Introducing Project Penny

I've been thinking about a backup car for Amy, my Mazda 323 GTX, for quite a while now. Not because I don't like her. She rules. She also doesn't work all the time. I've been wanting to take her off the road and get her indoors for a while now. I'd like to modernise & rationalise the turbo setup and the engine management. I'd also like to get her bodywork sorted once and for all, rather than the remedial work that I am doing now.

And also...a tiny, ridiculously rare turbocharged hatchback with poverty-spec features (wind-down windows, no air conditioning, no safety features at all) isn't exactly what I need in a daily. I'd actually like to make it to destinations, and get there in comfort, without spending three million pounds on fuel.

So. I needed something cheap, economical, sensible, modern, reliable, easy to find parts for, and with at least a few modern creature comforts as well. And that is why I bought

a three-litre Rover P5 from 1964, which might work, because Lewis Logic fucking rules. Say hello to Penny the P5!

(The car purchase is real, but the narrative may or may not be. All I'll say, is that when I first started writing this the narrative hook was along the lines of "I realised I could not officially be an old man unless I was driving a Rover". It's up to you to decide whether I was completely making shit up.)

This car spent most of its life in South Africa. The chap that owned her brought it over here about four years ago, then got ill, and died. Penny made her way to a dealer, who then advertised it on Car and Classic. Car and Classic's Chris Pollitt did a "Project Profile" feature piece, which was a great article that you should definitely read for more background on the P5 in general and the 3 Litre in particular.

I saw the article, and I immediately knew I had to have that car. I've had a bit of a soft spot for the P5 since I saw one at the end of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but I do not think I have ever been emotionally affected by one. I don't think any car ever has affected me as much emotionally as this one did via mere pictures on the Internet.

I sat on those "I need this car" thoughts for an entire work day. When I clocked off, I called the chap and provisionally reserved it. Exactly one week later, it was delivered to my driveway. And she is every bit as beautiful as she was in the photos.

So what's the plan?

My immediate plan, as in tomorrow lunchtime and this weekend, is to make everything watertight. Brand new door seals are included with the car, but not fitted. I'd also like to make the boot latch work (it does not work), and the bonnet to close (even better if I can open it again).

Next up, of course, I want to make it solid underneath. Because the car spent most of its life in South Africa, I am hoping that I will not have too much to do. South African weather is much kinder to cars than our own climate is. But the car is 57 years old, so no doubt I will be able to poke some holes in it.

In the meantime, I will have to go through some paperwork and some small amount of arse to get it registered in the UK. The guy who imported it never did. I am hoping this will not be too difficult. While this happens, I will not make any modifications to it - and by that, I mean not even replacing any parts with functionally identical modern ones. My reading of the rules for getting an age-related plate when "naturalising" a car is that every component must be original. My reading might be unreasonably strict, but I'm erring on the safe side because I do not want to end up with a Q plate.

After that, will be the slow process of recommissioning; replacing every consumable part, checking every safety-critical part, getting the engine working (it may or may not work, though it does turn over by hand), source the very few bits that didn't come with the car, and eventually getting it to a state in which I can MOT it. (I'm quite aware that at its age I don't have to MOT it, but with the amount of money this will cost me it would seem foolish to not spend an extra few dozen quid for an extra set of eyes to ensure that I have not done something stupid). My hilariously-over-optimistic timeline for this is to have this done before the end of Summer.

After that, let's talk about what I will not do. I want to do nothing that will change the car's character. It was designed to be a big, boaty cruiser for important people, and it will continue to be a big, boaty cruiser for some idiot from Norfolk. It is a silent straight 6, so it will stay a silent straight 6. (And if I was going to do a 3.5 litre V8 swap I've got one kicking around which is much more interesting to me than a Rover one.)

I also don't want to change the car's history. There are dents and scars on the body, and those are part of the car's past. I don't think I should attempt to do much with them. I probably will stabilise those scars where they are showing surface rust, so they don't turn into something worse. And even though the metallic paint is almost certainly not its original colour, that too is part of the car's history and not something I want to change. Plus, I love that colour.

What I will do are some tiny modernising touches. I'll definitely convert it to use an alternator & to have negative earth electrics, and replace any invisible electronic components with modern solid-state ones. It will definitely get seatbelts at some point, because I do not want the tiniest low-speed shunt to cause a brief, very exciting trip through the windscreen. I might do something about the distributor having points, and about the fact that viscous fans are wank...and probably a lot else, but you get the idea. Tiny modernising touches, as I said, that will make her a more viable daily.

That's all for now. Onwards!