Blogs : March 2006

29 Mar 2006



SO, it would seem that has joined the ranks of just about every other website out there, and is now carrying adverts…

Currently, the trio of pages carrying modest Google Ads are up as an experiment to see how things go. As can be seen from the recently launched Site Stats page, we’re generating an awful lot of traffic – and we’re now averaging about 4GB of bandwidth per day. In short terms, that will have to be paid for sooner or later.

The idea is for advertising to raise enough money to pay for our hosting with – and currently, we’re on a very reasonable package. However, with several planned updates in the pipeline, as well as expanding coverage of the site, and that means paying for extra services in order to host them.

This site will always remain free to you, our readers, but in order to remain revenue-neutral, we’re hoping out modest advertising programme will cover those costs…

So, if you’re not offended by the Google ads, do click on them once in while and help to continue the site’s development.

If you are, please accept our apologies, and don’t let them spoil your enjoyment of the site…

Alternatively, if you’re in a related business, and want to help out, please drop us a line

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27 Mar 2006

What makes a classic: the debate continues…


READING on what makes a classic car and as a ‘classic’ car owner myself, I felt the need to rise up in defence of the Metro.

There is a split in classic car owners that’s easy to make – those who take ‘Classic and Sports Car’ and the others who read ‘Practical Classics’. Of the ‘Classic and Sports Car’ brigade the distinction is simple, those that drive their exotic classics and respect is due to those that even race them. Conversely there are those that keep theirs in a temperature control garage, trailer it to shows, even covering the chrome in masking tape to preserve the ravages of time.

‘Practical Classics’ readers by and large drive their cars, they do some or all of the work themselves and magazine articles extol the virtues of TIG or MIG welders. Even this split is by no means watertight, Alfasuds are considered to be a ‘Classic and Sports Car’ classic but a Hillman Avenger GT is not. Both are fast, both rusted in equal measure, both were notoriously temperamental but only one has the cache of being an Alfa Romeo. The problem with the definition of a classic car is there are exceptions to every rule.

Another definition is do insurance companies offer ‘classic’ insurance for the car? One of the lads in the local Halfords has an unmolested pristine ’82 VW Golf GTi. He couldn’t have been much more than in primary school in 1982 so perhaps a childhood memory played its part in the selection of a Golf. He’s proud of his ‘classic’ and I agree it is a special car; a definite classic. To qualify for some of these policies the car has to be 15 years old, this might be a little premature for a 1991 Vauxhall Nova perhaps.

There is a split in classic car owners
that’s easy to make – those who take
‘Classic and Sports Car’ and the others
who read ‘Practical Classics’…

The Government definition is a car registered before 1st January 1973, zero-rated for vehicle excise duty and the V5 lists it as a ‘Heritage Vehicle’. Maybe that’s it, over 30-something years old cars are classics but then what about the Audi Quattro, a Peugeot 205GTi and Lancia Delta Integrale? I own a ’69 Rover P6B and people see it out on the road and occasionally smile, a Dad out with his young son would occasionally say to him something like “See that!”. Nostalgia, memories of past ownership and novelty all contribute to obtaining ‘classic’ status.

I’m not sure that would happen with an old Metro. More likely that Father passes to Son his annoyance that he owned one once and it let them down usually on a cold wet night in the middle of nowhere. As a contradiction, those old enough to remember would agree to a man that the Metro 6R4 was a sexy bananas mad rally car. The everyman Metro though, rusted, it broke down and at first quality was variable. But as the exception rule of classic cars still holds true, an SD1 is revered as the ultimate cop car and the big bruiser Touring Car champion. It’s a thuggish brute in a rear-view mirror that gets immediate respect. The reality is they are renowned for their fragile interior, electrics, water ingress and self destructing six cylinder engines.

Keeping an old car on the road is hard enough without the design of it conspiring against you. Finally, what really separates the ‘classics’ from the ‘nearly classic’ is there cannot be too many of them left on the road. On this point at least, rust and mechanical maladies are your friend.

So is the Metro a classic? Well, I would say an early example would definitely qualify, there aren’t many around. I imagine it would garner respect from a ‘Practical Classics’ classic car owner that someone, somewhat eccentrically, has kept one of those cars working and looking good; that is no small feat in itself. Personally, I don’t understand the merits of owning a Marina. But meeting other enthusiasts, owners and talking to parts suppliers and mechanics it is those ‘eccentrics’ that make keeping these cars well beyond their sell-by date possible. As for the general public, accept the fact that many don’t even know the price of a litre of unleaded so tolerate their ignorance you are doing your part to preserve a little bit of motoring heritage.

Because by and large with the exception of expensive UK made exotica; heritage is all that is left.

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24 Mar 2006



FURTHER to Keith’s blog regarding Metro enthusiasts being regarded as ‘losers’, I’d like to share my views on the subject.

Whenever this subject is brought up, I always bring the argument around to football. It is the most popular sport in the UK and no one thinks anything less of you if walk down the street wearing the strip of your favourite football team, be it Newcastle, Man Utd or Arsenal, for instance. But, if you decide to walk down the street dressed as Mr Spock from Star Trek, or a Wookie from Star Wars, people automatically class you as odd and a bit of a loser. It’s odd that people find fans willingness to show their appreciation for their favourite football team acceptable, but wear a shirt depicting your favourite Sci-Fi show and you could well end up being taken away by men in white coats!

The thing is, liking football or a particular team is regarded as normal by the public, as is a liking for Aston Martins, Bentleys and Jaguars; they are seen by many as ‘proper’ classics. As a Princess owner, colleagues often ridicule me about my taste in ‘old bangers’ as they like to call them and classics in general. One person often ribs me about why I/we bother with ‘old bangers’ and why don’t we just go and get a decent new car? He thinks we drive old cars because we’re skint!

Some people in the classic world have very definite ideas about what constitutes a classic; whereas the likes of people who visit this site are more open-minded (you have to be to like BL cars) and enjoy and encourage others’ appreciation for whatever car they consider worthy of classic status – whether classic is the right term or not.

There’s more to classic cars than whether it was built in Crewe or Stuttgart – some people relate to a particular car or brand because it was a part of their life; the Metro can be that car and although it’s not glamorous, it’s remembered with affection by some of the millions of people who bought one.

They’re certainly not losers, they just see it differently.

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23 Mar 2006

Why oh why


THERE is a generation difference now that younger classics are becoming accepted as such by some…

This is the first such wave I have experienced, only being 19, and I suspect the record has never changed. He who appreciates his Austin-Healey will not view a car such as a Mazda RX-7 as a classic because the chances are his son was leaving home when the car was launched. But it is he who usually whinges that these aren’t ‘proper’ classics.

I’m sure the idiot that objected to the now quarter-century old Metro would disagree if I failed to see the attraction to the Mini before it? I mean come on? Rust! Bouncy ride! In-sump-rip-itself-to-pieces transmission! And you know what? I’d set my trousers on fire if someone were to give me a free one for the pleasure!

Classics aren’t about the car in question, or the politics of the era – classic car enthusiasts appreciate a car for the fun, the piece of history, the sense of completion to restore one, to drive one, even to simply hark back to an earlier time. My Metro will probably be the last time many of my friends will ever see a manual choke or a four-speed box again!

There are many reasons we love cars; for some it is to preserve history, some to drive them, and some are simply projects. I love all of those things, Like most men I also love to tinker. If I’m going to go to the trouble of restoring a car I’d like to improve it too. If that means I bolt a supercharger on then so be it.

As a car enthusiast I face a number of criticisms, these follow:

– If it isn’t built in an era before Roxy Music, it isn’t a classic
– If I’m 19 I must be a boy racer
– If I don’t buy a Rover I am a treacherous swine
– If I modify my car for pleasure I am being an idiot, how dare I not buy a better one?
– If I show an interest in modified motors, I cannot like classics
– If it’s a Rover it is a rubbish car. I should have bought a BMW
– If I like a BMW I should be hung, drawn and quartered
– If I won’t buy Chinese, I’m a xenophobe
– If I buy foreign I’m letting down my countrymen
– If I support my countrymen, I’m institutionally racist
– If I like cars I hate the environment

I am fed up of idiots spoiling Internet forums, fed up with stupid Internet nerds who feel they know everything about everything and tell me my Rover is useless simply ‘because…’ See the latest Sniff Petrol for the author’s similar opinion.

What matters is this; we car enthusiasts are all alike, we all have a shared passion for a pretty weird thing, a cage of steel or even ash or aluminium that is propped up by four round objects covered in rubber, that drink our wallets dry. We aren’t that different, now I don’t get along with lairy ‘Jap’ Mynheer bodykits, but I’m not going to start a website to slag off everybody who modifies a car. People on the Barry Boys website sicken me, and if I could I would remove the cult from the Internet.

On Parkers I was once accused being a Communist for wishing the Government had done more to help the ailing industry rather than actively strangle it. On, I have seen and ex-worker victimised for buying another marque. I read in magazines about the borderlines between new and old classics. On the roads I am accused of being an illegal street racer for driving with other people, some of which are modified.

I am victimised in the Metro by people who get excited at the prospect of beating a carbed 1.1 from 1990 from the lights.

This has to stop.

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22 Mar 2006

We love the Metro


And you thought only midwives and librarians enjoyed Metros… there’s real tactile delight in that steering wheel as’s resident model finds out for herself.

NOT so long ago, Classic Car Weekly ran a buyer’s guide for the humble Austin Metro. Now, you and I would probably find nothing unusual in that – after all, the dear old Metro has been around for over 25 years, and is picking up a bit of a cult following among BL Clositistes out there. Yours truly included.

But for a classic car ‘magazine’, the Metro is still fairly new and it swims in uncharted territories. Editor Russ, Richard and myself were pretty comfortable having it there. Nick Larkin, the owner of the Metro we used for the feature and a well-known writer from Popular Classics and the glory years of Practical Classics, tends to join these two words up at any given opportunity: “Metro. Sex. Metro. Sex.”

I’m not going to espouse the virtues of the Metro here because it’s been done so many times before – only to say it’s a BL thoroughbred and a poignant reminder that we as a nation once did care enough about the British car industry to get behind its biggest player. I was ten when the Metro was launched, and I can still remember it making the 9 O’Clock news – in short, Britain was gripped by Metro fever…

Metro. Sex. Metro. Sex…

So given that, it came as a personal disappointment to see people writing in telling us the bountiful BL baby had no place in the classic car scene. One person – who I should name and shame, but won’t – went on to say that only losers buy Metros, and there’s no way they should ever make it into the classic car scene. Our correspondent went on to say that he didn’t care if we thought him a classic car snob; he just wanted to get his point across.

I guess we can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I do think we should all be a little more understanding and respect the opinions of others. I still think as car enthusiasts, we should all try to be as inclusive as possible in our passion… after all, I suspect we, as car nuts, have enough to worry about from those in a position of power, without turning on each other.

It reminds me of that Rover classic car meeting set up at Bressingham in the Eastern Counties in June last year – the invite basically invites all Rovers upto and including the SD1; and anything else can sod right off. There are plenty of people out there already saying the classic car scene is on its arse at the moment, and you can see why with jokers like this making pronouncements of this nature… What clubs need is young blood, and here’s an example of how not to encourage it.

If you need proof that there’s mileage in Metros, Maestros and Montegos – as well as the newer post-ARG Rovers, you only needed to see the turn out at the Longbridge centenary last year, or the Rover centenary the year before that.

Nope, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee – time to move on and accept some new blood in the classic car scene…

…Including the Metro.

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21 Mar 2006

The indefinable quality of the 1100


A press advertisment put out by Austin Morris in October 1972 boasts:



In 1972/73 BLMC still managed to make 103,486 of the Mini’s big brother before it made way for the Austin Allegro. One of the old chesnuts that is frequently told to us is following the the launch of the Allegro, sales of ADO16’s remaining in the showroom’s actually increased.

I have no way of verifying this claim, but it may well be true, not because the public took an instant dislike to the Allegro, but because there was a genuine affection for the ADO16.

Quite simply the BMC 1100/1300 was a cracking car.

It was a more user friendly, larger version of the Mini, with all that cars virtues and more. It was incredibly roomy for its size and easy to drive. Back in the 1962-to-1973 time slot it was unbeatable; why would one look elsewhere? And on top of that, it was a nice looking car. I would argue that many buyers had a Mini-like affection for the 1100 and its replacement, no matter how good, would have had a hard time saleswise.

This was all the more the case for the ADO16 because when it was phased, out newer rival cars using the same design format were pouring onto the market. You only need to look at the VW Golf to see how quickly the opposition had caught up. From having the market to itself with the ADO16, BLMC now found the Allegro had to compete with allcomers.

How could it match its predecessor in a now overcrowded market?

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20 Mar 2006

WSR Racing


I’D just like to say that I find it fantastic that West Surrey Racing are using an MG ZS again this year. Clearly their sponsorship link with MG Rover finished last year but this year they have struck a deal with Team RAC!

It has many years since the RAC supported racing and I think it shows they have a lot of faith in WSR and the MG product. Its a brave move on their part to support a product that is unfortunately no longer made.

As for WSR they clearly have a lot of faith in the MG ZS and the K-Series engine, they have managed to squeeze an incredible 275bhp out of the four cylinder two-litre engine.. but then we’ve always known how good the K-Series is.

The Series will be Televised and starts on the 9th of April, which means that MG and particularly the MG ZS is going to be in the public for another year!

For more information, click on,

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17 Mar 2006

Maybe Issigonis has a point.


I WAS driving along an A-Road on my way home from work in my Rover 400 the other day, when I realised I was bored. 60mph is nothing in a modern car. There isn’t really any sensation of speed and it sails around corners with no effort at all. Luckily, I have a good stereo so I turned it up loud and enjoyed the scenery.

Until I started thinking. I was now distracted by both scenery and the loud music. Surely this can’t be good? Think back to cars like the Morris Minor or even the Mini. Driving one is an adventure! 60mph on a fast A-Road with lots of bends is demanding and great fun. Sir Alec Issigonis didn’t believe in distractions. No stereo. No complicated heater controls. In fact, you were lucky to get a heater as Sir Alec thought you were better off wearing a thicker coat!

I drive a Citroen 2CV as my everyday car.
It’s more difficult than driving a modern
car but so much more rewarding.

But he had a point. By removing the distractions, you paid more attention to the road. He made sure you weren’t too comfortable. Did he really engineer the cars for fun cornering though? It does seem at odds to his ideals but think again. The Mini is great fun because you can go tearing around bends faster than you dare and get away with it. Engineered for fun or for safety?

The Morris Minor had accurate rack and pinion steering. Certainly it was more precise than cars of the same era. Was this again to make it more fun to corner or to prevent you having to constantly correct yourself with a vague feeling coming through the wheel?

I drive a Citroen 2CV as my everyday car. It’s more difficult than driving a modern car but so much more rewarding. Modern cars are dumbed down with ABS and heavily servoed brakes, power steering which removes all sensation, airbags that make you feel invincible and enough distractions to keep you amused when you should be watching the road.

You can keep the lot. I’ll stick to cars that have wheels and an engine and that don’t let you forget that fact!

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16 Mar 2006

Driving on snow


“The front bib spoiler was removed by Hartwells at my request before collection as I did not wish to use it as a snowplough…”

ALEXANDER Boucke’s contribution about the performance of his trusty Maestro in the snow reminds me of the time when I had to go down to Banbury to collect a new Austin Rover management car from Hartwells. At the time the procedure was to hand back the old car at the factory (Canley), prior to collection from a dealer, and having done this I was due to go over the following morning to pick the new car up.

The only problem was that heavy snow in the Cotswolds had blocked all roads into Banbury and the town was cut off (this was in the days before the M40 was built). I had the loan of a 1.3 Maestro overnight, and decided that I would do a recce of the country lanes to see if I could get to Banbury. The A423 south of Southam was indeed blocked by large snowdrifts, so I took to the lanes heading across to Bicester.

The Maestro 1.3 was great fun to drive in these conditions, and before long I was in Banbury. I headed back and arrived home in Coventry without problems.

When I phoned the garage the following morning to confirm that I would indeed be picking up my new MG Maestro that morning, the salesman was astonished to learn that I had made the trip the night before. I duly arrived on time to collect the car, although on this occasion I was the first car to drive in on the main road as they had just cleared the snow.

From this experience I would say the traction and surefootedness of the Maestro in the snow does make it superior to most other cars on the road, and this is without the advantage of winter tyres. In addition to the stance of the car and weight distribution, the torqueyness of the engine and the smooth engagement of the clutch make it far superior to most modern cars, and indeed any Honda derived product to subsequently come out of Rover.

And of course the 1.3 has narrow wheels and tyres too, not that the MG EFi is difficult to drive in snow – as far as I know, one did win its class by miles on a very snowy RAC Rally circa 1995 (the last year of its homologation?)

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15 Mar 2006

What is genuine or original?


THE most famous and prized derivative of Alec Issigonis’ classic Mini is the 1961-1971 Cooper and Cooper S model; and the rarest of those is the 1964 to 1965 970S.

With prices well north of £5000, it becomes economical to create a fake Cooper from a standard Sixties Mini 850, adding compenents from cars that have long since rusted away, and using the identity of a genuine Cooper. Indeed many a Cooper has been created from the data contained on a V5 Registration document.

In Mini circles, debate on what constitutes a genuine Cooper tends to become heated, because to imply someone may not have a genuine car but a fake is like an insult. Indeed an entire book, the comprehensive ‘Original Mini Cooper and Cooper S’ by John Parnell details the various production changes to the car to help the would be buyer.

But is a car created from a V5 registration document a bad thing? The whole concept of an original Mini Cooper suggests that the car remains in the same condition as it was the day it left the Longbridge factory without out any replacement body panels, which unless the car has led a very sheltered life, is unlikely.

There was no differention between
panels meant for 850 or the Coopers.
The only real difference between the
cars was the engine block.

In my view, a Mini Cooper that has remained in the same family for 40 years with a new BMH bodyshell or many replacement panels is as original as a car created from a V5 registration document. The final arbiter in such matters is the DVLA. If it says it is a Mini Cooper 1275S, then that is what it is. Those in search of originality should remember that in the Seventies the Mini Cooper went out of fashion as Ford provided the nation’s favourite sporting cars. Many rusting Mini Coopers had their mechanicals transplanted into a more humble 850; and in the Seventies, the Mini Cooper’s collectability rating was similar to that of the Rover 620Ti today – prices were low.

There seems to be an attitude among some Mini fans that the Coopers were built on a seperate production line with a halo around it and the workers who assembled them were the chosen ones. This ignores the whole concept of a car like the Mini Cooper, which was to add components to a cheap model in order to sell it at a higher price and make more profit. This is standard industry practice and other famous BMC/BL/Rover cars also used the same concept.

In the Sixties, Longbridge used Mini body panels pressed in Llanelli, which were transported by rail to Birmingham. There was no differention between panels meant for 850 or the Coopers. The only real difference between the cars was the engine block. The S engine was unique and was not used in any other BMC/BL models, and plenty still crop up at autojumbles, thus making it easy to create a Mini Cooper S. Everything else is available new.

So what constitutes a genuine car?

Car parts wear out and have to be replaced, so how many cars are truly original?

The answer is down to the DVLA

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I READ this blog with great interest as the originality thing has long bugged me. It started doing so as soon as Heritage shells for MGBs and Minis became available and I used to think ‘this can’t be right!’

How can a car which has had a new body (not just panels bolted onto its origianl skeleton or had it’s skeleton repaired) be a fair representation of what is shown under Date Of First Registration on a V5? The sheer fact that you can graft a chassis number from one body to another is barmy to me.

In my opinion, the shells should be equipped with registration numbers from an assigned batch (which the DVLA could arrange) which reflect a time when the origianl car’s were last in production. Now, many may say what’s the point, but, my point is that as two cars stand side by side, say:
Car A – Has original parts, maybe even had some replacement panels in it’s time and repaires to the skeleton, but the skeleton is the original one
Car B – Has a heitage shell and new panels but has retained some parts from the forebarer of it’s V5

Now, in monetary terms, Car B could be worth more money whilst masquerading as a car it’s not, and I don’t think it’s on at all to be honest.

I get attached to things, but I think some people with sentimental attachments to cars think that by keeping the reg and a few other bits and spraying a new car in the same colour as an old one need to realise that – It’s not your old car, so deal with it!


14 Mar 2006

More sun…


ALTHOUGH the temperatures are still freezing cold here in Aachen, the sun is out again – and to my great pleasure is staying out longer and longer!

After a long and cold winter I am really looking forward to start into a new season. The fleet is nearly ready to go – just the batteries need to go back into the cars.

On the other hand, my trusty Maestro has driven me through three and a half months of wet, muddy and very salty roads, and although still looking good in the sun, the poor thing shows lots of traces of the winter. There are many places where the rust wants to get a gripe again and will need some attention later this year. I will not complain, as it is still in a good shape for 17 years on the roads and lasted quite well.

But our Rover 216GSi shows that ARG were able to make cars that really could withstand the old tinworm: being driven and kept in the same environment as my Maestro the Rover just refuses to show any traces of rust – so much to my luck a quick wash will be all that’s needed to get this one ready for summer. Why oh why couldn’t they make the Maestro just like that?

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13 Mar 2006



THERE’S not a lot to say, really…

I have an SD1 again – and this time, it’s not far off my dream spec.

There’s a lot of work to do to get it ship-shape, and there’s so little time, but I’m determined to get this one up and running for the summer, so I can celebrate the SD1’s 30th birthday in true style.

It’s good to feel that rumble in my life again…

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9 Mar 2006

Triumphs in the USA


TRIUMPH hasn’t built a car in more than two decades, but it is still winning over buyers.

In the last year, a number of not-for-the-USA Triumphs have been exported from Great Britain to the USA.

The Dolomite Sprint seems to be the one Triumph that Americans never got but wish they had.

I brought two Sprints over last year and sold one to a friend. Another U.S. motoring journalist, Jamie Kitman, also bought a Sprint, as did blokes in San Francisco, New York, Washington state. It is estimated that there are now around 15 Dolly Sprints in the USA.

Now I’ve just bought a Brooklands green 1977 Triumph 2500S saloon. It leaves England March 8th, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland on March 18th. My friend, Mr. Kitman, is close to cinching a deal for a 2500S estate. It is now easy to bring over non-Federal Triumphs. Any car that is 25 calendar years old can come into the USA because it is exempt from emissions and safety regulations.

With the addition of these two Triumph sedans to my collection, there is just one Triumph car I have never owned, but always lusted after. And that’s the TR5.

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8 Mar 2006

…and another


IDLY browsing some Internet forums today, I came across some images of the 1990 ItalDesign Jaguar Kensington.

Seeing it again reminded me of the first time I clapped eyes on it when it was new. It seems so long ago now, and yet, to me the design remains reasonably fresh today. As well as being reminded of how much I liked the car back in 1990, it also set me thinking about what effect launching a car like this would have had on Jaguar back in the early Nineties… and how things would have panned out today.

Although we look at this car now and see a striking similarity with the Daewoo Leganza (there should be – it was based on this concept), back in 1990, it opened up a bold new direction for Jaguar to go in.

Of course, the car may have been right for the time, but Jaguar was in no state to do anything about it. Ford had just taken over, and was going through every project on the books and trying to make sense of the mess. The XJ40 may have been a technical marvel in terms of chassis dynamics, it was an old design (styling was signed off in 1980 – so it was definitely old, not retro), and could have done with a thorough rebody.

…back in 1990, the ItalDesign
Kensington opened up a bold new
avenue for Jaguar to travel down.

Except, it didn’t receive one. When the X300 appeared in 1994, it managed the miraculous. It took the basic XJ40 shape and made it work – work so well, in fact, that it lasted until 2003 – by which time, and probably by accident, old had become retro.

And yet no-one complained. Look at a X300 or X308 XJR in black, and it looks good enough to eat, even today. Not bad for a basic design signed off in the BL days. However, because the XJ looked so good, the cars Jaguar used to expand the range, the X- and S-type were both styled in a similarly retro way. And that cemented Jaguar’s reputation for producing retro cars…

We wonder whether Jaguar would have been in better shape today if it had gone down the ItalDesign route for the X300? Yes, it looks a little derivative now, but remember that if this car had been launched as a Jag, we’d never have seen the Daewoo, so the elegant design wouldn’t have been sullied by Far-Eastern connections.

We’re sure Browns Lane would have sorted the headlamps and given it a decent set of wheels, but I reckon this design is far more ‘Jaguar’ than the uninspiring S-type we arrived at in 1998.

Had the company gone down this route, we reckon it may well not be saddled with its current unenviable image…

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7 Mar 2006

One that got away…


IF anyone has any doubts that the Chinese carmakers can’t get their acts together, then take a look a this.

China Brilliance, the Chinese car company that MG Rover desperately wanted to get into bed with, but ended up being cuckolded by BMW, has produced a new car that actually looks rather good, and could well have global appeal.

This is the Jinjue, (or, ‘Triumphant Horse’ or ‘Winning Gold’) was designed in Italy by Pininfarina (who we think were working with MGR), and actually looks set to do the business. Okay, it’s a bit soon to be declaring doom and gloom for the European industry, especially as we have no idea what it’s like to drive, but it gives you an idea how quickly Red China is getting its act together. Had the MG Rover/CBIH deal gone ahead, one wonders what could have been achieved in a genuine Anglo-Chinese collaboration…

China Brilliance hopes the Jinjue will boost its annual sales from 17,500 to 30,000 per year… let’s see how it goes.

It makes one wonder what could have been achieved with MG Rover on board. Ahh well…

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6 Mar 2006

It’s a class thing…


A FEW weeks ago, I blogged about how it seems as though Britain’s roads are filled with class-conscious bullies. The sort that will treat you according to what sort of car you’re driving – so, for all those Lada drivers out there, life’s always tough on a motorway full of modern cars.

Well, I’ve been able to kind put the theory to the test and prove in my own mind that this phenomenon is no figment of my imagination.

Every day I drive to the office in Peterborough, and although I vary my route depending on what wheels are beneath me, once I hit the great city itself, there’s only one way in. Now, because I have the misfortune of working right in the centre, I need to drive around the ring-road (named the Frank Perkins Parkway – after, I’m assuming, the guy who set-up Perkins engines all those years ago), and peel off after a couple of miles.

The set-up is an interesting one for the exit: the Parkway is dual carriageway, and the exit slip is also dualled. However, there’s no extended access to the off-ramp – you basically queue in the left hand lane and leave with the rest of the traffic. However, because there are two lanes on the exit slip, drivers will try and beat the queue in the left hand lane of the main carriageway – by diving across from the main lane, and barging into the (hopefully for them) empty right hand lane on the slip road.

It’s always quite frightning to watch, and as a seasoned driver I find leaving these antics to those who desperately need to get to work on time is the the best policy.

Anyway, there’s one pushy lady who drives a Toyota Yaris T-Sport who likes to do the Right Lane Dive. Good luck to her I say – a rush of adrenaline in the morning can beat that first coffee any day. But she’s consistent, and that means I can gauge other road users’ perceptions of the cars I’m driving by how she behaves towards me in the queue to leave Parkway.

…that’s because I was in a Lada,
and had a big ‘L’ tattooed on
my forehead.

Sure enough, in the Lada, she’d dive across onto the slip road, then cut across my front to snuggle in the left hand lane of the slip road to peel off into town. She did it to me several times (I always leave room at the front), and I’m guessing that’s because I was in a Lada, and had a big ‘L’ tattooed on my forehead.

Don’t mess…

Now, driving the R8 (416GTi) is interesting. Several times I have encountered her, and each time, she has chosen not to cut me up, but tailgate me aggressively instead. I always leave the same kind of gap ahead, so there’s no accounting for that – perhaps my Rover is saying ‘loser’ but not quite as much as the Lada… And I’m merely an obstacle, not someone to step on.

Finally, the Saab. For some reason, she won’t pass me, won’t tailgate me – and stays a respectful distance behind. Strange that. Obviously, it’s big, black and Swedish, so has plenty of road presence, and it has a non-year number plate, so she can’t tell that it’s a £1500 clonker…

Okay, it’s not a scientific test, but it tells me that there are people out there that treat you differently depending on what car you’re driving.

Does anyone find that a little sad?

Or perhaps I’m the saddo for noticing these things in my early morning road games. Who knows?

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I’VE also noticed what I drive seems to influence other motorists. When I’m driving my 2004 MG ZT-T I can’t say it has any real effect on other drivers. I still notice the occasional bit of bad driving but by and large I don’t get cut-up or challenged to race etc (not that I respond to that kind of tomfoolery anyway).

When I’m in my 1993 Metro 1.1c however things change. Not long after I bought the car I gradually began to realize that drivers of cars like Hyundai Accents and Daewoos etc seem to have an irresistible urge to be in front of the Metro. It’s not something I would have expected and can be quite amusing, especially considering the Metro, even if it is 13 years old, could show most of them a clean pair of heels if I asked it to.

Once a young chav pointed at the Metro and laughed as he overtook me. He was driving a Clio with a boombox….


3 Mar 2006

Chinese car torture

By SEAN O’GRADY, Editor Motoring Independent

THERE’S something almost cruel about the current round of stories suggesting that, against all the odds, the old MG Rover (and before that Austin) works at Longbridge may yet be ‘saved’.

There’s been something pretty heart-rending about such reports for a good few years now. Ever since BMW upped sticks and moved out in 2000, we have seen so many “leaks” of exciting new models apparently almost ready to be put into production.

We’ve been treated to a sort of Chinese water torture of hint after dripping hint that Shanghai, Nanjing, the Iranians, Tata or some other group was about write a cheque for £1bn to bankroll the old place into a more prosperous, secure future.

There have been so many false dawns and false hopes and “phoenix”-style recoveries that the most sensible thing for anyone with a sentimental attachment to the British car industry to do is to ignore them. So we should in the case of the present moves by Nanjing Automobile.

The Chinese have, in a sea of optimistic noises, signed a 33-year lease on part of the Longbridge site, declared their faith in the MG name and declared, yet again, how much they’d like to make cars there. However, they have also ensured that their lease has a six-month ‘break’ clause, so that they can withdraw from the arrangement if things don’t turn out quite as well as they had hoped. Now, what are the chances of that pull-out happening…?

Very high. Often the press get vilified by MG Rover fans for unnecessarily and unjustifiably running down the ‘home’ team. We were never guilty of that at Independent Motoring, and gave everything from the CityRover to the V8 MG ZT a fair trial. If you want to see how the media are blamed for the woes of MG Rover, I suggest you log on to and take a look at some of the forums.

Often the press get vilified for
unnecessarily running down the ‘home’
team – we were never guilty of that at
at Independent Motoring, and gave
everything from the CityRover to the
V8 MG ZT a fair trial.

However, any cool, dispassionate look at the prospects now for Longbridge doesn’t give much cause for hope. There is one thing that will get the plant back to work again, and it isn’t Brummie spirit, excellent design or even world-class products. It’s money. Lots of it.

Nanjing has got it, be sure of that, but it is not about to expend it in Birmingham. If it had wanted to it would have done so by now. If a partner can find the cash to make cars in Birmingham, then Nanjing will be happy to help out.

The company is none too fussy, and will work with anyone – the Great Britain Sports Company, David James’s Project Kimber, or the Uncle-Tom-Cobbleigh-Look-It’s-A-New-Midget With-A-Folding-Electric Roof-Who’d-Have-Thunk-It-Company.

This is the precise opposite of where we we found ourselves just a year ago. Then it was the plucky British entrepreneurs (also known as the Phoenix Consortium) who were looking for funding from the Chinese, not the other way round.

Longbridge isn’t a financially viable proposition, and wasn’t even in the good old days when it was churning out millions of Minis and Austin 1100s.

We shouldn’t be deluding ourselves. It’s cruel.

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2 Mar 2006

Winter Driving


YESTERDAY night it started snowing again, and as is nearly always the case in my home town of Aachen, traffic comes to a near standstill. Although looking at last month’s snowy weather, you’d think drivers would be used to it by now – we’ve had it on and off for the last three months. It just shows there are still many people out there who are not prepared for the white stuff when it comes.

Oh, and we have some nice hills in the town area…

For my part, I must say that I’ve not have difficulties. I could even have enjoyed driving on snow, had there not been so many slow, unsure drivers around. Yesterday night, I had to start from a parking bay on a rather steep incline. About half a dozen cars were stuck and could not move any way apart from downhill, and many drivers had nicely polished the icy surface of the road with their spinning wheels.

While I was prepared to turn round from my uphill-facing position, in the end I didn’t need to – we got away nicly without traction problems.

Am I just the better driver? Or is it my old Maestro? Surely the low power-output of the Maestro will help when there’s less than adequate grip offered by the road. But shouldn’t modern cars be at an advantage with traction control? Just in front of me was a new A-Class; the driver was unable to move the car a single centimetre up that hill – obviously the traction control prevented the wheels from spinning, but also, since there was so little grip, the car wasn’t moving at all.

Others, like a Passat next to me, struggled without driver aids – and the result was a flurry wildly spinning wheels, and a car quirmed randomly without moving up the hill…

The point that I was able to move away with such ease boils down to a very simple thing: use of proper tyres! Sadly too many people still don’t buy winter tyres and risk – at best – blocked roads. Rightly this lack of forethought is a fineable offence here in Germany. It still amazes me, how much grip a set of half decent winter tyres offers on acceleration and braking. Only the cornering power of them is a bit lower.

I cannot understand people driving around in winter without buying a decent set of winter tyres.

A modern snow-tyre creates literally hundreds of spikes taking snow into the small grooves in their profile and pressing it to ice when the wheel moves on. OK, due to the higher profile, they do not work as well on dry, but the trade-off in security, if it snows more then makes up for this.

I cannot understand people who don’t bother buying a decent set of winter tyres. Many will argue about the cost now – well, if you can afford to leave the car at home, if it snows or snow is forecasted – fine. Otherwise, the cost is not high compared to risking your life and the health of others.

The quality tyres you might buy for your Rover 75 might cost £70 each, but they will last about around 30,000miles. This will result in less then one penny per mile spent! And as the summer tyres will be sitting in the garage waiting for better weather, I doubt that the overall running cost of the car will rise noticeably. By way of comparison: even a frugal Diesel will cost 8p per mile in fuel.

I wish all drivers would do a similar calculation. I know tyres are expensive, but compared to the overall running costs, a good quality tyre is still a very cheap item – but one that enhances the security on our roads considerably.

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COULDN’T agree more. In the UK, we seem so poorly geared up for snow that we always seem to get caught out by it when it does come. I often found it amusing driving in Germany in the winter months seeing all those flashy Bee-ems and Mercs on black steel wheels and skinny winter tyres, but only recently came to fully appreciate their worth.

When we travelled out to Ukraine, my co-driver Mike Duff insisted we fitted winter tyres. At the time, I wondered why, but once we got out into the snowy wastes I soon came to realise what a fundamental difference these tyres make in terms of handling and driving confidence in the snow. Once or twice we encountered the really deep stuff, and yet our Lada had no problems at all in these terrible conditions.

Indeed, after a period of acclimatisation, it was perfectly natural to cruise on the quiet (wide) roads with deep. freshly laid snow, at 50-60mph, no problems at all… Okay, it’s unlikely we’ll see these conditions in the UK that often, but it does happen – and if the average motorist has a set of winter wheels and tyres resting in his garage, he’s fully prepared. I know, I’m going to invest in some…



It is certainly remarkable what a difference winter tyres can make. I lived for some years in a mountainous part of Japan where we were treated to a beautiful winter wonderland throughout the season. I regularly went on long journeys with a snow depth of up to a foot even on major roads. I was staggered by the ability of the tyres to force an effective route, to the point of making four-wheel-drive look like an expensive folly. On one memorable occasion driving over a mountain road I was held up in my little Toyota Corolla II by a struggling Mitsubishi Shogun. To find out what these tyres could ultimately handle I tested the car on a road buried under virgin snow: I found I could hammer the car through snow up to bonnet height before lack of power alone defeated it. I was staggered.

Of course conditions like these rarely exist in the UK, although there may still be a case for promoting increased use of winter tyres. The problem with summer tyres is that they freeze once they get much below 7C and this prevents them from dovetailing with ripples in the road surface and its surface texture. It is an interesting idea that a winter tyre forms snow spikes within the tread pattern to create grip on ice but I think this would only be possible if those spikes are somehow being bonded with the ice. Since they form in the tread of the tyre I suspect that they are not being pressed onto the ice surface with enough force to stick. Instead, winter tyres have a fine network of fine grooves called sipes and it is the multitude of edges they form that give the tyre extra bite. This is aided by the softer compound of the winter tyre which can mould itself to any texture the ice might offer and find some purchase. Since a summer tyre freezes it will have has much chance of holding onto an ice sheet as would a tyre made from steel.

Tyre companies are very keen for us to learn to use winter tyres in the UK, and it is not simply about finding extra revenue. Although only Scotland is routinely dumped on by the fluffy stuff, even in the rest of the UK commuting journeys habitually take place in low temperature conditions. Even as I write this on a sunny March day outside Bath temperatures are forecast to rise no higher than 5C. If we all changed to winter tyres safety would be enhanced during all low temperature conditions, not just in the snow. So will I be buying a complete set of new tyres? Nah, I’ll just rely on my superior driving skill…


ONE or two technical notes…

Recent tests here in Germany have shown that the point where summer tyres get too hard to be effective is far lower then freezing point, in fact the abilities to brake and corner on a dry road with below zero temperatures of the winter tyre have been a bit behind the summer equivalent. So far the tyre industry lost one of their marketing arguments. So the 7 degree mark is not a fixed technical value, but a recommendation which still has it’s use although some summer tyres might still be good: It is definatly too late to change over when the snow is there… And a summer tyre on snow is never a good idea!

No tyre is effective on pure ice, a winter tyre will not deliver much more then a summer tyre will. Spikes or chains are the solution on pure, hard ice. But in most conditions where snow is involved the surface is not that icy. Here the sipes – these fine grooves – come into play: ideally modern tyres will take a bit of snow into the sipes while the wheel rolls forward. When the cars wheight finally rests on the same area of the tyre a little time later, the snow is pressed into ice and will enhance the effect of the 100s of sharp edges the tread pattern gives.


1 Mar 2006

Why didn’t BMC copy mainland Europe


The Austin A55. This should have been BMCs only Pininfarina saloon. And it looks so much neater than the A60

THE Pininfarina studios were very busy between 1957 and 1961, designing 1.5- to 2.0-litre saloons for European manufacturers:

1. Austin A55 saloon and estate car (BMC added various clones)
2. Peugeot 404 saloon, convertible and estate car
3. Fiat 1800 and 2100

The difference in approach hits you straight away. Neither Fiat nor Peugeot were ‘carrying’ multiple names like BMC. No Morris, Wolseley, Riley or MG. Why didn’t Leonard Lord and co ditch surplus Nuffield brands after the formation of BMC in 1952?

It was an Austin takeover, after all. The company could have moved MG from Abingdon to Cowley (combining it with Austin Healey), discontinued Morris and Riley, used the Wolseley name for a decently engineered luxury brand and doubled Austin production by manufacturing at both Longbridge and Cowley.

How it should be done: the zero-quarterlight, badge-engineering-free Peugeot 404

Because it allowed the tail (dealers) to wag the dog (BMC), the badge engineering subculture took hold as a low-cost way of maintaining brands. By making Austin the mass-market name they would have been besieged by unhappy Morris loyalists. But these people wouldn’t have included the Cowley workforce because production would have been unaffected.

…badge engineering subculture took
hold as a low-cost way of maintaining

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight we can see exactly where BMC went wrong. If only it had found the courage to ditch surplus brands and concentrate on the Austin range. They only had to look to France and Italy for inspiration.

They might still be with us today if hard decisions had been taken in the Fifties. Now we have to wait and see whether Nanjing can do anything with what’s left of the company.

Fiat 1800. Fussy, heavily stylised, but you have to admit it looks Mediterranean. Also appears a little different to the BMC and Peugeot Farina variants

Keith Adams

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