Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Once around the block #3:- Rover 75 1.8

£500. That's all. I don't even believe that our buying department are particularly mercenary, either; it just so happens that the trade value of a ten-year-old Rover 75 with eighty-five thousand on the clock is just five hundred quid. This one especially; this is the base model, the “Classic”. And it has the little-loved 1.8 litre engine, from the fabled K (or "Kettle") series with their legendary (and exaggerated) propensity for overheating and head-gasket failure.

But still, it's an awful lot of car for very little outlay, especially when it's been dressed up in proto-Connoisseur trim (chrome door mirrors). I thought the wine red saloon deserved a little more time in the limelight before it made it's trip to the murky world of the car auction.

The best way to sell a 75 must have been from the inside out. You'd start inside, then go outside and behold the cars shapely posterior, finally making it around to the nose. This is, probably the least comely aspect of the machine, the shape is extremely well proportioned but they somehow never quite managed to resolve the detailing of the grille and headlights. It was a little bit puddingy and dated quickly. A shame. But anyway, you'd begin the sales process inside the car because the star draw to the 75 is its interior, with no shadow of a doubt.

To hell with it; I'm going to go foolishly out on a limb here and say that the 75 had one of the best British interiors of the last 20 years. It's right up there with the Mk 3 Range Rover and the Rolls Royce Phantom. I'm not saying here that it's built as well or from such fine materials, but it certainly pointed two stiff British fingers at the establishment. At the time of its launch the Germans were leading the way in efficient cabin ergonomics and indestructible quality, but could offer precious little in warmth or character. They tended to the dour and, well, were pretty bloody

The 75 came with an interior that made up for those less distinguished English offerings several times over; and the cleverest thing was that it was actually put together decently well and out of nice stuff. This was, after all, a German interior. BMW switchgear abounds; the headlight control is straight out of a 3-Series and the radio unit will be familiar to anybody who's driven a similarly aged product of Munich. And those parchment-coloured main dials; possibly slightly over-retro, but at night they light up like the display on an old valve radio set. It's a thoroughly pleasant place to be; and the like of it is sadly unlikely to see the light of day again.

Comfy, too. The chairs are big and deep; though they may lack a little lower back support on the longest of journeys. The driving position is sound, visibility good although the rear screen is a little small and high-set. The overall impression is of a car that really means business, it must have felt like a confident riposte and, though Journalists thought otherwise, it ticked all the right boxes as Rovers great white hope of the future.

Ultimately, as I've discussed before, it all came to naught and seven years later the company spluttered its last, no small thanks to a group of venture capitalist vultures called the Phoenix Consortium who had ideas above their station and miss-managed the company into the ground. The chance never really came for the Rover to prove that it could mix it with the big boys. On the road the 75 shows off some of that BMW influence; especially in its suspension design. It marries some of that Munich feeling of planted-ness with a degree of smoothness alien to pure-bred German machinery. 

The trade off for this comfort is that the Rover is rather less keen to play when you push towards the “ambitious” end of the driving spectrum. The car will fade into understeer, well-contained at first but dissolving into tyre-squealing chaos in extremis, at limits that come earlier than in a similarly front-wheel-driven Audi, for example. But, really, who cares? Up to a pretty respectable lick the Rover composes itself with decorum; the emphasis being on cosseting those relaxing within, with a soupçon of fun still being on the menu should you want it.

Of course, this car has the littlest of all the engines you could choose for it, and that has an impact on the performance. It's a bulky car, and 120hp is scantly enough for much in the way of athleticism. Again, who cares? If big acceleration can't be extracted, stop trying. Instead revel in the fact that the K-Series unit is enthusiastic to get stuck in, making an ironically sporty noise as it puffs and pants its way to the legal limit in just under eleven seconds, the five gearbox ratios falling smoothly as you go. Once up to speed, with the mill not being worked to capacity, the noise subsides and the 75 again becomes a relaxing environment from which to watch the world go by.

It's flawed, the Rover 75, but it was extremely good considering the warmed-over gruel that Rover had been churning out for the years before it was launched. It's certainly many times better than the 800 that went before; as much as I love my 825 (and I really, really do) I acknowledge that it's a pretty terrible car in all manner of ways. The 75 came along and proved, with a little help that, not only could Rover build a world-class car but also that the rest of the world should stop taking itself quite so seriously.

The appeal of the 75 has become a bit of a forgotten entity and it deserves a lot more recognition. At £500, everybody should try one.

To read my related article "Requiem for an industry", please click here.


1 comment:

  1. I do find these cars hard to resist Chris....find me a V8, and I will gladly pay you, especially in 75 Connossieur trim!!