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Project Lucas, With Added Lemon Flavour

This may not surprise you, but I have been bit by the Rover SD1 bug.

I sold NP70/Nigel when petrol hit $2/litre for the first time ever. I was a young’un at the time and that was my only car, which I had to daily to my minimum-wage job. A 3.5L V8 probably wasn’t the smartest choice.

Look at it though, *swoon*

I reluctantly parted with Effie when our landlord faced financial struggles and evicted us at short notice to sell up. We had nowhere to live, let alone somewhere with secure parking for two SD1s. My wife called on a friend to store Tess until we found our feet.

On paper, Tess was the holy grail of SD1s. Black, manual, Vitesse. But after investing $3,000 and countless hours in her, she was back on the road (after several years being parked up with a mystery issue) and driving solidly and reliably. I didn’t bond with Tess as I had with Effie and, with no more work to do on her it was time to find her an owner that would drive and enjoy her.

For my 65th car, I knew it had to be something special. I wanted another one. Ideally, a Series 2 EFI, of which according to my records, there are ten of in the country.

There were none for sale, so I reached out to NP70’s current owner. I know the car has been off the road since 2018 and the owner has a large fleet so hadn’t gotten around to fixing it, but he’s not intending to sell. I tried Effie’s owner too, as we’ve kept in touch, but he’s got plans for her and knows he would regret selling.

Then I recalled someone last year had posted something on Facebook about planning to export their SD1 to the UK. It would be a shame to drop another car from NZ’s limited numbers, so I reached out to see if he still had the car and was soon fizzing with the excitement of adding Lucas to the TastesLikePetrol fleet.

Alas, some of you may have picked up on social media that very quickly I ascertained that there was something seriously wrong with Lucas. I’ve been conned.

At this point – I could skip forward to the moral of the story. But of all 65 cars I have purchased, this is one that’s going down in infamy, so I’m going to lay the facts down.

This is Lucas’ story.

First impressions

After several exchanges with the previous owner, I needed that car. He played hardball – he knew what he ‘had’ and that Series 2 EFI cars were rare. It was now or never. There are so few of these cars and too many of them are rotting into the ground, if I could save a fourth one and get it back on the road after over a year languishing under a ‘best intentions’ owner, I would.

In addition to needing a new indicator stalk for a WOF, the one caveat he stressed was that it “wasn’t show quality”. That’s fine, he had already specified no rust, and the body and engine were otherwise solid, just in need of a good service and some “TLC”. I’d seen the car under its previous ownership, circa 2016, and recalled it was a tidy example.

British Car Day 2016

He sent me some potato quality photos taken from a distance, and a video of the engine starting and running when cold, also potato quality and not quite showing some bits. It seemed solid enough though, and although there was minor lifter clatter on initial start, it sounded fairly normal. We made a deal (or more like, I agreed to his price and sent the money).

This is the point where he said he would “hold the money in a separate account” in case I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to return the car. Perhaps that should have been a red flag, but I took it as a positive sign.

A few days later Brent’s truck pulled up (cut to ad break for Classic Towing NZ, for all your personal door-to-door automotive delivery needs *no affiliation, he’s just a good guy that does a great job*) and first impressions were mixed. He said it wasn’t show quality, but I didn’t realise that he struggled so much with carparks. Both front and rear bumpers were cracked with chunks out of them.

From this vantage point, something also seemed off with the fuel tank. Perhaps he had a habit of doing sweet jumps over speed bumps.

The paint job is also a bit questionable – overspray everywhere and it’s lifting in places showing little prep may have gone underneath. But I guess that’s covered by not being show quality, and while a niggle, it wouldn’t affect the enjoyability of being behind the wheel again.

Speaking of, the steering wheel was at its lowest height, floppy and with the positioning screw MIA. The stalks and surrounds were sitting in a plastic container on the back seat.

As I was pulling the car into the garage, I was surprised that the car with “no rust” had clear rust at eye level, including a large area of bubbling on the sunroof and rust around the windscreen that will hopefully hold for a bit, but will eventually require the windscreen to come out.

Can of worms

You know me, I tend to dive straight into projects and this was no different. I’d only had the car a few hours and already fixed the “one issue” for a WOF – being the replacement indicator stalk (and reassembly of the steering wheel), which I’ve already posted about.

In testing the indicator, I discovered I had no headlights and spent a couple of days tracing wiring diagrams and finding that part of the loom had been submerged in water at some point (also covered in the above post). I’m yet to work out where the water was getting in – but the owners manual in the glove box has been destroyed by moisture and overtaken by black mould so there’s a leak on that side somewhere.

Snooping around the car and building my shopping list for the inevitable Rimmers order, I found:

  • Three fuel leaks (fire hazard)
  • A dented/weeping fuel tank (fire hazard & WOF issue)
  • Washer jets don’t work (WOF issue)
  • Doors sticking and/or not catching properly (WOF issue – at this point, I’ve been too scared to try the windows other than the drivers once, which is stuffed)
  • Everything was finger-loose. Why does no one like doing up bolts?

And this is where it gets really good/bad

Following the initial work, I took the car for a gentle lap of the block – just to validate the steering column etc was all good for a Warrant.

I had non-existent oil pressure. Rovers are known for low pressure (high flow, low pressure system) and the floppy gauges aren’t decimal-point accurate, but at best it was getting about 1/2 what I should be and you could tell.

Less than 15PSI at idle, but hey, the lights not on, so that’s something.

Then I got the car up to temperature and the knocking started.

Turns out it’s made the noise before (of course – cars don’t go from fine to full on metal-spoon in a saucepan by themselves) but “didn’t make the noise when loaded on to the truck”. That doesn’t mean it’s magically better, it just meant the car hadn’t come up to temperature??

But wait, that’s not all

I’ve saved the best for last. Last week I noted something not right and I discovered what it was.

The tired, worn-out engine was not original to the car.

It wasn’t even an EFI engine (31A engine code, 9.75:1CR). It was a lower-spec (11A 9.35:1CR) engine rated at significantly less power.

Now, some people legitimately don’t know what’s in their engine bay. These people typically aren’t “enthusiasts” or active club members who explicitly “know what they’ve got” and the value of a Series 2 EFI.

But while I knew he knew, I had no way of proving that he knew it was not the original engine.

Let’s recap

Exact quote:Surely it’s reasonable to assume?What he sent me
Series 2 EFIA Series 2 EFI with a high compression “Vitesse” EFI engine in the carA Series 2 shell with a lower spec engine, with the EFI gear bolted onto it
Just needs an indicator stalk for a WOFJust needs an indicator stalk for a WOF, and maybe a good serviceNeeds an indicator stalk, headlights fixed, the fuel tank repaired, fuel leaks fixed, the doors to function, and maybe some rust work depending how picky the inspector is.
“Any rust?” “No rust.”Light surface rust, but no bubblingVisible rust at eye-line – bubbling through the paint on the sunroof and around the windscreen. Have also found rust in the floor pan so far
“Got some spares”A box of miscellaneous spares – usually includes an airbox, maybe a spare taillight, radio surround, that set of spark plugs you hadn’t got around to fitting. That sorta thing.A pile of scrap, including the original engine – as yet, not provided.

Return to sender

After hours of diagnosing and googling and pricing, it was clear that the car was miles away from what was described and sold to me.

  • I don’t have space to do an engine swap at home (noting our steep driveway making manoeuvring limited when a car’s missing running gear, and remembering the Marina has dibs on half the garage). 
  • I have no money left to pour into a significant project like this. Effie had an engine rebuild before I got her – receipts for $6,000 NZD.
  • I have a long list of jobs still to get through to get the Marina to British Car Day in February 2023.

Earlier in the week, I had signalled to the seller that the car wasn’t happy and I was going to run some further diagnostics just in case it wasn’t serious but it wasn’t looking good and we might need to revisit. Remembering his original offer to hold back the money in case I wasn’t satisfied and needed to return the car.

At minimum, I’d need to be compensated at least half of what I paid for the car to keep him but a) I’d still have issues with space and time, and b) let’s face it, the seller was never going to go for that.

I drove the Swift up the Coast to clear my head the next day and made a call. A hard call. Lucas had to be returned.

I first sent a video of the clattering engine. Then I sent a note outlining the disappointment and that I would have to return the car. I proposed that he covered return costs as the car was so drastically misrepresented – and in the meantime, I’d fixed the indicator stalk he’d spent a year “fixing”, and the headlights, given it an oil change, and replaced the AWOL exhaust gaskets for him.

He said if I wanted my money back, it was my problem to send it back to the Bay of Plenty. That would put me out $1,400 in transporter fees and I would have nothing to show for it. But better than being out of pocket for the full cost of the car, I suppose.

I agreed and provided him with my bank details so I could start arranging return transport.

“No no. Send me the car first. I’ll refund after I’ve inspected it.”

Well, how about half now – as a sign of good faith, considering everything?

“No. Return the car first”

Okay, I’ll just get a short agreement written up for us to sign, to cover us both – you get the car, I get a full refund.

“No.”

You won’t sign?

“Send the car first – I’m suspicious you have done something to the car”

“Return the car or get lost”

So apparently I found one of the dodgiest guys in the Rover community, and his behaviour was getting slipperier by the minute.

Even if I returned the car to him at my cost, I had zero confidence I’d see my money back. After the total of the interactions I’ve had with him in the last month, there was no good will there. He declined, on several occasions, to sign a simple agreement to provide a full refund because, I believe, he never had any intention of providing that refund and actively dodged answering the question. I half expected him to come back with things like “Hey, this isn’t the original engine! And it makes noises when up to temperature! Oh well, thanks for the car back. I’ll just have to keep your money as compensation.”

So I told him as much.

He doesn’t deserve Lucas. He had a plan to export it to the UK (likely as-is. He has no time nor intention to fix it) saying he had a buyer for £12-15,000 GBP. So, you’re welcome unsuspecting British Rover-lover. You would have bought a lemon without an EFI spec engine and who knows how many more to-be-discovered issues.

Karma’s a bitch. 

Final chapter

I had no proof that he knew it didn’t have the original engine (except in hindsight I seem to recall it being mentioned in the listing when he bought it in 2018). Or, that is, until two full weeks after money had changed hands. I get this message from the seller:
“By the way I still have the spares that came with the car when I bought it. They are the original 31A engine block, cylinder heads power steering pump etc that was replaced with the different engine.”

Check and mate.

This was the first time he had acknowledged it did not have the original engine – despite commanding such a fixed, high price. Apparently a “nut or screw went through” the original engine, so there is a reason it was taken out, and he knew all about it.

For the record – this is grounds for compensation under the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 (which does apply to private sales, unlike the CGA). Yes, I’ve had someone look into this. The compensation entitlement would likely be greater than I had asked for. The question is whether having the car in limbo, in order to go through the motions and see him in Court is worth it is another thing.

Now, I wasn’t in the market for a project – the Marina is deserving of my time and money first.

But had I been told there was an SD1 with a temporary (albeit knocking) engine, so it was rolling, that would come with the original engine needing a full rebuild, maybe I would have reassessed the value and potential of the car. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to resist. Maybe I still would have taken it on.

But that’s not what he sold me, and not at the hefty price I paid for it.

And they lived happily ever after

When you get sold a lemon, make lemonade. It may Taste Like Petrol, but that’s kinda our signature here.

Lucas is staying and he’s going to be back, better than ever.

I don’t know how we’re going to get there. I still don’t have time, money, or space. I’m enquiring about offsite storage to keep him dry over winter while I sort a plan and order what I need.

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Ant Maguire
Ant Maguire
1 year ago

Take him to court! Dodgy buggar

Rob Murray
Rob Murray
1 year ago

Wow you had the misfortune of meeting the king of ripoff merchants.
I hope Lucas triples in value so you can let him know how much money he lost.

Steve
Steve
1 year ago

Oh mate, that’s awful. Hopefully you’ll make Lucas into your dream SD1 and, to be honest, I can’t wait to read about your adventure.

Your earlier cars gave me the courage to do more and more of my own work to my SD1. Although it probably takes longer, I know I can do a good job on the things I tackle and put effort and love into bits that I care about. Fortunately, I have a great garage a few miles away that can do the bits I can’t.

Good luck!