By 1 September 2004 0 Comments Read More →

Blogs : September 2004

28 Sep 2004

It’s nearly time…

Two days to go until lift-off. Well, not lift off exactly, but on Thursday evening, Declan and I will be getting on the car ferry at Dover in our trusty Rover 216 GTi 16V. Yep, Staples2Naples is nearly with us…

Preparations haven’t been as thorough as I would have hoped given my starting the new job, but by Thursday morning, we will be ready. The car that Scott gave us has now been comprehensively fettled, having received a new clutch and fluids (care of Brian Gunn) and a cambelt and brakes. We have a spare distributor, which will be in the boot, as well as a whole raft of tools…

We’re hoping that nothing has been left to chance.

As I said at the start of this little adventure, we have a good team behind us, and I do fancy our chances of making it there and back in one piece. Whether we win or not, we’ll make a fair chunk of cash for Cancer Research UK, as well as have a whole lot of fun in the meantime.

The plan looks good. We leave Calais at 10:30 on Friday morning and on the first day, we need to get to central Switzerland. However, in order to score points on the first day, we need to travel through as many countries as possible, and having Alexander Boucke as our map reader (and resident of Germany) we’re in good shape. Depending on how quickly we travel and how dense the traffic is, we’re hoping to drive through quite a few countries: France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Switzerland.There will probably be more, but I’m sure you’ll all hear about it on our return.

It’s going to be a hectic few days,
and we’re hoping that at the end,
we can come back and telling
tales of how reliable the
Rover 216GTi is.

Day two involves navigating Switzerland. Now, there are three options, which the organizers call the Good, the bad and the Ugly. “The good” involves four alpine passes (imagine the start of The Italian Job and you get the idea). “The bad” involves six passes… and “The ugly” encompasses eight. We’re looking forwards to Stelvio, which has been the test track for some of the world’s greatest cars.

Attacking it in a Rover R8 will be interesting. The thought of another sixty or so teams doing the same thing borders on hilarious.

Day three is the trip from Switzerland to Northern Italy, and Day four sees us making it to Naples. Seeing how the Italians drive, and how they get faster the further south they are, I’m particularly looking forward to this, even if our top speed is 125mph and we’re up against some faster cars. Remember that the Italian speed limit is only 80mph-or-so…

It’s going to be a hectic few days, and we’re hoping that at the end, we can come back and telling tales of how reliable the Rover 216GTi is.

Unlike most of the teams, we’re also fully intending to drive back – and then sell the car.

Anyone fancy a 216GTi 16V – new clutch, brakes, cambelt? Never been raced or rallied.

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27 Sep 2004

The Rover name

By MIKE GOY

Much has been written about Rover’s brand values – or rather, the lack of them. Warm memories of the 1950s ‘Auntie’ P4 Rovers suggest a solid, conservative car with a wood festooned interior. Move forward a few years and you have the P5, essentially the same type of car appealing to respectable middle-class types like doctors and bankers. Fast forward 10 years, put a more powerful V8 engine inside, and it suddenly becomes the quick and desirable (those Rostyle wheels) 3.5 litre P5B.

The 2000 and 3500 were a more progressive design from the drawing board onwards, with innovative features for a younger generation. And finally, at its launch in 1976 the SD1 was stylish, chic, practical and a huge step forward, sadly spoiled by appalling build quality. This eliminated any brand value at a stroke.

The Rover P6 was a more
progressive design from the
drawing board onwards, with
innovative features for a
younger generation.

But the reality is that the mantle has now been assumed by others. Many pages of ‘what if’ futures on this web site have highlighted that Rover and Triumph were both BMW forerunners. But it was BMW who managed to make a long-term success of the small executive car, not Rover or Triumph. Any future branding of Rover products is likely to be a lost cause. If Honda had continued as owners, I am sure that careful nurturing would have secured Rover’s image. But the truth is that BMW were already totally dominant in the small executive car market by 1994 and a cynic would see their purchase of Rover as just a way to get their hands on the Mini brand and Land Rover technology. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that they didn’t really lose any money.

So is there a branded future for Rover? The company is too small and insignificant in world terms – not to mention desperately short of cash – to re-establish a brand image. Anyone who thinks otherwise is, I fear, living in the past. Maybe that is why all the commercial and promotional emphasis is on MG. A brand that means something and which may have a future. Jon Moulton certainly thought so with his Alchemy bid in 2000.

A final irony is that BMW now own the (potentially competitive) Triumph name – were they worried that MGR might resurrect it?

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25 Sep 2004

Lessons from Nissan

By MIKE GOY

Ford’s behaviour with Jaguar (and the recent closure of their Dagenham plant) suggests that they have little long-term confidence in UK volume vehicle production. Nissan, however, seems to think otherwise and for such a respected name to place their confidence here is good news indeed. The managing director of its Sunderland facility explained recently how it manages to be Europe’s most efficient vehicle plant. I was somewhat surprised to learn that it isn’t just assembly that Nissan undertake in this country – a substantial number of parts are also manufactured in the UK, and Nissan’s facility at Cranfield in Bedfordshire means that development and proving also continues domestically.

Non-membership of the Euro doesn’t seem to be a problem either. because although many of their parts come from Euro-based economies, they anticipate currency movements and manage to manufacture every vehicle at a profit. The success of the Sunderland factory has also ensured that more Nissan funding is now being earmarked for the Northeast. Its tie-up with Renault (shared ‘body in white’ and powertrain development) keeps the European angle going, and presumably also gives heart to Toyota at Burnaston in Derby.

The managing director of
Nissan’s Sunderland facility
explained recently how it
manages to be Europe’s most
efficient vehicle plant…

On the other hand, James Dyson has just closed his manufacturing facility at Malmesbury in Wiltshire, only retaining design, research and development in the UK. He claimed that he just couldn’t compete with the low-wage economies of the Far East. Perhaps it is all to do with ultimate value. Vacuum cleaners cost a mere £100 whilst family saloons cost £10,000. I am no economist, but this would seem to be a reasonably sound excuse.

So, if MGR could get SAIC to provide the funding for a research and development facility in the UK (no more Gaydon, remember?), and show them that UK vehicle manufacture is a good idea by quoting Nissan and Toyota in particular, then the future for MGR may not be as grim as we first thought. However, there is a potentially large fly in the ointment as SAIC do not have the car model range, car development history or successful supply chain enjoyed by their Japanese cousins.

Once more, I find myself with all my fingers and toes crossed.

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24 Sep 2004

BMC>Rover top ten: a riposte

By GEOFFREY THIRLBY

An interesting exercise, though whether it’s accurate I very much doubt; hence the reason I never entered.

It very much reflects the age group of the people who did vote: 30-40. It would have been a far better exercise and much more accurate if you had split the voting into sectors: a) BMC, b) BL, c) Rover post 1986/7.

Did the best car win? No, but as far as concept, yes. The 1100/1300s were far better cars than the Mini could ever be, bigger and far better engineered. The Mini however was the start of a revolution and it deserves to come top only because it was so radical for its time. Having had various Minis and 1100/1300s in my time I feel I know what I’m talking about, plus having an uncle who was Deputy Superintendent of the Foundry at Longbridge, we use to have very interesting conversations on the developments going on at “The Austin”.

For my two-penn’orth I think probably the best BMC car – and there were lots to consider – was the A30/35. “Better than the Mini?”, you say. Yes. Though born in the Austin days as the A30, it really came of age when BMC produced the A35. This car, born of aircraft engineering, was the first true chassisless car that went into mass production (even the Mini had sub-frames) , it had the then-new ‘A’ series engine, independent front suspension and 12-volt electrics. It had a torsional stiffness that was way and beyond anything else at that time, hence its great popularity with the motor racing fraternity in the Fifties, though the Minor was more stable due to its wider track and slightly different suspension set up. However, when BMC bought out the A35 in 1956 with the revised 948cc engine, that had lead-indium bearings and full-flow oil filtration, plus an uprated transmission, it was totally transformed.

Did the best car win? No,
but as far as concept, yes…

In terms of power-to-weight ratio for sub-1-litre cars, there was nothing around in Britain or Europe to compare in 1956. Just think: the Germans were producing ‘bubble cars’ then!

When Len Lord wanted his quart-size car put into a pint pot, it was the A35 that acted as the mule for the Mini.

Best BL car? Not a lot to choose from: SD1. Such a shame it was so poorly produced.

Best Rover post 1986: Rover 75.

Worst car: undoubtedly the Allegro, far worse than the Marina. Again, I had both cars.

It is a shame that so many BMC/BL cars were so poorly developed; it must have been soul destroying to be an engineer working for them, because there is no doubt they were coming up cars that were way ahead of the competition, but lost out due lack of execution and money!

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23 Sep 2004

Parisienne Renaissance?

It’s good to see MG Rover has made the trip out to the Paris Motor show. After all, the company didn’t turn up at Frankfurt last year, and that turned quite a few heads. Granted, it appeared at Geneva, and even had a new car to launch, the (crushingly desirable, I-want-one-now) Rover V8, but the company has been a bit anonymous in Europe of late.

Still, MG Rover is in Paris, and although there’s nothing new to show (OK, the CityRover has a lightly shuffled interior – let’s hold the front page), it gives the European motoring press the opportunity to see that the company is alive and well, has a range of facelifted cars to show, and can offer something uniquely “British”. The motoring world may still be on a downer following Ford’s contraction of Jaguar, but it is nice to show the rest of the world that we’re still out there, producing our cars.

…the company is still alive and well,
and – arguably – producing the best
car in its history – the V8 saloon.

What I find heartening is that despite the fact that commentators have been predicting doom since 2000, the company is still alive and well, and arguably producing the best car in its history – the V8 saloon. Here we have a car that looks a million dollars and would never have happened under German management. In fact, it is something of a triumph that it exists at all.

Yes, some people have questioned why MG Rover produced this when it has more pressing matters, but think about it: the V8 may have been delayed and cost more than it should have, but you can guarantee that its total development budget would not add up to the cost of producing new damped cupholders for the RD/X60. So I know which I’d rather have: carry-over cupholders in the RD/X60 and the V8 saloon.

The world is a richer place for it…

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22 Sep 2004

Cars as people

I’ve often wondered why it is that when you see a car coming up behind you in your mirror, you can almost anticipate how that driver will behave when he or she is behind you. Ahh I hear you cry – I’m going into to blatant stereotyping mode, but don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean.

Picture the scene: it’s 8:40AM on a Monday morning, you’re on a single carriageway A-Road things are flowing at a claggy but not unacceptable 50mph, the traffic is heavy, and you’ve just noticed that the town you’re heading for is still 20 miles away and you’re supposed to get there for 9:00AM. A typical day on British roads, then. Up ahead, you see a hill – and an oasis in a world of plodding monotony – a short stretch with an overtaking lane.

Cars as people? Why not – who would
your car be?

There are cars ahead, and undoubtedly, most will want to overtake the truck that is inevitably there (instead of the motorway where it belongs), so there’s no reason to rush – wait in turn for the cars ahead to do their stuff. Obviously, before you pull out for the overtake, you’ll have looked in the mirror, and this is where you’ll be taking a judgement on what the driver behind is going to do. If cars and their drivers display body language – call it car language – you should have a good idea what’s on the mind of your pursuer.

Riding close to your offside rear, you know he’s in a big hurry, and he wants round you.

Directly behind, but a car length or two behind, he’s keeping a watching brief.

Further back, he’s in no great hurry…

Of course, it’s not so straightforward as this, but you get the picture. Part of car language is the type of car and its colour, and it here that I like to think the car plays a bearing on how it is driven. After all, don’t we all dehumanize these things to a degree? We don’t look inside the car to see the person, we don’t really get further than the car itself, so why not go a step further and identify cars with people?

Take the BMW 3-Series – a bit of a thug and none too clever, even if there’s talent there: David Brent

Or the Audi A4 – young, thrusting, pushy and slightly arrogant, but smooth – that has to be: Clive Owen

Or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class – he’s made it, but won’t think twice about crapping on you: Tony Blair

Or the Saab 9-3 – Self assured, alightly aloof and knows better: Frasier Crane

And any Jaguar: why do I always think of Arthur Daley? (I think that’s different)

…but what about the Rover range of cars? Well, they seem to be driven with a degree of passive-aggressiveness, usually quite slowly and not too keen to be passed in the right circumstance. A bit of an old grumbler then. If you drive a Rover, next time you see it, say hello to Victor… Victor Meldrew. Mind you, these are all men, so where does that fit in with those people who chose to refer to their cars as, “she”?

And that leads on to the final point – now you’ve humanized the cars around you, it’s almost too easy to work out what they’re going to do. I guess it’s not just Minis that have feelings, then…

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21 Sep 2004

Was it snobbery?

By MIKE GOY

When my father bought his first car in 1958 it was, not surprisingly, an Austin Cambridge. British cars for British people. Foreign cars were rarely seen singly in the 1950s, let alone in groups. However, there has always been an element of snobbery in our national psyche, and that snobbery manifests itself in the purchase of foreign products over domestically produced items. In the 1950s, the Second World War was a very recent memory and German and Japanese cars were not yet a force to be worried about. However, these days you only need to think of Sony or Neff to realise that British dominance in consumer items is no more. There is little doubt that these names have a certain cachet which Bush or Hotpoint can’t match. There is also a reliability issue – real or imaginary – which has now resulted in foreign products in every walk of life having a perceived advantage over domestically sourced items.

The Italian, French and German populations by contrast are extremely loyal to their domestic products, including cars. Go to France and every vehicle you see is a Renault, Peugeot or Citroën. Germans are spoilt for choice with a fabulous array of machinery from VW, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Fiats are everywhere in Italy and any pictures coming out of Japan show a 99% devotion to domestic passenger vehicles.

…with better support from the
population and the media, BMC
and its successors could have
been a success story.

But we have always loved foreign cars. Now we have no choice as MGR has contracted to such an extent that even a superbly successful sales performance would still result in a sub 5% market share. The French and German car industry produce some stunning products (I am particularly impressed with Renault’s range at the moment) so their brand loyalty is understandable, but in Italy they are still loyal to Fiat, despite the range being decidedly ordinary over the last few years. MGR have done very well in the circumstances with the sourcing and importing of CityRover, but the car just can’t cut it with the new Mitsubishi Colt or the Fiat Panda. And it needs to be much cheaper and with a better interior finish if MGR is ever to make a success of selling motorcars once more.

So what am I saying? I am convinced that with better support from the population (less snobbery perhaps?) and the media (sniping from newspapers, Car magazine and Clarkson etc) together with a little bit more reliability and imagination from the manufacturers, BMC and its successors could have been a success story rather than a disaster. It certainly looked that way in the heady days of the mid-Sixties.

No potential customer is going to be swayed by hard luck stories concerning lack of development money – they just want to buy a decent car. So Rover will have to be very clever with the new RD/X60 if they are going to avoid future sales problems or quality issues. Maybe Pininfarina can help. And let’s hope that snobbery gives the whole issue a wide berth this time.

Were all rooting for you MGR!

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20 Sep 2004

Racing to oblivion

By STUART CROMWELL

Although the announcement that Jaguar will no longer be building cars at Brown’s Lane is rather tragic from a memories point of view, it was more or less logical that at some point down the path this would inevitably happen in the name of rationislation; see Abingdon! In fact through a series of lucky Ford/Jaguar mis-management factors this has taken rather longer to happen/be decided upon.

This is because quite a few international motor corporations that are household brand names and looked up to as gleaming examples of business efficiency are really notoriously badly managed and terribly inefficient – especially for their shareholders – right up to the point of taking decisions bordering on criminal negligence.

In the case of Ford/Jaguar the decision to get into Formula 1 racing was crazy and completely at odds with the purpose of the company – to build high-quality, efficient products for the most important world markets AND make a healthy profit each year for their investors! When one analyses what Formula 1 has cost the Ford Motor Company – and its shareholders and owners – it is both frightening and horrific. This thing became a nightmare, completely out of control with Ford paying in this its last year very much more than $250,000,000 – yes 250million US Dollars just to get a terrible reputation as an incomptent loser! And no one saw this happening!

Formula 1 is controlled by a group
of not very competent business
people with a desire for flashy
headlines to fuel their egos!

Over the past 5 years the total sum of Ford money lost/wasted in Formula 1 is around $2.5 billion!! Ford could have done a lot for future new products with that sort of money OR even improved the quality of Jaguar and Land Rover nearly up to Mercedes, Porsche or Lexus standards by moving away from the use of nasty, cheap Ford compontents. Ask any Jaguar or Land Rover customer…

Formula 1 is really akin to a sort of money shredder coupled-up to a sort of entertainment machine, controlled by a group of not very competent business people with a desire for flashy headlines to fuel their egos!

The next company to see this will be DaimlerCrysler AG in Stuttgart; they are sitting in completely the same boat and wasting around $500,000,000 per annum on Formula 1, and their sports director Norbert Haug always has the same record on when asked why he is still losing! His boss Jürgen Schrempp has a sort of inane fixation to be number one in everything, yet so far everything he has initiated has turned to clay.

GM is lined up the same way with a craze to save money in one area coupled with huge, draining, non-productive administration offices in Zürich with a staff of 700 “specialists” that is costing GM more that an arm and a leg each year. The GM management in Detroit is regularly lulled back to sleep when this is questioned, with the bland explanation this is a supertax avoidance operation…

VW is going the same way, Mr Pischetsrieder has really learnt nothing from his BMW Waterloo at Rover and is going hell and fire to invest in a leasing operation that will very nearly break VW’s neck! Quite apart from the other problems with the Phaeton, the EU Monopolies Commision and production costs etc!

If you are thinking of investing do not put it into these money shredding operations – a least not at the moment!

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19 Sep 2004

Is failure inevitable?

By MIKE GOY

My head says yes but my heart hopes that the answer is no. With increasingly desperate and disappointing news emanating from Longbridge, no funding, no in-house development (BMW played a blinder selling off Gaydon to Ford), moving of the engine facilities to India, an ageing range in desperate need of replacement, build quality issues surrounding the new Rover V8 and CityRover, no wonder the public are staying away in droves.

I seem to recall that in 2000 Jon Moulton’s Alchemy bid saw a practical future for MG Rover in becoming a specialist sports car manufacturer, rather than a volume vehicle producer. I fear that the last four years has proved him right – Longbridge may have the facilities to produce enough vehicles, but they certainly lack the funding to develop any new ones without outside help. The new RD/X60 may be a marvellous design but it is needed right now, not in 2006. MGR may not be here in two years time. I can see Jon Moulton picking up the paper every day and saying ‘I told you so’.

I can see Jon Moulton picking
up the paper every day and
saying ‘I told you so’.

Perhaps the Russian billionaire who bought TVR has a few million roubles to spare and might consider putting in a bid for MGR? They desperately need outside help whichever way you look at it. How much money do Opel, Ford or BMW spend on new vehicles? More money than MGR can muster, that’s for sure. So who would consider buying MGR and investing serious money? We have to come back to the Chinese or the Indians who may be prepared to pay for the design and development expertise still at Longbridge by buying the firm lock stock and barrel. And then how long would it be before production is moved to China or India?

Whichever way you cut it, it is beginning to look like the end game for MGR.

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18 Sep 2004

Wheels of misfortune

By GRAHAM LITTLE

Firstly, let me state clearly that my 75 2.0 CDT Club SE Tourer has been a superb car, reliable and well built, refined and economical and I would recommend it to anyone. I also own several classics from the “dark days” of BL including a genuine TR8 dhc and a Sprint-engined TR7 dhc and would class myself as a BMC/BL/MG Rover enthusiast who would like to see the company continue and to thrive.

However, the purpose of this blog is to relate my experiences at the hands of my local dealers. If the following, completely true examples are experienced by all customers, and more importantly, potential buyers, then God help MG Rover. I will still consider a replacement Rover 75 due to its many qualities, but I cannot see the average buyer doing the same and would hope that someone influential from MG Rover reads this.

My troubles began in September 2001 when the 75 Tourer/MG ZT-T were announced. I proceeded straight to my local Rover dealer (Taggarts, Motherwell) where they had one 75 Tourer on display. I left my name, address and telephone number as I was looking to change in December 2001 and was interested at that time in the ZT-T and was promised that I would be contacted as soon as more information was available. No contact was made. I returned some weeks later and my details were taken again with similar promises. I’m still waiting. How many more are or have been in the same boat?

Due to the silence, I popped into my other local dealer (Park Automobile, East Kilbride) who had what was to become my 75 Tourer on display. A very pleasant and efficient salesman completed the paperwork in minutes and the car was to be picked up on 10th December 2001 complete with some extras such as a CD multi-changer and it was to be fitted with my personal number plate. My wife and I picked up the car on the appointed day and everything appeared fine. On parking the car at home I applied the handbrake which I found to be inoperable and would not hold the car on our drive which has the most gentle of slopes. Not only this, the driver’s exterior door handle required up to seven attempts before it would work. I found this to be shoddy, but not too outrageous in the grand scheme of things.

In the car was a questionnaire where I could give an indication of my satisfaction with the car. I filled it in, pointing out the two failings and sent it off in the post. Next day, I had a call from the salesman asking why I had done so and telling me that he had been reprimanded by his managing director – i.e. I too was receiving a telling off!

Things now started to go downhill rapidly. My wife kindly ordered a set of tailored Rover mats for me as a surprise for Christmas 2001. Park Automobile telephoned to say they had been delivered and were ready for pick up, at which point my wife said she was visiting the nearby hospital and would pick them up within twenty minutes. On arrival at the garage, she was told they’d been sold to someone else.

Prior to the first service, I telephoned the dealer to pre-order some extras from the catalogue. The first of these was a driver’s side cup-holder. “Rover doesn’t do those, sir” came the immediate reply. “Yes they do, I’m holding the accessories catalogue and here’s the part number” said I. Then, I asked for a set of the chrome-effect door handle trims. “Certainly sir, which side?” – I kid you not. Not too outrageous yet, but still possibly annoying to most people. Please read on.

The day of the first service dawned and I had asked for the tracking to be checked as the car was pulling strongly to the left, requiring constant correction. The car was returned to me with the front wheels having been swapped with the rears, but no work done on the tracking, although I was assured that the car had been road-tested and the fault cured. You’re there before me. Back in I stormed, and after I’d got past the receptionist’s “have you heard of the camber of the road, sir?” the service manager accompanied me to the same stretch of road on which the alleged road test had occurred. His only comment as the car headed left for the nearest trees on a dead straight stretch was that “you don’t normally drive with your hands off the wheel”. The tracking adjustment was then performed with very good results.

On picking up the car, I noticed that the front number plate had been smashed off. This was replaced immediately but that’s not the point.

Next service, I decided to try Taggarts. Again, I telephoned beforehand to ask for a set of mudflaps to be fitted. “There’s not much demand for these, sir”. Frankly, I don’t care what the demand is and don’t need to be told. On the day of the service, I went to pick up the car and there it was, beautifully clean and parked in a prime position outside the showroom, complete without mudflaps. “Oh, did you want them fitted?” said the service receptionist as I was handed the components in a plastic bag. One short altercation later and the service manager stayed late to fit them for me.

Next came one of the very few faults with the car, a faulty fuel gauge. It would read full, then immediately empty, and then it would climb back up and down to its heart’s content. Luckily, I have a system of recording fuel bought and used for business purposes, always filling the tank, so I knew what range I had at any given time. However, I rang Taggarts to have it repaired at the next service. “The Tourer doesn’t do that sir, but there is a fault with the saloon”. Hmmm. Guess what, the car was given back to me after a day accompanied by “no fault found” and “we’ve done all possible tests”. Hmmm. “Did you check the actual level of the fuel in the tank to the gauge reading?” “Er, no”.

I took the service manager out to the car, showed him the gauge reading three-quarters full and the trip gauge showing 400-odd miles. Marvellous, if true! Back in the car went and out it came after yet another day with a new fuel sender and the fault cured. “It’s a known problem sir, must be because it’s a different unit”.

My MG Rover experience has been
genuinely unpleasant. I have had,
without exception, to return for
work to be done that should have
been “right first time”, or there has
been some negative point on each
and every contact I have had with
MG Rover dealers.

MG Rover then announced the long-awaited MG ZT260 V8. Off we went to the Scottish Motor Show where a Glasgow-based dealer had a few cars including what seemed to be a development ZT260. Expressing genuine interest, I asked for literature to be sent to my home when available, but clearly said that I didn’t need front-drive information, and this was written down on my request form, by the representative. A week later, guess what arrives? Still, the phenomenon that is eBay allowed me to acquire the proper data.

Winter 2003 and I find myself in Widnes on a filthy day with a faulty headlamp bulb. I was dressed in a business suit and had an important meeting to attend so off I went to the local MG Rover dealer. A new bulb was fitted very quickly but a) it was upside down and illuminated the sky and annoyed other drivers and b) I really didn’t need the service receptionist commenting about my choice of not changing the bulb myself.

Late 2004, and the car is almost out of warranty. I decide to chance my arm and go back to Park Automobile for its latest service. I call in advance stating that the rear door seals, despite little use, have become detached from the doors and asking for these to be repaired. I pick the car up, no door seals repaired or replaced and none ordered. I ask for this to be done. More than two weeks later I call to discover they have not been ordered. The same gentleman who took the first order assures me of his personal attention to progress matters. I am not optimistic. They were fitted almost a further week later.

Truly awful service, misinformation, lack of contact, pointless comments from staff and my having to direct repairs to an unnecessary degree seem to be endemic to Rover dealers. I can draw a direct contrast between my wife’s Mercedes dealer as she bought a new car on the same day. The Mercedes dealer has been quite simply superb.

My MG Rover experience has been genuinely unpleasant. I have had, without exception, to return for work to be done that should have been “right first time”, or there has been some negative point on each and every contact I have had with MG Rover dealers.

Will there be any response from MG Rover? Why should I buy another when Mercedes-Benz will not put me through this nonsense?

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17 Sep 2004

Fleeting chance

By ANONYMOUS

Guess how many MG Rovers went to the fleets in August? 1000? 500? No, in August, a grand total of 90 of the company’s cars were sold to company fleets.

Pathetic isn’t it? When will the ‘enthusiasm’ of the Joe Public at the Birmingham Motor Show finally translate into cold, hard sales, and the new look corporate sales department get into gear?

PR front man Kevin Jones had the
downbeat air of a man who knows
the boat’s about to sink.

At the SMMT driving day on Wednesday, it seemed that the entire range looked tired and depressed; a bit like PR front man, Kevin Jones. Sad as it is to report, the impressive new Rover V8 I drove there was poorly finished, whilst Mr Jones had the downbeat air of a man who knows the boat’s about to sink.

All in all, a sad day from an MG Rover perspective. It could have been worse, though – no CityRover to spoil the show, and surprisingly, no Streetwise either… Having said that, Streetwise seems to be carving out its own niche in the market place and I see far more of them on the roads than the conceptually similar Volkswagen Dune or Citroën C3 XTR.

Of course, MG Rover had no SV or SV-R to drive, leaving Vauxhall, Maserati, Porsche and Ferrari to provide all the glamour.

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16 Sep 2004

Love at first sight

Went over to Birmingham yesterday to take a look at the cars from the Patrick Collection that will be going up for sale in December. The purpose of my being there was to see the cars being prepared for sale, as the guy from the Bonhams auction house photographed and generally made them look nice for for the catalogue of sale. As mentioned last week, it should be a great sale, as there is a nice and diverse range of cars – and one can only hope that the Patrick Foundation raises oodles of cash to continue its good work.

Getting to see (and drive) such exotica close up was a real privilege, and I guess I should thank my lucky stars that I was allowed to be there. Certainly, it all makes for good publicity, but even so… there were a couple of times in the proceedings (when behind the wheel of the Ferrari-powered Lancia Thema 8.32, especially) when I had to stop myself from pinching my thigh in order to confirm that it was really happening.

Anyway, there was some seriously nice exotica there, but also a few well-preserved “normal” cars – something that makes the Patrick Collection so appealing to me. A totally unadultered Mk I Volkswagen Golf GTi was one such star, but for me, the real beauty of the show was a mixture of the humble and exotic: a Frazer-Tickford Metro.

From the moment I clapped eyes on it, I was smitten. Not sure I can put my finger on the exact reason, but for one, the paint job (silver, graduating to graphite grey at the bottom) stood out. But then there were those pepperpot alloy wheels, wearing pukka 1970s-spec Pirelli P7 tyres (and yes, tyre tread patterns can be sexy, OK?). The bodykit – daring but just shy of over the top – also worked extremely well. All in all, this was one 1982 Metro that looked a million dollars.

…the real beauty of the show was a mixture of the humble and exotic: a Frazer-Tickford Metro

Inside, it was pretty special, too. The leather Recaro seats really gripped, and the in car entertainment (which looked like a full-on Japanese component hi-fi including graphic equalizers from the early 1980s) was so overblown, so uncool, that it can only be described as a marvel.

But what was it like to drive. Ahh – now they say you should never meet your heroes, and I guess it’s true in this case. Yes, it went reasonably well – like a stock MG Metro in fact, but somehow after all of the visual drama, I expected just a little more. In fact, driving it was somewhat akin to being slapped in the face half way through a pleasant dream – for one, I banged my head getting in, and two, its gearbox whined like a five year old kid deprived of sweets.

A true BL car, then…

Pain and pleasure, not necessarily in equal amounts.

And because of that, I still want it. Want it badly.

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15 Sep 2004

Another one bites the dust?

Driving back home from work this evening, Radio 4’s PM programme made for spine-chilling listening. OK, things have not been good for some time, but it seems that we’re coming closer to seeing some tough decisions being made. Let me make one thing clear: I’m not talking about Westminster and its disturbing lack of security; as far as I am concerned, let them get on with it.

No, this news was much worse, much worse: I am, of course, referring to the story that it looks like Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory in Coventry is going to get the chop.

If this is the case, then it is going to be devastating news for the City – after all, Browns Lane employs 2,000 workers, and if they lose their jobs, then it is going to make a massive dent in the local economy. Still, the car industry is a global business, and Ford are a global player in dire straights right now. Its share of the European market is well under 10 per cent, and it has now fallen well behind rivals such as Renault and Volkswagen. In fact, it is now behind General Motors.

So, the name of the game is rationalization, and it could well be that Browns Lane will be the first UK factory to get the chop. What this means for Jaguar, though, remains unclear. Obviously, Ford will not be abandoning the marque – it has invested too much, but what it does mean is that the remaining Jaguar factories (Halewood in the North West and Castle Bromwich in Birmingham) will be under close scrutiny. Sales of the X- and S-Type need to take off, yet that looks unlikely, given that diesels have only just been launched (to appease Euro buyers) and the US/UK exchange rates remain poor (meaning Jags are expensive in the USA).

Personally speaking, if Ford pull Jaguar out of the UK, it would be a disaster of tragic proportions…

So, does that mean that Jaguars will have to built in the USA (or somewhere else) in the future? It seems inconceivable to us in the UK that a Jaguar could ever be a Jaguar if it were to be built overseas, but would foreign buyers care? It’s that word again – globalization – and brand values are what count, not where the car was built. No-one cares that Audi TTs are built in Hungary, or BMW Z4s hark from the USA. What counts is that their brand values remain intact. Well, that’s the theory. Personally speaking, if Ford pull Jaguar (and let’s say Land Rover) out of the UK, it would be a disaster of tragic proportions… to me, anyway. One of the things that makes Jaguar what it is, is that it is a British manufacturer, building British cars.

Take the UK production out of the equation, and it erodes the brand’s values massively. Some Jaguar diehards would argue that these have been on the wane since the Lincoln LS-based S-Type appeared…

I know one thing – if Ford closes Browns Lane and start building XJs somewhere else, some bright spark might start thinking that this could work for MG Rover. And as we all know, that would never work… I’m still trying to imagine it – a Rover not built by Brummies.

The thought of imported MGs and Rovers (forget CityRover for a moment) really, really, really, really does not bear thinking about.

Oh, and just one final thought. What the hell brought us here, and surely it can be stopped now. Aren’t we supposed to be the world’s fourth biggest economy?


Feedback:

Forum member “1955diesel”:

Most of the car buying public have no idea where their vehicle was made, nor do they care. To them, a Nissan will always be Japanese and a BMW will be German. Most of the prestige producers in the USA have manufacturing plants on that continent, but are viewed as European or Japanese. Ford would not think twice about moving production of Jaguar or Land Rover if the figures added up. The same is true for MG Rover. Moving production would affect the buying intent of a few local people and enthusiasts, but the rest of the country would be none the wiser.

However, producing cars in the UK for a European market should not be a problem, as proved by the Japanese companies thriving here. MG Rover have a deeper problem than finding cheap labour. – Having been around the motor industry for many years, I have seen many plant closures (and been part of some of them) and can appreciate how the workforce of Browns Lane are feeling. But in the long run, it will not be a disaster for most. By the time they have been redeployed, taken redundancy, retired or retrained, few will be left stranded. The bottom line is, production must be profitable in order to survive. Members of this Austin Rover website must be only too aware of the truth in this.


Piers Tweedie:

Yet another factory faces closure, yet again there is an outcry!

The only people who have the right to complain about this are those people who buy UK manufactured products, and therefore it is not so much as an outcry, but a whimper. When MGR faced closure, did we see the factory staff car park full of British built cars?

Do Jaguar workers support the fellow UK car workers and all drive British built cars? I would bet not, but bet most of them have Fords, VW’s etc., etc. How do people in this country expect Low Taxes, Low unemployment, better standards of living/health care, jobs for life, if we don’t support each other?

Either put your money where your mouth is or shut up and except your dole cheque, low paid jobs and higher taxes. We build great cars in the UK. Think where the car comes from before you buy. Replace your choice of BMW, Ford, VW, Audi, Citroen, Fiat, Renault, with British built Jaguars, Hondas, Minis, Toyotas, Rovers, MGs, Nissans, Peugeots Vauxhalls, and Land Rovers.

Remember it’s not about being patriotic, it’s about YOU having lower taxes, and a job in years to come.

THINK BEFORE YOU BUY!

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14 Sep 2004

We lose, they win

By MIKE GOY

Back in 1968, a major concern amongst UK vehicle manufacturers was that imports would soon take a 15% market share. BMC enjoyed a domestic dominance, but their subsequent decline as British Leyland, BL, Austin-Rover, Rover and finally MGR has been relentless and well-documented on this web site and elsewhere.

What has not been so well-documented, however, is the context in which BMC operated throughout the 1960s. If we look at the competition (both domestic and European) the British Motor Corporation was not the only manufacturer of motor vehicles experiencing problems. In Germany, VW were producing some appalling machinery and its entire range was rear-engined (remember the VW 1500 and the VW 411?). BMW had a very average selection of cars with their 1500 and 1800. Mercedes-Benzes were conventionally engineered and somewhat dull. And remember Wartburg (East German two-stroke cars)?

In France, Simca had the boxy, rear-engined 1000 and the extremely average Aronde. Peugeot had the Farina-styled 404 (a very similar design to the Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford, but visually cleaner) but very little else. Renault were still working with rear-engined cars such as the 8 and 10, although they showed their hand with the innovative 16 in 1965. Citroën were obsessed with variations of the 2 CV concept such as the Ami 6 and 8 (the basic 2 CV was already 20 years old by the mid-Sixties) and the wonderful but incredibly complex and expensive DS.

Moving north to Scandinavia, Volvo was a one-model manufacturer with the 144 in 1966, and Saab only really had the quirky 96. Remember DAF in Holland? Innovative Variomatic transmission but little else. Moving south to Italy, yet another rear-engined range with the 500/600 from Fiat and, with the exception of the Car of the Year award-winning 128 in 1969, some pretty dull machinery in the form of the 124, 125 and later the 132. Some exciting cars came from Alfa Romeo, sadly prone to rust, and the delightful Fulvia coupe was made by Lancia, but these manufacturers were hardly a threat as they appealed mainly to a more specialised market. Staying with southern Europe, we had the Fiat clones in Spain, otherwise known as SEAT. And then there was Škoda in Czechoslovakia – rear engined of course.

It could all have been so different
if the Allegro had been a decent
car with a hatchback…

So much for the foreign competition, but what about threats from other domestic manufacturers? Well, there was Vauxhall (very similar to Opel in Germany) with a boring, leaf sprung and rear-wheel-drive range in the Viva, Victor, Velox and Cresta. Then there was Ford (again, closely following the range from their counterparts in Germany) who really didn’t find their feet until the Escort and Cortina Mark 2 of the late Sixties. And then we come to my personal favourite, the Rootes Group. I wonder how much of BMC’s badge engineering was influenced by this organisation? They too had taken on-board the philosophy that seemed to be rampant amongst British car manufacturers at the time – Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam and Humber were all essentially the same car cut four ways. But the innovative Hillman Imp was a step too far. Conceived as a rival to the successful BMC Mini, it had to be sold by dealers more used to much larger cars. It was rear engined, unreliable and made in a brand-new factory in Linwood, Scotland – not a recipe for success. The Rootes Group was eventually taken over by Chrysler, failed and was then reborn as the UK arm of Peugeot.

So just how did BMC manage to throw it all away? Again, this web site has closely documented the decline and fall of BMC/Leyland but the lacklustre nature of the competition in the 1960s, both domestic and continental, has not been discussed in detail. Perhaps being surrounded by mediocrity tends to dull the senses. Or perhaps it was just luck? VW only survived their rear engined escapades because the 1974 Golf was so right and they obtained a multi-million Deutschmark loan from the German government to prop up their failing business. Ford finally moved to front-wheel-drive with the 1977 Fiesta and set the tone for future hatchback design. It seems that Fiat are permanently struggling and have only survived intact so far because of a huge domestic market share and the deep pockets of the parent Fiat group.

It could all have been so different if the 1973 Austin Allegro had been a decent car with a hatchback…

If we fast forward to 2004, the mighty VW Group, Ford and General Motors have cleaned up between them, collecting (in no particular order) Škoda, Seat, Bentley, Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover, Mazda, Daewoo, Saab… Hard to believe then that British Leyland were once the fifth largest manufacturer of motor vehicles in the world. But it is also hard to remember just how poor the opposition was 35 years ago.

So can MGR survive? Well, the Chinese alliance looks promising in the short-term, but I can’t help thinking that in the medium or longer term MGR will become just another subsidiary once their usefulness to the Chinese has passed. And this time, they cannot sell Land Rover or Jaguar or Mini to keep the wolf from the door.

Sadly, ultimate survival looks very doubtful.

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13 Sep 2004

Up for grabs

A further portion of the Patrick Collection is now up for grabs, and will be auctioned off by Bonhams on the 6th December.

So, what does that mean for us fans of BMC>Rover?

Well, among this collection is a fair selection of interesting cars from our stable. A glance at the list below should get your mouths watering. Already, I am seeing what my finances are like for the Frazer Tickford Metro!

Description Estimate
1952 Austin Champ Army Radio Jeep £3,000 – 4,000
1962 Austin A60 Cambridge Farina Saloon £2,500 – 3,500
1968 Daimler V8 250 Saloon, c.16,000 miles £10,000 – 12,000
1968 Triumph Vitesse Saloon £2,500 – 3,500
1969 Jaguar 420G Saloon £3,000 – 4,000
1973 Rover P6 3.5 Saloon, c.18,900 miles £3,000 – 4,000
1974 MG BGT V8 Coupe, c.20,000 miles £7,000 – 9,000
1974 Vanden Plas Princess 1300, c.17,500 miles £3,000 – 4,000
1977 Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas, c.21,000 miles £3,000 – 4,000
1978 Triumph Stag Sports, c.10,000 miles (TOE 1S, ex-press car?) £8,000 – 12,000
1981 Daimler Rapport Forte £3,000 – 5,000
1982 Frazer-Tickford Metro, c.2,500 miles £5,000 – 6,000
1983 Triumph Acclaim Saloon, c.4,500 miles £1,000 – 1,500
1995 Range Rover Vogue SE, c.9,000 miles £10,000 – 15,000

Now tell me that your mouths are not watering!

Well, the idea of having an austin-rover.co.uk mascot car has been suggested before, but perhaps we should try again. Maybe we should all club together and buy the Rapport or the Frazer-Tickford. We have on average 30,000 readers per month, so if everyone who came to the site pledged a Pound, we could buy the Rapport Forte. And the Metro, no doubt…

I am sure your pledge would qualify you for hire of the car, as long as you were OK with a waiting list. 30,000 people and one car would mean a long, long queue! Then there’s repairs and upkeep…

Maybe it was a silly idea.

Still, if you want to see me in one of these cars, and are feeling particularly generous, send me a cheque, postal order or cash – care of my house…


The Patrick Collection was founded by Alexander Patrick, chairman of the Birmingham-based Patrick Motor Group. The museum is located at Patrick House, 180 Lifford Lane, Kings Norton, Birmingham, West Midlands, B30 3NT (Tel: +44-(0)121 459 9111), and is open to the public from Easter until 28 October each year. Weekends, school holidays and Bank holidays: 10.00-17.30. All other days: 14.00-17.30.

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9 Sep 2004

Back to basics

By MIKE BURNS

The Internet leads us nowadays into more than just owners clubs, with their monthly magazines and yearly meetings. We now have the sometimes dubious pleasure of interactive discussions, posts, threads, blogs, forums, surveys, etc. I’ve been into cars all my life, taken interests in a huge number of marques (from Peugeot scrapbooks when I was 10 to my two-year tenure as 4×4 registrar for FIAT Motor Club GB in the late 90s) and dealt with enthusiasts from as far afield as France and South Africa as a result. I would like to think I can provide a balanced owner’s insight: even I acknowledge that the Panda 4×4 was appalling to drive and the build was tinny and woeful, but I still loved it! Much like my ZR 105.

Despite my own rather dubious experiences of MGR ownership, I still believe I drive what is, fundamentally, a unique and inspirational driver’s car, just rather poorly executed. And it’s here I think MGR have lost their way – they can and do build truly great cars, they even build them well when they try, and make a huge success when they catch the market perfectly (think 200/400). The range isn’t modern – the 45 needs to be replaced badly even after its facelift – but almost all the MGR models do have big selling points in one form or another, which are then disguised by criticisim over too high a price, lack of equipment, quality issues (percieved or otherwise) and the negative press which results.

Judging a car on one point alone means any car could win a test on something. But in the real world, people spending their hard-earned pennies on a car need it to fulfil a range of functions and expectations. But when I earn enough money to buy a ZT V8 solely for driveability and not worry about ownership experience because, hey, it’s a hoot to drive, then trust me I would never again grumble as an MGR owner!

MGR have a good core fan base, but dwindling sales, regardless of what is happening market-wide, cannot be blamed on the media, negative reporting, conspiracy theories, etc. I work in the media and although I am not saying we always get it right, I believe that journos like Clarkson, Watchdog, and magazines like Auto Express provide a much more realistic account of MGR’s current product range in terms of an ownership experience than enthusiasts would have us or indeed would like us to believe. Products stand on their own merit, they earn a reputation for reliability on the quality of the product produced, they earn a reputation for satisfaction based on ownership experience. Enthusiasts forgive more, but their numbers alone won’t provide the figures MGR need to break even and survive; Joe Public’s purchases will.

And it’s bewildering that in this day and age, you have the excellent 75/ZT ranking near the top 10 of most motoring surveys, whilst you get the 25/ZR/TF langusihing near the bottom, with the 45/ZS somewhere in between. MGR have proved they can do it and acheive a top-class product which is a credit to the company (75/ZT). There are no excuses for this wild variation in products originating from the same workers in the same factory.

Customers don’t want lots of
fancy gadgets… they want a
quality, reliable product…

And how do MGR make do in this current climate of ever-faster evolving competition and shorter model life cycles with a limited development budget and resources? It’s simple, they don’t need to match the competition on those terms, though RD60 will need to offer something to stand out from the crowd to at least get people looking at MGR products again. They need to focus on keeping their existing customers and enticing the old ones back, by driving up the standard of the aftersales packages they offer, improving the ownership experience and eradicating the wildness of the variable quality we see from Longbridge and Pune (CityRover). I passionately believe in customer service and what can be achieved if you go out of your way to make the customer happy. MGR isn’t a big player, and makes a big noise about the fact it is a medium player. If that’s the case it should have the time and effort to focus on the issue of quality – from factory to driveway.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I wonder if MGR would be in a better state now with a good few million spent on dealer re-training, helpdesk retraining, Longbridge QA, a new CityRover dashboard with a more realistic price, improved aftersales and breakdown packages, a new TF dash, new column stalks even – than producing a halo-effect V8 which turned out overdue and over budget (and we Scots know how frustrating that is for normal people – think of our new Parliament building!)

Discounts and deals are brilliant in the short term and may provide a more accurate portrait of what the cars should be selling for with their current package, as opposed to MGR’s covert policy of over-pricing all its vehicles to put off customers and the press, then entice them in with huge discounts! But even I admit, as a penny-pinching Scotsman, I would rather have paid an extra £500 for my ZR 2 years ago if I could have been more confident that I would not have been left abandoned 200 miles from home in a broken down, 15-month old car in the height of winter, and still be waiting for MGR’s helpdesk to deal with my complaint properly 10 months later!

If the products offer a unique ownership experience, unrivalled or at the top of the class, on a product that is semi-decent, people will come back time and time again. Customers don’t want lots of fancy gadgets on their space age-looking cars, they want a quality, reliable product which works, has a few toys and is nice to drive and when it goes wrong, the company move heaven and earth to sort it with minimum fuss. The Toyota Corolla didn’t acheive its worldwide reputation for nothing, you know! Add in driveability, either sporty for MG or relaxing for Rover, and I believe that MGR could turn the current tide with far less fuss, ridicule and ceremony, and not have to worry quite so much about an elderly model range.

Is it time for MGR to get back to basics with its products in order to acheive more sales success and restore its reputation? It’s not that outrageous a concept, is it?

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8 Sep 2004

Sell, sell, sell

By JOHN HUNTON

As the proud driver of a new MG ZT, I often look around at the other machinery that litters our roads and wonder who buys them, and why? For the answer to this I need to look at the reasons why I bought my own car. These are quite simple. I like the look of the ZT, I like high performance cars, I like to buy British, and there is an MG Rover dealer down the road to service and repair the car should it ever need it. Last but not least, I ignore everything that is written in the press about MG Rover, and just hope that all goes well and the company not only survives, but becomes a major success.

As I see it, the problem with MG Rover at the moment is that if you want to learn about any of their products you have to get off your backside and find out about them yourself. Of course, this is no problem for an enthusiast like myself, but what about someone who just wants a machine that gets them from A to B? Yes, the company has an informative web site, they will send you a brochure or you can pop into your local dealership and have an informal chat. But with the other players in the market (Ford, Vauxhall, Citroën, Fiat, etc), the information seems to be all over the place. It’s in your face. Only last week while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist and flicking through the various magazines, I was bombarded with data about the new Astra, Focus and Punto. Any MG Rover products in there? No.

…if they can get the launch and
marketing of the new 45 correct,
the company and all the models in
the range will benefit as a whole.

The latest TV commercials tell us that MG Rover makes great cars, and that its exports help our balance of payments, etc, etc, etc. But where does it tell Mr & Mrs Focus that the Rover 45 will carry five in comfort, has a high level of specification, has a good safety cell and is available from £9995? NOWHERE! I am afraid the marketing is crap. People moan about the age of the products making them uncompetetive (in the case of the 25/45 range), but I remember Ford making crap cars through most of the 1980s and 90s and still selling them by the bucket-load. Why? The Ford marketing machine. In 1990, the new Escort was probably one of the most dire cars on the road. It was slow, noisy, uncomfortable, had low levels of equipment and was ugly. Yet people bought them by the bucket-load. The press slated the car. People still bought them by the bucket-load. It was worse than the model it replaced. And people bought them by the bucket-load. The Astra was a cheaper, better car; but people still… well, you get the picture…

As soon as MGR can learn how to market the cars like Ford, product development will no longer be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Granted, the company needs a new model now as a springboard, but I beleive if they can get the launch and marketing of the new 45 correct, the company and all the models in the range will benefit as a whole. They will only get one chance at this, and I hope they can get it right.

I wish MGR all the success in the world, and hope that certain aspects of the motoring press (Clarkson) give them a break. It seems to me, that it is a British media disease to run down our own products, athletes, etc in the press. Let’s hope that MGR does not become the motoring equivalent of Leeds United…

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7 Sep 2004

The start of something new

Well, it is official. I now have the best job in the world.

As of today, I am now the News Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and it looks like there will be a few hard weeks climbing the learning curve. Without doubt, my getting this job is down in no small part to you, the site’s readers, who have encouraged me with your constant feedback, determining the direction that it goes. Therefore, it’s very much a team effort, but special mention does have to go to Declan Berridge, who ensured (and still does) that most of what I write here is legible – and makes sense.

I just hope I can do it on a regular basis (in the magazine) without his massive input.

So, what does that mean for austin-rover.co.uk? In a nutshell, it means business as usual. The site additions will keep being rolled-out, and thanks to all of those people who continuously send in quality submissions, austin-rover.co.uk will hopefully remain at the top of the tree.

What it means for Classic Car Weekly remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: the magazine has gained a Rover SD1 for its long term fleet!

Following conversations with MG Rover’s communications chief, Kevin Jones, we are acknowledged by the company for providing the most comprehensive online resource of the company’s history. This is good news. For one, it means we can continue to display the company’s logos, but more than that, we should be getting an inside perspective added to some of the stories we carry here. Having said that, we will remain independent, and any scoops we receive will be handled in the same way as they have always been. That seems the most fair way.

So, as always, keep the stories coming in… and let’s continue with the good work…

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5 Sep 2004

Same shit, different medium…

As someone who is soon to join the clan of muttering rotters, more commonly known as the British motoring press, I am hoping that I will be able to commentate in a fair and impartial way, but importantly, trying to establish my own writing style. For me, one important aspect of my writing is to maintain the reader’s interest; whilst ensuring that what I have to say is is not simply a rehash of old ideas… The reader would soon see though that.

Or would they?

Without doubt, the best motoring journalist in the UK at the moment really has to be Jeremy Clarkson. For one, he’s right at the top of the tree – BBC’s TOP GEAR programme would not exist without him, and although much of what was the programme moved over to Channel Five, to become FIFTH GEAR, that does not count, because as far as I know, no-one apart from Tiff Needell’s mother actually watches it. No, Jeremy Clarkson left TOP GEAR, and with him, left the programme’s viewers.

But thankfully for the BBC, Jeremy Clarkson returned (after his slightly iffy foray into being a chatshow host), and he created a programme in his own image – spookily similar to a raft of annual Clarkson videos. Audiences loved it, and still do today, as I am sure its viewing figures will attest.

However, Clarkson does like to repeat himself. Maybe he wants to get the point across. Maybe he’s short on material (although I doubt that, given the programme’s talented team of writers), or just maybe he feels that if he says the same thing to enough people, they will begin to believe it.

Right now, he does seem to have it in for MG Rover. Not that some of what he says is amusing. However, how many times can he say the same thing before people begine to get bored of the joke?

Personally, I have always found his tirades amusing – not because of the content, but because of the delivery. But recently, it seems to me that the anti-MG Rover tirade has become a little too venomous, and a little to tedious for its repetitiveness. The latest and most heavy handed attack by Clarkson was delivered through the pages of The Sunday Times, and although the article was ostensibly a road test of the ZT 260 V8 (a car which he likes), he seemed to major on the historical baggage of the company as well as his personal view of what kind of people drive Rovers.

In fact, his “road test” read almost like the TOP GEAR script he read from when delivering his verdict on the same car a few months back.

Here are some “gems”:

The problem is that the line-up of cars on sale is now even older than the people who buy them. The 45, for instance, was launched when Rameses III was on the throne and the MGTF is still painted with woad.

What the…? So, the 45 is old – and it’s trendy to bemoan the fact, but it does not detract from the ZS version of the car being still a seriously impressive driving machine, and its suspension system is still more sophisticated than quite a few class rivals. Oh, and yeah, the MG TF is a re-engineered version of a car launched in 1995. Unlike the Mazda MX-5, which is a re-engineered version of a 1990 car…

“There’s even some speculation that the romantically handled Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) might buy Rover, though God knows why.”

Because SAIC gain access to the engineering division of MG Rover, which is still capable of producing some dynamically excellent cars. What does SAIC get from General Motors and Volkswagen? Existing cars – ones that will not be tailored for China. Would SAIC get an open door to Wolfsburg or Russelheim’s engineering departments? Of course not…

I’d steer clear (of the ZT) because I’d always have a nagging doubt about the future of Rover itself. I’d worry that my expensive new toy would be stripped of its warranty and service backup five minutes after I got it home“.

Even though it looks like the Chinese want to get deeper into bed with MG Rover? Commentators have been predicting the death of MG Rover since 2000, and yes, against all all odds, it is still with us. Instead of using your programme and newspaper columns to frighten the crap out of potential customers, why not give a little credit where it is due? There is some very innovative thinking going on at Longbridge right now, and one suspects that the hostility coming from certain areas of the press is causing the company’s drop in sales.

Mostly, though, the reason why I’d steer well clear is that all those imbeciles who used to wobble about the middle of the road in their enormous Volvos have now got Rovers. Whenever I’m stuck in a huge tailback on the way into Oxford, it’s always a 216 at the front, endlessly indicating right and never actually doing so“.

Oh dear – the cliche rears its head. Oxford’s people bought a lot of 216s when they were new, and I would hardly call (what was in its day, remember?) an innovatively engineered, powerful, aspirational hatchback, the favoured car of the pensioner today. Nope, Mister Clarkson, it seems to me that you notice bad driving in Rovers because it reinforces your own prejudices (which I am at a loss to understand where they have come from). Because. let’s face it, no bad drivers ever clamber behind the wheel of a BMW, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Saab, Vauxhall or Ford.

Come on, Jeremy, you can do better than this. Why not admit you like the car without attaching any silly conditionals? The guys at AUTOCAR, EVO and CAR magazine seem to disagree with you, and they know what they are talking about.

In fact, why not simply ignore Rover for a few months and let the company work on staying in business. I cannot believe for one minute that you want to see MG Rover closed up (you can’t hate us Brummies that much, can you?), and yet, such nonsense like that published in today’s Times is helping to move the company towards the unthinkable end game.

Perhaps there is a “Clarkson on Rover” book in the offing, and you need to get that last chapter finished…

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4 Sep 2004

1968: Political influences

By JONATHAN CARLING

This article describes the political influences on the great merger of 1968. Harold Wilson’s Labour party was four years into Government and had experienced some of the great ups and downs of power : trying to implement a socialist programme on a parliamentary majority of three, (which subsequently became a 100-seat majority in the 1966 General Election) two humiliating currency devaluations and re-nationalisation of major industries including the steel industry in 1967.

Wilson was greatly influenced by the economic development of the Soviet Union in the middle decades of the twentieth century under its left wing, indeed communist, Government. It seems unlikely now, but at that time the world was unaware of the murderous aspects of Stalin’s regime, and saw instead a state that had developed from an agricultural peasant economy in the 1920s to being a nuclear superpower by the 1960s. Stalin had operated a planned economy – which required state control of all industries and the rigorous setting and commitment to economic targets established in five year plans. Wilson had visited the Soviet Union frequently since the late 1940s, and had formed a close relationship with Molotov, a leading figure in Stalin’s oligarchy.

Wilson was not a communist himself, of course, and was never going to restrict personal freedom or nationalise everything in sight, but he did see the advantages of state intervention in the economy. He believed that this, together with forward planning by the state of the industrial sector, could bring similar economic advancements to those of the Soviets. His pre-election ‘white heat of technology’ speech in 1963 attested to this view. Once in power, Wilson set up the Industrial Reorganisation Commission (IRC) to help bring this about.

Wilson is known to have put pressure on
Benn during this time ‘to get those two
merged’, believing that by doing so,
Britain would have a motor industry to
challenge the international giants.

Government Departments at the time included the Department of Economic Affairs, (which was charged with planning the economy) and a Ministry of Technology (which was charged with putting money into technologically advancing industries). In 1968, the Secretary of State of State for Technology was one Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, MP.

It was against this background, that the Government acted to influence the merger of BMC and Leyland. Benn’s diaries for 15 January 1968 state that:

‘British Motor Corporation and Leyland Motors had agreed very late last night to merge their two companies into one. This is a fantastic achievement, and it all began in my house in November 1966 when George Harriman and Donald Stokes came to discuss the future of Rootes, and I put it to them that they ought to consider merging’.

Clearly, Benn is overstating his own role on the merger here. We know that the two companies had been discussing merger as early as 1964, when they began by looking at co-operating in export markets. Nonetheless, Benn did believe that he had made a difference. Wilson is known to have put pressure on Benn during this time ‘to get those two merged’, believing that by doing so Britain would have a motor industry to challenge the international giants.

This view is backed up in Graham Turner’s 1971 book, ‘The Leyland Papers’. Turner describes a number of meetings in Whitehall between Ministers, Civil Servants, and leading figures within the two companies. These discussions culminated in a meeting at Chequers in October 1967, where Wilson, Benn, Harriman and Stokes spent a lengthy evening. Harriman said afterwards:

‘the whole essence of the evening was the Prime Minister using Chequers charm to further the merger’.

After Chequers, Stokes and Harriman both publicly committed themselves to the view that merger would be good for the country. Harriman was quoted as saying ‘when the Prime Minister asks, it is not a good thing to say no’. By January 1968, Stokes was telling Wilson that merger per se was looking difficult, and that he was contemplating making a bid for the company. After the takeover, Turner tells us that:

‘As for Wilson, he felt sure that Leyland had paid too much’.

What do we make of all this? Maybe a merger or a takeover would have happened without political influence. Harriman was less enthusiastic than Stokes. Wilson believed that a larger company would be a more successful one. Neither Wilson nor Benn were industrialists and neither had experience of the motor industry. Stokes was a salesman but not a production man. Did any of them know what they were getting into? With hindsight, the creation of such a large, diverse and inherently chaotic company looks like a recipe for disaster. Why did it not appear that way at the time?

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3 Sep 2004

Brand values

By DECLAN BERRIDGE

Judging by some of the messages posted on this site’s forums, there would appear to be a fair number of people who are in favour of MGR’s owners PVH restricting the Rover brand to cars pitched at the level of the 75 or higher. The reasoning behind this seems to be based on the fact that people have fond memories of the cars like the P6 and SD1, which are often cited as being the last “real” Rovers, and they believe that concentrating on cars in this bracket will facilitate a return to the marque’s former glory.

But the SD1 was introduced almost 30 years ago, and the car market has moved on apace since then. One of the most significant changes has been the fact that the traditional premium manufacturers have woken up to the fact that they need to be represented in as many market sectors as possible, while continuing to uphold the core values of their brands.

Even at the time of the SD1’s launch, Mercedes-Benz was the only other manufacturer whose competing car was also the brand’s entry-level model. BMW and the then-aspirant Audi were already well represented in the sector below with the 3-series and 80 respectively (and the same could be said of the Swedish contingent, Saab and Volvo). But at least Mercedes could claim that the breadth of market sectors in which they were represented was determined by their product planning strategy. Rover, on the other hand, was merely hamstrung by its position within the sprawling, marque-heavy BL empire. Anything in a similar vein but smaller than SD1 would be granted the Triumph badge, while anything larger would have to be a Jaguar…

By the end of the Seventies, even the mighty Mercedes had decided that they needed a smaller car. After all, why let the 3-series have it all its own way? In 1983, the 190 – predecessor to the C-Class – was born, and soon earned an enviable reputation for its longevity and solid build quality, thereby gaining acceptance as a “proper” Mercedes. Fast forward to today, and we find that Jaguar has belatedly followed Mercedes into C-Class territory with the X-Type, while Germany’s quality triumvirate have expanded their ranges still further, and crucially, they are competing (or soon will be) in the über-Golf sector with the Mercedes B-Class, BMW 1-series and Audi A3. Mercedes and Audi have also dipped their toes into the sector below, with the A-Class and A2, while BMW has its own cult offering in the Mini – denied the BMW badge more for the fact that it is front-wheel-drive than for any fear that it is intrinsically unworthy of it.

By the end of the 1980s, the company had
enough confidence in its identity to
concentrate solely on the Rover brand.

The galling thing is that if one accepts Rover’s somewhat ambitious aspirations during the late 1980s and 1990s to be seen as a premium brand, then it can be argued that they were ahead of the game. Around the same time that the Mercedes 190 was being announced, Austin Rover were already in the throes of establishing the Rover brand in a new sector with the Honda-based 213/216 range, which involved taking the tough decision to kill off the Triumph marque. By the end of that decade, the company had enough confidence in its identity to concentrate solely on the Rover brand, and to relaunch the much-improved Metro under this banner. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that the disowned Maestro and Montego models were hovering in the background, refusing to die a natural death, until they finally met with their executioner some four or five years later.

Thus, from 1995 onwards, Rover had the makings of a broadly-based premium range, from the supermini 100, through the freshly-launched 200/400 (R3/ HHR) and the well-respected 600 models, up to the newly competent if ageing 800 (with the added attractions of the Mini, the MGF and the specialist Land Rover range). This should have been the springboard from which a revitalised and upgraded Rover range could have been developed during the last five years of the decade.

But there was a new problem: BMW. Just as the SD1 had been hemmed-in by its bedfellows in the Seventies, so Rover’s late 1990s range found itself playing second fiddle to its master’s own offerings. The 600 and 800 both gave way to the sector-spanning 75, which was positioned to avoid competing directly with either the 3-series or the 5-series. In some ways this was a neat trick, as owners could kid themselves that their car was more upmarket than it really was, though it’s interesting to note that MGR’s more recent marketing efforts have tended to pitch the car against the “lesser” of these two potential rivals.

Of course, the 75 was destined to spawn a replacement for the (HHR) 400, codenamed R30, while the place of the hastily withdrawn 100-series was ultimately due to have been taken by R50 – the new Mini. But then came BMW’s bombshell announcement that it was offloading Rover and taking the Mini project (and Land Rover) with it. Since then, MGR’s mainstream range has had to soldier on through a succession of well-judged but hardly rejuvenating facelifts, while new models (those rather odd bedfellows the CityRover and the SV) have had to be bought-in to one extent or another from other manufacturers.

Looking at today’s MGR range, it’s easy to see why the aforementioned forum members are advocating that the CityRover, 25 and 45 be replaced by models called Austin, Morris, or something else entirely – anything but Rover. But that is to assume that any new models MGR might come up with in the future will be as ineffectual in the premium car market as those cars currently are. If that assumption is correct, then MGR might as well pack up its bags and leave town now. Tell me, what other manufacturer produces a single premium model for the “executive” sector under one brand, alongside an inferior range of smaller models which ought not to be mentioned in the same breath?

This view of the Rover brand’s exalted status is based purely on remembrance of things past. The people who espouse it need to ask themselves one simple question: it is really wise for Rover consciously to leave the market for high-quality, Polo/Golf/Bora-sized cars to Mercedes, BMW and Audi, while also trying to retain a foothold in this company with just the 75 (and its eventual replacement)? Surely not. As I see it, PVH needs to do one of two things with Rover: a) go all-out to meet the premium brands head-on, within as many market sectors as it can manage; or b) stop pretending that they can compete at this level, and reposition their range to take on the increasingly competent offerings from Ford, Vauxhall, et al.

What they don’t need to do in order to achieve either of these aims is to revive or invent an extra brand.

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2 Sep 2004

Made in England

I’ve often thought that the UK car industry is still up there with the best in the world. Why say that, when we have no large indigenous companies left, and although MG Rover is still as British as Elizabeth Windsor (OK, bad example…), it can no longer be considered large.

In fact, with an output of just over 100,000 units a year, it only just constitutes a medium-sized company… in global terms, a real minnow, then.

As a country, though, the UK still produces a healthy number of cars. In Swindon, we have Honda; in Washington, we have Nissan; and in Burnaston, we have Toyota. Let’s not also forget, that we also have two ex-Rover Group amputees: MINI in (what was) Cowley and Land Rover in Solihull.

So, we still have a thriving motor industry, employing thousands of Britons.

MG Rover isn’t in the same league
as the multi-nationals, but is way
too big to count as specialist…

There’s also the specialist sector, and although it is slowly slipping into foreign ownership, the talent behind companies such as Lotus and TVR is still very much British. So where does MG Rover fit into this? It isn’t in the same league as the multi-nationals, but is way too big to count as specialist…

Maybe so, but in the way it operates, MG Rover is much nearer being the latter rather than the former. Look at the development of the RD/X60 and the X12 (MG ZT V8)… because BMW left Rover with an almost negligible development resources, it needed to tap into the rich seam of talent within the specialist industry. It is a strategy that the Rover Group employed in the past, notably during the development of the MGF, but that was a project not destined to be part of the volume sector.

Now that RD/X60 is firmly back on track, the ill-fated tie-up with TWR Engineering is a thing of the past, and the project continues as an in-house effort. Or does it? There are rumours that Pininfarina could be involved – but right now, at this point in time, that is all they are: rumours.

However, history could be repeating itself: it seems that MG Rover is now working on the replacement for the TF and although it still sells well, its age is becoming more of a factor with buyers. And where better to obtain the best development resources than from the specialist sector? In this case, it seems that the company drafted in to assist with that car’s development is Menard Engineering Limited. And which company did MEL buy-out last year? TWR Engineering…

The plot thickens.

Still, this strategy defintely seems to be the way forward. We have the talent in the UK, so let’s go and use it.

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1 Sep 2004

Paranoia

By DECLAN BERRIDGE

Had to go into work yesterday evening, so I drove up to central London and parked my car at a meter in Belgravia, a short walk from my office.

As I was getting my bag out of the boot, I noticed a group of four well-dressed young men standing in the doorway of a smart restaurant across the road, who seemed to be taking quite an interest in the car. I stuck a pound in the meter and was about to walk off when one of the four guys crossed the street and caught my attention:

“Sorry, but my friends and I were just having a bet about the price of one of these. Would you mind telling me what they retail at?”

I explained that the car had just been superseded, but gave him an estimated price anyway. He seemed surprised. The conversation turned to how specifying options affects the price, and how the pricing of the new model compared with that of the old. After a few minutes, he thanked me for having helped him win his bet, and I headed off for my office.

Some people have their “eureka” moments
in the bath, but for me it generally happens
when I’m doing the backstroke.

A couple of hours later I popped into my gym for a quick swim. Some people have their “eureka” moments in the bath, but for me it generally happens when I’m doing the backstroke. I’ve lost count of the number of complicated problems and seemingly-impossible situations that have been resolved by being able to relax and think clearly while propelling myself backwards through the water. But sometimes it provides an opportunity for my mind to wander in a less productive manner, and last night was just such an occasion.

I began to dwell on the encounter I’d had earlier that evening. Something didn’t seem right about it. Had the guy really been interested in finding out the price of the car, or had it been some sort of ruse? Why had he seemed surprised when I told him the price, yet then said that he’d won his bet? Had he simply been holding my attention while his friends were up to something else? I still had my keys, so it wasn’t some kind of pick-pocketing scam. Or was it? An awful thought entered my head. Had his real aim been to stand next to me for long enough to clone my car’s electronic key. One hears about such things, and I wasn’t quite sure whether this could only be done while the key was actually being activated…

As I left the gym, I’d more-or-less convinced myself that my car was a goner. With a cloned key they could open it, disable the alarm and overcome the immobiliser. Taking it away after that would be a piece of cake. I began to make a mental note of what had been in the glovebox, door-pockets, cubby-holes and CD changer. Had I left anything in the boot? No, thank God. I headed straight for where I’d parked the car, fully expecting to find either an empty space or another car parked in the bay. I’d even given some thought as to where the nearest police station was, in order to report the loss.

Of course, I needn’t have bothered. As I walked down the street the car’s distinctive haunches hoved into view. It was exactly as I had left it, and had not even attracted the attention of Westminster’s notoriously over-zealous parking attendants. I breathed a sigh of relief as I climbed in and drove off.

Think I’ll stick with front crawl for a while, though…

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

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

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