Some thoughts about choosing new editorial transport

Deciding which new car to have, even when you are not paying for it yourself, is a problem. The best way of tackling it is to draw up a short-list of possibles, and then eliminate them one by one, until only the most desirable or practical remains. The choice is difficult even then, but I suppose we should be thankful that the variety is so wide and that, in spite of another proposed major merger between the industrial giants, we are still some way from being able to buy only the Barbara Castle saloon and the Harold Wilson limousine….

Gone are the spacious days when you first chose a chassis and then sent it away to a craftsman coachbuilder for a body to your personal requirements to be constructed on it. Yet a new car still ranks with a new wife as something desirable, mysterious, temporarily satisfying, and to be taken care of. It was at least a fortnight before the Motoring Dog was allowed into my last new car….

How then to decide? Fortunately I do not live in America and so am spared the near-impossible task of choosing between enormous automobiles, all of which look alike, and for which such a confusingly multitudinous array of extras, even to engines of different horsepowers and number of cylinders and gearboxes with different numbers of speeds, are available. In the old days I used to accept any utilitarian vehicle as Editorial transport, on the grounds that it had merely to be dependable and that if it were faster, more accelerative, more comfortable or a better roadholder than the cars I regularly received for road-test, part of the fun of appraising these other cars would be lost. But in old age you grow wiser, or more cunning. So, regarding the Jaguar E-types, Porsche 911, Lotus Elan, M.G.-B, etc. in the office car-park, I decided that after having endured in succession an ancient Austin 7 and Vauxhall Ten, a Morgan 4/4, a Morgan Plus Four, a Volkswagen 1200, a Mini Minor and a Morris 1100, I would have something a bit more luxurious this time. But, as I have said, what was I to choose?

After “shopping for a Rolls-Royce (or Bentley)” I came to the reluctant conclusion that ten-year-old vehicles which have no substantial guarantee are better reserved for fun-occasions than relied upon for serious Press journeys. There had, I may add, been no discernible response when implied that a Model-T or Silver Shadow would suit me very well….

So a short-list was drawn up. It contained the names Peugeot and Volvo, Alla Romeo and Mercedes-Benz. But the first two, conscientiously as they are constructed, are utility rather than luxury cars and a Volvo seems somewhat old-fashioned and a trifle dull (I have had no experience of the latest models). I still feel a bit unhappy about Alfa Romeo service and having to do so much gear-changing, and having tried but two models of the present range, this illustrious name was also crossed out, although not without much thought. I really would have liked a sports car but although I have very happy memories of fresh-air and fun, clad in leather coat and cap, in association with the Morgan Plus Four, a soft-top, as they call them these days, is not suitable for business use. I have been reported as saying “Why don’t we all have Lotus Elans?” and I would certainly have one without much question if (like Graham Hill) I could make do with only two seats. But sometimes I have to carry more than one passenger and (unlike Graham Hill) I do not have the use of a Ford Zodiac as a second car….

Mercedes-Benz seemed an obvious choice, because I regard this as the best car there is, providing maintenance is properly carried out. They are such big cars for town parking, of course, but I only crossed this one off the list when I reflected that I should probably have to make do with a 230S, whereas you want fuel-injection to savour Stuttgart at its best. On paper the Citroën DS should head every discerning driver’s short-list. But on the road problems of bulk, complexity and maintenance have to be faced. I have great respect for Fiat and its products (but did not know about the twin-cam Tipo 125 when compiling my list), I think very highly indeed of Lancias (but most of them are a bit small), and could contemplate nothing more desirable than a B.M.W. 2000TI. But at this stage it was suggested to me that the Editor of a British motor journal should be patriotic in his choice of a car during these difficult times, so those five makes got the blue pencil….

Jaguar remained, but it was difficult to decide which model. With the overall 70 m.p.h. speed limit and a clean licence it seemed tempting providence to have an E-type, as well as a bit extravagant when I never use my own cars outside this little Island. And other versions of the “Wardour Street Bentleys,” as they used to be called, have dated; I do like efficient ventilation without having to open the front 1/4-lights…? And then there is the unfortunate spares situation, to which D. S. J. and others have referred.

So in the end the Rover 2000 stood out as the sensible choice. I was not influenced particularly by the fact that Australia’s Modern Motor readers voted the Rover 2000 the outstanding car of the year and best luxury compact available or that New York’s Car & Driver readers put it top of the compact sedan and sports sedans under 300 cu. in. capacity Categories. But I was interested to note that the outspoken American journal Road Test, which isn’t influenced by advertising, had some very complimentary things to say about the 2000 in an article asking “Can this car be the World’s best?,” and that another American journal, Road & Track, comparing it with saloons in the same (4,000-dollar) price-class wrote: “We can’t think of any that offer a more appealing all-round package to suit our tastes than the Rover 2000.” Admittedly the Rover, like the Jaguar, does not have extractor-ventilation; you have to open the rear-window vents to obtain this. But they can be reached from the front seat and they stay open against wind-pressure, although on my car they let in water after a night parked in the open in heavy rain. The “minimum” Jaguar I would have considered costs £429 more than a 2000TC, anyway….

When I first drove this refreshingly “different” British 2-litre it lacked performance. But the TC edition is acceptable on that score. And most of the other qualities and items I wanted are to be found in the Solihull product. Was it not based on the very Citroën which for years I have found it so hard to resist? If the Lotus Elan is one of the fastest cars round corners, the Rover 2000 also clings to the road exceptionally well and was designed from the start for radial-ply tyres (14-in. Pirelli), in an age when some design-teams, when asked how they related suspension and tyre characteristics, still looked at the questioner pityingly and replied contentedly, “Oh, you can use any tyre on our cars.”

The Rover’s o.h.c. engine with piston-cavity combustion chambers provides a trace of Mercedes-Benz, its angling of Kienzel clock and Smiths tachometer towards the driver a touch of Alfa Romeo, and it does have a good heating and ventilation system. I am a bit reluctant to be pushed instead of pulled round corners, even at my age, but the B.M.C. 1800s do not offer quite the luxury or performance I visualised. At least the Rover has sophisticated suspension and shares a de Dion tube at the back with such exotic motor cars as the Isos and the Lancia Flaminia.

Moreover, the Rover 2000 is compact for parking, yet has a definite air of quality and character. It does not slavishly ape the top-bracket cars of a more leisurely era in having enormous Clubland armchairs and acres of tree-wood, which seem to me inappropriate in modern high-performance cars. But I do like to sit on real leather. This the Rover 2000 has, but the modest extent of its decor is – Formica.

I know automatic transmission is the most wonderful thing and that soon we shall all be letting it change gear for us and start us off, which is so restful for the left leg when driving in heavy traffic. But when I get leg-ache it is on the off-side (from years of trying to push accelerators through floorboards?), so I am quite happy with a manual gear change – and what nicer than the tiny rigid central floor lever of the Rover, even if it is stiff and notchy? Rover admit it is better used slowly.

So altogether it was no hardship to “Buy British” and I let my paper off lightly by choosing £1,415 Rover 2000TC.

Any doubts I had about this decision I dispelled by telling myself that what is good enough for Prince Charles, who was surely advised by his motoring father, should do for me. I was not so happy when Cecil Clutton, another discerning driver, when asked how he was getting on with his TC, replied, “I have sent it back to Solihull so that they can finish making it.” But they did this, and he tells me that he is now very pleased indeed with the car.

Thus, on March 30th I took delivery, from Paul Street Garage Ltd., E.C.2, of a red Pirelli Cinturato-shod 2000TC with dark brown buffalo hide upholstery. I had specified various extras but these were conspicuous by their absence, although a Radiomobile 970 radio was fitted subsequently and, with roof aerial, is one of the best I have had the pleasure of listening to, although it did not at first get the stations I required, such as music on the Third Programme. The ignition key has to be pushed in before it will turn to the left and play the radio, this being done to save wear by ham-fisted people sweeping the contacts every time they start the engine.

When I drove the new car away the odometer read 37 miles, which was something of a puzzle, as it was not the distance from Solihull, yet was too far to be that from Henly’s nearest depot, who had supplied it. The fuel tank was full, the radiator wore a Bluecol label, and paper mats on the floor suggested that the pre-delivery servicing had embraced Sternol lubricants. First impression was of the enormously heavy steering, after driving a Mercedes-Benz 250SE with power steering, but it gets light as speed rises and the Rover’s too-big steering wheel can be adjusted out of the line of vision by turning a convenient knob. However it is set, though, I find myself tending to rest my right elbow on the door-sill.

Arriving home, I found the back tyre pressures to be 2 lb. too high, but otherwise all appeared to be in order, apart from the fact that two ignition-keys had been supplied but no boot-key, and there was a very tiny patch of rust on the plating of the o/s of the windscreen frame, and poor plating on the thumb-press of the quick-action fuel filler. Incidentally, I knew this must be an executive’s car, not only because it smelt pleasantly of good leather, but because I could see to straighten my tie in the indicator-lights’ panel! Indeed, Rover must think their clients very vain, for the driver’s vizor, as well as the passenger’s, possesses a make-up mirror; this is sensible, really, I suppose, when so many women drive cars.

The early days of ownership passed off uneventfully. At the time I had the use of a Ford Cortina-Lotus (another car I could happily own) bedecked with speed-flashes, speed-tape and badges. The keen interest taken by the police (who told me that I mustn’t so much as overtake a slower car in a built-up area, never mind the speed) caused me to use the Rover in London, reserving the Ford for more open roads. I had been told to run-in by not exceeding 45 m.p.h. for 500 miles but I am impatient by nature and round the handbook’s recommendation of gradually increasing speed from 55-60 m.p.h. during the initial 1,500 miles much more to my liking, although in that distance I tried not to exceed 3,000 r.p.m.

Going to Lord Montagu’s luncheon at the R.A.C. I became anxious in the traffic, wondering whether the petrol reserve control would work – it did, showing that at running-in speeds I was getting, roughly, over 28 m.p.g. This control greatly enhances my liking for the Rover, especially as the car runs for scores of miles with the fuel gauge on empty – or it did because, like other good things of this world, it didn’t last long. It let me down, in fact, on a remote country road, the control refusing to be pushed home and giving only a few miles after it had been used. Walking, however, is good for one’s health….

Immediately after I had written last month’s Editorial about Esso lowering both the price and the octane-rating of their petrol the TC’s engine, for which a minimum of 100-octane is specified, ran-on alarmingly after I had filled. up with 5-star Esso Extra. On Super Shell it does not do this. Otherwise, no complaints to date, after 27 days (except that the engine idles too fast, at 1,300 r.p.m.), and no oil used, in 1,200 miles, which makes the car overdue for its free service, after which it should not need attention for 5,000 miles.

Rover make a real effort to present their cars with dignity and in this, and in many less-obvious details, the 2000 is in no way interior to Sir William Lyons’ famous cars. Although the maintenance and instruction manuals (to which I have added a Castrol lubrication chart), come in a plastic, not a leather, folder, it was nice to discover therein a sachet of Clearalex for the Lucas screen-washers. The maker’s message to new Rover owners commences: “Whether you are a novice or a veteran, whether you are technically-minded or the reverse…” and while I refuse to admit to which category I belong, I will confess that some of the things I found out about the 2000TC pleased me a good deal. For instance, if a bulb fails in either a front or a rear turn-indicator both the warning lights will flash rapidly and audible warning will cease, and then there is that thermostat which renders the choke light a true warning, as it only comes on when the engine is too warm to need mixture enrichment. The rear wheel arches are covered by the car’s back doors, to obviate soiling the clothes of those entering the back compartment, the leather upholstery is free from artificially-embossed grain, the car serial number and its key-numbers are listed on a plate on the o/s wing valance beneath the bonnet, tappet clearances on the cam-box cover, and sill door-locks are fitted – a short-list should have on it all the items a prospective purchaser wants in a car, which can then be ticked off against the makes on the list. I had sill-locks on mine. It is convenient to be able to lock all doors from outside without a key, and to find lower-gear maxima of 30, 55 and 85 m.p.h. marked on the m.p.h./k.p.h. speedometer is a reminder that the 2000TC has ample performance for a 2-litre car. And performance well within its stride, for it is high-geared, pulling a 3.5-to-1 axle ratio.

The intake for the heater is situated in a well formed at the back of the bonnet, where exhaust fumes from vehicles in front are not so likely to be drawn in, and this well enables the screen-wiper spindles to be mounted neatly within it. The seats are smaller than in some luxury cars, but extremely comfortable.

Other notable points are the sidelamp indicators on the front wings, a warning light for hand-brake applied or low brake fluid level, reversing lamps and o/s parking lamps fitted as standard, rheostat instrument lighting that includes the clock, this W. German battery-wound Kienzel clock giving away practically nothing to my 17-jewel Breitling Navitimer in accuracy of time-keeping, steadily-reading gauges, coat hooks, fuel contents in litres as well as gallons (12/55), and, when fitted, some of the strongest-available seat harness, made for Rover by Irvine. The accident prone will be happy, too, in a structure which, like that of a Mercedes-Benz, is designed to collapse scientifically on impact. There are servo disc brakes all round, Courtesy action of the roof lamps is divided between front and back doors, the 2-speed heater fan is very quiet in the first position and not unduly noisy on “full-fast,” while it is interesting that Castrol XL, is recommended for the engine.

However, I am beginning to reiterate the road-test report that Motor Sport published last December, so I will conclude by remarking that, though my childhood enthusiasm for cars fitted with every conceivable sort of dial on the dashboard has begun to evaporate, I would have liked an oil-pressure gauge on the Rover, if not an ammeter and oil-temperature thermometer. However, no car has everything and the 2000TC, seems to be working out very well.

No owner of a brand-new car can have a clear conscience until the body has been protected with wax polish. After I had had the Rover a fortnight one of my daughters, before she washed and polished her VW, performed a similar service for the larger car, sure sign that she approves of it. We were going to pretend it was a Rolls-Royce and use Porzelack but found this needs two fluids, so instead we used that excellent Turtle Wax.

Until the next report on the car, one last observation. I have been asked whether the great number of Rover 2000s encountered on the road detracts somewhat from my enjoyment of having one. The inference, I suppose, being that I might feel happier in a Chaika, a Suzulight or a Yue Loong. The short answer is that, while I can see the fun of driving a truly rare car, there is safety in numbers. I would forego the prestige of a seldom-seen make for reliability; the makes you encounter very frequently are the most likely to be satisfactory cars. Quality begets a reputation something Rover and Volkswagen have in common – although it is non-U, I find, for owners of the former to flash their lamps in recognition.

Postscript. – The free service seemed to have been conscientiously carried out. The car was presented just after 11 a.m and was ready by 5 p.m. but had not been washed. The reserve fuel control was working again but I have reason to suppose that either the tank holds about a gallon more than is specified or that the reserve range is woefully small. Idling had been reset. to a lumpy 800 r.p.m. The tyre pressures were still not quite correct. (I dislike Pirelli’s plastic valve caps, which strip their threads – the metal, two-purpose Schrader caps are much nicer.) Petrol consumption over 50/50 running-in and normal driving has averaged 26.8 m.p.g. of Super Shell to date. I think I am going to enjoy my Rovercar very much indeed. – W. B.