Blogs : October 2007

31 October

Gaydon twinned with The Louvre


After a long night on the beers, Russell the Journalist heads drearily to his desk at the Daily Blah, and begins to type…

Outrage at Mistreatment of Louvre Exhibits.

There was mounting anger on the streets of Paris last night, as a small but vocal crowd gathered to protest the mistreatment of many valuable artworks by the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Protesters said that some priceless, irreplaceable works, such as David’s Oath of the Horatii and Alexandros’ Venus de Milo, had been left in totally unsuitable conditions for their preservation. Photographic evidence, meanwhile, suggested that paintings and sculptures were being stored outside the museum’s walls, in an insecure location by the site’s waste disposal facilities.

In a recent press statement, the museum’s press director, J Merde, gave assurances that the exhibits were being stored outside only temporarily, and that the situation would soon be rectified.

‘This process has been more prolonged than we anticipated as planning permission has had to be sought from the local authority. As a result we have had to keep some paintings outside, a situation we are clearly less than happy with…We have been able to move a significant number of the most fragile paintings… into covered storage and we hope to complete the process for all the collection with 4-5 weeks. At the same time we have also taken the opportunity to inspect paintings and sculptures in our workshop. We certainly have no intention of keeping any works outside during the winter period and have no plans to sell any works from the reserve collection.”

However, protesters point to the recent grant given to the Musée by the Lotto, which has been spent on an interior remodelling rather than the preservation of existing works. It is strongly felt that the money has, at least in part, been mis-spent. Merde insists that ‘We have taken the opportunity to spruce up the rest of the museum,” and that ‘Whilst it may feel more empty, this is in response to an often-raised comment by visitors that they would like more space around the exhibits, to view them more easily.” Many protesters, however, see this as an indication that the displaced works will not be returned to public viewing, and instead will be allowed to languish in inappropriate conditions for the foreseeable future.

The French Secretary of Culture, Jamie Lesoignons, was unavailable for comment.

Then, with a jolt, Russell woke up in his bed, reaching immediately for two aspirin. His head was spinning, and he was appalled by what he had dreamed. No museum would be allowed to carry on like that, would it? Would it?

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30 October

Back from Poland

Slowly but steadily it’s returning to form…


BACK from my flying visit to Poland to check on the progress of my SD1 restoration… I have to say that these guys are great, but I wish they’d talk to me – I called them last week to say I was coming to check out the car, and bring some cash, only to hear them say that they’d not done a lot as they’d yet to receive a deposit from me.

As it happens, it was a bank error – something that Barclays kindly didn’t bother to tell me. So, the resto is about four months behind… and it looks like I’ll be getting my SD1 back in pristine condition in May. Just in time for my birthday. The full story to follow, but having seen a Mercedes-Benz they’ve just finished, I have high hopes that my SD1 is going to look like a million dollars when they’ve finished it…

The one lesson I’ve learned… talk constantly to these guys.

But the most exciting thing for me… was the drive back. No planned route – Germany at night in a quickish car… and plenty of de-restricted action. I was in heaven. It was a pink moment for me, sitting on the A4 near Dresden, at 130mph and without a care in the world. A long-lasting memory, and one that I hope to replicate soon. If you’ve not been to Germany yet to enjoy the delights of real high speed driving, do it at the earliest opportunity!

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25 October

My new favourite new car?

Which would you choose?


IT’S been an interesting day today – I’m in the fortunate position of having a couple of VAG products at my disposal. A Skoda Superb 2.0TDI and the rare and rather special Volkswagen Phaeton V6 TDI 4Motion. I won’t bore you with the details of the cars themselves, suffice to say that they’re both good at their intended roles in life, and although you’ll find neither the sort of car you’ll want to get up an hour just for thrill of driving them – you’d never shirk driving from one end of our country to the other.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the Volkswagen Phaeton could well be the next super-bargain luxo-barge in years to come. Just like the Lexus LS400 and Audi V8 before it, here we have a left-of-centre plutocrat car, which is really rather good, but which few people would conceivably buy… here in the UK at least. In a way, that’s a real shame, as the one thing that comes across loud and clear with the Phaeton is that it’s incredibly well engineered, with an interior that shames its rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

However, from our point of view, what makes the Phaeton doubly delicious is that in about 15 years’ time, you’ll be able to buy one for very little money – much like an XJ40, LS400 or 1980s BMW 7-Series today. Knowing just how good those cars can be to drive today – that fills me with a tingling anticipation for the world of Bangernomics (copyright, James Ruppert) in 2020… Pub landlords, all hail your new motor!

Finally, I’m off to Poland for a few days to check out my ongoing SD1 restoration (in one of the above cars – I’ve yet to decide).

Hopefully it’ll be good news, as I’m getting withdrawal symptoms…

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24 October

Just how hard?


I’VE had my eyes opened today, I can tell you. I’m trying to find a standard example of a Ford Escort MkIII (1980-1986) for a feature in Practical Classics magazine, and it would seem that there aren’t any left. Yes, it would seem that Britain’s best selling car of this era is now extinct.

Of course that’s not true, but at the same time, there don’t seem to be any enthusiasts for these cars – that is, unless they’re hotted up and sat on big wheels. However, it’s a shame that it has come to this – who can honestly say that the car in the picture above isn’t handsome, and worthy of a place in history. Actually, I think this situation is more down to the state of the Ford club/website/forum scene – a dissipated fractous scene if ever there was one.

According to the PC Club guide, there are ten owners clubs for the Ford Granada – and that’s only the beginning. It’s like the People’s Front of Judea if you ask me… splitters. Ford Escort clubs – again there are loads – seem to concentrate on the fast ons; and as for a simple Ford Owner’s Club, buggered if I can find it. Anyway, it seems to me, that the BMC>MG scene is a damed sight healthier thank you very much – and all of the clubs, forums and websites enjoy a very healthy relationship, with ample cross-pollination. Long may it continue.

So that leads to the question yet again – does Ford need its own version of the AR website, and if so, are we the people to provide it? And would this be the home. On this matter, your thoughts would be entirely welcome.

Oh, and if you can lay your hands on one of these cars, and are free on the 1st November, I’d be very keen to hear from you. There’s a drink in it for you!

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23 October

The realities of car buying culture

By Edelle and Graham, via email

I’VE travelled to lots of European countries in the last few months, and I’ve noted the differences in car buying cultures as much as possible.


It’s a common thought- ‘What a proud country. ”A case of style over substance”. This is not the case when you take a closer look. When you tune out all of your ingrained prejudices and view the surroundings with a fresh and untainted view, you realise what’s going on here. A cursory glance at the busy street below reveals a story which is so common across the world: Here is a country that is proud of its heritage and achievements and no matter what is said, nothing can change their view. Rose coloured glasses? Maybe.

The real point here is that the majority of the traffic is a native brand, even the models we know to have major inherent faults. It’s a case of spot the foreign car!


Now I’m not going to pretend that Italy is any different to the common image. It really is a beautiful place when you pick through the overly concrete urban inner cities. The common theme in cultural talk is that Italy is the home of arrogance and inward looking pride. In a way this is true. The Italians to some may seem overly patriotic and over the top. I sympathised with this view until I had the fortune to visit.

Okay, the Italians are passionate and sometimes over dramatic, but lets look at the facts. They have a thriving supercar industry with Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini (although Audi is extracting the passion and replacing it with boring old common sense). They also have a booming mass production car industry with Fiat group (Fiat, Lancia etc) pretty much owning the streets.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the feeling surrounding this country – ”If its made here, that absolutely must be the first choice, and to hell with common sense.”

Here is a population that really believe in home grown. And one look at the traffic going passed the window comfirms that you are probably an outsider if you are not driving Italian.


Clean. A really good word to sum up Germany. Precise. That’s another. Germany is a different country altogether from the first two. Passion and individuality seem to have been thrown out in favour of intelligence and clockwork precision. There’s nothing wrong with that. In a strange way that has bred a style unlike any I’ve seen. Its almost Vulcan but I mean that with no animosity. If you wait for a bus its there when its supposed to be, Your food food arrives with un-nerving punctuality and everything runs like, well, clockwork. And that really sums up for me the German car industry. German people buy German cars because German cars are (normally) annoyingly reliable. Clockwork if you like. And that’s Germany. I wouldn’t say devoid of character but somehow a little bit of human touch seems to be missing. But that’s how German cars are and its difficult to see a scenario in which this common sense could fail.


What a place! Maybe its something to do its geography, but I love Spain. It’s a country that in car terms seems to meld all other cultures together. Its such a relaxed place, and there doesn’t seem to be any strong car buying influence here. I was forced to drive a Chevrolet(Daewoo) Matiz while scoping about. It’s a hateful car. That aside, when I picked up my hate wagon I noticed(like noticing a smack on the head with a sledge hammer) a huge BMW dealership next door. It was an impressive site. All glass and carefully positioned steel girders. You know the type.

Looking at the traffic I noticed that there didn’t seem to be a dominant brand at all. Not even Seat. And even more interestingly I saw hardly any BMWs, even though by this point I’d seen quite a few impressive BMW dealerships. Spain don’t seem to care about brand or performance or looks or anything else, and this makes me view it as the anti-Britain!


And so home again. After scrutinising other European countries what do I make of England/Britain? After trying to clear my head of pre-conceptions I sat myself in beer garden (how british) near a main road and compiled my thoughts. Sadly my worst thoughts turned out to be true. Unlike France and Italy we don’t care if its home grown. Unlike Germany we don’t seem to care about the practical side of the coin either. Unlike Spain we care far too much about brand.

Now I know the Germans make very reliable cars (allegedly although in my experience that’s tosh) and the Italians make cars with nothing but passion (bullsh*t), and the French make, umm-interesting cars, but what’s going on here? We seem to have absorbed the worst of European car buying culture with none of the good points. We have no patriotism, no thirst for passion, no desire for weird. We only seem to care about what other people think of the brand we have chosen.

Next time you have a spare five minutes gaze at the traffic and try and work out the percentage of British cars you see, and I don’t mean Mini because its made in Cowley, Or Honda because they’re made in Sunderland. I mean actual British cars.

There’s been a lot of accusations on who killed the British car industry, and now I give you the answer. THE BRITISH PEOPLE.

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22 October

Gaydon, what are you doing?

This image taken back in August is heartbreaking…


BACK on the 24th of September, I posted a number of images on the website’s forum depicting the state of certain cars held in the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon. The cars in question had been left exposed to the elements in the site’s compound pending a storage site change-around…

The list of cars in that area that I spotted on the day I took my photos, reads like a BMC>MG prototype Who’s Who, and contains everything from priceless one-off Issigonis 9X development mules, through to first- and last-off-the line production cars, to interesting aluminium prototype, such as the ALCOA Metro and ECV3. The truth is, I’d taken these pictures early in August, and decided not to use them as the museum’s staff assured me that these cars would be going back under cover the ‘next week’, and that it was a temporary situation.

However, after receiving a couple of tip-offs from the site’s readers in the middle of September that these cars were still out in the open, I decided to publish the photos on the forum, and let you make up your own minds. The reaction was predictably furious – and a number of complaining emails were lodged.

In the face of this, the Gaydon got in touch with me, and issued a statement confirming that the cars would be moving soon, but in the meantime, they would be covered up.

This image taken yesterday confirms little has changed… (Picture: Andrew Carr)

However, a couple of friends have returned from the Heritage Motor Centre this weekend to let me know that there are still cars open to the elements, uncovered, and looking rather down at heel. Now, the museum, I know, is doing a great job in managing to survive without the funding it so richly deserves, and a number of these cars have now been removed from the outdoor compound, but at the same time, there’s not much in the way of an excuse for this treatment of the cars – how much would a couple of dozen tarpaulins cost? Failing that – there’s an awful lot of empty space going begging on the upper floor – how many cars would fit in there – even temporarily?

So, with it coming up to three months since these cars were spotted in the open, and with the grips of winter now upon us, it’s time to do something now… So if you feel that these cars are a national treasure, and you have an opinion on how they’re being managed, please email the centre on and let them know what you think…

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19 October

The HH-R: Engineering in a finite form


THIS was another BMC>MG car that was eagerly anticipated. HH-R as it was code named, was expected to pick-up the baton from the all-conquering R8 range – and run with it! With the exception of the miniMetro and P38, no car from the Rover Empire had ever been given as much to run with.

R8 was the car that had shattered expectations; it was right in every sense from the word go. It had won sales for Rover like never before, it made strong money – new and used, and it give credibility to the whole of the Rover Group. It had dated exceptionally well too, skilful albeit, minimal facelifts saw to that.

Road Tests late in the cars life showed the Press still respected it. In CAR magazine it beat the BMW Compact. A Top Gear road test pitted R8 against six heavyweight contenders in its field late and it did very well – better than the Honda Civic which formed the basis of its replacement…

We all had an idea of what HH-R would look like – the Honda version had been touted for some months now in the press. There was a rumour it was heavily based on a bland domestic runabout Honda called the Domini, but so what? We’d all seen the beauty of the Roverised Honda Accord that Sked gave us and Rover was boasting that HH-R featured more Rover content that any joint venture with Honda before. It was to build on R8 quality and banish its few flaws – just like Allegro promised of its ADO16 forbears.

The bodyshell was an excellent 20 per cent stiffer (just like R8 had been over the Maestro). Rover were keeping Honda’s double wishbone suspension all round rather than replacing them with front struts as on the R8. There was a whole range of advanced Rover power units with very carefully designed engine mountings too; two state-of–the-art Diesels with fly-by-wire throttles and new, enlarged (1.4, 1.6, later 1.8 and 2.0KV6), award winning K-series units. Chassis engineering was to be moved forward to, in order to capitalize on that strong body and ‘pure’ suspension layout.

Rover talked boldly of a new scientific chassis setting strategy for those expensive wishbones. Called ‘One-to-One’ damping, the main feature was careful and unusual valving in the dampers, which offered as much resistance in bump as in rebound. Normally, bump is three times stiffer than rebound. Rover used a method of ride comfort developed NASA no less to show just how advanced the ride comfort was. Rover had lined-up all of its ducks this time.

This car wasn’t Rover’s Great White Hope, or ‘Last Chance Saloon’ like so many others, it was a dead cert to clean-up the middle market, punching above its weight, just like R8. How could it go wrong?

Overall HH-R was hugely disappointing;
R8 should have been replacing it…

However, I remember CAR magazine featuring the Civic dashboard from an official press release and it looked dreadful. Dread turned to fear when the magazine stated the dashboard was to be used wholesale in HH-R. Rover needed a dash, which could feature twin airbags and money had been spent on the R3’s nice new item. Then we saw the unremitting blandness of the body and the dubious colours.

The Paisley seat trim was distinctly old fashion in a non-retro way. As interiors were getting more highly styled and brighter (think Renault Twingo), Rover were running the other in the other direction, maybe Tartan would have been better for the target audience.

The wood on the door was now looking tacked-on on and quite mean in the fillet dimension, even the stainless steel kickplates were extra. The front doors lost their demist feature (an SD1 idea originally) and the windscreen lost its aerodynamic streaks to keep the side class clear. The class of R8 was being lost – soon even the windscreen shadeband would go (again, a SD1 innovation).

The advertising campaign was incredibly dull. Remember, it’s a Rover and its got a ride factor of 2.something or other. Compare this with the Peugeot 406 ad campaign at the time and you’re starting to think that the blandness has rubbed off on everyone involved in this car. If you delved deeper into that ride factor nonsense, you’d have seen scientific process rated the notoriously poor riding Cavalier well ahead of the delightful Xantia!

Driving the 400 didn’t help credibility of those results either. The ride was incredibly soft, but to the detriment of bodyroll, this contrasted sharply with the sprightly R8 and the intended effect was somehow lost. The 1.6 K-series was a sweet and free revving item with its lightweight pistons (soon lost to cost-cutting), what it gained in mid range torque over the Honda unit, it lost in verve although fuel consumption was excellent. Overall HH-R was hugely disappointing; R8 should have been replacing it.

Not only that, but the Rover added £2k to its original target price taking to into the excellent new Mondeo’s patch. Rover struggled to sell them, especially with manual front windows. At a launch ‘Cheese and Wine’ dealer open night, nobody was particularly interested in it.

In an effort to lower the cars starting price, Rover introduced an 8valve K-Series and bizarrely promoted the low-end diesel, sans electronic injection and intercooler. They were doing the car no favours. Finally, the saloon arrived with restyled bumpers and even plainer upholstery with pleats. The colour schemes were getting better too. But those early T16 examples were rough units that were often changed under warranty. Eventually, T16 tooling was heavily revised to refine tolerances and the so equipped saloon was a good match for the 3-series.

But the thing that utter killed the HH-R and indeed, did it for Rover Group in my opinion, was those appallingly unreliable K-series engines. We all know that the K-series uses minimal coolant, but on HH-R, they used a Japanese spec radiator which held even less coolant than those used on R8 and R3. The K-series was quite stressed in HH-R because of weight.

That allied with low coolant and the undeveloped capacity stretch didn’t just result in depressingly, nay alarmingly, frequent HGF, it resulted in new engines. I clearly remember strong-arming a potential customer into a test drive one day. The battery was knackered on start-up(a long standing Rover weakness) due to it sitting around so long. Naturally, it being a sales car it had no petrol in. I filled the car up with petrol whilst leaving the engine running with the customer inside due to the battery needing a charge. No problem, although the heater didn’t work (that’s because Rover was storing 400s outside and the heaters were getting blocked internally by leaves!) meaning the customer was freezing! You can guess the rest from here. Whilst waiting to pay for the fuel on the company BP charge card (it wouldn’t go though first time) the car overheated and popped its shockingly weak Coolant cap.

The poor customer though the car had caught fire in the petrol station and chaos ensured. Afterwards, the delightful old gent asked when the car would be fixed so he could have another test-drive. I glumly informed him we were waiting on 16 new engines, so it might be a while… after all, he’d only came in to order a new 100-series, which Rover had stopped producing despite a 17 week backlog of orders…

Another classic missed opportunity, the HH-R should have met its sales targets of 200k per annum. Somehow, despite it offering such a wide, wide powertrain choice it took the ZS 180 of 2001 to show its potential. How many people remember the delightful 400 KV6 from 1999 based the aborted BRM limited edition? HH-R was the last car to be co-designed with Honda, the last car to feature a Honda engine and gearbox (early Autos) and the last car to feature the T-Series, an engine which could trace its roots right back to the B-Series.

Looking at HH-R now, they are a bargain car and more spacious than the 45 replacement. The K-Series HGF isn’t quite the issue it was and they offer a comfortable, economical driving experience, but this car will never be remembered with the fondness of a R8 or indeed, a Maestro.

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THE ironic thing is that towards the end of production just before MGR went bust, the car to have, according to my design lecturer (who was a senior designer at MGR), was the R45 and MG ZS saloon. It was the car that was least affected by Project Drive and the engineers did work wonders with the suspension, despite the fact that, in comparison to many of the cars of that time, the body/chassis wasn’t as stiff as it could have been.

I have no doubt in my mind that had Rover been able to produce the saloon version first – and not pursue the policy of selling it in a market directly line with the Mondeo, the car would have been extremely popular – Indeed, I am told that a convertible may well have been on the cards had everything NOT gone wrong the first time round. The days of BMW were the dark days, since the engineers were given a very limited brief on how the car should be. This was to prevent the car competing directly with their products – It was a car with such huge potential but a big opportunity missed, I feel.

Another problem, and the main reason why ‘BMWRover’ lost a lot of money was that they were just not selling the cars. BMW at the time totally mis-interpreted what Rover was about – full volume production – similar in-line to Alfa Romeo and Volvo. They were interested in preserving the brand’s exclusivity and as a result, cars just got stock piled up – obviously the batteries always died before they left the gates. Only after Towers’ group took over, they realised that they actually had to sell the cars – and that was part of the reason why many got sold so cheaply – the other reason was that they moved it directly in line with the Focus/Escort of that time, whilst the R25/MGZR was moved in-line with the Fiesta.

As a result of that move, it appeared to be one of the better equipped cars in its class, and Britain’s most popular car for the year.


I REMEMBER a universal sigh when slides of HH-R where shown to a huge audience of staff in a pre-launch briefing at the Exhibition Hall at Longbridge. Was that styling the best they could do?

A colleague had the bravery to ask where the useful R8 facia shelf had gone – a victim of head impact/airbag safety. I drove a preproduction HH-R and was impressed by its suspension, (compared even to an R8). The booted version came rather late and only partly overcame the perennial Rover problem that it was being sold against competition one size larger.

With a dull claustrophobic interior, it shares with R8 a susceptibility to rear wheelarch rot but at least the panels don’t ripple like many an R8s. Anyone noticed how Honda Civics fetch much more than HH-Rs despite duller styling? It’s a pity that the Phoenix management weren’t able to use the then redundant Civic estate press tooling to maintain interest in the 45.


I TOO remember the launch of the HH-R, I was a trainee salesman at Evesham Rover at the time. It was underwhelming compared to the R8, I never understood why the R8 was killed off so soon, as it had only been on sale for six years.

The HH-R was more refined that the R8, the ride was a lot smoother and it was quieter. I piloted a Tahiti Blue 416i for quite a few weeks, and enjoyed the smooth ride and the grippy handling from the Goodyear Eagle Touring tyres. But yes it did look bland, and the paisley print seats were unusual, the lime green metallic paint ‘Kensington Green’ also was a bit strange. I had a short time with a 420i saloon also, the old T series was really good, very torquey, but you had to keep watching the oil and water for HGF.

I remember an ‘old boy’ R8 driver being interested in our Tahiti blue demonstrator 416i, which I dont know how, but he subsequently bought, trading in a lovely low mileage 1993 216 GSi in two tone red/grey with grey leather and cross spoke alloys. After a few weeks and the front windows dropping out of the HH-R, he was back regularly, looking at his lovely R8 on our used car display, enviously!

What did kill it was the ridiculous marketing. Positioning it next to the Mondeo in price, when it was barely bigger than an Escort. Even with all the special option packs Rover gave away, (alloys, roof bars, fog lights etc) everyone in Evesham just bought Fords, Vauxhalls or VWs. Not only did this BMW marketing blunder kill HH-R sales, it cost me my job and later Evesham Rover closed in 1999.


I RAN a 1996 416i saloon – one of the earliest – in the late 1990s and well remember its idiosyncracies. The steering was so dead at the centre that slight adjustments of direction on motorways brought a sickening wait of a few microseconds wondering whether the car would respond or not and whether to risk destabilising it by applying more lock. The same characteristic made motorway journeys in high winds unnerving – stability in crosswinds was not a strong suit of the HH-R.

I put the problem down to the newness of the model – still some development by consumer to be done – but a 1999 Rover 45 rental car exhibited the same unendearing characteristics. In 2001 a Phoenix-era 45 arrived as an office hack and was a revelation. The steering now felt rock solid and responsive and the car could be, and usually was, hustled around like a hot-hatch. Clearly the MG ZS development programme was filtering through to the Rover specification. There was a price to be paid in the reduction of steering power assistance to almost zero – I could happily live with that but the 45’s core demographic might have been less enthusiastic.

Steven mentions the ‘very carefully designed engine mountings’. These were another memorable 416 bugbear, so floppy that town driving demanded the use of at least one gear lower than normal to keep revs high enough to prevent the wayward engine flopping very perceptibly around the engine bay.

A third, mildly amusing oddity was the fold-out pocket at the right hand extremity of the dashboard, which would punish the driver for braking or accelerating too hard by falling out and crashing down on their right knee.

Even in the Honda era – Rover’s Indian Summer – the firm could be its own worst enemy. There’s only so much that can be blamed on the company’s owners, partners, senior managers, workforce etc.

We should now be immune to the advertising huff and puff (particularly the NASA guff) which Steven so eloquently demolishes, but the enduring impression was of a seriously under-developed car with flaws which should have been manifestly obvious in normal driving situations.

Perhaps Rover’s R&D department was just far too busy at the time, with MGF, HHR, R3 and Freelander appearing in rapid succession and a new master to impress.

As a matter of record, when my car was handed back after two and a half years and 80,000 miles, the sole failure had been the driver’s side door mirror adjuster. I’ve just checked the DVLA records and it was taxed until last month. I find myself wondering if Rover would have been better to base their small to mid-size car on an R3 platform stretched by 120mm to match the Civic’s dimension. The track dimensions were near-identical, and the complex Honda suspension didn’t seem to deliver any worthwhile benefit over the industry standard Macpherson strut / torsion beam system of the smaller car.

An R3 based solution would have given Rover greater autonomy with regard to royalties and IP rights – by the early ’90s everyone could surely sense which way the winds were blowing…


Rover boo-booed with the title of the HH-R as well. It should really have been designated 200 (hatch) and 400 (saloon), with the smaller R3 being given the 100 or even Metro name, thus phasing out the venerable old car and adding some spice to Rovers small car segment.

By 1997 the Metro/100 was seriously out sized by the competition, much like the ADO16 had by the Cortina in the mid-late 1960s. It was still a serious prospect for new car buyers, but as we have seen since the early 1990s, new car buyers expect that every next generation of car should be larger than the next. Look at Renault, they have recently introduced the Twingo here, a car which is larger and heavier than the old 5, yet it is being sold as a supermini since the Clio (originally replaced the 5 and has grown ever since) has grown so much it can slot in underneath.

The sizing of models changed as much in the late 1990s as it did in the late 1960’s when the Escort Mk1 and Cortina Mk3 caught BLMC off guard and forced the company to tackle these two models with four (Allegro/Marina/Toledo/Dolomite). MG Rover sadly did not have the luxury of being able to make the HH-R larger, had no other models to fill the gaps (the 600 was due to be phased out, the 800 as well), so effectivly Rover were being sized out of the market.

The HH-R may well have been a larger car than the R8, but it’s smaller glass area made it feel more claustraphobic, plus the Honda derived suspension was unduely over complex without offering any real advantage over the R3’s simpler arrangement.

Coupled with BMW’s refuseal to seriously update the HH-R, ability for Rover to produce a serious fast road model as well as allow Rover to solve the HG failure of the K-Series meant the model became further left behind. The subsequent revamp did make the car look much more appealing, along with the final facelift, yet in the end the HH-R was only able to be kept fresh by MG Rover’s ability to keep old models going through ingenious design touches.

Forum member, ‘Marinast’

I DISTINCTLY remember the disappointment of seeing my first HH-R Rover 400 in the flesh. As a life-long BMC>MGphile, I was keen to see the car which was replacing my beloved, steel grey Rover 214Si. I’d bought one of the first (in December 1989) and my wife chose an identical (British Racing Green) 214Si two years later as her new company car. [It was interesting seeing the changes in specification between the two – this is years before ‘Project Drive’ and yet my wife’s 1992 Rover had rear-door kick plates in beige plastic rather than the snazzy metal ones I had].

Still, we eagerly sat in the interior of the shiny new car HH-R….. well, my wife did, but I found I couldn’t sit upright in it without cocking my head to one side. The driver’s seat was way too close to the roof for my six-foot frame, despite lowering the adjustment to it’s lowest setting. When the ‘Sales Executive’ gave us the price list, we immediately gagged and knew that neither of us would be replacing our 214’s with a new 400.

The pricing policy, coupled with the strangely high seating positions must have cost Rover tens of thousands of potential sales. My 2000 model Rover 25 didn’t have height adjustment on the drivers seat (annoying, to say the least!), leaving me with a head in the roof lining driving position. I know the MGF and MGRV8 were both criticised for the same trait. I had to adopt a flat hairstyle to fit in my 25, and a 6’2″ friend who bought a beautiful 200 BRM chopped it in after nine months as he was getting neck ache on longer journeys.

It was very frustrating to think that the company who brought us the original Mini could later produce larger cars with less interior space, and at such a price premium. Surely, these must be considered major reasons for Rovers sales slide, post R8?


18 October

Earning its keep…


IT was good to spend some of the day stretching our new Range Rover. Yes, I know it was built to go off-roading – something I’ve promised myself I’ll do sooner, rather than later – but strapping a trailer to the back and transporting classic cars is something it seems at home doing. Our LPG equipped £400 Rangie didn’t miss a beat all day, and I’m looking forwards to doing the same again…

Let me know if you want anything moving…

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17 October

First love re-ignited?


THANKS to Craig Cheetham, an all-round good egg, PR at Vauxhall, and overseer of all that is good about the marque’s Heritage Centre, I have found myself doing a very silly thing today. I’ll explain – after I thrashed around Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire in the 1971 Viscount (see below), he and I swapped cars. His chariot was the Centre’s 1979 Cavalier 2000GLS saloon, a car that I have always had a very soft spot for.

The reason for this is that back in 1987, my first (legitimate, as opposed to, ahem, not taxed or insured) motor was a 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier 1600GL. That car and I went all over the country together, and although it wasn’t trouble-free, it was pretty good to drive, quick enough for a 17-year old to enjoy, and most importantly, rear wheel drive. It wasn’t a long relationship – I moved on, but deep down, I never forgot.

Fast forward to 1998, and just by chance I happened to see a Bright Copper Metallic 2000GLS Sportshatch for sale at a back street petrol station in Fleetwood. It was up for the bargain price of £195, and looked handsome in its Rostyle-clad wedgy glory. I bought it on the spot, kept it a couple of years, and put 40,000 miles on the clock. When I sold it for £800, I nearly cried as it drove off down the street. Yeah I know…

although it wasn’t trouble-free, it was
pretty good to drive, quick enough for a
17-year old to enjoy, and most
importantly, rear wheel drive…

Anyway, behind the wheel of Craig’s 2000GLS this weekend, all those emotions came tumbling back. The reality of the situation should have been that I get in, drive it, and find that I’ve moved on… after all, I’m a hardened car journalist, and have driven exotica such as the Porsche 911, don’t you know. Silly old Cavaliers shouldn’t even be on the radar now.

Except that it was – and this low-mileage example that was tight as a drum on the road had me spell-bound. When the man from the Heritage Centre came to pick it up this morning, I was gutted… I wanted to keep it.

Once I’d recovered, I decided I may as well look for one. My Saab Aero’s going to be off the road for a while, I need a smoker, so why not go and see what’s on eBay? So I did. And found the car you see above – identical to my old Cav; the one I racked up tons of miles in. There were 20 minutes left on the auction, it was stuck at £500 – and with plenty of MoT and tax on it, I thought ‘what the hell?’. Yes, I pressed ‘Bid now’, didn’t I! A few short minutes later, it was mine for £620, and I was on the ‘phone to the seller arranging a pick-up. Ah, the joys of the Internet…

So, forgive me if I go a bit Vauxhally in the coming weeks, as car and I get re-acquanted… it’s a first love thing, and therefore an object of silliness. Let us know if you’ve done something similar, or tell us your first car tales – please don’t make me feel I’m suffering alone…

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15 October

What a weekend!

Picture: Richard Gunn


FOR one glorious weekend day, the sun shone on England, and our roads ended up groaning under the weight of a belting selection of gleaming classics. The MSA Classic returned after a long hiatus, and it only seemed right that Practical Classics should be in the thick of it… especially as the event majors on getting out and actually using your historic motor as its maker intended.

The road run, which started at Silverstone, headed East for the Millbrook testing grounds near Bedford before returning to the start point, encompassed tight and twisty country back-boads, open A-roads, and for me the best bit… several laps of the Silverstone International Grand Prix Circuit. What was needed for the event then, needed to be fast, agile and fun.

So I took a 1971 Vauxhall Viscount, lent to us by the ever helpful Vauxhall Heritage centre.

The lumbering barge might not have been the obvious choice for the event, but as things turned out, it turned out just about perfect. Dynamically, it was pretty feeble – and its lack of cornering power clearly shows just how much advancement was made during the 1970s (drive a Royale immediately afterwards if you don’t believe me).

So, why fun then? Well, you can slide the car at the most modest of speeds (on a race track, of course), and the mere act of piloting this car on lumpy back-doubles is enough to keep your concentration levels up. You can have the drive or your life in it too, without getting near to breaking any speed limits.

It was pretty comfortable too – and after a day’s demanding drive, I was still in pretty good shape (unlike the poor Viscount’s tyres).

I’m looking forward to another bash at the event, though – perhaps in a Jensen Interceptor, a Ferrari 328 or, if I’m really fortunate, a 1976 Rover SD1!

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10 October

Okay, I was wrong…


I ADMIT it – I’ve been pretty vocal around the office about the styling of the new Subaru Impreza – from iconic turbo-nutter-gold-wheeled rally special to pudding-like hatchback in one fell swoop was hard to take for anyone. I mean, I’ve always liked the Impreza – the warbling flat-four might sound like it’s mis-firing most of the time, but it’s certainly characterful, and as for what you get for you money in terms of performance, ’nuff said.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my contempt for the new one – I reckon the youth of the country must have been collectively binning its 555 posters in disgust at the prospect of the generic looking Golf fighter.

However, that was before the clever chaps at Subaru wheeled out pictures of the STi version… or for those in the UK, the one that nearly everyone’s going to buy.

It was always going to be a great hot hatchback, of that there was never any doubt. However, the problem was the styling – the standard car looked, well, insipid frankly, and that just wouldn’t do. However, the new one is pumped, rippling, and so full of attitude, that I actually believe they’ve managed to pull off the STi transformation successfully. Okay, it’s still a kitted hatchback, but wasn’t the old one just a kitted saloon?

It’s what’s underneath that counts…

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9 October

Bumper cars


I’VE never been much of a fan of the ill-fated Rover Streetwise. Indeed, I’ve always thought it cynical, a pastiche on a ‘proper’ off-roader and a shameless attempt to cash in on the trend towards urban mudplugging. Along with its CityRover contemporary, I have always held it as symptomatic of the desperation evident in the final days of P4’s tenure. Above all, I’ve always hated its stupid, faux-tough, dodgem-style bumpers.

For only the second time in ten years, I may have to admit that I was wrong.

Allow me to present case A. A good friend is following an old giffer in a Vauxhall Meriva up to a junction. He checks – there’s nothing coming for ten miles. He accelerates and goes to turn left, only to find the Meriva still stationary, its driver rearranging his tweed, or whatever it is that old people do at junctions.


The resultant accident can’t have occurred at more than 5mph, but it caused a four-inch crack in the Meriva’s rear bumper. The bodyshops’ quotes to repair ranged from a worrying £400 to a faintly ludicrous £700, so his pockets have now been lightened to the tune of a nice, round, £500. You could blame youthful impatience or geriatric dithering for this: me, I blame Vauxhall. Why, when you know a car’s going to be used in the city and get a few parking knocks, would you fit bumpers made from that stuff they make Tesco Value egg boxes out of?

Now, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, please examine case B. I have recently completed a banger rally in a 1988 Audi 100 (you’ll be able to read about it on these pages soon, despite its negligible Austin-Rover content) which had standard 1980s ‘diving-board” style bumpers. The contrast with the modern ones could not be more marked – we drove the poor car into trees, walls, and Team 182’s Ford Mondeo more times than I can remember. Damage to the Audi – slim to none. Damage to trees, walls and Ford Mondeos – devastating. If the chap above had rammed us at thirty miles per hour, never mind five, I can guarantee that the damage to the Teutonic tank would have been nil.

Now, I know that these bumpers are to pedestrians what a hot knife is to a packet of Anchor, but surely there’s a case for some kind of compromise? Can’t manufacturers make bumpers which are tough, built to withstand low-speed impacts without damage, but which are pliable enough not to turn your RTA into a kneecapping? Why can’t a manufacturer fit bumpers like this to a city hatchback, which, after all, is the most likely car to suffer this kind of prang?

Enter, from way out of leftfield, the Streetwise. Tough, yet EURO NCAP compliant bumpers, and a jacked-up ride height for increased city visibility. You’re not going to take it on the motorway much, so who cares about the aerodynamics. And you can grin smugly at all the passing soft-roaders – you’ve made the more sensible city-car decision.

When you put it like this, it all makes perfect sense. The trouble with the Streetwise was the way it was marketed, all that faux-macho bollocks. They could have run an advert which said ‘Look, we know it’s no Defender, but it’ll save you £500 every time you reverse into a post. Fair enough?” They could even have called it a ’25 with tough bumpers”. But no, they went and spoiled it with that ridiculous name, and an advertising campaign which suggested it was an ‘urban on-roader” – easily the daftest strapline of all time.

I’ve been man enough to admit I was wrong about the Streetwise. I wonder if, looking back, Rover’s marketing men would be able to do the same?

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8 October

Bangernomics – it really works!


JUST back from a great weekend in Whitby with a whole load of lads from our church, sort of like a Sunday school outing for older blokes. I endured several days of ribbing and cajoling beforehand about how my dear old Saab 9000 would break down at the first sign of use, giving me membership leaflets for the AA and RAC, and general mickey-taking. Naturally I wasn’t worried, I know the car inside out and my own fair hands have replaced all the bits that go wrong.

The old girl made it there and back with ease, transporting three blokes and a load of guitars and amps, all the while returning 35mpg and providing overtaking power with ease when called upon. Parked up in the car park amongst all the new blobs and off roaders she cut a fine figure, looking somehow older yet sharper and more dignified than all the melted and globulous new cars.

Even attracted a few compliments from some of the other guys, such as ‘that’s a lovely Saab’, ‘it’s very tidy for an L reg’, and ‘it’s a turbo? That must be fast!’ Fast enough, not quite as rapid as Keith’s Aero, but certainly no slouch with the 2.0 turbo engine giving 150bhp. It’s the torque that really makes it an entertaining drive though, foot down in any gear produces a satisfying surge forwards, and overtaking is dispensed with ease.

It got me thinking on the way home about the benefits and downsides of Bangernomics. My car does all that is asked of it, is fast and is a very comfortable place to spend long periods of time with the cruise control set to 70 and the climate control set to 22C, playing a CD of my choosing while relaxing in the deep velour seats. Should the mood so take me, I can turn off the motorway and explore the finer parts of the boost gauge on some twisty A- and B-Roads – it’s no sports car granted, but for a big old barge it’s not too bad at all.

The best part of all about Bangernomics is the price for all this luxury – £700. And I know for a fact a good Saab 9000 can be had for much less than this. Blimey. Looking at the price lists from 1994, my car retailed for over £24,000 brand new. That’s a lot of car for not much money these days.

My car does all that is asked of it,
is fast and is a very comfortable
place to spend long periods of time
with the cruise control set to 70…

Now the downsides of Bangernomics: Parts and servicing costs can often exceed the initial purchase price of the car, unless the owner is willing to carry out a lot of that work themselves. Typically an old cheap car will have plenty of miles on it, meaning that parts such as suspension bushes, springs and dampers, exhausts, belts, water pumps, cylinder head gaskets, radiators, engine mounts, etc, etc… will all need replacing as the miles pile on.

However, if the bullet is firmly bitten and a few quid spent, the resulting car can end up as a reliable old workhorse for very little money. I’ve spent about £500 on mine fitting new engine mounts, suspension bushes and brakes, and it’s transformed the car.

So for a total of £1200 I’ve ended up with an excellent old bus. It makes me smile when I think of others paying £400 a month for the latest blob, and get tied into main dealer servicing and parts prices on the back of this, all to have the latest bland box.

So, for those hovering on the cusp of trying Bangernomics out, take the plunge and give it a go. Sell that boring Mondeo, buy an old BMW 5 series and cruise around in the knowledge that you are beating the system. Stand out from the crowd – when did anyone ever comment on your Mondeo in a car park?

Buy an old XJ6 and be the talk of your company, annoy the boss by driving something more interesting than he does. If nothing else, it’s a bit of an adventure, and every journey becomes an event in itself.

Have a go, you won’t regret it.

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I KNOW this web site is for people who like old cars, but really who is David Henderson trying to kid. First his assertion that all new cars are blobs – really! His Saab comes from the mid 1990s, the peak of blob car production – Mk1 Mondeo, Vectra, Escort Mk4 and even his Saab, everyone looking like the body melted whilst the paint was being baked!

Contrast this with today – yes there are some controversial styles – but there are styles, not like the 1980s and 1990s when all cars really did look the same!

At the same time build quality, reliability and safety are all streets ahead of where they were 10-15 years ago. All this when new cars are in real terms about 30 per cent cheaper – yes – look at Mr Hendersons Saab, £24,000 in 1994. Today you could get a new Saab 9-5 for that, or an Audi A6 or a BMW 5-Series all bursting at the seams with airbags, Climate control, concert hall hi-fi, ESP/ABS/DSP and all the other electronic trickery that didn’t even appear on the options list back then.

New car buyers have never had it so good!

4 October

More heritage…


There’s nothing like a new addition to the fleet to get one all excited about the possibilities of crap motoring… I’ve bought a few stinkers in the past few months, but this one has the potential to top them all. That is, unless it turns out to be a magnificent bargain that changes my life forever.

The car in question is a 1990 V8 powered Range Rover Vogue SE, with leather, air con, and LPG conversion picked up for the princely sum of £400. I’ve co-bought it with my colleague at PC, Neil Campbell, and we reckon that if we buy a towing dolly, we can save ourselves a bunch of money in the coming months, shifting old heaps around the country instead of spending fortunes paying someone else to do it.

I hear you asking the obvious… why a Range Rover? They’re not cheap, reliable, or particularly fun to drive… Well, no, but at the same time, it looks great, has a V8 engine, and erm, floats my boat. As it does Neil’s.

I’ll let you know if the plan comes off – the Rangie isn’t the best kept example in the world, and its 14 previous owners point to an underlying problem. Oh, and it has 160,000 miles on the clock, a bit of an appetite for oil, and a horrible judder over 70mph. But despite all that, I can’t help but love the old girl… I’ve only driven it home once so far, and most of the time, I was grinning from ear to ear because of its dynamic incompetence.

So, if it doesn’t fall apart, or die from terminal Heritage*, give us a shout if you need a car moving (as a favour, you understand…)

We need to make it pay somehow!

* Heritage: a term relating to a fault, issue or malady that strikes BMC>MG motors due to faults in their design. Rusting wheelarches on an SD1 or Maestro? That’s Heritage. Melted fusebox on an 800? Heritage again, Sir. I’m sure you get the picture.

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3 October

Hounding Kev?


As we reported in the news, we’ve managed to track down Kevin Howe. I’ve already received a number of emails from site correspondents who feel that this would be the perfect opportunity to tell the man what they think of him. As much as that will possibly make them feel better, I suspect that it will be like water off a duck’s back. After all, Mr Howe had no problem about staying on holiday as Longbridge collapsed, at a time when the rest of the Phoenix Four at least stood up for themselves in front of the world’s media.

I am sure that Mr Howe is now very happy in this wealthy and ageing part of the USA’s most famous retirement belt, but we wonder how things are going for him there… how whether his new venture is holding up under the strain.

I would like to find out where the rest of the Phoenix Four are now, and what they’re up to. I’ve heard all sorts of rumours – and the one that intrigues me most if of the property development in Algarve that was bought during the final few months of MG Rover. Are we all to assume that Messrs Towers, Beale and Edwards are out there sunning themselves as we speak? If you know the truth, then do drop us a line… AR would love to hear from you…

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2 October

The ‘Ring Meister?

Photo: MW-Sport Photo.


ANOTHER week and it’s another visit to the ‘Ring. This time in the AR project MG Maestro Turbo for a feature in an upcoming issue of Practical Classics. As per usual the circuit was amazing in its ability to surprise and delight, and as a result it’s easy to understand just why it’s proving such a popular destination for petrolheads from all over Europe.

Well, I say that – most of the non-German cars seem to be British, and that says quite a bit about how we’re still very much into our cars despite all that environmental hot air being spouted in the wider media, painting the automobile as a four-wheeled version of Satan. Anyway, I digress…

It was fun taking the feisty Maesty to the world’s greatest toll road, but the experience did leave me a little disappointed. For one – why are Eighties brakes so damned poor? Perhaps I had cheap pads, or the recently replaced fluid was past its prime, but either way, they were shot after a couple of corners, and that left me with little confidence to push from that point on. Other than that, it wasn’t a bad effort (despite an appalling 12.20 lap) and I’ve come away impressed with the chassis and steering of this fine steed.

But now – alas – the car is for sale. Yes, I know it’s a rare and wonderful prototype hand-assembled in Canley, and I’ve told a few people it was a ‘keeper’, but when it comes down to it, I was offered the car at a time when time and space weren’t really there for me – and after fixing it up (there are loads of new parts in it now), making it good, and turning it into a magazine feature car – it’s time to pass it on to someone who’ll appreciate it a damned sight more than me.

If you’re interested, drop me a line on the usual address, or delve into the forum and ask some questions there…

Keith Adams

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