Blog : To think it’s little more than 20 years ago…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Reading through my back issues of CAR Magazine to research a feature about the Jaguar X300, I unearthed a brilliant piece that I’d forgotten all about. Back in 1994, TV journalist Michael Kirsch had trekked into the war zone of Bosnia-Herzegovina to extricate three locals who’d saved his life a year previously and subsequently become his friends.

I won’t spoil the story for you – and you can click on it here to read it for yourself – but it certainly brings into focus just what a troubled past we’ve had in Europe. The Balkan conflict was a long way from being resolved when this story was published in November 1994 and, for me, it’s amazing and incredibly sad to think that this was going on – on our doorstep – little more than 20 years ago.

However, it’s equally uplifting to see just how far Europe’s progressed since the dawn of the 21st century. There’s complete freedom of movement within the European Union (EU27) and it’s largely peaceful and conflict-free now. It would be nice to think that commercialism has won over the idiocy of religion and politics and that people Europe-wide will be able to enjoy the freedom we now take for granted for all the future…

Oh dear, that sounds like some socio-political rant. So, er, sorry about that.

That aside, I also began to wonder whether we’ll ever see stories like this again in mainstream motoring magazines? Could you imagine the super-slick media and PR-savvy CAR Magazine running a story with a rusty Marina in it like this – despite the amazing story underpinning it? There’s no supercar content and the driver of the car wasn’t enjoying the benefits and safety of a manufacturer-supplied new car (and back-up crew) to see him safely to his destination. The fact is that Michael Kirsch could have died on that trip. Nowadays, we need to look to Sam Glover’s exploits in Practical Classics.

Is it me, but isn’t a really good road trip all about overcoming adversity and meeting all kinds of weird and wacky characters along the way? Anyway, enjoy the story and, if you want more back-catalogue stuff like this uploading in future months, I’m always happy to take suggestions.

This blog was first written in 2014.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up 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 Classics 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 unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

33 Comments

  1. It’s a shame that the gearbox blew up on the way back. If it had made it back I’m betting the Marina would be remembered for something other than a prop for carrying out NCAP testing on Pianos.

  2. I’d forgotten about this one too. It’s a great story of a very dangerous undertaking and as you say Keith, worlds apart from the road trip articles featured in CAR nowadays.

    My other favourite CAR escapade of the early 90’s was the ‘Edinburgh on a Monkey’ feature where two writers had to buy an old banger and be the first to reach Edinburgh. A forerunner to the Top Gear challenges…

  3. I remember a similar article whereby a journo took a Lada out of Serbia with his friend hidden in a secret compartment in the boot. Must’ve been heart in mouth at the border checkpoint.

    Nowadays the article would likely be
    “Audi kindly let us borrow their new A3 TDi, and as I cruised through Syria admiring the softtouch plastics and tactile buttons I couldn’t help but apply a dab of oppo on the mountain pass. Unfortunately that was the end of the journey, the road was unpassable due to a huge 5cm pothole.”

    @VAGDave

    I vaguely remember something similar in which they bought and sold a Sierra for less than the cost of a rail ticket.

  4. Great story – I’ve got that issue up in the loft I think….September ’92 issue of CAR had a hilarious corker of a used car challenge in it as well (that I still dig out and read every couple of years) called “Pistons at Dawn” which featured a £500 Capri versus a £750 RX-7.

    Alas – maybe this kind of “real world” motoring journalism will come back when we get tired of Clarkson and Co thrashing impractical, unaffordable dream cars around a test track.

    Sometimes I DO miss Sue Baker or William Woolard on Top Gear complaining that the ashtray is in the wrong place!

  5. Will M @5
    Absolutely brilliant! Sums up modern UK motor journalism in one sentence. As I have said before on this site – we will never see journalism like that of Ian Fraser, Mel Nichols, George Bishop, Steady Barker and Doug Blain ever again (although Doug is of course the publisher of the very best Vintage car mag – The Automobile). Why? Because when Car started in the very early 60’s they were all virtually penniless writers and couldn’t give a toss about getting into bed with anyone (metaphorically speaking of course!) Later, when becoming a real ‘cult’ magazine bought by the discerning few – they revelled in that exclusivity and majored on it. No current magazine can afford to upset significant manufacturers – the Bean Counters will kill it stone dead! It’s a different era. “Were’e all doomed” (bloke in Dad’s Army was right).

    • Car was my introduction to motoring journalism of the highest order at the time. LJK Setright, Ronald Barker, George Bishop, they were the Clarkson, Hammond and May of the seventies and eighties. Forget What Car with its anorak like and commentless lists of new cars on sale in Britain, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly told you how it was. Fancy a new Skoda then, they reckoned it was either the worst new car in Britain or as desirable as a 1939 Beetle. More controversially, when the motoring press was in shock over the end of MG, Car gleefully annnounced of the MGB ” at last it dies soon”, and regarded, like a few other brave people( me included), and regarded the car as old fashioned and not fast enough.

      • Me likewise. I was a committed Car reader every month back in those days. It was totally unlike any other motoring publication at the time. I remember all of those writers; and a lot of what Setright wrote was largely incomprehensible to me. But somehow that made it seem like I was a member of a special club; if I couldn’t understand it, that was my fault, not his.

        I still have all the copies from December 1976 to December 1978, and when I take a glance through one of them it’s a fascinating trip back in time.

  6. Oh – sorry – forgot the greatest of them all (sadly no longer with us) Leonard J Setright. The only man who could write a four page article on the flawed practice of chroming wire wheels – and make it interesting!

  7. Yup, loved the old Car articles like this. Epic drives where the car was just the supporting cast. After all, that’s how it should be on a journey

    Alas, despite buying most issues from about 1984 to 1998, I found the humour, the love of cars & people seemed to drift off.

    Even though I thumb through it at the newsagents hoping to see that old magic, it never makes me pull out the cash, even though ironically it’s a much smaller hole in my wallet than it was all those years ago. Sad.

  8. Thank you for posting this. Blast from the past, even for me, the lucky driver of this Morris Marina in Bosnia all those years ago. The Morris may have died but those three the Marina rescued live today, still! Beautiful ride. Great heart.
    Mike Kirsch

  9. “In the boot of a Marina? You don’t know you’re born lad. When we used to break out of east Germany we’d be curled up around a Trabant engine – still at least it was warm in there..”

    Actually true, and possible to do even for an average sized adult male, although I doubt it was comfortable.

  10. Kind of sad that after all that no one thought to hire a car transporter and pick the car up for repair, it only needed a gearbox after all, any other country in the world the company would have done a full restoration once they knew what their product had been up to..
    Is it me, btw, or are the alloys? from a later Ital?

    • At the time, when the box locked up in Aachen, I was too tired and had seen too much human carnage in Bosnia to think that far ahead about restoring it. I ripped off the tablets (license plates) from front and back (didn’t feel like underwing them), put the car keys in my pocket (all three items I still have) and left the Morris Marina to fate. At a rest stop, Icaught a lift back to London with another motorist who, oddly enough, said he was a designer for Lotus. Remember, I’d bought the Morris going in as a disposable car, expecting it to be blown up along the way. That it died on the autobahn in Aachen and not in some minefield in Bosnia probably lessened the intrigue of restoring it, at the time, I suppose. You’re right, in hindsight. I probably should have done that. It was a bitchen car. Bless her, all the same. Her spirit lives!

      • I don’t know if this is possible but you might, if no one else has nicked the number, be able to get it put on a modern-ish car as a vanity or a special plate..
        I’m thinking a Rover 600 or 75 maybe, or whatever you drive now.
        I’m trying to think what the late Rover equivalent would have been.. Isn’t a 45 saloon about the same size?

        • The plates are in a box somewhere in the house with the keys. Now you have me wondering what local authorities might have done with the Morris. It was parked in a very public parking space at a rest stop. Maybe after it sat for months and was covered with moss, they finally had it towed to the local junk yard. Might even still be there.

    • Recovering back to the UK on a transporter would have cost far more than the Marina was worth!

      Or are you suggesting that in an era before Google or smartphones, he could have found a BL specialist in Aachen to fit a replacement gearbox to a 16 year old car?

      • You’d probably be surprised what you could find – like the old warehouseman my father knew who could find bits for anything built with an engine, from memory, and if there weren’t any left, give you three alternatives on the spot – the guy could find bits for tractors & the like that even the manufacturer forgot ever existed, in his 80s, in a warehouse the size of three football pitches..
        A breed long gone, a shame that, since it looks as if the Royal Navy will be relying on Stringbag’s the way it’s going..
        If the Marina was sold in Germany there was probably a ‘box floating around somewhere.. Just look for the local hoarder/scrappie.

      • After trundling through minefields, swimming better than a kugelwagen (and actually starting afterwards, take that Lucas POD), getting there and mostly back in one piece, not to mention doing a caper that made the Italian Job look like a Sunday afternoon drive, I don’t think value for money comes into it.
        Spare a thought what *would* have happened if the car had conked out before the border, I’m sure I don’t need to paint a picture, especially with two girls in the car.. if some local squaddie had gone puggling about for the wheelbrace..

  11. I love stories like this, and as mentioned its now the preserve of classic car magazines. What impresses me most is how they resolve mechanical issues with basic tools / gaffer tape/cable ties et al. I learnt a lot of DIY bodges from these guys xxxx

  12. Recently bought a copy of the late Phil Llewellin’s Road to Muckle Flugga – a compendium of various trips he made around the World (often for Car and Truck magazines), eg Sherpa vans to the Himalayas, up the Ice Roads with truck drivers, including a trip with a very young Jeremy Clarkson. Probably very non PC today – lots of booze and tobacco consumed – but an excellent read. Also pleasantly surprised that he lived close by – as a very well respected motoring author possibly his house deserves a blue plaque?

  13. You really need to read a copy of Cola Cowboys if you’re lucky to find one, mine is on loan from a retired Astran driver who says second hand copies can sell for £ 250 as they’re so rare. This is the story of driving lorries from Britain to Saudi Arabia in the eighties, with all the scams operated by border guards in Esstern Europe and the Middle East, terrible road conditions, bears, wolves, suicidal Turkish drivers, terrorists, a war and bandits adding to the dangers of this very well paid but life threatening journey.

  14. Just ordered Road to Muckle Flugga. Available on Amazon. Can’t wait for it arrive.

    I miss old CAR Magazine. Still subscribe to it but regularly find it unfinished when the next one drops through the letter box….

  15. More interesting, a 16 year old car in 1994 managing to get to the Balkans and make it as far as Germany on the way back. Also the often mocked Marina being the car to do it is admirable, as most of its contemporaries would have been long since scrapped by then. ( Try finding a Chrysler Alpine or even a Cortina from the late seventies would be rare by 1994).

  16. My first motoring memories were with ‘Car’ magazine, I agree with all the above comments, it was always a cover to cover read, with some very original writing and features – I can remember a ‘base model’ test of a Metro, 205 and Fiesta when the new Rover Metro was launched. Also I remember a Skoda Estelle Coupe on the front cover with some claim it was comparable to a 911! What chances of that happening today – ZERO! unless it has a german badge it ain’t going in (unless it is an out of reach supercar.)

    I recently cancelled my subscription after 20 odd years as a subscriber – mainly due to the endless train of boring germanic tin that they went into raptures about, (in the main to keep their advertising revenues up in the magazine) and how they were far to quick to dismiss anything else that was not a VAG / BMW / Merc etc. Quite how they were able to dismiss the MG6 as the worst car on sale in the UK when they never even did a road test in the magazine, also the MG3 only got a quarter page mention and 2/5 stars.

    Even Gavin Green (whose columns I always used to enjoy back in the day) has become lazy and ‘samey’, he was factually incorrect about one of his rants about how bad the MGF was. The journalists at Car have become lazy, self-important and arrogant – even the design of the magazine a few years ago went through a stage of being so far up it’s own backside it ended up being dull to look at and impossible to read, aimed to be an ornament on a coffee table rather than a darn good read.

  17. Can only agree with all that has been said before. I was brought up ( in an automotive sense!) on Car Magazine, I have every issue between 1978 and sometime in the 90s. Bishop, Setright and LLewellin were just sublime, alongside so many others…Burgess Wise, Nye, Bulgin and others.
    It us hard to credit in these days of German Car Obsession that there top ten cars used to actually feature different cars…I remember one in about 86 which included in the top ten the 2CV,CX & Visa from Citroen and Lancia’s Delta HF & Thema.
    It just became in the 90s “German Car”, and still persists with endless road tests pitting Audi v BMW v Mercedes..just how any A4, 3 Series, C Class articles can there be to be written.
    My final issue was the one issued at the launch of the original hideous looking BMW 1 Series…which stated that it was the launch of one of the “most important cars in history”…..I think on the premise that it was a rear wheel drive hatchback….like such greats as the Vauxhall Chevette and the Talbot Sunbeam I assume !

  18. I have bought CAR every month since the late 80’s. It goes through phases of being brilliant to being annoying. Each time it goes through an annoying phase and I’m going to stop reading it, a gem of an article appears and I’m hooked again.

    This month there’s a full retrospective on the Golf GTI ( yes, it is German… ) and a couple of months ago an account of a Fiat 126 being sourced in Italy and driven back to the UK. One particular photograph in that article made the price of the mag well worth paying.

  19. I used to really enjoy Car, you had What Car, which was like a Parkers Guide with more photos, and Car, the Top Gear of its day and not afraid to tell it how it was. I can remember them slaughtering Datsuns on a regular basis( again controversial as they were the best selling imports in Britain in 1980) and being banned from test driving their new models, and then flaying the Volvo 340 regularly, referring to it as a brick on wheels. Then not forgetting George Bishop’s motoring mishaps, LJK Setright’s love of the anti diluvian( he was a huge fan of the Suzuki SC 100), and Ronald Barker’s musings about life in general. Also the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the international reports and the road tests made Car my bible in the early eighties.

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