Blogs : August 2005

31 August 2005

History repeating itself


I MUST admit that despite everything that happened to Rover between 1994 and 2000, I always had something of a soft spot for Bernd Pischetsrieder (BP to his friends).

He always struck me as a bit of a ‘car guy’ – and one in touch with the the values and traditions that underpin the marques he has been responsible for. When BMW announced that it had purchased Rover for £800 back in 1994, it was BP who stepped into the limelight of the British media, and smiled as he told anyone who’d listen that Rover would be safe in his hands.

And for a while, one got the impression there was real conviction in these words. There seemed to be an almost paternal protectiveness eminating from BP whenever the vexed issue of Rover would raise its head – and in the early days of BMW’s stewardship, one got the impression that he genuinely wanted BMW’s British subsidiary to succeed, even if he wasn’t quite sure how Rover would do it…

As time went on, and as the accounts looked increasingly negative, BP maintained his plan to turn Rover into a success, even as the vultures lead by Wolfgang Reitzle began to hover over the increasingly unhealthy subsidiary.

His passion for Rover possibly stemmed from his love of British cars (like so many of his countrymen), as well as his well-publicised blood link with Alec Issigonis. Perhaps this passion overflowed when he made one of the most baffling blunders of his career – he was so frustrated with a British government, which he saw was dragging its heels in offering state aid for the R30 project, that he used the launch of the Rover 75 to vent his anger over the matter. In a nutshell, he said if aid for Longbridge wasn’t forthcoming, it would have to close.

Of course, the small matter of the launch of the company’s most important car in ten years, passed him right by. The damage had been done. The 75’s launch had been torpedoed.

From that moment on, Rover under BMW was doomed. Yet, BP kept fighting the company’s corner, and the reason for his resignation came down to this: he wanted to maintain Rover, despite the wishes of BMW’s majority shareholders, the Quandt family…

Still, BP found his feet within the Volkswagen Audi Group – and within a couple of years of getting his feet under the table at VAG, he managed to bag himself the CEO’s job, taking over the reins from Ferdinand Piech. The initial signs were good – he spoke about improving quality at VW, and trimming away some of the fat from a range stuffed full of baffling model overlaps. He talked about turning Audis into proper drivers’ cars – and there were encouraging signs that this was indeed beginning to happen.

He soon made it clear that ranges with limited appeal, such as the SEAT Arosa, Audi A2 and VW Phaeton would not be replaced.

But all of a sudden, it seems to have come unstitched. VW has been in the press, connected with a number of salubrious rumours. But nothing comes close to his latest PR cock-up.

Seven years after his monumental gaffe (whatever the motivation behind it) at the launch of the Rover 75, BP seems to have done it again. This time the object of his wit were the premium brands. He told an audience that BMWs, Audis and Mercedes-Benzes were all ‘a complete waste of money’. He then went on to warn of possible factory closures. This wasn’t so much an attack at Audi, but a warning shot aimed at its product planners. Hmmm. Again, BP’s intentions weren’t full of ill-will, but that’s how his comment came across.

So, has what he thought was a harmless comment damaged Audi? Probably not as much as Rover was back in 1998. But it wasn’t good, was it?

For a few days, the press offices of Ingolstadt and Milton Keynes must have gained a unique insight into the life of their counterparts at Longbridge.

I wonder how it must have felt for them?

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30 August 2005

Chav motors


SO Come on, admit it. You’ve been walking through town, you’ve seen something like the car above and thought to yourself, ‘what kind of a prat owns something like that?.

We’ve all done it – and I know I certainly have.

I take a look at that car, and wonder why it is that someone would take a perfectly good Tomcat, add add a load of plastic/glass fibre tat to it, and then parade it in the local McDonalds/Showcase/Burger King car park after dark. I wonder at the wisdom of a driver who cruises through the local town centre, windows down, stereo blaring at 145 beats per minute, telling the whole world to take a good look.

Admit it – there are times when you think people who drive cars like this are ‘chavs’ (the ‘c’ word), and have no idea whatsoever about taste and style.

I’ve found myself mentally uttering the ‘c’ word on many occasion, but is this blatent labelling from me the right thing to do? Because after all, I’m 35 years old, and therefore, can now be officially considered an ‘old fart’. Heck, I couldn’t even tell you what the current number one single in the charts is – and I don’t have a clue about what Posh and Becks are up to right now. Just because I don’t understand this car or its owner, and don’t immediately plug in to the cruising (or is that ‘cruizin’) scene, does that mean it’s a bad thing? I’m now a whole generation removed from the kids passing their driving tests now, so should I sit there looking down my nose at someone who chooses to express their individuality by dressing up their cars in such a way?

Of course not.

Yes, we can look at the car in the picture above and wonder at why someone would chose to bastardise the pretty Tomcat in such a way – but is it not their car to do with what they want? Should I not let them get on with their lives – and turn away without comment when I see a car like this drive past me?

…I’m 35 years old, and therefore,
can now be officially considered
an ‘old fart’…

I guess, I should really – because kids who choose to spend thousands on their cars obviously have some attachment to driving. It might not be the same kind of car love that you or I might share, but I guess you have to be some kind of petrolhead to do the Ripspeed/Mynheer thing to your car – it takes time and money. And that’s automotive love, isn’t it?

We might also scoff at people who weight their cars up with plastic, and leave their standard engines in place as is? If I were to spend £2000 on my car, I’d use every last penny available to make the thing go faster – not look better. But in the age of GATSOs and VASCAR, is this constant pursuit of extra speed a wise way to go? Of course not…

Nope, I used to be offended these ‘Barryboy’ motors, but now I just admire someone who loves their cars enough to spend such large amounts on them. In a way, I’m probably jealous, too – when I was 17 years old, I drove a brown Austin Allegro 1500. And I was too skint to spend anything on it that didn’t involve oil or petrol. I think if I had the levels of disposal income that these kids seem to have, I’d probably have ended up driving something a damned sight more individual.

Mind you, had that been the case, there probably would have been no

So, the next time you see a ‘Halfrauds special’ rasping and booming up your local high street, consider this – it’s being driven by a classic car enthusiast of the future…

And is a Mynheer’ed Rover R3 any worse today than a Kat-Kitted White Rover SD1 in 1987?


Have to agree with you’re latest blog, then again I’ve seen several sides of these kids and modified cars.

I suppose in a way my car is modified, it has the six-spoke 15″ ‘Turbo’ wheels and half-leather seats. I have met people who are generally passionate about their cars and wish to change more subtle things, which fit the design of the car. Many people view their cars as ‘sheds’ and don’t like them, yet still shower a lot of money on a ‘decent’ sound system (one that could cause an earthquake then…), huge alloy wheels and body kits.

And then there were them drugged up kids I had a run in with in their cars. Generally I think being young is the same as ever, at 17 and 18 you have just broken away from school and your parents and I guess people feel the need to break away a little. To be honest you should shout just as loudly at the person in the BMW X3 and X5.

These cars are the antithesis of nearly any Rover enthusiast, are damned ugly, and cost a small fortune. The same as any spoilt Tomcat except the grown up ‘chav’ has far too much cash!


Keith – that was a great read because I agree with everything you said. It’s a point I’ve argued for ages – What gives us the right to look down our noses at people who dress up their cars how THEY want to THEIR tastes?

I think that its nobody’s business what people do to make their cars look good, it’s their car and nobody elses – I know it was way before my time, but did we get hate clubs in the seventies when “boy racers” of the period did up their Cortinas, Minis, Escorts or Imps in big wheels, flared arches, wild graphics and leaving engines stock?

I doubt it.

In this day and age, with the obsession with GATSOs what’s the point of spending money on making a car go faster unless your modifying it for racing? In the Seventies, people were doing it (and tuning engines – no GATSOs then) without hatred of others. So why nowadays do we see so many hate sites, espcially the notorious “barryboys”?

I also dislike any use of the word ‘chav’, but thats another story…


I guess it’s a simple case of live and let live.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was nobody’s business but the owner’s. After all, we all have to put up with these tasteless concoctions (and let’s not pretend they’re anything other than that) polluting our view and assailing our ears from time to time. To that extent, we’re all entitled to hold and, dare I say, express an opinion.

Have to say, though, that I found myself laughing out loud on seeing the gigantic whale-tail spoiler that was attached to the tailgate of a puny Corsa I walked past on my way home the other week. But then, the absurd has always had that effect on me…

If we were less concerned about such modifications in the Seventies, that’s probably partly because they weren’t taken to the same extremes and partly because the barometer of taste was a less sophisticated instrument back then. Not for nothing do we now refer to it as the decade that taste forgot.

But getting back to my opening line, Voltaire (or whoever) had it right when he said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

My message to the BarryBoys: “I disapprove – deeply – of what you’ve done to your car, but I will defend to the death your right to do it.” OK, maybe not to the death. And provided the car is not a rarity worthy of preservation. But you get the point…


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26 August 2005

Absence makes…


HAVE you ever got into your car and driven it for the sheer fun of it? You’ve no reason to do it, and no plans to go anywhere, but simply want to succumb to the calling of the open road?

I had that feeling recently, and needed to do something about it. For five days a week, and twice each day, I am compelled by circumstance (the need for money) to entrust myself to Silverlink trains as they wend a weary way to London Euston. Now, however good a service Silverlink claims to provide (ahem), this means that I can often go weeks without the opportunity to drive and enjoy my 75.

But sometimes it just gets too much…

Last Wednesday was such a day. I returned home from London, to a beautiful late summer English country evening. The birds were really singing, the sunlight really did cast a burnt ochre shade across the fields – and the roads (for once) were quiet and empty.

The scene cried out for a B-Road journey to nowhere in particular, courtesy of Rover and its supremely comfortable 75.

Which is why at 8.30pm that evening, I was to be found in my 75, sunroof and windows open, basking in my leather armchair, going nowhere in particular, listening to the musical warmth of ABBA, Meat Loaf and Tony Christie (don’t ask!). We journeyed in glorious isolation along the rural roads bordering Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire for no other reason than to reaquaint myself with the joys of unstressed motoring in a great car, on great roads.

Now that really is what a Rover is for…

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25 August 2005

Why are we so irrational?



I TELL you what – you don’t want to be me. You’d think being a motoring journalist, I’d know better. I should have a grade one classic in my garage, and a superb day-to-day car to back that up. I wish. Truth is, I own a bunch a questionable cars, and it’s all getting a bit out of hand.

Time has come to thin my fleet down a little bit. You know how it is – you a car because it’s a bargain for because you’ve always wanted one, it becomes your latest toy, and for a while, a honeymoon occurs, where the realtionship between you and your latest acquisition is all sweetness and light. Then after time, your attention wanders and you find yourself looking at another. And another. And another…

You see, the trouble with me is that I’m a bit of a car whore.

And that’s led me to the situation I am faced with at the moment. Several months ago, I bought a Citroen BX 16V because I’d had one in the past, and loved it to bits. But after a few weeks owning this one, I started to think my memory had been playing tricks on me… it wasn’t as fast as I remembered, and that meant the rot started to set in. I began to pick faults, finding more and more things to get annoyed at.

So, I parked it in my garage, and ignored it for a bit.

…out of my collection of jalopies,
only the Rover 75 represents something
more than a pile of junk…

In the meantime, I picked up a bargain Peugeot 405 Mi16, and the whole shortlived honeymoon process started again. And round and round we go again.

That’s why I end up with loads of cars I never know what to do with – I just keep buying more of them (I call it CHPD; Compulsive Heap Purchase Disorder). At the moment I have an Alfasud (in pieces having a front end rebuild involving lots of fresh fabrication), a Citroen BX (which is immobile with an LHM leak), a Peugeot 405 Mi16 (nice to drive, but rather bit dented), an Allegro 1500 Special (yeah, okay, that has a very important job to do), a Talbot Tagora (dead gearbox), and a Rover 75 CDT.

It could be argued (quite easily) that out of that little lot, only the 75 represents something more than a pile of junk…

And yet I love them all – and when it comes to thinning down the fleet, I can’t decide what to do. I just don’t want to sell any of them. I’ve now decided I want a Rover 800 Vitesse Sport Fastback, but in order to do that, I’ll need to sell one of my beloved heaps.

And that, I can’t do – I guess I’m just sad.


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NOTE: If you want to find out more about the Citroen BX 16V, a 160bhp hot hatch more underrated than the MG Maestro, do me a favour please, and click on, – a great site run my my good friend, Luke Todd…

24 August 2005

The test



YES it’s that time of year again when it feels like the summer has ended and the kids are nearly back at school again. A time to reminisce. For me though there is still a month to go before beginning my HNC Civil Engineering at what was without a doubt Britains ‘Mo-town’, Coventry. It is the birth place of Rover and Jaguar to name but a few.

I have just finished repairing a catch on my ten-year-old rabbit’s hutch. And that is the evergreen rabbit that is ten, not just the hutch, and yet she is as lively as ever. Odd to think she is older than my car! Yet while there I couldn’t help but note the additional chill in the air and the sunset that caught up with me whilst screwing into the slightly worn wood. And now as I sit down with the Foo Fighters classic ‘My Hero’ on the stereo with a pint of Strongbow, I’ve started to consider what I wish I had achieved over 2005, now that we are already two thirds of the way through. But something to take positively is how that will help me plan what to do over the next years to come.

Ah bliss.

The reason for writing this is because I had something of a test of faith yesterday.

I have always had tremendous faith in MG Rovers, having experience of several long-lasting products. And yet, I’ve found their Ford counterparts barely last more than 10 years before succumbing to severe rust. I have just sold an L-plate 1.6 Orion for spares or repairs, after it became clear its chassis would not let it proceed through an MoT, and thanks to severe structural issues caused by this, it had cracked its windscreen.

However I have managed to sell it for £57 in the end. The engine itself was rather poor, not because it was broken, it is just disappointing when one considers it is a 1.6 DOHC in a relatively light car, and should be relatively sprightly. Certainly you could be forgiven for believing it would be better or at least as good as the Honda D16a6 found in my 216. Yet regardless of whatever its performance may be stated at, it’s not a shade on the Honda that can trace its routes back to the Seventies.

In fact I would recommend Rover’s own 1.4 K-Series as a driver’s favoured tool. Then when you consider that 18 months ago it sold for £900, had £300 spent on new belts, then more on a full service, wheel balancing and had some of its suspension components replaced, coupled with just one other previous owner, you begin to realise what a shame and waste this is – and why I favour any equivalent Rover group products contemporary to the Orion. Perhaps I was feeling too confident in my own choice of vehicle?

After a strangely eerie shriek from under my car on Sunday, I was slightly worried when I found no obvious cause. I was a little concerned, especially when the squeak became louder and more frequent as it chimed through the cavernous boot, and through the near side quarter panel. I had actually been to Coventry to see my Grandad – a retired engine builder who spent many years building Rover V8s at the Solihull plant – fly a plane (a 70th birthday gift from his family).

The Orion’s engine is not a patch on
the Honda that can trace its routes
back to the Seventies…

I was lucky enough to be allowed (for a £30 additional premium) to join him and the instructor in the top wing Cessna, an experience which will feature highly in my ‘best of 2005’ compilation. However the next few days heard the chirp grow louder until one lunch time I bought the car home, even checking the recently correctly torqued-up wheel nuts, and then I found it. The rear anti-roll bar. More precisely its bracket, this bolts to the chassis rather than being forged together because as I am very reliably informed, low-spec 214’s did without this option so didn’t require the bracket.

All I could see on initial assessment was the crack in the chassis member, and rust. Then my previous blog came back to haunt me. With soulless lifeless cars, I had questioned ‘why do people put themselves into these cars’, and for the first time I had to question, why had I put myself in my car?

This seemed incredible because the opposite side is perfect, the rest if the under side is as new, dust notwithstanding. This had me incredibly worried, had my faith in my trustworthy Rover been misplaced?

Thankfully no. Who would have thought I would be pleased to write what follows next? As it turns out, there was a rusty set of welding ‘blobs’ littered about the edge of the bracket – clearly what has happened is, presuming the anti-roll bar became loose, a garage was drafted to fix the problem, and instead chose to weld to bracket to the chassis. However, the nature of the ARB is to transfer force.

So where this transfers its force between chassis and ARB bracket, weld has been applied in the opposite direction of force along a stress point, thus warped the metal around it, and lets face it, you do not need to have been educated in structural mechanics to see how this is a problem. As if this isn’t bad enough, the joint was never ground smooth or painted with primer and/or underseal, and was left to rust away for years until the area of metal had the consistency of soggy soil. For now we have just re-welded this ‘bodge job’ repair, with the intention of fitting and entirely new ARB and related components, repairing any damage to chassis, and creating a plate for the section damaged with sufficient reinforcement.

Why is this a relief?

Simple. This problem is result of a short-sighted and absent-minded garage with no more than a quick fix in hand. This is not a design fault of the much-loved Rover-Honda collaboration, the R8, or a failure on Rover’s part to correctly build a car. So, faith restored, I carry on where I left off, having tracked down a gorgeous half leather interior, hopefully that will be mine on Sunday, as well as a load of spares required to undo years of neglect by its previous owner – and those that worked upon its stylish uni-body.

Ah, bliss…

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23 August 2005

Time to find the last MG Rovers


AS you may have read in this week’s Autocar and AutoExpress, is looking to receive the VIN numbers of all cars produced by MG Rover in 2005. The reason for this is simple – we want to find out exactly how many cars were built by the company, and official production records may not be forthcoming in the confusion of the administrative process and the subsequent handover of assets to Nanjing Automotive Corporation (NAC).

For me, maintaining accurate production records for Longbridge is absolutely vital right now, and finding the ‘last-off-the-line’ Rovers and MGs should be possible at the moment. The chances are that 99.9 per cent of Longbridge’s 2005 output will either still be in the dealer network or on the roads, and there will never be a better time to get all the VINs together.

If you’re in a position to help us,
please get in touch – you may well
find out eventually, that your car
was the last in a long and
distinguished line!

As the (admittedly self-appointed) unofficial historian for the company we love so much, it seems logical that in the final year of Rover production (as we know it) at Longbridge, it is going to be an extraordinarily difficult task to definitively say how many cars were actually built there…

So, if you’ve seen the article in one of our weeklies, and you’re in a position to help us, please get in touch – you may well find out eventually, that your car was the last in a long and distinguished line!

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22 August 2005

Am I the only one thinking positively?

By TOM ELLIS, Aged 16

I AM a regular visitor both to here and, and I am shocked at so many people bemoning that it is all over. Why do so many people here wallow in the negativity and such like?

“Just because every single molecule on the cars is no longer British, I’ll buy a fancified Mondeo instead”, Seems to be becoming the generic response.

I just feel disappointed at the lack of faith from enthusiasts here, who seem to think that just because MG Rover (what’s left of it) is now under foreign ownership, it’s all over. Would you seriously be happier if there was nothing left of it whatsoever? In the cut-and-thrust and fierecely competitive 21st century motoring world, foreign ownership and expanding ranges is the only way to go. Jaguar would have gone under long ago had Ford not purchased it. Look at Bristol. The last British-owned luxury car maker with no publicity or dealers. When’s the last time anyone saw a Bristol Blenheim or Fighter?

First of all, what exactly is over? MG is saved. It’s just as great and as British as Rover. Okay, some of us will no longer get our fix of “BABY BENTLEYS”, but at least SOMETHING has been saved! I too am sad to see one of our last great makers die, but also I am happy that at least one marque, MG, is returning, and knowing that some of the poor Midlanders who lost their jobs will be making cars at Longbridge again. As long as there are good mass-market cars pouring out of Brum with a British Badge on the bonnet, I am happy. Be they Rovers, Austins or MGs. Nanjing has already stated that it is keen to enter MG into the volume market again with a range of mass-market sporting saloons, sports cars and hatches, and is even considering breaking into the mother-of-all-battles, the domestic-loving US market, where MG still has considerable cachet.

Would you seriously be happier if
there was nothing left of MG Rover

I just think by no means what so ever is the British car industry over. I mean, look at the story of BMC>Rover, its had its bleak time in the Eighties and Nineties. We still make and design cars here. Look at the MINI or the Range Rover. Okay, BMW owns the MINI brand but who cares? We, yes that’s us Brits – we designed the MINI, we currently make it, and judging by its cool status and desirabily, will countinue to do so for a long time.

The reason why every other car is not British is down to cost. MGR made its products far too expensive in such a competitive market to survive. Just look at the MG ZR (ok it looks cool), but for most people in the UK (who just want to get from A-B) why spend over £10,000 on a three-door ZR without electric windows or whatever, when you can buy a Japenese or Korean car for £5000 less? What MG must do now is make a new version of the ZR and invest in machinery to bring down production costs. It must also develop the TF. The TF needs a bit of tweaking with the engine but its looks have not dated (unlike the 25 and 45 – especially the 45 – it’s a case of “those doors”).

Also, I find it exasperating that many dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists do not want to see Rover on anything other than a big saloon. Had it not made the 200 or 400 ranges in the late Eighties to the whole Nineties, would it have survived on two saloons at the most? I dont think so. Regardless of ‘old values’, the new Rover/MG/Austin needs to tap into the lucrative mass market, otherwise it’s the same sad story all over again.

I know I’ll get the “you dont drive/you’re 16, you think you’re right but you’re just way off the mark/you’re a little boy living in a dream world”, from certain individuals, and I apologise for my blunt tone, but it upsets me to see this lack of faith and constant pessimism that seems to be plaguing all of us BMC>Rover enthusiasts at the moment.

Stay positive, people!

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21 August 2005

Loyalty or neccesity?


I HAVE just returned from my annual summer retreat to Ibiza. Yet again I am amazed by the vehicles driven by the Spanish motorist. Each year I look at the vehicles on the road and have finally come to the conclusion that the mindset of the Spanish driver is very different to that of the UK.

In the space of two weeks I must have counted at least 50+ Austins, Rovers and MGs being driven round the island. Now these ranged from immaculate Austin Montegos, Rover 200/400s, Rover HH-R 400s, Maestros, Metros, 75s, 200 Tomcats, convertibles, 25s, MG ‘Zed’ cars and several immaculate Minis.

I started to think that the Ibizican driver was a loyal follow of our motoring heritage, but it soon became clear that were lots of other older cars on the roads (Fords: Capris, Cortinas, Mk2 Fiestas; Vauxhalls: Chevettes, Cavaliers, Nova/Corsa etc). It seems with such a small island a car is an essential part of life and most drivers keep thier cars running for years and years as the mileage is not cranked up into the tens of thousands so soon.

The upshot of all this?

Out of necessity of having a car (but NOT the need to buy a new one every three years or so), the Spanish drivers are keeping the BL/Austin-Rover/MG Rover heritage alive and well. The plan now is to return next year for the usual retreat and photograph these cars for the record!

It was lovely to see so many nice examples of older cars still used as daily transport.

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19 August 2005

Last chance saloon


NOW that the media interest in MG Rover is beginning to wane, the true intentions of the new owners are beginning to become apparent. Far from being a knight on a white horse, they would appear to be marauding Vikings, hauling the 25 and 75 off to China to see out their lives as eastern taxis.

It is testament to Honda that they have removed the IPR for the 45 to prevent it too being consigned to a similar fate. The reality is that the Chinese 25s and 75s will never make it to Europe, constrained by an aging design and engines, and of course the disputed intellectual property rights. Given the relatively short production span of previous BL models in China, it is doubtful that either car will be around for long anyway.

My only real concern is the plan to use the Austin marque in the far east, Herbert Austin must be spinning in his grave. The real tragedy of course is the shoddy way in which the workforce have been rewarded for the loyalty and commitment to the marque. The build quality of my old Rover 400 was superior to many new cars I have driven, and is testament to the high standards of vehicle assembly at Longbridge. Whilst we wring our hands and moan about the loss of our beloved marque, our loss pales into insignificance when compared to the fate of each individual who contributed so much to keeping Rover going.

The latest news that they are planning
on producing a new Midget in volumes
of 30,000 to 50,000 is ambitious and
unrealistic in equal measure…

Previously I have written that it is my belief that MG that killed Rover, and it is a view I will continue to maintain as over the next few months we observe the desperate antics of the GB Sportcar Company. The latest news that they are planning on producing a new Midget in volumes of 30,000 to 50,000 is ambitious and unrealistic in equal measure. A low cost sports car will have low profit margins, and just who is going to buy such a vehicle?

It sure as hell will not appeal to any of the MG Z car owners, and it is hard to believe that a small British company can ever produce anything to rival the MX-5. I believe that once the 75 and 25 production lines have transferred to China, the partnership between Nanjing and GB Sports Car Company amount to nothing. Ultimately MG will follow Rover, Morris, Austin, Triumph, Wolsley, and Riley into the annals of past British Marques never to be seen again.

However, as supporters of this marque we are better placed to look after its history than any of its previous management over the last 20 years. Now the marque is finally free of stifling grip of unspiring management, it will flourish in the hands of those who love it most – the owners and enthusiasts who are united in keeping its legacy alive.

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18 August 2005

Club together, part two


RECENTLY, a rising clamour for a 75&ZT owners club to be set up has been noticed on here and other Rover related websites. Clearly both the 75 and ZT have a very loyal following.

In the future an owners club for the marques could act not only as a focus for arranging meets, organising drinking sessions and other socials, but also be an important repository of and source for the wide range of technical advice and guidance that we know our motors are likely to need in the years to come. Also things like sources for spares etc. can be easier to arrange and ensure continuity of with the weight provided by an owners club.

So a few 75 & ZT owners from here and other forums are proposing to set up the 75 & ZT Owners Club for fun and enjoyment!

Current thinking is that it would be a web based club with membership, but with a relaxed approach- no fees or committees or agendas or all that stuff!

We know that there is already an excellent 75 club based in Europe ( and we are hoping to set up strong links and the sharing of news and info etc. with them. Really our aim is to bring together a group of people who want to share their love of the cars, arrange meets and both get and offer support and advice where possible. Of course if it really takes of then a lot more could come later but we feel that sticking with the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid!) is v. important in the early days.

The Club website would from the start focus on tech info/support/meets/history/message board etc. and to avoid having to address early on what could be a big issue of managing and resourcing forums at a time when energies are best devoted to getting the club up and running. We have already kindly been offered forum space by

Is now the right time to take that
first step on the club ladder
for the 75 and ZT?

Keith has very kindly offered to share all the 75&ZT development and historical info he has collected with the club so that it could become a source of accurate and useful historical data as well.

A number of people from here, and the yahoo 75 site are backing the club idea and offering practical support (which will be very welcome). I’m also sure that members will have many and probably better ideas of their own for the club.

So what do people think? Is now the right time to take that first step on the club ladder for the 75 and ZT? Would you or anyone you know be interested in joining?

Please do let us know if you are interested. You can send me a personal message on here (to ‘Mike’) or perhaps start a thread and have your say. All suggestions and ideas are welcome (as our members). We look forward to hearing from you and to taking a big step in keeping the Rover 75 and ZT alive so that they become the classics they deserve to be.

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17 August 2005

Club together


AS FAR as the brand goes Rover may well be dead, but as far as members of are concerned, this is just the beginning. Our stand at the National BL Day at Peterborough last weekend showed that enthusiasm for Rover is not something to be embarrassed about, indeed it is something to shout about. A rich display of over 40 years of various BL and Rover cars showed visitors that the heritage of the brand will never be lost.

But the great thing about our ‘Club’ is that we are brought together by our enthusiasm for the brand and its history, we‘re run by enthusiasm and we don’t need club committees and chairmen or secretaries getting in the way of showing off our cars and showing our enthusiasm for our cars.

And that’s the beauty of the Internet and, there are only two qualifications required to be a member; access to a computer and enthusiasm. There are no application forms, you don’t need money, there’s no membership cards, there are no accounts, no arguing about where the money goes. We are just committed to making sure the heritage of BL and Rover will continue long into the future and always be able represent the best and worst that they had to offer…

And that’s priceless.

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16 August 2005

Nick, nick


IT IS said if the police can’t break a car then it must be pretty sound. Merseyside is evidently rueing the day it ordered BMW 5-Series cars recently – all 20 of them have been defleeted with rear suspension problems which BMW claim is the result of officers driving too fast over speed bumps… well, you don’t really want the villains to get away do you? Meanwhile, Lancashire Constabulary claims that its Vectra 3.2 V6 patrol cars are having head gasket problems at around the 50,000 mile mark.

The moral of the story? It’s all very well for Joe Public to knock MG and Rover for their perceived ‘unreliability’, but truth be told EVERY manufacturer has problems with cars which must perform in extreme situations, 24/7 (and if they say they don’t they are, to be blunt, lying).

When someone’s life’s on the line, the
last thing an officer wants is to drive
a car, wondering if they’re going to
make the shout or not…

One sad comment before MGR’s demise came from Merseyside Police’s fleet manager who eschewed any Longbridge built products because the factory would only loan them out for a month.

Evidently, John Towers wrote to the CC of West Midlands Police wondering why the force ran only a handful of MG Rovers. Perhaps the truth hurt … I don’t know but when interviewed for Emergency Services Times, the Merseyside fleet manager said he needed to run cars for a minimum of six months, so that once the ‘new car’ novelty had worn off he could see when it broke, how it broke and how easy it was to fix. (Guess how long it takes to replace a clutch on a Mondeo ST 220? 14 hours!)

I can see his point of view… when someone’s life’s on the line, the last thing an officer wants is to drive a car, wondering if they’re going to make the shout or not.

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15 August 2005

Brochure watch


IF you like me have collected MG Rover catalogues over the last few years – and anything and everything you could lay your hands on from Austin, Rover, Triumph, then you’ll be devastated to hear of news from an anonymous trading estate on the outskirts of Liverpool.

Character Mailing Services in Netherton distributed sales brochures to prospects in the UK for MGR.

As you can imagine, it had a treasure trove of stuff, all of which is now sadly gone.

…you’d better visit what remaining
MGR dealers there are NOW if you
want a pictorial reminder of the
company and its products…

I called the firm on Friday wondering if i could take one last look round their holding bay for MG R sales literature, Sorry, came the reply, it’s all been pulped …

Pulped! Four years of history consigned to the recycling plant!

I thought I’d got over my withdrawal symptons about the sad demise of MGR but on hearinmg the news, a great big lump came to my throat. Let’s hope the priceless Nuffield Press heritage at the factory doesn’t go the same way.

As I have always suspected, there is little commercial sense in some firms. If I’d have been in charge, a few hundred of each catalogue would’ve been saved for posterity – as it is you’d better visit what remaining MGR dealers there are NOW if you want a pictorial reminder of the company and its products…

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14 August 2005

Patently obvious


THE facelifted Rover 75 never worked for me. Being a bit (alright a lot) of a purist, the original will always be the best. I never envied Peter Stevens’ task of ‘improving’ Richard Woolley’s original design, especially given the cost-cutting mantra that was so clearly driving all decisions at MGR at the time. An uninterested observer might see on the 75 facelift Stevens’ superbly executed styling cues, in the wheels, indicators and other details which echoed the Rover Viking Ship image so cleverly, but for me just one look at the original design will always relegate the facelift to second spot.

September 27, 1997 was a significant date in the life of the Rover 75. On that day almost eight years ago, an application was made to the patent office to register ‘A vehicle’. Seven unmistakeable, if rough, drawings of a car were included with the application. The images are indistinct and show no real detail, but they are unmistakeably the lines of the Rover 75.

I am fascinated looking at them now. Not so much because of what they clearly illustrate, but because with their yellowed paper look, small annotations, indistinct marks and official civil service numbering machine stamps, they speak of a time when hope, expectations and excitement about this new car must have been so high. A time when, freed from the penny pinching of previous regimes, Rover engineers could focus solely on completing the design and productionisation of a beautiful, practical and confident car- a world beater.

Today at a time of despair for the marque and the company it does no harm to recall days of promise and plenty, even if through rose tinted lenses. The application lodged at the Patent Office in September 1997, together with these images, was granted and released in September 1998 around the time when the new Rover 75 was launched on to an unsuspecting world.

Eight years on Richard Woolley’s work stands proud. My puritanical streak will always blank the facelift and enable me to appreciate once more what a great car design the Rover 75 really was…and is.

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13 August 2005

Return of the champions


SOMETHING has struck me as odd. Audi’s recent prestige and desirability owes a lot to the Audi quattro rally car. This Coupé allowed the VAG subsidiary to emerge from the shadows of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Despite what the quattro brought to Audi, it is not honoured in the current range. Similarly, the Volkswagen Scirocco and Corrado did wonders for their maker, but it seems to have turned its back in a rich Coupé heritage.

Ford never replaced the Capri – and let’s not mention lamentable the Probe; Audi’s second Coupé has been likened to a three-legged dog dynamically. And Rover never replaced the gorgeous Tomcat and 800 Coupé. The magic to all these is that they’re not playthings for the rich and famous, butare well within the reach of the successful family man. That was the the magic of the Jaguar E-type – unlike offerings from Aston Martin and Ferrari. These cars are the champions of the ordinary man – something Ford successfully tapped into with the launch of the ’65 Mustang.

This odd trend happens after a carmaker reaches a peak: a guaranteed future is produced, then fails to be replaced. I could list hundreds of auch cars, but that doesn’t change the fact I want one. Although it won’t be for a while yet. In a few years, I will replace my 216 Coupé with something similar, but newer. Without an MGR alternative, I feel somewhat lost.

Rover never replaced the gorgeous
Tomcat and 800 Coupé…

However, it’s apparent the Coupé market is actually on the up and up. For the first time in ages, Alfa Romeo is offeringing a beautiful car – the GT; It’s stunning, sounds awesome and remains within reach of the working man. The Mazda RX-8 is a fantastically innovative car, offering great value, and tremendous performance and looks fantastic. However, the king of the bunch, isn’t even available in RHD. The 2005 Mustang marks the return to form for Ford. It’s an affordable, attractive package and just what I need.

I think MGR was finally on the ball with the MG GT Concept and Rover 75 Coupé. Sadly it was too little too late. The roots of the MG GT Concept can be traced back a decade, and the 75 appeared late in BMW’s reign over Rover. However, MG has one more chance under Nanjing and The Great British Sports Car Company (GBSCC).

I for one need a car with a British badge and build to tempt me from the Mazda RX-8, Alfa GT or Mustang.

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12 August 2005

Selective amnesia


QUENTIN WILLSON has been a good servant to MG Rover over the past few years.

A pundit who thought before he spoke, something pretty rare today when the media was looking for someone to damn MGR back in March/April, I have always liked his incisiveness and honesty.

So I was surprised to say the least to note some sloppy journalism in his programme on the death of Rover. I have only recently caught up on part two of the ITV mock-, sorry, doc-umentary and his comments on the record breaking ZT T ‘dragster’.

It was clearly a case of WLTFRAGS* as he questioned the lack of PR activity to celebrate the fact that MGR could boast the fastest estate car in the world, claiming only a grainy DVD existed to mark the achievement.

It was clearly a case of why-let-the-
facts-ruin-a-good-story as he
questioned the lack of PR
activity to celebrate…

Oops! Colin Goodwin wrote a two page piece for AUTOCAR (and was rapped over the knuckles for an number of factual errors a week or so later); the car was on show at last year’s NEC AND I have a press release in my files celebrating the historic run.

Okay, it never made the national news (remember the glory days when both the MGB GT and Maxi did so respectively on Blue Peter (!) and the old fashioned BBC main evening news at six?) but it did get coverage in the appropriate motoring magazines – if memory serves I also read about it in Custom Car or something similar.

Not good enough QW – let’s hope now MGR’s up and running again (In a way – Ed), you can get the facts a little bit straighter when reporting its renaissance.

* Why let the facts ruin a good story

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11 August 2005

Killed before its time…


KILLED before its time…

…is now the page title for the Rover 75 story section of this site, though whether those who hold the 75 dear would welcome a rebirth is a very different question. After all it is a wonderfully British story isn’t it and one that will surely grant our beloved 75 fast track entry to the hallowed and heavily guarded halls of classic motors long before any of its contemporaries can be transformed from scrapyard low life into welcome veterans.

This great car has been laid low by a heady mix of misfortune, dastardly foreigners and the almost humorously incompetent (Captain Mainwaring?) final guardians of the marque. The story comes straight out of a 1950s Ealing Comedy and is so quintessentially British it must surely raise a smile? So now we can write the ‘true’ story of the Rover 75.

This great car has been laid low by a
heady mix of misfortune, dastardly
foreigners and the almost humorously
incompetent final guardians of
the marque…

A Churchillian and joyously retro bastion of all we (and John Major?) hold dear, and one that first was forced by circumstance to work stolidly alongside the Johnny Foreigner, before engaging bravely in mortal combat with the same. And, having heroically failed in its endeavours, was careful to disappear slowly from view whilst being held steady in a public spotlight for all to sadly applaud.

In years to come (or very soon?) 75 owners may sip from pitchers of strong ale and regale their fellows with the lore of how BMW first tried and failed to destroy our hero, followed by the true and sorry tale of how the fabled Project Drive almost ruined it and concluding with the tale of the ‘old buffers’ in the officers mess who made exactly that of a new Eastern axis that had promised to breathe new life into our brave but battered warrior.

The Rover 75, a great car killed before its time, but what an epic it’s killing will always be.

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10 August 2005

Ugly car ‘ent got no soul


Audi A4: Solid engineering but where is the character?

DID I hear it correctly? Jeremy Clarkson referred to Rover Coupé and cool cars in one sentence? Seems I did!

Not to mention correctly summed up the BMW 3-Series as ‘Can’t be bothered…’, Wow. In fairness, it takes some guts to stand against everybody else and say, ‘hang on there is nothing special about this car.’ Why do people put themselves into that ‘Can’t be bothered’ car? It doesn’t matter how good under the skin it is, It is ‘soulless’.

On the other hand, a good friend of the family described the Renault Megane he took as a courtesy car to replace his Mk4 Golf GTi (…Yawn) as ‘soulless’ to drive. Perhaps; but in its looks it certainly has plenty of fire in its eyes. And this to me isn’t an ugly car, as you start to follow its lines it begins to make sense. That’s what makes a good looking car, I mean follow the glass line of a Rover 200 and 25 from its wing, along its glass, over its rear lights, under its boot, and then tell me it doesn’t look good.

Why do people put themselves into that
‘Can’t be bothered’ car?

So what am I getting at? My dad has a Mk 1 Audi A4. I like it – smooth running lines, and it’s a quattro model, which means it is low and sleek. I consider it a good looking car. The second generation model though? Yuck. Okay in shape, but its lines? Look at the bumpers. Its front and rear wings run to the bottom like and old car before full bumpers, and then it has these hideous plastic things stuck each end. It is a horrid design. That is just my opinion however.

But there are so many cars out there that make no sense to look at, the latest generation of Peugeots for example, the last (106, 306, 405, 406) were all relatively nice and well proportioned cars, but the new ones I doubt will grow on me.

I have been trying now for a while to figure how these cars get out into production? Do they look better on CAD? There are blights throughout most manufacturers records, but in recent years, Rover has done a fantastic job, even when they could make as few detail changes as they could with the HHR 400. It still made inoffensive products where many rivals did not.

And yet it is now this company in a state of deep freeze awaiting resuscitation… Any explanation please get in touch with me!

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9 August 2005

We should have seen it coming…


THANKS to my friends at Nissan UK, I’ve been lent this very fine Datsun 240Z to feature in an upcoming road test for Classic Car Weekly. Okay, I hear you say, why is Keith boasting about his latest classic car drive (especially when it has been built by those pesky foreigners), when he should be getting on with the business of raking over the Nanjing/MG Rover takeover. Well, the answer to that is quite simple: the news on that front is pretty quiet at the moment, and I don’t want to get embroiled in a downbeat piece about lack of funds and getting into bed with the second best bidder… we’ll leave that to more qualified people such as Michael Wynn-Williams and the good people at

Anyway, the 240Z.

Blatting around in this 1972 sports car, it soon became obvious to me just why the Americans took it to their hearts so readily, shunning the once beloved MGB and MGB GT in significant numbers. It sounds glorious, it accelerates with a purposefulness that would have impressed anyone at the time. It is also dynamically pretty much on the ball for a car of its ambitions in its day. Most importantly, it is a beautiful piece of design, which readily proved that looks were (and still are) vitally important in car design.

One could argue that the MGB and MGC were equally as beautiful (and I’d probably agree with that), but no way could either car come close in terms of fun for the money. The C is far too heavy to drive (the examples I have driven all feel like the major controls are set in concrete), and the B far too slow. Oh, and let’s not forget Japanese reliability. And the lack of oil leaks…

So, was the 240Z the final nail in the MGB’s coffin?

In the cold hard light of day it certainly should have been – and many American buyers fell quickly for the Japanese car’s charms – but the MGB continued to sell reasonably well. More than anything else, the 240Z proved the Japanese could build a world beating sports car – and it probably served as a wake-up call to British sports car designers – ‘don’t rest on your laurels’ was the message of the day.

Luckily for BL and Leonia, the MGB’s continuing popularity in the face of the might of Datsun’s 240Z proved that sports car buyers are an irrational bunch, and that so often, the head truly does rule the heart. And one has to thank the lord that us car enthusiasts are like that – otherwise, I suspect we’d all be driving around in Toyota Corollas.

As for me, despite my pro-British car allegences, I’d take the Datsun… every time.

Sorry, MG…

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8 August 2005

Longbridge is dead – Long live Longbridge


NOTHING symbolises the collapse of MG Rover like the forlorn images of Q Gate, deserted and bereft. The great Longbridge complex, once the standard bearer of a great British tradition, is now little more than a ghost factory. Gone are the glory days of Herbert Austin, or the brave new world of the 1950s when CAB 1 was the most advanced car factory in Europe. The Metro assembly facility should have been the start of the renaissance, instead it signalled the start of the long, ignominious decline. Though it has taken nearly thirty more years for the place to finally crumble, in a world where economy of scale is king the final defeat was inevitable. Only the ghosts of automobile heroes haunt the empty production lines now.

Inevitable, unless you take the view that a factory is just a place for keeping out of the rain while you make stuff. Longbridge was not even built as a car factory, it started out housing production for the manufacture and printing of tin boxes. That lasted from 1895 to 1901, and four years after the business went bust Herbert Austin selected it as the rural site of his expanding automotive business. The key to its success was the huge area, accommodating continual expansion up to the Metro building. The final network of buildings has become rather convoluted and difficult to comprehend, but that does not mean that it is unsuitable for car production. Granted, it is not perfect and in the current era of just-in-time deliveries it does present a challenge for suppliers but this is not to say that the assembly facility is necessarily uncompetitive.

Longbridge is often blamed by association for the collapse of the company, as if its low levels of output caused the decline rather than resulted from it. Most of us have grey memories of militant union meetings outside the gates, but this has nothing to do with the technicalities of screwing cars together. It is true that at full stretch the total plant output of 400,000 a year would still barely sustain any car company, so the targeted figure of 200,000 was never really credible. A single, fully automated production line should produce over 250,000 a year so the 2004 total Longbridge output of a little over 100,000 is clearly the death rattle of a terminally sick company. But this figure is really not so shameful: BMW manages around 150,000 from each of its lines, it just charges a premium price to cover the inefficiencies. Mitsubishi in the US is even targeting that output and claims it is cost effective without premium prices.

The Metro assembly facility should
have been the start of the renaissance,
instead it signalled the start of the
long, ignominious decline…

The question is not what output the site is ultimately capable of, that is measured by floor space, but the capacity that it has been installed with. So if MG Rover had maintained its 200,000 target then production should have been quite viable, and maybe even 100,000 if that had been planned for. Having said that, this does not mean that it would have been hugely profitable. SAIC has an output of 625,000 cars a year for its two western partners, but shows a profit of less than £200 million a year. Since GM and VW were forced into this joint venture we can speculate that even this level of profit has been scavenged from the powerless foreigners.

Of course, it is something of a nonsense to separate out the assembly operations since the selling price of the car must cover all expenses from the original development work down, but it does give us some clues on viability. Looking at other companies we can see that there is nothing wrong with running a plant at Longbridge’s capacity, simply that one plant alone would not be enough. Nissan’s Sunderland factory is super efficient, but even that could not support Nissan in the manner to which it has become accustomed: there are other plants around the world also making contributions to the company coffers. Honda, for example, has 120 plants scattered across the world, some sending out as few as 5,000 cars a year. No single plant is viable, they have to work together.

So when people scoff at the idea of restarting production at Longbridge they are forgetting about the partner’s production sites. As a stand-alone facility Longbridge has no more chance than any other plant in the world, but in partnership with a Chinese company suddenly it is worth hanging on to the site. Longbridge has a great future ahead of it servicing the UK and Europe with niche products such as the MG-TF, GT and ZT. It will make money even at the suggested volumes of 80,000 a year, not enough to go it alone but enough to make a positive contribution to the partnership and help to ensure a flow of future models. Long live Longbridge.

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5 August 2005

How are the mighty fallen!


A FEW months ago, I penned a very upbeat feature with the help of the Hunter brothers who ran the Phoenix outlet at the Riversway Motor Village in Preston.

Sales were up, profits weren’t too bad and the future looked pretty rosy.

That was in early March.

By the time we chatted about advertising, the you-know-what had hit the fan and by early this month it was all over as Phoenix moved out and West End Toyota moved in, relocating from a cramped city-centre base to the spacious motor village surroundings.

I called in yesterday to recsue what little memoribilia was left (from a skip in the yard) – I am only hoping the prestige SV stuff was saved and not scrapped.

A few cars littered the once busy outdoor sales area and by the time you read this, they will be back in the hands of Capital Bank.

All in all, a very sad end to a what was once Phoenix’s busiest outlet in the country, thanks to the amount of BAe and Leyland Truck customers who got handsome discounts there.

The glory days are well and truly over it seems… where does Nanjing go from here?

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4 August 2005

CityRover: game over?


CAST your mind back to the British Motor Show at the NEC a good few years ago.

Next to mighty Toyota was a small stand where an almost unknown Indian supermini was being proudly debuted in the UK.

Yep, the Tata Indica had arrived with little pomp or ceremony… if memory serves their UK PR rep at the time, Andy Kirk, had a single model in blue to display, and very attractive it was too.

Spool forward eight years or so to Portbury Docks, Bristol. Here, 1200 examples of that self same car, albeit in mark two form with Rover badges instead of Tata, sit. The future looks very bleak indeed for the recently orphaned CityRover…

The future looks very bleak indeed
for the recently orphaned CityRover

But… and it’s a big but… it seems all is not lost – for Tata at least. Yes, they had their fingers burnt with MG R but it seems the Indica will soon be back on the Uk market, realistically priced this time round, as the ‘new’ Indian supermini (marketing challenge or what?!)

Best of British (if you see what I mean) to mighty Tata which, incidentally, could have picked MGR up for itself but for that major breakdown in trust over the CityRover saga that meant they didn’t even enter the race (if that’s how it can be described) to buy the ailing company.

Phoenix is still alive and kicking, though, and according to its UK marketing manager, one David Saldanha, the company is on the brink of introducing its Safari Mark 2 with a stonking V6 diesel engine to the UK. And there’s also the XOver SUV waiting in the wings, along with a range of Indica spin-offs and a tasty-looking small MPV.

One aside – I saw my one and only CityRover mark one-and-a-half at a Morecambe dealership looking pretty sorry for itself. One wheel nave plate had been removed to examine it, I presume in the light of the recent recall. It sported the new VDO sound systems which were 04-and-a-half and 05 fitments on the rest of the MG R range. Anyway, that’s one car off my list to be ‘spotted’… The holy grail, as far as I’m concerned, is an 05 ZT or ZT T.

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3 August 2005

Police story


ONE of the advantages of freelance writing is the variety of events you can pick and choose to attend. And undoubtedly one of the highlights of my year is the National Police Fleet Show held later this month in Wiltshire.

It’s the biggest motor show you’ve never heard of, attracting manufacturers of anything and everything to do with police vehicles (bikes, cars, command units, push bikes, off-roaders and light commercials) from all over Europe and beyond.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – one of my main reasons to attend, viz MG Rover, will not be there, breaking a tradition which goes back over 30 years.

Mind you, the writing’s been on the wall over ther last decade or so as MGR sold fewer and fewer cars to police fleets. The glory days were during the late Sixties and Seventies; the rot set in not long after and by the late Eighties and mid-Nineties even the most faithful police fleet manager had bitten his nails down to the quick thanks to cars like the 800 KV6 and relics like the Metro, Maestro and Montego which just couldn’t hack it in the highly paced 999 market, where reliability under pressure 24/7 seals a car’s acceptance or rejection.

Anyway, a chance conversation with a Lancashire Constabulary mechanic at Morecambe police station raised a few smiles on the way things were.

Spool back twenty years, and Lancashire was still a big ARG (as it was) supporter with Metro, Maestro, Rover 800 (Honda-powered, ie: reliable) and Freight Rover vans ordered year on year, whether their bobbies liked them or not. If memory serves, it was the last UK Force running the old SD1, with E-registered traffic cars lasting until at least 1990.

…there was nothing for it but to
drain the Metro’s engine oil, repeat
the run, blow it up, replace the oil
and then ring in to Rover reporting
a catastrophic breakdown…

The garageman was speaking fondly about a particular Metro which had proved troublesome to say the least. In the end, after numerous fixes had failed to work, he decided enough was enough and took it to a deserted country road to ‘break’ it. Some hope… despite screaming along at 62 in second gear the little car came up smiling for more so there was nothing for it but to drain the engine oil, repeat the run, blow it up, replace the oil then ring in reporting a catastrophic breakdown. It was one way of getting rid of Metros, I suppose, and when the Force saw sense (as some critics claimed) they were replaced by Fiestas as a general purpose car (ie: general dogsbody). I think the final straw was the fuel cap debacle which saw Metros in extreme driving conditions spilling their fuel all over the road – it was just the excuse the Force needed to ditch the cars.

I once had a test car delivered by an ex-Met traffic officer who made me smile recounting his tales of the old SD1. The Met managed to order cars with electric windows as standard and there was big kerfuffle when they arrived, officers being warned that on no account should Joe Public know of any such luxury. He said he and his colleagues became adept at faux window winding manouvres when stopping errant motorists – but found it hard to keep a straight face!

What would those officers make of the air-conditioned luxury in which many of today’s offcicers travel in cars like the latest Range Rover that are now the mainstay of the Lancashire Constabulary’s motorway fleet. Corgi collectors might already have spotted that the model has been immortalised in miniature and will be on the shelves very soon.

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2 August 2005

Eastern promise


IT’S tough being a part time motoring freelance – if only for the avalanche of material which the postman struggles with daily, or the amount of emails from newspress which scream for your attention each time you log on.

Now and again, a press release or email from a friendly PR department will set the pulse racing and it’s happened twice this week with news from Mazda and Honda.

The former has obviously been making hay while the sun shines with the demise of MG. Its MX5 is enjoying record sales – not bad for a run-out model – and on Thursday I was informed that the new MX5 is ready for order via the Net from 1 August for those who want one of the first UK cars when it’s launched in November. More fireworks, then, for Mazda and more problems for MG dealers who at least have got their hands on some new glass-windowed TFs but desperately need something new to take on Mazda’s latest offering, Toyota’s MR2, et al. I wonder who else is eyeing up the UK marketplace … and whether Fiat might introduce a RHD Barchetta, a car which knocked my socks off when I drove it a few years ago?

I wonder whether Fiat might introduce
a RHD Barchetta, a car which knocked
my socks off when I drove it a
few years ago?

Honda’s news came via a request to drive a few of their new models. Back came an email from their excellent PR department reminding me of the launch of the 2006 Civic range which will be gunning for the affluent 30something market (despite the vagaries of the mortgage rate and property market, there are plenty out there).

Bang goes any idea that MG R should solely concentrate on the yoof market… but then again I have always seen Rover as an aspirational product for the burgeoning Saga market, whose memories go back to the late Sixties and Seventies – the glory days of the old 2000 when Rover was on a par with BMW.

Again, the revived company’s success will be down to marketing – expensive but with the right approach very cost effective. It’s now that the foundations should be being laid… I await next week’s copies of the motoring mags and those from the trade press to see what they make of it all.

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1 August 2005

The Great Brand Transplant Operation


MY dad has just taken delivery of a brand new MG ZT CDi in British Racing Green. It’s an amazing machine. The translation of the Rover 75 into the ZT was so excellently achieved that there is no way that the car looks or feels like a 75 that simply has a different trim. With the ZT you get the feeling that this is how it should be and how it was meant to be, from the green suede insets in the doors and the iridescent dash to the fierce moulded grille.

What is odd about it is that MG badge embossed in the steering wheel. To me, this car feels and looks like a Rover. Powerful, aggressive, modern and luxurious what a Rover should be. So what happened in the last five years? How did the Rover brand suffer so much? How did the MG brand rise from being an Austin trim level (just add red seatbelts) in the 80s to being the greatest asset to remaining British automotive manufacturing?

The answer is quite simple and reveals a curious facet of branding, an example of which I can’t recall happening anywhere else, that goes above and beyond badge engineering: the great brand transplant operation.

So what happened in the last five
years? How did the Rover brand suffer
so much? How did the MG brand rise
from being an Austin trim level (just
add red seatbelts) in the 80s to being
the greatest asset to remaining British
automotive manufacturing?

We’re all now familiar with the story of what happened when Graham Day announced that young people didn’t want to drive an Austin and re- branded the range ‘Rover’. This had the same effect as putting the bright kid in the low-achieving rowdy classroom we don’t suddenly get a classroom of achievers. What Day did was to apply the brand values of Austin, to Rover. The positive brand values that had been built up from the P6 and SD1, that placed the Rover as a modern executive, an alternative to BMW or even Jaguar, were eroded.

By 1999 the company had gone some way in rebuilding positive values with the R8, 600 and eventually the launch of the 75. But with the trauma that happened post-BMW and with Rover’s image tarnished once again, the Phoenix 4 kept and enhanced Rover’s brand values by performing another brand-transplant operation: literally swapping them with MG. The beating heart of Rover pumped new life into the almost irrelevant MG, which then held onto those values. After that, nothing could prevent Rover’s brand image, with its heart removed, from going into free-fall.

So we ended up with Rover having the brand values of Austin while MG has the brand values of Rover. It’s ironic that it looks likely that the fate of the 75 may be for it to be actually badged Austin for the Far East.

Branding is a weird area where you and I have very little control. A brand tells us what to think in such a subtle way we don’t even realise we’re being programmed. A few weeks ago Austin was as dead as a doornail, possibly only associated in our minds with rusting Montegos and funny Allegros and yet with announcements from Nanjing of the real possibility of its returning (and of Rover disappearing), that ‘perception’ will already have been changed.

Keith Adams

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