Sam chooses a car for his proposed circumnavigation
Round the world in 75… well, a Rover P4 75, thinks Sam.
Irecently mulled over the best British car to use for a round-the-world road trip. My specification was as follows: good ground clearance; rugged and pliable suspension; minimal weight; ease of repair without specialist equipment; no non-userserviceable electronics; 60mph cruising speed; enough grunt to overtake trucks; sensible fuel consumption; decent accommodation. The best I came up with was a Morris Minor, but I received a gush of convincing counter-suggestions.
Steve White, Dave Foskew and Jeremy Dew sensibly recommended moving up the Fifties BMC ladder, respectively to the Morris Oxford Series 2 or 3, Riley One-point-five or Wolseley 1500 and MG Magnette ZA or ZB. They pointed out that these 1.5-litre B-series models had all the Minor’s virtues, but with added space and comfort.
Chris Wright and Peter de Jong put forward the Triumph Toledo, trumpeting its straightforward combination of some of Coventry's most dependable drivetrain components and a simple leaf-sprung live rear axle. Others recommended the Morris Marina and the Ford Escort MKI or MKII on similar grounds. An interesting curve-ball came from Gary Edwards, who suggested that I look no further than my own Austin Ruby. He pointed out that you couldn’t get more tried-and-tested than a car approaching its design centenary and included a list upgrades totalling £1500 to shift its comfort and performance closer to my desired levels.
Brian Perkins and John Barber advocated the BMC 1100/1300 and Landcrab. I’d ruled these out the grounds of their Hydrolastic suspension, which would be difficult to bodge-repair if it capsized in the middle of Siberia. Both Brian and John asserted, however, that there would be no reason to expect anything to go wrong if the system was in good order to begin with – and that its functional benefits on rough roads would be enormous. Other fine suggestions included the Ford Anglia 105E, Humber Sceptre or Hillman Super Minx, Vauxhall FE Victor, MGB GT and Triumph Vitesse.
I chose to ignore all this excellent advice and bought a 1953 Rover 75. It more-or-less fitted my specification in a big, heavy, thirsty sort of way. More pertinently, I wanted one. With its handsome Art Deco front and its streamlined Studebaker profile yet to be adulterated by David Bache, I’d go as far as to opine that the October 1952 to October 1954 P4 is the best-looking post-war British car not styled by Gerald Palmer. A P4 – albeit a later Rover 80 – also stars in my favourite road movie, Radio On.
Enter the Roverbaker
This Rover 75 was even more desirable than most. It was offered at a reasonable £1500 by Roger Davey – a Beaulieu Autojumble friend and a partner in diesel-related crime of PC’S Theodore J Gillam. Roger had converted it in the Nineties to accept a 2.25-litre Land Rover diesel engine. While this offers a specialist charm of its own, it’s not ideally suited to my needs. An obvious swap, however, is the 2.5-litre Land Rover petrol engine fitted to Nineties and One Tens from 1985 into the early Nineties. This would potentially offer a winning blend of the sheer simplicity of the overhead valve four-cylinder 2.25-litre Rover 80 and the performance of the inlet-over-exhaust six-cylinder 2.6-litre Rover 90.
The Rover’s been standing inside-and-out since 2007, which is of little mechanical relevance as circumnavigation preparation will involve checking, overhauled or replacing absolutely everything. Initial impressions are, nevertheless, positive. The engine gurgles nicely, the column gearchange is a pleasure and the steering and suspension feel unexpectedly shipshape. It lacks a few key parts of its shell – sills and front floorpans being the most transparently obvious – but it should be possible to address this without disturbing too much of its upper bodywork. Its charming Withnail & I patina can therefore be retained, which will make it all the more dignified a car in which to proceed around the globe. I’ll report back as the project unfolds.
Sam Glover spends his spare time breaking down in exotic locations around the world. He also tries to maintain a fleet of 50 obscure classics, from Anadol to Žuk. ‘I chose to ignore all this advice and bought a Rover 75’
The 75's good side. The other side is mostly absent.