[Ed. note: This thoughtful piece is submitted by Matt Harvey, a fellow petrolhead I usually meet near and at the Nürburgring. He drives a turbodiesel BMW E46 and an MX-5 Phoenix, even if he does that on the wrong side of the road from where I’m looking. Also, pay notice to that licence plate up there –Antti]
My oldest friend is a guy called Tony. We met at school aged 8, and while life has over the years caused us to spend much time apart, we are still bosom pals.
Amongst the things that cemented the bond of our friendship was a love of cars, although Tony’s frequent dabbling in homotorcyclism was a lifestyle choice, to which even to this day I have never felt myself inclined to subscribe.
One of our earliest shared passions was the Rover SD1. Launched not long before we met, its rakish, futuristic looks stirred something deep within our respective, pre-pubescent souls – a car that could very well have been designed to showcase what the future would bring, alongside monorails and meals in tablet form. We were too young to know that its origins in a broken Britain, riven with industrial strife, meant it was no more reliable than a whore’s smile or that its design cues aped those of the Ferrari Daytona in ways that would mean lengthy litigation in more modern times. All we knew, as 8 year olds, was that it was cool, very cool and that we both wanted one.
Years passed, we left school, went our separate ways and got on with our lives. In my head my passion for the SD1, like its numbers on the roads, dwindled into almost nothing. But not for Tony. Almost a quarter of a century after our first meeting – and, I suspect, against the express wishes of his dear spouse – Tony bought one.
As one might expect from the son of a dentist, who had a decent collection of classic and vintage metal, Tony, like his father, took his time. The adult Tony was only too aware of the car’s less than auspicious origins, cobbled together in the Midlands in the mid-’70s, most likely by a number of people who weren’t even aware they worked for the same company, let alone had ever spoken to each other. After months of searching and knowing that only the full fat, 3.5 litre V8 would do he tracked down a particularly fine example. With a mere 54,000 miles on the clock, a fully documented history and some careful former keepers, it wasn’t mint but it was an example worth caring for and investing in.
Almost immediately he hit the classic circuit, spending several weekends a year showing his pride and joy at suitable events. Although not pristine, it found a loyal following which grew the more work he put into it. After much in the way of cash, sweat and years Tony’s pride and joy won him almost universal respect wherever it went, being praised for its originality and so much obvious attention to detail. In particular, the engine garnered much attention from the car’s eager admirers, being as it was the factory lump and kept in check with nothing much more than a regular top-up of fluids and occasional adjustment for emissions.
Sadly, it was this most precious jewel in the car’s crown that turns our happy tale so sour. Just over ¾ of the way back from a particularly successful event things went suddenly and catastrophically the way of the pear. One moment on a stretch of clear, open tarmac Tony opened the taps to enjoy that sonorous bellow from the big lazy 8, then suddenly – BANG. A big end goes, a piston goes flying and his pride and joy is steaming at the roadside, fatally wounded with a split crank case.
Despondent, Tony had the Rover recovered to his drive. As the weeks and months ticked by, he wrestled endlessly with what to do. A never-ending stream of advice, solicited and otherwise, arrived by phone, text and email. Of course he wanted to keep the thing as original as possible, but a complete engine rebuild was a pricey option and even then there would be little or no guarantee that it wouldn’t let him down again in an equally catastrophic way. A new engine would be cheaper, more economical, more reliable and might even be better for the environment, but would it change the very nature of what the car was? And how much respect would he lose amongst his peers? Sure, most people wouldn’t care if the numbers didn’t match, the car would still put a smile on their faces and for those who cared that much could shuffle off and debate the relative merits of wire wheels on the MGB GT, couldn’t they?
And now, dear reader, time for a small confession. While Tony may indeed be my oldest and one of my closest friends, the rest of this little fable is merely that. A metaphor, a contrivance.
But you knew that already, didn’t you?