Blogs : April 2007

30 April

Mini mayhem at Snetterton

By IAN NICHOLLS


Wheel to wheel action, Mini style…

THERE are still two race series going where you can see BMC>Rover’s finest slogging it out, the Mini 7 championship for 1000cc cars and the Mini Milgia championship for 1300cc machines. On Sunday 29th April Mini mayhem came to Snetterton in Norfolk providing low budget close racing.

I will let the pictures taken by Craig Scott of the Norfolk Mini Owners Club speak fror themselves.

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27 April

Want a new NAC-MG?

By KEITH ADAMS


A lot of people want to buy a new one of these…

JUST a quick note to all those readers of my website interested in buying a new MG7 or TF. These cars will be coming to the UK soon, and in the case of the roadster, it’ll be built in Longbridge – and for that reason alone, we can see why buyers will be wanting to support the venture.

However, I feel the mounting frustration from potential customers, asking the same questions: when and where can I buy one?

Currently, there’s a lot of stuff with the re-born MG happening in China, and as we know, Longbridge is ramping up for the new cars, but the missing link seems to be Public Relations over here – and the possibility of a dealer network. According to one the site’s correspondents who spoke to NAC-MG Quality Director, Paul Stowe, “…the cars’ homologation was passed on from former MG Rover Group to NAC-MG, and that means the cars should be able to be registered in Europe right away.”

This is definite good news for those wanting to buy a new MG…

So, I reckon that what all potential customers need to do now is register their interest with NAC-MG in Longbridge, and tell them in no uncertain terms that they’re willing to give the re-born company a go with their new cars. To do that, there’s no better way of letting the right people in Longbridge know how you feel by writing a letter – and the addressee needs to be Stephen Cox, the Sales and Franchising Manager for the new company.

So, drop Steven a line, explaining that you desperately want a new MG TF or MG 7, and you’d like to know when this’ll happen and where from…

His address is:

Steven Cox,
NAC-MG UK Ltd.,
PO Box 41
International HQ
Longbridge
Birmingham
B31 2TB

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25 April

Wow, what an engine!

By KEITH ADAMS


A car that needs no introduction…

SOMETIMES this motoring journalism lark is a bitch. Tied to the PC for days at a time, slaving to meet a tough deadline, or trying to make sense of a crap story, you sometimes – almost – feel that it’s just as much a grind as the next job… Until you get a gig that involves driving something seriously sexy on great roads.

For me, that moment happened this week, with a quick run to Blackpool and back in one the last TVR Griffith 500s off the line. With 300-or-so bhp on tap, clothed in a beautiful body, and an exhaust note to die for, there was no way that this was going to be anything other than a memorable run. The car was definitely the star, and it soon became clear to me that for the people of Blackpool (which also happens to have been my home town for a very long time), that TVRs are something very special – to be revered.

Wherever I went, someone had something to say about that fate of the marque in the hands of the Russians – and very little of it was positive. They love their TVRs there, and you can see the upset in the eyes of the locals – especially when you roll up in something that looks and sounds so damned right… Still, I’m sure there are plenty of people in Birmingham with the same kind of feelings.

I’ve driven some very nice (and very bad) cars in the past few years, and I can honestly say that this one was the most-attention grabbing…

As for that engine – it’s here that you get to enjoy the full-benefits of a Rover V8 – amazing flexibility, a fantastic soundtrack, and true kick-in-the-back acceleration. I really want one of these cars.

Thanks to James Agger for giving me the chance to live my childhood dream…

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Feedback:

ABOUT that TVR – I loved the engines, I always will. The Rover V8 was an absolute legend. However in a car that handles worse than a shopping trolley on an ice rink, I can’t help feeling that you’re quite literally taking your life into your own hands.

I recall that there was someone who had managed to put the Rover V8 into a Mazda MX5. He used a T5 gearbox and didn’t really need to do a serious amout of body modifications to get it all to fit. The only problems he had were with cooling, since the radiator area was too small for the increased capacity of the new engine.

Interesting read, click here

It’s a proper modification that I wouldn’t mind doing for myself…

ROSS ARMSTRONG, Birmingham


23 April

Into sharp relief

By KEITH ADAMS


The new MG5…

SO, we had a press statement issued by NAC-MG last Friday telling us of an important mid-sized car that was due for release at the upcoming Shanghai Motor Show. What transpired, however, was neither important, nor new – and that’s a real shame.

Yes, the Chinese car buying public got their first glimpse of the MG ZS, sorry, MG5 at the show, and seemed to approve of what they say. For us more jaded Europeans, the sight of the ZS, sorry, MG5, was disappointing to say the least – if only because it was a case of last millennium’s old news. Don’t get me wrong, the MG ZS, sorry, MG5, looked great in Ignition Blue with the nubile model draped over it, but if NAC-MG wants to get serious about exporting cars, this is not what we want to see.

Of course, in reality, it probably won’t get shipped back here, and if it does go into production (assuming Honda doesn’t blow a gasket), then it’ll serve as a great replacement for Nanjing’s insipid SEAT Ibiza-based supermini.

Contrast this car to the one unveiled on Roewe’s stand. Although ostensibly a concept, the Roewe W2 is little more than a pre-production 450 wearing bling alloys – and gives us yet another frustrating view of what could have been in the MGR-SAIC joint venture had things not gone tits up in 2005. You see, this car is a China-optimised RDX60, and although it’s a little conservative for European tastes, one can’t help but conclude that MGR was moving in the right direction with RDX60.

Anyway, that’s all in the past now.

…once the TF’s up and running and back
on sale, and assuming it makes money,
expect to see some more exciting
roadsters go on sale.

I had an interesting chat with a good friend who has an ‘in’ at Longbridge. Although NAC-MG still has some way to go in the Birmigham factory, progress is being made in CAB1, as the TF’s production line is brought together with the body assembly and paint shop to sit under one roof. In fact, said friend, uttered – the ZT could indeed go back into production with what’s left there…

He’s already seen a pair of pre-production TFs in white (which although a prototype colour, he reckons they look fantastic) rolling down the line looking good on their 16-inch alloys with AP Calipers nestling underneath. These latest TFs also seem to hit the mark, quality-wise, too – with the bits of mesh back in place (that had been removed under Project Drive), and interior plastics now very much where they should be.

NAC’s dealer network is going to have to show its hand soon, though, because if the number of people who email me is any indication of potential interest, then they’ll be pretty busy, and should already be getting prepared. Still, another of the site’s correspondents has confirmed that NAC-MG will be making an announcement soon on that regard.

So, despite rolling out the ZS, sorry, MG5, at the Shanghai Motor Show and making themselves look disinterested in moving forwards, NAC-MG and Longbridge are moving in the right direction after all – and just to get you even more excited, once the TF’s up and running and back on sale, and assuming it makes money, expect to see some more exciting roadsters go on sale. My friend’s seen the renderings, and reckons they look great…


The new Roewe 450, well, nearly…

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20 April

Frozen in time

By ANDY ELPHICK


Yes, this picture was taken this week…

I’M not sure why or how – however I’m pleased it has – that there’s an ex-Austin Rover dealer frozen in time 25 years later.

The suprising thing is that you won’t find it tucked away in the Cotswolds, the Shetlands or on the Yorkshire Moors – no instead its right next to one of the busiest roads in london the – A406 north circular ! As these pictures show pressed up against three lanes of 24-hour traffic, stands a little reminder of 1980s ARG branding with its dangling light boxes showing the models of the era once proudly illuminating the windows.

The stock inside is fairly period too – SD1, Bluebird, FIAT Regata, Mk1 Carlton amongst the stock that seems static. How long will it last – who knows, but if you’re in the area, pop your head in and come away with a smile.

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Feedback:

I WAS most amused to read Andy Elphick’s blog ‘Frozen in time’ and find that he imagined that there was still an Austin Rover dealer in ‘The Shetlands’ (aaargh)

Our local AR dealer disappeared in the Eighties followed swiftly by almost all the cars’ they ever sold. The combination of a salt laden atmosphere and an over zealous arm of the local authority’s cleansing department ensured that virtually no trace remains of the many vehicles which left Macleod & MacLean’s showroom.

Other than the Land Rover agency, there’s been little up here over the past twenty years or so to remind us that Britain still had a car industry unless, of course, you count the Ford and Toyota dealers…

JIM GRAY, Shetland Isles (or Shetland Islands but NOT ‘The Shetlands!)


19 April

A very British MINI

By AYD INSTONE


A very Brummie MINI

THERE has been some extensive and emotive debate going on in this forum about the authenticity of the new MINI. I’d like to explore here the concept of what the MINI really is. A small front wheel drive BMW? One of the last surviving BMC products? Or what?

The car was launched as a successor to the classic MINI, production of the original stopped and the brand was transferred to the new model in 2000. Aside from the obvious and already explored areas that it is not the same class of car or even appeals to the same market, it did take onboard the ‘cute’, ‘British’ and retro styling branding cues from the original as well as the famous ‘brand’. BMW were keen to keep the brand ‘MINI’ as a parent brand in it’s own right. The cars are MINI Ones or MINI Coopers (and now MINI Clubmans) and not BMW MINIs. They didn’t invent that idea – it had been like that under Rover since the early 1970s.

As we all know the R50 was designed when the project was still a Rover so many of us feel that the first generation MINI was a Rover that was adopted and sold by BMW, being made at a ex-Rover plant by ex-Rover workers. That was clear.

With the R56 things are not so clear as so much of the car is new, designed under BMW and built by workers who have been solely BMW workers now for seven years. However, it’s not so clear cut. The personnel involved change constantly. Some of the R56 workers will have been at Cowley since Rover or even Austin Rover or perhaps Honda. Some of the BMW personnel may have previously been at VW (or even Rover or elsewhere). The car is finished at the Rover/Austin Rover/Morris plant. The designers involved were German, American and British, inspired by a British design that was originally for an Austin long before all of the workers currently involved in it now were even born.

It’s like where you get your phone lines or gas from. There’s a ‘brand’ on top who you pay the bill to but underneath is a legacy of wires and pipes that were constructed with expertise from an entirely different company and collection of people.

By 1994 Rover was a wholly BMW owned organisation. They owned the factories, the brands, the machinery and the workforce. So the 75 was designed and built at Cowley with BMW money and BMW top level management and labelled under the ‘Rover’ brand. The R56 was designed and built by BMW money and BMW top level management and labelled under the ‘MINI’ brand.

So really what’s the difference between the two?

I suspect the difference comes because we like to think of the story of BMC to BL to Austin-Rover to Rover to MG Rover as being a continuous lineage, but is it really? The company went bust, was bought and sold, management changed totally, workforces changed, factories closed. What exactly do we pin the DNA of this ‘company’ on? Is it just our idealistic hopes for return to a perceived golden age of a solely UK owned automotive behemoth? Is this restricting us from seeing the hard truth of globalisation and nation-independent branding, along with the false dawn of Phoenix’s plans to revitalise our favourite UK volume car maker?

I was born in the UK and have lived here all my life. But if you go back just a few generations I have links to Ireland and Scotland and beyond that who knows, Viking? Roman? Go back further and we may be related to the first people who left Africa. My body is made of cells that completely renew themselves ever seven to twelve years so I’m quite literally not the man I was. A lot of the food I eat if from outside the UK, so is the water I drink and the air I breath so my body is made up from ‘foreign’ atoms. I use a language that has been influenced by Germanic and Latin ones and I use an Arabic alphabet. My society lives by ethics and belief systems that originate in part in Greece and the Middle East. In addition I’m governed by a group of people who answer in part to people I’ve never met or seen somewhere in Europe. ‘British-ness’ is very hard to define as the government has found out.

I’d argue that, like all of us, a car’s DNA is almost unquantifiable and really down to personal opinion. There’s as much ‘British’ DNA in the R56 MINI as there is in Land Rover and Jaguar. It may be owned by a global corporation called BMW and decisions on design and production may sanctioned by that organisation, but it’s probably as British as you and me whether we like it or not.

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Feedback:

AS someone very much involved in the emotive debate, as a previous Mini/current MINI owner, I think this is the clearest and most rational view expressed on this subject. The very nature of the modern Motor Industry is constant change/ evolution and that fortunes of the Mini/MINI shows that.

Viewing MINI as a brand is the key point. It is interesting that the very negative views expressed so often are not directed at Land Rover.

The current range of vehicles were developed long after Rover’s association – yet there are viewed positively, by all contributors. Shouldn’t that be the same with the car above? Or is it that some only see a BMW badge?

ANDREW RYAN

MINI: let’s all be proud of a brand that still there sold now as seems in its millions and celebrates a great British motoring history. If it had been left to the workers or the management of Longbridge (John Towers, the Trade Unions etc) would such a strong car or brand exist? I think not.

It’s as British as you and I, and lets be proud of it. The thought I leave you with is – as for Land Rover under Ford ownership its British, we know this by the warranty claims made against them!

SIMON


18 April

Pressing the self-destruct button

By IAN NICHOLLS


A once all too familiar site…

I RECENTLY saw again the BBC4 documentary The Lost World Of Red Robbo. Far from finding it a nostalgic trip into my childhood, I found myself watching with unease and disquiet as a 1970s nightmare replayed.

If only what I had been watching was a Life On Mars type dream; instead it all happened for real. How could so many people be so gullible and so stupid as to behave that way, and why did it take until the clock was two minutes to midnight for them to stand up and be counted? I am referring to the 1970s workforce at Longbridge; whose regular meetings in the adjacent Cofton Park proved so newsworthy. And trying to get my head around the mentality of it all does my head in, as I cannot see any logic in it all.

In 1945, British voters voted en-masse for a Labour government committed to nationalisation of key industries, a welfare state, a free health service and other reforms. As far as the motor industry was concerned, the Socialist government exhorted it to export to help Britain pay its way in the world. Someone recently told me that selling is considered a dirty in Britain. Well as far as the Atlee government was concerned selling Britain’s industrial produce was essential for economic survival.

Yet by the 1970s, selling had indeed become a dirty word, as salesmen tried in vain to sell cars badly built, and in some cases, most likely sabotaged by a workforce, who were disgruntled with their lot – and all too willing to listen to shop stewards who believed in an alternative form of society. Post 1975 British Leyland was owned by the government which had twice acted to save the workforce from potential redundancy (in 1968 and 1975), and yet the employees continued to bite the hand that fed them by striking.

Between 1975 and 1977, British Leyland’s UK market share fell from 35 to 20.5 per cent – perhaps an unprecedented collapse in customer confidence. Lord Stokes has taken a lot of flak over the years, but whatever he may have done wrong is nothing compared to the 14.5 per cent of lost UK market share surrendered in the two years after he left the scene. This was a sales catastrophe.

And Leyland Cars insiders in 1977 expected their market share to go as low as 15 per cent before new models came on stream. Yet for all the talk of new models, Leyland Cars had some relatively new cars already. But the prospect of getting one properly assembled by a militant workforce who believed the taxpayer owed them a living seemed bleak. And tales of Leyland Cars unreliability were legion, from the MGBs that would not engage reverse on the set of The New Avengers to the Princess saloons that needed regular engine changes.

These cars used proven components, which brings into question whether sabotage was ocurring in the company’s factories. What was the logic behind all this? Were the workers holding the management to ransom by refusing to build the cars properly, until the bosses acceded to their demands? And what were these demands? Better working conditions? The right to control the means of production through some sort of workers co-operative, or via workers representatives such as the shop stewards? And why did the aspiration for better conditions have to result in so many badly built cars? How was this meant to achieve this? Why did the concept of customer care mean nothing to the workers?

Philip Turner, the Midlands correspondent of MOTOR wrote in November 1977, “Leyland Cars cannot be closed”. He then went onto list all the economic and political reasons why the company could not be shut down and then added: “The very fact that the workforce are absolutely certain that Leyland Cars cannot be closed is one of the main factors bedevelling the companies industrial relations. For it is no use telling workers that if they go on strike they will ruin the company. They just don’t believe it.”

In other words, the employees felt they had a job for life and the vagaries of the world car market, and the concerns of customers meant nothing to them. Another reason put forward for this attitude of workers by some political pundits is that the feeling at the time was that Britain was heading in a Socialist direction. Quite how this opinion is reached baffles me, I see no real evidence for it.

In the first general election of 1974, the encumbent Conservative government of Edward Heath narrowly won less seats than Harold Wilson’s Labour party, but polled more of the popular vote. In the second election of 1974 Labour won a wafer thin majority, but this was eroded by by-election defeats forcing Wilson’s successor James Callaghan into a pact with David Steel’s Liberal party, before defeat to the Conservatives in 1979.

The reality was not a Britain going Socialist, but a bitterly divided nation. But perhaps perception was more important than reality? There was a lot of political radicalisation in the 1970s, but unseen was the gradual drift of middle class, middle management voters who had made Harold Wilson’s Labour party the natural party of government, towards Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party. They felt threatened by Trade Union power and the complete disregard for customers that seemed to exist in British industry and the scenes played out in Cofton Park helped this process along.

Watching The Lost World of Red Robbo and seeing the conduct of BL workers, who seemed to have no qualms about downing tools at the drop of a hat made me ask these questions:

Had I been older then would I have bought a BL car built by these people?
Did these people deserve state support?

I have to answer no to both questions.

In my view, the loss of market share between 1975 to 1977 sealed British Leyland’s fate. It is easy to knock the cars BL sold at the time, but as various enthusiasts who contribute to this site will testify, the company had some damned good models. It is just so sad that the very people who were meant to benefit from this investment were so reluctant to screw the cars together properly.

Regaining the ground that had been lost was simply not feasible. How much taxpayers’ money earmarked for new investment was used to keep the company afloat during crisis after crisis? How much economising resulted because of this. Is this the real reason why BL did not proceed with the OHC A-series engine?

And there is the tragedy of it all.

When I go to a classic car show I am not interested in the foreign rubbish. The only cars worth looking at are British. The innovative Issigonis cars, the classic British sportscars, Solihull and Browns Lane’s finest. When I look at all this classic automotive ironmongery, I know that with a lot more customer care, British cars should have conquered the world.

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Feedback:

HANG on though. Red Robbo and his union chums certainly didnt help Leyland in the 1970s and early 1980s, but other manufacturers – most notably Ford suffered at least as much, if not more Industrial strife during this period. Yet Ford emerged stronger than ever in the UK with a market share of over 30 per cent in the late 1970s.

The main reason for Leyland’s decline remains poor product, not just poor in terms of quality but poor in terms of anticipating what the market wanted. Ford of course could do no wrong at this time. When the workers did turn up they turned out smart but simple and well costed cars that did exactly what it said on the tin and had a positive image. Contrast this with Leyland’s rag bag of platforms, badges and brands being churned out on dilapidated production lines in rambling old factories.

PAUL HAMPSON

I WAS interested to read Ian Nicholls’ blog regarding the problems of BL in the 1970s, but I have always believed that blaming the whole issue on socialist union members is a bit simplistic.

Yes, you might have persuaded a left wing splinter group to sabotage the company but we are talking about many thousands of employees, with minds of their own. You simply don’t get that kind of backing unless people feel they have a real grievance. On this occasion it seemed that they felt that they were being offered an opportunity to address it, however bizarre that now seems.

So just what were the management doing during this period? And how come just a few years later, any number of foreign lead companies were able to establish factories in the UK employing the much maligned British shop floor worker with admirable results?

I’m sure you can’t lay the whole blame at the door of poor management either, but it seems inconceiveable that the situation would have arisen had the management been exemplary.

MARK PITCHFORD

I THINK the problems BL faced during this period were no less than many other companies. Indeed I’ve read on several occasions that Ford workers were on strike more often then their BL counterparts, so why does no one say anything about that?

The problem is that Ford remained a private firm, while BL became partly owned by the government, which was after all funded by us, the tax payer. Throughout the 1970s a rise in consumer power became evident, new magazines such as Which would gleely point fingers at shoddy products to gain a foothold on an emerging market segment. I think too that the general shifting of the press towards the right did not help a company many viewed as being a ‘leftist concern’. Mainstream papers and many journalists to this day will sit there and rack off the same old hyperbole about how BL was badly run, its products were poor and the Unions controlled the company too much.

However, if one actually looks at the facts then this argument fails to stand up. Look at what other companies offered, their build quality and their relationships between management and unions.

In 1975, the Escort Mk2 was launched, to be sold against models like the maligned Allegro. The Allegro had disc brakes on all models, while the Escort had drums on the cheapest versions. The Allegro had Radials on all models; the Escort Popular was fitted with cross plys! For a little more money allot more car was on offer. Ford too was going through a problem period, US emissions/safety regulations and a US buying public unwilling to buy large engined cars due to fuel costs as well as insurance premiums squeezed the home market, forcing Ford to produce such let downs like the 75 on model Mustang.

Then there was the unions, Ford suffering more than BL yet today the opposite is driven into us. It’s like the press have managed to distort the facts to paint a completely different picture for their own gain.

Okay, much of BL’s problems were of its own making, the closing of small dealerships, the development of engines and cars within the same segments, the continual production of models well past their best and the general lack of a drive towards common component sharing did the company no favours. But perhaps the real reason why the company suffered through this period could be down to other factors.

Poor quality, what about the cheap Russian steel which flooded the market around this point, it was so bad a gap on the DVLA’s records developed around the early 1980s onwards for any vehicle made between 1975 until late 1977. What about component makers separate from BL, like Lucas and AP Lockheed, BL frequently had to make cars and ship them to dealers to be finished off simply because certain small components were unavaliable because one or more of these companies were on strike, even though Longbridge or Cowley were not. What about foreign factories, Belgium made Allegros were assembled to an inferior quality than Longbride made ones, frequently cars had to be shipped out with LHD components fitted, like carpets with the mat on the passenger side, LHD lights etc because there were strikes from component producers on the continent!

Plus what about the state of the economy as a whole after the fuel crisis, inflation, the value of the pound, particularly against the dollar would have had a major impact on BL’s fortunes, rising unemployment within the workplace resulting in less disposable money being about to buy items like new cars. So many factors need to be taken into account, to suggest that BL failed due to a few reasons all their own making is simply too simplistic.

Too ‘dumbed down’

Forum member, “MarinaST”

I DON’T really agreed with Mark Pitchford about ‘Made in Belgium’ Allegros. Ask the Belgian dealers about real acts of sabotage on ‘Made in England’, cars and you ‘ll not believe your ears. I wish I could correctly translate them but my English is not good enough, the problems beeing too technical.

Poor Allegros, SD1s, Range, TR7s and even Dolomites. Strikes killed you. I bought my Dolomite new and in 6000miles, two big troubles: in the gearbox and in the rear axle. A pity on such nice cars. The UK workmanship quality was poor. Have a look on the British Car Industry today and you’ll cry.

JM COLLEYE, Liège, Belgium

A NUMBER of correspondents have made reference to the other manufacturers of the time and in particular Ford, saying that industrial action did mot bring down Ford UK and so concluding that Red Robbo and his merry men can not be significantly responsible for the failure of British Leyland during the 1970s and early 1980s. One even went as far as to say that things could not have been that bad given the subsequent success of the Japanese manufacturers.

The first point ignores the situation that existed in British Leyland after its formation versus Ford and Vauxhall, (Chrysler had their own inherited issues that would eventually lead to its collapse at the hands of the Unions).

Ford UK was a long established single entity with an integrated product range and relative small number of manufacturing plants. As an business their was little requirement for reorganisation or rationalisation. They also had sister operations in mainland Europe capable of delivering right hand drive product to the UK (Fiesta from Spain, Cortina from Belgium, Escort, Capri, Granada from Germany) during periods of extended disruption.

Compare this with British Leyland, a multitude of under capitalised plants, manufacturing many ageing and directly competing products, some in relative small volumes. It is clear that the Leyland management recognised that the organisation needed a near total rationalisation of products and plant. However such a rationalisation was impossible with the industrial relations and labour laws of the late 1960s and 1970s. Any attempts to change working practises, employee roles and even introduce new product etc resulted in industrial action, which spread like wild fire across the organisation. The key new products of Allegro, Marina, Princess, SD1 and TR7 all were delayed into production due to industrial action as the Unions effectively held a gun to the head of the management.

This is why Innocenti Mini although a simple reskin and designed to be built on an existing production line could not be done economically in the UK (yet the figures added up for the Italians), why we ended up with a 4E, O-Series and a Triumph Slant-four engines all covering the mid range, why the SD1 got an expensive rework of the old Triumph OHV6 rather than the existing in production 6E. Simply the effort involved in rationalising the production lines in the face of the Unions was so great it out weighed the benefits and so business was left to die a slow death.

Eventually even the weak Labour Government of 1974-1979, had to take action and employed Sir Michael Edwardes to face down the unions. This he did with increasing success, particularly after the election of 1979 Conservative government and its willingness to break the Union powerbase through both confrontation and legislation.

It was the labour law reforms of the new Conservative government that opened up the opportunity for the single union agreements with the more moderate Unions, that attracted the Japanese to build their new and subsequently highly successful plants in the UK.

In conclusion, it was not the volume of industrial action that the Unions generated in British Leyland that did for the organisation, it was that the attitude of playing every issue for the short term gain, succeeded in stopping the management tackling the fundamental structural problems that existed within the business.

GRAHAM ARISS

Ref Ian Nicholls’ blog, the answer lies in the captions on the placards – a complete breakdown of credible communication and trust between workers and management. When a workforce is respected and its opinions welcomed/valued in open dialogue and everyone works together, unions generally cease to be necessary – this is what Rover learnt about teamworking from Honda.

CHRIS CHAPMAN


17 April

Bringing a tear to the glass eye

By KEITH ADAMS


Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why?

RESIDENT website picture supplier, Ian Nicholls, managed to track down a nice rare colour image of the Innocenti Mini 90 recently, and zapped it across for me to look at. Ordinarily, this is no major deal for me, as he sends lots of great stuff – much of which still needs to go onto the website… but in the case of the Innocenti, it once again had me wondering about what might have been.

Look at it… and tell me it shouldn’t have been built in massive numbers over here. We’d have cleaned up.

D’oh!

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Feedback:

I’VE banged on about it before, but such a shame that BL were mad keen on designing their own style for the ADO88, which became the Metro at the same time that the Bertone job was in the pipeline.

If they’d simply adopted the Bertone Mini style for the bigger car, the disastrous customer clinic results of the ADO88 would have been averted, the ADO88 would not have needed its emergency restyle and the Maestro and Montego could have appeared a couple of years before they did.

Or the Maestro and Montego could have been the recipients of a restyle.

And imagine if BL had built the Innocenti Mini as well: by 1979 we could have had a Mini replacement as well as a supermini, all built in volume by Longbridge. But like Keith has said before, “Not Invented Here.”

JH GILLSON

IF BL had shown a bit of Nanjing-style opportunism, they could picked up the tooling and design rights at a knock-down price when Innocenti went bankrupt in 1975, a year after the Mini’s launch.

Instead Alex Thompson seized the chance, and to his credit , set a new course for the car’s remarkable 15 year life.

ROBERT LEITCH


16 April

How about an AR Champagne trip?

By KEITH ADAMS


Part of the old Reims racing circuit… evocative even today

OUR website has been around for a while now, and I like to think that a nice little community has built up around it. Not only do we have a rich seam of fans in the form of the forum members, but also just as many regular correspondents, and readers alike.

Wouldn’t it be nice to meet up – owners and cars – and take them on a bit of a tour?

Although it’s been suggested before (thanks, Andy Elphick), I reckon a trip out to Reims in the Champagne region of France, followed by a drive to a BL themed venue such as the Seneffe factory in Belgium would be a very nice thing to do. Not only would it be the perfect opportunity for some proper socialising, and to give our classic (and cherished) cars a run out in some beautiful countryside, but a convoy of our cars would look absolutely fantastic overseas…. So, what do you say?

It’s only a suggestion, but if you’re up for an AR Tour (perhaps a long weekend), then drop me a line – not only with your thoughts about the run, but also suggestions for venues.

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THIS sounds like a superb idea. I suggest the Sclumpf collection could be an interesting diversion, too… www.collection-schlumpf.com/en/

STEVE JOHNSON

SOME months ago, with the Triumph Sports Six Club Belgium, we spent three beautiful days in Champagne. For that long and pleasant weekend. There were 26 cars there – mainly Triumphs, from Herald to Tr6 + MGBs and GTV8. Here is a photo of some of the cars taken on the Reims Circuit.

JM COLLEYE, Liège, Belgium

Like the idea of the Champagne trip. And just to irritate some of our Forum regulars, I would buy a shiny new MINI to do it in.

GRAHAM ARISS

Gentlemen, I give you the last production MG TF on it inaugural run-in to the Hotel d’Paris. I’m going back there this year, but I’ll sacrifice Le Mans for A-R.

STEVEN WARD


15 April

How’s this for individuality?

By KEITH ADAMS


The LADA 110 – it might be crap, but you can’t help but admire the individuality…

ALTHOUGH I spent much of my time on France’s roads bemoaning the way that the vast percentage of the country’s drivers seem to have slowed down excessively – it’s also clear that there’s less and less of interest to look at in terms of cars being driven.

Now that Peugeot’s range is grotesquely ugly (look at anything with an ’07 number and compared it with its ’06 equivalent to see what I mean), most Citroens bought are the pointless Picasso and Renault’s range is yawn-inducingly tedious (Vel Satis aside, and who cares about that one?), you’re left with very little new car eye-candy to enjoy. There are also fewer old cars to enjoy now, as many were scrapped when the government offered buyers 10,000 Francs to come trade them in for a new motor.

There are, of course, classics around, but you have to get well off the beaten track to enoy those.

The Lada 110-Series shows quite clearly
what the 1980s vision of 21st century
family motoring looked like…

However, I couldn’t let this gem go without a quick snap on my Camera ‘Phone. It’s a LADA 110-Series saloon – a fine example of how Russia’s car designers were clamouring for a brighter future, even though they weren’t given the tools or money to achieve the dream. Introduced in 1996, it was probably ten years too late – but shows quite clearly what the 1980s vision of 21st century motoring looked like. And you have to admit – it certainly looks individual…

And you can still buy them new in Germany and France (and probably elsewhere in Europe) from around €7300 (£4970). Would you want one for that kind of money? Probably not – although it’s good to see that the success of the rival Dacia/Renault Logan proves that people will buy new cars at this price point.

It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has experienced one of these bargain basement Ladas – if for no other reason than to stop me finding a used one in Germany and bringing it back home the next time I am over there!

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Feedback:

WHEN your choice is limited, the Lada 110 is perhaps not such a bad choice. Here in Uzbekistan the choice is indeed limited. Buy a locally produced Daewoo Matiz for $8500, a Nexia (born as Opel kadett in 1984) for $14,000 or an imported Hyundai Elantra (or similar car) for $30,000 onwards…

The Lada 110, Samara, or old model Niva are on sale for $11,000, the mother of all Ladas (born as Fiat 124 in the 1960s) costs $9000, the more modern Kalina costs $13,000. For all Lada’s spare parts are plentiful on sale here in the car bazar. If you want, you can refurbish your whole car for not too much money.

What about a second hand car then? To import my Rover 400 from the Netherlands would cost me a whopping $10,000. It’s for this reason that it is still there. Locally available Western Europe secondhand cars are mostly late 1980s early 1990 model; about the time this crazy import tax was instated. A Ford Sierra would cost you about $4000, and this will not be a pristine example.

I have my heart set on a Rover SD1 (I have seen two examples here), however I spoke to one of the owners and he is not willing to sell. Maybe I should go for the new Volga for $14,000 and put a Rover V8 in to get the SD1 feeling?

ARWIN BREEDIJK

The Lada 110 – it does look quite glamourous there, but picture it in bleached white with pressed steel wheels and the rose-tinted specs fall right off unfortunately. And thats the majority I seem to see on the continent.

The Vel Satis is a fantastic thing of beauty though get inside and why would you want a Jaguar? If anything replaces my E39 5-Series, that will be it. But not in a pale colour

ANDREW ELPHICK

THANKS for the great work – please keep it up. To follow up your note about modern French cars and motoring environment being a bit dull compared with that of old.

We travel into France most years for our holiday and one of the best ways I have of filling a long journey down the autoroute or routes nationale is to play Renault bingo.Very easy rules – the first person to see a full set of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (very very rare Spanish 5 with a boot), 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25 and 30 gets to chose a bottle of wine. If you’re the only person playing who tend to win though!

Last year was the first since we started 20 years ago when we didn’t see a roadworthy Renault 16. Talk about the end of an era! You can still usually see some CXs, may be a GS, an Ami and a Dyane. 2CVs are fading now, even in rural areas. You may still see a 504, possibly a 304 and 204 and if you’re lucky a 404, but these are now seriously thin on the ground.

ROGER CARR


14 April

How things have changed…

By KEITH ADAMS


A typical tree lined Route Nationale in France… somewhere no one dares speed anymore…

JUST got back from a week’s driving in France – and how things seem to have changed since I was last there. Okay, that’s not quite true as I end up driving a lot in our near-European neighbour – but generally I hammer down the Autoroute on the way further afield… and for some reason, my most recent trips have been in slower machinery.

However, what was different this time was that I was staying within the French border, and spent the entire week exploring areas I’ve not been to before.

It was great to be back – but what I brought home with me (apart from the wine, chocolate and tour ideas) was the distinct and rather unsettling notion that the French have become a nation of speed-obsessed automaton-like drivers. And what I mean is keeping within every speed limit at every possible opportunity… If you’ve never been to France, or have avoided driving over there for the past few years, that last statement will have opened your eyes – especially if you’ve been scared half to death on a wet, dark, N-Road as the traffic steams along at between 80-90mph…

Well, let me tell you, it’s not like that now.

Since about 2003, the government has adopted measures to cut France’s once-apalling accident rate – and that meant clamping down on speeding motorists. The first step was to drop the laissez faire attitudes to Police speed traps, before erecting speed cameras. Despite there being far fewer of these apalling devices there than over here, they seem to have done their job (along with, I guess, adopting a points system for licences) – and within a few short years, the French have become the most law-abiding motorists I’ve come across in years.

Sometimes it was frustrating – sitting behind lines of cars tightly behind a truck – and everyone afraid of going for the overtake, for fear of being zapped by a radar toting Gendarme, but that’s life, I guess.

Safety and lives are worth more than a few saved moments… even if progress in this country has become grindingly slow.

I just hope that they’re all watching the road ahead, rather than their speedos…

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Feedback:

OBVIOUSLY a sea change in Gallic driving styles…

Do you still have to play a game of automotive chicken when using pedestrian crossings? The French may have slowed down, but do they now also look where they are going?

Finally, drink driving; are the gendarmerie clamping down? If so, it’s about time.

MIKE GOY


7 April

My next challenge

By KEITH ADAMS


The work began in anger this morning…

I THINK everyone in the office now knows that I am a glutton for punishment when it comes to hopeless car cases… You only have to look at the Car Mechanics magazine project car that I was given as my first major job on the mag to see what I mean – it was a 1993 Rover 620i with 233,000 miles on the clock and a whole host of ‘issues’.

Still I love to answer the call of a challenge – so when a colleague came around the office saying, “does anyone want to buy a Rover?”, there’s an air of inevitability that I’m going to get drawn in.

The car in question is a 1992 214SLi with one or two issues of its own to deal with. For one, it’s losing water – and that can only mean one thing (which I’m not even going to spell out). For another it has rusty arches, a tatty interior, no power steering, a whacking great dent in one of the back doors, and some choice scratches – oh, and it’s in a very dull shade of dark blue, with the dog-sick coloured interior. In short, it’s an unloved car with very little going for it.

In short, it’s an unloved car with very little
going for it.

But do you know what – it’s the first K-Series powered car I’ve ever owned, and I’d love to have some experience of changing my first headgasket (instead of relying on someone else), and I quite fancy a go at seeing if I can turn round this old pup and make it into something a bit less embarassing. Besides, it’s actually a great car to drive, and I’m strongly reminded just why the 214 was the R8 that received all the accolades from the press when the R8 was launched back in 1989 – it’s smooth, gutsy, and although it may be less reliable, I reckon it’s a more user friendly engine pulling the car than the DOHC Honda lump in my 216GTi 16V.

Also, under the grot, I can see potential – although it’s well disguised – and if it can be saved, I’ll make sure it happens.

Still, I have a week’s break coming up, and it could be just the recharge I need before launching into my most unlikely project yet. I’ll let you know what happens.

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Feedback:

I’M so glad I’m not the only person who comes across a ‘dog’ like this and can’t help but like it. Only difference is, you actually buy them and I get told to stop being so bloody stupid.

Hope the work goes okay, Keith.

MARK GOMER


6 April

Oh dear

By KEITH ADAMS


Any excuse to get a SAAB on the website…

I’M going to have to share a very unpleasant experience with you. After Easter Monday I’ll be going away for a few days, and intend to head out behind the wheel of my trusty SAAB 9000 Aero. However, with a couple of days to go, it developed a bit of an air leak – and although I’d managed to get around the problem before by splicing the pipe and reconnecting it further up, it split again, leaving me with a lack of turbo boost and no boost/APC gauge.

The trouble is – it’s an old pipe, which is made from some kind of fabric, and was as brittle as my sense of humour following a sleepless night. And to top it off, it’s a pipe that disappears into the engine bulkhead, and goodness-knows-where after that. Time was an issue (short work deadlines due to the Easter holidays), and fearing not having it sorted by the time I left for my break, I decided to pop into my local friendly Saab dealership to get them to slap one in for me in double quick time.

Big mistake.

Okay, the bill for £100 was large, but not totally unexpected – because in the end, it was a vaccum pipe that went into the dashboard, and although that meant it was actually a minor air leak, it was enough to take the edge off the performance – but I ended up being shocked on a couple of scores. Firstly, the customer relations skills – or lack of them – within the service department were absolutely dreadful. The desk jockey was rude and disinterested, and his oppo spent the whole time telling me that my car’s old and not up to much (I don’t really need to be told it’s over a decade old – gasp).

…the customer relations skills – or
lack of them – within the servicing
department were absolutely dreadful.

This is not the kind of treatment any customer would expect from a dealership representing a company that has ambitions at playing with the big boys in the premium sector. In fact, the last time I remember customer facing skills like that was in the Rover Group dealership in Blackpool – Dutton Forshaw.

Secondly, it took the servicing technician two hours to fit this pipe – and that was because the guys in the service department told me that no-one in the company (that was there on the day) had worked on a 9000 before. Hmm. So I may as well have done the job myself, and spared myself the aggro.

Thirdly, and adding icing on the cake, there were greasy prints smeared all over the inside of the windscreen (from the mechanic’s hair I guess), and they hadn’t managed to put the dash top speaker back in properly – meaning it rattled and zizzed all the way home… and easy fix for me, but annoyingly it revealing a lack of care for the customer’s car that I would have thought you’d not have got when paying nearly £100/hour labour.

Okay, I was being lazy by relying on a main dealer to do the job, but in the end I was reminded of just why I’ve been driven away from these guys in the first place. So, Crightons of Peterborough – a ‘must try harder’ for you…

Still, at least it’s boosting properly again.


Another gratuitous SAAB picture

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Feedback:

VERY disappointed, but frankly not all that surprised, at the service you received at the Saab main dealer. Most main agent franchises these days seem to regard older models as an inconvenience, rather than a business opportunity.

I too have a Saab 9000, but a slightly lower 2.0LPT model, and know the pipe of which you speak. It is a bit of a fiddle to replace, with the dash top and aquarium cover needing to come off to replace. But in reality, this is a couple of hours easy work for a mechanic. For me the 9000 was the last real Saab, so I can’t see me ever needing to darken the door of a main dealer – in fact I want to go older with something like a 99 Turbo!

The vacuum pipe you needed is available relatively cheaply from Elkparts, if one has split I’d recommend changing all the rest for new ones to keep that Aero performance intact.

‘DAVE’

YOUR story about the SAAB reminds me of a similar experience at my local Volvo dealership with the head mechanic – sorry – technician (!!), who upon being faced with a job to replace the flywheel on my 3 month old S40 (due to a chipped tooth which caused intermittant starting difficulties), declared that he’d never done a job this big before and that it would be “on the job learning” for him!

It was comforting to know my £20k car was being used as a guinea pig for them to practice on!

MARTIN SUMMERS

SORRY to hear about your Saab main dealer experiences. If I’m forced to go main dealer for my 900 T16S, I’ve so far found Buckingham Stanley in Cambridge quite sympathetic – they even have an informal club for older owners – sorry, owners of older cars – giving a 10% discount on their parts prices, which is handy. But I usually go to independent Saabmaster in north Cambridge/Milton, which is run by Paul Cox who used to be in charge of BS’s service department. Very conscientious, reasonable charges (though does tend to use ‘official’ Saab [parts), and usually not too big a delay for an appointment. Usual disclaimers, of course!

TONY TURNER


4 April

The satisfaction of a job well done

By KEITH ADAMS


Looks good doesn’t it?

I GUESS I’m a little old fashioned on this score, but I do like to see a clean, well polished car. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those concours fetishists, but for me, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as picking up a ‘new’ old car, and cleaning it from top to bottom, in order to work out how good the bodywork is. You may remember reading late last month that my former Staples2Naples Rover 216GTi 16V made it back into my custody after a three year break with fellow rally entrant Les Hedaux.

During the time Les had it, the car received plenty of care and attention – and from what he tells me, it was much appreciated in his household. However, the gearbox was screaming like banshee, and the paintwork was dull and flat. The bumpers were faded, the wheels scuffed and caked in brake dust, and the wiper arms were almost bleached white. To someone who didn’t know better, this was a car that looked like it needed a ‘POLICE AWARE’ sticker shoving on the windscreen.

I can also imagine that to said same person, the car was probably ready for the knacker’s yard. However, I do know better – and decided that what this car needed was a little TLC. Thanks to the superhuman efforts of Steven Ward at Village Lane Garage Limited in Washington (who donated a brand new clutch, currently retailing at £147 – and which had been on his stock list since 1991), and Terry Brown at the Freckleton Rover Centre (who found a used 416GSi gearbox and spent the day fitting it), the gearbox was sorted.

…this was a car that looked like it
needed a ‘POLICE AWARE’ sticker shoving
on the windscreen.

A few days spent on the cosmetics have also worked wonders. Clay barring the paintwork, then waxing it was a start. After that, the alloys were sanded and sprayed, the wiper arms repainted in satin black, a new smooth number plate panel was fitted, the scuffs were touched in, and the bumpers treated to half a gallon of Autoglym Bumper Care. The results are astounding, and from ten paces, this once sorry looking car has taken on an altogether more fantastic appearance – in short, the class has returned with a vengeance.

The transformation has been particularly satisfying – and I know it must sound a little sad, but I’ve been getting a great deal of pleasure out of simply looking at the car, and enjoying the neat styling and clever detailing. Yep, there’s a lot to be said for making a grubby car look clean and polished. I’ve even caught myself imagining how cool it must have been to have such a fine looking chariot parked on my drive back in 1990, when it was new and even shinier.

So, not only am I old-fashioned, but easily pleased!

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Feedback:

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree.

Few things more satisfying than making a tired look car look fresh again. Did the same kinda thing to our Ford Focus a month or so ago. Having then just ticked over to 170k, the paint was tired, covered in tar spots and it just looked past its prime. Washed, claybarred it, lots of wax and it came out looking so much newer. Okay, the mileage (now 173k) makes it worth very little, ot does look good, or it will once Ii’ve got a new front splitter having knocked the old one off.

Jetwashed the wheel arches (wow my suspension’s black again not brown), spruced up the alloys, dressed the tyres and replaced the chipped headlight and it looked nicer than many ’04 plate cars I’ve seen (bonnet full of stone chips aside).

I’ve done the same to my 200 Coupe, but it was never that bad in the first place.

TIM COLLEY


3 April

Fast cars: what’s the use?

By KEITH ADAMS


The rather impressive Jaguar XKR

NOT so long ago, I spent a rather delightful day at the wheel of Jaguar’s impressive new XKR. Everything was going for us, too – the weather was nice, the roads in North Wales were absolutely wonderful, and the scenery drop dead gorgeous. After the shortest of drives, it soon became clear that Jaguar has managed to produce something really rather special – and, wait for this, it’s a nicer all-rounder than Porsche’s all conquering 911.

When I’d pulled in at a lay-by at the side of the road, got out and drunk in gorgeous scenery, I thought to myself, ‘what a wonderful job I have’… However, that – I think – was down much to the location and the weather as the car I’d been piloting. You see, with 420bhp of supercharged muscle on tap, and despite having one of the finest chassis set-up I’ve ever encountered on mixed roads, there was never any possibility of getting anywhere near scratching the surface of what this car can do.

Even in this relatively secluded corner of our sceptred isle, the possibility of finding a suitable road with a) no other cars on it or b) without artificially low speed limits was practically impossible. We managed it a couple of times – but even then, there would be, say, a mile of fun before catching another car. Frustatrating to say the least. And for me, that kinda sums up fast car ownership in the UK – n frustrating and ultimately futile experience that leaves one wondering what the point is.

…with 420bhp of supercharged muscle on
tap, there was never any possibility of
getting anywhere near scratching the
surface of what this car can do.

Yes, the sensation of savage acceleration is wonderful – but in a car like the XKR, you can sustain it for no longer than seven seconds before you’re braking the law. So, that amounts to £75,000 for brief surges of power, assuming you want to remain legal. And the age of the GATSO, Truvelo and mobile Talivan, exceeding the speed limit is becoming more difficult to do – and in the eyes of a disturbingly increasing number of people – a socially irresponsible thing to do.

And you know that now the environmental lobby is getting increasingly powerful friends and that the carbon footprint of a car is much higher when going quickly, there’s only one way that speed limits are going to go.

So where does that leave us enthusiasts who enjoy driving fast? Increasingly frustrated and constrained – and more likely to want to flee this country at every opportunity. But then again, perhaps the answer is for us to all drive in Austin A40s – cars that can be extremely exciting to drive on wet roads well within the speed limits!

Where is the progress indeed?

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Feedback:

I THINK you’re right – it is near impossible to fully appreciate the true potential of the XKR. Of course a top speed of 155mph would be useless – especially on North Wales roads where the roads seems to be run ‘mein Furher’ Richard Brunstrum… Ford even pointed out that it wanted to focus more on the luxuries of car driving rather than all-out speed, and that the performance car has pretty much had its day.

But I think it’s not necessarily performance which is the problem – just the all-out speed. I, for one would happily drive a quick accelerating car rather than a high speed car… an that brings me on to the possiblities of using electric motors. They produce phenomenal amounts of torque at low revs, and become more ‘fuel’ efficient at high revs – I won’t go into the technical, but consider the Tesla Roadster – yes it is lightweight carbon fibre – but the motor is the size of a water melon! – And of course 90 per cent of the energy required goes into making the car move, rather than create heat and sound.

It’s a technology that’s being developed all the time and battery technology is also catching up. – As an engineering designer, I can seriously see the possibilities of using powerful electric motors to power the sports cars of the future, and I for one will look forward to the challenge helping to produce one..

ROSS ARMSTRONG

I THINK you have touched on why old sports cars like MGBs have become so much fun. Its not that they are fast, or handle particularly well when compared to anything modern, but they can be driven hard, they are a challenge to make anything like reasonable progress with!

As a result they are all the more satisfying to drive (to the slightly masochistic of course). Even the really good cars of yesteryear have been eclipsed by mundane modern machinery, even the once mighty Jaguar E-type can be beaten by a fairly ordinary Honda, but which is more fun?

Maybe the engine was not the only reason I preferred the XX 800 to the XJ40 – as the XJ never worked hard for a living, or if it was it was going at silly speed.

STEWART WELLER

I AM old enough to recall trying to overtake a Morris Minor in and MG D-Type at 65mph, and would have given my eye teeth for 420bhp plus brakes, roadholding and manners to match. I continue to contend that a big reserve of power with commenurate brakes and manners can be a superb safety feature.

Sorry to be upbeat but performance has a place on UK roads in sensible hands even (regrettably) in todays low speed limits.

Speed cameras are much less prevalent in Scotland above the Central Belt and except some selected roads like the A/M 9 and A/M73/4 so a good lookout and these generally quiet Highland roads can be a real pleasure midweek!

ANDY MUMFORD

 


1 April

SAIC to take a stake in Jaguar and/or Land Rover?

By CLIVE GOLDTHORP


Heading towards China?

YOUR Blog, “The Rover name…” dated 21st March, 2007, John Morris’ Feedback and the News item headed “The Classic British Sports Car From China” by Craig S. Smith of the New York Times posted on 13th March, 2007 together with the continuing rumours that Ford may still sell Jaguar (See the current issue of Auto Express) and, possibly, Land Rover have prompted me to ponder on the commercial benefits which might accrue to Ford and SAIC if the latter took a significant stake(s) in Jaguar and/or Land Rover.

Here are a few observations:-

1) Ford is clearly cash-strapped and, given Volvo’s current and proposed Model Ranges, does not really need more than one European Premium or Prestige marque in either the American or European markets.

2) Jaguar and Land Rover are therefore, to some extent, surplus to Ford’s requirements and selling a significant stake in either or both companies (with, perhaps, an option to increase any such stake(s) at a later date) to SAIC would obviously ease Ford’s financial woes.

3) Ford might, as John Morris suggests, also sell the Rover name to SAIC or, alternatively, give the latter a licence to use the name and so, if necessary, retain some control over the composition of any future SAIC-built Rover Model Range.

4) SAIC would gain instant brand credibility and access to Ford, Jaguar and Land Rover technologies – just imagine the potential demand for a SAIC-built version of the next generation Land Rover Defender in rural China from say 2010 or 2012 onwards. SAIC would, no doubt, phase out SsangYong’s current Model Ranges and, possibly, only retain that brand in South Korea – hardly anyone would miss the “odious Rodius!”

5) SAIC would, at a stroke, save much of the massive cost of developing the apparently extensive series of Model Ranges which are currently proposed by, for instance, using Ford’s new B2 platform for a Rover 350 B Segment competitor etc…

6) Ford would take responsibility for the global distribution of all SAIC-built Jaguar, Land Rover and Rover products outside China and, again as John Morris suggests, utilise the existing Land Rover Dealer Networks for Rover, at least, in the American and European markets.

7) Ford would, as a consequence, have a potentially highly profitable share in what may well emerge as a new niche in the American and European markets: the Premium/Prestige luxury (and quality) but Budget/Value priced brand which is where Ford and SAIC might well steal a march over NAC-MG (given current rumours about the likely pricing of the MG TF2 and MG 7Z).

8) Jaguar’s and Rover’s Model Ranges should, as you imply in your Blog, compliment each other. A similar model may be the expected structure of the Alfa Romeo and Maserati Model Ranges in 2010. SAIC-built Rovers would create the Budget/Luxury niche mentioned above while Jaguar’s profile as a Prestige/Sports marque might be enhanced by a revival of the Jaguar F Type Project – does a Porsche Boxster/Cayman competitor built by SAIC in China sound exciting? Anyone who doubts that the Chinese Automotive Manufacturing sector can “do quality” should note that a Honda Jazz assembled in China matches one made in Japan on quality and that Honda have just started to import Chinese-built RHD versions into the UK!

I rather doubt that any of the World’s other leading Car Manufacturers would wish to acquire Jaguar (if not Land Rover) at the moment. Renault will launch Infiniti as a Prestige/Sports marque in Europe next year. Hyundai’s Concept Genesis, which will be on display at the forthcoming New York Motor Show, merely underlines Hyundai’s recent assertion that the company has no desire to acquire Jaguar but, instead, intends to develop an in-house Prestige marque. BMW and PSA have similar ownership structures, growing engineering and technical links and five brands/marques with complementary profiles while, in my view, the recent closure of Ryton renders PSA’s rapid return to UK-based car manufacture unlikely. Mind you, Martin Leach and LDV Group/GAZ Group might just have an interest in Jaguar…

A final point: SAIC would probably find negotiating with Ford for a stake in Jaguar and/or Land Rover rather more straightforward than the negotiations with MG Rover’s Administrators appear to have been!

Ford’s President and CEO, Alan Mulally, should, at least, be talking to SAIC by now… if not then perhaps you should publish this Blog just in case someone from Ford’s top brass hits Austin-Rover.Co.UK and agrees that we are on to something! You could even offer to broker the deal if SAIC invite you to China for a “First Drive” of the Roewe 750!

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Feedback:

I READ with great interest the blog re SAIC and the speculation/idea of them purchasing Rover /Land Rover /Jaguar from Ford.

I found the comments made by Clive to be a bit (hopefully) unlikely. Maybe im mistaken but is Land Rover not the only profitable bit Ford has left at the moment? And is it not Volvo thats making the biggest losses, given that are they not far more likely to off-load the big sweedish battleship?

Ford already has seriously interested parties wishing to buy Jaguar which I beleive they have already told to go forth. Ford have just spent a fortune developing a lovely new Sport tourer which they have until now had to supress so it wasnt better than the Aston Martin. Now they have off loaded Aston watch this space re the XK, that cars about to get a whole heap more powerful!

So here are my mystic meg projections of how Ford will save its sole:

1) Release the Ka replacement as a Rover to compete with the MINI
2) Continue their succesful developement of Land Rover / Range Rover (the profitable bit) ie, the new Freelander and the Defender replacement
3) Beef up the lovely Jaguar Coupe and make it an Aston beater
4) Off load Volvo (never understood why they bought it in the first place)
5) Get someone decent in to design the main stream ford cars as the current model Focus and the soon to be launched Mondeo are just dulll (ok that one’s just a wish).

PHILIP DOIG

I read with interest Clive Goldthorp article on SAIC buying into Jaguar and Land Rover. I think it falls down on two points:

1) SAIC is not cash rich, as with most state owned Chinese companies its hard to know if it is truly profitable. With Land Rover at last delivering some return it would demand a high premium, which I think SAIC would have difficulty justifying to the Chinese Government to fund.
2) Jaguar is different case, desperately needing its new models and soaking up cash Ford does not have, however having seen the concepts and particular the leaked images of the 2009 XJ, there is some significant investment occurring and some exciting products arriving in the market in the next two years. There is a market for these cars in China, but the person who buys a car like this in China, does not want a Chinese car, they want something that is special and full of heritage that shouts how much money they have.

It’s interesting to note that when I read about the sale of Aston Martin I was in Gothenburg at the time, and the papers and bars of Gothenburg were full of stories saying that Volvo was up for sale and interestingly Volvo AB, the original owners and Bus, Truck, Construction Equipment and Aero engine etc manufacturer were in the frame to buy it.

This makes a lot more sense than a SAIC buyout. Volvo AB sold the car division to Ford in the late 90’s because it could not justify risking its whole business developing new cars alone and felt very exposed at the time having just bet the company on the up and coming S60, S80 and V70 range. It wanted a partnership, however at the time the big manufacturers wanted mergers and so it elected to sell the Volvo cars division to Ford.

Volvo AB went off to buy Scania, but the EU did not like that so it was blocked, it took over Renaults truck division but that was an exchange for 20 per cent of Volvo rather than cash. The result is that Volvo AB is a cash rich company that currently feels vulnerable to take over by investors and competitors eager to utilise its cash. The bar room talk in Gothenburg is that Volvo will buy cars back in return for a partnership with Ford to share platforms for the future Volvo cars.

Ford obviously benefits from a sizeable injection of cash and it still gets to share its platform development costs. Volvo loses its tempting cash pile and any prospective owners will have to find cash to buy themselves out of the partnership with Ford as well as the company itself. Volvo cars has also been consistently profitable since Ford bought it, which is more than we can say for Land Rover and Jaguar. It also looks likely to remain that way in the foreseeable future.

We should note that this is just ‘Bar Room Gossip’ and I would be surprised if it happened, however I would be very surprised if Volvo AB hasn’t explored buying back the car division with Ford, not least because they share ownership of the brand

GRAHAM ARISS

WITH regards all the correspondence on Fords/Jaguar/Land Rover tie up with SAIC.

1) For all the headlines about Fords perilous finances, the companies real headache is its North American Car manufacturing arm. In Europe its doing rather well with rising sales and profits, an up to date model range and manufacturing capacity well matched to demand. Ford of Europe is expected to turn another profit in 2007 and so is PAG which relates most closely to the European operation in terms of technology share.
2) Behind the scenes Jaguar/Land Rover has been subject to major restructuring. Closing Browns Lane and transferring Freelander production to Halewood has removed significant manufacturing slack from the operation, the main cause of Jaguars losses in recent years. Indeed sharing Halewood with the Freelander has made the X-TYPE profitable for the first time in its life!
3) Land Rover sold more cars than ever last year despite the Freelander being out of production for most of the year as K series engines dried up and the new model changeover took place. A significant waiting list already exists for the new model. The Jaguar XK has been well received and Jaguar cant build them quickly enough.
4)Ford already has a significant presence in China. The Focus is one of the best selling cars in China and the new Mondeo has recently gone into production there.

In short why does Ford need to look to SAIC to save PAG? As things stand the companies investment in Land Rover/Jaguar seem at last to be bearing fruit whilst Ford is more than capable of developing markets in China its self.

PAUL HAMPSON

Feedback to the feedback:

I have only just read the Feedback to my above blog from Philip Doig and Graham Ariss and should like to make several additional points by way of reply:

1) My hypothesis was that SAIC would acquire a stake in Jaguar and/or Land Rover (with, perhaps, an option to increase that stake later) and not take a controlling interest in either or both marques for the foreseeable future.
2) My understanding, like Graham’s, is that Volvo Car has been the only consistently profitable PAG marque since the latter’s inception.
3) I, like Philip, never really understood why Ford acquired Volvo Car in the first place and have always believed that Rover, Land Rover, and Jaguar would have given PAG a much more cohesive brand/marque portfolio.
4) Indeed, if Ford have told prospective purchasers of Jaguar to “go forth” as Philip suggests and Graham’s report of the current Gothenburg “Bar Room buzz” has substance, then Ford may, after all, be planning to revive the Rover brand. Your own blog, “The Rover name….” dated 21st March, 2007 makes a pretty persuasive case for such a proposal.
5) Ford would, in my view, still gain the competitive advantage mentioned in Point 7) of my previous blog from the type of Joint Venture Agreement mooted by me even if such a JVA was just confined to Rover. However, I still reckon that the potential market for even the current Land Rover Defender in rural China must be considerable…

I am glad that both Philip and Graham realised that my earlier blog was not an April Fools’ Day jape!

CLIVE GOLDTHORP

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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