MAN & MACHINE
They have a different attitude towards classic cars in Malta. The cars are far more part of the family than in other countries, and are treated as such regardless of their value. Huge love is ladled on low-value classics, and the financial prudence that leads to the ruination of so many classics elsewhere just doesn’t seem to apply. So you meet many people whose cars have long histories with their family, often from new. The cars have often been kept as new, too.
One such case is Richard Zahra. He’s well known for his love of small Fiats – he showed a rare Belvedere at this year s Valletta Concours – but it s a Rover P6 that is his family heirloom.
Joe, Richards mechanical-engineer-turned- teacher father, had set his heart on the technically advanced saloon following articles on the Rover 2000 in The Automobile Engineer in 1963 and 1964. After five years of saving, he was finally in the position to order a locally assembled example for delivery in June 1969. But June came and went, so did July, and he’d already sold his Ford Anglia 100E. The dealer’s solution was to offer one of six UK-built cars being shipped out. They were more expensive (by about 15%, at 1600 Maltese Lira), but a UK car brought extra cachet and the Zircon Blue TC was quite the status symbol locally.
Richard explains: ‘My father taught at the technical institute and looked after all the maintenance. The car did not come with any extras and, since five-star fuel was not available locally, Rover supplied an engine with a 9:1 compression ratio instead of the standard 10:1. This dropped power from 124 to 117bhp.’
After a couple of years, the angst of running the prestige Rover in Maltas small, crowded towns elevated (or relegated) it to Sunday-best and holiday status. In 1974 the Zahras drove it to the UK and back over six weeks on a 6000- mile adventure, allowing the TC to cruise at speeds it couldn’t at home. Joe loved the Rover, and could recite its chassis number at will.
Apart from keeping the car in tip-top condition, my father carried out a few minor modifications,’ adds Richard, ‘the biggest of which was a stainless steel exhaust. The only major work he had to carry out was when a main bearing in the transmission started to growl. That meant an engine and gearbox removal. He took the opportunity to open up the engine, take measurements of the bearings and bores, and overhaul the cylinder head. All measurements were well within tolerance.’
When Joe Zahra passed away in 2015, Richard inherited the 58,000-mile, never-restored TC. He says: I try my best to keep it in the same condition my dad did, which is practically as new. When I meet people who knew my father, their first question is always the same: “The Rover, you still have it? Your father looked after it so much!”
‘I use it when I can. I have been over to Sicily with it, and intend to do so again in the near future. My dream would be to take it back up to the UK, but for now it’s just that. A dream.’