Blogs : June 2004

30 Jun 2004

Staples2Naples… again

As can be read elsewhere on this website, the Staples2Naples plan is coming together beautifully. The car is chosen, the drivers vetted, and we’re already drawing up a strategy. In fact, the whole situation is very, very interesting indeed.

In fact, I cannot actually remember looking forward to anything (road trip-wise) quite as much as I do this…

But why? After all, although the car is a good one (in my eyes), ultimately it is classified a “banger”. Well, you can say that, but having owned the 216GTi’s bigger brother, the 416GTi, I can tell you that they go very well, and even when abused, seem very dependable indeed. That aside, this car is still a 14-year old Rover, and the idea of razzing this thing across Europe on a 3,000-mile round trip (I have every intention of bringing it home) would seem like any sane person’s idea of purgatory.

I guess the answer lies with the fact that I cannot be entirely sane, and that there’s petrol running through my veins. There has to be some logical explanation. Either way, I feel pretty encouraged by the positive response we’ve had from other interested parties (generous donations, sponsorship and the offer of a support/back-up team in a nice new Rover 75)… obviously, there are loads of other car nuts out there.

So that’s me, in a nutshell: mad about cars, perhaps madder than is prudent these days. My co-drivers are made from the same stuff too…

We’re going to be OK.

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29 Jun 2004

Why minimalism is cool…

Ford’s KA: it’s not new, not that clever, and it has been around for a long time. So why mention it here? Well, it has been my chariot for the day, and I have to say that it took no time at all to grow on me…

So, why would a bottom of the range sub B sector car impress, when my current flavour of the month is the MG ZT? I guess it comes down to one important factor: fun. The KA may not be quick, but in the important areas such as steering feel, handling, roadholding and gearchange, it is really hard to fault. In fact, faulting it was far from mind, when punting it around the local back lanes. Yes, it was actually a great deal of fun. The steering is almost go-kart quick and the turn-in is swift; you even get a hint of old-school Peugeot-style lift-off oversteer. What a laugh.

Driving it along the motorway exposes no real faults either – it buzzes along easily at at the national limit on the motorway, with the ancient engine almost inaudible. OK, there is a fair degree of road and wind noise, but not enough to put me off going down to the South of France in it. Nothing at all…

And that made me wonder…

Was it this car’s fun or its minimalism

that endeared itself to me? Its dynamics

helped, but I think it came down to how I

felt like I was beating the system in

this little thing.

Was it this car’s fun or its minimalism that endeared itself to me? The dynamics helped, for sure, but I think it came down to the fact that I felt like I was beating the system in this little thing. Bombing up the motorway, surrounded by the plethora of German execs, I didn’t feel the car was out of its depth: we were going the same speed as everyone else, and yet, it’ll have been costing me significantly less to do so. It helped me understand why it seems that all Southern Europeans like driving small cars. Because they can. The KA was out of context on the M1, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it would fit right in around Northern Spain or Southern France. All I would need to do is remove the wheeltrims and add a few dents, and it would be perfect Mediterranean “yoof” transportation.

I found myself smiling driving this car, and that makes it alright in my book.

It also had me wondering about the CityRover. Apparently, these cars are rivals. Certainly on price. Although on paper the CityRover murders the Ford. Advantages to the Bollywood Rover come easily: it’s faster, roomer, arguably more stylish and has a much higher quality exterior paint finish. Interior build quality of both is not that great: both have non-soft-feel plastics that was perfectly good enough until Volkswagen rolled soft-feel across its entire range (and yet it is MGR that gets lambasted whilst Ford gets off scott free).

So why is it so fashionable to attack the CityRover right now, when Uncle Henry’s baby is inferior in so many ways?

I guess it comes down to marketing. Whereas MGR seem to have tried very hard to position the CityRover as some kind of poor-man’s 45, the KA is unashamedly marketed as a baby car for the young. Importantly, the Ford is fun to drive, whereas the CityRover is not quite there (it’s gearchange and steering really need tweaking). So, should MG Rover have introduced it with lower list prices, given it cheerier trim and added funky detailing to appeal to the younger people that buy KAs?

Looking at how CityRover has performed thus far, it is obvious that MGR have not got it right so far.

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28 Jun 2004

Slow is the new fast

It seemed like a simple task at the time: pick up my SD1 from the spray shop, drive it home and spend the rest of the weekend polishing it. You know what they say about all the best laid plans, and all that…

The day had indeed been planned. Get up early on Saturday morning, pick up my mate Brian, and tootle off to Devon to pick up the car (didn’t I say it was all the way down there, and that I live in Northamptonshire?), get in it, drive it back… and be home in time for tea. Simple. Smart. Saturday entertainment.

You always know when things are going to go badly, as the day tends to start with a set-back, which sets the tone. Today would not disappoint.

In my case, the set-back came in the form of a phone call from she-who-must-be-obeyed at around 9:00am. It was to say that I had picked up the wrong keys to my trusty 400 Tourer – the ones that didn’t have the keys to the fuel cap on. Bugger. Looking at the gauge, it was obvious that we wouldn’t be able to get to Devon and back to Northamptonshire via London on what was in there (less than quarter left). No problems, Brian was with me, and he is a dab-hand at sorting out problemettes like this. We stopped at a petrol station, borrowed a hammer and screwdriver (very accommodating of them, considering!) hacked the cap off and filled up. Better late than never, we thought.

Then there was the closure of the A303. Ho-hum…

Still, we managed to get to Devon for late lunch, where we met up with John Capon (car sprayer and raconteur extrordinaire). We went to collect my car from his garage, and when I clapped eyes on it again (after months apart), it was love re-kindled. Ahhh… the SD1. What a car. And what a spray job! As was expected, John had sprayed the car a treat. He may have described it as “very reasonable”, but to us mere mortals, it looked stunning… The morning’s unpleasantnesses were well and truly past.

Or so I thought.

Before I brought the car down to Devon, it had been suffering from an irritating habit: for no reason, it would cut-out. Intermittently. Sometimes never, sometimes regularly. Still, with this in mind, Brian had brought along his soldering iron and some wire… problems with simple electrics are easily solved. No black boxes here, just good ol’ fashioned wires and relays. Sure enough the SD1 didn’t disappoint; when fired up, it would run and then stop… so Brian went about diagnosing.

And diagnosing… and prodding and poking with a multi-meter. No joy… it was obvious something around the distributor wasn’t happy, but could the fault be replicated? Could it heck! In the end, several modules were by-passed (hot-wired sounds particularly dodgy), and it seemed to be running sweetly again. So off we went…

With the A303 closed, it was off to the M5 for a long run back to London. The sinuous Devon back-road that led us to the M5 got me reacquainted with the SD1 – unlike my previous Vitesse, it wasn’t really that quick. It was balanced though; the beautifully geared steering, solid, well-damped ride and commanding view out made it a joy to pilot. Resorting to clichés, it seemed to shrink around me… and that inspired confidence. Not bad for a car engineered in the early 1970s. Oh, and there was the matter of that engine: that torque… and the noise. Lovely.

Pre-motorway fill-up and off we go… Stormed onto the M5, passed a truck and – splutter – it died on me. Pull on to the hard shoulder. Try and re-start. Nothing. Bollocks. Decide to cut our losses and call the recovery people… get the bugger trailered home, where we have the luxury of tools, warmth and Google Groups. Just before the recovery man turns up, I try and re-start it. ARRRGH! Yep, you guessed it. First time. Recovery man turns up, I explain the situation, he has a prod and cannot find any fault. Before he goes off, I pay him his £40 (thanks, Footman James, for not explaining that one!) and decide to press on. If the car dies again, I cannot afford the £400 to get it recovered to London (whether I can claim it back or not), and I’m stuck.

…to the whole world, we must look

like a pair of old dodderers,

reinforcing the tired old cliché

about Rover drivers.

We decide that due to the randomness of the fault, it would not be prudent to use any other lane on the motorway except the inside lane. If it cuts out when overtaking on a busy motorway… well, the consequences do not bear thinking about. So, off we trundle. Me on the inside lane, Brian following behind in the Rover Tourer. We catch up a Tesco truck – damn! He’s stuck at 50mph and we’re heading for the hills. I bite the bullet and quickly pass. Just after we tuck in, yep… it dies again. I slip it into neutral, and try to re-start. Churn, churn, churn, nothing. We’re grinding to a halt now. Tesco truck overtakes, the hard shoulder beckons. I pull over, and as the speed drops to 30mph, it re-starts. Yahoo! We accelerate again, me in the stricken SD1, Brian in tow. To the whole world, we must look like a pair of old dodderers, reinforcing the tired old cliché about Rover drivers.

We catch the Tesco truck again, and not once do I consider passing again. My nerves are on edge, waiting for the car to cut out again… which it does, over and over again. The marker boards for London are counting down slowly: 167 miles, 150 miles, 135 miles… each new sign seems about an hour apart. It should have been relaxing; trust me, it wasn’t. Unable to pass, re-starting on the fly, mixing it with holiday traffic, worrying about whether it will die for good… I was not a happy bunny.

After what seems like hours, we take our first stop just after Bristol. We’ve been motoring at no more than 50mph, and yet I’ve used half a tank of fuel… Not good. See an AA man, and ask if I can join. I can’t. On we go… traffic is now very light (who wants to be on the M4 at 9:00pm on a Saturday?) and we pick up the pace (Yippee! A lack of trucks…). At 70mph, it runs more happily, and the cutting out has now stopped. Still decide not to pass, but as the miles pass, I feel my confidence in the car returning – perhaps the fault has fixed itself. We stop again at Reading, and I feel better. London is now in sight, and the car’s running well.

Well, actually it isn’t. We get going and the cutting out has returned with a vengeance. At least now, it seems to re-start easily enough without stopping (what must this be doing to the autobox?) We carry on, the slowness of the trip, is really now sapping my will to live – I’m concentrating so hard on maintaining space around me, whilst tensing myself for the inevitable cut-out, that it is physically wearing me out. No 130mph stormer across France was ever this demanding. Still, we got round the M25, and down the M1. Never has Staples Corner looked so welcoming. We had made it.

I left the SD1 with Brian (his healing hands will have it right again), jumped in the Tourer and motored home. 70mph on the motorway in an R8 was paradise on Earth compared with the previous FIVE hours of torture.

A subsequent autopsy has pointed to it being the Lucas OPUS distributor (Prince of Darkness strikes again!), and a modern replacement has been ordered from V8 gurus, RPi Engineering. Will a nicely running SD1 banish the memories of this Saturday from Hell? Of course it will! SD1s – you gotta love ’em.

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25 Jun 2004

Staples2Naples

First of all, thank you to everyone who has responded to our pleas for sponsorship, donations or help… your emails have been much appreciated. Who would have thought that raising money for charity could be such fun. My only worry is that it ends up going so well, that I develop a taste for it and want to go on more…

I do worry about this, but the other dangers that could afflict me (a sufferer of CHPD or Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder) have – I hope – been alleviated. One thing about my relationship with cars, is that no matter how good or bad they are, I always end up forming some kind of relationship with whatever I am driving at the time. This has proven costly in the past. Many times, have I bought a heap for peanuts only to grow to like it, and then spend many times its value in upkeep (Citroen BXes were always a good black hole for parting me from my money). To avert myself from this danger, I have made sure that we have an effective exit strategy (sell the car on eBay, proceeds to charity).

There is also the worry of finding co-drivers; people that are as nutty about cars as I am. Again, I need not have been concerned, as a few brave (or foolish) souls have volunteered themselves. My only worry now, is deciding who goes and who stays. Going off my driving, perhaps I should stay… especially as we will be crossing the Stelvio Pass on day two (note to self, ‘must not drive as though I am in a Vitesse Sport’).

So, the matter of getting rid of the car at the end of the event, and finding drivers to join me seem to have sorted themselves out. QED then..? Not quite.

…who would have thought that raising

money for charity could be such fun.

There’s the small matter of the heap as well. As we have no car for the trip yet, I do worry about how this will pan out. OK, I know that I have three months to sort the matter out, but it would be nice to know what heap I’ll be driving sooner, rather than later. I did draw up a shortlist (which was very short) of BMC>Rover cars, which would be affordable and able to make it, but then I remembered that the thing could cost no more than £100 and beggars cannot be chosers.

So this is where you come in, dear readers. If you have a car that you want to get rid of for under £100, or know where you can get your hands on one, please, please, please get in touch. All that I ask is that it is MoTed beyond October 10th, is roadworthy, and is of BMC>Rover origin. Beyond that, I really do not mind. Although a Honda engine would be a boon…

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24 Jun 2004

Poor misguided fools

by DECLAN BERRIDGE

In recent weeks, various commentators – including a certain Keith Adams (Patriotism…) – have pondered why so many British motorists seemed to be prepared to support their national football team but not their country’s motor industry.

This appears to be based on the assumption that anyone who buys a foreign car is not supporting the UK’s motor industry, but that rather depends on how you define the UK motor industry, and indeed, how you perceive the concept of “buying British”.

Take a look at the membership of our two main motor industry organizations – the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) – and it becomes clear that vast majority of the jobs within the industry lie not in manufacturing, but in the service and support sectors. In other words, with the retailers and garages… which collectively sell and service both home-produced and imported cars.

Now, how many times have you heard someone declare their patriotism by virtue of the fact they will only ever buy British cars… only to find that they also have a deep-seated aversion to buying those cars new? What they usually mean is that they choose to fly the flag by running a succession of privately-purchased old nails. And they will do this while pouring scorn on those who have the audacity to buy a car that was produced by a foreign manufacturer, and holding in contempt those who “waste their money” by buying a new car.

Yet it is only when buying a car new (or nearly-new through a manufacturer’s direct sales operation) that the manufacturer gains any direct benefit.

Buy your car secondhand, and the profit goes solely to the vendor, so by this stage it really makes very little difference whether that car is British or foreign. So long as you buy it from a legitimate UK dealer, you’re still doing your bit for the economic health of the motor trade, and the many thousands of jobs that depend on it. Granted, if you’re unfortunate enough to have a prang or if something major goes wrong outside of the warranty period, you might prefer to think that a British manufacturer would stand to make some money on the resulting component sales, but that’s hardly going to be a motivating factor when buying the car.

…if you buy a new UK-built car, you
go straight to the top of the class,
but buying a foreign car puts you
a pretty close second…

Buy your car from a private individual, however, and any benefit to the motor industry – even in the broadest sense of the term – is negligible, which makes this a rather self-indulgent form of patriotism. I’m thinking of the guy who picks up his 10-year-old Rover through eBay or the small ads, then does as much of his own maintenance as possible – as a matter of principle, no less – and is more likely to obtain his spare parts from the local scrappie than order them straight from the manufacturer. No doubt he will feel a warm glow of satisfaction at the very Britishness of his car and the fact that he’s saved himself a pretty penny into the bargain. But the harsh reality is that he is doing precious little to support the jobs of those working in the British motor industry.

Far less, in fact, than the guy who ploughs his hard-earned cash into, say, a new or used Audi, Saab or Lexus at a franchised dealership, and then returns the car to them for its scheduled servicing. Of course, if you happen to buy a new UK-built car and then continue to have it professionally maintained, you go straight to the top of the class – but buying a foreign car through a legitimate UK dealership puts you a pretty close second in my book.

OK, I accept that there is clearly a market for older cars that have long-since left the hands of the motor trade, and that it’s probably better for the environment that these cars are kept running – in good repair – rather than being scrapped. But surely the owners of such cars would be more justified in crowing about their Green credentials? At best, they could be said to be helping to preserve a small piece of Britain’s motoring heritage…

In short, if there were a league table for patriotic ownership in any meaningful sense, wouldn’t it look something like this:

Top honours Buys a brand new UK-built car from a UK-based manufacturer, through a franchised UK dealership (and better still, loads it with extras and pays the full list price!). Continues to use the dealership for maintenance throughout ownership (even when/if the warranty has expired).
Bubbling-under Buys a brand new UK-built car from any manufacturer, through a franchised UK dealership. Uses the dealership for maintenance at least until the warranty expires.
Buys a nearly-new car through the direct sales operation of UK-based manufacturer. Uses a franchised dealership for maintenance at least until the warranty expires.
Doing your bit… Buys a brand new foreign car through a franchised UK dealership. Uses the dealership for maintenance at least until the warranty expires.
Buys a used car – British or foreign – through a legitimate dealership, franchised or otherwise. Uses the motor trade for maintenance for at least, say, the first half of the period of ownership.
Buys a used car – British or foreign – privately, but uses the motor trade for ongoing maintenance.
Bottom of the class Only buys second-hand cars, British or foreign; always purchases privately to avoid being “ripped-off” by dealers. Insists on doing his own servicing wherever possible to avoid being “ripped-off” by garages.

So, where do you come?

Feedback:

I must come at “Bottom of the class” then, as I can’t afford to buy a new car, nor afford to throw money at dealerships in order for them to NOT do the work they’re supposed to. How many dealerships can you say you KNOW will perform ALL of the tasks on a service schedule, and anything else where necessary. They’re few and far between, I can tell you!

If money was no object, I’d quite happily cut out the middle man, and donate it straight to MG/R – why should I be subsidising my local dealer, who’s often incompetant, sometimes rude, and often stupidly expensive? I would have no problems buying a brand new Rover, or MG; if I could afford to do so, and I think that’s my issue here.

The reason I buy parts from scrapyards (where necessary) is a symptom of our car market; cars have ridiculously short lifetimes – well, they don’t, but people perceive they have – which means you’ll get cars in scrapyards that have done very little mileage, and have a great deal of useful spares. I will quite happily buy spares from Rover if needs be…

I would say, that in general, there aren’t as many people like me, who will do this, in fact a great deal of people don’t service their cars at all, and repair them when something breaks.

BRIAN GUNN

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23 Jun 2004

Brummie woes?

MATTHIAS JOST visits Motorshow Live.

First of all, the £16 entry fee is outrageous. The IAA at Frankfurt was £10 and offered a lot more, with every maker (bar MGR…) attending. To then ask £8.50 for parking is almost enough to boycot the show. Such arrogance should not be supported.

The major point of attraction for a foreign visitor like me is of course the display of all the British specialist makers. I queued 20 minutes to get on the TVR stand, and it was worth it. I don’t know if the Tuscan facelift is an improvement, but that Typhon had me drooling. Back to playing the lottery then…

The Noble M14 was impressive too. As great to drive as the M12 might be, it never looked the part (especially those horrid Mondeo Mk1 rear lights). Now they have a car that looks fantastic too. The Farboud looks a lot more interesting in the metal than on paper, but I wonder if there’s room for another zero-pedigree supercar with a spine-chilling price tag. Good luck to them anyway.

I really loved the stand with the micro makes. I’d love a GTM Libra or a Grinnall Scorpion…

And now to MG Rover. That new grille on the V8 and 75 Limousine has convinced me. And the similarity to the new Audi grille is really rather superficial, so I don’t believe they deliberately tried to copy that. They should adopt it across the entire range. The 45 looked OK, especially in that lovely mauve colour. The 25/ZR facelift works too, but, as I have said before, dropping the twin headlights is a mistake. I could live with that nice dark green ZR though… Quite what they were on when they decided lavender blue is a good colour for the SV, I don’t want to know. It must be mushroom season around Longbridge.

As for the CityRover, I sat in it and I don’t find the interior nearly as awful as everyone else. Sure, no soft-touch plastics (what IS the point of those though other than to fool yourself into believing you’ve bought something “premium”?), but the car on display seemed solid, and it is very roomy. It boils down to what cars you compare it to. At the bottom end it is overpriced, but compare it to similarly powerful cars with the same amount of interior space, and things look more favourable. A Polo with that kind of power would be significantly more expensive (the cheapest 75PS 5-door costs £10,530!!!) and, judging by recent reports, not very reliable. I’d prefer the CityRover, honestly.

Finally, a sad thought struck me at the Honda stand. I looked at the IMAS concept car and was blown away by it. And then I thought where MGR could be today if the Honda tie-up had lasted and been intensified. Honda makes the cars of the future today, MGR is struggling to keep up with the present. The things that could have been…

See ya in 2006. Maybe.

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22 Jun 2004

MG’s new Maestro?

Had the pleasure of driving a couple of MG ZSes over the weekend. It was nice to be re-acquainted actually. The 45-based car has had something of a rough ride recently, both in terms of press coverage, and sales, which have been almost negligible of late. But is this justified? After all, most of the magazines were raving about the car a couple of years ago, praising its balance, poise and performance.

Well, I certainly didn’t think so. Both cars were taut, fun and drove beautifully, and although the interior design was a little old, and some of the ergonomics were suspect, it didn’t really detract from the enjoyment of the drive. Isn’t that what a performance hatchback is all about, after all? Look at all of the past masters:

VW Golf GTi Mk1: atrocious brakes, LHD wipers, coal bunker interior.
Peugeot 205GTI: Airfix build quality, noisier than a tin trum dropped down a flight of stairs.
VW Golf GTi 16V Mk2: the best of all, but vastly overpriced when new and still plainer than a plain thing inside.
MINI Cooper S: Current favourite, but cramped to the extreme with a engine that sounds like a cement mixer.

Each one of these was the clear leader of their day, and yet, each one suffered fundamental flaws. And that’s the thing: one and all were driver’s cars through-and-through. That they were based on practical hatchbacks, any offered side benefits were incidental. And isn’t that how it should be? Certainly, MG’s previous attempt at a GTi class car, the Maestro EFi was a very good car, indeed. If anything, its tally of negatives was far shorter than those racked up by the Peugeot- and VW-badged opposition. What let it down in many buyers’ eyes was style (and, perhaps, image).

The steering is communicative in a way that most
rivals seem to have forgotten; the ride is firm,
but never jars, the gear change is beautifully
weighted and straightline performance
is excellent.

Why do I mention these factors in connection with the ZS? Well, just like VW and Peugeot, MG has produced a flawed car. A yukky interior and questionable external style wrap a driver’s delight. Drive a ZS180 along any twisty, imperfect UK B-road, and you will soon come to the conclusion that it is a nigh-on-perfect driver’s tool. The steering is communicative in a way that most rivals (barring Ford with the Focus) seem to have forgotten. The ride is firm, but never jars, thanks to considered damping. The gear change is beautifully weighted. And straightline performance is excellent. Add to these positives, a melodious soundtrack, and you know where I am coming from.

However, like the MG Maestro before it, the ZS seems to being held back by its exterior style, which according to many people I have canvassed, is too old and stodgy. I have to say that although it has been around a while, the recently facelifted model looks extremely striking, and it would be a brave person who called it “stodgy” with that body kit on it…

Will the new one sell any better? It deserves to on ability alone. Ally that to a style, which looks terrific head-on, it might just do the business, but I think the odds might well be against it. Which is a shame, because the ZS is one of an increasingly rare breed of car that has that well-engineered feel of a car un-polluted by driving aids. It delivers the goods without Silicon Valley’s help. A dying breed indeed.

Buy one now before it’s too late, or be de-sensitised for good…

Feedback:

Having been fortunate enough to own a Rover 400, 45 and now a ZS, I can say that the 45’s road manners are far superior to the 400. The 400 gave one of the best rides of any car I have ever driven, but at the expense of handling. The 45 gave the car the handling and ride which it should have had when the 400 was introduced and it would have sold far better for it. As far as the ZS range, the handling is way better than the 45, something you cannot believe until you drive one and this applies to the whole range, not just the 180, it’s like driving a car on rails.

The only down side it is a tad to harsh on poor road surfaces. The torque of the 180, 120 and the 115tdi are really impressive, the 180 being the pick, due to it’s smoothness. With regards to the interior, the 400 was pure Honda and was OK, the 45 was a great improvement due to the redesign of the seats where they used the 75’s front seats, but this had it’s downside as you could not sit low enough; however when the ZS was introduced they again redesigned the seats in the front and back, these you can sit low in and are extremely comfortable. Of the three cars, the interior of the ZS is by far the best, even the white dials are black at night when the lights are on. By the way forget the 45 V6, it’s very disappointing, the auto box seems to sap a lot of it’s energy.

GEOFF THIRLBY

Whilst I personally would not be seen dead in a car with a boot handle like that regardless of the manufacturer, it’s a great photograph.

A propos of nothing, I generally despise Autocar but I just read a two or three week old issue in which they were really quite nice about the 45, and not even the ZS.

JIM SHEPHERD

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21 Jun 2004

Gaydon

Spent a riveting morning at Gaydon on Saturday and came away reassured that the place remains in safe hands. Last year, it seemed as though the museum’s curators (Uncle Henry) had decided that it was time to introduce cars from other manufacturers at the expense of BMC>Rover’s. The highly publicized auction of some of the museum’s exhibits was a worrying sign – would some of BMC>Rover’s priceless artefacts disappear for good?

In the end, most of the cars auctioned off ended up in safe hands, and the anticipated outward flow of cars from Gaydon didn’t happen. Returning to the museum for the first time since the sale was an interesting experience: for sure, there were fewer BMC>Rover (hardly noticeable though) cars in the exhibition hall, and Jaguars have made a welcome return. There is also a Ford GT40 as well as a brace of Aston Martins. Is this a bad thing? Of course not: it is easy to forget that although the place was set-up by Rover in the early 1990s in order to show off its collection (formerly based at Syon Park), it was never (as far as I can recall) called the “Rover Heritage Centre”.

Of course, it is easy to rue what has happened in recent years: Gaydon’s technology centre was originally rubber-stamped by Sir Michael Edwardes, it was expanded by The Rover Group in the early 1990s to house the Heritage Centre, and then after that, BMW bankrolled the expansion of the Gaydon Technology centre to become the nerve centre of the entire operation, centralizing management, design and engineering under one roof. Now, some years later, Heritage is owned by Ford, who also own the Technology centre, basing Land Rover and Aston Martin there. So, everything is much the same (even the staff of the museum seem to be old Rover hands), except Rover owns none of it anymore…

..the car that got our juices flowing was
nothing more exotic than a 1976 base-
spec Ford Fiesta in silver.

Be that as it may, the Heritage Motor Centre still displays a wealth of interesting BMC>Rover cars, and I cannot imagine for a moment that it will be disposing of any of the historically significant exhibits any time soon. If it did, line me up for the SD1 estate.

One of the most innocuous exhibits there, proved to be highly fascinating for me, and an indicator of perhaps, how bloated and excessive contemporary cars are getting. Yes, the car that seemed to get my guest, Roy Axe, and my juices flowing was nothing more exotic than a 1976 base-spec Ford Fiesta in silver. There was a purity of Form with this car that was quite simply, charming. It was tiny, by today’s standards, and yet, it looked “right”. There was no trace of fat anywhere on this car, and every feature included had a function. The fact that it was also extremely stylish, simply added to its appeal. Compared with this, the similarly coloured 1980 miniMetro, looked slightly contrived and awkard, and as Axe reminded me, one of the problems of this car was that its wheels were pinched in, and it looked over-bodied. Only a small issue, but it had a big bearing on overall perception of the car.

Still, both cars served to remind us yet again, just how much legislation and customer demands have forced up the size of all our cars. Of course, we have never had it so good in real terms, but it doesn’t stop one admiring the minimalism of older cars…

So, visit the Heritage Centre, and don’t get angry over the invasion of Ford’s cars – just enjoy the additonal talking points provided by a manufacturer, which had an entirely different perspective.

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19 Jun 2004

Who’s laughing now?

BY ROGER BLAXALL

A few years ago, it was easy to laugh at Ladas, scorn Škodas and criticise Kias.

Those days are gone … Kia’s now a major player in the world automotive market, Škoda’s been re-invented after its takeover by VW over a decade ago and Lada … well, whatever happened to Lada?

But that doesn’t mean the carping critics have suddenly been silenced … oh no.

Now the butt of their jokes is the newest baby Rover and what some might say is the company’s biggest marketing mistake since the 200 was introduced as a smaller and dearer rival to the Golf, Astra and Escort some eight years ago.

Remember when Rover cars were known for their class? It was only eight years ago that the Rover 600 won award after award for its bodywork, design and styling.

Now the company has been reduced to marketing a cheap and cheerful Indian import, which has attracted more brickbats than bouquets.

But are the criticisms justified – and does the car have some hidden talents which the press has simply chosen to ignore?

Well, anyone who has looked at the car’s on-paper spec will have noticed that size-wise and performance-wise it is far-and-away the leader of the pack. Design-wise, too – at least on the exterior – it is fresh and attractive.

The problems start when you open the door, sit down and start the engine. Then, all the positive vibes suddenly start to evaporate as you start to wonder how on earth MG Rover has allowed a car that is mediocre in such important areas to reach the showroom.

Crass, not class describes the interior of the car, for instance. Was I the only one who admired the early 200 for its superb execution, and the bigger 600 for the way it just felt so right from the driver’s seat? The 75, of course carried on the theme superbly into the new millennium, so what went wrong with the CityRover? Did no-one have a good look at its rivals and conclude that every one of them boasts a solid, attractive cabin which not only looks good but is also well-made?

I reckon that the CityRover must be one of the most disappointing cars the company has marketed in the last few years. For instance, do you ever ‘car spot’? On a recent journey to the Cotswolds through the M6 and M40 corridor I thought I’d count the number of CityRovers out there. The end result – a big fat zero. I even saw a number of rarities – two Lexus SC 430s and a few Stilo estates, for instance.

Which all bears out the disappointing sales figures – who on earth predicted 40,000 cars per annum! Someone in the marketing department got their figures completely wrong … deduct a zero and it might be more accurate…

Let’s just take a look at two of the competition – the Citroën C2 and Ford Fusion. The latter got off to a poor start until Ford (and who else could afford to do this) started offering handsome discounts. It’s now a common sight on our roads as Ford’s version of a chunky mini MPV. The C2 got off to a cracking start with the image just right in the eyes of its potential buyers. That the CityRover is still languishing in the pits proves that something is dreadfully wrong.

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17 Jun 2004

Salvation from the Far-East

Yesterday’s news that Phoenix had signed an agreement with the Chinese carmaker Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) has been met with a universal sigh of relief. Not least in the Midlands, where 5,000 Longbridge employees must have felt that the past few months have been something of a nightmare. What with constant badgering by the press on matters financial, the lack of solid new model news and a rising resentment in some elements of the press, it must have seemed that the company they work for had very little future left.

The implications of the deal are clear to see: MGR now has the partner it so dearly wanted in order to enable final development and the introduction of the RD/X60. Although no details have been announced as yet, the clever money is on it taking a similar shape to the ill-fated China Brilliance deal: the Chinese would assist with the development costs of the RD/X60 in return for production rights to the car in China. Although SAIC is already working with GM and VW, the MGR deal has the advantage of offering direct access to European vehicle technology that is currently closed to them.

MGR now has the partner it so dearly wanted in
order to enable final development and the
introduction of the RD/X60.

The shape of the RD/X60 also seems to have evolved: from the ungainingly car depicted in the 2003 scoop pictures (see this month’s news), it appears that Peter Stevens’ team at Longbridge has considerably changed the exterior style of the car. The RD/X60 prototype was presented to a meeting of MGR’s suppliers, and by all accounts, it was a very elegant car indeed…

It needs to be. MGR now needs to pull something very special out of the bag in order to make a significant impact. Happily, on previous form, it has the talent to fulfil this stern brief.

It will now be interesting to see whether MGR will be able to meet the self-imposed Q4 2005 deadline for its new car. Timescales are now very, very tight, and it will prove a massive test for the company… if it makes it, I suspect a great deal of respect could be heading its way from the opposition. If it makes it…

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16 Jun 2004

Perception vs. reality

How much do we judge a car by the badge it wears? The more enlightened amongst us will probably say “not at all”, and figure that each car should be judged on its merits. But is this completely true? I wrote about the BMW 1-Series yesterday, stating that it had the face of someone being strangled and proportions that simply don’t work. But at the same time, I made the assumption that as it was a BMW, and therefore a money-no-object exercise, it would hold true to the marque’s rock-solid brand values (uncorrupted steering, peerless chassis set-up and smart straight-line performance).

According to AUTOCAR magazine, this has proven to be true… seasoned old-hand Peter Robinson came away impressed by its beguiling mixture of dynamic prowess and effortless all-round ability. So, BMW have hit a winning formula. Its brand values are therefore straightforward: dynamic excellence, which results in a “driver’s car”.

In the same issue of AUTOCAR, Richard Bremner and Steve Cropley both stated how much they warmed to the facelifted MG ZS180, and how it had an honest quality about it that made it endearing. This got me thinking about brand values. As stated, it seems that the most successful manufacturers have clearly defined brand values, just like BMW: Mercedes-Benz=legendary build quality and longevity (eroded by recent cars), Ford=value for money cars built for a purpose, with a peppering of driver appeal, Toyota=reliability, and so on. You get the idea.

But where does that leave MG Rover? MG is still healthy enough – focused driver’s cars aimed at enthusiasts. The ‘Zeds’ have been a critical success, and because MG’s history is also inextricably tied to hotted-up saloons (MG Metro, anyone?) the company’s brand values remain strong.

Rover, on the other hand, is rather less clear-cut. In the 1950s, it was easy: Rover=solid, dependable, quality executive cars. In the 1960s, thanks to the P6, this perception changed rapidly: Rover=forward-thinking, advanced executive cars. By the 1970s, the company had been well-and-truly integrated into the BL machine (which effectively killed Triumph), and Rover became synonymous with the ills that affected Austin-Morris. The 1980s were a watershed decade for Rover. The emergence of the Ro-nda, with its corresponding push into the middle market, meant that Rover’s image was in a state of flux.

By 1990, Rover stood on the edge of greatness.
Bolstered by the success of the 200/400, 800 and
Metro, Rover had re-invented itself as smart and
classy – a cut above the middle market.

By 1990, Rover stood on the edge of greatness. Bolstered by the success of the R8 200/400, the 800 (which, lest we forget, was the best-selling executive car in the UK for a number of years) and the newly-launched revitalised Metro, Rover had re-invented itself as smart and classy – a cut above the middle market. Everyone liked Rovers, and admired the company’s cutting edge engineering and crisp styling; even the motoring press readily admitted that after years of trying, Rover had just about made it. These were great years for the company, even though these “rich years” were built on the weakened foundations laid by ARG and Honda, and their associated 5-year product life-cycles…

However, at the point that Rover was so nearly there, the company was already being starved of funds, and forced to become over-reliant on Honda. Still, the feel-good effect of the early 1990s was such that it enticed BMW to buy the company, and the rest, as they say, is history.

If nothing else, BMW did leave Rover one shining legacy: the 75, which was (and remains) a magnificent car. But the rest of Rover’s range is a throwback to the Honda-era, which means that it has a top-heavy range, which despite being worthy enough, people perceive as growing older by the day. Because of this, Rover does not really have a core brand value right now, because the 25/45 are too inexpensive to be considered remotely “premium”. The 75, which is a premium product, fights a market full of premium products from competitors such as Volvo, Saab, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo, and therefore struggles. So what Rover needs to do is to find a position, a niche, a USP. The CityRover farce has also damaged its credibility more than anyone at Longbridge might care to admit.

The trouble is that with an ageing range and no money, it is going to be a long, uphill struggle. Encouraging tests like Richard Bremner’s are a start, but the message needs to be more widespread. Rover needs to re-find its feet. The 45 is a good car – not classleading, but good. Get that message out, get bums on seats and it could well be that we will be saying: Rover=engineering excellence. If the message isn’t heard by a wider audience soon, kiss Rover goodbye and concentrate on MG.

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15 Jun 2004

BMW 1-Series

Remember when you first saw the BMW 1-Series? What was your intial reaction? I can bet that it was not complimentary. Styling, as we all know, is a completely subjective matter; after all, there are people out there who think the Allegro is pretty, and that the Jaguar E-Type is ugly, and that shows just how unique we all are as individuals. But what one can rely on is the concensus: and it is the concensus of opinion that can drive us to make generalistic opinons about the way a car looks.

Take the BMW 1-Series: the concensus of opinion is that it is an ugly car. Quite a few people have commented that the Bangle-Jangle simply does not translate too well onto the smaller design. Allied with bulging headlamps that give it the bug-eyed look of someone being strangled, and the wierd cab-backwards stance, and you have yourself an awkward-looking hob-goblin of a car.

…the concensus of opinion is that the
BMW 1-Series is ugly… an awkward-
looking hob-goblin of a car.

That being the case, why is it that there are people out there (who really should know better) who say that this car is related to the still-born Rover R30 concept? Think about that for a moment. When did Rover ever produce an awkward-looking small car, given a free hand? Look at the R8, for example… given this degree of design freedom, the company produced a startlingly fresh looking car of its time. Yes, it could be argued that the follow-up 400 was a little awkward, but were the company’s hands not tied by Honda in this instance?

No, there is no resemblance between the gargoyle Beemer and the Rover R30. Why on Earth would BMW produce a rear-wheel-drive small car based upon a front wheel drive Rover? It simply does not add up. And why use the vestiges of a design penned in the UK, when the company was concerned about producing a new small car, which needed to incorporate all the core values precious to the brand? So there is no engineering commonality either.

This is backed up by an ex-Senior Rover designer who told me that the 1-Series bears no resemblance whatsoever to the sublime Richard Woolley designed Rover R30. However, it does look suprisingly similar to a R30 concept forwarded by BMW Style, rejected at an early stage of the R30 development. There are elements of current thinking in the 1-Series (glasshouse shape, rear door cut-outs), as there were in the R30, but that certainly does not link the two car.

Given that BMW went for a complete carte blanche with its new baby, it does seem strange that all elements of the R30 project were shipped out to Munich. After all, work on the 1-Series is alleged to have started the day after BMW sold Rover. So why would BMW need the R30? Why keep it? Surely BMW would have nothing to fear from a Phoenix-built R30? Perhaps it is time for Munich to release details of the car, so that we can make up our own minds. After all, BMW has nothing to lose.

Unless of course, the pretty Rover shades the clumsy Beemer..?

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14 Jun 2004

Off to the track we go?

The track day is a massively growing phenonemon in the UK: even as recently as ten years ago, it would have been impossible to go on a track day unless you belonged to an owners’ club, and had arranged a mass visit there. The concept of taking your own car to a track, paying £150-or-so and simply driving its nuts off was, frankly, the stuff of a madman’s dreams.

However, the race track owners seem to have opened their eyes to the possibilities, and over the past two or three years, agencies have started up all sorts of packages, catering to anyone with a car, crash helmet, and a modicum of enthusiasm. So, as roads get more crowded, drivers feel increasingly hemmed in, and feel the need to drive fast whenever the opportunity presents itself. If you live near London, Birmingham or Manchester, these opportunities are all too rare. An open track seems, therefore, to be the ideal antedote…

We at austin-rover.co.uk applaud this movement, and if it means that more owners of high performance cars are properly skilled to use them, then it benefits everyone.

This leads me to a personal quandry, though: I am reasonably experienced at track days, and have to say that every single one I attend teaches me a little bit more about my driving, and how we’re only as good as the speed of our reactions. There were plans for me to press my old Rover Vitesse into service as a track day car, but this fell through when the extent of its body rot became apparent (there is nothing reassuring about the thought of possibly crashing a car with a rusty shell)… Before that, I used to run a Citroën BX 16V, which, if nothing else, was fast and handled well. So, my quandry is: what to drive now?

…I need to find something for under £1000
which is not completely useless on the track,
preferably of BMC>Rover origin, and it
needs to work off-the-shelf.

The Vitesse Sport Coupé should be a candidate. After all, it is significantly faster than the old BX, and although it is weighty, it should still handle well, thanks to the Spax suspension upgrade, 225-section tyres and TorSen differential. Of that, there is no doubt. However, when I bought the car, it was in concours condition, and although it no longer is, it is still very nice. Probably too nice to flog around a track. The Tourer perhaps? With the T16 Turbo ready to slot in, there is no doubt that this little estate would live with anything down the straights. But what about corners? Well, it can all be upgraded, but this costs money, and I want to do the track day thing on a budget…

So, I need to find something for under £1000 that is not completely useless on the track. Preferably of BMC>Rover origin, and it needs to work off-the-shelf, without ploughing loads of “mods” into it. Suggestions are always welcome, but here are a few that I have already ruled out:

MG Maestro: Too slow in standard form.
MG Maestro Turbo: Hard to find a good one for under £1000; brakes could an issue?
Rover 620Ti: Hard to find one for under £1000.
Rover 216/220GTi: Not convinced that a standard one handles well enough.

Good track day cars can be found for under £1000, but perhaps not with an MG/Rover badge on them. Let’s hope I am wrong (as another Mi16-engined car would be too much to bear), so please send in your suggestions and help me get back on track.

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11 Jun 2004

10,000 miles on.

The miles continue to rack up, and it is a good time to take stock. My trusty 1997 Rover Vitesse Sport Coupé, bought at a premium at the start of the year has now been in my hands for six months and 10,000 miles. How do I feel about owning a fine example of one of the UK’s most misunderstood cars?

One thing is for sure, objectively, I could say that it is simply not good enough for the task it was bought for. It is not quiet at speed for one thing, and with a 100-mile daily commute on the M1, quiet and restful cruising should be an absolute must. It also chews through tyres at an alarming rate: the Dunlop D8s were new in late-2003, now the fronts are down to 2mm. Fuel consumption is not bad if the car is driven gently, but as it has 200PS to play with, it is sometimes difficult to drive in that manner (AUTOCAR managed an average of 19.8mpg in their road test, I can believe it).

Beyond that, it is not that practical (for a family man with two kids), and thanks to its immensely long doors, I have taken up the habit of occupying two bays in car parks in order to allow for clearance. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the gearbox crying enough at 48,000 miles… which it, to put it mildly, a joke.

And there’s one more thing, which I still find amusing: when people ask me what I drive, if I tell them it’s a Rover 800, you could almost see the subconscious statement forming: ‘…and you call yourself a car enthusiast?’. If I tell them it’s a Rover 800 Coupé, more often than not, people had not heard of it. And there’s the problem… no image.

If customers were not aware of the 800 Coupé,
how the hell was it supposed to lift the
company’s reputation?

We all know why this is: Rover did not get a chance to market its flagship properly (I do not recall the Coupé being advertised after about 1994), even though, more often than not, a flagship model is supposed to give a nice halo effect on the rest of the range. If customers are not aware of the car, how the hell is it supposed to lift the company’s reputation?

So it’s misunderstood, chews up tyres and fuel, and has a gearbox made from cheese. Surely reason enough to get rid of the car and never speak of the experience again..?

Not so, sadly.

Cars are not white goods, and as such, it is impossible to buy a car on totally rational grounds. If we did, we would all be driving around in Fiat Multiplas or Vauxhall Zafiras. No, cars tug the heartstrings as well as sooth the head, and as such, we buy them for irrational reasons. Once we have decided what car they want to drive, any faults are swept under the carpet as eccentricities.

In the case of the Vitesse Sport Coupé, the faults listed above can be brushed aside easily:

It may be uneconomical and have a voracious appetite for tyres, but that is the price to pay for the limpet like grip and ample straight-line performance.

Misundertood? No-one’s heard of it? So what, that makes it a Q-car!

Impractical? Ahh, break the bank and buy a hatchback as a second car!

Broken gearbox? Put it down to day-to-day running costs..!

And that leaves only positives: the great profile, the luxurious interior and the obvious speed and handling issues… It does not sound like a long list of things right about the car, and that would probably be wrong. There are other things, which count in the Rover’s favour, but most of these are mundane day-to-day benefits, which are in no way linked to why I bought it. If nothing else, this proves the thoery that us car enthusiasts decide what we want and only then do we rationalise around that decision, and in the end it comes down to this: Perhaps I just like it, and it just floats my boat…

10,000 miles on, and I couldn’t part with it. Says it all really.

We’re an irrational lot, us car enthusiasts…

Feedback:

10,000 miles in six months! I’ve had mine for eight months and haven’t even racked up 4,000 miles yet. A relative of mine has a Peugeot 406 Coupé, the 3.0 V6 and I have to admit, my 800 Coupé looks rather pedestrian parked next to it, the Pug looks awesome and yet it’s just a 406 underneath. The Peugeot V6 engine has to be worked fairly hard to achieve the quoted performance figures, but golly, it’s as smooth as Nigel Havers and just as charming! But, when it comes to the interior, the Rover shows the way, it may be a 20 year old design but it exudes class; it’s a much nicer place to be in.

But, image is all in this market and the Pininfarina styled Peugeot shows the way and as such, the values reflect this.

It still strikes me as bizarre that Rover went to all the trouble of producing new body panels for the 800 Coupé, but couldn’t be bothered to give it a distinctive nose treatment, even just a slicker grille and headlamp arrangement (any good photoshoppers out there?) could have elevated it above the lesser models in the range.

KEVIN DAVIS

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10 Jun 2004

Patriotism…

We British are a funny bunch. Either we’re tubthumping about how great Britain is, or we’re being highly apologetic… Multitudes of St. George’s crosses are now adorning every other car in the land, and this is an extremely interesting phenonemon. Obviously, it is Euro 2004 that has galvanised the country into this touching show of patriotism, but is it tapping into something deeper?

This evening, the results of the European election will start coming through, and one party that seems to be making inroads into the “big three” is the UK Independence Party. Does this mean that the British populace are turned on by the idea of the Island nation, and that they don’t really want to be part of Europe? Who knows, but one thing that is slightly baffling is that while we are not a Europhile nation, we love with their cars.

Contrast this situation with the French and the Germans: two Europhile nations, that continue to buy their own cars above all others. Ahh… people could argue that Rover and MG’s line-up is shaded by the opposition, but is it really? In terms of sporting convertibles, the MG TF still cuts it against the likes of the MX5, and we all know that the Rover 75 is more than a match for the VW Passat or Ford Mondeo. OK, the 25 and 45 are getting on now, but in spite of that, they are still worthy cars…

…one thing that’s slightly baffling is
if we’re not a Europhile nation, why are
we so in love with European cars?

No, the British are an educated lot, and like it or not, they probably won’t feel the urge to buy British until the 25/45 are replaced with something new (sad, but true… we’re now all locked into five-year product cycles) – even though both cars have been continously improved during their lives…

There’s also the small matter that we all like to buy prestigious cars, and that’s where our nation’s love affair with BMW and Mercedes-Benz comes in. They offer prestige and dealer backup that MG Rover can only dream about. So, how to improve things? Well, MGR cannot beat the Germans in a straight fight, so the plan must be to be innovative and play to a different set of rules.

Marketing is probably where the most impressive short-term gains can be made: Play on the country’s current patriotism – wear the flag prominently in adverts, and play the “buy British” thing for all it is worth. Yes, I know the 25 and 45 contain a fair degree of Honda hardware, the 75 is powered by German diesels and the CityRover is as British as Bollywood, but at least the profits from these cars will be pushed back into the British economy.

The “Phoenix four” then need to come off the fence and be more open about what they want to achieve with MGR. If they want it to have a long-term future, they should bloody well shout it from the rooftops. Get some positive press, get the papers on their side. Do that, and people may feel confident to buy into the product…

Perhaps the ultimate sales offer would be for MGR dealers to sell England flags: put them on offer, buy one, get a free car to stick it on…

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09 Jun 2004

Police cars

Is it me or are all of the country’s police cars now produced by foreign manufacturers? I spend quite a bit of time pounding the country’s motorways, and have managed to build up a feel for what our county’s constabularies like to drive. Certainly, within the past five years, Rover, Ford and Vauxhall’s once dominant stranglehold on the market seems to have been buried for good.

When did things change? It has been achieved by a process of stealth, for sure. I remember when I was still quite a way away from my teens, I had my first trip to London. In terms of landmarks with impact, right up there with Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, was my first sighting of BMW 5-Series police car. ‘They must be loaded, those London folk’, I thought to myself.

Anyway, that was a long time ago, and times have changed irrevocably. The “Big Three” as they used to known as, have long since relinquished their grip of the police market, and our forces now seem to operate a very cosmopolitan purchasing policy. On my travels, I have seen Peugeots, Nissans, Volkswagens, Volvos (a long-time favourite, admittedly), BMWs, Hondas (Swindon, of course) even Skodas.

Such is the completeness of this change that it now registers as a shock to see a Rover or MG police car (are there any?) One of the reasons I fell in love with the Rover SD1 was because it looked so cool (read, mean and menacing) as a police car. Heck, even the 1980s Rover 825s and 827s they used locally to me looked the dog’s danglies…

Such is the completeness of this change
that it now registers as a shock to see a
Rover or MG police car.

And this got me thinking. In France, they have French police cars, in Germany, they have German police cars, so why so few British police cars in Britain? And is MG Rover missing a marketing opportunity here? How about wheeling and dealing with the counties in order to get some of those pretty ZT-T police cars out there patrolling our motorways?

After all, like it or not, patrol cars are mobile advertising for whatever company’s product the police chose to strap their blue lights to. Perhaps MGR are trying, and the police are playing shy, the spectre of blown head gaskets foremost in the minds of transport managers. Either way, I would say that MGR is not trying hard enough – the ZT-T 190 makes the ideal police car: quick and planted on the motorway, with room in the back for lots and lots of cones… and motorists notice. And hopefully the seed is planted: maybe Rovers aren’t that bad after all…

Who knows, but perception is always a million miles from the truth…

Feedback:

Just on the subject of police cars: in France at least, no longer true. They have a load of Fords and Seats for everyday use and some big powerful foreign cars ( we are not supposed to know, but BMW and Porsche have been mentioned) for chasing the English up the A1 and, more seriously, trying to deal with some aspects of big time crime. It can no longer be assumed that if it ain’t a Renault, Peugeot or Citroën it is not a police car!

JIM SHEPHERD

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08 Jun 2004

The team is re-united

Land Rovers. We all love them. Don’t we? Well, I know I do. There is something uniquely British about them: tough, rugged, briliant at their job, they wear their “Britishness” in the the same way that an FX4, Mini or E-Type does. The only mud-plugger with enough kudos to do the Kensington school run and enough ability for farmers to pull stumps from the muddiest quagmires is a Land Rover…

I often wondered what would happen to the company once it became part of Uncle Henry’s empire. I had concerns that Freelander and the Maverick II were too close in style/price and ability for both to have a long term future, whilst there were feelings of dread over what the Americans would make of the sublime Range Rover. After all, it is the land that brought you the Hummer and the concept of the “pimped-up wagon”.

America is the Land that brought you
the Hummer and the concept of the
“pimped-up wagon”.

My feelings of unease were allayed though, when it became clear that all future Land Rover designs would be penned at Gaydon, and that the designers principally in charge of the company’s stylistic future were David Saddington (designer of the R3 and the stillborn R6X), Richard Woolley (Rover 75, 600, 400) under the leadership of well known ex-Rover man Geoff Upex.

Meanwhile, Freelander designer Gerry McGovern left Rover in the late-1990s for Ford, and was given the task of re-invigorating the Lincoln brand. When September 11th put paid to this plan, Gerry returned to the UK to head up Ingeni design, before moving to Land Rover earlier this year.

This formidable design team’s legacy lives on (thanks to longer-than-anticipated production runs) in today’s Rover 25, 45, 75 and MG TF, and if anyone had any doubt that Land Rover’s direction was the right one, they need look no further than Richard Woolley’s Range Stormer concept, unveiled at the beginning of 2004.

So, Land Rover’s design future would appear to be in safe hands. Production is less clear cut, thanks to Ford raising concerns over the long term viability of the Solihull plant. Echoes of Bernd Pischetsrieder‘s “inspired” idea to torpedo the launch of the 75 by questioning Longbridge’s long-term plans, seem to have emerged in Ford’s concerns over Solihull. Still, as long as McGovern, Upex, Saddington and Woolley have a say in their looks, they will continue to have blue-chip British DNA.

So should austin-rover.co.uk continue to cover Land Rover’s development, despite Ford’s ownership? let us know what you think…

Feedback:

I’ve been reading your brilliant site avidly for a while now (not quite all in one sitting but it’s a difficult site to browse away from…). I had a read through yesterday’s blog and thought I might contribute.

If it isn’t too time consuming, it would be interesting to see the latest developments of the ex-BL brands (Jaguar, LR etc.). Their ownership by other companies shouldn’t rule out their inclusion – after all, the products produced by the Rover Group while under BMW ownership are included (would you have included these if BMW still owned Rover?). I’m not sure where you would put these extra pages on the site, though – your current menu tracks the BMC>MG Rover products well and I’m not sure where, for example, the S-Type Jaguar would fit in to this.

I’ve been inexplicably interested in the bloodlines of different cars in the past – who owns who, which cars relate to which others etc. If I had the time to document this it would probably be along the lines of a family tree, or a graphic timeline (or both). Perhaps it’s already been done and I’ve not found it yet. However, might a page akin to this be of use to chart which company relates to which and when? Current Land Rovers, Jaguars and MINIs could then be collated as a subset of this page (or on an entirely separate site, either way so as not to clutter the menu you already have) but still linked from pages on austin-rover.co.uk where they fit into the BMC>MG Rover ‘story’. Hence, for example, the current Range Rover would not be on the austin-rover.co.uk menu, but would be linked to at the end of the austin-rover.co.uk pages detailing the MK1 and MK2 Range Rovers, so that the continuity of the Range Rover story is maintained, and linked from the family tree so that people can see where it fits in the jigsaw as a whole.

CHRIS WADE

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07 Jun 2004

eBay is feeding addictions!

It is a debate that rages amongst video games collectors: has eBay ruined the market? The idea of finding that all-too-rare Vectrex for £2 at a Sunday car boot sale seems to have died a death, thanks to the ever-improving popularity of the ubiquitous auction site. After all, 90 per cent of UK households containing family members under the age of 30 now have internet access, and of that 90 per cent, probably 90 per cent know about or use eBay. But is it right to say that eBay has ruined the market? Would it be more correct to say that it has opened up new opportunities?

The popularity of eBay has been enormous, so successful in fact, that it has pretty much entered the national consciousness. And thanks to that popularity, it is now possible to get hold of wierd and wacky artefacts that one would have had no luck of finding in the past. Consider this: if you want a set of brake pads for a Talbot Alpine, or a Leyland P76 brochure, or a hub-cap for an Austin A40, chances are you will find them on eBay with a 99p starting price.

eBay has slowly eroded the chances of
finding that out-of-the-way bargain
Ambassador with 13,000 miles on it.

The downside is that every so-called expert that comes across anything classic (meaning old), will say, “stick it on eBay…” And in a way, they are right: one man’s junk is another man’s prized posession. However, it has slowly eroded the chances of finding that out-of-the-way bargain. You know the one. The old man down the street has died and his wife sells his 1983 Ambassador Vanden Plas with 13,000 miles on the clock for £150 to “get it out of the way”. Now, said old woman has a son or daughter, who is smart enough to stick the car on eBay and open it up to a worldwide audience. Bad if you are in the habit of finding such gems. Good for the rest of us.

So I say that eBay certainly has not ruined the market. It has changed it irrevocably, though. Now that eBay has become so popular, could it become a victim of its own success? Many people have commented to me that certain cars are now fetching “silly money” on eBay, and it has to be said that bidding has become a lot more competitive of late. However, if one is sensible and sticks to the traditional auction house rules about setting a budget and sticking to it, then eBay remains a good thing.

In fact, the nearer I get to becoming unemployed, I wonder to myself… how about searching the car auction sites for old Rover 800 Coupés, Vauxhall carlton GSis and Ford Mondeo V6s, buy them up for peanuts, run a rag over them and sell them on eBay for a tidy profit… Hmmm, I wonder…

Do you think eBay is a good or a bad thing? Let us know what you think…

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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