Blogs : October 2006

28 October

…glad to be back


Generation ‘Rover’, ‘Roewe’, ‘Rower’, ‘Wrong Way’… looks okay doesn’t it?

WOW! Ten days without a blog – it must have looked like had been shut down after a Chinese invasion. However, the truth is, I’ve been helping write an Encyclopedia of classic cars, and since I returned from Staples2Naples, I’ve been doing that. The book-writing experience was a bit of an eye-opener for me, because I’d always assumed there would be long deadlines and no pressure – well, you couldn’t get further from the truth with this one…

Still at least it’s done, and I can get my life back.

Oh, and big, big apologies to everyone who has emailed me in the last couple of weeks and not heard anything back – I will reply as soon as I can…

The news from China has been coming thick and fast though – the Roewe 750 has now been officially launched, and it looks like SAIC and Ricardo have made an impressive effort with this car, in many ways starting from scratch. I still believe that a collaboration with a live MG Rover and SAIC would have been fantastic – could you imagine how quickly the two could have developed new models? Still, it’s all academic now.

The other good news to come out of
Birmingham recently is that the
production of MG TF body shells has
been moved to Longbridge.

Having enjoyed six months’ headstart over Nanjing, SAIC has delivered the goods – it will now be interesting to see whether NAC-MG will be able to meet its self imposed April 2007 deadline for the introduction of its new ZT…

The other good news to come out of Birmingham recently is that the production of MG TF body shells has been moved to Longbridge – confirmation that the company really is committed to returning small-scale production to ‘The Austin’. Given the speed that goals have been achieved in China, it’ll be interesting to see whether that can be mirrored over here.

Given the sheer number of Chinese NAC workers I saw at Longbridge the last time I was there, I’d not be surprised at all.

I’m not entirely back, though – after the food poisoning and the book, I’ve emerged just in time for a drive out to Spain. Nothing exciting there you might think, but for me, a bit of a challenge I’m looking forwards to. Being the editor-at-large on Modern MINI magazine, I suggested taking out a Cooper-rival to the UK press launch in Barcelona. That way, we do a nice twin-test, rather than a straightforward launch story.

But in order to lessen the impact on my CCW work, I need to get there and back as quickly as possible. So, I leave tomorrow morning, to meet the Cooper (as opposed to the ‘S’ that the rest of the motoring press has been concentrating on) on Monday afternoon at Barcelona airport – and then be back in the office on Wednesday morning. Can it be done? Mission impossible? I reckon it should be easy; but what interests me, is how the car I’m taking – a VW Polo GTI – will handle it.

It’s a glamorous life this motoring journalism lark…

Looks good, too – but doesn’t that bonnet/bumper shut-line grate once you see it eliminated in the newer car?

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18 October

China in your hand


SITTING at home recovering from a nasty case of food poisoning has certainly given me time to think about things. Most specifically, the Chinese situation, and the official announcement of the formation of the marque name Roewe. Looking at the recent scoop photos of the 750E, I can’t help but feel mixed emotions about the whole situation.

On one hand, it’s hard not to admire just how quickly the Chinese company has got up and running with this project. Yes, there’s British know-how playing a major role in the project thanks to the guys at Ricardo 2010, but one can only wonder at how much can be achieved with a few blueprints, some cars to tear down and a whole lot of ambition.

One the other hand, this was ‘our’ car – and because of a rather nasty prevailing climate, we lost it in a high-stakes game of poker. We raised the stakes – and the Chinese called our bluff, and the result was we lost MG Rover and its cars; and thousands of workers in Birmingham and the surrounding area were forced onto the job market.

…this was ‘our’ car – and because
of a rather nasty prevailing climate,
we lost it in a high-stakes game
of poker.

But what they have achieved with the 75 leaves a bitter after-taste for another reason. Had SAIC not pulled out, and worked with MG Rover to form the Joint Venture Company we all thought was going to happen, the results could have possibly been fantastic. Imagine the two companies working together and producing these cars in Shanghai and Birmingham – I still think it could have worked. Now the prospect is nothing more than a fascinating ‘might-have-been’ in a history littered with such things.

Still, we’ve got Nanjing to look forwards to – and unlike SAIC with its faux-marque Roewe, it has the more valuable MG nameplate to attach to its cars. That alone should make the cars more saleable overseas (in Europe and the USA) because the historic marque still has plenty of kudos with car enthusiasts. Nanjing-built 7Zs will be as British as egg-fried rice, but with a small commitment to Longbridge in the form of the re-introduction of the TF, at least there’s something for us Brits to cheer on.

Either way, the efforts of SAIC and NAC have proved that the Chinese are a major industrial force to be reckoned with – and had we been able to find a way to work with them back in 2005, the world might well have been our oyster.

…err not a good time to mention seafood.

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IT’S interesting to note that in Sweden, the Anglo-Chinese car Roewe would be pronounced rather similar to how we say, well, ‘ass‘.


15 October

Crap cars says who?


WE all have our own ideas about what constitutes a crap car, but what if your own pride and joy appears in a publication and is described as crap? This is what’s happened to my yellow Princess, which has found its way into the 2007 Crap Cars calendar.

I’m not fussed about the fact that it’s in there, what does piss me off is the fact that they didn’t ask me if they could use the image of my car, which must have been taken during 2005 at one of the Classic Cars On The Prom shows held during the summer on Bournemouth promenade. They’ve even changed its registration number (the last Y should be a J) but I’d be a lot happier if they’d left it as it should be, and they can’t change the fact that it’s me driving it! I don’t know if any of the other owners of the cars featured in the calendar were asked, but I know I wasn’t.

But can you imagine the telephone call; ‘hello, yes I’m pleased to tell you your Princess is to be featured in a 2007 calendar,’ ‘that’s fabulous news, what’s it called?’ ‘Erm, Crap Cars!’ As for the Princess being crap, well it isn’t. We’ll talk about that another time.

Still, all publicity is good publicity and it’s in good company too, there’s an Aston Martin Lagonda and a Lotus Elite, not to mention the Triumph Stag (perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it!) still, at least my Princess is on the merry month of May, which just happens to be my birthday month.

Nevertheless, they could have asked first.

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I’D like to reply to the blog by Kevin Davis. I can understand him being a bit miffed about his car appearing in a “Crap Cars” calendar but I’d just like to say don’t worry about it mate.

Firstly his Princess clearly isn’t crap and secondly the people who compile these sorts of productions normally don’t know what they are talking about and have the Top Gear mindset.

As an example of this I remember a couple of years ago Richard Hammond quite confidently telling the Top Gear TV audience that the 1990 Rover 200 was, in it’s day, “a bit crap actually!”


14 October

Revolution or rear wheel drive?


IT has often been argued that the Landcrab and Maxi failed to sell in sufficient numbers because of their boxy styling, and if something like the Pininfarina designs had been adopted, then the cars would have sold better.

Is this really a valid argument?

If we analyse 1960s car sales, the true indicator of what the customer wanted, then we find that the Mini was the most popular sub-1000cc car, the ADO16 dominated the 1000cc to 1300cc sector, the Ford Cortina was the most popular 1300cc to 1600cc car, and the executive car market was dominated by the Triumph 2000 and Rover P6.

The drivers of the Mini and ADO16 were mainly private buyers, who appreciated the space saving advantage of front wheel drive. However, the sector above was dictated by the fleet buyers, whose needs BMC managed to completely ignore. The fleet buyers were not interested in advanced automotive technology and cars that could go around corners like they were on rails. Fleet buyers wanted a car that had a big boot for samples and ultra reliability, something not then offered by BMC.

…in the 1960s BMC misread the
market and paid the price…

Reliability meant rear wheel drive, which is why the impeccably-costed Ford Cortina sold like hot cakes. If BMC had offered more stylish ADO17s and Maxis, would they really have sold more? I don’t think so; the BMC cars offered technology that the market simply was not interested in, and did not trust.

When the ADO17 was replaced by the Princess, it failed to sell in greater numbers than the car it superceded. When BMC/BL did knuckle down to a rear wheel drive fleet car with the 1971 Morris Marina, it was a success because it was a car the market wanted.

The conservative tastes of the British fleet buyers did retard automotive development, as UK manufacturers knocked out cars like the Marina, Cortina, Vauxhall Viva and Hillman Avenger, and it was not until the 1981 MK2 Vauxhall Cavalier arrived, that fleet buyers started to buy a front wheel drive car in large numbers.

But car manufacturing is a business, and in the 1960s BMC misread the market and paid the price.

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13 October

eBay – interesting from the other side of the fence


THE internet auction house eBay is nothing new and it’s useful to a point, if annoying.

However like most of us, I’ve only really used it as a buyer. Well, until recently, that is. I recently turned to the dark side and became a Seller.

This is when it became interesting – things that you would think would be a sure-fire hot sale are left un-bid on, and stuff you listed because it came off in your hand goes mad with people fighting over it!

But it’s the delivery instructions that are the best bit. For me, it’s suprising that its the wives and girlfriends that have the accounts – not the men. However, Im still Ill at ease at why a Proffesor residing at Her Majestys Pleasure would want a XM aerial listed as ‘possibly nibbled by a rabid vampire squirrel’ for his cell – oh well 99p is still 99p…

Item no 130033690498 if ya want a peek!

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12 October

CHPD – A distinctly British concept?


RIGHT now here in Britain, decent older cars can be picked up for less than the price of a new flat screen television. Now depending on what cars you own, the money you want to spend on a car, and your personal views, this could be a good or bad thing.

Many would argue that having so many decent cars around for so little money is a bad thing. Just to clarify things, not all these heaps are by any means slow. You could bag yourself a tidy 405Mi16, Renault BX 16v, VW Golf GTi or even a high miler Rover 220 turbo for varying amounts sub £1000. This is in many cases less than the cost of one year’s insurance premiums, and then there’s the cost of maintenance and upkeep, and hence so many of these (rather nice) old cars are often found neglected or abandoned in lay-by’s, and that many good cars are wasted for the sake of minor damage or faults that renders the car as a whole a write off.

It also seems somewhat silly that you can pick up car with a fair few BHP and all the toys for less than an average computer.

Not the case in Spain. Having spent a week there last month, it struck me that there was a lot of very well kept, if a bit dusty old cars here. Sights like the one above were not uncommon (a saw another 2 like that), many other old small hatches in good nick and there was even a mint Mk1 Rover Sterling on one corner, a rare sight in the UK, let alone Spain.

It also seems somewhat silly that
you can pick up car with a fair
few BHP and all the toys for less
than an average computer…

Intrigued I asked our regular (english) minicab driver there about it. He reckoned it’s because of how the Spaniards see cars. In the UK, it’s normal to replace your car every 2-5 years. Not there. Due to the fact new cars used to be rather expensive, it was the general idea to buy a car, and keep it for the entirety of its life. This means you’re more inclined to look after it and repair faults, hence the better condition. It also means there isn’t the massive number of old cars on the market that there is in the UK, so there is more demand and less supply, hence used cars are rather expensive. He also said that a lot of Brits who have property out there will drive their own UK car down to use when they’re in the province as its so much cheaper than buying a second hand motor once they’ve arrived.

In contrast to the arguments that all these bargain bangers in the UK are a problem, you could argue that its good to be able to get so much for so little money, and that the high price of second hand motors in Spain makes it difficult for someone without a bit of money behind them to get any type of car, and makes it impossible for anyone but the wealthy to have a more upmarket (if older) car.

Well, that might stop a few of you on here retiring to the Costa Del Sol.

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11 October

CityRover: It’s all your fault


I AGREE with your point about CityRovers being yesterdays news, but I disagree about it being ‘the death of MGR’; the company was on its deathbed long before the CityRover came along.

Since the ‘abandonment’ by BMW, Rover had little or no chance of surviving, especially considering the management’s over-ambitious and unrealistic plans for the company, when there simply was no money to waste, alot was wasted… The issues with the dreaded K-Series engine and Rover’s unwillingness to do anything about it gave the company a very large dent in its side as far as I’m concerned, making Rover an even less likely recipient of our hard earned cash come replacement time.

Sure, the 75 was a lovely car and was still a very fresh design. The 25/45 wasn’t, however, and lacked the freshness that was becoming more evident in the marketplace. With rivals such as the Focus, and the Golf, they were a size up from the mid-Nineties’ based 25/45, and were also a step up ability-wise too, trouble for Rover was it was priced similarily too…

Since the ‘abandonment’ by BMW,
Rover had little or no chance
of surviving…

Don’t get me wrong they were competent cars in themselves, but just not really what the general public wanted to spend their money on, especially considering the risky K-Series engine that was fitted to most the range. The only good thing that came out of the 25/45 range was the MG ‘Zed’ cars. This gave the company a glimpse of the good old days of making a car that the young wanted and they were buying MGs in their droves. However, the rest of the range was bought by older people.

All this, coupled with the (in my opinion) tragic waste of money that was the MG XPower SV, the company was doomed. How Towers and his posse could think that by making a few (very expensive) bespoke sports cars they could change the buyer’s minds about their (by now) ageing and slightly fuddy-duddy range of cars is beyond me…

So what part did the CityRover play in all this? It was yet another desparate “grasp” by the company to increase its shrinking and ageing model range :The CityRover, as we all know was a town car made and engineered by TATA, a large but slightly agricultural company based in India. The car was fitted with an ageing 8-valve XU PSA engine. This was the only engine choice and conflicted with Rover’s Technologically superior K-Series units. The cars were not up to western standards, neither. The potential customers of this car were not, however, too concerned about these shortcomings and generally bought new cars for image and low price.

Did the CityRover have any of these things? In short: NO. Thats why, (in my opinion) MG Rover died…

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10 October

How a wonderful car destroyed MG Rover


I AGREE with a recent blog clearing the CityRover of blame in the demise of MGR. It was badly handled and a PR disaster but surely it pales into insignificance compared with the mind-boggling disaster that was the MG SV.

There was no need for an MG supercar. MG had created the required reputation quite happily through the success of the ZS in the BTCC and the image created by the lairy MG Z cars. In one quick, and very clever move, MGR found a way to keep the loyalty of older customers (Rover) while appealing to a whole new market with the MG brand.

So the MG SV is a complete disaster. A Titanic on wheels. But the thing is, as an MG Rover Enthusiast, it’s hard to look at the SV and feel anything other than love for such a crazy, yet brilliant concept. It was doomed to failure but as happens so often in motoring history, I feel we would have been poorer without it. That said of course, if it had never happened and MGR had been able to overcome their difficult time and remain viable, I would feel very different. “Thank goodness they cancelled that ridiculous supercar thing.”

One thing is for certain. The MG SV will go down as a classic. With a limited production, a stonking great V8 engine and brutiful looks, the world will forgive its painful birth.

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9 October

MGB: It’s not all that bad


The MGB suffers from a bit of an image problem. People see it as overly common, dynamically disadvantaged and ultimately not worth the high praise that members of certain MG owners clubs lavish upon them. I was always of the school that said the B was over-rated and about as exciting as Muesli.

By doing this however, I was just being typical of those who slag off cars they know nothing about. I have sinned but now I must repent!

For an early, pull-handle MGB has won my heart. Settle behind the simply enormous, skinny-rimmed steering wheel and you immediately feel like you’re behind the wheel of a vintage sports car rather than a 1960s roadster. The engine fires into life while the exhaust rasps away invitingly.

The MGB’s engine fires into life while
the exhaust rasps away invitingly…

Pull away and the transmission whines like a wartime truck but keep your foot down and the car leaps away with surprising swiftness. The ride is slightly bouncy but much more composed than I expected, even on some rough roads. The steering is direct and nicely weighted although the bottom of the steering wheel caught on my legs – and I’m far from over-weight!

But what really surprised me was how much this car made me smile. Yes, it was a nice sunny day but to drive, it really was a pleasant experience.

I’d like to try a later B now. I still have a lot of contempt for the rubber-bumper models. Could this be misplaced also?

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4 October

How to bring Rover back quickly


I AM a tad late with this, though I did learn the news earlier: the Rover trade mark has been bought by Ford, which had ?rst right of refusal when BMW sold it. The Dearborn, Mich. automaker paid £6 million, which means it will likely hang on to its Land Rover unit. It also means that SAIC, which has its version of the old Rover 75 ready for sale, will need to create a brand — putting it at a disadvantage to its rivals in Nanjing, the NAC–MG group.

SAIC may have been better resourced than NAC, but without a brand, it is no better than the many Red Chinese companies wanting to set up shop outside their home market.

Ford may put out extensions to its Land Rover and Range Rover models, though most cannot see that happening in the immediate term. The brand equity is less than what it could be at this point, so Ford is unlikely to use the brand till well into the 2010s, when it has recovered slightly and people are seeing it through rosier-coloured glasses.

That is conventional thinking, and Ford is good at that. ‘We haven’t planned new models for this, so we won’t do anything.’

Sometimes, it is bad having a fixed strategy. Strategies need to be semi-fluid for opportunities such as these.

The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource’s Keith Adams proposed the Jaguar X-type be rebadged a Rover, so Jaguar could concentrate on its more premium models. In rare disagreement with Keith, I do not think that is a good idea, considering the marque could do with a 2.4 or Mark II-segment model, and there would be too many sheetmetal changes needed to make the X-type less Jaguar-like.

SAIC may have been better resourced than
NAC, but without a brand, it is no better
than the many Red Chinese companies
wanting to set up shop outside
their home market.

But Keith is on to something, but we need to think just a bit more laterally: could Rover be a brand to slap on to exports of Mercurys to Europe? The Mercury Milan, for example, is smart, looks less modern than its European rivals, and may appeal to many buyers who want a softer, slightly traditional car.

Its Mazda 6 base means it is safe, and it might even mean right-hand-drive engineering won’t be too hard.

The waterfall grille can be easily adapted to fit the Rover Viking longship.

Hardly anyone in Europe knows the Mercury brand.

Ford, in one move, could get better economies of scale with its Fusion, Milan and MKZ, increase its representation in the C/D segment, tap in to the remaining Rover loyalists, and have a car that won’t seriously cannibalize its other similarly sized models.

The launch costs need not be great because not enough time has passed for Rover to sink into history like Triumph or Austin has.
And it can market the car, if it wanted to, in nine months.

The Mercury Milan doesn’t even need to be a class leader, because as we have seen, Rover buyers have not been after that for a long time.

The question is: will the new CEO, Alan Mulally, have the guts to put a stamp on his leadership with such a coup early, like Bob Lutz did at GM?

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3 October

Yesterday’s chipwrappers.

By KEN STRACHAN, Wizened middle-aged automotive engineer

YOUR latest piece on the City Rover is very interesting – to us diehards.

To the rest of the world, it’s yesterday’s chip paper.

Isn’t that BMC/BL/Rover in a nutshell? Drive customers away with an undeveloped Mark 1, then launch a kosher Mark 2 when no-one wants to know? With the Mark 1 City Rover, it was too late – people wrote off the whole company on the basis of one dreadful car.

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1 October

Who says CityRovers are crap?


THE CityRover makes good… I know we’ve been banging on about the CityRover on this website for ages now – and largely to deaf ears – but here’s proof that it’s good for something.

In what the Endurance Rally Association called the CityRover’s final hurrah, two lads from Southampton University – Chris Cardwell and Nick Clarke – both aged 22, (neither of whom had been as far as Calais before) – drove a CityRover to India recently for their summer hols to check out a potential overland rally route next year including several days in the Himalayas.

The car reached the Indian border not having consumed a single drop of oil, nothing dropped off, and the gearchange “is the best bit of the whole car, a greased up rifle-bolt.” It was a Mark Two…all the improvements made it in the end, and the 10,000 mile long trip was faultless reliability.

Sounds good to us – not only for the CityRover (which we’d never have doubted would have got there in one piece), but also for a potential interesting adventure next year!

For more information, click on

Keith Adams

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