Blogs : January 2007

30 January

Doblò or quits…


UNLIKE some others on I seem to have slightly missed the point of CHPD in that I try and change my cars as often as I can but buying retail and less than two years old. Ouch. Depreciation. So after some stinkers and understanding how much depreciation can hurt, what have I now bought? A Fiat? Ha. Depreciation suicide eh! And not just a cute little supermini but a fully fledged oddball Doblò . Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope. Is it a van? Sort of but it’s got seats and windows and everything, so no. Is it a car? Maybe, but it looks like a van and is based on a van. So what is it? It’s a utility mini-MPV I guess!

How on earth can Fiat have the wacky mini MPV Multipla and the Doblò in the same market place? The Multipla is big on passenger space and seats 6 and has strange strange (read commercial disaster) styling while the Doblò has 5 seats, loads of load space and, er, strange, strange styling. So far, so weird.

So, what is it like to drive? The version tested is the 1.9 Multijet diesel with 105bhp. With 2000 miles accumulated in the first three weeks, the engine has certainly loosened up but is still a bit slow, especially when compared to the 4 year old demonstrator I drove which was plucked straight from the used lot. It all suggests that it will be a revtastic little unit once it has done 10,000 miles plus. Maybe it is the fact that 105bhp from a1.9 diesel is fairly tame these days but it is so much more docile than the last diesel I drove a 130bhp Mondeo TDCi with a far nicer clutch action. It also seems to pull a relatively high first gear so the engine seems to pull for a long time before the first change. I guess it’s all a matter of taste, but low first gears which need a near immediate change do nothing for me although they probably are of use for outright performance or towing!

I do like the Italian sense of fun too. It’s a low revving engine by its nature but there is a 7000rpm tachometer with no redline and so far I haven’t managed to hit the limiter. The way it goes it all rather reminiscent of my old TD Maestro but with more torque, less noise and less lag.

How on earth can Fiat have the wacky
mini-MPV Multipla and the Doblò in the
same market place?

Underway, it all feels very nice and nippy not modern repmobile fast. The still tight engine clocked over 100 on a fairly accurate speedo but I suspect that it was poor aerodynamics and surprising weight that blunted its performance. A chipped version or the 120bhp offering would be an interesting comparison. Economy suffers once you past 60mph and 50mpg and a constant cruise at 85 would see a rather shocking 35mpg although it doesn’t feel stressed. For comparison, at 85mph a Mondeo would return 45mpg.

Handling wise the appearance of the Doblò doesn’t inspire confidence. At 180cm (that’s £3 10s 6d in old money) it’s certainly tall and those wheels look rather small on it. It rolls plenty but can be hustled fairly well with an eye to the right line through a bend, but obviously it wasn’t intended as a sports car. Those A-Team style sliding side doors and huge tailgate are its raison d’etre. Its interior is a bit Spartan and the plastics are laughably hard and, um durable by the class leading German standards of soft, tactile easily wearing rubberised trim and switches.

So, the question really is what is the attraction of the Doblò? Well, for me it is the sheer versatility and lofty driving position and the slightly agricultural feel. It all reminds me of a lighter Discovery. My 1995 300 Tdi which I owned briefly last year felt very similar to drive. It’s an interesting comparison in these days of environmental awareness and of many people regarding 4x4s as pariahs. The Doblò puts out the same CO2 in official figures as many repmobiles and far less than a Disco while it offers similar accommodation. I wouldn’t even venture an argument that it can tow well or go off-road but how many of them are just Chelsea tractors that occasionally mount pavements. Even the quality rivals Land Rovers too; it’s a Fiat so you can be certain of some of them being incredibly fault-free whilst other identical models of the same age will suffer catalogues of niggling faults.

It’s all such a good idea that you wonder why nobody tried it before (accepting that the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner Combi etc are all in the same mould). Then it struck me that the Matra Rancho was there first in the early 1980s all faux 4×4 and two wheel drive 1442cc Alpine engine. What an impression it didn’t make on the sales charts, just like the Doblò! Just imagine what a runaway sales success a two wheel drive entry-level vehicle it would be if it was built by Land Rover. You could even call it Road Rover or even Rover for short.

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29 January



WHEN Austin Rover launched the MG Montego Turbo in 1984 they felt that as it was their first real high performance saloon some form of introductory training to its characteristics would be necessary. Rather than offer driver training to every buyer, Austin Rover presented a gift pack with every Montego Turbo comprising of a pair of MG Turbo key fobs, a Swiss watch or ladies burgundy leather brief case, a gift for the owners partner, a cleaning cloth, and a special eight minute video showcasing the MG Montego Turbo’s potential.

The video was presented by TV’s Return of The Saint star Ian Ogilvy whilst the driving is left to BTCC driver Steve Soper, who was at that time driving in the BTCC for Austin Rover in a TWR prepared Rover Vitesse and also worked on some chassis development of the Montego Turbo.

Thrashing the squealing tyred Montego Turbo around the heavily Austin Rover sponsored Thruxton circuit in Hampshire much is made of the good points of the Montego Turbo, but you won’t hear the words ‘torque steer’ anywhere in the video though Soper does manage to get up to 125mph (close up of the dials to prove) before it’s taken out onto the open road for a more sedate drive back to London, showing that the Montego Turbo is just as at home on the track as it is on A roads, while Ogilvy does his best to try and make the script seem spontaneous.

…there are stacks of footage in the
BMIHT archive of more recent BMC>Rover
cars that we’re being deprived of.

This video is now nearly twenty-three years old and it’s great to watch as piece of motoring nostalgia, as it was the first and last time a presentation video was done for a single car from Austin Rover. Austin Rover went on a video frenzy during the Eighties and early Nineties with service bulletins and fixes being regularly released on video for dealerships, and they are now rare collectors items.

Whether Motorfilms, who now make most of the BL archive films from BMIHT available, intend to release it in some sort of compilation remains to be seen, though there are stacks of footage in the BMIHT archive of more recent BL/MG/Rover cars that we’re being deprived of.

And I wonder how many gift packs are still around?

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24 January

Modern Generation


CAR advertising has changed dramatically in the last few years. There are now no mention of features, power, comfort or even safety. Instead it’s all about lifestyle choice by picturing the car as aggressive, mysterious, fun or as a giant morphing transformer.

Whatever MG do with their advertising it has to be spectacular. It has to build on the brand as a must-have-to-be-cool. It must instantly make every BMW look like as dull and common as a Mark IV Cortina and anyone who chooses a BMW a boring norm.

Just being ‘good’ is not only not enough, it’s actually counter productive. The brand has to be dangerous, naughty, cool, irreverent and cunning. To me that’s what New MG should be (which it was with the ‘Your mother wouldn’t like it’ tag). MG Rover’s Z series went a long way into beginning this route and they should be applauded for re-launching MG to the point that were still even talking about it now. But they were still old world and small ‘c’ conservative in their marketing. They should have turned to the talents of with his in-yer-face edginess.

MGs were never really cutting edge white heat of technology. They were never a grande marque aka Bentley or even Jaguar. They were a cheeky upstart born out of a dirty Abingdon garage re-tuned and re-styled by dedicated hands-on engineers who produced unlikely world-class sports cars on a shoestring budget.

Fast forward to today and the essence of those values still stands. MG’s mission statement should include ‘it can’t be done – but we did it anyway’. An MG is the working class kid who didn’t pay attention at school but through enterprise, talent and hard work went on to rule the roost, scoffing at the MBAs of the business world who can’t understand how she’s made it.

An MG doesn’t even need to stick two fingers up at the Eurobox cars… she just grins, knowing that both car and driver are having far more fun.

The Modern Generation uses it’s initiative. Life’s too short to worry what other people think. The Modern Generation will lead, not follow. It has nothing to be embarrassed about, no apologies to make, no excuses to give. It’s not about style. It’s about life. An MG is alive.

Live MG.

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23 January

Knowing where to go for the information


WITH everything that’s going on in China at the moment, it pays to know where to go in order to keep up with the information on ‘our’ cars as it’s happening. Unlike the European industry, where all new car work is performed under the strictest levels of secrecy, the Chinese manufacturers like to keep the people informed of their progress.

However there is a slight language barrier (and that can contribute to the wall of silence from NAC-MG and Roewe that us Brits feel there is) – and that’s where some knowledge of where to go for the information in English comes in handy. At the moment, there are two data streams heading my way – an ongoing thread on the forum, which rolls on daily, and keeps us up to date with all the Chinese news – handily translated by keen enthusiasts.

Much of the news that several magazines have ‘broken’ has come from this thread – and if it weren’t for it, many of us might be struggling to fill column inches.

There’s also the rather excellent China Car Times, which has been online for some time now – and thanks to the efforts of the site’s creator Ash Sutcliffe, it continues to surprise and delight. I must admit I rather like that site – and not only for its information out-flow. Ash is a consumate writer, and has a keen nose for an interesting story – and although he’s a keen amateur, I reckon he’s surely a candidate for a full-time membership of the ‘Rotter’s Club’ (i.e., motoring journalist)…

Anyway, take a look and let us know what you think… you might not agree with the Chinese takeaway of MG Rover, but you can’t fault this site’s reporting of the current affairs.

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22 January

Oh the joy…


AFTER months of not driving a BMC>Rover, it was interesting to re-discover the joys of ‘heritage’ motoring. When we drove the Metro Vanden Plas back from South Yorkshire, it was the dead of the night, and I think in the 100 mile trip, we only encountered one car – the nearest I think you’ll get to motoring nirvana here in the crowded South Eastern corner of the UK.

Anyway, driving at that time of night meant that I was spared the joys of the bullying, arrogant, typically class conscious British driver – and it meant I could bond with the little Vanden Plas without feeling like a social pariah.

However, on Friday I finally managed to get my 800 Coupe taxed and insured, and decided to take it for a test run to ensure all was in good order. Although the car was typically enjoyable to drive, there’s less pleasure to be derived from being carved up by all and sundry – and being faced down in all one-on-one situations. After a while you kinda get used to being regarded as a second class citizen because you choose to drive an obsolete and unfashionable motor, wearing a Rover nameplate. In fact, it becomes so normal, it’s easy to begin to assume that everyone is treated equally roughly on the roads. But when you’ve spent time away driving something more highly regarded by ‘Johnny Public’ (the Alfa 156, and before that, a Saab Aero), a return to the home team brings it all back into sharp focus.

Although my 800 was typically enjoyable
to drive, there’s less pleasure to be
derived from being carved up
by all and sundry…

Drive a Rover, and you’re a target.

Still, if you think that’s bad, try getting behind the wheel of a Metro. Take it out onto the open road, and drive the same speed as everyone else, and you’ll soon find that your back bumper exerts a magnetic influence on the following car. They’ll drive so close that when you look in the rear view mirror, you’ll see nothing but the whites of your pursuer’s eyes – and that’s not a nice feeling, even if you’re an old hand at this driving lark.

So, does driving a BMC>Rover bring out the anger (that’s barely hidden beneath the surface) of everyone else on the road? Does seeing a Metro on the road in front of the average driver urge them to go for the overtake?

This is probably the wrong forum to ask the question, but someone out there might have some interesting insights…

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YOUR latest blog touched a nerve. Since I got Gatsoed, I’ve been driving my 75 Tourer more or less by the book, even to the extent of regularly using cruise control to keep to 30/40/50 limits. Whenever I do this, though, there’s always some Herbert (or, increasingly, a Herbertess) trying to climb in through the tailgate. One can almost sense them saying ‘old man in a Rover’, especially since, in defiance of Jeremy Clarkson, I usually wear a hat. (Well it saves the following driver from being dazzled by the reflection off my head, and the brim is often useful to shade out low sun).

Do people discriminate against Rovers or older cars generally ? Well, if they do, we must all learn to treat them with the contempt they deserve. Can I also suggest that we all go out of our way to help each other ? If you see someone in one of ‘our’ cars waiting in a side turn, go out of your way to let them out. This is especially satisfying if it annoys the guy behind you in a BMW. Conversely, without condoning discourtesy or dangerous driving, I have admit that I would never go out of my way to let a BMW out of a side turning.

At least, not until Hell freezes over…


19 January

Mutual recognition


THERE was a storm yesterday in Holland – not the perfect time to drive my 1999 Mini-Cooper. On a rain-gushed road, loaded with trucks and bland modern cars, such as the usual offerings from VWs, BMWs, Ford and the Japanese manufacturers, I realised I was cars I was alone in my British beauty.

Suddenly, while I was waiting at the traffic lights, I saw an MG Maestro coming the other way. I wasn’t quick enough to see the number plate, but it was an absolute beauty. He saw me, flashed his lights and gave me the thumbs up he passed. It had been a hard day at the office, I was tired, but the reaction from that car’s driver made my day!

In my town (14,000 inhabitants) there are two Minis left, and three Rovers… and that’s it. Years ago, there were two BL dealers, and now nothing is left. Your site gives reminds me that I am not the only fan of the marque, but sometimes I can’t help but feel a little lonesome.

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18 January

Sparking a storm


IT would seem that from the steady stream of emails from the site’s correspondents that our man, Roger Blaxall’s, road test of the MX-5 has created a fair bit of controversy. In it, he hoped that this year’s re-invigorated MG TF would be good enough to take on the Mazda head to head in a straight fight, and re-establish the MG marque as a premier producer of budget sportscars.

Of course, with Mazda’s huge development budget and enormous experience at building fun and affordable roadsters, you’d think that it was advantage Japan at every twist and turn. Certainly when the MGF and MX-5 Mk 2 were contemporaries – and new and shiny on the marketplace – it was always the case that in any logical confrontation, the Mazda would walk away with the spoils.

And yet…

In the UK, the MG went on to out-sell the Mazda handsomely. Why would that be?

Did the MG name still have that old magic, even though its re-bodied mid-engined Metro was built on a shoestring and had a less than exemplary record in the service bays? It would certainly seem so – and that being the case, despite NAC-MG’s less than huge development budget, and the fact that this year’s version of the TF will be merely a warmed over of the original, it may well still do the business – in the UK anyway. The trouble is that the trade won’t have forgotten the MG TF’s less than stellar reliability ratings, and perhaps the public will feel less than confident about buying a car from a manufacturer which has been out of business for two years.

Logic would suggest that there wouldn’t be a chance in hell – and that MG’s name has been dragged through the mud too much in the past few years. However, buyers rarely follow logic – and the MG name still has some magic. Whether the Chinese connection will be a help or hindrance is another matter – after all, few people worry about the American ownership of Jaguar, Ford and Land Rover, or MINI’s German parentage.

We’ll be watching this one with interest…

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17 January

Know your opposition


LAST night, I ended up driving home in a 1994 Ford Fiesta Si. As is always the case with my motoring meanderings, it’s always nice to try something new, no matter what – and although I’ve driven plenty of Fiestas in my 20-year driving life, I’d never tried one of these ‘sporting’ versions.

Powered by the new-fangled Zeta (later to become Zetec) engine, the Si version heralded the arrival of twin-cams to Ford’s entry level model, and its first faltering step into the 1990s. I have to say that the first thing that strikes me about the Fiesta Mk 3 (and all its derivatives) is the grown up driving position, and general air of a car that’s shed its supermini heritage. The inside story was certainly not disastrous, and was good enough to question the reason for spending more on the horrendous Escort of the same vintage.

However, beyond that, there was little positive to be gained from the experience. Despite being newer than Rover’s K-Series engine, the 1.6-litre Zeta couldn’t be mentioned in the same breath – despite being willing to rev, it sounded as rough as a chain-smoker’s cough, and didn’t really develop much in the way of meaningful power. The torque characteristics were nice enough, though, which at least meant you were spared the pain of extending this nail to keep up with the traffic.

…despite being willing to rev, it
sounded as rough as a chain-
smoker’s cough, and didn’t really
develop much in the way of
meaningful power.

Dynamics weren’t bad in absolute terms, with grip and roadholding on the fair side – and the ride wasn’t disastrous either. However, at no point was there any real connection with the car, with all the major controls feeling rubberised and numb. In essence, this was a conveyance, and little more – and yet, it’s easy to see why so many were sold (in the context of going against an on-form Rover offering its strongest range in years).

The Fiesta Si was an eye-opener for me, because although it’s clearly a car that the public wanted, it also showed that they deserved so much more. Okay, the Metro of this era was a far smaller car, compromised by its driving position, but my goodness, it was engineered more thoroughly – and was a dynamic masterpiece in comparison.

But the sad fact is that driving this Fiesta brought it home just how much Rover ended up being hurt by not introducing an all-new supermini instead of the re-engineered Metro, back in 1990. The petite and old-looking Metro hid its wonderful engineering under a bushel, whereas the Fiesta’s more modest portfolio of strengths was there for all to see on the shortest of test drives.

And in that, we have yet another contributing factor to the death of Rover 15 short years later…

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12 January

It’s back


Ford’s cool Interceptor concept…

AS per usual, the Detroit Motor Show has delivered a number of exciting concept cars. Here in the UK, our attention has been focused on the sublime Jaguar C-XF, but there have been plenty of cars to keep lovers of American muscle more than happy – such as the Ford Interceptor featured here.

Okay, the real star was the new hybrid Toyota supercar, but take a look at the new Camaro, for instance, and you’d be hard pushed not to come to the conclusion that we’re living through a new golden era of the automotive industry. American concept cars have been glorious creations in the past few years, but this one I really like, and you only have to look at the Interceptor concept to see what I mean – I suspect anyone with a penchant for the Allegro may feel the same when they see the interior rendering.

Yep, that’s right – the quartic wheel is back. Unlike previous efforts, this one really is quartic in the way that the Allegro Mk I was. Will it make production? Probably not, but it’s nice to believe that the guys in Detroit had stole a quick glimpse at some of Harris Mann’s renderings when they concocted this marvellous interior for the Interceptor concept!

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GREAT picture of the Ford concept car with the Quartic steering wheel but please, don’t blame Harris Mann unfairly; the quartic was a David Bache creation! See page 122 in the excellent Jeff Daniels book “BL: The Truth About the Cars“. [And of course, here – Ed].


WHILE there may be similarities in basic dimensions to the XF concept and and probably enjoys parts-bin cost savings, the Lincoln MKR is based on Mustang mechanicals, a much cruder and cheaper option. No amount of tweaking by Jaguar’s chassis tuners could it close to the standards required by customers and road testers.

This wouldn’t, however, prevent the production of the XF in the USA (or anywhere else in the world). Tooling probably exist in some form leftover from LS production and could relatively easily be setup somewhere in the Ford empire, witness the fairly rapid transfer of Rover 75 production from Cowley to Longbridge once BMW disappeared from view.


11 January

You cannot keep class down


SPOTTED by colleague Richard Gunn while he was in Latvia during the New Year period. Although he was over there in a festive capacity (something to do with beautiful women, apparently), he generously spared some time to photograph some of the more interesting cars in the Riga area.

Although I expected a nice selection of Lada or Skoda photographs in my inbox when he mentioned this to me, imagine my surprise when I ended up looking at a bunch of Latvian Rovers. I must admit that I know that there are a few Rovers out in Eastern Europe – I’d seen plenty while I was out in Poland last year – but it’s good to see that the cars that are seen as uneconomical to repair in countries such as Germany and France can still be put to good use elsewhere.

It makes one realise that the tens of thousands of perfectly good cars, which are being scrapped here in the UK are being done so for no good reason.

Anyway, it’s good to see these cars enjoying a second chance in the East, and hopefully we’ll see a new group of enthusiasts, captivated by the products of Longbridge and Cowley. If you own a Rover and live in Eastern Europe, we’d love to hear from you…

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NO surprise to see Rovers valued more abroad than here.

As a nation, we’re pretty good at doing ourselves down. Many Brits moan about MGR and its cars, but we put up with worse trouble from foreign cars without a murmur. Our German-built Vauxhall cost us more in repairs in our first year of ownership than our Rover has in six years. A friend of mine had to re-pipe a Citroen BX diesel about 1990 – cost £1200 – about the value of the car!

I once visited Madrid, and was amazed at the number of Rovers and Range Rovers I saw there. A few days in rural Italy in 1999 produced every then-current Rover body style except one (200 coupe, I think). I flew into Stuttgart in 1990, and the second car I saw, behind our Merc taxi, was a Montego. Only the French wouldn’t buy them – no surprise there!


10 January

Why the XF will help turn around Jaguar


OKAY, so the C-XF is a concept car for the world’s press in Detroit, and the production version is going to look a bit less extreme around the roofline, but the signs are good for Jaguar’s next generation executive.

Underneath it’ll be mainly based on the underpinnings of the outgoing S-TYPE, but having sampled the Type-R version some months back, I think it’s fair to say that if the XF builds on these foundations, there’s nothing to worry about.

Of course that brings us back to the old issue of retro, and has been seen time and time again, it’s a subject thta sparks healthy debate. However, the bottom line is that in the 1950s, and 1960s, Jaguar’s most groundbreaking cars didn’t have a hint of retro about them, so why should they now? I suspect it only happened as a design policy because of the unexpected success of the X300…

So, we shall see. Will the new and edgy – driver focused – Jaguar be suitable rival for BMW?

I like to think the answer is ‘yes’ – but please Ford, don’t lose faith now, and do something silly like sell the company. You’ll kick yourself if another company enjoys the fruits of your labour for the sake of some short-term pain.

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9 January

With the Ambassador you get so much more…


I VISIT your website regularly. It´s a very nice piece of work on the web. Good to know that there is still a number of Austin Rover loyalists.

I looked at the Top 10 with a smile. Some ratings were easy to comprehend in my eyes whereas in some respects I have a different opinion. Above all there is one car which might be no candidate for an automobile hall of fame in most people’s eyes but which still is my personal favourite: the Ambassador.

No, I’m not kidding. Okay, I have never owned an Ambassador myself (I’m from Germany and unfortunately there has never been a LHD-version of this car) and I know most of the things said about the Ambassador from sluggish performance to questionable qualtiy but there are many good things which seem to have fallen victim to collective oblivion.

First thing to be said, it has character. It’s not an accumulation of rising and falling lines plus lots of corrugations (look at a Mercedes-Benz B-Class or BMW 1-Series and you know what I talk about) but a composition of clean lines.

It’s not an accumulation of rising
and falling lines plus lots of
corrugations, but a composition of
clean lines…

Then it offers such a huge level of space. The boot can easily compete with today’s lifestyle estates and even lots of the estate cars of the early 1980s. If you were looking for a larger fastback car with folding rear seats in those years, you were really short on offers: The Talbot Alpine as one alternative had to struggle with a lot of shorcomings on the field of handling and offered less space; Cavalier, Sierra and Passat were smaller at a noticable higher price (they were modern, convincing cars, no doubt) and the Rover SD1 even in the 2-litre version was already in another section of the market place.

The only real alternative was the Renault 20, which had comparable strenghts and failings but which looked a bit bland and didn’t offer the choice of an economical 1.7-litre engine any in 1982. Other points in favour of the Ambassador where fine levels of equipment (unless you had gone for an early L-model), comfy ride, good towing abilities and the straightforward servicing.

I wonder if there is a chance to see an Ambassador as car of the month. What about a Champagne Beige Ambassador with that gorgeous Paprika trim?

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WHILE I can agree that the Ambassador’s reputation has mainly fallen to collective oblivion, I can’t agree that the Ambassador can pass muster for having character. The Ambassador’s styling was sometimes dictated by the availability of off the shelf parts. For instance, the frontal treatment was not carefully styled by the pen of Harris Mann but dictated by the necessity to use Morris Ital headlights. The hatchback was only added to give sales a boost but everybody knew it was seven years too late, and the sales figures reflected that.

Having said that, the Ambassador was a clever restyle of the characterful Princess but the brief to make the Ambassador practical sadly made it less interesting, and it ended up looking like a wedged version of just about every other medium saloon or hatchback designed in the early Eighties. Where the Princess was radical the Ambassador looked tolerable.

Still, it’s nice to see someone writing something good about the Ambassador, in fact it’s nice to see anything written about the Ambassador!


8 January

The missing Linc…


THE Jaguar C-XF has broken cover and I’m comforted that the future of Jaguar is in safe hands, at least as far as visual presentation goes.

There is, however a sub-plot within Ford which nobody seems to have connected with the XF. Lincoln have just revealed the MKR concept at the Detroit Show. No plans for production, just a suggestion that ‘three or four’ styling cues will appear on a production car in the next few years”.

Peter Horbury is credited with the styling credits for the Lincoln, but the similarity in size and architecture to the C-XF seem to be more than coincidence.

Could it be that Ford intend to repeat the exercise which created the S-Type and Lincoln LS on the same platform, but built on opposite sides of the Atlantic? Lincoln spun out of PAG in 2002, but everything at Ford is up for grabs at the moment, and it’s hard to imagine Ford producing two similarly sized products on entirely different component sets.

Thinking the unthinkable

If two cars share the same platform, the logical next step is to make them in the same factory. At present Jaguar are committed to making the XF at Castle Bromwich, but, unpalatable though it may be to Coventry loyalists of ‘The Jag”, a US (or NAFTA-zone) built XF could strengthen the marque as a global brand rather than a regional relic with a feline capacity for survival. The weak dollar is already making a serious dent in the profitability and competitiveness of carmakers producing in Europe and exporting in large numbers to North America. As regards loss of ‘British-ness”, BMW and Mercedes Benz have already demonstrated that their US-built products are held in no less regard than those exported from Germany.

Remember the period 1979-1981 when BLMC summarily ceased production of the MG and Triumph sports car ranges because a weak dollar turned them from being marginally profitable exports to the group’s biggest loss-makers? A core product built in North America with largely locally-sourced components could underpin Jaguar’s long term survival and viability.

With the new XK and C-XF, Jaguar seems at last to be on the right track, but there might still be some difficult decisions to be made along its route.

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7 January

Hello Metro


The ideal first car?

The space in the garage didn’t stay clear for long… it was a case of out with the old and in with the older. You see, my eldest son is heading for his 17th birthday, and he wanted a Metro.

This one came up on the forum, and with a little help from my friends, it’s now at home.

Of course, some would say it’s irresponsible encouraging someone new to driving to own car car that’s supposed to fold like a beancan on impact, but there’s method in the madness – I hope. After all, one would hope that with the car being so old (but mint, all the same) and in the classic league (it is, honestly), then it’ll get treated with respect – and not ragged to within an inch of its life.

The other advantages are obvious – it’s cheap to run and insure, and with an underbonnet layout that is so simple, it’ll be a joy to work on for someone who has never experienced car maintenance before.

On the drive back from South Yorkshire last night, I can honestly say it was a lot of fun – and there’s probably every chance that dad’ll be borrowing son’s car on more than one occasion!

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6 January

Goodbye Jaguar


I have my garage back!

AT long last, I’ve parted with the Jaguar, and hopefully, it’ll be of some benefit to its next owner… whoever that may be. After an early morning start, I drove down to our company HQ to pick up up our beavertail, brought it back, and slung the old girl on the back.

As is always the case with Jaguars, no matter how crippled it is, or how bad the rust is underneath, it still looks magnificent out in the daylight – and once again, there were pangs of regret that I was a blasé about getting the clutch fixed well before we left for Naples last year. Had I done that, I think we’d have enjoyed a brilliant Staples2Naples – and instead of feeling bushed at the end of each day, we’d have been unstressed finishing our days sipping Pimms in the bar like any good Jaguar owner would do.

Still that’s all past now.

So, now the car nestles in Kelsey Publishing’s car park, and we’re wondering what we’ll do with it next. I suspect the 3.6-litre manual XJ6 will end up sent to a Jaguar dismantlers for parts. But we’ll see.

Now it’s time to look forwards to our trip to Casablanca later this year…

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3 January

Was Derek Robinson right?


The gates are closed, but parts of Longbridge are still open, and the red flag of the People’s Republic of China flutters proudly above the conference centre. (Pic: Joanne Peacock)

I DON’T know about anyone else, but I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness when this picture rolled into my inbox. Okay, so the good news is that NAC-MG will be keeping Longbridge going for the while, and we have the prospect of the MG TF going back into production in July, but really… how do you feel when you see the red flag flying over Longbridge?

Recently, Classic Car Weekly published a ‘Heroes and Villains’ article (which I didn’t write) about Derek Robinson, which thankfully didn’t blame him for the downfall of BL, but did cite the industrial strife at the plant as one of the contributing factors, singling him out as the chief troublemaker. Spurred on by the comments Steven Ward, one of this website’s forum contributors, I gave the matter more thought. Of course, we all know that Derek was the Union Convenor at Longbridge and a member of the Communist Party, but beyond that, what is the sum of our knowledge?

I must admit that I’ve not delved as deeply into the actions of the man and what he actually did at Longbridge (as I suspect is the case with most of his critics). I have relied mainly on news reporting at the time, and the recollections of workers at the plant – but I have yet to speak to Derek, and it’s something I’d love to do. However, I do recall reading an interview with him in (I think) Autocar magazine sometime in the late-1970s, where he spelled out his own vision for the future of BL. It involved expansion and huge public investment in a new range of competitive motorcars in order to fight the opposition head on.

These people had faith that the British
industry could deliver what that world wanted,
and could stand shoulder to shoulder with the
world’s greatest carmakers – and beat them at
their own game…

It would have involved investing hundreds of millions, possibly billions, and at a time when the UK economy was rapidly heading towards bankruptcy, BL’s plight was quite a way down the priority list of a government that was fire-fighting on a daily basis.

Funnily enough, his views echoed those of the ex-Minister for Technology, Tony Benn, who was instrumental in the formation of British Leyland back in 1968. In these times of consumerism where the capitalist ideal of a free-market global economy rules the roost, these ideas seem incredibly quaint – and yet, they also show incredible boldness. These people had faith that the British industry could deliver what that world wanted, and could stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s greatest carmakers – and beat them at their own game.

Whether BL could have actually achieve these goals, we’ll never know, because the company was pretty much starved of cash from the point the government became a majority shareholder in 1975 (which happened after a financial collapse not caused by poor products, but because the company had invested massively in new model programmes just as the effects of the energy crisis of 1973/74 were biting hard).

Yes, there was industrial action (and not just at BL), and it got a whole lot worse after 1975, but was that completely down to a bolshie workforce fighting a belligerant management? Did the government’s useless understanding of the economy which led to terrible inflation play a role? Was management confrontational towards the workers – as a defence against having nothing in the cupboard to give them?

You see, it’s not so simple at all…

So, back to the question I posed at the top of the article: was Derek Robinson right?

It’s all hypothetical of course now because the policy of expansionism was never explored, and crisis management saw the retreat that lead to factory closure after factory closure and thousands of workers lose their jobs. But had the economy been better, had management and unions been able to work together, and had serious investment in BL been forthcoming, could it have worked?

In a word – yes, I believe it could have. Had all of us had more faith in BL, so much could have been achieved. Don’t believe me? Look at state-subsidised Renault, which never lost the backing of its government, or the confidence of its customers.


And one final point to consider – Derek Robinson was a Communist, and staunchly belived in the strength of the Red Flag. Well, now it’s flying over Longbridge – can you imagine how Derek feels about that? Probably not happy at all given what could have been achieved. I’d like to find out, so if any of our readers know how I can get in touch with him, drop me a line at the usual address…

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HAPPY New Year, and continuing good fortune as a result of your long endeavour with the website.

The Chinese did not purloin Rover. The liquidators took the best deal that they could get, from around the World, and the Chinese were the ones to put their very little money where their mouth was. From a commercial point of view, Rover was given away, and I have often wondered about how much the liquidators took for their services. Like vultures, they are one of the few who benefit when something dies.

No-one from this country had a better offer, and everything was sold for about the same price as it costs to tool the manufacture of a new washing machine. It is no longer ours: at best, we sold it, at worst we had no more nous than to give it away. The chances are that if it had gone into British hands for nothing – just ten pounds less than when BMW sold it as a going concern, it would have been heading for the rocks again, now, or already firmly landed on them.

Too bad, we used to have a car, a truck, a motorcycle, a ship and a plane manufacturer for each letter of the alphabet. Now we have supermarkets and government.


NO, Derek Robinson wasn’t right. Huge public investment to continue to prop up a company already only in existence because of tax payers handouts, why?

Put yourself in the shoes of Ford or General Motors, also major UK vehicle manufacturers in the 1970s. They operated with no public subsidy but instead paid significant amounts to the government in corporate tax. Would they have expected this tax to be handed over to a competitor by the government? Of course not! Especially when said competitor was already in terminal decline, badly managed and incapable of standing on its own two feet.

The course taken by Michael Edwards was undoubtedly the correct one, to balance the company and streamline its model range and manufacturing operations. It nearly worked. Unfortunately Mr Edwards successors shot themselves in the foot and used their last role of the dice to streamline the range with Maestro and Montego.


1 January

Happy New Year!


NAC-MG’s Euro-spec 7Z prototype codenamed ‘Kolesa’ undergoing endurance testing in Western Russia. Or not.

So, another year goes by – and there’s finally some movement in the MG Rover story. SAIC ended up building its own version of the 75 which the company unveiled at the recent Beijing Motor Show. The car managed to impress show visitors, who really appreciated the car’s Britishness – and with major engineering input from what used to be known as Ricardo2010, they’re right to do so.

The SAIC story is one of a pair of final twists in the BMC>Rover saga – and although its car, the Roewe 750, doesn’t wear the Viking Longship, there’s some Rover DNA in there thanks to the British input.

As for Rover – that’s in all likelihood a dead marque, now that Ford’s bought the rights to bury it off BMW. There are quite a few observers happy with the situation, feeling that a car built in China and purloined from the British in such acrimonious circumstances isn’t worthy to wear the badge. We’ve an open mind here at, though – and at the end of the day, whatever badge the car wears, it’ll live or die on its strengths and weaknesses…

The SAIC story is one of a pair
of final twists in the
BMC>Rover saga…

The same could be said for Nanjing’s efforts with ‘Modern Gentleman’… first prototypes of the 7Z (nee Rover 75/MG ZT) are being tested, and N-Series engine production is due to start shortly in China. Rather like SAIC’s Roewe 750, the new car looks all-but identical to its British predecessor, and even has the advantage of being built on Longbridge tooling.

The story isn’t quite so straightforward though – because in July, production of a lightly facelifted TF is due to start at Longbridge, and even though the engine and other systems will be imported from China, the body assembly will take place in the UK. So although it’s essentially a final assembly job here in the UK, it does mean that a few hundred Brits could be employed at Longbridge…

But with the flag of Red China poignantly flying over the Conference Centre at Longbridge, and most of its MGs being built in that country, should we consider these cars as ‘ours’? The jury’s still out on that one.

Another thought as we move into 2007 – the millionth MINI will come off the production lines in Oxford this year. Yet, there are many people who decry this car as a ‘German’ BMW, and go on to cheer these Chinese MGs in a peculiarly patriotic way. Go figure, it’s a strange world. They’re probably the same sort of ‘enthusiasts’ who scrawled Swastikas into the paintwork of German-export Rover 45s at Longbridge back in the unpleasantness of 2000…

Whatever happens this year, we’ll be here to tell you about it – and also dig up more of those interesting stories that have made this website a favourite for so many fans of the British motor industry.

Happy New Year to you all!

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KEEP up the good work. I look at your website at least once a week for some news. Here in Uzbekistan there are not much BMC>Rover cars to be found.

You mention that the prototype is called ‘Kolesa’, but this is the name of a Russian TV car programme so maybe it is just their nameplate attached to a MG Rover they were testing there? (see – ‘kolesa’ is the russian word for wheels). I have not seen the program lately so i don now if it is broadcasted.


Ooops – you caught me out! I was hoping it would take a little longer before anyone spotted my Photoshoppery at the top of the page – Ed

Keith Adams

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