New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature Car -

The bright-metal­lic-green Rover SD1 looked like some­thing from outer space — well, it did to me when I first saw it at the end of our drive­way with my grand­fa­ther at the wheel.

Grow­ing up in a small ru­ral com­mu­nity in Taranaki in the 1970s, my grand­fa­ther’s new Rover SD1 caused quite a stir when it was first sighted in Opunake. It was 1979, and I was 13 years old. In those days, my dad drove an HG Holden ute and my mum, a Vaux­hall Chevette. A Rover SD1 was very ex­otic in small-town New Zealand back then.

My grand­fa­ther was known to ev­ery­one in town as ‘Jim’, and to all his whanau as ‘Pa’, and, when he pulled up at the end of our drive­way in that space-age Rover SD1, I was hooked. He took me for a ride. I’ll never for­get that first cruise down Tas­man Street, with him at the wheel, and me look­ing at all the gauges and switches and lis­ten­ing to the purr of the en­gine. My love of cars was well on its way to full ob­ses­sion. My grand­fa­ther owned an SD1! This meant im­me­di­ate street cred to me, his grand­son.

A few years later, Pa bought an­other Rover SD1, reg­is­tra­tion num­ber MG261. This time, it was the topof-the-range 3500 Van­den Plas, the Se­ries II ver­sion lav­ished with ev­ery­thing 1980s tech­nol­ogy could of­fer: air con­di­tion­ing, head­light wash­ers, elec­tric and heated mir­rors, fog lights, power steer­ing, cen­tral lock­ing, elec­tric win­dows, an elec­tric sun­roof, a leather steer­ing wheel with tilt-and-reach ad­just­ment, front and rear read­ing lamps, a burr-wal­nut fas­cia and door in­serts, rear pas­sen­ger heat­ing, an Alpine ra­dio/cas­sette with four speak­ers, tinted glass, a front spoiler, and — my favourite fea­ture — a trip com­puter with a stop­watch and … a 240kph speedo. Wow.

By this time, I was at univer­sity and didn’t see my grand­fa­ther as much. It was the last Rover he owned, and, af­ter his pass­ing in 2002, it sat, a lit­tle for­lornly, un­der a few blan­kets in a shed on our farm back home.

A few years later, Pa bought an­other Rover SD1, reg­is­tra­tion num­ber MG261. This time, it was the top-of-the-range 3500 Van­den Plas, the Se­ries II ver­sion lav­ished with ev­ery­thing 1980s tech­nol­ogy could of­fer

Un­cle Joe replied, “You want to take it home with you?” I lived in Welling­ton. I said, “Re­ally?”

“Re­ally,” he replied, “and bring it back when you’ve had enough of it.”

That was the start of an eight-year restora­tion pro­ject.

It was my grand­mother who ac­tu­ally wrote out the cheque to buy MG261. My cousin Ni­cola found the orig­i­nal pur­chase re­ceipt in some old files. My grand­mother’s name was Alice. She al­ways had a blan­ket over the back seat to pro­tect the velour, and would of­ten sit in the back with an eye on the speedo; Jim got a short sharp or­der to slow down if the nee­dle even ap­proached 101kph. ‘Alice’ is what I call the car now; it seems to fit. In mid 2007, I went back up to the farm to trailer the car to Welling­ton. I found it to be in a sorry state. Eight years of sit­ting idle had not been kind. A fam­ily of mice, long de­ceased, had made a right mess of the in­te­rior. It stunk, and there were nests in


In late 2011, I rang my dad: “Dad, I’ve still got Pa’s Rover in the garage.” “I know that, son.” “I’ve done the sums, Dad. It will cost me heaps to fix it prop­erly, and it will be worth less than restora­tion cost, and I’m feel­ing guilty about it, and Ja­nine’s car is out­side and I haven’t got time, and …” On and on I went, with a long se­ries of ex­cuses. “Well, sell it then,” he said. There was a long pause. “I can’t sell it, Dad! It’s the last car Pa ever owned!” An­other pause. “Well, fix it then,” he said. And that was that. De­ci­sion made. Restora­tion was to com­mence im­me­di­ately.

Dis­as­sem­bly started on Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 4, 2012. On the team that day were my dad and my sons, Sam and Joe, who were 14 and 11 at the time.

Over the next six weeks, we worked ev­ery week­end and a cou­ple of nights each week to fully strip the car. Tues­day night be­came the un­of­fi­cial ‘Rover Night’, and mates and fam­ily mem­bers showed up to help out.

On Sun­day, March 18, 2012, it was done, and we se­cured ev­ery­thing ready for the trans­porter to take the body shell to Mike Baucke and the team at The Surgery for the panel and paint­work. I had started a di­ary of all the work, and recorded the hours done, and by who. The to­tal dis­as­sem­bly time was 105 hours.

Spec­tac­u­lar re­sult

On Fri­day, Novem­ber 23, 2012 the body shell came back from The Surgery. It looked amaz­ing in its new coat (well, many coats) of Bur­gundy Mica Pearl. It was hard to be­lieve it was the same car.

I had given Mike a chal­lenge with the paint spec­i­fi­ca­tion and the fin­ish I wanted, plus ev­ery sin­gle the dash where the clock used to be. The reg­is­tra­tion sticker on the wind­screen had an ex­piry date of Fe­bru­ary 1999. Any­way, af­ter a jump start, it fired into life re­mark­ably eas­ily, and I drove it onto the car trailer — af­ter a quick squirt up Opua Road, just for old-time’s sake.

panel had a war wound of some kind. The fin­ished re­sult is a trib­ute to the panel ac­com­plish­ments of the team at The Surgery and to Mike’s paint­ing skill. The restora­tion team mem­bers were all very ner­vous about the re­build — no one wanted to be the first to mark the per­fect paint!

I needed an ex­pe­ri­enced me­chanic to help out with some of the tech­ni­cal bits, and I was keen to have some­one to men­tor Sam, who wanted to re­build the en­gine. I asked around, and Roy Mcguin­ness put me onto a young chap named James Dav­i­son. Roy said he knew a thing or two about Jags and Rovers, and might just be pre­pared to join the Tues­day Rover Night crew. I met James, and things just went from there. He has been a ma­jor part of the build from day one.

He and Sam hit it off from the start, and their ban­ter and gen­eral hi­lar­ity made the pro­ject a lot eas­ier — those who have at­tempted a ma­jor restora­tion like this will know that mo­ti­va­tion can wane at times; th­ese two blokes kept me go­ing, that’s for sure. The en­ergy of this duo cre­ated one very ex­cep­tional Rover V8 en­gine.

Af­ter 1700 labour hours, three­and-a-half years, some chal­leng­ing days and nights, and a few laughs, too, it was done

The restora­tion car­ried on in earnest through the rest of 2012 and into 2013. In 2014, the SD1 took a back seat to an­other car pro­ject, then things got back un­der­way in early 2015.

Dad and I de­cided we needed some more ex­per­tise to help us cross the fin­ish line. I placed a ‘Help!’ call to An­drew Fox at Clas­sic and Mod­ern Mo­tor­ing. He came over that af­ter­noon.

An­drew has worked on our clas­sic cars over the last 13 years. He be­came ‘Chief Drivetrain Fin­ish­ing Of­fi­cer’. With An­drew’s help, we sorted the last clutch, gear­box, and ex­haust is­sues. We were ready for ig­ni­tion.

The first en­gine start was on Thurs­day, Au­gust 6, 2015. It was a nerve-rack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me. En­gine builders James and Sam didn’t seem too wor­ried — they had con­fi­dence in the build, ob­vi­ously! It all went well, other than the fuel pump fail­ing af­ter sit­ting around in the fuel tank for 16 years do­ing stuff-all — some­how, James pro­cured a new gen­uine re­place­ment one within two hours. We had fuel, spark, and plenty of oxy­gen-rich Welling­ton air. The fresh Rover V8 fired up. It was a very spe­cial day for me.

The test drive round the block was event-free. James mon­i­tored en­gine func­tions. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. It ran per­fectly. Af­ter 1700 labour hours, three-and-a-half years, some chal­leng­ing days and nights, and a few laughs, too, it was done. Jim and Alice’s SD1 is back on the road, and she looks spec­tac­u­lar.

Mike Baucke of The Surgery wanted to en­sure Michael was get­ting the best SD1 in New Zealand. When Michael or­dered new wal­nut trim for the dash of the SD1, Mike quickly pointed out that they could do a far bet­ter job restor­ing the orig­i­nal trim, and, when Michael was con­sid­er­ing re­do­ing the Oat­meal velour, Mike sim­ply stated, “It’s not like the whanau will jump in and say ‘Gee, this fab­ric smells great’”. Michael went ahead with the sump­tu­ous bis­cuit leather in­te­rior and now ad­mits this is one of his favourite fea­tures of the car, as it makes it smell and feel like the Bri­tish states­man it is.

When The Surgery had put the fin­ish­ing touches on the SD1, Michael in­vited his ex­tended fam­ily and ev­ery­one in­volved in the pro­ject to come along for a Maori bless­ing by Michael’s father, Mont­gomery. Mike at The Surgery says, “The cer­e­mony went very well and was quite mov­ing. It made ev­ery­one in­volved feel very in­cluded in the process and was the ic­ing on the cake”.

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