Mike Humble bags a Rover 620ti shaped bargain, and loves the experience…
…but now he wants another one.
Words and pictures: Mike Humble
A turbocharged bargain
BACK in the days when I had some disposable income, I was flicking through the pages of the local paper motors section when I spotted a friend-of-a-friend’s garage selling a 1999 Rover 620ti in the ‘to clear’ section. This was very soon after the close down of Longbridge in 2005, and the world, as well as the values of used Rovers had quite literally fallen through the floor. At this time, I was making a decent living as a mobile mechanic specialising in MGR products and fancied a car to use as a showpiece and after spotting the ti just a mile from my dining room and hot sweet tea, I fancied a look-see if nothing else!
In the case of the Rover, I didn’t ring ahead before going to view, this gives you a distinct advantage because the dealer or vendor doesn’t have time to gloss over any cracks or have the chance for some emergency fettling. Upon arriving at the dealer I knew right away that we went to school together some years previous, he remembered me vaguely and I remember him having an interest in cars back then but after a short chat about the industry it quickly became apparent that his general knowledge about cars fell short of the mark.
Following a 20-year catch up in five minutes over a Benson & Hedges, we got down to the subject of the Rover. With him spotting that I was in the know he proceeded to sing like a canary and try to put me off the car. The vehicle in question was parked at the back of the small garage sporting two flat tyres and had more moss in the window frames than the Scottish Highlands. Keys were placed into the ignition and the car gave the obligatory machine gun click from the solenoid confirming the battery was as flat as the vehicles tyres. Before he could get the booster pack hooked up he told me ‘I’ll be honest Mike the turbo’s shot’. Jump pack connected the car spun into life with a nice burble, the only fly in the ointment being a slight blow from the rear silencer, peering under the car it looked brand new but fitted badly, duly noticing this I kept schtum.
Giving the throttle a tickle from under the bonnet, as the engine died down to an idle there was a horrid metallic rattle from the front of the engine. The vendor once again mentioned the ‘knackered turbo’ but I wasn’t convinced with his diagnosis. Some air was put into the tyres and off for a test drive I went. Out on the road the common T-Series faults were soon noticed – engine running too cool, sloppy gearchange, sticking inlet valves etc but aside from that everything worked air con, windows, radio the lot. Finding the A66 I gave the old girl a sugar lump and as the rev counter spun round towards the limiter there was a slight flat spot (a sure give away of a dicky boost valve) but still I was not put off.
The only major issue I could find was a complete inability for the car to drive in a straight line under anything else besides moderate throttle, pulling over to the side of the road I swiftly diagnosed a very worn nearside track rod end. Heading back to the garage I did some sums in my mind to justify buying the car, in my dealership days I had admired the 620ti, driven many of them and they were generally perceived as being a vastly superior drivers car to the 800 Vitesse. The sleek but understated looks of the ti gave it an appearance of that ‘old man Rover’ style, very much a Q-car, or a sleeper as some call it. I decided what i was going to pay and was sticking to it. The salesman, whether I knew him or not, didn’t have a clue and I was going to have that car for peanuts. A top tip for those out there, regardless of you knowing the seller, keep your wits about you and keep it professional.
The car was up for sale at an already reasonable £1500 but the Longbridge affair was still very much the talk of the time. Walking into his office I offered £1100 on take it or leave it deal and to be fair I didn’t actually need the car but I wanted it though not once letting it show. He stated that my offer was less than what the car owed them, which is usual motor trade lies and went on to state that he diddums want to ring his boss with that offer, so I offered to ring him. There followed a brief conversation with his employer where we mutually agreed on £1150 with me keeping the tax on the cars screen and they would sling a gallon of fuel or two into the tank.
I was now the owner of a 1999 V-plate 620ti with four months’ tax, six months’ MoT, almost full service history, a blowing exhaust and a rattle from the engine. All I had to do now was set about getting the car into good order within the time frame and commitments of my business. My trusted friend Richard at Reg Vardy Darlington did a bit of research and found out that my car was 23rd from the end of the production run. I contacted the previous owner and managed to get hold of the ‘red key’ that was sitting in his dressing table drawer, so all was going swimmingly well. The rattle from the engine (as those in the know will confirm) was nothing more that a loose turbo wastegate actuator rod – they all do that sir and the over-cooling was a defective thermostat – ditto. Disaster struck when bleeding the cooling system when the bleed screw sheared off (‘they all do that, Sir’), a panic call to Vardy Parts Solutions got me a new top hose (with thermostat built in) on VOR for an agreeable £38.
Another Rover dealer got me out of bother when the small silicon coolant hose on the turbo started leaking dripping. This part was no longer available via MGR parts so I went through my little black book of Rover contacts and found the part at Clarke’s of Birmingham (many thanks Daniel). I also fitted a manual boost bleed valve in lieu of the electronic item but set the boost pressure just slightly higher than standard, a new track rod end was purchased and after a quick service and precautionary timing belt the car was ready to hit the road. Over the next two weekends, I cut and polished the body work, fed the leather of the fantastic Silverstone half-hide interior and scrubbed the roof lining. After replacing the silly items such as the window switch, cigar lighter and ashtray bulbs the car was spot on, it looked good smelt good and by Jove it drove good.
The other annoying fault of sticking valves was cured with a good shot of Forte and the fact that the engine now ran at optimum temperature, slowly the cars full performance came back and the fuel economy got better week by week. The blowing exhaust was nothing more than a badly fitted rear silencer that took 10 minutes to sort, the supplying tyre and exhaust centre shall remain nameless suffice to say that they claim they are ‘the boys to trust’. One final repair involved my own modification of the gear linkage, details of which I shall pass on in future ramblings.
The parts list came to 1x track rod end 1x top hose 1x turbo coolant elbow hose 1x manifold gasket 1x 8mm washer 1x small split pin and parts for a service. The car purred like a kitten and was also surprisingly economical. On a run from Darlington to Northampton at sensible speeds my fag packet figure came to mid-30s mpg, unless driven hard fuel consumption generally never dropped below 30. Oil consumption was about right for these engines using around a pint to every 1500 miles – they do like drop of oil.
In my opinion the Rover 620ti is one of the finest driving cars ever made by Rover, all the ingredients are there, lavish furnishings, superb road manners, blistering performance with a gulf of bottom end torque, good solid build quality thanks to Honda’s body engineering, supreme refinement and the ability to soak up mile after mile for hour after hour. A motor trader friend of mine with over 30 years in the business used to own a small Rover retail dealer in County Durham told me one day that he toured Europe with his caravan in his 620ti and had never driven a finer car, when he saw my Nightfire red model for the first time he asked for a quick drive and disappeared for an hour!
Would I own another? certainly yes. One of Rover’s best cars ever made, with no shadow of doubt. For those looking to own one, buy an unmolested standard car with no mods or tweaks and love and cherish it. They are superb machines being easy to drive, own and service. V710 JGX is now owned by an RAF aircraft mechanic in North Yorkshire and is cared for with no expense spared. And I am big enough to admit that I really regret selling it but watch this space, I will have another… one day!
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.