Blogs : June 2008

27 June

Scotland in a Citroën Part Deux


KEITH’S right (see Blog 24th June). Scotland is a marvellous place. However, given time, you don’t really want to be in a modern car do you? No, it’s far better to be in a car that allows you to feel the environment you’re in rather than isolate you from it.

That was why in April, I was so pleased to take part in the Eight Ball Rally, an 3500 mile trek around the UK in Citroën 2CVs and as covered in some detail in Classic Car Weekly. Sure, the adventure of driving around the UK in two weeks was appealing – this event was specifically designed to ape banger-style rallies but without the cheap bangers – but the real highlight was always going to be Scotland.

As soon as we crossed the Borders, the magic was in the air. The roads seemed to empty and the views just stretched for miles. A day later, we were camping in a snowy Aviemore before the trek up to John O’Groats. Then, it was across the north and down to beautiful Ullapool before heading further south through Paisley – which fails majestically to have quite the same appeal.

The problem was, after the beauty of the north, visiting places such as the Lake District and Snowdonia actually made them seem a bit of an anti-climax. The north of Scotland feels so wild and desolate – with miles of straight road running between the snowy peaks – that anything else is a bit of a let down. Comparatively at least. It took eight days to drive from Leicestershire to JOG and back, and we covered over 2000 miles in that time with no mechanical trauma, collecting clues on the way to liven things up a bit.

My wife enjoyed the mission so much that she vowed to undertake something similar in her little Mini. Now that would be an adventure…

More information on the Eight Ball Rally at


26 June

MG TF – what hope does it have?


OVERHEARD a conversation in the office today about the MG TF. Between disgusting sniggers, it seems that the journos discussing the car will be taking the negative approach in print, pushing it as an old and decrepid product for all they are worth. And all this without driving it beforehand.

To say I am disappointed is an understatement. To add that I am surprised would be an untruth. I think we all see it coming – the Chinese don’t have a chance with MG in the UK. I guess that also means we’ll be kissing goodbye to Longbridge not long after. Well done ‘colleagues’…


24 June

Scotland’s for me


FOR some daft reason I can’t quite fathom now, I found myself up in Scotland over the weekend. My chariot for the trip was a Citroen C5 Exclusive with about 20 hours of MP3s loaded into the hard disc drive ICE system as my only company. Thankfully, the drive up was blessedly free of traffic, and the car took the journey in one huge gulp and completely in its stride – something, I guess we all expect from a full-sized modern car.

However, the blog isn’t so much about the Citroen – as good as it was. It’s more about Scotland and why, for the life of me, I haven’t been up there more often since moving to the East Midlands from Blackpool more than a decade ago. Back then, I’d think nothing of hopping in whatever hopeless heap I owned at the time, gunning up the M6 and A74 for three hours or so, and arriving in the Borders itching for a driving adventure.

The scenery bewitched, and the roads spoiled me completely. Honing your driving skills on sinuous switch-backs like these sets you in good stead for the rest of your life. Well, so I think.

I’d think nothing of hopping in whatever hopeless heap I owned at the time, gunning up the M6 and A74 for three hours or so, and arriving in the Borders itching for a driving adventure

Anyway, those old emotions returned with a vengeance over the weekend. Heading for the Western Highlands and then for Caithness, it struck me that, relatively speaking, we have some of the best driving roads in Europe on our own doorsteps. The roads themselves sweep and plunge through majestic scenery (yes, sorry for the cliche, but it is), and the traffic volume is utterly light. Or it was this weekend. Why anyone would choose to fly there is completely beyond me, if time’s not of the essence.

With the EU money pouring in North of the border, Scotland’s roads are incredibly well surfaced and marked too. Even the lardy Citroen was a real joy to drive in this playground – something that I’d never have expected.

The other thing that delighted me – and it’s something I’d forgotten – was just how well they drive up there in the Highlands. I guess the single-track mentality (these roads are common in the North and North West of Scotland) breeds courtesy and consideration for others and, as the signs by the side of the roads say, ‘Frustration causes accidents – move over for faster traffic’. In my time there, people did just that. No histrionics, no ego, no road rage. Drivers just seemed to get on and drive. It’s a lesson us Sassenachs could do with taking on board.

I will be back, sooner rather than later.

23 June

Kerb Crawling


(Picture: Andrew Elphick)

IN homage to the guru of Bangernomics, James Ruppert, I took a cruise down Essex’s used-car mecca – the A13. This famous road canters parallel with the coastline to Southend on Sea and, if nothing tickles your fancy along there, you’re not trying hard enough.

Unlike the Romford road (which drags you right into east London), the A13 is still populated by motor traders and coloured bunting – not the luxury flats and fried chicken parlours that are becoming staple diet of the Romford road.

What was on offer? A Punto Sporting with 1990s Momo alloys and 11 months’ test? £495 to you. A P38 Range Rover for £2999? 1995 Discovery ES – leather and electric everything; free sticker of snarling German Shepherd (and dog hair) included. Yours for just £1995. How about a Rover 800 coupe (see picture) for £495?

Bizarrely, in this age of the credit crunch, some of the traders were charging all the money for their stock. Mind you, it was the same expensive stock that was there two months ago and which will still undoubtedly be rooted to the pitches come the autumn.

Deal of the day for me (excluding the fine fry up on route) is shown above – anybody fancy an early X300 Jaguar for £995? Chip away at the screen price with a fan of fifty pound notes, run it until the ticket expires and weigh it in for scrap – cost to you for six months’ motoring a piffling £100 a month; and double that in unleaded.

17 June

Another historic one bites the dust


(Picture: B Banister and Land Rover Owner magazine)

THIS picture arrived in my inbox this morning. It shows – not unusually these days – an early Discovery in the process of being broken for spares and then scrapped; these things rot like mad, and the 200Tdi engine is well sought after for retrofitting in older Series Land Rovers and early Defenders. The V8 versions? Engines are always in demand with off roaders. Normally, I wouldn’t care less – I’m not a fan of Discos – but, with this one, it’s different.

The number plate might give you a clue. It’s a fabled G— WAC; one of the original press vehicles used during the Discovery’s launch in 1989, and much discussed in the LR press during this, the 60th anniversary year. So, it’s a little slice of history – there were 86 press fleet Discos, of which 43 made their way into public hands. The rest were either destroyed during development testing or simply scrapped – a few were kept on as company hacks until they broke. For more info on the G-WAC’s, this site is well worth a look –

Seeing this picture got me thinking though – how many other ex-company or press fleet Land Rovers, Austin Rovers, Rovers, BL etc cars are out there, with owners (or breakers) unaware of their history? And does it really matter? Personally – being a bit of an anorak – I think it does. I can spot a factory registered Land Rover a mile off and I’m often inspired to seek out its history. Sadly, I seldom do. With this Disco, I think I might – too late to make a difference to its survival but, as the above website shows, there are people who do care.


16 June

A most important statistic


I’VE been driving a MINI Clubman Cooper D this week… and have found my passion for economical driving reignited. I know I’ve been going on about it a lot recently, but the current high fuel prices have been a constant source of irritation for me – and I suspect, judging from the rumbling sense of anger whenever I talk to people, it’s the same for you.

With the price of petrol hovering around the £1.17 per litre mark (£5.21 per gallon) and diesel at an eye-watering £1.29 (£5.74), I think I’m not alone in considering how and when I use my car. Fuel consumption – for me – has assumed a priority like never before, probably a little too much, if I am honest with myself. I am, though, a tight Northerner.

Anyway, as is the case with most modern cars, the MINI comes with a trip computer that gives you a read-out of instantaneous and average fuel consumption – and keeping those numbers on the display nice and high has become something of an obsession during the car’s time with me.

On Friday, I did the school run (a 15-mile trip on mixed A- and B-roads) and, without getting in the way of too many people, managed the figure you see on the left. This was without any special driving techniques; simply accelerating gently, changing gear when told to and allowing the stop/start to do its thing – and, you know what, I found that more of a challenge than many of the high-speed continental journeys which I’ve done…

I continued the test during my weekend away in the Peak District and drove normally without any specific concessions to fuel saving – despite lots of mixed driving on hills, in towns and on gridlocked motorways, the (not so) little MINI delivered 62mpg. I found that achievement just as satisfying as a fast time on my favourite stretch of B-road would have been several years back. Why is that? I hate parting with my money, or am I just getting old?

Either way, I’m not worried… even if perhaps I should be.


15 June

This man’s for turning…


WELL it’s nice to know I was wrong. After closing the forum, feeling that it’s day had passed, I’ve so far received over 100 emails, comments and messages from people asking for it to be reinstated (not good when I’m having a weekend break in the Dales!). I’ve therefore performed a faster U-turn than even the most indecisive politician and decided to reinstate the forum. However, unlike most politicians, hopefully none of the AROnline readers who contacted me can accuse me of ignoring the public’s vote!

On reflection, I’m not sure what closing the forum achieved other than to upset the site regulars (to each and every one of you, sorry) and to make me realise that we’d done more good with it than I ever imagined.

So, sorry, for the confusion, but it’s back… and feel free to carry on contributing in it.

I’ll be improving it, though, in the coming weeks. You have been warned.


12 June

It’s been emotional


AFTER four years, I’ve decided to close the AROnline forum – and move reader interaction to the feedback system within the website. The forum has been a great addition to the website – many close friendships have been formed and a great deal of valued new information has been added into the melting pot. However, given the increased interaction now available on AROnline, we were in very real danger of dissipating new stuff coming in – and so it was time to go.

The forum has been quiet of late, not helped by the recent technical spat with our host, Streamline, and ongoing battles with the lunatic fringe of the online community (step forward the legendary Rockdude and Jensk). I have pulled the plug today because we had our first full day when there were more feedback postings than new forum additions.

I will also upload a Forum link page, where you can submit your own favourite conversational boards, as soon as I find something suitable.

I and the other members of AROnline’s Editorial Team do genuinely value your constructive comments. I therefore hope to roll-out the feedback system to the rest of the site as quickly as possible – but, in the meantime if you have comments, questions, queries or anything else to add, feel free to email. I look forward to reading each and every one of them.


11 June

Endangered species: All K- and KV6-powered Rovers


These K-powered cars… how long before they’re fit only for scrap?

AS many of you may be aware, I also have a day job writing about cars. Over on Practical Classics magazine, I have a very different perspective on motoring, the scene, and driving in general. Dealing with the heaps I generally do, it pays to have a sense of humour (and despite rumours to the contrary, this dour Northern bugger has been known to crack a smile once in a while), even if some of the car capers I find myself on would test the patience of a saint.

I sometimes pen pieces for an ongoing PC series known as Endangered Species in which we highlight models which are on the brink of extinction according to registration information supplied by the SMMT. I mention this because I am genuinely beginning to worry about the medium term future of K-Series powered Rovers and MGs.

Five years from now will there be any left?

Perhaps the only way our grandchildren will see these cars is on the pages of websites like this…

I reckon that, with falling residual values, a headgasket repair of £400-800 now no longer makes economic sense (for those who judge cars in merely fiscal terms) for all but the nicest cars. Maybe the credit crunch will persuade people to hold onto their old cars for longer but skimped servicing could lead to the inevitable tragedies and, when something significant goes wrong, it’ll be a case of ‘typical bloody Rover.’

However, I hear you say, the KV6 Rover 75 and MG ZTs are mighty nice, less bothersome and more dependable than their cylinder brethren. This may well be the case but, unfortunately, their days must surely be numbered in the current climate. Why? Well, fuel at over £1.20 per litre isn’t nice when your car will only do 22mpg and, once the government railroads through its plans to cripple all post-2001 in the top CO2 band with a £950 per year tax bill, you can kiss goodbye your £1500’s worth of Longbridge execu-barge. And if you’ve recovered from that, don’t ask your garage to change the belts at 100K – not unless you have a stack of money put aside in the bank.

And that’s a real shame.

MG and Rover fans are therefore going to be in for a rough ride in the next few years, as numbers thin out radically. Will any survive? I reckon some MGFs and TFs might stand a chance, and a few cherished cars whose owners are a dab hand at DIY. As for the rest, the outlook looks grim, and perhaps the only way our grandchildren will see these cars is on the pages of websites like this.


10 June



Bored with life? Bored with Jaguar…? Claire Smith seems to be.

MAYBE it is because I am almost 40, but I feel I have no one that I look up to any more. My bosses in work may be more forceful than me, but the gap between them and me is nowhere near as big as it used to be. My parents are retired and while I love them to bits, I don’t look up to them like I did when I was seven; it’s natural really. Even modern celebrities are a disappointment to me; can anyone say that Amy Winehouse or Pete Docherty are a patch on Janice Joplin, Mama Cass, Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison. Hell….they’re still alive for a start. Who these days compares with the glamour of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor or the boozy hit and miss magic of Oliver Reed?

It would seem that I am jaded with life.

Similarly and maybe even more so, my love of cars also seems on the wane.

When I was a kid, I so wanted a Jag. Now I have had an XJ-S, an E-type, two modern S-TYPEs and still own a V12 X305; all of them disappoint me in one way or another. The E-type came the closest to dazzling, but its ludicrous running costs and comedic unreliability made me fall out of love with it.

Modern motors leave me cold too. My recent Volkswagen Golf GT TDi 170 was flawed; disappointing build, nice looks, no fun to drive, no flair.

Modern motors leave me cold too. My recent Volkswagen Golf GT TDi 170 was flawed; disappointing build, nice looks, no fun to drive, no flair. Non-premium brands such as Ford and Vauxhall will never dazzle me, VW lacks flair, Audis are an even more expensive VW and BMWs are nice but are they worth it? Keith’s press car MINI Cooper Clubman D was a decent ride but can you say you like the oddball looks of the Clubman and would buy one with your own money? Even the plastics inside didn’t impress. Ferrari? Hell no. A Lambo? Nah. A Paganini Zonker or what the hell it is called? Too far from reality for me, I’m afraid.

Part of my malaise is the cost of fuel and worries that anything interesting will be taxed off the road. My love of motors is linked to whether I could actually have one.

I feel this blog should have a conclusion but I am struggling to think of anything clever to say. Maybe this is all down to where I am in life at the moment; over-worked, living away and driving too much in a dull but dependable Vectra that really has assumed the status of a white good in my life.

I used to live for cars and, in a way, I am glad I don’t now. I have now held on to the Vectra for an earth shattering four months and it makes financial sense to keep it until I stop contracting or the warranty comes to an end.

But…old habits die hard, so please tell me if you have a cure for my illness.


9 June

The emperor’s new clothes


Are they being serious?

IN some people’s books, BMW’s head designer, Chris Bangle, has done more to advance individual styling within the European motor industry than anyone else in recent years. His flame surfacing school of styling has divided the opinions of a generation of car enthusiasts – with just as many saying they love what he’s achieved as those who say they hate it. Yes, it’s true that the BMW 1-Series hatchback is possibly the ugliest new car on sale today, closely rivalled by those pantheons of poor taste, the 7- and 6-Series – but, at the same time, there’s no denying their individuality.

Still, if anything good’s come from BMW’s faith in Bangle, it’s that rival manufacturers have started working a lot harder to produce more boldly styled cars. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a 1993 Mondeo and compare it with the current one; or a 1995 Vectra as opposed to the recently-unveiled Insignia – 1990s generally equals blandness, whereas 2000s equates to definite form and function. Okay, so Audi and Mercedes-Benz have remained on the meek side of conservative, but the mainstream players have upped their game and it’s nothing but good news.

Looking at BMW’s GINA concept, it’s fair to say that the endo-skeleton/fabric construction is the main talking point – and obviously the great Mr Bangle was testing the collective sense of humour/gullibility of the motoring press when he came up with the hair-brained concept.

I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of a car who’s styling can be altered depending on your mood? Well me actually. I mean, are they mad? What’s the point? If I want individuality, I won’t buy a shape-shifting BMW – I’ll buy an Avantime or a Signum. Or in five years’ time, a V6 powered Rover…

Okay, so the tent car isn’t a serious production possibility (for the love of God, please), and shouldn’t be treated as anything other than motor show frippery, but the fact that they’ve spend bundles of cash putting the thing together says a lot about BMW right now – the company is cash-rich, confident, and raising its middle finger to the opposition. With that money, they could have put up a stand at the British Motor Show, or improved the cabin plastics of the MINI. Anything constructive would have been nice.

On the positive side, it looks like the shark nose is coming back, and I for one, can’t wait to see it on the nose of the upcoming M1 supercar.


8 June

The MG TF and me


This car is really dividing opinions…

I MUST admit that I’m probably not as unbiased as I should be on the subject of the MG TF. To me, the TF looks utterly timeless and at no point in the model’s (or that of the F’s) production run have I found myself looking at the car and thinking ‘that’s old’… or ‘yuck’, or any of the other insults you hear from some of the unenlightened inhabitants of cyberspace…

NAC MG aims to re-start production next month and I find myself pleased that we will soon have a strong link between now and a time when Longbridge was building cars in large numbers. Yes, I know the design goes back to 1995 but, after a look at the picture above, can you honestly say that it’s the aged liability that some so-called enthusiasts elsewhere have accused the car of being? Honestly? Oh well, there’s no pleasing some.

However, AROnline’s readers will soon know for sure as the time is rapidly approaching when I can get behind the wheel and find out for myself… then pass on the good – or bad – news to you.

£16,000 though? Would you? Let me know what you think.


6 June

Contact patch


I have been driving for 17 years and always carry a spare tyre, a fluorescent vest and a warning triangle. The vest and triangle have had more than there fair share of exercise but, until now, the spare tyre has just been along for the ride.

However, I was recently sitting there in my Bavarian Sierra, minding my own business at a legal speed (on the autobahn,) when an almighty rumble emanated from the back of the car. I reckoned that the sound was that of an exhaust silencer parting company with the car so backed off, indicated and pulled across three lanes to the hard shoulder of the world’s busiest motorway (the M25 international viewers).

I realised that the exhaust was still attached whilst still slowing down – hurrah – the bad news was that the nearside rear tyre was sans 39psi and had done god knows what damage. Anyhow, I stopped, cursed and slid out between the juggernauts. Surprisingly, the tyre was still on the rim and the bumper and wheel arch were undamaged. The wheel nuts even come off without a problem but, during my half hour stint on the hard shoulder, our nights of the road the Highways Agency never cruised past and there was no sign of a Police car. Ho hum…

So a big thank you to Continental tyres – total tyre deflation at a fairly high speed in two tonnes of rear wheel drive car, all followed by a controlled stop. What happened? Nothing. Nicht. Nada. No slewing, no skid, no change of direction. Indeed, until stopping there was nothing to indicate a blow out at all – apart from the hole in the middle of the tread and the buckled sidewalls.

So are cheap tyres a false economy? Maybe so, maybe not. All I know is that a new set of Continentals will be going on tomorrow – the premium is a cheap price to pay for the reassurance. Just don’t mention the Highways Agency to me…


5 June

Back to the bangers


Is the Cav about to make way for an AX?

MY weekends are never dull when there’s an old car caper to get on with. With my citrus-flavoured Skoda’s front spring now fixed and paid for (see that blog if you fancy a laugh), I’ll be gladly delivering it to my partner in crime on the CzechWrecks rally, Andrew Elphick, and hope not to see it again until I start applying paint to its svelte flanks. With a roller.

However, the latest caper was a bit of a dull one in comparison to recent efforts – for a couple of reasons:

1) I made it to my destination in the car I set out in, and…
2) I really, really liked what I was driving… despite some set-backs.

The motor in question was a Citroen AX GT which had originally been owned by Practical Classics magazine, but was being offered for sale for a very reasonable sum of money because of space constraints down at the workshop.

With an offer like that, who was I to refuse? Indeed, as the example in question is one of the earliest cars off the line, bereft of the additional kit that was added in later years, the decision was something of a no-brainer! And that’s why I found myself, jump-pack and fuel can in hand, getting the old girl started for the long drive home from Stamford. I had no problem with the driving position (despite expectations to the contrary) and, once underway, the myriad of rattles and squeaks were forgotten about at the first series of bends.

…once underway, the myriad of rattles and squeaks were forgotten about at the first series of bends.

Yup – this little car was absolutely terrific to drive – go-kart steering, excellent acceleration, controlled and roll-free cornering, with an utterly controllable rear end. Not that I was being enthusiastic with the old girl, you understand. All that seems to be wrong with the AX is a loud gearbox whine, which I’ve yet to investigate. Current favourites are the input shaft bearings – or, if I am really lucky, a noisy wheelbearing somewhere. It’s loud in a straight line, louder in left bends, and silent in right handers. What do you reckon?

By the time I’d made it back to Austin-Rover Towers, I was in love with the little thing – and considering the previously impossible… replacing the Cavalier Sportshatch with it.

I’ve been using the Vauxhall for commuting duties but, as much fun as that is, something has to give. You see, with unleaded now at a ridiculous price (£1.17 per litre as of yesterday), its reasonably acceptable average of 28.9mpg simply cuts no ice. I reckon the Citroen should hit the high 30s, as long as I don’t use the second choke too often… and right now, that’s more important than it’s ever been.

So, who’d have thought it – me laying up the Cavalier from its daily duties in favour of the biscuit tin from France. You couldn’t make it up…


4 June

The CO2 myth


Prius: really that clean?

I MENTION my dull 1.8 Vectra really far too often considering this is a portal for all things BMC onwards. I typically sit behind its steering wheel for over 20 hours a week and so that is why it features so much in my thoughts and these blogs.

Now the weather has warmed up, my mix of plodding A roads and motorway thrash delivers a fairly consistent 41mpg with regular blasts up to an indicated 69.5mph (okay, okay a ton). Checking my records, I am stunned to find that I have already done more than 30,000 miles of self funded motoring since the end of September. Many of you will know that I am a serial car changer and am increasingly scared of any eco measures that the government may introduce and have begun to look very hard at published CO2 emissions figures.

CO2 figures are intended to give a good indication of the relative economy of different cars and even form the basis of company car Benefit in Kind (BIK) taxation. So if it is good enough for the tax man, it has to be an absolute indicator, right? Wrong! The economy of the Vectra on paper is not very impressive with CO2 of 173g/km but it proves more economical than less hard driven superminis that I have owned such as a 1.0 Seat Arosa (40mpg, 121g/km) and 1.2 VW Fox (37mpg, 145g/km). Now, this immediately confuses me; the Vectra is a large car with more kit and complication than the superminis yet it proves more economical.

Similarly, when I owned a current shape Fiesta 1.4 TDCi (60mpg best, 119g/km) it proved less economical in real world situations than a current shape Polo 1.9 TDi (74mpg best, 135g/km). While I am tempted to think that this is all a result of my driving style, I am assured that drivers of the Toyota Prius (Pri-I, Priuses?) with its tree hugging 108g/km output are all too often disappointed with the thirst of their motors. Indeed, a What Car? back-to-back test between a Prius and a BMW 520d showed an amazingly close result that, in my mind at least, casts a huge doubt on buying a car solely for its economy claims.

I find this all really irritating; the current measures were introduced in 2001 to encourage economy and yet the indicator is possibly more misleading than the urban, 56mph constant and 75mph constant tests that were in place from the late 1970s until 2001.

Surely what we need is a real world test that gives a number of indicators based on gentle, moderate and hard driving styles so we can make much better choices as to the cars we drive. However, since this is EU law implanted by Parliament, it seems we will need to keep on guessing…


3 June

Overhauling the news


WELL, that’s another evening spent in front of the PC on my smoky old copy of Dreamweaver – hopefully creating a job-well-done scenario. The idea was simple – to revise the News pages and make the content a whole lot more accessible.

Thanks to the efforts of AROnline’s own newshound, Clive Goldthorp, the content on these pages has grown beyond all recognition, leaving the original monthly format groaning under the weight of all the additional coverage. With almost daily updates – some imported and some home-grown – the single page often assumed the proportions of a War and Peace-like epic but with more drama and intrigue.

I decided that enough was enough and, from now on, every new update will have its own individual page – accessed from a monthly menu. Yes, I know… another menu, but I guess that’s what happens when a site continues to grow, and the content overstretches the original engine. In time, it’ll get overhauled but not yet…

Anyway, check in, and let me know what you think…


2 June

Celebrating the magazine drive story


(Picture: Tom Salt)

ALL enthusiastic readers of car magazines have their favourite stories to recount… mine usually involve Phil Llewellyn, Richard Bremner or Russell Bulgin taking an inappropriate car somewhere really silly – all for a great story. Last month, I added CAR Magazine’s Morris Marina to the Balkans drive story and promised that I’d be creating a new section of the website and adding more stories just as soon as I could think of some to add…

Well, after a great deal of agonizing, I decided that the next one should be my own, published a couple of years ago in CAR. The piece involved taking a Lada Riva back to Chernobyl, some 20 years after the nuclear disaster, and recounting the tale of how the reactor’s meltdown changed the course of Soviet history. I gave that decision a fair amount of thought – I certainly do not include myself amongst those great writers. However, at the same time, the story, which was conceived with the help of CAR‘s then Editor, Jason Barlow, may be of interest to the readers of this website.

Just as an aside, it never would have happened without the help of fellow motoring writer, Mike Duff, and photographer, Tom Salt – who captured the haunting atmosphere of our destination – possibly like no other snapper I’ve yet to work with could.

However, I do want to get some of those great motoring adventures onto the site, and hope that you do, too. So, if you have a particular favourite story you’d like to see here, please let me know, and if it’s made from the right stuff, I’ll add it in, subject to permission from said magazine’s editor. I have a mind-list of dozens I could add in – generally penned a few years back now – but will leave it to you guys (and girls) to nominate…

So, either feedback your suggestions below, or drop me an email


1 June

BL’s hatchback Mini – 40 years on…


<<Image removed by the request of Colin Corke>>

FORTY years ago on May 30th 1968, the Beatles began to record their eponymous double album, since christened the White Album, from the colour of its gatefold sleeve. On that first day of what was to become five months of arduous and tense recording sessions, the group recorded 18 takes of Revolution No. 1. On the same day this photograph was taken, presumably at Longbridge of a hatchback Mini Clubman.

This car, the brainchild of Roy Haynes and his former Ford stylists, would have been the vehicle to continue the Mini inspired front wheel drive revolution. As the Mini evolved from 1960s style icon to 1970s shopping car, this would have been the perfect product to take on the embryonic superminis then under development in other parts of Europe and would have cost less than Alec Issigonis’ 9X to put into production.

Alas, somewhere along the line British Leyland’s bean counters intervened. I have written elsewhere on this site about how BMC managed to under-price the Mini in a saga of managerial incompetence that beggars belief. BMC managed to lose anything from £20 to £30 per car depending on what sources you read. BMC believed volume would take care of the problem, but as by 1964 40 per cent of all strikes in the UK car industry occurred within the corporation, more than any other manufacturer, volume was not to be the answer. The one millionth Mini emerged in 1965 followed by the two millionth in June 1969.

This car, the brainchild of Roy Haynes and his former Ford stylists, would have been the vehicle to continue the Mini inspired front wheel drive revolution.

One only has to do the sums to work out what a huge financial black hole the under-pricing of the Mini created in BMC’s finances. The money lost was, quite possibly, enough to fund the development to production of three wholly new cars! BMC/BLMC/Rover were then always on the back foot, always short of money, lacking the funds to invest in manufacturing quality, which in turn led to diminishing market share. The amount of money BMW invested in Longbridge and Cowley to bring them up to scratch indicates how much capital has to be spent on modern production facilities to compete.

Lord Stokes and his Leyland executives were scathing about BMC’s management style, but failed to raise the price of the Mini to make it profitable, seemingly more obsessed with volume than profit. Perhaps they believed it was not possible to make money out of small cars, but this was not a belief shared by the likes of Fiat and Renault. All this is ground I have covered before, but it serves as a background as to why the hatchback Mini never went into production. Leyland had bitten off more than they could chew when they agreed to take on BMC, and profits from Rover, Triumph and Jaguar were ploughed into Austin Morris instead of being re-invested in the companies that generated them, leading to further problems there. British Leyland was undercapitalised and priority was given to larger and in theory more profitable cars, hence the Mini never appeared with a hatchback.

Well that is not strictly true, for in October 1974 the Bertone styled Innocenti Mini 90 and 120-based hatchbacks appeared. When questioned by the media British Leyland claimed that the 90/120 would be more expensive to produce than the standard Mini, but as the Turin manufactured hatchback remained in production until 1992, this clearly was not true. After the 1973 energy crisis, demand for small cars was increasing all the time, but Mini sales were declining.

The beneficiaries were Fiat, Renault and Volkswagen. One of the reasons for BL’s rejection of the Innocenti hatchback may have been that the new technical director of Austin Morris, Charles Griffin, had instigated the ADO88 project, which led to the Metro in 1980. Griffin may have advised the BL board that his team could do better, but the company’s salesmen needed something better than the existing Mini in 1975, not in 1980 when all their customers had defected to rival manufacturers. The Innocenti 90/120 not only had the benefit of a hatchback, but the engine benefited from improved breathing and had a front mounted radiator for additional refinement. Features the later Metro had.

Austin at Longbridge were the masters of small car design, from Herbert Austin’s original Seven, the post war A30/35 and Alec Issigonis’ original Mini. Producing a hatchback Mini, whether it was styled by Roy Haynes or Bertone would have continued this tradition and sales success. British Leyland decided that the Mini should wither on the vine and Austin Morris should concentrate on larger cars, an area where they were weak.

Keith Adams

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