Blogs : June 2006

29 June

Why bother?

By IAN SEABROOK

FOR some time now, I’ve been wondering why on earth people buy new cars. Think about it. You end up tied to the main dealer for rip-off servicing and expensive finance deals drain your funds to pay for it. You pay thousands of pounds for a car, which loses a decent chunk of its value the moment you drive it home. While you remain tied into your finance deal, the car will continue to lose value.

But there is an alternative. Your first thoughts of cars under £1000 may be of cheap old bangers but it is more accurate to describe them as bargain potential. Has the car really developed that much since the 1980s? An Austin Montego can be bought for not a lot of dosh yet they can cruise comfortably at motorway speeds, carry four adults in comfort and servicing is a doddle. Yes, it may break down but you won’t be half as disappointed as you would be if you’d bought a £15,000 Volkswagen.

There are huge amounts of choice in the not-quite-classic sector. All those bland, unloved Japanese cars from this era. There is a reason that so many minicabs are Toyotas or Nissans.

Rover R8s are now very comfortably into bargain territory, even the Tomcat coupes. Avoid real tatty examples though. It is possible to find good quality motors with a bit of looking.

Bland they may be but by buying an almost-classic, you’ve immediately identified yourself as someone who isn’t a sheep. Who knows? It might even increase in value one day. That certainly isn’t going to happen with your brand new Ford Mondeo.

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27 June

K-Series: I want one

By MIKE WALDRON

AFTER reading about the K-series engine, it got me intrigued, the more I read the more I wanted one.

I come from a Ford Zetec engine background, which I know quite a bit about, and I was amazed how much better the K-series was. Admittedly It needs closer attention and more TLC that the Zetec, with regular oil and coolent checks and topping them up with correct fluids and messurements is so important. I even saw a friend’s 1.4-litre K-Series go up with head gasket, but after some questions and a strip down of the engine, it became clear.

He overfilled his oil and didn’t measure his coolant mixture correctly(too much coolant not enough water), while many blame MGR for making an unreliable engine, I blame the owners who havent taken the right care/maintance with their engine, not letting it warm up ESPECIALLY on short journeys around the town.

I’ve heard it so often, “My K-series blown up its only done 20,000 miles or so and thats around town, no motorway miles at all”

To which I’ve always replied, “did you let the engine warm up before taking out on ANY sort of journey? how often did you check the oil and coolant level? If they needed topping up what did you top the up with?”

Then we dive alittle deeper into questions, “how often did you use the heater? is it usually on hot all the time? was it always on the highest output? did you turn the heater off when you turned the car off?”

The usual answers I get from these questions shows all to clear why problems on these engines occur. Poor Maintence by their owner!

Before people say, “I taken it to the garage for all of its scheduled services.” It’s not the garage’s job to check and maintain your car week in week out. Likewise, I don’t buy a washing machine use too much powder, which in-turn ruins my clothes then blame the washing machine company for making a poor machine.

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Feedback:

SOME interesting points made by Mike Waldron regarding the K-Series.

But hang on its 2006, not 1956! The days of having to constantly tinker with engines to get the correct antifreeze mixture etc disappeared with the choke knob!

Drivers these days only expect to open the bonnet to top up the washer fluid. The huge plastic cowls that shroud most engines deter owners from even thinking about tinkering!

The fact that the K series suffered premature failure because of “neglect” is a pretty lame excuse when there are now far more advanced power plants happily going 15000 miles plus between services. According to the dashboard computer, my own Audi A4 will have gone nearly 18000 miles before it receives its first service!

PAUL HAMPSON

I’VE been following the debate currently raging about the K Series and I’d like to add my own tuppence worth based on personal experience.

In the Member’s Cars section you will find a picture of my R8 Tourer – a late R registered 1.6 K-Series model. I had this as a company car from new and between me and the chap who took it over at 3 years old it covered 198,000 miles. Did the head gasket fail? Well, yes it did – at 198,000 miles when a rock went through the grill in the outside lane of the M5 causing a fairly rapid and catastrophic loss of coolant.

This was not a cosseted car, it regularly did 1000+ miles a week, and it was driven hard. It did develop a coolant leak from the inlet manifold gasket – sorted out under warranty. However it was serviced at the appointed times and I always checked the coolant and oil every week, not out of paranoia for the engine but common sense, when you do as many miles as I used to it makes sense to check the car over. I only ever topped up with a 50/50 Unipart anti freeze mix – never with neat water. I did these simple checks on all my cars (Fords, Vauxhalls, VWs, Mazdas and Hondas as well as Rovers) and I still do. After all, if there is a problem you can spot it early and prevent a large bill.

My late Father’s M plate 214SEi provided trouble free service until my Mother decided to give up driving six years ago and, to my knowledge, still is to this day. By contrast this was a low mileage car, barely managing 2000 miles a year.

My KV6 Sterling Coupe (Also in Members Cars) did 68,000 miles in 3 1/2 years and the coolant level never moved. Mildly modified by Moto-Build this car was also driven hard when the fancy took me and never missed a beat.

So, in my experience it really doesn’t matter if it’s done a handful of miles or been to the moon and back. K Series is fine as long as you have a bit of common sense. After all, I have colleagues who’ve managed to blow up Golfs, Vectras, Lagunas, 406s and even an Avensis Diesel simply because they can’t be bothered to check under the bonnet and don’t have a clue when the next service is due. Is that the manufacturer’s fault? Last time I looked most handbooks still recommended weekly checks of oils and coolant. It’s not the machine’s fault if the owner sees fit to ignore this advice.

TIM BURGESS


26 June

Seamaster’s alternate reality

By forum regular, ‘SEAMASTER’

RIGHT, here’s what I would have done after the liberation of MG Rover from BMW:

1. Flogged off the 45 to China/India/Iran/? for whatever I could get for it, and leave Honda to scrap with whoever after the fact. Ditto the 25. Abandon plans for a new mid-range car until company records at least three successive years of profitablity and positive growth — leave that marginless bunfight to the mainstream manufacturers.

2. Then, three one-platform marques:

ROVER
Put Rover back where it belonged, on a single car — on a de-retroed, more ZT-ish reengineered 75 — which I would have rebranded Rover 1800, Rover 2000, Rover 2500. High specs become a Rover trademark with satnav, metallic, leather and automatic transmission as standard or no-cost options. Continued work on the ultimate goal of a RWD Rover 4000 V8, powered by KV8. Lots of soft-tooled variants rattled off: coupé, shooting brake. Premium pricing policy maintained, backed-up by rigorous quality control. Range £17,999 to £34,999.

MG
Developed the MGF into the MGG as a roadster, coupé and Bermuda targa-top. No expensive SV distractions or motor-racing pretensions. Priced to sell at £10,999 – £14,999. Frequent special editions to refresh interest until subsequent development of a cost-effective new MG off a shortened 75 platform.

AUSTIN
Brought back, like the Rover and the MG, as a single-platform marque to begin with, with what became the Mk2 CityRover. Get the quality right from day one, with UK designers and engineers on permanent secondment to TATA. leaving the interior makeover to UK deisgners. Entry-level Austin City to be priced aggressively at £4999 OTR with a year’s free insurance.

3. Sorted out the woeful dealer experience for most customers, critical to long-term loyalty. Ruthless dismissal of non-value-add dealers. Programme of dealership purchasing to develop in-house Mercedes-style dealer network in the UK and key export territories.

4. Dealt with the hands-tied legacy at Longbridge bequeathed by Munich though attractive voluntary reduncancies plus non-replaced retirements to see workforce decline year on year until “right-sized” for the needs of the business.

5. Partnered with large US dealer group to bring Rover and MG back to the USA on a shared risk/shared reward basis. Partnered with a Chinese manufacturer for a long-term agreement to licence current generation technologies/engineering.

Summary — three marques, three cars, three distinct identities and value propostions. No waste, but no compromises.

Might it have worked?

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21 June

Time for an automotive Darwin award?

By ROBERT LEITCH

SATURDAY’S Financial Times brings news of a small (posthumous) success for MG Rover. Reporting on the first two month’s sales figures sales of the Europe-only Cadillac BLS, the paper notes that, with just 500 sold in the first two months, Cadillac sales across Europe still remain well behind those of MG Rover, despite the latter company going out of business over a year ago.

The BLS venture is worthy of note as it represents a reverse image of the process which transformed the Rover 75 into the MG ZT. When first presented in March 2005 my reaction to the BLS was one of disbelief – was this a premature April Fool joke? If so it wasn’t a cheap one given the sheet metal changes involved. I commented in my diary at the time; “Further stupidity news: At Geneva, GM announce that they will shortly be building a small Cadillac with a Fiat diesel engine at Trolhattan. And by this they think they’ll sort out the problem of not enough people wanting to buy Saabs”.

The excellent Sniff Petrol put it more elegantly: ‘Cadillac BLS: One of the more intriguing Geneva debuts was this Europe-only Caddy, based on the SAAB 9-3. “The logic behind this is simple,” said a spomkesan. “No one seems to like SAABs anymore so we thought we’d re-body one of their models as another kind of car that Europeans don’t like”.

With the events of last year I thought that the Cadillac may just have found a raison d’etre as the perfect car for those who can no longer buy a Rover 75, but by endowing the thing with a firm ride in the best Audi and Sport-badged BMW manner, GM have alienated even this buyer group. Instead, gentlemen, form an orderly queue at your Jaguar showroom, where they’ll no doubt be delighted to sell you a Mark 10 Cortina.

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Feedback:

GENERAL Motors must be joking. A neglected product name, left to wither on the vine. Saab should be a premium brand, jostling with the likes of Jaguar and BMW for global sports saloon domination. But with just two base models, they haven’t a hope in hell. Even Rover had three distinct product ranges with the 25, 45 and 75. Plus those ‘Zeds’.

With the possible exception of the well-established 9-3 convertible, where is Saab’s Unique Selling Proposition? Where are the 9-1, 9-2 and 9-7? Why would anyone venture near a showroom to find out more? The entire range only consists of five cars. There’s plenty of room to walk around the showrooms — just watch out for salespeople spreading the product around to fill all that empty floor space. No wonder the General can’t shift ’em, even with constant television advertising. Speaking of which, the current 9-5 campaign leaves you wondering exactly what the car looks like, as it is hardly shown on screen. Talk about ‘less is more’.

And now GM wants us to buy a small — and poorly thought out — Europe-only Cadillac, based on Saab underpinnings and built at the Swedish factory. Why? Maybe Detroit is just too far from Trollhaetten. General Motors’ product planners need to get out more, that’s for sure. If they did, maybe, just maybe, with a little TLC Saab could be heading back to profit in a couple of years.

Yeah, right! It’s a basket case.

MIKE GOY


20 June

Excellent idea

By KEITH ADAMS

I’VE always been a fan of Peter Roberts’ excellent BLtin website – it’s funny, insightful and pokes a finger in the eye of BMC>Rover’s finer sensibilities with a degree of fondness and realism that marks out its creator as a dyed-in-the-wool car nut. My only regret is that I can’t get Peter to write more for us…

The site’s mixture of archive imagery and amusing commentary make each visit to the site something of a treat, and needless to say, it’s bookmarked on my browser alongside Autoindex and Sniffpetrol.

Being an enterprising kind of chap, Peter’s gone and spotted a gap in the (very, very) crowded market for magazines, and gone and done something to plug it. Many of us bemoan the loss of Jalopy magazine, Peter’s gone and produced the spiritual successor to that amusing tome, but created it in the image of his brilliant website.

It’s worth a read, and if you’ve got a spare £2.50 knocking in your bank account and fancy getting down and dirty with a number of interesting old cars, then it’s well worth logging on to the site and picking up a copy.

For me, Original Tin has highlighted just how wide the gap on the magazine bookstalls is. There seems to be plenty of demarkation in the market – you have the informative weeklies, such as Autocar and AutoExpress, the monthly ‘lads’ mags, such as Top Gear, CAR and Evo, the buying guides, What Car? and Test Drive, the monthly classic mags, the (one) weekly classic title, and then a whole host of single marque titles catering for the more cultish cars out there.

But what about those enthusiasts who like to march to the beat of a different drum? Those who choose to opt-out of the mainstream car scene, but whose veins pump with petrol instead of blood? What’s out there for them?

Original Tin seems to cater for those who revel in driving (or enjoying) bargain basement motoring, but are big enough to realise you need to learn to laugh at yourself once you’re caught in the grips of CHPD, or simply don’t want to get drawn into the finance ladder.

I’ll be watching the progress of Original Tin closely, because if there are enough people interested in buying this magazine, and who enjoy the dubious delights of non-new, but non-classic motoring, then it’s a vote of confidence for the non-classic old car movement, and one that I reckon that’s definitely a good thing.

If you’d like to find out more, or grab yourself a copy, log on to the BLtin website

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19 June

Why oh why?

By KEITH ADAMS

I’M beginning to think that my lengthy spell of Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder (CHPD) is incurable. I’m not too unhappy about it for 95 per cent of the time – it’s an ailment, which one comes to terms with. Most of the time, you spend your life justifying your latest hopeless, groaning, smoking purchase to your family and friends, and smile inwardly at their lack of taste and discerning if they don’t quite understand why a seventeen year old family barge with fist-sized rot holes in is actually a very good thing.

Ever since the DVLA was mad enough to award me a driving licence back in 1987, I’ve been buying cars that in reality only their mothers could ever possibly love.

I started with an Allegro with three gears instead of five, and an obsession with trying to turn left, no matter what I did with the wheel and pedals. You’d think I’d have learned – gone and done what all my mates did and save up for a nearly new Metro, Fiesta or Micra. But oh no – not me – I had to go and buy an Audi 100 5E with a wonky rear axle, A Mini 1000 with a rolled up copy of The Sun acting as bracing for the dissolved sill, or a Cavalier Mk1 with a cloth stuck in the carb to stop it stalling at idle.

Each time, I’d think I’d had enough of some hopeless heap which really would have been completed with a ‘Police Aware’ sticker on it, I’d take a breath, sell the thing, and go and buy another.

All through my life, my choice in cars has been governed by this compulsion of take on a hopeless cause and make something good out of it (I mean why buy an ’82 Skoda Estelle and age ten years in the three winter months I owned it?) But in the end, there are no winners, and only one serious loser – my wallet.

I guess that’s the bottom line – I love lost causes and trying to turn them round…

I had to go and buy an Audi 100 5E with a
wonky rear axle, A Mini 1000 with a
rolled up copy of The Sun acting as
bracing for the dissolved sill, or a
Cavalier Mk1 with a cloth stuck in the
carb to stop it stalling at idle…

So, why this ramble? Well, I’m wondering whether any doctors out there could give me a hint on potential cures. Nearly 20 years of motoring pleasure on, I’ve still not been able to ween myself off the drug of knackered has-been-mobiles and into something a little more financially astute. CHPD has me by the throat, and I seem to be suffering now, as much as I ever did.

A few times, I tried to get out of the addiction by purchasing nearly-new cars, but after a year or so, boredom sets in and I start trying to justify going back to my old ways by saying things like, ‘wouldn’t it be good to have a car that doesn’t depreciate?’, or, ‘isn’t this new Rover/Audi/Citroen lacking in personality?’ Followed by a swift sale, and a move back to square one.

One way of justifying CHPD is to try and turn it into a money-making bonanza. I buy a car, and sell it on for a few quid profit… except that in putting it right, I’ve spent all the future profit, and a little bit more. I once made £700 on a Peugeot 405Mi16, and felt good about it, until I realised that I needed to spend all that on a Citroen BX 16 Valve to make good, and then I ended up selling it for a loss.

So, do I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering what the hell I’m doing with all these cars – thinking about what I could have been driving with the money I’d wasted along the way? You think I would be – and yet, I’m not…

I remain happy and contented – and although my Rover SD1 remains rusty and immobile, and my Lancia Thema isn’t that far behind, I know in my own mind that I’d be bored to tears with anything newer and more competent. I like to think of driving as a great adventuire – and where’s the fun in owning something you can depend on?

Oh hang on – isn’t this where we started?

Nurse, pass the drugs!

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Feedback:

I KNOW what you mean about “CHPD”, although with my finances I think I’ve got the closely linked “HOD” – Heap Obsession Disorder. There’s many a time observers are bemused when in a car park I walk past new, expensive machines to pay close attention to some old car worth only a few hundred quid. The other day it was a cheese spread coloured Marina which caught my eye.

I think the obsession stems from a mind which supports the under dog and appreciates the more minimalist, the more resourceful. Viewed on a value for money basis the old few hundred quid car offers much more. It also has more personality and a far greater ‘smiles per mile’ factor.

The above frame of mind also goes a long way to explaining obsession with BMC>Rover, I think. Talking of which, I’m still on the hunt for my MG or Rover. I’m now widening my search from the very precise diesel engined Z car. Just spotted in the paper what could be a gem – an R8 convertible, only 43K miles, new hood and priced at £2995. Inspection, test drive and running costs permitting…..

DAVID DAWSON

I AM not sure why this happens, I know I look at the latest crop of modern cars and wonder where the wow factor has gone, the closest I have been to impressed is with the new Fiat Grande Punto and the Alfa Brera but have yet to see them in the metal and am quite prepared to be underwhelmed.

So why buy a new Eurocar, if like me an old Austin Metro (£300 and 34k miles with MoTs to back up) will meet requirements amply? Its comfy, Cornwall to Cambridge and back twice, reliable – daily driver and I use it for work. Handles well down the country lanes and I won’t weep if it gets scratched by roadside brambles. However when it throws its toys out the pram as happened recently, it often isn’t worth repairing at £160 a side for Hydragas units plus labour plus VAT.

Bring on the donor heap, £75 gets a complete car with 3 months MoT, good rear hydrolastic units and tyres, an unleaded cylinder head to replace the leaded original with valve seat recession problems and those vital spares such as dizzy, carb or headlights just in case. Makes good sense for those of use who aren’t flush with cash and have a modicum of spanner twirling ability to minimise the garage labour costs not to mention satifying CHPD cravings.

The donor heap is awaiting removal to the scrapyard and the faithful (mostly) Metro is back on the road with a new lease of life so hopefully I can add to its meagre 48K miles to date.

Great web site with really useful info and interesting articles, keep up the good work.

JEREMY CONTENT


18 June

Why did it happen?

By STEVE HEWITT

I’M still deeply dismayed at the loss of ‘our’ company, not just at the passing of the company itself but at its wider impact. We are in one almight mess as a country and I can’t see any turning point in sight. MG Rover was by far not the biggest manufacturer around – particularly in its latest and final guise – but it was nevertheless still around. There’s a couple of points I’d like to make as a psychologist, relating to identity and providing people with the opportunities that suit their skills.

Like it or not, manufacturing defines a country: think of any other Western (and increasingly, Eastern) nation and what comes to mind are its products; concrete products that can be touched, never service industries. Car-making is the uppermost example of this, and a nation’s cars, if well made and a joy to drive, bring a flush of pride and a sense of, dare I mention the word, patriotism. The Germans are fiercely proud of their motor industry, the French, Americans, Italians, likewise. Ask anybody to think of a company that defines Germany, for example, and I’d lay money they’ll reply Mercedes rather any service industry.

Like it or not, that’s the way it is – that’s the way we are. Identity is a fundamentally important need – be it personally, or as regards our place in wider society, or the world. It’s no coincidence that year on year surveys show that we as a nation feel less pride in our country. It’s little wonder; there’s little to define ‘us’ as a country anymore. Politicians contend that this is unimportant; I contend that when we lose pride in our country it leads to discontent, confusion and unrest. Of course, identity is not solely defined by whether we as a country make things, but the evidence shows it’s a consistent factor.

Rover was a high-profile symptom of our nation’s decline, but by no means the only casualty. And I, for one, acutely feel this decline. The loss of British manufacturing does not only have economic implications (though these are profound: we simply cannot go on living off ever-increasing debt, despite the relentless adverts for credit cards and ‘debt consolidation’ loans). A simple fact that our politicians try their best to ignore is that some people – yes, particularly men – are far better suited to skilled, manual work. It is fundamentally NOT a mere question of ‘re-skilling’ but an issue of providing the sorts of jobs that capitalise on peoples’ strengths – not everyone is happy wearing a headset and answering phones.

There’s a clean division in our abilities, between verbally-related strengths and so-called ‘performance’ related: skills that relate to inuitively working with materials and crafting things. In essence, manufacturing skills. As a nation, we are abandoning this huge pool of talent, and it will prove to be to our severe detriment one day. Over the last few years I’ve seen more and more young men, fresh out of school, sitting behind the tills in shops and looking very unhappy at that. But then, they’ve little alternative – there’s precious few factories anymore. I defy anyone to argue that this is a good use of skills, for either individual or national benefit. It’s also no coincidence that, for men in particular, one of the single biggest contributing factors to mental disorders such as depression is unemployment, and occupational dissatisfaction. Furthermore, it’s again no coincidence that, in general, manual workers report greater levels of work-related happiness than their counterparts in a call-centre, regardless of income.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t view Rover as an innocent casualty; the company’s litany of ill thought-out products over the years brought about its downfall to an extent. But so too did governmental and public apathy, and the declining relevance of society in business dealings. Everyone remembers how there is (apparently) “no such thing as society”. That sentiment is now endemic in our country – a few years back, a major employer in the North East decided to close its plant and move its operations abroad, where there were a few pounds to be saved in labour costs… and informed the entire workforce of their redundancy by text message.

That community is now blighted by drugs-related problems, crime has rocketed and levels of depression and family discord have increased manifold. And public concern passed by very quickly when Rover collapsed, despite the hurt delivered to many thousands of families. We’ve little sense of community anymore; it was eroded years ago. But one simply cannot take a fundamentally self-centred attitude – we’re all in this together, like it or not.

So, in my opinion, the loss of Rover – as a symbol of the devastated manufacturing base in this country – was significant on several levels, and will continue to have both individual and national repercussions. I’m sorry to strike such a pessimistic tone but problems are coming home to roost as a direct result of this sorry state of affairs, and will continue to do so until we acknowledge the deep damage done and start to redress it.

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16 June

A Mini marvel

By IAN SEABROOK

I JUST don’t understand it. We’ve recently purchased a Mini and it’s dreadful. It’s tinny, noisy, slow (this coming from a 2CV owner!) and the suspension leaves me with chronic backache after no time at all.

Yet I find myself loving it. Why is this?

I drive a 2CV because I love the comfort, the comical yet surprisingly competent handling, the sheer simplicity and the tough nature of this flimsy car. I genuinely enjoy every journey.

The Mini doesn’t deliver the satisfaction I expected. Yes, it corners a treat but bumpy roads (of which there are many) ruin your enjoyment because the car is bouncing so much that you are struggling to see the bend at all.

My wife on the other hand absolutely loves it and gets out after every journey smiling like her teeth depend on it. She doesn’t like the 2CV though with its non-servo brakes, unusual gearchange and wallowy cornering style.

Well, they say opposites attract. Certainly, the Mini and 2CV represent two very different ways of making a small car. The 2CV is enormous in comparison for a start! It is also much more practical. Yet the Mini is cuter and a little faster.

She may love the Mini where I love the 2CV but the thing I love more than anything is that for the first time since I met her, she is actually interested in cars!

Perhaps that is the reason why I love the Mini.

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14 June

Good news

By KEITH ADAMS

THERE’S now a great deal of evidence eminating from The People’s Republic of China that we’ll be seeing new MGs emerging from a car factory near the city of Nanjing by April next year. Over in Shanghai it’s going to be even sooner.

Yes, it would seem that the almost impossible is being achieved – the Chinese are managing to make a go of MG production after pruchasing the dreg-ends of the Longbridge factory last summer. Although in reality there’s been little doubt among informed sources that we’d see Chinese-build MGs and Rovers sooner rather than later, but it remains difficult not to be impressed by the speed the operation appears to be taking shape over there.

If we look at SAIC and Ricardo 2010, their plans to produce an alternative version of the Rover 75 have been coming together even quicker.

A few days back I read a report in the Chinese media wondering why the British were so ‘stupid’ to allow its industry to be picked up for such a knock down price. There isn’t really an answer to that question – not one that immediately springs to mind. From the Chinese perspective, we’ve given up 100 years of automotive history and a pair of marques respected the world over.

That’s by the by – Nanjing has made repeated noises that it will resume production in the UK at Longbridge, but we’re going to have to do some soul searching as a nation, because I honestly can’t believe we could get a green-field operation off the ground with anywhere near the efficiency of the Chinese – differing policitcal situation or not…

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Feedback:

READ your interesting blog on the Chinese plans for car manufacture. I’m not sure whether the dignitaries pictured are on a hillside overlooking a new factory complex or debating over a bit of the poster that needs sticking down to the board in front of them! I suspect it’s more likely to be the latter.

Anyhow, your blog raises quite a few issues, including, could ‘we’ have built a new factory on a greenfield site so quickly. I confidently expect the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. There would be the extended design and planning stages, tendering of contracts and subsequent arguments, claims and counter-claims, before the first shovel was removed from the Transit pick-up. Oh, and where would the water come from to knock up the concrete? Or the electricity to heat the kettle? All of this is assuming there were any greenfield sites in the first place!

Having built this theoretical new development, there are certain, ‘minor’ hurdles to get over before completed cars amass in the car pounds. Minor issues like Health and Safety, recruitment, unions and pay would have to be sorted before the big ‘ON’ switch was flicked for the first time. How could anyone set up from scratch in the UK and be competitive in the global market? It wouldn’t happen!

From what I have seen in the media and heard from friends in the know, the Chinese have a different way of going about things. They have plenty of space, can build dams and flood towns to generate electricity with ease, can pay a pittance and not have to worry if people lose limbs due to dangerous working practices. Waste products are burnt rather than being buried in cotton wool as they are here. They are playing a different game.

I’m convinced that Chinese industry has set out a strategy to undermine and undercut industry across the globe and leave the world dependent on China. We’ve seen what’s happened to our beloved MG Rover, will happen to Peugeot, is happening to the American car industry etc.. In other manufacturing industries, the Chinese have blatantly copied ideas and even whole products, then undercut the originals to the stage that it’s no longer viable to build in the West. Watch as over the coming years we increasingly benefit from cheap imports, then squirm like babies when the Chinese ramp up their prices and profitability. No-one will have alternative sources to turn to, or build from. We’ll be stuck with a faceless monopoly.

So, who will buy a Chinese built MG or Rover? I doubt I could. I’ve only ever owned BL/ Rover group vehicles and I expect I’ll be plundering the Ebay screens for Rovers and MGs in order to replace my TR7 dhc, Discovery and Rover 25, as and when I need to. There would have to be some killer deal, like the Daewoo one with cheap prices and service plans in order to encourage customers into the showrooms – wherever they would be?!

My final thought is this. Am I the only person who is upset at the huge number of St. George’s flags on cars at the moment. Wonderful to see such patriotism, but something seems wrong when those flags are displayed on cars from Germany, France, Japan and Malaysia. If the owners had been a little more patriotic in their choice of cars, we might not be in the position we are in now!

STEVE NOTTAGE


11 June

Sorry to keep you in suspense…

By KEITH ADAMS

I APOLOGISE for the rather mysterious blog last week. It’s not as if I wanted to start a guessing game for the site’s readers, but really that I was too embarassed to admit what I’d bought.

Yes, for all those who think that they get stick from their friends for owning a Rover – they should try an Eighties Lancia. These cars are great if they’re Integrale shaped or something classic from the Sixties or Seventies, but as for the rest of them, forget it.

My Thema – yes, I can admit I bought such a contraption – is anonymous to the point of extinction, and has all the stuctural integrity of a wet newspaper. It runs like a bag of nails, and is and smells of wet dog inside. And yet, for some daft reason I love it – and I’m glad I bought it.

There are a few people who have drawn parallels between Lancia and Rover on this website – and for all its woodiness, I can see where they’re coming from. Basically, I think of the Thema as an Italian Rover 800. One run in it, listening to the rattles, squeaks and rumbles confirms the chilling similarities.

Anyway, that’s the last you’ll hear of this car on austin-rover.co.uk, but needless to say, if you’re a Lancia mechanic reading this, and know a thing or two about making these Integrale engined saloons run sweet, please, please give me a call…

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Feedback:

I AM from Italy and I drive a sublime Rover 75, I disagree with you about Lancia Thema; in Italy Thema has been awarded for being a very reliable car, last good car from Lancia. Thema was a great car, this is the opinion of almost all Italy.

Thanks for your fantastic website!

LUIGI DE DONÀ

SIMILARITIES there may be between Lancia and Rover, but where is Rover’s Intregale? I think the MG Zeds come a poor second. But I admire your bravery in taking on a “G” plate Thema. All the depreciation has already gone past, so you can’t lose, right?

Good luck!

MIKE GOY

A FANTASTIC choice! I’m afraid I’m not a Lancia mechanic, but I think I fully understand why you bought this car. I have happy memories of Lancias even though I’ve never owned one – or maybe BECAUSE I’ve never owned one!

There is something special about Lancia. It is not hard to see why the brand might appeal to a Rover enthusiast (chrome, wood, bags of individuality). If you talked to my wife’s family, who are all Italian, you’d get the impression that Lancia is almost as highly regarded as Mercedes (as is Rover!) in Italy, and as something more classy than Alfa Romeo. One friend of the family had a Thema just like the one pictured, and I thought it was great. I remember the rattles you describe, but not the smell – in fact it was impossible to breathe in the thing because he smoked while driving, in 40C heat, with all the windows shut!! When it expired he replaced it with a Dedra (in metallic brown!), which was used to drive me to my wedding in Cagliari – I think I did pretty well, as the bride arrived in her father’s Fiat Punto!

Italians are usually surprised when I tell them that we don’t have Lancia in the UK. On Italian TV recently a journalist quizzed a Fiat executive about why the company doesn’t try to do more with this historic marque outside Italy. The answer was something to do with the limitations of the range. Somewhere else I heard that Lancia might return to the UK market in order to help Fiat compete with the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and Renault (“French car, BRITISH designers!”) for the remains of Rover’s market share. If Lancia does come back, I certainly know what I want in the drive alongside my Rover 75. I agree with many British observers that Lancia’s current Thesis model looks quite ugly on paper, but in the metal I think it is actually quite stunning. And Rome is full of them.

OWAIN WRIGHT

I AM an Italian, and I am not a Fiat fan.

I have driven a lot Themas, Cromas, 164s and Rover 800s.

The Croma, Thema and 164 don’t rust any more of any other car of the same period. They rust if they are neglected: if you do not repair minor hits and dents where the paint peels off the car rust. Normally those cars don’t rust in structural area or underbody.

Build quality is normally poor.

Only Thema SW are subjected to scuttle shake and rusts a little more. The SW were manufactured at Pininfarina plant where normal four-door arrives from Lancia to be cutted and pasted with different rear end.

Engines: in-line four Fiats are bullet-proof, single carb, twin carb, fuel injected and turbos. If not neglected they are good for over 200,000 miles. in-line four Alfa was aspirated only and has an hard life on 164 weight; its lean-burn tune up returns very good consumption but it never like prolungated stress like very high speed on freeways for long period. V6 Alfas are quite good but they need care to be reliable; V6 Alfa turbo is impossibly thirsty. V6 PRV (on Thema only) are lazy and thirsty – avoid. V8 Ferrari – Laverda is good but not as fast as four in-line Fiat turbo and it’s too expensive to keep.

Electrics: try to find a low spec cars. More electric things, more faults you will find.

Pros: easy to drive at normal speed, engine and gearbox reliable, very confy, very spacious.

Cons: not funny to drive fast – they suffer from understeer and torque steer that you cannot imagine on Turbos; a Rover 827 holds better, better, better than any 164 Turbo, believe me. Build quality. Electrics.

I hope that’s of some help…

GAETANO ZAGRA

MY parents had a turbo 16v thema for over ten years and loved it. They sold it two years ago still running sweet at 140k having never broken down or failed to start.

They ran a Fiat Croma Turbo for 100k before that and now have an Alfa 166, but it just hasnt got the same Eighties character!

Hope you enjoy yours.

SAM METSON


8 June

New car day…

By KEITH ADAMS

GOT bored at lunch time – walked past a secondhand car lot and bought a new car…

Seems some things never change!

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5 June

Gaydon

By KEITH ADAMS

IT seems that marque history is being cleared out of Gaydon yet again – we’re guessing to make space for new exhibits, or perhaps to fund an influx of new cars from other British manufacturers…

Either way, the auctioneers Bonhams hosted a sale at Gaydon, where a few of the museum’s ‘less important’ items were sold to a willing audience. Unlike the last sale in 2003, this Gaydon sale attracted little pre-event publicity, and relatively few people made the trip to see what was being sold. Especially when you consider last time it was standing room only!

And I guess as there were no endurance cars, or sectioned vehicles, there was nothing to get too excited about.

Right?

Well, I’m not so sure. Okay, right now, Rover’s 200/400 and 600 ranges aren’t the height of fashion, and as the marque slips further into the obscurity of extinction, they will become mere footnotes in history, but to thousands of marque fans across the world, they are very important cars, and represent a symbol of better times.

Seeing the first-off-the-line examples of the 214 and 620 go for £900 and £1850 respectively seems like a small price to pay, but perhaps it’s symbolic of the country’s apathy towards its manufacturing heritage.

Maybe I shouldn’t care too – but right now, my blood is boiling at the thought of our history being sold off to the highest bidder, and all at a bargain price.

Where will it end?

For more information, click on www.bonhams.com/cars.

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Feedback:

I MUST agree with your comments about Gaydon. For me the most interesting exhibits have been cars such as the first and last examples off the line. Where else do you get a chance to see cars of this vintage in completely as new condition? To sell those Rovers off for a grand or so is indeed criminal. As for the rest of the exhibits at Gaydon, there are only so many Morris Minors or MGB’s you can look at in one go!

Ford is probably to blame for this. As current custodians of Gaydon they no doubt fail to appreciate the significance of some of the cars they are flogging off.

PAUL HAMPSON


2 June

Peterborough

By KEITH ADAMS

THE year is going so quickly – no sooner had the chimes of Big Ben rung in 2006, and summer’s almost upon us. Not sure whether that’s because I’m getting older or because I don’t seem to have any spare time these days – but either way, the passage of time seems rather frightening to me…

Anyway, part of the Summer fixtures is the annual BMC/BL Rally in Peterborough, and as per usual, austin-rover.co.uk will be at the show, representing the little loved corners of the great manufacturer’s range – as well as the more mainstream stuff. Last year, we had an example of all significant cars offered in the range since the introduction of the Mini, and this year, we want to do the same.

At the moment, we have no organiser for the show, and are looking for one (I’ll be out of the country at the time), but we’re hoping someone will step forward, and gather together all the cars we will arrange for in the next couple of months.

Anyway, part of the Summer fixtures is the
annual BMC/BL Rally in Peterborough, and as
per usual, austin-rover.co.uk will be at
the show, representing the little loved
corners of the great manufacturer’s range…

So, if you have an interesting car, which you reckon would look good on our stand, or can offer any assistance in the organisation, we’d be glad to hear from you.

We’re also looking for an example of each of the six R8s offered by Rover in the early Nineties (after failing last year), and as it’s the 20th anniversary of the Rover 800, and the 30th of the SD1, we’d like some special examples of each.

The show is held on the first weekend in August, and there’s plenty of accommodation nearby for those travelling from further afield…

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1 June

A new performance benchmark

By KEITH ADAMS

ONE of the hardest jobs a road tester has to do is convey the performance of a car he’s testing in a way that his reader is going to relate to. It’s all well and good talking about standing start 0-60mph times, but in this day and age, this is pretty irrelevant – especially considering our road conditions really favour mid-range punch and the ability to overtake dawdling 40mph HGVs in complete safety.

The 50-70mph benchmark is quite good, but in all honesty, how many people do you know leave their car in top gear when going for the overtake? One method I really liked was the TED (Time Exposed to Danger) test, first shown on Channel 4’s sadly-missed ‘Driven’ programme. In this test, a car would pull out and overtake a truck going 56mph, and the time taken – the TED – was taken as a measure of performance.

However, overtaking trucks is one thing – how about overtaking other cars?

Of late, I’ve noticed that in the real world, the drivers of turbo diesels seem to be the quickest from point to point, but because they’re rarely trying, and sitting in the middle of a mountain of torque, they do so with comparative ease. To maintain a similar level of performance in a petrol powered equivalent, you’d have to ring the poor car’s neck – leaving you with a hefty fuel bill. Ergo, the fastest cars on the road – in the real world – are the turbo diesels.

The quickest and most committed of the turbo diesel brigade seem to be the doyens of middle management who find themselves behind the wheel of a VW Golf TDi 2.0 – generally in black, but sometimes silver.

Sometimes, they can be a bit too quick and aggressive, but driving in Britain these days seems to be about being hard, but (sometimes) fair. What always impresses me from my vantage point (of usually driving crap cars) is these Volkswagens really shift, and their drivers take give no quarter to anyone else.

I’ve noticed that in the real world, the
drivers of turbo diesels seem to be the
quickest from point to point…

Given that the road tester’s trade revolves about telling a story in an entertaining and educational way, but be factual at the the same time, I’ve devised a new way of measuring performance. And one, that hopefully, relays real world performance on the highways and byways of the UK.

It’s called the ‘TDI Test’… and the principle is to simulate what happens when you’re on a dual carriageway behind one, and the truck in front of you has pulled over to let you past. Will you get past the Golf – or will you be breathing in black smoke indefinitely?

Basically, the car you’re performance testing is driven in convoy behind a Golf TDi 2.0 at 40mph. When you pass a point on the test track, both cars accelerate as fast as they can – the Golf stays in fifth gear, while the test car can use all ratios available. So, in a manual car, you’ll drop to third (or even second if your car is really tasty) and nail it, whereas in an auto, you’ll be relying on kickdown.

The longer it takes to best the Golf, the slower your car is. It’s a real life test, though, and one you can replicate yourself (within reason) many many times, as the drivers of these fine cars are always willing to help you with your performance testing experiments. In fact, only yesterday, when testing a Citroen C6 V6 HDi Exclusive against one willing Golf driver, I even managed a friendly hand gesture once the test was completed… well, I think it was.

Within the confines of a test track such as Bruntingthorpe, you’ll find a quick car can complete the manoeuvre in around 10 seconds – any longer than that, and you’re going to be struggling in the fast lane.

And woe betide you if you score a negative time…

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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