"How I was bitten by the Rover Bug"

Personal Profile of Max Constantine
May 2000


It was June 1982 when I first started out, I did not really have a Rover in mind. I was then the owner of an 'unkillable' 1959 Austin Cambridge on its second engine and gearbox, and apart from some gearshift linkage problems it was just about faultless.

However there were ominous signs of decay particularly underneath, and this panelbeater studied it with reluctance, officialdom showed even more signs of reluctance and the back end I was advised might well drop out soon. I accepted the verdict, even though I was none too sure what the back end represented.

We'll do the car yards said my wife, and do them we did, up and down all over Auckland.

I had one main gripe, previously every car I had bought leaked like a sieve, and I was determined to have a dry floor. We looked at quite a few models, I checked the floorboards - damp, wet, mouldy, smelly, dirty etc. We were about to give up and were back in Albany when I saw a white Rover in a corner of a yard.

I checked the floorboards; dry under the mats, there appeared a rust proof Terrazo type floor. At last, a dry car! It was a 1965 white P6 2000 SC, manual with a tow bar. Mine I decided, my wife Val looked a bit dubious - she's a bit older than me. We took a short drive up the road, very nice to drive, and fresh paint.

After the formalities were completed and I was relieved of $2,500, we sailed off home to have a closer look at our latest acquisition. Seventeen years old, a fairly mature horse one might have thought. I spent a week or so adding mats, seat covers, steering wheel cover and so on.

The next weekend we decided to try it out on a trip to Piha. I knew that if there were any problems lurking under the bonnet, Piha would reveal all. We set out across West Auckland and climbed towards Waiatarua. Half way up Val looked out of the window and noticed what appeared to be mist coming from under the bonnet; she suggested we stop at the kiosk to take a look. As I climbed out I heard a muffled nimble. With trepidation I undid the bonnet, the nimble became more pronounced, and aided by a hanky I undid the radiator cap. A geyser of boiling water shot impressively into the air - all was revealed.

'Don't worry about it' said Val, 'fill it up and we'll press on'. 'Not in this' I said 'it's not a 'Model T", cold water would probably crack the head. I knew too that climbing the hill back out of Piha at the beach end would prove too much for 'Huckleberry Horse' as he was later to be known. We sailed home and made it down hill, reality was beginning to dawn on me.

In the garage later I found that I was in for a radiator overhaul and a valve grind. It was the beginning of an eleven-year relationship fraught with difficulties, frustration and expense. I persevered; I had a thing about 'Huckleberry Horse'.

He went on to take us to New Plymouth. On the way back the duff seized at Ohaupo. I had to leave him, hire a Ford, and have the duff replaced. The next venture was a holiday in Napier via Gisborne. We went towing a trailer. That cost a broken universal, repaired in Napier. A routine trip home one day saw me stop half a mile from home with no traction. The main nut had vibrated off the driveshaft. Result, a changed motor and clutch.

We had a lot of fun in those days looking back, and 'Huckleberry Horse' had a real personality.

Being enthusiastic I covered the lower dash and gearbox housing in mahogany plywood that everyone thought was rather natty. Later I transferred the woodwork to 'Honeysuckle Rose', a 1971 P6 2000 in which we went to Wanganui.

'Honeysuckle Rose' was followed by 'Oliver' in 1997, a manual 5 speed 800 SI that I still have. I will save his activities for another time.

Well those were my early days, I hope you readers find it entertaining.

Max Constantine relates some further adventures with his Rovers.

October 2000

Before embarking on the exploits of 'Oliver', I would like to recount one adventure for which 'Huckleberry Horse' must take full credit. This took place in January 1987. Three of us went to Hauhora some 30 miles north of Kaitaia, and stayed for a weekend at the local motel. It was a great holiday except for the ferocious mosquitoes we encountered.

On the way home we went to the Wagener Museum which now houses some 400 enamel chamber pots, donated from a private collection. This museum is well worth seeing beyond the pots, and has an attached restaurant and is situated in a large park on the Wade River bank.

Leaving the museum we decided to visit Spirits Bay. The entrance off the main road was not very inviting, and then 10 miles down a gravel road. It was four in the afternoon and I had some doubts. However, we set off, the gravel was deep and previous cars had ground channels which scraped on the undercarriage. On a bend on the way down a hill, 'Huckleberry Horse skidded at about 25 MPH and slid decorously over the bank, landing upright on a ledge about 3 meters down. I thought we were goners, in the middle of nowhere in the late afternoon, but luck was with us and lo and behold I was able to drive out of the ledge and back on to the road.

We did go down to the camp at Spirits Bay. It was quite pretty on the coast but the camp had only one amenity, a water tap. It was well and truly a BYO - in block capital letters! I drove the 10 miles back in the gravel and was thankful to finally reach the sealed main road. The rest of the trip home was uneventful.

Now to 'Oliver'. I first came across him at the top of a private drive in Howick. 'Oliver' was a 1988 Rover 800 Series 820 SI manual. Bells and whistles, you name them they're there. 'Oliver' was a far cry from the fairly straightforward P6. Real 21st Century stuff - power brakes, steering, electric windows - buttons and switches everywhere. There was a 100 page guide covering the controls, a computerised nightmare!

However 'go with the flow' it had to be. Alter completing the usual formalities, I started on the drive home. It was getting dark and being unfamiliar with Howick I nearly ended up at Whitford, before finding my way back to the Pakuranga Highway.

It was not easy using the controls in the dark, and I found that the indicators were on the opposite side of the steering column to that of the P6. As a result, the windscreen wipers came on several times when I wanted to make a turn!

'Oliver' had a peculiarity which I noticed even on the trip back to Albany, a pronounced stutter. It was unnerving until I became used to it, happening at slow speeds and occasionally when I turned on the indicators. I have made several attempts to correct it since 1997, but in spite of a replaced distributor cap that was cracked, the fault has never entirely disappeared.

Over the years 'Oliver' has proved :o be reliable enough, great on hills having a 5 Speed gearbox. I found I could use either 91 or 96 octane petrol as the computer could accommodate both, and achieve about 40 miles to the gallon on a trip.

Oliver' took us to Kaitaia and Cable Bay, down to Rotorua and over to Whangamata and to various other places without any trouble. I have had to replace the cam belt and clutch, but there has not been the drama and excitement I experienced with the classic Rovers.

I still have 'Oliver' and by and large he was a good buy, having clocked up some 146,000 kilometers so far.

Well that's my Rover escapades to date, I shall look forward to reading about other members' Rover experiences.