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Homepage. This page: Painful memories of a rare Rover Speed Twenty that slipped through my fingers.
Barn finds - hidden classic cars

1937 Rover.

Interesting car? - check. Old car? - check. Sat out of the public eye and covered in dust? - check (and one that I'd hoped to buy - check check check!!).
Rover Speed 20
Just a few of the criteria that any potential "barn find" car should be judged against, and in the case of this wonderful pre-war Rover, it ticked every box. And then some. The term "barn find" is over-used nowadays, any not-quite-new car dumped in the corner of a driveway seems to qualify in many advertisers' eyes. There's no doubt in my mind though that this Rover was the real deal in terms of discoveries, the kind of thing that pre-war car fans dream about stumbling across, before anyone else gets their sticky paws on them. Who ended up with this particular example of late-1930s Speed 20 model I don't know (although this page is bound to turn up a few leads at some point in future no doubt). So despite not ending up being its rescuer, it was a privilege to clap eyes on this fine old motor-car before any other potential buyer, the car sat where it had rested for well over forty years, gathering dust but in the dry and overall in a well preserved state. It was also a pleasure to speak with the gentleman who'd been its long-term owner since, if memory serves, the early 1970s. This all took place a few short years ago, and the re-discovery of the photographs brought the memories of its unearthing flooding back.
Re-winding the clock slightly, I got to hear of this sleek four-door Sports Saloon via an online advertisement. As a fan of dusty and near-forgotten (ideally pre-war) vehicular relics, it certainly caught my attention. It then turned out that the car was sat in a farm building only seven or eight miles away from me, close to a road that I've driven along hundreds of times over the years. Being on my doorstep, relatively speaking, the swift arrangement of a viewing was essential if only to satisfy my curiosity and, ideally, in the hope that I might be able to buy it for myself before someone else jumped in, because one thing was very clear - it wouldn't take long for a line of potential buyers to beat a path to the vendor's door.
With directions scribbled onto a scrap of paper, I set off in my trusty modern for the short drive over to where the Rover reportedly rested. The entrance to the owner's property was an un-marked gateway off a well-trodden A-road, which led to a winding un-made private road of 1/4 mile or so. After a short distance a number of agricultural buildings came into view, and it was outside the nearest that I parked up and waited for the Rover's owner to arrive.
By this time I was itching to get inside the building and view this rare British car. Rover produced a number of visually similar models prior to, and just after, WW2. Most had 10hp, 12hp or 14hp (RAC rating) engines, usually with six-light four-door coachwork (the P2). A lesser number were built as "Sports" models, these cars were identifiable by having sleeker lines to their bodywork, thanks in the main to a lower roofline and only two rather than three windows down each side. Again most were fitted with the 10hp-14hp engines. A small number though were fitted with Rover's 20hp six-cylinder engine and were referred to in contemporary sales catalogues as the Speed 20. And it was a rare surviving Speed 20 that I was chomping at the bit to see.
The scene within the building was just perfect. There was stuff everywhere, bits of machinery, old engineering equipment, farming supplies and more, stacked here there and everywhere and amongst it all (underneath it in some cases) sat the pale blue Rover, dusty, faded, but still a proper feast for the eyes. The low roofline and long bonnet gave it a very raffish air, not unlike that of contemporary SS saloons and others like them. A true British classic if ever there was one, from a time when Rover was a respected manufacturer of quality motor-cars.
A glance over at nearby shelves revealed an assortment of spare parts to suit the Rover, accumulated over the owner's lengthy spell of ownership, the original carbs were also there. Why was he selling it? I think he'd come to the conclusion that he'd be unlikely to find the time to restore it to the road, so it was time for someone else to take over the ownership reins. Hence his advertisement.
From what I remember, the steel bodywork was amazingly sound, thanks to being looked after while in use, and being stored in an airy bone-dry building ever since. The windscreen had been removed, but otherwise it was more or less complete as I recall. The only downside to the ownership proposition was the interior, the leather and wood trim weren't in great shape so would have needed a lot of TLC to return it to acceptable condition. The chrome too was looking sad, although to be honest I'd have cleaned up the exterior body and chrome, and run it looking "as is", warts and all, as a testament to its advancing years - every scrape and blemish tells a story etc etc whereas a modern paintjob tends to erase much of the feeling of age I believe, same for overly-restored interiors.
The exact sale figure the owner had in mind escapes me now. He was asking a reasonable price and I came up with an opening offer not too far from it, bearing in mind that my budget was far from limit-less and that the interior would have needed a great deal of attention, that before any of the mechanical side of things had been assessed (it was clearly a non-runner at the time). There followed some "umming" and "arrring" and I thought that we were ready to shake on the sale. Alas though, he decided to sleep on it, discuss it with his wife, and let me know either way the next day. That was fine, after all letting the car go wasn't a decision he was taking lightly given how long he'd owned the car for, so we bade each other farewell and I departed, eager to hear from him the next day.
The Rover's engine
The next day was spent pacing up and down, metaphorically speaking, waiting for the phone to ring, but it did not. Chasing up with a telephone call didn't seem like the right and proper thing to do, after all no-one likes being pressurised when taking their time over a decision. The day passed and there was no news, so at around midday on the following day I picked up the phone and rang the owner for an update. The news wasn't good. The previous day someone else had arranged to view the car, had made an offer, and they'd shaken on the deal there and then. I wish he'd let me know, I may well have matched the offer or improved upon it, but it wasn't to be. Had I chased it up more vigorously then maybe the purchase would have gone my way, but I didn't. I was gutted, and it niggles to this day. Perhaps this tale should go into a "the one that got away" section of the site - there've been a few candidates - but now that the pain of missing out on the lovely old Rover has ebbed slightly, I can now bring myself to recall the events within this, the "barn find" section here at Old Classic Car.
Has the Rover gone on to be restored? Not long after it sold in 2014, it re-appeared on ebay, and presumably changed hands again. It also went up for auction on ebay looking much cleaner but largely the same otherwise, in April 2017.
If you have any barn find stories that you'd be willing to share here, please get in touch. Names and places can be changed to protect the innocent if required!
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