Blogs : April 2005

29 April 2005

Alphabet Soup


THIS whole debacle caters to our national fears so elegantly it seems we could not have planned it better. Our fear of foreigners, our fear of being right, even our fear of success. The collapse of MG Rover is a heaven-sent excuse to return to our national past time of staring down at our shoes and mumbling about the days of empire. Lovely.

Yet before we finally slither back to our swamp there are one or two things we should ponder. Firstly, this country is one of the few to have mastered the art of volume car manufacturing. Stop laughing at the back, although the car has not conceptually changed since the 1920s the process as a whole is fiendishly complex. Peter Drucker called it ‘the industry of industries” and for good reason. The car is a combination of all the very latest technological processes, very expensive to put in place and requiring huge levels of output be profitable. Each time a company releases a new car it is taking a massive financial gamble, and just one dud can bring down the whole company. On the other hand, when a company is successful it can pull the whole country up with it so no wonder they tend to be nominated ‘national champions”. The UK industry is still big, it is just very fragmented.

Secondly, MG Rover is one of the few fully integrated volume manufacturers in the world, albeit unique for its diminutive size. If you look at the top thirty manufacturers in the world you can neatly divide them into two teams: the 1st XV and the 2nd XV. The 1st XV have reached global proportions with output of over a million a year because vertical integration has given them control over their destinies. They understand economy of scale and have found markets around the world in order to run their production at the optimum level. They design their cars for popularity and market them accordingly. . It has taken them decades to get this far but once there they do not intend to move back down, GM having been at the top now for eighty years.

The 2nd XV, with two exceptions, are confined to their local markets. They are protected by trade barriers but this has done nothing to help them develop an industry. If they have their own designs they are cheap, cheerful and attract only domestic interest. Their other option is to host production for one of the global 1st XV and make globally acceptable products, but again these only sell at home because the donor company has no interest in competing against its own products on the world stage. So the donor company gains some access to a market that would otherwise be denied while suppressing a potential rival. The two exceptions in the 2nd XV are Subaru, affiliated to GM, and MG Rover.

The Chinese industry is firmly in the 2nd XV. The few indigenous cars are years out of date by comparison with the 1st XV but at least they are cheap and they have a home advantage. Talk about exports of such models is highly suspect: the Chery has no more chance of succeeding in the West than did the Yugo. The only route to success is to host manufacturing for the 1st XV. The global behemoths do not like doing this, they would rather control their own manufacturing, but the Chinese government has forced joint ventures upon them. Because of this the Chinese Big 3 (SAIC, FAW and Dongfeng) have accrued tidy profits and superficially look very powerful. SAIC even claim to have their own engineering team, but quite what they are up to is hard to imagine. All the dominant cars in China are foreign and they are usually fully compatible with the versions we can buy here. To design cars specifically for China would counter the whole point of entering the market since it does nothing for economies of scale.

A common misconception about China is that it is a cheap place to manufacture. It is quite correct that labour costs are low but this is only an advantage in final assembly, the rest of the production process is highly capital intensive. The supply sector is poorly developed and the most technically advanced componentry has to be imported. Indeed, Goldman Sachs believe that total costs in China may be as much as 30 per cent higher than in the West. PSA have stated that it costs more to manufacture there than in Eastern Europe. The only reason the foreign manufacturers have a presence in China is to gain access to the massive potential, even now yet to be realised, of the vast Chinese market.

The reason why China has such potential is because it is opening up its economy in order to benefit from global trade. Textile manufacturing, a labour intensive activity, has exploded as China dominates the world industry. However, in order to continue benefiting from free trade the country must open its borders in accordance with the World Trade Organisation. This will expose its industries to global competition, no problem to those industries that have reached the global standard but a huge problem for the automotive sector. The Chinese automotive industry has one current advantage, only it is allowed to manufacture in the home market, and that will soon be lost. SAIC may be pretty efficient at assembly, but to survive they must prove to their partners VW and GM that they can beat them at their own game. This is unlikely, the two western companies may have their faults but they do know how to run production lines. As for Toyota, even Honda admit that they are probably the perfect car company.

Maybe MG Rover really is dead, but
200 interested parties disagree.

The only way out of this morass is for the Chinese manufacturers to learn how to produce their own cars, and they have just a few years in which to do it. Many people are under the impression that they need brand names, but defunct marques are ten a penny. Austin or Morris, even Oldsmobile or Plymouth are worth as much or more than Rover. No, what SAIC wanted from MG Rover was instant access to new designs. If they were being cunning it was that in forming a vertical joint venture they would only have to pay for vehicle development without having to lay out huge sums in capital investment. This would immediately create a virtual company, a fully integrated system of vehicle design and production to compete head on with the global players. This would give them time to get established in the home market before the last trade barriers are dismantled.

In the end, SAIC were not nearly cunning enough though. There is this strange belief that they have already got the intellectual property rights they wanted. To what? A car that was obsolete years ago, another that will be in a few years and a range of engines that has fallen behind on many emission standards. Apparently they have Ricardo trying to sort the engines out while they struggle to put the Rover 25 and 75 into production before they are finally consigned to the museum. Hilariously, they have even approached a manufacturer in Hertfordshire to make the badges for them. What next? They ask Sankey to make the wheels, or Briggs to do the bodies for them? One wonders if the telephone is ringing off the hook at White & Poppe at this very moment. What SAIC are missing is not the old technology they can buy off the shelf but the new stuff, such as the camless engine and Antonov transmission, which is where the future lies. Even if they can put the 75 into production, how do they expect to update it?

In our paranoia we have come to the conclusion that the Chinese hold all the cards. In fact, they have blown their big chance; they could have given MG Rover £500m to keep them solvent and still got world class designs on the cheap. Now they must bid for what they want in an open auction with up to 200 other interested parties. This is not bad for a company that we all think of as dead.

The popularity of MG Rover is down to its two great assets: an ability to develop cars for volume production, and a substantial dealer network. Some scoff at the engineering talent of the company since it has not done a new car by itself since the Montego. However, it has been learning from the best in the business and the rear wheel drive 75 was a sign that it could deliver an almost entirely new platform at remarkably little cost. Other companies can design cars but it takes experience to do it for volume manufacturing. In a recent Lotus newsletter they proudly describe how they brought down crippling production costs on the Elise, a mistake an experienced volume manufacturer could never afford to make in the first place. It is hardly any wonder that Proton appear to benefit little from owning Lotus. In buying MG Rover a company gains a foothold in the future, the capability to be at the forefront of the industry as it moves ahead. Production can be, must be, moved to a low cost location but technical know-how and experience resides in the brains of the engineers; one doubts that they would be interested in moving their families to Shanghai, Tehran or Pune.

The other asset, the dealer network, is one we all forget about. This is the lifeline of any company, it is doomed without it and it can take decades to build up the market coverage. The Japanese still suffer from a poor network on the continent, and Honda have never really got a grip on their home market even while they dominate in the US. Some of us may also recall that it was British Leyland who handed the Japanese a huge advantage in the UK when Filmer Paradise sacked all those dealers overnight. If a buyer can keep MG Rover going long enough to keep the dealers in business until the new, foreign made, models become available then it can leapfrog to the head of the British market and gain a substantial presence in Europe to boot. Kia, Proton, even Chevrolet will be left wondering what hit them.

It is these two assets that will be getting ambitious members of the 2nd XV excited. They need engineering capability and sales outlets but the only competitors that offer these are far too big for them to swallow. Extraordinarily, MG Rover is the only fully integrated, world class volume manufacturer that is actually smaller than many car assemblers. There is great potential here, and if we but knew it the British government would support the company long enough to see the right deal come to fruition. Perhaps nationalisation is too much of a dirty word, but it put Rolls-Royce back at the top of the aerospace industry and would allow bidders to get themselves organised. SAIC have not shown cunning but a lack of nerve, resources and political clout. The Iranians, on the other hand, are as desperate for MG Rover as any other assembler but have very deep pockets thanks to their oil industry. How ironic that just as the Hillman Hunter is finally retired they should come back shopping for another piece of the industry. Maybe MG Rover really is dead, but 200 interested parties disagree.

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28 April 2005

MG Rover: It’s over. What went wrong?

Courtesy: The Independent, April 19

YOU’VE got to be tough to do business with industrial China.

They won’t overpay for anything, and they have the unregulated human resources to do things their own way if they have to. The administrators of MG Rover and Department of Trade and Industry officials found out just how powerful the nascent Chinese car industry can be last week, as their pleading attempts to secure a future for Britain’s last volume car-maker hit the wall.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, backed by the state, is at the forefront of the Chinese mission: to build a sector that doesn’t just give Western car-makers a cheap place to build cars, but also establishes a strong indigenous industry where every part of the enterprise rests within Chinese companies. On 16 December 2000, the handsome ZhongHua saloon gained the distinction of becoming the first passenger car whose intellectual property rights are fully within Chinese control. Despite the fact that the car has never been exported, it was an historic occasion.

We are, you may feel, getting a long way from the agonies of Longbridge’s survival. But there is a crucial point here: of the 100-plus Chinese car factories, none has a brand identity that anyone in cash-rich Europe and America would recognise. The Chinese want brands, such as Rover and MG, and they want them fast. The only problem, as the Phoenix Four (as MG Rover’s directors have been nicknamed) and the DTI discovered, is that they want them without the millstones of a decrepit Birmingham factory and 6,000 pension-hungry workers.

In 2001, this calamitous situation seemed unthinkable.

The Chinese want brands, such as
Rover and MG, and they want them
fast. The only problem, is that
they want them without the
millstones of a decrepit Birmingham
factory and 6,000 pension-hungry

That was when the Rover 75 Tourer was launched – a graceful estate car which has since, against all the odds, been a hit with upper-middle England. Along with its slinky MG version, the ZT-T, this car harked back to the days, last seen in the early 1970s, when executive types from Wilmslow to Wimbledon definitely would be seen dead in something British. A goodwill swan song it turned out to be, yet the BMW-funded Rover 75 seemed genuinely to be turning things round.

Alas, the presence within the Phoenix Four of two Rover dealers seemed set to torpedo this product-led renaissance. Too quickly did the new company, bought for a tenner and renamed MG Rover, resort to building tacky boy racers. The MG ZR and ZS were sad at their 2001 unveiling, and they’re positively pathetic now. An MG ZR buyer would never be likely to turn into a valuable customer with a high socio-economic rating. The truth is that car-makers in Western markets had better be making truly premium products or else the Chinese, and others, are going to put them out of business.

It could have been different. The British Leyland era was awful, but Rover eventually became hitched to a partner with world-class credentials and methods, and nearly made it. Not once, but twice. In Honda, which agreed to help British Leyland in 1979, the company found a friend that recognised the customer was king. The ultimate result of that pairing was probably the 1993 Rover 600 – or Honda Accord.

If Rover had continued to make quirky spin-offs of current Hondas, and the Longbridge staff had forgotten everything the plant had taught them and adopted Honda’s methods, the West Midlands would never have looked back. But that didn’t happen, because British Aerospace, which took the remains of British Leyland back into the private sector, sold Rover to BMW in 1994.

BMW has been castigated for not setting to work on a new mid-size Rover saloon, but its long-range product antennae picked up the right signals. The future was in premium products, and they are rarely volume ones these days. The new Mini and the Rover 75 were the sorts of interesting, relatively expensive car that Rover needed to be good at, and they should have been followed up by MPVs, cross-over SUVs, four-door coupés, off-road cabriolets. Longbridge, sadly, had been immersed in the fruitless business of trying to turn a profit on low-margin cars since the Austin Seven came along in 1922.

What will happen to Longbridge, and what will happen to MG and Rover?

Ongoing independence for either the physical assets or the paper ones is now not an option. For the workers, the sad decline of the past four years must have provided ample time to recognise the warning signs and jump ship, no doubt into the service sector.Manufacturing donkey-work isn’t for Britain any more – it’s for the Chinese. Which brings us back to those brand names. MG is a good brand.

But there’s unlikely to be a stampede for them from the world’s 10 remaining car-making groups. Don’t be surprised, however, if a certain Chinese organisation, among other, expresses a casual, low-priced interest. It’s a very tough world, indeed.

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27 April 2005

MG Rover’s flights of fancy


(Picture: Autocar magazine)

I’VE BEEN busy working on what I believe is the last chapter of the BMC>Rover story, which documents the Phoenix years, and how the company’s management risked everything on a single-shot strategy: ‘to find a partner… or die.’

In the end, it came down to this – the board knew that there was no way in a million years that MG Rover could go it alone and fund the development of the RD/X60 (Nexus) model, so it waited for a generous prospective partner to come along and help shoulder the costs.

And they waited… and waited… and waited.

Still, it was a brave – perhaps rash – gamble, and had it paid off, the ‘Phoenix Four’ would have been hailed as heroes and probably given the keys to Birmingham for saving ‘The Austin’ from a fate called death. But the Phoenix Four were playing for very high stakes – going eyeball to eyeball with the Chinese, even as the house of cards called Longbridge began to topple.

We all know the result – the deal collapsed amid growing Chinese concerns about MGR’s solvency… the deal probably wasn’t as close as John Towers claimed (he said it had been ’20 minutes away from being signed’), but it was in all likelihood closer to being completed than not – and if nothing else, the whole sorry affair has been something of a salutory lesson for any other weakened UK companies considering negotiating with the Chinese.

if nothing else, the whole sorry
affair has been something of a
salutory lesson for any other
weakened UK companies considering
negotiating with the Chinese.

Roy Axe once told me about his dealings with China – and how they are tough negotiators, who won’t give anything away unless it is in their ultimate interests. He said that his company, Design Research Associates, did some work for a Chinese client – and even though monies were promised, they never transpired, well, not until much later. His words were: “never assume you’ve been paid; not until that money is safely tucked up in your bank account”…

Those words certainly came back to haunt me, when it became clear that SAIC had pulled out of negotiations after having secured those IP rights.

I wonder if John Towers would have been so eager to sell, had he heard that lesson from someone previously stung?

Still, what’s done is done, and history will record whether the single card gamble was the best strategy for Towers to play… Perhaps it was the only strategy in town, when there was no money in the bank.

What has become very clear in the days that followed ‘Black Friday’ (April 15 – the day PwC announced the game was up and that there would be mass redundancies at Longbridge) is just how far away from production reality the Nexus actually was. At Austin-Rover, we always knew that the ‘months from production’ claims made by some were sheer fantasy, having been told so by several contacts in MGR’s supply chain, but what we had been misled about by ‘those in the know’, was how far (or not, as it turned out) Nexus was along its development cycle.

Ex-employees have been surfacing on the excellent web forum and revealing fascinating (and ultimately tragic) snippets of information about the programme. One correspondent stated that the final style of Nexus had yet to be decided, and following a meeting with SAIC at Easter where several design schemes were shown, and knocked back, the design team still had not fixed the exterior design of the car.

So, when I picked up this week’s Autocar design, which shows ‘all the cars they never built’, the futility of MGR’s plight really hit home. The magazine recalled that same Easter meeting, and revealed computer images of what was on the table. What it didn’t tell you is that the Chinese seemigly didn’t like any of them enough to feel major confidence in them…

Yes, the company had a technical package partially in place (thanks to the fundamental excellence of the 75’s platform), but there were no running prototypes, no finalised designs… nothing of any significance. It could have, had TWR not gone bust, but that’s another tragic twist in the tale…

In five years of ownership, and disregarding what happened at TWR, the ‘find a partner or die’ strategy meant the company had not moved heaven and earth to get their car significantly developed on its own, relying instead on the prospect finding a rich partner from a rapidly industrialising economy to foot the bills racked up by a serious development programme, and that had netted very little… which is very sad.

In fact, MGR’s design legacy is beginning to appear to be little more than a few (impressive) photoshopped design schemes, some clay models, and three motor show concept cars (TCV, 75 Coupe and MG TF GT).

Please someone tell me I’m wrong…

If you were there at the Longbridge PDC and know more, I am dying to hear from you.

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26 April 2005

Goodbye Rover, I won’t be shedding a tear.

Courtesy: The Sunday Times, April 24

(Note: In the interests of balance, I decided to publish this article in its entirety, and invite comments from readers – Ed)

Austin and Morris join to form BMC – was this the beginning of the end?

WE’RE all supposed to be weeping over the death of MG Rover. But this is not like the death of Concorde or the death of the Queen Mother. This is not the death of a national institution.

Of course it must be a very bleak time for the company’s 6,500 employees and their families as they stoically face an uncertain future. They are not to blame — they didn’t choose the management. I dare say the closure must also be worrying if you recently bought a Rover and now your warranty is null and void. But this is your fault for buying a stupid car. I have little sympathy for anyone who ignored the advice of every expert in the land and bought a 45 ‘because it’s British”.

There was a time when British engineering counted for something. But unfortunately this time was 1872. Today the demise of MG Rover is being blamed on a collection of businessmen, two of whom have face hair, who bought the company from BMW for a tenner and then began what looked to some like a massive asset-stripping operation.

This isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that after so many years of utter and absolute hopelessness there might have been any assets left to strip.

Let’s begin with Longbridge, which I think I’m right in saying was once the biggest car factory in the world. Certainly it’s the only factory with a dirty great main road running right through the middle of it.

In the glory days of BMC, cars were built in one part of the factory and finished in the other. Which meant the unpainted, unprotected shells had to be taken across the road no matter what the weather. As a result many had rusted away before they made it to the showroom.

Eventually a tunnel was constructed so the cars were no longer exposed to the elements. Great. But sadly the tunnel was exactly 2in too narrow for the Austin 1800, the so-called land crab, that was in production at the time.

Not that it mattered much because the paint shop in the bad old days rarely had any paint anyway. Richard Littlejohn, who covered the disputes that plagued Longbridge back in the 1970s, said he would regularly go to workers’ houses to find the bathroom was Allegro beige, the door was Marina green and the sitting room was TR7 yellow.

When the Mini came along Ford was horrified, partly at the clever design that made its efforts look old fashioned, but mostly by the extraordinarily low price. Wondering how on earth this little car could be sold so cheaply, they bought one and spent months analysing every last component. Only when the work was completed did they uncover the awful truth. Every single one was being sold at a loss.

This, of course, is the plague that besets all British inventiveness. It’s always allowed to fester by idiotic management.

We saw a similar problem when Rover and Honda teamed up to make the 800. When it finally made it into production: disaster. Customers found that the back window kept popping out. Of course this didn’t really matter because by the time the 800 came along Rover was already wearing margarine trousers on its inevitable slide into oblivion.

This, of course, is the plague that
besets all British inventiveness.
It’s always allowed to fester by
idiotic management.

A slide that really began when British Leyland went bankrupt in 1975 and was nationalised.

On paper it must have seemed like a good idea, bringing together 97 different companies to form BL. But in practice the workforce and management at each plant were still fiercely proud of whatever it was they were making.

So, when Morris made the Marina, Austin came up with the Allegro, which meant BL was competing against itself. And it was the same story with Triumph. Remember the Stag? When it was being developed Triumph’s engineers had access to the Rover V8. It was light, frugal and powerful and would have been ideal. But there was no way they’d use ‘Rover rubbish”, so instead they nailed together two Dolomite engines to create their own V8, which overheated every time it was wet, dry, windy, cold, hot or grey.

And let’s not forget BL’s styling department. Today Ford houses its design team in Soho, so that they’re in the thick of the movers’ and shakers’ action. In Italy the staff at Pininfarina and Ital are deliberately made to work in exquisite towns with Renaissance architecture and many men in sunglasses. Which brings us to the Metro. It could only have come from a town that housed the Bullring.

So, infighting, lousy design and a factory that was no more suitable for car production than a stable. And to make matters worse the company had been targeted by extremists who were determined to make sure that no car made it onto the road. In his first six months as chairman Michael Edwardes had to deal with 327 different industrial disputes.

It’s easy to understand the motivation for all this unrest and hopelessness. It’s much more fun to stand round a brazier shouting ‘scab” at anyone in a tie than it is to spend all day bolting Prince of Darkness Lucas components onto a car that wouldn’t have worked anyway.

What’s more, it didn’t matter. Back then, everyone still had a sense that Britain ran the world, that Japanese cars were a joke and that the Germans were a bunch of war-losing bastards. They were all so arrogant, so far removed from the harsh reality of foreign competition, that they refused even to look at the competition.

And anyway Jim Callaghan would simply roll up the following week with another skipful of taxpayers’ cash. Over the years BL has cost the British government £3.5 billion.

This is my problem. Since I was old enough to read newspapers I’ve always perceived the British motor industry to be nothing more than a fountain of woe, waste and doom. A park full of men in donkey jackets raising their hands. A strike with a Birmingham accent.

Yes, there were flashes of inspiration. The Mini, of course, and the Rover SD1. Even the Maestro was clever; with lots of space and a light, airy feel, it was years ahead of its time. But these were pinpricks of light, no more noticeable than faint stars in the inky blackness of space.

And there seemed no end to the problem. The factories couldn’t be closed because negotiations would have to include the sheet metal workers, the metal mechanics, the draughtsmen, the technicians and half a dozen unions, including the all powerful TGWU.

On top of that, you have Harris Mann, who designed the TR7 and the Allegro, and Red Robbo, who refused to make either. You have Lord Stokes, who was an invertebrate, and Edwardes, who’s much too small. Then there’s Graham Day, Mrs Thatcher, Jim Callaghan, me, apparently, Tony Benn, Honda, BMW, the Shanghai Automotive group and British Aerospace who, in 1988, took the company off the government’s hands, promising they wouldn’t sell it for five years.

Yes, there were flashes of inspiration.
The Mini, of course, and the SD1.
Even the Maestro was clever; lots
of space and a light, airy feel, it
was years ahead of its time.

Five years later almost to the day, and having invested virtually nothing, they sold it to BMW for £800m. And what did BMW do? Why, they launched the wilfully old-fashioned 75, proving that they had no idea either. Nobody did. Nobody ever has done. Never in the field of human endeavour has so much been done, so badly, by so many.

And then we ended up with the Phoenix Four, who cannot possibly have dreamt even for a femtosecond that they had any chance whatsoever of turning the company around. They needed at least four all-new cars, each one of which would have to be at least as good as a Volkswagen.

And in these days of emission legislation and crash protection requirements, a new Volkswagen costs around £1 billion to design and develop. I’m told Renault recently spent £25m on a new heating and ventilation system.

On that basis the Phoenix Four didn’t even have enough for a new door knob. They must have known that. They must. And they must also have known that no car firm in the world would want to get into bed with them. Not with all that face hair going on.

Even so some people are saying the demise of MG Rover is my fault because I failed to give the cars a good review and sneered at the men in hats who drove them. I can’t understand this reasoning; am I supposed to recommend all cars that are made here irrespective of their price, performance or quality? Because if I am, all of you must go out tomorrow and buy a London cab.

Even if I thought for a moment that anyone paid any attention to anything I say — and I have figures to prove they don’t — I’m sorry, I’m not employed to think one thing and say something else.

I didn’t like the vast majority of Rover’s cars when they were being made and I won’t miss them at all. What’s more, I cannot even get teary and emotional about the demise of the company itself — though I do feel sorry for the workforce. In fact when I heard the news my first thought was ‘good”. Now we can move on and do something we’re good at, like… actually, I can’t think what we’re good at. But it definitely isn ’t running car firms.

Think about it. The four coolest cars in the world are the Aston DB9, the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the MINI and the Range Rover. British ingenuity. Foreign investment. Foreign management.

There is, however, one big problem with the collapse. Road safety. I really do think that with no more Rovers we will see a dramatic increase in the number of crashes.

You see, in the 1960s and 1970s all the bad drivers who had no interest in cars had Volvos. We knew to beware; just because a Volvo was in the left-hand lane, indicating left, didn’t mean it was going to turn left.

Then Volvo went all sporty, forcing the weak and the feeble to look elsewhere. Most ended up in Rovers, dithering about at junctions and generally driving the wrong way down motorways. There’s one Rover that has been stationary at the complicated double mini-roundabout in Chipping Norton for 15 years, its driver paralysed with fear.

Now, with Rover gone, I’m worried because there’ll be no advance warning of a bad driver ahead. They could all be camouflaged in Fords or BMWs. And you’ll have no idea until the moment of impact.

I do think that in the fullness of time they’ll all end up in Hyundais and Kias — hopeless, uninspiring, witless, soulless, gutless, characterless white goods from the Pacific Rim. I’m sure they’ll feel right at home.

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What a miserable bunch we are! Clarkson gives MG Rover a good kicking when it is down with a list of tired old cliches while we stick our hands in our pockets and shuffle our feet.

Is this really the company that makes the UK’s most popular sports car and hot-hatch? Is this the company that relaunched the MG brand to great and continuing acclaim? We all seem to be so busy doing our post-mortems that we have missed a certain little fact: there are nearly 200 parties interested in the assets of our besmirched national car producer.

And no wonder: Powertrain have been conducting ground breaking research on camless engines and CVT transmissions, while work has continued refining the new medium sized car.

The current models may be past their prime, but the developments waiting in the wings are world class. We may not appreciate the value of our own industry, but the foreign competition certainly do. Perhaps the end of Rover is nigh, but the fat lady is most certainly not singing yet.


Clarkson’s prose style mixes liberal quantities of sarcasm with fact. However, filter out the sarcastic remarks and there is truth in his journalism. Especially in his references to the labyrinthine complexities of the British Leyland organisation.

Put this together with the arrogance of Red Robbo and his union colleagues thinking constant industrial action would have no effect on sales or the national psyche, and you have the recipe for disaster that led ultimately to MGR’s fall into administration.


Clarkson says: “Now we can move on and do something we’re good at, like… actually, I can’t think what we’re good at.”

Well, if his writing is anything to go by, the Journalism is something we are definitely no good at either. Never let the facts get in the way of a “story”.

At least there are people like you who actually do use facts and are good at journalism – just a shame that the majority of the public aren’t interested in factual writing; just glib enter-journal-tainment-ism.


Jeremy Clarkson is a nasty piece of work. He will always be a nasty piece of work, because he is like the very people he despises. He is a man with a perm (and in his world if it’s not a perm it’s natural and therefore even worse). He wears sports jackets and jeans for Christ’s sake.

However every word in his blog/article is true. I just wish I’d said them (with the exception of being glad that MGR collapsed – that’s just plain daft).

I’ve been quiet the last few weeks, letting people mourn as we all must do, but wearing rose tinted glasses and waving Union Flags (yes everyone a Union Jack is a Union Flag on a ship, if it’s on a car outside Longbridge then it’s a flag) is not the way to convince me to buy a British car.

To sum it up, you follow Clarkson’s article with one on the Montego showing how crap they were at launch.


Britain’s best-known practioner of Ferrari-onanism and peddler of low-quality auto-related videos gives MGR a good kicking. Should we be too surprised?

Perhaps so, because I seem to recall an article he wrote for “Performance Car” – could have been called “Rule Britannia”, was probably called something else – in which the arthritic old xxxxxx railed against the average Brit’s habit of subsidising foreign motor manufacturers.

If memory serves, the article was prefaced with a caricature of the opinionated xxxxxx at the wheel of an MG Maestro 2-litre EFi (a car he thought highly of at the time) atop the white cliffs of Dover. The hirsute xxxxxx was using the car’s ample torque to push all those foreign
motors back into the briny, you see.

A bit like the Metro launch advertisment, really, but for the fact that the article featured a xxxxxx.

Over the years, and until very recently, I got the feeling that the dozy xxxxxx had a bit of a soft spot for the old firm. So why the change of heart?

The only riposte I can think of to the creaky old xxxxxx’s intemperate rant is to publish some of his earlier articles on the website: you know, the ones he doesn’t want anyone to see. The ones in praise of BMC>MGR.

Yes, there were some. Honest.

This was the man who called the R75 the “star of the show” on some TV programme or other when the car was launched at the Birmingham motor show.

The man who said he’d have a Range Rover one day, come hell or high water.

The man who liked the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi. And the Tomcat. And the MGF. And, for all I know, the R8, K-series Metro, R600, and R800 too.


How nice to know that there are some things you can always rely on. Like Clarkson proving time and again that the only thing he’s good at is dressing destructive glee in verbose pseudo-eloquence. And shooting himself in the foot.

So, the coolest cars around are the Aston Martin DB9, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Range Rover and Mini? Well let’s see… at the time the respective companies were taken over by their current owners, their ranges were hopelessly out of touch with the real world, completely uncompetitive and nowhere near as good as a 75/ZT is today.

The cars were unreliable and long in the tooth, and each and every one of those companies was struggling financially, living on nothing but anglophile leanings of a loyal fanbase. Sound familiar then, Clarkie?

So why exactly are you so happy to acknowledge these great marques were saved and their reputations restored, but deny MG Rover the chance of achieving the exact same thing and being allowed to fulfil its huge potential with foreign investment? Because it’s more fun for you.

Tall you may be, but greatness will eternally elude you.


Much as it breaks my heart to say it, Jeremy Clarkson is basically correct.

An awful lot of people who were stung in the 1970s by buying crap like the Allegro, swore that they would “…never buy another bloody British Leyland.

And they never did. Volumes went down, and it was a slippery slope from there in. The biggest surprise is that it lasted as long as it did. I have always been a supporter of the company. I have always wanted them to prosper, but I’m sorry, – the cars just didn’t hit the target. Any time I have bought one of their products, it has been a disaster, – apart that is, from my first car, a Morris Minor.

My Maestro was the only car I have ever owned which I have hated. God, I loathed that car! Then I bought a Rover 416 which lasted all of 4 hours before the engine melted. I’m truly sorry that this great British institution is gone, but if you make cars that people hate, you can’t expect to survive.


25 April 2005

Happy birthday Montego.


Loves driving, hates garages!

Anyone remember this strapline for the Citroen BX in 1983? ‘Loves driving, hates garages!” was to show that the new Citroen had broken with its forebears complexity and unreliability. And so it had.

Hates driving, loves garages!

Meanwhile, the Austin and MG Montegos were launched on 25th April 1984. ‘Hates driving, loves garages!” was the headline for Motor magazine’s first long term test report on an early Montego 1.6L. Austin Rover, like their predecessors (and unlike Citroen with their new BX), had left the final development of their new model to the customers (as they did with the Maestro the year before, as well as with earlier models right back to the 1960s). It didn’t augur well, and shoddily-produced early cars gave the Montego its poor reputation – a poor reputation that outlasted the car’s production life. Recovery people called motorway hard shoulders ‘Montego Bay” such were the numbers to be found littering the side of every motorway in the land.

Sadly, the car wasn’t the runaway success the marketing men had planned (although its conservative styling did capture sales from the avant-garde ‘jellymould’ Sierra, the Cavalier seemed unbeatable) as suspicions of unreliability lingered long after the early teething troubles were fixed. Magazine tests rated the Montego (in various guises) as being equally as good as (if not better than) both the Sierra and Cavalier in many areas, but the Montego was seen as conservative and didn’t have much appeal to either fleet or private buyers.

The Montego didn’t sell anywhere near as well as the Marina (its predecessor) of a decade before even though it was a far superior product and was class-competitive in a way the Marina (and Ital) never were. The same can be said for the Maestro and its predecessor the Allegro.

The main problem for the Montego was the company that made it.

Yet the Montego had a few tricks up its sleeve – perhaps the first was the Estate, launched at the 1984 Motor Show with the option of 2 rear-facing seats to give room for 7 people (admittedly the 2 extra people could only be small people under 45kg, but even so!). This was class-leading stuff (only larger cars like the Peugeot 505 Estate of the time had a third row of seats), and it won a Design Council award, partly due to its transformation from ugly duckling saloon to handsome estate car.

The next trick was the MG Montego Turbo which was launched in 1985 to critical acclaim, but (as usual) the product was underdeveloped at launch (major torque steer problems under power, the rest of the car was fine) and this was only sorted out after several months. This model raised the Montego into sportscar territory.

Young people do not want to drive an Austin.

So said Graham Day in 1987, as the Austin name was removed from the Metro, Maestro and Montego and they were left to soldier on under their own names for a couple of years. Sales had been falling since the first full year of production, and the Austin name was seen as a barrier to sales to younger buyers.

So work began on making the Montego more appealing, leading to the ‘duotone’ models and some rather memorable advertising (both on the TV and in the press) as the company went ‘yuppie-chasing’ (to no avail). Yet still the Montego was still a very competent car as borne out by the magazine tests.

For 1989 the Montego was adopted by Rover and given a mild facelift externally, internally and to the suspension – softening the sharp edges, essentially. Also launched in the Montego at this time was the Perkins Prima diesel engine (this had been used in the Maestro van since 1986), which was the world’s first Direct Injection diesel engine to power a family saloon and was to become available in normally aspirated and turbocharged derivatives.

But the Montego was becoming outclassed by the competition by 1990, and as Rover moved relentlessly upmarket with cars like the Rover 200 (R8) launched in 1989 the Montego was left to sell for as long as it would alongside the Maestro. But still the car was advertised and modified to keep it competitive. The Montego also sold quite well to the Ministry of Defence from the early 1990s, leading to an anomaly later on.

Well, we won’t for much longer.

This was Bernt Pischetsrieder’s comment on learning that the company were still building the Maestro and Montego at the time of the BMW takeover in 1994. The Montego was being made in small numbers in a corner of the Cowley factory by this time, and production was halted by the end of that year (the last cars were M-registered).

The Estates were the last models available to the public, and many mourned their passing. The Saloons, however, were still available to ‘fleet order only’ (which in practise meant the MoD and Taxi fleets) and were hand-built by this time. The last ever Montego, a diesel-engined saloon, lives at Gaydon and was signed by all the people on its production line.

But in June 1995 there were still Montego TD saloons available from ‘Williams of Paisley’ (Glasgow Rover dealer) at £8,995 ‘on the road’ – and then in 1996 the MoD released the diesel-engined Montego saloons it had earlier bought from Rover (but not registered) and these cars were given P-registrations. The production lines were sold to India and then surfaced in China, where a car based on the Montego remains in production.

And then, seemingly from nowhere, the Montego became popular with those people looking for cheap, reliable motoring not worried about image. Sadly the majority of the cars had gone to the Austin Rover Dealership in the sky, but there were still plenty of Montegos in daily use. There are few Montegos on the road nowadays though, and they are rare in the scrapyards so spares can be difficult to find – and of course many MG Montego Turbos have been broken for their power units (like the MG Metro Turbos broken only for their engines to end up in Minis). But hand in hand with this enthusiasm for the Montego came the Maestro Owners’ Club, which later incorporated the Montego Owners’ Register and latterly is known as the Maestro and Montego Owners’ Club.

The Montego is now beginning to gain recognition as a classic in its own right as people begin to reminisce about the ones they used to own and drive – invariably in glowing terms. It seems strange so many that people are so fond of them, considering the car’s shaky start and poor reputation – I reckon they were a very underrated car crying out for a little more development, better build quality and to be made by a different manufacturer. And no, I wouldn’t drive anything else!

Own a Montego? Visit to join the Maestro & Montego Owners Club.

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23 April 2005

St George’s day blog.


I AM writing this on 23rd April 2005, which is St Georges day – the patron saint of England.

However it is a gloomy time for lovers of British cars, with MG Rover having collapsed, and Jaguar finding the going tough. Until the recent events at Longbridge, I was a patriotic guy, but now I am even more cynical than usual about – not just England, but Britain in general – and the future.

And this has nothing to do with the interminable general election, with politicians making worthless promises about the utopia that lies ahead if we vote for them. And for the record I have no intention of voting on May 5th.

What kind of Britain do we really want? Well it goes without saying that we want a high wage, low tax economy with high quality public services. However all the evidence is that we don’t particuarly care if we have an industrial base. Back in 2000 MG Rover talked of producing 250,000 vehicles a year a target they never reached. And yet it was an achievable goal. Longbridge had reguarly managed to build well over 250,000 vehicles a year annually since 1985 when its products were less desirable than the later cars.

Even with the strength of the pound in 1998, the factory still managed to produce 281,381 cars before the BMW chairman made his faux pas and criticized Rover, causing sales to fall. In 2000, with all the good will towards MGR, as a now independent British owned company, sales should have increased correspondingly. But the sales rush never came, Longbridge was temporarilly saved from closure and dissapeared from the front pages.

The British people washed their hands of MGR and continued to buy foreign cars. The lack of support from MGR’s domestic market, I feel, was to seal the company’s fate. Sales continued to fall, and if the domestic car buyers weren’t interested, how could a potential partner/investor feel confident about getting into bed with MGR?

MGR is not the only British marque in trouble. Jaguar has recently announced the end of car production at Browns Lane in Coventry. One of the critisms levelled at MGR, is that they failed because they had an ageing car range. This is not the case with Jaguar. Ford has invested £millions in Jaguar with new engines and new bodyshells creating a superb range of executive cars.

The XJ8 is a superb car, perhaps a true British replacement for the Rover SD1 V8. And yet sales are dissapointing despite all the rave reviews.

Why don’t Britons buy British cars?

A journey on British roads soon provides the answer. The private buyer usually goes for a UK-built Japanese brand, for a runabout, but for something with prestige, they buy German. And Britain is addicted to German cars big time. I have often cynically remarked that the Brits would buy an overflowing septic tank if it had a VW badge on it, and though that is an exaggeration, I sometimes wonder.

And the number of BMWs on the road is astonishing; not just recent models. It has become the prestige car of choice for Britain’s growing ‘chav’ culture. The bottom line is that BMWs are percieved by many as “cool” and fashionable.

Another perception is that German cars are more reliable than British models. This is probably about as true as the perception that the 1968 Tet offensive was a defeat for the USA in the Vietnam war. Yet Britons seem very willing to believe that British cars are inferior, helped by a media that seems to revel in reporting problems with UK-built cars, and giving scant coverage to faults with foreign models.

I feel that a Rover 75 or a Jaguar has much more individual flair and style than any BMW. BMW styling is bland and always based on the 3 box format with no sense of originality. The cars always look like upmarket Ford Cortinas, however BMW try and dress them up.

And now back to the subject of fashion. It maybe that in the long term we are going to have to kiss goodbye to both Jaguar and Rover. The values these brands epitomise no longer exist. Britain has changed a great deal since the Sixties and Seventies. Back then Britain still thought of itself as a major player in world affairs; Britain still had a major share of world markets, and successful people drove British cars – while the younger generation aspired to follow in their footsteps.

However the bitter industrial disputes of the Seventies shattered consumers’ faith in UK made goods, and although all that is now a generation ago, the sales lost were never recovered. There has also been a revisionist re-writing of many aspects of British history, such as the empire, which question the values of previous generations.

Against this background, Rovers and Jaguars are seen as staid and boring, and driven by “squares”, by a society obsessed with youth. The two terrible recessions of the early Eighties and early Nineties shattered British society, creating schisms which have never been healed. From ruling half of the globe, Britain is now a society of two halves.

John Major once visualised Britain as warm beer and cricket. His vision was one from the past, it should read lager and football. So, in short the brand values of both Rover and Jaguar are from a Britain that no longer exists, no matter how good the cars are, and the cars are good.

And so the only conclusion I can come to is that Britons want to keep the £ and use it to buy foreign cars. I hope and pray that in the future that maybe some British marque will be ressurected successfully like Triumph motorcycles has been.

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21 April 2005

And now for something completely different.



The Monty Python Dead Rover sketch…

You think I’m joking?

Sadly, I am not. I really wish I were.

And the most ironic thing about all of this is where the blame is being aimed. Its being laid by most of the media squarely at the feet of the four car-men of the apocalypse, the executives of the then named Phoenix Consortium.

But it’s not their fault. There was nothing they could do. Every single group or person who has the ability to change public opinion has been ranged against them. Even at the time of the cleaving of MGR from BMW it was plain that the group would struggle, what with (mostly) outdated platforms and with their one new car being a victim of the short-lived fashion for retro-design.

But hark; do we hear the clarion calls of support from the British Motoring and General press getting behind our one remaining volume British owed car manufacturer? Do we buggery!

First we had Clarkson panning every MGR model he got within sight of, the very few compliments he ever made were line-ups for the fact that another manufacturer did it better at two thirds the price.

Then we had the falling sales figures caused by people thinking with their TV remotes and not even bothering to drive the cars to find out for themselves. This was even before the possible warranty problems and worries about the company’s stability.

Then the papers started with the news of problems and killed sales even further. When it all finally came to a head the papers had them in receivership almost a full day before they were even in administration. Its nice to know that people have your back isn’t it, its just a shame they were to busy sliding the stiletto into it.

It is true that the 25/45 platform was and is overaged. But it was still competent in its class and the pricing and spec were and are both good. The Rover 75 & the V8 derivative have both proved good cars, reliable and of good quality generally at a very competitive price. The only member of the range that is a little pitiful is the CityRover and the less said about the Streetwise the better. In the case of the CityRover a little fettling would have gone a long way into sorting that cars problems. As the Streetwise is only a moderately mucked about 25, that car would have been superceded by the new platform anyway.

It is also true that when you rev the bejeezus out of the K-series engine, bad things are likely to happen. But then, if you rev the bejeezus out of any engine of any modern manufacturer you are likely to have big problems. Rover was no worse than many in that regard.

So the cars had problems. BMW’s have problems. They are BMW’s, nuff said. So they were a little long in the tooth. The new Focus is too, its just a top down reworking of the bodywork and interior, the mechanicals are almost the same. So some of the models were a little dowdy in appearance. Better that than being in something so awful as the Seat Altea, a car that truly deserves the old TR7 epithet ‘I don’t believe it, they’ve done it on the other side too!”

People would have bought them, especially at the knock down prices some of the 25/45 ranges are being sold at. But they would only buy them if they were confident in the marques survival, and more importantly that their warranty would be respected. Thanks to Clarkson et al, that confidence is at almost basement level.

So I don’t blame the MGR group, or the fact their factory might have been a little behind the times. I don’t blame the fact that their cars were a little overaged and outdated. I don’t even blame BMW & Bae for asset stripping everything they could lay their hands on.

I think the problem started when Honda & Rover split. It was further exacerbated when BMW underestimated the scale of the problem they’d undertaken. But the final nail in the coffin, and where the blame should lie is firmly with the British Press and their treatment of MGR over the last Five years.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the series Casanova, currently on terrestrial TV. If you haven’t, it’s worth watching. I can almost see an eighty-five year old Jeremy Clarkson reprising Peter O’Tooles role, telling the story of his long and productive life to some blonde Vauxhall Corsa adoring bimbette…

Bimbette: ‘and you single handedly caused the destruction of Rover?”
Bimbette (with derision): ‘I don’t believe you!”

Casa-Clarkson ‘Oh yes, its all there in black and white. Every sordid detail, every scandalous misrepresentation…”

Bimbette (impressed) ‘oohh, tell me everything…”

Casa-Clarkson (twinkly eyed) ‘of course my dear, come sit closer… now it was back in ’05, or was it ’06, ones mind wanders you know….”

It’s a horrible thought isn’t it. The mental picture of the youthful Clarkson merrily shafting model after model (the cars not the girls), I am not yet quite that disturbed.

I hope that something can be pulled from the wreckage, though as time goes on I am beginning to doubt it. I fear that the last we will see will be:

R.I.P Rover Cars

1903 – 2005

It will be a sad day if that is the case.

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20 April 2005

The blame game, continued.


BMC’s failure to rationalise in the mid 50s was certainly an error, but many other surviving manufacturers erred similarly. The sad fact is that BMC>Rover missed just about every opportunity to make a product-planning decision that could have turned things around. Here’s a list for consideration of what ought to have been done differently:

1957: The Farina series ought to have been built on ZB Magnette mechanicals not A55 mechanicals.

1959: The Mini should not have been introduced until it was fully proven out and costed.

1962: The 1100 should not have been introduced until it was fully proven out and costed.

1964: Tthe Farina range should have been replaced with a conventional RWD range instead of the 1800.

1968: BLMC merger should have resulted in a product rationalisation using proven Triumph platforms and mechanicals with appropriate cost-reduction for urgently needed new products instead of Maxi (e.g. a stretched 1500 platform Renault 12 competitor) and Marina (e.g. a Toledo platform Escort competitor and a shortened 2000 mk I or Stag platform Cortina competitor). As a longer-term measure, BLMC should have implemented Roy Haynes’ plan to reduce product platforms, leaving Austin-Morris responsible for small FWD platforms, Triumph responsible for medium RWD and FWD platforms, Rover responsible for light trucks and Jaguar responsible for large RWD platforms.

1969: The 9X Mini replacement ought to have been built (perhaps with an existing A-Series powertrain as a transitional measure to save cost). A stretched platform supermini should have followed.

1972: Instead of Allegro, BLMC should have built a more conventional product along Autobianchi Primula/Simca 1100/Fiat 128 lines (i.e. conventionally suspended and end-on gearbox).

1978: Edwardes should have prioritised Maestro/Montego over Metro, and the Harris Mann styling ought to have been selected over the Solihull design.

1980: Ssports cars should not have been discontinued, but rather continued with continuous development wherever possible until a replacement based on the TR7 platform could be afforded.

1985: AR6 should not have been cancelled.

1989: 600 should not have been based on the Accord but rather a shortened 800 to avoid royalties and enable a 5 door. The retro styling theme should not have been pursued.

1992: HHR 400 should not have been pursued, but rather a reskinned R8 to avoid high royalties and reduce the number of platforms for production.

1994: BMW should have prioritised medium car replacement instead of R75, and should have replaced 800 and 600 on BMW E34 and E36 platforms, respectively.

2000: Once it became clear no one would partner with Rover to replace R45, PVH should instead have improved and rebodied R25 and produced a long wheelbase version to replace R45, all of which likely could have been done without outside investment.

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19 April 2005

What were they thinking?


THE recent tragic events at MG Rover have affected many of us and left us looking for answers. After the damage wreaked on the company by BMW, Phoenix seemed to offer the opportunity for a re-birth. Emotions were high and the rhetoric matched them: as usual, Britain was at its best in adversity…the company would show what it could really do despite BMW’s mismanagement…. We would have a world-beater again.

I believe that the reason that the past few weeks have been so devastating was that expectations were so high. Everyone wanted Phoenix to succeed. The people who pointed out the holes in their plans were regarded as defeatist. The alternative buyer, Alchemy, who had first suggested that BMW sell Rover, were ‘asset strippers.’

How very sad to be where we are today. I believe that Phoenix were well-intentioned, and it is also true that they had a very difficult mountain to climb after BMW had cherry-picked the business. They began well by recognizing the value of the MG marque, building the excellent Z’s and returning MG to motorsport at Le Mans, the BTCC and rallying. They had some bad luck as the TWR and China Brilliance deals failed. But then they seemed to run out of ideas.

Others have questioned the wisdom of the CityRover, and of spending so much money and time on the MG SV and ZT V8. Whether or not these were good business decisions or not, hindsight is always 20/20 and I would be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

What I cannot excuse is the apparent fundamental incompetence of their management. Their marketing was poor almost until the end and their communications were abysmal. They frequently made grandiose announcements prematurely and never retracted them: remember when MG engines were going to power the CART racing series? When the deal eventually went to Toyota we heard nothing from MGR. They carried on in that vein until the press stopped believing in what they said.

The most significant blow to their credibility came from the pensions deal. This has already been recited in so much detail that it is pointless to repeat here – it is enough to say that if you take great risks leading a turnaround, you deserve to make great rewards. The cardinal rule is that you never, ever take those rewards before you have completed the task and especially when your people are still being asked to make sacrifices. Their actions tipped public opinion from scepticism to outright hostility and MGR’s sales dropped drastically almost immediately.

By this time MGR’s public pronouncements were becoming increasingly defensive and less and less in touch with reality. They announced the SAIC deal prematurely when it was obvious that such an announcement would seriously damage the prospects of any deal – and it did.

The events of the last weeks and months suggest a management that had lost its way. They were running a company losing £25m a month and didn’t know what to do about it. They just kept spending in the hope that `something would turn up’ before they ran out of money. It didn’t and they did.

The stories of the asset sales used to sustain the company’s cash losses are shocking – the sale of the Rover 25 and 75 the K-Series engine for example. What were they thinking? This was not management – it was abdication of responsibility.

Rover and its predecessor companies have frequently suffered under incompetent management and this time around appears to be no exception. The workers at Longbridge and the legions of MG Rover enthusiasts deserved better than this.

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This is not quite right – It wasn’t MG’s fault.

CART were using V8 Turbos from Ford, Toyota and Honda. They then decided to go to 3.5L N/A engines and with that Honda and Toyota pulled out. MG said they would supply engines, Ford may have done but couldn’t support the entire field. No more companies stepped forward so Chris Pook of CART took the step of going to a spec engine.

He bought about 50 V8 Turbos from Cosworth and leased them to teams. That still continues to this day. So MG had the rug pulled from them, through no fault of their own. David Hood might be interested in this – in the light of events it is almost irrelevant but I thought I would mention it.


18 April 2005

The blame game…


EVERYONE (except Honda) has messed up, from the 1960s BMC management frittering away market share and goodwill, through the strike torn BL days of the 1970s and 1980s to more recent villains British Aerospace, BMW and PvH. There are so many people and organisations who must accept some responsibility for the failure of BMC/BL/Austin Rover/MGR. It is easy with hindsight to point the finger, but jump in a time machine and come back with me to 1952. What were Leonard Lord and William Morris (Lord Nuffield) thinking, merging two companies making identical cars for identical markets. Product rationalisation? You must be joking.

This was overlooked in the post-war rush for exports and the cosy Empire-loyal markets of Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Australasia. Even the United States was an export target for the Austin Metropolitan and Atlantic. No one ever got to grips with the ensuing production/marketing nightmare. And the final insult? Dealers were the tail wagging the dog.

BMC should have rationalised the range drastically by 1955, somehow finding a way to carry the unions and workforce with them (a daunting task, admittedly) as the axe was wielded and Morris and Riley discontinued. Austin should have said goodbye to Austin Healey in favour of MG, leaving three core brand names; Austin, MG and Wolseley. Vanden Plas should have stayed as an executive coach building firm. Perhaps the Nuffield Group workforce and dealers could have been persuaded by the inclusion of two of their names in a putative three brand BMC line-up. Dealerships needed to be changed and branded BMC, rather than Austin or Morris. I’m sure that if this was carried out in a sensible way (through proper explanation and cooperation, rather than imposition), involving both unions and management, it could have been achieved. Especially as the huge international BMC market share in the 1950s would have meant no reduction in overall capacity. MGs and Wolseleys in production at Longbridge, Austin in production at Cowley. Why not?

So, the dealerships. Perhaps a BMC branded flagpole on the forecourts would have made a good start, helping to bury the Austin or Morris allegiance.

And the range? The Farina saloons of 1958 would not look so badge engineered with just three models — a standard car (Austin Cambridge), a sports model (MG Magnette) and a luxury variant (Wolseley 15/55). The Morris 1000 would have gone in the mid-fifties, the Austin Healey Sprite/MG Midget duplication would have been avoided and the Mini and 1100 ranges would have been sensibly rationalised. The separate, and expensive, brand advertising of the same cars (Morris 1100/Austin 1100 for example) could have been avoided.

I know it is merely academic to try and reshape past events, but just think how many expensive mistakes could have been avoided. I wonder if anyone working within BMC at the time was concerned about the separate dealerships, their divided loyalties (either Longbridge or Cowley) and the absurd product duplication?

Good things? Well there’s the Mini and 1100. We can thank Sir Alec Issigonis for introducing and bequeathing front wheel drive/transverse engine design to the world. Most small and medium-sized passenger cars (BMW’s One Series apart) would otherwise look very different.

Continuing with the ‘what if?’ questions, a strong, rationalised and solvent BMC wouldn’t have been forced by Harold Wilson’s Labour government to marry Donald Stokes’ serially acquisitive Leyland Group in 1968. The truck builders’ millions might have been more sensibly invested bringing Rover and Triumph together, creating a British BMW. Imagine; executive saloons, off-roaders and a decent sports car range from one manufacturer. Or, put another way, the current Mercedes-Benz and BMW line-ups.

Speaking of BMW, will they ever resurrect the Triumph, Rover and Riley names? They are definitely the one group to come out of all this industrial carnage smelling of roses.

To summarise, we are left with MINI, Land Rover and Jaguar, but all would appear to be safe with their new owners. MG Rover has gone the way of so many familiar names from the past; Standard, Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, Humber, Jowett, Trojan, Lanchester, Alvis…

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15 April 2005

The one I never wanted to write…


I KNOW Rover was only a small player in the automotive world, but for me, it is a lot darker today than it has been for a long time. The death of Rover is something perhaps we knew was inevitable the moment it came out that the Chinese had bought Intellectual Property rights for several of Rover’s mainstay products without having committed itself to a joint venture.

Perhaps, it was really inevitable when BMW pulled out and sold Rover to the Phoenix Consortium…

Or maybe following the government’s refusal to allow Ford to buy Austin-Rover in 1986…

Maybe you could even say, the seeds were sown in 1968, when Harold Wilson and Anthony Wedgewood-Benn seduced Lord Stokes into allowing Leyland to take over BMH…

The list is a long one, but the truth is whatever it was that killed Rover, it no longer matters – the damage is done, the marque is dead, and the UK now has no locally owned car manufacturer bigger than London Taxis International. As I have said before, we’re not looking to pin the blame on anyone here, because to do so would be futile, when the real issue is the future of the 6000 or so workers, 5000 of whom will be receiving their P45s through the post tomorrow morning. Conjuring up conspiracy theories about Towers, Pischetsrieder, Thatcher, Robinson, and Benn won’t get these guys their jobs back.

Besides, we’ll make sure the documents, data and pictures – the very core of the company’s history will be saved for posterity, for it is these that will determine the motives of those who led the company in the darkest of days.

It’s a sad end to a great company – one, that in its heyday was respected the world over, and produced great executive cars, which struck fear into the hearts of all the opposition. Look at the P6, the P5 and (perhaps) the SD1, and tell me even today, these are not great cars. The Rover 75 was a brave attempt to get back some of that bulldog spirit that defined these cars, but ultimately it was a victim of circumstance and not of its own inabilities… Such a shame.

I have been suffering with this for the last week – it has felt like I was losing a best friend, and there was nothing I could do, except stand by and helplessly watch from the touchlines…

Yesterday, I actually visited Longbridge and went to the Product Development Centre to Interview Rob Oldaker, Tony Spillane and Andy Smith. We talked about the past – and I could see in these men’s faces that they enjoyed some great times at Longbridge – they relayed the blue-sky thinking that led to some wonderful creations. For three hours, the weight of what was happening to them was lifted, and it was as though we had returned to an earlier, golden age…

When the interview broke up, we exchanged business cards and a few pleasantries, and not once, did you get the feeling the company was about to implode. As I walked through the corridors of the PDC, I somehow felt it was coming to an end – and that was brought home when I looked in the design office and saw a sea of computer VDUs – all but a couple switched off – and not a sign of life. I think it was then that I knew for sure…

Walking out of Longbridge, my colleague (who served at Longbridge for many, many years), was close to tears. He knew, too.

So, I became Longbridge’s last ever visitor on a full-working day. It may sound like an accolade, but right now, I’d do anything for it not to be the case.

That’s why I’ll be at Longbridge on Sunday, expressing my feelings – to some, the factory may just be a building, but to me, it symbolises so much more. And its closure signifies a lot about the deep and painful changes this country is going through.

RIP Longbridge. RIP Rover.

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13 April 2005

Light relief…


I’VE been loaned a car I’ve always hankered after since I was knee-high to a grasshopper… a bright red Renault Fuego. Yes, I know this is and the only coupe the the company was responsible for when this Fuego rolled off the production line, was nothing more than a glint in Roy Axe’s eyes…

But you know how it is – they tell you that you should never meet your heroes, because it is bound to end in disappointment. Perhaps so, but that’s a cliche, and I don’t like such things – otherwise, why would I drive a Rover 75? I’m under 35, don’t you know.

So, the Fuego. I remember being so impressed the first time I saw one on the TV – it was black and shiny, and as the car danced across the desert to the tune of Vangelis, one couldn’t help notice the sexy details – mad looking alloy wheels, a wraparound rear window (just like a Porsche 924!), and that all important Eighties French car touch: yellow foglamps. Yumm. Strangely enough, it proved to be one of those cars that impressed everyone for about five minutes – and within a year of bursting onto the market, it had slipped back into motoring anonymity.

Despite that, my view on the car was coloured by how impressed I was when I first saw it, aged ten.

Back to reality…

When I first clapped eyes on this car, I was very disappointed – what looked so sexy in contemporary advertising managed to look rather like an amorphous blob in real life. And an under-wheeled one at that. I mean – look at it… 13-inch wheels for goodness sake. Still, if it looked more anodyne that I remembered, the proof in the pudding would be in the driving, surely?

Well, I must admit I couldn’t fault the thing. It rides and handles really well, in that safe predictable front wheel drive way so many cars of that era managed to do. Steering was heavy, at parking speed, but lightened up just enough to become manageable on my B-road thrash home. The brakes were good – firm and progressive – and the damping was seriously impressive for such an old car on its original shock absorbers… Okay, the 1647cc is a little weaker than desirable and left me wishing it had a turbo for some extra fun – but it wasn’t underpowered; standing up to the motorway thrash perfectly well.

One must also remember, it’s styled by the same man who brought us the Citroen SM. And that’s reason enough to love it…

So, an impressive steer? Well actually, no… So what was wrong with it, then? After a little deliberation, I realised that this car had absolutely no soul, and although the driving experience was largely positive, it was also completely forgettable. But think about that for a while – how can an inanimate object made from steel, plastic and glass manage to have character? Is it just romantic tosh dreamed up by us motoring hacks, desperate for an excuse to criticise an otherwise worthy car?

I don’t think so, but I guess if you don’t really get cars, you would never understand the concept of a characterful car… and you’d probably not be reading this, opting instead to only think about cars when you need to refill your Passat with diesel.

Still, I’m sure the rest of us petrolheads know what I mean.

And perhaps that is why I don’t get MGBs, finding them throbby, archaic and dull – I haven’t tuned into their character. Perhaps I need to run one side by side with the Fuego to fully understand.

Despite all that, it’s a great car, and funnily enough, it’s up for sale for £400, if you’re interested. I’ll not be expecting too many calls…

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12 April 2005

Keep on truckin’ guys


FIRSTLY let me declare my colours. I’ve never owned a Rover, indeed my only experience (other than an occasional passenger) of any recent Rover model was an R75 that I hired for a business trip.

I came across this site the other day while looking for the latest news on the situation, and from your posts I know many here are hurting very badly indeed. But after all it’s only a car isn’t it?

Well, no, it isn’t. As you all know, it’s much more than that. Few things capture the emotions like a new car. The smell, the feel, the whole experience is wonderful. Now I drive, ahem, another brand and would be equally gutted to see it fold, to have to revisit my rationale for picking a car, to enjoy it less for no other reason than it hasn’t got that familiar family feel and icon on the steering wheel. I sympathise I really do.

But it worries me that so much blame is being heaped on BMW. When it comes to blame, I think the story is much more complex and probably begins back in the early Seventies. I believe that poor management and timid government back then sealed Rover’s fate.

That and corporate greed in the mid Nineties, but I’ll come back to that. Oh, and before anyone draws the conclusion, no, I don’t drive a Beamer, nor would I, I like to think I have a little more taste than that!

Back then the cars just weren’t as good as the competition, and were built poorly. Many suggest Derek Robinson played a part in Rovers downfall but I don’t think so really. Pretty much everyone I know wants to do an honest job for an honest wage, and if they are well managed that’s exactly what they do. Where Robinson was able to foster unrest he was only able to do so, I’m sure, because the flames of discontentment were there to be fanned.

Poor people management and a constant desire to buck hard decisions made Rover uncompetitive for over a decade and damaged the brand(s) immensely. I believe things were never more rosy than in the later period of the Honda partnership. The cars were good, and even if some purists might say they weren’t “real” Rovers, their quality and engineering could so easily have repaired the brand and allowed Rover to build sales volumes to support their own engineering.

But of course given the choice between a slog in partnership with Honda or a lovely big pile of BMWs cash BAe took the easy option and destroyed most of the good work to date.

BMW made mistakes but ultimately reached the conclusion that they weren’t big enough to make Rover work. As others have said Jaguar and Land Rover continue to make losses but have a parent committed to the industry and able to withstand heavy blows. BMW were never in that league as far as development capital was concerned and had they continued, we’d probably now be looking at the failure of the BMW group as a whole.

But perhaps I’m least impressed by the actions of the Government back in 2000. BMW said it wouldn’t work, and other large players were unimpressed. Jon Moulton could have made MG work. This was the only show in town. Yes it involved pain, and, living in Crewe (once the capital of railway engineering and still the home of Bentley) I understand the pain of mass redundancies.

But instead Messrs Towers and friends were allowed to fight heroically/asset strip (depending on your view) simply because it suited a Government facing re-election.

So this is a sad time, I agree, but given the dowry and help BMW left behind, I don’t think they can carry much blame at all.

Keep truckin’ guys…

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11 April 2005

We have a winner


DUE to the terrible news coming from Longbridge, we have had to postpone the announcement of the winner of the MG Metro 1300. Anyway, the car is soon to fall into the hands of a proud new owner, and we’ll be publishing the pictures of the handover, as soon as it happens.

Here is the original announcement:

We have a winner!

Yes, our MG Metro competition has come to an end, and we have a winner!

After getting all the questions right, and coming up with this very catchy tie-breaker (“I would like to win the MG Metro because life is a blast when you’re on Hydragas!”) Chris Moore from Edinburgh will become the proud new owner of the pretty black MG Metro.

We hope that he has a long and fruitful life with his new car – and look forward to receiving regular updates on its new life North of the border…

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10 April 2005

The Chinese


MAYBE it’s the rose-coloured glasses, or the fact that we were a family that bought Triumphs until there were no more Triumphs to buy, but I have been sympathetic to what is now MG Rover. While the British press slammed the Phoenix Consortium in 2000 for its chances to save the carmaker, I thought otherwise in various editorials. I even got a nice letter from John Towers to say how delighted he was.

Yesterday’s news that MG Rover had called in PricewaterhouseCoopers to advise on its business—heightened as usual by the British press in saying that the company had collapsed—made me look in the mirror to see whether there was any egg on my face.

I had blamed MG Rover’s troubles on BMW. Brands, as we all know, are the interface between company and consumer. But under BMW ownership, the Müncheners had changed Rover’s branding strategy more frequently than Helmut Köhl ordering beer. Rover’s performance edge was blunted. BMW tried to decide whether it was better branding Rover as an independent company or as ‘part of the BMW Group’. Should Rover be looked upon as old-world British or new-world funky? In such a short time, BMW sent more mixed messages than any branding consultant would dare recommend. A political consultant, however, might.

Phoenix was charged with not only securing jobs at Longbridge, but ensuring that Rover could have a consistent marketing message. To some extent, it has, but when you are surviving on a day-to-day basis, it becomes pretty hard to look at the larger picture. However, brands were the real carrot here, not the platform of the Rover 75 (which is, for instance, not older than that of the Jaguar S-type or the supposedly new Opel Astra), or any of the cars in MG Rover’s pipeline.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC), MG Rover’s potential suitor and saviour, can pump out all the cars it wants out of Red China, but will never conquer a single western market using its acronym. A shortcut would have been to tie up with a western manufacturer, and an ailing one could prove to be a bargain. Proton faced the same issues as it moves from producing prehistoric Mitsubishis to its own Lotus-fettered product. We have seen one another Asian effort, Daewoo, fail on a brand basis as it becomes Chevrolet in most of the world, except for Korea, Thailand and a few other markets. (Incidentally, I believe the Chevrolet move to be unwise.)

While there are criticisms of MG Rover, for it is easier to attack John Towers et al for their salaries than offend the Red Chinese these days, one cannot underestimate the foolhardiness of the Politburo for not going ahead.

Of course, due diligence is important. Financial measures should be examined. But the everyday person cares little for the assets and liabilities. They only are concerned with, ‘Does this brand help me realize who I am?’ While SAIC itself understands this, the communist National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which must approve the deal, does not. Reportedly, too, SAIC was a bit put off by the politicization of the deal, which is surprising given that its own existence is rooted in communist politics.

The Politburo, through the NDRC, argues that because BMW failed, then SAIC would, too. But therein lies the very fauly of its argument: one removed, as would be expected from a communist state, from consumer emotion, expectation and awareness. However, it is not helped by the impression from the British media that generally, Germans can do no wrong in business. BMW had failed here, and even at a basic level one can see its earlier executive changes at Rover as a sign of that.

Assuming SAIC wishes to export, the Politburo needs to realize that it is going to be tough-going to invent its own brand. Volkswagen took 30 years to get Audi anywhere near where it wanted it—as a credible rival to Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Rover was already on its way to doing that in the 1980s and early 1990s, albeit with smaller cars. If through money it can outspend others in branding, it will still take it years—six or seven in today’s market, with a hefty campaign—for it to present a face that is appealing for potential, sophisticated western consumers. The sum for that will likely outweigh the investment in MG Rover.

These brands are still worth plenty. Rover still has some equity left in it, though my feeling is that it will wind up like Standard or Reliant. But MG holds a great appeal—and that is largely thanks to Phoenix’s decision to make it a raw, sporting brand and being totally consistent with that branding since 2001. However, there is huge potential in the other brands in the portfolio. Austin, for one, could have been SAIC’s entry into Europe, with a value-for-money, Chinese-made product. Rover could have remained built at home, higher-end cars based on the 75 platform until jointly developed vehicles could be created. The 25 and 75, whose Chinese rights are already owned by SAIC, could be sold in China as Rovers.

For the level of investment of a new model, and a government grant conditional on a tie-up going ahead, SAIC could have secured the brands from the embattled carmaker. One billion pounds was always too high, but my guess is that the brands and assets—and, therefore, SAIC’s exporting future—could have been had for under £250 million.

It would have instantly won loyalty in Britain at the very least, securing a base for its product overnight. Being the saviour of a British company has plenty of sales’ credibility there, regardless of where the product then comes from.

The Politburo’s thinking is at odds with Chinese companies like Haier which has nurtured its own brand, even if the name legitimately has German roots. Or the strategy of Lenovo when it purchased IBM. The automotive sector is no exception; in fact, it is often representative in reflecting branding and business trends. I can only hope that PricewaterhouseCoopers can see clearly when it comes to an organization’s brands, but being an accounting firm at heart, I have to wonder. The next stage will be to regain ‘face”.

Jack Yan is CEO of Jack Yan & Associates and a member of Sweden’s Medinge Group branding think-tank.

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9 April 2005

It goes on…


THERE has been an absolutely huge outpouring of emotion over the past few days – and it’s all for MG Rover.

As has been reported in the news, MG Rover has been through the wringer – and with the livelihoods of 6000 workers depending on the outcome of PricewaterhouseCooper’s administrators, one can only hope a satisfactory deal can be put in place to save as many jobs as possible.

The wider media seems to be lining up John Towers and his colleagues as the patsies for this unpleasantness, and it is not a very nice process to witness. Obviously, it is nice to have someone to blame, but these guys are probably not the ones to vent out anger at. Even if they are found to have acted inappropriately, then they are the last in a very long line – and having spoken to soneone at the top in Stokes’ era, recently, it has been going on for generations within the company.

Human nature is what it is, afterall.

Be that as it may, feelings are running high and I have decided to turn the ‘Have your say‘ over to your thoughts at this extremely sad time. So, if you want to share your feelings, please drop me a line and I will make sure your voice is heard (anonymously, if you prefer)…

And, of course, if you work there now, and have something to share, get in touch. Your views matter.

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8 April 2005

The unimaginable…


FIRSTLY allow me to apologise for not being around to report the events as they arose – I am currently away on business reporting on the Techno Classica motor show in Essen, Germany.

I arrived here late on Wednesday evening with my heart in my mouth – I had heard the reports floating around the press that SAIC were contemplating pulling out of its deal with MG Rover, fearing the Longbridge-based company’s financial situation was in a perilous state.

As it is, we still do not know the real financial situation, but as Wednesday became Thursday, it became apparent that things were pretty grim. Representatives of the Department of Trade and Industry were in China, alongside Phoenix high-ups… their task simple – to try and get SAIC to sign Rover, therefore saving it from the abyss.

Rumours and counter-rumours did the rounds – but each solid statement to emerge from either the government or MG Rover was worse than the previous one. First production and Longbridge was halted – suppliers worried about the company’s solvency. Then we heard that the Phoneix Four would inject their own funds in a last-gasp attempt to encourage the Chinese into staying in the deal.

The real bombshell came last night – Patricia Hewett, the Trade and Industry Secretary stated that MG Rover had gone into liquidation. Just as quickly, Phoenix countered that, by saying MG Rover wasn’t in liquidation, but had simply called in the accountants to clarify its own sitaution.

However, by mid-morning today, I heard the news: MG Rover announced it had called in the administrators – Price Waterhouse Coopers…

Firstly, let me say – this news fills me with massive personal distress – not only have we lost our last grasp on indigenous volume car production, but it’s terrible news for the 6000 workers at Longbridge… After the ceasing of car production at Luton, Dagenham, Browns Lane and now – possibly – Longbridge, the UK has now become a second string automotive nation.

Okay, we still build lots of cars here – but none of them are British – and none of those juicy profits are being ploughed back into a British company.

Perhaps MG Rover’s position is symbolic of British Industry as a whole – Why make things, when we can sell each other services? Yep, a grotesque chain of events over the past fifty years has left Britain nation populated by people flogging each other services, rather than making things we can actually sell to other countries.

Leaving that aside, many, many people angered by this turn of events will be looking for a scapegoat – someone to blame. Many people will want to point accusing fingers at John Towers, at BMW, or perhaps the media… to do so would be to take a very simplistic view of the situation.

In reality none of these factors helped, but did any of them kill the company? The media’s part in this affair was akin to kicking a dying man in the head but the media certainly didn’t kill MG Rover… The same can be said for the Phoenix Four and BMW. Both were well-intentioned in their own ways, but ultimately rather naive.

It is right to be angry about the situation, but don’t look for someone to blame… there are too many factors (most of which you can read about in The Whole Story). Best to take a minute to think about Longbridge’s 6000 workers and their families – let’s hope something good is around the corner for the guys that really matter.

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7 April 2005

That Chinese Takeaway.


MGR breathes a sigh of relief. Respite because — at least in the short-term — Midlands car manufacturing continues. Alright, so the long-term future for a full strength Longbridge workforce may be questionable, but at least they can now worry knowing the business is on a sound financial footing.

New markets beckon in China and, courtesy of TATA and the next-generation Indica/CityRover, the Indian subcontinent as well. That means potential exposure to 40% of the world’s population… Okay, third world economics dictate that countless millions of people haven’t a hope of even seeing a new car, let alone driving or affording one. But MGR will be able to set up and establish a presence as these emerging superpowers expand. And, if SAIC has anything to do with it, many potential car buyers could be looking at Rover 25s.

I’ll have a number 25 and a
number 75, please..

TV footage shows present day, bustling Shanghai full of VW Santanas. Presumably, the introduction of the 25 will represent a huge advance for the vast majority of the Chinese motoring public. A 10-year-old design versus a 20-year-old is no contest.

So, K-series engine production has gone, together with the 25. I am intrigued about Chinese plans to market a ‘slightly stretched’ Rover 75. What is that all about? Presumably, a halfway house between the standard 75 and the LWB version. Why?

Incidentally, the British have 25% of the joint-venture, whilst SAIC retain 75%. And it’s the Rover 25 and 75 that will be built in China. Go figure, as they say.

Motor racing operations stay with the British. As we look forward to DTM action this year, it could be a great way to raise the company’s profile and increase poor European market share. I’m just a little perplexed as to why Mercedes, Audi and Opel are the only opposition. Do other manufacturers know something MGR doesn’t? The BTCC calendar by comparison looks more competitive, with a wider spread of car makers.

Finally, I wonder what will become of any future MGR/SsangYong off-road project. Will MGR be able to poach design and development expertise from Land Rover or will they be reduced to just selling badge engineered Korean vehicles?

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5 April 2005

Another one bites the dust…



KEEPING things light in what has been a horrible few days for MG Rover is quite a difficult task. I find the best plan of attack is simply to wait and see what happens… and change the subject.

As a kid, I used to love reading the ‘Observers’ Book of Automobiles’, the ‘International Car Catalogue’ and (if I went to the main reference library in Manchester) ‘World Cars’. The main reason was to feed my insatiable desire to learn as much as I could about our fascinating industry and the cars produced by it. And in the days before Google and Autoindex (probably the best automotive website in the world), this was the only way to find out about the wierd and wonderful cars you could buy in the less developed parts of the world.

You know the sort of car I mean – European and Japanese cast-offs produced by start-up companies where the clientele was rather less fussy than they are here in sophisticated Europe. So, in Turkey, you got the Tofas – in China there was the Hongkhi – in Brazil, the Dodge Polara (check out www.rootes-chrysler for that one). These were cars that your first reaction was to cringe when you saw them… followed by the obvious question: ‘why?’

One of my favourite automotive cast-offs has always been the Iranian Peykan. Built by Iran Khodro, this Hillman Hunter clone has been an Iranian mainstay since the late sixties, and it succinctly summed up what it was about second world nation cars that intrigued me. After all, the Hunter – nice as it was – was never going to set the world on fire, and yet – here we are – in 2005, and it is still for sale…

Except now, it’s doomed thanks to the modernization of the motor industry – and the onset of the Renault-Dacia Logan. As of the end of April, the Paykan will no longer be built – it also means that Iranian motoring wits will have to think of another car to make jokes about.

Should we rejoice the fact we have one less motoring dinosaur being built? Objectively yes. But at the same time, I can’t help but think, that yet another interesting pocket of our industry has been taken away from us.

So, join me in taking a minute’s silence for the Paykan. RIP.

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4 April 2005

Not long now…


…NO, I’m not referring to the fate of MG Rover, which is the subject of frenzied press speculation at the moment.

I’m on about the MG Metro competition – and the fact that we should soon know the identity of the winner of this car. I’ve been surprised by the number of entries and the knowledge of you all. It seems as though I managed to set a too easy set of questions, as a great number of you seemed to have no trouble in getting all the answers correct.

Anyway, the lucky winner of the competition should know on Thursday night if he has won that car – and the rest of you, the following evening.

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Keith Adams

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