Blogs : June 2007

27 June

CHPD vs. Bangernomics – an important distinction

By RUSSELL GOWERS

THERE has been spirited debate on this site’s forum regarding the merits of running an old car: one that the misguided among the Great Unwashed would term a ‘banger’. By virtue of the fact that you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably indulged in it yourself from time to time.

This should not, however, be confused with CHPD, or Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder. For some people, such as myself, Bangernomics is a way to achieve motoring freedom on a miniscule budget.

In my summer job, I’ll hopefully earn £3000 or so, and conventional wisdom says that I should spend that all on a new-ish car with a low number of owners. Indeed, my housemate has just gone down this route, plumping for a W-reg Focus 1.8 Zetec for around that kind of money.

But here’s the thing – why should I? Those of you who have read my previous blog will know that I’ve recently been smoking around in a base-spec Rover 820i which has cost me the grand total of NOTHING. And what does the Focus do that the old barge can’t? The Rover is comfortable, quick enough to hold its own in modern traffic, and hugely capacious. OK, it doesn’t quite cut such a dash in its current visual state, but would you pay £3000 to be admired briefly rather than ignored?

I don’t think I could.

No, Bangernomics is a very different beast to CHPD. While one consumes your entire budget, the other conserves it. Indeed, in my case I’m going to use the money I’ll earn over the summer to pay off my student overdraft, and with the money left over, I’m going to…

…erm, blow a load of money on old cars by taking part in Staples2Naples. I think this has just killed my entire argument.

But if you’re not a nutter car fan, bangernomics can make perfect sense. As long as you choose your steed wisely, and never become emotionally attached, you can save yourself a packet.

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26 June

Electronics in cars: a good or bad thing?

By RHYDIAN EDWARDS

HAVING had to poke the former S2N Rover 820i with various sharpened metal things called ‘screwdrivers’ to get some sense from it, and hearing Russell refer to the MEMS system as “Witchcraft”, my thoughts turned to how electronics have changed how we view working on cars over the last 27 years.

Back in 1980, your average family car like the Marina, Allegro, Ambassador and such like would have the enjoyed the decades old paring of a carb and a contact breaker distributor. If kept in tune, this was a reasonable way of feeding fuel/air mixture in to the engine and blowing it up, even if keeping it in tune meant fiddling around with points gaps, jet heights and damper oil levels, terms unrecognisable to most young mechanics today. The problems with these systems would only really show up when they were not kept at peak fitness, a worn distributor cap, worn points, a dirty air filter or even something as simple as a cable that had stretched would throw the system totally out of whack and leave the owner of the vehicle with a machine not running at its best.

As the 1980s progressed many cars were fitted with electronic breakerless ignition as standard, which replaced the contact breakers with some trick electronikery to fire the coil at the right time, leading to stronger sparks and the removal of one of the chores of regular maintainance. ARG was at the forefront of this move with its famous electronic carbs and ingnition, as fitted to the Maestro and Montego models, which had two ECUs, one to control the igniton system (later models had a combined ECU), and one to control the choke on an otherwise regular SU carb. Unfortunately this brave step in to the future wasn’t the success it deserved to be, as stories abounded of the carb ECU holding the choke out too long, leading to starting issues if the engines were stopped and re-started before the engine warmed up sufficiently.

MEMS was a remarkably adaptable system, being
able to control a very wide variety of engines,
from the Mini’s Siamesed inlet ports to the T16…

The ignition side however faired much better, with advanced features such as knock sensing, which allowed the ECU to run as much ignition advance as was safe, leading to more power and better economy. With the later, single ECU systems ARG managed to iron out the issues and ERIC (Electronically Regulated Ignition and Carburetion) system was perfected, but it was too late, as Rover was to move away from carbs on it’s mid range cars towards the brave new world of fuel injection.

BMC>MG had used injection as early as the 1970s on the TR5/6 and 2500 PI models, but this was a purely mechanical system. By the 1980s, Rover had invested in Lucas EFi on some high-end models such as the SD1 Vitesse, the Range Rover, MG Maestro and Montego and the 800 (with Honda models using the Honda PGM-FI system), but by 1989 Rover decided to design a complete engine management system, and MEMS was born.

MEMS or Motorola Engine Management System was the mainstay of the 1990s rover range from the Mini to the 800, even surviving in some models through to the Pheonix days. It was a fully integrated engine management system, controlling both the fuel and ignition systems fitted to the engines, and working with the immobilser to provide security. MEMS was a remarkably adaptable system, being able to control a very wide variety of engines, from the Mini’s Siamesed inlet ports to the T16.

It gave Rover cars the reliability they deserved, no more messing around trying to tune a worn SU or get the points gap right, just turn the key and off she would roar, with a nice Motorola processor running the ignition and fuelling systems, there were a few issues with ECU failure with the early models and throttle body contamination, but this was later cured and MEMS is regarded as a very capable management system.

Rover was early in introducing electronics to car engines, but as the benefits of reduced maintenance and improved engine efficiency were such an important marketing tool, this is understandable, however the early electronic SUs were a blunder, and may have been a backward step when most of the competition (Ford/Vauxhall et al.) used mechanical automatic chokes, rather than try to get electronics to work.

BMC>MG’s attempts at computerising their engines was a valiant attempt to increase the reliability and power of it’s rag-tag engine lineup, and by 1989 it had solved the problem, however the 1980s ‘development’ stage contributed to the bad press suffered by the cars.

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25 June

What CHPD means to me

By KEITH ADAMS

 

I KNOW what you’re thinking – what the hell does CHPD mean?

If you’re not a regular reader of this site, then the chances are that you’ve not come into contact with the term, that’s probably a very good thing – it’s an acronym meaning Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder, and it kinda sums up my car buying life – and is the affliction that has dogged me for a very long time. In essence, it means that during my 20 years of driving, I’ve now owned well over 100 cars.

CHPD is no laughing matter, and I put out this blog as a grave warning to all of the site’s readers in the vain hope that you can see the signs early and get help. If you don’t, you could end up like me. Or worse.

Here are ten things to look for – tick these boxes and you have CHPD:

1) Watching Life on Mars, you’re more concerned about the appearance of a Series 2 Allegro police car being in 1973 than looking at Annie’s legs.
2) Your close family’s drive ways are full of your cars.
3) The combined value of all your cars – more than five for hardened sufferers – is less than £1000
4) You don’t know what your kids are doing at school, but you’re intimately familiar with the A-post rot on your latest bargain
5) Your local scrap yard proprietor knows you by your first name
6) You have specific eBay searches for your favourite old heaps bookmarked
7) There are car magazines, books and manuals in the bathroom
8) You care more about your garage than you do your kitchen
9) When someone asks you what car you drive, you have to think a moment before saying, “I have, um, a few to choose from”
10) Despite earning plenty of money, you never actually have any spare…

If you see any of these symptoms in yourself… run… run as fast as you can, before it’s too late.

Alternatively, buy a new Focus.

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23 June

Enough to make this man cry

By KEITH ADAMS

TAKE a long look at the car above – if you’re not intimately in touch with everything on this website, and don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the British specialist motor industry of the 1970s, it might not immediately hit you. But if you are into all things AR, a bit wacky, and have an understanding of the way our designers worked, then the identity of this beauty should come as no surprise.

It’s a Guyson E12 – a William Towns-styled beauty based on the rolling shell of the Series III Jaguar E-type. Only two were built, and if every designer was to have a signature car, then this would be it for its constantly creative stylist. You see, Towns was a wedge-man, perhaps more so than even the great Harris Mann – one look at the Aston Martin Lagonda or Hustler kit car make it quite clear that he liked straight lines, and a clean cut demeanor.

And the E12 is an exemplar of this school of thought…

William loved it so much that after making one for industrialist Jim Thompson, he did another for himself. A great car by a great designer – and a landmark, perhaps, in British automotive history?

Well, not if you’re into Jaguars.

I hear that one of the pair has recently been restored – and during that process, it received an E-type body, and was put back to ‘standard specification’. I must admit that my hear sank when I heard that news, not least because it’s not as if the world is short of E-types. Go to any classic car show, and among the hundreds of Minors, MGBs and TRs, you’ll be tripping over E-types. Usually red. Sitting on wires. What we don’t need are any more of them…

So, if this tale is correct, then at a stroke we’ve lost a piece of British history in order to feed the E-type fetish that fuels the classic car scene. Again, take a long look at the car above – it’s not pretty, and you’d have a nightmare getting body panels for it… but it’s also wonderful and William Towns through-and-through.

And now it’s gone.

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22 June

What’s the point?

By KEVIN DAVIS

ALL of the motoring magazines have had the new Rolls Royce Phantom out on test and there’s no doubt that it is a fine machine.

But why do we want to know about the quality, the ride, the handling and the performance? Why are they even bothering to drive it and report back? Its £305,000 price tag means most buyers will be buying it for its pose value rather than its abilities. But even if you do want one, Rolls Royce say that anyone ordering now can’t expect delivery until 2009, by which time I expect the facelifted model will be on sale.

But the biggest piss-take is the fact that Rolls Royce asked The Sun newspaper’s motoring hack Emma Parker Bowles to drive it, and she had to go to Tuscany to do it. It must have been worth it, though, because her verdict was?

It was brilliant.

Jeremy Clarkson should be worried.

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21 June

Making an impression

By KEITH ADAMS

I HAD another one of those purple moments recently that makes running this website, and knowing the people that I do really worthwhile… Allow me to rewind a few years to my childhood – a time when you could buy a house for £15,000 and a brand new SD1 would come in at well under £8000. I was very impressionable – and relentlessly obsessed by cars, much to the disdain of everyone around me.

It was so bad that I used to buy copies of What Car? magazine, and read them from cover to cover – digesting every single fact to such a degree that I could spit out list prices and engine specifications with a speed and accuracy that would put any modern database package to shame. Pictures and registration numbers would imprint themselves into my psyche, and the best ones would leave me with this strange pre-pubescent feeling of desire.

A couple of images that had that odd effect on me were the two that accompany this blog. Taken from the December 1979 issue of What Car? they show the SD1 riding on those early specification alloys – and to me, these wheels topped off what was, to me, an almost perfect car. Anyway, these two piccies were the sort that shouted to me ‘one day, son, you’ll own one of these…’

And in the end, I did.

Anyway, back to the present day, and I was reading through a copy of the Rover Sports Register‘s excellent monthly magazine, Freewheel, when I happened across the picture below… bringing back those memories of a thumbnail sized picture tucked in the contents page of said magazine. So, I emailed the editor, Ian Elliott, contributor to this website, and personal guru, asking him if I could have a copy for my own gratification (yeah I know…)

He responded not only with a scan but also an interesting (to me) back story to accompany the image. Apparently, the picture was taken in the winter on 1976 as a result of needing a new SD1 photo to accompany the Car of The Year press release – and that Ian (as a marketing manager) sent one of the team lads up the Lickey Hill to loose off a couple of picturesque snaps…

Only to find to his disappointment in the fact that said amateur snapper didn’t see fit to shovel in the tyre tracks before getting his shots. Photoshoppery didn’t exist in those days, and re-touching cost a fortune – meaning that they remained in the image.

Anyway, I think it’s really cool that Ian’s foresight to send out an SD1 on alloys in that snowy day would end up fuelling the passion of a nine-year old kid to such an extent that he’d end up making a career out of writing about said car.

I know it sounds random, but I love those little details – a squaring of the circle, if you like.

I’ll get me coat…

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20 June

Bangers and cash

By KEVIN DAVIS

CAUGHT in the traffic on the M40 recently and I was joined by a 1993 Mazda 323 in the middle lane. Its faded, yet rust free, red paintwork was crying out for a polish with the T-Cut, and yet the driver –a woman of mature years – didn’t seem concerned with paintwork as she cruised along at a steady 60mph. I expect she had owned the car for some years and I bet that it is regularly serviced and checked over by her friendly local garage.

Last week Vauxhall announced that they will pay £1000 for any ‘old banger’ traded in for a new, eco-friendly model from the Vauxhall range. A spokesperson for Vauxhall said: “It’s an all too common sight on British roads – the so-called banger, emitting choking exhaust fumes into the atmosphere. Everyone would like to get these older, more polluting cars off the streets, but owners of these cars will often tell you they just can’t afford anything better.” So, does brand new mean better?

I doubt whether anyone will be trading in their
1994 Rover 827 Coupe for a Corsa 1.0 petrol…

The lady driving that old Mazda seemed completely happy with her car and I bet it’s going to take a helluva lot more than the offer of £1000 to get her into a Vauxhall showroom. In fact I doubt whether she even knows that such an offer exists, because she’s not interested; the Mazda she has gets her from A to B perfectly adequately, and she’s probably got better things to spend her money on than a £9000 Vauxhall.

‘Modern low-emission vehicles can only help the environment when they replace the old cars which blight Britain’s roads,’ said Vauxhall chairman Jonathan Browning. But for most drivers, getting the ‘blighters’ to pass the MoT every year is their biggest worry, not the environment. And with the stringent MoT test getting harder to pass, there are very few real old bangers left on the road.

It will be interesting to see how many people take up Vauxhall’s offer, but I doubt whether anyone will be trading in their 1994 Rover 827 Coupe for a Corsa 1.0 petrol. I mean, you just wouldn’t, would you?

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19 June

Who let them in?

By KEVIN DAVIS

I WAS looking forward to visiting the newly revamped Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon this last weekend, having just reopened after a £1.7m revamp of the main exhibition area. But, I was slightly disappointed at the changes; the interactive display ‘making British cars’ is quite interesting, and there’s more floor space as well.

Unfortunately it seems that no one really knows what to do with all the extra space so they’ve ended up with large areas with nothing at all in them. I just came out feeling that there’s so much more that should be out on display instead of being covered in dustsheets in a lock up somewhere in deepest Warwickshire. Hopefully it’s a situation that’s being remedied.

But the main reason I was there was for the 2007 Supercar Sunday, where, as the title suggests, some of the most desirable cars in the world gather for a very special Father’s Day event. Biggest display was from the Lamborghini Owners’ Club, with over 20 cars drawing massive interest from all visitors.

Compare the picture of the Lamborghini stand with that of the Toyota MR2 Owners’ Club stand (taken at the same time, I might add). I didn’t know the Toyota MR2 was a Supercar, and the same applied to the Mazda MX5 Owners’ Club stand, which also seemed totally out of place. Perhaps next year they’ll let austin-rover.co.uk in with a few Rover 800s and Minis to display.

But it was great to get up close to cars like TVRs, Lotus, Ferrari’s and Maserati’s and to hear them running and burning rubber in the main arena as well, something you’d never get at the NEC.

Oh, I wish I were rich. Hang on; I haven’t checked this week’s Lottery numbers yet…

Damn, back to work tomorrow.

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18 June

Chinese Leyland

By KEITH ADAMS

A FEW years ago, we were all worrying about the German annexation of the British car industry – what with BMW’s ownership of MINI, Rover et al, and Volkswagen’s interest in Bentley, it looked as if the UK was becoming the second outpost of Europe’s most productive carmaking nation. Then PAG came along, and in doing so, swept up Land Rover and Aston Martin to join Jaguar… and we all felt a little better, especially as most people tend to think of Ford as an honorary Brit, anyway…

Then came the bombshell that Ford was losing money hand over fist, and the British companies’ continued existence in Uncle Henry’s family has just about finished… Aston sold recently for £479m and now Land-Rover/Jaguar will soon be out of the door… but to who, I wonder?

Land-Rover/Jaguar will soon be out of the door…
but to whom, I wonder?

Given that there are persistent rumours that NAC-MG and SAIC-Roewe are about to get a whole lot closer, I’m wondering if the next step is for the Chinese to try and prise the Rover nameplate from whoever ends up buying Land-Rover/Jaguar from Ford – thus creating a new MG Rover Group. Then what? We know that Land-Rover/Jaguar would be a glittering prize for any company that gets their grubby mitts on it – as long as they’ve an appetite for rationalisation, and cost-cutting.

Land-Rover is profitable and in demand right now – but social change could upset that apple cart quicker than you can say ‘carbon footprint’. Jaguar, however, isn’t at all profitable, and needs radical surgery – and soon. However, PAG’s already done much of the hard work, closing Brows Lane, and combining X-TYPE and Freelander production at Hailwood, as well as moving away from Retro (which apparently, customers don’t want), launching the fantastic XK and finishing off the XF (which by all accounts will knock your socks off).

So, picking up Land-Rover/Jaguar, assuming they can’t be split, might just make financial sense…

Given that SAIC-Roewe would love to buy Rover, why not go the whole hog and buy Land-Rover/Jaguar, too? Okay, that would be a very costly business, but given the company’s ambition, you never know – we could end up with a Chinese owned Corporation that owns MG, Austin, Austin-Healey, Rover, Land Rover and Jaguar… what would be a good name to call it? Why not Chinese Leyland?

The big question is – does the Chinese motor industry have the money for such a task? And could they make something that Stokes, Ryder, Edwardes et al couldn’t?

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Feedback:

INTERESTING article on the future of UK car industry. On the subject of Jaguar/Land Rover being sold off by Ford because off the mounting losses of the Ford corporation, not the losses of PAG necessarily.( Land Rover is quite profitable)

Ford, like Chrysler and GM are being hammered to hell by Japanese competition and with Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Acura etc… getting massive marketshare in the US. The Chinese have built up a fund of $200 billion for overseas investments, eg MG Rover in 2005, which accounted for about $180 million in total. Given $3 billion or so for Jaguar and Land Rover that would not be unrealistic.

The recent performance of the Chinese economy and its breakneck expansion into snapping up troubled companies in the West should be of concern to us. Previously, the Chinese were great fans of US Treasury bonds, as that is where they would park all their cash, now they are looking to expand into overseas equities.

I hope the UK private equity guys keep it in the UK or at least Europe and not the Middle East or Far East as is rumoured. Surely the UK government has to step in and offer support given the sheer number of jobs at stake.

JAMIE ROBERTSON


14 June

There’s nothing like a crap car caper

By RUSSELL GOWERS

FIRSTLY, let me apologise to a couple of members of the austin-rover.co.uk forum, Sward and Seamaster, for the blatant theft of the ‘Crap Car Caper’ moniker. But I feel it’s the only appropriate title for what has truly been a quite remarkable couple of days. I have been desperately seeking a Rover for some time. My objectives have been twofold – firstly, a summer job with a large IT services company will necessitate a 90-mile commute every day, and I’m also going on the Staples2Naples rally in September, meaning that a £100 banger has been on my shopping list as well.

Recently, Tim Colley (T1MMY of this parish) very generously agreed to fulfil the first requirement by letting me borrow his recently-acquired Rover 820 16v Turbo ‘Tickford’ for a couple of months until I get paid. So, armed with some remarkably cheap insurance from Bell.co.uk, I headed down to Oxted to pick up the beast.

First things first – we did a crucial bit of audio-realignment, where we discovered that ‘heritage’ most certainly applied to Rover Group’s audio division (the screws holding down the rear speakers were positioned too close to the rear hatch to get a screwdriver on, so we had to dismantle the entire boot). After topping up the coolant to “max”, as Tim warned me that it had a minor coolant leak, I was off to Brighton. The sun was shining, the tunes were playing, the electric sunroof was open wide, and I was having what is known in the trade as “a whale of a time”.

As I pulled into Brighton, an attack of heritage struck. Clouds of steam billowed from under the bonnet. I quickly parked up and popped the bonnet, but by the time I’d got it open, the steaming had stopped. However, this was the coolant tank…

Bugger.

So I left it overnight, and went to see a friend. In the morning, I topped the fluid up to max again using a 25/75 mix of antifreeze and water. Then I headed back chez Colley for a situation reassessment. On the way back up, I could feel that the car was down on power, despite me not exceeding 75mph. When I came off the motorway it was idling horribly, and stalled at a couple of roundabouts. By the time I got to Tim’s, the coolant had dipped even further down than before.

Together, we decided that the car had too many ‘heritage issues’ – translation: ‘it was mechanically rogered’ – for me to take it away and use it as a daily driver. Neither of us want to see it die – I especially don’t want it to die on the morning of an exam…

However, this was only the beginning of this particular Caper.

A certain Mr Keith Adams, who may be known to one or two, had mentioned an R17 Rover 820i that may have been going begging. It had been used by the ar.co.uk team for S2N last year as a last-minute substitute for the knackered Jag, and then by Autocar magazine for some kind of charity Beaujolais run. After contacting the aforesaid Mr Adams, it transpired that the 820 was in Autocar’s lockup in Teddington, just 25 miles from Oxted. Perhaps I wouldn’t be going home Roverless!

An hour later, and Tim and me were in West London, meeting Mike Duff, Autocar journo and thoroughly nice chap. This was the sight which awaited us…

Please feel free to make jokes about the panel gaps not being as big as those on a 75… but obviously the bonnet was open. You numpties.

The car had obviously been standing for some time, but a bit of coaxing and a spare battery brought it to life. After a couple of minutes idling, it was running sweet as a nut. Sterling alloys, only 77k, mostly full SH, and a cambelt change 6k miles ago. Furthermore, a quick look at the last picture reveals that it had a full tank of fuel! This was starting to look promising. And the best bit: It was mine for free – zilch, nada and nowt.

One of the tyres looked like Duncan Goodhew, so I had my man put the spare on, which was sporting a brand new ContiSportContact.

Then another problem struck… the car wasn’t taxed, and the V5C had just been sent off in Keith’s name. Therefore, there was no possibility of me taxing it for the journey back. Being the legends that they are, however, Keith and Tim between them conspired to meet half-way between their respective houses, in a layby around the Hemel Hemstead kind of area.

So after a pause for some light refreshments in the local hostelry, we headed off, through rush-hour Kingston, to the M25 and beyond. Once at junction 20, we stopped in a layby to wait for Keith. Anyway, he arrived, and we took, possibly legally, some trade plates. Then it was back to Teddington again and the posh side-road where we’d dumped the 820, for fear of it getting locked in Autocar’s carpark over night by the time we’d returned.

Strangely, it had no Police Aware stickers on it (just some Beaujolais run stickers, which appeared to have been affixed with a mixture of Araldite and No More Nails). It started first time without the need for jump leads, so obviously the battery wasn’t too rogered. With this ascertained, we took it to the aforementioned pub for some dinner and a pose…

Then we headed off back to Leamington.

Once underway, though, my rosy view of the 800 started to pall, for it was immediately apparent that this barge was not a happy one. It was suffering from a chronic misfire at low revs, meaning that if you stomp on the gas below 2k revs, it was likely to stall, and if you put your foot down in fifth the power delivery was like sucking minestrone through a straw.

In addition, the radiator had seen better days, the PAS was making a funny sucking noise, there was a grumbly wheel bearing, it’d had a prang so the front near-side indicator had given up the ghost, and the clutch was on its last legs.

Oh, and there’s been a family of mice in the boot.

Nevertheless, I got back to Leamington at stupid o’clock in the morning unscathed. The old beast had done me proud, and seemed far happier cruising at 90 – off the public roads, obviously – than it did at 70. With this in mind, I think most of these problems are solvable, especially given the price – GRATIS, if you needed reminding. And I have S2N in mind for its future fate anyway, so cosmetic issues can stay un-fixed. A new set of plugs, leads, rotor arm and dizzy cap are on the cards: then we’ll find out if the stutter is anything more serious.

To sum up, this was a serious Crap Car Caper of the sort that can only be had with nutter car fans. Massive props go to Tim and Keith for helping me out – especially Tim, who followed me all the way to Oxford to make sure it didn’t conk out on me… here’s the proof.

To cap it all, he had work at 4am, so he only got about 3 hours sleep in! Tim, sir, you are a gentleman. In all, a sterling (or Sterling?) example of how the Austin-Rover community in general, and the best site devoted to it, bring people together. Long live the Crap Car Caper!

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12 June

Young people do want to drive an Austin

By PETE MELVILLE


Looks like a great location…

THIS is my first blog for austin-rover.co.uk, so I suppose I’d better introduce myself. I’m a regular on the website’s forum and at events; I’m 18 years old and I own the Austin Metro VP featured in January’s CoTM. And this brings me to the subject of this blog: “Young people do not want to drive an Austin”, i.e. Graham Day’s 1987 decision to remove the Austin badges from the A-R range.

At the time the range consisted of the Mini (which had little Austin branding anyway), and the three ‘M-cars’, the Metro, Maestro and Montego. I might be a young person driving an Austin, but as I wasn’t buying new cars a year before I was born, I don’t really count in Mr Day’s plan. Let’s assume that the research was correct and the Austin brand didn’t have much street cred – was it really a good idea to take the badges off the cars?

I’ve always thought not, and this is why: firstly, the models were exactly the same. So the Austin Maestro 1.3 became the Maestro 1.3. So suddenly the same cars but without Austin badges are much cooler? I can’t see it. Secondly, what the hell was he thinking making the cars completely brandless? The new Montego, made by anonymous. The fact that the company wasn’t proud enough of the cars to use its name must have been really appealling to the British car-buying public.

Let’s assume that the research was correct and
the Austin brand didn’t have much street cred…
was it really a good idea to take the badges off the cars?

So, you ask, what would I have done differently? Well, assuming the Austin badge had to go (I don’t know how accurate the research was), I’d have kept it for a few years. In 1989, the R8 would replace the Maestro, with only the Maestro van staying (this would stay as an Austin). The Rover Metro would be called the Rover 100 (as it was in Europe), and ideally I’d have styled it a bit more differently from the earlier Metros too – as much as I like the Metro’s styling, the 1990 facelift didn’t exactly show the amazing difference underneath.

The Mini would have been badged as a brand in its own right, but I’m not sure about the Montego – the only possible replacement could have been the Rover 600 in April 1993, but that was a considerable time after the 1987 decision. I don’t know what the best solution was, but it certainly wasn’t trying to pretend cars were different by changing the brand, or deleting the badges as if the company wasn’t proud of it’s products.

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Feedback:

IN response to Pete Melville young people do want to drive an Austin I found some of his comments some what strange. Being born in 1984 the same year as the Montego was launched and my parents owing a very nice B reg Gold Montego 2.0 HLS untill 1990 I have found memories of the Montego and the Metro and Maestro.

There were lots of them about in the late 1980s. Pete Melville states that getting rid of the Austin badge was a mistake, but I disagree. The Austin badge had a terrible reputation by the late eighties even has a five-year old I was aware on the poor image. Pete Melville also states that brand identity was lost again this wasn’t true. From the late 1980s everybody knew that the Maestro and Montego were made by ROVER and I can remember people stating if you buy a Montego make sure it’s a Rover one as people were under the impression that the later Rover Maestro and Montego were far superior to that of the Austins.

A common thought was that Rover sorted out all the problems of the earlier cars. As it turned out I don’t think they were any better at all albeit slightly but arguable. But getting rid of the Austin badge did improve the vehicles image and kept the cars selling and remaining in production until 1994.

Pete also says that the new Rover R8 should of replaced the Maestro it did sort of the Maestro was kept on as a budget car. But how many jobs would have been lost at if production of the Maestro ended in 1989? Not to mention lost income. It’s also all very well saying the new Rover Metro should of had more of a reskin I’m sure the guys at Rover would of loved too but simply didn’t have the funds the company has always been so desperately short of.

The Rover badge did help the cars image in the late 1980s and early 1990s and it may seem hard to beleave now but Rover did have a very good image which did help sell more cars. It sold more cars than keeping the old Austin brand would of done.

LUKE MIRFIN


11 June

The AR Champagne Tour is on…

By KEITH ADAMS


Looks like a great location…

LAST April, I blogged about the possibilty of going on an AR-themed Champagne Tour… the idea being, a group of us take our cars across the water and go touring in some of the nices roads within a couple of hours of home. Well, after plenty of consideration, and a surprising amount of positive feedback, we’re going ahead…

It’s going to be a gentle run to Reims via Arras and the idea is simply to enjoy our cars and have some fun on the way. It’s not a race, nor a rally – simply a gentle tour in our favourite cars. If you’re interested, take a look on the webpage or forum, and get in touch to let us know if you want to come along. There are no booking fees, and certainly no centrally arranged stopovers – so get booking and see you there!

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8 June

Rebranding the site

By KEITH ADAMS


Why did it take so long?

A COUPLE of days after a particularly stressful day in front of an eMac, then two days solid in the Practical Classics workshop fettling my new project car, I decided to drop into the Macdroitwich forums and see what all the fuss was about. Anyway after re-adjusting my senses, I noticed the forum header there, and it suddenly occured to me that my quaint old fashioned way of addressing the company we all know and love had been superceded.

Yup, the term ‘BMC>Rover’ (derived from BMC through MG Rover) isn’t really valid, anymore – and from now on, I’ll be calling it a Macdroitwich-esque BMC>MG. Okay, so those guys probably picked up the expression from the AR original, but they had the foresight to take it into the new and exciting post-MG Rover world, where Nanjing now calls the shots with this most British of marque names.

So, in a nutshell, the generic term for our cars will now be ‘BMC>MG’… thanks to a little help from our friends.

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7 June

If austin-rover.co.uk made dealerships…

By KEITH ADAMS


What price crass?

SPOTTED on a recent trip to the North West in a TVR Griffith, I gave an ill-disguised squeal of joy when I happened to pass this little beauty. Nestled on an industrial estate in the shadow of the Heysham Nuclear Power Stations is this place, which, as you can see, makes a good turnover buying, selling and maintaining Rover Metro/100s…

Okay, so you might not like the idea of using an old Metro as some kind of kinky advertising hoarding, but it sure beats going to scrappers.

Good on Crawford Motors, I reckon.

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6 June

The future of publishing, or a mere distraction?

By KEITH ADAMS


Slick Autocar website offers plenty of hot streaming video action…

AS the Interweb becomes increasingly corporate in the non-IT sector, it’s interesting to see how various car people are displaying their wares in public. I must admit that I have been impressed by the Autocar website, which has become an excellent resource for road tests and news stories.

Hang on, I hear you say, but we can get this stuff anywhere… yes, this is true, however, Autocar’s roving supercar playboy, Chris Harris, has been turning his hand to the old TV presenter lark in order to more fully demonstrate the hyper-quick cars that he likes to talk about week in, week out. When I saw the ‘Autocar TV’ link on the website frontpage, it was a case of ‘no way’ to begin with… I mean, there’s only so much appreciation you can, umm, give the Porsche 911.

But after watching the free DVD that came with this week’s mag (which contained a number of programmettes from Autocar TV), it was clear that the boy has plenty of talent, and isn’t too bad at talking into a camera. The clip that I enjoyed the most was ‘maxxing’ the Bugatti Veyron on an Autobahn at midnight.

Anyway, the point I am slowly rambling my way towards is that publishers are moving rapidly into the age of digital – and that means swanky websites with loads of features on. Streaming video is now the hot item that we should all be doing – apparently – but what worries me is that we could well all be moving dangerously towards the ‘King’s new clothes’ territory. You see, publishing companies are in the business to make money, and so far I’ve that there are few money-making in this sector of the market, other than offering click-through ads…

However, I do have one of two ideas for the Practical Classics website, that I finally managed to get online a couple of days ago. I’ll talk about those later

So that begs the question: why are publishers going mad for web, when there’s still plenty of mileage in print? Perhaps I’m just getting old…

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5 June

I lied…

By KEVIN DAVIS


Snugly fitted new stereo looks the business.

A FEW weeks ago I blogged about the poor quality, original fit radio in my 1978 Princess 2200HLS and I said that I wouldn’t be replacing it because it was, well, heritage. Anyway, the following weekend I visited the Beaulieu Autojumble at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire and whilst browsing one of the stands I noticed a box with Radiomobile emblazoned across it, dating from the late 1970s.

Inside was a brand new radio cassette player, still in its plastic bag, with a pair of boxed, unopened speakers and all the ancillaries required to fit it to the car. The only downside was that it had a MW/LW tuner. I asked the vendor how much he wanted for it, and he shrugged his shoulders and sheepishly said ‘a tenner?’ A tenner seemed reasonable so I took it (why do we always walk away thinking we should’ve haggled for less?)

I decided that it had to be better than the original radio that was in the Princess so I set about removing the old one and fitting the new, which also meant removing the original centre speaker and fitting the twin speakers to the door panels. It was a relatively painless ordeal and, at the end of it all, it looks as if it’s always been there. I was later flicking through a 1979 issue of Autocar and it featured a test of the Rover SD1 V8S, and it had exactly the same unit fitted in it. If it was good enough for V8S, it’s good enough for a Princess.

Although the radio tuner is no better than the original, at least I can play stereo cassettes now, and with a stonking 5w per channel Earth Wind & Fire have never sounded, erm, more distorted!

Really though, it’s okay, but there’s no doubt about it, 1970s ICE was pretty poor!

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Feedback:

CONSIDER yourself lucky in your Princess. In 1969, a Rover P6 3500 wasn’t exactly as affordable as say, an Austin 1100. Even so, a radio was an optional extra and I have little idea of the price. Sound was delivered at the front via one 5’’ speaker behind the ‘V8’ grille and one 5’’ speaker at the rear behind the passenger seats.

And in my ’69 P6, I have a very fetching blanking plate and no radio. In terms of going retro, these Radiomobiles regularly fetch anything up to £50 for a period radio. £10 with speakers sounds like a veritable bargain.

If 1970s ICE was poor, 60s was non-existant.

MICHAEL THOMAS


4 June

BL memories

By JOHN MORRIS

I FEEL it the roles that the companies had in helping fledgling motor companies that now dominate the market place should be brought to more BMC>MG enthusiasts attention. I sold Nissan cars from 1971 to 1986, and right from the very start Nissan used its connection with the Austin Motor Company/BMC as part of its marketing in the UK.

Nissan used pictures of the first “Datsun”; the Austin 7 built under licence in the 1930s (At the same time of course BMW was building the “Dixie” its Austin 7 built under licence… the first 7-Series?) An example of this car was brought from Nissan’s museum to the UK for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Austin 7. Publicity also featured pictures of the Austin range built right up to the late 1950s, including the A40 Somerset and the A40/50 Cambridges before totally concentrating on its own range.

The 1500cc Datsun 1-Ton Pick up sold in the UK in the early 1970s had a pushrod engine based on the BMC B-Series, with the same castings (it did not have the cc rating cast into the block), engine mountings, water pump, and acknowledged the patents applying to the B-Series. The carb was of Japanease manufacture all subscequent models after this had Nissans own single overhead cam 1600cc engines.

Visiting journalists to the Nissan plant at this time noted that a lot of the heavy presses in use were built in Birmingham. When their was loads of anti-Japanease feeling in this country (one man’s Datsun is another man’s redundancy), the importers offered a deal to BL to take vehicles back to Japan on the car transporting ships – but it was treated with an arrogant reply along the lines that BL was quite capable to export its own vehicles thank you very much!

Nissan UK did export some used MGs and Minis back to Japan. Simon Weakley’s history of Austin Rover Marketing reminded me of when we found ourselves without a franchise (because of Nissan reorganising its UK marketing), until Austin Rover knocked on our door. The company was were keen to recruit ex-Nissan dealers like us who had used aggressive local marketing to sell cars.

The launch of our new franchise was keyed to
tie into the 800 launch. At 4.30 on the day,
we still had not received our promised car –
and at 6.00pm, one was borrowed from a local
distributor’s compound…

Leading up to the day the new signs were to go up, we were besieged by marketing and sales staff from AR. They seemed to operate in tiers of command (during our Nissan days we never saw anybody at all). We were told that 20 out of every 100 cars sold was an AR product, so we should sell lots more than before!

The launch of our new franchise was keyed to tie into the 800 launch. At 4.30 on the day, we still had not received our promised car – and at 6.00pm, one was borrowed from a local distributor’s compound… they were most unhelpful in letting us borrow it! I asked the chap in charge of marketing servicing for any ideas that might help us he came up with the idea of us having a display in a local building society window!

With an A.R. dealer on every street corner in those days, we found that the elusive 20 out of every 100 would see our deals in the press shop, around the neighbourhood to a dealer (they let us do all of the advertising promoting they very often did very little), who would give them another £5 off! And then bring the car into us for its free service and loss making warranty work.

With all the other frustrations that went with an Austin Rover franchise at that time, very deep disillusionment set in, and morale boosting trips to see the production lines at Longbridge, confirmed that we could see no future in flying the flag. Seeing an operative on the Metro line reading the Birmingham Mail, while building a car – and most of his colleagues were all involved various activities other than concentrating on their job. Other strange things that went off on the Rover 200 build, with big hammers, as they were wheeled around on trollies, convinced us that our future would lie in a marque of car made just across the channel.

We had gone into the Austin Rover franchise full of enthusiasm, we invested large amounts of capital, our showroom and workshops were state of the art for that time, and we wanted to show that we could support the British worker. I even argued at dealer marketing meetings that the product was modern and newer than a lot of our rivals – a point that was being constantly made by other dealers. We, first of all coped with waiting lists, lack of popular product, oil back on the showroom floor, but we got behind Roverisation (the only salvation at that time) but in the end it beat us…

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2 June

What a week!

By KEITH ADAMS


The new TFs looked promising in the flesh, although we weren’t allowed a close look at these off-tools pre-production cars…

A COUPLE of years ago, there’s no way that I would have predicted my moment of the week… I still remember as clear as day when I visited the Product Development Centre, located near Longbridge’s ‘Kremlin’ in the dark days to interview some of the company’s fine suspension gurus. You see, it was April 2005, and the moment, was that horrible week between MG Rover’s fall into administration, and the final lay-off of the company’s workforce.

There was a palpable air of gloom hanging over the place – like a thick black fog, and it was clear that the end was nigh…

And yet, just over two years later, here I am standing in the same place, watching three brand new MG TFs and a cluster of classics storming through a ticker tape parade and surrounded by what can only be described as a media frenzy at the re-opening of this iconic factory. Okay, so the drive in through Birmingham suburb that morning had shown the extent of just how much of the Longbridge factory has been pulled down in the past couple of years, but no matter how small what transpires in production terms, Longbridge is open for business again.

The day at the factory showed to me that the Chinese were utterly serious about their plans for Longbridge, but at the same time, they’re maintaining an air of well-judged realism about the whole thing. I soon tired of the assembled Fleet Street hacks’ questioning of Nanjing’s CEO – they were hell-bent on getting a launch date and price for the TF, when it was clear that NAC-MG was going to remain tight-lipped on the subject… I think the term is ‘managing one’s expectations, and remaining realistic.”

The day at the factory showed to me that the
Chinese are utterly serious about their
plans for Longbridge…

More than that, it was great to meet some of the people I have come to know via this website – David Knowles, springs to mind, for one. A great guy who’s done more for MG history than just about anyone else, and who in my eyes remains something of an unsung hero. Roger Parker was there, too – obviously – a guy who’s expert knowledge and timeless devotion to MG through the MGCC should be more richly rewarded.

I also managed a brief chat with Paul Stowe, and came away impressed by just how down to earth this guy is. He was certainly glad to be back in Longbridge, and playing the role of company representative, but his love and passion for MG is there for all to see. He currently produces what I reckon is the best blog on the Internet, and in his latest installment, it’s clear that he’s been away from the UK just long enough to see just how vindictive our media can be.

This comment sums-up where we seem to be at with our reporting: “…having spent the whole day answering questions by the British media, it became very apparent from the first discussion with journalists at 6.20am that the tone would be negative.” From what I’ve seen, this appeared to be bang on the money – and I’m kinda frustrated that my own report I filed for The Independent has yet to surface, because it seemed I was one of the few people there (aside from the specialist media, of course) who understood the scope of the days event – to say ‘Hey we’ve opened Longbridge, we’ll be building sportscars again, and we can’t tell you the pricing or dealer strategy, because we’ll do that at the new TF’s launch.”

A no-brainer really.

What also stuns me is that the message that came from Yu Jian Wei loud and clear is this – if the TF sells, we’ll produce follow-up models; if it doesn’t, the we won’t…

With the negative slant on the UK’s media reporting, the car’s already disadvantaged.

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Read Paul Stowe’s blog here.


1 June

Volgas

By TOM MATTHEWS


Keith Adams definitely wants one of these, but Tom Matthews recommends against the idea.

JUST popped into your site and see you are thinking about getting a Volga.

I did that about seven years ago. Bought a 3109, I think it was, with 8000km on the clock.

I drove it to UK for my brother who had a similar idea to you. Positively the worst car I’ve ever owned or driven. No power steering, comfortable yes, but broke down in Germany with fuel problems. Never did get it right and it was later sold in the UK.

Anyway, not meant to put you off. For convenience buy in the EU.

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Feedback:

AS I am from the new EU state – Latvia – and as I have owned five Volgas, I feel rather competent to give you advice…

The first Volga I had was 1974 estate, and with it, I competed in the Plymouth-Banjul Run. It was old, rusty, busted piece of equpment, endlessly rebuilt to last. We were with two Volgas back then – another was saloon from 1991.

Second was a year later, it was 1989 Taxi version – and again I took it down to West Africa, that time I sold it in Mauritania. Third was a 1988 saloon, what I helped to find for my German friend. And finally – 1972 saloon, what I got in order to complete the rather stupid deal – I exchanged it for a English registered Mini, and drove all the way to England with it – but then, frankly speaking, it died on her new owners drive…

If you want to know, what those beasts are worth down here – well, as a rough guide, the cars were worth £100, £120, £250, £600, and £500 in the order of my list. So you see, the value increases, and now I expect for really sound one from the 1980s, you should expect to pay about £500-£800, and for pile of rust, up to £250.

For ‘mark I’ versions, up to, say, 1980, prices are up to £1000, and for very first ones with the nice looking speedo, you’re looking at £1500 to ‘how much?’

KASPARS LIVINS, Latvia

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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