Our Cars : Project Tomcat

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Part One

It started with an email from one of our readers – he wanted to find a new home for his Tomcat Turbo and couldn’t face selling it to the boy racer brigade. Could AROnline come to the rescue?

Could we indeed…

Keith Adams tells the story of his latest project acquisition and hopes this one can be nursed back health and put back into daily use. There are one or two issues, but aren’t there always?


A turbocharged rescue plan

You don't see many of these to the pound...
You don’t see many of these to the pound…

KARMA is a wonderful thing, don’t you think? I’m not entirely sure that I understand the full set of Buddhist principles behind it, but effectively it comes down to this – treat people well, be good, and life will look after you. The reason I mention it is that I’ve been trying to conduct my life sticking to these simple ideals, and since I have, my life does seem to have taken something of an upward curve. Take my latest purchase, a very nice Rover 220 Coupe Turbo – it came to me through the website after its owner, Kevin Harris, had decided that with a Nissan 350Z in his garage, it really was time to move on.

Rather than decide to sell it locally, Kevin’s uncle, Andrew Mumford, got in touch with me, asking for advice – to which, I simply made him an offer.

Of course, there were some complications – not least that the car was located in Erskine, south of Glasgow, about 350 miles from AR Towers – but to me, that just adds to the appeal. I mean, where’s the fun in picking up a new car from around the corner? Half of the fun’s in the adventure. So, after an exchange of emails – and a nasty bout of ‘flu here – I found myself on a cold and blowy Saturday morning, with my old mate Andrew Elphick, hitching the EVO magazine twin-axle Brian James trailer to the back of my long-term test Subaru Outback in what seemed like the middle of the night, in preparation for a long journey North.

I’d seen a number of pictures of the Tomcat, and it all added up nicely. The car had been in the current owner’s hands for twelve years, and it had been garaged all of its life. Everything that needed doing during its life was done on time, and that all sounded good to me. Okay, so my other Tomcat project had issues, despite sounding too good to be true (it will be fixed, though), and perhaps I should have known better, but I couldn’t resist having a punt on this one.

The main areas of concern, looking from the images that had been sent to me were the random patches of corrosion. Looking at where they are, and the fact that I’ve always found white paint easy to blow in, I’m not going to be too concerned about that – and other than that, the owner confirmed that there was little else to worry myself about.

The deal is done - now time to drive it in a southerly direction for 350 miles...
The deal is done – now time to drive it in a southerly direction for 350 miles…
...on a trailer, behind our Subaru Outback.
…on a trailer, behind our Subaru Outback.
The long drive home - we take a break at Forton services, near Lancaster, and admire the Tomcat...
The long drive home – we take a break at Forton services, near Lancaster, and admire the Tomcat…

After our five-hour trip north, we arrived in Erskine just in time for the weather to start turning for the worse. The wind was picking up, the rain increasing in its intensity, and an all-pervading greyness seemed to consume the day. Despite that, I found it difficult to contain my enthusiasm. As we rolled into our destination, and I clapped eyes on my new car for the first time, I knew that I’d not made some heinous mistake in deciding – yet again – to acquire a car without actually having seen it first.

As can be seen from the pictures of the Tomcat in situ, it was certainly bright – and the owner had taken his time to give the car a good clean in anticipation of our arrival. And when I say bright – I guess what I mean is, the car looked good. Especially now as it’s okay to admit that white cars look good again. Within minutes, I’d jumped into the car, started it up, and drove it onto the trailer.

We chewed the fat for a bit, exchanged documents (in a nice warm house while poor old Andrew – and Robert Leitch, who had joined us – struggled with the recalcitrant straps), took a few pictures, and headed south. Disappointingly, the weather, which had threatened to turn bad, delivered its promise and as we pounded down the M74, we took an absolute battering from the wind and the rain. The poor old Subaru did its best, and despite pulling very near its maximum payload, we managed to feel safe and secure. Sadly, it’s lack of relative grunt meant that steep hills meant dropping a couple of ratios (much to Andrew’s disgust), but other than that, we had little to complain about.

Within hours, we’d made it safely home – and during the journey, Andrew and I had managed to plan the next year’s worth of Octane magazine features, get AROnline into shape, and concoct a strategy to the shiny Tomcat sat behind us. Productive, it had been…

Interior is pretty much mint and dry, too - evidence that it's been garaged all of its life.
Interior is pretty much mint and dry, too – evidence that it’s been garaged all of its life.

It wasn’t until the following weekend that I’d actually found time to do anything with the Tomcat. I’d started it a few times during the preceding week, so I could shuffle cars on the drive, and it all seemed fine, but other than that I’d left well alone. So, spending some time on the Tomcat at the weekend proved relaxing, taxing, and demanding in equal measure – and ultimately, I think I’ve made the right decision to save it from that unknown fate.

First thing was to get the car easily mobile. Kevin had explained to me that the wheels weren’t air tight, and the tyres go down pretty quickly. He wasn’t joking – after being stood for five days, three were almost flat, with around 10psi, and the fourth wasn’t far behind. Temporarily swapping the wheels for a set of as-new RoverSport five-spokers with a matching set of Continentals seemed like the right thing to do – so I set about taking the old ones off (after pumping them up – otherwise the jack would struggle to fit under), only to damage the locking wheelnut key while attempting to get the over-tightened nuts off. Did I ever mention that I absolutely hate these infernal devices?

Luckily, I have what can only be described as a collection of 19mm sockets garnered over the years, and hammering one of the lower quality ones onto the errant locking wheelnuts eventually had them off. Anyone who’s had anything to do with Rover wheelnuts from the mid-1990s will be very familar with just how poor quality they are – so while the wheels were off, I took the opportunity to replace all of them with the higher quality replacements that came with the RoverSports.

I’d been expecting the car to be wet inside after standing outside for a week, but the carpets all seem dry, and the spare wheel well isn’t full of water either, so perhaps it’s okay. However, it’s steamed up inside, so some investigation may well still be required. Interestingly, the bag for the targa panels is still there, and those annoying air deflectors located on the cant rail are still nicely spring loaded (unlike my newer Tomcat), which suggests that the panels haven’t actually been off very often. That will change.

A quick check of the engine revealed that it’s slightly tappety from cold, but soon settles down to a quiet idle. There is an oil leak from the top left of the engine, but the headgasket looks to be in one piece; leaving the favourite culprit for the leak to be the camshaft oil seal – although the camcover gasket looks like it could be guilty of being incontinent. A quick test drive on private ground also revealed that the car is in fine shape indeed, though. I’ll feel happier fully testing it once I’ve given it a full oil and filter service, but it pulls smoothly and there seems to be little play in the steering.

The ABS light extinguishes as it should, but comes back on when the car hits about 30mph. I’m going to assume that we’re looking at cleaning a dirty sensor, but I’m open to any advice on that. There’s also an aftermarket immobiliser fitted, which comes with a transponder key that you need to dock before the engine will fire. It takes rather a deft hand – and patience – to deactivate, and I suspect that this will be coming out at the earliest opportunity. But only after I fullly check it out.

Finally, there’s the rust. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but none of it looks too scary. I’m informed that one sill’s already been replaced, and a quick look reveals that the other one appears to be okay, but just to make sure, I’ll run it in for an MoT test to see what they have to say on the matter. Thankfully, the car still has a fair chunk of test on it, so I think I’ll just tax it, run it, and enjoy it for a little while before I delve too deeply into the rolling restoration…

Besides, karma dictates that I deserve a little bit of fun before the misery begins!

Rear arch will need some cosmetic attention.
Rear arch will need some cosmetic attention.
Interesting scabs at the bottom of the driver's door, and the sill beneath it.
Interesting scabs at the bottom of the driver’s door, and the sill beneath it.
Side repeater aperture will need some help, too.
Side repeater aperture will need some help, too.
Front wheelarch has also suffered the ravages of time.
Front wheelarch has also suffered the ravages of time.
You can't really see it here, but there's a nasty scab on the leading edge of the bonnet.
You can’t really see it here, but there’s a nasty scab on the leading edge of the bonnet.
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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