Project 75 : Joining the club

Words and pictures: Mike Humble

After selling on for a small profit, the SAAB has gone to live in deepest Kent – So not being a person to think for too long, a surprise replacement now resides at Swiss Towers.

It seemed okay in the dark and rain – It also seemed ok in the early morning Sussex sunshine – Phew!

Well, the SAAB has moved on to pastures new and yes, I do kind of miss it with its mix of oddness and smooth Swedish efficiency and thumping torque curve. I’m sure Rebecca and Mark will enjoy the car and they are no doubt pleased at grabbing a bargain, considering a lot of man hours were spent on the car – I managed to make a slim profit.

The other half was not impressed at first of my idea of selling it, but after seven years of  seeing me chop, change and finesse – she’s more than used to my spare time antics. Then came the thorny matter of what to try next and the all the usual suspects were evaluated and considered, Alfa 156, Saab 9000 and even a ’99 (T) Rover 825D were considered purchases.

I almost came within a cats whisker of yet another early G plate Rover R8 GSi, but it was a Honda powered car and the only R8s that do it for me are the single point injected 16v K-Series. As good performers the Honda 1.6 D series may be, the earliest of K-Series examples were in fact pretty good and robust, and still shine as an example of when Rover hit its “Cool Britania” period.

Some trader contacts had very few cars to raise an eyebrow, though I was put onto a chap with a 114GTa but upon viewing it, it quickly became obvious we were counties apart in what we thought was a fair price for an ultra low mileage yet scratty example. Both myself, Keith Adams and fellow Rover freak Steven Ward simply adore the Rover Metro and 100 series, but after driving one for a short while it’s shortcomings changed my mind regardless of price and I’m a bit old and creaky for wind up front windows and falling out of the car thanks to the three fathoms deep inner door sill.

I even considered a Ford Sierra GLX 1.8 in Tasman blue, a car I owned some years back and one I still consider to be an effortless mile eater but nope, I just couldn’t do it, besides, it’s getting way to cold to be replacing bone hard valve stem seals or hammering home lower arm compliance bushes. Another trader got in touch with the chance of a Cat D but you would never know it 45 Impression S diesel for shirt buttons, but I remained emotionless at the thought of another HH-R or 45.

But sitting there at my office desk with a brew during lunch, I stumbled upon a car on a leading internet auction site and it seemed to whisper my name every time I clicked on a photo. Sitting there on its driveway resplendent in it’s shade of Moonstone or as a work mate once described as senility green, was a 2002 Rover 75 1.8 Club SE with very low mileage complete with a useful chunk of test & rent. I can hear the cries of NO NO NO, but hold on there dear reader, this car looked okay, showed HPI clear (perk of my job) and was cheap – and yes, I do mean cheap and complete with 80% service history.

Now the 75 is a car I know well having sold, worked on and driven many since 1999, but also, a car I have never owned or bonded with but has been on the list many many times. The swooping shape, splashes of chrome and eyebrow frown frontal view has always been liked by myself and the lovely seats with those dials which illuminate at night like the glowing embers of a log fire seem to hark back to the days when everything was ok with the world.

But they can hardly be called exiting cars, certainly the V8 75 or ZT could certainly blow the froth off a Horlicks, but the 75 on the whole is a nicely crafted, retro styled comfy old Hector – but both myself and the 75 are built for comfort and certainly not for speed. Four hours later, the car was mine and off to the seaside town of Peacehaven we dashed to collect my prize.

I certainly bought in all the right circumstances (sarc) as it was dark, wet and blowing a gale. A quick crawl around with a high powered torch, MOT history check on the lap top and whiz round the block saw me part with my bunce. The journey home – in true Rover style was not without incident, the nearside dip beam failed after stopping for a cheeky McDonald’s.

Anyone who has owned a 75 or ZT will be in total admiration of Rover engineers over the method required of changing a bulb – NOT! To bring matters up to speed, the engine seems fine, everything works (even the dual zone climate) and it drives like a car three times it’s price. Before the inevitable happens, I shall fit a Victor Reinz head gasket and flush out the fluids soon along with one or two minor titbits and tomorrow I’ll be taking it up to Brent Cross via the M25 on a proving run!

They say that cars reflect their owners, that being the case then, the Rover 75 1.8 is a tad portly, well made, no good at going up steep hills and has an alarming habit of blowing a gasket without warning – (rubs chin, ponders and gazes skyward) seems like I have my ideal spiritual car then!

Right… where’s that ruddy RAC card gone?

The 1.8 K series – It will be uprated soon – prevention being better than the cure as they say.


Mike Humble


  1. Nice car, would never think it was 9 yrs old. Always enjoy reading your articles Mike, look forward to next update.

  2. Very envious, Mike. I might be looking for a 75 next year, but I’m thinking diesel might be a more reliable option. Your car looks great.

  3. To be honest Mike the K is probably one of the better bets in the 75, and the only one I’d consider owning along with the diesel lump. OK it may or may not suffer with HGF, but the joy of the 4 cylinder Ks is it’s not hard to work on and sort, and easily done in a day providing it’s not got so bad it’s warped the head.

    The KV6 is blighted by that inlet manifold, with rattly valves and duff VIS motors, and at £500 to buy new, can be as costly as buying a complete other 75. Then of course there’s timing belt replacement which can also cost twice as much as buying another.

    My main concern with any 75/ZT would be the manual with the chocolate clutch, I would have to be severely under the influence to buy another manual one, an auto would be the choice for me.

    Whilst a 1.8 auto may struggle to move at times, it would be higher on my list than say a ZT190 or a 2.5 Conny SE, the only one that would be higher would be the diesel auto.

    Good luck!

  4. Nice car – but then I’m biased. I’ve run a 2001 1.8 75 for the last 6 years and yes, it did suffer HGF early on but has gone on to provide 47,000 miles of reliable, comfy motoring.

    In fact, I’ve just bought a ZT-T 120 to keep it company – this will be my 7th K Series engined car.

  5. I’ve also run 3 K engined cars R400, R45 and MG ZS – luckily never had any HGF issues, only a leaking water pump on the 45. I agree about the difficulty in replacing headlight bulbs though (took about 1 min to get the blown one out , then 20 minutes to fit the new one!) Fortunately I never blew a headlamp bulb on the ZS…

    Anyway good luck with the new acquisition Mike, I’m sure it will respond well to your expert attention.

  6. I may be joining you on this one Mike, I want sell my Disco and replace it with either a 75/ZT, 156 or a X type, so I shall look forward to seeing your future posts on the car.

  7. “I agree about the difficulty in replacing headlight bulbs though (took about 1 min to get the blown one out , then 20 minutes to fit the new one!) Fortunately I never blew a headlamp bulb on the ZS…”

    It’s just a thing on modern cars though, there are some now that actually require the removal of body panels! Although to be fair decent Headlamp bulbs do last a long time, in my mini the last ones lasted about 5 years before one needed a replacement. So long as you buy decent ones it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

  8. Quite right Dennis… of course this is the time of year when they tend to blow. Come to think of it, I didn’t need to change any on my last “Focus”. Fingers crossed for my current car.

  9. Looks alright does that, but I have to say, I did prefer the SAAB!

    What does “Club” signify? I never did get the hang of Rover model designations at that time.

  10. Looks tidy. I really loved my 02 1.8 tourer that I ran for 46,000 miles from new.
    Run a 04 CDTi now and I had a headlamp bulb go recently…I had it changed when I had the car serviced last week, I knew from past experience it is a pain to do. Trust me many modern cars are much worse for this!

    Hope it goes well for you!

  11. Had a 1.8 75 for coming up to seven years this March and other than the HG being done at the same time as the year big service, the car has cost pennies to run in maintanence. A cracking car all round.

  12. Hi

    I hope you enjoy your new purchase. I never thought I would sit in let alone own and drive a 75 but nearly two years ago, I sold my 45 and upgraded to a diesel 75 estate. Its a lovely car, and touch wood (just hitting my forehead!!) it has been on the whole reliable (if you forget about the clutch slave cylinder dying!!) I had to laugh about your bulb experience, mine has a habit of being good with bulbs and then will have a short period (esp in the winter months) of deciding to eat bulbs!

    It is a lovely thing to drive, though my 4 niggles with my car are the accessability of the getting to the light clusters (both front and rear), the fact the bonnet has lost it’s top coat of paint, the little rattles I get from the driver side dashboard beside the steering wheel and below the fuel gauge when driving slowly at around 1500 – 2000rpm,(press a finger to it and it stops, guess it is a losse fitting screw) oh and when in icy conditions (but only in the mornings), it doesn’t always want to lock properly!!

    Enjoy your car


  13. Me again!! Sorry also forgot to add to the list of niggles the blasted plenum chamber!! I regularly check and empty mine of water, no wonder their is water shortage, it all seems to end up in my plenum chamber!!


  14. “What does “Club” signify? I never did get the hang of Rover model designations at that time.”

    If i remember correctly it went Club, Classic, Connoisseur, the Connoisseur SE.

    Club was the base Model, Classic came with Cloth trim but a few electronic goodies, Connoisseur came with the electronics plus Leather, then the SE came with pretty much everything the only option being TV/Satnav.

  15. @Dennis, Classic, Classic SE, Club, Club SE (probably the best) Connoisseur, Connoisseur SE were the 75 model designations until Feb 2004.

    @Brian I don’t mind the petrol Freelander provided the powertrain was fit. Certainly, it comes across as a more refined application and benefits no end from having the PG1 ‘box bolted to the end of it.

    KIA Sedona KV6 anyone?

  16. **UPDATE**

    Following a blast up to NW4 and home via the North Circ / South Circ & A24, she never missed a beat.

    My fag packet fuel calculator works out at around 38mpg of which I’m pleased about. No oil or water consumed either, yes it’s lacking in zing compared to my SAAB, but it’s £75 cheaper a year to tax, £8.45 month cheaper to insure, is vastly better on the fuel and just as strong (if not stronger) in the body strength.

    Another MAJOR plus too, is the engine being a good block to work on, nothing presents a problem to me tech wise. Unless you are doing a routine service on a 9-3, the B205 engine is a bloody nightmare to work on AND equally as likeley to detonate owing to the breather / oil starvation problems so common to the marque.

    Both SAAB and Rover are my chosen make of smoker, for me, a 9000 CSE Turbo would tick every box for me everytime. But I bought the 75 simply to tick the been there done that box, and I simply adore it’s styling, it’s walnut and above all `er idoors likes it!

    Not everyones cup of tea I grant you, but for me, for the time being at least – I like it!

  17. To start off I like the 75 a good car. Faults could be roomer and its a bit soft on B roads (Dunno if a the MG ZT any better)
    However my two good friends who own their own car repair garages will not touch ANY K series with HGF 1 says more than his garages reputaion is worth. The other says just too much hassle.
    My 75CDTI (50K FSH) I sold to a friend who is now an ex friend, due to the fact that within 1 month the CRD system played up 1st injectors then fuel pump failure. Then Clutch & DMF Failure.
    It was ok when i owned it.
    Allthough some interiour trim was very problamatic

  18. @Mr Ward

    Hey now watch it bonny lad or I’ll tell the world you used to hawk Kirby cleaners around Pelaw from the boot of a doom blue Nubira!

    P.S > besides a 1.7 Renault 21, I cannot think of anything more DISMAL than a 1.4 K series FSO Caro (except that red Chrysler Neon you often go cottaging in around Sacriston)

  19. “besides a 1.7 Renault 21, I cannot think of anything more DISMAL than a 1.4 K series FSO Caro”

    1.3 Pinto Engined, Ford Sierra.

  20. @Kev.
    “Leave the bloody head gasket alone! It doesn’t need doing. If it ain’t broke…”

    …it soon will be!

  21. Depends on how well it’s looked after really Steve, the majority don’t bother opening the bonnet, let alone checking fluid levels, so the first they know of a problem is when it sits there steaming after its boiled up.

    I still say that HGF is wrongly diagnosed when it’s the inlet manifold leaking. Coolant straight into number 4 cylinder, steam and water out the exhaust, lumpy running and loosing coolant, classic symptoms of HGF, and with the Ks reputation it’s automatically diagnosed rather than actually checking. Of course, if left and ignored it will overheat as the coolant disappears and blows the head gasket.

    The latter gaskets with the bonded on sealer are a lot better as are the MLS ones, but I’m with Kev, if it aint broke don’t fix it, I’d worry about it if it should happen.

  22. Do the later K series have a small coolant capacity (3.5 litres or something?) like the early ones? I always thought that this would make the HGF more likely as the engine would loose a higher proportion of coolant when compared to a normal engine.

  23. The 75 is a beautiful car…but my ownership experience was utterly spoilt by the terribly unreliable clutch hydraulics. The prospect of the gearbox coming off for a second time in under two years just didn’t bear thinking about and I got shut whilst I could. I’d only consider another diesel version – an automatic next time though! – but if I was in the market for a K Series powered version, then I’d be more worried about the clutch than the head gasket. With the head gasket the home mechanic at least stands a fighting chance of doing the job at home!

  24. I am just about to change my 75 1.8 Connie SE tourer but its a fantastic car – well made, comfortable and special.

    I hope yours is as pleasureable as mine.

    @Mike and Mr Ward. The thought of A Neon in Sacriston that fills me with dread even though Sacriston has improved (well it was the only way it could go!)and looks quite well cared for and positive these days – a far cry from the mid 90s when I did some work there.

  25. the golden rules i have stuck by re:HGF is always use the much improved gasket set(MLS) and headsaver shim,also there is a “u” shaped notch on the combustion chamber to show how much “meat” is left on the head,never use uprated head bolts-not required the oe spec ones are fine,remove ballvalve from inlet manifold – prone to sticking and therfore thermal shock condition,replace water pump and stat and bleed cooling system without running engine.of course there is always the little end knock /piston slap noise but thats down to powertrain using cheaper spec piston/liners instead of the original AE spec ones.A good engine otherwise.

  26. Having owned a 75 1.8 Club SE for the last 15 months I can only approve of your choice!! Mine is February 2004, one of the last pre-facelift models, now with 67K on the clock.

    I suffered head gasket failure early on but other than this the car has been perfectly reliable. I have seen it sail through an MOT without a penny to spend above the test fee. The car was seviced Thursday last week and the only thing changed beyond oil, plugs etc was the track rod ends. (The garage did, however, mis-place my keys which caused ten minutes of alarm!!)

    I have thoroughly enjoyed and admired my 75 and all for the price of an average, mundane vehicle of some kind! Nothing will ever come close, certainly not on my current budget…

  27. Congratulations on your new toy. I have owned 75s for nearly 7 years and have to say they are the best cars I have owned. I currently have a diesel tourer and a KV6 saloon. Aside from a clutch in the diesel this year at 89k, they have both been very reliable buses. I have had to replace a manifold VIS valve and cam sensor and a couple of springs on the “K”, but apart from that, it’s just been servicing bits.

    I have to say that problems with head lamp bulb replacement on these cars is a bit overstated. I replaced a N/S dipped bulb in my saloon recently, and approached it with a bit of trepedation, based on all the published comments. I was done in a couple of minutes. Yes, access is tight, but at least you don’t have to take the bumper off, as on many cars. Maybe I just have small hands!

    The KV6 is my current car of choice and as I only use it fairly locally, I can put up with the highish fuel costs. For the £2k I paid for it, I have a (now) 10 year old car that still looks and drives superbly.

  28. @AndrewP; Some say Sacriston is the Chealsea of the North. When are you selling your Tourer? I’ve got a need for an estate as soon as I sell my current ‘smoker’.

  29. @ Steve bailey.

    Coolant capacity is quite small but it’s actually 6.2 litres.

    I’m with Rob C. In my experience inlet manifold gasket failure is much more common than HGF – although if unrepaired can lead to it. Unscrupulous / unknowing garages often call IMG failure HGF for whatever reason.

    Like any car, if it has a problem and you ignore it it will end up biting you back.

    Mike’s MPG of 38 is spot-on, that’s what I get from my 1.8 Saloon as an average. My ZT-T 120 returned 42mpg on a run back from the borders recently. So 500+ miles from a tank.

  30. Rob C,
    I own a ZT 190 with 52000 from new,(me)and you’ve just got me a bit worried! Should I change the HG as a preventive measure and belts? It’s also just started sounding a bit rattly when I rev it!? Oh and what’s a chocolate clutch when it’s at home? I know this isn’t a car doctor forum but I’ve come over a little queer as they used to say!

  31. Honda D series engines have also been known for head gaskets going.

    See a few 75s about, they have aged well and look Jaguaresque.

    A shame we will probably never see their like again (unless TATA gets the finger out).

  32. @ Charles

    The belts on those are good for 90000 miles unless its more than say 8 years old.

    Chocolate clutch refers to the fact they wear quick if driven badly or abused, but so do other cars too. Removing the box on a 75 though is not a job for the faint hearted if you catch my drift?

  33. Great cars, but as you say, changing bulbs! AAaarrgghh! why so difficult and why so often?

    My mistake was buying my ZT-T CDTi as a manual and having to change (to a 75 Contemporary SE -best trim of the lot) as i needed an auto as the clutch was so heavy.

  34. Maybe I ought to clarify: the bulbs are tollerable to do on the 75 in daylight.

    I was complaining because I went to change one in the cold and dark. That damn air intake pipe gets in the way too!

  35. @ mike bushell – wasn’t the R75 Contemporary trim the one with black ash dashboard? I have a 2004 Rover brochure with it illustrated.

  36. Mike, you can unclip the shannon tube for better access, changing the bulbs on a 75 is no worse than most modern cars and a lot easier than some.

    Have you checked your plenum drains yet?

  37. Recently changed a dipped beam bulb on my 75 for the first time. Upon reading the handbook I thought ” that looks a bit awkward”. However, in the end I managed to change the bulb in about ten minutes on my lunch break. Turned the wheel to gain access, visualised what I needed to do, and then changed the bulb quite easily without actually seeing what my hand was doing.

  38. Charles, as Mike says belt isn’t due till 90,000 or 6 years. It’s not a cheap job as it’s a fairly involved job, I’ve never used him but Lates600 is highly regarded in certain circles for the job, and looking at the link below not too expensive

    The KV6 isn’t that prone to HGF so I’d not worry about that too much either, however they are prone to the stat housing cracking which causes coolant loss and eventual overheating. You will know when the manifold is really bad, it sounds like this

    and while you may loose some top end grunt it will generally run ok even if it sounds like someone has tipped a bag of nails into your engine.

    The problem with the clutch is they use plastic for the internal slave cylinder, which is as much use for the job as a bar of Dairy Milk. It comes in 2 parts with a seal in the middle, and is held together by clips, over time the plastic gets brittle, the clips snap, the seal doesn’t seal, and the small amount of hydraulic fluid in the system soon drains out when you depress the pedal. The master cylinder is fitted with a large rubber insert which leaves about a thimble full of fluid in it so once it empties you’re left with no clutch. Sometimes removing the insert and bleeding the system will reinstate the clutch for a while until the fluid is used up again. As this is mounted in the gearbox it means removing the box for access, which in turns means stripping down a fair chuck of suspension to get the box out. As this costs a fair bit at a garage, most owners bite the bullet and replace the clutch itself, and some put a new DMF (dual mass flywheel) in at the same time to try and reduce the need to remove the box again.

    This is the slave

    The friendly bunch over here should be able to help with recommendations for someone local to do any work.

  39. Why am I talking at length about bulb changing? It is trivial and rather missing the point – The 75 is a bloody great car and a fantastic used buy (if you are prepared for HGF). You get a truely special, timeless car for the price of a dull, average machine. When I bought mine I knew funds would be limited in the relatively near future for further car changing. I wanted something which I would still regard as special in years to come and, with the 75, that’s exactly what I got –
    It is an extremely relaxed, comfortable drive. The interior is a special place to be and I still, to this day, glance back whenever I park the car – Richard Woolley, you were right!

    I sometimes feel the need to explain “no, it wasn’t expensive; it probably cost less than your Mundano, sorry, Mondeo.

  40. Unless you had a VERY early KV6 in an 800 HGF is not a big problem. KV6 in a 75 is a very different animal to the one that 800 owners did the R&D on.

    Biggest issues – thermostat housing leaks – sometimes mis-diagnosed as HGF and those VIS motors. Oh, and the huge cost of a belt change at 8 years.

  41. early kKV6 freelanders seemed to suffer from porous heads,i seen one blowing water into the inlet ports when heads were being presure tested-looked alarming!its a good days work the KV6’s belts as well with all the mountings/castings to remove and the rear belts have a special installation tool or cable tie two 17mm ring spanners together when aligned!

  42. Lord Sward – I know the Mondeo is a good car really. Apart from the early ones it wasn’t, isn’t even that dull to look at. I was just trying to make a point about the Rover 75 and more average cars. The Mundano, sorry Mondeo, gag just seemed amusing late last night!!

  43. ” I know the Mondeo is a good car really. ”

    Apart from the ezy crack bumpers, the rusting rear wheel arches, road noise and the loose interior trim. I don’t think i ever saw a first gen one that didn’t have a loose/broken front centre arm rest.

    Mechanically they were reliable, just a shame about the rest of it.

  44. The 1.8 K series is a pig in a poke. Talk to my mechanic who has his workshop littered with dead ones due to HGF. The Honda 1.8 in the Rover 618 was a jewel by comparison – utterly, unerringly reliable and jewel-like smooth and sweet. The K was a nasty and flawed.

    The KV6 has inlet manifold issues but often it’s just the two VIS motors at £140 all in. Clutches last 70K – not great but not bad. The belts are expensive at £500, but you can easily spend then rebuilding your K4. Overall though it’s far smoother, sweeter and more reliable – I’ve had 6 Rover 75s and I’d never have a K4 again!

    Incidentally, I went from a 35k mile Rover 618 to a similar miles 75 1.8 and found the 618 far, far, nicer and more fun to drive. The 2.5 isn’t as much fun as the 618 (or 623), but has a grace and character of its own that’s charming, as is the 2.0 KV6.

  45. David no:55

    It kind of goes without saying that most of us are all to well aware of the engines shortcomings, but HGF aside, they are still a superb engine. The 618 & 620 are fine machines, but when they do go wrong, they are expensive and somewhat harder to fix.

    Many of us on here are either ex Rover technicials, sales or both, so we know we take those risks with these engines, and often as not accept the shortcomings while also being able to deal with them accordingly.

    The trend of people knocking these engines (or in fact MG Rover in general) is just one of those things. Rival power units in some cases or no better, ask any Vauxhall or Fiat mechanic about engine munching or HGF with Punto’s or Ecotec engines. In my mobile mechanic days, I recall doing three 1.2 Punto heads in two months – but just like the K, easy and straightforward to do.

    VIS Motors on KV6 – fair enough, but what about the horror stories of GM 2.5 & 3.0 V6 engines. Knocking Rover stuff is common, but other makers kit often fails too – with alarming consequences. I sold Vauxhall for a while, and we used to keep the workshop doors closed at all times so customers couldnt see Vectra 1.9 or Astra 1.7 diesels being stripped down inside the warranty period!

    Use the right parts and include the correct and proven mods when rebuilding, and the K series is a cracking engine that will go on to give high mileages.

    Attention to detail and workmanship is CRITICAL when working on them. Skimp on parts and you will pay for it. I still know of certain garages who continue to use the standard head gasket – why? – simple, because they know they stand a good chance of doing the job again next year. More so in today’s climate where people are reluctant to buy a new or newer car.

    Many garages still don’t understand the engine and I know of many occasions where budding DIY owners blow the engine over simple matters like not knowing the correct procedures regarding flushing the coolant through before winter.

    I agree, they are a flawed engine, but nothing that can’t be cured either and often no worse than some other makers power units.

  46. Hi Mike,

    All fair points well made, but it does sound you’re excusing mediocrity.

    My dislike of the K4 comes from running a 1.8 MGF (mint, low miles) at the same time as a 1.8 Honda engined 618 (ditto).

    Frankly the Honda engine was head and shoulders above it – sweeter, smoother, nicer when revved, just as economical and gave the impression of being bulletproof. I was always looking at my temp gauge on the MGF and listening out for funny noises, looking out for smoke/steam.

    How is it that Honda can make an engine that is so much nicer to thrash within an inch of its life, yet is utterly flawless from a reliability point of view, and smoother, and sounds betterr? The K4 by comparison was thrashy and fussy, and didn’t make to its gearbox anywhere as seamlessly as the Honda.

    I think the Rover-Hondas were a high point of the Rover story, the K was a step backwards. Only the tiny 1.1 K-series is in my view worth having, as it mates so sweetly into the Rover 100/Metro.

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