Blogs : April 2008

29 April

We’ve done it again


IT’S good to get the respect of one’s peers – and even after all this time, I still get a great deal of pride when someone compliments me about AROnline. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to see that we’ve been named by the Telegraph as one of the Internet’s 20 most useful car websites… There’s no namecheck on the piece, so I have no idea who wrote it – if it was you, drop me a line, and I’ll send you a Crackerjack pen and pad.

However, I’m surprised that the number one repository for all things anorak about BMC>MG is considered useful, but I’m not going to moan about the mention.

You can read the original article here

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28 April

Summer’s here


I MUST admit that I’m definitely one for the winter months – few things in life can beat the barrage of sensations you experience on a crisp, snowy January morning… but the problem living here in the UK is that we just don’t get many days like that. No, for us, it’s one or two days of snow bracketed by relentless rain and wind.

Owning an old car in our climes is no joy – either the heater’s no good, or the wipers aren’t up to scratch; and either way, you end up cursing your old heap, and wondering why you didn’t spend your hard earned on something modern and efficient.

However, it seems that summer truly started this weekend – and for me, once I’d recovered from the initial euphoria, and the novelty of actually wanting to get up before 9.00am on a weekend morning had worn off, and after the grass was mowed, it was time to dig out the old heap and give it a polish. As my SD1 is still sitting in Poland, that fell on my trusty Cavalier Sports Hatch, which has been used intermittantly during the winter months, but as far as I can remember, hadn’t been washed since November last year. Yes, I know.

So, if you have an old heap lying around in your
life, the next sunny weekend you get, drag it out
and revive it… and start enjoying driving again.

Actually, it’s one of those things you put off – getting the car looking good again. So, with the weather looking warm and bright, and nary a breeze to destroy the illusion of spring, I was relishing the job of titvating the old girl. So, after a can of silver paint had been deployed (on the crusty wheels) and the Turtle Wax dipped into (for a wash and a brush up), it was time to hop in and go for a spin.

And do you know what – I loved it.

It’s funny how the sunny weather permeated my disposition – and what was a belligerant, draughty old bus on a grim winter’s morning had turned into a delightful, engaging travelling companion. Yes, my Cavalier might be little more than 1970s tin, but give it a spring morning, and it has the power to inspire. So, if you have an old heap lying around in your life, the next sunny weekend you get, drag it out and revive it… and start enjoying driving again.

Now, let’s hope the weather holds – my SD1 is coming home soon, and I want to truly enjoy it…

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24 April

ADO61 revisited


SPRING seems to have unexpectedly brought new interest in the Austin 3-Litre front. Looking out an old copy of Classic & Sportscar from January 1994, I found three intriguing sketch proposals, with regrettably little by way of explanation. The monochrome illustration shows a Rover-branded ADO61, with very Mercedes-like headlights, and a tail-end treatment hinting at the Vanden Plas Princess 4 litre R. If it really did emanate from within BLMC, it is likely to have originated in 1968 at the earliest, yet it looks dated even by comparison with the production Austin, never mind Rover’s forward-looking product line-up.

Slightly more is known about the colour renderings, the work of Michelotti. The date is described as 1968/69. The length of the nose and tail and the wheelbase don’t look right for a 3-Litre – it appears more like a facelifted 1800 – or possibly even an Innocenti version, if such a thing was ever considered. Yet the badge at least on the dark blue car looks very like a Rover longship and the drawing shows the steering wheel on the right.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether any of these Rover ADO61 proposals had any serious intent and I’m inclined to think not. Given the uncertainty of the Rover P8 large car project immediately after the creation of BLMC, possibly Harry Webster was, with a bit of help from his friend Giovanni Michelotti, putting the wind up his Solihull colleagues. I’m not aware of whether a capacity for mischief was a facet of Harry Webster’s character, although certain aspects of the Marina’s design suggest it is a possibility.

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23 April

Will they, won’t they?


INFLATION in China is running at 7 per cent – making goods built there increasingly less competitive. China has also stopped subsidies = VAT rebates on certain exports. In hindsight, given the low volumes of production and indicative pricing, especially of the 550, would it have even made more economic sense to have kept the assembly facilities in Longbridge rather than move them to China?

The £ has crashed against the Euro, making the UK a much more attractive place to build cars compared to Eastern Europe, eg Slovakia and Rumania where multinationals are currently focussing capacity for Europe.

SAIC is stiil closely linked to VW (especially now that Nanjing has cut its links with Fiat) whose chief executive will shortly be a certain Mr Bernd Pichetsrieder.

Stadco has a JV with Tata – increasingly looking like a competitor, ie Tata/Rover versus SAIC/MG. No evidence but possibly Stadco decided who was the better side to back?

What will come first – the first production cars off the lines at Longbridge or the end of the DTI enquiry into Phoenix?

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21 April

Fair play…


SO, the Roewe 550 has finally made its first public appearance. Should we be really celebrating the fact? After all, SAIC waited, waited and waited a little more during its deliberations with MG Rover to join forces, knowing full well that the company was about to go belly up.

Personally speaking, I can’t help but admire those engineers who managed to take the old RDX60 programme, hammer it into shape, and get it onto the world stage just over three years after the curtains went down at MG Rover. To get a car into production – admittedly with a running start – so quickly has been an achievement, and although it’s going to take a while before we know how it drives, as long as they haven’t made it too soft (as they did with the 750), and got the quality right, then there should be little to complain about…

Intriguingly, if this car ends up being built at Longbridge (which is currently on the agenda), will the die-hard enthusiasts take it as one of their own if it emerges from the factory wearing an Octagon on its snout?

Maybe, maybe not, but it’ll stand more of a chance on the European market if it does. And Joe Public will go for it, if it’s seen as a British-assembled car wearing a British badge. I certainly hope it happens.

Go on, SAIC, you know it makes sense…

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18 April

Truth is stranger than fiction

MG TF GT concept – the starting point for the X120 project: could that, in turn, be the starting point for the new SAIC Motor-financed MG sportscar to take up where the TF LE 500 will leave off?


IT’S part 324 of the ongoing BMC>MG soap opera, and things have taken another strange twist. I must admit that the news that Stadco and NAC MG have parted company didn’t exactly come as a big surprise to me. As I alluded to in my recent news story regarding the state of play at Longbridge, there has been something of a political game of football been going on at Longbridge. The two sides are represented by NAC MG on one side and SAIC on the other – with the net result being no new cars despite a glitzy launch this time last year.

NAC MG wants desperately to get the TF LE 500 on to the market as quickly as possible, now that development work and re-homologation has taken place, and the new car feels and sounds better than MG Rover’s original. However, SAIC wanted to delay the relaunch until there was genuinely new metal to sell… and as Shanghai has more muscle in this relationship than NAC, there’s only one way that this battle was ever going to go.

So, with the TF now paused, and BIW production at Longbridge ceased, does that mean we’ve seen the last of the TF LE 500? Of course not! It does, however, look like it’s going to be severely downscaled from its original brief of 15,000 cars, to perhaps no more than the run of 500 anticipated by the revised car’s name.

Does that mean that there will be no further MG sportscars? Again, I reckon the answer is no.

According to my deep-throat, SAIC’s (formerly Ricardo’s) engineers are working on the next generation of MG sportscars, and they’re based on the X120 TF replacement project that was on the drawing board pre-MGR melt-down. Although I’ve not seen any renderings, the informant certainly tells me there’s reason to be optimistic. With that scenario in mind, and SAIC’s ambition to build the new 550 at Longbridge in order to undertake a serious European re-launch of MG, NAC MG’s original low-key plans for the site were looking pretty jaded at best.

But the big question is, will it happen? I hear that SAIC’s top brass are flying here next week to review the situation, and if I hear anything (off the record, of course), I’ll let you know… but keep it to yourself. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my fingers crossed – I don’t know about you, but it all does rather seem like yet another hopeful chapter opener in this longest running of sagas….Let’s just pray that those hopes are not dashed this time around!

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16 April

Thank goodness it exists


LUCKY me. That’s all I’ll say. Thanks to the ongoing generosity of my friend and editor of What Diesel magazine, Ian Robertson, I’ve found myself the pilot of a Citroën C6 for the week. Now, I’ve never hidden the fact that I am firmly out of the closet when it comes to Citroëns – I love these cars – and of the current range, the C6 is the one that most successfully encapsulates all that is good about the company. For me, anyway.

For one, it looks amazing. It’s an amalgam of CX and SM, with a bit of new-age C4/C5 thrown in for good measure. As national flagships go, it’s spot on, owing nothing at all to what the opposition in Germany, the UK, Italy… or anywhere else for that matter, are doing. It’s French and ruddy proud of it thank you very much.

Objectively, you could say it stacks up a bunch more negatives than, say, a 5-Series or E-Class, but who cares about that, when it looks so special, and turns every trip into an occasion. No, you have to admire the C6 for sticking two fingers up at convention and really excelling at the things that big Citroëns have traditionally been so good at – delivering passenger comfort and looking stunning in the process. Nope, as is the wont of today’s media-savvy carmakers, sporting handling is the thing to have these days, so to fly against that and produce something akin to a sofa on wheels is commercial bravery encapsulated. And sticking to your guns.

Let’s celebrate the fact that the C6 exists because, love it or hate it, you can’t help but really appreciate the fact that its designers worked so hard to make it different

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11 April

Is it really the new Rover P5B?


AS an exemplar of taste and sophistication, Rover’s P-Series cars had few peers. Consider the P4 – smooth and sophisticated with a driving experience that yelled class, it’s a classic that still stacks up today. The same very much holds true with the P6 – and in V8 form, it’s quick enough to give fright to aggressively driven turbodiesels even today. But out of the lot, the one that still carries the most resonance with car enthusiasts is the P5. Powered by V8. In chop-top Coupe form…

Because Rover ended up climbing into bed with Jaguar following the formation of BLMC in 1968, it was never again allowed to build such a caddish range-topper. The XJ-Series Jaguar became BMLC’s flagship, leaving Rover to slot in beneath the Browns Lane company; and poor old Triumph squeezed out of existence entirely. However, the sad fact remains that in automotive pecking order, Rover sat higher than young upstart Jaguar for many years.

Thoughts of the P5B were brought to the fore following a drive of the recently facelifted Chrsyler 300C. It’s a car that many pundits (myself included) likened to the old school Rover, mainly because of the imposing styling and chrome-laden front end. And following a quick look around, it’s an easy comparison to make.

Could you imagine Margaret Thatcher alighting a 300C and striding purposefully into Number 10?
Of course not. With the 300C, she’s more likely to be stuffed in the boot…

However, spend a little time with the 300C, and those Rover-Chrysler comparisons are soon thrown out of the window. Firstly, whereas the Rover oozes class and good taste, the American car has a brooding malevolance that strikes fear into the hearts of other motorists – are there guns in the boot, or aren’t there? It’s a 50/50 chance. Secondly, the Rover’s build quality was magnificent – with the highest quality wood and leather creating an exotically fragranced interior that was good enough for heads of state – and their hard worked Prime Ministers. The 300C, on the other hand, is laced with essence of sandwich box…

But the main comparison is disposed of with one simple question – could you imagine Margaret Thatcher alighting a 300C and striding purposefully into Number 10? Of course not. With the 300C, she’s more likely to be stuffed in the boot…

Nope, as good as the 300C looks, it’s no P5B.

In fact the nearest I think you could get to that in a 21st century car is the much-missed Rover 75 V8. And even that wasn’t screwed together nearly well enough. Truth be told – there probably will never be another P5B, and rightly so…

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OF course not. It’s a badly screwed together Yank tank with a Kia interior.

The new Rover P5B is of course the Mercedes-Benz CLS. BMW and Volkswagen knock-offs of the idea coming soon. But none of them come with a Buick engine!


9 April

Another brush with the law


THIS could well be subtitled ‘A Cautionary Tale’. My current motor was purchased on the 29th December 2007 and the insurance company notified. On the 16th January 2008, my policy was up for renewal and was so done so — not even a company change. All above board so far.

On the Bank Holiday last 24th March, my good lady and I decided that a day out to the Lakes would be a pleasant day (we live in Manchester). So off we trotted up the M6. I noted the number plate recognition kit set out over all three lane up near Kendal, commented to my better half about nailing all the uninsured drivers and thought nothing more of it.

That is until I was pulled over by a police bike some miles down the A road to Kendal. “We have checked both our databases and you are not insured ” says the policeman. I assured him I was but could not prove it – no certificate with me – and the insurance company not answering the phone (it was a Bank Holiday). “Sorry” says the plod “I am charging you with driving with no insurance and am impounding the car”. Caution issued, the lot.

Fortunately (sort of) a database check of my partners car revealed to the ploiceman that she could drive my car on her insurance (she never had until then and hates motorways anyway). So, we went on our way – me incandescent and the day wasted (we went home). Needless to say I put my hand on my certificate within seconds of getting home but had to wait ’til the following day to present it (Bank Holiday – police station shut).

The guy behind the counter tells me that this is happening all the time.

Moral of the story–keep your Insurance Certificate with you at all times. Incidentally the somewhat vitriolic letter to my insurance company, whose fault all this is, because they failed to send the data over, has not yet warranted a reply. But my data did appear on the dateabase two days after my intitial telephone conversation with their call centre — surprise, surprise!

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7 April

Can’t do right for doing wrong


IMAGINE the situation, I’m sure most of you have been there before. You’re happily making your way to the supermarket or to work or even out for a leisurely drive, when a Lexus-light clad, sub-woofered hatchback driven by someone young who thinks they’re the next Stig Blomqvist has executed (or tried to execute) the kind of manoeuvre that wouldn’t look out of place on Police, Camera, Action. How many times has this happened and how many times have the words ‘bloody boy racers’ been uttered at the same time? Go on…see, you’ve lost count already, and hardly surprising, it’s almost a daily occurrence.

As you can imagine, the perception of the general public’s attitude towards anything with a slightly larger exhaust than normal and that big brush with the tar on comes out to play and the red mist begins to descend, despite the ‘offending” vehicle more than likely not doing anything wrong, usually a flash of the headlights or sitting about a foot away from the back bumper, whether that vehicle is cautiously doing 25mph in a built up area at 3pm by a school or doing 70mph on the motorway, it is suddenly looked upon as acceptable behaviour.

Now, as most of you reading this are probably Rover owners and drivers, you’ll also understand and know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of all manner of aggressive driving and all sorts of abuse from other road users, usually being branded as the stereotypical ‘pipe and slippers” brigade, regardless of whether you’re doing the speed limit, under the speed limit or even over it, obviously the lack of a tartan rug on the parcel shelf is something quite probably overlooked.

At this moment in time you’re probably wondering, how the hell have I managed to end up rambling on about Rover drivers from boy racers, so let me explain.

I drive a modified Rover.

There we go, I’ve said it. The worst of the worst, the scum of the earth and many more to a lot of road users and when out and about in it, and boy does that become apparent. To put things into perspective, I also drive a BMW 5-series and I appear to have more respect when driving that than in the Rover, contrary to common belief, I’ve even been let out of a junction in the BMW!

I’ll be the first to admit, that I do not drive slowly on the open road, I like to get from A to B quickly and enjoy myself while I’m at it without endangering other road users or myself, unfortunately things have come to a head now, where I don’t enjoy driving my Rover any more, as every time I go out in it, there’s always people who either feel a need or simply get kicks from tailgating me, trying to intimidate me or simply feel the need to overtake, at no matter what cost to try and ‘teach me a lesson’, it doesn’t matter what is coming the other way, or how blind the bend is to overtake on, it doesn’t matter that I’m doing the speed limit, following a long line of cars or not.

So, what do I do, how am I meant to drive? I drive to the laws of the highway and I get nothing but hassle, if I drive like an idiot, I am an idiot.

Is there some fine line I’m yet to learn and reach?

Remember, if you see a non-standard car, or even hear it first, it might be another boy-racer, or, just maybe, it’ll a much rarer breed.

The enthusiast.

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4 April

Heritage Motor Centre


THERE’S been a lot of talk about Jaguar and Land Rover in the wake of the historic £1.15m sell-off to Tata Motors of India, and how it’s going to be something of a brave new beginning for the specialist end of the British motor industry. Certainly, there’s room for some optimism, and as we’ve already seen, Ratan Tata is unafraid of investing hugely in the UK economy…

Future model plans have been ticked-off, branding strategies approved, and even continued co-operation with Ford given the go-ahead. So everything in the garden’s looking rosy? Well, frankly as far as new car production is concerned, the answer has to be definitely yes. However, although we know that the historic nameplates have also been handed over to the Indian company, what about those cars which they’re screwed to?

Yes, I’m referring to the Heritage Motor Centre, in Gaydon, and its priceless collection of cars that mean so much to us. Has this fantastic facility also been given a lifeline by the Indians? It would seem that there has been nothing in the way of announcements just yet, and that leads me to wonder whether this jewel in the crown of UK musuems is actually part of the deal – or whether it’s staying in Ford’s hands…. or perhaps it’s being sold elsewhere.

I’ll ask the question as soon as I can, and no doubt will be reporting back. Because if there’s going to be a new custodian of the Heritage Motor Centre, then let’s hope that they’re serious about our history… and that means continued investment, no more Gaydon-by-the-bins style abandoning of engineering prototypes, and more access to the archives so jealously guarded by the museum. The place is already becoming increasingly corporate – through the necessity of being able to survive as a charitable trust – and the focus of the place really needs to be turned back to the cars, and the clubs that support them.

As soon as I know the score, you can guarantee you’ll be reading about it here.

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3 April

Our demo fleet


As promised, please find attached pictures of our range of support cars:

M828 JOH – Nightfire Red Rover 214 SEi (owned by our Technician, Paul Gorringe & used as daily work transport)
M651 WVA – Zircon Silver Rover 416 Tourer (owned by our Chief Technician, Kevin Murday & used on his 50 mile round trip daily commute)
M792 MON – Charcoal Grey Rover 220 GSi (Monica) our first customer support car, mainly used on one man collection & deliveries throughout Sussex each day
M939 HPA – Tahiti Blue Rover 220 GSi (Henrietta) our second customer support car.

Both the 220s are used daily and because they have relatively low value and are not pristine examples, they provide great reliable and cheap support which helps me keep our charges to customers down well below our main dealer competition. They also sometimes act as reserve courtesy cars when the ZR is busy and the customer does not mind an Ashes to Ashes experience!

This week I also picked up an immaculate Rover 825 Sterling Coupe in a very attractive dark red metallic which needs some attention to one of the valves or a head gasket. It is un-marked inside and out so I will get the work done and cherish it alongside my BRG MGF which is the 14th off the production line in 1995.

Patrick Warner
Managing Director
Sterling Automotive Limited.
4 Redward Business Park, Hammonds Drive, Eastbourne. East Sussex. BN23 6PW.

T. 01323 438754
F. 01323 417362
M. 07711 592904

Keith Adams

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