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Blogs : January 2008

28 January

Scrap yards

By KEITH ADAMS

I USED to enjoy a nice rummage around my local scrap yard… the smell of decay, old leather and spilled oil had an almost narcotic attraction for me on any Saturday afternoon you’d care to mention. However, the world’s a much different place now to how it was in the 1990s, and no longer are these vehicle graveyards full of end of life cars, plodge full of filler and gaffer tape – nowadays, they seem to be almost exclusively stacked with cars better than those I drive on a daiy basis. Depressing indeed.

Before you snigger about the unsuitability of my motly collection of heaps for daily usage, consider that my depression doesn’t stem from the condition of my own cars (because, let’s face it, there’s no hope) – but more a case of why are scrap yards now full of vehicles that are there because they’re not new enough to be given a stay of execution. Yep, perfectly good cars are now being scrapped because – simply – they might need a couple of hundred quid spending on them, and there’s no incentive to do this anymore now that used values are so low.

Not only that, but garages are becoming increasingly uninterested in doing work any more involved than a regular service, often advising punters with cars older than ten years old, to ‘get them binned in favour of something newer.’

The scrap yard the picture above was taken at is located within five minutes’ drive of my place, was the first one I went to, and a quick chat to the proprietor was illuminating to say the least. Local dealers aren’t even bothering to send trade-ins to the auctions, preferring to sign destruction orders, and carting them straight off to the knacker’s yard. His words were chilling, ‘We get ’em all in here – some with MoTs, but mostly cars just out of ticket, and needing items such as brake pads or exhausts to get ’em all back on the road again.’

Of course, if you look at the Rover 220 Turbo Tomcat on that pile – said scrap yard owner will have paid £100 for the car; will be guaranteed to get nearly all that back for scrap metal; will get a few hundred quid for the parts off it… why on earth should it be returned to the roads? Why indeed… But should we moan about the situation – after all, classic cars are a minority interest, and if today’s secondhand cars don’t make that leap from banger to classic, does it really matter?

If you listen to the views on some Internet forums, then it doesn’t matter at all – cars such as the R8 will ‘never be a classic‘, in their blinkered view, and the sooner the world is rid of them, the better. As for new car buyers… there’s no interest there. So, the majority of people who harbour a penchant for 1990s cars are probably not yet in the position to do much about saving them, despite their rock bottom residuals. By the time the nostalgia scene does move onto this decade’s cars, they might well be all gone.

Now can you see why a visit to the scrappies was so depressing for me?

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23 January

Seeing things from the other side of the fence

By KEITH ADAMS

I’VE been spending a delightful few days behind the wheel of the final production Capri ever built, as owned by the Ford Heritage Collection. I have to say that it has been an eye-opening experience given the fact that to me, Capris were always part of the ‘opposition’, and therefore, looked down our noses at. It’s true to say that it’s a taste of the simple life, with wayward handling and bags of good old fashioned power delivered in a good old fashioned manner.

You’ll never cross country quickly in it, and the first sight of rain had me praying for a miracle, as I waited to reverse the poor thing into the nearest fence. But as it happened, I’ve been driving it for five days now, and I’ve not yet crashed it – so perhaps there’s hope yet. Compared with a TR7, it feels homespun and seriously overpowered, and the interior is an object lesson in 1970s design school form-over-function thinking. Can I see the fuel or temperature gauges while I’m driving it? Can I heck…

But despite all that, I can’t help but find this car interesting, fun, and a great way of putting a smile on my face. Yes, it was icy this morning, and a couple of times it tried pretty hard to land me in a ditch, but that just had me wired long before I made it into the office… and ready for the challenge of the day ahead. Would I have one? Probably not – despite being an immensely enjoyable drive, I reckon the novelty is going to wear off pretty quickly in the end – and then I’d be left with a car that would be as high maintenance as an Internet bride.

I’ll leave the Capri love for other people, I’m afraid.

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22 January

Why this car will never return to the road

By KEITH ADAMS

AS regular AROnline readers may know, I have a bit of a habit of buying unwanted pups, taking them in, throwing lots of money at them, then passing them on when I get bored. It’s an unhealthy affliction that I like to call CHPD (Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder) – and I think it’s a condition that a great many of you understand. Perhaps a few of you are fellow sufferers. I’ve decided that 2008 is the year that I’m going to kick the habit – and so far, three weeks in, I’ve been true to my word.

One car that always managed to transcend this undignified process was my Talbot Tagora 2.2GLS – a car purchased from eBay back in 2004 for the princely sum of £83. Allegedly owned by Lord Rootes (although no paperwork backs this up, just a bit of idle Coventry tittle-tattle), the car was a non-runner when purchased sight unseen while in a slightly inebriated state one Saturday evening. My mate Brian Gunn got it running for me again, and I had this bright idea to get it driving again, and live a happy Anglo-French life with my individually styled luxo-barge.

However, a dead gearbox and terminal (and I really mean terminal) rust rapidly put paid to the ambitious plan… and to this day I really haven’t spoken about this car. Well, the bottom line is that this car will never run again, of that I am pretty sure. It’s a shame really, because of all the heaps I own (and there are a few – although the fleet’s thinning out now) it’s the one that I get asked about the most, and I suspect the most likely to bring happiness to the site’s readers if it ever did make a triumphant return – despite not being a product of God’s wonderful motor company.

Nope – let’s just say that despite the photo, which paints a pretty positive picture, the Tagora is not in a happy state at all. Terminal (allow me to repeat that; terminal) rot in all the vital places, and its rapid spread (despite being dry-stored), mean that as time passes, this basketcase’s prospects are becoming increasingly hopeless. But let’s face it, does it really need to come back to the roads? After all, it looks great as a static ornament – a monument to all that was wrong about the PSA-Chrysler Europe merger.

So, I think this is one that is going to stay buried in its final resting place… to enjoy a quiet and dignified retirement. I love it to bits, so please don’t ask me to sell it. And please don’t offer to put it back on the road – I think it’s enjoying life in the Automotive equivalent of Eastbourne.

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18 January

Life after the divorce

By CHRIS CHAPMAN

IS being associated with Rover such a bad thing? Can former partners benefit from Rover’s British design expertise, flair and influence?

Look at BMW – despite recently announcing global redundancies, Cowley is flat out and to make the additional 65,000 per year four wheel drive Minis production capacity in Magna’s Austrian plant, formerly used for X3 production, is apparently having to be used.

And what about Honda at Swindon? According to the latest issue of Automotive Manufacturing Solutions magazine it has reached its maximum capacity of 250,000 per year 12 months ahead of expectations and has no room to build a third production line.

So where is the British government in all this? Two highly successful and respected manufacturers who could use extra UK vehicle assembly capacity especially when many of the subcomponents, eg pressings and engines, are built here and otherwise have to be sent overseas at extra logistics costs or retooled. One empty car factory at Ryton and one at Longbridge, both with local skills and the vital paint plants required for full vehicle assembly.

Sorry, dirty old real value-added manufacturing doesn’t appeal to the politicians we now have, of whatever hue, and consistent long term strategy is a concept apparently way beyond a mental capacity fully exercised in making extra legislation just for the self-sustaining fun of it. Even the Japanese are building new car factories in their home country. Anyone remember the importance of having a healthy Balance of Payments? If not, we may all be reminded soon.

I wonder what Ford’s UK legacy will be when they hand over to Tata? Tata is apparently getting all the main designers – they obviously aren’t stupid! What concerns me is whether Tata has the management skills to sort out JLR.

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16 January

Hindsight is wonderful

By SIMON HEBB

WHEN the whole BMW debacle imploded and Mr Moulton was given the proverbial two fingers as the Phoenix four rolled into town, there was a tide of optimism surrounding the Rover and MG brands, while the public went anti ‘Johnnie Foreigner’ and started buying quite reasonable quantities of the brand.

But, from the view of an outsider there was a problem, which was well documented – the 25 and 45 were way behind the curve (though the MG versions were stunning – I nearly bought the V6 version of the ZS until the Insurance company laughed at me). The MGF was expensive to build and, again, old fashioned against its peers… the 75 was, and remains, a very good car to build a business around. The profile of the group was extremely good with the Le Mans Project, the rallying and of course the very quick touring car, it was starting to look fairly promising.

Management made some very strange decisions (such as the facelifted 75 not long after introducing the V8 cars – even I know that it would have been better marketing to launch the revised 75 with a ‘new’ engine range). Another was the Qvale project and then trying to charge £80k plus for the MG XPower SV? Definitely crazy juice was being served in the boardroom that day.

At this stage, the priority should have been to get the model line up refreshed in order to keep fresh revenue pouring in to allow the development of an entirely new range of vehicles, and it could have been done at a budget whilst making people believe MGR was on the up whilst being British! Just from looking at the information on this fantastic site, MG Rover was offered both the Fiat Stilo and previous Renault Espace (Matra).

A re-designed Stilo would have been a good replacement for 45 and 25 ranges; the MG brand identity could have been retained separately by producing quick versions of these plus keeping production of the ZS alive until it became no longer cost effective. By offering the public a refreshed Espace, MGR would have had another weapon in it’s’ armoury – the more vehicles a company offers the greater the public perception of strength. Plus it was not a bad car… for an MPV.

Then you bring in the XPower XV; it would have made sense to be selling the basic one in the £25k bracket up against the 350z, TT and RX8 – there would have been quite a few sales of this considering how good it looks(ed) provided a basic version could be built at cost without the copious amounts of Carbon Fibre. The CityRover might have been a rubbish driver’s car – it would have fitted the bill for many people if priced properly. Even re-branded as an Austin… makes use of names people recognise.

…the Rover 75 was, and remains, a very good
car to build a business around…

Finally the link up with TATA may have provided access to the TATA Nano, imagine if MGR had the UK/European rights to this car? Assembled in Longbridge, branded as an Austin Metro. Priced under £4k… it would have sold very well to people who are not interested in cars (that’s’ why people bought Kia Prides). Renault has done something similar with the Logan and look how well that has done and has not weakened the Renault brand.

So a model range consisting of:

Austin Metro (TATA Nano) – New launch MG ZR – Breathed on version of Stilo
Austin? (City Rover) MG ZS – Current ZS for a couple of years as it still cuts the mustard.
Rover 25 (3 door Stilo) MG ZT – Current ZT
Rover 45 (5 door Stilo and Estate) MG XV – Priced to compete with the Audi TT
Rover 75 MGF – Current Model
Rover 85 (Espace or even the Avantime)

Other than the Nano, nearly all of the changes were available quite quickly… would 2005 still have happened? If not, then the Board may well have deserved their pension contributions… as a dying company would have had a new lease of life which would have got people in the showrooms. This in turn would have encouraged the people at the top to sort out the known problems and purchase the JTD from Fiat.

Everybody knows that MGR had the engineering staff, a brilliant design team, a potentially loyal customer base, a good name and profile – shame that they had lousy management who were only after short term gains, which resulted in an English never-say-die company collapsing, despite having the opportunity to prosper.

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Feedback:

Could I just say that Simon Hebb, ref his blog of the 16th Jan, is a moron?

Thanks. I feel better for that.

Mike Duff
Features Editor
Autocar Magazine


14 January

Time to update those links and browsers

By KEITH ADAMS

Just a quick reminder to everyone that – we think – that the transformation from www.austin-rover.co.uk to www.aronline.co.uk is just about complete now. All references to the former site name should now have been updated (okay, there are well over 1000 pages to go through, but we’re trying), and although it will still get you to all your pages, as well as the forum, it’s time to switch over.

So, if you run a website and have a links page directed to us, or simply bookmark for regular visits, please use the new address.

It’s my intention to make sure that the change of identity will not mean a loss of focus – BMC>MG is still what the website’s all about, and as I’ve said many times before, I’m always looking for more contributions to this – ongoing – saga. Let’s record as much as we can while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds.

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12 January

India’s Model T?

By ANDREW ELPHICK

A HUNDRED years is a long time. So much so, that the entire history of the motor car is almost encompassed within this timeframe. Back in 1908, a developing industrial nation was embracing automation as a route to security and riches, with one particular mechanical device leading this wealth – the motor car.

Sure, the American motor industry had been around since the end of the nineteenth century, but only available for the privileged few. However, 1908 marked the debut of a machine startling in its complete lack of complex technology – the Ford Model T. Rival manufacturers may have built faster, sleeker, smoother, larger models that boasted far more sophistication, but it was the T that changed the nation.

Henry Ford, by his own proviso, made a car that – if it broke down, it could be fixed because of its relative mechanical simplicity. So what was his hook? Price.

In 1908 $850 was a lot of money – especially when one considers that the average wage was around $2 per day. That meant the T represented around a year and a half’s wages. But in Ford’s own words, “I will build a car for the great multitudes.” And he did – over the next 19 years, in excess of 15 million Model Ts were built across the globe.

Fast-forward another 100 years to 2008. A new developing industrial nation is embracing mobility; indeed it always has done (but not always with an internal combustion engine). The Indian motor industry, which had existed on cast-offs and hand-me-downs for the last 50 years (indeed it still does, function throwing far more weight than fashion) has finally moved on. Or at least it has now shown the rest of the world that it has.

The Indian motor industry, which had existed
on cast-offs and hand-me-downs for the past
50 years, has finally moved on…

This is a policy almost diametrically opposed to China, where each successive new model appears to be a facsimile of a prestigious European or Japanese offering. No, the Indian motor industry is being moulded to meet India’s demands. Not what it believes it wants.

This is where industrial giant Tata steps in with its own version of the Model T – the Nano. A simple four-seater that’s cute, but not pretty; and nippy, but not fast (its top speed is around 70mph). Considering that an estimated average wage in India is 200 Rupees a day; then a car costing 100,000 constitutes that familiar year-and-a-half’s wages.

So with a rumoured profit of just 4000 Rupees per car (£52), then why is Tata bothering? Because if this negligible profit can kick-start a nation with newfound disposable income, then that makes Tata are very shrewd operator indeed. Tata Motors isn’t an obscure manufacturer; it’s part of the huge energy/base materials/chemical conglomerate.

So, create a wealthy nation via affordable mobility, then that wealth all trickles back to source…

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11 January

Bernie was right!

By KEITH ADAMS

So, the world’s media has now well and truly woken up to the potential of the Indian motor industry, thanks to the high-profile arrival of TATA’s fantastic new Nano – officially the world’s cheapest car right now at around £1500 all in and on your drive. It’s clear that costing is impeccable on the Nano, but what impresses me even more than this is that TATA has managed to create a four-seat five-door hatchback which occupies a footprint which is only a gnat’s whisker longer than the original Mini…

The rear mounted 600cc engine might not deliver bags of performance, but it’ll be more than enough for crowded cities – and those tiny dimensions will be a positive boon. The warm welcome that’s greeted this car across the globe has genuinely heartened me; it’s clear that the world’s media has finally identified that the car industry has reached a tipping point regarding the environment, and it’s finally taking the issue seriously indeed.

Okay, so the Nano’s raison d’être is all about motorising the masses rather than saving the environment, but it’s clear that in the future, whether we like it or not, an increasing number of us will be driving cars like this sooner rather than later. So, it’s a people’s car that may well end up selling like hot cakes for all manner of other reasons. Because even at £3000 with a tiny diesel in the back end, and with a few more home comforts, I could well see there being a willing market in Europe – and that includes badge-conscious 4×4 loving Britain…

I can’t help but also see a number of parallels with what we’ve been doing in the UK in days gone by. It’s a redefinition of the Mini-car; it’s just over ten feet long; and it’s a questionable profit-maker for its company. Also, as you’ll see, Rover was thinking along these very same lines (technically, as opposed to marketing-wise) way, way back in 1994/5 with its plans for a Mini replacement. The car that eventually appeared as the Mini Spiritual Too on the 1997 Show circuit was powered by a rear-mounted three-cylinder 600cc engine, and weighed in at just over three metres in length.

Because even at £3000 with a tiny diesel in
the back end, and with a few more home
comforts, I could well see there being
a willing market in Europe.

The concept had originally been shown to BMW’s management in November 1995 (just to put that timeframe into perspective, it was the same day as the Rover R3 200 was launched at the London Motor Show) as one of the MINI proposals – but was turned down by Bernd Pischetsrieder for being way too far ‘ahead of its time’. Many Mini enthusiasts reckon that was the wrong decison, and the TATA Nano’s appearance may well make them feel vindicated, but the truth is that the world was a very different place back then, and perhaps we genuinely weren’t ready for mould-breaking cars like this then. Maybe the radical MINI could have forced the issue sooner, and gone on to be another Mini breakthrough, but BMW wasn’t in the mood to play it fast and loose.

But it’s clear just how prescient those chaps (most of whom may well soon be working for TATA via Jaguar/Land Rover) who came up with it were.

However, the appearance of the Nano (and indeed the Mitsubishi i-Car) clearly shows that the time may well now be right, and car buyers are ready for something truly radical. Or maybe, just maybe, we’re loving the Nano because it’s compellingly cheap and we can’t resist a bargain.

Time will tell…

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Feedback:

LOOKS like Alec Issigonis was right to use 10-inch wheels… Scarily, I can see ways that Tata could engineer it even cheaper if they wanted to. It does accentuate how Tata have a gap between the Tata brand and Jaguar that Rover would have neatly filled (or still could if they get the rights from Ford)

Environmentalists may be worried about all these extra cars but (a) they could run on bioethanol, especially as Indian agriculture develops, and (b) the Nano is designed to replace (typically overladen) motorcycles and a comparison of mpg figures might be enlightening.

CHRIS CHAPMAN

DO you know whether it’s a parallel twin or a boxer? The former is better for mpg. While a four cylinder 1246cc/66PS would seem more in line (pun?) with EC aspirations. I can’t really see this rebadged as a Rover – even Indicas look grim with the Tata grille and solid paint. (they are popular in Johannesburg)

Austin 7 or Morris Minor would be good but for Nanjing owning the trademarks… Not that that stops Ford putting ‘City’ (Honda trade mark) on the back of the occasional Fusion. The name Trojan (flat twins and solid tyres, built in Bradford) is probably available, though most people would probably think of condoms, not cars. Two of my former colleagues now work at Tata at Warwick. Apparently they get two City Rover company cars each, but managers only get one…

KEN STRACHAN

MAKES the CityRover seem like a Rolls Royce, doesn’t it? It strikes me very much the type of car Rover (if it was still extant) would rebadge as a Rover, sell in the UK for £8000, and then wonder why no one buys it…

ADRIAN PARTINGTON

YOUR blog raises several issues, but chief amongst them must be the environmental one. You claim that the Nano offers an oblique indication that the industry is finally taking the issue seriously, but the truth is that environmentalists are aghast at the impact that mobilising millions in this way is going to have.

Tata claim that the car is cleaner than than the two-wheelers it will displace, but these aren’t just going to disappear – they will be passed on to those who could not previously afford them and cannot yet afford a Nano. There is also the issue of long-term maintenance, which if neglected, will see the Nano’s reported compliance with current emissions standards evaporate. It would be churlish to argue that the Indian population should be denied the opportunity of cheap transport, but it’s equally wide of the mark to see the Nano as a boon to the environment.

You point out that the car is well-sized for city use, and it is undoutedly true that India’s clogged cities are crying out for a solution, but the existing Indica and Maruti aren’t exactly behemoths. It’s going to take a lot to convince city-based drivers to switch to a Nano, especially if it means losing status. It is in the rural areas that the Nano is destined to have the greatest impact, so it will need to be rugged and long-lasting. Only time will tell.

So, is the Nano a Mini for modern times? Hardly. It may be basically equipped and share a near-identical footprint, but there the similarity ends. The Nano is more akin to the original wave of bubble cars that the Mini was designed to supplant, and to be fair it has been designed to perform a similar role.

What set the Mini apart was that it trascended its competition by offering something far more alluring: an innovative car that performed and handled well, and went on to gain classless appeal. At this stage there is no indication that the Nano is going to offer anything more than cheap transport, or that its appeal will be governed by anyhting other than budget or pseudo-green showmanship. My feeling is that India’s “Mini” is yet to come, and will surely be the car that is intended to “drive those Nanos off the streets”…

I’m also having trouble seeing the Nano as a brave attempt to make the idea of the Spiritual Too concept a production reality. The Nano is small because it needs to be built cheaply, whereas Spiritual Too was designed to tempt potential buyers into down-sizing without losing any practicality. With the long-amortized “classic” Mini already costing around £9000 by the time the concept was shown to the public in 1997, it’s a safe bet that a production version would have weighed in at well over £10k.

So finally, was Spiritual Too ten years ahead of its time? How could it have been, when later that same year a rival manufacturer launched a space-efficient, five-door, one-box supermini that was shorter than a Ford Ka. I refer, of course, to the W168 Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

DECLAN BERRIDGE

FOR all its limitations, the Nano is a vastly more thought-provoking product than any supercar or overcomplicated and overpriced hybrid. Today and yesterday it was headline news worldwide – since when has that last been the case with any new car?

A couple of thoughts of my own:

Firstly, the notion of the roads of India instantly being flooded with tems of millions of cheap cars – Tata quote annual Nano production capacity at 250,000, considerably less than the 1000 cars per day long regarded by western manufacturers as a one-model break-even level for volume car production. At the stated production volume it would take Tata the next 4800 years to provide each Indian (at present population) with their own Nano.

Undoubtedly production volumes will increase, and the Nano and its variants will be produced in many other countries – Thailand, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil have already been mentioned. Tata’s real master-stroke is that they will have persuaded millions of Indians that they can afford a car. In this they have learned from Henry Ford, Herbert Austin, Andre Citroen and the Agnellis, and have probably chosen the perfect moment to enact the dream.

Secondly, since the “1-lakh car” project was announced, several of the world’s major manufacturers, rather than dismissing the idea as an irrelevant regional curiosity incapable of generating profit, have diverted considerable resources into emulating Tata’s achievement. VW and Toyota’s responses to a similar brief have already been shown, and GM and Renault are not far behind.

The world’s largest carmakers are taking their lead from Tata – what does this tell us about Jaguar and Land Rover’s potential future owner?

ROBERT LEITCH

YOUR latest Blog has prompted a couple of thoughts about the Mini Spiritual/Spiritual Too concepts which appeared at the Geneva Motor Show in 1997. Firstly, I wonder how many, if any, features the BMW Group’s rumoured Isetta Citycar will share with Spiritual designer, Oliver Le Grice’s, original concepts – both would, if Euro NCAP-compliant, still be totally fit for purpose… Indeed, Autocar has already implied that there may be a connection between the two projects! See the article at the following link: www.autocar.co.uk/News.

Secondly, I wonder whether either Oliver Le Grice and/or some of his colleagues in the Design Team behind the Mini Spiritual/Spiritual Too concepts went to work for Tata Motors Limited either at the company’s Engineering Research Centre at Pune in India and/or, latterly, at Tata Motors European Technology Centre plc here in the UK…

CLIVE GOLDTHORP


10 January

Where’s the justice?

By SIMON HEBB

AS a nation we spend a great deal of time twittering, with some of my elders (or shall I say Crumblies) referring to ‘how things were better in their day’ in relation to crime, tax, traffic, daffodils. But one thing I can’t help but agreeing with though is that the legal treatment of drivers does seem to be ropey in comparison to the past; I am only referring to my personal experience rather than the wider general national picture and opinion – like all good ex-financial advisers, I get all disclaimers in and don’t accept any liability for my advice…

Anyhow, within the last couple of years I have first hand experience of the police response to a couple of events:

Once upon a time at about a 2.00am on a Sunday morning, our hero is woken from his slumber by a fearful bang – he looks out of his bedroom window to see a car in the middle of the road missing a light, which then drives off. Upon going outside it is discovered that this one-lighted car has smashed into our aforementioned hero’s car; creasing the roof, buckling the suspension and not allowing the rear doors to open. To cap things off, the car had also been shoved forwards into the back of his dad’s company car.

The police when they turned up said that they don’t hold their breath catching the culprit, as they don’t get many with enough evidence. To cut a long story short, our hero and his father managed to find out who did it (the benefit of a small local community) and put the police onto him. In the meantime the suspect had repaired his car with the aid of a number of friends’ and scrap yard parts. When the Boys in Blue paid him a visit he admitted all and he was charged with Failure to stop and Failure to report an accident, they wanted to do him for Driving without due Care and Attention but they had no evidence to that extent. There was also a suspicion that he knew where Lord Lucan is.

Who really deserves to have points on their
licence? The guy doing 90mph on an empty
motorway or somebody who actually does
something materially wrong?

What happens? Well, he gets a final warning. That’s no points, no actual conviction but six months later, he was caught drink driving. They had the warning signs but the Police were powerless to take proper action as it was taken out of their hands and they were annoyed that it didn’t go further as they couldn’t believe that they had caught somebody guilty as hell.

More recently my sister had a big crash when a guy ploughed into the back of her Kia Picanto, leading to her having to go to hospital on a back-board. She was very lucky she was not seriously hurt and she now does worry about certain aspects of driving. The police charged the driver with an appropriate offence but the courts let him off and sent him on a one-day driving course. Again, no points and the Police again were shocked at the outcome.

Yet, if I do 78mph on the A1 I run the risk of three points and a £60 fine, and if some people have their way these will be doubled. Something is very out of kilter, like most people, I do not have an issue about being punished for being in the wrong – mainly because that is a nature of life. Historically you learn from your mistakes, but if people are not being punished appropriately what lessons are being learnt?

Who really deserves to have points on their licence? The guy doing 90mph on an empty motorway? The ambulance driver delivering organs for transplant? The bloke not speeding but tailgating you? Somebody who actually does something materially wrong? (eg., smashes into your car and drives off).

It is not the police who should be criticised; instead look further up the chain and the actual justice service itself. Or like me, are people just cynical and that a £60 fine for speeding is more effective than actually punishing bad driving?

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9 January

More Škoda love

By KEITH ADAMS

HOW times are changing… we’ve waxed lyrical about Škodas a few times on this website – just take a look in our Road Test section if you don’t believe me. And there’s good reason for this – of all the ones I’ve driven (including the Estelle I had back in 1989), none have bored me. I know that’s no scientific way of judging cars, but it does seem to work for me.

Anyway, even the last generation Superb, which most magazine road testers decry for being duller than ditch water, impressed me for majoring on passenger comfort and ride quality. This is something that you don’t find often in modern cars; a manufacturer desire to build something comfortable, rather than simply capable of putting in a great lap of the ‘Ring. Sound familar?

Okay, so the new Superb doesn’t look that exciting, but there seems to be a genuine effort to make the styling less-VW, and judging by the length of the cabin, it could well be as roomy as the last one. It needs to be, though… the Superb carved itself out a nice USP thanks to that China-spec lengthened platform, and it would be a shame for the company to turn its back on a concept (luxury car room for repmobile money) that works pretty well.

But Škoda seems to know its customers pretty well, so I’m confident this one will be a cracker, too… I’ll be watching this with interest, especially to see if any former Rover 75 punters take the plunge…

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8 January

Where did they go?

By KEITH ADAMS

A COUPLE of days ago, I posted this image on the AROnline forums – it’s a Škoda Octavia vRS TDI PD Estate, which I’m currently assessing for one of my other outlets. The car has quietly impressed me with its speed, economy and low-profile, and I can see why the vRS sub-brand has quietly built up to become one of the hotter tickets for those in the know…

However, one of our forum members, Seamaster, raised a very interesting point, once he’d favourably commented about this car’s overall appeal – and that is where have all the Rover owners gone? By that, he means, now that you can no longer (seriously) buy a new MG or Rover, where are those 100,000 or so buyers of old now sinking their hard earned cash?

Škoda seems like a sensible option, although its products lack that warmness associated with the British marque – but where else would they go? Since the 75 dropped out of production, has the Jaguar X-TYPE gained a valuable uplift? Or perhaps the Alfa Romeo 159, Škoda Superb or Renault Laguna? The same with the MG ZR – a great selling sporting hatchback available for sensible money: have all of its buyers headed off to Citroen for a C2 VTR or Seat for an Ibiza FR?

…now that you can no longer (seriously) buy a
new MG or Rover, where are those 100,000 or so
buyers of old now sinking their hard earned cash?

So if you have just chopped your recent MG or Rover for something new, please drop us a line, and let us know what swayed your decision. Was it the dealer location and facilities (I can’t imagine many people base their purchasing decision on that anymore), or the vehicle dynamics and style? Was it the warranty and finance package the dealer built for you? Either way, we’re itching to hear from you.

Alternatively, do you love your MG or Rover so much you’ve yet to replace it, and you’re waiting to see what happens with Tata (the Rover’s return) or SAIC (MG will be the company’s bridgehead back into Europe)? Perhaps you’ll never replace it…

All those people had to go somewhere…

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Feedback:

I THINK the profile of Rover’s customer base changed considerably during the MG-Rover era. Uncertainty over the company’s long-term future after the buy-out led to dealers offering massive discounts to attract customers, meaning that the cars became a more attractive alternative to the Korean/Malaysian brands and other cars that are sold primarily on price. It was probably at this point that customers who bought Rovers for their brand values (rather than out of brand loyalty) switched to something else.

In fact, was it not this change in the perception of the brand that led to the strictures of Project Drive? If the cars could still have been sold at a premium, it would not have been necessary.

I suspect people who are swapping their MG Rovers now are no different to the majority of today’s car buyers: they’ll shop around to see what’s available, and the absence of MGR from the market will be the least of their worries. It has to be acknowledged that even if they were still making cars, those cars would now be so far behind the competition as to appeal only to (dare I say it) a certain breed of badge snob.

DECLAN BERRIDGE

AS the blog says, I’ve been pondering this very question since the unpleasantness of 2005. As Keith points out, MG-R were still shifting many tens of thousands of cars a year, right up to the end. Two of their best-sellers, the MG ZR and the MG TF were, even during the company’s death throes, the best selling cars in their respective classes in the UK. I guess we can assume all the potential TF buyers went Mazda MX-5, but where did all the ZR boy-racers go in search of cheap thrills? Seat? Škoda?

The 45/ZS is more vexing still. These were cars that were finding few friends by 2005, other than a hardcore of ZS enthusiasts. I agree with Declan, above, anyone buying a 45 latterly could only have been doing so on the value proposition, and the end-of-the-line GSi variants were still quite compelling for the budget concious buyer. Ditto the R25. Where are they spending their dosh now? My guess is Declan is right again – these customers must have gone to Korea, especially given the attractive warranties on offer, perfect to lure the customer looking for nothing more than cheap, reliable transport.

The 75 and ZT are the most problematic. Much as I would like to think that buyers of these have subsequently ended up in X-Types (and, given the ubiquity of the baby Jag on Britain’s roads these days I suppose it is possible), my gut feeling is that even those fine cars had long since stopped attracting “premium” punters. My guess is that the late prospective buyers of those have splintered all over the (mass) marketplace, including to affordable big cars like… the Škoda Superb.

Forum member ‘Seamaster’

A KEY part of the Rover appeal for many buyers seems to have been forgotten by earlier contributors and that is the “British” aspect. Not just built in the UK but also designed here.

To answer the question “Where did they go?” for one buyer, my father was a loyal Rover driver for over 30 years: 2200TC, SD1 2600, SD1 2600, 825, 827, 620, 75. Sad to say that with the 75 becoming increasingly unreliable, for his “last new car” he couldn’t buy a Rover product. After considering a Saab he settled on a nearly-new X-TYPE. Those of us that have commented on the ambitious Aerospace and BMW-era Rover pricing should take a look at X-TYPE pricing. Ouch.

The new price was too much to stomach and he settled on a low miles ex-demo. I suppose that superfluous four-wheel drive system has to be paid for somehow. (Remember that if you want a reasonably powerful auto X-TYPE it has to be a V6 petrol engined model). He still refers to my car as ‘that French thing’ even though it has given less trouble than his 75.

Forum member ‘406v6’

A VERY interesting blog on a tricky subject. From my own experience, my father, after a series of big Rovers which started with an SD1 in the early 1980s, changed to a Jaguar X-TYPE (which he kept saying he didn’t like as much as the Rover it replaced), though he’s now retired and bought a Citroen C3. I know a number of older, long standing Rover owners who’ve gone the Jaguar route, and a number of people who had smaller Rovers and have bought Citroen C3s and C4s.

I’m in the process of choosing my first company car at the moment (having driven a succession of classics/old bangers to date) – if a Rover or MG was on the list it would be an automatic choice – but for me I think it will be a mondeo or passat (very impressed with VW’s website – when you order a brochure you have to submit details of your current car using a drop down menu – and the list includes the SD1 and its various models (2600S in my case)!).

JULIAN RIDGE

I GOT rid of my Rover 75 in October. I had a small problem with in it the summer – The cam sensor died. Quite embarrassingly really – it was when it was in Kwik Fit getting a new tyre. The mechanic drove the car onto the ramp, but it would not start when it went to get it off and I had to get the RAC out to get it off the ramp!

The problem was not getting a sensor, but that the sensor was a superseded part and needed a bit of wiring loom to be able to connect it up – so was off the road for about a month waiting for that! (my mechanic eventually cobbled one together as he was fed up with the promised delivery days never being met!)

A week or so later, the car died again – id just cut0out at 60mph in the outside lane in the rush hour. I managed to coast to the side of the road, but quite scary. My mechanic could not find what the problem was and gave it to an MG Rover dealer who insisted on several things (like the battery needs replacing!), but I would do it again and again every few weeks. After the 6th RAC callout, I gave up on it – My 75 had turned into a teenager – got another car.

What did I choose? I now own a Land Rover Freelander TD4 sport automatic (2006 model). Totally different to the 75!

I wanted something that would be able to tow trailers for when I take my Scouts away. The 4×4 will be useful on the campsites aw well. Being the sport model, it has good road manners (a bit lower and stiffer springing I believe). The automatic transmission (or Command-Shift in LR-speak) makes the commute easy and the off-road ability means that the pot-holes, bumps and general awful roads are no problem.

It was also build at Solihull – The same factory as my Rover P6 (the other CoTM in March 2004), so I don’t feel like I have abandoned Rover completely!

LESLIE BUTTON

EIGHTEEN months ago you published my piece on the subject: I’d bought a Passat estate to replace my Rover 75 Tourer. I still have the Passat and it has been virtually faultless over the period. My comment to Forum members is that it is one of those cars you grow into –the more you drive and use it, the better it becomes.

However, my point is this: when MGR was failing, I remember talking to the salesmen that my father and I used to go to about this very subject. His view? You’ll end up with something from the VW group. He was right. My father has one of the last Rover 45s (Club SE, 2.0 TD,113 PS) and it is a surprisingly good car – it is certainly very quick, if a little tight on room. He may decide to run it into the ground, but if he was changing he really has not a clue where to go. The logical car is the Focus, but he can’t raise much enthusiasm.

He has never bought a ‘foreign’ car in his life and I think he will struggle to accept that he may have to. He may fancy a Civic (which at least is built here, but if you’re tall like me, or short like my father, is difficult to see out of) but I cannot see him going for an Auris or an Astra. I think we keep coming back to the inescapable point – it would have to be something from the VW group.

And there is the next problem: we live in Birmingham and neither of us would know where to go to see a Seat or Skoda – dealers come and go, regularly. This brings us back to VW or Audi – forget Audi (way too expensive) and we’re back to VW! Polo or Golf anyone?

MIKE BUSHELL


7 January

From Browns Lane to Bangalore…

By ANDREW ELPHICK

THE dust has nearly settled on Jaguar’s sale to Tata the Indian mega-conglomerate, and the final handshake due any moment now. However in the best traditions of scandalous rumour mongering, is there a bigger picture, might there yet be the Indian built Jaguar?

Voestalpine, the huge steel pressing group, recently released a press release announcing its Indian operation’s 30 per cent increase in turnover (over the last three years, an annual turnover of €125m). Currently an existing supplier to JLR for pressings, the question begs, if you’re pressing steel, why not do so at the lowest labour rates?

And if you’re pressing in India, why not manufacture there too.

Do BMW customers care they have a Carolina built X5 or Z4? Does the purchaser of a new Mercdes C-class worry if it was built in South Africa? Of course not. After the fuore of the sell-off, will tomorrow’s Jaguar buyer worry where the leaping cat was nutured, just as long as it’s well finished and reliable?

After the X-TYPE is anything sacred anymore…

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5 January

When shall we three move again…

By DECLAN BERRIDGE

What’s your On:Off-Road Ratio? Mine’s 3:3 at the moment, and that’s a marked improvement over what it was this time last month.

Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with cross-country driving. I’m referring, of course, to how many of my ‘fleet’ are currently road-legal and in regular use, as against those that are not. And my primary New Year’s resolution is to see that ratio increase as the year progresses. Technically, I could already claim a ratio of 4:2, as my Vanden Plas Princess 1100 is taxed, MoT’d and insured. Except it hasn’t moved since I parked it in my garage almost a year ago, so I’m not counting it… yet.

Unfortunately, I have a shameful track record for spending large chunks of money on getting cars fixed and fettled – and then leaving them abandoned for months on end. Witness the sad case of my Bertone X1/9: following a series of protracted, expensive but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix an issue that had seen it devour a succession of perfectly good alternator belts, it sat parked on my driveway (under a tree, no less) for around two years before a certain Mr Adams came to the rescue in 2005, first getting his trusted local mechanic to cure the problem and bring the car back to life, and then running it as fleet car on Classic Car Weekly until the following Spring. I then took it back for some summer fun, including a fleeting visit to the 2006 BL Day event at Peterborough; but after that it sat around again until its MoT was due a few months later, which meant calling the RAC out to give it a wake-up call so that I could take it to the local classic-friendly garage.

 

Once I’d got it back, fully serviced, I was determined to start using it again, but on my first trip out I got stuck in traffic and it overheated, treating the residents of a certain Royal Borough to a lovely puddle of coolant. The services of the RAC were called upon once more, but once I’d got it home I suffered some kind of mental block about taking it back to the garage, and – you’ve guessed it – it didn’t turn a wheel again until its next MoT beckoned at the beginning of last month.

The ever-dependable Mr Adams duly arrived with his Range Rover, and trailered my sleeping beauty to the local garage; three weeks and a few hundred pounds later, it had been resuscitated once more and was back on my drive. Since then, I’ve used it almost every day in a concerted effort to keep its faithful heart beating, and I intend to treat it to some much-needed cosmetic surgery in the not-too-distant future.

Thus, by the end of last year, I’d managed to convert a poor showing of 2:4 into a reasonable effort of 3:3. So far, so good. Next job is to wake my Princess from its slumbers and make it feel wanted again. Provided that goes to plan, my attentions will then turn to my Morris 1100, which has been lying SORN’d in my garage for the past few years, since failing its MoT on something laughably trivial. (I would tell you what it was, but you’d probably make a bigger puddle than the X1/9 did in the middle of Kensington…)

If successful, that will see my ratio rise to an impressive 5:1, leaving just one final challenge: my much-loved Fiat Uno, owned from new in 1985 but laid-up in a dusty corner of my garage since 1996. If that manages to see the light of day before the year’s out, I’ll consider my new year’s resolution well and truly fulfilled.

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4 January

Looking a gifthorse in the mouth…

By STEVEN WARD

LEAVING aside all the politics, what MG Rover really needed in the post-BMW era was a new and exciting mid-range car to put them on the road to recovery again – a genuine successor to the evergreen R8 was all that was needed to turn popular perceptions into sales.

Longbridge excelled at the middle market fodder that Europeans bought in their droves. The ADO16 and R8 are two shining examples; they all made strong money, unlike the under-performers above and below. Poorly styled and 10 per cent more expensive than what had gone before, history repeated itself when the HH-R manifestly failed to take-up R8’s batton – and it was an identical fate to befall Allegro. Both were too large, and offered too few positives to be loved. If Longbridge were to successfully replace a good middle range car with an even better one, then it needed to mimic the Acclaim>SD3>R8 tie-up lineage.

Even the Maestro had failed after Allegro, although it was a very practical beast… just like the Maxi.

HH-R was geared-up to for 200,000 units per annum, a target it never came close to achieving. There are many reasons why it didn’t perform, but driving one was always a pleasure. Its chassis was larger than the class average, and advanced for its time – think double wishbones and a Focus-rivaling torsional stiffness. Let us muse for a few moments on feasible options that MG Rover group should have pursued to successfully replace it.

Being realistic here, remember all that the Phoenix Four had at the outset was 6000 (mostly) keen workers, a big old plant, three powertrains and a socket set. With this in mind, they were never going to replace 45 (nee 400) with an all-new car. However, did they really need to in order to make money? Rover Group under Towers (the first time around) developed two separate and successful alternatives for developing new cars, in addition to using a proven older strategy.

The proven strategy was to simply rebody an existing platform into something more contemporary. When R8 became R3, all that stopped it outselling the 206 was wildly optimistic pricing. By the time that issue was resolved, the K-series debacle was killing the marque. I digress, but you catch my drift here – a potential Rover 45 replacement strategy would have been to rebody the deathly dull 45 with a sharp, Stevens-styled shape. It could have featured an ultra-hard image (and ride) in MG form, and standard leather with added waft for the Rover version. Form an orderly queue here.

A potential Rover 45 replacement strategy
would have been to rebody the deathly dull 45
with a sharp, Stevens-styled shape…

A cost-saving idea that Towers pioneered (in the MGF and Freelander) was to get a third party to pay for the body-in-white tooling. This means less profit per unit, perhaps, but a new and credible car is worth that sacrifice. Okay, so this was an idea borrowed from MG in the 1950s when it employed Pressed Steel to fund tooling on the MGB bodies.

Mayflower of Coventry owned the MGF tooling, while Finnish company, Valmet, originally owned Freelander’s – that was until BMW bought out the deal soon after its takeover of Rover. Job done, but this would have taken some considerable time and money. Both of those ideas could have also capitalized on to create a Millennial Towers money-spinner for MG Rover – by using ‘soft’ tooling. This short term planning (read penny-pinching) allowed niche cars onto the market quickly and cheaply. The downside of this is limited build number dictated by the tooling wear.

The general idea is that this formula only allows for runs of 250,000. However, these volumes could still have saved MG Rover in the short term, and maybe allowed the company to borrow and invest for the long term. This process is becoming ever cheaper as XPart was forced to adopt this idea for replacement panels when MG Rover went into administration.

What the Phoenix monkeys actually did, was try and kid us into believing was that they were top ‘n’ tailing the Rover 75 into a new 45… or RDX60 as some wag called it. However, this had been done successfully before – and it was called the MINI. Space efficient and cheap to build, it wasn’t. However, if Phoenix was at all serious about heading in this direction, they were in luck. Many of the engineers involved with MINI were around to help. All of which made Phoenix’s lame excuses about ‘difficulties causing delays’ complete bobbins to those of us in the know.

Perhaps we should look to the past when in times of trouble. History has shown that this was the road trodden before – and that resulted in Allegro. At that time, a better route would have been to facelift dear old ADO16. Money and time were now in short order, and a rabbit need to be pulled out of the hat.

More recent history shows us Michael Edwardes creating a coalition with a like-minded motor manufacturer. Think Acclaim, SD3. Two manufactures co-operating to a mutual common cause. There was a similar answer to MG Rover’s mid-range woes, which came out of the blue – literally! In my mind, the best recipe for the 45’s replacement came begging to Gate Q and was – unbelievably – turned away. FIAT was becoming increasingly desperate to amortize its investment in the Stilo chassis.

Sadly, the Stilo and Multipla – the main beneficiaries of the new chassis – weren’t selling and FIAT needed the excess capacity to be soaked-up. The very nature of the new modular platform was its ability to be seamlessly and effortlessly adapted to suit whatever it was applied to. This could have easily been the new Longbridge tie-up to once again, bring the company Back From The Brink.

Hindsight has shown that FIAT was about to reverse its downward fortunes. GM was minutes from being stitched-up and sent packing, the FIAT engine range, specifically the diesels, were about to double in range – and win critical acclaim. Finally, FIAT was about to demonstrate to the world what it did best – small cars. The new Stilo, while not a contender for the best car in the world, is still jolly decent and crucially, it was engineered in less than 18 months – all at a reasonable cost.

Imagine if lame MG Rover had accepted FIAT’s offer of help. The Chinese, would have remained sitting tenants in the Kremlin while Europe’s two most innovative car companies could have joined forces for a life saving, Product-led Recovery. The Stilo/45 could have been a more practical proposition, rather like a Maestro compared to the low-slung, confined HH-R. Now that solution to a slow sales problem would have been History repeating itself beautifully…

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3 January

The real cost of young motoring…

By SIMON HEBB

A FEW years ago just after I passed my test and I realised that as I couldn’t afford the insurance my dreams of the open road were temporarily in the gutter and that I was going to have to rely on pedal power (and Taxi of Dad – though it must be said the reliability of this service was starting to wane on a par with trains, something to do with 3am on a Thursday night was mentioned) An article in the paper caught my eye:

A 17 year old, with no licence, insurance, tax, MoT and four bald tyres was fined £250 and was banned from driving for two years after been caught speeding. I worked out the numbers and it cost me about £300 to learn to drive, let’s assume that MoT and Tax total another £200, tyres £40 each. As for insurance, this is where things got eye watering; I was quoted over £1300 third party only for 1.1 Fiesta. By avoiding these minor items over £1500 a year was saved just on the basics. At the time I was working in Little Chef around school hours in order to save up to pay the insurance – I must have been very bad in a previous life.

It sort of makes you think why do you bother following the rules? A couple of months back I came out of my house to find that during the night somebody had drilled a hole in my petrol tank and drained all of my fuel, it was full and so would have had the thick end of £50 inside. The police didn’t even turn up; I was lucky enough to receive a letter stating that I was a victim of crime (but considering that they couldn’t spell my name right it did not bode well for catching the people involved). I was lucky that I am not a total Wally (though some would disagree) and was able to repair the holey tank myself.

With the increases in road tax, congestion charges, plus VAT on fuel duty everybody is aware that they are paying more for the privilege/pain/pleasure of owning their own personal transport. But what about the hidden items such as Insurance Premium Tax? You have to have valid insurance and yet you are taxed for taking this out in the first place; how is that fair?

At the time I was working in Little Chef around
school hours in order to save up to pay the
insurance – I must have been very bad
in a previous life…

Car Insurance is another area where certain costs are not obvious. I was talking to the Watch Commander from the local fire station following a fatal car crash where a young driver had smashed through a wall of a bridge and into the beck, he explained that the costs of the emergency services attending and the bridge repair will be picked up from the insurance company of the driver at fault and that this is standard practice. Personally I think that this is appropriate and would welcome it be carried on (the fact I would like an Ambulance/Fire Engine to turn up if something happened to me is central to my thinking).

But it is well known that some Insurance approved repairs are often unnecessary and replace more than what is required; mainly because it is easy money and no individual is picking up the final bill and likely to quibble the work. If it was your own money paying for the repairs I am certain that there will be a lot less money spent. I can’t help but feel that because Car Insurance is a legal necessity the prices are higher than they should be; the insurance companies know that they have a captive audience who has to take out a policy with somebody.

It is not like Life Insurance which because it is not a legal requirement will be entirely competitive as there is no guarantee that you will take out such a policy and the assured sum is a lot higher, they will always have to pay out on some policies (death and taxes) just like car insurance but Life Insurance rates have dropped over the recent years and often considerable savings can be made by switching companies; can anybody say that they have made considerable savings on car insurance?

The British car owner is getting increasingly burdened with the cost of motoring, the Treasury are viewing the motorist as an easy target and revenue earner, this is a reason why firms such as Eddie Stobart have a fleet of wagons which are registered on the continent but are used within the UK (thus having the advantages of cheaper fuel and tax).

These costs are going to further erode the competitiveness of the entire British economy, this can be shown by the British Farmer having seen massive increases in the cost of red diesel, the odds are his costs have gone up considerably but returns have stayed relatively low and this has an impact all the way up the chain. Every road toll, congestion charge just increases the underlying service.

Logically then if you drive without car tax, insurance, mot and steal your petrol, don’t pay congestion charges…
you will have more disposable income…
so you can buy British…
as the farmer has more turnover and profit…
he invests more in his business…
more haulage companies will be used to get the produce to market…
thus more corporation and income tax charged…
more and more stock makes its way to market the shops will be getting increasingly competitive…
as they get competitive their share prices will fluctuate…
as will our pension funds…
which means that Insurance Companies will make more money…
so they can charge less for insurance in order to maintain margins…

Oh Hang on here…

Anybody else think that something is not quite right?

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2 January

LPG: Is it really all that?

By RUSSELL GOWERS

SO, Christmas is done and dusted, then. You’ve drunk the sherry, recycled the packaging, made up with everyone you fell out with during the enforced period of bonhomie, and suffered the inevitable hangovers.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve also made some entirely fallacious New Year’s resolutions, all noted down meticulously in your new, hideously garish diary; bought in a last-minute panic by someone who doesn’t know you very well. The same as they did last year, in fact. And the year before that.

So come on then, hands up who can remember what resolutions they made last year? Anyone? How about 2006? I know I damn well can’t, for one simple reason: New Year is quite the worst time anyone could choose to make resolutions. Because, even if you were planning to get an Olympic-standard torso in the gym and a concours-winning classic in the garage, your good intentions will be blown to smithereens by the postal equivalent of an AIM-9X Sidewinder – January’s credit card bill.

Instantly, all thoughts of self-improvement evaporate in a fit of frugality. Let’s face it, we all get a bit drunk on the intoxicating liquour of shopping at Christmas, and in the credit card capital of Europe, the hangover comes later. Nobody eats turkey curry in February because they enjoy the taste – they eat it because they’re bloody skint!

Let’s just suppose, then, that I could offer you a way to halve your fuel bills. A way for the pump to read ’60 litres – £30,’ at every fill up. A way to smirk mercilessly at those whose ‘exclusive’ gold Visas spontaneously combust at even the mention of the word ‘Shell’.

Well, I’m pleased to report that I can, and the solution comes in the form of three letters: LPG. In recent weeks, as you might have read on these pages, I have been running a 1989 Range Rover at an average of 12.8mpg, which, at £1.05 per litre, would have been crippling. But at just £30 for every 200 miles, its drink problem almost seemed manageable. In a car without a Frankenstein’s Monster of an engine (an old Sherpa 3.5 low-compression carbed V8 with a 3.9 EFI system bolted on top) one could achieve some ludicrously good pence-per-mile figures.

So you’re tempted, and you head down to your local filling station to check out this wondrously inexpensive fuel. And then you head to a filling station, which isn’t local at all, because the nearest one to you has never heard of LPG and points you towards the Calorgas refill bottles. Well, mine did. By the time you’ve realised that they all call it different names – Autogas is the most common – you’re fed up and head home in a huff, resolving to stick with petrol until you have taken a crash-course in orienteering.

Just supposing you find a garage local to you which does stock Autogas, don’t expect the picture to be any more rosy, because the refill procedure makes the launch of the Space Shuttle look simple. Firstly, you have to screw an adaptor to the side of your car, which will cross-thread and get stuck. Then, you have to make a ludicrous bayonet-fitment click into place, and lock it in place with a third fitment. Then you press the button on the pump, and no gas comes out. You’re confused, so you unscrew the bayonet fitting to see what’s gone wrong, and PSHHHHHHT!! You get a face full of LPG. Did I mention it was refrigerated to 20 degrees below zero, and can cause severe burns?

Whoever came up with the infernal thing
obviously had a brief to make it as useless
as a wind-powered submarine and as annoying
as the Eurovision Song Contest.

Meanwhile, taking your hand off the button has deactivated the whole pump, and no amount of swearing will get it to work again. So, with a heavy heart and much apologising to the chap behind, you trudge inside and ask the assistant to reactivate the pump, who then asks you to pay for the £0.00 worth of gas you have so far managed to unleash. After you’ve argued the toss on this one, you head back outside and try again: bayonet, click, and AH, there’s a locking lever as well. So you pull that back, and cautiously hit the button, waiting for Hemel Hempstead to repeat itself.

But no, this time, miraculously, gas flows, just ten minutes after you first arrived! Do not, however, get complacent: remember that, once released, the trigger button will not re-activate. I developed a technique for a mid-fill up hand-swap, which I have called ‘The LPG Shuffle’: doubtless, you will develop your own.

The tank will let you know that it’s full (and presumably about to explode, turning you and the entire forecourt into that bit from Bullitt) by vibrating the hose violently and making the kind of noise that a duck would if you fed it into a food blender. At this point you must release the button, unclip the locking lever, turn the bayonet fitting, and get another face full of gas. Cold, exhausted, freeze-burned and smelling unpleasant, you join your place in the queue, questioning why the hell anyone would choose to save a few quid this way when they’ve got two perfectly good kidneys to sell first.

This is just what they want you to think.

You see, I believe wholeheartedly that the LPG filling system has been designed deliberately to put off all but the most committed of motorists. Nothing can have ended up this complicated and unpleasant by accident – it must have been engineered in. Whoever came up with the infernal thing obviously had a brief to make it as useless as a wind-powered submarine and as annoying as the Eurovision Song Contest. It is just a rumour, but apparently the Wembley Stadium contractors were involved somewhere in the process.

So who came up with the brief in the first place? Why, the government, of course. With excise at nearly 70p for every litre of petrol you put in your tank, why would they want everybody to switch to something from which they receive only 20p per litre? So they make the process as unpleasant as a trip to the dentists, in the surefire knowledge that the almighty faff involved will put off 95 per cent of potential money-savers. I know for sure that my mother, who drives 12k per year and could theoretically save £700 per annum on LPG, considers the cons to outweigh the massive financial pro.

Consider this: can it be a coincidence that the only three nations to use our ridiculous LPG filling system are Switzerland, the Netherlands and us – three of the most tax-hungry nations in Europe? I think not. They want your money, they want you to stay on petrol, and short of a revolution, there’s nothing we motorists can do about it. In other words, then, LPG is unlikely to prove the answer to your post-Christmas money woes. But look on the bright side – at least, now, it’s not your fault that you’ve failed live up to those resolutions for another year. As usual, you can lay the blame squarely at the door marked Number 10.

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1 January

Happy New Year!

By KEITH ADAMS

FOR most of us, the work starts tomorrow – back to the office, factory, or on the road… and a return to normality. The fact that we the Christmas and New Year celebrations in the space of a week usually means that most of us pretty much get a week off (or slowed-down), and are nicely recharged in time for the start of January.

However, the past couple of weeks have been pretty busy for my AR cohorts and me – not really working, you understand, but simply rebranding this website, and making it more useful for you… The new logo, the name, the front page, and the sheer amount of new content that we’ve slung up in the past couple of weeks hopefully stand testament to the fact that the commitment to build on this site’s success remains as strong as ever.

However, we can’t do it without you – contributions are what’s needed to keep things ticking over. The original objective of this place was to publish the facts about a story that was too-often mis-represented in the press… and I think we’ve succeeded in achieving that aim. I’m also proud of the fact that an increasing number of mainstream car enthusiasts are coming here to pick up the facts as they stand – preaching to the converted is one thing, but getting everyone else to see things our way is something else entirely.

So, if you want to contribute to the AROnline story and help build up a story that will probably never be completed, then drop us a line and share your thoughts.

I’m also keen to discover and showcase new writing talent… so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a motoring scribe, and like the idea of getting your work out there, drop me a line and send in your submissions. The best ones will find their way onto this site. Given that – as far as I know – nearly all of the Motoring Editors in the UK (and a fair few overseas, too) dip into AR on a fairly regular basis, so it could be a nice spring board for you.

We might be expanding our brief, but not at the expense of the core material that’s the raison d’etre of AR. So, more development stories will be added, as will brochures, adverts – as well as anything else that adds to the BMC>MG story. So, stay tuned… and keep enjoying AROnline.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

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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