Our Cars : Project HHR is now tested and on the road!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Project HHR 414 lives to die another day as she sweeps through her MoT. It was also nice to see the bug of saving tired old Rovers and MGs is spreading throughout the Sussex South Downs…

Moments before the journey to the testing station. The Project HHR was washed, hoovered and ready for inspection.
Moments before the journey to the testing station… The Project HHR was washed, vacuumed
and ready for inspection then, typically, it decided to rain – pah!

Well, the Project HHR 414 lives to die another day. The car just seems to refuse to give in despite coming so close to its fate during its last owner’s reign. The uprated MLS-type headgasket has once again proved its worth and the life-expired front pipe, which made the car sound like something from Santa Pod Raceway, has been replaced by an absolute bargain sourced from a contact in the trade for just £25 including the two gaskets. With barely more than a token pre-test kick the lights and flash the tyres routine, a ‘phone call was made to book the old girl in for MoT.

My tester of repute is a good 20-mile journey south so there was a good opportunity to get that front pipe and catalytic converter glowing red hot. Arriving a bit late for my early morning test there was no mincing around as the car went straight into the bay and an emissions reader pipe was rather unglamorously rammed up the tailpipe. However, there was nothing to worry about, the data was spot on and well within test limits – my man Craig mutters that he was impressed at the figures for a car nudging seventeen years old.


A mate in the trade sent me this new downpipe with gaskets for less than the cost of a take-
away meal for two. No longer does the car sound like a Rolls Royce Merlin on start up.
Is it just me or does a new exhaust component initially smell fantastic when it warms up?

Even more impressive was the fact that, just a couple of weeks earlier, the engine was clogged up with emulsified oil and coolant not to mention a breather system in a very poor state of affairs. After the data was logged and the emissions were recorded, the proper test got underway – but not before the kettle was checked for function and form as some tea was brewed. All human parts lubricated, the car was drawn a few yards forward onto the brake rollers. I was not expecting any dramas here, the brakes on this one are very good for a basic disc/drum set-up.

With eagle eyes, I watched the dials fluctuate as all four corners were anchored up together and individually – no problems there, but nor was I expecting that as mentioned before. Onto the test ramp next for the usual poke, prod, rock of the steering and check for corrosion. Once again, everything was okay, I’d had a chance for a glance during the exhaust job and didn’t spot anything to worry about – in fact, I hadn’t felt so quietly confident during an MoT test for a long time. Even nicer, too, when you consider the car still stands me at less than £200, including parts.


Total expenditure so far is still under £200… just. It’s looking like one the best buys I’ve
made in a while

And the verdict? Straight through… she’s passed. Even though I am ashamed to say the prior inspection was nothing more than a token peer underneath and the obligatory kick of the tyres, the car battles on for a while longer, probably unaware how close it was to becoming recycled into a baked bean tin or the name on the world’s finest blade. Craig Holt runs one of those nice garages that sits in the corner of a little industrial estate located a few miles from nowhere of significance – Burgess Hill, actually.

Last time I ventured that way, he was cooing like a contented pigeon over his recently-purchased MG ZT 180. My latest visit there showed that he hasn’t learned, as he now pilots a ZT 260, which he is totally in love with. Indeed, just to make matters worse, daughter Rachael, who assists with the business and has recently passed her test, is now nipping around the South Downs in a Trophy Yellow ZR 105, which was bagged for the sweet sum of £85. A driveline swap from a redundant Rover 25 saw Chris and Rachael have a fully-operational and half-decent ZR back on the road for just a weekend’s work.


Craig Holt and daughter Rachael with their his ‘n hers Z car combo: a ZT 260 and ZR 105

That made me think that saving old, broken Rovers may not be the quickest or most lucrative way to fund your early retirement, but it isn’t half satisfying when a little bit of graft and loose change money can earn you a decent and reliable daily car. Anyway, to the present, I’m pleased to report that all is good with the HHR 414 so far. She’s using no oil and no water, but I am planning to fit a new set of lifters very soon – I just cannot seem to silence a couple of noisy tappets. Not to worry, it gives me chance to re-seal the cam carrier and change all four cam seals just in time for mid-November.

And what’s the significance of November, prey tell? Well, it’s the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show at the dear old NEC, of course. The chaps from the Rover 200/400 Owners Club have asked if they can borrow the old girl for the duration of the show. It did make me wonder whether this car has any inkling of just how fortunate and lucky it is.

Old Austin Rover adverts used to tell us how Minis had feelings, too… I wonder if that applied to the newer models as well?

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

13 Comments

  1. Shhhhush! Some of us have been doing this “resurrect a Rover for little outlay” for some time now. No names no pack drill.

    Why shuuuush?…because such opportunities become fewer with each passing day when folks throw away many nice low mileage cars showing 35,000 miles on the MoT when suffering from simple head gasket damage… When this car arraived it was in near showroom cosmetic comndition. It’s crime, damaged cylinder head gasket. Here’s what it soon looked like after parts Vultures including myself had visited :~

    Here is a picture of my MG ZT-T ~ my latest project obtained back in July rejected by both the trade ( p/x taken in by local dealer ) and the previous owner with suspect cylinder head gasket damage. Nothing wrong with gasket. Overheating due to worn coolant hoses. Used for the first time to deliver my son’s latest Rover project to his new home which he shares with his partner’s relatives over thirty miles away. That extra load over thirty plus miles was a good test of any cylinder head gasket suspicions.

    ?>?? How to load tinypic images???

  2. Well done Mike – it sickens me to see perfectly good cars being sent to the scrapheap prematurely – whatever make/model they are (OK there are a few exceptions to this rule…), but there is a satisfaction to seeing something that was destined for a grizzly death in the baling press being rescued. Hopefully now that this car is safely owned within the BMC>Rover community it has a long and bright future ahead of it.

    • “it sickens me to see perfectly good cars being sent to the scrapheap prematurely”

      When it comes to scrapping cars, what age do you consider premature? How long do you think cars should last these days?

      Mike’s car has only done 67000 miles but it is still almost 17 years old. I’d consider that a good age for a mainstream family hatchback. IIRC, the average age of cars being scrapped in the UK is around 14yrs.

      • I think it was pointed out recently on the Honest John website that the average age of scrapping of certain German models is actually going down since they are so complicated/expensive to repair when known problems arise!

        It’s a bit depressing when you search for MGR products on sites such as motors.co.uk and how few results you now get compared to other brands. Still some bargains out there though, eg a dealer near here has a 52 reg one owner V6 45 auto Connoisseur with 18K miles and good MOT history for £1.5K.

      • By “perfectly good” – I mean something that is servicable. My crib is that people scrap cars these days because they simply cannot be bothered repairing them, and symptomatic of the throwaway society in which we live these days.

        I’ve heard of people scrapping cars just because they need a new clutch, or one friend of a friend’s story (and I’m not lying here) – the heater stopped working and because it was too much hassle to haul the dash out to rectify the fault, they junked a car that was otherwise mechanically and bodily sound.

        This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m not saying we should rescue everything with a stuffed engine or every rusty wreck merits a concours-restoration, but it goes against the grain in a time when we are being told to conserve more and use less.

  3. Our Robocolt (Mitsubishi Colt 1300 3-door) could conceivably have been scrapped at 13, as we were the only people interested in buying it @ £380. Three years, two minor accidents, 58000 miles, and a major tyre kicker later, we sold it for £120 to a nice young chap who hopes to take it up to 200,000 miles. (from 175k) This deal beat the scrap value of £50. Hope he can keep it running.

    On the other hand, there are some major optimists out there. Yesterday, we looked at a dirty, disheveled, and almost unstoppable 51 reg Polo, which the trader wanted £1500 for. We walked away and bought a healthier 03 for £500 less.

    “I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe”

  4. Mike’s HHR looks great as do all his project cars. It brings back good memories of my own Tahiti blue 414Si. The two MG’s pictured still look good as well – and as good as many newer competitors.

  5. That £85 deal on the ZR reminds me of my flatmate buying an NSU 1000 for the princely sum of £95 back in 1978. It made a noise like an enraged vacuum cleaner, and ran out of fuel on the test drive; whereupon a tramp helped us push it, and got it stuck over a kerb! Happy days…

    PS there is an ARO angle to this story. Reason Nick needed a very cheap car was that he had just written off a very presentable dark blue Morris 1300 Traveller.

  6. At the other end of the scale: I bought an MGB GT for £1, not such a bargain in the end, as that now owes me £12K, but wow, its a ‘best in show winner’ and soooo great to drive. Keep rescuing those newer old un’s, it keeps the MGR brand alive as it should be for the future.

  7. I’m now running this particular rover and I have to say that in the brief period of ownership so far I love it, it seems to literally sip fuel, seems a lot more spritely than my other, newer 1.4 engined car and as well as the best ride quality I’ve ever experienced, it also seems to have one of the slickest gearboxes I’ve ever used and at a road/motorway speeds is surprisingly refined (more than I probably expected) and it looks bloody tidy for its age, and it’s even gained a couple of fans from people who’ve never owned or driven a rover, saying what a nice car it is to be carried in. Win win

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