Your Cars : Tony Turner’s Rover 25 GTI

Tony Turner continues the story of  his Rover 25 GTI with ‘one or two issues’…

Rudi goes into rehab

Quite a crowded engine bay, with some bits less accessible than on a normal K Series. Inherited conical air filter is more about sound effects than filtering.
Quite a crowded engine bay, with some bits less accessible than on a normal K-Series. Inherited conical air filter is more about sound effects than filtering

Sorry – I know it’s daft but all my cars get names and the 25 GTI soon informed me that he was Rudolf the Red-Nosed Rover, or Rudi for short. Since a lovely bloke called Rudi Carter used to look after my Jaguars before his demise, I took this to be a good sign. Fool!

Actually, Donald might have been a more suitable name, as a tribute to a certain Mr Rumsfeld and his famous ‘unknown unknowns’.  For while I knew the car had a couple of relatively minor issues, the cost of fixing them was unknown, though would hopefully not be too serious. The ‘unknowns’ started gathering when work started on fixing the first of the ‘knowns’.

If you’re paying someone to work on a car, even an allegedly simple one, I’m a great believer in taking it to a specialist. Their hourly rates may be slightly higher but, because they’ll theoretically spend fewer hours sorting out something they’re familiar with and actually do it properly first time round, you’ll hopefully be better off than paying a non-specialist outfit to have several goes at working out how to fix the problem, or bodge their way round it. A specialist’s receipts are also a useful haggling point when it’s time to sell the car to make way for the next challenge.

I’m lucky enough to have Brown & Gammons just down the road, who know about MGs of all vintages, including the latest Chinese ones. Since Rudi is an MG in disguise, I thought they’d be reasonably tolerant about allowing him onto their premises and so it proved. We’ve now developed a good working relationship – they do the work, I give them money and the job doesn’t need doing again – Tony the Service Manager no longer goes into hiding when he sees the ‘red peril’ approaching.

So Rudi made his first visit to their workshops, initially to have the leaky water-pump sorted out. Now you’ll remember that, when viewing the car, I’d been presented with a pukka garage receipt for replacing the head gasket and associated oil rail – even I insist on seeing such documentary evidence when buying something with a K-Series engine.  Unfortunately, the paperwork can only suggest that the job’s probably been done, but can’t confirm that it’s been done well.

To cut to the chase, when Brown & Gammons removed the various covers to reach the water pump, they found that wasn’t the only thing that was leaking – whoever had done the head gasket hadn’t sealed it properly, so that oil and water were leaking onto the timing belt, which would inevitably weaken it and could cause it to snap at any time – especially as it looked to have been going on for some time.  I was advised to drive it very gently, or not at all, until it could be fixed.  Heart waggled a scornful finger at Head’s insistence on seeing receipts for previous work allegedly carried out that weren’t worth diddley squat (Heart can get a bit Colonial at times).

I trickled Rudi back home and positioned him where he could be an undisturbed garden ornament. I’m told the biggest strain on a timing belt is when you start an engine, so that wasn’t something I wanted to make a habit of while finding a (hopefully) appreciative home for the original 25, to produce the funds for Rudi’s surgery.  This took a month or so to achieve, after which the red garden ornament was gingerly started and taken gently back to Baldock for Brown & Gammons to do their stuff.

All went according to plan, with no new unknowns popping up and for a bill that was at least slightly less than I’d paid for the car.  Nice one, Heart, and the ABS light had yet to be attended to.

Mind you, at their suggestion, they’d replaced the rear VVC belt as well as the main timing one, which seemed sensible while they were in there. They’d also found the code for the radio and programmed that, so I now had music on the move – time to dust off those cassettes (the radio-CD player was presumably a step too far for Rudi’s first owner to stump up the extra cash for that option).

Off the leash

So for the first time, I could start exploring what I’d bought. Well, nearly – a passing glance at one of the interesting assortment of tyres revealed much less tread than I’d hoped to see, with its opposite number not much better.  Since the other two were of unknown parentage and age, I bit the bullet and plumped for a new one on each corner from my friendly local tyre dealer.

Our ‘little’ 25 had arrived on a set of Pirelli P6000s, which seem to suit it well, so I was all geared to have the same again – except they weren’t available in the chunky 205-45-16 size specified for the 25 GTI.  Maintaining brand loyalty, I took a deep breath and ordered a set of Pirelli P Zeros. These proved fine in the dry – but the grip evaporated if they so much as smelt a damp leaf (and I drive like the old codger I am). The moist grass slopes at last year’s Pride of Longbridge day were a memorable low point (should have stayed in the lowlands, come to think of it) and I’d like to thank all the willing souls who rallied round to push the little red car every time it wanted to move anywhere.

Incidentally, it’s probably significant that, when the MG ZR appeared, it was specified with slightly less extreme 205-50-16 tyres.  Jumping ahead, Rudi is currently wearing winter tyres in this size, to cope with the blizzards that haven’t yet arrived (please don’t ask about the P Zeros on snow!) and the result is altogether more relaxed, despite the heavier tread pattern and with little apparent loss of perkiness despite the slightly higher gearing – the 45-profile tyres were maybe just a bit too low geared and prone to wheelspin?

Anyway, with a sorted engine and wearing decent rubber, Rudi was now allowed to venture beyond 3000rpm. The result was, shall we say, electrifying and reminded me strongly of a BX GTI 16-valve I had some years ago – that car just wanted to get up and fight everybody and I’m afraid Rudi has the same anti-social tendencies.  No, of course, I don’t condone it…

Adding to the drama is one of those silly conical air filters, which was fitted by one of the Previous Pratts (for obvious reasons, my cars’ former keepers are always known as the Previous Pratts – PP – to distinguish them from the Present Pratt – also PP). One day, out of kindness to the engine, I will replace it with the standard intake housing, probably containing a K&N filter, as I suspect the present daft device does very little filtering – but boy, does it sound good at higher revs.

On the other hand, if we’re feeling lazy or codger-like, Rudi will accelerate quite strongly from around 1500 rpm in fifth, something the 1.4 K-Series would certainly have grumbled about. That VVC engine really is very clever when it’s working properly.

Another PP legacy are the twin exhaust tailpipes, probably borrowed from a ZR to replace the standard single item. While making the most of the GTI’s larger-bore exhaust pipery, they’re a tight fit in the cut-out in the rear valance and can knock against it if  not perfectly adjusted, or if some of the exhaust clips grow tired. I keep forgetting to check whether the ZR’s rear valance is more accommodating.

A less welcome inheritance – and evidence that Rudi may have had a brush with Yoof in the past – are the two larger speakers embedded in the rear parcel shelf.  As well as making it well nigh impossible to get a good front-rear sound balance – at least to my lo-fi ears – they’re also too heavy for the flimsy parcel shelf hinges, with the result that it can no longer lift with the tailgate. One of the speaker covers also comes unclipped 10 minutes into a journey and joins in the rattle chorus from the loose shelf.

To cure all this, I tentatively disconnected the trouble-makers, as an overture to slotting in an unmolested parcel shelf as a replacement, but there was silence from the standard built-in rear speakers, so they’ve either been disconnected or blown.  The big ones are now back in action and any shopping or camera bags have to be slotted underneath the shelf, at least for the moment.

One technical fix I did accomplish was to restore the two lower heater fan speeds, by fitting a new resistor unit.  It lives above the glovebox, costs less than a tenner off eBay and is at most a ten minute job to fit.  It’s a job even I can manage!

Braking point

The shining ABS light problem was definitely beyond my capabilities, though, so it was back to Baldock for that to be sorted, after the wallet had been allowed a little recovery period. Plugged into their diagnostics – yes, this is a very modern car (at least by my standards) – the two possibilities were either a front wheel sensor or the ABS unit itself.

As I’d occasionally heard unhappy noises from the front corner when braking, I suggested we tried the wheel sensor as a first step and for once fortune smiled on us.  Mind you, the ABS sensor is combined with the CV joint, so that had to be replaced as well – nothing’s ever simple. But now the ABS light went out and stayed out, unless provoked by that moist leaf hazard.

Like any K-Series pilot, I keep a beady eye on the temperature gauge and had been puzzled in those early months to see the needle rise to just under the halfway point, then slowly sink back towards cold.  Well, at least it wasn’t overheating. With fingers crossed, I suggested Brown & Gammons check for a stuck thermostat – and gave my credibility a boost when that’s (partly) what it proved to be.

However, in addition, there were signs of a previous cack-handed piece of maintenance that had broken its sealing ring, allowing most of the coolant to bypass the thermostat completely. There was some excuse as, unlike a normal K-Series, the VVC version’s thermostat is buried deep within its innards, encouraging a bodged approach by those who know no better. Anyway, mine’s now fixed and, touch wood, the temperature gauge behaves just as it ought to.

The MoT was now becoming due – always a tense moment with any ‘new old’ car, as you can never be sure what terrible PP misdeeds will be revealed by the Tester’s little hammer. Wonder of wonders, Rudi sailed through, with no advisories.  As a reward, I booked him into Brown & Gammons for a 12-month service and proudly left the rather sparsely stamped Service Book on the seat for updating.  When I collected him that evening, it was duly stamped, with the comment that this service was a mere 7½ years and 64,776 miles overdue.

Still, at least we were moving in the right direction…

Rear shelf no longer hinges, thanks to weight of heavy metal additions. As usual, one speaker cover is about to set off on its travels.
Rear shelf no longer hinges, thanks to weight of heavy metal additions. As usual, one speaker cover is about to set off on its travels
Keith Adams


  1. A great story with real determination to get it back up to A1 health. I am glad to hear the aftermarket speakers and molested parcel shelf will soon be replaced with OEM items once gain.

    I certainly agree with your sentiments about getting the K Series engine (and others) inspected and serviced by those in the know, even if it costs a little more. A number of people I know have bought VVC powered Rover 200s and MG ZRs only to take them to the local garage who have no knowledge of working on this engine. Their ‘knowledge’ usually results in maintenance work either being short lived or another problem cropping up immediately after the original one has supposedly been completed. It is good that B&G are also welcoming to those who would rather own a Rover badged product than an MG. If I did not live so far away from them I would consider using them for my own servicing needs.

    Part of me wonders whether a definitive list of MG Rover Group experienced specialists should be created? Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  2. I remember as a youth, putting 6x9s into the parcel shelf of a Citroen ZX.

    I ran wires from the head unit, up the A pillar, along the headlining and down into the boot.

    I used a bit of plastic piping and hooks to keep the wiring up below the shelf, then spade connectors into the speakers, which meant they could be disconnected should I need to put the seat down.

  3. @ 1, David 3500: Over the years, I have had some relatively poor work carried out at garages which advertise themselves as MG Rover specialists so, while collating a definitive list of ‘specialists’ is a good idea, I would caution against a list of garages and suggest instead a register of appropriately-qualified individuals.

    Garages might employ several mechanics, some of whom might be excellent at their work and some of whom might not. Even in those garages where the staff are all qualified, unexpected staff sickness and turnover can result in ‘generalist’ mechanics being drafted in to fill vacant posts at short notice.

    Experience has taught me to seek out mechanics in the same way that I would look for a plumber or electrician or surgeon.

    When it comes to having my own MG Rover repaired or serviced, I now choose to travel over 100 miles to Nick Bonthrone of Austin Garages in Staffordshire. I know that he will attend to my car as no other mechanics work with him! Nick has the correct MG Rover training, years of experience, knows the ‘product’ backwards, takes pride in his work, is honest, modest and a pleasure to spend time with.

    It is only now that I realise how badly served I was in the past by other so-called specialist garages.

  4. A specialist is definitely best. One with years of experience and a great reputation. Not just someone who advertises as a specialist – I think back to the X-Part agent whose head gasket replacement on my 75 lasted a mere 1000 miles!

    Good to see Rudi have less than expert repairs corrected, done properly.

    My MG ZR 105, Tony, is often called by her name too – “The MGem” !

  5. David 3500 – ” Part of me wonders whether a definitive list of MG Rover Group experienced specialists should be created? ”

    A great idea, David. I’m lucky. I have an MGR specialist just twenty minutes walk from home – Peter Jones Engineering, Oxton, Wirral. I learnt of him through local knowledge, word of mouth. However, others may need to locate a specialist, perhaps many miles away. My MG ZR always goes to Peter Jones even though I take the day off work. With my previous Rover 75, I tried to find places near work. I thought I was taking care by choosing an X-Part agent and then a Land Rover garage. But oh dear!
    So, what we need is a list of specialists very much based on personal recommendation.

  6. Sounds a great idea – so long as it’s regularly updated. As Craig mentioned above, it takes the loss of just one or two key people in a big place to turn it from a star to an ‘oh dear’. Just for info, the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club website has a ‘recommended specialists’ section in the Members part of their website, based on user feedback linked to a check by the Club to avoid any ‘self-recommendation’ – doubly useful as (I think I’m right in saying) each entry has to be re-verified by the Club every year or so to make sure they’re keeping up the standard. And it works: one specialist I had been using disappeared from the list – justifiably so.

  7. Rover 25 must be one of the most maligned cars around. I must admit never considering one until I needed a winter runabout. Now 14000 miles later after some proper servicing, done by myself by the book, it runs like a dream. And to be honest it has a brilliant suspension a very “chuckable” car in many ways better than my MGF. In some way it is astonishing that a company which really produced nice, drivable cars went broke. On the other hand the overall quality of paintwork and some components is awful even in this not well look after example. Fortunately genuine leather steering wheels and gear knobs are still available.

    @Tony, wish you lots of fun with your GTI it sounds like a very desirable car.

  8. Depends how original you want to keep it but I swapped the Rover head unit in my 25 for a Pioneer unit from Halfords. £40 for the replacement with CD player/USB, original sold for £39 on eBay. Another £20 for the connector to get the steering wheel controls working as well but you can’t have everything! Sounded far, far better especially once I’d replaced the front speakers as well.

  9. @7 tr_man: Couldn’t agree more, bought mine as a temporary 3 month run around but its so nice I’m planning to keep it. Slowly been working round fixing some irritating bits that were broken like the clock and heating control…..and, yes the head gasket after 4 months despite checking for warning signs carefully. However overall the build quality is pretty good, certainly compares well with other manufacturers small hatches of a similar age. Best of all driving it brings a smile to my face and I’m always a little sad to get to my destination! Jealous of that red the GTI is in though……

  10. Tony, nice article and a spot-on reference to the BX19 GTi 16v. I had one as a fleet demo for a week or two back when those things were new.

    It was real overtaking machine with no-dive brakes and changes of direction like it was on a turn-table.

    My company car at the time was an MG Maestro Efi which I loved, but I would have happily swapped the MG for the BX if Citroen hadn’t wanted it back.

  11. I have Changed back my 25 GTi to standard kit, it was missing the original rover radio which it now has one.. and parcel shelf, which like yours tony had big gaping holes in it.HG done, MOT done.. now a daily driver.. no K&N conical filter but i do like the sound of the induction roar, but mine has a great noise post 4000rpm when the VVC comes on song.. enjoy tony hopefully see you down POL

  12. Thanks, Mark – enjoy yours, too. Maybe we should form a little 25 GTI enclave at POL? I’ll keep my winter tyres on and so be reasonably confident I might actually make it up the grassy slopes this year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.