Blogs : July 2008
Out with the old, in with the new
By KEITH ADAMS
REGULAR readers will probably recall my tale of being frog-marched (in a gentlemanly manner) out of Media House at the beginning of the month, following the handing in of my notice to the powers-that-be. Well, as it’s now my last day in the employ of Bauer Consumer Media, I guess it’s safe to reveal where I’m off to.
On the 11th August, I’ll park myself at a new desk at Octane magazine where I’ll be taking up the role of Assistant Editor and Web Editor – I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into the new challenge. Looking at www.octane-magazine.com, there’s certainly a very, very good starting point to work from – with an effective CMS to play with, free classified adverts (I think it’s the only print classic car magazine to offer this) and an online price and spec guide. The way the content is displayed is rather good, too – I’m hoping that my input will make some difference.
Please feel free to take a look and give me some feedback about the website, the magazine and life in general. My new email address there will be firstname.lastname@example.org, and all suggestions will be taken on board.
Upon hearing about my move, the reaction of one of my colleagues made me smile. He said, ‘So the man who rescues Tomcats is off to the world of the Chopard watch… how will you fit in?’ Well, in answer to that, very well indeed. Having met the editorial team, I can tell you that they’re all committed petrolheads and their love of cars is as deeply ingrained as yours or mine.
There’s a bit of a perception that Octane’s all about mega-bucks cars and it’s fair to say that there’s more than a few Astons, Bentleys and Ferraris featured but there’s also more than adequate coverage of the more bread-and-butter end of the classic car market in there, too. Take a look at the cover of this month’s issue – there’s a 40th anniversary feature about BL to enjoy. Is it the only classic car magazine to run the story?
Oh, and needless to say, normal service will continue on AROnline – no way can you keep me away from this place! I’m happy to upload all the news, gossip, history and other BMC>MG stories whenever they emerge so keep sending in your emails and messages – it’s what keeps me sane.
I had not noticed the move to Octane and I am a subscriber
Tempted to say from Practical Classics to Impractica
Good luck in the new post.
Personally I find Octane doesn’t cater to the general bodger brigade like me. It’s a glossy title heavily into continenta
What’s going on?
By KEITH ADAMS
We’re all making like it’s 1973 again…
REMEMBER October 1973? Probably not. What about 2000? Ah, yes, now you do. I’m talking about queuing to fill up for fuel and how it’s become a fact of daily life again. Well, with pump prices what they are at the moment, it seems to me that people are buying smaller quantities of fuel more regularly in order to avoid the heartbreak of topping up an empty tank and that sinking feeling of handing over upwards of £100 for the privilege of a few hundred miles of further motivation.
It’s the only reason I can think of for the sheer length of queues that we’re faced with on petrol station forecourts these days.
Surely though more regular topping-up of our tanks shouldn’t cause so many queues? Well, I did a little research yesterday – I enquired why so many pumps are switched-off these days and the response from a selection Forecourt Managers was interesting: diesel supplies are low and distribution is being carefully controlled. Diesel stocks, apparently, have been fairly low in this country for some time – although you’re not likely to hear that on the news for fear of it sparking another bout of panic buying from drivers, who have been jumpy about fuel supplies since the blockades in 2000.
There’s also a bit of a supermarket price war going on – in my area Tesco and Morrisons have dropped about 5p per litre from the price of petrol and diesel and drivers have been clamouring to fill up with £1.15/£1.26 fuel so that’s also skewed demand and supply.
I’m not sure what advice to give – wait and carry on as normal in the hope that everything turns out okay or keep that car topped-up at all times, thereby exacerbating the situation. Probably the former for me – but I can understand anyone who feels the need to insure as well as they can against future immobility…
Other thing £20 of petrol used to be enough to do most people for a good few days-week. Now that’s gone up to more like £40+, making people more inclined to use a card. Despite this there’s still the faithful few who refuse to fill up more than a fiver at a time down this way!
Your’re quite right on the financial front. Its harder than ever to keep on sqeezing that trigger!
Problem is that no-one has mentioned that these big conglomera
Here in Chester (only 5 miles square) alone we have lost at least 10 filling/se
Will it ever happen?
By ANDREW ELPHICK
NAC-MG was an ExCeL no-show…
Remember that scene in Dallas, where Bobby stepped out of the shower and it was all just a dream? A major manufacturer launches an old favourite assembled in Britain, but can’t quite manage to appear at the national motor show… Come on chaps, what’s really going on?
That’s because “British summer time starts September”
That’s only five weeks away and, while Mazda was offering free drives of the MX-5 inside the show itself, NAC-MG was dropping the ball. ‘Designed, Engineered and Built in Britain’… yes and we should be proud too, if we honestly believed that. What better platform, season and weather to launch an MG roadster for those with itchy cheque books than the British International Motor Show?
OK, so plenty of other manufacturers were a no-show: Bentley and SEAT but no Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen, Alfa but no FIAT, Ford but no Volvo – all regrettable absences. Say what you like about (again absent) BMW, but the legend ‘Made in Oxford, discovered across the world’ was emblazoned, bold as brass, on the MINI stand.
Minnow-sized Morgan even fielded the LIFECar and four other models while Tata-owned Jaguar and Land Rover both had gargantuan stands.
What did MG have? A few bill posters above the toilets…
Allegro: really Britain’s worst car?
By KEITH ADAMS
SIGH. Yes, here we go – that appalling press release about the Allegro being voted ‘Britain’s Worst Car Ever’ has been picked up by various national news channels which are more than keen to run with the story.
I think it’s fair to say that, personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the Allegro – it was a hopeless effort at best when new and ended up being a major factor in why BL hemorrhaged so many sales during the bitter 1970s. I’ve been pilloried by enthusiasts for my anti-Allegro stance countless times so it might initially seem illogical for me to come across here as a bit of an apologist.
However, is it really the worst? Hmm… I’d bet a fair amount of money that a younger driver, unburdened by the tired old BL baggage that anyone over 25 seems to carry, would choose to drive an Allegro over, say, a Vauxhall Viva HC or a Renault 12. That’s simply because the front wheel drive handling is really quite capable, the steering sharp and the compliant suspension offers bags of comfort.
More than that, in terms of packaging, the Allegro’s not a million miles from the VW Golfs which are currently sitting on the drives of so many of the voters in the online poll which decided the country’s worst car.
During the past week or so, I’ve been contacted by a number of newspapers, websites and even radio shows, all wanting a quote, interview or whatever from me, regarding the old Aggro – and you’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve turned them all down. Why? I don’t disagree with the outcome (although AROnline’s more enlightened readers do – by voting the Marina as the less desirable car back in 2004) but do have an issue with the apparently arbitrary way in which the cars chosen for inclusion in the poll were seemingly selected.
The original poll can be found here – as you can see, there are only ten choices available. The editorial staff at iMotor (the new online magazine behind the poll) had pre-decided what the top (or is that bottom?) ten were going to be. The choices in there are highly subjective – I’d argue that a fair few really don’t deserve to be there.
|Horribly unreliable when new the Hillman Imp may have been, but that
was down to a rushed launch and being shipped up to Linwood for
production – a government decision based on social engineering rather
than sound commercial sense.Verdict: Good car, bad execution.
|Misguided at best and the product of a company that had lost its way. Yes,
the Triumph TR7 was well-intentioned but it clearly shows that Europeans
should never have a crack at second-guessing what the Americans should
be thinking. As per usual, undercooked when launched and developed into
something half decent way too late in the day.Verdict: Not the right car, but developed into something good.
|Clearly, the Austin Allegro missed its targets by a million miles and, as
brave as that styling was, it was too compromised to be a success. As for
the rest of the car – where exactly did it improve over the car it replaced,
the much-loved BMC 1100?Verdict: Designed to fail.
|Developed from drawing board to showroom in just over two years, the
Sunbeam was a great example of make-do and mend. Not bad in
contemporary roadtests and it begat the Sunbeam Lotus.Verdict: Not bad, just flawed.
|Being too clever for it’s own good was the 1800’s only crime – and it
ended up being an epitaph to the arrogance of Issigonis, who expected the
British publicto upscale when they weren’t ready to and in a car with, at
best, questionable looks.Verdict: Wrong car, wrong time.
|No way could the Acclaim be described as bad. Cramped it might be but,
other than that, this is a Faberge egg ofa car compared with Cowley’s
previous offerings, provingthat, given a well-engineered car, the British
could screw together something just as dependable as their
Japanese counterparts.Verdict: Honda quality, British factory.
|Styled for its time and full of good ideas, the Rover 800 showed the rest
of the industry how not to conduct a Joint Venture. The quality on early
cars was a joke. Still,it sold in huge numbers in the UK for three glorious
years although, when the car was badged as a Sterling in the States, a
generation of Americans were put off buying British.Verdict: Good idea, badly executed.
|Hopelessly outdated and miss-named, the Ital was a desperate product
born out of desperate times. There maybe excuses aplenty for its
existence and it beat all the sales and profit targets – but it was still a bad
car in contemporary terms.Verdict: Emergency facelift brought home the bacon.
|Like the Acclaim, the Rover 200 was a car that sold well,kept Rover afloat
in the 1980s (when the Maestro andMontego failed) and failed to break
down. Not a great but how many of its intended customers cared?Verdict: Britain loved it – the saviour, albeit briefly, of ARG.
|Grrr, what is an Austin Princess, because it certainly isn’ twedge shaped?
Was it a bad car? No – in the 2-litre class it was competitive with German
and French rivals. Sadly unreliability killed its chances when new – and it’s
only inrecent years that the Princess has started to emerge from those
dark days.Verdict: Class warrior, killed by the hype.
Which cars should have been in iMotor’s shortlist? What about the 1990 Ford Escort, the Vauxhall Victor FE, the Aston Martin Lagonda, the Triumph Mayflower, the Rover 400 HH-R, the CityRover, the Ford Classic, the Ford 100E, the MG Maestro 1600? I could go on…
Anyway, have your say. Nominations for bad cars are always welcome – but, for my part, I find the stories behind why cars end up being the way they are far more interesting.
I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THE TRIUMPH DOLOMITE WASN’T ON THE LIST, AS THEY WERE THE MOST BLAND, OVER-RATED SANCTIMONI
FORD SIERRA – REAR WHEEL DRIVE, WHEN EVERYONE ELSE HAD SEEN THE LIGHT, K*K ENGINES(EV
I’VE NEVER REALLY HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE ALLEGRO, APART FROM THE QUESTIONAB
HE BOUGHT A C-REG METRO AFTER THAT WHICH WAS THE WORST CAR HE EVER OWNED – USED TO TAKE AT LEAST 3 GOES TO START, BUT THEN MOST PETROL ENGINED FIESTAS WERE EVEN WORSE
Before i returned i saw a R14 still driving around the French roads, i even overtook a Renault 6!!!! Discountin
I’m mystified why the SD3 R200 is included, as it was fairly popular, looked ok and reasonably reliable. Indeed, at the time it was seen as being quite desirable (certainly when compared with a Ford Orion!)
My first car was an Allegro and I agree that it was not as bad a car as it is painted. Its crimes were: i) dreadful looks; ii) in 1300 or 1100 form completely gutless. Otherwise a comfortabl
Could I ask one thing in your web articles – lay out the images so that they are not stretched to fit the gap on the page. An 1800 looks bad enough normally and does not deserve to be distorted on this page.
Those images were just copied/pas
I have to admit I am sad you have even wasted your time on this poll but I agree mostly with your points regarding the cars.
But the point you miss is the selection was restricted to brands that no longer exist, clearly done so as not upset any potential advertisin
The prime example being the Sunbeam, its referred to as a Talbot not a Chrysler, even though most of its short life as a Chrysler and the picture they show in the magazine is from the launch brochure so is of a Chrysler Sunbeam.
I didn’t waste my time on this poll, but it seems that most of the British media has picked up on the results.
As I say, I don’t necessaril
The styling was different but more modern than a mk2 Escort. My mate at the time had a Chevette was that better than my Allegro? no definitely not!! Also remember the Allegro estate that sill looks fairly modern now. E.
547 miles in a TR8 in one day…
By RICHARD TRUETT
TR8 Imbibing premium gasoline at a Pennsylvania Turnpike fuel station
IT’S those idle moments between projects at work that end up costing me.
Not in the form of admonitions from the boss, but money that drains from my bank account and into the hands of whomever has some interesting British car to sell. When I get a spare moment at work, I check out what British cars are for sale on eBay, Cars.com, Craigslist, Collector Car Trader, Hemmings Motor News, various big American Triumph clubs and elsewhere. This time it was man named Steve Swift in Baltimore, who, after four years of ownership, had decided that he would part with his 1981 Triumph TR8. Asking price: just $6500.
I’ve always fancied an original 1981 TR8. With its 147bhp fuel injected Rover 3.5-litre engine, air conditioning and upgraded pleated velour interior, it was a nice to way wind down the TR series. Problem is only 405 were ever built. Only about 181 of those came to the USA and no one knows how many survive. Finding one today is no easy task. Maybe two or three a year come up for sale but many of those have been shorn of their fuel injection or have been tinkered with in some way that makes them unappealing to me.
Not Mr Swift’s car. Bodily and cosmetically, it looked a bit tired in the photos, as any 27-year old car would be. However, the car was complete, original down to every last warning sticker and advertised as being in very good mechanical condition. The e-mails started. Yes, the car was still available. Yes, I could see more pictures. Yes, the car could be trusted on a 500-plus mile road trip. No, the price wasn’t flexible. One longish phone conversation followed a day or so later and then one final email from me: if Mr. Swift would take $6100, a bank cheque for that amount would be placed in the FedEx the very next day. He would and I did. Six days later, at 7.20am on a Saturday, I was on a plane from Detroit to Baltimore to pick up the car and drive it home.
The plane trip was interesting. About 150 World War II veterans were flying from Detroit to Washington D.C. to view the new World War II memorial. Sitting at the gate waiting to board, snippets of about a hundred conversations impinged upon my ears:
–“Burp gun. We mowed ’em down.”
–“Stormed the beach at Normandy.”
–” I said come any closer, and I’ll shoot.”
–“They asked me, what’s a Cleveland Indian? And I said, that’s a ballgame they play out of Cleveland, Ohio.”
Once on the plane, I sat next to a veteran named Alvin Ballard. He said, “You are riding with a bunch of World War II vets. We’re all in our eighties now.” I could only reply: “You are all heroes. Younger generations in this country, in Great Britain and elsewhere owe you a debt that can never be repaid.” Said Ballard: “We ust did what we were told to do.” Then it occurred to me that, if it were not for the World War II veterans, I would not be able to enjoy the great British cars I love so much.
Once the plane landed, Mr Swift met me at the airport in his grey Saab and we drove 40 or so miles to his house. The white TR with its tan interior and matching soft-top was parked in the corner of the driveway. It was exactly as advertised cosmetically. There were none of the disappointments that come from Internet photos which ignore such things as rust holes big enough to drop a wallet through. Nope. The TR8 was as described. The Triumph world is now a small one. Mr. Swift and I had many things in common, including participating in the American version of the British Reliability Run and owning some of the same model cars. We exchanged the paperwork and, after the checking of the car’s vital fluids, I twisted the TR’s ignition key and was on the road to Detroit. It was 10.05am.
Getting over the excitement of the wonderful burble from the twin exhaust pipes and the turbine-like whoosh from the engine took awhile. I didn’t even turn on the radio for at least two hours. Those first few minutes in the TR would define the day for me. If the temperature gauge went sailing past the halfway mark, I would be nervous and concerned. It did not. If there were front-end vibrations and brake troubles and grinding of gears, the drive home would be a drag. There were none. There were, though, minor problems associated more with the passage of time than anything else. The suspension bushings are soft. After 27 years, they are entitled to be. The steering column bushing has perished, making for some slop at the wheel. Some trim around the shifter had worked loose. That was about it.
Mr Swift told me of one modification that had been made. Somewhere in the car’s 60,000 miles, a TR7 rear axle with a 3:45 ratio was installed but the speedometer drive gear in the LT77 gearbox was not replaced. That combined with a jumpy Smiths speedometer needle meant I had difficulty knowing how fast the car was going and prompted the appearance of a Pennsylvania State Trooper in my rear-view mirror some 126 miles into the trip home. He pulled me over, told me I was doing 83 in a 65mph zone and issued me a ticket for $133. After that incident, I tucked in behind a Buick driver and stayed in the right lane most of the way home.
I saw just on other car with Triumph bloodlines on the long drive back to Detroit: an early 1960s Amphicar, the West German-made amphibious car powered by a Triumph Herald engine. The restored car was riding on the back of a trailer. I have been on these same back roads on the trip to and from Baltimore several times before. That’s been to go to the docks to collect cars I have imported from Great Britain. Those trips have been driving a truck pulling a trailer. Every time I have done that I wished I was in a TR. The long sweeping curves are the perfect for a TR and the TR8 was not a disappointment here. The tight steering and instant throttle response made the car even more of a joy to drive.
I used exactly 20 gallons (US) of $4.25 premium gasoline on the 547 mile drive home. That’s about 25.2mpg (US) and well in keeping with the car’s original 26mpg rating when new.
Tired but happy, I pulled the TR8 into my driveway behind my Rover Sterling 827 at 7.20pm. I see no wallet-busting mechanical repairs on this car. I will replace the springs, dampers and bushes, bleed the clutch and brakes and do some other minor maintenance. I know where a proper TR8 rear axle is and will get it and put the car back to the original spec. Then, next year, a respray is on the cards along with a tidying up of the interior. As we say in so many of these stories, BL was so close to a world beater with that last TR8.
It seems hard to understand today how the company could let such a great car die.
3.5-litres of fuel injected British muscle makes for a crowded TR engine bay
More volts than you could ever possibly want
By BEN ADAMS
TODAY, I have had the chance to experience a really rather unusual car – the electrically powered R8 414SLi which is, as posted earlier this week on the AROnline forum, currently for sale on eBay. The current owner, Duncan, a Staffordshire-based Electrician, bought the car in 2005 for £700 but did not know much about the car other than that the previous owner was Warwick University and that there were no batteries or paperwork with the car. Duncan acquired some batteries and fitted them to the frame already located in the boot. This frame slides fore and aft which allows access to the spare wheel (if fitted) and for some of the boot space to be utilised. There was no spare wheel in the car and Duncan has used this space to house more batteries taking the power to 72v from 6 lead acid batteries.
The real surprise lies under the bonnet as you will not find a dirty oily K-Series engine but a much smaller electric motor unit, possibly originating from a fork lift truck or some such vehicle. The electric motor has been professionally and methodically mounted into the engine compartment, the original manual gearbox has been retained and this fits beautifully onto the electric motor. The fuel tank and exhaust system are conspicuous by their absence although, in all probability, the vehicle was made with them and they were subsequently removed. The original charging point is (surprise surprise) inside the fuel filler cap but this proved impractical and dangerous in use so Duncan has set up a new charging point from inside the boot.
The cabin is almost pure R8 with the only additions being the master key for the electric motor, the battery level light and the emergency stop button which are all housed in a mini console where the cassette holders normally reside. The vehicle can demist windows but has no heater fitted. Like many electric vehicles this car makes almost no noise upon start-up with the only noise intrusion into the cabin being when the brakes, which work off a vacuum servo, are applied.
|Under the bonnet is where the real surprise
lies as you will not find a dirty K-Series
but a much smaller electric motor unit.
The car drives just like any other R8 although it is disconcerting to drive around with the fuel gauge permanently on Empty! The batteries are not at their best and an overnight charge costing around £1 in electricity currently provides enough power for a short journey, although hills do challenge the car. Duncan feels that the car would have had significantly better batteries fitted when new and even now Nickel Cadmium type batteries would probably increase the range and performance significantly.
The clock shows a mileage of less than 5000 and both the interior and exterior suggest the vehicle has barely been used in its lifetime. The current owner has the car for sale on eBay as he is moving house but, having seen the current interest in the vehicle from AROnline’s readers and other sites such as the Rover 200 and 400 Owners Club, he is considering only selling the vehicle to an enthusiast as he would not like to see for the car used and then disposed of once the novelty had worn off.
Duncan has no other information about the car’s history but surmises that it could be a R&D car from the early 1990s when there was some initial hype for electrically powered vehicles which was prompted by the introduction of American legislation relating to the production of
Where did all the good ones go?
By ANDREW ELPHICK
ENGINEER? A word that conjures up visions of men in brown coats bent over lathes, holding some obscure blued piece of steel to the light, whilst stinking of mineral oil. Ah nostalgia etc… the thing is: have you seen one recently?
The days of oily mechanics rubbing their hands together at the thought of walloping a set of sills on a 1100 are today replaced with a mumbled “Not really something we do any more.”
Sure you can get an MoT-friendly six-inch square patch but, if you can actually find somebody with a skill, you have to join the back of the queue for their workshop. The Mechanic and the Engineer have been replaced by the Technician – good on training courses and computers and fantastic at like for like replacement but useless for delving shoulder deep into the back of a big black workbench and extracting some mystery spring/grommet/bolt that you can have. The days of having several old knackers parked out the back to raid are vanishing – if something breaks we trade up to something newer and more desirable.
Is it a shame? I guess its evolution really. The price of scrap and the value of brown field property (such as asbestos roofed Nissen Huts) are making the species extinct so, if you have a local man, use him, recommend him and allow him to stay in business – because he’s only available while stocks last.
I’m a Chartered Engineer and I also dispair of people missusing the title as a generic term for those who repair photocopie
In the short term though, contract rates are at an all time high, so make hay while the sun shines, fellow Engineers! Ha! I’m earning twice as much as my mates in other ‘professio
Well I got my apprentice
The best “Engineers
It’s definitely a shame in my opinion. Our throwaway society is so wasteful. Travel to less affluent parts of the globe and mechanics strive to keep cars (and anything else for that matter) running long after we would have given up.
We should all support our local grease-mon
How good does this look?
By KEITH ADAMS
TAKING a closer look at the Iranian car industry following the publication of the K-Series powered SAIPA Saba pictures; it’s good to see that the bland internationalisation of the car industry hasn’t quite engulfed that country yet. Just like Africa, and some far-flung outposts in China, it is still possible to buy what we could consider classic cars new off the production line.
Take a look at the PARS Khodro Sepand PK – a Renault 5 by any other name. With those re-modelled rear lamp clusters and wheelarch skirts, it looks hunky and chunky in the same way as the Rover Streetwise. Perhaps R5 purists might hate the look of the thing, but the brilliance of Michel Boué’s original groundbreaking design are all there to see. Pushing 40 years old, the original French supermini looks as good today as it did back in 1972.
What are the chances of buying one in Iran and sending it back, then?
I wonder if they did a R7 version with the boot, which we never got here?
Did Renault sell their eastern European lines that carried on producing the R5 (as the Campus for here) to the Iranians?
I can explain everything – no, actually I can’t…
By ROBERT LEITCH
THE title is a line from Father Ted, where the glib and wily priest tries to extricate himself from an embarrassing situation, then realises the impossibility of the task.
It could equally apply to understanding quite why, at the start of the 21st century, the UK is in the position of not having an indigenous large-volume car manufacturer. Anyone who, as I have, witnessed the unfolding tragedy, the cycle of hope and despair, from the formation of BMH onwards could easily dismiss the saga as an epic lost cause, but there’s surely far more to this than casually accepting the inevitability of the descent into either oblivion or foreign ownership.
Germany has three major domestically-owned manufacturers, France two, and Italy one. All, with the exception of Daimler, have had major financial and product “bad patches”, where their survival was only justified by the effect closure or break-up would have had on national economies and reputation. All pulled through and look set to remain major independent players in the carmaking sector.
Yet in Britain the last vestiges of our national volume car manufacturer, once the world’s fourth largest, are two foreign-owned companies producing niche products. The present position can’t be put down entirely to failures in industrial relations and quality control, mainly over one traumatic decade.
There’s no single factor but a few to consider are:
– The ‘wrong mix’ of companies merged both in 1952 and the late 1960s.
– The strong presence of Ford and GM in Britain from early in the 20th century, both of which were perceived as producing more efficiently and consistently. It should be noted that neither were shy about bringing out the begging bowl to keep production in Britain rather than their facilities in mainland Europe.
– Failure to recover from the trauma of the Leyland merger and to shake off the negative reputation built up in the 1970s.
– Collapse of the core “family” ownerships of Nuffield and Austin. Compare Fiat, Ford, Toyota, Peugeot, Porsche and BMW for example, where the controlling family interests and those of company are indistinguishable and were often protected ruthlessly through political manipulation.
– “Implosion” back into Britain by moving out of Australia, South Africa, Spain, Italy, and Belgium just as rivals were becoming ever more multi-national.
– The strategic problem of production facilities in landlocked locations and, on the other hand, the state enforced de-centralisation to Central Scotland, Merseyside and South Wales which did little, if anything, to enhance the companies’ viability.
– UK Government neglect of manufacturing from the late ’70s in favour of other means of wealth creation – there are few better ways of losing money than making cars.
– The low status of nationalised industries in the UK.
|In Britain the last vestiges of our national
volume car manufacturer, once the world’s
fourth largest, are two foreign-owned
companies producing niche products.
That’s only scratching the surface. The key seems to be that, at some point long before the “give-away” to British Aerospace in 1988, those in power decided that there was no strategic benefit in having an indigenously-owned volume vehicle manufacturer. To a simple-minded observer like myself, apart from balance of payments and employment considerations, the very clear benefits included availability of facilities for military production, opportunities for high level technological research and development, a consistent market for component manufacturers and the iron and steel industry, international trade potential and national prestige.
The sorry reputation of Britain’s national car maker in the ’70s put paid to the last of these, and reputation is a fragile commodity, once broken, rarely satisfactorily repaired.
There’s nothing in the British national character, if such a thing exists, which is genetically unsuited to car manufacturing, from the production floor, to top-level designers and management. Across the international industry Britain is well-represented at the highest levels and the quality and efficiency of the UK Nissan, Honda and Toyota plants are amongst the best worldwide. Automotive design, development and engineering, through companies such as Arup, Ricardo and Prodrive are a major invisible export earner and the design faculties at Coventry University and the RCA are regarded as world-class.
Everything seems to be in place, other than a satisfactory explanation as to why, at the start of the 21st century, Britain doesn’t have a home-based multi-national car manufacturer to rival Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat, or PSA.
Brands mean something to most car buyers. Builders of niche vehicles survive because buyers are more likely to take a chance with these sorts of cars.
Not so with ‘mainstrea
A British designed/b
I think you are right to suggest that there are many reasons why our volume home grown producers have failed.
The one thing you have not highlighte
Liberal left so despised the British Empire and its values which proclaimed Britain as the worlds leading civilisati
One thing let all these dormant marques die – the management
In a parallel with “Car” magazine the ivory tower bound execs think the oiks are getting what they need, wether it was the Allegro or yet another Ferrari road test. If those looking down asked those struggling up, think what a fabulous country we might have…
30 years of CAR Magazine
By JONO CARLING
A COUPLE of months ago a coupon came through the letter box inviting me to take up a subscription to CAR Magazine and offering a complementary copy of the latest issue, priced at £4.20. I’d given up on CAR in the mid-1990s after twenty years but, as a former avid reader, I decided to give the magazine another try and so took the freebie. However, having consumed the August 2008 edition, I found myself making comparisons between that and my first issue, purchased for the princely sum of forty pence in April 1978 when I was a spotty fourteen year-old.
First impressions were positive, the latest issue offering a very professional appearance on good quality shiny paper, vastly superior to largely black-and-white 1978 version. Full colour arrived sometime during 1980 after a production dispute led to CAR being produced by a different printer in Germany. Nice to see the old logo retained too, at least in shape.
Looking at the two issues together, it’s surprising how many features continue 30 years later. There are also regular features now which you can tell have their roots in the earlier versions but have been substantially tweaked in various facelifts. There are still columnists, for example, now under the heading ‘Critics’, fulfilling much the same role as the ‘Frontline’ writers of 1978. I can’t help thinking that Fraser, Setright and Bishop had more to offer in 1978 than Ffrench-Constant, Walton and Green do today, but it’s quite pleasing to see Green still writing for the magazine.
I believe that Green’s first contribution was a review of the awful 1981 Datsun Laurel, but hold the view that the magazine lost its way during his stints as Editor. CAR still features ‘scoop’ shots too, but the very small photo of a disguised prototype of the next Vauxhall Astra contrasts heavily with the prominence given to scoops of the then forthcoming Nova on two covers during the early 1980s, when Steve Cropley was Editor. CAR still features road impressions of new cars (now called First Drives but closely resembling the old ‘Newcomers’ section), there’s still a letters page, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (GBU) continues.
GBU is a very different beast now, though. In 1978 it ran to seven pages, many of which were shared with advertisements. Now, GBU is a magazine-within-a-magazine, running to 40 pages and including several sub-sections and its own set of driving impressions. Looking through the GBU I reckon there are three cars on sale now that you could also have bought thirty years ago. All of them are British: the Caterham 7, the Morgan, and the original Land Rover, now called the Defender of course.
You can probably make a case for a fourth, the Porsche 911, but, in my opinion, the current version is a new model, often referred to as the 997, and dates from the 1990s but has similar styling to the old one. GBU is also a place to reflect on how some traditional model names remain on extremely different cars now. I would illustrate this best with the VW Passat range, which in 1978 was topped by a 1.6 litre estate car with a top speed of 107 mph and fuel consumption of ‘28-33 mpg’. The 2008 Passat range (which is a direct lineal descendent of the 1970s original) is topped by a 3.2 litre V6 uber-saloon that will do 153 mph – but still manages 28mpg!
CAR still has one other writer on the strength who, like Green, was there in 1978 – stand up Georg Kacher, for you have put in over 30 years’ service. We seem to have lost anything resembling a ‘Giant Test’ along the way and, as early as the mid-1980s, I was bemoaning the loss of the Oracle columnists. The 1978 edition has Paul Lienert in Detroit and Paul Beauregard in Paris reporting that Peugeot were talking to some Americans about a major takeover in the industry. Lienert and Beauregard agree that Peugeot are about to buy American Motors (AMC). Later that year, as things turned out, Peugeot bought up Chrysler’s European operations and renamed them Talbot (surely the daftest re-branding in the history of the industry), whilst Renault bought AMC. Oracle was interesting for its industrial news and just as entertaining irrespective of whether the speculation proved to be accurate or inaccurate!
Lastly, a few signs of the times. Potential subscribers to CAR in 1978 were engagingly invited to send a form back to Mrs Ian Fraser at an address beginning with ‘The Old Manor’. Now, you have to get in touch with a faceless company called Bauer Consumer Media Ltd. The GBU had some hilarious comments: in those days CAR could get away with referring to a Toyota as ‘Good for your wife’ and a Princess as ‘Fine for your father’. Can’t help thinking that much has been gained over the years, but what has certainly been lost is the fantastic character that led me to buy every issue for nearly twenty years – and, poor saddo that I am, retain them all to this day.
Will I be investing in a subscription? Well, I cancelled the subscription before the Direct Debit kicked in…
Will I occasionally buy CAR to read on the train, or take on holiday? Yes, I probably will.
I was a “Car” buyer from late 1976 until the mid 80s (and I still have about a dozen of the earliest). It stood out in those days from all the other car mags in both its design style and its content. You felt the writers were on a slightly higher plane than the hacks in the competitio
These days it looks too much like just another boy-racer mag. Big loud pictures and not so many words.
CAR of course begat BIKE…it was originally a wonderful one-off that spawned later BIKE No 2, then BIKE No 3, then the CHOPPER SPECIAL, and series production
One suggestion that CAR discussed was I think by LJK Setright, with a small car powered by a BSA-Triump
I am now a auto magazine Assistant Editor and contributo
I agree Car is an occasional purchase, but what has happened to the cover? It looks like “Take a break” or some othere equally mind numbing publicatio
Oh and Car – we are sick of Supercars.
How about this as an idea for this site? Original reproducti
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
By KEITH ADAMS
AHHH, the joys of going through the old magazine collection on a rainy, cold and miserable morning. I must admit that I’m a sucker for old What Car? magazines from the 1970s and ’80s, and love those old group shots of family cars, small hatchbacks – in fact, anything that isn’t supercar related. I’m not sure of the reason for this – perhaps its nostalgia for street furniture but, set in the correct context, and not the rose-tinted warm-fuzzy way that classic car magazines can lazily resort to. And, well, supercars are nice but, as we’re carpet bombed by the things, they can lose their special-ness. Well, for me, anyway.
The March 1980 issue of What Car? struck me sideways because, in the aftermath of the second oil crisis in 1979 and the reality of the £1 gallon, its editorial team realised that what its readers really found relevant was eking the most out of their petrol and buying a car that majored on fuel consumption. Admittedly, I was only ten years old at the time, but I do remember the hardship back then, and the reality of struggling to pay the bills.
Now we’re 28 years down the line, the situation is considerably different. We’ve lived through the boom years of the late-1980s and the mid-1990s and we’re all considerably better off. However, with the sudden and unwelcome chilling of the international financial markets and the drastic rise in fuel and food prices, we’re already beginning to re-shape our priorities.
|The March 1980 issue of What Car? struck
me sideways because, in the aftermath of
the second oil crisis in 1979 and the reality
of the £1 gallon, its editorial team realised
that what its readers really found relevant
was eking the most out of their petrol.
There’s been a noticeable change in the way people are driving – stick it down any motorway these days and the sheer number of cars adhering to, or dipping below, the 70mph limit is a real eye-opener (in that Mk2 Cortina driven this week, I was one of the faster cars on the A14 and M11 – and I was driving at around 75mph) and, as for food, well just go into any of the big supermarkets and it seems that the value products are the ones that are now flying off the shelves.
Maybe things really are changing rapidly – and our priorities are shifting with them. Will fuel consumption become the new top speed and will we all be getting excited at the prospect of owning a car that can crack 40mpg in day-to-day running instead of the 150mph that we all used to crave a few months back? I certainly think so – my current motor, a Subaru Outback Boxer Diesel, doesn’t exactly have a large tank but still cost me £80 to brim the other day.
Leafing through the musty pages of that What Car? magazine is interesting because there are driving tips (‘go to work on an egg’), a Buyers’ Guide listing the most economical cars in each price sector (including the Vanden Plas 1500, which topped the £5000-£6000 category) as well as articles on the benefits of switching to LPG and how to use your trip computer effectively (the Talbot Horizon SX was the first European car to feature one as standard).
Interesting stuff, pretty relevant now. Which car magazine would be brave enough to run a similar front-end theme today?
Place your bets…
Sleeping with the enemy… again
By KEITH ADAMS
THANKS, once again, to the generosity of John Neville at Ford Heritage, I found myself behind the wheel of one of the collection’s fine cars this week. As you can see, the car in question is this 1968 Cortina 1600 Super; the car that in terms of sales success through customer appeal, BL’s new management under Donald Stokes wanted to emulate for Austin-Morris.
Having secured the services of its designer, Roy Haynes, back in 1966, BMC were in good shape to do just that – and given the marketing impetus from Stokes’ team, it was looking very good indeed. As it happens, the Morris Marina emerged as that Cortina beater, and the plan was an undoubted success. Except… that in the ensuing years following the arrival of the Mk2, Ford’s plans for the Big C were a lot more ambitious. They dropped the Corsair, and introduced a Mk3 version that was altogether larger, encompassing both cars, and topping out at 2-litres.
Ford then managed to get the Mk3 onto the market before the Marina. Ah well. Still, we all know the story of the Marina, and BL’s wrongfooting by Ford – it’s one of those sad stories that pepper the BMC>MG story.
However, driving the Cortina proves interesting for another reason. In 1968, it remained the UK’s second best-selling car, behind the ADO16, and, more than anything else, I found myself mentally comparing the two cars. I can completely understand why the fleet market fell head over heels for the Ford – for a start, the boot is huge, the under-bonnet layout a doddle and you definitely got loads of metal for your money. I can, though, also see why the ADO16 remained the family favourite.
Despite being under-developed by BMC, ADO16’s excellent dynamics, garage-friendly dimensions and sheer all-round appeal build up a compelling argument in its defence. The 1968 Cortina, though, offers context – Ford knew that buyers were getting increasingly well-off and, even within the confines of the ’66 car’s platform, were upscaling the range to meet that need. The 1600 Super is a case in point – it’s quick, well appointed, and had that outside-lane factor that was beginning to mean so much.
The ADO16 was, on the other hand, already being left behind. The 1275cc upgrade was being phased in slowly – and yet even that wasn’t enough to counter Ford’s Kent-powered revolution. BMC had all the components to keep the ADO16 in the hunt – the E-Series engine snugly fit (as clearly demonstrated by the Australians) and the body shape lent itself well to a hatchback and saloon upgrade. Sadly, none of these things happened… in the UK.
The Cortina and ADO16 clearly underline the different strategies prevalent within the boardrooms of their respective carmakers. Ford, built ’em cheap, gave the customer what they wanted, and upgraded regularly. BMC, on the other hand, created something magnificent, allowed it to mature, then die. To drive, they’re chalk and cheese, too – the Ford being all about quantity not quality, while the 1100 got it the other way round.
Which would I have? The ADO16. In a heartbeat.
By PATRICK WARNER
YOU may remember my blog about our fleet of XW 220GSi collection and delivery vehicles. Well, then, I also acquired for virtually nothing a Charcoal 420GSi Tourer which has helped out with increased demand for our free collection and delivery service. Unfortunately however, with the continually increasing cost of fuel, the thirsty 2.0 T-series engines are proving fairly expensive to keep fuelling.
As the tax expires on the Tahiti Blue 220GSi and Charcoal 420GSi Tourer at the end of July, followed by the Charcoal 220GSi in August, rather than start charging for collection and delivering customers cars, I have decided to opt for some 1.1- and 1.4-litre K-series powered Metro/100 or 200 models to use instead to see if we can hold off charging by using fuel a little more efficiently.
Rather than cannibalise them for spares, as they have all proved to be reliable workhorses I would far rather try and find them new homes with enthusiasts, either as individual projects or as donor cars for people’s existing cars. Each of them are running with the remainder of valid MoTs on them and all have their own particular issues but if you know of anyone who would be interested in having one or all of them, I am quite happy to go through them in more detail.
Currently, our local scrap yard will give us £75 per car which seems a waste so if anyone would like to save them, they are welcome to give us £75 and take them home. Once the road tax has expired we will need to move them on fairly quickly as we only have limited space so if you know of anyone who may be interested – please get in touch…
Sterling Automotive Limited.
4 Redward Business Park, Hammonds Drive, Eastbourne. East Sussex. BN23 6PW.
MINI under a two-pronged attack
TAKING a long, hard look at the curiously named Alfa Mi.To, it’s clear that the Italians are pushing hard to re-take the initiative in the small car market. With the Fiat 500 proving to be a huge hit thanks to its cheeky styling, funky image and relatively low purchase price, MINI has been put under serious attack as the darling of the city car set. Thankfully for MINI, the Fiat currently lacks a truly capable sporting version and doesn’t quite tick all of the right boxes for Nürburgring fetishists – the premium-priced British car is still, therefore, arguably the best of the bunch.
However, Fiat has decided to spring a two-pronged attack and rolled out the Mi.To – a car that in many ways tries to recapture the spirit of the original Alfasud (without, hopefully, toting the older car’s baggage). It’s small, stylish, and oozing with Alfa Romeo panache. The pricing strategy looks good too, with the new Italian undercutting its British rival at each step in the model range. Will the MINI take an almighty hit on the European market because of the Mi.To? MINI fans will be relieved to know that, based on initial First Drive reports on the Mi.To, their inflated icon is safe for the moment – with the Mi.To being bogged down with too many electronic aids that intrusively spoil the fun.
Perhaps that won’t matter with style conscious buyers, but the press won’t let them get away with producing a rival that’s more Capuccino than Espresso – all froth and no substance. I reckon that, for now, MINI’s safe, but that, in time, buyers will drift away looking for something nice and Mediterranean.
Ultimately, though, for every sale lost in Europe, MINI’s probably picking up half a dozen in the USA, as North Americans get to grips with expensive pump fuel. Alfa Romeo’s looking to join the party over there – so it will be interesting to see how things pan out.
For now though, I’ll buy an Italian to look at but the Brit to drive.
One weird day…
With effect from today, I’m no longer working in for Practical Classics in Peterborough. After something of a short lead-up, I handed in my notice to the Editor, Matt Wright, this morning at 9.30am and, within a couple of hours, I was driving back down the A605 and officially ‘working from home’ for the next four weeks. I must admit that this morning’s events leave me with very mixed emotions. I’m on the one hand seriously looking forward to my next challenge working for another car magazine but, on the other hand, I wasn’t really given the chance to say a proper goodbye before being ushered politely out of the building.
I’m actually completely shellshocked by the whole episode because the pace of events was absolutely stunning and I expected to work out my four weeks’ notice in the office. However, I must say right now that working on such a great magazine has been an absolute pleasure and, if nothing else, I’ve had a great insight into how monthly magazines work – and will never look on it as the easy option (compared with a weekly) ever again.
On the positive side, with time to think, I’ll be able to throw my considerable energy into AROnline, and perhaps – finally – spend some time getting our CMS system sorted out, and future growth accommodated for. I’d dearly like to add more development stories, prototype picture galleries, and anecdotes from those who were there, but need your help for that – so please send in your suggestions.
As Margaret Thatcher once said, “It’s a funny old world.”