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Blogs : December 2006

28 December

Missed opportunity

By MARK MASTROTOTARO

WE love em; being BMC>Rover fans, we have so many so many missed opportunites to choose from!

However, one that’s struck me hardest of late is the 75’s entry into the US. For one reason or another it never happened (although through the development story we can be led to believe it was talked about).

Now by making a few cosmetic adjustments it really does seem that it would look at home parked on the Street in Seattle or on a Driveway in Denver.

With the 2.5-litre V6 or 4.6-litre V8 on offer, those image-concious Americans could have had a smooth, powerful, refined European sedan to impress their neighbours with…

What a shame.

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24 December

Unparallelled parallels

By MIKE HYDE

‘ROVER’S RETURN’ is a headline I’ve seen a few times before.

Is it possible for Rovers to make a comeback from the dead? For me as a lifelong Doncaster Rovers supporter who now works only a mile away from Longbridge, I would say ‘yes’. when Donny plunged into non-league football a few years ago, the circumstances were acrimonious to say the least. The then-owner had not just asset stripped, but tried to burn down the stadium! This stewardship of something dear to a community resulted in a jail sentence.

But anyway, down went the Rovers, accompanied by headlines such as ‘Rover and out’, ‘They think its all Rovers – it is now’, etc., etc. All of which seemed to be recycled when Longbridge collapsed. But fast forward seven years and the Rovers are back in the football league, have reached their highest position for 50 years last season, and are now moving to a brand new stadium.

This connection led me to think of the fortunes of other football teams related to cars; Lincoln City are known as the Imps – a nice little Hillman. Then there’s Mansfield Town, known as the Stags – still fanciable after all these years.

Come on you CityRovers…

And here’s where we get to the spooky bit – what about the Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford? Well, either side of MG Rover’s demise, the two clubs relegated from the football league were Cambridge United in 2005 and Oxford United in 2006.

Now if thats not scary enough, there were proposals a number of years ago, [thankfully ignored], that might have seen Bristol Rovers merge with Bristol City. This may have given rise to a chorus from the terraces of ‘Come on you CityRovers…’

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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22 December

Merry Christmas!

By KEITH ADAMS

JUST been out and about on the roads, and it looks like everyone’s already winding down for Christmas – so with that in mind, I couldn’t think of a better time to thank all our readers and contributors for their continued support throughout 2006.

The website continues to grow at an extrordinary rate, and although ‘our’ company has now been (all-but) shipped out to China for a re-birth in the Far-East, we’re attracting new readers who continue to add significant new information to this repository of facts.

We’re not resting on our laurels, though, and we’re hoping to re-launch the site sometime around the middle of next year – but with a small team and no finance to hire a fancy web-design company to do it for us, this is a tough task that we’re actually enjoying undertaking. New functionality will be the key, and we’re hoping to add even more chance for you to have your say about the content.

The user forum continues to grow, and with nearly 2000 members, some real good is coming out of it – and a community of enthusiasts is beginning to grow from it. As can be seen from the feedback in the blogs pages, there’s plenty of discussion about the site’s contents in there – and if you’re not a member already, you really should have a look, and join in…

The website continues to grow
at an extrordinary rate, and
although ‘our’ company has
now been shipped out to China
for a re-birth, we’re still
attracting new readers.

Let’s hope that 2007 will emerge as a happier year for fans of MG and Rover – well, MG anyway, as I’m not sure that Roewe is any consolation for the loss of the longship marque (one thought: if the Roewe badge is indentically shaped to the Rover one, will buyers of the 750 stick Rover badges on them?)

We’ll be seeing new MGs emerge from Longbridge and Nanjing next year… let’s hope that they live up to the expectations we’re all putting upon them…

As usual, keep your ideas and contributions rolling in – and sorry to everyone who received a slow response from me… the mountain of emails I’m buried under simply refuses to stop growing. Still, that I guess is a good thing – it’s when they stop that I have to stop worrying!

Merry Christmas!

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21 December

Jaguar blog, hope it doesn’t frighten the horses

By MICHAEL WYNN-WILLIAMS

ISSUES? I’ve got Jag issues up to the lugholes! I am afraid that Jaguar has taken the retro style to the absolute limit. If the XJ were any more retro it would be a time machine. Of course, it is a lovely car, but so was the original and that is no excuse for continually rehashing all those old styling cues, even if the current example is the best version since the original. The whole Jaguar style is just a bit too comfortable for the modern world.

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, John Baccus once told me that there are two approaches for styling a car, one Classic and the other High Style. The Classic style is not the same as a classic piece of styling, it means a style that can be recycled over model changes with just enough tweaking to keep it fresh. It’s nice if you have it because it means new models are less risky, but only rarely can companies call on it. High Style is much more dynamic, it means breaking the mould with each new model, and if it works then it can come to epitomise the era that spawned it.

The E-type is an excellent example, it has the free spirit of the 1960s written all over it, though by the 1970s they could barely give them away (amazing, but true). It may have been a classic, but it was not Classic styling. This is why the XJ-S had to break that mould, as had almost every Jaguar preceding it. Only now the company seems to think it is the proprietor of Classic styling and we keep getting the same old look.

We all agree that the latest Jaguars are
graceful and charming; the problem is that
this has nothing to do with the modern
driving experience.

I drove an XK recently and was mighty impressed with its handling but it looked like the last one should have done first time round, except now the surprise has been spoilt. Worse, the inside looks like a gentleman’s club. Sit in a Saab and you feel like a fighter pilot, sit in a Jag and you want to nod off behind a copy of The Telegraph. This is not, in itself, a criticism. We all agree that the latest Jaguars are graceful and charming; the problem is that this has nothing to do with the modern driving experience. The X- and S-TYPEs don’t even manage that, being just plain tacky inside.

Chris Bangle’s clever move at BMW was to drag the corporate Classic look into the High Style 21st Century. By starting with the relatively low volume 7 Series he could achieve maximum impact with a high profile, low profit model before allowing the new house style to trickle down to the crucial 3 Series. Bangle’s neat trick was to break the mould and retain the Classic style, both at the same time. Jaguar missed that chance with the first XK and then did so again with the new one.

Of course it is attractive, but that is not the point: the new XK needed to shatter our comfortable illusions and polarise opinion. Having got Jaguar back into the headlines the commercially critical saloons could have taken on a more ‘tasteful’ version of the new style while benefiting from the XK’s iconoclastic leadership. Yes, the new XK is selling well, but all new Jaguars should do that at the start. The trouble is, can it keep the interest going for the next five years? I don’t think so.

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20 December

Made in Britain…

By AYD INSTONE

I’VE read somewhere that 77,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared from the UK in 2006. The number of manufacturing jobs in the UK is now at its lowest level since 1841, which in case you didn’t know, was when the UK invented a new concept called ‘industry’ and the Industrial Revolution began.

There’s a garage near where I live which I pass when walking to the shops. Occasionally they have some interesting old metal on the forecourt and one day I spotted a late sixties Hillman Minx, so I stopped to take a look.

A man appeared out of nowhere, “do you want to buy it?” he asked.
“No thanks,” I said, “Just interested. My dad’s first car was one of these.”
“Pile of rubbish.” the man continued. “All British cars are rubbish”. I could feel a heated debate coming on. The short man looked shifty and on edge. I should have just walked away.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“I was at Rover years back and looked down the line of Maestros and every panel was out. British workers are rubbish. No build quality.”
“Are you British?” I asked, “Is your work low quality?”
“I take pride in my work!” he rebutted.
“So the Austin-Rover workers didn’t take pride in their work? Why do think that was?”

You can see I was trying to undermine his argument, but it wasn’t working.

“This whole country is rubbish.” he said “America. They know how to build cars. That’s where I’m going. This is my father’s business but I don’t want to hang around here wasting my time. This country’s finished mate.”

Even though it was a sunny day and we were outside, the atmosphere felt tense. At that point I felt it better to bid a hasty retreat.

Perhaps there is a tiny oasis of pride
left in British manufacturing – but it
takes a German company to fly the flag.

The whole country seems to be full of people who think British workers are lazy, produce poor quality and deserve to lose their jobs while at the same time praise foreign manufacturing. That is quite a schizophrenic point of view since they are British workers too. Has Britain been on self-destruct for the past thirty years? Is the true ‘English Patient’ in fact the Great British Public who are harbour tendencies for self harm and personal self hatred?

British car and steel industries have gone. We only have a few specialist cottage industries and foreign owned concerns left. One thing is certain, the country’s future economy will have to depend on something else. But whatever that something is, the nation had better be behind it, or it too will be whisked from under our feet.

On the side of the BMW MINI works in Cowley is an enormous canvas poster proudly displaying the new MINI alongside the Union flag and the motto ‘MINI – Built in Oxford’. Underneath are the words, ‘Sold in:’ followed by hundreds of other flags from all over the world.

Perhaps there is a tiny oasis of pride left in British manufacturing – but it takes a German company to fly the flag for it.

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Feedback:

GOOD, thought provoking blog – and sadly rather true.

One thing I slightly take issue with though, Queen Victoria had been in reign for 4 years in 1841; the Industrial Revolution certainly didn’t begin when she was around… Mr Newcomen started that process in the 1710 ish, Watt improved the Steam engine in the 1730s, and the revolution really got going in the 1750s…

BRIAN GUNN

IN fairness, the British public took a hell of a lot of persuading that British workers were anything but the best in the world for quality, durability, excellence.

Sadly, the people who did all that convincing were the British workers themselves, who did it by spening the 1970s chucking cars and components together with as little care as they could possibly expend (on those rare occasions when they weren’t standing outside their plants shouting communist slogans).

It was probably made worse when all through the 1980s and 1990s Rover (and Jaguar, and Range Rover) kept announcing the quality was sorted now and the owners found the truth was rather different. Not my personal experience of the 416 and 620 which were excellent, but I remember CAR magazine’s long term Discovery for example was a complete shed.

It takes a long time to build up a reputation but a very short time to utterly destroy it.

‘LONDONBABE’, Forum member

IN response to Ayd Instone piece about British Manufacturing. It is interesting that despite the loss of manufacturing jobs this year and the demise of MG Rover in 2005, Britain is producing more cars than ever. Indeed in 2005 it produced almost as many cars as the record year of 1972. The loss of Rover output didn’t even register.

I think this demonstrates the huge gains in productivity experienced in the car industry. We simply don’t need tens of thousands of employees to man car factories these days.

In short the death of the British Car industry has been grossly exaggerated. OK so Rover and Peugeot have gone and Jaguar have streamlined their operations. But at the same time we have seen BMW Oxford go from strength to strength, the new Freelander come on stream at Halewood and the success of the new Jaguar XK. On top of this there has been massive expansion of Nissan, Toyota and Honda operations in Britain to meet demand for cars that are designed specifically for Europe and produced exclusively in the UK.

The common thread here is that the successful companies are`producing cars people want. Successful product secures their future. A factory churning out cars for which there is no demand (eg Longbridge) is nothing but a money pit.

PAUL HAMPSON


19 December

Any suggestions?

By KEITH ADAMS

I’M looking for a new family car…

And here’s the thing. At the top of my list nestles this car – a 1994 BMW M5. And I find myself grappling with all kinds of doubts, such as – am I ready to own a BMW and perhaps become a social pariah? We all know the jokes about BMW drivers – but the truth is, they’re probably not better and no worse than any of the others… and yet, I still have my doubts.

Anyway, when choosing a car this time round, I’ve been careful to draw up a list of criteria. And this one really does tick all the boxes. So, unless I’ve missed any alternatives, could I be heading towards BMW ownership? Hmm…

So – can any of you come up with sound alternative – and please don’t be rude.

This is a list of priorities:

Five seats and a big boot.
Over 300bhp.
Rear wheel drive.
Six-speed Manual gearbox.
Standard off-the-shelf (not modified – I’ve been there before)
Excellent handling and ride.
Reliability and build quality.
Price – around £5000
.

As I said, any suggestions, and I’d love to hear ’em.

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Feedback:

ALTHOUGH I would prefer a proper British car anytime, I sometimes go for cheap German power. I had several E28 and E34 5-Series (including M5s) for drifting and road use. I personally would not go for the E34 M5 – I prefer the E28 which is lighter better balanced (no understeer when turning in) and in my opinion it’s better looking.

If you still want the E34 go for the early 3.6. The 3.8 tends to through a rod now and then.

Here’s a photo of my Daimler driven by a friend of mine, which proves the XJ40 can be used as a sporty five-seater as well.

PIETER VOS, The Netherlands

I OWNED a BMW M5, and before that, I owned a BMW 5- and 3-Series. With all the three cars I had enormous problems, so for me never again a BMW. Now I have owned a Rover 600 for five years. I’ve never had problems with it, it’s the best car I have ever had, and that list is long (Austin Maxi, Fiat 124 Sport, Mercedes-Benz 280S, Mazda 323, Opel Rekord, Golf Mk 2).

So, to answer your questions: beside a Rover 600 or 800 (my brother had one) I would recommend a Honda Accord or Honda Legend.

D BASTIAENSEN, Belgium

GOOD choice I think, it would worry me though if anything ever went wrong with it.

What about a six cylinder XJR? Fits the bill but it is an auto. Or a Chevy Camaro Z28? Also fits the bill but only has four seats. I have owned a six-speed manual for nearly three years. It is my daily driver and it is great.

Just two initial ideas.

Thanks for a great website.

JULIAN VINCE

I’D sniff around a few Jag XJRs first, Keith. Although, being completely crackers, my first choice in that segment would be a Maserati Quattroporte.

‘SEAMASTER’, forum member

PLASTIC interior door handles, poor quality seats (Every oldish BMW seems to have ripped seats), THAT badge, £5k for something that is essentially quite old. I know these are things that are usually aimed at motorists and not petrolheads when giving reasons for not buying a car… but for crying out loud – satan himself probably drives a BMW!

ANDREW CARR

GOOD luck finding a half way decent second gen M5 – Evo did a buyer’s guide on them a couple of years ago and the running costs were truly terrifying.

The only, almost equally terrifying alternative I can think of is the Lotus Carlton. Which is certainly cooler for my money, but which would be even more likely to bankrupt you…

MIKE DUFF


18 December

What is wrong with Jaguar?

By IAN NICHOLLS

IN the past there have been blogs on this site putting some of the blame for Jaguars woes on the continued use of retro styling that harks back to the days of the companies founder Sir William Lyons.

I disagree with this profoundly. The XJ6 Series 1, 2, and 3 and MK2 styling cues make a Jaguar instantly recognisable all over the world. And it can hardly be said that rivals BMW uses imaginative styling. How many times can one re-style the same three-box saloon? The main problem Jaguar has is convincing buyers that their cars are as reliable as the German marques and that is another area for discussion.

The reality is that most car styling is an evoloution of previous successful designs. Car stylists do not want to be to radical for fear of alienating potential customers. A good example of this is the Austin Allegro which replaced the 1100/1300. It is rare for a manufacturer to successfully replace a model with a new type with an even more radical, sensational and yet universally attractive car. I can think of three occasions.

In 1961 Jaguar replaced the XK150 with the Series 1 E-type styled by Malcolm Sayer. The original Rover company at Solihull managed it twice. In 1963 the ‘Auntie’ Rovers were joined and gradually superceded by the P6 styled by David Bache, which owed nothing to previous Rovers. Then in 1976 David Bache did it again with the SD1, which had nothing in common with the outgoing P6.

One wonders whether some inside Jaguar wished the SD1 had been a Coventry Cat? Certainly the SD1 design would have made a good Jaguar and have enabled Browns Lane to move beyond the William Lyons era. Sadly David Bache was put in charge of Austin Rover styling with responsibility for more bread and butter cars and his career came unstuck with the Maestro and Montego, whereas his forte had been styling executive cars.

The reality is that Jaguar will continue with retro styling until someone in the company can come up with something that is both radical and universally attractive.

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Feedback:

INTERESTING – but I’d take issue with a couple of things. I’d say that the newly launched XK is far from Retro, and the upcoming XF saloon looks like it is going to follow the same course. As for BMW, I’d disagree here too – as the latest Bangle generation are bold expressions of non-conformity.

Jaguar should do the same. The time for Retro has passed.

KEITH ADAMS

WHAT indeed? Being a contrarian by nature, I’d like to rebuff the current opinion, widely held by the dreaded pundits, that today’s XJ is too retro or bland. On the contrary, it is one of the very, very few cars available today that is truly elegant and harmonious. I’d go further – it’s the very first XJ since 1968 to be absolutely right. All the previous ones had something ‘not quite’ about them, (even the basically gorgeous Series 3, on which the rear window rose too high) but Ian Callum has finally resolved all the issues – proportions, details, everything. Sure, it’s a little old fashioned, but in an age of ‘me-too’ cartoon-styling, that’s precisely what is so wonderful about it! It will be a tragedy if the XJ gets bastardised in the interests of making it trendy.

What a shame that Ian Callum didn’t do the original S Type and X type styling, is all I can say about them.

IAN ELLIOTT

I AGREE with Ian Elliott on the Jaguar front; those us with longer memories remember the horrors which were nearly wrought on the Jaguar marque when the ‘Leylandisers’ started to get their teeth into the proposals for what eventually became the original XJ40.

Okay, the car that John Egan shepherded into production wasn’t exactly perfect, but for all the sins it exhibited, it was still recognisably a Jaguar. There are phases in car design, as with any other fashion-related discipline, and now it is fashionable to simplistically spout that ‘retro’ has had its day. Now ‘retro’ – as in grubby pastiche – not only should have long ago ‘had its day’ but arguably never need have reared its ugly face.

However what I have described before, in a slightly clumsy way, as ‘retro-respective’ is another thing altogether. Look at the Aston Martin DB9 for a good example: there is little doubt that this car is a classic Aston Martin and has echoes of the visually great Aston Martin DB4/5 – but at the same time, it isn’t a poorly-conceived rehash.

An Aston Martin DB9 could just as easily be bought by a potential Porsche 911, Jaguar XK or Mercedes SL customer and has a wide-ranging appeal as a beautiful car (granting that one man’s meat may be another man’s poison!). The Aston Martin DB9 is true to its roots but at the same time it is a thoroughly modern car which has bags of glamour in its own right.

The Ford Mustang is another example and so is the Chevrolet Camaro concept. This is what I mean by ‘retro-respective’; maybe someone can come up with a catchier name for it, but whatever we call it, if Jaguar can follow that path, then they deserve to succeed.

DAVID KNOWLES

AM I the only one who thinks Ford have been rather good custodians of the big cat? I know I’m in a tiny minority who have come out in praise of the X-Type, but the rest of the range is as good, if not better, than the marque has ever enjoyed. A lot of the Jag-bashing de nos jours strikes me as identical to the vitriol poured on MG by the likes of the Moaners Club during the Phoenix years — again, the best lineup of cars ever to wear the badge, true to its spirit and heritage, panned left right and centre by the marque’s so-called enthusiasts.

There nothing new under the sun, I suppose.

‘SEAMASTER’, Forum member

I worked at Whitley in Powertrain for four years. The diesel is indeed the one seen in the Mondeo albeit with different ECU map and possibly some intake/exhaust mods.

I feel that Jaguar is better than ever under Ford. They would not have had the investment required to compete on reliability terms with Merc, BM & Audi. Although the Series 3 Jag was a stunner and smoother than silk, the quality was not there. The XJ40 was closing the gap but the corner was turned when Ford’s investment and proceesses filtered through to the late XJ40 and X300. The XK8s (X100 & X150) and XJs (X300 & X350) are still pure Jaguar with very little forced input from Ford. The engines (minus the V6) are entirely Jag designed and built in Wales. They’re not used in a Ford product. Engineering for the V8’s use in the LR & AML products was also done at Whitley. The XJ8’s ally bodyshell is one of the most advanced on the market. Although I don’t know so much about the current XK8’s bodyshell, surely it’s a good thing that it has commonality with the AML V8 car.

In my mind, all that Ford has done wrong was launching the X-Type too soon. The original S-Type need a comprehensive redesign in 2002 (new rear subframe, dash, other metal which I don’t know exactly) and so took much resource which I feel overstretched Jag as it was doing the X-Type at the same time. Perhaps the X-Type’s styiling is a bit too conservative and I think making it rear drive with a longitudinal engine would have added appeal to the enthusiast.

‘DE LOREAN’S ACCOUNTANT’, Forum member


16 December

If we made magazines…

By KEITH ADAMS

COMMERCIALLY, it would be suicide to launch such a venture, but one does have to wonder what would happen if a magazine like this hit the bookstands. Who’d buy it? Who’d advertise in it? And most importantly, could it be made into something that would have lasting appeal for buyers in that bracket?

Whatever the real world implications, I’d love to see something like this hit the news stands – because I know that there are millions of people out there for whom the budget of £1000 represents the sum of their secondhand ambitions. Yet, the truth is that right now, it has never been a better time to buy yourself a car for under the magic bag-of-sand barrier. This is most definitely real world, folks. If you’re not badge conscious or need a small and trendy hatchback, the world pretty much is your oyster.

The Rover Sterling or Jaguar XJ40 on the
magazine cover could really allow you to
enjoy a taste of the highlife…

Even if you stray away from the idea of the utterly sensible £1000 family saloon so typified by the R- or S-reg Rover 600 you could get for this money, and go for something a little more exotic, you really are spoilt for choice. Aim for something a little more classic such as the Rover Sterling or Jaguar XJ40 on the magazine cover, and you really could enjoy a taste of the highlife, and as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, perhaps even go on to enjoy a long relationship together.

Even more mainstream classics are now readily available in the sub-£1000 bracket, and although we picked on the X1/9, it could so have easily been an MGB (yes, really), MR2 or Ford Capri 2.8 Injection. The truth is that as new car oversupply threatens to sink the UK under a pile of twisted metal, you can pick and choose some of the most enjoyable cars ever made for next to nothing – and get that great feeling you’re beating the system.

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Feedback:

I’D love to think that there is a market for this sort of thing. Retro Rides proves that there is quite a lot of love out there for the unloved motors (if that makes sense) of bangerdom. Problem is, a lot of them do like their mods and as Retro Cars found out, the market isn’t really big enough.

But then I wonder how much production costs could be reduced. Look at old Practical Classics mags and they seem to be made using the same techniques as OT – all black and white pages. None of this full colour glossy nonsense.

IAN SEABROOK

IT’S great idea but as Keith says where would the market be for such a magazine? The basic criteria for buying a £200 car is whether you’ve got £200 or not, no one gives a stuff what it is as long as it’s MoT’d, taxed and goes (and doesn’t necessarily have to stop!) Does anyone need advice on buying a £200 car if that’s the budget?

It is all about motoring in the real world, but how many people want to read about £1000 bangers instead of £100,000 supercars that they will never be able to afford? I know we would, but more wouldn’t.

And spending £1.99 buying the magazine would mean you’d be down to £198.01p, which reduces the choice significantly!

Used Car Buyer magazine tries to spread itself across most budgets and it used to have quite good coverage of the sub-£1000 market, but over the last few years it has devoted more of its glossy pages to more expensive cars, which is a shame.

KEVIN DAVIS

LOSE the word classics and you’re there. What was the original cover from? It has a distinct Motor feel to it.
[Autocar, February, 1987 – Ed]

ANDREW ELPHICK


14 December

Cortina to Casablanca?

By KEITH ADAMS

WHAT am I bid on this fine piece of engineering for my trip to Casablanca? Okay, it’s not been produced by that fine car company that used to hark from South Birmingham that we all know and love, but there is an essentiual coolness about this car that our Allegro had in 2005, and our Rover 800 so sadly lacked in 2006…

The car in question is a 1978 German built Cortina 1.6L, offered to me by Paul Wager, the ex-editor of the late, great Retro Cars magazine, which he describes honestly enough. “From driving it around the Cotswold country roads I can report that once the engine’s warmed up it doesn’t run too badly at all, although the exhaust is blowing a bit and seems to be bouncing about – I think one of the rubber hangers is probably missing. The brakes pull to the left though, so the caliper wants stripping and cleaning up. Oh and you’ve got just the four gears on the 1.6L, Sir. And a 140mph clock.”

So, what’s the story behind the Cortina – and contemplate taking this to Casablanca, when there are so many BL-flavoured options on offer?

From driving it around the Cotswold country
roads I can report that once the engine’s
warmed up it doesn’t run too badly at all…

For one, in the 100-plus cars I’ve owned I can honestly say that I have never owned a Ford. Considering their popularity (or perhaps because of it), this might seem odd – but I guess part of me always enjoyed backing the (I won’t say loser, but you know what I mean)… alternative choice. And that didn’t mean Fords… it meant Skodas, Citroens, Austins and Ladas. So I do wonder what it would be like on the other side of the fence.

Secondly, it was offered for FREE, and who can look a gift horse in the mouth?

And thirdly… I’m guessing these things are easy enough to fix when they go wrong. And in the 40 degee heat of Northern Africa in June, that has to be a consideration? So, at the moment, my (short) list of possibilities is headed by this car, but as we all know, my plans and these banger rallies never seem to marry up successfully.

So if you have something cool knocking around in your back garden going spare, and you want to see if end its life in a blaze of glory (literally), drop me a line and we’ll see what we can do. Alternatively, and even better, why not join the event and take your retro ride along for the run – and enjoy an early summer adventure?

To find out more, click on the Calais2Casablanca website…

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13 December

Summer lovin’

By KEVIN DAVIS

I BOUGHT this 1996 216 Cabriolet at the local car auction at the end of August. I was a little put off by its 135,000 miles and lack of service history but the Honda twin-cam engine sounded sweet enough and the bodywork was particularly smart, and it also had six months MoT and a months tax, plus an end of sale trial meant I could reject the car of all was not well. A general lack of interest from bidders, probably because of the mileage, saw the car mine at just under £600, and the brief after sale test drive revealed a very straight and feisty little car.

Once home I fitted a new cambelt and carried out a service, which was just as well as the hot weather of early September, and the fact that I’d booked a week off from work, gave myself and my wife the opportunity to enjoy some serious roof-down motoring, and as we live on the south coast the 216 Cabriolet would prove to be the perfect companion.

The eager 1600cc twin-cam Honda engine is perfectly suited to this car and the marvellous, throaty induction roar allied to the sporty exhaust note makes for an invigorating drive, though it’s at its best in the upper rev band. The handling is good, though marred slightly by a healthy dose of scuttle shake, which is only really noticeable on poor surfaces. I’m really amazed at how tight this car feels despite its mileage, testament to the fine engineers at Rover.

The eager 1600cc twin-cam Honda engine is
perfectly suited to this car and the
marvellous, throaty induction roar allied to
the sporty exhaust note makes for an
invigorating drive…

But there’s another thing this striking little car has in spades, and that’s pose-value. The mix of Tahiti blue paint with cream leather seats is a striking one and my addition of 16-inch Hairpin alloys really adds to the cars presence. Our young nephews and nieces were particularly impressed and they were queuing up for test rides!

We usually go abroad for our annual holiday but we didn’t this year, though a week of cruising around between Bognor Regis and Swanage with the roof down gave us almost as good a tan as we’d get after a week in sun-kissed Turkey! Now, though, as the dreary, cold winter kicks in it’s strictly roof-up motoring, but the Cabby is just as much fun to drive with the added bonus of the roof giving the car a little more torsional rigidity, making the scuttle shake far less obvious and adding a fair amount of refinement, it is quite civilised, actually.

I have to say I am mightily impressed with this car, particularly the engine as it has so much character that no journey is ever a chore and it feels like it will go on for another 135,000 miles.

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12 December

Taking the old way

By IAN SEABROOK

I’VE been driving around in old classics for almost a year now, after I decided to settle for my 2CV as my everyday driver. My wife soon followed suit and our Rover 400 made way for a 1986 Mini in June.

So, as Winter sets in, are we regretting it? Not at all. Ok, so the Mini needs the occasional squirt of WD40 to keep going on a very wet day and 2CV service times come around quite frequently at every 3000 miles, but I still believe that our cars are providing much more pleasure than a new car could.

Sure, a new car would do the job with ease and comfort but it’d be so boring that we’d run the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. That isn’t going to happen with our two cars!

The Mini needs the occasional squirt of WD40
to keep going on a very wet day…

I am getting a little soft now though and my next project is being worked on. A 1982 miniMetro HLS. I’ve managed to find a car that is modern enough to have some comforts yet is actually older than our other two cars.

This does mean that we now have three cars with a fearsome reputation for their ability to rust, but would you rather pay a skilled professional to weld your car back together or pay some undeserving fat cat much more to finance your modern car?

I’ll take the old way please.

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11 December

One of my games…

By KEITH ADAMS

I HAVE a pretty poor commute into work. It’s not exactly terrible, as apart from once I get into the paradise that is also known as Peterborough, there’s little in the way of standing traffic. Most of the time, I do end up in slow moving lines of cars plodding up some of the country’s finer A-roads, at somewhere between 37 and 43mph. It’s not so bad I guess, as I used to drive into the City of London every day (and anything compared with that is going to be a piece of cake), but boredom is the main problem…

To alleviate this, I make up all sorts of car-bound games. In the old days it used to be trying to make legible words from the scrawl on the bootlids of the cars in front (i.e., Astra GL became ‘astraggle’), or seeing how many other drivers behind me would also flick their washers if I sprayed my screen in a standing queue.

Nowadays, the roads are full of debadged cars, and we don’t get much sun, so I’ve reduced myself to trying to spell out the words that people are trying to convey with their personalised number plates. Some kinda make sense – such as the car above, which is obviously the world’s only single-exhaust E60 BMW M5 in existance (owned by a chap called Stuart), but I’ll be blown if I know what the one below is (an ex-Somalian perhaps?)

Try it sometime – when you see an obviously personalised number plate, try and read out what it is trying to say… It’s fun for a few minutes, until you start to realise that these people have paid for the privalege to display such nonsense on their cars…

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8 December

RIP BRM Pt 2

By KEVIN DAVIS

I’VE been trawling the ads in the hunt for a Rover 200BRM as my interest has been rekindled in these fabulously underrated hot hatches after selling mine three years ago. I wrote a blog last year (RIP BRM, 8th March 2005) about the Rover 200 BRM and how prices were heading for the doldrums, but it would seem that they have levelled out and are remaining at early 2005 levels.

Demand for these cars hasn’t really picked up since they were launched in 1998 and it can take literally months to shift one; a BRM has recently been spotted that was registered in 2002! But you can be assured that when a buyer does eventually call he’ll probably be an enthusiast and will be looking for something that stands out. And with that orange snout and red leather trim there’s nothing discreet about the Rover 200 BRM!

With that orange snout and red leather trim
there’s nothing discreet about the
Rover 200 BRM!

What is of concern, though, and something I wrote about in my last blog is the amount of BRM’s that are still being scrapped. There is one specialist breaker on ebay currently breaking three BRM’s and you will always find at least one other being broken on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t like to estimate how many BRM’s are left on the UK’s roads out of the 795 that were originally built, but I reckon half that figure would be a reasonable guess.

Still, there’s a good bunch of enthusiasts out there who are doing their best to keep BRM’s on the road; www.roverbrm.com is an excellent website dedicated to these fine hot hatches. I just hope that in the future, if not sooner, these cars become the recognised classics they deserve to be.

Drive one and you’ll know what I mean.

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7 December

Nomad owners

By BRIAN GUNN

OF all the greatest inventions in the last 15 years, for an automotive fanatic like me, eBay must surely rate highly. I’ll explain, because I think the traits of car choice and purchase I show are more common than people like to let on. If you’ve read any of my long-term tests on this site, you’ll see that I’ve had a fair few cars in a short period of time.

You see, when it comes to cars; I’m a bit of a nomad. For me, the grass is always greener on the other side. I might have toiled for hours fitting a sophisticated climate control system to a car, or spent days painstakingly rubbing down alloy wheels for respray, but for some unfathomable reason, when the time comes I can do nothing else but think of finding another car. Believe me, I’ve lived to regret this! It’s like a switch, my feelings are irreversible and before I know it, I’m drawn to that damn Internet site again, hankering for another pile of rusting metal.

I might have toiled for hours fitting a
sophisticated climate control system to a car,
or spent days painstakingly rubbing down alloy
wheels for respray, but for some unfathomable
reason, when the time comes I can do nothing
else but think of finding another car…

Before the Internet revolutionized it, purchasing a car was often a much more serious, life changing process. You would either have to trail around used car dealers, visit auction houses, or trawl through the back of a newspaper to find cheap tat that no mortal has a hope in hell chance of bringing back to life. Websites like eBay changed that in a stroke: You can sit in the comfort of your home, finding any pile of rubbish that takes your fancy, for reasonably good value. Yes, prices might have crept up over the years, but you still can’t get away from how convenient a way of purchasing a car it can be.

So how does this relate back to my wandering tendencies? Well, sometimes I’m not always aware what my next car might be. Sometimes I get the strangest flashes of inspiration: I’ve dreamt about what car I should buy next – yes really! Other times, it’s not so easy, and I need eBay to help me – so I can browse a bit here, pore over a car with a broken gearbox in Scotland, place a cheeky bid somewhere else, I’m sure you’ve all done it at some time. But there’s one pervading feeling: I need to get a different car. Perhaps it’s that ‘new to me’ feeling, which makes me feel like a child getting a new toy. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase: I’m always up for a challenge when it comes to repairs; I always like to have something to do.

All I know is, when the time comes, there’s nothing that will sway me – I HAVE to have a ‘new’ car.

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6 December

Computers in cars

By BRIAN GUNN

IT’S a growing trend isn’t it? The ‘carputer’ that is. People see high-end cars, with built in navigation systems and complex stereos, and want to create a bit of the magic themselves. Again, technology makes it easy: Think back five years and people would look at you a little strangely if you wanted to install a PC into a car. Only the serious custom car designer would consider doing such a thing, as you had a whole raft of considerations to think of.

Now you can buy a relatively powerful (more capable than a lot of computers five years ago!) computer, that’s little bigger than two VHS video tapes, and runs from a 12 volt battery. Coupled with a cheap, neat little LCD touch screen, a custom written operating system, easily available satellite navigation and speed camera detection software and you’ve got a useful tool in your car.

And with the explosion in digital music availability, it has now become seriously old fashioned to be carrying a case of CDs in your car, let alone cassette tapes! You also get the benefit of being able to upgrade your software for free: try that in your 2002 BMW 750iL.

And of course, that begs the question; will we get to a point where we’ll not be able to live without some form of computer controlled navigation/media/warning system in our cars? Get a job in an office, and you’ll have a computer on your desk, a factory; a computer will control at least some of the machinery you use.

Even in cars, in the background, little dedicated computers are running your engine, and controlling your anti-lock brakes. So it doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to think you’ll soon have to have a full-blown computer playing music, keeping your cabin cool and providing directions, does it?

What’s going to happen when they go wrong?

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5 December

We’re going to Casablanca!

By KEITH ADAMS


(Picture: www.flickr.com)

OH Lordy, just when I thought I’d got the whole banger rally thing out of my system, the guys behind the Staples2Naples Rally came up with another one – and it’s one that clearly chimes with my own travel ambitions for 2007. As each year ends, I start to draw up a mental list of places I need to go to and things I need to do – and then try and ensure they happen.

This year, I had a few goals, and barring one, I achieved them all. For next year, I’d been contemplating going to Africa – and although it was a tough call, I knew that in 2006 I’d end up in either the former Soviet Union or Africa. In the end, it was Ukraine and Chernobyl that drew me in. This time round, that left an obvious destination – and thanks to the new Street Safari event, Calais2Casablanca, I now have a reason to go.

So, Africa it is – and the adventure starts
on the 24th June – so there’s less time for
preparation this time around…

Unlike Staples2Naples, which I’ve now done three times, this is a complete step into the unknown for me. Okay, the drive through France, Andorra and northern Spain is hardly a journey into the unknown (having done it pretty much a few weeks ago in a VW Polo GTI), it will be nice to be joining a number of other teams and travelling in Convoy. And if nothing else, it will be great to be crossing the amazing Millau Viaduct during daylight hours…

So, Africa it is – and the adventure to Casablanca in Morocco starts on the 24th June – so there’s less time for preparation this time around. Given the disaster that was my XJ40, that might be no bad thing. In fact, thinking about it – I wonder if I could get it fixed and have it ready for this one? Errmm… Nurse pass the drugs!

So, I’m looking for a car, and a team – and sponsorship for my chosen Charity, Shelter. Any suggestions on what car to take would be gratefully received, but at the moment, I’m thinking Mini or 2CV…

Yeah, I know.

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4 December

Is eBay the ultimate place to find your dream car at the right price now?

By KEITH ADAMS

IS it possible that the website eBay is coming to the end of its useful life for us car buyers and sellers? I was having a bit of a conversation with an esteemed colleague recently, and as a seasoned eBay seller, he told me that his trade had really started to slow down of late.

I know that the prospect of rich rewards for bargain hunters are getting increasingly thin as time wears on, as it seems that just about everyone in the world is now hooked up and mainlining the online auction experience.

All interesting cars that appear on the site seem to be reaching top or near-top book prices, and those a little out of the ordinary are now heading into the stratosphere. It would seem, perhaps, that the well-known internet auction site is well and truly heading towards saturation point.

Obviously, it would be churlish to declare the eBay phenomenon dying on its feet, when the number of users and transactions continues to grow exponentially – and obviously for the seller of those truly wierd and wonderful cars that appear on there from time to time, it’s still a great place to do business. But if your car is less than extraordinary, or you’re looking to buy something that is, the white heat of eBay seems to be cooling down.

Mind you, that’s just a subjective opinion of mine – so it would be great to hear your opinions and experiences…

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1 December

Keith the Alfista?

By KEITH ADAMS

NEW car time at Austin-Rover Towers, and as I can’t afford a 75/ZT right now, I thought I’d go for something equally individual in the family car class. The Alfa Romeo 156 is a known quantity to me, and after back-to-backing one with a ZT for MG Enthusiast magazine sometime back, my passion for the Italian wagon was ignited again. I have to say that mine’s been through the wars somewhat, and with 85,000 miles on the clock, it’s not particularly high mileage – so I guess each one of those miles has been pretty hard…

Despite that, there’s a mint car waiting to get out – and I can’t wait to start pouring in some TLC to see what kind of results I get. On the road, it’s obvious that Alfa Romeo tried very hard with this car, and the company’s chassis engineers did a fine job to make this front wheel drive saloon handle with plenty of verve. Interestinggly, it’s not in the same league as the ZT if you want a sporting drive, but it’s more than capable – and it has to be said that the sheer style of the thing makes up for any shortcomings.

…the company’s chassis engineers did a
fine job to make this front wheel drive
saloon handle with plenty of verve…

Yes, because like the 75/ZT, the Alfa Romeo 156 is arguably one of the most finely styled mid-line saloons to make it onto the market. In a sector dominated by timid me-too designs such as the Mondeo, Vectra and Passat, the Italian and British cars show belie the vision of their creators. And as Richard Woolley’s deft and genius touch crafted a fine car in the 75, Walter Da Silva managed the same with the 156. Both cars show detailing and form in their flanks that the opposition can merely dream of.

In the first day or so of driving the Alfa, it’s clear that it has foibles – and is a less capable all round car than the frankly amazing Citroen Xantia Activa. But when you walk up to that car, and drink in the style (which has been around since 1997, remember), you get those feel good vibes that help ease the pain of some of the wonky interior trim, and the worry that something’s going to break imminently.

We’ll see if that translates into long-term affection – and given my addiction to CHPD and all that comes with it, anything over six months will be a full-term for me…

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
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.

1 Comment on "Blogs : December 2006"

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  1. Andy W says:

    Just noticed the mocked-up “Real Classics” cover halfway up the page. Really not that dissimilar to Modern Classics magazine issue 2! Clearly this has been a pet project for you for a long time. Hope it is doing OK commercially. I bought issue 3 for the GT coupes feature – the first car magazine I have bought in more than 5 years.

    http://www.greatmagazines.co.uk/modern-classics-specials/cprcmcb2/modernclassics2

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