Blogs : May 2007

31 May

Don’t let them disappear!


How many of these are left, we wonder?

AS senior contributor to Classic Car Mart magazine, I’m hoping some of the followers of will be able to help me out, as well as gaining valuable publicity for some of today’s increasingly scarce classics.

One of the small sections we run each month is called simply ‘Don’t Let Them Disappear’ – which, not surprisingly, involves coverage of some of the modern classics out there that are now well and truly on the endangered species list. Models we’ve already featured have included the Morris Ital, the Isuzu Piazza. the Capri 280 Brooklands, the Morris 1800/2200 (the pre-Princess ‘Wedge’ models of 1975) and so on.

The idea is that we run a short piece of editorial about the model, together with an idea of the numbers still left on UK roads and contact details of the relevant club. It enables readers to then contact the club if they come across a rare survivor.

All quite straightforward then – apart from the fact that we need to hear from clubs and individuals with their own suggestions of endangered classics. They must, however, be backed up by an accurate (well, as accurate as possible) idea of how many are left in existence. Even if this is simply based on club records, at least that would be a start.

DVLA are notoriously unhelpful regarding such requests, so I’m hoping there’ll be people reading this who can help. How many Vanden Plas 1500s are still around, for example? Or Austin Ambassadors? Or Allegro Equipes? Or diesel-powered Rover SD1s? Or Austin 3-Litres? Or first-generation Leyland Sherpas? Or MG Magnette MkIVs?

Then again, we could look at future classics that were built in very small numbers. How many Rover 75 V8s really were produced, for example? Or MG Express/Rover Commerce vans, for that matter?

It’s a fascinating subject and I’d be more than happy to either hear direct from readers (by emailing me at or via online responses to this blog. Let’s get some of these rarities brought to the attention of Classic Car Mart’s readers as soon as possible!

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30 May

Bangernomics: be aware of snobby authorities


I LOVE driving something with character and style compared to the modern Euroboxes that Ford, Vauxhall, and the rest sell at the showrooms for several grand more than you would pay in Europe. I run two vehicles made by The Rover Group, 1994 Metro 1.1L, with less than 45,000 miles on the clock, and which is in fantastic condition mechanically – and has only one small patch of corrosion on the driver’s side wheelarch. My other vehicle is a 1996 Rover 200 Coupe 1.6i, with the newer R3 dashboard, slighter higher mileage but still in a very good condition.

I recently went to France for the day with family and we took the Metro as it does a lot more to the gallon and because I wasn’t going for booze!

Anyway we had a lovely day, and bought some bits and pieces, which filled the small boot. On the way back, we went through English Customs at Calais (don’t ask!) and we were pulled over, questioned and the boot was searched. The only explanation given was that the vehicle was ‘not very new’ and they have to be careful of people buying cars in pubs for cash, not registering them, and using them for ‘booze runs’.

I had several reasons to be dissatisfied with this explanation:

I have owned the vehicle for the last three years.
I had the V5 with me (they didn’t want to see it)
A Metro for a booze run – are they having a laugh? (it has the smallest boot in its class!)
A G-reg Mercedes 230E saloon in worse condition was not pulled over

However there’s no point complaining to the authorities as they are not interested in niceties, but I thought I would warn you all that you may get pulled over and “temporarily inconvenienced in the name of security” because you refuse to conform and buy a brand new run-of-the-mill soulless machine!

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I TOO have received unwelcome attention at a ferry port, arriving from France in my elderly 827. Mind you my passenger and I both have a fine collection of dodgy passport stamps (Islamic Republics and ‘Stans) and he was wearing sunglasses at 8am on a cloudy day… Our questioning centred on them wanting to know our reasons for going to ‘countries which the security services may be interested in’!


29 May

Can any of our readers help, please?


Something a bit different – the GAZ-Volga M24. (Picture: Autosoviet website)

STILL trying to work out what I’m going to do for my new practical classic car… you may scoff, but choosing something suitable (i.e., undesirable and head-turning at the same time) is not the work of the moment. So my thoughts have, once again, turned to the former Eastern Bloc, and the fine automobiles produced there under the shadow of stifling Communism.

I’ve been to the former Warsaw Pact a couple of times now, and have been struck by just how warm and friendly the people there are – and how they can continue to run these old cars long past their sell-by dates. However, now that the European Union is expanding so readily into these once mysterious and (from our standpoint) rather sinister countries, the need to keep these old cars on the road has lessened as living standards have risen.

From what I’ve seen on my travels, there’s still some way to go for the East, but judging from the number of ex-German/French/Italian Audis, BMWs and – yes – Rovers on the roads over there, the days for antiquated throwbacks from Lada, FSO and the like are numbered. And that’s easily understood over here – after all, an old Audi. BMW or Rover will feel magnificent to drive compared with a Lada Riva… but as you head further East, they seem to take on a charm all of their own. Trust me, I know…

My thoughts have, once again, turned to the
former Eastern Bloc, and the fine
automobiles produced there under the shadow
of stifling Communism…

The Riva I took to Chernobyl last year may have been developing new faults by the mile, but by the end of my 2000-mile Odyssey, I had bonded with the old girl in quite a way, and decided I needed something else of that ilk. While marauding in downtown Kyiv, I spotted a number of GAZ-Volga M24s, which in the February snow seemed almost balletic in the corners – drifting so easily and leisurely to make the bends that it was obvious that the prevailing conditions seemed second nature. Another motor that caught my eye was the Moskvich 412/2140, which we actually got in the UK for a few years… Finally, another consideration would be the one car that truly allows two of my obsessions to combine nicely – a K-Series powered FSO Polonez (which I guess coming from Poland, would be the easiest to source)…

Both cars (the Volga and Moskvich) look kitch and quaint today, but there’s something uniquely Russian about both that intrigues me. Perhaps its the way the stylists couldn’t seem to make up their minds – the cars tilted at the USA, but retained enough European in them to make them vaguely exportable to the Decadent West. Either way, you couldn’t mistake them for anything else – and that’s probably the same for the driving experience.

Either way, I’ve decided I want one – even though I don’t have a clue about actually getting hold of one.

So, here’s a long shot – if you live in one of the recent EU addition states that still has these cars on the road, and would like to see one re-patriated to the UK, please drop me a line. I have no idea what they are worth over there, and where to look… but I’m itching to find out – hence the appeal for help. Alternatively, I’d also like to consider going further afield – to, say, Ukraine, Belarus, or perhaps even Russia itself, but when it comes to the bureaucracy involved there, I’d shudder to think how I’m going to get a car out of the country.

So, once again, if you can help, offer me advice, or simply be able to point me in the right direction (or perhaps to try and talk me out of it), email me, and we’ll talk.

A nice Moskvich… (Picture: Autosoviet website)

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THE easiest way to get a car like the one you are looking for is a small country located in the centre of Europe. Yes, right. Germany.

Due to its occupation history, you will find a lot of pre 1990 model year cars of Soviet or Eastern European origin. Most of them are bargains as the East Germans cant wait to get rid of them, and the West Germans lack of interest for these cars. Try visiting or Some of the cars also surface on eBay from time to time.

And exporting a car from Germany is really easy.


IF you’re looking to export a Soviet car, a good place to look at is probably Lithuania, as from West Europe, it is the closest ‘real’ ex-Soviet Republic, and now being European it is dead easy to export a car from here.

I work here, and you can have a look at The site has exactly the same structure as the Autoscout sites we all know, just select the brand you look for in “marke” and you will see, there is big choice!

Still, these old Soviet cars start to have some appeal, and revival even for some people here, and there are now people restoring those cars, not so much people interested by classic cars like in our country, but more ‘artistic’ type people looking for originality. But you can find driveable Volga from the 1970s for just a few hudred Euros. Dont hesite to contact me if you need more details about dealing in Lithuania…


ASK a beautiful British girl were you can buy an Austin or Morris and you get at best a blank response. However ask a beautiful Latvian girl where you can get a Volga or Moskvich and she says try this website. May be their was in something in this communism after all!


28 May

Bangernomics is the way forwards…


Frayed around the edges it may be, but plenty a good tune is played on an old fiddle…

IF you’re a regular reader around these parts, you’ll know that as well as my passion for all things BMC>Rover (the de facto collective noun for all things heritage to emerge from BMC, BL, Rover), I love to run cheap old cars that the average motor trader would consider to be well past its prime. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that if you like Rover and run around in one more than about five years old (and that isn’t a 75/ZT), you’re already a fully paid up member of the ‘Bangernomics’ community.

If you’re not entirely sure what we mean by Bangernomics, it’s a phrase first coined by motoring journo and used car guru, James Ruppert, who believes that if you wisely choose an inexpensive old car, you can enjoy years of use from it without suffering the pain of monthly repayments, and depreciation. I can confidently say we’re kindred spirits on this one – and I’ve enjoyed many a premium motoring experience from a cars that cost less than a decent LCD telly, and which many less informed people would consider to be tat.

Don’t believe me – look here

I can confidently say I’ve enjoyed many a
premium motoring experience from a cars
that cost less than a decent LCD telly…

A few years back, James wrote a rather amusing book on the subject, which he describes on the website: “Bangernomics contrasts the absurd expense of buying new with the supreme good sense of buying used. Bangernomics will show the mechanically bewildered how to buy a safe durable car and save loads of money. Bangernomics is all about motoring at the blunt end. Bangernomics means never being fussy about what you drive. Bangernomics is a way of life but always beware of the dog.”

Okay, so if you want the book, pay a visit to James’ website… but in the spirit of the whole interactivity of the Internet, there’s now a forum where likeminded people can chat about such things, without fear of being pilloried by their £300/month badge mates. I’m going to sign up to myself – despite having my own forum to play with – and that of Practical Classics…

And thereby hangs another online danger – getting involved in too many forums!

Still, as long as you stay plugged into the austin-rover forum, first and foremost, I’ll forgive ya!

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27 May

Thank you community


Virtually upgraded…

A FEW weeks ago, I posted a note on the website’s forum asking if anyone had a spare set of 15-inch wheels for a 200/400 kicking around, as I wanted to try and raise the gearing on mine a little more. The response, as always, was good – and within a few minutes, forum regular Mark Gomer asked me if his set of 16-inch OZ Supertouring wheels were any good for me?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I reckon that there are good and bad alloy wheel designs out there – and the classic spoked OZs definitely fit into the former category. I remember a while back buying a brand new set (for £500) for my £195 Citroen BX 16V (where are you now H621 CBA – originally GXI 9500) – and adoring them. Because, yes, these were the best alloy wheels in the history of mankind.

So did I want them? Er, yes please…

Another quick note to the forum asking of anyone could knock me up an image of what my R8 would look like with them on – and within minutes, forum regular, ‘Captain Slow’ (who I don’t believe is actually James May) had knocked up the image above to convince me further that I needed these wheels. After that, after seeing someone was breaking a 214, I offered him some cash for his bumpers (seeing as mine aren’t exactly pristine). A deal was struck – and before I knew it, Mark offered to pick them up for me, and drop off the wheels at the same time… talk about generosity.

Money changed hands, and this weekend, Mark (in his stunning Tomcat) and his mum (in her Shogun LWB) came down Tamworth to drop off the bits for me. Considering this was over 100 miles for them, this was incredibly generous of them both – and much appreciated by me.

If nothing else, does this not prove that the Internet – and these forums – has brought people together, and a genuinely helpful network of likeminded enthusiasts has been built up as a result.

So, thanks, Mark; thanks Mark’s mum… and long live the Austin-Rover community.

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24 May

My Practical Classic Pt2


I’VE read with interest your piece on your Rover 216 GTi and the subsequent feedback. Should it be considered a classic? I remember the argument raging in Classic and Sportscar back in the mid to late-1980s about the big Farina saloons, along essentially the same lines.

The general opinion at the time was that they could never be classics, as they were somewhat naff, bad to drive, and so on. As someone who was born in the swansong year of their production and who enjoyed seeing them on the roads I could never understand that argument. A very few years down the line and the lowbrow end of the classic car scene repeated the argument, this time about the Allegro and Marina.

The Marina used to be described as ‘grey porridge’ I seem to recall. Yet these cars have always held a fondness for me as I was a schoolboy of impressionable age while they were in production. What were bangers when I learnt to drive in 1987 are now 1970s retro classics. The Rover 800 was the new kid on the block then, and I for one thought it a poor replacement for the SD1.

But, 21 year later I am driving an 827Si, a £150 eBay bargain, and I sincerely feel that it should be considered a future classic, if not a classic now.

For the new drivers of today the Rover 200 and 800 were two of the cars which were current around the time of their birth (I was two and three quarters when the Allegro was launched) and these are the sort of cars that the new generation of classic car lovers will first think of. We cannot all afford the mainstream classics, and it would be a shame if later designs were totally ignored. I recently saw a tidy Sierra and was quite shocked to think how long it was since I’d seen one at all.

My Mk1 800 is the only one I see round Plymouth, but is 16 such an outrageous age for a car? Your Rover 216GTi is a reminder of our motoring heritage, so by all means drive it to work. As Ben Field said to you, no-one would bat an eye-lid if it was a Golf GTi, so, why follow the crowd?

Enjoy it, for that’s what any car is there for!

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22 May

My Practical Classic?


NOW that I’m ensconced in the driving seat at Practical Classics, the thorny issue of having an interesting old car to smoke to work in reared its ugly head yet again. You see, I want to drive something classically shaped that can keep up with modern traffic and return reasonable fuel consumption during my 60-mile day.

I would take the 9000 Aero (and it’s not remotely classic), but really I want to keep the miles down on it… the Metro VP is now in the hands of a family member, as is my Saab 900 T16S. So where does that leave me?

Well, after having a chat with former PC Dep Ed, Ben Field, he reckons I could do a lot worse than my 1990 216 GTi. I must admit that I’m really fond of this car, and have been having something of a love/not-love relationship with it – i.e., should I sell it? Should I keep it? However, after spending the weekend giving it a final coat of polish (Blitz Wax from Frost, by the way… it’s magical stuff), it does look rather snazzy. However, it would be hard to consider this a classic in the general sense of the word… even though I reckon it is – if you know what I mean. I suppose its competition history, might help the cause!

All he said was this – if it was an H-reg Golf GTi 5-door, people wouldn’t bat an eyelid… And I guess he’s right.

These cars are disappearing off the roads very quickly indeed now, and are becoming quite rare – well, the early ones at least. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw a smart 1990 example on the road? So, I reckon the GTi could well be my Practical Classic… at least for a little while, until something much more silly comes along.

We shall see.

My Practical Classic? What do you think? Let us know…

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SORRY but no way can you drive your 216 as your practical classic! As a big fan of the mag, and your website, and as much as I like the Rover, it’s just not the car. Will Holman had a V8 Capri, Pearson had a couple of TRs, another fella an XJ6, etc.

You must have a classic classic, not an old cheap car. Think of the message or immage you want the readers to see. If you all drive around in cheap 1990s bangers as is happening of late in the mag, change the name of the mag to Practical Jalopys, or Cheap Motoring etc.

I run a TR8 convertible, an MGB GT, (as well as a new V8 ZT,) both cheap, practical classics. For your commute, may I sugest for example, a nice P6 2000, Scimitar, MGB GT, Granada, or maybe 205 GTI, Golf Mk I GTI, but please, we’re not ready for 1090s banger taxis. Be serious!

Best of luck with the job, and I look forward to your articles

All said in good fun…


CONGRATULATIONS on the new job.

The 216 is ideal as your ‘works car’. It’s new enough, and – er – Japanese enough to be reliable; but old enough to be banned from the entire county of Buckinghamshire; where nice people drive Vauxhall Signums. This tells you all you need to know about Buckinghamshire.

The 216 also gains bonus points by being made by a defunct manufacturer.


I HAVE a suggestion for your classic car to ‘smoke’ to work. How about a well sorted Triumph TR8?

If you’ve not tried one, well, you’ll be surprised.


I FEEL that the idea of using a Rover 216 is a good one. When I got into classic cars I started with a 1972 Morris Marina in 1990, when they were being given away. The only way to include more new people is to give the borderline classic a chance at a time when it is cheap enough for anybody to join in.

Good luck in the new job I look forward to your first issue.


21 May

The Rover 75 and me


WE go back quite a long way, the Rover 75 and me.

Back to sometime in 1997 when my parents idly mentioned that they’d been driving through rural Shropshire when two sinister black saloons blasted past, thus giving them the jump on the hitherto unscooped great white hope of the Britische car industry still known as R40. I was quite pleased with that bit of intel, even if it amounted to nothing more to my Mum telling me they were ‘quite big’ and going ‘very fast’

Back to 1998 when I started as a researcher on Top Gear and used to see more of these mysterious black shapes on nocturnal test runs along the motorways in and out of Birmingham or, less briskly, trundling up that vital new car test route, Bearwood High Street. Either way, you’ve never got a camera handy when you need one, have you?

Back to the summer of that year when I went down to Rover’s Gaydon design studio to interview deliciously named colour and trim boss Martin Peach and spotted some quarter scale exterior models then tried ineptly to steal glances at the interior sketches on the wall until he politely but firmly dragged me next door to look at the 200 BRM concept.

Back to pre-production of Top Gear’s ’98 British Motor Show Special when Rover invited us to a sneak preview of their NEC debutante and I discovered I couldn’t tag along because, for some unfathomable reason, we’d asked tubby comedian Alexei Sayle and tubby aesthete Jonathan Meades to be guest presenters and I had to be in London to discuss scripts. Driving back to Birmingham that night two 75 prototypes swooshed past me, still swaddled in bin bags. The next day I hauled a colleague into our viewing room and spooled through the tapes they’d shot with the R40 fibreglass styling model and a final spec car made metal. It looked good, in an old skool sort of way.

Back to the Motor Show itself when the covers came off, shortly before Bernd Whatsisface took a large gun and shot himself squarely in the foot, pausing only to strafe Rover management and workers first. I was in another hall at the time but word went round that BMW appeared to have gone mental. Later in the day I got to the Rover stand and had a poke around the car before a chap in the suit came over to ask what I thought. I think I told him it looked well crafted and expensive but perhaps a bit too chromey then asked if he was just hired help for the motor show. “Erm, not exactly,” he smiled politely. “I’m the chief programme engineer for this car”. I made my excuses and went to curl up in a blushing ball behind some Citroens.

Back to the Motor Show itself when the covers
came off, shortly before Bernd Whatsisface took
a large gun and shot himself squarely in the
foot, pausing only to strafe Rover management
and workers first. I was in another hall at the
time but word went round that BMW appeared
to have gone mental…

Back to my first drive in the 75 and being impressed by the smoothness of the V6 – Christ! What’s that sudden stuttering? Oh, the rev limiter – and the syrupy comfort of the ride even if, as it turned out, the supple springs and attendant body roll masked an ability to take corners far quicker than you first thought. It caused quite a stir too, that early press car: The lad across my street with the snorty E30 BMW came over to ask what it was like; a mate whose disinterest in cars is so massive it’s a miracle he knows what ‘steering wheel’ means climbed in and said, “What’s this? It’s really nice”. Even my Dad got over his mutterings about ‘British Leyland’ and admitted that it was mildly impressive.

Back to the subsequent 75s I borrowed at various points, from the one that felt massively out of place in Weston-super-Mare as we filmed the Bank Holiday Max Power cruising crowd to the weirdly but not unappealingly Monogram brown one that a girl friend mistook for a Bentley.

Back to March 2005 when I visited Longbridge to see them being made and was proudly told that rival car makers could scarcely believe the complex mix of models – saloon, estate, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, special order paints – that MG Rover could build on one line. They glossed over the embarrassing fact that the line had just stopped because they’d run out of headlinings. It turned out to be a sad harbinger of the supply problems that would bring the whole place to a permanent halt just a month later. MG Rover was dead, and with it the 75.

But it wasn’t over for the Rover 75 and me because almost exactly a year later I was looking to buy a car. The nice people at evo magazine had been letting me run long term test cars, but with a gap in the 12 month loan cycle I needed to replace the old Ford Ka I’d just flogged for peanuts on the grounds that it was going mouldy. My last long termer was a Fiesta ST, which was firmly sprung and noisy, and before that a Smart Roadster, which was so firmly sprung and noisy it contravened six parts of the Geneva Convention. Clearly, now I had the choice, a change was in order. What I needed was something comfy and relaxing. What I needed was a Rover 75.

And I got one, but not just any 75. It was well worth the trek to a garage in Leicestershire where, in the company of ex-Rover engineer and Friend Of This Website Nic Fasci, I poked around a fabulous Dorchester Red 75 Connoisseur with the 2.5 V6 and auto ‘box. Well, if you’re going to be a lounge lizard you might as well do it properly. What made this car interesting – ignoring that the first owner had gone nuts with the options list and sincerely assumed, for example, that a hefty bus like this really needed traction control – was the special order aubergine interior. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to swim in fruits of the forest yoghurt, here’s your answer. No really, it’s nicer than it sounds. The interior, not the actual yoghurt thing. I loved it and when Nic’s big engineering brain pronounced it to seem fit and hearty I bought it on the spot.

I’d bagged my 75 and I loved it. More surprisingly, everyone else loved it too. One colleague even read its chrome and leatheriness not as old man-ish but as the sort of bling that’s made Cadillac kind of cool again and Snoop Doggishly labelled it the Rovizzle Seventy-Fizzle. Another got in the back and gasped, “Oh my God, this is your car?” The old mate who stirred from his lifetime of car apathy to approve of the original 75 press car was mighty impressed as well. And when he found out how much I paid for it, he even started asking where he could get one too. Although I think he might have been drunk.

And when a colleague found out how much I
paid for my 75, he even started asking
where he could get one too. Although I
think he might have been drunk…

I wanted a big soft barge, a car that was relaxing and smooth, a car that felt hefty and redoubtable, a car that felt stoutly and reassuringly British, as if it was made of oak and melted down churches. And by golly I got it. Unfortunately, after a few months of gently balming motoring the God of Work Perks smiled on me again and evo bunged me a long term test car. Lovely though it was, the Rover was redundant. I made some half-hearted attempts to sell it which came to nothing and instead the 75 spent most of its days sitting outside whilst I blatted round in a fancy pants SEAT Leon. It felt somehow cruel, like failing to make regular visits to your Grandmother.

And so it continues. There’s another long termer outside now, a rather good Suzuki Swift Sport, and the Rover sits safely in a secure underground car park. It seems such a waste so yesterday, as the sun shone on London, I took it for a drive. In the Suzuki I carve through the capital in a late-for-meetings frenzy, switching lanes, chasing green lights, snaking down rat runs to shave seven seconds off the commute. Yesterday I took it easy, turning off the air-con and dropping the windows to let the thick fug of city heat and the tinkling laughter of Swedish tourists swirl through the interior as I cruised the Marylebone Road. It reminded me why I liked this car when I bought it, why I’ve always liked this car in fact, because it’s relaxing and civilised and so resolutely unsporty.

Nonetheless, it’s a car I simply don’t need and it really has to be sold. Make me an offer if you like; I’d rather it went to a good home. Even then I’ll be sad to see it go.

But then that’s understandable because the Rover 75 and me, we go back a long way.

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Richard is the mastermind behind the brilliant Sniff Petrol website…

17 May

How strange it was…


…WAKING up this morning, not having a job to go to. Yep, yesterday was my last at Kelsey Publishing after nearly three mostly happy and very productive years. So now, I’m officially ‘between jobs’, even if it’s a situation that’ll last until Monday morning, when I sign in for my first at EMAP Towers.

So… rest… rest… rest. And yet, I can’t keep those busy fingers still!

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16 May

Replacing the ZT V8


Man and machine in perfect harmony…

THE ZT V8 I bought brand new in June 2004 (CoTM Nov 2004) is now ready for its first MoT as it’s now three years old. At this point, I would be expecting to buy a new car, as I never keep them longer than three years… usually. However, as MG Rover no longer exists, I will be forced to buy something else from another manufacturer.

I would never consider buying anything that is made in China – the thought of a chinese Rover 75 or ZT repulses me – it’s about as appealing as cold tapioca. So, what to do? I want something fast, good looking, well equipped, comfortable, reliable, exciting to drive and something that sounds great. I’ve trawled a number of possible replacements:

Porsche (can’t afford a 911)
BMW (335i looks interesting but it’s soulless)
Audi (boring range of cars)
Jaguar (cannot afford an XKR)
Mazda (don’t like the RX8 – 3 MPS is dull)
Aston Martin (could only afford one about six years old – too old)

Back to square one. So, after three years and 18,000 fault-free miles my new car will be… A ZT V8.

That’s right. For me, at the moment there is nothing to touch it; why pay 30-odd grand for something that doesn’t tick all the boxes that the ZT does?

I’m keeping it. Job done.

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JOHN, I am in the same situation with my 2004 ZTT 135 CDTi. I have also concluded as there is nothing on the market like it makes sense to keep it. I’ve no doubt that if it’s looked after properly it should give me at least 10 years of cost-effective motoring.

Coincidentally I remember admiring your smart V8 when it was brand new in the showroom at CD Brammall, Newcastle at the time I was shopping around for my ZTT.


PERHAPS John might consider, if there are no new V8 Rover/MGs left, a Vauxhall – nee Holden – when the new cars come over, to replace his V8 MG?


IN response to John Hunton’s “Replacing the ZT V8” Blog, three unregistered ZT 260 V8s were listed in Martin Green’s, “Unregistered MG Rovers still available” article, so, if John has not considered that option, one or two telephone calls might still be worthwhile…


I JUST read that John Hunton is struggling to find a suitable replacement for his ZT V8. A couple of cars spring to mind, how about a Chrysler 300C (also with a hefty V8!) or the Vauxhall Monaro? Both equally interesting and like the ZT, they’re not going to break the bank!

And if you fancy something a little more luxurious, what about the Citroen C6?


I’M sure that keeping your ZT V8 is a great solution (I’ve never been that brave, though), but something else to consider, in my view, would be a Subaru Legacy 3.0R Spec B.

If ever there was an underestimated, overlooked and unfairly ignored car out there, this is it. It may lack some of the charm of the ZT in its looks, but once ensconced in the drives seat and given a quick blast on out-of-town roads, I reckon you’ll be pretty damned impressed, if not totally hooked.


15 May

China’s new TF: will it have star appeal?


Sophie Ellis-Bextor had an MG TF – will the new one attract similar custom?

THE news that NAC-MG is building a dealer network is most welcome – after what seems to have been a pretty low-profile PR campaign thus far. One has to admire the Chinese for what they have achieved thus far, and I wish the company all the best…

However, I wonder if the new Sino-British MG TF will attract the same custom it did during its production hiatus? After all, it was a cool conveyance, and as a result sold alarmingly well (considering the widely publicised reliability issues)… Will the Chinese connection have a positive or negative effect on the MG image, and if so, does that mean the super-cool will take it to their hearts?

Probably not – but really, you know, it should.

After all, that Sony Bravia you’re enjoying HDMI on and are so proud of in your lounge was probably built in China, as was the iPod, you happily plug into when you want to close the rest of the world out. Perhaps MG Rover’s story twangs the public’s heart strings more than your average consumer durable, but be that as it may, we’ve been enjoying high quality – nay, cool – stuff from there for years now, so why not do the same when it comes to your new set of wheels.

Oh, okay I admit it, I also wanted an excuse to put Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s picture on the site yet again!

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IN a word, No.

The MGF’s day has long since passed unfortunately.


I HAVE just read your “China’s new TF: will it have star appeal?” Blog and surmise that this may have been prompted by an item on AM Online dated 12th May, 2007.

I have already deleted the AM Online Newsletter which contained the direct link to the specific page so cannot insert that here, but was encouraged to learn that Stephen Cox of NAC MG UK Limited has distributed 96 Franchise Information Packs to prospective Dealers. I reckon that a Franchise Information Pack would make for an interesting read, and wonder whether or not you have given any thought to obtaining one…


14 May

Refining the breed… Italian style


BMC>Rover’s history is full of hundreds of fascinating might-have-beens… one only has to look at the 9X, Rover P6BS and R6X to see that had history taken a different direction, then the company could well be with us today. Although there has been plenty of Italian missed-opportinities, such as the Innocenti Mini and Pininfarina 1100/1800 Aerodynamica concepts, we’ve not really talked much about the Autobianchi Primula on this website.

Launched in 1964, the Primula was Fiat’s first attempt at building a transverse engined front wheel drive car – and because it was produced by the offshoot company, which Fiat used to test out new concepts before taking them in-house, the financial risk of failure was minimised to a degree. Although there’s little doubt that the Mini/BMC 1100 was an influential car in the Primula’s development, Fiat’s technical director, Dante Giacosa (also responsible for the Fiat 500 among others), chose not to go for the transmission-in-sump layout favoured by Issigonis, but a transverse engine with the gearbox mounted on the end – a world’s first, and probably as important a breakthrough as Issigonis’ (even if he did an end-on transverse FWD Minor prototype).

Clearly, it was a recipe that worked – and within a few short years, Fiat embraced the concept wholeheartedly with the 128, 127 and all subsequent new small cars the company produced in its factories in Italy – and the opposition took the lesson on board and went the same way.

Clearly, it was a recipe that worked…

In many ways, the Primula is a fascinating, but prescient messge for BMC and its development of the 1100. For a start, it was a hatchback, and a commodious one, too. It drove well, by all accounts, and looks pert and smart on the road – in fact, it possessed many of the qualities that made the BMC 1100 great here in the UK. It even looks similar (if not quite so well resolved), thanks to handsome detailing by Pininfarina.

But the question needs to be asked – why did BMC and then BL continue with the transmission-in-sump layout, and what did the company’s engineers see in the concept that so few of its rivals did? Also, why did it not do the hatchback thing? The Nomad had it in Australia – and the Maxi took it on too (through necessity, really)… but the 1100 didn’t. Neither did its replacement, the Allegro. Baffling really.

The Primula really set the blueprint for the modern hatchback as we know it today – and was a warning to BL on how to do it.

Shame it took until the Maestro’s launch in 1983, to finally heed those lessons.

Autobianchi pics:

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Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s a demonstration of BMC’s international standing that Fiat’s subsidiary built near-clones of the Mini and ADO16, albeit with a convincing alternative to the Issigonis “bunk-bed” transverse powertrain configuration.

There is a sub-plot of “bet-hedging” here which demonstrates Fiat’s underlying technical conservatism in the 1960s. The Primula and A112 preceded their Fiat equivalents the 128 and 127 by six and two years respectively, presumably with a view to testing market reaction, and ironing out mechanical bugs, before the parent company’s own front wheel drive products were launched.

The story was repeated further up market in the early 70’s, with Fiat pinning their hopes on the rear wheel drive 132 and 131, while from 1972, the Lancia Beta, owing much to the Autobianchis, and nothing to Antonio Fessia, was on offer to front wheel drive converts.

In the same era BMC were also hedging their bets, but at least put their main stakes on the front wheel drive runners. Gillian Bardsley’s Issigonis biography states: “By toying with the names of ‘Minor’ and ‘Cambridge’ for the 1100 and 1800, it would seem that Issigonis was aware of the need to replace the old model range with something more coherent, but BMC similarly could not bring itself to make it happen”.

Am I right in thinking that the 1964 Autobianchi Primula was the first production car with an “end-on” transverse engine configuration? I’ll add on the provisos, “four cylinder” “front wheel drive”, and indeed “front-engined”, as I suspect some NSUs, DKWs, Japanese K-cars, or even the Saab 92 might qualify.

The Simca 1100, sold from October 1967 was second, the manufacturer was presumably well out of the sphere of Fiat influence, but could there have been some residue of Dante Giacosa’s involvement?

After the Simca, after some brain racking, I came up with this as the second non-Fiat “end-on” car.


ISSIGONIS wasn’t unaware of the possibility of the end-on gearbox for a transverse engine – after all, his very first essay in this direction, the modified, front-drive Morris Minor that he did before departing to Alvis in 1952, had just such a layout. The difference over the Mini was that the Minor was quite a wide car, so the packaging was fairly easy. For the much smaller Mini, Issy was looking for the most compact possible layout, hence the box-in-sump.

This seems to have closed his mind to the end-on box, because it wasn’t strictly needed for the 1100/1300, 1800 and Maxi, but he did it all the same. For the A Series, production commonality between Mini and ADO16 power units might have been seen as justification for continuing the Mini theme – BMC allowed production expediency to overrule engineering preference on many occasions. Rather sad really, because the end-on box could have improved the efficiency and gearshift quality of the larger front drive BMC cars.

And just think – without the height of the E Series engine, the Allegro could have looked more like Harris Mann’s original sketch, and maybe history could have been different…


GREAT articles by yourself and Rob Leitch.

But Simca probably knew very well what Fiat were doing, as they started life building Fiats under licence. (Any time you have several hours to spare, I can tell you the hilarious story of my brother’s expedition by Simca 1300 from Bournemouth to Aberdeen).

The Photoshopped R17 estate looks great. But they never built any SD1 estates after the on-off for Michael Edwardes, so why bother with the 800?


11 May



WHILE searching for some parts for my 1983 Metro Vanden Plas on eBay, the thorny subject of engine donoring came up once again… If you’re not sure what I mean, donoring is the practice of buying a running car to rob it of its engine, and then place it into some other car, which came out of the factory with something more vanilla. Right now, Mini owners, who feel that their cars are a little underpowered, are installing Metro engines – thus upgrading their nag count from 40 to 72bhp.

Given that they are effectively the same engines, one can see why the Mini brigade are taking advantage of the situation – especially as Metros are so cheap at the moment.

Being of the Citroen persuasion, I’ve been aware of this situation for years – as BX 16Vs were robbed of their engines to give 205GTIs a little more pep. Given that the BX 16V engine is an all aluminium affair, and puts out a very favourable 160bhp, one can see the appeal of installing such engines under the bonnets of the little Pug – especially as adding the 16V improves weight distribution considerably.

However, what this practice did for the supplies of surving BXes was to almost eliminate them. Given that there was a time, you could pick up these sporting Citroens for under £300, the economics were always going to be in favour of the engine transplant brigade. Nowadays, with so few BX 16Vs left, prices have firmed up, and ‘engine project’ cars have almost disappeared from view. It’s sad, for sure, and another example of how depressed secondhand prices are seriously screwing the market, and stopping cars from making the transition to classic status.

…one can see why the Mini brigade are taking
advantage of the situation – especially as
Metros are so cheap at the moment.

Nowadays, there are very few MG Metros left (and a tiny number of Turbos) – and yet they are still being cannibalised by the Mini boys. Is this a good thing? Well, if the car’s a dud with no MoT and plenty of holes, then it’s opportune recycling. However, if the Metro being donored is a good one – and this happens more often than you’d think – then that is a very bad thing. These cars are disappearing fast as it is, and this additional ‘help’ is not needed.

There’s also another aspect of this that needs exploring. Despite its ‘disctrict nurse’ image, the Metro is actually a damned fine little car, and one that’s a hoot to drive. As fun as a Mini? Nearly – but with a hell of a more useable boot. So, is it time to get that classic message out and bolster Metro values in an attempt to keep the Mini boys at bay? I’d say so…

So if you’ve ever fancied buying a Metro, get one now, while you can – if there’s ever been a better time to buy, I can’t think of one.

You might well be saving the breed from extinction in the process, too…

Citroen’s BX 16V has been rendered almost extinct by donoring. Don’t let it happen to the Metro…

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I have to be honest here and say I feel total solidarity with any Metro owner on this issue. Exactly the same thing has happened to the Marina/Ital over the years, but for these cars the situation is much worse. If you have a 1300cc Marina with disc brakes, then MG Midget/A40/Minor boys want the engine, along with the Minor boys wanting the front suspension for its disc brake set up and adjustable torsion bar parts.

If you have an 1800cc Marina, then MGB boys want the engine and again Minor boys want the front suspension. I would imagine thousands of Marinas and Itals have been broken just for a few choice parts. Indeed it still happens today, cars cropping up on eBay without engines for example.

Then again, the late Ital with an A+ engine and telescopic front suspension? That poor car really has no chance….

I doubt many people who break Metros for its engine alone consider them as classics, the whole thing becomes intolerable when a nice car is reduced to a worthless shell simply just for its heart.

Forum member, “Marinast”

10 May

Did they miss a trick?


I’VE been building up an automotive photo library here, and going through the Lancia shots, I came across this pretty SW version of the Lancia Thema. I’ve always liked estate cars, and here’s a great example of why – this neat and understated saloon becomes a real stunner given the load lugging treatment.

That got me thinking about a Tourer version of the Lancia’s rival, the Rover 800. Given how good the 400 Tourer looks in relation to its siblings, it seems to be that Rover missed a bit of a trick here by not doing the 800 – especially as large estates remained pretty popular throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. I’m now wondering whether this variation was ever considered, or whether Rover management thought the market niche was covered by the Fastback version – and that it was too small to make the effort…

If that’s the case, then that’s a shame – especially if the style of this R17 Tourer version is anything to go by…

It could have worked? (Picture: Matthew Hayward)

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9 May

Moving on…


WELL, the countdown is well and truly underway – not just for my long-suffering colleagues at Classic Car Weekly, but for me also… as once again, I nervously await the start of a new job in just over a week’s time.

After two and a half years at Kelsey Publishing working variously for Classic Car Weekly, and latterly Jaguar World Monthly, Car Mechanics and the new title, Prestige Car Buyer, I’m moving on to a new challenge at Practical Classics, where I take up the reins as the Features Editor. As jobs go, you have to say for a car nut like me it’s pretty close to living the dream – but before I get too comfortable in that big chair, I’d love to hear from readers (and ex-readers) about what they’d like to see in the magazine.

You know the sort of thing… what cars should be featured, where should we take them, and what should we do to them, when we get there?

So, if you’ve strong views on the matter, do drop me a line and tell me what you think… your opinions matter!

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7 May

Thanks for the memories


It’s no fire hazard I tell ya!

BANK holidays – don’t you love ’em. If the weather’s fine, you’ll end up stuck in the mother of all traffic jams as you head for the coast – and if it’s bad, which it is today, you’ll probably be doing a bit of DIY. Luckily I did mine on Saturday, hacking down my oversized Leylandi hedge with my brand new chain saw (it’s funny how power tools have a certain effect on me)…

So, today, that leaves me idling around, re-reading my old car magazines in search of new pictures, snippets or factoids for the website.

It’s funny how a musty old collection of Autocar magazines (also known as my ‘fire hazard’) can transport me back in time as readily as any flux-capacitor equipped De Lorean did for Marty McFly back in 1985. Dredging through any 1970s or 1980s copy will have me straight back in the heart of my childhood – a time when I dreamed of writing and driving for a living.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and thanks (primarily) to this website, and a burning desire to realise those childhood dreams, and I achieved my goals. In the past couple of years, I’ve managed to get my ugly mug (and not so ugly words) into CAR, Autocar, The Independent, Practical Classics, Car Mechanics – and many, many more… and it has been great.

So, if you had childhood dreams, don’t feel that the big, bad world won’t allow you to live them – I say, go for them…

…anyway, back to the collection.

It’s really funny how reading through the weeklies (Autocar and Motor) it’s interesting to see just how an easy ride British Leyland got. We all know that the product had weaknesses (and I’ll not list them now – as I really want to go back to sorting out my mags sometime today), but they were mostly glossed over in order not to appear to be knocking the ‘home team’. In fact, in the April 1982 issue of Autocar sat on my desktop concludes its Austin Ambassador road test, “…The Ambassador’s strengths are its ride, good seating, frugal-for-two-litres economy, all for a very good price, which makes it exceptional value for money.”

The rivals the magazine selected included the Citroen CX and Rover SD1 – and yet, it was the humble Amby that emerged pretty much as the car of choice. Interesting.

It kinda blows holes in the argument that the motoring press had it in for BL in the ‘dark years’ – because as we all know, the Ambassador really was nothing more than a Princess with everything interesting taken out of it, and entered the realm of the Mk2 Cavalier (which really as rather good)…

Still, I suppose these mags won’t sort themselves – but the next time someone says to you that the motoring press killed BL in the 1970s and 1980s, tell them they’re wrong. I guess that it’s different since 1997 when New Labour’s ‘Mondeo Man’ evolved into an aspirational BMW 3-Series onanist, but that’s the subject for another blog at another time…

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WERE you cutting down a British Leylandi hedge?

Well here is a wardrobe full of my old car magazines with the date range of February 1961 to March 1983. I started serious collecting about three years ago, when I bought a January 1967 issue of MOTOR which yielded all those Rover P6 scans that Keith recently uploaded. The bottom shelf contains copies of MINI and MINIWORLD magazines. At the NEC show in October I bought 88 AUTOCAR/MOTORs and had to ask the awfully nice people on MINI magazine to look after them for me!

I have been through them all for pics to upload to this forum and will do the same for any future purchases. My only real comment on the editorial content is that in the 1960s and 1970s AUTOCAR and MOTOR were tame in offering criticism of cars. Both publications thought the ADO17 Landcrab was a great car and that BMC had another hit on their hands, and the 1969 Maxi 1500 was a competent car. CAR on the other hand was more willing to put the boot in and they were vitriolic about the Maxi, 3 litre and MGC.


WHY didn’t you changes the bushes on your 216 instead!


NOT so much coincidence, as foul Bank Holiday Monday weather finally got me tidying the archives, which have become somewhat disorganised in the honourable cause of research. Tonight the aroma of quarter-century old printed matter is all-pervading.

Observations: A year of present-day CAR takes up a good eight inches of shelf space. The issues from thirty years ago take up a third of that. Volume is in inverse proportion to quality of content the seventies and eighties issues are falling apart through reading and re-reading, the later ones, full of onanistic, uninformed guff and crass advertising, look near untouched.

Distractions: Finding the issue of the short-lived ‘Audiophile’ wherein Setright counsels (with the benefit of bitter experience) against buying Linn Isobariks on the cheap. So much for his fine words – it sent me straight to eBay!

Am I “Mondeo Man”? I was driving a Mondeo (1.8LX TD) on that unseasonably warm and bright Friday morning ten years ago when even The Almighty seemed to want to give new Labour the best possible chance, so I feel some discomfort at the rather judgmental view of fellow drivers of my present choice of transport, one or two of whom are perfectly nice people.


YESTERDAY was my final countdown (or rather ultimate ultimatum) to moving all my car magazines and brochures from my current addess, back to my parents. Rather like Keith notes that BL-bashing wasn’t readily apparent, so I noticed just how much good will there was for MG-Rover and before that, BMW-Rover. Where did it all go wrong I kept asking myself in semi-disbelief.


YOUR ‘Thanks For The Memories…’ blog made me smile on Bank Holiday Monday – as I also spent the day (and half of Tuesday) sorting through my collection of period magazines and brochures. It shouldn’t have taken more than a few hours – but when you’re faced with mags from the 1950s to the 1980s with copious quantities of BMC-Rover road tests and features within, it’s funny how easy it is to get distracted…!

This was the first time I’d gone through everything since moving to Spain last July. Two tonnes(!) of magazines and brochures were shipped over, all of which is now sorted – with all the mags in date order for the first time ever. Blimey.

All sorted now. Time to do some work, I guess.


4 May

What price our future?


IT looks likely that Gordon Brown may be crowned as our new PM this month or next and I’ve been thinking about what new great white elephant project he could get involved in to waste our money on. Blair opened his presidency with the famous Dome tent that cost £800 million to build and still costs £28 million a year to keep.

If you think that’s a lot, it’s said that the The 2012 Olympics are likely to cost £9000 million (ie. £9 billion). Neither of these have or will create long term growth, jobs or prestige as anybody who’s ever hosted the Olympics before will attest. Plus we’ve just built Wembley in the same area (that cost £1 billion in the end).

However, if the money was thrown into development of a world class cutting edge manufacturing automotive business with a strong R&D engineering base, we’d have enough dosh for a range of hybrid cars to flog around the world. We’d make a fortune selling our inventions as fully developed products (for once) while saving the planet.

Or we could build an expensive race track and hotels that’ll be an empty ghost town by 2013. It’s a lot of money. We could give every single person in Britain £145 each.

If £9 billion can be raised, as it surely will have to be, couldn’t it be channelled into a national policy of serious technological investment that will actually generate wealth for the country in the long term?

And if that idea doesn’t excite you, couldn’t we build a few large hospitals, train and employ a host of expert medics and complete every operation on the waiting lists? Couldn’t £9 billion go a long way in creating a world class education system? Couldn’t £9 billion go a long way to wiping out a killer disease? Isn’t there anyone in Britain who’ll recognise that we need to seriously invest in ourselves for the future instead of building more amusement parks and shops and importing foreign products?

There are a lot of people who resent that the governments of the 1970s investing taxpayers money into one solitary ‘white elephant’ project in the form of British Leyland. But how much money was actually drip-fed into BL? Does it really compare with the colossal amount pouring into one area of London for a one-off event?

What we need now in Britain more than ever is vision. Long term vision is what Toyota had and still have. That’s why they are a success. It’s said the Chinese business people consider what their work today will create for their grandchildren to inherit. That’s why, one way or another they will be a success. Instead of wasting our time arguing what being British is we could be thinking and planing what being British could be, and what sort of country we’ll have once 2012 has come and gone.

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3 May

Radio None


Less is more…

HAVING read Keith’s blog ‘I’ve seen the future… and I’m not so sure…’ (1st May) I had to laugh.

You see, I’ve just acquired a lovely 1978 Princess 2200HLS, which, in its day, was quite an advanced car, but this one is fitted with its original Unipart MW/LW radio with the speaker mounted on the centre console, which was described as the height of luxury in 1978.

It’s laughably quaint and, of course, the sound quality is dreadful – well it would be if I could tune it in to something resembling a radio station. The shipping forecast is all well and good, but it’s not much use on the M27 (unless, of course, the Global Warming sceptics are proved right).

…its original Unipart MW/LW radio with the
speaker mounted on the centre console, was
described as the height of luxury in 1978…

Now, looking back, it’s incredible that motorists had to put up with such mediocrity as this and I think it makes a journey more infuriating than relaxing because even though the radio is there and it works, it’s just so goddamn bloody awful to listen to. I know we’ve all been spoilt by our iPod’s and the like, but even by mid-1970s standards, the In Car Entertainment offered by mainstream manufacturers was appalling.

So, will I be removing it and replacing it with something more modern? Not a chance. That radio has been in the car for 29 years now and to remove it would only take away the originality of the car, which isn’t worth it just for the sake of my listening pleasure.

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IN response to Kevin Davis and his archaic radio – how nice to see a nice simple pushbutton radio that only requires a simple prod of the LW button to get Radio 4!

Today’s radios (like all modern electronic kit) need study of a manual and tiny fingers to achieve this desirable end. Regarding quality of sound, I was once told by a Radiomobile engineer that the set-up in the original Marina was one of the best he knew of – the speaker was on top of the fascia and ‘bounced’ the sound off the windscreen.

Never had any trouble listening to Radio 4 in any of these 70s cars, but I suppose it’s different if you want to deafen yourself and all around you with thumping bass. Harrumph.


2 May



Getting some perspective…

AFTER the bulk and helf of the Mercedes-Benz test car (see below), it was nice to return to reality with a run to work and back (66 miles) in my son’s beloved Metro Vanden Plas. In my drive, there is currently a 56-registered BMW 750Li with half a tank of fuel in it – and parked next to it was the baby Austin. A no-brainer, then.

There’s nothing like a little perspective to keep your feet on the ground.

Anyway, a mixed drive in the Metro served as a potent reminder of just how good this car remains today – certainly in terms of fun driving. In 1980 it went to the top of the class, and remained there for a couple of years until the Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno came along, and shifted the centrepoint of the supermini sector upwards. All of a sudden, small cars no longer celebrated their smallness, but became miniature versions of their bigger cousins. That’s no bad thing of course, unless you like driving a car that feels like a go-Kart.

In the city, the Metro felt wieldy, and it could be squeezed into the tightest of gaps with utter coinfidence, and sharp steering delivers killer feel. No way forwards? Make an extra lane…

It’s a long way from perfect, though. After the trip to work, my right knee felt like someone had stabbed it with a knitting needle, thanks to the way you have to contort around the offset driving position, but I reckon there’s probably a workaround, so it’s worth bearing with it until I nail a better driving position. In a lesser car, I might have been less inclined to try.

In short – it’s a classic car. When was the last time you saw one on the road? Consider it a more practical Mini without the bullshit, and you’re halfway there.

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1 May

I’ve seen the future… and I’m not so sure…


The future is here now.. I think

ANOTHER week, another prestige car to drive…

For those who don’t know, Kelsey Publishing is launching a new weekly newspaper/magazine this week – it’s called Prestige Car Buyer, and essentially, it’s Classic Car Weekly with modern cars in it. There’s a lot more to it than that, because it concentrates on the premium end of the car market – the idea being, if you’re in the market for a car that you think is worth travelling for, and it costs between £8000 and £80,000, then this is the classified ads/editorial title for you (see for yourself on Thursday – go to WHSmith and pick up a copy…)

Being heavily involved in the feature writing for the title has been interesting – and what it means is that I’ve been road testing a whole host of posh new cars, in the pursuit of penning these Super Guides (a combination of road test, buyer’s guide and market overview). It has been fun, and an eye opener – especially in terms of technology, dynamics and refinement, compared with the heaps I normally drive.

But before you think it’s all BMWs, Audis and Mercs, let me tell you – I’ve done Super Guides on the MG ZT 260 V8 and TVR Griffith…

Anyway, back to the point of the blog: yesterday, I was given a new Mercedes-Benz S350 CDI to drive. Overall, it’s a great car, and that diesel engine’s pretty special (if not as smooth as the Jaguar/PSA twin turbo V6), but what really grabbed my attention was the laser guided cruise control – or DISTRONIC in Mercedes-Benz parlance.

Given that I love technology in cars, I needed to see how this system worked in the real world. So, on the way home from Peterborough on the A14, I dialled in 70mph on the cruise, set the DISTRONIC to 100 yards, and let it do its stuff. I won’t kid you – initially, it was disconcerting to let the car brake and accelerate itself, but within a few miles, and a couple of truck pull-outs, I’d gained confidence in the system and let it do its stuff.

Given that I love technology in car, I needed
to see how laser guided cruise control worked
in the real world…

By the time, I was nearing my turn-off for home, I was supremely relaxed… perhaps a little too much. It’s a great system, but allied with lane guidance (it’s coming), the era of having your car drive itself is getting ever closer – and I’m not sure I really like that. Yes, motorway driving can be a chore, and why not get a computer to do it for you, but each time a system is taken off you, does that mean you’re giving driving a little less thought?

Take automatic headlights – a great idea? Yes? Well, not in fog… and once used to the car making decisions for you, do you put it out of your mind, thereby taking a winter’s drive in thick fog with no lights on, ‘cos your car deems it unnecessary?

Okay, that’s probably not going to happen to the enlightened readers of this website – but think about all those drivers out there, who can’t even handle turning their foglights off in the summer. What hope have we got once they’ve forgotten how to judge distances, as well as ambient light…

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MERCEDES-BENZ’S Distronic works using a 77GHz frequency milimeter wave ‘Radar’ not a laser. In general ‘Radar’ is used (especially in higher vehicle segments) for ACC functions. Such systems would be found on – VW – Phaeton, Passat and Touareg.

Laser or Lidar systems are still out there but falling from favour as radar becomes cheaper. They may eventually only be used for certain functions or on lower segment vehicles where cost is more critical.

Just thought it was worth mentioning.

The future really lies in the combination of Radar and Vision technologies.

Great site by the way.

Director of Sales
Mobileye Vision Technologies Ltd
Jerusalem, Israel

I WAS very interested in your article on vehicle automation and have to say that like you I am concerned at the consequences of us abdicating responsibility to automated systems. Automatic distance and light control is one thing, but we also have on the horizon automatic speed control, introduction of which will ultimately force the introduction of driverless cars as we will no longer be trusted to make the decisions.

My reasoning is that once the decision of how fast we can drive in any given place is made by the car the majority of drivers will simply abdicate responsibility to the car and drive around at full throttle relying on the limiter to restrict their speed. With no decision to make but to steer car, their attention will end up everywhere but on the road which will lead to a rise in the accident rate. The safety lobby will conclude that we cannot be trusted to control any part of our car and so we will be forced into fully automated taxis.

Some motorists have already achieved this without the aid of speed limiters, how many times have you had the frustration of following a car doing 40mph round bends, down straights, across junctions despite the limit being 60 mph, and then have them pull away from you when they enter a 30mph restriction for a village. If you stopped them, I am sure you would find that they could not recall or differentiate any part of the road they had just driven along. If they crash in the 30 mph zone, the safety lobby conclude that the accident was the result of excessive speed, when in reality the speed as well as the accident was a symptom of the drivers lack of interest in the task in hand.


Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created 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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