Is it a Car or is it a Sauna?

When I started this site, friends who have known me for a very long time suggested that I include the letter below.  It was written on a good old-fashioned typewriter as long ago as August 1989 and was recently rediscovered in the back of an old filing cabinet.  It concerns a Rover car and all Rover cars in those days were crap so I shouldn’t have been too surprised that mine turned out to be the biggest pile of crap of them all:

Customer Relations
Austin Rover Commercial Operations
P.O.Box 395
Birmingham B31 2TB

Dear Customer Relations,

Rover 820E

Just imagine it!  It is January 1989 and you have just purchased a gleaming ex-demonstration Rover 820E with only 3,000 miles on the clock.  Imagine if you will the feelings of pride and patriotism knowing that you have acquired your first luxury British executive car.  The fact that on your way home from the showroom you notice that the top of the steering wheel points persistently at the passenger door whilst you’re going in a dead straight line down the motorway would do little to dent your enthusiasm.

Naturally, when you arrive home, you would want to show your new purchase to your better half.  She however, notices that the interior courtesy lights are still illuminated – it must be on a timer you assume.  But no, the light stubbornly continues to glow no matter how many times you slam all the doors and lock the car.  As darkness falls and the battery charge dwindles, the light suddenly goes out for no apparent reason whatsoever (albeit temporarily).  Never mind, you only have to wait a week to get it into the service department.

Your new car is returned, the courtesy light has been fixed, the steering wheel now points in the direction of travel, and it is time to give the car its first wash.  No point in having a shiny new car and having your new pride and joy not looking its best.  You lovingly caress the car with a soapy sponge and then give the car a good blast with the hose pipe. [Remember, pressure washers just weren’t around in 1989]  It is at this point that you notice that your drive is covered in flakes of silver paint.  Then you see that the wheel trims are not.  An hour earlier, your wheel trims were silver – now they are white.  You arrange yet another visit to the service department.

A few weeks elapse and you notice that your lovely new car seems to like its oil.  Oh well you think, what’s a litre of good oil a week between friends.  Nonetheless, the proliferation of unsightly black patches (still with speckles of silver paint) all over your drive forces you back to the service department once again.  As ever, they can’t possibly do it straight away because they will have to steam clean the engine to find out where the leak is.  Never mind, ten days, one ruined drive and one rocker head gasket later, all is well.

All is well that is, until you notice that the interior climate of your executive transport is improving towards summer somewhat faster than the surrounding countryside.  You realise that your heater is getting over-enthusiastic and is choosing to completely ignore the instructions you give it using the heater controls.  You are sitting there, covered in sweat and thinking about booking your car into the service department once again when things go from bad to worse – or to be more accurate, from hot to hotter.

Smoke has started to issue from the air vents.  Lots of smoke.

Now it has long been known that smoking has negative effects on human life span but where car fans are concerned, the effects are rather more immediate.  Firstly, it makes it very difficult for the driver to breathe.  Secondly, it gets very hot indeed.  Never mind, because in an act of remarkable foresight, you recently purchased a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher.  It is too late to save the fan, but there is still time to save yourself and, of course, your new car (a decision you will very rapidly come to regret).  You quickly pull over and put out the fire.

Having then removed the fuse to prevent further conflagration in the dashboard, you spend the next few days driving around with the windows open to get rid of the acrid smell of the carbonised wiring (because, of course, the service department can’t fix the car straight away – after all, yours isn’t the only piece of crap they’ve sold lately).  The only problem is that when you try to close the driver’s window during a shower of rain, it decides to go on strike.  No matter how nicely you speak to it, the bloody thing will only go halfway up.  Only when physical violence ensues does the window finally acquiesce.  This will not be the end of industrial action on the part of the window however.

Indeed, despite recent Trade Union Legislation, [remember, this is 1989] secondary industrial action soon follows as an unnerving rattle signals that your front off-side wheel is coming out (or coming off) in sympathy.  As if that wasn’t disconcerting enough, the speedometer and petrol gauge choose to drop to zero at random taking no notice whatsoever of your current speed or the amount of petrol in the tank.  And there’s more.  Lots more.  Oil leaks.  Not one, but three new oil leaks.

Oh well, a new speedometer clock, a new wheel bearing, a complete disembowelment for oil leaks in the gearbox, oil sump and cylinder head and everything will be as good as new.   Your car spends three days in the intensive care unit at the service department.

You get the car back.  Bugger!  You realise that you forgot to mention to the morons in the service department that the little leather cover which covers the hole in the transmission tunnel at the bottom of the gear stick detaches every time you change from fourth to fifth gear and flaps around like a flag in a gale.  To hell with it!  Who gives a s##t about the leather cover that covers the hole in the transmission tunnel when every other component of the car is dropping to bits.  At least you’ve got the car back.

But your car hasn’t finished messing with your head yet.  Oh no, the heater isn’t defeated that easily.  No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, it will not switch off.  The British summer has finally arrived and your heater won’t even go half off.  No, it has decided to stick at one hundred per cent full on.  Since you collected your car from the intensive care unit, you have driven 600 miles in a mobile bloody sauna!

It is Monday 21st August and you have taken your sauna to back to the service department to be switched off.  Will they do it – will they hell!  The earliest they can possibly do it is Wednesday.  It’s not as if you need to lose weight, but for the next couple of days, you aren’t going to get a lot of choice.  You’re going to be spending as much on anti-perspirant as you are on fuel.  Seething, you leave the service department and set off  to drive the 30 miles home with all the windows fully open.

It can’t get any worse can it?  Of course it can!

The British summer is fickle at the best of times.  However, it is at this point that it decides to have a thunderstorm.  Not just any thunderstorm, but a storm of biblical proportions.  This isn’t normal rain, this is solid water with slots in.  Time to close the windows.  Yes!  You’ve guessed already haven’t you?  The driver’s window goes on strike again.  It won’t move – not one millimetre.  There you are, cruising along the motorway.  Your left side, in the full blast of the heater, is slowly cooking to a perfect medium rare.  Your right side is immersed in a torrent of cold water hitting you at 70 miles per hour.  The car is slowly filling with water.  You sauna is turning into a paddling pool.

You finally arrive home, one side soaked in sweat, the other soaked with rain and you are ready to commit mass murder.  There are no motor mechanics around to tear limb from limb so you decide instead to write a couple of letters – this one and another to ‘Jim’ll Fix It’, asking if they’ll cover the cost of pushing the bloody thing off a cliff.

Yours in desperation,


For those from outside the UK or too young to remember, ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ was a BBC television programme where people could write in to ask for a dream to come true.  Alas, my dream didn’t.  However, Austin Rover arranged for me to have a very nice courtesy car whilst my car was returned to the service department where it spent an entire month being more or less completely rebuilt.  The day after I got it back, I sold it.


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2 thoughts on “Is it a Car or is it a Sauna?”

  1. If this truly was the worst Rover it earned that award up against a lot of pretty stiff competition.

    Actually, I’m too young to have owned a newish one of these Rovers, by the time I was buying cars the firm was being run by a succession of foreign owners who were finding out the hard way that pushing unreliable old bangers with decades old design and tech out the factory gates and expecting us British mugs to hand our chequebooks over because “Buy British” was no longer a viable business model.

    Happily, we weren’t denied the pleasure of a car company incapable of making working vehicle, or fixing them in a timely or successful way, as I discovered to my cost, Renault took over that market sector.

  2. Amen to all of that. I found your website because I was searching for clues as to why my heat won’t turn off on my Range Rover. That and the doors lock and unlock every few minutes on their own; sometimes locking me out and turning the alarm on so I have to wait until the next day before it will even let me in. My wife jokes that there should be a Saturday Night Live skit where James Bond tries to drive these stupid Rover but the doors lock and unlock, the heat won’t shut off, etc. etc and the pretty girl won’t have anything to do with him. Glad to hear we are not alone in this nightmare.


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