Blogs : May 2006

30 May

Individuality may not be dead…

By KEITH ADAMS

…BUT it’s getting harder to justify.

Thanks to the good people at Citroen, I’ve been driving around in its brand new flagship, the C6 HDi, for the past few days. Being an unashamed Citroeniste to the core, I’ve been anticipating the day I’d climb behind the wheel of this beauty for some time now.

For one, the styling excited me from the first moment I saw it. The C6 may not have the drop dead beauty of the CX, SM and DS, but there’s no denying its drama – and anyone who saw one ‘cold’ would immediately have it pegged as a Citroen.

However, there are always worries when something left of centre hits the market – for one, who’s going to buy it?

The Citroen C6 reminds me of the Rover 75
really – a fantastically relaxed and
rewarding drive, but rather at odds with
the prevailing market trends…

You’ll have to wait for a full test, but needless to say that it’s a car of mixed abilities – it struggles in some departments, and excels in others. That makes it a real Citroen in anyone’s books. However, I suspect that many people will never really get the chance to fully understand this car, as it takes an extended drive to truly get it – the usual spin round the block will leave you feeling distinctly lukewarm about the car.

However, I admire Citroen for going for it with this car. In a market dominated by amorphous German blobs that are achingly competent, but ultimately rather soulless, the C6 is a breath of fresh air. It reminds me of the Rover 75 really – a fantastically relaxed and rewarding drive, but rather at odds with the prevailing market trends.

Will it sell? It’s doubtful – and because of that, it’ll probably be the last of a long and proud line. But that shouldn’t stop us applauding its existence… at least it’s different.

We wish Citroen luck with its new flagship…

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29 May

Will progress kill the classics of tomorrow?

By KEVIN DAVIS

OWNING a well-maintained classic is a relatively painless and enjoyable pastime for many enthusiasts, and when things do go wrong most cars of the last century are easy to repair – some at the roadside – the basic engine and electrical technology means it’s relatively easy to trace faults and rectify them.

But can we expect to see the cars of today doing the classic circuits in 30 years time? There’s been a massive leap in automotive technology and there isn’t a new car on the market today or even 10 years ago that doesn’t carry an advanced engine management system along with a plethora of sensors and systems. Of course, modern cars are extremely reliable, but when things do go wrong it can be catastrophically expensive to put right.

There are already stories of perfectly useable cars of less than 10 years old being scrapped because of the cost of replacing electronic components that have failed. And scare-stories by the less well informed that since the collapse of MG-Rover parts are not available anymore has brought about an early demise for some cars.

Some manufacturers have made some components obsolete, rendering cars useless unless the part can be sourced second hand. So if the situation is already becoming difficult, what hope is there for the classics of the future?

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28 May

Upsetting the apple cart

By KEITH ADAMS

IT seems like we were in Land Rover’s firing line following our publication of various brochure images of the new Freelander 2 – which had hit the Internet via unofficial sources.

Regular readers may have noticed that we ran these images a few days back, but following a letter from Land Rover’s PR threatening us with legal action should we not remove them, we decided to accede to the company’s wishes and remove them from our website. The interesting point made in the email from Land Rover was this: “You have photographs of the Land Rover Freelander 2 on your website. This is a breach of copyright law and they must be taken down. 4Car have done this, as have Autocar, our solicitors expect you to do the same.”

Think about that – we’re being talked about in the same terms as the bg boys, Autocar and 4Car – not bad for a fanzine website covering a moribund carmaker…

We were guilty of a breach of copyright, but in our defence it was an unwitting mistake, as the images had been distributed widely across the Internet. How they escaped was interesting. According to our source in the know, “They came from Eastern Europe. Apparently some guy borrowed this early brochure from a dealer and photographed it…” QED really.

Despite our faux pas, we have high hopes for the new Freelander, and eagerly anticipate its appearance on the marketplace. The word on the street is that it’s going to be rather special, and the quality is going to be rather good. It obviously sees the end of Land Rover’s dependence on the K-Series engines, but with the straight-six Volvo/Ford engine slung in across the front, it’s going to pose some interesting engineering solutions…

It’ll be more upmarket than the current effort, reflecting an affluent market, but that leaves room for a new entry level ‘Landie’. There are some interesting times ahead…

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27 May

800 anniversary

By KEVIN DAVIS

BELIEVE it or not, the Rover 800 Series will be 20 years old this year and plans are afoot to celebrate this anniversary with an event at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon on Saturday June 17th. Rover 800 fan Stewart Weller, who’s organising the event, is hoping for a good turnout and is also hoping to see plenty of now rare Mk1 800s (as well as the later cars) built between 1986 and 1991 on the day, where they will be given pride of place outside the museum.

He is also expecting a very special guest who worked (this would be an understatement!) on the development of the 800 Series, but this has yet to be confirmed.

The Rover 800, as has been said on these blogs many times before, is still bordering tenaciously between classicdom and oblivion, but Stewart hopes that this event will improve its status among the classic fraternity. It wasn’t the best selling executive car in Britain for nothing!

So if you’ve got an 800 that you’d like to show off, or you just want to join in the celebrations why not come along and say ‘hi’. All 800s are welcome: saloons, hatchbacks and coupes, from the oldest to the last of line built in 1998 and anyone turning up on the day will be made to feel more than welcome.

And, as always, Austin-Rover.co.uk will be there in full support.

For more information about the event, or to let Stewart Weller know you’re going, email him on, sweller@austin-rover.co.uk.

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26 May

Was the Allegro really that bad?

By KEITH ADAMS, from an article that originally appeared in The Independent


Allegro Mk1 – Looks good, doesn’t it?

COMPILE a list of ten motoring icons to enter the British public’s collective consciousness, and Stirling Moss would undoubtedly top it – nestling somewhere in the middle among Aston Martins, Jaguars and F1 drivers you would probably find a rather unremarkable small potato-shaped saloon.

The Austin Allegro didn’t sell well, and certainly underwhelmed those who drove it, yet for reasons beyond its control, it has become one of the most infamous cars ever produced…

It could have been so different. In 1968, one of the industry’s mergers-from-hell produced a lumbering giant called British Leyland – a union comprising of those great marques we now all speak of in the past tense.

Despite BL having a golden inventory of prestige cars, it struggled in the mid-market. Austin-Morris was in crisis, and it needed new cars to maintain the best-selling tendencies of the Mini and 1100. BL bosses had seen emerging talent, such as the Alfasud emerge from Europe and felt Austin should meet the challenge head-on. Basing the new car on the 1100 was an advantage, because it already possessed keen front wheel drive handling, a compliant ride, and sharp styling.

All the new car really needed was a sharp, contemporary hatchbacked body, and gutsier engines…

The plan fell apart quickly. Styling was brought in-house (even though Italian styling was the height of fashion at the time – and Pininfarina had done so well with the 1100), with Harris Mann’s team dreaming up a low, lean and wedgy design. This trademark style soon distended as the BL parts bin was stuffed in – the wedge became the pudding.

The final indignity befell the Allegro thanks to the fitment of a Quartic (i.e., Square with rounded edges) steering wheel – it might have looked great on paper, but drivers hated it.

When it was launched in May 1973, there followed a brief few months when everyone was convinced the Allegro was a good car – in fact, there were queues of willing punters to buy it… The range was vast, encompassing 1100, 1300, 1500 and 1750cc variations and two- and four-door bodies; it had a ‘timeless’ design, keen front wheel drive handling, and came in a bold range of colours.

Starry-eyed optimism was the mood of the day, and we all thought the Allegro would continue the international success of its predecessor.

The euphoria quickly dissolved as stories of poor quality circulated in the trade. Buyers couldn’t come to terms with its challenging styling either, and its high purchase price proved a bitter pill to swallow. The fact the Allegro singularly failed to improve on its predecessor in any meaningful way should really have been its final epitaph.

But it wasn’t…

The Allegro’s formative months were overshadowed by the crises of its creator. Just over a year after its launch, BL needed massive amounts of state funds to stay in business. And that made BL – and its cars – tabloid material; taxpayers’ money was being spent, and the public wanted to know where it was going.

The Austin Allegro didn’t sell well, and
certainly underwhelmed those who drove it,
yet for reasons beyond its control, it has
become one of the most infamous cars
ever produced…

Every time the press trumpeted a failing, more sales were lost, and the spiral of decline accelerated. Because the Allegro was BL’s newest product, it became a focal point for the national craze of BL-bashing, and despite it being adequate in most areas and inoffensive in the rest, the quirkily styled car soon became a monument to this decaying carmaker.

Despite setbacks, engineers developed the Allegro as best they could with diminishing funds. It was given more room, a smoother ride and increasingly plush interiors, as well as a bizarrely styled estate version. But by the time the Mk2 appeared in 1976, people no longer cared – the social stigma of owning one was too much.

Sales dwindled as the product improved, and by the time the Mk3 appeared in 1979, it struggled to maintain a top five position in the charts against technically backward rivals such as the Ford Escort. The truth is the Allegro 3 was rather good, and far from unreliable, yet customers weren’t buying it.

Had all things been equal, the Allegro would have bowed out gracefully in 1980, replaced by the altogether more conventional Maestro. However, BL’s lack of funds meant development dragged on, and the Allegro soldiered on to 1983. For a car that typified the defeatist mood of a decade, it really should never have escaped the Seventies.

Today, the Allegro makes a great comedy classic car. It doesn’t rust unduly, and the engines are easy to work on with plenty of back-up – rather like flared trousers, The Sweeney and Space Hoppers, the Allegro is now retro cool… Ironically, the best ones to own now are the least capable – the earliest models in the weirdest colours…

Buy one today and enjoy cheap ‘n’ cheerful classic motoring at its best – you won’t even need to wear a bag over your head…

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Feedback:

IN answer to the question was the Allegro that bad, the answer has to be yes. It singlehandedly gave away most of Leyland’s market share resulting nationalisation a couple of years later.

It’s all well and good lauding it as being technically superior to Escorts, but the fact is it wasn’t what the mass market wanted. Whilst rear wheel drive Escorts where blasting through the Forest stages of the RAC rally, the Allegro was surrounded by tales of wheels falling off and windscreens popping out. It stood no chance!

By 1979 when the series 3 came out the market had moved further on. The GM Astra/Kadett had arrived and the front wheel drive Escort mk3 was just around the corner. The Allegro was now hopelessly out-classed. A new dashboard and quad headlamps where a waste of money that would have been better spent trying to get Maestro to the market. The Allegro is the definitive Leyland disaster, a car bad at launch that the company sat back and ignored.

It received no real development over its 10 year life, just like the Maxi, Marina, Maestro, Montego and latterly the Rover 45.

PAUL HAMPSON

WITH regard to the recent articles on the Allegro. I don’t think it was so bad. Certainly not bad enough to be regarded as a bit of a joke by so many. It was the start of what became the perpetual problem. Some great and innovative concepts compromised by a shortage of funds and, in the earlier years, industrial relations problems.
Why did nobody ever see the sense in giving BMC>Rover a bigger single injection of aid so it could fully realise it’s design ideas and potential? Then it could have become self sufficient in the shorter term rather than relying on the state to just simply prop it up over the longer term, probably swallowing more aid as a result.

Back to the Allegro. Dared I say it, but in that launch photo you are currently showing with the car parked in the quarry(?) I think it looks quite good. Viewing the car today, what was once seen as big and bloated now seems more solid and substantial looking. Even better if it hadn’t been so compromised from the original thinking.

DAVID DAWSON


25 May

The problem with the USA

By IAN GREEN


AMC Pacer: Proof the Americans couldn’t do small cars, thus allowing the Japanese to walk right in?

THE big American motor companies are in big trouble. It seems the Japanese are flooding the market with cars which are built properly and sales of home-grown products are plummeting like a concrete pigeon. But haven’t we been here before? First it was the British motorbike scene, then the British car industry. The Japanese saw, they invaded, they conquered.

The key is diversity. The Japanese success in Europe is due to building cars that Europeans want. Small, efficient and reliable machines with a few goodies thrown in.

They then went to America although they got burnt the first time they tried (Toyota Crown). But they persevered. They successfully cornered the small end of the market. The American companies kept on turning out huge trucks, admitted they just couldn’t do compact (AMC Pacer anyone?) and got in with it. Then they began to adapt. Lexus and Acura took Toyota and Honda upmarket although cars that were seen as big executive machines in the UK were still considered a small runabout in the States.

What really threw a spanner in the works was the invent of big SUVs from the Japanese makers. There’s a huge Honda, the Nissan Texas Titan and Toyota have really gone for the green credentials with the Highlander Hybrid. The Highlander attacks from two angles because with rising fuel costs, Americans are finally starting to realise that perhaps cubic inches are not as important as mpg.

But a combination of union action and manufacturer complacency means that it looks like another scalp will be claimed by the Japanese. You have to hand it to them really. By adapting to each market, they are gradually taking over the world.

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24 May

Triumph in the USA

By RICHARD TRUETT, Engineering Reporter, Automotive News

WHENEVER I get within earshot of a high-ranking BMW executive, I always ask about Triumph and always get the same answer.

BMW officials say they know that the Triumph marque has a large and devoted following and that the name has great value. It’s worth too much to let anyone else use it, they say.

I have been given these these reasons why Triumph won’t be relaunched:
(1) The brand has been out of production so long that it would be too expensive to re-establish
(2) From Rover, BMW learned it can not be all things to all people and can’t be in every market segment
(3) That BMW will never badge-engineer cars, so there won’t be any Triumphs made from lower contented BMWs or from the Mini platform. Badge engineering would cheapen the BMW brand.
(4) That the dealership network is not able to accept another brand.
(5) That the core BMW brand suffers when its executives are spread too thin.

I believe BMW is being honest and forthcoming in its answers to the Triumph question. I don’t think BMW are being coy. As much I would love to see a new Triumph, I don’t think it will happen and I can offer no encouragement to any Triumph fans based on what I have been told.

But here’s an interesting twist: Earlier this year, Triumph surged past BMW and regained its position as the top-selling brand of European motorcycles in the USA, a position BMW has held since the late Seventies. My spies within the Triumph motorcycle community tell me BMW has made overtures to buy the privately held British motorcycle company, now based in Hinckley. It is not for sale.

As is well known, Triumph was founded by a German, Siegfried Bettman, who moved to Great Britain in the 1880s and who first used the Triumph name on a bicycle in the 1890s Maybe that’s why BMW feels it would be a good corporate parent for the reborn Triumph motorcycle co.

Triumph has been out of production so long
that it would be too expensive
to re-establish…

But why would BMW want Triumph motorcycles? Could there be some long-term plan to unite the car and bike in a single showroom in some new retail transportation venture? Who knows? What is for sure is that the USA is key to any plans to relaunch Triumph. No export market was bigger for Triumph than the USA. Still, I am convinced that BMW has no plans at the moment for Triumph.

My feeling on the matter is this: Triumph is a marque in waiting that could be used again if the competitive landscape changes and BMW finds that it must have another brand in which to compete. Triumph can be anything from upscale compact sports saloons to affordable sports cars.

Should BMW decide to relaunch Triumph, they know how to do it based on their experiences with the new Mini Cooper. Perhaps the motorcycle unit is the key that could make a stand-alone Triumph brand from bicycles to cars a reality? We’ll see.

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Feedback:

I HAD to respond to Richard Truett blog

The brand has been out of production so long that it would be too expensive to re-establish.
Funny MINI was out of the North American market since at the very latest 1974 (in Canada) this did not stop them relaunching a single car range in the form of MINI in 2001 did it?

From Rover, BMW learned it can not be all things to all people and can’t be in every market segment.
True but they are in small to luxobarge segments from MINI – BMW – Rolls Royce so it’s a bit of a weak argument.

That BMW will never badge-engineer cars, so there won’t be any Triumphs made from lower contented BMWs or from the Mini platform. Badge engineering would cheapen the BMW brand.
BMW have for years recycled underpinings, the Compact and Z3 for example were both last generation 3-Series cars, they orginally were going to spin an MG and a small 4×4 for LR off the R59 platform so again this is a bit weak. Let’s not forget the plans for a small Bentley (a rebodied 5-Series) that never went beyond the planning stage as VW got to Crewe first.

That the dealership network is not able to accept another brand.
True but the same could have been said at the original MINI proof of concept stage.

That the core BMW brand suffers when its executives are spread too thin.
Laugable, BMW can always employ more execs as they have done, for example when SC and SA operations were started.

‘FIREBRAND’


23 May

A real sense of community

By IAN GREEN

US 2CVers, it has to be said, are a friendly bunch. I’ve been driving Citroen 2CVs for ten years and have met many, many people from all over Europe. All have been incredibly helpful and friendly – at the 2CV World Meeting last year, it was heart-warming to see a Dutch van towing a British 2CV to the event after it broke down en route. Italians were helping the French and everyone was mucking in.

The 2CVGB Forum is also an incredibly friendly (if sometimes outright daft) place to be.

Other car forums do not tend to generate this level of friendliness.

Which is why I love the austin-rover.co.uk forum! I’ve only been a member for a few months but already, I’ve had people practically falling over themselves to help me. This has culminated in an ex-Gaydon worker putting time aside to come to my house to help with recent starting trouble with my Rover 414. It only took a few minutes to diagnose the problem but it was much appreciated as there is only so much you can achieve with the written word!

We ignore the foolish journalists who are
only interested in travelling at 200mph
– sideways…

So why are people on this forum so different to others? Maybe, like the 2CV, it’s because we unite against the torrent of abuse that usually goes along with owning an Allegro, a Maestro or even a modern K-Series engined Rover. We ignore the foolish journalists who are only interesting in travelling at 200mph – sideways – and relish the fact that there’s just something about the BMC>Rover story which can’t fail to win you over.

We dig below the insults and realise that yes, many of the cars we like are flawed but then, so is pretty much any car out there. The perfect car just does not exist (until they make a V8 that’s good on fuel!). Therefore, is it not better to buy a car that you admit has its faults and has the potential to go wrong so that any problems that do develop do not come as a surprise?

I’d much rather be amazed by the unexpected reliability of a car than pay much more for something which is apparently reliable and then proves not to be.

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22 May

The Beaulieu Spring Autojumble

By KEVIN DAVIS

I’VE been going to the Beaulieu Autojumble now for over 20 years and it doesn’t seem to have changed very much over those years. The Spring Autojumble is somewhat smaller than the International Autojumble held in September.

There were a lot of people there on the Saturday I visited judging by the full car park, and the ticket sellers were offering two-day tickets at a discount. Two days? When I arrived at 12.00 (it opened at 10.00) there were already people leaving, and I managed to circuit the whole lot in less than two hours, and that includes briefly glancing at each stall to see if anything caught my eye.

There are the same stalls selling the same odd rusty parts that no one seems to be able to identify, and if it is identified it’s usually at a price to justify its rarity and so, inevitably, the vendor ends up taking it home to try his luck again next year.

…if it isn’t there, you can’t get it.
But that was before the arrival of eBay…

You may well need a whole day if you are looking for a specific part or you want to look around the museum (not much point if you’ve been there before, nothing has changed much) but I doubt whether many people are desperate enough to sift through every stall in the hope of finding an exhaust bolt for a 1960 Vauxhall something or other!

Of course, marques such as Jaguar, MG and Triumph are very well represented at Beaulieu but these marques are also well supported enough to have their own dedicated spares days, which are held at various locations in the UK throughout the year.

I think the biggest problem with Beaulieu Autojumble is that it’s stuck in a time warp and owners of more modern classics from the don’t seem to be very well catered for. The Beaulieu Autojumble needs a facelift to encourage the modern classic owner, but it can only do that if the modern specialists are there.

Having said that, there are some good things about Beaulieu Autojumble; at least when you visit you can be assured that every stall will be selling automobilia, unlike some other large shows which claim to be autojumbles but usually have stands selling mobile phone covers and cuddly toys. There’s none of that at Beaulieu. And the Motor Mart usually has some interesting classic cars for sale with some interesting price tags!

There is a saying about Beaulieu Autojumble that if it isn’t there, you can’t get it. But that was before the arrival of eBay…

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21 May

Who owns this bad boy?

By KEITH ADAMS

SPOTTED in Gaydon today – someone’s gone and created my perfect Rover 75.

Hats off to you – and if you’re a reader, get in touch, as we’d love to feature this car on the website.

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19 May

A hundred more?

By MIKE McCABE

A COLD day in January at BMIHT Gaydon saw more than 100 Rover 75s and MG ZTs on show for the inaugural meet of the 75 and ZT Owners Club. Now, nearly six months later, the club is on target to display 100 cars at its spring meet being held on Sunday 28th May at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, Hampshire.

Since January, the 75 and ZT Owners Club has been growing rapidly. A new and improved club website will soon be launched offering club members a wealth of technical information and support and, if a club car sticker can be seen as a sign of progress, then we now have one of them too! This second club meet is being held with support from Rimmer Bros and Haynes Manuals and all the cars will be displayed in the museum arena for the whole of the day. Presentations will be made to the best turned out vehicles and members will be on hand to advise and guide those wanting to learn more about how to keep their cars in top condition.

Once again several 75 and ZT owners from Europe will be attending, including the President of Club-Seventyfive which is a very active Luxembourg based 75 and ZT club.

The 75 and ZT Owners club is an informal bunch of enthusiasts who are all keen to keep their cars on the road for many years to come. We offer a warm welcome and friendly advice to all 75 and ZT owners so, if your Bank Holiday Sunday is yet to be filled please do bring your car and family and join us for a great day out with the club (with discounted entry for everyone displaying their car).

More information at www.75andZTclub.com

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18 May

Quality

By RICHARD TRUETT

I JUST finished reading the entry on the Rover SD1’s rivals. A good article.

I am one of the few Americans to have owned the NASPEC (North American Specification) SD1. There was a brief time in 1991 when I had a 1989 Sterling 827 SLi and my SD1 at the same time. Parked side by side, it was easy to see the lineage.

But I write today regarding the build quality issues raised in your SD1 article.

I think this term is not quite understood or misused very frequently. With high-quality cars such as the newer Jaguars and BMW Mini Coopers, British workers have proven that, if given the proper equipment, parts and training, they can build cars as good as any workers in any factory on the planet. I put forth the modest proposal that the SD1’s poor build quality is not entirely the fault of the assembly line workers.

It is the responsibility of the designers and engineers to create assembly processes that remove the possibility of a part being installed improperly. That is, they must remove variability, meaning that a part can only go on one way. And that if it is not tightened down or affixed properly, machines or workers or inspectors stop the line and fix the problem.

It is the responsibility of those in purchasing to buy from suppliers first-rate components that not only have a pleasing appearance, but wear well and last for many years. How many ancient BMWs have you seen with interiors that look new?

It is my experience with every British Leyland/Rover Group vehicle I have ever owned (that’s more than 40) that weakness in the design of the assembly process and low-quality parts was the company’s chief failing from the Seventies until its death last year.

My 1980 SD1 was a wonderful car to drive. But the rouched velour cloth on the seats and the cloth-covered door panels looked like something out of a Winnebago.

The Sterling was a great improvement and almost there in terms of quality.

It is my experience with every BMC>Rover
I have ever owned that weakness in the
design of the assembly process and low-
quality parts was the company’s chief
failing from the Seventies until its
death last year.

Though we never got the 75 in the USA, I was sure that that car would put Rover at least on equal footing with BMW and others.

And yet in the summer of 2004, while on holiday in France, I stopped in at a MG-Rover dealership and looked over a new black 75 in the showroom. The car looked the business. But when I opened the rear door to sit in the bakc seat, my heart just sank. The weather stripping had come undone from the body and was sagging half-connected to the car.

What confidence could any potential buyer have? Already the car falling apart with no miles on the odometer. It was at that moment I knew in my heart MG-Rover was not going to make it.

The stakes are simply too high these days to design cars that workers can put together improperly and with inferior parts. There is no perfection in building cars, for sure, but at least a process needs to be in place that catches these gaffes before the customer ever sees them.

Why are the Japanese so successful in the USA? Very simple: Customers buy their cars and they never have to go back to the dealership. This is a concept that MG-Rover never could grasp.

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17 May

Rover 75s

By KEITH ADAMS

I SAW a gorgeous T-Registered Rover 75 Connoisseur today – in black and riding on 17-inch Serpent alloys. My first thought was, ‘that looks so cool’, but beyond that, it made me want one again…

Not sure I’m ready to do the 75 thing again so soon, but seeing one in the exact spec I’d always wanted mine in, it did get me wondering why these things didn’t sell. I mean, yes, they were retro, and perhaps a bit over-the-top in the classic detailing, but beneath the schmaltz, there’s real beauty in the flanks, the proportions – and most importantly in terms of its road presence.

I know the 75’s now been saddled (in certain circles) with the ‘old man’ image, but in a dark colour, looking suitably sleek and stealthy, I think it has an elegance that no other midliner (Alfa 156 apart) comes close to matching. So, why the hell didn’t it sell?

I’m guessing it was down to a couple of factors, politics aside.

1) Small wheels – these made the car look over-bodied and portly, when this was certainly not the case.
2) An interesting range of colours, not properly exploited at launch…

Of course, I am sure there are many more factors – but to me, for one short moment on the A14, I think I witnessed something close to design perfection.

For that reason alone, isn’t it about time we declared the 75 a cool car?

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Feedback:

I’VE been wanting to write for some time to congratulate you on the excellent site, but kept putting it off until I saw your Rover 75 blog. Now I can postpone it no longer!

I know this view is not shared by many of my generation (I’m 29 years old), but the Rover 75 is a totally cool car! When they first launched it I was still only a student, but I wanted one. Then, a year ago, after what seemed like a lifetime of waiting, my wife let me buy one. Of course, it was a bittersweet moment – I was finally able to buy the car I had always dreamt of, but it was the collapse of MGR which had made it affordable.

Anyway, I lept at the offer of a 2004 pre-facelift CDTI Club SE with fat union alloys in royal blue; with just 11k on the clock and priced at well under 50 per cent of its original list price, I think it was a bargain. Basically, I bought it because it looks so good, but during the year I’ve owned it I have not ceased to be amazed at just how good it actually is. Apart from the odd British Leyland-style fault with the interior plastic and boot lining, it seems to be a very well-built, well-engineered and surprisingly practical car. Driving it (and I’m a pretty enthusiastic driver) is pure pleasure, and in terms of insurance and fuel consumption it is amazingly economical to run.

I’ve always loved Lancias and Alfa Romeos, but on looks alone this beats anything they’ve ever offered (my wife is Italian, and she agrees!); and neither Jaguar nor any of the German opposition come close. It is simply – as James May (amazingly) admitted on Top Gear last year – ‘a great car’. It may not be a legend in its own lifetime, but due to the demise of MGR it is surely already a modern-day classic.

Keep up the good work with the utterly fantastic site. If the pure enthusiaasm of BMC>MGR’s fans had been enough to keep them going, they’d still be making cars today.

OWAIN WRIGHT

I COULDN’T agree more with your sentiments on the Rover 75. It’s a car I have always thought has a very pure and uncompromised styling which makes it a very striking sight on the road (and I too am probably outside the target demographic for this car at 30 years old). It is, however, a car which is extremely spec dependant.

Dark blue, Maroon and that light metallic green with the larger alloy wheels make the car look truly exceptional whereas British Racing Green and Silver really don’t show it off. I remember they did do a Primrose Yellow for the 75 which I have only ever seen one of on the road and that (with black leather interior) would be my choice!

Great work on the website – entertaining read AND invaluable database.

JOEL BEAUMONT

I LOVE your Austin Rover site and keep meaning to write. The Rover 75 blog finally spurred me to respond.

Firstly to set things in perspective my Austin Rover credentials are promising but from the Seventies and Eighties. I learned to drive on an MG 1100, my first car was an Allegro and in the Eighties bought a new MG Metro.

The 75 is a hugely over-rated car on this site. It failed in the marketplace for three reasons:
i) it was ugly
ii) drastically overpriced initally
iii) it was ugly.

At first I thought it was just me, then a survey last year showed that I was not alone in my views – the 75 voted to the top 10 in a survey of ugly cars, reported on the 4Car website.

To me, the 75 looks like a Mark III Allegro that has been pulled through a tube to stretch it, with the rear end from a Daimler limo grafted on. The curves are wrong everywhere especially the the lower body which is meant to copy a P4 but looks wrong on a modern car.

Of course the main reason Rover went down the pan was the K-series head gasket failure debacle coming after years of bad reliability reports. (I still remember my father’s 2600 blowing up in the early 80s with just over 40k on the clock). Sales went off a cliff after the report on BBC Watchdog and never recovered. Loads of special offers couldn’t help them. If Rover had responded properly and helped out affected owners they might have stood a chance but as it was, they deserved to go down. A couple of work colleagues got caught out by self-destructing K-series and it cost them four-figure sums. Ouch.

Keep up the excellent work.

KIM FULLBROOK

I HAVE to disagree with Kim’s views on the ugliness of the 75. To me the car oozes class, just as I thought the HHR four-door 400 did when it arrived in 95/96. My neighbour has an ex SMC Directors 75 V6, and it’s great when he has visitors to stay as he parks on the road. I look at the car on the road and think “how the hell did they get it so damn right?” I think it looks superb – I was a little unsure at launch of the wraparound section next to the headlights where the indicators are usually found on a car, but I think it works. My dad has since bought a 75 to replace the 416GTi sold to Keith, my uncle has done the same, and now I am looking to do the same (wife’s permission needed as it will in effect be her car when the baby comes along in July).

I do agree that the facelifted 75 doesn’t work, it’s lost the crisp, clean lines of its predecessor and has been made to look overcomplicated, like they were trying to put in a facelift for the sake of a facelift. Comparing the 2 versions of the ZT though, I think the facelift works equally well as the pre-facelift version, so it’s a buyers choice really.

It would be a very boring place if we all held the same views, so it’s good to see there is such a variety of opinions. That’s what keeps the whole debate going. Even after a year of MGR going bust, the fact that the site is still going strong with almost daily input shows the strength of feeling and the enthusiasm for the brand, and as such the need for this site to continue.

Long may the debate continue!

DYLAN JONES

I’VE just read your 75 blog and I have to totally agree with you. The car is, in pre- facelift form, utterly beautiful, but it is colour sensitive; dark colours suit it best – dark blues, black and my favourite – copperleaf red. After all, you can’t see all the chrome on a silver one, and I really do not like Wedgewood Blue.

You are also dead right about the small wheels thing. My old 75 Club had 15 inch Comet wheels and they looked totally lost in the wheelarches. The other problem was the ride height – always too high. Lowering mine by 35mm and fitting 17 inch wheels transformed not only its looks but also its handling without any great sacrifice in comfort.

The fact that the car was voted one of the most beautiful in the world shortly after its launch seems to have been lost on Kim. I think the ugly tag was applied to the facelift model and not without some justification. The Phoenix Four seem to have spent a grat deal of their time at Longbridge attempting to cheapen the 75 with all the project drive nonsense. The 2004 facelift was the final insult to a great car.

TIM BURGESS


16 May

Back in the Jag

By KEITH ADAMS

HOORAY!

It might not be the sentiment of many sane people when their £90,000 BMW has been taken away and in its place chugs a £100 Jaguar XJ6, but when this happened to me yesterday morning, I can tell you I was absolutely delighted.

It’s not as if I didn’t like the Big Bimmer, and as it’s close to being the best car in the world, there’s little to complain about on the driving front – but somehow I just feel more comfortable behind the wheel of what most people would consider a jalopy.

Life’s more entertaining behind the wheel of a characterful car – and few come with more laughter lines than a tired XJ40. It sounds good, goes well and looks brilliant – and even though it’s a real extravagence to run, you can’t help but love it.

So… now I’ve said all these nice things, please don’t break down on me!

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15 May

Triumphant entry into the USA

By RICHARD TRUETT

I’VE just received my Brooklands Green 1977 Triumph 2500S from Great Britain. From what I can tell, it is one of three British-market 2500s now in the USA. My car is well-travelled at 133,000 miles. I have the log books and all repair receipts dating back from when the car was new. This makes for fascinating reading.

For most of its life, my car was loved by one lady owner. She gave it whatever it needed to get through its yearly MoT.

My car has gone through half a dozen complete exhaust systems and sets of tyres. It’s had two new right front wings, some welding underneath, a set of refurbished Stag-style wheels, a rebuilt steering rack and, at about 98,000 miles, a rebuild of its Borg-warner automatic transmission.

But, with the exception of a second-hand replacement distributor, she’s had no engine work except tune-ups and a rebuilt alternator. This was confirmed when I replaced the main and big end bearings and oil pump. The original Vandervell bearings were worn down to the copper. A new set quietened a rattle on start up.

The 2500S is a pleasure to spend time in
and she looks right at home with my 1971
TR6 and 1977 Dolomite Sprint.

Granted, my engine sounds a little bit like a grandfather clock at tickover due to a worn rocker shaft, but she runs strong and does not blow any smoke.

I am amazed at how comfortable the 2500S is, how solid and well made the body is and nicely she handles. I think the performance is pretty decent, too. It has plenty of power for US roads. When coupled to an automatic gearbox, it seems the Triumph 2.5-litre engine is under-stressed.

I had not planned on a full restoration when I bought the car. And it will be difficult to do from the USA. But what can I say? The 2500S is a pleasure to spend time in and she looks right at home with me 1971 TR6 and 1977 Dolomite Sprint.

If all goes according to plan, I will drive the car over the summer, pull the drivetrain and trim around October, and send the car off to the body shop for the winter. During the cold months I will rebuild the engine and send the seats off to be recovered. When I get the car back sometime early next Spring, I will put it all back together. It may have 133,000 miles, but I think there are plenty thousand more miles left in her.

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12 May

Been quiet…

By KEITH ADAMS

APOLOGIES if I’ve been quiet the past few days, but work’s been piling on, and I’ve been trying to keep head down for a few days…

One the positive side, I’ve been fortunate enough to be driving the BMW 760Li you see above, and if it may not be the last word in elegant beauty, it’s certainly the most accomplished all-rounder I’ve ever driven. I guess when you have 440bhp and 480lb/ft of torque to play with and a brake/chassis set-up well up to the task of reining it all in, it certainly warps your pre-conceived notions of what a car is capable of.

Yes, it’s quick, and capable – and it has huge amounts of road presence – but the thing I come away with, yet again, about driving a car with such reserves of power and performance is how relaxing – and quiet – it all is, and how safe driving a car can be.

I suppose the sad thing is that the car in general will not be allowed to evolve to such an extent that this kind of performance is the rule rather than the exception – and that’s because the age of the 20mpg dinosaur is coming to an end…

What a shame.

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8 May

What do you expect for the money?

By KEVIN DAVIS

IF you want to know how much your car is worth, then usually you can pick up a copy of Parker’s Car Price Guide or trawl the AutoTrader to get an idea of how much you can expect for it. All well and good for modern cars, but how do you value a beige 1981 Morris Ital with 36,000 miles under its skinny 13” wheels? All things being equal it’s not really worth much over £500 but a look at the classifieds in Classic Car Weekly last week revealed just such a car for sale at an eye watering £1495!

Only a complete Marina/Ital nut would pay that kind of money, and therein lays the crux; the seller is hoping that there is such a person out there who sits at home surrounded by posters of Itals on his bedroom wall and will one day see the advert. And the seller doesn’t really care how long he has to advertise it for because he knows that even if it takes months it will eventually sell; at that price it must be the best Ital available.

I had my 1990 Rover Sterling for sale on ebay and a lot of people thought that my reserve price was fairly optimistic, which is probably true, but if there’s no guide to quantify the price then where do you place its value? Sadly, most Mk1 800s that do crop up are usually fit for parts only, or are poorly presented, so when a nice example does appear for sale its value gets dragged down with the rest of the cannon fodder.

Parker’s is all well and good for modern
cars, but how do you value a beige 1981
Morris Ital with 36,000 miles under
its skinny 13-inch wheels?

We all know that 800s aren’t the most desirable of cars in some quarters, but in my opinion the relative rareness of a nicely presented Mk1 800 makes it all the more desirable over a grilled Mk2 version. Unfortunately it would seem that the 800 is still in the not-quite-classic/never-will-be wilderness and like the Rover P5 and Rover SD1 before it, it’ll be a while before opinion changes.

I may well have spent more than I should or needed have done bringing this Sterling up to a presentable standard, but if I adopted the same attitude towards it as almost everyone else then there’ll be no 800s left for future generations to carry on the debate.

Nevertheless, as I didn’t manage to sell my Sterling I get to keep it for a while longer, which I suppose is ok, really. Like the seller of the £1495 Ital, I guess I’ll just have to sit it out. The trouble is, I’m the only person I know with Rover 800 posters on the wall (well, there would be if my wife would let me!)

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5 May

At last…

By KEITH ADAMS

YES! We’re finally getting some sun and warmth, and I’m commuting to work in an open-topped car.

I must admit that I’ve never been a fan of convertibles, carbriolets and targas, always feeling that they were an engineering compromise that screamed, ‘look at me’… However, it must be a mid-life thing, because I’ve taken to driving the X1/9 at every possible opportunity top down. In less that warm weather, this experence is bracing to say the least, but notch up the temperature a few degrees and it all starts to make sense.

Driving up the B660 today, top down, birds singing and drinking in the mostly pleasant smells of the countryside, I really enjoyed myself going slower than I ever have before.

Yes, the X1/9 is a great steer (and I look forwards to comparing it with a TR7), but the pleasure from the open-top sensations overruled the vehicle dynamics by a factor of ten on that road today.

I really hope we have a good summer this year.

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4 May

Rover, BMW’s Škoda

By ROBERT LEITCH

ROGER Blaxall rightly praises Škoda’s renaissance as one of the most unlikely, but also deserved, motor industry success stories of the past ten years, possibly only outshone by Carlos Ghosn’s revival of Nissan. While we should not diminish the efforts and contribution of those on the ground in Mlada Boleslav, the overwhelming reason for the acceptance of the VW-era Škodas in the sophisticated markets of Western Europe was their transparent adoption of the parent company’s very latest platforms and powertrains.

The 1996 Octavia and 2000 Fabia were both launched well in advance of the contemporary Golf and Polo, and were mechanically near-identical to their VW counterparts. The story would have been very different if Škoda had been treated as the VW group’s ‘poor relation’, handed down old-generation componentry and superannuated production equipment, and forced to develop wilfully differentiated products in order to emphasise their distance from the parent company.

The buying public are not as readily fooled as some less scrupulous carmakers imagine, and recognised the worth of an attractive bargain package of up to date Volkswagen technology, quality, and durability with just a few frills omitted.

Ironically, while VW’s reputation diminished somewhat as it chased volume sales on Ford Renault, Peugeot and GM’s terms, Škoda was establishing itself as a lower order premium brand. In the UK at least, the Czech marque rapidly became a favourite of private owners wishing something different from mainstream fleet fodder. These customers traditionally bought Hondas, Mazdas, the smaller Volvos, and, of course, Rovers and were only slightly put off by the Octavia’s double life on the ‘dark side’ as the greatest minicab ever made, loved by drivers and operators from Kirkwall to Penzance.

There is more than passing relevance here to the stewardship of Rover in both the pre- and post-BMW takeover periods. VW’s approach with Škoda largely mirrored Honda’s contribution during Austin Rover’s BAe-owned era. Some of the most successful products such as the R8 200/400, and the 600 had parameters pre-determined by the Japanese partner. Taking the base platforms already set-out and in an advanced state of development, Rover’s engineers and designers regularly created cars with greater design conviction and perceived appeal than the original Honda product.

Under BMW’s ownership things were to be very different. Early speculation about a bright new future, with access to some otstanding platforms and powertrains, gave way to disbelief as a product plan emerged which seemed driven only by wilful defiance of any obvious commercial logic. The paradigm example was when first priority for the newly acquired UK subsidiary was given to a car to take the place of the recently introduced 600, rather than a replacement for the old and uncompetitive 800.

In retrospect, this strategy undermined the company’s revival and set it on the path towards the events of 2005. Imagine instead, if, at the time of the 1994 takeover, the design team who had just completed the skilful metamorphosis of the Honda Accord into the Rover 600 were offered the chance to carry out a similar exercise on the E39 5-Series. The new car could have been launched almost simultaneously with its BMW counterpart, and would be built in relatively small volumes beside the 5-Series in Dingolfing.

Some of the most successful products such
as the R8 200/400, and the 600 had
parameters pre-determined by
the Japanese partner.

The next introduction, a Rover makeover of the 1999 E46 3-Series would be built in Cowley, as would be all right hand drive 3-Series for Northern Hemisphere markets. The new Mini, to be launched in 2000 would fit perfectly as the third component in this strategy, and by the time of the RDX60 launch in 2001-2002, complete with Hams Hall produced NG engines, it would be eagerly awaited by consumers attracted as much by the its attractive and well regarded Rover stablemates, as by the halo effect of BMW ownership and technology.

Hindsight is a fine thing, but the manufacturing logistics and reduced development time benefits of such an approach are surely self-evident, and the subliminal message to potential buyers, of BMW’s confidence in their new acquisition would be inestimable, not only in the home market but worldwide.

Instead of anything even close to the foregoing passenger car strategy, Rover brought out the 75, a new platform developed to BMW standards but unrelated to any of the parent company’s products, and launched with a preponderance of very recognisable early Nineties Rover drivetrain components. The new Mini which followed also had very few parts shared with mainstream BMW badged products.

The sad conclusion is that BMW intended either to sell off or run down Rover’s volume passenger car manufacturing activities as soon as feasibly possible after the takeover, and were not prepared to make their core technology and manufacturing systems available to potential buyers. Had they shared their prime building blocks with Rover as generously as VW have done with Škoda, the future for Rover may have been very different.

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3 May

Speed rant

By IAN GREEN

THE issue of speeding is always a controversial one but I was somewhat amused by what I heard at a recent event. A person I met was hinting that if everyone stuck to the speed limit, the country would grind to a halt.

Well, pardon me but I rarely if ever speed and I’m rarely if ever late for appointments so what is his point? Why do people continue to feel that driving at whatever speed they see fit is a God-given right?

I must admit, my own opinion on speeding has changed a lot since I moved from a busy City existence to a much more relaxed, rural lifestyle. Out in the countryside, you can drive at up to 60mph for most of the time, only in villages (and with clear and obvious reason) are you subjected to a 30mph limit.

In a City, 30mph seems too low and as such is routinely ignored. Problem is, it isn’t too low! If everyone drove like a model citizen without being distracted by ‘phones, over-complicated computerised controls, itchy noses and children, there would be definite scope for increasing urban limits. As it is, the 30mph blanket speed limit is about all that can be done to try and reduce the impact of the inevitable accidents.

Why do people continue to feel that driving
at whatever speed they see fit is a
God-given right?

Yet cars seem to be rapidly approaching the crazy nature of bikes as more and more power becomes available to people who haven’t got a clue how to handle it. The Germans are leading the power race and it seems 600bhp is considered perfectly sensible for the most powerful motors these days. Thanks to the Bugatti Veyron, the supercar benchmark is now a crazy 1000bhp. Quite considerably more than the most powerful F1 cars and you need to have passed more than your basic driving test to get behind the wheel of an F1 car.

That may seem extreme but this power race drags other cars with it. 200bhp isn’t really enough to make a hatch hot these days and even most average cars can easily cruise at 100mph. Fat tyres and a collection of airbags fool people into thinking they are invincible while increasingly numb driving experiences make people drive faster to find the thrill.

I’ve driven an MG RV8 and it was exhilarating but ultimately frustrating. On exiting villages, I would drop into second gear and very rapidly find myself at the 60mph speed limit. I wanted to keep accelerating in third and fourth gear but it just can’t be done legally. Which makes that sort of power almost entirely pointless. Problem is, when even something boring like a Ford Mondeo can deliver exciting acceleration, the temptation is there to just keep going. Add an ability to cruise at way past the legal motorway limit and speed limits just become a nuisance. “Why can’t I drive on the motorway at 100mph when the car can safely do it?”

The cars may be up to the task. It’s the drivers who are the weakness.

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2 May

TR7 styling

By IAN NICHOLLS

THE Harris Mann-penned styling of Triumph’s TR7 has been much maligned over the years.

But was it so bad? Was it simply a case of poor colour coding, something that the Seventies became synonomous with?

Federal laws dictated that the TR7 needed rubber bumpers, but why did they have to be black and look as if they were crudely bolted on? This TR7 has a body kit with the rubber bumpers sprayed the same colour as the body and in the opinion of this writer dramatically improves the cars looks.

Of course all styling is subjective.

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1 May

More final cars

By KEITH ADAMS

HAD a very interesting e-mail from my mate Mark Baxter at SMC Cars regarding another consignment the company has bought directly from Longbridge.

He tells me that SMC has just bought a couple of MG ZSs and five Rover 25s – ones produced at Longbridge, on the line, by hand, after Nanjing took possession of Longbridge last year. These must surely be the last of their type, and therefore, we’re happy to declare them the last of their type on our rolling database of cars to be declared.

So, we’re getting closer to producing the definitive list of last-of-line cars, and hope soon to have completed what we set out to do all those months ago. We’re just hoping that SMC will flag these up as the significant cars they are – but I’m sure they will, as the last time I saw its last-of-line ZT V8, it was well and truly stickered up as it awaited a new buyer on the forcourt of its High Wycombe branch.

There is an interesting precedent with these cars, though.

Do they count as MG Rovers or are they Nanjings?

That might be one for the SMMT to answer…

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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