David decided to borrow an example of Rover’s V6-engined flagship while our £500 Challenge Mercedes S-class was away being mended. To be honest, it didn’t go well…
Have you ever noticed that it’s only in the depths of winter that your boiler – which has spent all summer taking it easy – suddenly goes on the blink?
It’s only at that precise moment when a device – in this case a Rover 800’s driver’s door window motor – is called upon that you discover that pressing the button results in precisely nothing. In this instance while trying to get through the ticket-operated barrier at a Nottingham multistorey car park, with four annoyed motorists behind me.
The Rover in question was Justin Lazic’s 1999 825 Sterling, which I’d borrowed for a few days while our £500 Mercedes S-class was being mended (p28). I didn’t mind a few little niggles to keep me entertained, including – this being a 1990s luxobarge – an alarm system so complicated that it can only be operated by Professor Brian Cox. Taking Justin’s advice, I just secured the car with the key…
I eventually escaped from Nottingham city centre, pointed the Rover’s wedge-shaped snout at some proper roads and really started to learn more about its character.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for 1990s Rovers. My dad had a succession of 400s and 600s as company cars at the time, and some years later I spent three years driving around in an N-registered 214 SEi.
So I was looking forward to spending some time with Rover’s leather-lined flagship. This was Britain’s most luxurious massmarket car at the time – the V6 versions of the 75 had yet to arrive in the showrooms, and Jaguar had only just launched its S-Type. The ride was wonderfully cossetting on the A52, and the torquey quad-cam V6 made short work of the faster, flowing stretches. In fact, it was proving to be so enjoyable that I gave the A1 a miss and decided to take the scenic route back to Peterborough so I could make the most of the KV6’s muted growl on kickdown and the plush leather-trimmed seats.
But it wasn’t to last. As we headed on to Rutland’s winding roads, the warning lights for both the ABS system and the airbags blinked on – annoying, but not catastrophic on an 18-year-old car that still appeared to be running beautifully.
Then the battery warning light flickered into life and proceeded to blink on and off, depending on the road’s incline. What had started out as a relaxing drive in the countryside was turning into an Apollo 13-esque mission to nurse an increasingly sickly machine home.
One by one the car’s electronic functions disappeared, starting with the ABS system and stereo, then the speedometer, whose needle began to flicker erratically before slumping to zero. More worryingly, the V6’s oomph was curtailed when the fourspeed automatic gearbox suddenly lost its ability to kick down.
With less than 20 miles to go, I was preparing myself for an easydoes-it limp home to Peterborough, whereupon the car cut out south of Rutland Water.
The AA arrived within half an hour and diagnosed an alternator that, while not completely dead, wasn’t charging the battery. A subsequent attempt to resuscitate the car with power from the AA van didn’t help, either –a few minutes after firing the V6 up again, the alternator began to billow smoke, accompanied by the metallic whiff of mechanical components that have truly given up the ghost.
In the end, the AA man managed to get enough charge in to the Rover’s battery for it to be driven back to Peterborough, albeit now minus its power-assisted steering.
I arrived home three hours later than planned, and with a large V6 saloon that I now know will only limp short distances if it’s spoon-fed some electricity from my battery charger in the absence of its now thoroughly deceased alternator.
Justin is planning to have the tired component rebuilt (replacements are increasingly hard to come by), so I’m looking forward to having another crack at the 800 once its electrics are back up and running.
My all-too brief afternoon with the Sterling showed that it is a fine thing to drive – in fact, I’m putting my bad luck down to our S-class taking umbrage at being sent off to automotive rehab and somehow cursing its fellow six-pot exec express saloon with the same sort of electrical issues.
Not that I’m superstitious or anything…
David loved the 825’s luxury and poise – but not its lessthan-impressive alternator.
V429 GPO needed a helping hand, and some more electricity, to make it back from rutland.