Blogs : March 2008

30 March

I love the Autobahn

(Picture: Wikipedia)


I’VE just returned from a delightful few days over in Germany, and once again, I find myself thanking whoever it was that’s responsible for the fact that they still have derestricted sections of Autobahn over there. I mean, if you think about it, with the expanding belief that speed alone kills, it’s hard to justify Europe’s second most crowded country having large sections of busy motorway reserved for the noble art of driving a car as fast as you like… and yet, here we are, deep into the 21st century and Germany continues to offer the opportunity to do just this.

Okay, I’m making light of it. But for the person in a hurry, there’s nothing more pleasurable in driving a stretch of road that allows you to make real progress – while being safe in the knowledge that those around you not travelling quite so fast are well versed in looking in their mirrors and moving over for the faster car. Of course, it would be nice if that level of trust could be handed out to UK motorists, but somehow I can never see it happening here – we seem too hung up on not letting the other guy past. I wonder why that is?

However, just as fortunately, I can never see the Germans allowing themselves to lose their derestrictions… Lucky sods!

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23 March

Rover and TR action


THE big thaw is finally starting in Detroit. There’s still snow on the ground, but now the temperature is reaching the low 40s most days. And that means it’s time to start digging out the classics. Today, on the roads around my neighborhood, I saw a poopy brown colored Chevrolet Corvair convertible from the early ’60s, a light green 1969 Mustang Mach 1 and a beautiful red 1969 or ’70 MGB. So, I am not the only one around here getting restless and wanting to play with the toys.

Just a few minutes ago, I decided to see if my restored 1977 Dolomite Sprint would start. It hasn’t budged an inch since early November, though it has been kept at the ready in a warm garage and with a battery tender connected to it, and a full tank of petrol. It was a little cranky, but within a minute, the lusty old Triumph SOHC 16-valve 2.0-litre was awake and making all sorts of lovely noises.

Backing out of the garage and past my Rover Sterling 827 — the first time these two cars have seen each other — and all is ready. She’s a little stiff and a little shaky, but you can feel the engine’s power at your feet. The oil pressure’s good at 50 pounds at 2000 RPM, so away we go. There are buzzes and tizzes and the Dolomite feels about as modern as a 1922 Ford Model T. I realize that it doesn’t feel any worse than when I put it away for the winter in November. What has changed is me. I’ve been spoilt by the supreme smoothness and quietness of the Rover. Nonetheless, it’s good to be back behind of the wheel of the Sprint. As I pile on 25 miles, it occurs to me how much progress Rover made between the time the Dolomite ended production in August 1980 and when the Rover 800 debuted just six years later. The 800 is the equivalent of a moon shot compared to the Dolomite. The Sprint has three fuses and one relay, and of course, no computers. The 800’s relays have relays.

Next, it’s time to see if my TR7 Sprint will start. Here again, this one also hasn’t moved since November. It’s wedged in the corner of the garage on car skates and won’t be coming out just yet. The TR7 does not want to awaken from its winter slumber and requires extended cranking to get going. This one has a TriumphTune cam, two-inch SUs and a few other modifications. After the engine finally comes alive, I notice a big difference between it and the Dolomite. The TR7’s body has much more integrity than the Dolomite, and she runs smooth, quiet and nearly vibration free once warmed.

I’ve never driven a Rover 75, since we never got them in the U.S. But I wonder if the leap forward in quality, technology and refinement that can be seen by going from the Dolomite to the TR7 to the Rover 800 is evident in the 75. Someday, I hope to drive one and find out just how good car company Rover was when the end came.

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18 March

A brush with the law


FOR all those people out there who think that the UK’s roads have become a lawless place, here’s a cautionary tale for you. I was on a very quick late night run in a Nissan Qashqai when I had my first brush with the law for a wee while – a timely reminder that there are traffic cops out there, and that they’re keeping a watch on the roads, even if sometimes it feels as though they’ve given up and handed over their duties to the GATSO camera.

It was my own fault, really… it had been another long day, and I was dying to get back home and crawl into bed. Exiting a roundabout, I gunned the 2-litre dCi to see what was really under the bonnet, and headed up the long uphill dual carriageway that followed with my foot hard on the floor. Now one thing that I like to say I do have when driving are observational skills – so when the set of Xenons came into view behind me at a discreet distance, I took a long look in the mirror. They seemingly appeared from nowhere (which would indicate they were going fast), and yet didn’t catch me. Nor did they drop back.

Gently easing back to 75mph on this NSA stretch, I waited to see what would happen – that knot in my stomach already starting to tighten, even though this wasn’t a positive sighting yet. At the next illuminated roundabout I approached, I could just make out the car following was a silver current-model Vectra, and for me, that amounted to a positive ID.

For another three miles, the car remained behind me – and on this now single carriageway stretch with varying limits, I decided to stick to the limit, plus ten per cent, just to see how this would pan out. And then, as we approached a built up area, the blues and twos came on, with me pulling to the side as soon as it was safe to do so. The ensuing chat was polite and business-like, and after asking me if I’d been drinking, and whether I knew why I’d been tugged (yes I did), a quick licence and vehicle check had me on my way again without even a telling off…

I didn’t even feel aggrieved really, because I did deserve it – and at the same time, it was a reminder that intervention with a traffic officer is always going to be preferable to the cold, hard, clinical timed diffidence of a ‘safety’ camera. And the reason why… it’s called judgement.

So be careful out there, and if you must speed – as we invariably do – then keep a very close eye on your mirrors.

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17 March

Why move when you can improve?


THOSE of us who are of a certain age can remember when Banks tried to flog us home improvement loans using that slogan. It’s come home to me in the last few months that I’ve been doing the very same thing with my current daily driver.

Back in March 2006 I bought an X reg. Honda Accord Coupe and even blogged about it while we were still enjoying our honeymoon period. Anyway, a bit like a gorgeous girl who turns out to have some annoying personal hygiene habits, by November I was truly disillusioned with the thing, its American Honda ocean-of-grey-plastic dash, collapsing seat and the auto box that didn’t communicate with the engine (or me) became too much to bear. I resolved that it had to go. I wanted back in to the oasis of walnut trimmed calm that is the Rover 75 and set out on my search.

After a few weeks of tooling around various dealers and being amazed at the lack of a deal when I mentioned what I was trading, I eventually swapped the Honda for a FSH 40K 1.8 Club SE in Royal Blue on a Y plate, not my ideal choice of trim or engine but the dealer was, at least on the same planet as the rest of us and willing to do a realistic deal. Anyway, I thought to myself, it hasn’t cost me any more money; I’ll just keep it for a year and trade it at the time I planned to sell the Honda.

Only thing is, I haven’t…

I don’t know why but the old thing has got under my skin, I have spent the last 18 months gradually turning it in to the Connoisseur that I originally wanted but couldn’t get a deal on. Plus, I’ve added a few extras along the way, using the 75 Accessories catalogue as my guide. I know spending money on accessories, especially on a six-year old car, won’t add much to its value but I don’t care. I am enjoying pulling the thing apart and putting it back together looking better than it did before, at least IMHO. So, why sell when you can upgrade, to paraphrase my bank.

I have to say that Ebay has been the saving grace here. Since the unpleasantness of April 2005 all sorts of stuff has turned up either ludicrously expensive or ridiculously cheap, I tend to look for the latter, and it’s this that has made my ‘project 75’ such affordable fun. I started with a Club SE whose previous (first) owners had equipped with a factory electric sunroof, mud flaps and rubber mats and I’ve moved on from there.

The Car now sports a set of Meteor 17” alloys (new factory stock, still shrink-wrapped with their Dunlop tyres), An accessory boot –mounted luggage rack ( a bit marmite this one, you either love it or hate it, I like it – my car, my rules), a full leather interior with electric front seats, genuine Rover boot mounted CD Changer, full wood kit for the door switches and centre console (it’s on the RAVE CD-ROM so it was offered as an extra somewhere), chrome finger plates for the door handles, chrome door mirrors, Rover Walnut & leather gear knob, driver’s cup holder and sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, from the same car that provided the leather seats. I have genuine Rover carpet mats for the summer, and keep the rubber ones for the winter. Oh, and I’ve painted the lower grille silver, re-instated the Rover badges on the C-Pillars and added union flag badges on each front wing and the boot lid.

Add that lot up at Rover list prices and you’ll need to go and lie down, however Ebay and breakers yards to the rescue, I estimate that my total outlay on new and pre-owned parts has been around £800, I’ve managed to re-coup nearly £400 of that by flogging stuff like the old interior and mirrors on Ebay, making my outlay around £400. I reckon that’s not bad value to turn the car in to a fully loaded example that I’ll probably keep for another 18 months. I’ve done most of it myself and had fun along the way; you can’t put a price on that and I urge you to try it. 75s are seriously good value now, and the scope for upgrading is huge, buy one, start Ebaying and upgrading, it’s infectious.

On second thoughts, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, all the prices will start to go up now…

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8 March

Facebook: what’s the point?


A FEW months back, I signed up to one of those social networking sites, Facebook. Not sure why I did it, to be honest, but it came about because people kept telling me that I really had to do it – everyone’s on there, and it’s changing all of our lives.

So… I did just that. After signing up, uploading a picture, and penning a few words, I waited for my life to change for the better. Then I waited… and waited some more. A few people that I know have added me as their friends, and sent me invitations to take an online quiz or sup a virtual pint. But that’s about it.

Am I missing something? I mean, all of the people who have added me to their list are ones with my email address in their PCs and my number on their ‘phone. Does a social networking website give them further reason to get in touch? If so, I’ve yet to see any evidence of that… Or is it just another outlet to tell the world what you’re up to?

No, it all just seems a bit lame to me – but I’m happy to be proved wrong, if you feel like adding me.

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7 March

Wherefore art thou, Lancia?


A COUPLE of days ago, I watched the world debut of the Lancia Delta – the car, it is hoped, will herald the return of the famous marque to the UK market. Despite the dynamic name, which still conjures up images of Martini striped Integrales steamrollering the opposition in International rallying, I’m still not 100 per cent sure the time’s right for a return to the UK.

Having a good nose around the car, I couldn’t help but fall in love with its opulent interior and dramatic styling, but it’s a concept that I reckon might not go the distance in the UK. You see, it’s all about luxury, comfort, wood and leather – and that immediately puts me in mind of another marque; one that’s close to the hearts of our readers – Rover.

There’s been a Lancia/Rover synergy or overlap for years – and our correspondent, Matthias Jost, discussed this at some length years ago. But the Italian company is struggling in the market these days, and as far as the UK is concerned, a relaunch will prove costly and difficult to pitch at buyers. When Lancia disappeared from our price lists in 1994, it was still tarnished with the reputation for corrosion – something that proved that buyers have an awfully long memory. Today, it’s even more difficult to imagine Lancia’s big UK sell, when there’s only two things in buyers’ minds – rust and rallying.

Especially in a car with Rover-like brand values.

So, what will be Lancia’s push in the UK? Quality? That’s going to be tough. The cossetting factor? Buyers supposedly aren’t looking for that now. The ownership experience? Not unless they shake up the dealers. Italy? Fiat and Alfa Romeo seem to have that buttoned up.

They could do worse than go for the Woopy (Well-off old person) market. That’s where the spending power is these days – and with older buyers (myself included) still harbouring fond memories of classic Lancias, they’d need less convincing. Comfort is paramount, as is the ease of entry and exit – and before younger readers snigger, remember that the MG ZT couldn’t exist without the existence of the Rover 75 – a car who’s mission statement looks rather similar to the Delta’s.

And the advertising tagline for the new motor? DELTA: The ultimate Woopy cushion.

It’s bound to be a winner.

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2 March

Live or let die?


WELL, here comes my Waterloo. I’ve said it myself many, many times – why scrap a car that needs a few consumables, and yet, here I am thinking about it myself. I know I promised not to blog about my Nissan Primera again, but the onset of a slipping clutch has me mentioning the old barge again…

Why? Well every time I take a wander around the local scrapyard, I see rows and rows of perfectly usable cars, abandoned by their owners for the sake of a few small jobs. I bemoan the fact that all these cars could still be on the road – and perhaps a few less new cars are bought as a result. My Nissan’s now in that twilight between life and death – the clutch will probably cost me around £200 fitted, all in, but the financial value of this otherwise healthy car (which is taxed and tested until the end of the year) is probably around that mark.

Ordinarily, I’d say that the actual value of this car transcends the financial value – it’s usefulness is worth more than £200, and in truth, it probably has years of service ahead of it. However, it was picked-up as a stop-gap while the logbook for my Cavalier Sportshatch turns up… and now that has, I no longer have a use for this car. However, it was free (apart from the cost of the tax disc), so the economics are really skewed in this case.

So, do I scrap it? Or save it – to pass onto someone else? It goes against my nature to kill the car, and I know had it been more interesting, there’d have been no question of what to do. But it’s a Primera. Would I be out of pocket to fix and sell up?

Your thoughts, as ever, are always welcome…

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1 March

An eye-opener


WE all know that cars are growing in size and weight at an alarming rate – and although there are one or two exceptions to the weight rule (MINI and Audi TT, for instance are lighter than the cars they replaced) – it’s the size issue that really is an eye-opener. This picture, taken at work, is a beautiful illustration of the difference between old and new – the car on the right is a 1.4-litre Peugeot 308, registered this year – while on the left is a 1995 Peugeot 306 1.9D.

There’s only a generation-and-a-bit (in car terms) between them, and yet, the difference in stature is amazing. There’s no foul play in taking this picture – the rear wheels on both cars are kissing the kerb at the edge of this car park, so the 308 is effectively no nearer to the camera, despite appearances.

Driving both cars reveals that the 308 is obviously a far more civilised machine, and from the front, there appears to be acres more room. But in reality, that’s down to elbow space, and that massive cab-forward windscreen. I’m reckoning that the next one (will they dare call it 309, I wonder?) will be pretty much a one-box effort, and you can see that’s the direction Peugeot’s going through its evolution. And it’ll probably be bigger. And uglier.

And that’s why the 308 feels so refined… it’s effectively the same size as a 1990s executive car.

But do cars really need to be as big as they’re becoming? Especially as roads are becoming more crowded. Imagine how fewer jams there would be, if the average family car was no bigger than an Austin 1100…

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THE trouble is the new cars arriving now are just coming out of four-plus years of R&D. If you watch the markets you know things are “Not good”. The $ and the £ are going to crash in value shortly mainly down to the VAST amount of printing the Bank of England is doing in a despite attempt (that will fail) to bail out the banks.

They say “Peak Oil” or “World demand”, but that’s nonsense, it’s inflation created by them hyper inflation the money supply. The demand will not be a ever increasing size cars (the latest Mondeo is a joke!) but for improving fuel economy. The car industry will be quite happy about this as it solves a major problem for them… “Performance compression”… Why buy a £60K car that can get “worried” by a £25K one?

I know a guy who has a Porsche Cayman S on lease; he not bad but on a good bit of back road found himself under attack from a Ford Focus ST and was shocked at how fast it went round corners! At lest we are now looking at this weight issue, Mazda being very keen as in Audi, both have cut sizes and weights… Did you know the 1980s Audi quattro weighted in at 1267kg?… Lighter than a Focus!

We see a major step change over the coming years and about time, i still dream of a Audi R4 RS, the size of a Ford RS 200, but safe & usable day to day.


WHILE the EXTERIOR dimensions are getting bigger, new cars do not seem to be getting bigger INSIDE.

My brother in law took delivery of a brand new Renault Laguna estate at the week end, so he bought it round and we all had a climb about in it. This thing is hayuuuge. The overhang at the front is about the same size as my first car.

However, inside I was (secretly) surprised at the lack of space. He is not tall – maybe 5′ 9″ but does like the seat well back, but not so far I guess that he cannot push the clutch pedal to the floor. In this case I could not sit in the back seat. I am 5′ 10″ so not tall. There must have been about 4″ leg room. The car just felt really claustrophobic even with the nice big windows. I normally drive a Vauxhall Zafira which has a remarkably good inside/outside space ratio I know, but this still surprised me.

Is it all about just making the car look impressive/aggessive now i wonder?


NOT only has the 308, and many other new Peugeot models also, a massive cab-forward windscreen, Peugeot makes the noses longer and longer as well. The successor of the Peugeot 308 might as well be named Pinocchio instead of Peugeot…


JUST read your article on the size of new cars, and have to say, I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve recently bought a 1981 Allegro – which used to seem a perfectly reasonable, average sized family car. Now, it’s one of the smallest cars on the car park – smaller and lighter looking than ever today’s superminis! Certainly the only car at work (apart from a 107!) that you can see tarmac all round when you’re in one of the bays.

You’re also right about this contributing to traffic – often I can squeeze past anything waiting to turn right, and be on my way. Bigger wider more modern cars have to wait until the vehicle has turned right – by which time, there’s a long tailback built up!

The other issue I can see with this is that car parks, on street parking and so on are getting more and more difficult. It’s bad enough where a drive is at the side of a house – already I have to decide which side of the car I want to access before pulling in. However, just imagine a street of terraced houses – each about 12′ long. As soon as you have a 13′ car outside each one, plus space to pull in and out, and you get gridlock!

Well done, Mr Adams, you’ve hit the nail on the head.


Keith Adams

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