Blogs : March 2005

29 March 2005

Visiting the British Commercial Vehicle Museum

By JONO CARLING

ON a wet and uninteresting Bank Holiday Sunday, a trip to the British Commercial Vehicle Museum in Leyland proved very worthwhile. Housed in the Leyland Vehicles former King Street South Works building, the museum has over 60 trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles built by Leyland and other British companies, from the turn of the century and about 1985.

Best of all, the museum is staffed by volunteer enthusiasts for Leyland, many of them former employees more than willing to impart their knowledge and experiences of their time with the company. One chap, serving tea in the coffee shop, had worked for Leyland for 35 years.

The south works still stands but the car parks to the east and north of the building are the sites of former Leyland truck factories and there are several photo’s within the museum showing the old Leyland factories in their heyday.

Perhaps it was always likely to
outstretch itself and maybe 1968
was that point in time.

We tend to think that the takeover of BMC was a takeover too far for the Leyland company. A visit to the museum shows that Leyland was a serial acquisitionist, taking over Albion, Scamell, Self Changing Gears, Standard Triumph, Associated Commercial Vehicles (itself the result of mergers between Crossley, Maudsley and Thornycroft), Rover (including Alvis) and Aveling Barford between 1945 and 1967 and opening a number of factories abroad in that time. Perhaps it was always likely to outstretch itself and maybe 1968 was that point in time.

A quick drive round Leyland afterwards showed that there is still truck-building going on in the town. The Leyland Trucks factory on the Lancashire Industrial Estate was opened in the 1980s to make the 45 truck. Now owned by American group Paccar, they produce Foden trucks assembled from kits imported from the US in a factory with the current Leyland Trucks logo on the wall outside.

The website is www.commercialvehiclemuseum.co.uk

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25 March 2005

See you after the Easter holidays…

By KEITH ADAMS

AFTER a busy few months, I’ve decided the time is right to take a few days off for a well-deserved break. No trans-European trips behind the wheel of some turbocharged Rover of the Nineties this time for me, though.

We’re staying on the mainland, and are taking a few days out to root-out some of the finest driving roads in the UK – the sort you see used liberally in the pages of Autocar magazine, when they have a new trackday-based car to test, or a multi-cylindered Italian exotic. You see, we do have some great roads in the UK – you just have to know where to look…

Take for instance my commute into work at Kelsey Towers in Peterborough. I have three choices: take the A14/A1M route, which is quick and ultimately very boring, or perhaps the A605, which is so choked by meandering trucks, it is impossible to get from Thrapston to Peterborough without spending most of the time peering at the trailer of some filthy HGV – wondering why the driver seems unwilling to go over 45mph.

The B660 contains just about every bend
you would ever need in order to test
your mettle as a driver, as well as the
ability of the wheels beneath you.

The third choice is my favourite, though – the B660. You see, it contains just about every bend you would ever need in order to test your mettle as a driver, as well as the ability of the wheels beneath you. There are open fourth gear corners, with perfect exit visibility, second gear 90 degree bends, to test brakes and traction, and there is the most delightful blind ‘chicane’ at the bottom of a dip, which is guaranteed to get your attention. The real icing on the cake has to be the fact that absolutely no-one seems to use it – favouring the clogged and boring A605, citing a saving of five miles as the reason why.

In the space of ten miles or so, you will know all you need to know about the car you’re driving – and because of that, it makes any drive into work a real pleasure, if I choose to use the B660.

So, over the next week or so, I intend to find a great deal more of these roads. Shame I’ll be diesel powered for this exploratory trip – I suspect this’ll not be the case the next time round…

See you on April 1st – and if you want to send a blog to us in the meantime, ping it over to Brian Gunn, and let him know I sent you.

Happy Easter!

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24 March 2005

Six into 600 doesn’t go…

By KEVIN DAVIS

IN a recent blog, I extolled the virtues of the Rover 620ti, but in the last few days I had the pleasure of tootling about in the 600’s archenemy, the Ford Mondeo. It’s a 1995 mk1 vintage with 111,000 miles on the clock, and it’s in the worst colour possible – kitchen appliance white. The the early Mondeo styling is rather anonymous and unadventurous by Rover 600 standards, but that doesn’t matter, because this one has the US built Duratec 2544cc, 168bhp, V6 24-valve engine.

Start it up and so smooth is the idle that you have to look at the V6 scripted rev counter to make sure it’s running; it even has a maintenance free timing chain in lieu of the snap-happy belt found on most other V6 engines.

Out on the road and the aural delight of the growling V6 is addictive – this is the first car I’ve driven in a long while that actually made me smile – the meaty power assisted steering gives loads of feedback, so much better than that found on the Rover 620ti (which suddenly weighs up in mid-turn as it tries to compensate for quick inputs). In all, a very nice car to drive, but not a very nice place to be, thanks to the nasty plastics on the dash.

A V6 engined Rover 600 would have seriously
embarassed the 800’s status as the
company’s flagship.

Most rivals offered V6s, but Rover never did – not with the compact and appealing 600. Contractual arrangements with Honda apparently forbade it (if so, how come Rover’s own 2.0 litre blown turbo engine got in there?) and Rover didn’t have a compact V6 until 1996, when the 2.5 KV6 was launched in the, then pensionable, 825.

The 600 would have benefited dramatically from the new KV6 (I suspect there were a few KV6 engined 600 mules running around Gaydon) and a model so-equipped would have nicely filled the gap between the Honda engined 600s and the all-out-performance 620ti. There would have been no need for the 158bhp Honda 2.3 litre 4-cylinder unit. Smooth as it was, it was no a V6.

I think Rover knew how good the 600 would be with the KV6 – and so did BMW. But it would probably have embarrassed the 800, and undermined its flagship status. As for the Mondeo, it is so much better in V6 form, and if they are all as good as this one, I can wholeheartedly recommend one over a Rover 600 – just don’t tell anyone I said so.

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23 March 2005

Two weeks in club Metro

By ANTHONY ENDSOR

AFTER losing my six-month old, owned from new Rover 25, I had no choice. I was still over half a month from even being able to contemplate the object of desire, my new Rover 216 Coupe. The car I had to drive is a 1990 Rover Metro 1.1L, H-registered- it was one of the first after the car sprouted the new K-Series and front, and a light make over at the rear end. My car is an exception however. Despite nearly being fifteen years old, the car has only done 28,000 miles, and has had the fortune of an elderly owner, until now.

One day the woman, who I never met, was going about her business, when an Audi A6 went into the side of the car. Although the panel was badly damaged, the car is straight, and £70 saw a new panel, good as new. However, the uneconomic situation meant I picked the car up for just £100. It was road worthy, MOT and Tax, and it had some use, before a misfortunate incident. The car spent the winter hibernating in the garage, being butchered and welded back together, and finally painted. And I cannot thank my Dad enough for the help. A few hundred pounds further and the car is riding back where it should, pumped up shocks, and many minor problems now fixed, and the only delay now was the Tax and Norwich Unions policy of sending you first class mail, that still takes five days!

Back on the road, the car has been an interesting and thought inspiring experience. For a small car, it is actually pretty comfy, and thanks in part to a proportionately large sun roof, the interior is pretty airy, and pulls off a half decent ambience, and therefore in my opinion, deserves a Rover badge. However all was not well. Compared to the 25, which rode around corners like it was on rails, without making you want to cough back up your meal, the Metro was quite disconcerting. Although I learnt to drive in a very under-steer biased Polo, I took and passed my test in the 25. One could argue I learnt more in my freedom about motoring than I ever did with my L-Plates spoiling my car.

And the 25 is a very confidence inspiring piece of automotive design, it feels big, quite firm, but not harsh, and it handles well. The Metro has an odd amount of body roll for a small car, and it tends to lean at interesting angles through the bends, on a wider car, the same amount of suspension travel would be far less noticeable, but as the metro is so narrow, the same amount of movement results in more leaning- as proportionately, the amount of movement in relation to the dimensions is greater.

For negotiating country lanes, the car really required slow in and fast out. But that’s fine. The steering is pretty good, and with more miles my confidence and experience grew. The car is quite quick too, and there was a point where I was beginning to enjoy driving it, before it seemed a chore, all those rattles and squeaks, the lack of speed and a fifth gear suddenly didn’t bother me. I even liked the squeak the throttle pedal made as you let go of the pedal to change up, which sounded like a tiny chirping turbo. It was my baby 6R4. But then, as I approached the back of the traffic, clutch down, rolling to a stop.

I even liked the squeak the throttle made
as you let go of the pedal to change up;
it sounded like a tiny chirping turbo.

Nothing. The car just cut out. Started fine, but the pain of a non-fuel injected car was here. I then had to spend the rest of the week with the choke up one notch, so the revs were too high in traffic. But the alternative was pulling off to find nothing was there. And it got through a lot of petrol. A minor tweak at the end of the week, and it started and ran perfect, tick-over was much improved and it hasn’t stalled since. Power delivery seemed smoother, less jumpy, less lumpy, and a good thorough clean inside freshened the car up no end. And one minor ‘modification’. For fun, the car now sports a Morris 1300 GT gear knob! Sadly fuel consumption was still higher than the 25’s 1.4 K-Series power, and in fact, I’d say higher than the D-Series powered 216, which ran from Loughborough to Solihull on about £2’s worth of petrol if that at constant 70mph.

On the other hand, the Metro’s excursion to Gaydon seemed to use more than £5 each way- total trip, that’s half a tank. And how small it seemed next to the MG-ZT and R8 418, as can be seen on the event pictures. The journey was interesting, noisy, but interesting. The car does delivery of speed fine, and had no issues, but without a fifth and taller gear, it’s understandable it was using too much gas. The car was used for another few days, and delivered no problems, and seemed to be back to its former glory, one rusty arch aside.

To conclude, the Metro is a lovely car, and small amounts of work, if not complete, have made for a fun little car, that doesn’t feel as bad as people make them out to be, and treat them as other road users. I missed out on a cheap car when I first passed, and was instantly smothered in do-all handling, fluent and sprightly performance, not to mention Air Conditioning and Leather. My friends all had Mk 3 Fiestas, another fun little car, and I wish I’d been part of that with a 60 bhp Metro. In fact if I could turn back time I would have bought the Metro in the first place, and kept it a few months, because it really is the best introduction to driving.

To make sure at least somebody learns from my mistake, I have given the car to my brother.

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22 March 2005

You’ve read Autocar?

By KEITH ADAMS

SO the SAIC/MGR plans are a little clearer today, following the interesting story which ran in today’s Autocar magazine.

The upshot is that MG is going SAIC, the MG ZR/Rover 25 is moving abroad (as revealed on this site last week), and the Chinese now own the rights to the K-Series engine, the Rover 75 will eventually be moving overseas, and the 45 will continue in the UK – although effectively as part of the SAIC deal. MG Rover should now effectively considered annexed by the Chinese (or it will be when the deal is announced on April 21)…

However, Phoenix Venture Holdings will keep hold of the TF, the SV, part of MG Sport and Racing, as well as remain in charge of the TATA deal…

So, although some may see it as the end of a UK owned volume business, at least Longbridge stays open, and the local economy won’t fall apart. It’s certainly a future – and that is something very few of us thought would happen in March 2000, when BMW dropped its bombshell. Personally speaking, I’m delighted at the deal because it means Rover will continue – and although the emphasis of the company will shift Eastwards, at least it will remain a part of the industry – something that cannot be said about so many other marques covered on this website.

Another exciting possibility could well be what Phoenix decides to do with the rump of car production left in its control. Think about it – there’s a ready-made and well-established sportscar, which it still owns (the TF), a supercar (the SV) and a deal with the Indians, which at some point in the future could be turned into producing the Aria concept.

Okay, it’s a long shot, but could this not form the basis of the much talked about Austin-Healey revival, which we know has been discussed many times within the inner sanctums at Longbridge. If that happens, then the Phoenix Four will have achieved so much more than Jon Moulton and Alchemy promised – because they have assured the survival of the Rover marque – and they could well be instrumental in creating a sports car company based in Longbridge we’re all proud of.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed…

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21 March 2005

You could win a car!

By KEITH ADAMS

IT’S true! Thanks to the generosity of one of the site’s fans, this appealingly tidy and healthy MG Metro could be yours if you can answer a few questions and can string a few words togther. Yes, austin-rover.co.uk is running its first ‘win a car’ competition!

So if you fancy something snazzy and in keeping with our company’s heritage – all for the attractive price of £Zero, then go to the competition page and give it your best shot – don’t be shy! You might even find yourself behind the wheel of the original MG ‘Zed’ saloon from the Eighties.

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18 March 2005

GM to the rescue?

By MIKE GOY

WHAT can MGR do? It needs money for the future, but now it is dancing to a Chinese tune. If SAIC just want Rover, how can the Phoenix Four persuade them otherwise? And if they have to say goodbye to this brand the cupboard is looking rather empty. Perhaps they have already put out feelers to Ford and, as Keith says, are hoping that MG can be absorbed into their Premier Automotive Group.

But, wait a minute, what about General Motors? They are going through a torrid time at home just now, but have deep pockets. The following quote from MSN’s financial pages gives a good reason for GM to be on the lookout for bargains such as MG:

‘Earnings are spiralling downward and visibility is very murky. Toss in the probability of a debt downgrade to junk status, and the possibility of a dividend cut, and the news cycle for GM is likely to remain bad for at least another three to six months’.

Chrysler linked up with Mercedes-Benz, Ford have carved out a strong (if somewhat expensive) international sporting alliance with Jaguar and Aston Martin, VW already have Audi, SEAT, Lamborghini and Bentley, BMW got their fingers burnt 10 years ago and weren’t interested in developing MG anyway, but General Motors? They seem to be lacking direction just now. Vauxhall dealerships offer Chevrolet and Daewoo from separately branded showrooms. Could they add MG to the portfolio? Unlike Ford, they are without a top drawer sports car, and don’t seem to be doing a great deal with Saab.

They have also backtracked on Fiat, which presumably would have delivered them Ferrari. Of course I am sure Phoenix has already tried courting GM, but did the Americans consider MG without Rover? GM’s American sporting credentials don’t have kudos in Europe, so that rules Pontiac out as an international brand. DTM and BTCC involvement aside, Opel and Vauxhall aren’t recognised as manufacturers of sporting cars. But if GM were to re-launch MG in the US through their dealerships they could kill two birds with one stone, appealing to the entire American 50-somethings who remember British sports cars from the Sixties and Seventies, and attacking the international markets where car buyers are already familiar with MG.

Of course this scenario must also appeal to Ford, but they have got their hands full with Jaguar at the moment. And they have just spent countless millions establishing Aston Martin as a major player. Looking to Japan, Nissan have carved out sporting credentials with their Z cars, Toyota have a similarly branded F1 concern (you can’t get more sporting than Formula One), Subaru is synonymous with rallying, Mazda is a Ford brand… Does that leave anyone out?

Oh, and GM could also resurrect Austin Healey, aiming it firmly at Aston Martin and Porsche.

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NOT Sure GM would make a better parent than Ford – Its record of brand management is not exactly glorious. Just look at what has happened to Saab to see what I mean… If MG were to go elsewhere, I’d want it to be Ford.

Having said that, I have to agree with Michael Wynn-Williams (March 15, blog respose) – MG and Rover are indivisible (sadly) and I suppose that means its future lies in China.

KEITH ADAMS

It’s a pipedream to think that GM or Ford’s PAG division would go anywhere near MG Rover. Both have had their fingers badly burned trying to integrate “premium” brands into their businesses.

Ford in particular has ended up with two money pits by getting involved in ex Leyland businesses – Jaguar and Land Rover. Both report massive losses and, as we know, Ford is closing Jaguar’s Browns Lane manufacturing facility to try and sort the mess out.

Couple this with the perilous state of the parent companies’ businesses, where commentators reckon Ford is technically bankrupt with the banks only continuing to pump in money because of the history associated with the brand. Ford make no money in US or Europe making cars, only its finance business keeps it from going under.

GM are in almost as perilous state cutting manufacturing capacity in Europe and moving Saab 9-3 production from Sweden to Germany.

You can see therefore that taking on Longbridge would effectively be suicide for either company in their present states.

PAUL HAMPSON

In continuation of the debate as to where the best home for MG Rover would be, have people considered PSA as a real alternative to SAIC?

Think about it – PSA have an interesting brand set up already:
Peugeot: Family sector (successful 206/307 etc., weaker 407/607 models)
Citroen: Value Brand (across all sectors, except larger saloons)
But neither Peugeot or Citroen have truly cracked the executive/premium markets or true sports motoring.

Would MG Rover not fit comfortably in their overall range offerings? MG could offer the larger sports models and convertables/roadsters and Rover a real alternative for executive buyers. This would kill the CityRover, 25 and Streetwise (and is this a real loss?) as that would be covered by offerings from Peugeot/Citroen.

There is talk of larger ties between ailing Mitsubishi and PSA on development of 4×4 models. A future PSA group could look like this (and a strong one at that too!):

Peugeot: Family Sector (Small hatches through to medium family saloons/MPVs and 4×4)
Citroen: Budget/Value brand (small cheap sports hatches C1/C2/C3 through to MPVs)
MG: Sporting Brand (roadsters/convertables through to performance saloons MG-ZT & ZT-T)
Rover: Premium/Executive models (starting from 45 class upwards ditching smaller models)
Mitsubishi: 4×4 & Specialist brands

This would eschew PSA into the powers/realms of VW Group, General Motors and Ford. Peugeot-Citroen is European, well established and with Peugeot factories in the heart of the West Midlands, offer a real sense of job security to the MG Rover brands and the future of UK manufacturing.

Food for thought or a total fantasy? You decide.

ANDREW CLARKE


17 March 2005

Expedient badge engineering?

By MARK KEY

I’VE been thinking how more could be made of the CityRover and have concocted an MG variant (harder springs, throaty exhaust etc) and a wilder StreetKa type soft top.

The basic car relies on styling re-touches, with large rubbing strips hiding the less aggresive Indica lines. The high-spec Indica already has wheelarch extensions, so no extra moulds are needed for these. Using Indica bumpers would make a visual difference between the CityRover and MG variant.

The more radical soft top relies on fibreglass shells for the longer front doors (which fit into the standard front door opening) and the whole back end which fits onto mounting points around the cut down standard bodyshell. This vehicle retains the standard four-door glass. These measures should all save money on retooling for longer doors and still give the right coupé look.

I estimate the CityMG and Midget variant should easily beat other hot superminis on value for money (especially StreetKa).

I wonder if TVR could do the fibreglass?

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16 March 2005

What now for MG? (Part II)

By KEITH ADAMS

YESTERDAY’S MG scenario was one idea, and I suspect one the Phoenix Four will love to pursue… in an ideal world.

What if, as has been suggested in some elements of the media, MG Rover was so near bankruptcy recently that Phoenix had no choice but let MG go to the Chinese? After all, the story went, SAIC’s initial tranche of cash (which got it it the intellectual property rights for the K-Series engine) was used to keep the operation afloat a little while longer in the void until the deal was signed.

The Chinese have shown little interest in MG, though, and that’s a worry. If SAIC ends up with MG, what will the future hold for the revered British marque?

Logically, one would assume the Rover marque would be for the Chinese market and MG for Europe and the USA. After all, despite recent events in the company’s history, MG still has a strong brand equity – and probably will continue to have as long as it doesn’t end up being the host for a range of rebadged SUVs… That, for sure, would be MG’s CityRover, especially if it were a less-than brilliant product.

We know the Rover marque has a bright future in the East as a Chinese company with a smattering of UK know-how, but what about MG? The question remains: what would be the better future for the company – part of the SAIC empire, or resting under Phoenix’s wing until a suitor could be found? I’d love to see MG go it alone, and developed properly, but I suspect the reality of the situation will be somewhat different.

I suspect we’ll know now, in a matter of days rather than weeks.

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I’M STILL in a bit of a muddle as you seem to be.

The R75 seems is an even odder enigma for me than the matter of MG. In terms of componentry, virtually everything in its Electrical System is Standard BMW Technology. Identical Technology is used in the R50/MINI, which is virtual carry-over straight from the 3- and 5-Series.

I doubt whether BMW has radically altered this very complex beast in their latest Models. Back in our days, it was very difficult to get into the technology, as it was guarded very closely by BMW. This technology is not off the shelf ‘bits and bobs’, but highly complex Microprocessors developed and made specifically by BMW.

Under SAIC, will BMW no longer need to fulfill its commitment to supply these parts, or will it start charging SAIC lots of money?

JOHN DOE


15 March 2005

What now for MG?

By KEITH ADAMS

SLOWLY, ever so slowly, snippets of information about the SAIC/MGR Joint Venture continue to filter out.

One things seems to be emerging – the deal is for Rover only, as the Chinese only seem to be interested in developing the older brand for its own use. In a way, that must seem like good news for the management at Longbridge, because with Rover dying on its feet, MG’s sales are increasing to partially fill the shortfall.

Does this mean the MG name remains with Phoenix, and if so, how much of a long term future will the company have as an independent player? Would it mean separation from Rover, or would there be technology transfer in? Would Phoenix then be free to negotiate a deal with Ford’s Premier Auto Group (or whoever)? It’s an interesting set of questions, and one that we really need to know the answers to sooner rather than later…

Personally speaking, Ford’s PAG could be a better parent than many, and just think what a strong line-up of sports cars would result: MG for the Audi TT market, Jaguar for the 6-Series market and Aston Martin for the Ferrari/Porsche 911 market – and all built in the Birmingham hinterland… I could think of worse futures for MG…

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MG HAS always been the more alluring and delectable part of the MGR combination, and its relative rise in popularity was somewhat inevitable.

At the same time, we should be aware that it exists only as a variant of a common product shared with Rover. Although it is little involved than badge engineering somehow this time MG has escaped the cynicism that the MG “M” series attracted. Perhaps we should call the current approach “brand engineering”.

The point is that MG could not survive in its present form without Rover. To attempt to establish it as a separate product would simply send the company back into the mire from which it is currently attempting to extract itself. Rover needs to be in the million a year club and SAIC is the route to that. MG is no exception to this economic reality and could only go it alone if it could very quickly join the same club with its own production. Hardly likely, I fear.

If the MG name is not included in the MGR-SAIC vertical joint venture it is because Phoenix intend to continue doing their own MG versions of the jointly held designs. Admittedly, the TF and SV are made at very low levels of scale so can remain MG dedicated products, but these are niche products providing a halo effect for the more lucrative mainstream cars. Yes, MG has a great future ahead of it, but it is inseparable from Rover and the SAIC lifeline.

MICHAEL WYNN-WILLIAMS


14 March 2005

A cold, damp Gaydon in March still lifts the spirits…

By KEITH ADAMS

IT WAS heartening to see so many cars and their owners turn up to our informal austin-rover.co.uk gathering at Gaydon.

After all, it was not an arranged event or anything – someone on the website forum suggested we all get together and show off our wares, so to speak. The last time we tried this – back in the days when we had 25 people on the Yahoo mailing list, and not so many website readers – we had about six people turn up, and a great time was had by all.

It was reasonable to assume this would happen again.

Nothing prepared me for the number of cars that had congregated in Gaydon’s car park yesterday, when I turned up late. There were loads of them, and hearteningly for me, there was a very wide selection of motors to choose from. The selection ranged from Eamonn Burnell’s immaculate Rover 100 to Ian Robertson’s 54-reg MG ZT CDTi. Cars from all periods in BMC>Rover’s history were there, and that made me very happy indeed.

It also started me thinking. Why is it that we have millions of separate owners’ clubs, all with a handful of members? Why aren’t we all one big, happy union of enthusiasts? After all, MG and Triumph manage it (in a way) and Rootes certainly does – so why not BMC>Rover? I know I bang on about this on a regular basis, but wouldn’t it be nice if there was an all-encompassing BMC>Rover club, where Allegro owners would sit happily alongside their Marina owning counterparts…

Imagine the buying power we could wield – and just imagine how much more likely it would be to get parts remanufactured or regalia produced inexpensively if we were a union of clubs representing 5000 owners, rather than single, fractious clubs with 100 members here and 100 members there. Heck, we could even get British Motor Heritage to support us…

It’s a utopian dream, but one I would dearly love to see.

Oh yes – one more thing. To everyone who showed up, a heartfelt ‘thanks’. I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to chat to everyone, but thanks for all your ideas, comments and suggestions for the site, to those I did…

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11 March 2005

Gran Turismo nosh-up

By KEITH ADAMS

SPENT yesterday evening in Soho…

Good show it was too. No, I wasn’t at the salubrious ‘Tattoo’ Bar, (a landmark, thanks to a six-foot Rupaul look-alike outside), but on the top floor of a NCP multi-story car park with just about every other British motoring ‘hack’ you care to mention. Forget the people, I was there for the cars – and a stunning array of modern supercars (TVR Speed 12 anyone?), classic sports cars (Ginetta, Mazda Cosmo), and competition beasts (Jaguar XJR-9 and Bentley Le Mans cars) was there to be enjoyed…

Yup – this amazing selection of cars was there to mark the launch of SCEE’s latest Playstation game, Gran Turismo 4.

It’s a sign of the times that a video game has such pulling power, but there you go. And all the ‘names’ were all there: Top Gear, Fifth Gear (ahem), CAR, Autocar, and… Classic Car Weekly, of course. And all were there to see a video game being launched. It seems as though this £30 bundle of fun has really capatured the collective imagination of just about every petrolhead in the land – a far cry from the nerdish computer shows I used to go to in the late Eighties and early Nineties. This was a real media event.

And it’s easy to see why. This is the fourth in a series of groundbreaking car games. In fact, to call this a game is probably doing the GT series a disservice. Such is the intricacy of this simulator, that when hooked up to the right set of steering wheel/pedal controls, the feedback and accuracy can be spooky. There are times you actually scare yourself, such is the reality some of the tracks present you with. Added to that, cars I know and love are accurately reproduced on this game – from the way they look, to their balance in corners, each car is a bitmapped, perfect replica of the real thing.

Okay, I may not be an expert on the delights of the real Pagani Zonda in extreme situations at the Nürburgring (but thanks to GT4 I will soon get a pretty good idea), but I do know what an Integra Type-R, Mazda MX-5 and MG TF feel like on bumpy streets, and each one has been faithfully captured pixel-perfectly for the game… When I watched the Mitsubishi Evo VIII being tested on Top Gear last year, just before The Stig muscled it round the track at Dunsfold, my son blurted out, ‘Ugh, it’ll understeer…’

You know what, he was absolutely right. He learned that on GT3, aged 14.

So, the game’s good – but is it really worth all this media hype? Yes, but only just…

And since when have video games had such pulling power, invading popular culture so successfully? Things have come a long way since I unwrapped my Atari 2600 VCS on Christmas morning, 1979, and plugged in Night Driver. Video games are now big business – so big, that the industry now dwarfs Hollywood – and at £30 a pop per PS2 game, one can see why.

So why were all the journos there?

Well, I’m a big videogame fan, and have a thing about cars too (as you might know), so it was a chance to kill two birds with one stone. I was also working – snapping pictures for CCW and Jaguar World Monthly… Many of the others, I just don’t know. It seemed to me to have been nothing more than a giant feeding-frenzy – a chance to strike a deal, have a free drink (or two), take hand-outs, and enjoy a paid night out on Sony.

Welcome to the world of media – I wonder what George Bishop would have made of it all…

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10 March 2005

Thank you…

By KEITH ADAMS

JUST to let you all know, I’ve received a LOT of e-mails regarding the ‘Associate Editor’ role for austin-rover.co.uk, and all I can say is that I’m overwhelmed by all the offers of help I’ve received.

Because of work commitments, I’ve been unable to answer many of these e-mails, so don’t think I’m ignoring you if you’ve not heard from me yet. I WILL reply to each one in turn…

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9 March 2005

What a waste of a V8 engine…

By KEITH ADAMS

THE thirty-six million MGB fans out there are going to hate me for saying this, but today I came to the conclusion the Rover V8 engine is totally wasted on the MGB GT V8.

Let me explain – I’m travelling along the A605. It’s wet, it’s windy, it’s home time, and there’s a lot of ill-tempered aggression out there – not a place for a nice, gentle, relaxing drive. Evidently, the driver ahead of me in the 1974 MGB GT V8 thought the same and was motoring along at a reasonable 60mph-ish pace. As the road swept uphill, it broke into a dual carriageway of sorts. One of those three lane sections we used to call ‘suicide lanes’ in the old days…

He pulls out to pass (without indicating), I follow (at a distance) and prepare to be blown away by his V8 powered sports car. After all, this was uphill, and he would be riding on the crest of a wave of torque. His tail squats, a chuff of smoke – and he’s off…

Except he isn’t. Window down a crack so I can listen to his soundtrack, he’s foot-to-the-floor and motoring for England. Down into third, I begin to wind up the 16V motor in my Rover 420GSi Tourer, as I’m always interested in comparing such things… I can hear the V8 working for a living – he’s still in fourth gear, mind, but he’s going for it now. The point is, I’m starting to reel him in, and that is not something I would have expected…

I look down a second and see that I’m getting near to the top of third, and I’m catching this car now – and I know he’s still caning it, because I can hear it for myself…

Window down a crack so I can listen to
his soundtrack, he’s foot-to-the-floor
and motoring for England…

Hooking straight into fifth, I ease back, put a little distance between us and watch him thread this undulating A-road. Whereas I’m planted and comfortable in my ten-year old workhorse, I can see the driver of the MGB is really working for a living – the car is bouncing on its suspension, wandering from side to side, and it looks like there’s constant correction going on. Oh dear.

OK, I’m being a little unkind, but the point is – surely, if he wants to keep up with the flow of modern traffic, there must be better ways than this. And I can also think of a number of more worthwhile homes for such a great engine… Namely an SD1. For a start.

‘The MGB GT V8 can be tweaked’, I hear you say… Oh yes, this is true, but for the sort of money these things fetch, surely you shouldn’t need to be spending same amount again making them go, steer and stop like a sports car. Plough your money into a Rover 220 Tomcat – and take a holiday in Barbados with what’s left over – and enjoy a car which is just as stylish, on a different planet dynamically, and can leave it for dead in a straight line, while using half the fuel…

‘Ahhh but it’s a classic’, I hear you cry. Yup, but so is a Jaguar XJ-S or a Jensen Interceptor. Except they’re Classic and fast.

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SHAME on you for denigrating the delightful MGB GT V8. That this old lady may not have the outright performance numbers of your average modern family saloon is to entirely miss the point.

To sit behind that glorious engine, to wrestle with that oversized steering wheel, are the very pleasures that your state of the art four-wheel appliance denies us.

Most ironic of all, the old girl’s display of vitality and spirit obviously captured your attention too.

Brighten your day, did it?

MICHAEL WYNN-WILLIAMS


8 March 2005

RIP BRM

By KEVIN DAVIS

SINCE its launch in 1998, the Rover 200 BRM came and went with total apathy from the car buying public, and was seen as a rather ludicrous marketing exercise by the press. Despite its extra range of abilities over and above the 200vi, the 200BRM’s hefty price tag of £18,000 meant there was little more than morbid curiosity from showroom visitors; and even the enticement of making it a limited edition of 795 cars still failed to capture anyones’ hearts.

Sadly, the 200BRM is now living in the doldrums, unloved and unwanted by everyone except die-hard Rover fans, and as there aren’t many die-hard Rover fans, there are more BRM’s than buyers; and as a result, prices have tumbled dramatically. A check on the AutoTrader website today revealed an early 1998 S-registration model – which is rare in itself as most weren’t sold until the price was dropped to £14,000 in 1999 – for just £1800!

A hefty price tag of £18,000 meant there
was little more than morbid curiosity
from showroom visitors…

I’ve also heard several more have recently been written off in relatively minor accidents, because insurers weigh-up the cost of repairs against the value of the car – and decide not to bother. There are usually always unique-to-BRM parts regularly cropping up on ebay, as owners of written off cars try to recoup some of their losses.

The upshot of all this, is one-day, when there is only a handful left, the Rover 200 BRM will be seen as a collectors’ item and we’ll all be wondering why no one liked them – and what happened to them all.

But we all should and will feel guilty, because we sat there and watched them disappear and never did anything about it?

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Interesting to read about the plight of the 200 BRM; sadly the car is not alone.

During the last 20 or so years, I have been involved with a number of Car Clubs, primarily the Vauxhall Droop Snoot Group, Rovertorque and Mazda Rotary Club, all of them cater for models that no-one cared for until it was too late.

I still want to own a Vauxhall Magnum Sportshatch. A Magnum 2300 Estate with Droop Snoot Firenza front, aubegine paint and red tartan interior (all very ’70s). Vauxhall built 197 of them to use up the bits from the Firenza project. To my knowledge less than 20 survive and not all of those are running.

My current “Toy” is a Mazda Eunos Cosmo, the ’90 – ’96 flagship of the Eunos brand with more electronics than a branch of PC World and awesome performance from its 2- or 3-rotor Wankel engine. 8500 produced for the Japanese market only, most have been stripped and scrapped. Their 3 rotor engines transplanted in to RX-7s or just scrapped because of the draconian Japanese MOT requirements.

There must be other examples of AR cars on the brink of extinction too – what ever happened to the Allegro Equipe? What about all of those Mini limited editions? How many Minor 1,000,000s are left?

The only answer I can see is this. If you love the car, keep it, look after it and cherish the times when a passer by says, “gosh, I haven’t seen one of those for a long time”

TIM BURGESS


7 March 2005

Fancy being an associate editor?

By KEITH ADAMS

AUSTIN-ROVER.CO.UK is set to expand over the next few months – and I need someone to share the workload.

That’s going to mean something of a re-organization around here, and another addition to the team. What I am looking for is someone who can proof-read submissions (as well as my own work), and be capable of editing articles where necessary. The successful person would also be keen to throw ideas at me, as well as produce their own articles – all with the intention of moving the site forwards and continuing its sucess. What I’m looking for more than anything else, is for someone with at least as much passion for the subject as me…

One idea currently on the table is to open the site content up to include Jaguar (before and after BL), Land Rover (post-Ford), Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin… So, a keen understanding of that subject matter would be highly appreciated.

Of course, the ‘job title’ sounds better than it is, as it would be a completely voluntary role – but it does bring rewards: nothing beats seeing your name up in lights. Currently, the work is mainly undertaken by me, with Declan Berridge and Brian Gunn backing up as technical support, with a smattering of artistic input. The ‘associate editor’ would sit in between, fulfilling the jobs stated above.

So, if you think you’re up to it, send me an email explaining why, along with a couple of ideas you’d like to see implemented on the site, and you could end up joining austin-rover.co.uk.

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4 March 2005

Grand Tourer for a grand.

By KEVIN DAVIS

THE Rover 620ti arrived in June 1994 and was Rover’s crack at the compact executive sports saloon, a market dominated by the BMW 328i. Using the forced induction 2.0 litre T-Series engine introduced in 1992 in the rather wayward 220 Turbo Coupe, the 620ti at least had the chassis dynamics to be able to cope with almost 200bhp. Road tests were complimentary about the 620ti and relished its stonking mid range acceleration; with 30-50 in 4th gear taking 5.7 seconds it was verging on Escort Cosworth territory. AutoExpress magazine even went so far as to ask if it was Rover’s best car yet. Handling was not as sporting as expected, but this all played into the 620ti’s brief of being more of a fast cruiser rather than a hot rod.

But why a ‘ti’; and not Vitesse? Well, there was already a Rover 820 Vitesse, and at the same time as the 620ti was launched, Rover also introduced a 200bhp version of the 820 called the Vitesse Sport, which shared the same mechanicals as the 620ti. Using the Vitesse moniker for the 620 would have caused confusion to buyers having similarly named cars in two sectors of the market, though; it never bothered Rover in the mid-Eighties when it had two Vitesse models (216 and 3500) at each end of the market. 620 Vitesse would have suited the cars demeanour perfectly.

Road tests were complimentary about the
620ti and relished its stonking midrange
acceleration; with 30-50 in 4th gear
taking 5.7 seconds it was verging on
Escort Cosworth territory.

The 620ti was criticised for its Clark Kent looks, with only its 16″; six spoke alloys and ‘ti’; badge on the boot lid being the only clues to its sporting potential, but then the competition was similarly discrete. Inside, the 620ti was boosted with half leather ‘not quite Recaro’ sports seats and lots of wood and chrome.

The 620ti proved a popular choice among junior execs as it was well equipped and offered good value for money, which means there are still plenty about, and a tidy one can be yours for less than £1000. And don’t forget, all that performance once cost the thick end of £20k; even the latest MG ZT 190 can’t match the 620ti for performance. The 620ti, like all 600s, is still a good-looking car and is ageing well, and best of all, it can be yours to own for the cost of around three monthly repayments on a new MG. Bargain!

The 620ti pictured is the one I ran from 1998 to 2000 and sold with 128,000 miles showing.

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3 March 2005

Why oh why..?

By KEITH ADAMS

I’M DRIVING around in an illegal car at the moment…

Why’s that, I hear you ask. Well, the headlamp bulb has blown on my Rover 75, and I haven’t been bothered to replace it. Usually, it is something I am keen to stay on top of – a bulb blows, I pop into my garage, pick up a spare and pop it in. Job done. Not, however, in the case of the 75. Oh no, things have moved on since the days of the 800 and 600.

To change the bulb in the 75, I have to apply full-lock, open up a service hatch inside the wheelarch area, and after fumbling the housing out and somehow extracting the old bulb, I then pop a replacement in.

Speaking to other 75 owners with a DIY bent (and I’m not one of them), the job can be done in about 20-30 minutes with practice.

Does anyone else find that a little odd? Bulb replacement has always been considered DIY maintenance, and usually your car’s owner’s manual will tell you how to go about the task. Pain-free and easy in most cases. Heck, even my girlfriend used to do it.

But not now – not in my 75… I guess the point of a system like this is to encourage you to get it done at the dealer. Kerching. £30 and a thank-you-very-much from your local friendly MGR agent. Will most people bother? Probably not. And you end up with a load of illegal cars on the road.

Can someone tell me where the progress is?

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This represents a trend – various consumables are now near-impossible for the motorist to change himself, and consequently, cost unnecessary amounts of money to have done at a garage.

Bulbs are a good example: my first encounter with this idiocy was a Mitsubishi Space Wagon (my daughter had borrowed from friends) 10 years ago – the battery and headlamp had to be removed to change the bulb!

I thought, ‘so much for Japanese Engineering.’ My wife’s string of small Fiats has been excellent in this matter – except her present Punto II. The right hand one is passable in daylight but the left hand lamp has to be loosened and pushed forward to get at the socket and bulb.

My Alfas were okay until the 155; the lamps are hidden under the slam panel and my present 156 is even worse. Again, the RH is a pest, but the LH is a near impossible – a bulb change is a 30 minute affair, involving a mirror, tough light, tools, ripped fingers and lots of cursing. Each time I I have to change it, I promise myself I will write to Luigi and tell him what I think of his engineering.

No wonder that one-in-four cars you see on the roads seem to have defective headlamps. However, Luigi has been on it for a long time – maybe he’s got a job at MGR. The Alfa Spider 1970 I just bought, the change of bulbs resembles the 75’s.

ERIK LOYE


2 March 2005

DTM Reversal

By KEITH ADAMS

SOME of us Rover fans became excited when rumours begain to circulate that MGR was to compete in the DTM race car series. When drawings of the proposed MGR-Zytek car appeared on the DTM website appeared, we were given a tantalising glimpse of a Rover-badged return to front line motorsport. Yes, you heard right… Rover.

Images of previous Rover glories in the European Touring Car Championship came springing to mind – after all, being something of an SD1 fan, nothing gave me greater pleasure during the Eighties than seeing the SD1 sock it to the Germans in style. Those V8s sounded wonderful, and when allied to the beautiful SD1 bodyshell, the car became arguably one of the classic touring cars of all time…

In recent years, the sporting side of MG Rover has been represented ably by the MG marque, with creditable efforts at Le Mans, BTCC and in junior rallying giving the marque a healthy of sporting kudos. So, logically, an entry into the DTM series should be quite rightly handled by MG. It’s logical. It’s correct.

So why do I feel sad because MGR didn’t stick to the original DTM-Rover scheme?

I suppose I just wanted to see Rover pick up some attention. Sales of Longship cars are being caught by their Octagon siblings; Rover’s name is being dragged through the mud – and as far as I can see, there’s little chance of the situation being remedied in the near future. OK, motorsport involvement doesn’t guarantee increased sales – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but there’s one thing we can say: Rover in motorsport would have shown MGR cares.

Still, it’s good to see involvement in DTM – it may not be F1, but it is a prestigious championship – and if MG springs a miracle and beats Audi or Mercedes-Benz at their own game, perhaps German buyers will finally realise the company still exists and is capable of making good cars.


What could have been – Rover returning to frontline motorsport after a long absence…

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1 March 2005

Another moneypit..?

By KEITH ADAMS

THEY saw me coming, didn’t they? Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder (CHPD) strikes again!

In the same way that some people can’t help themselves but take a peek when driving past a motorway accident, I find myself always taking a closer look when passing my local purveyor of sub-£1000 motors. Most of his stock is made up of the usual fare of middle-aged hatchbacks and youngish Korean appliances. One and all, under a grand.

He seems to do vigorous trade, though, as every time I go past, there’s a new selection of cars in there. I think during the time I’ve lived where I do, he’s had every Rover R8 model in that you can think of… and for that reason alone, it’s always worth going in for look. That was what took me in there this evening – I saw a nice H-plate 416GSi as I drove past, and thought to myself ‘I love R8s, so why not adopt another one…’

I saw a nice H-plate 416GSi as I drove
past, and thought to myself ‘I love
R8s, so why not adopt another one…’

However, as I wandered up, I saw it… an XX-style 800 sitting on Vitesse alloys. Wow. Worth a closer look. Walk round to the back – twin exhausts, and – Bingo! – a Vitesse badge. Excitement mounting – could it possibly be a manual? I took a look… Yes! I almost punched the air with glee! A British Racing Green, V6 Vitesse, with a manual gearbox, and small bumpers… and best of all, a price tag of £295…

A quick drive round the block to confirm it worked followed by some tough negotiating – and ten minutes later, I became the proud owner of an 827 Vitesse.

It looks like a shed, with dull and faded paint – but I know we can fix that. It has a rusty wheelarch – but, so what… It’s a Vitesse, dagnabbit!

So, there you go… how not to buy a car.

No doubt, I’ll be posting more on here, as the horrible truth emerges.

What is it with me and stray cars?

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I have very happy (with hindsight) memories of a Vitesse just like this when I was a apprentice mechanic for a Midland construction company. After servicing the car, (G450 PUF bright red if I remember correctly) I will never ever forget the kickdown of two gears and the sexy scream of the engine!

Ever since, when I make engine noises that’s the noise I make.

I will also never forget the rollicking I received when returning to the workshop after taking the car back to head office. The owner who was soon to be the manager of transport matters wanted to know why the average speed for the 1.5 mile journey I just did was 72 mph!

CARL FOLEY

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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