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Blogs : November 2005

29 November 2005

Why oh why?

By KEITH ADAMS

THANKS to the joys of Paint Shop and Photoshop, it is now possible for skilled computer-literate artisans to create pictures of cars that they would dearly like to see. Now me, I generally look at most and don’t think anything about it… You know, it passes a moment in your life, and then it is gone.

However, one image really struck me – the one you see above. Thanks to Mark Mastrototaro, who seems to have made it his life’s ambition to create alternative versions of every single conceivable variation of BMC>Rover car known to man, we have what can truly be described as a modern day Rover Vitesse. Yes, many people (myself included) see the 75’s facelift as an embarassing failure – but doesn’t the V8 grille treatment work beautifully when partnered with the ZT Extreme body kit?

Let’s be honest – anyone who sees this looming in their mirror is going to dive out of the way – and rapidly.

And isn’t that what the name Rover Vitesse is all about. Come one – someone out there in MGR fan land – build one!

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28 November 2005

R40 gathering

By MIKE McCABE

AT least 52 Rover 75/MG ZTs will assemble at BMIHT Gaydon (M40 Warwickshire) on Sunday January 8, 2006 for the first ever meet of the new 75&ZT Owners Club.

All models of this future classic will be on show for the day, from original Cowley built 75s through to several examples of the ZT260 and Rover V8. The meet promises to be the biggest ever gathering of the two marques and, with over a month to go, the final figure could be a lot higher than the 52 already signed up to attend.

As the meet is being held in January, a room has been booked in the museum for members to meet, discuss what they want from the new Club, share knowledge and experience of owning their cars and keep warm! A wealth of technical knowledge is now being captured and made available to members via the club’s website. The site also includes a dealer locator and will soon offer discounts off a range of 75 and ZT parts to club members.

The 75&ZT Owners Club is brand new and growing rapidly. Membership is completely free for all ZT and 75 owners and we are currently welcoming new members at a rate of two every day.

Presentations will be made at the meet for the best 75, best ZT plus an overall prize for the best turned out car. Masterclasses on how to do those fiddly 75&ZT jobs are being planned (subject to weather etc.) but the main aim is to meet fellow owners and enjoy a good day out celebrating thes great cars. We have also been able to negotiate a very attractive discount for museum entry.

Full information is available via the club website and all will be made very welcome.

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26 November 2005

Nanjing

By PAUL GUINNESS

I’VE just read the statement by Nanjing Auto on austin-rover.co.uk and, like most folk, am delighted that MG production looks like it could resume at Longbridge. A few things spring immediately to mind, though:

1) Nanjing talks about the existing MG Rover dealerships as though the network is still in existence. Surely the company will be starting from scratch in trying to attract dealers, as any previous franchises and contracts would have become null and void with the collapse of MG Rover back in April? Establishing a new Europe-wide dealer network is a massive task by any standards.

2) If the TF, ZT and ZT-T do indeed resume production at Longbridge, how many units does Nanjing actually expect to sell? Both cars have their merits (particularly, for me, the excellent ZT), but re-establishing them on the UK and European markets, in the light of this year’s difficulties at Longbridge, would be tricky to say the least. MG Rover’s new management would suddenly be playing catch-up in a market that has moved on a great deal – and trying to do this with a couple of products that aren’t exactly in their first flush of youth.

3) If Chinese-built ZR and ZS models are introduced in the UK and perhaps even throughout Europe, Nanjing could presumably price them lower than the British-built versions of before. But surely that in itself would damage the MG brand even further, having a couple of seriously dated products being launched at economy-car prices? This in turn would surely make it more difficult to then expect the British-built ZT and TF to succeed?

I hope I’m proved wrong, but Longbridge and Nanjing still face enormous hurdles ahead.

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25 November 2005

Austin-Healey

By KEITH ADAMS

HEARING that GBSCC has been negotiating to buy the rights to the Austin-Healey name brought a wry smile to my face. The main reason for my amusement over the whole issue is that the Financial Times has reported that GBSCC is trying to negotiate a deal with Nanjing for the rights to the name – and yet, as far as I understand, the only rights MG Rover ever had to the name were for the distribution of spare parts.

Nope, as far as I understand, GBSCC will need to talk to the Healey family if they want to sell cars wearing the hallowed name. That shouldn’t be such a hug obstacle to success, because the last time I looked into the issue, the family was prepared for MG Rover to use the name, as long as the price was right and the quality was up to scratch.

Hearing that GBSCC has been negotiating
to buy the rights to the Austin-Healey
name brought a wry smile to my face…

That shouldn’t be a major issue on both counts, because using elements of the X12 (MG ZT 260) platform and lumpy (if not lightweight) Ford V8 engines, the progamme would definitely be a goer. In fact, under Project Viking, this has been looked at for some time.

The other reason for my amusement has that many people have began to whisper that GBSCC is closely tied to the Phoenix Four (who still happily trade), and much earlier this year, I had a conversation with another magazine News Editor who came to the conclusion that any Austin-Healey project would make, ‘a nice retirement plan’, for the P4.

Is it the case that this is now happening?

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24 November 2005

Rust in piece

By IAN NICHOLLS

AS a Mini owner, it has been pointed out to me the more recent the Mini, the more prone to corrosion it is.

The Nineties examples were particuarly bad, rust appearing within two years of purchase and being rectified under warranty by the local Rover dealership. Indeed it has been claimed that from the Seventies onwards the Mini’s resistance to rust detoriated rapidly. The reason commonly put forward for this is during the Seventies, in an effort to cut costs British Leyland and other European manufacturers began buying cheaper steel from Eastern Europe.

Remember the problems Lancia had with rust? And the post 1974 Innocenti Mini 90/120 hatchback had corrosion problems as well. One tends to notice this decline in rust resistance because the Mini was such a long running car. The only other BL vehicles that could match it for longetivity were the MG Midget and MGB. But for the new post Issigonis generation of BL cars that emerged in the Seventies, being less rust resistant cannot have done them any favours.

The only other thing we do know is that by the end of the Seventies, the state owned British Steel Corporation was losing £1 million a day, perhaps because UK motor manufacturers were going elsewhere for their steel? Wholesale rationalisation was undertaken under chairmen like Sir Charles Villiers, Ian MacGregor and Graham Day and plants such as Consett and Corby were closed with huge job losses.

In the past when I have written articles, many of you have come forward with additional information. Can anybody out there add anything to what I have written ?

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Feedback:

BL’s build quality generally feels alarmingly bad from the mid-Seventies, but whether poorer quality steel was used, I don’t know – I do know that Italian cars generally suffered as Russian steel was delivered to FIAT as payment for the Lada Turn-Key factory, and used in production of Fiats, Lancias and Alfas – but for some Triumph models thinner steel was introduced around 1975. Other BL models might have been built of thinner steel as well.

All European car manufacturers suffered poorer rust resistance due to new more environmentally friendly body treatments methods were introduced, including paints. This lead to an increase in warranty claims, and some manufacturers introduced galvanised steel for a number of outer panels and, later, the whole body (Porsche and Audi were the pioneers).

Erik Løye

Ian Nicholls, writing on 24th November, has heard that the later the Mini, the worse the rust. The Mini I bought new circa 1962 started rusting on the way home, so if the problem got worse, the last of them would have been a poor buy. My 1100 was the first one delivered to the Pevensey Bay dealer. It rusted along the seam in the front wing during the two years I kept it.

In spite of this, it was replaced by a similar car although the new one had a Downton Motorway conversion. In fairness, I must report that the later car rusted.

GARY BRISTOW


23 November 2005

If your face fits

By MARK MASTROTOTARO

JUST a quick thought while reading my local paper today.

It had an article about the ‘New’ Subaru Impreza. It’s essentially the same model that came out in 1999-2000 now in its third facelift. Nowhere was there a mention of warming-over a tired looking car… I Remember the fuss over the 04 Rover/MG facelifts being lazy…

If your face fits eh?


Feedback:

REGARDING Mark’s comments regarding the Impreza, how absolutely spot on he is. As good as the Impreza is, a mild facelift (albeit every two weeks) has kept the Impreza fresh and in peoples’ minds. I personally happen to prefer the more classic pre-2000 model, but that’s just me.

The facelifts and other revisions given to the MG Zed range in 2004 worked fantastically well. The cars look butch, muscular and powerful- the improvement on the ZS is astonishing. The cars look like they have had improvements made, rather than just changes. I’ve always liked the way the Zeds looked different from the Rover range, and feel that post-facelift, the Rover range (V8 exception) looks appalling and more outdated than the pre-facelift versions.

The Impreza’s trump card though, isn’t what it looks like, although that does help, I will admit. It’s the astonishing amount of power for so little money that attracts most people to it. An easily accessible almost-supercar for relatively few pounds.

Unfortunately for the MGR range, it didn’t have a trump card to play, although the paintshop version of the V8 shown on this site looks fabulous and would definitely have rolled out of the showrooms had the company had the foresight to build it looking like that. The ZT 385 prowling the streets…

Here on this site we can go on and on about what a shame it is that things didn’t work out, and it is a tragedy that the company folded in April 2005, but doesn’t that make us more proud of what the company actually DID achieve? Cars that have a loyal following and are now a piece of history.

I for one am very proud of the company and what it achieved, and for all the mockery, have just acquired my father’s 1990 416 GTi which I plan to restore and hopefully bring to a show in the next couple of years. He is continuing with Rover ownership, having bought a 53-plate 75 1.8T from auction a couple of weeks ago. The SD1 that I so want to get my hands on will have to take back seat while this one is with me due to space, but I am also considering changing my trusty and fabulous SEAT Leon TDi for a ZT and show my allegiance to the marque. Maybe in time for the 8th Jan meet of the R40 owners club in Gaydon… watch this space.

DYLAN JONES

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21 November 2005

The future’s bright, the future’s Nanjing

By MIKE GOY

IT is now seven months since the Longbridge shutdown, but we still await detailed information – not just promises – as to its future, if it has one at all. There’s plenty going on; the factory contents being stripped out and relocated to Shanghai, plans for Rover 25 and 75 to begin Chinese production, Nanjing Automotive promising a limited UK production restart next year…

But do we know whether Shanghai Automotive and Nanjing are likely to bury the hatchet and cooperate? Industrial rivalry suggests not, but a single, combined Rover/MG range, using the existing vehicles as a springboard for future (albeit Chinese) development would do very nicely. Or perhaps the Rover 75 will end up as some kind of Chinese Hindustan Ambassador, destined to still be in production (largely unchanged) in 50 years time.

If the mothballed RDX60 plans ever make it off the drawing board and into production, does that mean that it will be built and sold in the UK? It’s obvious that the new Chinese owners are either unable – culture wise – to share information other than the “broad brush aspirations” published on this site last month, or they themselves are unsure of detailed future plans. Perhaps Ricardo Engineering knows more, but has been sworn to secrecy.

At least we are no longer reading daily horror stories in the British press about BMC/BL/Austin Rover/Rover Group/MGR. The media already seems to have forgotten about car manufacturing. Perhaps 40 years of constant – much of it justified – motor industry bashing has left them with nothing to say.

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18 November 2005

The name game

By MIKE GOY

THIS name thing is getting just a tad complicated.

If BMW was willing to licence the Rover name to MGR, and now to the Chinese, what about the other names it has held on to?

I always thought the Germans retained Triumph and Riley to prevent others establishing a rival premium or sporting brand. Would BMW be willing to sell one of them for the right price? If not, perhaps it could invent another sub-brand, like it did with MINI, and introduce a range of small sports cars named Triumph, manufactured at BMW Oxford.

That would release the BMW “Z” name to move up market. The BMW board and Quant family must be extremely pleased — and pleasantly surprised — with MINI sales and profits. Or, perhaps Bernd Piechestreider could buy one for his burgeoning VW group.

Riley would fit nicely as a premium brand with VW, Audi and SEAT. Don’t forget, VW has probably never forgiven BMW for stealing the Rolls-Royce name from under its corporate nose, leaving it with just Bentley.

I’m sure Volkswagen would dearly love to get its own back.

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17 November 2005

Austin’s the answer

By AYD INSTONE

THERE’S an interesting article in Autocar about the new new MINI ‘Traveller/Clubman’ thing and BMW’s desire to make it even bigger to be a latter-day Austin 1300. Obviously BMW has done very well in making money with their new MINI brand even though it isn’t very mini, but won’t they have a problem making an even bigger car?

The answer? All they need to do is to do a swap with their ‘Rover’ brand and Nanjing’s ‘Austin’ brand and give us a new range of MINI-looking Austins coming out of Cowley. Then Nanjing can restart production of the Rover 75 with its proper name.

As I’ve said on this forum before to those that believe a brand that hasn’t been used since 1989 is dead – a confident relaunch is all that is needed. (compare with television’s Doctor Who. Cancelled as an embarrassment in 1989. Re-launched this year and now the BBC’s hottest property.) A BMW Austin would sell, without a doubt. The same would be true if the Z4 was re-baged as a Triumph TR9. It would sell. People do as they are told. And they are told to buy German.

Mind you, if we did see a BMW MINI Landcrab 3-litre launched in 2012 it’ll probably be a monster success anyway.

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16 November 2005

Oh Kevin, if only you hadn’t bottled it…

By CHRIS CHAPMAN

IN THE trade news this week:

Lancia looking at selling RHD cars again – obviously see a market for upmarket niche cars with chrome grilles…

Fiat – heading back into profit this year doing joint venture with Ford (owners of Land Rover and Jaguar) on a small car programme.

Fiat confirming joint venture with TATA.

Fiat starting joint venture with SAIC (except cars due to Nanjing).

Oh Kevin, if only you hadn’t bottled it…

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15 November 2005

Why are we waiting?

By GRAHAM ROBSON

OK, I’m a cynical Old so-and-so, but it seems to me that very few people are actually telling us the truth about what CAN happen at Longbridge (as opposed to what MIGHT happen – Pie in the Sky, and all that stuff).

Will someone please give me factual information on the following simple, straightforward, questions:

** Is Longbridge being demolished as we speak, or refurbished for production to re-start?
** Will any Rover-based cars ever be built at Longbridge again ? If so, by who?
** Will any MG-badged cars ever be built at Longbridge again ? If so, by who?
** Will K-Series petrol engines ever be built at Longbridge again ? If so, by who?
** Will diesel engines ever be built at Longbridge again ? If so, by who?


Feedback:

I have just read the recent comments on the Austin Rover website by Graham Robson and would like to clarify the following points.

Regardless to what SAIC claims, the legal title to the Rover name still remains with BMW, as it was originally issued under licence (without fee) to Phoenix Venture Holdings. Phoenix may well have been in a legal position to ‘sub-let’ the use of the Rover name following the creation of a joint company with SAIC, but they were not ultimately in a position to sell it.

As far as I am aware, BMW still holds the legal title and has no plans to use it themselves, although may well be willing “to talk to interested parties in relation to the Rover brand”, as was indicated in a recent newspaper story (which I have somewhere). However, as Phoenix Venture Holdings is still technically trading and I am unsure of the fine print relating to the licensing agreement, it may be a case that BMW won’t be actively looking to re-license the name to another party.

Personally, I really can’t see production of any more Rover badged vehicles re-commencing at Longbridge. I would love to be proved wrong as I believe under the right leadership, and with the right commitment, the Rover name would be a far more worthy and multi faceted brand to use than MG or Austin. Focus more on its heritage, premium aspirations rather than price and the type of nice market offerings the company was producing before BMW came along and rocked the boat, and in time, and with around £2 billion invested in new models, Rover could eventually be back on a level playing field with Audi and BMW.

But BMW still owns the Rover name. The Longbridge factory is owned by a property developer, who isn’t like to wait around. And no-one is commited enough to stump up £2 billion to replace the 25, 45 and 75 models and also invest in an all new City sector model, possibly under a new, more trend-setting brand name such as Spiritual – think of what Smart is to DaimlerChrysler and you understand where I am coming from.

Sadly none of this will likely happen. We really have lost one of our greatest marques.

DAVID MORGAN

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14 November 2005

Still unofficial?

By KEITH ADAMS

WELL, we’re in uncharted waters now, but I’ve been thinking about dropping the ‘Unofficial’ part of the website title.

I mean, we don’t really have a Rover anymore, and although SAIC claims to own the marque and has stated it intends to build cars over here, how much of the original Rover will be buried within that?

And although we’ve only begun to scratch at the surface of BMC>Rover’s history on this website, it’s a good starting point for a lot of peoples’ researches. So the question remains – should we start calling this site, ‘Austin-Rover Ark’ or something like that?

Perhaps it’s time to ask you guys…

What do you think we should rename the website? Drop me a line with your suggestions.

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12 November 2005

Those pictures…

By KEITH ADAMS

WELL, I’ve been heartened, but not surprised in the slightest at everyone’s reactions at the ‘inside Longbridge’ pictures, as produced by the Urban Exploration crew. If there was any doubt that the exploits of these guys have been cast into the limelight by their pictures, then the emails that have come my way from London-based journalists all keen to get their hands on the originals for their newspapers.

Undoubtedly, we’ll begin to see these pictures crop up in the papers in the coming days, but I do wonder what their journalistic angle will be in their accompanying words.

Personally speaking, I hope that ‘Fleet Street’ (assuming it uses them), will leave the pictures to do the talking – and put the factory’s fate back on the agenda. You see, it has been seven months since MG Rover went into administation, and three-and-a-half since Nanjing bought its remaining assets. And yet, we have still seen no concrete plans for Longbridge, just a stream of trucks shipping out anything not bolted down…

If these pictures do get in the press, let’s hope GBSCC, Nanjing or whoever, will finally make a positive announcement as a result.

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Feedback:

Many of the images are of the old West Works, which ceased to be a mainstream production area with the cessation of Mini in 2000. It was then only used for sub-assembly work and also rather as a motor manufacturer’s equivalent of an attic!

So the dereliction shown came about over five years. Areas like the Signal Box had been out of use for much longer, and sat in parts of the site that had been sold to Advantage West Midlands some time ago.

Most of the areas of the factory that were working in 2005 look far better than this, and would require less re-commissioning to restart production, if that should be required.

EX-INSIDER


11 November 2005

End of the line…

By IAN LANGFIELD

THE PICTURES taken by Raddogextreme and Oxygen Thief and shown by Keith on this website, provide the evidence that MG Rover as a UK producer of cars is finally dead.

Like many of you reading this, I have scoured the news sites on a daily basis for any news on MG Rover, Nanjing and the fabled GB sports car company. The lack of news around the proposals for an MGF revival does appear to confirm my earlier fear that this partnership was merely a device to allow Nanjing to crate and export Longbridge without too much public outcry.

The recent stories in the Chinese press now focus on the possibility of an FAW and Nanjing alliance, but whatever partnership is put in place to restart production of the 25 and 75 it is unlikely to have the appetite or confidence to export these tired old cars back to the UK. It is more likely that these cars will see out their days as a ‘homegrown’ riposte to the Opels and Volkswagens currently produced in China. If China was to export cars to Europe or the UK, it would be more likely to start with an established quality brand before introducing a new Chinese built and designed MG or Rover.

If China was to export cars to Europe or
the UK, it would be more likely to start
with an established quality brand before
introducing a new Chinese built and
designed MG or Rover.

At present the West is probably not ready for chinese cars, although the Koreans have proved that if the product is good enough it is possible to start to make inroads into this market. I guess that as the Chinese market is the largest potential new market for cars, FAW/Nanjing will concentrate on developing cars for the domestic market. And as the pictures bear testament to there is no hope of any production ever resuming in the UK.

As with Keith, for the first time in over 20 years I do not own one British car in my Garage. As the only options are rapidly depreciating 25s, 45s, 75s and TFs, and I cannot afford a Morgan, TVR, Bentley, Rolls Royce, or could I bear the pastiche that is the new MINI, I am condemned to a life with a BL shaped hole.

And the question we have to ask ourselves is even in the remotist possibility of a chinese Rover being imported to the UK, would anyone of us actually want to buy one?

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10 November 2005

If only…

By ANTHONY ENDSOR

HERE’S a formula to attack foreign markets: take one well known and regarded marque, a proven engine, a capable car with plenty of character and watch it sell? It worked better than anticipated with the MINI for BMW didn’t it? In fact, take an R8 200, and R3 200, plenty of Maestro, and make it drive up muddy slopes and add the word ‘LAND’ in its name, and what do you know? American success story.

What am I referring to, you ask? Well certainly not the ill-fated Sterling, which was perhaps a case in how not to do it. It seemed a great idea, 2.7 V6 up front, a fairly large car and front wheel drive was no hardship if one reviews the GM rivals until just lately, but it didn’t work did it. Why? Well I think it is fair to say Americans know best at how they like American cars. The Japanese cars that took over were cheap and sold on that reason, where as the Sterling was not. It is a shame because the coupe version I feel would have had a better chance, it was a little different and rather British. However Rover failed to keep sales up as the long awaited variant brewed.

Salvation should have come in the early Nineties, however. The proven engine I refer to is one of the Americans favourite ‘rice-burners’, the Honda D-Series. The competent car is the R8, with fine handling and complex independent suspension set up and a classy interior and the MG Octagon being an established US household brand name. Sadly The Rover Group followed the path of mid-engined rear drive sports cars to replace the iconic B cars of yesteryear, which for global appeal, seems an odd thing to do. Not to knock the MGF, a lovely car in its own right, but not the one Rover needed.

Not to knock the MGF, a lovely car in
its own right, but not the one
Rover needed…

So we had a Coupe and a Cabriolet, complete with US friendly engine, handling set up, looks and the latter with a roll bar. Would these have sold in the USA? I believe so, unlike the Sterling, here are cars that don’t try to be American, because this is not why Americans buy them. If you want to charge a premium, a natural side effect of the exchange rate and shipping as it is, you need a car that can be considered niche. Cheap to run and performance only 0.5 of a second shy of the 2.7 V6 to 60mph in D16 1.6 SOHC form? Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

I recently tested this theory when I joined a predominantly American D16 forum and tested response to my car, which confirmed everything I have written here. As for the Rover brand itself, many took the car on face value, you won’t hear any HGF jibes there, and those that knew of Rover liked them from their own experience. Land Rover is a well-known marque, and that is certainly half way there. But to play it safe, badging it an MG, as were found on early Coupe mock ups, would have ensured nobody got mixed messages about the cars potential. This should have appealed to the baby-boomers and youth alike. It seems to me that if you want to make the world take notice, you need to sell them your car, your ideals, your values, not impersonate theirs, providing they like your values.

What if indeed…

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Feedback:

I followed the Rover 800 from its gestation until its launch and death.

I can tell you exactly what killed the car in the U.S.

It was not high prices as Anthony Endsor posits in his blog. It was the old bane of all Rovers: Quality. The Sterling came into the market priced a bit higher than rivals from Acura, BMW and Audi. It got off to a whopping good start, selling more than 14,000 in its first year. That’s not bad for a brand no one had ever heard of.

But then the problems came to light. Failed air conditioners. Leather upholstery that turned green. Broken speedometers, broken window lifts, electrical glitches. Pieces such as the front turn signal lenses literally fell off the car. All these things earned the Sterling a bad name and sales plunged from there.

Had the car been a quality piece, Rover would have done fine. But Rover never understood the U.S, market. The only way to keep a customer truly happy is to keep him away from the dealership’s service department, which is what the Asians do so successfully.

In 1990 and early 1991, Rover brought over the stunning MG EX-E and put it on show with the the Sterling. Hardly anyone noticed. The car got barely any press attention. In the U.S., MG stands for sports car. And it is worth noting that no Austin, MG, Rover or Triumph sedan ever offered in the U.S. sold well. They were all miserable failures, in fact.

The Sterling 825 and 827 had a real shot at success. The styling was fine for Americans. The interior was an excellent piece of work. The performance was even acceptable. All it had to do is hold together. But the quality was just abysmal, and the final models were offered with an embarassing $8,000 rebate on a $28,000 car.

Today one rarely sees any of the 30,000 or so Sterlings that were sold here. It is a forgotten car.

RICHARD TRUETT, Automotive News

It should be pointed out that the Honda USA version of the XX, the Acura, was essentially the same car as the Sterling, and enjoyed an excellent reputation. Austin Rover made the mistake of trying to do too many of their own special variations of the joint design, such as in the electronics.

Although these had been sorted by 1990, the damage had been done. One of the items mentioned as troublesome on Sterling, the air-conditioning, was, however, common to the Acura, and shouldn’t have been an issue. It was certainly an extremely efficient air-con set up, designed to cope with the particularly difficult heat and humidity conditions of Florida.

In UK conditions it was simply awesome in its ability to rapidly freeze a hot cabin.

EX-INSIDER


9 November 2005

Ford vs BL in the Seventies

By ASHLEY MICKLEWRIGHT

READING previous articles about British Leyland vs Ford, in the Seventies…

There are a number of other factors, that need to be taken into account. Ford Detroit had reorganised its European operations in the Sixties, Ford Britain & Germany along with all other Ford operations through out Europe were merged in 1968 into one company, Ford Europe. This meant Ford had economies of scale thus the first car from them was the Escort in 1968 (although the first true Ford Europe vehicle was the Transit in 1965). Over the following four years Ford launched new European models, Capri, Granada and Cortina/Taunus, which were then manufactured in two or three other plants across Europe. Thus when Ford found its self with strike action, it just imported the appropriate models from its European plants. Thus Ford not only maintained market share, it increased it to 29per cent-32per cent of the new car market during the late Seventies/early Eighties, at the height of the Cortina.

But when BL was hit by strike action, that was it, they could not import vehicles from aboard to make up the short fall, thus leading to a fall in market share, when the public could not buy the model they wanted, also those that did obtain the model of their choice they had to suffer poor build and quality.

The car buying public then started to switch to other makes, this helped Vauxhall, as General Motors (GM) had also followed Ford and reorganised its European operations into one company. Therefore all new Vauxhalls were nothing more than rebadged Opels (which they remain so to this day). With its new Chevette, followed by the Cavalier then Astra, Vauxhall started the sell many more vehicles mainly at the expense of BL and eventually Ford, during the Eighties. Rising from 7 per cent to 15 per cent over the following years, putting behind it, its bad reputation for cars that rusted badly that it had gained in the Sixties.

Ford during this time, was producing many variations of its models, the Escort could be bought from a humble 1.1 Popular, through Ghia versions to the rally inspired sport and RS versions. Ford used its Motorsport activities to promote its model range, every model could be had from basic through GL & Ghia to sport versions, even some models available with X-Pack sports versions, the list was endless. The car buying public had become Ford brand aware, although their cars were never technically sophisticated or cutting edge design, though very good marketing helped and they made a model for just about anyone. They had reached cult status with the car buying public with their Motorsport activities. This then translated onto the TV screens with the ‘heroes’ driving Ford Granadas and Capris. Which to this very day have cult classic car status.

BL meanwhile had an ageing range and was not able to compete head on. It was only when Michael Edwards arrived, that he set to and reorganised the company, that there were new and improved models, but the Maestro and Montego were old in design having been originally designed in the Seventies, thus these could not compete truly with, the Sierra & Cavalier, the Cavalier was even beating Ford at their own game, by the Eighties. The Metro good as it was, was not that great, as it was saddled with and old engine and four-speed gearbox, when all others were moving to five-speeds.

The car buying public had become Ford
brand aware, although their cars were
never technically sophisticated or
cutting-edge design, though very good
marketing helped and they made a
model for just about anyone.

Mean while the Japanese, Datsun, Toyota, Mazda & Honda et al, had invaded in a big way, with Datsun making very big inroads. Although the designs were not that sophisticated, they were very reliable and packed with lots of toys, even if they did rust. Remember the Datsun 120Y, boy could it rust, yet they were still reliable. This helped the Japanese reputation for building reliable cars, to which they have gone on from strength to strength and now have vast manufacturing basis in the UK.

I remember a family friend having a brand new Triumph Spitfire in 1975, which gave him endless trouble. So fed up was he with the car, that after a couple of years, he decided to buy another car. The best trade in he got was from one of the first Mitsubishi garages, he thus purchased a Mitsubishi Galant, from then on he only bought Japanese cars.

It is ironic that the last vestiges of BL disappeared with the crash of MGR back in April this year, that the two companies that caused them to lose so much market share in the Seventies GM and Ford, are both today in very deep financial trouble, along with Daimler-Benz and Fiat. The once two largest car companies in the world GM are still first just, but Toyota are the richest and level pegging in terms of sales with GM this year.

As the likes of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai-KIA, BMW and Peugeot-Citroen power on, the rest are all dealing with vast number of problems. How much longer before another car firm goes to the wall. Who and when will it be?

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8 November 2005

NEC Blog

By KEVIN DAVIS

WELL, after a hectic weekend displaying at the NEC Classic Car Show it’s time to reflect on the event. The event was quite well publicised and was mentioned in most of the national press, though sadly it was the usual copy; that there would be Aston Martins, Jaguars, Ferraris and Lamborghinis (speak for yourself – there was none of that in CCW – Ed) on display, which is all very well but what about the more humble and accessible Austins, Fords and Lancias, to name a few that were also on display? Isn’t it about time that they got a mention?

Spread across four halls, the show was huge compared to previous events but somehow, there seemed to be less to see. A huge Jaguar corporate stand took up most of hall 5, which was displaying a collection of cars that can easily be seen at their museum any day of the week. Yes, it looks impressive, but the downside is that the more space they take up, the less there is for the smaller clubs who need the publicity that this show generates.

A case in point is the Princess and Ambassador Owners’ Club, who last year put on a mightily impressive stand with five cars and lots of room around them. This year they were given space enough for barely four cars and were shoved in the corner of the hall in amongst the restoration section – as were a few other stands. It just smacked of the organisers thinking ‘oh, just bung them in the corner out of the way.’

The there was the indoor live action arena which may have seemed like a good idea until Russ Swift started burning rubber – the noise was intolerable for anyone in the vicinity, especially for all the club stands that were in the same hall. I doubt we’ll be seeing that next year!

Then there’s the cost of entry; £14 per adult and £7 for kids over 15, then add the £7 for parking on the wasteland known as the car park and it becomes a very expensive family day out. And that’s if you’ve managed to put up with queuing for an hour to get in because someone decided to put a Motorcycle show on at the NEC the same weekend.

Overall the show was ok, but the ‘big boys’ shouldn’t be allowed to take it over – it should be a show for all clubs, big or small, and the space should be shared equally. Plus it should be a fiver to get in and free parking.

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Feedback:

I HAVE to disagree with Kevin Davis’ suggestion that the recent Classic Motor Show at the NEC was somehow against small clubs or that the club content itself wasn’t great. As somebody who has visited just about every NEC classic show over the last two decades, I honestly believe this was the best yet.

There seemed to be more club stands than ever before – and it was great to see so many smaller clubs well represented. If the show had any prejudice against tiny clubs, surely I wouldn’t have been able to see and photograph those smaller organisations catering for Trabants, Skodas, Fiestas, Marinas, Princesses, Maxis, Chevettes, Honda S800s, Jowetts, Sunbeam Lotus, ice cream vans, Simcas, Matras and many, many more. All such clubs are, by definition, small.

I agree entirely about the Russ Swift display and the noise levels. It was ridiculous planning to have that so near to club stands. It’s a decision
that should never be repeated.

There was, of course, also space given over to far larger clubs, as well as those catering for the exotica – which, whilst not particularly appealing to me personally, is an essential part of any show. But to suggest the smallest organisations had been forgotten simply isn’t true.

The show will receiving a very positive write-up in Classic Car Mart as a result of my visit – which I truly believe it deserves.

One thing I agree with Kevin on, though, is the cost of car parking. For a classic car event, it’s an expensive show to gain entry to – but, perhaps, worth it. But to then charge £7 on top for car parking is, I agree, way too much.

Congratulations to the organisers of the Classic Motor Show on what I felt was a superb event.

PAUL GUINNESS


7 November 2005

Trip of a lifetime?

By KEITH ADAMS

THANKS to all the understandable people in my life, it looks like I could well be taking the plunge – yet again – on the Staples2Naples challenge. After the Allegro adventures Alexander, Declan and I endured last time, I thought it would be a nice idea to take the plunge in something more stately next time round…

So, I’ve decided it would be nice to try and aim to get an XJ40 for the next event. Yes, I know many people would be gobsmacked to hear you can get one for under £100 – and I’ve yet to see one at this price level myself – but seeing how three teams went this way last time, it seems only fair to investigate the possibility myself…

So, if anyone knows of any £100 XJ40s out there, or a good source to start looking, please let me know. I’m hoping Lucas, the Prince of Darkness won’t be unkind to me – after all, I paid my penance at the wheel of an Allegro last time; I think it’s time Lady Luck smiled her sweet smile on us. And if she doesn’t… it’ll be a nice place in which to sit while we wait for the tow truck to come and pick us up…

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4 November 2005

Rover’s downfall…

By GLENN AYLETT

I THINK the image problem its products developed in the late-Seventies has a lot to answer for… Prior to this, Rover and Triumph police cars were a familiar sight on television shows, and captains of industry were often seen in Rover P5Bs; while MG and Triumph sports cars were still popular with affluent young motorists who wanted their first sports car.

‘The Professionals’ used BL products in the first series, but the producers became so frustrated with endless reliability issues, they switched to Fords. However, I don’t think Bodie and Doyle would look the same in a Marina Coupe over a Ford Capri 3000S or Cowley in an Austin Princess instead of his Mark 2 Granada. At the time the cars featured in series like The Professionals were becoming coveted products and only nerds would really want an Austin Allegro Equipe.

In real life the police and establishment were switching to the far more reliable Granadas over Rover SD1s.

As a result, Ford became associated with series like The Sweeney and The Professionals. British Leyland’s rivals to Ford’s products were laughable circa 1979. Fair enough, Ford didn’t make two seater sports cars like MG, but by this time MGs was becoming totally outclassed; the fastest MGs would struggle to outperform a Cortina.

Against sporting Escorts like the RS2000, and even the 1600 Sport, the only BL rival was a horrid special edition Allegro called the Equipe (what about the Dolomite Sprint? – Ed). Similarly, there was no real BL rival to the Capri, unless you classed the Marina Coupe, which used bog-standard Marina engines. You can see why action shows steered away from BL, and even sedate police series like Juliet Bravo, used Ford Escorts as panda cars.

Television shows that used BL products tended to have a negative image. Terry and June, perhaps the naffest sitcom characters of the time, preferred a company Princess, leading to jokes about the car’s image. As the Eighties wore on, and Austin Rover’s reputation fell further. Matters weren’t helped when the snobbish Hyacinth Bucket’s husband drove a Rover 200. These were hardly good adverts for the company’s products, and surely John Major’s endorsement of the Rover 800 wouldn’t have done the car’s image much good at all…

Generally speaking, Austin Rover products suffered a naff and negative media image even when the company was starting to pick up as in the early Nineties. For younger motorists, going back 15 years, Ford was the car of choice (How many 19-year olds wanted an Austin Maestro City as their first car over a 1.3 Escort?)

Similarly, for more affluent motorists, who demanded a great deal from their cars, the big Rovers didn’t cut it. Television Series, such as Howards Way, featured luxury German machinery, and series featuring Yuppies nearly always featured a BMW, Volkswagen Golf GTi or a Porsche 911. To the City figure, a Rover SD1 or the 800 just didn’t have the right image. In the style conscious Eighties, Austin Rover was probably classed on a par with Skoda among the affluent yuppies who drove that decade’s boom, and German cars were the ones to have…

The whole image thing has meant Rovers have never recovered ground even when competent products like the original 400 and 75 have been launched. For nearly 30 years Ford and, to an extent, Vauxhall have been the main drivers in the mass market. Locally, boy racers in Rover products are extremely rare, as the image is too bad on the supermarket car park. At the top end of the market the Germans and Swedes have long been in control as their products have been highly desirable, while Jaguar, ironically once part of the same company as Rover, has taken the bulk of the patriotic luxury car market from Rover.

In the company’s latter years, Rovers were increasingly seen as cars for old people who bought them because they were British and even the launch of such an exciting product as the MG ZT V8 was largely overlooked as the car was part of the company that made the 25.

A shame, but image matters and Austin Rover lacked it even if some of the products were really rather good.

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Feedback:

WHENEVER anybody starts talking about the final demise of MG Rover they always start harking back to the Seventies and cars used in the Avengers, The Sweeney, and The Professionals…

We seem to forget that in the late Eighties, early Nineties, Rover had actually started to turn things around – with more than a little help from Honda. The R8 based cars sold very well for what where supposed to be niche products and Rover was profitable at this time. Not only that but the cars did develop a positive, aspirational image. So much so that BMW, the masters of brand management saw them as worthy bed fellows.

Rover must have taken fright at this however and in 1995 threw the lot away by trying to pitch the awful HHR 400 against the new state of the art Mondeo in the market. To really cock things up they then launched the confusingly named and sized R3 200, again thinking they could sell it at a premium price.

This was the point that the rot set in that led to rejection of the company by BMW and the implosion that occurred early this year. The only glimmer of hope during this period was the 75. A fine car let down by joke styling that missed its target market by a mile. A real wasted opportunity that sounded the death knell for the company.

PAUL HAMPSON

After reading the blog about Rover’s downfall, I feel I have to add my two-penneth; this just puts the company down without actually stating any good points. There were some omissions as you rightly point out and glaring inaccuracies; the Juliet Bravo one for instance was one where they used Maestro Panda cars, and even Anna Carteret used a Gold Maestro VDP in her first series (if memory serves me correct), during the Late BL era. There was a series on TV based around Austin Rover with Dinah Sheridan and George “Wexford” Baker and that stared Austin Rovers products, and a Metro 6R4 rallied by one of the “sons”.

it was quoted as Ford was the car of choice. Not really, Ford was the car of choice, mainly because Ford virtually gave them away to fleets to get the cars on the roads, hence, the reason why so many programmes went the way of Ford. If the real police use them, then for continuity so should the TV programmes.

The report glaringly omitted various programmes of late that stared the MGR products. Emmerdale with a plethora of cars, Rover 75 Tourer, MG ZT, MGF, which was last seen in the Longbridge showroom, Midsomer Murders where Barnaby drove for many series a 75, Dalziel and Pascoe again where Dalziel drove for many series a 75, not to mention various other 45/25 products within these series.

I like to read reports but this one seemed to biased towards putting the company down, and not reporting all the facts. Maybe The Italian Job should have had Fiestas instead of Minis in it…

JON MOWER

SAW the blog on your site about the downfall of MG Rover which makes some reference to the BL cars in The Professionals. As a point of order, the story I’ve heard is that the production team got sick not of reliability glitches with the BL cars they borrowed, but with the PR office’s utter failure to understand how filming a TV series works.

They’d borrow, say, a yellow Dolomite for a block of filming then have to send it back to the factory when they were done.

A few weeks later they’d need to record more driving shots, the call would go out for the Dolomite and BL would say ‘Sorry mate, haven’t got a yellow one any more, we’re sending over a blue one…’ The producers got so tired of that they approached Ford, who have always been far more PR savvy, and were bunged as many cars as they wanted for as long as they wanted without some brown tied slacker in an office in Coventry buggering all their continuity.

RICHARD PORTER


3 November 2005

The numbers game?

By MIKE McCABE

A FEW minutes reading of an old edition of the excellent Car Mechanics magazine (August 2004) made me question MG Rover’s production strategies for the Rover 75 right from them taking over the car in October 2000.

The particular piece I was reading was a 75 buyers guide. It commented on how MGR were known for registering to themselves cars fitted out with lots of extra accessories, only to then sell them on within a few months. ‘So look out for cars with Oxfordshire (BW,FC, JO, UD,WL0 and (especially) Birmingham registration marks (OA-OY except OS)’, the writer observed.

Apparently doing this ensured turnover and protected their list prices!

Now my 75 Connoisseur registration was originally OC, and was first registered in 2001 as an MGR car, and had a few welcome extras such as sunroof, Union alloys etc. So, a typical pre-reg car?

Why would cars roll off the line into
a compound for such a long period, and
then only to be ‘sold’ but not sold?

Now this information, in isolation, did not tell me much I didn’t already know. Recently however I had an opportunity to find out the exact build date for my car. It rolled off the Longbridge production line on 6 December 2000, about 2 months after production started on the site . And that, combined with the info in Car Mechanics set me thinking, because my Rover 75 was not first registered until 27 March 2001.

Why did my car (and others?) sit unregistered for more than three months somewhere (anybody know where?) before being registered by the manufacturer themselves with no real economic benefit for the business?

Were MGR already making too many 75s for the market two months after Longbridge production began? Why would cars roll off the line into a compound for such a long period, and then only to be ‘sold’ but not sold.

Lots of questions and I do not have any answers. But someone must know. Was this standard industry practise, does it make business sense? Or did the numbers game for MGR start right from the beginning in October 2000?

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1 November 2005

Taxi!

By RICHARD PORTER

A COUPLE of weeks ago, I tore the ligaments in my left foot. I don’t want to sound like a wuss, but it really really hurt. And what hurt almost as much was suddenly realising that until it got better, I wouldn’t be able to drive a car; the result of which is that I’ve been using a lot of minicabs.

This also hurts, but only in the wallet. ‘That’ll be 25 quid mate.’

‘And how much would it be if you hadn’t gone via Ulum Bator?’ Still, I may be spiralling towards bankruptcy – and I’ve got the scrawly receipts to prove it – but I have been seeing some interesting automotive life through the world of private hire.

There was the old shape Laguna that reminded me of how well French cars used to ride, even with knackered dampers. I also spent the journey wondering how long it took Renault technicians to find velour that would absorb and retain stickiness for so long. There was an original Mondeo estate that made a variety of unsettling clonking noises and had a wonky steering wheel that gave the illusion of a quarter turn of lock when we were going in a straight line. There were Primeras and Vectras and all manner of six digit mileage clonkers, all driven with varying degrees of myopia.

That is until the other morning when, after a week of early Nineties rep car dross, a Rover 800 pulled up outside. It was a late model, not just the grilled and plump bummed version, but the facelift of the facelift, when they jacked up the ride and offered that inadvisable two tone paint. Not that this car had it; just all over dark blue which flattered the old Rover’s grooves and chamfers.

And inside it got even better. No clammy Avensis-spec cloth here, it was the full leather. I suppose it’s easier to wipe down after the closing time shift on a Friday night.

God knows what they were thinking
with that inlayed ‘R O V E R’ thing
on the front doors, but otherwise
the effect was warming, upmarket,
all very agreeable…

The driver quickly showed an unusual minicabber driving style that gave at least passing concern for both our lives and, instead of praying, this allowed me to concentrate on the finer points of his car. The hum of the KV6, pretty smooth as it turns out, and the shifting of the autobox, each gear smudged nicely into the next.

But it was the surroundings that got me, what with that leather still smooth and uncracked and the wood on the dash retaining its deep burr. God knows what they were thinking with that inlayed ‘R O V E R’ thing on the front doors, but otherwise the effect was warming, upmarket, all very agreeable.

Then I noticed the air-con controls perched in that kind of pod, right next to the wheel. That was a nice touch and almost futuristic. Maybe Rover dash design was at its best when they looked forwards not backwards.

The driver stuck on a tape of smooth jazz. Normally I’d rather listen to six cats fighting in a barrel, but here it seemed appropriate to the balming atmosphere. Even the ride wasn’t too bad, and that was never considered an 800 strong suit, even after they gave these later cars that awkward soft roader stance.

When I arrived at my destination it was a quid more than the same journey with the same cab firm the day before. And you know what? I happily paid the premium for a nicer way to travel.

I couldn’t say that the Rover 800 was ever a great car in its day but – speaking as one who knows – I can tell you that it makes a bloody nice minicab.

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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