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Blogs : February 2008

28 February

Jeff Daniels

By KEITH ADAMS

I WAS deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Jeff Daniels. For those who don’t really know about the history of the creation of this site, Jeff’s book, ‘BL: The Truth About The Cars’ was a motivating factor behind the accidental creation of, what was then known as, www.austin-rover.co.uk, back in 2001. This book was a warts-and-all account of the products of our company, placing them into perfect context explaining from a product perspective just why the company suffered the indignities that it did during the 1970s.

Penned in the summer of 1980, the book stopped just before the introduction of the miniMetro (apparently, he had a hell of a job pursuading the BL PR department to release an early picture, despite an on-sale date after the Metro’s launch), explaining that with the right product led recovery, BL could expect to live a reasonably bright future, with a bit of luck and a following wind. As it was, we know the story now, as it has played out to the bitter conclusion (Land Rover and Jaguar aside) – that luck and following wind failing to materialise.

The book, however, had a lasting impact on me – an 11-year old car enthusiast at the time – and helped me appreciate that the best way of following a car’s development is to understand the context of its conception, and the effect it had on the market when it went on sale. Looking at history through rose tinted spectacles was all-too common back in those days, and Jeff cut right through that. I actually had to buy a second copy of the BL book, because I literally wore out my original… I wanted to read pure gold like this about every car manufacturer, and when I found I couldn’t, was bitterly disappointed.

When piecing together my own follow-up to this book I contacted Jeff and asked if I could use his anecdote about Marina suspension (you can read about that in the ADO28 development story), as well as penning a foreward. As it was, he agreed to both… but the book floundered, and ended up becoming the website as it is today. Jeff actually got in contact with me a few months’ back to congratulate me on the progress of the site, and to say that in time, he’d be sitting down to pen the long-awaited follow-up to ‘The Truth About The Cars’…

Now, alas, we’ll never see that book.

Jeff was the product of a different age – car magazines contained a lot more technical content back then, and to write with authority, you really needed to know your stuff. And that he did. Meeting Harry Webster, and asking that a design fault be rectified on a car before it’s launched to the general public, is a hell of an achievement, and one that I couldn’t really imagine happening in this day and age.

His death is a great loss to car journalism – and he will be missed here at AROnline.

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27 February

Now I see…

By KEITH ADAMS

THANKS to the generosity of fellow motoring scribe, Dave Richards, I am now smoking around in a 1995 Nissan Primera 1.6LX. Now, I hasten to add, it’s not the tidy looking saloon depicted in the picture, but a 134,000-mile hatchback in red, with a dent in the front, and, erm, very little else wrong with it.

Now I had better just say right now, that although I always admired the Primera from the time of its launch in 1990, I’m not seriously going to sing its praises in these pages. After all, we had the Montego to stave off its advances. However, driving it has been a revelation in one main area – engineering and build quality. Now, I’ve owned a few Anglo-Japanese cars (i.e., Rover 200s, 400s, 600s, and 800s), but none have approached the feeling of solidity and well-being that you get from owning one of these soulless appliances.

Everything still works, nothing rattles, nothing squeaks – and it just feels as though it’ll go on forever. I just wish it was the 405Mi16 rivalling 2.0eZX model…

And that’s the most fascinating aspect of this car – how the hell could they build something so solid and offer it for the same money as the Sierra, Cavalier and Montego? And its impressive the way that the lads (and lasses) in Washington could screw together their cars so well. Perhaps, ultimately they couldn’t sustain such quality for the money – as the subsequent takeover of Nissan by Renault has clearly shown that the Japanese company wasn’t making quite enough profit on its products.

It’s interesting that the P11 Primera that replaced this one did away with its independent rear suspension and various other big ticket items. But for readers of the Rover story, that’s not an unfamiliar turn of events.

Don’t expect any further blogs on this car – but for now, I couldn’t let its arrival on the scene and the impression it has made go uncommented…

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Feedback:

WITH regards to the Nissan Primera, I fully appreciate that it was a Japanese car that was built well compared to the standards of the day in Europe but if I ever saw a car that was designed by accountants, then this was it! I have never driven something so soulless and in-humanly (although one wonders whether to use the word ‘inhumanely’) engineered than this.

It is absolutely nothing to look at and a real pain in the bum – in the literal sense… At least with the Montego, the seating was supportive but never hard, and the interior was at least a little more interesting to look at when you were driving along. The fact that the Primera won the BTCC touring car championship to (well the 2.0 version anyway), was the only thing that made it ‘seem’ vaguely sexy… I’m sorry to have to pour scorn on a car such as this but with the resources Nissan had available to them at the time, they could have shown some imagination in their design and engineering to provide both comfort to the eye and to the body instead of simply worrying about wiping out warranty claims.

While I would agreed that no firm should build a dodgy motor that breaks down every five minutes, at the same time, no one should build a dull, accountant designed and engineered tin can with simply four seats, wheels and a steering wheel – and an uncomfortable one at that… The Primera will never be missed…

ROSS ARMSTRONG


25 February

Try to respect the other guy!

By KEITH ADAMS

THANKS to the joys of instant digital photography, I can share with you this rather catchy slogan I spotted plastered on the back of a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup a couple of days ago. Normally such things go by un-noticed, or ignored, but I decided I thought I’d mark the occasion by posting a little blog on why this lack of respect for the other guy’s opinion really gets my goat. It happens everywhere – on the roads, in the pub… and on the Internet.

Check out just about any Internet forum, for instance, and you’ll come across a bunch of enthusiasts sharing a common passion, but sometimes from a different perspective. This is the case with watches, cameras, game consoles… oh, and even cars. We care enough about our own specialism to log-on, and let the world know what we think – and in some cases, even help out others who are having problems. It’s good – it’s a sharing of knowledge, and should be applauded.

However, there’s also one or two who enjoy nothing more spouting their own opinions, while blithely taking the Michael out of anyone else who treads a different path in life. Combative, stupid, ego-centic, and pathetic. More often than not, these people wouldn’t behave in this way in a face to face situation, but that’s one of the facets of the Internet – you’re shielded from that, and can behave in the way you wish you could in real life. That might explain why 80 per cent of all Second Life users take on female identities…

Anyway, I digress.

So, here we are – all car enthusiasts. We’re a minority in an increasingly hostile world, and yet most of the time, too many of us are fighting over minutiae to score points without actually seeing the bigger picture. And I think this is why the Hi-Lux driver with a penchant for Text-Speak annoyed me… he’s declaring A) that Land Rover drivers have no life, and B) Toyotas are far more reliable.

Well, I guess that point B might be true – but I do wonder what the comparative survival rates of the Hi-Lux and Defender actually are… and, well, point A is just silly if the exploits of my friends on Land Rover Owner magazine are anything to go by. But I suppose what actually really annoyed me about said slogan was that both Hi-Lux and Land Rover are seen as pretty much the same thing in the eyes of right-on policy makers – gas-guzzling, meadow-destroying, high-polluting off-roaders that should be removed from the road forthwith.

I would have thought sharing the knowledge and respecting the views of fellow enthusiasts were more important than scoring a few cheap shots.

Or perhaps I’ve lost my sense of humour, and that’s just how it is these days. Either way, I’d love to hear your views.

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23 February

Time for a great read

By KEITH ADAMS

WHAT a pleasant surprise. It’s not nice they happen at the moment, but when they do, they’re all the more sweet. At 8.30 this morning, and after a week or more of late nights and early starts, what I really needed was a lie-in – but instead, dear old Postie rang the bell.

So, half-dead, I dragged myself down the stairs, opened the door, and signed for the parcel. Trudging back up the stairs, I opened the book-shaped wrapping, and smiled at its contents. Yes, after a nice long gestation period, David Knowles’ much-anticipated Triumph TR7 book has finally gone on sale. Ordinarily, I’d throw a new book on the review pile for a later time, but instead of doing that, I piled straight in… Several hours later, still sat in bed, reading, I knew it had drawn me in.

The first thing that strikes me about the book, is how well it’s researched and the sheer amount of detail in it. Yes, we’ve covered the subject on this website, but not in anywhere near the same level of detail. The development story is fascinating, and the sheer number of new pictures David has unearthed makes this a tome well worth reading if you’re into the core subject of this website. For those who enjoy a rose tinted view of our past, this might not be the cosiest book you’ll come across, but as an insight into the BL of the 1970s, it’s first rate.

So, if you have a spare £20 or so kicking around, and fancy a Saturday morning engrossed in BL-world, try this book. You probably won’t regret it.

Click on Amazon for a copy (and no, I’m not on commission)…

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22 February

Bache’s greatest achievement?

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By KEV MILLS

THE late David Bache – legendary Rover and BL chief stylist and wearer of the best sideburns in the Midlands. What is your favourite of his designs?

Many visitors to this fine site will say one of his cars – and yep, his Rovers in my mind are some of the most handsome vehicles ever made – and you will no doubt be aware of his styling input on the original Range Rover. However, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that my favourite, his most overlooked design, is also his most important.

In the late 1950s, as chief stylist at Rover, Bache was occupied tidying up the existing P4 and designing his first full commission, the P5. He was also asked to take a look at the Land Rover, which was in the process of having a number of mechanical changes developed but was thought to require the attentions of a stylist to improve and modernise the vehicles’ shape – so far, changes to the appearance of both long and short wheelbase Land Rovers and been purely for practical (longer load bed, door handles) or mechanical (longer diesel engine) reasons.

In a remarkably short space of time, Bache gave the Land Rovers a complete new look. Sure, there was a resemblance, and the same 88 and 109-inch wheelbases were employed, but the rounded body sides, side skirts, longer and better-proportioned front end and shallower windscreen gave them a more complete, sturdy appearance. The Meccano-like long wheelbase station wagon was now a handsome, almost elegant machine; and the crude cut-down truck cabs became a stylish affair with rounded rear windows and a domed-top roof.

The new Land Rover Defender is far from perfect
– but it’s the only product of the old Rover
and later BL empire you can buy new today…

The new Land Rovers were launched in 1958 as the Series II and were a huge success. Over the next fifty years, they evolved slowly but considerably, but the body shape, sizes and style remained. Many will say this is due to almost zero development funds, which is probably true – a couple of all-new designs were ditched during the seventies – and there was not inconsiderable dismay in some quarters that 1983’s ‘all new’ coil-sprung 110 actually looked pretty much identical to the existing Series III, including the flat-faced front end that was introduced to allow the Range Rover running gear to be dropped into 1979’s Stage One V8.

The vast majority of folk were more than happy with the One Ten’s appearance, though – Bache’s design, probably unlike any of his others, has built up an enormous following. 4x4s tend to get a grilling these days but the Land Rover is nearly always looked on with fondness. They are everywhere – I get pictures of them sent in from the most remote corners of the world – and they have become an institution back in Blighty.

Newer examples with alloys and metallic paint are even trendy. Today’s Defender is vastly different mechanically from a Series II, and they are far from perfect – but it’s the only product of the old Rover and later BL empire you can buy new today, it’s still selling strongly (I was at Solihull last week and couldn’t believe how many were being built – and all to order), and the basic shape and styling are still pure David Bache.

Case closed…

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21 February

Here comes summer

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By IAN MACKENZIE

IN the middle of February, it’s important to focus on getting through the dark days and horrific weather, in the vain hope of a half decent summer. So, there can’t be any better time to invest in a cabriolet, people selling them in winter generally have them stuck somewhere very unpleasant sideways for a long period of time, and are desperate to throw a set of keys and a V5 at anyone waving cash in their general direction.

During my regular lunchtime E Bay surf, I recently came across a down at heel looking Rover 114 Cabriolet. I immediately began thinking of the prospect of some cheap open top summer motoring. How could this not be a bargain, it was up for £1,195 with six months tax and four months MOT. Clearly, people weren’t falling over themselves to acquire this Charcoal Grey slice of Longbridge heritage, the listing started 28 days before, and not a single offer had been made to the seller, a motorbike dealer who had taken it in part ex against a new bike.

I’ve always fancied a Metro/100 series cabriolet, and if I bought it, this would represent my tenth Longbridge built car, perfectly complementing my Mini Cooper 35 and Mini 1100 Special.

Desperate not to look desperate, I arranged a time to go and look at it, and made sure I was a good two hours late.

It seems that despite the 114 Cabriolet’s initial high cost, little intrinsic value had been placed in it by its last owner, covered in scratches its immediate issues could best be described as filthy, damaged trim, passenger door not hooked up to central locking, jammed door handle, broken drivers seat, broken drivers door lock, crusty sills and rear footwells that had the slightest hint of moisture about them, Ok the truth, they were underwater…

However, I couldn’t help but believe that, at the right price, and with a little bit of TLC from a vax, and MIG welder, this little gem of mid range 90’s Rover Cabriolet could be a stunner, and most importantly a cheap entry into ragtop summer motoring.

I drove the old girl up the road, clutch and gearbox were fine, typical K series, best up in the top end of the rev range, the pleasures of my wife’s old Metro 1.4Si came flooding (no pun intended) back. I asked to have a look at the paperwork, all this car had to show for the last twelve years was three expired MOT’s a V5 and the clincher, a receipt for cylinder head gasket, cambelt and water pump only twelve months ago. Even though the footwells were full of water, the hood was in perfect condition and the electric motor and hydraulics all worked fine.

A deal had to be struck, I had purposefully not taken any more cash than I needed to, £750 to be precise. I laid it out to the bike dealer, the car was filthy, full of water and he couldn’t find the MOT, your average punter isn’t going to stand for that, they are going to want to talk about valeting, free mats and half a tank of petrol, I offered him £700 cash and the promise that I would take it away there and then.

The deal was done, the receipt for the cash had thickened the cars service history portfolio significantly… now to drive it home.

With the wife and kids safely in my daily driver, I gritted my teeth for the 70-mile return journey. I needn’t have worried, my new piece of heritage drove a treat, 50 miles of the journey were on the M1, foot down, top up at the speed limit all the way, it didn’t miss a beat, and surprisingly was significantly quieter than I expected. A close eye was kept of the temperature gauge just in case, but it sat firmly in the middle of the dial.

The problem now is having got it home, finding the time to make a dent in the jobs, so far I’ve fixed the broken drivers seat, central locking, and welded so much sheet metal into the floors and sills, I’ve ran out of welding wire twice. The most significant problem was the collapsed nearside jacking point.

Come what may, the intention is to save a classic piece of Rover heritage and have some summer fun into the bargain, time will tell whether the mental image and the reality are the same….

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20 February

The most beautiful Jag?

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By JONATHAN SELLERS

With all the excitement surrounding the new XF, Jaguar has enjoyed some welcome publicity of late. Retro, it seems, is dead. The new car wipes the slate clean and sets a dramatic new look that’ll hold its own in a market more competitive than it’s ever been, and it’s widely anticipated that when the new XJ arrives next year it’ll make an equally big impression. It’s been a long time coming, and I hope it pays off for them.

Reinventing a tradition can’t be easy. Take the original XJ6 for example. It’s 40 years old this year and left to evolve over that length of time it’s become nothing less than an icon. Whichever form it’s taken it’s always been instantly recognisable. Everyone knows it’s a Jaguar. One of my favourite incarnations was the X300 which removed the harsh lines of the 80s XJ40 to produce something that I think is really rather beautiful. It’s one of those cars that’s neither modern or classic, and caught in the no-man’s land between the two they’re laughably cheap to buy right now. So that’s exactly what I’ve done.

The X300 is neither modern or classic, and caught
in the no-man’s land between the two; they’re
laughably cheap to buy right now. So that’s
exactly what I’ve done.

It’s the story we’re all familiar with. I didn’t particularly need another car and I can’t really afford one that struggles to beat 25mpg, so I bought it anyway. Driving the eleven year-old Sovereign back from North Yorkshire to Surrey provided all the answers; The gentle purr of the 6-cylinder AJ16, the magic carpet ride, the feeling of solidity, the beautifully appointed interior with all its intricate details. As fast, affordable luxury cars go these take some beating.

If anything the problem with the old Jag can be summed up in the reactions you’ll get when driving it. If I had a pound for every comment from friends involving Gin, Tonic, Ascot or sheepskin the cars gargantuan running costs would almost pay for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, XJ ownership is a wonderful experience away from the pumps but if like me you’re neither retired or a cabinet minister it’s a bit like turning up at the beach on a warm day wearing a tweed jacket. Your dad might do it but you’d probably feel a bit out of place. Times, and Executive cars with them, have moved on and that’s why the XF is the best thing that’s happened to Jaguar in a long time.

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Feedback:

I HAVE to agree with Sellars that the X300 is simply a good looking car, particularly if you appreciate the retro look. I like the way the designers used their initiative to take a sharp object, round it off and refine it – with the transformation from XJ40 to X300, you could be forgiven for believing that they are two completely different cars.

I have an XJSport which is fun to drive, both from the driving experience and from wryly smiling at the looks of disbelief as a 20 something student jumps out of the drivers side, wearing a hoody, T-shirt and jeans. I too have had the good fortune of paying only £2500 for a car that, only nine years ago, would have cost £50,000 – and the best bit of it all is that, even after a year of owning it, everything works – even the electric retractable mirrors!

However, I dispute the argument that it costs a bomb to run. I have done simple town runs through complex traffic and spent very little on fuel, however what really impresses me is how much more it stretches out on the motorways . 30 mpg is not unusual, although one does have to count ’80 mouses per house’ to achieve it – oddly enough, the faster you go, the more economical it becomes. On a twisty A/B road is where you’ll have the most fun though – The BOGE shocks and stiffer factory springs come into their own along with the Pirelli P6000J’s. Phenomenal grip, and believe me, that roundabout on the London Road in Coventry, near Whitley Tech Park has never been so… interesting…

As for the design angle and Jaguar, I had to think about this. This same argument applies to Rover equally so. At a time when retro was the ‘in thing’, in terms of styling, these companies cars were well received and quite revered – the XK and 75 were the best examples. They were a great way to confidently wave a modern nod to the cars of the past, and at a time when the 1990s seemed like a replay of the swinging 60’s – they were considered pretty cool. However, when designers use retro, they start to become over reliant on it, and it becomes a bigger problem the longer it goes on for. The problem for both Jaguar and Rover is that in a world where car styles change every five to seven years, their inability to produce new models quickly enough had meant that the retro styling became a major part of the design ‘DNA’ thus a major part of the companies’ psyche.

The public in general, as well as those involved with either of the companies (including me back in 2002) associated old retro with Rover and Jaguar, and failure to progress beyond what would be considered ‘legacy’ or ‘heritage’. It meant that the companies were perceived to have had a lack of direction, to come to a full stop or just moved in a completely different way to what the people wanted – dynamic and modern.. step in BMW, Audi and even Lexus…

I can remember that day in March 2002, when I saw X350 for the first time. I looked at the car, looked at my feet and muttered the words, “Oh dear…”

Now clearly there were reasons for this, lack of customer focus and constant meddling from their respective parent companies can be mostly to blame but we can also look to the Rover and Jaguar marketing departments, designers and engineers for failure to stop, look outside of the box, see what the customer actually wanted and really, and I mean really, pushe the senior managements of the firms to actually develop and produce modern looking products that would look like that everyone might like to purchase one. In the case of Rover, it took until 2000 to actually get the modern looking MG models out there into the market. When they did, it caused a major stir… people started looking at Longbridge again. Now look at the XF… history repeats itself – although in this case I do hope that they don’t go the same way a few years later…

So the conclusion we can make is that retro was great for a short time but shouldn’t have dragged on too long. However, if you’d like just one last piece of the ‘true’ Lyons legacy, the X300 is the car to get and a great bargain in the process – plenty out there, just make sure you find one that works.

ROSS ARMSTRONG


18 February

The joy of paint…


Ooh look – some primer…

By KEITH ADAMS

I MUST admit that, for me, there are few things duller in life than looking at pictures of other people’s restoration projects. So I can understand if you’re pretty tired of seeing pictures of my SD1’s progress in Poland – and hope you’ll bear with my self-indugence. After all, where’s the interest in seeing pictures of scabby panels being shorn of rust before being re-painted?

I guess it’s the same set of feelings as child-sceptics, who turn into doting parents overnight after having their own kids. Seeing what’s been happening to my SD1 has really been an experience to savour – and although it’s going to cost me money I don’t have right now, I am sure that the subsequent financial pain will be worth all of the effort. But the question remains – what will I have at the end of my travails? A car that is worth £1500 that cost me around £3000. Maybe – but at the same time, it’s the motor I’ve wanted since I was six years old, and seems a much more interesting place to lay my money than a 51-plated Mondeo or some such…

Nope, when I saw the pics of those freshly primed doors and sills, I felt an awful lot of satisfaction… And although I’ve not done the job myself (thankfully), I’ll be more than happy to take the credit for making it all happen. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ll be going to have a look the first week in March – in a nice, modern car (for ease and reliability), and hopefully I’ll also be able to drop-off some more parts at the same time.

And the real reason for me going? I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve, and I’ve been given the opportunity to see my present before it’s finally wrapped. And who among us wouldn’t take that same opportunity?


In case you can’t remember what it looked like before, here you go. Nice isn’t it? Well, no actually…

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15 February

Sterling story from the USA

By DAVID KILLEFFER, Cookeville, TN, USA

I HAVE enjoyed your site immensely since finding it a little more than a year ago. It’s rare to see such internal information about car model development, and you’ve done an excellent job compiling it in a very readable format. The eternal optimism of the people who designed these cars is really fascinating.

I’ve recently been especially enjoying the stories of reviving the tired Sterling 827. I always thought the 800 was stylish, and I am glad that someone still appreciates one enough to spend some time and money on it. When I was in high school in the early 90’s, I attended a posh day/boarding school. One of my friends had a Sterling 825 saloon.

Even in such a moneyed environment, it was not normal for a 16-year-old boy to have a 5-year-old $35,000 car, but the resale value was so bad that it wasn’t economical to trade it! Two other students had a 3.0l Alfa 164 and a Peugeot 505, also manufacturers who left the US market during that time. All of these cars had been adored purchases which went sour and had been replaced with more mainstream and dependable vehicles. Teenagers got stylish cars which could only be counted on to always have a glowing Check Engine light.

Dependability surely figured into these plates’ departure from the US market, but I can shed a little more light on the matter as well. Some of your readers may have never seen safety belts which track over the doorframe as shown in the Sterling page. This passive safety system was mandated by US law on cars made after March of 1989.

Many models from Toyota, Nissan, and Ford had these motorized belts. Jaguar’s then-fresh XJ6 had them as well, and theirs weren’t always color-keyed to the color of the interior! The solution adopted by most of Sterling’s competition was to fit a driver’s airbag (passive devices being only required for the driver). The mechanically similar Acura Legend had an airbag. Lexus and Infiniti models debuted with airbags across the board in 1990.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Cadillac used the airbag solution as well. I can’t imagine buying an XJ6 with cream colored seats and black motorized belts over the 735i or 300E without them. It might be handy to mention this in the page about the Sterling as readers outside the US might not have ever seen that type of safety belt.

While that alone is not THE reason that Sterling failed in this market, it is certainly a clue. It is also a symptom of not quite understanding the market. Rover kind of fell down in their home market later. I had high hopes that the 75 represented a turnaround and return for Rover, but that didn’t work out either.

Keep up the good work with the site.

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14 February

The Italian view

By FEDERICO D’AMELY, Roma, Italy

MY car: five-doors, British Racing Green, sporty leather interiors and alloys, wooden trim, sunroof, air con, automatic, Honda power, Rover chassis and… what about electronics?

The car has sadly passed away a couple of months ago (no oil nor any warn from the dashboard…), and I can not still figure out how, nor why, such a beautiful car could have been projected and actually built with such a lousy electric system! Even the worst Fiat (or Lancia, or Alfa) would have performed better.

Yes of course everybody knows about the gremlins which are likely to find their way in any English car since from the very beginning of English automotive story, but you know Rover is (was… unfortunately) such a wonderful brand, building wonderful cars, and so… I took the risk, but it proved as an error.

Driving that car was really a pleasure: balanced, roomy despite its compact size, fast enough to be fun and always showing that snobbish Rover allure… but a true nightmare mechanically! I did not use it daily… meaning the battery would drain in 48 hours. A stronger battery wouldn’t fit thanks the small size of its place in the bonnet. And in any case it could have overloaded the weak and extremely sensitive wires all around the car… grrrr! The Check Engine alarm was always ready to switch on (leaving you in the uncomfortable position to call for (daily) assistance or, simply, ignore it)…

It was my second Rover; the first one having been an Oporto Red SD1, which was nothing special in terms of electronics but much less complicated and was shot dead in a crash, leaving me perfectly safe; I will always be happy with having owned both; nontheless it does not make me happy to have understood why there are no more truly English cars on the market!

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Feedback:

I COMMENT on Federico D’Amely’s entry on his loss of his Rover.

Well, I don’t know weather or not his Rover had a warning light for low oil level. Such systems are known to be unreliable, more often warning than not warning about low level. But any driver should check the fluid levels regularly but often don’t. When some thing goes wrong, they blame the car or manufacturer and don’t recognize that 10 seconds spend checking fluid levels while fuel is filled, would have prevented disaster.

Erik Løye, Denmark


13 February

Tiers for all: an OEM hierarchy?

By CLIVE GOLDTHORP

CAR Online is currently running a story by European Editor, Georg Kacher, headlined ‘BMW and Merc to join forces’ and ‘based on plenty of inside information provided by both parties.’

Kacher identifies five areas where collaboration between BMW and Mercedes-Benz would be mutually beneficial in terms of platform, engine, ancillary technology and component module sharing but states that, notwithstanding the commercial logic, ‘there are many within BMW and Mercedes who are categorically against any kind of far-reaching cooperation, fearing the loss of the competitive edge which is seen as the key driving force behind brand excellence.’ Georg rightly adds ‘more so than ever, the art of branding is therefore essential to create different characters that comply with the same missions.’

The current internal debates between senior executives at BMW and Mercedes-Benz will, no doubt, be familiar to their colleagues at all the other global OEMs who must also be looking for the answer to this question: how to reduce costs by maximising inter-OEM component and technology sharing without harming each OEM’s core individual brand values? However, that, in turn, raises another fundamental question: how do OEMs position their brands in relation to other OEM’s brands?

The two key determinants of any such ‘Global Automotive Brand Hierarchy’ are price and brand values (as defined by product profiles/portfolios). Brands can be categorised by price into each of the following five tiers:

Tier 1 – Elite:
Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Daimler, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maybach, Porsche and Rolls Royce.

Tier 2 – Prestige:
Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Lotus, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz (most of whom have a ‘Luxury’ saloon in their product portfolio).

Tier 3 – Premium:
Alfa Romeo, Honda, Jeep, Lancia, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Renault, Saab, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo (most of whom do not have a ‘Luxury’ saloon in their product portfolio).

Tier 4 – Value:
Chrysler, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Mazda, Nissan, SEAT, Skoda, Toyota and Vauxhall (most of whom are commonly referred to as ‘volume’ manufacturers).

Tier 5 – Budget:
Chevrolet, Proton and, probably, the majority of the Chinese OEMs which will eventually export to America and Europe.

The word ‘marque’ can be used instead of the word ‘brand’ when referring to the OEMs in the Tier 1 – Elite and Tier 2 – Prestige categories to differentiate them further from those in the Tier 3 – Premium, Tier 4 – Value and Tier 5 – Budget categories.

Brand values can be defined by reference to each marque’s or brand’s product profile/portfolio and fall broadly into the following three categories:

Lifestyle i.e. those in which the main attributes of each product range are practicality and versatility.
Luxury i.e. those in which the main attributes of each product range are comfort and refinement.
Sports i.e. those in which the main attributes of each product range are performance and technical sophistication.

The above approach can probably be best illustrated by the following examples:

Alfa Romeo: Tier 3 – Premium/Sports.
Audi: Tier 2 – Prestige/Sports.
BMW: Tier 2 – Prestige/Sports.
Fiat: Tier 4 – Value/Lifestyle.
Ford: Tier 4 – Value/Lifestyle.
Honda: Tier 3 – Premium/Sports.
Lexus: Tier 2 – Prestige/Luxury.
Mazda: Tier 4 – Value/Sports.
Mercedes-Benz: Tier 2 – Prestige/Lifestyle.
Saab: Tier 3 – Premium/Lifestyle.
Volkswagen: Tier 3 – Premium/Lifestyle.
Volvo: Tier 3 – Premium/Lifestyle.

AROnline reckons that, on that basis, Rover was a Tier 4 – Value/Luxury brand and MG was a Tier 3 – Premium/Sports brand. However, where the two brands’ new owners will position MG and Rover within the ‘Global Automotive Brand Hierarchy’ will only emerge if SAIC Motor and Tata Motors release any details of their respective Brand Development Strategies and New Product Programmes during the coming months.

AROnline believes that, in the meantime, our readers would welcome the chance to make a constructive contribution to the new owners’ plans for MG and Rover and are currently evaluating an exciting and innovative way to enable you to do just that. Watch out for an announcement in the coming weeks…

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11 February

Bodgery at its best…

By KEITH ADAMS

BACK in August 2002, the previous owner of my Saab 9000 Aero picked up a bad stone chip on his windscreen. These mishaps aren’t exactly an unusual occurence – windows break all the time, due to the roads being rough out there. Given that the structural integrity of one’s car can be compromised by such things, and that it’s also a stringently tested part of the MoT test, our man did the right thing and called the windscreen ‘experts’, Autoglass.

The company’s fitter, Kev, duly turned up a couple of days later with all his equipment, and proceeded to do the best job he could.

Well, that’s what Autoglass’s publicity marketing people would like you to believe. Actually, it would appear that Kev, who worked at the Medway branch of Autoglass on the 4th August 2002, was actually a feckless slacker, who didn’t have the first clue about fitting screens – because he’s done his best to write off this car in order to save himself (and the company, no doubt) a little bit of time and effort. What would appear to have happened is that Kev from Autoglass brought all the wrong bits for a Saab 9000, but by reckless bodgery has managed to ‘get by’, and fit the screen regardless.

Autoglass’s bodgery had resulted in the entire
windscreen aperture corroding…
almost terminally

The screen seal he used was from a Ford Sierra, but thanks to copious amounts of paint-damaging silicone sealant, he managed to man-handle the new Pilkington screen in. Yes, there was plenty of scratching along the way – but the way Kev saw it, no-one’s ever going to see that as it’ll be stuck behind the seal. Not for some time anyway. Sadly, I’m the poor schmuck who’s become the victim… because when my mate Kyle Roberts removed my cracked screen, the horrible truth was revealed. Yes, Kev’s – and therefore, Autoglass’s – bodgery had resulted in the entire windscreen aperture corroding almost terminally.

The pictures tell you all you need to know – and its fair to say that although the job was completed five and a half years ago, this level of corrosion is way beyond the pale. Should we accept this? Of course not. And yet, every day, through the arrogance and laziness that’s rife in the motor trade, we do just that and accept slack work. I know that the complaint I’ll be sending through to Autoglass will fall on deaf ears – why should they care about such ancient history – but I feel that sitting and doing nothing would justifies this episode that sums up all that’s bad with the motor trade in the UK right now.

So here’s some advice – if you need a new windscreen, try to avoid Autoglass. If you must use them, watch the fitter like a hawk, and ask questions along the way. Yes, the chances are that he’ll do the job properly, but you never know… Kev could be doing it.

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8 February

MG ZT V8’s biggest rival?

By KEITH ADAMS

SPOTTED recently on a trip to the Opel factory at Russelheim in Germany, this Corvette-engined Omega is a running prototype for a car that was seriously considered for production around the turn of the millennium. Packing 400bhp, this rear wheel drive monster looked like the perfect rival for the supercharged MG ZT V8 I drove a couple of years ago…

Sadly my host said they’d mislaid the keys (so he said), so a drive wasn’t possible, but he went on to say that on road drives are impossible due to the car not being approved for the German highways. Sad really, because it looks entertaining, even if it’s now in captivity contained within the factory grounds. I’m hoping a drive of said motor isn’t out of the question in the future – there’s something very wicked about standard looking saloons packing oversized V8 engines.

Now… how much are ZT V8s these days?

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Feedback:

Re the Opel V8, I seriously wonder whether this was a Holden-engineered prototype? Given that Holdens sold and sell as Chevrolets around the world, I can imagine that this could have been an idea for an ‘Opel’ for other markets.

Alternatively, there used to be a considerable amount of engineering expertise sent from Russelsheim to Holdens, because of the use of Opel bodyshells, etc. Of course in the past there have been Chevy-engined German Opels, as well as South African built Holdens, badged as Chevrolets!

DAVID HAYWARD

The Omega was factory produced – a Holden with the V8, however Im sure there was brochure offered on ebay recently for a Opel V8 Omega – are you sure they didn’t make production?

ANDREW ELPHICK

I have worked on a Holden V8, was the spit of an Omega estate! Domestic appliance white, tacky wheel trims and ‘V6 Ecotec’ badges on the wings. Small block Chevy under the bonnet with 6 speed box, no LSD or traction control. It was an animal and I loved it.

The badges according to the original purchase invoice were dealer option!

KYLE ROBERTS


6 February

Picture of the week

By KEITH ADAMS

I LOVE going through my archive of press photos because every so often, one I’ve forgotten that existed comes back to surprise and delight. Here’s on that tickled me – and I reckon it would evoke irrational feelings of destruction in the Top Gear team.

It’s a picture that accompanies a press release celebrating the Rover 416GTi winning the Caravan Club’s Tow Car of The Year award for 1991…

For one – I’m baffled as to why this car was even considered in the running. For one, its meaningful power is developed after 5500rpm – a point in the rev range you’d not want to go near when towing a lumbering great caravan behind you. Secondly, was it really more suitable than other 1990 debutantes on the UK market, such as the Citroen XM and Nissan Primera?

So, come on, Caravan Club. What’s the deal? I think we should be told…

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Feedback:

YOUR image of the Rover 416 brings back some haunting memories of AR towcars from my childhood. My father was a devout BL/AR/Rover purchaser in the 1980s and early 1990s, and used an interesting assortment of thier portfolio for towing.

Take note and cringe! C-Reg Rover 216 towing an Elddis Shamal (16ft and weighed a tonne! I have nightmares now over the time the tyre on that caravan blew out on the M1 late one night and threw us into a spin)

A-Reg Triumph Acclaim HLS 1.3 to tow Sprite Major (boggy fields in Wales come to mind including a rather wet summer where we were unable to get back out the field as we were at the bottom of a slope – no hope with that car/caravan combination)

…and I have memories of the engine going bang in a 1989 F-Reg Montego trying to tow dad’s latest mobile home on wheels… fond memories… I’ll try and dig out some pictures.

ANDY CLARKE, Peterborough


5 February

Times are a-changing

By RICHARD KILPATRICK

LIKE many people I suspect, I share your opinion of modern scrapyards – I had forgotten what I used to do to keep my cars on the road, and lately have been driving the sort of cars that just don’t show up in UK yards anyway. However, I have recently discovered something in the banger market that gives me hope.

With contacts in the trade, I spent a lot of the early part of the 21st century armed with a fleet of £50 cars that were, frankly, astoundingly good value. Most memorable was a Honda Accord, C56- something, that had a small dent in the back, and passed the MOT at Kwik-Fit (notorious for looking for faults) with a scowling “I can’t find a damn thing wrong with it!”. Another memorable car was a 200,000 mile Granada Scorpio estate that cost me £100 and some tyres, and went on to be written off for the cost of a rear bumper, repaired, and showed up in a scrapyard after another write-off wearing a rather more optimistic 80-something thousand miles.

Scarily, it could have been true to judge the pre-crash condition of the car.

So when a 1998 Astra I was running suffered from diesel pump failure – costing £800 to fix in theory (coded pump – another rant), on a car which cost me £650 – I grabbed a few quid and went in search of a replacement banger. And found… utter dreck. £500 was not enough to buy a decent, working car. In fact, even the loathsome Mk III Cavalier had gone from being a worthless, rot-prone bit of scrapyard fodder, to being a sought-after practical car, with selling prices in excess of £600 for 14-year old examples.

And when your 14-year old car is worth £600, you don’t find spending £50 on some brakepads so horrible. In fact, on eBay recently I saw a Peugeot 405 diesel estate with a blown headgasket – a car which I could have bought from a Newcastle dealer without mechanical failure four years ago – attracting bids despite a start price of £80. Because, if the rest of the car is good, you now won’t find a £295 405 diesel. It’ll be £500. And fixing the headgasket might only cost £200.

The rising values of scrap are, thankfully, having an effect on the banger end of the market. And I’m hoping that this will have knock-on effects in terms of backstreet garages and mechanics coming out of hiding, and perhaps even shore up the horrific depreciation that middle-aged cars are suffering (I recently sold a 1999 Golf 1.6SE Automatic, after my girlfriend gave in to her desire to have a Mercedes A-class. I asked, and got, £2000 without doing the needed timing belt service and some other work – I figured it would fetch £2700 and the work would cost me that much).

Personally – I’ve decided it’s time to kick the car habit a little – it’s an addiction, if you’d like an article about it I’m sure I can expand on this – and having worked out I’d spent £110,000 on “depreciation” over 123 cars in 15 years, handed my RX8 back to the lease firm instead of keeping it, decided to keep my Mitsubishi Delica for the hard work it was intended for (it rewarded this decision by blowing the alternator), and have bought a 1997 Toyota MR2 as an economical, fun car. It is surprisingly practical and will be fitted with a V6 at the end of the year…

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4 February

Our time has come…

By RICHARD TRUETT

There’s a little shop north of Detroit called Auto Zone. Inside, you will find hundreds of car mags from around the world, models of just about every car that ever made production, and some that didn’t, car videos and other auto-related knickknacks.

During the summer months in Detroit, on Saturday mornings, Auto Zone’s parking lot turns into an impromptu classic car show. You never know what it going to be driven in by engineers who work at Detroit’s three automakers, by car designers, by retired rich guys and by kooks like me, who show up with all sorts off-beat collector cars.

For the past two years, I have been a frequent visitor there with my restored Triumph Dolomite Sprint. I’ve seen a lot of curious eyeballs roaming over my car, even though it might be parked next to something exotic, such as a Citroen SM, a Ford RS 200, or some mega-buck Ferrari. It’s the concept of a premium small car that has people intrigued with the Dolomite Sprint.

The premium small car, which Triumph invented with the Dolomite and its predecessors, is an idea that just now taking root here in America. It all comes down to the price of gasoline. American drivers may not have had a free ride compared with those in Europe and Asia, but it was pretty damn cheap.

That’s now over.

Gasoline prices here seem permanently stuck at around $3 per gallon. And that is causing a shift to smaller more fuel efficient cars, sales of which are now booming. In the USA, a small car has usually meant a cheaply made, plastic besotted car that no one really wanted, but had to drive for economic reasons.

With the new MINI Cooper, BMW introduced the idea of a premium small car to this generation of American drivers. And yet, when I think of the concept of a premium small car, I know who really got there first, and why that car, the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, and many of its lesser siblings, are now becoming highly collectible.

The list of luxury features and smart touches, from the adjustable steering column to the height adjustable seats, wood dash, overdrive and more set the Dolomite apart from most small cars. The award-winning 16-valve SOHC engine in the Sprint put it in a class of one, for awhile at least. I shudder to think of what Triumph could have become, left alone and with proper funding.

As the price of fuel continues to climb in the USA, premium small cars are going to become more popular here. Whenever I pass one on the road in my Dolomite or park next to one at Auto Zone, I like to think that other car might not exist, were it not for the success of mine.

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3 February

Rover 1, Nissan 0

By RICHARD TRUETT

OKAY, here’s my situation: I have five cars, and, because I am out of space, one of them has to go. Two are classic Triumphs in restored, show-winning condition. Neither my 1977 Dolomite Sprint nor my 1981 TR7 Sprint has to worry. They’ll stay.

Now it comes down to these three: My daily transportation is a 2005 Ford Mustang, a nice looking, paid-for steed that I am depending on to keep me off the car payment bandwagon for at least another three years. That leaves my two backup cars that I use primarily when I am tired of the Mustang, and in the winter. They are a 1998 Nissan Altima — Primera, I believe it is called, in other parts of the world. And my 1990 Rover Sterling 827 fastback.

If we approach this situation without bias and just look at the cold, hard realities of owning an orphan with a dubious reputation for reliability, the Rover, and a completely trustworthy Nissan for which any and all parts are not only readily available, but cheap, too, we can conclude this business quickly by making the logical choice.

The Nissan has covered 128,900 miles in absolute obedient servitude. I bought this car six months ago from its original owner, who kept a detailed logbook. I see that the Nissan is exactly what a person wants in an inexpensive second-hand car. The Nissan has never failed to start, never leaked a drop of oil, and aside from two minor plastic interior trim parts, nothing has ever broken. The Nissan, has, in fact, never even so much as blown a single fuse. The engine awakens right away whenever it is called upon — even if the car has been sitting for a week. The body is free of the tinworm, the seats are comfortable, and everything right down to the air con and cruise control work just like they should. There is nothing wrong with the car, and there should be tens of thousands of miles of trouble-free motoring left in it. That is nothing short of amazing for a car that has suffered daily 80 mile commutes over Michigan’s deeply pot-holed roads and lived outside for ten Michigan winters.

The Rover. Well, let’s just say it has more problems than your proverbial calculous book. Some of the interior trim is tired. The electrics are dodgy. For example, the headlights and speedometer seem to have minds of their own. You never know from one stop to the next if the speedometer will work. A rear window lift and/or switch needs replacing. The air con doesn’t work. And the engine may need a new timing belt. There are no parts readily available for anything but the Honda engine and transmission and some brake and suspension bits. The company that built it is kaput. And no one at any garage really wants to work on it.

So then, reviewing the case for both cars in a strictly objective manner, any sane, right-thinking person can clearly see the choice of which car to keep and which to eject is an easy one:

The Nissan, of course, will go.

Though it may be completely reliable, driving the Nissan is a sense-dulling experience. The car is like some sort of toaster, blender or other kitchen appliance you’d mindlessly buy at Circuit City. It asks nothing special of you and gives nothing special in return. As it transports you to wherever you want to go, it is virtually invisible on the road. This is the anti-car, a vehicle for someone who views an automobile as he or she would any other disposable consumer product. Has anyone gotten goosebumps over any Nissan sedan lately? Not in the USA they haven’t.

The Rover, on the other hand, is a smooth and handsome charmer, but a wildly unpredictable one. You may get to where you are going on time or you may not. That pretty much depends on you. If you’ve looked after the car and kept up with the maintenance, chances are better than good you’ll be OK. The Rover, cut, pressed and trim, is a good looker. To my eyes, the Rover 827 fastback oozes James Bond coolness. It adds class to any driveway or car park it is in. Is that real wood on the dash? Why, yes it is. And that Viking ship badge on the nose and boot carries with it 100 years of British manufacturing heritage.

The fact that the Rover may not always respond the way it is supposed when the key is turned or when a button is pushed, is of no major consequence to me. Because at the end of the day, the car you drive says a lot about who you are as a person. For me, I’ve always liked having cars far out of the mainstream so that I would stand out a little in a crowd. Because there are probably fewer than 100 or so Rover fastbacks left on U.S. roads, I have more exclusivity than Ferrari drivers. I’ve always like the challenge of figure out how to make a broken thing work again. So there will be plenty good times ahead.

To sum up my feelings about the Rover: I’ll trade the reliability of the Japanese car for the style and uniqueness of the British one. The Rover appeals to my sense of adventure. Because it isn’t 100 percent reliable all the time, there’s an edgy tension to the driving experience. That just adds to the car’s character. I am almost glad the Rover 800 didn’t inherit the bland technical excellence of its Honda Legend siblings. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m off to put a for sale sign on the windscreen of the Nissan…

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1 February

I’m not happy

By KEITH ADAMS

I’VE learned a very important lesson during the past few weeks… when you receive your new car’s paperwork, keep a hold of it, make sure it’s safe, and don’t let it fall down the back of the sofa. A few months back, I bought this fine-looking Vauxhall Cavalier Sports Hatch, and did just that. My being bereft of its paperwork wasn’t intentional, of course – just the result of a senior moment. You see, I posted it off to the DVLA when the car became mine, but when a crisp new V5C didn’t drop through my letterbox a few weeks later, I didn’t bother to chase it up. In fact, I put it out of my mind.

Weeks passed, and before I knew it, I had a couple of weeks left to run, and there was still no sign of my V5C. Now here’s the important bit – although I had resigned myself to the fact that the Royal Mail had probably mislaid my application – I had also managed to lose the green tear off slip, which is the new keeper’s supplement. And my only way of getting a tax disc from the Post Office. Bugger.

So, with three weeks to go ’til ground zero, I filled in my forms, popped in a £25 postal order (crikey, I’ve not possessed a cheque book since 1997), and waited… and waited… and waited. This afternoon, my frustration got the better of me, and I called the DVLA to see what the delay with my logbook was. After ten minutes of holding music (which had been preceded by 17 -yes, I counted them – button pushes) I was finally connected to an operative, only to be told that they have no record of my application. Bugger.

So, I’m now stuck with a car that has MoT and insurance, but no way of being taxed… and therefore, as of Midnight, it’s not legal for the Queen’s Highway. As I said, my fault – and all I can do is wait. But trust me, I did some prize cursing in the office. It actually looked dangerously like I’d be walking to work, too. On Monday, my sheddiest of HH-Rs developed a increasingly bad water leak from the inlet manifold – so I resolved myself to fixing this during the upcoming weekend. However, just before I picked up the ‘phone to order the parts, I noticed a growing oil leak underneath the car. Bugger.

Chalk that one to experience – and decide on which scrap yard to call after taking the best parts off it.

The Range Rover is also out of tax now – and with an MoT fail sheet that includes four ball joints, three tyres, and a wonky steering box, it’s not looking promising for a quick return to the road. But I am sure it will make it back on to the road, as it’s too damned useful.

Thankfully, my work colleague, Neil Campbell, has come to my rescue by lending me his 1976 Triumph Dolomite 1500 while I wait for the Cav’s paperwork to arrive, and although I’ve only driven it home from Stamford so far, it’s not been a bad experience at all. I’ve just discovered the joys of overdrive, and I’m loving it. I’ll keep you posted on its progress – it’ll need to be good, as I suspect I’ll be without my poor Cav for some time to come.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

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

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

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

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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.

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