By 31 December 2007 0 Comments Read More →

Blogs : December 2007

30 December

What a site…


FOR the past couple of days, I’ve been going through my old emails, and answering ‘lost’ correspondence – you know the sort of thing; you’re busy, you get something interesting roll in, and as a brief reply won’t do, you file it for later… and then later never comes. One such email that I criminally neglected to do anything about came from ex-Austin Apache owner, Martin Williamson.

Martin’s a great guy, who has flown the BMC>MG flag for several years, and who, most notably used to own one of two Austin Apaches registered in the UK. Martin used to work in South Africa, the Apache was his car, and when that time ended, he had it shipped back here… After a few years, Martin sold it on, and we’re sure it’s still out there being enjoyed by its enthusiastic new owner.

Anyway, you can read a little more about these cars here, (and you’ll see Martin’s old car on this page) but I must admit that my site’s merely an appetiser if you’re fascinated by these Anglo-South African hybrids. To get the full-fat version of the story, check out Martin’s labour of love at The site delivers everything readers of this one enjoy – namely prototype pictures, development facts and adverts, and it’s well worth a look if you have a spare few minutes.

So, apologies to Martin for taking a couple of months before linking your site to mine, but I reckon the wait was worth it.

Oh yes, and if you have a website you’d like linking in, or you’ve seen one on your travels that you reckon would be interesting for AROnline readers, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – share the knowledge, I say…

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28 December

A bangernomics tale


I am a relatively recent convert the school of Bangernomics… but first I should start at the top!

In terms of yearly mileage I hover around the 30k mark though to do in excess of 60k is not unheard of, in the past I have put 100k on a Citroen Xsara and 180k on a Ford Mondeo (T Reg). After the Mondeo started to get a bit tired (it used to leave its very own smog cloud when you accelerate due to the injectors being on their last legs), in 2004 I bit the bullet and bought a 18 month old Vectra SRI on finance – I thought as a 25 year old it would be nice to have a nearly new car which would be cost effective to run.

Well here comes a tale of woe! Because of the finance company Ts&Cs I had to have the car serviced at a proper garage as opposed to doing my own servicing, though I did change the oil earlier than the service book said (ie 10k rather than 30k). Under warranty (before it was three years old and under 60k mileage) it had the following replaced:

Wheel Hub
ECU Re-programmed twice
Radiator Mounts
Suspension Mounts and Bushes
Front Fog Lamps twice due to condensation

Then it had the audacity to fail its MoT, needing new rear bushes and rear shock absorber, this was with the mileage sitting at around 65k. Vauxhall had no interest in assisting with the costs which were in excess of £700… Under a year later the rear shocks had gone again and I replaced one of the callipers (over £100 for the part alone) with the total mileage approaching 90k – fantastic.

So I paid for a final service to get the service book stamped and upto date and terminated the finance agreement without getting the shocks repaired, the finance company said that they don’t look at the service records of these cars handed back! In the meantime I bought a 2001 Fiat Marea 2.0 HLX for £1200, this had one owner and 48k on the clock, this car has the 5-cylinder engine from the Fiat Coupe in it and goes like a rocket ship.

Cambelt and Water Pump change (£400) and all fluids along with a brake overhaul and the car was ready for the road, all servicing except for cambelt was completed by me. 20k miles later and the car has not missed a beat, only thing I have done other than normal servicing is to replace the drop-links which took half an hour and cost me £7 each.

The moral of the story – I don’t think new cars are as solid as older cars, the Fiat is a perfectly good motorway cruiser and you don’t see many of them about.

I however must be infected as I have just bought a 1994 Skoda Favorit Rally Car…

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27 December



WITH the worst of the Christmas excesses behind me, I decided it was time to stop ignoring my new car – the sheddiest of all Rover 400s – and actually take a brief look to ascertain whether it’s worth doing anything with it. So, off I stomp down the street, keys in hand to weigh up the job involved in turning it into a daily runner.

I’ll ignore the bodywork for now. Both front wings are scrap, and there are enough scabs around the rear wheelarches to keep Isopon in business for the near future. In my opinion, I reckon they’ll get done if rest of the car comes up to scratch.

Jumping in, there’s no escaping the fact that this 132K example has a very nice interior. Well, I say that – what I actually mean is that it is in fabulous condition, with firm and clean seats that feel almost factory fresh. Also, all of the electrics work as they should (aside from a baffling random click from the steering column, which I assume is a dodgy flasher relay), and the boot and bonnet releases do the job intended for them. Trust me, that’s a bonus on a car that looks as neglected as this one.

Starting it up wasn’t straightforward, though. Generally K-Series motors burst into life with unbridled enthusiasm at the first flick of the key, but this one did not. In fact, it spun, coughed, spun, coughed, and spun some more. There was plenty of life in the battery, but to save it undue stress, I wandered back to the garage for a my starter pack, and mumbled curses to myself. As it was – with plenty more churning, the engine was persuaded to come to life – and after a short phase of running on three, it settled down to a reasonable idle.

Whacking it onto the drive, and taking a closer look, it was clear that this car hadn’t seen the service bay for a very long time. The entire engine was coated with that oily coat of dust that marks it out as unloved – and when I began to unscrew the plug cover, it was clear that it had been a very long time since it had been last off. In fact, it was seized at one end. Oh dear. I think I’d found the reason for its unwilling awakening…

Cars need care! When they don’t get it, they
stop. Be it a Rover, a Rolls-Royce,
or even a BMW…

Still, I got it off, and pulled out the plugs for a quick look – and surprise among surprise, they were manky. Absolutely filthy. A quick brush up, followed by a re-gap, and a clean-up of the HT leads, and it was running beautifully. A quick poke around also revealed that the radiator is on its last legs… so that might explain its next headgasket failure when it happens. Well, it would, if I don’t go on to replace it.

A quick top-up of oil, and the bonnet was closed again…

Still, this minor look under the bonnet was a nice insight into the perils of old car ownership. What I mean by that, is I can imagine the previous owner moaning to all of their friends about how it’s simply not reliable anymore… and them responding by saying, “Well, it is a Rover, what do you expect?” The truth is, this car received a new engine 30,000 miles ago, and I’d bet a fair bit of dosh that these plugs are the same ones that came with the new lump. To be honest, I think it’s remarkable that this car’s running at all, such is the level of neglect it has received.

Still, it’s okay now – and I think a mini-service followed by an investigation of the exhaust manifold will have things really sweet. Assuming nothing’s found wanting there, I’ll slap on some new wings, and will see how far this little beauty takes me. I know it’s not strictly within the auspices of Bangernomics (we’re supposed to buy and run and spend as little as possible), but a little investment will take this car a long way, I reckon.

And as for the last owner – what were you thinking of?

Cars need care! When they don’t get it, they stop. Be it a Rover, a Rolls-Royce, or even a BMW…

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26 December

Seeing ’em off in style

Picture: Andrew Elphick


A DEDICATION to the dead marques of MG & Rover meant a 0530hrs start on Friday to ensure the attendance of the BCA Blackbushe sale on Friday 21st December. A highly publicized sale of 3 unregistered MG Rovers was the object of our collective madness in this Christmas Crap Car Caper. Suitably dressed and equipped with my buyers’ card, Trade Plates and Black Book bible, I raced to the sale in the company of forum member, ‘Seamaster’ and Andrew ‘Pearly’ Elephick.

The sale day itself was reasonably well attended with free mince pies and sherry being provided by Inchcape, the company who had entered the vehicles. Sneakily, the three cars which were prominently displayed weren’t part of the general Inchcape Swopper Sale which started at 11am prompt, but they actually had their own time slot at midday in hall 1. Maybe this was a last minute decision to maximize potential prices and interest, although traffic was light and the weather good so no excuses there. I felt there was a distinct lack of enthusiastic public milling around the cars with a view of throwing serious money on a wedge of British Automotive Incompetence. Still, BCA Blackbushe from my experience is the site where strong prices are consistently commanded throughout the year, so if they couldn’t make it here…

The cars themselves were, in order of sale, a Rover V8 finished in Royal Blue with a black leather interior, a Rover 75 V6 auto limousine finished in Starlight Silver and finally, a MG TF 160 finished in Sonic Blue. The cars were very poorly prepared for the sale, lacking any polish and featuring a multitude of dents, scratches and scrapes when closely looked at. The MG TF had also suffered from a stolen spare wheel and tool kit complete with looking wheel nut tool, but still had showroom TF plates under the bonnet. Although the cars where the highest spec of their range, they featured no additional options which I found unusual. Suffice to say, despite these cars very low mileages (V8 197m, V6 57m & TF 83m), they all would require costly cosmetic reconditioning if they were to be retailed.

The history of the cars and why they were here today is somewhat complicated. Originally they were (hand-) built around Easter 2004, where they were destined for display in the MG Rover Park Lane showroom. There they remained until the unpleasant business of Phoenix Administration where upon a legal argument started over ownership of them; The Banks (Royal Bank of Scotland or Capital Bank) who funded the build or the dealership (European Motor Holdings) who ordered the build and paid the loan. To further add to this complication, EMH threw-in the towel and sold out to Inchcape.

And so, at 12.10, the hilariously funny
auctioneer donned a flat cap, apologized
for not having a smoking pipe and promised
to ‘Take Us Back In Time’

Incidentally, the only way Inchcape could legally be paid for these vehicles at the end of the auction was to register them, in their name, which is what they did on the 8th of October this year! Following the misleading press release of these cars being sold unregistered, there were some annoyed motor traders on the day (“pissing in the wind” as one said to be me). Naughty BCA to have advertised them as such, and naughty Inchcape not to have corrected them. Not that registering these cars would have particularly straight forward as they would have been subject to a through SVA test before they could be registered. The cars had been fettled mechanically for this, featuring new brake pads and discs, new wiper blades and batteries. The tyres seemed original. Somewhat surprisingly – and luckily for Inchcape – these cars featured 57 plates, not 04 plates which should strictly have been applied as that is when they were built.

And so, at 12.10, the hilariously funny auctioneer donned a flat cap, apologized for not having a smoking pipe and promised to ‘Take Us Back In Time’ with these ‘Rovers’ which had been ‘Found In A Garden’ and ‘were be the last Rovers ever to be registered’. Incidentally, if you want to laugh as much as we didn’t, you can legally request a free audio copy of the sale by ‘phoning 01252 878 555. The auctioneer then painfully and laboriously took us through the technicalities of bidding on these cars which were ‘sold as seen’. If the public were staying away in droves before, they certainly weren’t up for a punt now. Dear me, even as someone who’s bought a 100+ motors at auction this year, I felt sure I would be doomed if I waved myself into buying one.

Bidding for the V8 kicked off at a paltry £6k and I genuinely don’t believe anyone knew how to accurately value these cars. Two trade bidders seemed intent on knocking each others lights out on this car with A E Wilcox and Son (est. 1924, long time Rover dealers) cheerfully waving away against another Trade Buyer, believed to be known and respected MG Rover dealer, Sewards. This trade buyer seemed to take every bid as a tired boxer takes every blow on the ropes. He (rightly) looked pained at the money he was bidding for this doomed dinosaur while the Wilcox bidder acted like he was at the races willing a winning nag home! Astonishingly, the Wilcox buyer won the gas-guzzler for an eye-watering £16k! A repeat of what went before happened with the 75 V6 limo, again with Wilcox buying it for £13,400 against Sewards.

All of the above grudgingly slow bidding left me somewhat dazed when the TF entered the ring. The auctioneer managed an unwittingly successful joke this time when he tried to set the bidding away at £16K! After we stopped laughing, he then put the solvents down, and started the bidding at a more realistic £8k. Only, he obviously placed the solvents too close to my nose as very quickly, the hammer fell and the TF made just £11k. I missed the bargain of the small sale as I was obviously dazed. Nobody with any interest in the sale would have predicted the V8 and 75 Limo would have made so much and the TF so little. You can buy the MG as its now on sale for £14,995 with a TF specialist, Church Square Autos. I firmly believe that the two 75s would have buyers waiting for them with Wilcox, hence their very strong prices and as yet, no appearance on sale.

Interestingly, these prices are exactly what Phoenix Dealers where asking for very similar cars back in the final death throws of administration back in July 2005. Except the TFs on sale then were the Mk 2s with Glass rear screens and less compromised suspension. We were all pleased to witness Heritage issues were at play that day when all three cars refused to start for the sale. Further Longbridge attention to detail was apparent when the TF which was finished in the Sonic Blue metallic paint was down as Silver on the V5 and had a silver paint code on the VIN plate. Added to this colour confusion, the ever funny auctioneer (who talked about being present at TF launch in ’02) told the audience that the colour was actually Tahiti Blue. As a wise man once said, “It’s All In The PK.”

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24 December

Merry Christmas


IT’S been a frantic 2007, and it almost seems as if I’ve only just recovered from last year’s festivities – and here we are again, talking about mince pies, repeats of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Anyway, as I sit here with night drawing in on Christmas Eve, it seems like the perfect moment to wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year – and thank you for your continued support during the year.

Let’s hope that you all get what you wish for (I won’t; I want world peace) and that 2008 really is a good year for you.

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23 December

The misunderstood HH-R


I COULDN’T put it off any longer. Back in October, Steven Ward of Village Lane Garage, had placed a post on the AR forums stating he had just taken in a 1995 Rover 416i as part-exchange and was looking to sell it on as ‘spares or repairs’. The sad looking example had extensively rusted wheelarches at the front, and a fair number of scabs and battlescars elsewhere.

In short, it was a sad and sorry looking example of the breed.

He wanted £100 for this prime slice of British heritage, which in a sense was weigh-in money, plus any bonus items of booty that could be unscrewed before it took its final journey to meet the choir invisible. For some reason I can’t even remember now, I idly asked how far this un-MoT’d example was from a picking up a new test, and whether it might not be worth the effort to turn it into some kind of rolling project. From there, it kinda became mine following the application of a bit of filler to make the arches safe, and a new ticket was duly earned.

I wired Steven the money – then wondered how I managed to drift into HH-R ownership so readily.

Well, despite ‘purchasing’ the car in October, it wasn’t until yesterday that I travelled up to the fronzen tundra, otherwise known as Washington, to collect the car, and meet Steven, a man whose passion for BMC>MG easily runs deeper than mine. A three-hour chat back at Sward Towers about the joys of NAC-MG, Harold Musgrove and blown headgaskets were my entrée – and the introduction to my new chariot, the main course.

A quick look around revealed the roughest HH-R I’d ever seen not to be involved in a coming together with a large tree. It’s basically a straight car with far too much rust on it. The signs weren’t looking good for my 217-mile run back home… but I always love a challenge. So, with pleasantries exchanged, I headed for the A1 and the great run South in my tired HH-R…

I have to say that despite my initial fears, and previous experience, it wasn’t the trip to purgatory I was expecting. Sat on 15-inch five spoke Roversport alloy wheels wearing nearly new Toyo Proxes tyes, the grip levels are pretty high, and turn-in a lot crisper than I had been expecting. Primary ride and damping are also not too bad at all – and despite having 132,000 miles on the clock, it actually still feels tight and all-together – especially compared with my 1990 216GTi. So, that was surprise number one – the dynamics weren’t desperately bad. In fact, they were quite a long way from that.

Surprise number one was that the dynamics
weren’t actually desperately bad…

The K-Series engine also pulls willingly and sound crisp (blowing manifold aside) right up to its 6750 rev-limiter, and performance is more than adequately brisk if you’re prepared to stir things up. Rolling along the A1 sticking between 70 and 80mph, the night-time miles passed agreeably quickly, and so effortlessly that I started to wonder what it is about the HH-R that makes it so unappealing to secondhand car buyers today – and to new car fans when it was launched in 1995.

For one, after the elegance of the R8, the HH-R’s styling is compromised – at best. It’s a fine example of 1990s blandness at its height, and is oddly proportioned to boot. Then there’s the interior. If you weren’t high enough up the company ladder to afford a leather ‘n’ wood GSi version, then you were staring down the barrel of a grey plastic trip into Dullsville. The earliest cars may have been screwed together beautifully and still feel like a high-quality item, but boy do they look dour inside – with odd swich placement too.

On the motorway, it feels so much more grown up and mature than the R8, and I reckon it’s probably a more pain-free ownership experience… but as it stands right now, every time I see an HH-R, I can’t help but thinking it was a retrograde step in 1995 – and you can see why Rover lost its hard-fought advantage in the middle market in one fell swoop. However, today… that makes it a cracking used car buy (no one wants them), as long as you pick up a sound one. It remains to be seen how sound mine is – but I’m more than grateful that it didn’t strand me on the hard shoulder last night, and I can smile at the knowledge that I may have saved it from the scrapyard.

Let’s now see if it repays my act of kindness!

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18 December

AR’s new look… on the right track?


THIS weekend, I spent some time idly completing AR’s latest mid-term facelift. Rather like the mastery, which is Peter Stevens’ efforts at turning the elegant Rover 75 into the sleek and sporting MG ZT, I had almost zero resources to hand… just an aim to get the website into shape for what looks like being a pretty exciting 2008, by presenting the latest content to the user more readily……

However, unlike the McLaren F1 designer, I’m not exactly dripping with design skills – and that meant I ended up playing around with my old copy of Dreamweaver, a few table routines and one or two of the menu pages already embedded within the site.

So far, the new homepage hasn’t fallen over in a great heap, and the emails I’ve received have been by-and-large reasonably supportive. However, I would like to know whether you think it’s a step in the right direction, and a peek at a content-driven future that’s needed to keep AR looking constantly fresh.

Indeed, is this an approach that’s need at AR these days? After all, there’s more than enough information contained within these pages to fill a large book – much of which is static. Does the dynamic, news-driven presentation style really suit this website?

A few months back I would have probably said no, but since the arrival of Clive Goldthorp as News Editor and his constant feeding of the site with news stories, I think it’s time to change. We’ve been uploading at least one news story per day of late – and Clive’s been doing a sterling job of generating new items, often breaking the stories before the big boys manage to get hold of them.

Back in September and just after the Frankfurt Motor Show, Clive wrote an interesting piece on the SsangYong WZ concept car, and how it could lead to a new MG model in Europe within a couple of years.

At the time, few people had even noticed this car on show at the IAA, let alone come to the conclusion that within a merged SAIC/NAC Group – or Chinese Leyland as we like to say at AR – it could be a new Euro flagship taking over from the Roewe 750/MG 7? Now that deal’s pretty much come to fruition, Clive’s already turning his attention to the Tata/JLR tie-up, which seems to be offering all kinds of enticing propositions… not least the possible return of the Rover marque, and tie-ups with Joint Venture partner, Fiat.

Before you dismiss that as idle speculation, remember that merely a year ago, few people would have concluded that the mad-cap rival Chinese MG and Roewe marques would have ended up joining forces, no matter how logical that seemed to outside observers like us.

But we do want to hear from you… do you like the changes? What would you like to see more (or less) of, and how can we improve what’s on offer? And before you mention a RSS feed, we’re working on that now. We just need to work out how to do it on this ageing platform – it’s rather like adding climate control to a Rover 45 centre console…

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I REALLY like what you’ve done with your site. Whenever I looked at it the first thing I would do is click on the ‘latest updates’ link and now I don’t have to. Plus, for the casual visitor I think it makes it clear that – unlike many sites of historical record which are stagnant – yours is constantly updating with current news and additions to the archives. Good stuff.


I LIKE your revised format – it was beginning to get a bit Groundhog Day, seeing that montage of pictures. This way, you get a new image each time, which is good. Websites in general are badly maintained, which is ironic given the raison d’etre of internet communications.


YOU ask for opinions on the new look, and the presentation of the whole site. Keep it just the way it is! I love to be able to go and trawl the archives both for factual information and for just plain nostalgia – being a totally besotted AR fan (though I do ask myself why I drive a MG ZS when the heater doesn’t work and the Snow Mode light for the auto box keeps coming on on its own initiative (it’s a manual by the way!)

On the other hand being able to pop in at least twice a week and read all the latest news, gossip, thoughts, essays etc is just right. the new look is fresh and good – as for the content and style of the site – keep it just the way it is!


Nice new look on the website; especially on your facelift budget of 63p. What would I like more of?

Maybe an appreciation of the VDP1300.. which made me wonder about a ‘ghost written’ page ranking BMC products by a very discerning critic who has sadly passed away. It’s definitely in the spirit of Xmas – I’ll see if I get time.


LIKE the new look, Keith : smart and focused. Back in about 2001 I was well aware that there was an important book to be written about the whole history of BMC>MG. I kept wondering why no one had written it and it occurred to me that I might have a go. Then one evening I found your site (the version-before-last) and realised that I wouldn’t have to.

I’m so glad you did this – it’s hard to see how it could possibly be improved.


14 December

I’ve gone and done it now


THE girlfriend went out Christmas shopping today, but it was me who damaged the finances. While she was gone, I accidently bought a 1990 Rover (Sterling in the USA) 827 SLi, a pretty rare car over here.

It’s an eBay car that I have not seen. It has electrical problems galore. I didn’t think the owner would take my ridiculously low offer, but he did. Well at least the car has lived its life in the land of fruits and nuts, California, that is. The windows may not raise and lower. The headlights may be stuck on bright, but at least the body is rust free.

I last owned owned a Rover 827 in 1994 and let out a deep sigh of relief when the Vietnamese doctor who bought it from me made it off my street with no parts falling off the car. Thing is, after all these years, I could never ever quite get Roy Axe’s design out of my head. I still think the 827 fastback is is a terrific looking car.

And so, I wonder what happens when you take a Rover that had dodgy electrics and air con when it was new, add about two decades and 135,000 miles.

This is gonna be expensive.
This is gonna cause untold angst.
And yet… I couldn’t help myself.

Such has been the lure of Triumph and Rover products. Logic and common sense tell you: don’t do it. But you don’t listen.

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12 December

Oh my…


A QUICK blog today, as I’ve just come across a couple of absolutely fascinating adverts for the MG7…

Not sure what to make of them, but you can’t blame them for trying.


Let us know what you think…

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I’ve watched those Chinese MG adverts on the website and think they are pretty good actually. Nice storyboard interpretation and some good action shots of the cars. Obviously we don’t know what the voice-over says – but I’m sure it makes marketing sense, at least to the Chinese!

I notice the car interior trim looks like a top end Rover 75 with an MG badge on the wheel and I do like that square shape grille – it gives the car an authoritative look…


11 December

Off on another banger rally in 2008


I KNOW I shouldn’t in my condition, but I’ve gone and done a very irrational thing yet again. Despite having a full time job that pays me to drive and write about some of the world’s most interesting cars (well, sometimes anyway), I have this craving to climb aboard a crumbling munter that I’ve paid £100 for, and go and join a bunch of other people with the same idea… and then travel half way across Europe in search of adventure.

I know I’ve done Staples2Naples a few times (2004, 2005 and 2006), but I’ve yet to get it out of my system, no matter how many times that I say I have. As a result, and with some arm-twisting from S2N organizing company Street Safari‘s main man Justin Clements, I decided that I’d sign up for some more punishment in 2008. However, Italy’s now been done to death, and with the Arctic Circle run it’s planning looks a little ambitious, I thought I’d plump for CzechWrecks.

I’ve recently dipped into Prague (on the way back from a jaunt to Poland to see how my SD1 restoration’s going), and decided that The Czech Republic looks like a very fine country indeed, and one in need of further examination. So, I’ve signed up – and although I’ve no team, no car, and no plan, I’m confident that come the time, I’ll be ready to go…

Does anyone here fancying joining in? It does look like a lot of fun…

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I applaud you for wanting to take part in Czech Wrecks 2008, but please, please, can you get the organisers to arrange for the cars to be taken to a scrapyard in Prague, as there are already far too many old, dangerous cars on the road here!

RICHARD HILL, The Czech Republic

10 December

Russ and Tim’s COLD CAR CAPER


As you will all know, there are two types of members of the AR forum. Those who have experienced a Caper, and those who have not. Myself and Tim Colley most definitely fall into the former category.

In May of this year, CRAP CAR CAPER #1 occurred, when myself and Scott Woodcock joined Tim in his coupe for a jaunt up to Nottingham to purchase a Tickford. The journey home, comprising Tickford and Tubby, was punctuated by some high-speed class-spotting and by the surprise of a Scooby driver at the guerrilla assault he received from said turbocharged CLASSvoy. Then in June, Tim returned the favour. Caper #2 involved two days, the Tickford, Keith Adams, several laybys, a knackered and misfiring Rover 820i and a LOT of Red Bull. The finer points can be found in my blog of June 14th.

Time passed, as is its wont. Both Tim and myself were desperate for Caper #3, so when Keith offered to loan me his Range Rover for a week to provide transport for my work experience placement, I jumped at the opportunity – and Tim kindly agreed to help out, on the agreement that I’d lend him an amp and a sub I had spare later in the day. At 9am on Saturday, after a refreshing 4 hour sleep, Tim picked me up from university, in (as has become customary) the Tomcat Turbo. I should explain at this point that, after borrowing it for Caper #1, I am in love with this car. The first boosted kick-in-the-back was enough to cure my hangover, and despite the miserable weather we made swift progress down the road to Peterborough and the Practical Classics workshop.

Leaving a car unattended on an industrial estate is brave. Leaving a car unattended and UNLOCKED on an industrial estate is almost asking for trouble. Leaving the keys to said unattended, unlocked car in the boot could almost be said to be foolhardy. It is a measure of the sheer SHEDDINESS of this Range Rover that it was still very much present and correct when we arrived to collect it.

I won’t beat around the bush here – me and
the Rangie didn’t instantly hit it off.

A G-reg Vogue SE, with all the toys and a leather interior, a stonking great V8, and an LPG conversion to boot? Ooh sir, suit you sir. Suit me, my behind. I won’t beat around the bush here – me and the Rangie didn’t instantly hit it off. Much of this initial grumpiness was due to something Keith had warned me about – the lack of a heater. This forced me to wear so many layers of clothing I resembled the promotional tool of a well-known tyre company, but as this photo demonstrates, I still couldn’t control my shivering…

I will transcribe, in full, the text of a voice-memo I recorded, half an hour into the journey home. For best effect, shout these remarks in a force-9 gale, to the accompaniment of a skipping Mark Ronson CD, in a voice somewhere between Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Mariella Frostrup…

‘Right, these are my thoughts on the Range Rover so far. It’s probably about, ooh, five degrees outside, it’s raining, verging on the sleet, and… I am sat in a car with no heater. I’ve got a hoodie on, I’ve got a jacket on, sadly I don’t have any gloves. My hands are freezing. Erm… and because the windscreen keeps misting up from the rain, I’m having to drive along with the window wide open… hence why I’m being forced to SHOUT. We’ve been for a performance run – top whack was seventy miles per hour… nearly killed somebody in a Renault Clio when I was making a lot of noise and… erroneously assumed that I had overtaken them. I’m so cold.’

For despite a supposed 182bhp, this car’s auto box was trying its hardest to ensure that not a single gee-gee got as far as the actual wheels. I did once see eighty, but just as I had been warned, the lack balancing on the front right-hand wheel made such reckless speeds undesirable. Meanwhile, Tim ‘Smug bastard’ Colley turned the heater up a notch in his coupe, but soon penance was to come in the form of a shower of LPG. Neither of us had ever experienced the fuel before, and while it is satisfying to see the meter read ’30 litres – £14.00′, it’s a serious faff! A blog on the subject will be forthcoming soon.

The normal loveliness of the A429 provided the Rangie with a further opportunity to piss me off. Without the power to overtake, I was forced to sit back and try to catalogue the interesting selection of noises emanating from various distant corners of the beast. There was the whirring when I pressed the brake pedal, the tappety hiss of the engine, the occasional groan from God knows where, a clonk from the transmission and a harmonious clank from the right-hand CV joint. Next on my list of gripes came the hardness and lack of travel of the brake pedal, and the the dim-witted auto box which seemed grimly determined to prevent me from cresting hills altogether.

Parking it in my mother’s street was a ten-minute affair owing to the sheer bulk of the thing, and the fact that the auto box had by this time gone into “sulk” mode, refusing stubbornly to engage reverse gear for minutes on end, then suddenly CLUNK! And you’ve hit number 38’s Merc. Despairing, I went to play with Tim’s coupe instead, and spend an evening defrosting and debugging his new audio setup.

So I’ve got 140 miles to do tomorrow to my jumping-off point for the work experience – then 60 miles per day for five days. A total of 550 miles including today’s jaunt, this Caper is longer than most. Given the above, I should in all honesty be dreading it. And yet… I can’t help but warm to the Coldest 4x4xFar. It’s pushing me away, yet for some reason I’m coming back for more. Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the worst car I’ve ever driven (and I’ve driven some snotters in my few short years on the road), but I find myself with an irrational hankering to drive a good example of the breed.

Glutton for punishment? CHPD victim in the making? More importantly, is there a cure? I’ll post my thoughts on the car here during the week, and by Friday I’ll try and conclude whether my so-far unrequited affection is justified…

Cheers to Tim for Caper assistance, great company as ever, and a quick blast in the Turbo. Cheers (I think…) to Keith for the loan of the Rangie – hope I don’t sound TOO ungrateful and spoiled. It’s 3 degrees outside. I’m going for a drive. I might, as a better man than me once said, be some time.

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7 December

DeLorean meets MG?

By RICHARD TRUETT, Engineering Reporter, Automotive News

BACK in late 1981 and early 1982, the British government controlled not one, but two car companies, British Leyland and, in Ireland, John DeLorean’s company. If the book I just read about DeLorean’s car is accurate, then DeLorean’s company had far a greater chance of making money than did BL at that time.

And that’s when a somewhat ugly thought occurred to me: Was there ever a consideration given to folding DMC into BL?

Think about this: The Triumph TR7 and TR8 had just gone out of production. How hard would it have been to drop the Vitesse spec Rover V-8 into the back of the DMC-12, give the sleek stainless steel Lotus-designed sports car a quick facelift and then call it a TR9? That would have taken the TR way upmarket in prestige and engineering, and it would have built on the terrific reputation established by the TR8.

All the heavy lifting had been done in terms of engineering. BL could have had a successor to the TR7 and 8 for pennies on the pound and Triumph could have lived to fight another day. Am I wrong or didn’t the DMC-12 raid the BL parts bin anyway?

Except for the anemic performance from the wheezing 130-horsepower PRV V6, the DMC-12 was spot on in many areas and deserved to live longer than it did. The DMC-12 would have made a great TR.

Ironically, MG Rover did do something just like this years later when the Qvale Mangusta Morphed into an MG.

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3 December

Last gasp for Hydragas?


Hydragas. Only the most avid BL enthusiast knows what on earth Hydragas is. Fewer still care for it and only a tiny minority know how it works and can therefore truly appreciate it. I’ve been a huge Hydragas fan for as long as I can remember. I used to hunt down any review or technical insight into the system and spend hours reading it until I’d fully absorbed the paper. If only I had been half as diligent towards my academic studies. I lie – I once took a Physics A-level class on the subject, but I digress.

Hydragas offered the motoring world a way out of cart-springs, which we used for hundreds of years. It was as simple as it was effective in what it did – it offered a ride comfort and handling balance light years away from other systems. Anything that rivalled it was complex, expensive and usually feared in the repair side of things.

Essentially, what Hydragas does is give a level ride for comfort (it doesn’t pitch, that is make the car body sew-saw over bumps) and it gives consistent handling because it offers variable springing (rubber or nitrogen) meaning no unpleasantness with variation in the cars load – not to be underrated that virtue.

It also reduced the number of components fitted to a car. No wretched anti-roll bars that corrupt handling which are, in effect, an un-damped spring that compromises any form of independent suspension system. They don’t need separate dampers, which lose their effectiveness with each and every compression (they foam under duress and wear beyond tolerance within 40k miles). Hydragas was designed to be within tolerance for 200k miles.

Steel springs are now catching up with what Hydragas offered, but its taken 30 years. Essentially, every car now features some Hydragas ideal; be it a rubber sleeve around the damper to offer a degree of variation in spring or a sturdy subframe to strengthen a car body and increase refinement.

Switchable valving in dampers to suit your mood? Hydragas automatically switched between valves depending on the severity of a bump or if the car was in a state of roll. Indeed, Hydragas used the energy of a front wheel striking a bumper to stiffen the rear suspension! How green and free from electronics is that?

How about we cobble together a medium size
car and retro-fit it with Hydragas, just for fun?

With Hydragas well out of production now (all spares are very scarce) and Dr Alex Moulton in the autumn of his life, maybe we should give the Class of Gas one last grasp at greatness. Certainly, Toyota who latterly employed Moulton is showing no signs of taking up the ideal. Moulton is on record as saying the finest incarnation of the system was on the Rover Metro – for 3 main reasons; It showed how it could give large car ride comfort to a car with a tiny wheelbase though interconnection. It demonstrated excellent body control regardless of payload (which could vary the cars weight by some 50 per cent) because of the nitrogen springs (the finest springing medium known to man).

It didn’t roll like and Citroen AX, nor did it jar like the Japanese competition. It took-up no space in the boot and lowered the c-of-g at the same time! The side effects to the body engineering were those robust and refined subframes. The final car to feature Hydragas was the MGF, but it used a “buggered” version of it, with anit-rolls bars and additional, external dampers. However, it did give some further refinement to the engineering of components. Incidentally, Rover only paid £20 per Hydragas unit, so really, it wasn’t that expensive.

I recall having a conversation with Rob Oldaker about switching from Hydragas to Coils for the TF and then having to further revise the coil settings some years later. Moulton had been onto him for a round of ‘I told you So’ almost instantly. Having driven many, many Fs and TFs, Moulton, was right and the TF was a more compromised car because of its demise.

Interestingly, The Ambassador showed how good the system could be in a large car, but the Ambassador itself was criminally ignored. So, here’s an idea, how about we cobble together a medium size car and retro fit it with Hydragas, just for fun? Pick-up a Rover 200 say, a written-off MGF or rotten Metro, get on the blower to Moulton and set-two with some steel cutters and a MIG welder?

Maybe then we can show something a bit different at next years Longbridge bash, something which demonstrates what a wise man once said: ‘What Is Good For Roadholding, Is Automatically Good For Ride’.

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Heartily agree about Hydragas – the general bad odour about BL/ARG has prevented Hydragas from getting the true recognition it deserves. The tweaks carried out for Ambassador did make it one of the most comfortable cruisers ever available below Jaguar money. I ran two Ambassadors during its ultra-short production life and found them quite blissful long journey cars once odd assembly glitches had been sorted. I’d used many Princesses before that and enjoyed those too – the only minor annoyance being the slightly excessive ‘lift and dive’ of the nose on acceleration and lift off – particularly noticeable at night when the headlamp beams accentuated the attitude change.

Fitting Hydragas into a car that wasn’t designed for it isn’t really on, though, unless you really are a skilled ‘prototype-build’ engineer. You need very robust and stiff mounting points for the units because of the high levered loads, so unless you can use existing subframes and associated suspension components (along MGF lines) then you are into a lot of fabrication and welding.


I too have been a fan of Hydragas and it’s benefits and have often wondered at the short sightedness of mainstream car manufacturers. The system is far from complex since there are few moving parts. It could also be quite easy to modify in engineering terms as far as stiffening a ride and lowering the ride height. I can only suspect that because car companies make their profits from parts, anything that cannot break down within half the life of a normal car would lose them money.

What I really would be interested in seeing is a Rover 45 saloon with its independent suspension connected to Hydragas and with the anti-roll bars removed, and to see what it’s ride characteristics would be like. I suspect it could also work quite well in 25….


Steven Ward’s article about Hydragas was interesting and it was without doubt a good system , but one must not forget the first units used on BMC cars and also produced by Moulton. The Hydrolastic units. The units were similar to the Hydragas ones but used a liquid instead of gas. The liquid was made up of alcohol, an anti corrosive additive etc.

The first cars I remember using this type of suspension were the Austin 1100. It was not as firm a ride as the Hydragas and in fact was more of a floating ride as the liquid in the front units sent the liquid to the back ones without hardly any resistance. The Dutch in the 1960s sold a lot of these cars and because of the way the suspension reacted they called it the Austin Glider.

Due to this floating sensation, when driving, the factory introduced a small washer, with a hole in the middle into the front connecting pipe to the unit. This reduced the speed at which the liquid transfered from front to rear a vice versa, stiffening up the suspension. There were also another teething problem with these units. They quite often made a sort of squeaking noise.

This was caused by the liquid in the units passing by the two rubber type valves inside the unit. This was rectified on cars having the problem by removing the liquid using a special type of pump , adding a special additive to the liquid and repressurising the suspension with the mix.


ARRGH! Pardon my exclamation, but have just read Mr Rinn’s feedback on Hydragas, in which he says that gas replaced water when moving from Hydrolastic to Hydragas. Why can’t people understand that water isn’t a springing medium, but quite the opposite?!!

Both systems use water to transfer forces between front and rear suspensions. Hydrolastic uses rubber as the springing medium, Hydragas uses Nitrogen. Period.


2 December

Vote for your favourite AR star car of the year


IT’S that time of the year yet again, and we start looking forwards to the season of good cheer – however, for petrolheads like us, there’s more to it than holly, mistletoe and mince pies; we can decide what we want as AR’s flagship car for 2008. The last couple of years have been fun, with V8 powered monsters taking the prize in the reader’s poll – but this time around, there’s no such options, and you’ll need to think more deeply about your car of choice.

I hope that my using Graham Rimmer’s TR7 to illustrate the blog won’t influence your decision at all, because even though I drove it around an abandoned airfield, and managed to enjoy the huge benefits that slick tyres and racing suspension bring to the party, there’s a lot more to AR’s Car of The Month than sheer speed. In fact, looking at our line-up, which includes cars as diverse as a Rover P4 and tastefully modified Tomcat, the last thing we’d exepct you to do is vote for speed…

…there’s a lot more to AR’s Car of
The Month than sheer speed…

So, take a look at this year’s options, have a long, hard think, and then visit the forum to vote for your favourite. I’ve set-up a new thread, just for this, and you can click on the poll to make you choice known. If you also want to add your comments – such as why you voted the way you did, or if you’d like to suggest a car for next year.

In fact, we reckon that the entire Car of The Month feature should be driven by you, the readers, and we’ll be hoping for more suggestions. In 2007, we received more readers submissions than ever before, many of which were penned by yourselves. So, if you have an interesting car, with a story to go with it, then please put pen to paper, and get in touch. AR needs you!

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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