One gentleman´s carriage

Okay. So I´m always telling you what cars you oughtn´t to buy; what do I actually own myself? Currently the answer is a Rover 2000, which was preceded by a Mini, a Cortina and a Cortina GT. The Rover is a very early one (chassis number 80) and had done nearly 20.000 miles as a press demonstrator before I bought it in March 1965 – since when I have covered another 30.000, so that now it is probably approaching middle-age.

Several people told me that I was mad to buy an ex-press car, and I thought they were right only a few weeks later. I was cruising down the M1 at a steady 100 mph (this was in the good old days when we were allowed to burn petrol) wondering if the water temperature should be quite no near 100 deg C when there was suddenly a loud silence. Investigastion (ie. turning the starter key) showed that there was a marked lack of compression, and my pride and joy was ignominiously towed by an RAC Land Rover to the nearest garage, whence I journeyed sadly home.

The Rover returned a few days later with a new set of pistons, and since then – touch simulated-wood door cappings – it has never let me down. There have been a few minor defects, like a broken rear damper mounting, a broken dynamo mounting and a burnt-out dynamo, but I have always been able to get home under my own power – and stagger up to the local garage next morning.

One of the most annoying minor faults has been a buzzing choke cable, which has been silenced several times but has always reasserted itself. I also had a little trouble with gear lever vibration, plus a tendency to jump out of top on overrun, but this was cured by fitting a new gear lever. The gearbox itself remains as good as new, with a beautufully light change (2000s seem to vary in this particular) and a very short travel between gears. The ratios are well spaced, with 55 mph available in second and over 80 in third, and it is necessary to use them to get the best out of the car. Top gear flexibility is definitely not a strong point – and it´s very little better on the new TC.

One of the things that encouraged me to buy the Rover was the very generous amount of legroom; it is, in fact, possible to push the seat too far back even for my 6ft 5in. Adjustable backrests and an adjustable steering column enable me to get really comfortable, and also make it possible for much shorter people to drive the car – not that I let them very often. The Irvin seat belts have an adjustable diagonal strap which tends to get a little loose at times, but even when it is done up tight I can still reach all the controls and switches.

This is anther department in which Rover are way ahead of most of their rivals, with each switch clearly marked and with its method of operation in keeping with its function. Thus the screenwiper control turns, whereas the light switches go down for on and up for auxiliaries – unilateral parking light and fog lamp respectively. If you want to use dipped headlamps and a fog lamp at the same time you have to fit a separate switch; in any case the fog lamp and the long range lamp are extras, and if I had had any choice I would have had rectangular Cibies rather than circular Noteks – if only because they blend better with the lines of the car. I did think at one time of fitting quartz iodine headlamps, but on the whole – possibly because of the 70 mph limit – I have found the standard lights entirely adequate. Another small plus feature is the tell-tale extension on the top of the side lamp lenses; it´s reassuring to know that both lights are on and that you are not likely to be mistaken for a high speed bicycle.

Reverting to interior appointments, the two front parcel compartments have proved to be extremely useful and surprisingly capacious – the passenger one anyway. (Most of the driver´s is occupied by the steering column.) But the top parcel shelf is a dead loss, as anything placed on it slides from side to side on every corner.

The instrument layout scarcely received wild acclaim when the car was announced but, in fact, is very practical. The ribbon speedometer is much easier to read than the majority of the circular ones, and with the maximum speed in each gear clearly marked there is no need for a rev counter. (Instead Rover fit a much more useful electric clock.) The water temperature gauge is very vaguely calibrated, but the fuel gauge is very accurate and there is also a reserve tap, which so far I have never needed to use. (Hmm! wonder if it works?) Added to this there is a battery of warning lights, which spell out their message brightly and colourfully in good, straightforward Anglo-Saxon: IGN, OIL, BEAM, CHOKE and BRAKE. The choke arning light is thermostatically operated and it would be difficult to drive far without seeing it. It would also be very difficult to drive far without using the choke on a cold winter´s morning, for breathing is somewhat restricted by the single SU carburettor. However, once it is warm the engine never shows any sign of temperament, and fuel consumption has worked out at a consistently commendable and commedably consistent 26-28 mpg.

One of the best features of the Rover is the ventilation system, which provides fresh air at face level without the normal penalty of a cold hand and which can be assisted by a fan which is virtually silent at the lower of two speeds. In summer it is sometimes necessary to open a rear quarter light to get adequate extractor effect, but for the rest of the year it is possible to drive with all the windoes closed and thus remain completely insulated from the mechanical commotion of other traffic. The peace and quiet which can be achieved is quire remarkable, and is one of the features which helps to set the Rover apart from more mundane cars.

The heater works very well and is completely odourless, which is more than can be said of the equipment fitted in some rival cars. It also demists the windscreen very quickly, but the rear window does tend to cloud up with four people in the car on a wet day. (Before Rover write in, let me hasten to add that electrically-heated rear windows are available.)

With four distinctly individual seats, four adults is the normal maximum complement, and the one sitting behind me needs to have rather short legs. Some rear seat passengers have complained of car sickness, but they are the sort of people who get sick in almost any car. Enthusiastic driving does promote rather a lot of roll, but I cut this down somewhat – and also cut down fore-and-aft pitching – by fitting a set of Armstrong Firmaride dampers. Much to my surprise these have had no adverse effects on the ride, and it is possible to cover extremely long distances without feeling tired.

Roadholding and handling are very much influenced by tyres – of which more anon – but in general the Rover has a slight understeering characteristic which becomes more pronounced as sped is increased. In view of the suspension layout this is only to be expected, but I would prefer a front end with less camber change and thus more cornering power, though this might eventually lead to the front wheels breaking away rather suddenly. Perhaps we shall see some changes in this direction on the forthcoming V8?

I have used several different makes of tyre – all radial ply – and have reached the conclusion that most manufacturers still have a lot to learn about this type of construction. Some provide good wet weather adhesion, some provide long life and some give a quiet, comfortable ride. But non incorporate all these qualities and one – the Firestone F100 – didn´t have any of them when I tried it. To be fair to Firestone, they claim to have improved the F100 considerably since I used up mine almost two years ago.

The original Pirelli Cinturato wore well and were generally quite civilised, but were not very good in the wet. The Dunlop SP41 was good in the wet but wore out quickly and was rather harsh. The current Avon radial is even hasrsher, but is very good in the wet and seems to be wearing quite well. Perhaps a really good cross-ply tyre would be the answer after all?

Steering is one of the least satisfactory features of the Rover, being heavy at low speeds yet at the same time rather low geared. It is nevertheless surprisingly responsive if the driver is in a sporting mood and feels like a quick blast.

This dual personality – gentleman´s carriage or sports saloon – is one of the most remarkable things about the 2000. Even at 6000 rpm . at which it makes quite a lot of noise – it doesn´t have a great deal of power, but the combination of performance, handling and braking make it a very quick car for cross-country journeys. Alternatively it can be driven deceptively fast in almost complete silence provided the engine is not taken above 4000 rpm.

Mention of the brakes brings to mind a formidable array of superlatives, the only proviso being that they have always tended to squeak. (Sometimes they squeak when they are put on, and sometimes they squeak when they are not in use.) I think I may have cured this, finally, with a set of Ferodo DS5S pads, but these put the pedal pressure up somewhat and don´t seem to be as good at low speeds.

In appearance the car has dated very little in the four years since it was introduced, and the basic pressings should be able to go on well into the 70s. My only real objection is to the fussy grille, which is impossible to clean, and to the use of a rear-hinged bonnet: I just don´t like the idea of a great slab of metal blowing up and abscuring my vision.

After almost four years of active service, 145 FLK shows very few signs of age. There are a few traces of rust on the door sills, and a small hole in the driver´s carpet, but the seats and most of the interior fittings are virtually as new. The engine uses no oil at all, and the car in general seems all set for another 50.000 miles.

When I had had the Rover just over a year I felt I really ought to change it before something serious went wrong. (I am convinced that in the long run this is the most economical way of organising one´s motoring.) I had a good look at everything that was available, but apart from the Lotus Elan (which wouldn´t really accommodate my growing family) and various BMWs (which are just a bit too expensive in England) I couldn´t see anything in my price range to compare with it.

So I tried a nearly new Rover, and found that it was no better than my own; in several respects, in fact, it was not as good. (It was noisier, it didn´t run straight, and the heater and choke controls were garishly coloured – quite out of keeping with the rest of the interior appointments.) I also tried a TC, but could scarcely detect any improvement in performance and felt that the enormous offset badge on the bonnet was in even worse taste than the heater controls. I thought briefly of getting a TC without badges but with Lucas fuel injection (for which the twin carburettor head is essnetial) and then of an ordinary 2000 with AEI injection, but soon decided that I didn´t want to be a guinea pig.

So although I feel like a change – if only for the sale of progress – I am still the proud owner of a very early Rover 2000. Any offers?

David Phipps

UK 1967