Our Cars : Mike’s Rover 75

Mike Humble is getting to grips with the Rover 75 that has come back home for some well-earned love and attention.
And once again, he comes away impressed at how resilient our old friend the K-Series engine actually is…

Boomerang Bangernomics

Rover 75 Club SE
So she’s back in the fold once more proving the engine is more resiliant than many give it credit for.

After sitting on the driveway for a short while, my Rover 75 1.8 Club SE is finally back in a position to be enjoyed once more. I would have had the old thing sorted sooner, but a combination of a strain of bug that knocked me sideways and a busy period at work, meant my plans were left a little skew-whiff. But serious engine surgery has now taken place, and that’s included fitting a replacement inlet manifold, and pulling the cylinder head off.

Just to remind you, the car had previously suffered a cooling trauma when the ferrules that locate the inlet manifold failed causing a serious water leak both internal and externally. I put the car into a position of being able to drive back to leafy Horsham under its own steam (quite literally) by temporarily re-bonding the ferrules in place and fitting a replacement manifold gasket.

But a more permanent fix was needed. I fitted a new-old stock manifold, which subsequently fitted into place – but it required that all the sensors and injectors needed swapping over. Job done, I ran the car for a few miles to see how it fared – and all’s good so far. A really close inspection however revealed some liquid seepage from the front corner of the head behind the alternator and onto the top of the gearbox bell housing.

A test to check for gas in the coolant proved that there was no exhaust pressure in the water – which was a relief  but clearly, all was not right. The previous owner had told me that the car had in fact seriously overheated when the manifold gasket caused an air lock but the combination of knowing the engine was in fine fettle after I did a preventative head job a while back, I remained positive about a successful outcome.

There are bad K-Series engines that never respond to a spanner and there are good ‘uns too – and this one doesn’t even have a hint of piston slap when cold either – just ask Keith for his 75 1.8 experiences.

Overheated K18’s are prone to sinking liners that render the block as scrap – Thorough checking proved they were pretty much ok.

Taking advantage of a couple of days’ holiday, the top of the engine was stripped down to the block. Removing the beautifully well made (and dare I say expensive) MLS gasket it soon became clear of the cause of the slight water/oil leakage. The combination of an MLS head gasket, KAMAX bolts and the upgraded bottom ladder rail meant that technically the gasket had not actually blown despite the trauma.

The engine has seemingly allowed to get so hot that the heat reactive gasket coating, which is designed to work in a similar vain to Wellseal, had simply disintegrated. In a nutshell, the five-layer coated gasket, which is made of high grade steel, with beefed up fire rings, could not longer fully contain heated and pressurised water – and was leaking coolant outwards but nothing into the oil or cylinders – phew!

The head was cleaned up and checked for surface fitness with feeler gauges and a special straight bar designed to reveal the exact flatness of both the block and cylinder head. The block was good to go and the liners were almost spot on for liner protrusion – thank goodness, but I wasn’t 100% happy with the head.

A trade friend owes me a favour or four, and offered to give me a cylinder head that he claimed to be okay, but my heart sank at the thought of a secondhand head with secondhand cams. Getting it back home and checking it for trueness gave me another headache.

An earlier black powder coated valve cover adds a touch of quality – another touch that puts right the wrongs of MG Rovers “Project Drive”

The donated cylinder head upon inspection turned out be more warped than Frankie Boyles imagination – think of a rectangular alloy banana and you’re half way there. So my original head was taken to another man in the know that runs an engineering outfit near Gatwick, where he reckoned it could be dress skimmed and still be okay for the job.

After chewing the fat and downing some tea, I was travelling back to Horsham with a stunningly clean and freshly skimmed cylinder head in the boot. The birds were singing, the sun was shining – no faffing about – time to bet busy.

Barney – my engineering pal reckoned the original head was okay to use. After a soaking in an acid bath and a mild skim, it looks as good as new. The block was cleaned up with some similar liquid and a stiff brush.

Enter the unexpected thunderstorms that came along just as I undertook the very last 90 degree turn of the final re-torquing of head bolts. Tools were randomly thrown into the car and boot thanks to the rain, and with much frustration, my soaking wet clobber was thrown into the wash and that was that – rain stopped play. The next morning at 8.00am, I leaped out of bed (well… metaphorically speaking) at the sight of glorious sunshine searing through the chinks in the curtains, and got dressed. With all the excitement of a small child on Christmas morning (erm… another metaphor), I couldn’t wait to fly downstairs.

After popping in some brand new cam seals, re-fitting the cam pulleys and completing the rest of the build up, that moment of interpretation soon came when I turned the key with a grimacing face and eyes squinted half shut – almost like snipping the final wire of a bomb detonator.

After initially sounding like a washing machine on spin with a pair of training shoes in the drum owing to the tappets filling up with oil again, the revitalised 1.8-litre K-Series settled down to a lovely smooth idle that befits the Rover. Serenity can only be summed up with three simple digits – R, four, zero (R40). After a good few miles of hard driving – an extended Italian tune up if you like – I’m more than satisfied with the results so far.

Say what you like about the K-Series, I’ve had many years of experience with these engines. Enough to say that when they are sorted and running fine, nothing much holds a candle to them in full cry. It annoys me so much to know that so many garages are lacking in understanding of what is actually a very simple engine. But at the end of the day, it’s fashionable now, and always will be – to knock a Cowley or Longbridge-built product. The answer to the aforementioned is unknown and is a topic that will continue to be discussed over a pint or over the internet for many years to come.

Next time I’m climbing up on Solsbury Hill, I can find my way around in the dark with this spiffing Rover accessory torch!

So what else is newsworthy then? Well… I have found the console cubby box armrest torch in a filing cabinet drawer,  fitted a new bulb and left it to charge, also, I’ve found a boot badge and fitted it thus almost totally reversing the horrors that were known as Project Drive. Minor stuff amounts to a damn good valet, a blown headlamp dip bulb, and a small list of items requiring attention for the up-coming MoT.

The old duffer is going to need a brace of front anti-roll bar drop links soon, and some new handbrake shoes – all of which have been ordered up and are awaiting my collection. And dare I say it, motivation to get fitted. I’m particularly keen to locate some number plates with the corporate Rover logos printed on them too by the way.

If anyone can steer me in the right direction… please let me know!

I changed the boot plinth during my last stewardship to an earlier embossed item. There’s now a proper lid badge fitted too.
Mike Humble


  1. This is a gorgeous looking car,and it’s also good to see it being saved,shame more people couldn’t do the same instead of just casting them aside,I’m very tempted by these or even this one.
    But also there is a rover 25 with the hgf issue which I’m hoping to get for next to nothing,so do you fancy a gasket job and a weekend in wales

  2. Hi Mike,

    Good to see the moonstone bad boy live to fight another day . I get number plates for all my cars from this guy Ken – http://stores.ebay.co.uk/hardridden

    He has made many a custom plate for me, not just for my 75. I always like to go for the 3D look letters and a border with my “MG Rover group” plates.

    Just ask ken to make them like he did for yellowmitch around 3 years ago. He will know!

  3. I wish you’d been around when I had my ZT-T kv6. Not that it was that problematical, but in Aus there’s no support for them, so I had so sell before it started having any issues. The 75/ZT is such a beautiful car that hasn’t been equalled since. Now have a Disco 2 as my ‘special’ car plus a Corsa C SXi as the hack car. But would love a ZT or 75 again…

    You’re doing a sterling job keeping this one on the road. Keep it up please Mike as they’re a dying breed & the last of their type.

  4. Great that it’s back on the road.

    I get my ‘manufacturer logo’ plates from fancyplates.com , technocally showplate but road legal font etc. just no postcode (was on a Xantia which passed MOTs with them on).

  5. Glad it hadnt eaten anything too serious. I seem to remember there was an old trick about disconnecting everything but the starter and spinning the engine on it for a few seconds to get oil where oil should be and then putting everything back and starting it as usual – I think someone mentioned it to me in relation to the Stag engine – incidentally saw 7 of them on Mersea Island (none of the Adders I was actually looking for).
    I did see a 75 recently with a trapezoidal shield thing at the bottom of the boot lid (below the license plate) – but I have never seen one before or since – was that a standard item?

  6. @ Jemma – Comment 6:

    The “trapezoidal shield thing” at the bottom of the rear number plate sounds like the new badge design carrying the ’75’ nomenclature for the facelift Rover 75 saloons, announced in January 2004. This replaced the familiar stand-alone ’75’ numbers that had previously sat to the right-hand side of the rear number plate.

  7. Does this Rover 75 play cassettes as I saw a photo of one of these half forgotten producrs when reading this article? I have over 300 I keep for nostalgic reasons, but haven’t had a car to play them in for nine years.

  8. Just goes to show how appealing the 75 was (and still is). A pity we are seeing less on our roads but they still stand out as a nice design and less bland than the current, Euro, Jap & Korean offerings. Long may Mike’s 75 rock on!

  9. Hilton @ 9 – Agreed

    Mike, you must be so pleased to have her back and very satisfied with your work. Like you said at PoL – way too good to scrap!

  10. @8- I have two cars with tape players in, plus a vintage silver Pioneer cassette deck that I use most days; tapes still rock in my opinion!


  11. @ Glen Aylett – Comment 8:

    Yes, nearly every version of the Rover 75 had a slot to accept an audio cassette. Those with the Symphony option sound even better!

    I still have the original cassette player in my MG Maestro (awaiting restoration) which I won’t replace as you can’t beat the sound of a good cassette rolling away.

  12. Last/newest cars I owned with tape decks were 1999 Accord coupe and 1999 Xantia.
    Post 2000 – 02 Celica, 02 406, 05 9-3 and they’re all CD.

    Useful, not only for tapes, but the tape deck adaptors mean that you have iPod/Phone/Tablet etc. connectivity.

    (Technically, if you dremelled a small hole in the loading lid of a datasette, you could use the cassette adaptor to load games via audio from .tap files on a computer/tablet/phone/ipod into a Commodore 64/Spectrum etc.)

  13. Well done Mike, Glad to see all is well again 🙂

    With all those little upgrades, I think
    this car must be one of the best looking 75’s out there?

  14. Nice to see it all back together and working properly again. My two 75s are still both going – a V6 saloon and a diesel Tourer and I plan on keeping them both going for a good while yet.

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