Blogs : July 2008

30 July

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 keith@octane-magazine.com, 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.

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Feedback:
AndrewP
Harrogate, UK
11/19/2008
I had not noticed the move to Octane and I am a subscriber. I know it can be a little pretentious at times but it’s generally excellent and has a wonderful slightly eccentric quality.
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AndrewP
11/19/2008

I had not noticed the move to Octane and I am a subscriber. I know it can be a little pretentious at times but it’s generally excellent and has a wonderful slightly eccentric quality. If it was a car it would be a Bristol.

Tempted to say from Practical Classics to Impractical Classics – belated good luck

Rob B
08/01/2008
Keith, good luck with generally lowering the tone at Octane 😉 Can’t wait to read the Allegro vs. De Tomaso shootout story (bugger, was I supposed to keep that quiet?)
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Markiparki
London
07/31/2008

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 continental sports cars – which looks pretty on a coffee table but I doubt I’ll ever see a Marina TC lovingly restored on a shoestring – what are the chances? All the best though!

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Hilton Davis
South Shields
07/30/2008
Sorry you’ve left Practical Classics Keith, but it’s their loss. Good luck with the new job. With your experience and expertise of the subject, I cannot think of anyone better to work on OCTANE!
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Kevin Davis
Southampton
07/30/2008

I’ve always considered Octane magazine to be a bit ‘up itself’. I can’t relate to any of its content, and I’ve NEVER seen any BL content in it, but hopefully you’ll try and bring it down to earth, Keith. Good luck.

 

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Mark Brown
07/30/2008
Indeed, it is a tough magazine to relate to. I used to dream of Ferraris and Astons but now I just want an old Rover. Maybe you’ll be able to get your Polish SD1 in the staff cars section, Keith? 😀
Andrew Elphick
07/30/2008
There was a works TR7/8 on the cover not so long ago Kev!
Keith Adams
07/31/2008
Kev, read up – there’s a ten page feature about BL in the current issue!
Andrew Elphick
Essex
07/29/2008
I’m waiting till your seen swanning round breakers yards wearing a Cravat…
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29 July

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…

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Feedback:
Ian S
07/30/2008
I read this when I got to work this morning – which made interesting reading as I’d just attempted to fill up my Merc and wimped out at £50! Must get more Biodiesel...
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Carl
Brisbane, Australia
07/30/2008
Wow, I thought fuel here in Australia was expensive at $1.45 (70 pence) per litre. Traded in the 4 litre Ford Falcon for a 2 litre Golf just for the economy, brought the weekly fuel bill to $40 instead of $70… The same thing here though, with big superstore chains (Coles and Woolworths)having a virtual monopoly on petrol sales in city areas. I guess all you can do is fill up when the discounts are running….
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Andrew Elphick
Essex
07/29/2008

Que’s? Three words : Chip and Pin.

Dare jump the que slap a twenty pound note on the counter is a cardinal sin nowadays.

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Tim
07/30/2008
100% agree, these bastard (and not secure, but thats another matter) machines take forever, especially if you’re stuck behind Doris (not THE Doris, mind) who can’t remember her (his?)pin number.
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!
Mark Pitchford
Ilkeston, Derbyshire
07/29/2008
Interestingly, here the boot is on the other foot. There is one (expensive) Shell station and a few (even more expensive) very minor ones in a town of 40,000 people, and yet Tesco were denied planning permission for a petrol station. God knows that I generally have little sympathy for Tesco and their bully-boy tactics, but on this occasion it makes you wonder who is on the council…
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tony
chester
07/29/2008
HI,
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 conglomerates have squeezed out virtually all of the independents over the years in pursiut of market share.
Here in Chester (only 5 miles square) alone we have lost at least 10 filling/service stations in as many years alone leaving less access to fuel but at such a high price the competion element of the trade pales into insignificance when one considers that the ‘big winers’ are the speculators in places like Rotterdam and Saudi.
Tony
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KC
Nottingham
07/29/2008
In my part of the world, it’s almost impossible to buy petrol from anywhere except a supermarket, so I guess they are always going to be busier than they used to be. Real petrol stations are a rarity around here.
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Adrian
Portsmouth
07/29/2008
I think the queues at petrol stations have a lot to do with the fact that many have closed over the last 10 years or so, yet there are more cars on the roads that there were a decade ago..
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26 July

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…

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Feedback:
Andrew Elphick
07/31/2008
Maybe Im not nuts – read August the 1st Blog for the inevitable excusess....
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Phil
07/29/2008

The Jaguar and Land Rover stands were hardly gargantuan. I think you need glasses Andrew!

 

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Andrew Elphick
07/30/2008
Maybe I’m shorter than you! LR had double figures of vehicles there, that seem a fair effort to me Phil, maybe I’m just dissapointed by the whole NAC-MG debacle – I can’t wait to be proved wrong.
Dylan
Jones
07/28/2008
If Morgan could be there (not exactly world domineers) and show of what they have, then I think it’s a shame that NAC-MG couldn’t show their intentions for September and get some publicity. Much as I love the marque, it is becoming further and further away from people’s memory and no longer the first car they may think of buying in that sector. They have hammered the final nail in their coffin already I fear…
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Jon
Cambridge
07/28/2008
what rubbish, this is why there were the world launches of the new Vauxhall Insignia, The Lotus Evora, the Alfa MiTo (lovely car inside, i think i might)The Fiesta was there in force (with loads of free ice creams) the Seat Ibiza, i could go on, and i will, the new SAAB’s, new Bentley, Laguna coupe and others, s for you to say that Manufacturers do not see the London Motor Show as one of thier key places is tosh
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07/28/2008
its because the motoring industry doesnt see the london motor show as one of their key places to advertise themselves anymore
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Andrew Elphick
07/28/2008
Mystery poster are you NAC-MG public relations? Oh no that post is still vacant…
Nats
Bangkok
07/27/2008
I am sad to say that a few Bill Posters above the Toilets sums up the new Chinese TF quite well!
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21 July

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.

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Feedback:
Richard
07/29/2008
I think it’s significant that all the cars mentioned are from makes that no longer exist. The magazine would not want to upset Ford, Vauxhall, Nissan etc. The latter two still make cars here. I’m surprised no one has nominated the Nissan Bluebird, the first Nissan to be made in Sunderland. A horrible example of pre-enlightenment Japanese car design!
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ARTHUR SULTAN
FORMBY, MERSEYSIDE
07/24/2008
I SEE THE OLD VICTOR F CHESTNUT IS STILL ALIVE AND WELL..
I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THE TRIUMPH DOLOMITE WASN’T ON THE LIST, AS THEY WERE THE MOST BLAND, OVER-RATED SANCTIMONIOUS DRIVEL, BOUGHT BY PEOPLE WITH NO TASTE. I WOULD ALSO PUT THE MK2 FORD ESCORT ON THE LIST, GIVEN THAT THEY RUSTED BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES, AND HAD ABYSMAL ENGINES – AND PEOPLE PAY 20 GRAND FOR THEM ON EBAY????
FORD SIERRA – REAR WHEEL DRIVE, WHEN EVERYONE ELSE HAD SEEN THE LIGHT, K*K ENGINES(EVEN THE 1.6 SOUNDED LIKE A DIESEL). THERE WAS SUPPOSEDLY A 1.3 VERSION – I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN ONE, BUT WOULD IMAGINE THEY WERE UNBELIEVABLY BAD.
I’VE NEVER REALLY HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE ALLEGRO, APART FROM THE QUESTIONABLE STYLING, PLUS THE FACT THAT THE MK3 VERSIONS RUSTED MORE THAN THE FIRST TWO(MY DAD BOUGHT A BRAND NEW W-REG ONE IN 1980, AND RUST HOLES STARTED APPEARING IN THE DOORS AFTER 2 YEARS. BY THE TIME IT WAS 6 YEARS OLD THE HOLES WERE SO BIG YOU COULD PUT YOUR HANDS IN THEM!! THAT SAID, IT DID LAST UNTIL 1993…
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
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Rob B
07/28/2008
My Brother in Law’s dad had a 1300 Sierra Mk 1 from new. It was slower than continental drift and he finally binned it off to take on his brother’s old Cortina. Says it all (although to be fair the Cortina was a mint example that still had all the plastic seat covers on…)
DIDIER ZIANE
GLASGOW
07/24/2008
i agree with anyone who thinks that this poll is partial at best and just a joke really! lex put the allegro where it belongs.. it wasn’t a bad car really, had it been screwed together properly and been a hatchback it would have had a better life despite being aestheticaly challenged… the parralel can be the same with our own ( i’m french ) ugly duckling the renault R14. a good car really,the TS spec was good for 100mph, not bad for a 7CV (1200-1300cc )in ’78, think about a golf 1500gls didn’t go that fast neither did an allegro and it was the first small hatch fitted with central locking and front e/w as std.. a desastrous launch campain LA POIRE (the pear!) was how the R14 was described by renault in ads. who wants to drive a pear?it never went better than 5th in overall sales and they now are a rare sight, but having driven one many moons ago, it was very spacious and awsomely comfy with the “petal seats” derived from the R17ts and a good driver’s car ( mechanicals from the peugeot 104 )once fitted with fatter tyres. funny how the peugeot 205 thrived and R14 failed with similar front drive train but the 205’s cute and the 14’s a pear… beauty is in the eye… but still, being hype is a must.
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Richard Kilpatrick
07/25/2008
I think the Renault 14 is actually quite an attractive little car, and it was a proper hatchback. IIRC they sold well in the UK but suffered terminal rust.
Karl
07/27/2008
Renault 14 based on pug 104 mechanicals? Really? Didn’t know they collaborated at that time (always assumed the 14 was based on R12 or R18 bits).
Jon Pierce
07/27/2008
Didier is correct, i have just returned to Britain from France, my neighbour is called Didier too!!! Anyhow even Renault admitted the R14 was not one of their best cars, the engine mounting was new to Renault at the time but sales in France and Britain were very poor, hence the reason for the axe.
Before i returned i saw a R14 still driving around the French roads, i even overtook a Renault 6!!!! Discountinued in 1968 apparently! (Before i was born!!!)
karl
07/29/2008
Well well, you learn something every day…
Jon Pierce
London
07/23/2008
I saw this effert in the metro this am, i personally cannot fault BMC products, they served their purpose in their day, my parents had a Morris 1800 and we never had any problens with it. All these people can do is critise the cars BMC/BL/Austin Rover/Rover/MG Rover made why on earth are they not working in the car industry????
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Lex van Essen
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
07/23/2008
I had a 1977 1300 Special for five years; main problems were cooler relay and front suspension (fulcrum pin & splines on the prop shafts) For the rest it was a very well equipped car, certainly compared with the Renault 14, Opel Kadett, Datsun Cherry. In fact I regard it as the best of its class, On the other hand Opel had four model changes during the production run of the Allegro, so I can imagine by 1982 people got the impression the Allegro was an outdated car. But no rust, extremely good road handling!!
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Ken Strachan
Nuneaton
07/23/2008
The sprogs who put this article together had probably never heard of the F Victor, which rusted to scrap in 2 years; nor the Mark 4 Ford Zephyr, which had truly evil handling and negligible space efficiency – you could park a Mini on its enormous bonnet! The Allegro probably came out top for being such a poor replacement for the iconic ADO16, which was a looker and dead easy to drive. We could forgive its faults. The Allegro was pig-ugly and had a square steering wheel. We could not forgive its faults.
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paul
07/22/2008
I think there is a tendancy to forget the context within which these cars came about. The main problem with BL cars such as the Marina and Allegro isnt that they where particularly bad cars at launch – The Marina was competitive with anything Ford, Vauxhall or Chrysler offered in 1971. The problem was they stayed in production far too long. After 10 years and 13 years respectively the Allegro and Marina where hopelessly outclassed by Cavaliers, Astras and FWD Escorts.
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Tony
Chester
07/22/2008
We own both a City-Rover AND a Marina….….We must be certifiable!!!!happy in our ignorance
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Jonathan Carling
Yarm, Teesside, UK
07/21/2008
I’d put the CityRover top by a mile. More out of line with its contemporaries than any of the others, ’83spec Ital included. But the CityRover isn’t British, unlike the rest. Wouldn’t mind snapping one up a low-miler now for a grand, for interest’s sake. It’s value must be sinking like a stone! NB if BL had proceeded with the P8 instead of the XJ6, would the CityRover have ended up being called a Jaguar?
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alex mathias
ely
07/21/2008
Allegro was simply not up to the job of replacing the highly sucessful 1100/1300 range. Not in style or functionality. Poor detailng and highly publicised unrelability meant you did not buy this if you didn’t want to be laughed at. It simply wasn’t up to the job, and moved on not one little bit. Sadly this comedy was repeated with the launch of the ‘bubble’ shaped Rover 200 series in the 90’s
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steve mcgill
07/21/2008
I really cant see how the 1100/1300 series was vastly better, it was hardly a looker and they rusted terminally. they used low power ohv engines that couldnt pull the skin off a rice pudding, they had similar suspension and were more or less the same size…
Richard Kilpatrick
Sutton Coldfield, UK
07/21/2008
Disregarding the FE – it’s a nice car – the Allegro is simply too close to modern technology to be interesting as a classic without any other influences. However, a hatchback and some other minor changes would have made the car a world beater – if it weren’t for the awful styling and curious packaging, the motoring press (and mainstream press) may have paid more attention to the dynamics and modernity of the overall concept.
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Mike
London
07/21/2008
Just a thought, how come the likes of the Reliant Robin or Kitten aren’t included?
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!)
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steve mcgill
newcastle
07/20/2008
The allegro wasnt a bad car in my view, it wasnt even that bad looking to be honest, there were worse cars around at the time im sure…
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Karl
Nowillistan
07/20/2008
As usual the good ‘ol motoring press picks on the easy targets! But I know what can be done with an Aggro… the Sahara or Central Asia can’t kill one off, and if the herd votes them the worst car ever then at least I’ve more chance of affording another! Why follow the bleating masses anyway…
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406V6
Maidenhead
07/20/2008

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 comfortable car with good driving controls and tidy road behaviour.

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.

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Keith Adams
07/20/2008

Those images were just copied/pasted from the original article – I did not stretch them. Sorry about that – but time sometimes time constrains me.

K

John Whale
Coventry
07/19/2008
Well, I have owned four Aggros over the years, 2 off 1.3’s,1 off 1500 LE,one of those bright green lads,and 1 off 1750cc series three, and I was absolutely delighted with them all. They were extremely reliable.very comfortable,and excellent value. The 1750 was a road-rocket. In fact I still wish that I owned one, but they all seem to have about disappeared the days, probably turned into ferric oxide by now!!
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HonarySwede
07/19/2008

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 advertising customers.

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.

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Keith Adams
07/20/2008

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 necessarily have a problem with the results myself, just the way in which the data was collected.

K

Mark Pitchford
07/28/2008
Interesting point! It’s a pity the Tagora wasn’t built here or it would surely have taken the honours…and that was a Talbot too.
Dave H
Canvey Is, Essex
07/19/2008
The Aggro was a pile of junk compared to the 1100 which it replaced, and no one can admit it’s not an ugly duckling. But compared to the good awful Citreon 2CV its not that bad (compare germans Beatle, Britain’s Moggy, Italy’s 500 and the 2CV is ****)
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Ian S
07/19/2008
Er, b*ll*cks! Having owned both, I can say that both have their charms but I’ll stick with the 2CV thanks. Oh and learn how to spell Citroen…
Dave S
07/20/2008
Its all down to one persons definition of what is a bad car and why is it a bad car,design,execution,engineering? For me most of the cars on that list shouldn’t be there. Given that this was about the 10 worst british cars I wonder what the german,french.italian and russian list would throw up.
JON
07/20/2008
If you look at tThe Good, The Bad and The Ugly from and early 80s edition of CAR magazine you’ll see that the Series 3 Allegro was rated as interesting and praised for handling, economy and space. As for the 2CV it is the only model of the ‘Icons’ listed which has any relevence or relationship to modern cars.
Ed C.
07/29/2008
My first car was an Allegro which was reliable and comfortable and not prone to rust in a major way. The 1300 A series went well enough. I never felt embarrassed driving it and at the time there were loads on the road so no one really noticed it anyway. The square or Quartec steering wheel is always criticised but it was ok to drive with. People always comment on cars being reliable or not but I doubt they ever owned one!
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.

20 July

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

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Richard Truett
Detroit USA
07/20/2008
Most of the late white TR7s and TR8s came here with a blue interior. That tan interior does make it a bit different. My credit cards are helping keep Rimmers in business and supporting the British economy somewhat!
Richard
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Andrew Elphick
07/20/2008
Its a unusual yet appealing colour combination, I hope you enjoy it. Best cut your credit cards up now though…
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19 July

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

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Andrew Elphick
07/20/2008
As evil as Ebay is, it throughs up some interesting what-ifs, with some fresh batteries I think it could be a useable prospect, thanks for the investigation Ben.
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Mark Pitchford
07/28/2008
Evil? Why?
Rob B
07/28/2008
It’s where Elphick offloads his cars that don’t end up in the scrapyard. Hence a place of unparalleled evil…

19 July

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.

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kv8stu
Coventry
07/30/2008

I’m a Chartered Engineer and I also dispair of people missusing the title as a generic term for those who repair photocopiers and fill up vending machines (as honourable as those trades are). It definitely puts people off the profession, and as a result it IS damaging the long term Engineering Future and prosperity of the country. There is massive demand for Engineers at the moment (I get 2 or 3 phonecalls a day), which cannot be met. Rolls-Royce Aero, a blue chip British Engineering Compay have been forced to build their new Engineering Centre in Germany – becuase they just can’t get the Engineers over here. It won’t be long before the others follow.

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 ‘professions’. Ha!

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Mark Pitchford
07/28/2008
You are mixing up two honourable but entirely different lines of work. I’m a Chartered Engineer with the utmost admiration to the fitters and craftsmen of which you speak. I couldn’t do their job – but I doubt that many of them could do mine. Such an attitude is unfortunately one of the reasons UK engineering is dying. Engineering degree courses are difficult – and who wants to go through all that to be confused with the bloke who fixes the washing machine? Much better to be an accountant, get more free time at University, and be acknowledged as a professional…
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paul
cumbria
07/17/2008
Engineers in brown overalls over a lathe? One of the reasons this country has no motor industry – or anyother industry is because of this stereotype of engineering. As a Chartered Engineer I despair every time the term is used to describe a mechanic or washing machine repair man! Its like calling a brick layer an Architect! Other countries jealously guard the engineering profession and they way the term engineer is applied.
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Andrew Elphick
07/17/2008

Well I got my apprenticeship papers in 1995 and I remember wearing a brown coat leant over a lathe!

The best “Engineers” I know are City & Guilds qualified at most…

carl
07/18/2008
I agree, an “Engineer” is a degree qualified professional. A “Craftsman” is a City and Guilds and apprenticeship qualified professional. I have worked my way through both of those systems. One is not more important than the other, they work at different things, but one should not be confused for the other. The men in brown coats bent over lathes used to be the “toolmaker” guys from the toolroom as I recall from my apprenticeship days.
Alastair mayne
07/18/2008
This reply (to me) typifies the problem. The Chartered Engineer hating to have his status sullied by being mistaken for someone with the skills and abilities to repair things, or make them work, but actually get their hands dirty. I’ve met and worked with a number of ‘highly qualified engineers’ who’s knowledge and so called abilities never made it as far as their hands!
Andrew
07/18/2008
The UK has a huge defence industry and owns quite a bit of US defence industry too.
Dave H
07/19/2008
Sorry but a gentleman in a brown jacket leant over a lathe is an Engineer – I like to see you turn a candlestick out of ali!. Engineering is all incompassing from Mechanical to I.T. (like me). If you worked at Ford’s during the 90’s, you saw how rubbish the degree engineer’s were compared to those who had gone the craft route (degree is all theory and not much practical experience). The best engineer’s are those who learn the trade doing an apprenticeship and progress onto higher qualifications.
Andrew Elphick
07/19/2008
My man Dagenham Darren will bear that out, doing just that 🙂
chris
preston
07/17/2008
Hey,Its a dying trade for a reason,there,s no money in it mate,try getting a decent wage for 8 hours hard graft and all the customers do is moan(how much!!)we have all moved on to jobs where we get paid properly,sorry but thats the truth..
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Andrew Elphick
07/17/2008
To be fair Chris, I have swopped trades myself – not since 2001 has oil & Diesel stained my hands…
Ian
Galicia, Spain
07/17/2008
You should live here in Spain.
For example found a man with a lathe to take the rust pits out of the front discs (brakes) for my old Austin Westminster. Job done in two days for €25 (not pounds either!).
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Richard
Wednesbury, England
07/17/2008
My Father-in-law owns a bodyshop that’s been in the family for three generations. Although he’s doing well for himself it’s a dying trade and sadly I fear his generation may be the last.
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Karl
Nowillistan
07/17/2008

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-monkeys!

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Paul Briden
07/19/2008
It does annoy me when old when we’s make a general statement about our society being wasteful. The reason we change our items of living so often is technology is moving so fast and making things more efficient. Would kari have me keep my old central heating boiler when my new one runs at a third of the cost. Or my old Ford Granada that spits out more pollution than three modern cars put together.The list goes on…..
Karl
07/21/2008
So old is bad and new is good then? LCD TVs which use up to 4 times as much power as ‘old therefore bad’ CRT ones? Hmm. Never mind the sheer wastefulness of landfill...

16 July

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?

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Greg
Pittsburgh/USA
07/17/2008

After some googling I found an article that explains this car’s stance…Pars Khodro apparently dropped the old R5 body onto the floorpan and mechanicals of the Kia Pride!

I wonder if the full-length sunroof is available...?

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Ian S
07/17/2008
It looks like it! Think I’ll stick with a proper Mk1 Renner 5 thanks.
Karl
Nowillistan
07/16/2008

Oh such a shame Iranian paperwork is such a hassle… I quite like the look of that!

Would be a great road trip too…

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Richard
07/23/2008
If you find an easy way of bringing one back, can you bring me back a rwd Peugeot 405 as well? 😉
James Anness
Southend-on-Sea
07/16/2008
Reminds me of the South African VW CitiGolf 🙂
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dolomitefan
07/16/2008
It looks a bit home made
David Hayward
07/16/2008

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?

JON
07/16/2008
This is the Mk1 Reanult 5 the Campus was the supercinq (1985- on)
Rob B
07/17/2008
I want one of the Citigolfs

14 July

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.

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Hugo
Brisbane, Australia
07/21/2008

Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat and PSA are established carmakers. Would your average Briton seriously by a ‘Stanley ST50’ (as an example) over a Volkswagen Golf, even if it were a better car?

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 ‘mainstream’ products. Would anyone (other than AROnline readers – no offence) buy a reborn Austin or MG?

A British designed/built/engineered car for the masses is possible, but it would take years and billions to set up such a company. And there’s no guarentee it would be successful.

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Honary Swede
07/15/2008

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 highlighted is the post war liberal culture that has dominated significant parts of our media, education system and civil service to this day.

Liberal left so despised the British Empire and its values which proclaimed Britain as the worlds leading civilisation, that anything that might be considered world beating in this country is now considered politically unacceptable. We only need look at the way we are talking ourselves into failure with the 2012 Olympics that any attempt by the Government to create a world beating Motor Industry as the French and Germans did, would have been talked down by our media into failure.

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Mark
07/16/2008
‘Liberal left’ media is a myth created by the majority right-wing press. There are only two newspapers that could be descibed as ‘liberal left’ (The Guardian and more recent Independent – both of which have relatively low sales). In fact the highest circulation newspapers are right-wing: The Sun, Daily Mail, Times, Express, Telegraph etc) Co-incidentally its the Mail/Sun etc that are the leading attack-dogs in putting the 2012 Olmpics down!
(Incidentially, the British Empire also thrived under Liberal governments throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era)
Mark Pitchford
07/29/2008
Liberal left responsible for the demise of the UK manufacturing industry? Are you sure? Have you ever been introduced to the concept of Thatcherism?
Jonathan Carling
Yarm, Teesside, UK
07/14/2008
I think you have to lay some blame on the Government too. Wilson took active steps and offered inducements in the ’60s ‘to get those two merged’. Its a controversial view, but if BMC had been allowed to go to the wall we would have had the Rover P8 and P9 to sit alongside the Range Rover, the SD1, and who knows what to replace the small Triumphs. Then in the ’80s we lost the opportunity to sell the Rover Group to Ford or VW. Imagine if VW had bought the company instead of SEAT or Skoda?
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Andrew Elphick
07/14/2008

Robert,

One thing let all these dormant marques die – the management. I’d blame Derek Robinsons ego and greed, but its to easy – the whole of the blue collar industry was at it, and why not to be honest?

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…

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H Musgrove
07/14/2008
One shop floor worker responsible for the downfall of an entire industry? Not likely
Mark Pitchford
07/29/2008
There is a lot of truth in that. As Robert points out, there are and have been many succesful car assembly plants in the UK. Yes, Mr Robinson rallied the malcontented troops – but for him to do so, they had to have cause to be disgruntled in the first place.

13 July

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.

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Querilous
UK
07/16/2008
Was Green really writing for Car in 1978? I don’t recall anything from him before the Datsun review in 1981
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KC
Nottingham
07/15/2008

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 competition; more depth and a bit more thought. A bit like buying the Times or Guardian instead of the Sun or Mirror.

These days it looks too much like just another boy-racer mag. Big loud pictures and not so many words.

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Alastair mayne
Leicestershire
07/15/2008
I too was an avid reader of CAR magazine from about 1968. The in-depth scoop features intrigued me (as a 12 year old then), and the Supercar features were superbly written. I also considered reading the LJKS articles as adding to my education. Although I kept all of my old copies (recently tried to sell some on Ebay)and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading them, I’ve recently cancelled my subscription as a cost-cutting exercise. It’s just not the magazine it was and I was reading less and less. Once I’d reviewed what it was costing me for the small enjoyment it gave, it was a no-brainer to cancel…
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David Hayward
Southampton
07/15/2008

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. I had a collection of issues which I sent to their offices including the ultra-rare # 1 and now wish I’d kept them.

One suggestion that CAR discussed was I think by LJK Setright, with a small car powered by a BSA-Triumph 750 cc 3-cylinder motorcycle engine. This may have poo-poohed at the time but predated the Japanese K cars that we eventually brought in, and in 1000cc form, the modern 3-cylinder offerings from Vauxhall, et al.

I am now a auto magazine Assistant Editor and contributor and can honestly say that CAR was in some ways ahead of its time, and BIKE a revelation compared with the competition..I know I wrote for MOTORCYCLE MECHANICS from ’74!

 

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Andrew Elphick
07/14/2008

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 publication. Compare with the latest relaunched “Retro Cars” for a how it should be done.

Oh and Car – we are sick of Supercars.

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Mark
07/16/2008
I couldn’t agree more. I started buying Car as a 12/13 year old around 1982 and loved all the spyshots. I can distinctly remember the Maestro spyshots in a December edition, but can also remember seing the Metro spyshots and reading it off the shelf – I must have been 9 or 10! Car lost its way when the focus relentlessly changed to supercars and anything BMW/Mercedes. I stopped my subscription around five years ago but had been disappointed by the editorial change for a while.
How about this as an idea for this site? Original reproductions of any spy/gossip articles on BL/Austin Rover/MG Group etc from as early as possible (with permission of course). I’d love to see all the 70s/80s articles – such an interesting time

11 July

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…

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9 July

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.

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Paul
Carlisle
07/13/2008
But was the ADO 16 a better drive han gthe Cortina? I bet the average 1960’s motorist jumping between the 2 and comparing the Cortinas light steering and snappy gear change would have been horrified by the 1100’s heavy low geared rack and ponderous gear change. To a lot of ordinary drivers ease of driving is what its all about, not how it corners on the limit!
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7 July

Needs must

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…

Patrick Warner
Managing Director
Sterling Automotive Limited.
4 Redward Business Park, Hammonds Drive, Eastbourne. East Sussex. BN23 6PW.

T. 01323 438754
F. 01323 417362
M. 07711 592904
E. patrick.warner@sterlingautomotive.co.uk
W. www.sterlingautomotive.co.uk

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2 July

MINI under a two-pronged attack

KEITH ADAMS

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.

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1 July

One weird day…

KEITH ADAMS

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.”

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

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

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