Blogs : February 2006

28 February 2006

If Issigonis had worked for Renault…


WE take transverse engine/front wheel drive cars for granted these days. It’s easy to forget that design parameters were very different 50 years ago. Rear engined offerings from Fiat, Renault and VW dominated the European market. In Britain, Alec Issigonis had already made waves with his 1948 Morris Minor, but even this imaginative and technologically advanced offering was in essence a conventional design, lacking independent suspension and reliant on rear wheel drive.

By the mid-Fifties, Issigonis had been prised away from Morris and was working for Leonard Lord’s Austin. Given a brief to fight back against the wave of bubble cars (Messerschmitt, Isetta) sweeping a fuel conscious, post-Suez Europe, his solution was a triumph of lateral thinking. Detesting rear engine design with its inherent impracticality, he sketched out what would become the revolutionary, technologically advanced, transverse engined, front wheel drive and independently sprung Mini of 1959.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Renault was working on the world’s first hatchback saloon, launched in Autumn 1961 as the R4. Another concept we take for granted these days when every manufacturer offers an example. Front wheel drive, independent torsion bar suspension, one-piece lift up tailgate, compact exterior dimensions, big inside. There is no doubt that the launch of the R4 was a defining moment for Renault, signalling a move away from rear engine design towards a more practical front wheel drive model line up which by the mid-seventies would comprise; 4, 6, 7, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 30.

Likewise, the Mini presaged the launch of the 1100/1300/Allegro, Maxi and 1800/2200/Princess. But Issigonis was a designer, not a product planner. Because of his domineering personality, however, that’s just what he became. Convinced he was right about everything, this is the time when BMC/BL began their slow, but inexorable, slide towards oblivion. That’s not to say it was Issigonis’s fault – far from it, but he became the fall guy for all BMC/BL design, production and marketing shortcomings. Renault, by comparison, just went from strength to strength and now – following its tie up with Nissan – looks rock solid.

I wonder what would have happened if Issigonis had been approached by Renault when it was first considering the R4. Can you imagine just how revolutionary a transverse engine, front wheel drive, amazingly space efficient small hatchback would have been? Just like today’s offerings, but 45 years sooner.

A kind of 1961 Honda Jazz.

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27 February 2006

Ministerial Rovers


I’VE noticed something strange over the last few weeks while watching the news. I have spotted Tessa Jowell, Ruth Kelly, Gordon Brown and even Tony Blair himself being transported around in Rover 75s.

I cannot ever remember seeing any government minister in a Rover 75 before the collapse of the company back in April last year. I am pretty sure that Blair and Brown used Jaguars while other ministers used a variety of other cars. I can only assume that the government have got these cars cheap while the company was in administration.

If the government had shown this sort of support for the company and its products before the collapse, maybe the story would have been different. Even Police forces turned their backs on Rover and MG cars in the last few years, when there were a number of cars in the range perfectly capable of doing the job required by beat officers and traffic patrols.

It’s a sad state of affairs.

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23 February 2006

KYA 922T &’s Fifth birthday


WELL, well, well… I can’t believe that guy didn’t know what he was doing and the significance of the car when he decided to start stripping it.

I reckon (in all seriousness) that we as a user community of should club together and buy the bloody car off him in the state it’s in and put the lights etc back. Difficult to see from the photos what state the interior is in. I’ve just e-mailed him actually to find out what his reasons are for stripping the car and to find out what is left of it. Maybe (somehow) he didn’t realise the significance of this particular model…

As an SD1 nut myself, I’m struggling to understand why he did this to such an excellent example of the SD1. Shame on him. Hmmm, as we’re looking to change cars, I reckon my baby would be pretty safe in an SD1 when he/she arrives in this world in July – wonder what the wife would say…

This car can’t be allowed to be cannibalised…

But a major point to come out of this is that it shows how passionate we are about the marque and what an important platform is. Where else would we even get to know about this (other than spending 24 hours a day on eBay)? The cars covered by the website would be poorer for it, and I believe we as classic car enthusiasts would be poorer for it too, had this website not come into fruition.

Maybe it’s time for the Fifth birthday celebrations to begin, after all, the site was created in 2001.

What do you think to the website having its own fleet, run by subscribers for say £20 a year?

Keep it going and here’s to the next five years. What do people think the state of play will be in five years time?

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22 February 2006

The best place for Wedges on the web…


On 24th February 2003, I launched my website dedicated to the Leyland Princess, The inspiration came from Keith’s Austin-Rover site, and the fact there was a lack of proper information about the Princess available on the internet. Like this Austin-Rover site, I built it as a source of information and wanted to encourage others to send in their contributions.

I had absolutely no idea how to build a website, at that time I’d only had a computer for about four months, so it was all new to me. Anyway, ignoring the advice from so-called IT experts, who said I needed expensive software to build a website, I chose one of the templates for web pages found in Microsoft Word and set about building my site. Luckily I had a lot of information about the Princess and Keith Adams was always willing to offer his words when I was in trouble. Plus of course, I had lots of pictures.

I decided simplicity is the key – all people want to see is reasonably large and clear pictures, easy to read and legible text and be able to navigate around the site easily. I didn’t get it quite right first time (red and blue letters on a white background were a bit garish) but as I began to learn how Microsoft Word and the Internet worked it all started to come together. There have been times when I’ve looked at my site and thought it doesn’t look right and needs to be a bit more 21st Century, but then my website is about a Seventies car from 20th Century, so perhaps more of a Seventies look would suit it. But then that may detract from the clarity of the site, so why change it?

I have also written a book, based on the website, about the Princess story in association with Keith Adams and it has been submitted to a couple of publishers but, sadly, it has been greeted with general apathy, but I’ll keep trying.

So, has now reached its third birthday, has over 130 pages, has been visited (actual visits, not hits) by around 36,000 web users in the last 12 months – around 100 per day, and over 150 people have signed the guest book. Oddly, most of the visitors are US based, with the UK second. I don’t make any money from the site – it actually costs me money, but the sheer enthusiasm for Princess cars and that I get via e-mail from all over the world encourages me to keep it going.

Plus the fact that something I’ve produced is seen and enjoyed by millions (well, it will be eventually!) of people all over the world is very gratifying. The Internet is truly a wonderful thing.

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21 February 2006

CityRover Mk2 hits the streets


I KNOW I shouldn’t be, but at £4k including warranty blah, blah, blah, I’m finding myself very tempted by a new CityRover.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, but if I were in the market for a new city car, and had no intention of moving it on in the short-to-medium term, I’d be taking a trip to Direct Cars in Sheffield. At this price, these cars start to make a compelling case for themselves. I still think the CityRover was rightfully lambasted in the press – not for its lack of ability, but for the arrogant pricing foisted upon it by a management team that still considered Rover a premium brand people would pay premium prices for.

Sadly, this marketing cock-up was hard to bounce back from, and although the CityRover offered plenty of plus points, such as stong performance, smooth styling, a commodious cabin and excellent paint quality, niggles with the interior build quality and a sloppy gearchange were allowed to overshadow the long list of positives. Also, in a market where you can buy a new Fiesta from £6500, a loaded CityRover for £8895, without the prospect of a discount simply wasn’t on.

Before the meltdown last April, MGR went onto the offensive and had a plan to try and turn things round. It involved a higher quality Mk2 version, realistic pricing and a decent marketing campaign. It might have been too little too late, but the product was said to have been improved enough to consider taking a second look…

The shame is, just about everyone within MGR knew what to do to make the CityRover a success in the first place. Indeed, the five-year 100,000 car contract had been built around a list price of £5000, and the numbers looked good. Dealers were also told to expect this level of pricing, and were excited at the prospect of having something new to replace the Metro with.

But in the end, greed got in the way, and the decision was taken to raise the price (allegedly taken by Kevin Howe), and the rest is history – MG Rover’s management squandered its last golden opportunity to do something good for the company’s balance books. At £5K and wearing Austin Metro badges, these honest cars would have definitely flown out of the showrooms.

Whatever the whys and wherefores of the CityRover story are, the fact remains TATA kept to its word and delivered MGR the Mk2 version. Of course, there was no company left to sell the improved cars, and it was down to PricewaterhouseCoopers to flog them off to dealers. It would be interesting to see what Direct Cars paid for theirs… I bet the wholesale price was a steal.

One final thought: TATA is about to start importing Indicas into the UK, and that means the CityRover will end up with full and continuing main dealer service back-up – something sadly you can’t say about the 25, 45 and 75…

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20 February 2006


From this…

In 2004, my gorgeous Midas Gold SD1 appeared on Top Gear and was praised as being the finest place to put a Rover V8 engine…

Fine stuff on the move…

SOMETIMES I have to wonder at the sanity of some people. I’m sat here blaming myself, but at the same time, it makes me wonder why someone would take £2000 and flush it down the toilet.

Allow me to explain myself.

Back in 2004, my friend Richard Porter told me that Top Gear was running a story about the demise of the Rover V8 engine, and wondered if I wouldn’t mind supplying my SD1 for use on the programme. I don’t pretend that it was the best series one example in existance – it couldn’t be, as I actually enjoyed going out and using it <gasp> on the roads!

So, onto Top Gear it went, and a great time was had by all.

I certainly like to think that the profile of the SD1 as a whole was raised by this story, and although it’s already an all time classic, a bit of TV coverage never goes amiss when adding to myth of any given car.

In the end, I sold it on, and a very happy new owner in Wales picked it up. I was happy – he was happy – we all seemed happy…

…to this

So imagine my surprise when my friend John Dobedoe pointed out an eBay sale recently. It seems that the very happy man I sold my SD1 to, had decided to eBay it off to someone else.

Fine – no probs… after all, that’s what happens.

But the most recent owner decided this ex-Top Gear, ex-AutoExpress, ex-loads of other places SD1 was not good enough to keep as an ongoing driver, but it needed breaking for spares; to be used as a donor for his own car.

Now, I’m not questioning the actions of this man – after all, it’s a free country and whatever someone wants to do with their car is up to them. But why-oh-why start stripping a perfectly good car, then sell it on for £500? It really doesn’t make sense. Not to me, anyway.

In fact, if anyone knows the answer, I really would love to hear from them, because at the moment, I’m racking my brains trying to work out whether this was really the work of a madman.

Classics eh, who’d have ’em?

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WHOEVER did this to that stunning car should go and get his head examined. I can only assume that they wanted the interior to put on another car, but how can you be an enthusiast of the marque and vandalise such a good car?

It’s very difficult finding homes for classic cars at the moment but eBay is a dangerous place to advertise a car such as the Rover SD1 V8s. Kit car people want the engines and boxes, as we’ve just seen some other SD1 owners will buy an excellent car just for some parts for their own cars.

Also, Metros just seen as a source of engines for some Mini owners. Marinas have long been seen as a source of 1.3-litre engines and front disc brakes for Morris Minors and 1.8 engines for MGBs.

It’s a cruel world for some classic cars; the vultures are circling above watching eBay for their latest victims. Whats the answer? well there isn’t one really, no matter how carefully you try and find a caring owner for your pride and joy, they can just sell it again whenever to whoever, it seems even selling for a good price does not protect your car…

Keith, I understand how you feel about this, it’s shocked me and I thought I was used to the harsh world of classic cars!


I FEEL so angry with this guy. How can he call himself an enthusiast, when he’s destroyed or is in the process of destroying a very straight Mk1 SD1 just so he can put a few parts of it onto his.

His sort make my blood boil!


TRAGIC, absolutely tragic, a now famous car too…


19 February 2006

Sterling Service


I’VE spent the last two weeks using my 1990 Rover Sterling that I bought off ebay for £300 as my daily driver and I have to say it’s been very pleasurable. It’s covered 111,000 miles and is in pretty good shape. The remote key fob still locks and unlocks the car, and once inside the electric leather seats still whirr and whine you into a comfortable driving position. Turn the ignition and the smooth and quiet 2.7 V6 engine starts first time, every time with no tappety rattles or knocks

A quick look at the still functional VCM (Vehicle Condition Monitor) shows all the doors are shut, all the lights are working and all systems are go. Slip the lever into D on the four-speed automatic electronic gearbox and press the throttle, the smooth surge of power wafts you along. Initially, when using full power it doesn’t seem that fast, but as the revs rise the torque comes into play and it really does start to feel like it’s moving – and it sounds good too. Using a gentle throttle, the only way to detect gear changes is to look at the rev-counter dropping at each change. The fuel consumption hasn’t been bad either and I’ve managed around 22mpg commuting etc. Mechanically, it’s sound.

The light steering makes you feel aloof from the car, though it does weigh up suitably as speed increases but it’s not great. Handling is fine if you just want to steer and go but then you don’t drive a Mk1 800 to get involved. The ride over smooth surfaces is fine, but get to any uneven surfaces and the suspension struggles as it crashes and bangs, causing an annoying squeak to emanate from behind the dials on the dash which, despite several attempts, I’ve been unable to locate.

Turn the ignition and the smooth and quiet 2.7 V6 engine starts first time…

I don’t think anyone can expect much from a £300 car and this Sterling cost a whopping £24,875 when new, and aside from airbags, sat-nav and other odds and ends, it’s just as well equipped as a modern £25,000 car though, obviously, a Rover 800 designed in the Eighties isn’t going to be as well engineered as a modern car.

Over the last two weeks I have seen three Mk1 Rover Sterlings being broken for spares, and that’s just on eBay – how many turn up in the small ads and classifieds of the free papers every week? They are disappearing from our roads quite rapidly.

Then there’s the question of image, the Rover 800 certainly ain’t cool – it’s neither retro nor modern classic and will balance tentatively in bangerdom until the classic fraternity wakes up to its sharp Eighties styling and appreciates what made it the best selling executive car in the UK for most of its life. I certainly think it will be remembered far more fondly than the jelly blob Ford Granada of the same era.

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18 February 2006

Young and old drivers – is it now time to be ruthless?


OUT here in North Norfolk, I am forever reading in the local press about incidents involving young drivers. Usually involving excess alcohol, the drivers responsible often have no insurance either and some terrible fatalities have taken place. Is it me or are young drivers, mainly male, incapable of driving responsibly?

The roads are full of youngsters who see speed limits as something to be broken at every opportunity, see drink driving as a calculated risk and are unable to comprehend that reckless driving kills. The antics of these people have pushed insurance premiums for new 17-year old drivers to over £1000, which now acts as a further incentive to young drivers to not bother to insure their cars.

Is it now not time to act decisively to reduce carnage on our roads? I would like to see the minimum age for drivers raised to 21-years of age to allow for some more mature attitudes to develop. Drive the 17- to 21-year old age group onto public transport and reduce road congestion as well.

A car in incompetent hands can be a dangerous weapon…

The same thing applies to elderly drivers. Here in Norfolk we have had a spate of elderly drivers driving down on the dual A47 on the wrong carriage way. It may seem funny to read in the newspapers, but if you are one of those who encountered these ageing motorists head on then it is not so amusing.

The simple truth is that as we get older our faculties decline, whether we like to admit it or not. Our ability to see something and quickly deduce how to react to it declines. Many elderly motorists cannot see what is held up in front of them, let alone road signs and whilst they may be okay in the area surrounding their home where everything is familiar, when they venture further afield problems can start. The problem is most people do not want to accept that their functions are no longer 100 per cent, to be told that one is no longer capable of driving competently is tantamount to an insult. That is where problems start for politicians who do not wish to offend the grey vote, but see a need for something to be done.

A car in incompetent hands can be a dangerous weapon, a 100 mph plus projectile that can kill and maim. To some what I have written may be beyond the pale and I accept that, but can we really go on as we are?

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Ian Nicholls offers a lot food for thought. Although I think he is presenting a somewhat radical position, the underlying problem is understood and has been well discussed here in Germany. That does not mean a solution has been found…

Statistics obviously show that young drivers under 25 years of age, men in particular, are at a high risk to be involved in an accident. Elderly people don’t show such a record, so it is assumed that the loss in physical capability is countered by the experience of life these people have. Still discussions continue if elderly drivers should undertake regular tests when passing a certain age.

It is easy to say to ban groups causing a higher risk from driving. Who would be next after youths and elderly are all sitting at home or taking the bus? Would it be the male drivers, being more prone to speeding and having accidents?

Don’t we as a society in total want the individual to be mobile? Personally I think it is more promising to try and keep mobility accessible to as many people as possible. In some parts of Germany young drivers can now start driving at the age of 17, after passing a test and only with an experienced driver as a passenger. They will be allowed to drive on their own when they are 18, but hopefully have gained a little experience giving them more safety. We’ll see if this experiment will show a visible impact on the statistics, but I think this idea will be a step to more safety on the roads without banning a large part of people currently eliglible to a driving permit…


TYPICAL. Ian highlights a fair point, but goes at the solution entirely incorrectly. As far as I see it, the idea of raising the minimum driving age to 21 is ludicrous and draconian.

What he forgets is that there are many, many responsible and careful 17-21 year old drivers out there, and bringing in such legislation is merely pandering to the lowest common denominator. This is exactly why we have a 70mph speed limit on motorways, and legions of cameras (instead of informed police officers) enforcing speed limits elsewhere…

From my view from the driving seat (admittedly, I only do 25,000 miles a year all over the country), I see manace in drivers of all ages – not merely the young. The worst offenders seem to be the ‘professional’ drivers in their Passat/Avensis/3-Series/C-Class who seem to be perpetually late for their next appointment, and either seem hellbent on pushing the driver ahead off the road, or are concentrating on their ‘group’ meeting being conducted by mobile ‘phone.

That’s not all, by a long chalk, but it demonstrates the young are not the only foolish drivers out there.

The idea of further tests is a good one – let’s have continuous testing… licence renewals with a compulsory test every ten years.

Then again, that’ll not happen, as the current testing system is full to overflowing already because of continuing government spending squeezes. Oh well… Perhaps raising the driving age is the only way forward in this climate…


A MUCH fairer way of coming to a solution would be to introduce compulsory re-testing every ten years, so as to bring everyione up-to-date with the latest requirements in terms of highway regulations and driving standards. this would certainly mean those who are not good enough would be swept from the road, or brought up to a more competent level!


THE writer of the blog suggesting that the ‘dangerous’ demographics of young and old drivers should be banned from driving has certainly opened a contentious subject.

I AM a 20-year old male driver, on paper part of the most dangerous group. I passed my test when 17 and have not had an accident since. My car is insured. I’m not denying that young drivers can be dangerous (the boy-racers etc) but it is an unfair generalisation. It would also be unfair to raise the age to 21, especially in areas with poor or nonexistant public transport.

Equally, if not more dangerous, as someone has already pointed out, are the middle aged arrogant BMW driving yuppies who sit two inches of your exhaust pipe and attempt dangerous overtakes, something most people my age would be incapable of anyway in their sub-1.3 cars that insurance restricts them to.

The point is that there are lots of dangerous drivers out there, but its down to individuals.


I THINK that raising the age would be a bad move. I use my car heavilly to travel to school, to get to work (when applicable) and to socialise, as most of my friends live over five miles from me, and those who dont have yet to pass their tests.

To say that all people aged between 17 and 21 are maniacs is a stereotype and a harsh one. Some people do drive badly, but making them wait until 21 won’t stop them when they reach that age, and simply means people’s parents will still be ferrying them about into their 20s and mean that their career prospects are hindered by a lack of mobility.

Forum member, ‘T1MMY’

I think the main problem is that people don’t see the consequences of getting it wrong until it’s too late. It was always drilled into me by family that a car is like a loaded weapon. It is an accident waiting to happen. I think this is the reason for some near-misses but other than an act of stupidity that saw me crash a Subaru into a tree, I’ve not had a serious accident (I was 22 then).

People of any age seem to drive around like it’s just a way of getting around and not something that requires any serious thought or effort. You see so many accidents/near misses just caused by in-attention albeit larking around is a bad idea too!

But, the statistics do speak for themselves and younger drivers are worse as you’d expect with anything. Experience counts for a lot and it’s difficult to give a 17 year old (or any aged new driver) 10 years of driving experience before they can pass their test.

Older people do need some consideration. There are too many who are unable to cope with the demands of driving and some who can’t even see well enough to drive so I do think some form of re-test is needed – problem is cost here, any scheme is likely to cost too much and act as a “pensioner tax” driving people with decent ability but little money off the road. At 76, Sir Stirling Moss can put many a younger driver to shame so it’s important not to write off all older drivers!


I’m glad to see that the general consensus seems to tally with my own views. I would hate to think that I was the only one who disagrees with Ian Nicholls’ opinions.

In any set of data, you will always be able to discern trends. In this particular set, it is possible to discern the trend that young drivers are more likely to have accidents. If we remove these statistics from the dataset, however, a new group will instantly become “the most likely to have accidents” – and so on, and so forth, until the roads start to resemble the Marie Celeste.

My point is that we should look not at the trends within the statistics, but at the statistics themselves: in 2004, 3221 people were killed on British roads: that’s about 5.3 per 100,000 population, making us the 4th best in Europe, or 3rd best if you discount Malta, which only has a population of 400,000. What’s more, this was 7.9% less than in 2003. Our road safety is actually improving, and it wasn’t bad to start with. Perhaps we ought to stop criticising, and start praising our drivers for actually being some of the best in Europe – young or otherwise.

Forum member, ‘MIG25_FOXBAT2003’

17 February 2006

Rover – Your admirers are still here


WELL where do I start. Just read a blog about the little Kia, and yes as a serious Rover fan it does have some appeal. However, I just couldn’t go down that road if pushed! Why? Well it’s made in Korea for a start, let’s face it, they surely don’t have the feel for driving that the old Austin, BL, Rover guy’s had for car’s. Having been to Asia regularly (Excluding Japan here – if they had the Mini, who knows what they would have done with it) it’s about copying and finding a niche for sales purposes rather than real driving and the love of being behind the wheel.

Well Rover, for all their faults, I think genuinely had wanted to do well for the British public. Unfortunately, the UK press did it’s best to kill off the company, and also Rover failed in getting some lifesaving updates to basically sound floor pans and power trains. For instance the 200/25 could have spawned an MPV of some note according to some engineers. The Rover 100 with some changes to front bulkhead and front roof structures and lengthening would have leapt to a 3 star safety rating in NCAP, on par with Micra and Corsa. The lengthening would have involved sliding rear seats also meaning a car which could be changed into a number of options. The 45 and 75 were also capable of many additional refinements so the picture was not as bleak as some suggested. However, it boiled down to money, which sadly wasn’t to be!

Having brought it back from Birmingham
I had forgotten how nice to drive these little cars are.

So going back to a small car what have I done? Not being too biased I do have a Scenic and a 205 CJ Convertible which I like very much but wait for it, I have some small Rovers too. Basically 2 Mini’s, one a Mini Rose and the other a SPI Cooper, both fairly old but in excellent condition and will be in the family for many years to come. But I haven’t answered the question, what about a small hatchback like the Kia? Can you guess, well ebay provided me with a 1995 Rover 111i 1995 model for £190 recently. Give me 3 months and this car will be back to decent condition and a joy to drive. Having brought it back from Birmingham (it’s spiritual home!) I had forgotten how nice to drive these little cars are. Nice suspension, willing 1120 cc engine, excellent mpg and pretty damn quiet too for a small car. This one has airbag, sunroof and superb stereo so I’m very happy.

If it costs me £500 by the time the project is finished, that’s still a bargain, and being 5 doors it’s just so handy for family running around and it gives me a smile when I drive it. Perhaps it’s the thought of the low running costs, easy servicing by me etc etc – who knows – but I’m pretty pleased whatever it is.

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HAVING just read Ian Campbell’s blog I would agree that the K series Metro was a great car, and given the dramatic changes to the car when it switched from A series to K series, it was disappointing that it wasn’t given a new body and launched as a completely new car. Following his experience I will also have a look on ebay so see what treasures can be found, but in terms of a practical new everyday car there is little available to beat the Kia. I have no idea whether Rover could have done a deal with Kia rather than Tata, but if it was possible I think that a subtly redesigned correctly priced (a la Rover 400) Kia with Rover (or even Austin) Metro badging would have sold well in the UK.


16 February 2006

Bring Back the Green Cross Code Man



THE BBC are putting seventies public information films online. This week we’ve seen John Pertwee’s road safety ‘SPLINK’ and its replacement, the mighty Green Cross Code Man from 1976. The particular film shown on the website has him saving a couple of kids from death by blue Allegro.

The Green Cross Code Man was a stroke of genius. David Prouse reckons he saved half a million kids lives during his 14 year reign. The figures were a dramatic improvement on previous road safety initiatives. But for some reason good things seem to come to an end and the campaign was changed into cartoon hedgehogs that are used now.

Boys love secret underground bases,
technology and superheroes.

The government quotes figures that show that child road deaths are dramatically down now with 219 dead and 38,000 injured in 2001 compared with 500 dead in the mid seventies. But let’s look at these figures in context of the realities of the 21st century. Much less children play outside now and so many more children are driven to school than were in the 1970s. If someone took those facts into account we may find that the risk to our children on the roads is now far greater than ever.

Government statistics show that most of child fatalities on the roads are boys. A modern, effective road safety campaign must appeal to them. Boys love secret underground bases, technology and superheroes.

I was a child of the seventies and I learnt to cross the road safely from The Green Cross Code Man. He was cool. We knew he was Darth Vader. We loved his surveillance equipment. I never forgot the closing phrase, “Remember, always use the Green Cross Code, because I won’t be there when you cross the road.”

So ditch the hedgehogs – The Green Cross Code Man is exactly what’s needed. If there’s a chance it will save a child’s life – what’s the excuse?

To see the ad on the BBC website

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7 February 2006

Gorgeous is worth it… except for Jaguar


BACK in the Fifties, Jaguar’s strapline was ‘Grace, Space, Pace’. This certainly applied to the MK2 saloons and the XK 120 – 150 sports cars. When it came to the large saloons (MK7, 8, 9, 10) the word ‘Grace’ had to be used advisedly.

‘Bulk’ would have been nearer the mark.

The current TV campaign tells us that ‘Gorgeous is worth it’. Who are they kidding? The small X-type is a tidy saloon, although no looker, but the mid-range S-type shows its American Ford saloon roots and you can’t help feeling that a Jaguar template has just been laid over the top of a very awkward donor shape. The large XJ also looks competent, but there’s a remarkable similarity to its predecessor. Hardly forward-looking and progressive, and definitely not gorgeous. As for the XK, put it next to an E-type and you wonder just what the styling department has been doing since 1961.

BMW, by comparison, have allowed Chris Bangle and his stylist colleagues a free hand to carve out some individuality for the brand. Say what you like about the sharp edge look, but it screams BMW, is consistent throughout the range and grows on you. I remember the bug eyed Ford Granada facelift of 1994. Howls of derision from the motoring press. Very out of step, too bold and too ugly they said. Now, remaining examples — mostly taxis — just look bland and old.

Jaguar doesn’t seem to know which way to go with the grille design either. Upright, split or oval. They currently offer all three, doing absolutely nothing for brand identity. The same goes for the driven wheels; front, rear, all four, take your pick. Again, with the BMW, you know you’re only going to get rear wheel drive.

Perhaps Jaguar’s grille dilemma has its roots in the Sixties. Then, the MK2, E Type and Mark 10 all had differing designs. Sadly, Jaguar stylists seem to have taken their cue from this 1960s design mismatch and as a result are stuck in the past.

As they share the PAG stable with Aston Martin, perhaps they can borrow some ideas — Aston’s DB9 looks exquisite.

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6 February 2006

Why give the 400 a bum steer?


I HAVE always felt sorry for the Rover 400 HHR.

Perhaps tainted as it became the weakest point (well, until the CityRover, but let’s not go there!) in an already weak MG Rover line up, prices are on the floor at the moment. The Press have not been kind and the public seems to be following suit.

This is how it was possible to swap my £400 170,000 mile BX 16 valve (purchased from a certain Keith Adams no less) for a 1996 Rover 414Si with 77,000 on the clock. I’m still amazed at the deal yet even the book price for this Rover is a rather pathetic £600. Do a little research and you find that the 400 is almost considered the black sheep of the family. It is scorned for being ‘too Honda’ and lacking the impact at launch of the previous R8. Press reports at the time were almost scathing about the blatent Civic in Rover badges.

I feel this is grossly unfair. The HHR is actually a fine car. I was almost put off by my research but I went ahead and I’m glad I did.

I now own a car, which is well equipped, not too old and so relaxing to drive. In behaviour, it feels much more like a larger car. It tries its best to waft. The engine sounds impressive when extended but is never intrusive. The gearchange is precise and the suspension wonderfully comfortable. The Press may prefer handling to ride but for many of us, we’d rather prevent back-ache and keep our fillings from falling out.

And anyway, it’s not as if the HHR is a bad car to drive swiftly. Okay, so the clutch is both sharp and poorly positioned which is a pain when frequently changing gear and the steering is horribly light but it corners with aplomb in a very reassuring way. In fact, for its age, the only rival is the Peugeot 306 – one of which I have owned. But while the Peugeot is rightly lauded for its handling, the Rover just edges it for ride – no mean feat given the French reputation for comfort.

In behaviour, it feels much more like
a larger car. It tries its best to waft…

I even like the looks. I prefer the later cars which have less orange in the front and rear light units but at this money, that really is a picky complaint! The frontal styling is much cleaner than the later 45 if a little bland. The hatchback hides a generous boot as well.

All-in-all, it leaves me a little baffled. Yes, the engine could blow its head gasket at any point but with the money I’m saving in depreciation compared to buying a brand new Ford Focus, I can pay for a few gasket replacements. Dynamically, the Focus may be better but two monthly payments will buy you a Rover in good condition – so why bother?

The only downside is the ribbing I’ve received from friends and colleagues – will they need to wear a beige cardigan if I give them a lift? Has the head gasket gone yet? It’s a side to Rover ownership I wasn’t, expecting although fortunately, 10 years of Citroen 2CV ownership has helped me develop a thick skin!

But I just laugh at them. If they are prepared to spend thousands and thousands of pounds on the foolish pastime of being fashionable, that’s fine.

I know who’s really content…

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IN response to Ian Green’s blog I would also like to offer my support for the Rover 400. I believe that the original 400 was much better looking than either of the 45 versions, although it was interesting to see the design almost turn full circle with the final restyle. I would also agree that the 400 had the best ride this side of a Daimler Sovereign. If any Anglo Japanese car is worth preserving surely it is the Rover 400!


5 February 2006

News or what?


CURRENTLY ‘The Austin’ is doing rounds in the press again. But is it all real news or just rumour?

First there’s the story about the development of a new Healey sports car. An investor apparently bought the rights to use the name from the Healey family-run company, HAC. But shouldn’t this be an ‘Austin-Healey’, some might ask? Of course the Austin-Healeys are remembered very fondly by BMC fans as well as those being into older sports cars. They have been much more successful than others bearing the Healey name, such as the Jensen-Healey.

So successful in fact, that some Austin-Healey drivers over here in Germany don’t even know that Austin once made Saloon cars… I am not even sure if reviving a name, which has been out of use on a car for such a long time, is a good idea to even start with. Only if the intention is to build cars in small numbers would it work. From my continental European point of view, I am not sure if more people will remember Austin or Healey… Austin Martin anyone? I’ve read that quite often in eBay ads…

Having only speculation, rumours and
gossip to hang on is making it a hard
time for those interested…

More interesting to me as a passionate owner of several ‘real’ Austin cars (most of my cars carry ADO development codes) is the future of Longbridge. Speculation about resuming production has moved towards restarting only the TF in 2007. It is said talks between GBSC and Nanjing are moving on, but there are no facts to report to the public. Those who put their hopes on a quick restart of mass-production in Longbridge will be disappointed now.

Sadly, I must confess not being surprised at reading this. How many TF are they expecting to sell? Will it be possible to reach the 2004 production level of about 10,000 cars again? Surely not without a thorough re-engineering of the car. But where would the money to do so come from? From Nanjing? I doubt it – or can you imagine workers at Longbridge receiving their pay in Chinese money?

There are so many open questions.

I hope one day GBSC and Nanjing will come out and propose a sound and serious looking business plan to revive ‘The Austin’ – but if I say my hopes are growing, I would be lying.

What makes matters worse, is that there have hardly been any real news since Nanjing bought MGR’s remains. Having only speculation, rumours and gossip to hang on, is making it a hard time for those interested.

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4 February 2006

We made it!


JUST a quick note to let you know that we made it back from Ukraine in one piece – okay, we left the car in Kiev with a happy new owner, but the trip was pretty successful without too many mishaps…

Full story coming soon to a car magazine near you.

…and for all those who can read Cyrillic, you’ll already know where we went from the sign behind me!

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2 February 2006

Spiritual Successor?


EVERY morning as I drive to work I pass the same MINI Cooper emblazoned with logos for the local estate agent. This sums up the MINI for me as a cynical pastiche of a once revered motoring icon. However, it is only when it is parked next to an original Mini, that the extent of the cynicism becomes evident; as it is clear that this car is not mini in size and does not share the same gene pool of practicality or economy. I am fairly certain Issigonis would be deeply offended by the attempt to pass this car off as the spiritual successor to his baby.

However, I think I may have found a real successor in the unlikeliest of places. As I have recently blogged, my fleet of cars no longer contains any British cars. My dearly loved Rover 400 has been replaced by a new Renault Scenic, which is definitely the business if you’ve got a growing family, and our latest addition is a new (well, pre-registered) Kia Picanto.

As a pre-registered car, this came with just three miles on the clock, three years’ warranty. three years’ RAC cover – all for only 5299. For that you get ABS with EBD, central locking, electric windows, CD/MP3 player, five doors, five seats (60/40 folding rear seat). Inside the quality is leagues above the my Scenic, with nicely finished solid feeling plastics and fabrics, and there are storage spaces everywhere – in the doors, under the steering wheel, above and below the dash. But the best thing about this car is the smile it leaves on your face when you drive it.

…the best thing about this car
is the smile it leaves on your face
when you drive it.

Think back to the first time you drove an 850cc Mini. The roller skate handling, the ability to nip through traffic (remember ‘You’ve been Mini’ed’?). The Picanto is an absolute hoot, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking at a small runabout to take kids to school or to run around town in. The only real draw back I can see is the tiny boot, but even that has hidden storage compartments.

I notice Motorpoint are now knocking out 55-Reg CityRovers at 4699, but I would definitely advise spending 600 more and bagging a Picanto instead. The last time I took my 400 in for a service, I was given a CityRover as a courtesy car; a car which at that time retailed for 2000 more than the Picanto, and yet it offered no real advantage. The ambience of the CityRover was akin to an early LADA 1600, and my skin crawled when I touched any surface in the vehicle, especially the seats. Not so the Kia, every surface is pleasant to touch and steering and gearchanges are an absolute joy. Every journey you make seems just a little bit too short, so I keep offering to fill the car up with petrol at every opportunity. It is that much fun!

So there we have it, in my opinion a worthy successor to the original Mini, and a car that Issigonis himself would appreciate. Of course, I am sure there are probably other potential successors out there, but how many can offer such a good smile-per-Pound ratio?

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I AM not convinced by Ian’s ascertain that the Kia Picanto is the natural successor of Mini and that Alec Issigonis would applaud such a car. I would consider the Picanto to be more in the Spirit of the Ford Anglia, a very conventional solution, delivered to the market at a competitive price by restricted quality of components, design, materials and efficiently built.

But I believe that at last we do have on the market a worthy successor of the Mini and its spirit, my suggestion would be the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Ago. Having examined this car in detail the quality of the drive, materials and components are very much first line Super Mini, however the cheapness has been delivered by clever design to minimise the number components, panels etc.

Also just like the Mini it is an exercise in Badge Engineering, allowing for a few panel and component changes to give the car the relevant brands look. The only things that makes me sad is that the brands are not Austin, Morris and Riley and that it is not made at Longbridge.


IF I had to drive a Kia Picanto I wouldn’t be smiling, that’s for sure. I can think of dozens of cars that offer a lot more smiles per pound than that! I could buy a two or three year old MG ZS180 for that sort of money, that’s my idea of smiles per pound!


Keith Adams

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