Blogs : June 2005

27 Jun 2005

Working for a living

By KEITH ADAMS

MY POOR Rover 75 CDT doesn’t have an easy life. It gets driven all over the country in pursuit of auction stories for Classic Car Weekly, and when it gets time off from that, it ends up working for a living at weekends.

Maybe it’s not a typical weekend for me, but the one that has just passed saw me driving down to Hampshire, trailer in tow, to pick up a Lancia Delta. Then a quick run home, followed immediately by a run to Suffolk to pick up my new Peugeot 405 Mi16… 500 miles of towing, and yet it didn’t complain once. In fact, over the two return journeys, towing up to 1700kg in the Peugeot’s (as well as the trailer’s) case, it averaged 37mpg, and cruised so effortlessly that it was easy to forget about the load on its back. Keeping it down to 60mph was a real effort at times, truth be told.

I’m still absolutely amazed at how well it towed this little lot, to be honest, and I am sure that the extra torque afforded by the re-chip played a big part in that.

Do you remember Homer Simpson musing, “Mmmm… Doughnuts. Is there anything they can’t do?”

Well, I’m beginning to think that about my trusty 95,000-mile Rover 75.

Oh, and by the way, this is what £50 buys you these days in the Peugeot world… is it madness, or what?

 

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24 Jun 2005

The R3

By ANDY CARR

DAVID SADDINGTON is a Genius. Although Richard Wooley is perhaps the more famous genius, David Saddington really deserves a round of applause.

Why is this? Because every time I look at my drive way, I see the drop dead gorgeous modern, Richard Wolley designed, 75. However, my eyes always wander to a car that was first penned over 15 years ago. A car that has probably proven the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ right. However, I for one have no contempt for this car at all. I give you the Saddington R3.

I really think the R3 is a work of art. Today, the R3 looks fresh and clean. It combines every desired look that you could want: classy, subtly sporty, and modern. And best of all, it doesn’t blend in with the other overweight clinical eurobox/jap boxes.

I love the original dashboard too. Okay, the centre console part with the nobs and stuff might look a bit old school (lets face it though, below the six switches, the cassete and fan/circulation switches and positioning come from the 16 year old R8). But everything else looks cool and curvaceous. The overly rounded interior might not be in vogue anymore (witness the German cloned dashboards that are all the rage these days) but I love it for not being flat and featurless. You know someone has designed this from an artistic point, rather than one of functionality.

So it might not be the most up to date cars out there, but I still think its one of the smartest acts around.

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23 Jun 2005

Picked up the Allegro…

By KEITH ADAMS

I’M BEGINNING to feel a little smug now. After spending a bit of time with ‘Molly the beige babe’ – AKA a 1975 Allegro 1500 Special – our Staples2Naples transport, I now understand why it managed to worm its way into the affections of its previous owner, Richard Gunn…

Okay, it’s never going to win any beauty contests thanks to it coming in a most amazing combination of Harvest Gold, black vinyl and purple, but it has to be said that this car oozes character from every single one of its rather wide panel gaps. Yes, despite my long running love/hate relationship with the Austin Allegro, I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I drove down the A605 in the heat of a summer’s evening.

It manages to squeal like a stuck pig when taken round any bends at anything more than walking pace, but if you forget this amusing character flaw, it is actually a rather competent machine to cruise the highways and byways of Britain in. Change up early, enjoy the torque, marvel in the superior ride quality and watch the world go by as you listen to another Seventies song on the LW/MW radio casette player. You’ll be enjoying yourself so much, you’ll not realise you’re bowling along at way above the legal limit…

We will enjoy the drive back from
Naples… via the Nurburgring…

So, we’ll not be breaking any speed records for ageing BL products (like we did in the 216GTi last year), on our way down to Naples this September, but we will make good progress, and in a good deal of comfort. I fancy Alexander feels we’re in with a chance of winning this year’s (more relaxed) challenge…

So why the smugness?

Well… the car has 33,000 miles on the clock and feels reasonably tight and rattle free. And although it has one or two laughter lines you’d associate with BL cars of this era, I reckon Molly is one heck of a solid old bus… So, I’ll whack in a service, put some better tyres on it, and Alexander and I will enjoy the drive back from Naples… via the Nurburgring…

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22 Jun 2005

A model 75

By MIKE McCABE

“AUTOEXPRESS Needs a 75…” was the note posted by motoring journalist Richard Dredge on austin-rover.co.uk in late April. It must, I’m sure, have prompted an instant reaction of ‘here, have mine’ from many 75 owners.

Richard’s post went on to explain:

‘I’m putting together a buying guide on the 75 for Auto Express and I need a nice example of the 75, which needs to be in standard trim. Black and white are no good and silver isn’t going to look too good either, as it’s photographed on a white background in artificial light. If you think you might be able to help, could you drop me a line please. In return for the use of your car you’ll get your costs paid, a set of the pictures (a studio shoot costs over £400) and your car in the UK’s biggest selling weekly car mag. You’ll need to be able to give up a day to take your car to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire.’

My email to Richard was with him within an hour of the original post. Pictures, spec and more followed soon after, and within a week my car, R40 RVR, was chosen.

I would like to say it was the loving care and attention I give my car, plus my extensive knowledge of the 75 and its history, that led Richard to choose it over others. But no, the final decision came down to one thing and one thing only-colour.

R40 is Copperleaf Red, one of the best 75 colours according to many people, and, as far as AutoExpress were concerned, the one they, and the photographer wanted.

Two weeks on and an early start got me to The National Motor Museum for 9.30am. Tom Wood, the Beaulieu photographer, wanted the car for the whole day.

Tom cleaned the car, before tackling what I can only describe as the ‘eye of the needle’ challenge of getting the car into the photographic studio.

Each wheel of the car was put onto rollers before being heaved, pushed and pulled through a basement storage area into the studio. Now picture the scene-a two tonne car, on rollers, being pushed into a studio by three blokes, without shoes (to avoid marking the paint!). It would have given any health and safety rep a heart attack, and we were very careful to keep our feet well away from those rollers.

Myself and Ken (a friend living in Southampton who had joined me for the day) then became superfluous to requirements as Tom began setting up for the shoot.

So we paid a (free) visit to the National Motor Museum – I hadn’t been before and was very impressed. My only prior experience of a motor museum was Gaydon so entering Beaulieu felt, to me, like the equivalent of going from an M25 Travel Lodge to the Ritz.

Yes the content is more diverse and yes there is more of it, but the real difference I found was in the care and attention given to displaying the vehicles, as well as the range of supporting details, information and displays. If you haven’t yet been then go!

I would like to say it was the loving
care and attention I give my car,
plus my extensive knowledge of the 75
and its history, that led Richard
to choose it over others. But no, the
final decision came down to one thing
and one thing only: colour.

Back at the studio, Tom, using very expensive and impressive digital cameras, was busy putting R40 under the spotlight. The car has to be moved around the studio a fair bit to get the shots required by AutoExpress so, when we did pop back to see how the shoot was progressing, Tom was keen to recruit us to help shift the car.

A mild panic ensued at one point when Tom pointed out that the car was dripping fluid and spoiling his painted floor. With a K series under the bonnet, I naturally broke into a sweat (well don’t we all?) but it was just the air con drains dropping water and I so reassured Tom. My reassurance didn’t work though; the water was still lifting his paint!

The basement we were in was also used as a museum store. Under wraps we found the last FX4 London Taxi ever made (reg RIP FX4), a red P6, so well hidden that I only could see the rear rh lamp unit, and various Gardner five pot diesel engines on stands acting as useful holders for tea and coffee cups.

A leisurely lunch, followed by a visit to the Secret Army exhibition (Beaulieu was a spy base during the Second World War) meant it was soon 4pm. A quick look at the results of Tom’s work (which as you would expect was excellent) and it was time to drag R40 through the eye of the same needle. A few handshakes and goodbyes and I was on my return journey, already desperate to get the pictures in the post.

And today (Wednesday 22 June) you can see some of them in the AutoExpress Rover 75 buyers guide. A few others are posted here, and one is now a permanent feature on my computer desktop.

It will probably be no surprise for you to hear that I have bought many, many copies of this week’s edition of Auto Express. Some to keep, and others to send to family etc. (well this sort of thing doesn’t happen that often) who will be required to nod and smile and say all the right things!

All of Tom’s pictures will now become part of online commercial photo libraries, which means that, at sometime in the future R40 may appear in other publications, or posters or websites.

My thanks to Richard Dredge, to Tom Wood and to AutoExpress, but most of all my thanks to myself for at last making a sensible decision and choosing Copperleaf Red as the colour for my 75.

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21 Jun 2005

Faria, the FA and the Mini connection

By Ian Nicholls

ONE of the big stories in the British media at the moment is the unfair dismissal tribunal instigated by former Football Association secretary Faria Alam against her former employers.

One of her allegations of improper conduct is against F.A chairman David Davies. David Davies had a two-decade career at the BBC as both a sport and political correspondent before moving on to the F.A. Davies is also married to Miss Great Britain 1975, Sue Cuff.

What has this all to do with BMC>Rover I hear you ask? Back in 1976 the future Mrs David Davies posed for a well known photograph to mark the production of the four millionth Mini (as well as a bunch of others, such as seductive TR7 and Princess shots – Ed). This image is to be found in many Mini books and in cyberspace and here it is again!

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20 Jun 2005

The same old story

By RICHARD TOMLINSON

THERE’S a lot of talk following the recent TV story about all the mistakes that caused the downfall (this time and for the last time probably) of the British MG Rover Leyland Corporation.

But don’t we need a sense check here? It may be a good TV, but the downfall of the comapny was not caused by missing out on the Cheeky Girls, or not letting Footballers’ Wives use an SV, or one journalist who doesn’t like your cars. Surely the downfall was 37 years (from the BMC and Leyland merger) of incompetent mangement, leaving the final doomed incarnation of some once great (and not so great) companies with no real chance of surviving as a car manufacturer?

And I do blame the management. Over 30 years of poor products (didn’t the Allegro halve the market share of the 1100/1300 overnight?); poor quality control; abysmal industrial relations; blaming the customer (never ever blame the customer for not buying your product – it is always your fault); political interference; no production rationalisation (how many factories did they still have in 1975?); ignoring the European market (never mind old boy we’ll sell plenty of cars in Australia and South Africa); lack of investment (how long did they make the Mini before they replaced it? Oh, they didn’t replace it); terrible marketing (Relax it’s a Rover when half the world wants to buy the Ultimate Driving Machine); no or inconsistent image; too many dealers… In short everything that has been wrong with British industry in the post Second World War years.

It was fun visiting Rover in those
days as the K 1.6, 1.8 and
V6 took shape…

They seemed to be geeting it right with 200/400 series and the K-Series Metro in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when I was a weekly visitor to Longbridge and Solihull as an Applications Engineer for a piston supplier. It was fun visiting Rover in those days as the K 1.6, 1.8 and V6 took shape. I also used to go to Solihull on the 4.0 and 4.6 V8 for the 38A Range Rover (and some cobble ups on the 3.9 and 4.6). Then along came the overpriced and undersized 200 and 400 in the mid 1990s (driven by Honda’s model change cycles I believe) and it all went pear shaped again.

And I still work in the British Automotive Industry and I love it.

I am a Sales Manger for an £8m automotive component supplier (we lost 6 per cent of our business when MGR went into administration, but we were not surprised).

I drive an MG Rover. I love my MG ZT CDTi. Unfortunately when the car is replaced in April 2006 it won’t be with another.

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19 Jun 2005

MG Wins Le Mans!

By KEITH ADAMS


(Picture: David Monks)

MG and Lola have won one of the three most prestigious motor races on the calendar…

Okay, so it’s a class win, and the car was a long way down the field, the point is that at Le Mans this year, the Judd-powered MG EX264 was the quickest car in the Le Mans Prototype Two (LMP2) category, and that counts as a win in my eyes. So, a good news story related to MG.

Will we get to hear about it in the media? I doubt it – and that’s a real shame.

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18 Jun 2005

Cheeky, cheeky

By MIKE BURNS

IT WOULD be wrong to go over the same ground again, everyone has their own opinions as to the collapse, with even the most ardent fans are acknowledging now that the Press were more correct than incorrect after all. A very bitter pill to swallow indeed for some of the more die hard fanatics but the collapse is not something anyone, regardless of how critical they have been of the company, would have wished upon the workers at any rate.

But the recurring theme is naiveté and missed opportunites, and pretty blatantly obvious ones at that. Lets take advertising and PR.

Now the Cheeky Girls were not suitable for advertising the 75, 45 or even 25. But think about it for a minute. Modern, very ‘now’ in 2003, cheesy Euro Pop, annoying song, dancing, and above all fun and youthful. Did anyone not see the potential here for advertising the CityRover! It’s so damn obvious if I had video footage of a CityRover and Cheeky Girls dancing with it I could produce one in under an hour!

After Five minutes of hearing them on Trevor McDonald, I had that bloody annoying ‘We are the Cheeky Girls, touch my bum, this is why!’ going round in my head. A CityRover surrounded in a fun atmosphere, whizzing around the streets, at a carnival, in a high street, and shot of the Cheeky Girls on a stage with it or something screams ‘cheese’ I grant you. But, I bet you everything I own that people would not have forgotten the advert in a hurry, it would have ripped off the tweed suit image in an instant, attracted younger people to look at it and emulate the Kia Picanto advertising campaign. The Cheeky Girls may have been little more than a one hit wonder, but if MGR had managed to ride the crest of that wave by launching the CityRover just after their success, the benefits would have been good for minimal outlay, and maybe got MGR closer to the sales of 10,000 units as opposed to 6000 it achieved.

I understand the argument that whilst producing a Rover V8, it would be impossible to be taken seriously if at the same time you produced a city car. Not necessarily so. The fun image of the small cars could sit with the top of the range Ultimate Rover. It’s not what you do, its the way that you do it! You can appeal to all segments with the same brand, you just have to advertise the distinction.

This of course excludes the arguments about the car name, quality, price etc!

Free plugging of the SV in ‘Footballers Wives’ – perfect for MG. The programme may lack a credible plot at all, but it is glitz, glamour, ritzy, sexy. The SV would have been perfect and helped the image no end.

What a blunder to not get the toy cars into the Petrol Stations to sell in relation to the Hot Wheels Deal. And the Special Edition spped record ZT-T, what a coup! Fast Estates go down well with the public, think Volvo 850 Touring Car, Audi RS6!

I think the idea of making it a
success probably scared them more
than a collapse would…

But instead MGR ploughed on with Arthur Daley-style ads in the papers and bill boards. ‘Root Canal treatment, lets take the MG!’ was cringe worthy. What made it all the more depressing was that they managed the Football ad which was fun and eye catching. But it was a flash in the pan burst of inspiration giving with that they stuck with.

All this excludes the wider issues of cost, service, build, lack of products etc. Though to back out of the FIAT deal was crass stupidity! Look at Alfa and what you can do to a FIAT Platform. The 155 even was based on a Tipo! How blind were they management to this one! FIAT JTD engines, small car platforms, Suzuki/FIAT 4×4 platforms, Sport car platforms, PSA / FIAT MPV platforms, commercial platforms.

And I am sorry but I don’t buy this argument of it being ok to take expensive flights for image reasons. Its a culture thing. If top brass couldn’t set an example by trimming uneccesary costs and using the cheapest alternatives where possible, then it breeds within the company and money wasting is rife. And i dont think anyone can disagree that Money was very obviously wasted over the past five years.

My final thought: I have a sneaking suspicion that ultimately although the P4/5 wanted the company to survive, they didnt want to be committed to it personally for the long term (Remember the Stewardship statements in 2000!) The CAD designs of the RDX60 says it all. The project could have been done, but it wasn’t. The money was in the bank to go it alone with a couple of variants, they choose not to. We could have had a new 45 some two years ago, and selling better than the 45 ever did. It might have flopped, I doubt it because so many people were waiting for it. But if MG Rover still collapsed it wouldn’t be for the want of trying and no one could accuse them of not giving it their best shot. But five years on, the same underlying core models, no one can say they did everything. Far from it. Speculate to accumulate, but they got cold feet.

I think the idea of making it a success probably scared them more than a collapse would. Because they would have the ‘problem’ of a reasonably successful company that nobody would want to buy outright for quite a number of years, if ever, given the current state of the car market. And they never saw themselves as long term owners.

Cheeky, Cheeky!

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17 Jun 2005

Tonight, with Tevor McDonald

By KEITH ADAMS

SAT through ITV’s Tonight programme, and listened to the reason why ‘Rover collapsed’…

Does anyone else think that 50 minutes of television can even begin to get to the bottom of why MG Rover collapsed? The programme seemed to major on the motor sport marketing, entry in various competition classes, and the failure of the XPower SV. All very laudible, but hardly central to the theme.

Where was TWR? Where was the Pension fund? Where was MGR’s desperate need to get new IT infrastructures in place? Where was the mention of the loss of the Gaydon design facility and most of its staff?

The real story hasn’t been told yet…

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16 Jun 2005

The cat that got the cream

By MIKE GOY

JAGUAR has been treading water these last few years, whilst BMW have sharpened up their styling and produced some fabulous cars. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel for the British company, as showcased by imaginative design concepts like the RD 6. Jaguar’s Solihull neighbours and Ford stablemates Land Rover are proof of Dearborn’s good brand management.

And what a brand they have to manage…

· XK 120. In austere post-war 1948, this was a revelation. And the Americans loved it
· Glorious XK straight six engine range — 2.4 up to 4.2 litres
· Unique (for the 1950s and 1960s) sports saloon concept with the Mk 2 range, fully deserving the imaginative strap line Grace, Space, Pace
· Five times Le Mans winners with the C Type
· The perfect sports car with the iconic E Type. The 3.8 litre Coupe is just stunning. We can argue about the 150mph top speed claim at the launch, but what a car. Sadly, it became fatter and heavier with the US safety regulations of the early 1970s. Saving grace? Later models had the silky smooth and effortless V12 engine
· Car of the Year winners with the sublime, soft riding and beautifully handling XJ6. Mark 3 version still looks a clean, contemporary design 26 years later
· Candidate for engine of the century with the V12, especially in high-efficiency (HE) tune. Turned the very average XJS into a superlative long-distance tourer. Introducing a soft top version even made the car (a heavy-handed 1970s design) look pretty

What has BMW got? The Isetta bubble car. And that was originally designed and manufactured in Italy by Iso. (Taking an existing small car and making it their own has a familiar ring to it. Anyone for MINI?)

Ford has done a fabulous job with Land Rover, giving the Solihull engineers a firm brief but a free hand. Jaguar’s future model plans should make it more of a BMW competitor. Latest concepts — shown below — have taken the best design cues from Jaguar’s heritage — oval grille from the 1950s XK and the 1950s /1960s Mark Two, side opening hatch (RD 6) and curved panels from the E Type. Yet they both avoid looking Rover 75 retro.

Naming remains a difficult issue — X Type, S Type, XJ and XK don’t trip off the tongue like One, Three, Five and Seven. An issue for the company to ponder? Perhaps X in every nomenclature would provide some consistency and a natural flow.

The future’s bright, so let’s hope the future’s Jaguar.

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14 Jun 2005

People still love MG Rover… Secretly

By ANTHONY ENDSOR

AMONGST criticism from the motoring press and the ill informed media who believe ‘The Austin’ still churns out Allegros, Marinas and their BL contemporaries even if many weren’t built at Longbridge, but rather at what is now BMW’s MINI plant, it strikes me that people still love MG Rover. I am studying Civil Engineering at college with a group of varied ages, four of whom own or have owned Metros, and, well we all want them back!

The first things people tend to mention about their favourable cars are the good times they have shared with the car. More than that though, I saw a record five coupe’s in one day, and I keep finding myself in formations of other Longbridge cars, yesterday at the lights I was next to a ZT, followed by a 400, and an R8 200. On the way to work I followed an R3 200 and I was tailed by a Purple Coupe. MGR cars are everywhere. What does it prove?

Well nothing, we clearly haven’t bought enough and more and more people look elsewhere, most people, even I, agree the range has become too outdated, at least visually, nobody seems to want to buy a car that in its most basic form, you can buy for £1000 but at 10 years of age, i.e. a top of the range ZS at something like £15,000 compared with a HHR 400 for £800. However, with this many of the cars still on peoples drives, it shows one thing and that’s that whether new or used, we still buy and enjoy MGR cars with percentages on our roads easily comparable to any other manufacturer.

The cars have genuine soul and
character, the cars are quite
simply a better place to be…

Even in an age where HGF, now a problem mostly restricted to the past, is synonymous with the Rover name, people still take the chance and fall in love with an MGR car. We all love the underdog. We were all waiting to read that one article liberating stories of new cars and secure futures, no matter how positively or otherwise we felt about Rover.

The truth is MG and Rover still have some assets in ‘showroom condition’, and that’s the way they make their owners feel. The cars have genuine soul and character, the cars are quite simply a better place to be, and as a brand, we are all much closer and personal with MGR than we can ever hope to be with all but the smallest of car manufacturers.

Before MGR ceased car production they had reached a point of truly offering quality for less money, MG had reached successfully the next generation of car buyers and ensures any future for MG is a lot brighter now.

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13 Jun 2005

RDX60 revealed on the ITV

By KEITH ADAMS

WELL, they were sad circumstances (RDS Automotive in Southam, Warwickshire, is where this picture was taken, and that has now gone into administration), but at least we can now say we’ve seen the RDX60 proposal…

I just hope we get many more opportunities to photograph this car (and all the proposals for MGR) before we lose the opportunity forever.

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10 Jun 2005

No news…

By KEITH ADAMS

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) had a meeting with MGR’s creditors and broke the terrifying news: If MG Rover owes you money, expect 5 pence in every Pound owed returned. Dreadful, dreadful news… and with the confusion over Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) still rife, it looks like any potential bidder for the entire outfit is now well and truly up against it…

So, not good news then. Especially, when one considers that MG Rover’s liabilities were stated by PwC to be a whopping £1,812,168,000…

PwC are now talking about the possibility of selling Longbridge piecemeal, and to make matters worse, added that the company really had no assets left at the time of their calling in the administrators. There is talk that the IPRs that SAIC own are limited to the Rover 25 and 75, with the MG versions still belonging to the British. If this is the case, then perhaps there is the faint possibility of saloon production being restarted at Longbridge? It would be nice, but the answer is ‘probably not’…

One thing that struck me when listening to PwC’s Tony Lomas on Radio 4’s PM Programme, was the quote: “This potentially is as big as ENRON”.

Not good. Not good at all…

I hope that the three serious bidders PwC is talking about will be able to put all this behind them.

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9 Jun 2005

Doing the Jag thing.

By KEITH ADAMS

EXPECT the Jaguar content of the site to increase over the next few months. I’ve been having a bit of a Jag thing going on in my life recently, and the desire to get a Browns Lane car on my driveway increases on a daily basis.

Yes, I know that ultimately, this will lead to heartache, and a great deal of expense… so I’ve been told. But will it? From what I hear, buying and running a classic Jag (and for me that means X300 and older), can be a pleasure if you buy the right one, and don’t go for the first £500 crapper you find. Looking through the back pages of Jaguar World Monthly magazine there is a number of sub-£1000 Series III XJ6s out there with good history and honest descriptions. Should I consider it?

Hmm…

Either way, while my enthusiasm is running high, enjoy the Jaguar related stories that will be flowing onto the site’s roster in the next few months.

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8 Jun 2005

Beginning of the end for the driving enthusiast

By ANTHONY ENDSOR

WITH speed cameras placed in most places we go, all but accident blackspots, it is easy to see where this is going. Norwich Union are exploring the possibility of placing a black box in your car to offer ‘Pay as you go’ insurance based on your location and time there, rather like using a phone to call a variety of people all on different networks. However, where ever locations and time are measured, speed follows shortly behind. It raises all sorts of implications- when you inevitably pass that slow moving car on a country lane, and have to briefly exceed the speed limit are you no longer insured? Are the authorities notified?

I don’t think this will be science fiction- soon enough the government will be able to determine your speed at any time; other implications are that you are being watched. If you think about all the data the supermarkets get from what you buy on your card, and the kind of violation people regard that as, imagine what happens when a satellite knows your exact location – it knows where and when you go, it follows you to work, it follows you at home, it follows you to the shops and it follows you on the only pleasant roads where you can enjoy your car. I have nothing to hide. That goes for what I buy in the shops or where I drive, but I’m not a saint and I know I have enjoyed my car. Like the proposed ID cards I don’t have an issue, but then again, nobody enjoys the feeling of being watched. Nobody likes people breathing down your neck and reading over your shoulder.

Remember, they want to charge us in
excess of £1.30 per mile to travel
on the motorways in peaks hours.
Even if you only travel 10 miles a
day on the motorway that’s £65 a week
and £3380 a year; a slight change
from the £160 maximum tax we
pay now…

And now pay as you go road tax? I had a few thoughts months ago when Mike Rutherford told us about the new government idea for congestion charging on the motorways. Remember, they want to charge us in excess of £1.30 per mile to travel on the motorways in peaks hours. Even if you only travel 10 miles a day on the motorway that’s £65 a week and £3380 a year, slight change from the £160 maximum tax. My thoughts are that on the motorway and travelling at uninterrupted speeds, we return good mpg. Journeys don’t take so long. When we return good mpg, we also release fewer emissions per mile. Now the government wants to penalise you for this privilege? We use less petrol which in itself saves us pumping fossil fuels out of the earth, and we’re forgetting that most cars produce as many emissions in their production as they do in a long life of motoring.

So why isn’t the government targeting manufacturers to cut this? Because those people who have come to Britain such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan will move production to country’s where the authorities are less strict. Most companies are trying to reduce these emissions themselves too as Honda are now advertising. Many parts aren’t made over here, and it is the process of making these parts that contributes a percentage to the emissions. And, back to motorways, when on the M6 – how many school crossings do you notice? I may be wrong but I can’t think of any. Motorway travel saves lives. It saves petrol. It cuts emissions. And for crying out loud it lets you put your foot down!

Let’s just hope that this doesn’t eradicate the motoring enthusiast from British roads, before cars control speed from remote beacons and powered by Scalextrics motors. I for one can’t afford several track days. Enjoy motoring whilst you can. How long will it be before having a nice car is meaningless? Some people already see a car as a utensil, like a washing machine, just a means to A and B and perhaps C. To us it is a lot more and we don’t want to witness its inevitable demise. Think I might just go and order me a Nissan Micra right now to sit next the oven and refrigerator.

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7 Jun 2005

Road pricing

By KEITH ADAMS

OH DEAR, it’s that old chestnut again.

The issue of road pricing has raised its ugly head again, only this time, I suspect it’ll not be going away. Shame really, because although it is clear to see that the government seems to have the will to get us all on a road charging scheme, it doesn’t really have the way.

In a Utopian world, it makes sense. Make those who use and congest the roads the most pay more than others, who use their cars more infrequently. What could go wrong? Well, lots of things really – and not to make a political point, the first hurdle to get over is designing a robust and useable IT Infrastructure to administer the system.

In a previous life, I used to work on government computer systems, and I’ll let you into a bit of a secret… They were all crap. What I mean, is that a minister would come up with a great idea, and then, a bunch of Civil Servants would have to get the system designed, tested and rolled-out on time. And guess what? It never happened… And if we struggled to get something that affected two million claimants a year, at fixed levels of payment, imagine what is going to happen when the Civil Servants (well, ex-Civil Servants – as most were outsourced to US-owned companies such as EDS during the Nineties) try and design a system that involves the real-time plotting of 25 million cars? Oh, and let’s not forget about the new hardware we’re all going to have to install…

I think we all know the answer to that one…

So, it’ll probably not happen, because of bureaucratic inertia and changes in government. But whatever happens, it will mean more cost to the long-suffering motorist.

Mind you, if by some miracle, the government gets this system up and running within ten years (and that’s assuming the current regime makes it for another term… and I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on that), we can safely assume it’ll be bad news all-round. Why? Because these systems will have cost billions to implement, and someone will have to foot the bill. And that’ll be you and me…

No, what’ll happen is this (assuming New Labour win another two terms…) we’ll get road pricing, and fuel duty and VED will remain. We may get a nominal reduction in fuel duty, but it will mean more expense for all us motorists. Yep, more stick and no carrot, I’m afraid…

And there are, of course, the ‘human rights’ issues… HM Goverment will always know our whereabouts, and probably quite alarmingly, (assuming the system is administered by GPS), they’ll know how fast we’re travelling at any given time.

Which ever way you cut it, this little scheme isn’t looking promising.

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6 Jun 2005

The Rover Aspic

By MIKE McCABE

(Taken from the recent event report by Ian Nicholls)

Recently in a blog, I lamented the fact that that since the SD1 had gone out of production, Rover had ceased to be regarded as a prestige brand. The Norfolk and Norwich Rover Owners Club membership seems to be of this opinion as well – because the SD1 was the youngest type of Rover permitted to display.

*****

AS a member of the Rover Sports Register (RSR) which exists for the benefit of all Rover owners (though it naturally leans to supporting its more elderly members) my eye was immediately drawn to the text above taken from Ian Nicholl’s report of the annual gathering of the Norfolk Rover Owners Club. This event was advertised in Freewheel, the RSR quarterly magazine, and I can confirm the advert made it very clear – unless you own a Rover SD1 or earlier, then don’t bother turning up (I paraphrase but only just).

This modern example of anti-social behaviour (that in some eyes may itself be worthy of an order) is disappointing, but nothing more.

In the real world the April 2005 editorial in Freewheel reminded us that:

‘The RSR was formed in 1953, and one of its key ‘founder models’ was the 1947 Rover 12hp Tourer-then a mere six years old-or to put that into perspective, the same age as the first of the current Rover 75 models of today! Even the oldest tourer at that time, dating back to 1934, was only 19 years old-the equivalent today of an early Rover 800. A sobering thought, especially to anyone like myself who still thinks that 1986 was recent.’

I myself have visited several RSR shows, as well as others, with my (very new fangled) 75 and have always been warmly welcomed. Of course I have encountered a few off hand comments and weak assertions (shared loudly in order to reach the ears of their admiring colleagues) that my car could never be a real Rover. I want to say that I don’t always care-but occasionally I do, and I am then forced to drown my sorrows using a suitably high quality brew (it remains one of the few excuses for a good night out that isn’t immediately rejected by SWMBO!)

This year I will once again enjoy attending the RSR Annual Rally, being held for 2005 at Raby Castle in County Durham, where I’m sure there will also be members of the NROC in attendance. I fear that some of them will be attending, as usual, in their carefully preserved Rover Aspics, but I am sure that many, many more will enjoy the event and the welcome sight of all Rover cars attending-including the new fangled ones!

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3 Jun 2005

Still to be convinced

By KEITH ADAMS

BACK in July 2004, I blogged about how I couldn’t understand how manufacturers would spend their time marketing their high powered diesels as performance cars. After all, I figured, they may be fast in a straight line, but you’re never going to extend your diesel to its (low) red line just for the sheer pleasure of it…

Well, I guess you are expecting me to eat my words now. I mean, my Rover 75 CDT puts out (a claimed) 160bhp and 251lb/ft, and can now live with anything upto a BMW 323i in the outside lane fight. And it still manages to average 43mpg on a day-to-day basis.

So, I am converted?

Well, no, not really…

Allow me to explain. The 75CDT is a very impressive car, and on my favourite B660 thrash (I mean, commute), from Peterborough to Kimbolton it is a very capable steer. Effortlessly rapid, there is seldom any need to drop into anything lower than fourth gear on this mixed B-road. Overtaking is a doddle, too – look for a gap, drop into fourth, wait half a second for the turbo pressure to build up, and away you go… Zap! Another car nailed.

I think it has the really charming
trait of accelerating in a way that
is totally mismatched with the
noises coming from under the bonnet
– the only way you can tell you’re
accelerating rapidly, is by glancing
at the speedo, and seeing the needle
climb the scale at an amusing
rate of knots…

But what it is that makes the 75 so impressive on the B660, is not its very capable BMW lump with its impressive set of statistics, but its chassis. You see, I still believe that what Gaydon’s engineers achieved with the 75 is well nigh-on a miracle. For one, it rides extremely well. Damping is tight, suspension travel ample, and grip levels impressive. It is a natural understeerer, but you have to be pretty ham-fisted to get the 75 to misbehave in such a way. Beyond that, road noise is masterfully obliterated – giving the driver a real sense of isolation from the outside world, but with the added bonus of enough communication through the helm to keep you informed about what’s going on at ground level. I did trade off a fraction of ride comfort at the last tyre change – going from Michelin Pilot 195/65VR 15s to Dunlop SP 205/60VR 15s – but the improved steering response and keener turn-in was a worthwhile trade-off in my book.

So, as you can see, my car isn’t impressing me for its performance – but for its chassis.

But with all that power on board, surely I must find pleasure it driving it quickly – as I would my BX 16 Valve… Well, no not really. Of course, I go quickly in it (where it is safe and legal), but only because the rest of the car is more than capable of handling higher speeds. I think it has the really charming trait of accelerating in a way that is totally mismatched with the noises coming from under the bonnet – the only way you can tell you’re accelerating rapidly, is by glancing at the speedo, and seeing the needle climb the scale at an amusing rate of knots…

So, it’s no performance car… Quick, perhaps. But effortless. And therefore, it can’t stimulate my nerve endings like a true performance car.

And I’m sure that’s the same for the other über-diesels out there, such as the Skoda Fabia VRS or VW Golf TDI 150.

Of course, in the real world, diesels now offer such a compelling mixture of abilities, it is hard to see how petrol engined cars can continue to compete. There is now no real power advantage in any given engine capacity for a normally aspirated petrol fuelled car. The traditional 2-litre market is dominated by diesels – and it is easy to see why, when they put out just as much power, much more torque, and sip fuel at a lower rate. So, the petrol engine has had its day in the mass market?

Nope, not in my books. Give me a high rev-range, and a zingy engine note any day. Bugger the economy…

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It’s interesting to read your comments on the chipped 75. I would say that your feelings pretty much mirror my own.

I’ve had the X-Power 135 chip on my CDT since early October and I admit that it made a huge difference to the overtaking and “outside lane of the M4″ ability of the car, it was certainly money well spent. Changing the wheels from the standard 15″ items to 17″ alloys got rid of most of the understeer, lowering the car and altering the grilles with woven stainless steel mesh enhanced it’s appearance no end and the handling is just superb. Even the colour (Copperleaf red) is fantastic; but it still doesn’t float my boat in the way that my Moto-Build enhanced KV6 Sterling Coupe did.

So what’s the problem? Simple, I don’t care how good diesels have become in the last 10 years they are still gruff and unpleasant on the ear, they’re just a bit more subdued these days, your hands still stink for hours after you’ve filled the thing up because the garage never has any plastic gloves in the dispenser and diesel makes an unholy mess of the paintwork if you spill it. I console myself with the thought that I’m getting nearly 50 mpg – Oh God! I’m turning in to an accountant!

Don’t get me wrong, I think the 75 is a great car with an ambiance and quality that 800 owners only dream of, but I miss the aural delight of the KV6 on full chat, bellowing through a 3″ Stainless steel exhaust with twin 3.5” outlets the howl was nothing short of visceral.

My solution? Well, in 12 months time I’ll have nearly 90,000 on my 75, 3 less points on my licence (hopefully) and a bit more NCB on my insurance. So I’ll be on the lookout for a ZT 190. So if anyone hears of a Trophy Blue or Copperleaf Red ZT 190SE for the right money I’ll be very interested. Oh, and I don’t want the facelifted model with the horrid crackle finish dash.

TIM BURGESS


2 Jun 2005

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off…

By KEITH ADAMS

I THINK it is fair to say that anybody who is even a little familiar with me will tell you that the last couple of months’ events at longbridge have hit like a hammer blow. Seeing the once proud company dragged through the dirt has been physically painful for me, and as a result, I’ve been a bit like a bear with a sore head whenever anyone has asked me to comment on the situation.

And that pain really hasn’t even began to subside yet.

But when someone who I respect immensely says to me: “Your website is rightly OD-ing on the Longbridge collapse, right now, but I reckon the time will soon come when it’s time to move on… Once the adminstrators have done their worst, and once MG has been sold off to some ‘High Hopes’ concern, I would guess that you should swiftly get back to evolving the website as an all-can-do historic reference. There’s only so much slagging off of the Phoenix Four that we can all take…’

Obviously I take the comment about ‘slagging off the Phoenix Four’ a little bit personally, especially as during those first few days of the crisis, I ensured the webste remained impartial, merely reporting on the facts, and not jumping on the blame-culture bandwagon. But that caveat aside, the message is crystal clear – austin-rover.co.uk is here to report the company’s history, and dig deep into those little nuances that other parties have yet to cover.

And in the mire that was MG Rover’s fall into the abyss, our message was lost in a sea here-and-now emotion.

There are still many stories that need completing, and just as many that we haven’t even begun to tell. So, we’ll slow down on the current affairs for the moment – the BBC and MG-Rover.org do it with such immediacy that an understaffed operation like this can’t possibly hope to compete with. Yes, we still get exclusives here, and these will be reported, but as the great man said, it is time to move on.

We’ll get back on track and continue digging up the company’s history.

Hence the article about the P76/P8/SD1 relationship… It’s a subject I’ve always wanted to get my teeth into, but with such a dearth of reliable information, it is proving to be a struggle. It is my hope that one or more of austin-rover.co.uk’s readers knows all about this, and was in the company at the time these cars passed through the design and engineering studios.

Oh, and there’s the other side of the great Jaguar/Rover divide. Yes, we know that William Lyons had the P8 and P9 executed in order to protect Jaguar’s position at the pinnacle of the company’s range of marques, but what about Jaguar rationalization? Renowned Browns Lane historian and journalist, Paul Skilleter, tells me that there were plans for a Mk2 Jaguar replacement, which was canned after the company was immersed into the great BL machine. What do our readers know about this one?

As you can see, there is so much still to dig up…

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1 Jun 2005

Back to the future

By KEITH ADAMS

I KNOW it’s probably a little premature to say so, but I must admit that I am beginning to get excited by the possibility of a new generation of MGs. Okay, at the moment, things are looking grim, with the production line halted and MG Rover being dragged through the dirt yet again by the spectre of the imminent government enquiry into its financial affairs. But trust me, it will pass…

One of the tantalising aspects of the bids for MG Rover, which have been made public, is just how each management team is keen as mustard to develop MG into a leading edge British sports car manufacturer by producing radical new models and developing the marque to clearly focus on doing what it does best – producing fun, cheap sports cars that people actually want to buy.

I think it is a well-known fact that I am very much in the camp of those people who don’t quite get the MGB. I find it noisy, slow, arthritic and needlessly ponderous – but that is not to say that I am very wide of the mark. For one, when you ask an MGB owner what it is that draws them to their car, and they will nearly always respond about how much fun it is. And it is this clearly indefinable quality that I absolutely believe the British industry is so damned good at serving up…

I mean – look at the areas of of our industry where we constantly thrive. London Taxis International aside, that would be in the sports car field.

Maybe I’m a romantic, but there is
still the potential to build a small
range of MGs and perhaps Austin-
Healeys, which would mirror what
the company was selling so
successfully during the Sixties…

So, when the likes of Chapman Automotive and Welford-Winton talk about getting the TF back into production, and then developing brand new sports cars, I tend to get excited. Because although Rover was/is a great manufacturer of saloons and hatchbacks, one just knows that it is going to be difficult to convince anyone to buy any more of them in the future, if Longbridge was brought back online. And it is a possibility of course…

I just tend to think that the more realistic plan for Longbridge now would be to consolidate itself and put everything into building a range of sports cars we can truly be proud of.

Maybe I’m a romantic, but there is still the potential to build a small range of MGs and perhaps Austin-Healeys, which would mirror what the company was selling so successfully during the Sixties, and to a lesser extent, the Seventies. Imagine a new modular platform, designed around the flexible Niche Vehicle Architecture and Manufacturing (NVAM) system first spoke of by Terry Playle (see news, April 19), and from that, we get a new Midget, Sprite, GT and V8…

It would almost be like a return to the halcyon days of the Sixties – and just like the B and Midget when they were launched, they would be technically advanced, yet cost effective to build.

All I can say is, let’s hope PwC see sense and give one of these imaginative teams a chance with MG, and not fall into the trap of believing there is a ‘volume’ future for Longbridge.

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MANY people believe there is a future for MG, and, as you say, the word ‘fun’ seems to trip off the tongue every time the name is mentioned. I remember the Earls Court launch (just) of the MGB range in 1964/1965. Okay, so I was only 10 years old, but small boys get quite excited about sports cars. And yes, MG and Triumph both got a pasting from the motoring press for unadventurous or, more usually, nonexistent drive train and chassis development throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, it didn’t stop American sales. US safety legislation, strikes and dodgy build quality managed that all on their own.

A new, dynamic, export led and enthusiast owned MG Car Company can’t come soon enough. One area where Britain still excels has to be the building of specialist sports cars.

Surely the prospect of MGs and Austin Healeys selling like hot cakes in the USA is too tempting to miss? One of the prospective MG bids has to be accepted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, doesn’t it?

I still can’t believe that a major manufacturer hasn’t already bought the brand. MG would fit nicely with either Ford (sub Aston Martin and identifiably different to Mazda), General Motors (they lack a premium sports car brand, Subaru excepted) or even VW (sub Audi). Honda won’t be interested for obvious reasons, ditto BMW, Toyota are already pushing their own sporting image, likewise Nissan. Proton won’t be making a bid as they’ve already got their hands full with Lotus.

This interminable waiting…

MIKE GOY

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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