Blogs : February 2007

23 February

Phoenix 4: Heroes and Villains


THEY’VE been labelled as both heroes and villains: They saved Rover then blew it. They stepped forward when no-one else would and gave it a good go but their gamble didn’t pay off. They were in it for themselves and lined their own pockets but they gave full employment to an entire region for five whole years.

Two years on, what’s our opinion?

One thing that’s rarely mentioned is that they built up the MG brand to give it 21st century values. Under BMW, MG was just a heritage badge on a two seater. The Z range changed all that, giving Nanjing something tangible to build a business with.

The other thing they did, rightly or wrongly, was to behave as though MG Rover was a world-class cash-rich company. This caused us all to think that the company could be great again. They did nothing to suggest that funds were short. Expensive campaigns, expensive international flights, rear wheel 75s, facelifts and novelty versions like the Streetwise. The wool was pulled over our eyes so much that we expected them to win. We expected new models. I think even the competition thought they could do it (remember Audi’s annoyance at the V8 grille?)

It was this bluff that made the fall so much more painful. Those in the know noticed that they were desperate for investment and collaboration. The promise of the TCV made many of us see the company with rose-tinted glasses a little while longer.

Did this bluff actually cause the fall? Could they have survived if budgets were cut across the board and the management behaved in a more economic way?

On reflection I think not. I saw a new BMW advert on television this week. Everything about it impressed success. It’s that success that causes people to buy. No-one want’s to buy ‘the last chance saloon’ – that’s why MG Rover did their level best to let it appear to the outside world that all was rosy at Longbridge and it worked, for a while.

The Phoenix 4 did make many mistakes, many that are easy to spot with hindsight as well as enormous PR blunders. But short of sacking most of the staff and dramatically scaling down operations they had no other option but to court the Chinese. It was a big gamble and it nearly worked.

Business is like sport. You get nothing for entering the game, only for the winning.

The Phoenix 4: heroes that might have been.

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ONE of the reasons why MGR had to act as a world-class car maker was that the company was clearly for sale throughout this period. MGR Executives would regularly refer to their ‘stewardship’ of the compnmay – implying a short-term commitment between longer periods of ownership by someone else.

It is against this background that the company’s investment went into highly visible and marketable projects like the MG SV, the estate car world land speed record, the re-birth of the MG marque and the X-Power brand. What else could they have done but show off their best asset – engineering talent? There wasn’t the resource to put into ‘proper’ vehicle development without a partner willing to invest billions. RDX/60 would never have made
production without external investment. The fact that not one but three Chinese companies (Brilliance, Shanghai and Nanjing) seem to have come close to providing this in return for product development expertise illustrates the correctness of this policy.

My view has always been that the Phoenix 4 were on a hiding to nothing in 2000 – the company was doomed. They saved a few thousand jobs for five years and nearly made the company sustainable longer-term (by way of nearly selling it as a going concern to a company with better prospects). The immense income they took from the company was certainly questionable, but in this light there is a case for thinking it was justified.


22 February

Free Rover… and no catch


I’LL be honest with you – it’s not unusual for me to be offered free cars. In fact, I’ve been tempted by so many free cars that I could write a book about it (or at least I could if they were motors of the interesting variety). Anyway, it’s happened again, and only this time I find myself seriously tempted.

Okay, so the car in question is rare (these days), but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s also remarkably rot-free, and apart from a cold starting problem, looks ready to go. All I need to do is go and collect it… from Spain.

For me, that’s not too much of a problem, but what I thought I’d do before I go and do something too silly, is offer it out to the members of this website first. Perhaps there are some Rover 200 fans in Spain or Southern France, who fancy a crack at this car… and in the processs, give this fine piece of heritage the good home it so rightly deserves.

The owner, John Barlow, has this to say about his car: “It is a left hand drive 1988 model, and is generally tatty, but as it has lived it’s whole life down here there is virtually no rust, just a tiny bit around a wheelarch. It has a few dents where a kid jumped up and down on it when parked somewhere. The Radio Aerial is broken off and both door mirrors have been broken. I have screwed them back on and put new glass in them to get through the Spanish ITV (MoT) but only the drivers one is adjustable and then only from outside. Also the roof lining has come off.

“The automatic choke doesn’t work and it’s a bugger to start in the cold. However, once it’s started it runs pretty well and is quite quick. It has done 174,000 kilometers (105,000 miles). The tyres are legal and its ITV runs out in the middle of May.”

So, there you go… a free Rover, no catches, and it’s ready to go. There may be an adventure in it for me, but I reckoned it was only fair to give someone else a chance first. And if no one does, it looks like I’m off to sunny Spain!

If you’re interested, drop John a line on,, and tell him I sent you…

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21 February

Power for peanuts


I WROTE a blog on 6th November 2006 about how people just can’t seem to be bothered to fix old cars anymore, so to follow that up I thought I’d share with you the story of the above pictured Rover 620ti. I wasn’t looking for another car but I saw this one on ebay and as it was local to me with a Buy It Now of £250 I thought it was worth a look. Advertised as a non-runner because of the engine dying after the driver changed down to third gear at 90mph (which the ti usually relishes) he got it home and promptly went out and bought another car.

The 620ti can’t really be described as a technical tour-de-force so a few basic checks would hopefully lead to the fault. After checking the timing belt was still in one piece the engine cranked over well enough but just didn’t want to fire, which leaves either fuel or ignition. I decided to check the ignition system first and a test revealed a big spark from the king lead to the distributor cap but it wasn’t traversing to the spark plugs. I said to the owner you’re not going to put the price up if I get this going, are you? Nah, he sheepishly replied. Luckily, I had a spare distributor cap and rotor arm from a T-Series engine so I fitted them on, cranked over the engine, and vroom! 200bhp was once again on tap.

…this was as close to legally stealing
a car as I was likely to get.

The owner gazed on in astonishment.

A brief test drive revealed all was well; with only 87,000 miles under its fitted 16-inch Pirelli P-Zeros and 10 months MoT and 4 months tax and, as if it couldn’t get any better, a full tank of petrol, this was as close to legally stealing a car as I was likely to get. The cash was handed over and the seller was decent enough to deliver it for me as well.

Because of the failure of an £8 part it seemed to the previous owner that this car was beyond economic repair, yet, evidently, this car has so much more to give.

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YUP, been there, done that. I went to look at a Peugeot 405 Mi16 which had been advertised in Classic Car Weekly for £50 as a non-runner. Took a good friend with me, who knows a thing or two about electrics – and after disconnecting the aftermarket immobiliser it fired up straight away… I didn’t know quite how to handle the situation really, it’s always awkward.

Still, it’s nice to know you’ve saved a 620ti from a fate like death…


20 February

Will it make a difference?


IN case there is anyone who reads this site who hasn’t yet signed the online petition again road charging, may I urge you to do so right now. I’ll wait here while you go and do it right now…


Okay, now you’ve done that, you might be wondering why on Earth you should have done it, when there’s very little chance that the government is going to take any notice of this show of public dissatisfaction. It’s inevitable that road charging will happen – and whatever government we have in charge come 2010, there’s more than likely going to be the same outcome.

Well, this maybe the case – but there’s also the slim chance that maybe it won’t. And when you think of it like that, is taking out a minute of your time to add your name to this list such a hardship?

Personally speaking road charging is most definite a tax on the poor, and although the government wouldn’t like to admit it, there’s little likelihood that it will affect driving habits drastically. People will always want to shop where they want and educate their children at the best place open to them. It’s called freedom of choice, and it’s a concept that rapidly gained prominence during the 1980s… now we’ve all enjoyed a couple of decades of this, are we really going to turn our backs on it, and go all local again?

Of course not – and HM Government knows that. And that means we’ll continue to use our cars, no matter how much it costs us – and for the poor, that means proportionally spending more in order to enjoy the benefits of living in the society that the capitalist system has bestowed upon us during the last few decades.

But then again, we’re a large group – and with 30 million cars on the road, it’s fair to say that most of the electorate will be financially affected by this legislation.

If we’re really that against road pricing, perhaps use the petition as the beginning of a plan of action, and decide where to take it from there. We can overturn this policy if we really want to… but we really must want it. One only has to look at how the Poll Tax and the Fuel Accelerator policies were overturned by positive action.

Someone please think of a new protest that was as effective as the fuel blockades of 2000!

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19 February

Pathetic motorways?


Stepping back in time. (Picture: Pathetic Motorways website).

FIRST thing’s first – for me, a sign of a good website, for me, is that it holds my interest on the very first visit. If I dip in, and don’t come back out again until well after the time when most sane people have gone to bed, then it’s a success.

Last week, one of our forum’s correspondents posted a link to a site called, Pathetic Motorways. There was a single comment with it that went, “This site kept me up far too late the other night”… After spending several hours on there myself, it was clear that this was an understatement by a considerable margin.

Being into cars doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be into roads (and vice versa I guess), but I have to admit to having a fascination with the development of our transport network. The way that new routes are opened, thus making the existing byways redundant – and how once busy crosses become almost abandoned, leaving remnants of a bygone age, almost untouched for years to come.

Motorway building programmes also reflect the hopes and ambitions of planners from a previous era – and sometimes they reveal just how development doesn’t often go the way they were expecting. Look at the M18 and M180 to see what I mean… three-lane highways that serve areas that were ripe for expansion in the 1950s and 1960s, but which somehow never reached fruition.

My favourite ‘road to nowhere’ has to be
the the M45…

Abandoned projects can also show just how the planners were correct in how road use would expand – motorways that stretched from Manchester to Sheffield, or Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham would have alleviated years of frustration in these regions, but which never happened because of the financial morass our country found itself during the 1970s.

My favourite ‘road to nowhere’ has to be the the M45. Peel off the M1 (northbound) near Watford Gap services for a wonderful time travel experience. It’s possible to drive up this eight mile stretch of motorway and not see another car, thus experiencing first hand what it must have been like at the very dawn of the motorway era. Built in 1959, this two-lane section of motorway leaves the M1, and basically stops at a large roundabout near Dunchurch on the outskirts of Coventry… It was built as a spur to Coventry, but soon fell out of favour when the M6 was built a few years later.

Since then, it has remained almost untouched – a monument to a planning U-turn that saw the transport emphasis move to Northern Coventry.

Whatever the reasons for the abandonment of the M45, it allows us to truly experience what motorway travel was like in the 1960s – and that makes it an evocative diversion from the M1 for anyone – like me – who enjoys experiencing interesting roads. The fly-overs are the standard concrete design that fell out of favour shortly after this motorway was built (and many have since been removed from the M1), and there’s an almost complete lack of signposting (a blight on the modern landscape if you ask me). Okay, so most petrolheads might wonder why on earth this 15-minute trip can hold any fascination (it’s straight and almost deserted), but for those who hanker after a simpler era of motorway travel, this will be a magical mystery tour.

Just like the Pathetic Motorways website, I suspect…

Picture: The Motorway Archive


YOU are absolutely right about the M45 – it’s a real time-warp experience. I always used to think that it must have been built at the behest of Sir William Lyons. After all, it was a very handy piece of empty road for maxxing prototype Jaguars, almost on the doorstep of Browns Lane…

You didn’t have to go far down the M1 to turn round at the first Northampton junction, then come back and do the M45 in the opposite direction.

I’ve used it for years, and can’t recall ever seeing a police car on it.


I TOO used along the M45 quite a bit when travelling from my base in Worcs to meetings at Nissan’s technical centre in the mid to late 1990s. Used it to benchmark all of my cars performance. Some big dips in it though! Quite often used to see proto Jags doing slightly more than 70…

Forum Member, ‘Cheap620Si’

GOOD old M45! When I was working in Proto-build at Canley we used to use it as a ‘un-official’ road test route… I can definately confirm that it does have some rather big dips in it which you only notice when doing slightly more than 70… Before the Dunchurch junction opened there was literally no where plod could hide..

Forum Member, ‘John Dobedoe’

JUST read your “Pathetic Motorways” piece on the M45. I know what you mean about experiencing motorways as they were in the early days. Another interesting one for the same reason is the M58, up by Skelmersdale. I remember a colleague of mine once describing it as his “own, personal motorway” due to the singular lack of anything resembling traffic, even during “busy” periods.

You should try driving along it at about 7.00am on a Sunday in a Mark 4 Zodiac. You really do get the feeling that time has frayed a little bit around the edges. Spooky…

Keep up with the good work,


JUST catching up and saw your piece about the M45 – an old friend! When it opened, it was actually the northernmost point of the M1, inaugurated with due pomp and ceremony. I’m ancient enough to have watched the tape-cutting proceedings as a young lad and enjoyed the spectacle of the ‘meeja’ clustered around to interview the first intrepid motorist to set wheel on it – only to be almost run over by a little Thames van that charged through the assembled personages, not quite aware that it was making history.

Another point of interest. In a field on its left (when travelling towards M1), you’ll notice some circular brick structures – these are the vents from the 2400 yard long Kilsby railway tunnel, which apparently took 1250 men two years to build. In the Good Old Days, you’d occasionally see smoke coming out of them if a particularly hard-working steam train was passing underneath – the electric traisn that rush underneath them these days are a bit more house-trained, so no smoke unless something’s gone horribly wrong.

When M45 opened, the southernmost point was (I think) near Hemel Hempstead. One of the bridge parapets near there used to have a stone plaque with some chat about its being opened by Minister of Transport Marples (he of the ‘Marples Must Go‘ car stickers). Not sure if the plaque’s still there or if it’s been swallowed up by later road building operations.

TONY TURNER, Archivist and picture researcher, Classic Cars magazine

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17 February

800 frustrations


Looks good, doesn’t it?

As you may have read elsewhere, I’ve been trying in vain to put the finishing touches to my project Rover 800. After chasing out all the problems one by one, I’m left now with the ‘simple’ task of getting the remote central locking to work, and the immobiliser to behave how it should.

That would neccessitate the fitting of a new engine ECU and central control unit – or the repair of mine. Okay, so I took the cheap option of picking one up off eBay that should have worked as the seller described it as ‘matched’, but when it came down to it, I ended up with remote central locking, and a working alarm/immobiliser, but the engine steadfastly refused to fire.

Oh well.

So, now it’s down to being able to find someone to code my bits so they all work, or driving my three-speed 800 Coupe on its existing electronic gubbins to someone with a Testbook to reset mine. I can;t pretend I’m not disappointed by the latest turn of events, but I’m sure it’ll all get up and running again soon enough.

Of course, if there’s anyone in the East Midlands who can help out, either by re-coding the ECU/CCU/fob that I now have sat in a cardboard box in the boot of my 800 – or who can sort out the ones already on the car, I’d be very keen to hear from them. As the old cliche goes… there’s cash waiting…

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16 February

No gargoyles


Gerry McGovern: timeless his hair wasn’t, his designs however….

IT’S all about four-year model cycles these days, in a world where car design is constantly finding new directions to tempt the customer to the new car market. This means cars can tend to look dated very quickly, which was, undoubtedly, a great problem for MGR who’s cars just couldn’t compete against newer competition – take the ancient 45 versus, say a Megane or New Astra and you can see the age of it’s design as clear as day.

Some designs, however, just seem to keep their freshness, perhaps the Ford Ka or the Mazda MX-5 (original) spring to your minds. A different two cars that also seem to have pulled this of, came from the troubled world of the BAe run Rover Group. The R8 may have been a run away success but this saw no end to BAe’s penny pinching, which makes the enduring achievement of the two cars even more remarkable.

These two cars are both a testament to McGovern’s styling, the first of which is the MGF. This was a car which was never quite lived up to the sporty-ness the motoring press expected of it, and despite this continued to be a best seller right up until the end of MGR in 2004.

Now we see it planned for a re-launch, and if a BBC news report is anything to go buy it will continue to sell well. Bare in mind this is a car launched 12 years ago now, and though it was treated to a mild facelift from Peter Stevens the overall style of penned by McGovern remains.

However it is the Land Rover Freelander that has not been taken away from McGovern’s hands throughout the existence of the nameplate. Launched in 1997, it was replaced by and all new model ten years later, like the MGF it was still selling well when it was axed. It too was treated to a facelift, this time headed by McGovern himself, and also like the TF it required minimal adjustments to keep it competitive.

Still more impressive than the longevity of the model is the similarity the 2007 model bears to the one launched ten years before. I would go as far as saying the similarity is almost absolute, how often do you see a mid-1990s car replaced in the 2000s by something that looks almost exactly the same? The main differences I can see are the removal of most black plastic, and the fact that the b pillar has now been blacked out (something that was planned for the ’97 model but never made it into production).

Reading this site I came across the quote, “Most of all, it’s an absence of gimmicks. Look at the cars we consider classics: the proportions are right from all angles, and they don’t need much ornamentation. That’s the secret – no gargoyles“, this is from McGovern on his work on the Freelander, and it is quite easy to see how this is the reason behind the success of his designs, and perhaps all good designs.

I hope you’re left applauding Gerry McGovern as I was; he managed to come up with two designs that have looked fresh, way past the sell by date of most modern day vehicles. Bravo McGovern and Bravo Roy Axe for discovering such talent.

The cues remain the same: the camera angle has made a bigger change than the styling.

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15 February

Copyright madness


I LOVE the BBC – and have defended it so many times to my friends I’ve lost count. I think it’s a uniquely British organization that is we’d all be a lot worse off for if it didn’t exist in its current form. There are MGR zealots out there who may complain that its coverage of the 2005 events weren’t exactly unbiased, but from my viewpoint (an interested, but unrelated observer), I think the Corporation’s news team played it just right.

According to Wikipedia‘s entry, it’s massive, too…

The British Broadcasting Corporation, usually known as the BBC (and also informally known as the Beeb or Auntie) is the largest broadcasting corporation in the world in terms of audience numbers, employing 26,000 staff in the UK alone and with a budget of more than £4 billion.

So, with that in mind (the scale of the corporation’s finances), I was disappointed to find that it had played the Copyright hand on a YouTube video that we’d linked to from the site earlier this week. If you click the image below a couple of times, you’ll see what we mean.

Taken from an episode of Top Gear in 1991, a young Jeremy Clarkson gave his views on the newly-introduced R17 incarnation of the Rover 800… and it wasn’t all negative. However, despite there being little likelihood of this episode ever being repeated on the BBC (or the UKTV network, judging by its current obsession with the Dunsfold-era incarnation of the show), the clip has been pulled from the video-sharing website.

Okay, it’s true that this was Copyrighted material, but at the same time, had it not been for an enterprising YouTube user, this entertaining archive material may never have seen the light of day again. And it begs the question – if the BBC is so zealously guarding its copyrighted material, why not take it in-house, and offer archive clips such as these via its own website? After all the amount of achived car-related material the BBC has will be phenomenal…

It’s licence payer money that paid for the show originally, as well as its wonderful website… so why not give a little more back than it already does? Isn’t that what public-service broadcasting is all about?

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I’VE just read your blog entry about the BBC. I was wondering if you’ve seen this yet:

…in which they’re asking people how important they feel having archive material available online is (amongst several other online services).

They’re also asking people how important they feel it is to not make their online services reliant on proprietary Microsoft software. I hold the BBC in the same regard as you seem to. I wouldn’t like to see their archives at the mercy of Microsoft’s closed ‘standards’.


12 February

China syndrome


Final assembly of TFs confirmed for Longbridge…

SO, who’s actually going to buy one of the new Longbridge-assembled TFs, then? We all know the model’s weaknesses and its now confused-parentage – and now that the new MX-5’s up and running, this car, with its roots planted firmly in the early-1990s is surely going to be dead in the water before it even goes on general release… and that’s notwithstanding the fact that it appears to be almost unchanged from the same cars that rolled off the Longbridge production line when MG Rover was calling the shots.

Well, you know what – I reckon I’d still buy one. Bear with me on this. I’ve always liked the look and feel of the MGF and TF, and although there might be a soft-spot in my heart for a car with such obvious heritage in it, I also know that dynamically, it’s actually still pretty darned good. Or at least it was in 2005.

Okay, so Longbridge is now being seen (rather modestly in my view) as a final assembly operation for NAC-MG, but with the shells being pressed here, and that process taking place in the heart of the old factory, it’s going to be as British as it ever was. Yes, it’s aging, and the look is all-too-familiar, but for convertible buyers, some of those cold, hard factors that affect new car buying simply don’t stand up to continued scrutiny.

No, I reckon with the right kind of marketing (five year warranty, and an emphasis on under-the-skin engineering improvements) it could well meet those modest sales targets NAC-MG set for it. After all, it’s true to say that many buyers aren’t too fussed about the finer points of a car’s place of birth – only whether it looks and feels good, wears the right badge, and comes at a favourable price. Well, there’s no doubting the looks and feel, and that the MG badge is still the de facto name for small open-topped sportscars… so it’s just down to NAC-MG to get the financial package right…

Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I really do see a healthy market niche for the re-born TF. Please NAC-MG, don’t screw up this great opportunity to impress your audience…

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9 February

Back from Poland


Keith tries to not look too bored with the 55mph cruise through Germany (honestly, this is not Birmingham)…

WELL that’s it – the Rover SD1 has found a new home in the former Eastern Bloc, and it’s set to remain there until Christmas. If you’ve not been keeping up with current events on this website, you’ll probably not know that I had taken my SD1 to Poland in order for it to receive a full restoration – if that seems a little drastic, consider that the site’s Deputy Ed, Alexander Boucke, has already done this (from Germany) and the results have been truly stunning.

Anyway, armed with little more than an address, a trailer, a 1988 Range Rover, a bunch of parts (taken from the stock re-discovered at the Standard Motor Products factory in India by Rimmer Bros), and – of course – my rotten SD1, I headed out to Germany in search of a high-quality, but fairly priced restoration.

If you’re not aware of it, the Polish garage trade has a truly unique reputation for craftsmanship and quality, and Alexander’s talk of £2000 restorations seemed too good to be true. Given that I bought this wonderful car from Andy Jones well over a year now, and it had laid dormant in the yard of a local garage since then, I decided it was time to take action. The decision to send it eastwards was a simple one, and determined purely by malace – I had become heartily sick of the British motor trade’s ambivalence towards old cars, and of those who deemed my car worthy of a look, nearly all to a tee decided to suck air through clenched teeth and then pluck a laughable figure from the air in order to frighten me off.

Well, it worked guys… you win.

And for all those who ask, “why?” I say,
“why the hell not?”. Let’s make the
European Union work for us for a change.

However, although taking the car to Poland might seem a little bit extreme, consider the economics for a moment. If indeed a garage out there could deliver a £2000 restoration, then it would undercut its British counterparts by a factor of 50 per cent. Not only that, but a car worth £3K suddenly looks repairable, rather than just a source of spares for the kit car trade.

Anyway, after the two-day trek across Europe, we arrived at the garage of our choice… and were met with the friendliest bunch of mechanics you’d ever likely see. And once the car was on the ramps, they were soon on top of the SD1’s myriad of weaknesses. Yes, there was a language barrier – and because of the presence of a TV crew (more of that in the full article), we had the advantage of an interpretor. But in all, we soon got down to brass tacks, and a deal was struck.

In the end, our estimate came up to €2500 – which considering the extent of the work (and trust me, although the car looks okay in the pictures, it’s not) that will need doing is fine with me. Given the cost of the panels, and travel out there, we should remain within our £3000 budget, and for that, we’ll have a wonderfully original early (single strap!) SD1. Roll on Christmas – the deadline I gave them to have it all done…

For all those people out there who ask, “can I do it?”, the answer is most certainly a resounding “yes”… All you need is the Internet, a few language skills, and a bit of savvy.

And for all those who ask, “why?” I say, “why the hell not?”. Let’s make the European Union work for us for a change…

Click here for the full story…

Heritage convoy: It’s nice to see that V8 power took my similarly engined SD1 all the way to Poland in one piece (this really is not Birmingham!). God bless that lump of aluminium under the bonnet.

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8 February

Harry Webster


UPON my return to the UK, I was saddened to hear about the death of Harry Webster. This great man was instrumental in the fortunes of the Standard Motor Company, and then Triumph’s, success during the post-war era, and in doing so, helped created some of the most remarkable cars the British motor industry has ever seen.

I personally never met Harry, respecting the wishes of a close friend of his who asked me to respect his wish for solitude, when I tried to arrange an interview a couple of years ago, and he was a character I’d have dearly loved to have chewed the fat with. After all, for anyone to engineer the range of cars that he did certainly deserved all the credit coming his way.

Still, his is a legacy that will live on for many, many years to come. His loss to motoring history is a massive one.

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2 February

Polish adventure


AS per usual – any big journey I plan seems to be ages away… and then all of a sudden, there’s ground-rush, and I’m packing to leave. Tomorrow, I’m borrowing a classic Range Rover from the nice people at Rimmer Bros, hooking their trailer up to it, and am driving off to Poland. On the way, I’ll be picking up my 1976 Rover SD1 for the longest journey it’s ever been on.

The idea of taking it out to Poland is a simple one – I’ve seen the restorations that these guys do, and they are very good, and I want some of that for my car. Okay, there’s the small aspect of cost, but we reckon all in, the restoration will cost about £1500, which I am sure you’ll agree, is a very respectable figure, for what is effectively a lot of work.

Considering that to get the welding alone done here in the UK costs £800 (at mate’s rates), and you can see that there’s plenty of saving to be had. I’ll let you know how the journey goes – and whether I bring something back with me, too, but for now, that means the site – and its blogs – are left in the very capable hands of Brian Gunn.

If you have anything you’d like to contribute to the ‘blogs’ or ‘have your say page’, drop him a line, and he’ll add it.

Wish me luck!

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1 February

Sorry guys… (I think)


It’s not a Rover… bet you didn’t guess that…

YEP, another month’s blogs page begins with an image of a car that looks distinctly un-Rover-like. The reason for the ugly car above is simple – I’ve been on the prowl for a replacement ‘family’ car for my Alfa 156, and after seriously considering a BMW M5 (E34 generation), I decided to bottle out – once again – and go for something a little more sensible.

Or did I? My new chariot is a 1996 Saab 9000 Aero, which has led a very sheltered life. Two owners from new – both Saab nuts – and whatever this car has needed by way of servicing, repairs or upgrades, it has received. Poly-bushed all round, treated to brand new (OEM) wheels a year ago, fitted with a Abbott Racing sports exhaust system – and lavishly serviced every 6000 miles, this surely must be a dream secondhand car – especially at the price level.

Of course, the fact that it’s powered by a supremely torquey 2.3-litre HOT turbo, pushing out a claimed 225bhp (my last Aero did 256bhp on the rolling road before being tweaked – and this one feels faster), had some bearing on my decision to buy the car – but the fact that relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf mods will see it deliver 300bhp mean that it actually ticks most of those boxes I set myself last December, when I declared my filthy secret about hankering after a Bimmer…

And on just about every Rover I’ve owned,
I’ve had to spend time and money fixing
other people’s bodges…

Okay, so it’s front wheel drive, and it needed tweaking to deliver what I required, there were so many upsides to my last Aero, I couldn’t resist taking the plunge again. Driving the thing got me thinking, though – not so much about the car, but about its owners.

Allow me to explain – as regular readers will know, I already own a 1996 Rover 825 Coupe (which cost a similar amount to the Saab when new), which has covered a similar amount of miles to the Saab. However, one feels baggy, tired, unloved – and when I take it any distance it’s with crossed fingers, whereas the other, I’d be confident to take anywhere.

Can you guess which is which?

And on just about every Rover I’ve owned, I’ve had to spend time and money fixing other people’s bodges – something I’ve yet to encounter with any of the Saabs that have crossed my path. We currently own a 1989 900 T16S Aero, which still solid, and dependable today. It has 176,000 miles on the clock, and everything still works – can you imagine saying that about a 1989 Rover 800 Vitesse after a similar mileage?

I’m not sure that the engineering in the Saab 9000 is anymore rugged than that in the Rover 800 – and yet, here we are… a typical 9000 with everything working. Could you find an 800 Vitesse Sport in the same condition so readily? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking Rovers, but there does seem to be something that happens to them when they fall into the hands of their second or third owners… they get fixed on the cheap and run into the ground. Why is that?

And you just know that the owner will blame it on ‘being a bloody Rover’ when it packs up on him (or her).

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INTERESTING theory about the Saab and owners, but I’m not sure it can be born out. In Summer 1986 my father and the father of a friend both bought themselves a new car. In my father’s case an 825i, in my friend’s father’s case an early Saab 9000 turbo. Although owned privately, both were maintained by their companies, so presumably on a cost-no-object basis, and both cars were kept for some time (14 years in the case of the SAAB, eight for the Rover) and covered about 150k miles each.

So, how did they do?

The Rover was sold in 1994, by which time it was decidedly tatty, a bit rusty and had suffered a couple of big ticket failures (needing a new gearbox in about 1992 was a particular source of grief, I seem to remember). Various bits had fallen off. While it was basically reliable, it was beginning to look awful. Once sold (for £850 I think) it became a minicab and appears (from the DVLA’s website) to have been scrapped sometime in 1996.

The Saab continued to look pretty good (at least on the outside) until it was sold in 2000 (it was a bit creaky by then).

So, in conclusion, maybe the underlying engineering of both cars was similarly robust, but the Rover fell to bits a lot quicker, and that sealed its fate.


Keith Adams

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