the Connie on the spot, both parties would, at least, have enjoyed each other’s company for half an hour or so. The 75 was very much bought on a gut feeling – only time will tell if that feeling, albeit backed up by many years trade experience, was right or was just down to trapped wind!

So raise a glass to the new project car. Perfect timing too, as the clocks alter – ideal for some serious late night weekend fettling!

Mike Humble


  1. Mike, you know I liked the MintEgo but I imagine it’s great to be back behind the wheel of a 75.

    It looks very tidy in the photos above and I imagine the Connoisseur SE trim is fabulous. Somehow, the passage of time makes me view the facelift more favourably.

    The 1.8 Turbo must be pretty brisk.

    How’s your old one fairing?? This was a 1.8 Club SE like the one I once had, wasn’t it?

    • Hello Dave,

      Only just seen your post/reply…

      Mikes previous Rover 75 Project Car is still with me and running as well as usual.

      I had a clutch & slave fitted soon after swapping with Mike just as a precaution (had to do SOMETHING with it apart from hoovering, washing, polishing…. 🙂 so a much lighter clutch action now. The original Rover clutch had done 96K.

      So much nicer to drive than the Mintego… like Mike did, I just love driving it!

      I’ve fitted Window Deflectors all round, and just having the Hairpins refurbished. Currently running on a set of 15 inch Crowns which are very very comfy, but the Hairpins will look great and handle a bit sharper.

      Not surprised to see Mike back into Rover 75 world again!

      Happy Roving!

  2. The seats look like retro-fitted pre-Project Drive ones to me. IIRC post-facelift Connies didn’t even get leather thanks to the introduction of the Contemporary & Contemporary SE.

    • Correct on the model names… Connie models post facelift were indeed cloth but remember… this has the option of the SE pack which adds dual zone ATC, leather and extra timbers.

      • Did it add those leathers though? IIRC the 75 (&45 as they shared the same seats) received cheaper padding etc well before the facelift.

  3. 05 Connies definitely had leather. I had one, a CDTI, which was a lovely car. I believe 04s had velour though.

    • Sounds about right. MG-R ramped up the leather right at the end.

      The 25 was available in GLi, GSi (which I had) & GXi & all three had leather.

  4. Phil, I’ve owned my 1.8 Connoisseur SE since new and leather, along with heated memory seats was standard and Mike’s example looks exactly like mine. If you look at the seats they are slighty different to to earlier cars too.

  5. Hi Mike
    I’m a huge fan of your articles, another brilliant one here too.

    Being a huge Fiat fan, I suspect my own car a Stilo will evoke feelings similar to most of the MG/Rover era

    I’ve been a huge fan of the Maestro, Montego and 75 so wish you well with the 75

    Keep up the excellent work with your articles we all love reading them!

  6. A good buy, but I’d much rather you went for a pre Project Drive model as the four headlamps look better and the after fit stereo cheapens the interior. Never mind, though, the wood and leather and the driving ability make up for this.

  7. Nice looking car, nice Firefrost red and those fork spoke alloys set it off, as does the interior. I still have a 2004 Rover brochure featuring the facelift 75.

    I imagine with Mike’s enthusiasm & expertise this car will reap the benefit and become an impressive project car. Look forward to hearing more

  8. @ Chris Mills:

    Correct, the 2005 model Year Rover 75 Connoisseur models did have leather as standard. The 2005 MY upgrades/enhancements were formally announced in December 2004.

    The main issue of course would have been new old stock still available, meaning some examples would have continued to have been sold into 2005 and beyond…

    There was also a Classic ‘SVP’ variant also planned which featured leather seats as standard. This was to have been formally announced in May 2005 and followed a similar theme as the ‘world of leather’ 25 and 45 variants. A number of examples had already been completed by the time the company entered into administration.

  9. @ Glenn Aylett:

    The stereo in Mike’s new 75 doesn’t appear to be an after fit one. It looks like a line-fit Iovox model, which MGR fitted across their ranges from about 2004. You could get a version with cassette or cd player or a posh one that read mp3 files too. There was a compatible CD changer also available. They used to flag “Rover” up on the display when first switched on. MGR had lots of trouble with them, however. I think the Kenwood units fitted into earlier MGR products cheapened the interior – they really did look like after market add ons!

    • They looked the part although the later ones with rubber keys that look like they are made with 90s Philips bits are more reliable.

  10. Mike’s radio is the line-fit Iovox model, but later cars like mine were fitted with nicer looking VDO units.

  11. Interesting that you’ve gone for the facelift version.
    I wonder just how far reaching Project Drive actually went?
    Some of the cost cutting measures, may not be quite so easy to spot to most people?
    Be interesting to see what you find beneath the surface Mike.

    • The Rover 75/MG ZT forum has a very comprehensive list of Project Drive’s effects on the these cars. Some of the stuff is very petty, such as the deletion of the little plastic seat-belt bolt covers. Other stuff is more fundamental and the earlier proper wood dashboards (builds up to end of 2001) are vastly superior to the later ones.

  12. Loving 75s and ZTs more with every passing day. I would seriously like a late CDTI. Makes me wonder why in the early noughties when I was driving Peugeot 405s and VW Passat diesels that I never gave them more consideration, My loss but casually browsing for one now, infact just missed out on a mint Connie SE last month!

  13. The original stereo head units were made by Philips (low line) and Alpine (high line). These were the ones that were effectively built into the facia. The CD changer was also by Alpine but unfortunately the set-up pre-dated mp3. A number of owners have ditched the CD and wired mp3 connectivity into the wiring.

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