Our Cars : Meet Project HHR – Mike snatches another one from the crusher

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

After some utterly reliable service from the R8 416 Automatic, we have plumped for something a little newer, a little bigger, a little greener and, er… a little broken.

Say hello to Project HHR.

Trust me... It really is that clean and tidy in general. Local car with same family owners that just needed some `lovin. Owner stated it didn't sell that weekend it was going for scrap.
Trust me… It really is that clean and tidy in general. Local car with same family owners
that just needed some `lovin. Owner later stated that, if it didn’t sell that weekend, it was
simply going for scrap. Say hello to my extremely straight and tidy 66K FSH 99V BRG Rover 414 iE.

She told me in no uncertain terms the other week, ‘no, Mike I’ve never liked it’. Of course, I’m referring to the 416 GSi automatic – so you’ve guessed it, it had to move on. The problem is ‘er indoors just doesn’t like automatic cars but funny that – sling her behind the wheel of a Range Rover or Jaguar XJ and there’s not so much as a peep of complaint to be heard.

A chance came by to grab an early manual 414, but I snoozed and lost, as the saying goes. I literally made one or two token noises about selling the 416 and someone came on stream, hot to trot with money burning a hole in his trousers – quite possibly the quickest and easiest of sales done in all of my 100 plus cars I’ve owned over the years.

The buyer, Gavin Bushby, who knows the owner of the Project MintEgo, rather decently offered to let me keep running the 416 until something suitable could replace it so the pace of the chase somewhat quickened in the quest for a another jalopy.

A few local cars were viewed – all dogs sadly, so the net was cast further afield. A contact within Vauxhall Motors put me on to man north of Croydon in bandit country who was offloading a lovely part-exchanged 1.8 GLSi Cavalier MkIII – one of the very last off the Luton assembly line. This sounded and looked like my kinda car and some pictures were emailed, a small dipper was wired into his account and armed with a one day travel card I was soon commuting around South London on public transport – NOT an experience for the faint-hearted.

The GSi has a new owner. Gavin Bushby who also happens to be good mates with the chap who bought the Montego is now the incumbent of "Project R8 GSi" He kindly ran me back to Storrington to collect the next ARO jalopy - as seen here.
The GSi has a new owner. Gavin Bushby who also happens to be good mates with the chap
who bought the project Mint-ego is now the incumbent of “Project R8 GSi” He kindly ran
me back to Storrington to collect the next ARO jalopy – as seen here. I hope it runs as
flawlessly for him as it did for me… he’s bagged a good car there.

Arriving at his prestige used car showroom we then took a ride a few hundred yards up the roads. ‘I didn’t really want it cluttering up the premises,’ Tony said as we swooshed round a corner in his Discovery 4, but then the sight of something rather sickening caught our eyes. During that afternoon it had been clobbered by a scaffolding lorry according to a lady who came out of her house as we examined the damage.

In a nutshell, the Cavalier had suffered a two-foot long scrape down the door, a snapped off mirror, a gouged wing and the corner of the front bumper pulled away from its fixing. The car was wrecked, we were both pig sick and he handed my £50 from his wallet as he dropped me back at Norwood station.

Travelling back to the safe bosom that is leafy Horsham, I did some surfing on the train and spotted a cheap and tidy-looking 99V Rover 400 iE on that emporium of broken cars – Gumtree. The next day a call was made and, after a short twenty minute journey to the nearby village of Storrington, the vendor came to the door and unlocked the car. I lifted the hood, spotted the detritus under the oil cap right away and just dropped the bonnet. I declined to go any further, told him what was wrong and bade him good day – I must have been at the property for no more than five minutes… the owner seemed genuinely crestfallen at my diagnosis of a blown head gasket.

However, less than half an hour later, I was enjoying a burger and some free Wi-Fi in a McDrive-Thru on the A24 when I spotted the car now with a re-aligned price. I called the chap and said it was me again, he thought this was amusing considering I had been brutally dismissive barely an hour earlier. My retort was to tell him that, for that price, the car was worth the risk if it drove as well as it looked. All agreed, the call was ended and then panic set in – this bargain price meant someone else could opt to take the same risk as myself… as a result my fast food was now going down in lumps.

Bolting down the burger, I jumped into the car and raced back to the owner as the Rover now also featured on eBay with a buy it now tag of £100. Ten minutes later, I was back in Storrington and we took a test drive to the nearest cash point, apart from a pin hole in the downpipe the car drove pretty well in all fairness. Noisy tappets and a blown head gasket aside, I was fairly pleased with the purchase – even the air conditioning still worked, too. It’s a 414 iE which, for the less informed, is a late run-out model which has some nice equipment touches like electric mirrors, windows, height adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar and the aforementioned air-con.

Sagging door trim (they all do that sir) aside, theres no abuse, burns, holes, teeth marks etc. Even the aircon still works. Offensive radio needs ripping out and destroying with one of my big hammers. Can YOU help with the correct replacement? the only one I have is dead. Being a run out "iE" model it has an interesting spec and isn't as Bobby basic as you'd imagine.
Sagging door trim (they all do that sir) aside, there’s no abuse, burns, holes, teeth marks
etc – even the floor mats are the accessory Rover-branded carpet ones with floor grippers.
As an extra bonus… the air-con still works too. Offensive radio needs ripping out and
destroying with one of my big hammers. Can YOU help with the correct replacement?
The only one I have is dead. Being a run out “iE” model, it has an interesting spec and isn’t as
Bobby basic as you’d imagine. Simply underwhelming in terms of handling but, as for the
comfort and ride quality, it’s better than most modern five-doors hatches!

Work and weather issues meant it sat on the driveway for a couple of weeks but I have just done the head gasket and a front pipe has been ordered from a contact for less than £25 including carriage. Most of the head set was already in stock though I did have to purchase some KAMAX head bolts along with gaskets for the cam cover and both manifolds. Oil and antifreeze are also in good supply from my parts shed and the car even came with a new old stock Unipart oil filter hidden under the boot floor alongside the spare wheel. The cause of the blown head was nothing more than the failure of the elastomer sealing beads on the gasket – it’s got to almost 67,000 miles and 17 years on the original one.

Cracking on with the head gasket brought a couple of traumas. A rounded off lower torque reaction mounting bolt caused some profanities and the cooling system required two flushes with some dishwasher tablets before the heater would really blow furnace hot – which, of course, it now does. Piston liner protrusion was text book and the head needed nothing more than some preparational cleaning before refitting, though there are a couple of noisy tappets I’m not happy with. So it looks like the camshaft carrier will be split in the not too distant future in order to replace them – I’m sure I have a set kicking around somewhere. The cam pulley seals and timing belt will be replaced at the same time just to finish it all off nicely and professionally.

The last stage of the never ending head bolt torque takes place. The only future work required will be set of replacement hydraulic lifters - a couple of them just wont quieten down.
The last stage of the never-ending head bolt torque down takes place. The only future work
required will be set of replacement hydraulic lifters – a couple of them just won’t quieten
resulting in a bit of top end rattling when idling.

The head had never been touched before. In fact, the only mechanical procedures previously done amount to routine servicing and a timing belt replacement a few years back – nothing more. All it needs now is the front pipe changing and a very thorough valet, there’s not even a spot of rust to be found and everything works with the exception of fan speed number one…

I’ll bet that’s just a duff resistor. If anyone has a suitable remote facia radio cassette player going cheap and possibly a CD changer too then I would love to hear from you. At the moment it’s fitted with a hideous Sony X-plod head unit which is both impossible to operate and downright out of place in a Rover cabin.

Straight after the head job it’s been pushed into squadron service though the missus isn’t impressed with the slipping fan belt (needs changing anyway) and its rowdy exhaust. Fag packet mpg seems to be around the mid- to high-30s but this will improve once the engine responds to some fuel treatment, some new plugs and gentle coaxing back to full health – God knows how long the gasket had been blown but I do know the car sat idle in the last owner’s back garden for quite a few months. The cooling system might possibly need one more through flush out, too – but, for a car that currently stands me at an exact £143.56 including parts bought so far, I’d be bonkers to complain, eh?

Engine bay has been acid cleaned and the engine now looks half presentable. Cam cover has been left off as the tappet swap means the cams have to come out, the pulley seals changed and cam carrier removed and re-sealed. And I couldn't be bothered to refit it as the sunlight was fading.
Engine bay has been acid cleaned and the engine now looks half presentable. The upper
timing cover has been left off as the tappet swap means the cams have to come out, the
pulley seals changed and cam carrier removed and re-sealed. And I couldn’t be bothered to
refit it as the sunlight was fading.

After the deal was done and hands were shook, I asked what would they have done if the car hadn’t sold. The answer was a frank one – the car would have probably been taken to the breakers the following week. So that’s another one saved and I’m quietly proud of that.

More updates coming soon!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

11 Comments

  1. Maybe we should call you “The Goal-Keeper” with all these saves. But you certainly done well for the money.

  2. I’m pleased to see an HHR project car at last. The L series diesel-powered 45 I bought last year is still going strong with no problems to report. It’ll be good to see the much maligned HHR getting some (hopefully positive!) exposure for a change. I look forward to reading the updates.

  3. Great work Mike – gumtree throws up some great bargains now and again!

    A few weeks ago there was a mid 70’s Daihatsu Charade XTE going for £500 odd if memory serves…

    I am now pursuing a one lady owner from new Rover 200vi five door on an S – immaculate order with a new MOT. The owner is in her 70’s and keeps complaining that it is ‘far too fast for her’ but keeps refusing to sell. I won’t give up that easy and am in stealth mode, calling her up for a chat every few months to see if she is ‘cracking’.

    And I recently chanced on an L reg five door metro in a farmyard five minutes from home and will be asking my trusty spannerman trevor (ex balmforths of ormskirk and a good egg all round) to give it the once over.

    It’s opposite another farm business the car park of which is stuffed full of 80’d and 90’s classics in the waiting and a warehouse full of ex army machinery.

    Anyone logged onto the brilliant US car site curbside classic, by the way?

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/

  4. As with most cars of their age HH-Rs are fast disappearing with only a few cared for examples likely to make it into old age. But hasn’t this always been the case?

    The car was one of the products of an exciting but confused time in Rover Group and while it has its handicaps you can’t fault the ride comfort. Unfortunately that was never going to be enough to continue to sell in the volume required, especially with the Mondeo in the market.

    I’ve not added the numbers up but I think the combined volumes of HH-R and R3 were close to those of the R8 it replaced, which doesn’t make great business sense. Lucky then that the R3 was developed for roughly sixpence but didn’t show it. Much.

  5. I had a 414Si in Tahiti blue from 2001 to 2004 and liked it very much. It gave me very little trouble. Replaced exhaust, timing belt and battery at one stage but otherwise just routine servicing.

    However, like Mike’s HHR, it did need the Fan resistor replacing at about 50K miles. Mike’s new car looks too good to be scrapped… good luck

  6. Mike, you might find the mpg comes up when you fix that downpipe. My Colt downpipe sheared off just below the manifold, I only drove a mile and a half like that but the next full tank was well down on mpg.

  7. Not bad cars these, I did have a 400 saloon that was a run out Is model with the 2.0 T series, Half leather, burgundy carpets,air con but manual mirrors.
    Lets hope the new owner of our Gsi will keep fettling it, I’m sure it will live on for years to come in the right hands.

    As for project HH-R I look forward to driving the resurrected machine.

  8. An interesting story that really doesn’t need all the unnecessary Arfur Dailey cringe slang!

    ‘er indoors…
    sling her behind the wheel…
    hot to trot…
    a small dipper…
    Bobby basic…
    and the most cringe-worthy : pushed into squadron service.

    Still, well done on a £143 bargain. An oil change for a Ford Fiesta at a Main Dealer costs more than that!

  9. I’m fascinated by the dishwasher tablets ! Do they really work without eating anything they shouldn’t do ? ( I’ve always used citric acid for that sort of job )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*