Blogs : December 2005

31 December 2005

Snow joke…


Driving in the snow can be a lot of fun in the right place…

EVERY year it happens: we have a few flakes of snow, and the country seems to come to a standstill. I’m not sure why it is, but Britain’s infrastructure or its people seem positively incapable of keeping going if there is any extreme of weather – whatever it is…

On Thursday evening, we were told that ‘Siberian’ style weather systems would be moving in, and as a result, don’t consider travelling, unless absolutely necessary to do so – and if you must travel, then make sure you pack some clothes, food and a shovel in the boot. Wow… up to this point, the worst hit parts of the UK had received 2-3 inches of snow, and the rest of the East nothing more than an inch’s worth.

When the ‘extreme’ weather system hit yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but chuckle, because all we got here, was cold drizzle. A road in East Yorkshire was snowed in for a while, but that seemed to be about it – and that was probably down to nothing more than a broken down truck or some such. I’d imagine that if a Siberian actually experiences winter weather like this, they’d be feeling as though they were enjoying an Indian summer – trust me, I know (one of my former work colleagues was from Siberia, and she was full of tales of how the weather was back home)…

…the next time it snows a little, don’t
stay at home whingeing about the bad
weather, get out and hone your
driving skills…

So, in reality, we didn’t get a blast of Arctic weather, or anything like it.

And yet, why was it in the first day or so of snow, we were bombarded with reports of road closures, accidents and mayhem? Are we so poor coping with changes in weather? If it snows, we get stuck in drifts; if it rains for a couple of days, somewhere floods; and if it is hot, we suffer from water shortages…

Personally speaking, when I saw the dusting of snow we received on Wednesday morning, I felt a child-like wave of excitement. And after having a snowball fight with the kids, I jumped in the car, and drove out to a big and deserted car park nearby to practice handbraking and drifting the Saab. No one was around, no one was in danger, and in the process, I learned a thing or two about how the old bus handles when it slides. Okay, hooning around in the snow isn’t big or clever, but at that time, it was perfectly safe, and I learned a thing or two about controlling a skid in that car. Better there, than on the roads – and sometime in the future, on a slippy road in the middle of the night, that kind of knowledge might come in handy.

So, the next time it snows a little, don’t stay at home whingeing about the bad weather, get out, find somewhere empty, and hone your driving skills…

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23 December 2005

Merry Christmas!


‘TIS the season to be jolly and all that, so if you happen to log-on to this website in the forthcoming week or so, and wonder why there’s been a distinct lack of updates, that’s because we’re taking a well-earned break to sit down and enjoy some mulled wine and mince pies.

Without doubt, it has been a terrible year full of tragic events for Rover watchers, and one that deep down, we probably all knew was coming – that realisation doesn’t make things any easier, all the same.

When the balloon went up in April, most of us hoped at rescue would come, but as the weeks rolled on, it soon became obvious that no such thing was going to happen, and MG Rover had finally taken its last gulp at the Last Chance Saloon, and rode off into the sunset.

And with that, the families of many thousands of workers faced an uncertain future, as they were unceremoniously made redundant without any prospect of a fair payment or future pension. It was an appalling state of affairs, and remains so for many who have yet to find new employment.

Still, the directors are all still working, and don’t appear to be financially destitute from the calamitous turn of events, so it’s not all bad, eh?

The only positive that seems to have come from this year from hell for MG Rover is that a couple of the marque names, the K-Series engine, and 25- and 75-series cars will live on in China. So, at the very least, our cars won’t be lost forever, even if their likelihood of being produced in the UK has been.

It has certainly been a year to remember, and not for the right reasons.

The austin-rover website, however, has gone from strength to strength and even though we’re mainly covering cars produced by a collection of defunct manufacturers, there is so much interest and new information emerging all the time, that I suspect we’ll be adding new stuff for many years to come.

Have a great Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

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22 December 2005

Don’t drink and drive


ON November 6th, the Norfolk Mini Owners Club, which I have the honour of being chairman of, presented £1500 to the East Anglian Air Ambulance at Fakenham Racecourse. This is where we hold our annual Mini show in the spring, raising money for local charities.

I am sure many of you out there also take part in activities raising money for your local air ambulance. I have been told that the East Anglian Air Ambulance consumes £1000 a day in cash, so NMOC only paid for 36 hours’ running costs. But this article is not intended as an act of self congratulation, but one with a serious message. So as we enter the festive season please impress on friends, family and work collegues on the need to desist from drinking and driving so as not to put a strain on organisations such as air ambulances up and down the country.

As memories of a depressed economy and terrible recessions fade, and we now have the cash to socialise more in pubs and clubs rather than sit at home and watch television, it is quite understandable how our new drinking culture has developed. However, there is nothing acceptable about drinking three times the legal limit and then home, because if the driver lives in a rural area they think they can get away with it, and having a hideous sometimes fatal accident.

There is nothing macho about drink driving, it is stupid and iresponsible and the emergency services have better things to do with their resources.

So again please don’t drink and drive this Christmas.

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20 December 2005

Mixed emotions…


LEAFING through another batch of Longbridge pictures, I can’t help but wonder why it is that I still feel deep pangs of emotion at the scenes of abandonment at the factory.

You’d think by now, after all that’s happened that I’d accept the finality of Longbridge’s situation. But the trouble is, every time I see a glimmer of hope, I latch on to it – first there was the SAIC purchase, then that was off… then the awful period of administration; and now the Nanjing era is with us.

Ordinarily, I should listen to everyone who keeps telling me that production definitely won’t be re-starting, because once you accept the worst, it becomes easier to deal with. The trouble is I keep hearing flashes of positive press every so often – the odd word here and there – and the good intentions of the Chinese (so they say) have me hoping again.

This time, I hear Nanjing management has been putting it around that it really wants to restart production. I get all hopeful, and only later hear that it is still looking for funds to do what it needs to. The funny thing is Nanjing doesn’t seem short of cash with which to prepare one of its domestic production facilities for MG production (see today’s news); only when it comes to Longbridge does Nanjing seem to be overtly strapped for cash.

And that makes me suspicious of the company’s intentions. Only a week ago I was beginning to have a good feeling about the situation – now I’m not so sure…

The roller coaster continues.

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19 December 2005

Rational? Who cares?


SO Radford is back and we should all be celebrating? Well, in a way, yes… I know, having just spent some time behind the wheel of the company MD’s MINI De Ville S, it’s an amazing package, and such a wonderful irrelevance that you can’t help but love it.

Back in the Sixties, the Radford Mini was THE car to have – the Beatles each owned one, as did Peter Sellars and Britt Ekland. The Mini was the car that everyone wanted to be seen in, and the Radford was perhaps the ultimate incarnation. If anything encapsulated Sixties London better than a Radford Mini, I’ve yet to see it.

However, as the Sixties wore off, and the Arab money began to dominate the coachbuilt scene into the Seventies, Radford’s star began to wane. The company slipped into obscurity, and many of us thought we’d never see it again.

In 2001, the MINI burst on to the scene, and immediately became something of an ‘it’ car. It was a cool thing – people couldn’t get enough of them, and despite early reliability wobbles, it has gone on to become a huge success for the Cowley factory. It’s a case of history repeating itself, really. What fascinates me about the MINI is that the classic Mini fraternity were originally a bit sniffy about the newer car, but after a period of acclimatisation, it seems to have been accepted into the fold.

Indeed, at this year’s Mini Meet at Stanford Hall, there were positively loads of the things knocking about.

So is it in the fold?

Well, yes, I guess it is. Here at we’ve always been in favour of the MINI. There is enough Rover DNA in there to keep us all happy, but apart from that, it keeps plenty of people in jobs in the Oxford area – so good luck to it. Not only that, but when BMW was going through the motions of palming off the remains of the Rover Group to a certain John Towers, the German company ended up continously rebutting the Phoenix Consortium’s requests to keep the MINI for itself…

Anyway, back to the Radford. The reason we’re happy to see this car make a re-appearance is that if the thing sells, then it proves that physically small cars can still be appealing to those who want an exclusively expensive car. For too long, we’ve all been lead to believe that the metal acreage of a car is directly proportional to how much we should pay for it. Why can’t we have an expensive small car?

Well, in the case of the Radford-MINI, we can. The car I drove would probably set a new owner back £30,000 – which, to be frank, is a lot of money. But the kind of people who bought Radford Minis in the Sixties, weren’t exactly playing by the same rules as us, were they? And it would seem that Radford is hoping to catch the same buyers today.

And remember that Madonna drives a MINI, as do many other celebrities – and people like that aren’t buying on a budget.

So, to the 99.99 per cent of us who buy on price, practicality or other rational factors, this car is going to cut no ice. However, if you’re looking for a Chelsea runaround, and the Bentley is proving a difficult to park embarassment, then this would be just the ticket.

I hope Radford does well with it – and bearing in mind the expertise behind the company, and its bosses grasp of the company’s rich history, they probably will. My only worry is that they’re a couple of years too late to REALLY cash in…

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16 December 2005

Oh the Horror, the Horror…


SO Austin-Healey is coming back and necrophilia is back in fashion. Quite why anyone should want stitch together parts harvested from various dead car companies and spark life into another automotive Frankenstein’s monster beats me. Isn’t the laboratory floor already littered with the bodies of Lea Francis, Jensen and Connaught without attempting to bring Austin-Healey back from the dead too?

The first thing we should get out of the way is any idea that Austin-Healey can return with just one sports car. Even the TF and MX-5 would struggle to sell more than 20,000 a year and this could never support a national network of dealers or a dedicated product development team. Although there have been a couple of ‘me-too” press releases promising well-funded plans for an Austin-Healey the stories stretch credulity to the limit. For Austin-Healey to have any chance it would have to be as part of a three model line-up at the very least.

Since we are all pretty much agreed that entirely new model programmes are beyond even the deepest pockets what Austin-Healey would need are donor corpses from deceased sports cars. One that has been alighted on is the MG-SV, itself based on the terminally ill Mangusta. All supercars are fantasies on wheels and so are open to both dreamy adulation as well as rational dismissal. The nearest any supercar got to being practical was the Honda NSX, and even that barely had luggage space for a bag of sprouts.

The trouble with the SV was that it majored on fantasy elements like style and power, but all the boring stuff about ease of driving and even affordability got lost in the ecstasy of anticipation. In the end it came to symbolise the worst profligacy of MG Rover at time when the company only had one job to do, make a new medium sized car. To suggest that it should be resurrected a second time as an Austin-Healey is simply staggering.

It seems that the reason for fixating on the SV is simply that it is available. MG Sport and Racing is said to be profitable, although we must assume that this is in the loosest sense of the word, and that surely means that the development costs have disappeared in the rubble of MG Rover’s collapse. Whoever does own the SV design rights would probably sell it for a song, thus presenting it as a tempting option for a nascent sports car company. They should do all in their power to resist this. The SV is a sophisticated and unique car designed for very low production. If priced at £45,000 it might conceivably be a candidate to take Austin-Healey back to America, but the production volumes could not be able to keep up with the necessary sales. As we know, a few hundred a year is its production limit and that means a price tag of £80,000 to make it economically viable, yet we have already seen how well the car justifies that price tag.

Another fresh corpse is the little roadster by smart. This would be a neat way of bringing the Austin-Healey Sprite back. In life the smart was well-received, so with a heritage badge it might become the world’s pet sports car. Just steady on though, as a smart it almost worked because it was a variant of a more popular range with which it shared facilities, on its own it makes almost no economic sense whatsoever. If it could not pay for its place on smart’s production line, how could it pay for one dedicated to one model alone? Like the SV the development costs of the roadster might be written off but that would never be enough to counter the costs of low volume production, and does nothing to address the problem of funding its successor.

As for the scene where the Austin-Healey
zombie comes staggering in, I can only
shake with fear…

The only other available donor is the MG-TF. As Britain’s most popular sports car its place in the market is assured for any prospector willing to take a punt on restarting production. It achieved the production levels it was designed for so the economic aspects look encouraging. The fly in the ointment is that although it sold in decent numbers as a supplement to the mainstream MG Rover range, it is unlikely it alone could sustain a national dealer network or fund development work for its replacement. This brings us back to the necessity of a three model range, yet the SV and smart have already been dismissed.

The only remaining solution is to expand the TF range with variants of the existing car. The GT concept showed how this could be done, and with a scattering of Austin-Healey badges it could share production and development with the TF. The third car presents a problem since it is unlikely that the TF design could be taken down market and form the basis of a new Sprite or Midget. In reality, we are stuck with a two car range based solely on the TF. This cannot last, and within a very short period some related mainstream cars would have to appear, if only to keep the dealerships busy. The implication of this is clear: two sports cars, based on the TF and made in Longbridge, supported by a range of MG saloons imported from China.

As for the scene where the Austin-Healey zombie comes staggering in, I can only shake with fear…

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15 December 2005

What’s in a name?


NANJING has told us what it intends to do with the MG marque. An ambitious project to make a new company rise, Phoenix like, from the ashes of the MGR debacle. A firm intent to return Longbridge to production of ‘high-value’ vehicles, and the resurrection of a worldwide sales network. Okay, so we’ll have to wait until 2007, but at least Nanjing has nailed its colours to the mast.

Nanjing has also claimed the old MGR dealer network, giving it a head start when it comes to international sales. So where does that leave SAIC? Deja vu — remember VW/BMW fighting over the Rolls-Royce badge? £40 million changed hands and BMW acquired the name from under VWs nose. Perhaps Shanghai Automotive represents VW in all of this. It must bitterly resent its rival’s acquisition of MG.

Austin-Healey — still a well-respected name after 40 years — is surely the way forward for high-end British sports cars, especially with the prospect of a return to US sales. Whether Austin is the way forward for volume cars, albeit Chinese, is another matter. Still, the prospect of a return for these names will keep the memory alive.

Finally, in deference to the Fifties ‘Austin of England’ strapline, will italic script along the sides of the vehicles say ‘Austin of China”?

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14 December 2005

No! Car credit


YOU may have seen the national paper advertisements and TV adverts for ‘Yes! Car Credit’ offering people finance for cars who would otherwise struggle, due to their circumstances. Its advertising shows a distraught person stood beside a 1980 hearing aid beige Metro, wondering how on earth they will ever be able to afford a decent car.

Luckily, ‘Yes! Car Credit’ is here to rob you, sorry, help you. Its advertising says it offers a choice of late model cars of up to five years old, all with warranties, and finance is available with interest rates ‘dependent on circumstances.’ In other words, whatever monthly payments they can get you to sign up to for five years.

The truth is, you don’t really need any finance; I think most people should be able to scrape together £500 – and believe me, that is plenty of money to buy a decent car, particularly at this time of year as sellers become desperate to unload their car before Christmas.

A look in the local free papers often turns up some staggering bargains and, if you have the balls for it, a visit to the local car auction can turn up a star bargain and you may even be driving it home with enough change in your pocket for a set of mats and a CD player.

£500 is around the equivalent of around two monthly finance payments and there’d be another 46 months to go after that, as your four-year-old 96k mile Ford Mondeo, that the salesman convinced you was a bargain and he was doing you a favour, will become worthless long before you’ve finished paying for it.

I’m not saying you can go out get a car at auction straight away, you’re going to have to pay a few visits and keep an eye out for a reasonable specimen with at least 8 months MOT and a bit of tax and hope that there aren’t any punters in the auction hall who are looking for a similar bargain.


I wrote this blog last week and I had no idea that the ‘Yes! Car Credit’ was about to close. All I can say is that it’s a shame 820 people who work for Yes are losing their jobs, but it goes to show that not everyone is THAT desperate for a car.

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12 December 2005

Vanden Plas – ahead of its time


THESE days, luxury versions of small cars are taken for granted. Fuel crises in the Seventies saw the move away from reserving luxury equipment for large cars – and equipping cars such as Escorts and Allegros with luxury equipment became all the rage. The car I drive now, a Hyundai Getz CDX, is as well equipped as a Mercedes-Benz costing three times as much, and even the most basic small cars now come with electric windows, stereo systems and power steering that would have been unheard of even on many luxury cars 30 years ago.

It wasn’t always like this. In the Sixties, smaller cars were basic – in some cases utilitarian to the extreme. The Volkswagen Beetle being totally devoid of even a heater on smaller engined models. The perceived wisdom at the time was if you wanted leather seats, quality fittings and a better drive you went upmarket and bought a Rover or a Ford Zephyr. Small cars were basic because they cost less.

The Vanden Plas 1100 threw this argument on its head. Produced by Vanden Plas, more famous for the Princess R and coachbuilt versions of Austins, this car was a revelation. Instead of a basic vinyl and bare metal interior found on its rivals, the 1100 came with a walnut dashboard, leather seats, Wilton carpets and a distinctive radiator and badging. With a top speed of 86 mph, the Vanden Plas could compete with larger cars on the motorway easily, and it benefitted from the surefooted handling and excellent suspension of Austin and Morris variants. Motorists who wanted luxury and reasonable performance, but could not afford a Rover, could now opt for a Vanden Plas.

The 1100 was upgraded in October 1967 when a tuned version of the 1275 cc A-Series engine was introduced; although one aspect of the styling suffered when the London taxi style rear light clusters replaced the neater versions found on the 1100. The new version of the Vanden Plas could now hit 95 mph – as fast as many two-litre cars. Sales continued well, as there wasn’t really any competition, as other manufacturers still stood by the maxim that small meant spartan.

The Vanden Plas continued until June 1974, when it was replaced by a version of the Allegro. It wasn’t until the early Seventies that other manufacturers decided to launch luxury versions of small cars. Hillman launched its new Avenger in 1970 with a range topping model, which featured cloth seats, tinted glass and sports instrumentation, and Ford launched its luxury Escort, the 1300E – with some fake wood and cloth seats. These still fell short of the quality of fittings in the Vanden Plas, even if they were more modern designs.

However, the Vanden Plas, the rise of the Japanese and the worsening fuel crisis of the time, had persuaded European manufacturers that producing utilitarian and unpleasant small cars was not the way forward when economics were persuading owners of thirsty luxury cars to downsize.

The Vanden Plas 1300, nevertheless, was a decade ahead of other manufacturers in realising that there was a market for well made small cars that offered Rover-type refinement and fittings for far less money. It took other manufacturers ten years to catch up with the Vanden Plas and even then their offerings lacked class and serious refinement.

To me, of all the cars, BMC launched in the Sixties this was one of the best as it invented a whole new class of car, the well equipped small saloon.

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9 December 2005

Medallion motor…


DESPERATE to recapture the success of the much missed Capri, Ford needed a sports coupe in their early Nineties range to fight off the onslaught from rivals like the Vauxhall Calibra, Honda Prelude and Rover 220 Coupe.

Launched in 1994 and based on a joint venture with Mazda, the laughably named Probe was met with raised eyebrows from hairy chested, medallion wearing Capri devotees. Its American styling was more at home on the streets of Detroit rather than Dagenham and the weird three spoke alloy wheels looked naff when it was new and just add to the naffness now. I find it hard to believe that some cars still have them fitted. The pop up headlamps try to make up for them.

It’s pleasant enough to drive and the ride
is good as is the handling, but it lacks a
sense of excitement that is required in
this sector, you could just as well be
driving a Mondeo, but at least that’d
be faster!

I’ve been driving a 1994 2.0 16v version and despite its entry-level status it is very well equipped for a 1994 car, with electric windows, twin airbags, oddly styled leather steering wheel and even cruise control. The sporty styled seats have built in head rests which may look kinda cool but are uncomfortable to sit in, especially if you’re over 6 feet tall, and they are covered in a fabric that looks like it was taken from a Turkish dolmus, though it all seems well screwed together.

But there’s one thing the 2.0 Probe isn’t, and that’s sporty.

The wheezy 2.0 litre engine pumps out a lousy 113bhp – woeful when you consider the standard 2.0 T-series engined Rover 220 came with 136bhp without even breaking a sweat, meaning the Probe’s performance is a blink and you’ll miss it affair. It’s pleasant enough to drive and the ride is good as is the handling, but it lacks a sense of excitement that is required in this sector, you could just as well be driving a Mondeo, but at least that’d be faster!

Even now, the Rover’s contemporary styling has aged extremely well and it seems to have escaped the pipe and slippers image of other Rover models, and used prices are about the same for the Rover and the Ford. But even if the Rover has got a bit of a tartan rug image, I’d prefer that to the chest wig and medallion of the Probe.

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8 December 2005

Austin-Healey… again


SO now we have two groups of potentials talking about building a modern Austin-Healey… Whatever happens, I think we’ll see this car appear, and that gives me a warm feeling inside. If only because it’s something we’ve been predicting for absolutely ages here!

My only worry is whether it will actually sell or not…

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7 December 2005

Welcome to 40mph Britain



I KNOW it has been in force for some time now, but I’m still trying to get my head around how the newer lower speed limit of 40mph for trucks on ‘minor roads’ is going to improve safety…

It is obvious that there is an anti-motorist campaign taking place at Westminster right now, and currently speed – or more precisely its reduction – is a political hot potato. Excess speed is now seen as the root of all vehicle accidents in the UK, and government is doing all it can to reduce it, and therefore, reduce accidents.

On that basis, reducing the speed limit for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) to 40mph on minor roads must be a good way of reducing accidents…

Personally speaking I’m not so sure. What seems to be happening on the dreaded Thrapston-Peterborough A605 link road (hardly a minor one, you’d have thought) is that slow moving convoys are clogging up this heavily used road, and a number of car (and van) drivers are having to take increased risks (through frustration) to get past the head of the queue – and on their way.

After all, it is perfectly legitimate and legal for cars (and vans) to steam up to 60mph and go for the overtake. Except that most drivers would rather sit in a catatonic state staring at the rear axle of one of these lumbering HGVs, thinking about everything except actually driving their cars. And having huge numbers of zombified drivers on the road is going to improve safety by how much, exactly?

No, it seems to me that some policy makers in Westminster have decided we need a 40mph blanket limit, and are too cowardly to push it through, knowing it to be a vote-loser. So in the end, they slow down the trucks, knowing that 90 per cent of motorists will dutifully fall in behind. Clever – but hardly in keeping with your principles.

There has always been a bit of an anti-overtaking culture in the UK. You can travel in France, Italy or Germany, and usually manage to drive at a speed that suits you. If you need to pass the car in front, you just get on and do it… then go about your business. In the UK, if you’re confronted by a slow moving car ahead, you’re constantly wondering if the act of passing it will instigate an act of road rage from the other motorist, incensed by you having the nerve of actually wanting to go faster than him…

How many of you have been in this situation, on a quiet A- or B-Road? You’ve caught a driver going 45mph, you’ve gone on to pass him (safely and considerately, of course), only to have them flash their lights and wave their fists at you? Or you’ve been stuck behind someone else dawdling along at 39mph on the same stretch of 60mph National Speed Limit road, only to see them hit a 30 zone and not slow down…

So knowing this, the government slaps on a speed limit which only affects a small percentage of road users, knowing that most of the rest of us will blindly fall into line behind? As for me – I’m increasingly taking the B-road option – where it is mainly possible to travel at 60mph without any hassle at all. Of course, in time, many others will end up doing the same. Until the point that accident rates on B-roads begin to climb as they clog up…

So could someone please explain to me why a 40mph limit for trucks is safer?


REGARDING your blog ‘welcome to 40mph Britain’, I am sure the absolute limit for HGVs has been 40mph (assuming that the posted limit isn’t 30mph of course) on single carriageways, 50 on dual carriageways (and 56mph by ‘limiter’ on motorways) for a long time. It’s not a new law, just that a decision to rigorously enforce this 40mph limit for HGVs has finally been made (for worse, if you ask me – and it’s nothing to do with road safety, it’s about profit).

Being sarcastic, I am sure the economy will be better off with less HGV drivers available to transport goods around the country, as HGV drivers now lose their licences for doing speeds (over 40mph) that have been tacitly approved by the Police for years.

What a messed up country we live in.


Not so much my own opinion to add except, I agree…

I too tire of people who insist on dawdling to an extent where I’m forced to overtake! and yes let’s face it, we’ll be stuck behind a fleet of cars who won’t overtake the 40mph truck and basicallly we’ll all just end up doing 40.

What are peoples thoughts about the M42 with mandatory adjusting speed limits? everyday I have seen a mixture of 40, 50 and 60 limits, it’s ridiculous because they change a lot, it’s hard to keep up when its going 60 – 40 – NSL – 40 etc, I think it’s less than perfect and a cheap way of bringing down the limit.


IN my opinion more emphasis should be placed on vehicle roadworthyness. The current annual MOT test is a joke really, a vehicle can become unroadworthy very easily and a more frequent test would help drivers know when thier car is unfit/unsafe and likely to cause accidents. By introducing a quarterly/half yearly test it would ensure lazier owners had to keep up their vehicles’ condition (tyres/brakes etc etc etc)

I also believe there’d be some legs in nationalising testing centres rather tahn letting loads of indipendant garages do them. This would introduce a level of unquestionable consistency and harmonise processes.


Just thought it would be worth mentioning that there is no point in taking out frustration on the truck drivers themselves. Unfortunately, some of the biggest employers of truck drivers, such as supermarket chains and logistics companies, have jumped on the “speed kills” bandwagon and check their drivers’ tachos for breaches of the 40mph single-carriageway limit. For many drivers this is a dismissible offence, so please bear that in mind when you finally manage to perform that elusive overtake.

[Absolutely – and I certainly don’t blame the truck drivers one iota. They must be as frustrated as the rest of us. – Ed]


Anthiny Endsor mentions the new “Variable Speed Limits” introduced on the 28th November on the Northern stretch of the M42, which is also in use on large parts of the M25. These automatically vary the speed limit on the road dependant on traffic conditions at the time, and each gantry has speed cameras attached to fine offenders!

The 70mph upper limit on motorways was introduced back in 1964, a time when car safety standards were primative, and as quoted by the AA, many cars would not be able to exceed the new limit anyway.

Today, we have disc brakes all round, and on the majority of cars this is supported by ABS systems. Airbags are fitted as standard, and road surfaces are better. In 1964, even a large, big engined car travelling at 70mph would be going nearly flat out to achieve this. Forty years later, even the 1.1 Rover 25 is quoted by MG Rover as being capable of a top speed of 100, so cars are not as stretched to reach a higher speed as they were in the sixties.

To suggest that the upper speed limits on motorways should be abolished, in a similar way to certain Autobahns in Germany, would be irresponsible – there is simply too much traffic on our motorways for this to be safe, and we regularly see vehicles shooting past our right-hand wing mirrors at what must be in excess of 100mph, and it would be difficult to imagine how these idiots would drive given no speed limit to contend with. I do, however, believe that in areas such as the M42 where the Active Traffic Management systems are in use that speed limits should be raised to 80mph when the traffic is light. When the motorway is busy then the system can put a lower limit on as it does now. I also believe that if an 80mph limit is introduced, although I do not think it will be, then it should be STRICTLY enforced by the Police.


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6 December 2005

Sublime to the ridiculous…


JUST in case you lot think I’ve recovered my sanity by buying my lovely Rover SD1, I just thought I’d show you a picture of my ‘other’ new project. Bought from fellow muttering rotter, Simon Goldsworthy, this little beauty and I will be spending quite a bit of time together over the next two or three months…

I terms of driving pleasure, it evokes a bygone era – and far more effectively than my Allegro (nicknamed ‘Molly’) ever did… What do I mean by that? Well, the Allegro’s dynamic behaviour wasn’t bad – and at times, it did feel as if the steering wheel and the road were connected. In the case of this Lada, steering feel has been replaced by a series of controls by proxy… It’s almost as if I give the response to turm, and a few intermediaries relay my commands to a rather lazy operator tugging at a vintage steering box.

Still, I’ve been having it too good with a succession of Rover 800s, a 75, and now a Saab Turbo – it’s time to get back to basics.

One thing’s for sure – a few people were beginning to think I was going all mainstream with my choice of cars – I hope this puts paid to that rumour right now – there’s nothing like Communist car ownership to set you apart as being a bit wierd, in a masochistic kind of way…

If you lot are questioning my sanity, imagine how I’m feeling right now!


Paul Guinness gives our East European purchase the thumbs up recalling his time spent at the wheel of an FSO (Polski Fiat), like this one.

…and congratulations on acquiring one of the most sensible bargain-basement cars on today’s secondhand market! It’s about time the poor old Lada Riva had a bit of (hopefully positive) publicity.

With values almost crazily low, most late-model Ladas (Rivas and Samaras) seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate. The cost of an exhaust might be higher than the car’s worth, so large numbers are now failing to make it beyond their current MoT status. Already, Ladas are no longer cars that you see on every street corner.

I’ve never owned a Riva, but tested a number back in the late Eighties when working for various magazines. Same with the Samara too, although I always preferred the Riva’s no-nonsense, ultra-conventional honesty to the front-drive Samara’s attempt at being a ‘modern’ car.

I remember buying a twelve-year-old FSO 1300 back in the mid-Nineties, for the princely sum of £100. It provided a whole winter’s worth of totally reliable, utterly dependable everyday transport before being sold on for a £15 profit! You can’t argue with that kind of motoring, can you?

Like the Riva, FSO 1300/1500 and Polonez models are an increasingly scarce sight in Britain – and that’s a bit of a shame. Surely some deserve to be saved for posterity (or even just for a bit of a giggle)?

So, ‘good on you’ for buying the Riva. It might be crude, dated, heavy to drive and as hi-tech as the Mary Rose. But surely that’s all part of its… ahem… charm?

This is a very, very sensible decision. (I hope.)


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5 December 2005

Back in the fold…


I THINK it has been about a year since I sold my last SD1, in what must be described as a fit of pique… It came down to this – my SD1 kept breaking down, I lost heart, and then went and sold it…

And from the moment it went, I had been regretting my descision.

Yes, I’d been putting on a brave face, telling everyone that SD1s are bad news, and I’ll not be having another one, thanks to my aversion to being dumped on the hard shoulder by the belligerently vicious piece of British engineering. But despite that, I still go weak-kneed every time I see one, and the lure of ownership was too too much. And as a result, one year later, I’ve gone back for more SD1 shaped punishment.

I’m absolutely sure that there will be more of the same to contend with, but I guess when love is involved, you end up doing silly things…

Anyway, less of that. The car in question has 44,000 miles on the clock, was first registered in September 1976 making it one of the very first SD1s out there – a fact borne out of its single parcel shelf strap, and manual window winders. It also has a manual gearbox, which means there’s a potential for reasonable (as opposed to scandelous, with the automatic version) fuel consumption.

It’s good to be back…

Saved from a kit car fate by ‘Marinaman’ himself Andy Jones, a couple of years ago, he decided to sell it on to me, when he realised his pristine Rover 620 was doing the job of long distance runner with far more ease than the SD1 – and it made little sense to keep the car. I’m hoping that I bear out his wish that it goes ‘to a good home’ by getting it MoT’d, taxed and back on the road…

Hearing it running today, and listening to that V8 lump rumble back into life after a month’s sleep, I remembered one of the reason why I love these cars so much. Sitting inside, and experiencing good, industrial design for myself reminded me of another… Standing back and drinking in the styling confirmed what I’d believed since the day I clapped eyes on one for the first time way back in 1976… here is a piece of styling that has yet to be beaten. Consider that for a moment – are there any other full-sized five-door hold alls that look half as good as this?

Of course not…

It’s good to be back.

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2 December 2005

Must be worth saving?


IF you fancy this stunner of a 1983 MG Maestro with full voice synthesiser and its own wheelarches (and who wouldn’t?), and if you’re a well-intentioned Maestro enthusiast, then you’ll be already wanting to rescue it. Currently, it’s one step away from the jaws of a North Welsh crusher and it really needs saving…

The car was discovered by Rob Marshall, a young Dolomite enthusiast, who emailed the pics on to me because he realises how rare and desirable such things are. Were I not so busy, I’d be off to North Wales tonight with a trailer…

If anyone wants to find out more about it, can they email me at my Vauxhall address in the first instance, and I’ll pass any genuine queries on to Rob.

Happy rescuing!

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1 December 2005

Vote for your Car of the Year…


LAST year, I chose the Austin-Rover Car of the Year myself – and the award went to the stunning MG ZT 260 V8, as owned by John Hunton. You can read all about that elsewhere, and learn what it is about these V8 monsters that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end…

However, this year, I thought this year’s Car of the Year should be decided by you…

So, click here to go to the Austin-Rover forum and cast your vote for the car that floats your boat more than any other during the last year. Don’t forget, also, we’re always looking for interesting cars to feature on the site, so if you think your car’s good enough to join the hall of fame, drop us a line at the usual address, and we’ll do the rest.

Here’s to a worthy Car of the Year…

Keith Adams

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