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Blogs : November 2006

30 November

Has the TR7 finally come of age?


DURING the course of my time off college thanks to illness I have been pondering the last real Triumph and recalled my experiences of this summer. The TR7 has seemingly, finally, become accepted as a classic. Interest in the model has increased, more showing at classic car events and greater appearances in the written words of Retro Cars, Practical Classics and now even Classic and Sports Car. This summer I had the most fun I probably ever have behind the wheel of our tired, worn, broken and terminally ill TR7.

At 100,000 miles and a roster of owners not just into double figures but high in the teens, the schedule of TLC seems to have slipped, leading to worn big end bearings and other oily bits, and thus a Triumph slant not longed for this world, scabby body work although not too rotten and a hood whose use in the rain was akin to using a cocktail parasol in a hurricane. Worn suspension gives a wallowy and bitty ride and handling package and it’s aluminised exhaust likes to grind tarmac occasionally. On its original 13″ (optional) alloy wheels it wore remoulds, which like to squeal as soon any weight was put through them, cowards.

Despite all this the remainder of the 1980 Canley built ‘drop-head coupe’ managed to keep a know-nothing-know-it-all nineteen year old, usually spoilt by the fantastic independently sprung R8 coupe happy. In the mid-seventies the looks were undoubtedly questionable yet in the third millennium it looks better resolved than ever, even the coupe, especially wearing certain MGF alloy wheels and with side marker lights and the odd front and rear spoilers. The only aspect of the car that looks out of place on my car currently wearing the MGF six spokes and a better condition hood is the rear, although our donor car, a similarly aged fixed head coupe providing a tweaked SD1 V8 and interior was better resolved with a small boot lid spoiler, dual stainless outlets and both the foglights.

The TR7 has seemingly, finally, become accepted as a classic…

It is fair to say that the TR7 if not mechanically, principally was a car ahead of its time. It offered day to day usability, its styling was certainly ahead of its time and looks like a car ten years newer, especially as the Michelotti improvised DHC, and probably why it suits many modern additions such as spoilers and wheels. People look at this car now, and aside from those who predate this model significantly, most admire it, especially the young. A modern interior is a surprisingly highlight in the right colour schemes and hides well its thirty plus year age. Despite the mechanical simplicity of the design it drives incredibly well, and will happily return over 30mpg whilst not exactly rocketing, will get to 60 in plenty under 10 seconds, meaning its performance and economy is comparable to my own 216 Coupe, at least if it didn’t rattle over 3000 rpm…

The best thing about these cars is the ability to modify them. Unlike so many models, and because of the love-hate public perception, any enthusiast can do as they please without the originality police coming knocking. From the factory a handful of slant 16 valve sprint engine cars, and many more Rover V8 powered models existed, making both, especially the latter common conversions, as they were designed to be from the factory. The second best thing has to be support for the model from clubs and companies such as Rimmer Bros and S & S Preparations meaning one could easily build a car from scratch, let alone restore, maintain, modify and service any remaining car. In fact there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t particularly a later example every single day.

I will be following the S & S V8 conversion option, and intend to use the car as much as possible. With styling more relevant than ever, the possibility of daily use thanks to its forward thinking (and backward- simplicity), reasonable safety considering the aim at the US market, high support and low prices there is perhaps no better time to grab hold of this car whether you intend to keep it original or do something wild, regardless of your age. If a bunch of nineteen year olds can have fun for a summer and manage to impress, then I think this deserves a place as an exceptional retro classic.

29 November

Is this the most travelled Rover 75 Mk1?


I AM in the process of getting myself a new daily driver; I currently run a 94 Metro 1.1L which is not enjoying the 550 mile round trips I am making every month to see my relocated girlfriend up in West Yorkshire (she’s at University) and my Rover 216 Coupe is currently on long term loan to my mum and its probably never coming back to me. So I have been trawling the eBay ads for diesel or economical Rovers or MGs down here in West Sussex and I found this vehicle:

Click here

The auction ends on Wednesday Night, and as I write this no bids have been made and the opening amount is £1500, which I believe is possibly the lowest serious amount I have seen a Rover 75 be auctioned at. I looked further to see that it is a diesel (BMW sourced and very strong I believe) and in a sensible colour with a good level of specification.

I then noticed the mileage (not listed in the summary at the top) but mentioned in the main description

209,000 miles!

We’re all used to seeing mega miles on 800s and 600s (A certain Car Mechanics magazine project car belonging to a certain Keith Adams springs to mind!) but is this the first Rover 75 to reach the 200k milestone that I have seen. I have seen a handful on here with more than 100k on them but this is the first I have seen with 200k+ on the clock and by the looks of the pictures it seems that it is wearing rather well.

It appears that there are one or two scratches (an afternoon with T-Cut would sort that), and the engine has started to smoke a little. I am not surprised by this it probably needs a good service and possible replacement of some original parts at a guess. As Keith and others have said before its sometimes only a little outlay that keeps a car from the crusher. And in this case what a car, put a personalised plate on and most people who don’t know Rovers wouldnt be able to guess how old it was.

Sadly I cannot be that person to rescue the 75 as I have only three years No Claims Bonus and am still under 25 the cheapest quote I could get was £965 which is too much for me right now.

So I’m going to keep on looking for that elusive cheap British Diesel, maybe a Montego D SLX Turbo Saloon is the direction I should head in…

28 November

More than coincidence


I FINALLY succumb – after seeing Mark Gomer’s item about the similarity between the EXE and the NSX. He’s right of course, except that the proportions of the Honda aren’t quite so sweet – the tail is a good four inches too long, presumably in the interests of that confounded golf bag!

Let’s follow this theme a bit further, though. When Rover Group had firmed up the Freelander concept study, they asked Honda if they would be interested in doing a joint project. (Don’t forget that about this time, Honda were selling the Discovery in Japan as the Honda Crossroad). So Honda were given the Freelander package info and marketing rationales to study.

When Rover Group had firmed up the Freelander concept study, they asked Honda if they would be interested in doing a joint project…

Within about four weeks they came back to say, “sorry, not of interest to us”. So Land Rover plugged on,working on their own – struggling a little because no LR engineer had worked on an integral body before. A whole raft of Austin Rover engineers were brought in to help. It became a BMW project in 1994, of course, which slowed things down a bit. (Apart from anything else, BMW vetoed the original plan to have Freelander built in Finland, so a new factory had to be built at Solihull!)

Before Land Rover could get the Freelander on to the market, lo and behold, the Honda CRV appeared. Suffice it to say that when Land Rover bought one for analysis, anyone driving it around Solihull was frequently castigated for running a Freelander without camouflage!

It really was a dead ringer. Co-incidence? I don’t think so.


I THINK you might want to reign-in some of your more “enthusiastic” conspiracy theorists on some of these Rover-begat Honda bits. Especially the CRV one. It sounds so pat in isolation and becomes utterly ridiculous if you actually think about it.

Reason one it’s silly:

There isn’t much “original” about building a pseudo utility vehicle on a car platform. And the shape is pretty well set by the idea.

Other Reasons it’s really silly

The CRV hit the Japanese market well ahead of the Freelander reaching production. Honda develops cars fast, but not THAT fast. To “steal” the idea and do all the engineering in the time frame given would have broken all records, and Honda didn’t exactly rush the CRV out (it took almost a year to get it to the US). More likely there was a parallel project already in the works for Japan, see below.

Toyota brought the RAV-4 out just ahead of the CRV. This is a more equivalent (the Freelander is not nearly as directly based on a car as the RAV4/CRV are on the Corolla/Civic) vehicle, and a much more likely rival/impetus. If Honda “stole” the Freelander, than Toyota must have been right outside the door.

While they do look alike on the outside, they are engineered very differently. The Freelander is a compromise uni-bodied off-roader, the more recent Jeep Liberty is much closer to it in spirit. The CRV (and RAV4) are true soft-roaders designed for maximum capacity (the CRV has similar interior space to a Jeep Cherokee), and bad weather/mild off-roading. They look similar to the Freelander, but then most sedans/saloons also look alike, you wouldn’t mistake the one for the other from the inside.

By the by, someone needs to grab UK motor journalists and smack them with the old clue-by-four. Despite what they write, the Freelander is not and never has been a force in the US market (the Discovery is/was the dominent “Landy” over here). In fact the Freelander shared a booby prize from a car mag over here (with the Ford Excursion and Isuzu Vehicross) for failing utterly during the SUV boom. When we read of the Freelander as a rival for the CRV/RAV4 we just about fall over laughing (they sell almost 140,000 CRVs a year, and Ford Escape and Chevy Uplander/Saturn Vue outsell that).

The Freelander isn’t even a footnote in the market.


27 November

Is it just me?


WHILE taking a walk around the British Motoring Heritage Trust museum, I took a look at the ’85 MG-EXE concept car. After standing back and looking at it from a few different angles, something inside my head clicked. After realising this, I looked closer at the details of the EX-E and I began to notice a lot of similarities.

Who had a new supercar released in 1991?
Who had access to everything that was Rover/MG related at this time?

Thats right, Honda and its NSX.

When you look closely, there appears to be almost indefinite links:

Mid mounted 3.0 V6
Similar style of rear lighting (although finally a much different shape)
Removable targa-top
Pop-up headlights
An almost identical rear 3/4 profile

And finally, the front number plate appears to be exactly the right size for the JDM.

I may be barking up the wrong tree, but it would appear to be a far fetched idea if this was all a coincidence.

I DID actually put that question to Roy Axe the last time he was in the UK, and he swears blind that Honda never saw this car until it made its Motor Show debut that year. However, he’s aware of the similarities. What’s more telling is the appearance of the 1984 Pininfarina Honda HP-X concept car, despite it’s less production friendly styling…

We both reckon the roots of the NSX actually lay in that car.


THE MG EX-E and Honda NSX are not the only MG and Honda mid-engined twins.

Honda Beat (1991-1996), MGF (1995-2002)


24 November

I wish I hadn’t… listened to Keith


SERVES me right I suppose. During a conversation with Keith Adams the other day where we were discussing the merits of various MGR, the aforementioned austin-rover Webmaster-cum-Editor suggested that I take a look at the Rongway, sorry Rowei, sorry Roewe (or however you choose to spell/say it as it appears that no one really knows what to do with it… not even the Chinese!) website to see for myself what they had been getting up to all these months while taking the surgeons chainsaw to the much loved and highly respected Rover 75.

Now, like some, have warmed to the 75’s new clothes and have admitted publicly somewhere that yes, I like it, but the real test will be the second you gaze upon it for the first time in the “flesh”, open a door and run your highly over critical finger across the dashboard.

The rear end, although taking some styling clues from Volvo is a pleasant change, if not a bit wide of the mark looking at the original car. The interior looks like a nice place to be (the extra 100mm in the floor pan was a welcome potential future addition during the MGR days) even if they have kept the original shape of the speedo and rev counter. It’s not quite the direction the major face lift was going to go in, but it does seem fresh and I do like the door casings although there may be a hint of BMW about them. It does fall apart at the front a bit with the big chrome grille that seems to have taken “our” original Premium Grille and added a rather large helping of “BLING” to it, but that’s what they like – lots of chrome, lots of leg room (I shall refrain from asking “why?” for obvious reasons!) and more chiselled looks over smooth and curvy.

Patience is the name of the game when waiting for the site to wake up as everything is CGI and obviously takes up a lot of space. My Wobbly Wibbly Web connection struggled with it but when it did arrive, well, to say that it all fell over faster than a suicidal lemming tied to a lead balloon looking for a suitable cliff to hurl itself off would be the only polite way of voicing my thoughts.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think as it all starts, that you were watching a trailer for some huge, epic monster of a film as the Viking Long-ship looms out of the fog and then the faux Rover badge appears before you take a trip into the sky to run with horses cunningly fashioned from clouds. Ok things aren’t too bad in this bit, but then the lemming picks his spot and jumps!

I’m patriotic to a point, but why should the car that Keith pointed out we let “slip through our fingers” like a wet bar of soap, be portrayed as totally British?

Where, in the UK would you find long open twisty roads like the ones they seem to think that we have? You’d probably get close up in Glen Coe, but there is definitely a strong hint of Alp roads where the car is flying about (how it stops I’m not sure as there don’t appear to be any brake callipers fitted!).

As for the hugely huge monster of a “stately home” in the back ground as the car has driven up the tree-lined driveway, what were they thinking? I didn’t realise that Austria or Switzerland had moved West and set up camp in the Yorkshire Dales. Don’t even get me started on the use of Jerusalem as the backing track.

I’m patriotic to a point and when it suits me (being of Italian descent I get to pick and choose from time to time!), but why should the car that Keith pointed out we let “slip through our fingers” like a wet bar of soap, be portrayed as a totally British car? It’s not a Rover 75 as we know and the only link it has to the UK now is via the engineering consultant firm Ricardo that’s done probably all of the work for SAIC.

Now I know that MGR has gone and those fantastic days will never surface again, but it absolutely hacks me off to the core that this is how they are marketing the car. I loved working for MGR and like many, have moved on and quite enjoy talking about my time there, what we got up to and how the cars got on the road in the first place, but I can’t help thinking that if the deal had carried on, just think of what MGR could have achieved with new money and support.

There’s a little part of me that just finds the site too much to stomach. That aside, when or if the car does come to Europe, it may struggle with a marketing campaign like this, but it’ll probably sell as the price will more than likely be competitive and SAIC will market the car in a new light – perhaps a rose tinted light at that.

23 November

Go on, do your bit…


ONE thing I never expected when I blogged about CAR magazine a few days ago, was the overwhelming response I received from the website’s readers. It never ceased to amaze me just how strong your feelings are, and how the publication seems to have a place in your hearts.

The feedback I received was that the strong characters that featured heavily in the mag – and columnists such as Llewellyn, Bulgin, Bishop et al – were the backbone of the title and what you all related to, and why it seems to be lacking in appeal now. So it seems many of you know how to fix its current ills…

So here are a couple of things you can do to get your voices heard:

o An online questionnaire asking for your thoughts on CAR magazine, and what ideas you have for it. Fill it in – and tell them what you think.

o The Editor’s job has now been advertised. If you have the experience, go for it. You never know, you might get lucky…

Obviously, I have an interest because CAR magazine gave me a break when it published my Lada to Chernobyl story, and it seemed keen on hearing my utterings on the RDX60 prototype (which loads of people alerted me to, without realising I’d written the piece) that was recently uncovered by the 28dayslater crowd. But more than that, I care about a part of our petrolhead heritage (that CAR undoubtedly is), and hope it goes on to great things in the future under new leadership…

22 November

I wish I hadn’t


The Roewe website is full of sickeningly insincere faux-British imagery…

YESTERDAY, I said this in my blog: “If you fancy a closer look at this faux-British car, go to, or for the full-on (as long as you have high speed broadband, and you’re patient) ‘Experience Center’, click on,”

Sadly, I decided to do just that, and immediately wished I hadn’t. First stop was the excitingly titled, ‘Experience Center’, which I thought may have contained footage of the Roewe 750 in action, or perhaps revealed some more interior or technical details. In fact, what it showed was quite upsetting for a bit of a patriot like me. CGI images of the 750 rolling across verdent countryside (which looks more like a cross between the Northern Alps and China), to the sound of that most British of Hymns, Jerusalem, were more than a little difficult to bear.

Not because of the naive view of Britishness – where we all live in country castles that look suspiciously like Austrian palatial homes, and drive on the wrong side of empty winding roads – but because that was ‘our’ car, and we let it slip through our fingers.

…we all live in country castles that look suspiciously like Austrian palatial homes, and drive on the wrong side of empty winding roads.

The Roewe 750 itself looks good, although not quite in the classic sense the original Rover 75 did. It has already proved something of a hit at the Beijing Motor Show, where the crowds of Chinese businessmen and women commented favourably on its British sense of style and panache.

Isn’t it odd that we couldn’t see the real thing ourselves between 1998 and 2005, and that it’s now down to the Chinese to synthesize British class and package it for its populace, hungry for the next big thing on the automotive market. Although the sycophantically British themed rolling demo made me sick to my stomach – there’s some irony in the way that the Chinese may well be taking something that we cast off and turn it into a very highly desirable piece of kit for its home market.

Judging from the audio/visual montage on the website, the Chinese will struggle like hell to market the 750 in Europe – as we’re far too sophisticated to fall for such flannel? Or are we?

21 November

The big launch


These brochure images have a bit of a familar feel to them…(Picture: Kurt Christensen)

MIDLANDS Today have managed to justify sending Peter Plisner to the Beijing Show for the Roewe launch. Twas on at lunch-time and should repeated at 6.30. It shows a launch film/ad c/w with ‘Jerusalem’ hymn music!

Also included an interview with Dave Lindley who heads up the Ricardo project to productionise the SAIC 75. He was a chassis engineer at Rover working on ‘Large Cars’ and did the 800 Vitesse Sport set-up back in 1992. At MGR he did the chassis engineering on the X80 project and rolled a De Tomaso Mangusta while out testing on a public road…

Apparently even the Chinese don’t know how to pronounce Roewe…

Apparently even the Chinese don’t know how to pronounce Roewe, and it was suggested that it may not be used overseas. And there was I thinking it was a name intended for Germany where it is pronounced ROE-VE…

If you fancy a closer look at this faux-British car, got to, or for the full-on (as long as you have high speed broadband, and you’re patient) ‘Experience Center’, click on,

20 November

It breaks my heart


Good ol’ sideways action in the MG ZT-T400. (Picture: Peter Carmichael)

I SPENT much of Saturday behind the wheel of the car I dearly wish MG Rover had built. Peter Carmichael’s supercharged ZT-T 400 is a phenomenal machine, and proves once again how right the boffins were with the chassis and engineering of the rear wheel drive X11/X12 platform. It isn’t often that a car somes across as complete and desirable as this one, so it’s absolutely right to trumpet them when they come along.

Unlike the Longbridge produced ZT-T 385, which I drove earlier in the year, which was a factory effort, this one was an aftermarket conversion, developed by Sean Hyland Motorsport and fitted by Dreadnought Engineering based up in Scotland. The car tells the sorry tale of what might have been had events been just a little kinder to MG Rover.

Peter Carmichael’s supercharged ZT-T 400 is a phenomenal machine, and proves once again how right the boffins were with the chassis and engineering of the rear wheel drive X11/X12 platform.

For one, it’s not only fast, but it’s so tractable and effortless to drive that anyone could get in it, and tootle down to the shops. There aren’t too many 400bhp cars you can say that about – even these days. What was most impressive about this car was the sheer professionalism of the conversion to supercharger spec – the engine bay is neat and tidy, and most importantly, the supercharger works so well with this car, that you’ll believe it should have been fitted to all cars from day one.

That’s not bad considering the car feels very different to drive than MG Rover’s Roush Engineered version. Perhaps that’s mainly because the supercharger seems to be working more often with Peter’s car, whereas the blower only made its presence really felt when you nailed the throttle to the floor on the MGR version. That probably made the Longbridge car slightly more exciting to drive – but there’s no doubt that the SHM car’s working harder for its living.

I wouldn’t like to choose between the two supercharged ZTs, but one thing I do know – it breaks my heart to think that the car so nearly made it into production. At the price it was anticipated to sell at, I’m hard pushed to think of saloon (or estate) that could offer anywhere near the same level of performance in useability…

If you are a 260 owner and you would like more information, just visit or email

20 November

Living it up… V8 style


SATURDAY was fun! A private road, a supercharged ZT-T400, a couple of M5s, and even my own lowly standard 260. What more was needed for some fun?

With Peter Carmichael having managed to pull a few strings and reserve us a good sized chunk of Dunsfold Aeordrome (home to Top Gear) for the, ahem, low speed passing shots and static pictures, we had a last flurry of emails on Friday afternoon along the lines of, “is this still happening if Surrey is under water?” Fortunately, Saturday turned out to be a glorious day, so along we all toddled, arriving between 09.00 and 09.30… ZT-T400 slightly early, ZT-T260 bang on time, Keith Adams’ Xantia Activa and the photographer’s MPV thingy a couple of minutes late, M5s 30 minutes late… ho hum, that’ll teach them to buy slow cars.

With the entire back perimeter road at our exclusive disposal (apart from the occasional under 17 learner drivers), we were all looking forward to seeing the cars in action. 90 minutes later, “Please could you now move the M5 three inches left, turn the wheels on the MG half a degree… tilt the wing mirror juuuust a little bit more… I had absolutely no idea just how much effort and how many hundreds of shots go in to creating the four or five pictures that appear in an MG Enthusiast magazine road test! We did of course get on to the action phase eventually though, so the fun could really start!

Of course the article itself was all about Peter’s ZT-T400 and Andy’s E39 M5, but we also had my ZT-T260 and Andy’s brother’s E34 M5 there, and none of us were going to miss out on the chance for a bit of fun. After shuttling the cars up and down for a bit to get them to the right places for the static shots to be taken, the keys are handed over to Keith to get some of those nice, artfully composed opposite lock slidey, smokey corner shots. Whilst the owners look on (and I think that is an important point), Keith heads away, turns, pulls back onto the track for the benefit of the photographer, and comes back up to a chorus of, “Oh, sorry, did I forget to tell you how to turn the traction control off?”

Up until now, Peter has been asking me to back up his forum claims that his car simply won’t get its back out. Having tried Kermit, he’s now convinced that his car has a completely different suspension set up. He then sets off to see if he can get his car just a little more sideways than Keith… one 45 degree happy slide out of a billowing cloud of smoke later, Peter doesn’t seem quite so determined to get me to support his claims!

The sight of 800+ bhp losing traction, getting it back and catapulting away from us flat out was an absolute joy to behold!

From the sideways shots, we moved on to the tracking shots. With Kermit playing taxi to the photographer, we set off up up and down the track with first the M5 behind us, and then the ZT-T. Andy had been bemoaning the lack of voice on the M5, and compared to the earlier iteration, it was indeed a quiet car. Compared to the standard 260 boxes, it was very quiet, and compared to Peter’s XPower boxes… well, Andy was almost in tears at one point! However, the most surprising sound of the day was without doubt the supercharger on Peter’s beast. Even at 20mph, with the boot open for the photographer, I could hear the rush of air into Peter’s engine over my own exhausts!

Last, but certainly not least, before the patience of the wonderful people at Dunsfold expired, we really had no option but to run the cars side by side down the track. First up were Peter & Andy. The sight of 800+ bhp losing traction, getting it back and catapulting away from us flat out was an absolute joy to behold! There really was very little in it, and certainly on straight out speed, I knew then that the comparison was a sensible one to make. With Andy and his brother having run two generations of M5 down the track (not that Keith “our publisher just purchased Total BMW magazine” Adams had any interest in that of course) I got my chance to see just how close Kermit could stick to a Dreadnought special.

The answer? I was surprised at how close I could stay, up to a point! At 80mph of so, there was still very little in it (although Peter did have Keith in the passenger seat, so it wasn’t a really fair comparison)… by 95, when we had to back off, I was looking at Peter’s exhausts!

It was a mark of the Bibby brothers’ new found respect for the ZTs (Andy was a late replacement for a mutual friend’s M5, and was a little bemused over why anyone would compare an M5 to a 2 seater sports car, having never heard of the ZT260 before) that he was waiting in the M5 to give me a run against him too. A similar story there… very close up to a point, then you watch the extra 180 horses wake up and hit hyperdrive!

After that, we left Dunsfold and headed to the pub for a chat while Keith took both cars for a workout on the road. We all had a great day out, and I for one certainly learnt a few things:

1. For those of you who have seen my forum thread questioning why the back of my car seemed to be sliding so willingly, I now have a confession to make. I rather think I maybe hadn’t been quite as aware as I should’ve been of the speed I was carrying into those roundabouts! Damm these wonderfully deceptive beasts!

2. Power in a straight line doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did. I could stay quite close to both the more powerful cars in a straight line, but following Peter back to Epsom after, it was pretty clear that he had plenty of power in reserve where I had my foot flat down on the back roads to stay with him.

3. Having now experienced some of these cars from both seats, it is amazing how much faster the same car feels from the passenger seat! I am almost begining to empathise with my wife when she accuses me of over-exuberant Kermitting!

4. Anyone claiming to have blown away a BMW M car in a 260 hasn’t. End of story. Either the BMW driver wasn’t trying, or couldn’t get the performance out of his car, but put the same skill level and the same desire to push on in both cars and the M5 would take it every time. Put an M5 up against a ZT400 on the other hand… My personal belief? The car that started in front would stay there, and neither would feel held up by the other.

16 November

The cult of the crap


IT’S not one of my favourite pastimes, but I have to say that it was good to get away from work for a day and go shopping during the weekend. You know when Christmas is approaching when the latest raft of small-scale knocking copy books hit the bookshelves, shamelessly aping the 2003’s biggest publishing phenomenon – The Idler’s famous book, Crap Towns.

The idea was simple and incredibly fresh – a list book that celebrated its remit of finding the worst in its subject, in this case British towns. Obviously, it was a lot of fun, and chimed with the population’s cynicism for Britain’s architectural and sociological heritage – warts ‘n’ all. Those towns in the most need of urban renovation were glorified for their unsuitability as places to live – and others, which were stultifyingly boring or simply too faceless to describe were also picked out and ridiculed.

As I said, all good fun, and reading the book was am excellent way of killing an afternoon or two.

However, like all good things, it was soon widely mimicked, and before we knew it, my friend and colleague Richard Porter had been asked to apply the formula to the automotive world. Being a great writer, and a man of impeccable tastes (he currently runs a Rover 75), it was obvious that his book would follow the same trail that Crap Towns had blazed just one year earlier. Being the purveyor of a website that heavily features cars that many people would consider to be a bit on the lame side, I was interested to see how many of ‘our’ cars would make it in – and the answer was quite a few.

However, it’s always important to keep these things in perspective and retain some of that all-important British stiff upper-lip if you were one of those people who leafed through the book and realised that half of the cars you owned featured prominently within the pages.

As someone who writes a bit about cars here and there, it’s quite common to hear from people who disagree with your words, and take everything you write at face value. Generally, the people in the classic car scene who will moan and groan if you write anything less than complimentary about their cars are – ironically – the owners of those cars that seem to come under the crap car microscope more often than others. I’ll not name names, but if you have a Montego or Allegro, and lack a sense of humour, I’ve probably heard from you, and you’ve gone into massive detail why your car is probably the best car ever created.

And there I was thinking that owning an unloved car like that was something of an ironic statement.

The idea was simple and incredibly fresh; a list-book that celebrated its remit of finding the worst in its subject…

So, at the end of 2004, Richard’s book hit the shops, and by all accounts he did pretty well with it. It wasn’t the deepest read you’ll ever find, but it was pure gold humour, and chimed with the mood of the nation. You see, it’s rather fashionable to talk about the worst of this, or the worst of that – and find fault wherever possible.

It makes great copy – and reading vast swathes of praise-laden copy is far far less interesting than reading a bunch of insults from a funny writer. It’s sad of course that this is the case, and I’m curious to find out whether it is a national trait peculiar to the British – because it seems we’re never happier than when we’re knocking someone or thing…

The problem with the success of Crap Cars was that it was then open to imitation, and it wasn’t long before a number of me-too books appeared on the market, jumping on the whole crap bandwagon.

I’ll not call Craig Cheetham’s book a bandagon-jumper as it’s really rather good – because he talks about a number of really rather good cars that have major flaws. The darling of the 1970s and current classic car set is the Alfasud, but Craig stuck it in there because how could it not be crap if it dissolved into a pile of ferrous oxide within months of leaving Naples?

However, I’m struggling to find something new that Naff Motors and The Worst Cars Ever Sold bring to the table – aside from access to parts of Giles Chapman’s vast photo library that we wish we all owned. Cars the feature prominently in both books are treated to many well-used cliches, and in isolation, they’re funny, but it’s easy to get the feeling that once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed Giles’ book, but just couldn’t summon up major enthusiasm for something with such a negative slant, just for the sheer fun of it.

As I said earlier in the blog, it seems to me that it’s the done thing now to be sharp and witty about anything resembling a failing. Okay, so in the old days, the press were unerringly fawning about some really rather frightening cars, but after the appearance of CAR magazine and Motoring Which in the 1960s this deference the press had for car manufacturers seemed to subside. In the end, Motor and Autocar followed, and a rather balanced perspective to road testing then ensued.

However in recent years, this balance has swung too far in the opposite direction, as is the case with books like this – celebrating all the bad, and none of the good in some of the industry’s less glamorous cars. Whatever happened to straightforward historical writing without an angle? It seemed to have died a death, sadly. Perhaps this school of writing/journalism is out of fashion, but if we don’t all watch it, there’s going to be a time when the expression ‘don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ will have far too much resonance.


Hmmm – crap cars books? I’ve picked up and browsed through a few of them – and I’m afraid while I can raise a mild glimmer of a smile sometimes, the factual errors and lazy repetition of old clichés in some of them – in particular Craig’s book – ended up just annoying me.

So I haven’t bought a single one of them. I’m not totally against these books in principle – but if they can’t even get their snidy put downs factually accurate, then these authors deserve almost as much bile as they dispense.


15 November

CAR magazine: more thoughts…


YOUR blog ‘CAR Magazine in crisis’ of the 9th November, 2006 and the feedback from other readers of CAR have finally prompted me to contact you – I have been a regular visitor to your excellent website for nearly two years, but an avid reader of CAR since 1967.

I concur with your accurate and balanced analysis and agree that the Print/Internet split remains the way forward in automotive publishing. However, having read the responses from other readers of CAR to your item, the consensus appears to be that CAR’s core readership was not ready for such a total revamp. I was, like you, privileged to be a member “of an enlightened club – an extended family” and to enjoy articles and columns by the likes of Barker, Bishop, Blain, Bulgin, Cropley, Fraser, Green, Bremner, Llewellyn, Nichols and Setright.

Roger Carr correctly implies that writers of that calibre had far more credibility with CAR’s core readers than the likes of Piers Morgan but, as David Knowles mentions, at least CAR’s Editorial Team still includes the highly authoritative Georg Kacher as European Editor.

Having read the responses from other readers of CAR to your item, the consensus appears to be that CAR’s core readership was not ready for such a total revamp…

I reckon that successive, post FF Publishing Limited, Editors of CAR (Bremner aside) have not, perhaps, fully appreciated and, still less, developed the relationship with the magazine’s readers. CAR’s website was overdue for an update but, in hindsight, that should have been revamped at least a year a two ago and used as a mechanism to develop that relationship with the core readership (i.e. the extended family!) which would, in turn, have informed the decision to make the recent changes to the content and/or format of the magazine. However, as David Knowles suggests, perhaps there are no longer enough readers around who appreciate “exquisitely crafted articles” accompanied by “stunning photography” with the time to read them and ensure that CAR Magazine becomes/remains economically viable (even at £4.20 per month).

Incidentally, I wonder if the change in CAR Magazine’s shape and size was prompted by the introduction of the Royal Mail’s new pricing system on the 21st August, 2006…

14 November

Summer is over


No, not yet – luckily…

NOVEMBER tries hard, but even with the near 20° Celsius temperatures we’re due to experience next week, the next days over here in Germany can’t really hide the fact that the sunny side of the year is well over by now. I hope everyone into BL’s finest has made good use of the season, driving about in a classic, or simply visiting the odd show.

My partner and I certainly tried, although having a recently-born baby limited our range somewhat, at least in the first couple of months. The trusty Princess 1300 showed it is very capable of ferrying the family around, including the pram and all the other stuff that is coming with us all the time now.

I hope everyone into BL’s finest has made good use of the season…

Now the our small collection of classics will most likely see a longer rest over winter. The Rover 200 and Maestro – both used every day – will follow the season’s fashion of wearing winter tyres on narrow, black steel wheels. Let’s hope they survive the winter in one piece…

Personally I can’t wait for the days to get longer and warmer again – I think I´ll just start dreaming of the next summer now…

13 November

Crap cars


I’M sure you all, like me, had a great warm feeling when you read about Keith’s latest exploits with the ‘project’ Rover 600 at Austin-Rover Towers. After all, it has all the ingredients needed for a great story: A slightly unloved, poverty spec, car that needs a little bit of TLC to get it back on the road, which could very easily end up atop a pile of scrap, was saved from the crusher at the last minute.

As Keith has proved, despite their low monetary value, you just can’t beat a cheap hack – especially when driving on these ever-congested roads we all use. But just because you may have bought a car for less than the price of a portable TV, doesn’t mean you should neglect and abuse it, does it?

Keith’s 600 is a case in point, by capitalizing on other people’s misfortune, you can upgrade your car for very little outlay…

After all, with the increasing commonality of mainstream cars in breakers yards, it doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to figure that you can not only run, but also improve and upgrade an old car for very little money indeed. Keith’s 600 is a case in point, by capitalizing on other people’s misfortune, you can upgrade your car for very little outlay. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect the basics: A car that’s done a quarter of a million miles hasn’t done it through abuse, so it would be a tragedy if it went to ruin in your ownership.

I’ve lost count of the amount of cars that I’ve seen with a promising future, only for it all to go wrong through willful neglect. Yes, the value of a car might be low, but that does not take away the need to maintain and replace consumable parts. So spending fifty quid on ignition parts, say, on a car that cost £100 to buy, might seem a little mad; but if the car gives you a few years of good, reliable service, is it such a foolish investment?

It’s always gratifying to see someone ‘save’ a car, but the truth remains; if you haven’t got the wherewithal, time or money to spend on it, do the right thing and leave it for someone else. Many a true classic has been lost in this way.

12 November

Making improvements


IT’S amazing what 60 quid will buy you these days. For some people that’s a couple of PS2 games – and for others, it’s half the weekly shop. However, at Austin-Rover Towers, it’s the path to true happiness in the face of a alightly scabby high-mileage Rover 600. Okay, well as you all know, the car was free, but the £60 has been ploughed into the car, thanks to the misfortune of one of forum members.

He recently bought a 623GSi with a snapped cambelt, and managed to fix it – only for it to blow up three months and 3000 miles later. He’s not too unhappy I guess, as the car cost him £60, and he’s got that back from me, and no doubt if he scraps the rest he’ll get a little more.

These kinds of upgrades would have cost hundreds to a new car buyer, and here I am getting it together for such a small amount of money…

But for me, what it means is that my down-at-hell base model 600 now has a leather intrerior (barring the two rear door cards – so far – as I couldn’t get the manual window winders off) and some nice looking alloy wheels. I know it’s not a lot, to get excited about, but for me, it really has transformed the car. I guess, perhaps, because it’s the first stage in making it ‘mine’, as opposed to it being simply some car I’m just smoking around in.

If nothing else, it’s a great lesson in banger-magic. After all, these kinds of upgrades would have cost hundreds to a new car buyer, and here I am getting it together for such a small amount of money. Once it has been MoT’d and the paint tidied up a bit, I imagine I could go on enjoying this car for years to come – even with 237,000 miles on the clock. You can’t say that about many other cars out there.

Oh, and I guess – as well – it means that there is a point in buying bottom of the range old cars…

10 November

MG Rover still selling


WELL, the latest UK new-car registration figures are in today from the SMMT – and they make fascinating reading for any follower of what was MG Rover.

In the month of October 2006 alone, for example, no less than 85 ‘brand new’ MGs and 107 Rovers were registered (on 56-style plates) for the first time – more than eighteen months after MG Rover went to the wall. And with small stocks of unregistered cars still around, it seems likely we’ll see more ‘new’ examples hitting the road in November, December and maybe even into 2007!

If we lump together the registration figures for all MGs and Rovers sold ‘new’ between January and the end of October 2006 (a total of 4594 cars), we find that – despite MG Rover not having been around for quite some time now – its products have still managed to outsell those of Ssangyong (1686), Proton (2368), Perodua (490), Lotus (739), Daihatsu (3603), Bentley (1629) and Aston Martin (2062) so far this year.

Even more remarkably, MG Rover’s Jan-Oct 2006 sales are only 59 units behind those of Alfa Romeo (at 4653 cars), despite the latter’s extensive line-up! The old-style MG Rover company may be dead and buried, but its market share isn’t disappearing completely without something of a fight…

9 November

CAR magazine in crisis


IT’S no secret that following CAR magazine’s revamp a few months ago, it’s sales have taken a turn for the worse. Although plenty of people in the business (myself included) reckoned that it was a good going-over of the influential magazine, readers simply didn’t feel the same – and sales plummeted as a result.

I hear that Jason Barlow, its editor, and the man responsible for the revamp left Media House in Peterborough, and the title is now without a leader. Given that it was a brave move to split the mag’s content between web and glossy paper, it seems a harsh outcome for a radical experiment in its infancy. It’s obvious that the web is playing a more important role in the reading habits of the average car enthusiast – and one can see by looking at the stats produced by, the viewing habits of web readers are straightforward. They do it at work, more often than not in their lunch breaks…

So, the short, snappy news articles belong on the Internet, while the meatier drive stories and tests belong in the glossy section? Or do they? To me it seemed logical, but many readers still prefer to see the ‘hard’ news stories in the front section.

However, it could easily argued that with so much of CAR available online, why would people need to buy the real thing? Were people deciding to go online only, forgoing the print edition? It’s a possibility, for sure. Ever since I started reading (avidly) CAR magazine in 1978, it’s strengths lay in the mix of news, industry, scoops and fabulous drive stories by writers who we felt we knew, and who’s every word we could hang on. Perhaps with the onset of the Clarkson phenomenon and Top Gear, the personality side of motoring journalism found a new natural home.

That leaves industry, news, scoops and new car drives to CAR – which all went online and became available for free on the ‘net earlier this year.

Whatever the reason for the declining readership, and the loss of Jason Barlow, it’s clear that the magazine really is in trouble. It’s a major part of my life, and through the scribblings of strong writers such as Setright, Green, Bremner, Bulgin, Llewellyn et al, I felt part of a an enlightened club – an extended family, if you like. It’s desperately sad that we now appear to have lost that – with the real possibility of it never returning.

The point is, I reckon that the Print/Internet split remains the way forward in automotive publishing, and all credit to Jason Barlow for giving it a shot in what I hear were difficult circumstances.

Please someone, save CAR magazine… we need you.


INTERESTING comments on the blog about CAR magazine and all very sad. So let me give my thoughts (which I’m sure a lot of others will do) from the reader’s perspective.

I’ve been reading CAR since the mid 1970s when I eagerly awaited it to appear three months late in the newsagents of Johannesburg. Barring illness, holidays and exceptional circumstances, I’ve bought every edition since, and still have the majority of those piled up in the garage. Except for the last two editions which I haven’t bought and that’s not been an easy decision. OK, so why did I buy them? The stories were wonderful, the news was as up-to-date as it could be for a monthly and the analysis was always excellent.

And when did I read them? At home, yes of course, in front of the TV or lying in bed. And increasingly on the trains and planes and hotels rooms around the world thanks to all the business travel. And therein lies the problem – the times and places in which I read the magazine are not places where you have access to CAR’s website. And sadly, I don’t find the admittedly excellent stories to be a sufficiently good reason by themselves to buy the magazine without the up-to-date news. I buy a magazine precisely because I want that news they’ve done away with. When I bought the first of the ‘new’ editions of Car in preparation for a long-haul flight, I’d finished reading it before the plane had started taxiing.

But there’s even more to it than that – something which has been niggling away in the back of my mind for the last few years of Car. Its been heading too much in the direction of a ‘lad’s mag’ (or maybe I’m showing my age, but I am under 40 – just!). Too much flashy photography, not enough good pictures of the cars and generally over-complicated artwork – as well as too much focus on supercars.

Classic & Sportscar (another magazine of which I have few decades’ worth stored away in the garage) manages to do with out this and appears to be surviving perfectly well. I can fully understand the internet creates new challenges for the magazines, and I’m not suggesting I have the answers, but I do know that doing away with the news I want to read and charging the same cover price certainly isn’t going to encourage me to buy. I’m even tempted to suggest that Evo has effectively replaced CAR.

I just wish I could have my ‘old’ Car back to entertain me on those long flights – the BA in-flight magazine just ain’t the same!


I’VE been a CAR reader since November 1991 (from the tender age of 14), and from my point of view there’s been a fairly consistent downhill spiral in the quality of the magazine since the mid-1990s. there simply hasn’t been anyone to replace Bulgin, Setright, Llewellyn, Goodwin and so on.

The revamp improved the magazine a lot, and there have been many good features to read since that issue. The news analysis is rather good- an article about internal VW politics foreshadowing Pischetschrieder’s ‘surprise’ exit, and this month’s Bentley Havana scoop was a proper bit of old-school scoopery) However, there was a real air of smugness about the whole thing. Evidenced by a toe-curlingly self-congratulatory photo article which seemed to say, “look how trendy and posh we are” (or to put it another way:‘s interesting take on things).

It’s hard to quantify exactly what is wrong with beyond saying that in the most recent revamp they dropped Jamie Kitman (it’s interesting to note that Top Gear has picked up his column) and kept Stephen Bayley I think that says a lot.


WITH regard to CAR, I am saddened but not too surprised.

The new magazine looks lovely and the writing in it is generally of an excellent standard. I’ll admit that sometimes – just occasionally – it looks a bit like an advert for Jason Barlow’s fashionable specs and appalling barnet (see Sniff Petrol!), but those of us with long memories, an affection for the old ‘CAR’ magazine and a belief in good quality in terms of the written word will surely have warmed to it. It features George Kacher who has been with CAR for longer than I care to remember: George has always been good value. If I could write copy in German one hundredth as good as his English, I’d be a happy man.

However, there are two factors that may have conspired against the revamp. One I have alluded to previously; the decision to make the magazine a different shape and size is so stupid as to be laughable. Do these people never learn? Every time a magazine comes along which is a different shape or size, the newsagents either don’t know where to display it or it gets lost behind the myriad other publications on offer. This happened when Auto Express was first launched (as a larger format than Autocar) and the same again when CAR’s short-lived weekly offshoot ‘CAR Week’ arrived. Well established larger-format magazines with a dedicated following often appear with folded-over covers that allow them to sit neatly on the shelves alongside their A4 rivals. Why the people behind CAR forgot such a basic elementary unwritten rule by making the magazine shorter and wider, only they can answer!

The other factor is the reality of the market. The great unwashed – the drooling masses – no longer enjoy reading exquisitely crafted articles (even with the addition of stunning photography). Brought up in the soundbite era of the internet (yes, that implicates you and me, dear reader) the dwindling band of people still prepared to pay for their automotive magazine fix tend to like lots of scrappy bits of pictures and information and ‘cor blimey!’ copy riddled with crummy jokes and innuendo. People expect to ‘browse’ and ‘surf’ rather than sit in their favourite armchair for an hour or two with a glass of port. Probably the biggest nail in CAR’s coffin is ‘Top Gear’ magazine. I often skim through this glossy catalogue in the newsagents, but I never buy it. I have bought CAR since the summer of 1975 and still treasure every copy. But one swallow doesn’t make a summer and there clearly aren’t enough of us out there. It is sad, but surely the people who pull the strings at CAR should have realised this too?


I’M a subscriber who hasn’t been enjoying the new ‘Car’ magazine so I welcome the news that there’ll now be a(nother) change of direction.

The idea of a magazine built around passionate drive stories with great photos is a good one. But it’s something Evo has been doing brilliantly for a while – and why I also subscribe to that. Evo also recognises that buyers’ budgets aren’t limitless and that at any price point buying used, or even a classic, can make as much sense as new. (very!)

I take Car for the news, industry scoops and analysis – which it has always done well – and a wider range of metal than the drivers’ cars in Evo in road tests and first drives. Some recent issues have had few if any of the latter two categories of article!

I look forward to further evolution.


I HAVE every copy since July 1967 – my first was the March 1967 issue featuring LJKS quoting passages from the bible for the Lamborghini Marzal Geneva Show concept car, prototype for the Espada.

I am still a subscriber, but now wonder if the mag will run to the end of my sub! The two recent makeovers have been terrible. I too like a regular-sized mag and agree that resizing has been a big mistake – maybe next it will be triangular to get that standout on the shelves at W H Smith? And the content is becoming all style without the substance – even more a glossy book for the coffee table rather than a good read for the car enthusiast.


HERE in the States, two magazines nourished my love for British cars in the 1980s and ’90s more than any other, Classic & Sportscar and CAR.

I’ve long felt that CAR is the best automobile magazine in the business. The writing and photography have been without peer. But I fell out of love with CAR because of its treatment of MG Rover when it was struggling. The magazine could have found ways to report honestly about MGRs struggles without sensationalizing the events. It could have found positive stories to write about the hardworking, talented and honest people who worked there.

I am not suggesting that CAR should have been MGR’s PR firm, but I do think that it should have given the company more sympathetic coverage in light of its plight and the thousands of jobs at stake. CAR is poorer for not having MGR products to write about any longer.

Another reason that I now only thumb through CAR at the bookstore is that it costs $11 per copy here in the States. That’s too much money for something you can get free on the Internet.

Detroit, Michigan

I HADN’T realised how many people out there cared about CAR the way I do. I’ve been reading it (sometimes subscribing) since 1976 – the first issue I had had the SD1 scoop on the cover and only getting rid of them whenever I moved house. I’ve got the November issue but I’m saving it for that Friday night glass of port moment – I hope it’s not the last.

It is a very different magazine from that of the 1970s and early 1980s – partly because the writers and personalities are so different, partly because standards of other magazines and our expectations have risen and partly because CAR started to believe some of its own publicity (witness the content). It also, crucially, ceased to be the irreverent and disrespectful. CAR is, at least was, and should be a motoring/car led product and we trusted what was being written about the ordinary nature and plain inadequacy (“England expects but Austin Rover fails to deliver”, Oct 1986, anyone?) of many cars because we knew the person writing it (Setright, Fraser, Nichols, Bishop, Llewelyn, Green, Cropley, Bremner….) had established their credentials with us.

The idea of splitting really good driving stories with great illustrations, in depth industry analysis and quality columnists from the news part on the web would seem entirely logical. However, it appears that the end result has dropped into a bit of a black hole – the web site is just another website, with some rather fashionable graphics and endless “scoops” of BMWs and the magazine no longer has the uniqueness of the “scoop” and seems to be buried in a rather style centred product. I sense also that you can’t only do drive stories about supercars – remember in 1984, CAR had an issue with a Reliant Robin, a Lada and a 2CV on the cover! [which according to people I know was a sales disaster, and an experiment never repeated – Ed]

And as for asking Piers Morgan to write… And any magazine that has a feature on its ‘launch’ party is asking for its credibility to be reassessed.

Yes, the days when a scoop of family hatchback could be held for a the cover of a monthly magazine are gone, but that does not mean there is no market for an intelligent, insightful analysis feature based on it as a major part of the magazine, instead of another variety of Porsche 911GT3RS-X Carrera-whatever being photographed sideways.

I hope CAR makes it through – I will probably stay loyal, as I can’t get on with Top Gear the Mag (too much brash personality, laddishness, slightly thin content once you get through the Clarkson stuff) and Evo always looks a bit nerdy. And I like asking our village postmaster for the magazine I’ve been buying for so long that they’ve named it for me!


Car magazine died a long time ago as far as I’m concerned – I’d still have all my copies if they hadn’t been nicked – along with my commemorative (framed) poster of the closure of the 2CV’s Levallois factory in Paris! (sob!)

It was interesting reading the blog – I read the mag from the late ’70’s and by the mid eighties had a subscription going. When this needed renewing you’d receive a well written letter on quality paper from FF Publishing addressing you by name and thanking you for subscribing, hoping that you’d continue to do so. Then they got taken over by emap, and under the first year of their ownership I got a tatty bit of tissue paper “To the subscriber” Asking you to renew – that was it! I wasn’t impressed. Then, a few weeks later I received the tatty letter again – this time printed in red ink! – Like a ‘final demand’ I deserted the magazine for good! Completely insulted!

I didn’t like the changes that were going on – I missed George Barker – and I noticed that it merely generated into another ‘lads mag’. Having picked up one or two and had a gander over the years – I see “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is a shadow of it’s once brillliantly entertaining self (The Ford Orion: “Like a Regatta but with less Sparkle”) – I remembered they ‘liked’ the Austin Maxi! – calling it “much misunderstood” – faint praise indeed! The Dolomite Sprint sum up “An unhappy Body/Chassis mix” and the insults thrown at most of the japanese crowd of the seventies and eighties were a joy to read! I loved the more unusual articles – and there were far more of them then – How The Skoda Favorit was declared better than the facelifted Mk3 Escort, and they’d driven the Ford 5000 miles in a special test! The day they discovered how much fun a Skoda Estelle could be in “The Untouchables” When the turbo charged 2CV went up in smoke – and the rebuild wore an ‘armband’ of remembrance! The “Where’s the Progress” feature – on why cars hadn’t moved on technologywise. Remember the expose on how cars were being stored ‘post shipping’ up to their wheel arches in stagnant water? – No wonder there are no Renault 14’s left! The fantastic photography. I won’t shed a tear if it goes – it went for me years ago.

‘ADO16’ (forum member)

8 November

Burn out…


Just the thing when you have a headache…

YOU know how it is – you’ve had a long and tiring day at the office, staring at a VDU and trying to think of the next angle. You leave the office for the first time in weeks at a sociable hour, only to run into roadworks (yep, the two main routes between Pete Bog Horror and Austin-Rover Towers are crippled). It’s dark, you’re irritable and you can see the time idling away in a gloopy jam, that’s sure-as-hell not sweet.

So why is it that my slowly-building rage is being fed by the loon in his manual gearboxed Mondeo who can’t work out how to use his handbrake when stationary? There’s nothing better than having 200 watts of red light beamed directly into the back of my retina.

Sorry to rant, but if you’re stuck in a queue and you find yourself holding your car on your footbrake, please, please think about the poor guy behind and use the handbrake…


OH, that really gets up my nose. My solution? Put headlights on full beam, switch on the front fogs, and flood the stupid sod with a nice big pool of light. Optional extra – blow the horn. Probably makes no difference at all, and the brain dead morons that have never heard of a handbrake may well be oblivious anyway, but it makes me feel better…


I AGREE that rear lights can be annoying, especially rear fog lights which I never use because in 99% of situations the glare from them is more hazardous.

High mounted stop lamps should never have been adopted in Europe as they were designed for American cars that have red turn signals that cannot be distinguished from brake lights. But even with brake, HMSL and 2 fogs on that equates to 105 watts in my book!

For many years I have not used a handbrake so you would be in for a treat following me! I have always used a heel and toe technique, in my case my right foot on both brake and throttle at once – it means quicker reactions and less physical foot movement, which is safer, less tiring and smoother in stop-start traffic. Even hill starts with a 3-ton gross train weight can be done like this with a Maestro EFi…


I AGREE with the theme of stoplights.

High level brakelights are a proven safety feature but cars like the Focus and Punto with high level tail lights can be a literal pain, especially if their indicators are on as well. The solution is often just to use the sunshade – sounding a horn when stuck behind the perpetrator could be a recipe for road rage! Is it just me or is it a particular problems with drivers of Mercedes Benzes – especially expensive automatics – arrogance, an inability to drive responsibly or just unable to use a particularly fiddly US-inspired hand/foot parking brake design?


7 November

Two down, two to go…


Not a problem on the old MoT front…

WELL no-one said old car ownership wasn’t without its stresses, and for an hour yesterday afternoon, I threw a couple of my fleet towards my local MoT station. Put it this way, whoever said Citroens weren’t any good should pay heed to the Xantia – a pass first time, without even any advisories. Not bad considering I bought the thing as a stop gap to go on holiday in during the summer… here we are months later, and I still own the thing – and can’t help but find roll-free life rather appealing…

Okay, so the Xantia has a pretty good history, and its mileage isn’t interstellar, but everyone keeps telling me that Hydropneumatic suspension will cause no end of trouble and that French electrics are no good at all. So why is it that this rather unremarkable car (with remarkable handling) seems to be not putting a foot wrong? Maybe I shouldn’t say too much, as things tend to go wrong when things seem their clearest…

The other car to see the beak today was the 620i. Oh dear – bits and bobs, but nothing untowards, considering it’s nearly been to the moon in its 13-year lifetime. Despite the frilliness around the edges and the distict whiff of damp dog inside, it really seems pretty unburstable. And okay – it proves that there’s no such thing as a free car (it’ll be about £200 to put right for the test) – but it still demonstrates the innate ruggedness of the Honda engineering that underpins this car.

The question should be asked again though: would right-minded people bail out at this point? £200 and a lot of graft to get a car worth £0 through an MoT test – is it sound practice? I say yes, but many others would say no. Especially considering that I just saw a V-reg 620ti go through BCA in Peterborough yesterday for a mere £510 (and I bid it up to £500)… I suppose it comes down to what you want from your car, and whether it all comes down to money.

I’m no bean counter, so I’d say stick with what you know – but then again, I’m poor…

Now I just have a 825 Coupe and Saab 900 Turbo to test. Wish me luck – I suspect I may need it.

6 November

More aggro that it’s worth?


I AGREE with Keith in that too much emphasis is placed on the value of a car rather than whether there’s still any life left in it. But in some cases people are ill advised and may decide to get rid of their trusty steed because the cost of relatively minor repairs outweighs the value of the car. Take the clean, service historied 1996 Renault Clio 1.2 I have in my care at the moment. A misfire on number two cylinder at all speeds meant the cylinder head had to come off, and once off it was plain to see why; a hole in the exhaust valve.

No problem, but knowing how fickle foreign car engine parts can be I rang the local Renault dealer who told me that £107 plus VAT would buy a set of four exhaust valves. Four? I only want one! ‘Only do ‘em in packs of four sir.’ A call to the local parts factor and they had a new valve, on the shelf at £6.97 plus VAT. That’s more like it, and £100 should see the Renault back on the road again.

If the owner of the Clio had asked their Renault dealer to repair it then they would almost certainly be looking at a repair bill of almost £1000, easily attainable with a Renault dealers eye–watering £67 an hour labour charge, and certainly more than the car is worth. But if it isn’t repaired then the car is almost worthless.

You may look cool in a new MINI Cooper, but you’d look a lot cooler in a recycled 1960s one…

People just can’t seem to be bothered with fixing their old car anymore, even the latest Haynes manuals don’t show how to rebuild a gearbox or lap in some new valves, they just tell you to replace the whole unit. And cheap finance means almost anyone can have a new car these days, and most people do. I hate bringing up the environment in discussion, but surely, keeping an old car on the road is far more environmentally friendly than having to waste the world’s resources on having them build you a new one. You may look cool in a new MINI Cooper, but you’d look a lot cooler in a recycled 1960s one.

The only way that modern cars will be kept on the road in the future is if owners are prepared to carry out the major repairs themselves, but as modern cars become more complex it would seem that the days of a greasy, well thumbed Haynes manual fading in the Sun on the rear parcel shelf will probably be a thing from a bygone era.

4 November

Old days avantgarde


Was that really 1967?

A COUPLE of days ago, I spotted a, NSU Ro80 driving through my home town of Aachen in Germany. It was so easy to spot it – as it cut a dash among the modern, dull cars around it. With its crisp lines highlighted by polished stainless steel, the NSU looked fantastic – but the fact it was standing next to an early 1970s Mercedes-Benz /8 got me thinking.

Is there any other saloon from the late 1960s that is so modern and forward thinking in its styling? When the Ro80 was released to the public 1967, the direct competitors from Mercedes-Benz and BMW were still of the previous generation. And when the Mercedes-Benz 250 and BMW 2500 were finally launched 1968, they both looked rather traditional and staid next to NSU’s striking car.

Is there any other saloon of the late 1960s that is so modern..?

How about large saloons from the UK? The brand new Austin 3litre, that would have sold at the same price in Germany, if imports would ever have happened, looks decidedly old-world in comparison. Does the Princess 2200 look like a car Eight years younger than the Ro80?

Personally, I don’t think so. But this does not say the Princess was old fashioned – far from it – but just highlights how far Claus Luthe was ahead of the game when designing the Ro80. Sadly his later BMW designs (from 1977 to 1992) were less advanced, though one can argue that the most balanced and elegant BMWs stem from his period of work.


Agreed. The NSU Ro80 is one of those seminal designs that appeared in the late-1960s, and blew away much of the post-War thinking that remained in automotive design. The Citroen SM was another…

The tragedy of the NSU Ro80 wasn’t its style, but the weaknesses of its advanced engine – and one wonders where NSU would be today had there been a nice and smooth V6 power unit under that sleek low-line bonnet? It’s another of those tantalising ‘might have beens’ that we know all about on this website.


3 November

My new company car


True class?

I THOUGHT I’d let you see my new company car. Being the sort of guy who enjoys driving anything, and can write a word or two about it in the process, I am now writing for a number of our Kelsey titles, as well as Classic Car Weekly. So, that leads to all sorts of variety in my life – one day I’m road testing a Jaguar S-TYPE R, and the next I’m visiting a US parts specialist to drive a 1950 Ford ‘Shoebox’ saloon…

As you can see, it leads to terrific variety in my daily life.

I’ve also been indoctrinated into the Car Mechanics team now, and as such, that means I get myself a nice project car to play with. As editor Peter Simpson and I both share a love of Rover products, it only seemed fitting that my first assignment for the magazine should be something wearing a Longship badge on its snout – so, what did I get, a nice 75CDT or Tomcat Turbo? Nahh… a 237,000-mile 620i.

When I first heard about this car that had been donated to CM magazine for free, I did have feelings of dread. I mean, a 600 with nearly a quarter of a million miles on it? It’s bound to be a shed. My first impressions weren’t positive when I clocked the rusty rear arches and unpainted bumpers – but once I got in and took it for a spin, it soon became clear that here we had a proof positive that if a car is fastidiously maintained, and the original engineering is solid, mega-mileages such as these should be no great shakes.

I reckon with a service and a little TLC, this car would go on and run for many, many more miles to come – and only its zero trade value would preclude it from being cared for in its twilight years.

Should we be thinking in terms of a used car’s value, when deciding its future?

But that did get me thinking. In this era of new-car mentality, and disposable motoring, is there a place for cars like these now? For a £150/month lease deal, you can get into something very serviceable now – and because trade values are on the floor now, spending no more than £1000 would see you in a quality seven- or eight-year old family saloon. Which as we all know, would be absolutely fine for years to come – and having been produced at the end of the 1990s, still be stacked with tons of equipment.

So, with that in mind, should we be thinking in terms of a used car’s value when deciding its future? I mean, if you own a 1998 Rover 825 Coupe and the headgasket goes, many garages will tell you to throw it away as the cost of the repair outweighs the car’s value. But should that matter? Why not spend the money? If you think the car’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and would be heartbroken at the prospect of towing it to the local scrappers, why not spend the money, and know that (assuming the job’s been done correctly) there are a few more years of enjoyment to go before any further major expense?

Perhaps that’s my obsolete thinking coming to the fore – you know, buying a car, looking after it, and not throwing it away at the first sign of trouble.

As for this 620 – the engine seems unburstable, the steering and brakes are still sweet, and although it’s a bit on the basic side inside, a couple of hundred quid spent on bits from scrapped newer examples, will have it liveable, and a Brian Gunn service will see it reliable.

Okay, so accountant-heads might baulk at spending £200 on a car with a zero trade value, but does everything come down to value? I think not…

1 November

Why modern cars have their uses


If looks could kill…

I’M still amazed, it has to be said. From door-to-door – darkest Northamptonshire to Barcelona in Spain – it took me a mere 17-hours non-stop to drive. The statistics probably wouldn’t look that great, considering I was stopping every 300 miles to refuel the Polo GTI (small tank and indifferent consumption, not a great combination) and took it easy through (now) speed-obsessed France, I reckon I did okay in the end.

What does impress, though, was not so much time and distance covered (as I’ve beaten that in a 15-year old Rover 216), but how easy it all was. My past few marathon drives have all been in old cars – 216, 800, Allegro, Lada – and in all cases, there has been an element of physical exhaustion towards the end of the run. With the Polo GTI, there was absolutely none of that – and it makes one realise just how handy these new cars can be.

I guess we can put that down to the absolute lack of mechanical issues with the modern car – because driving back from Naples Airport to Aachen last month in our Rover 820i (1200 miles in about the same time), the last 50 miles or so, I was absolutely knackered, and that was obvously down to the imbalanced tyres, the booming engine and lack of accuracy in the steering and suspension.

My past few marathon drives have all been in old cars – 216, 800, Allegro, Lada – and in all cases, there has been an element of physical exhaustion towards the end of the run…

Take those variables away, and trans-continental driving suddenly becomes rather easy. And given that the Polo GTI’s gearing is a little on the low side, and the engine’s rather buzzy around 4000rpm, you can imagine just how easy that sort of run would be in a 131PS Rover 75 CDT… In fact, I wonder…

It’s funny, though, how your priorities in what you want in a car changes when you’re pounding down the motorway hour after hour. Suddenly pin-sharp steering and responsive handling pale into insignificance compared with how supportive the seats are, how powerful the stereo is, and how big the door-bins are.

Driving it back after rendezvous in the Pyrenées with the MINI v3.0, I took the more circuitous route via Andorra (fuel was 50p/litre, and no, I didn’t buy any electrical goods), and that allowed me to take a less linear approach to driving the Polo. Again, it was all rather easy compared with the cars I’m more used to, but ultimately the experience was still rather satisfying. Once out of the mountains, though, it was business as usual.

As ever, one comes to appreciate just how big and empty France is, and how you can maintain consistently high averages on its autoroutes. I wonder if I could average 83mph for hour after hour in the UK?

It’s good to be home, though – even if November’s blogs page starts out headed by an image of a rather ugly Volkswagen…

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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