ROD, ENGLAND 2002

The first time I ever saw an R16 was around 1965 I guess, when visiting my
old physics master and inspiration during a university vacation. In those
days, compared to the dull BMC/British Leyland cars, its looks were really
stunning. But I do remember the proud owner's nervousness about the strange
glass bottle for the coolant reservoir... This came back to haunt me years
later, as I guess it has for many R16 drivers.

Anyway, I finished university, went into telecommunication engineering and
by 1971 found myself moving to Kenya for a two-year contract with the
Meteorological Office, and I bought a powder-blue R16, 1968 vintage with the
1471 engine. To cope with the poor roads, the importers raised the
torsion-bar suspension by a notch or two, so that all R16s had a slight odd
back high, nose-down "tip-toes" appearance with massive ground clearance.
R16s in UK have the low, flatter sleek look probably more familiar to others
in Europe.

Needless to say it was a brilliant car for the murrum (dirt) roads and game
parks, as well as being relaxing for the long 320 mile tarmac stretch
between Nairobi and the coast, or the similar distances up into the "White
Highlands" and Uganda. It had special significance as the car I in which I
did most of the courting of my wife. We also had a Mini-Cooper 1275S and a
forward-control Land-Rover but the 16 was the only vehicle equally at home
on both tarmac, murrum and savannah.

Eventually we had to settle for the Mini (for town and auto-cross) and the
Land-Rover as camping and safari vehicle, so we regretfully sold the blue
R16 to an Ethiopian cleric. We kept seeing it around Nairobi but it
collected more and more dents and scratches so I guess it ended up on the
scrap-heap. It certainly wouldn't have rusted away because the wine-clear
Nairobi air and climate just didn't cause rust, compared to the hot, damp,
salt-laden atmosphere at Mombasa on the coast.

Years later, back in UK, in 1992 I came across a gold R16TX with automatic
transmission and electric everything - the works, top of the range, "only
£200 but needing attention, long MoT". Being a sucker and a romantic, I
bought it and sorted out the obvious problem that was really messing up -
the exhaust pipe flange clamp wasn't seated correctly and the hot gases were
blowing all over the carburettor, the engine was breathing in a fair bit of
the fumes too, so it ran very rough and sounded like a tractor. A very
fiddly hour's work sorted it out and suddenly it ran sweet and quiet as it
should, so for a few glorious months we revelled in the Rolls-Royce ride and
comfort that we recalled from the old R16 in Nairobi. Plus the bigger
engine and automatic made it a very fast performer, much slicker than the
1471 R16.

This period was ended rudely one Sunday morning when the dreaded coolant
warning light came on and a quick look under the bonnet revealed that the
glass bottle was full and bubbling and steaming like a kettle. So began
that nightmare of trying to refill the cooling system and bleed the air out,
and about this time it came due for its MoT (roadworthiness certificate, for
non-UK readers) and I discovered that the rear suspension mountings were
failing. Sadly, I just had to give up on it but it languished in my garage
until about 2000 when I sold it to a young lad who was prepared to shell
out the considerable money to get the work done. By this time the body had
settled down onto the torsion-bar housings and the proper mounting points
were too weak to take any load!

So, another satisfied customer. In the meantime I had an R12 estate in the
mid 1980s, I still run a rather old R21 Savannah myself and my daughter
progressed from an R5 Campus to an R5 with the big 1700 engine.

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