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Blogs : September 2006

28 September

We’re back

By KEITH ADAMS

SO Jaguar wilted… and Rover stepped up to the plate. Yup, that’s the story of our Staples2Naples rally – and truth be told, it was a disappointment and a relief all rolled up in one.

We had a great time on foreign shores, but it’s also great to be back. So. it’s back to business now, and stop thinking about the great people, driving and food over in Italy.

Sigh…

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21 September

The dream isn’t over…

By KEITH ADAMS

YOU may not have read it yet, but our dreams of wafting down to Naples in a budget example of Browns Lane’s finest have gone up in a cloud of clutch smoke. As you can read elsewhere, my heart sank when I realised that my Jaguar wouldn’t make it to Naples on account of a terminally slipping clutch… It wasn’t that bad before, but for some reason it now doesn’t want to play ball – and on the eve of Staples2Naples, I’m now left with the task of finding a car to get me to the end of the event, in time for the 17.40 Speed Ferry tomorrow.

It’s a tall order, but I’m not giving up – there are other cars around that should get me there, and which come in at below £100, but time’s very much against us now…

To all those people who told me to act sooner about this clutch, I can only apologise – you were all absolutely right…

We’ll certainly keep you informed about what car we take, and how we get on. There’s one good thing to come out of this for all the fans of this site – we’ll definitely be going in a Rover – because there are so many good ones around at this price point.

Oh, and if you have a Blog submission or something for have your say, please drop it into Brian Gunn – who is Mr Austin-Rover for the next ten days…

Ciao!

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20 September

It’s all happening now

By KEITH ADAMS


We’ll not be seeing the Viking Longship attached to this car now, because Rover has returned to Solihull.

THERE’S never been a busier time for news on www.austin-rover.co.uk, and the recent and unexpected developments regarding Ford and the Rover marque names really thrown us all a curved ball. Given Ford’s financial plight at the moment, it’s hard to imagine Rover fitting into the PAG portfolio at all, but it presents all kinds of opportunities previously undreamt of when we assumed Rover was to become a subsidiary of SAIC.

One thing’s for sure – no matter what happens to Rover, it’s good to see the brand returning to Solihull to be re-united with Land-Rover. In truth, PAG’s purchase of Rover is probably little more than a way of protecting the prestigious off-road manufacturer’s name, but one can hope that all the talk a couple of years back about a Gerry McGovern design-led Land-Rover moving into the cross-over of road car manufacture had an air of truth about it.

One thing’s for sure – no matter what
happens to Rover, it’s good to see the
brand returning to Solihull to be re-
united with Land-Rover…

Certainly with a class line-up of designers headed by David Saddington and Richard Woolley, who have a clear understanding of Rover heritage, it would be nice to believe that discussions of this nature are already going on. After all, the future doesn’t bode well for off-roaders as a whole, as political pressure is likely to be applied to this breed of cars – what could work better for Land-Rover than a complementary range of executive saloons, MPVs or Matra-Rancho-like ‘soft-roaders’ wearing the Rover badge, and distributed through the dealer network?

In a way, the purchase of the Rover name could solve one of Jaguar’s more immediate problems. The X-TYPE has been fading badly in the past three years, and a light re-skin would see it converted into a ‘new’ Rover 75. That would see the X-TYPE’s development costs amortised, and once again Jaguar could concentrate on building supercars and super-saloons…

It’s just a thought…

In truth, the whole Land-Rover/Rover thing will probably offer no immediate re-birth of the famous marque, and may never see it return at all. The current climate isn’t that conducive to a brand re-launch, anyway – and as we all know, selling retro-styled saloons isn’t a financially lucrative thing to do right now.

The sad probability is that Ford bought Rover to protect the Land-Rover name, and the last time we saw a new car launched wearing the Viking Longship was with the CityRover in 2003.

Still, one can hope…

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Feedback:

I disagree with Keith’s assertion that, “the future doesn’t bode well for off-roaders as a whole, as political pressure is likely to be applied to this breed of cars…”

In March 2006, the very same month that Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced punative road taxation measures against large engined cars, Land-Rover had its best-ever sales in a 58-year history. The bottom line is that whatever the opportunist politicians may say or do the public quite clearly love their 4x4s. Is it me or does everbody own a Land Rover Discovery?

SUVs are roomy, comfortable, can carry a lot and have the all important room for the family dog. It seems to me that one of the most important criteria dictating the purchase of a vehicle these days is not speed, acceleration, emissions or fuel economy, but whether there is room to transport four or five people and a dog. Certainly in the country in the early morning there are plenty of 4x4s parked up whilst the family dog is taken for a walk (“walk” being a canine term for defecating on someone elses property so they can step in it).

If anything it is the traditional family saloon that is in danger, and politicians will have a tough time trying to combat market forces.

IAN NICHOLLS

THE absence of a Rover people carrier was the biggest marketing mistake of the BMW era – how much would it have cost to put a six-inch higher roof on the 45?

Or was that yet another thing that Honda wouldn’t let Rover do? The Galaxy’s a bit tired: how about rebadging the SEAT Sharan as the Rover Hyacinth?

It is indeed good to see the longship returning to Solihull. The Vikings used to bury their leaders at sea in burning longships. Any volunteers to torch that horrid yellow Tata Indica Sport at Longbridge, and launch it into the Droitwich canal?

KEN STRACHAN – clown to the chattering classes


19 September

Back where it belongs

By IAN LANGFIELD

IT was with a big sigh of relief that I opened my Google Alert today to read that Ford was buying the Rover name. At least it will be preserved with some integrity left intact, as opposed to what would have happened if SAIC or Nanjing had bought it.

The recent publication of the SAIC 75s at the Nurburgring confirm what a sorry fate that once proud car has been condemned to. Considering that SAIC have had assistance from Ricardo, the changes to the car are under whelming. At the end of the day, it is still too old to be competitive, and looks outdated compared to the latest Passat and forthcoming Mondeo. Heck, a Jetta even outshines it now. Judging from the raft of poor Euro NCAP results for Chinese cars, it is very unlikely that it will ever be sold in the UK. More likely the SAIC 75 will be consigned to a life as a taxi in the Far East, and the 25 will become a commercial vehicle in the Maestro/Ital mould.

Even more bizarre are the events at Nanjing. Ridiculous claims that they can build a business model on the back of a knackered sport scar. Don’t get me wrong, the F and TF were fine in their day, but cannot compete with today’s two seaters. If Mercedes couldn’t make the SMART roadster work, how can Nanjing make the TF work. They may have bought the factory and the production line, but that doesn’t mean they will be able to build cars any better than their rivals SAIC. It is one thing to start building components to ship to the UK, but building cars is another matter. Even if they are successful, they are less likely to be able to develop the car than SAIC, and just who is going to buy a Chinese version of a car which was already past it’s sell by date? Not one of my friends or colleagues would do this, is there anyone out there who is desperately waiting for the first MG to arrive at Southampton Docks?

Time to get real:

1. MG really is ruined. The TF does not stand a chance in the UK, let alone the US. The ZT is an anachronism, an antique with an expired sell by date.

2. Rover has had a reprieve. It may be pickled in aspic for several years if not many, before it is used again, but at least the Viking longboat will not adorn any second rate machine. Rover has gone home, back alongside Land Rover and Jaguar, a little bit a BLMC embedded within Ford.

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18 September

Raymond Baxter

By KEITH ADAMS

IT was with great sadness that I heard that Raymond Baxter passed away recently. I was fortunate to meet him a few years ago, ostensibly to interview him about his work for BMC, but to get him to dish the dirt on the Austin 3-Litre.

As it transpired, he was ever the gentleman, and was completely diplomatic on that matter.

In the end, we went for a drink at his local pub, and ended up having a long lunch. One of the major pleasures I got was from hearing about his World War 2 experiences as a pilot. He truly was one of the chosen few – and it makes one realise just how brave these guys were.

Raymond will be missed.

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12 September

And we’re back…

By KEITH ADAMS

IT’S been a busy couple of weeks, hence my total lack of blogs. It’s not as is my commitment to the site is wavering, but – boy – do I wish there were more hours in a day.

Last week was a blur of activity, as I needed to cram a week’s work of work into two-and-a-bit days, but I managed it, and claimed my prize. Okay, so driving a brand new BMW 3-Series Coupe in the Pyrenees as part of a car launch is probably not many of our readers’ idea of heaven, but for me – a confirmed petrolhead – the opportunity arose, and thanks to the kind people at Kelsey Publishing who I work for, I was able to go.

The new car launch circuit is definitely a different world to the grimy one at the kerbside I’m used to. My journalistic colleagues and I flew out to Pau airport in a chartered business jet, and were greeted at the airport with a shiny fleet of 3-Series Coupes to choose from. From there, we followed a pre-determined 50-mile route to a swap point, then on again for further driving, before finishing up at the overnight stop – a very nice hotel. I could go into George Bishop mode about the choice of foix gras and wine with evening dinner, but in truth, I declined both and merely drank in the atmosphere – and watched some pretty senior names in my field comparing notes about the new BMW – as well as all the other glam cars they’d been driving recently.

Back on the Jag trail for S2N this week,
and it looks like the car is poorly sick.

In the morning we were offered further drives (which I took) before meeting back at the airport, and flying home in time for lunch. It was slick, it was professional, never before have I experienced business travel like it before, and I can now fully understand why so many people are clamouring to get into writing about cars.

When it was over, I stepped into my (wonderful) £500 Citroen Xantia, and back to reality…

Back on the Jag trail for S2N this week, and it looks like the car is poorly sick. Nene Jag’s top guy, Clive, reckons we’re going to be lucky to get there and back in the car as it stands today, and yet despite everything, I still reckon we’re going to be okay. Yes, the starter’s gone, the battery’s dead (and will be changed anon) – and the wheel bearing and hub assembly’s knackered… There’s also the small matter of the shrieking clutch release bearing, and floppy clutch pedal, but do you know what – I’m still smiling…

Why? Because I reckon we’ll be okay – and I have to keep pinching myself that I’m getting paid to do all this stuff. If only I could bring you all along with me – ‘cos it’s going to be fun, when we leave on the 22nd.

(Just a quick reminder, if you haven’t yet donated, and want to, please log-on to the Justgiving website and do your bit. It’s all going directly to a good cause, and the more you give, the more the tax man will pay to add to the tally…)

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8 September

A more realistic flagship?

By DAVID DAWSON

THE justification for spending money on the MG XPower SV instead of using every penny to get RDX60 on the road was that it would ‘show off’ MGR’s abilities and attract potential investors/partners.

I can see the point, but would the funds used on the XPower SV not have been better spent getting both the 75 Coupe and MG GT into production. Both of these cars are extremely attractive designs and were almost guaranteed success stories – especially the MG GT. I reckon they would have been far more realistic flagships for the company.

A 75 Coupe and MG GT would not have been quite as glamorous as the XPower SV. However, they could still have been used to show off the abilities of MGR whilst at the same time producing a far greater presence in the everyday marketplace. This greater presence would have further attracted potential partners. Also, there would have been income benefits – lower margins, yes, but surely off-set massively by far greater production volumes.

Another, with the benefit of hindsight, what if..?

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7 September

Finland, Finland, Finland…

By DAVID DAWSON

DON’T know whether it’s of interest, Keith, but I’ve just returned from a week in Finland and thought I’d tell you about the BMC>Rovers I spotted. There weren’t many by any means but amongst the mass of Mercedes, Volvos, VW’s, BMW’s and Toyotas I saw the following –

* 5 Rover 75s
* 5 Rover HHR 400s (all four-door)
* 1 Rover 25 ( a very late model)
* 3 Minis (Issigonis ones!)
* 1 Jaguar XJS Convertible
* 1 Jaguar XJ6 Series 3
* 2 Jaguar XJ40s
* 1 MGB
* 1 Triumph Spitfire
* 2 Land Rover Discovery (pre Ford I reckon)
* 1 Range Rover ( the original)
* 1 SWB (88 inch) Land Rover

There were numerous new MINIS (BMW) and Jaguars & Land Rovers produced under Ford but I wasn’t counting these.

I saw no MG Zeds at all and apart from the 25 no cars which were obviously from the MGR era. I’m still driving my SEAT Toledo I’m afraid, but I’m still very keen for my next car to be an MGR. I’m in no great rush to change but I’ve always got my eye out for my ideal MGR.

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4 September

A little bit of history repeating…

By ROBERT LEITCH

MOST of us have experienced it, the last door-knob screwed on as the estate agent’s sign goes up in the front garden, the advertisement placed in Classic Car Weekly before the ink’s dry on the MOT certificate. I’m referring, of course, to the news that the Ford Motor Company are ‘open to all options’ on the sale of all or part of their Premier Automotive Group, just as their vast investment in the Jaguar and Land-Rover product ranges brings them as near to perfection as anyone who has followed the marques’ history for the last four turbulent decades could have hoped in their wildest dreams.

We should not discount the possibility that the recent publicity about this part of Ford’s ‘strategic review’ is a piece of deliberate obfuscation – concentrate attention on the sexier parts of the organisation ahead of some unpalatable announcement affecting the core of the company. Remember not so long ago, when a very open debate over the future of Land-Rover at Solihull preceded the unexpected announcement of the end of Jaguar production at Brown’s Lane.

Nevertheless, the past week’s automotive and financial press makes uncomfortable reading:

· Closing or selling Lincoln or Jaguar was not precluded (interview with Bill Ford in Business Week)
· Some have estimated that the Jaguar brand has a negative book value of £400 million. (Birmingham Post)

Does anyone else have a feeling that the lessons of 1994 have not been learned, that PAG’s UK brands are about to offloaded as mixed bag of liabilities and sweeteners in a worryingly similar manner to BAe’s sale of Rover Group to BMW? To avoid a repeat of the failures of BMW’s ownership of Rover Group, and give each marque the best chance of meaningful survival, Ford would be better to split Jaguar and Land Rover now. It is a curious paradox that, as a result of Ford’s heavy investment over the last five years, Land Rover and Jaguar’s main components and production facilities are far more inter-dependent now than were off-roader production and passenger car factories under the Rover Group.

Anthony Bamford recognises the logic of separating the brands now – JCB’s publicly stated interest in Jaguar is conditional on it being split from Land-Rover. Even this has a touch of “history repeating”, for anyone who recalls David Brown’s stewardship of Aston Martin from 1947 to 1972.

If any established carmakers are contemplating acquisition, they are playing a cautious game, even ‘wild-card’ Hyundai having denied interest. However, according to Saturday’s Financial Times, One Equity Partners, a private equity arm of JP Morgan, which counts among its senior partners one Jac Nasser, is already in talks with Ford about the purchase of all or part of PAG.

This could still be the ‘best-worst’ option, if Ford continued to provide components and design and technology input while the private equity group bore the financial risk. Assuming the new owners were in a position to remain close to Ford, there would be more hope of still-unrealised ideas seeing the light of day, and lessons being learned from past mistakes, than would be the case with a direct commercial rival. Otherwise the only takers for Jaguar could be a nameplate-hungry Chinese carmaker or a trophy-seeking Russian oligarch, and the lessons of recent history do not bode well in either case.

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3 September

Wowwee…

By KEITH ADAMS

IT DOESN’T happen often these days, but I managed to have a genuinely ‘wowwee’ moment behind the wheel of a MINI today. Forget the Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Kit that graced by drive last week – no, this one looked completely standard… However, the guys at 1320 Autos have managed to eke out a pretty impressive performance from what the company boss describes as a ‘stock’ car.

And in a way he’s right. Parked up in the Santa Pod paddock area, it looked to all intents and purposes a standard MINI One, with a stripped out interior and sitting on slick tyres. But under the bonnet, not all is as it should be…

I was humbled by the car that went before
me – an MG XPower SV, which I’m guessing
had been tuned slightly (I think I peeked
a turbocharger the size of Hampshire under
the bonnet), that crossed the beam
in 9.9seconds…

In place of the standard engine, there’s a supercharged Cooper S unit, pushing out 175bhp. Again no great shakes really, and when I run it up the strip, it did a quarter mile pass in 15 seconds – that’s fast hatchback pace, but not exactly earth shattering.

However, the next time round, we ran the car with Nitrous Oxide – and the difference was phenomenal. Rapid was replaced by balls-out ballistic, and the accelerative thrust generated by this pocket rocket was the fastest thing I have ever experienced in a front wheel drive car… The nearest sensation I could compare it to was a chip-tuned previous-generation BMW M5, pushing out something in the order of 460bhp.

It was absolutely amazing…

My standard quarter time of 12.5seconds was pretty bloody amazing too – and I have decided that the next time I see a MINI come alongside me at Santa Pod, I’ll be keeping a close eye out for the sweet smell of nitrous. Mind you, I was humbled by the car that went before me – an MG XPower SV, which I’m guessing had been tuned slightly (I think I peeked a turbocharger the size of Hampshire under the bonnet), that crossed the beam in 9.9seconds…

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1 September

CAR magazine and brochures

By RYAN TAYLOR

SO TEMPTED was I by the recent review of the revised CAR magazine, that I couldn’t help but go out and buy a copy for myself. I must say, I was very impressed. I used to be a regular reader of CAR, but “fell out” with it over its coverage of Rover under BMW. Remember the one-sided feature of long-winded whinges from disgruntled BMW managers, circa ‘97/’98?

Sometimes it just felt the mag was just looking for bad news. There’s no doubting the quality, though, which was excellent when I was reading it in the eighties and nineties, and even better now. And, for the record, I have to say its coverage of Nanjing’s plans for the MG revival look pretty much spot on.

I grew up with CAR, having happened upon it as an unsuspecting 14 year-old. I quickly got to know names like Gavin Green and Richard Bremner, who did much to help me expand my knowledge of cars in general. When I was a child, cars worth aspiring to were – if not one of the many British Leyland brands – either Fords or Vauxhalls (those simply being the cars you would commonly see on the roads).

But CAR introduced me to a whole new world of sporting Alfas and space age Citroens. All brilliant stuff. What’s more, its carefully crafted prose taught me as much about reading and writing as I ever learned in the classroom.

Of course, the other good thing about CAR is that it introduced me to more impartial motoring literature.

Today’s incessant teenager, is tomorrow’s
enthusiast…

Yes, like most boys, I was always keen to send off for car brochures whenever the opportunity arose, leaving my dad to field calls from hopeful garages looking for a sale – usually a week or so after the brochure had arrived. “Oh, well, maybe he’ll buy a BMW one day,” said the salesman, after being told on the phone that Mr R Taylor would not be able to talk about a possible finance deal on a 5 Series, as he was still at school.

(After what BMW did to Rover? I don’t think so).

All of this is why I would like, now, to publicly apologise to many of the world’s car manufacturers for raising false hopes amongst their sales teams.

Perhaps I should even share the blame in Rover’s long-standing downfall. Whose to say I didn’t cause sales forecasts to be set artificially high following my constant pleading for pamphlets (although I do remember writing a cringe-worthy letter to the then Austin Rover Group, explaining that my ARG brochure was getting ragged and dog-eared with age. Would they mind sending me another to look at)? Once that was finished, I started on the car bosses. Somewhere in my parents’ house (at the back of a cupboard) is a letter sent to me by then Rover boss Graham Day, who no doubt dealt with my questions as politely, and as patiently, as he possibly could.

Perhaps the managers of MG Rover are secretly pleased that business has come to an end if only because it meant they would no longer be dogged by youngsters looking for material to plaster their bedroom walls with.

Take heart car company executives. Today’s incessant teenager, is tomorrow’s enthusiast.

And if they bother you too much, send them a copy of CAR.

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Feedback:

I HAVE been reading CAR for 30 years (crikes!), ever since I first found Autocar and Motor to be too timid and deferential and CAR to have a bit more of a bite. Remember, in 1976, it was possible for a CAR “scoop” the SD1 to be the most exciting news yet on that car, without even a complete picture of it, never mind interior shots or mechanical details. Do you recall the shock when CAR said the XJ12 was better than the Silver-Shadow? A 12 page feature on driving acroos America in a Mercedes 450SEL? Picking the Alfasud as Car of the Decade for the 1970s? The scoop of the Sierra in 1981? The “England expects but Austin Rover fail to deliver” cover in 1986, about the Rover 800? Reading CAR then was a definite statement that you wanted to know more than the latest revisions to the Capri’s wheel trims

Back then, we read CAR for 4 reasons:

1 – Scoops – other magazines did not, would not do such a thing. Ever. It was wrong, apparently
2 – Telling it like it was. The only magazine to tell us the Cortina was really not that good. It must make Autocar blush now, to read some of what they wrote about the inadequate product that was foisted on us then. Hands that feed you always came to mind
3 – Supercars – CAR drive them back from Italy, in convoys. And illustrated it so well. Autocar tested them like they did Cortinas and Marinas and showed us pictures of where teh wiper switch was. Didn’t work
4 – Setright, Bishop, Blain, Llewellyn and Nichols – if you don’t recognise the names, you wouldn’t understand

But time moves on, and so must CAR. Scoops are now seemingly everywhere, some clearly promoted by interested parties (are all those pictures of black cars at the Nurburgring obtained at the distress of the manufacturers?) as spoilers, teasers and just coverage, frankly. The objectivity of Autocar has got better, they do Supercars (not as well though) and do have some profile writers. I’ve only see Evo at the dentists, where it seemed to be lacking a USP, Top Gear is too dominated by the personalities of the writers and the link to the TV programme (Top Gear TV, Clarkson’s Sunday Times column and quick look at the website fully satisfies me)

But the key point is surely the news and industry coverage. This is covered so much better by websites, purely because of the immediacy compared with a monthly magazine, that you sense CAR had little option but to refocus.

The magazine seems to do its real job of providing a month’s worth of good reading (insight and features, but a bit of humour would be nice) and the website is fine, if just like a dozen others.

Will I keep buying it – yes, of course…

Did I prefer it 30 years ago, when it really was different to the herd – yes of course!

ROGER CARR

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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