Blogs : September 2007

3 September

Back in Blighty and I want a new car…


SO… just after a fortnight’s running that saw my aged SAAB 9000 Aero rack up 4000 miles of mixed motoring, taking in France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg , Austria and Belgium, I can honestly say it’s great to be home, and perched back in front of the PC, with the Internet at my fingertips and a bacon butty at my side. I’ve learned a couple of important lessons on the way – tuned cars are more fragile than standard ones, and 12-year old motors (even when built in Sweden) are prone to developing niggles when you’re the longest way possible from the nearest workshop.

Actually, it looks like there have been some interesting news stories while I’ve been away – MGs are now officially on sale in China, Paul Stowe sensationally resigned from his high profile position at Nanjing, and the wraps have come off the most exciting new Jaguar saloon since the arrival of the XJ12. Thankfully, Alexander Boucke, ably assisted by Clive Goldthorp and Richard Aucock have kept abreast of the situation, and hopefully given you all that you needed.

I’ve come back from Italy refreshed, and literally buzzing with ideas for the AR website, and I hope that I can now knuckle down and find the time to implement them. The first thing is to augment our news coverage – and that’s where Clive comes in…

If the 500 is a prime example of just
where Italian car design is heading at
the moment, the future certainly
looks bright.

The one thing that I’ve come back from Italy with, though, is a burning desire to buy one of the new Fiat 500s. Okay, I already know that it’s little more than a trinket designed to make money for Fiat – resting on the Panda/Ka platform, built in Poland, and given near-premium pricing it’s hard to see how the company isn’t laughing all the way to the bank… but do you know what? I don’t care. It looks great, and has so much charm – in the flesh – that the R56 generation MINI lacks, that I can see myself making a call to Fiat just as soon as I stop typing this.

The only question remains – will it look as good in the flesh on a wet September afternoon in Peterborough (the Florence of the Fens, don’t you know) as it does strutting its stuff under the azure sky on the Viareggio Promenade? We’ll see soon enough.

If the 500 is a prime example of just where Italian car design is heading at the moment, the future certainly looks bright. One only needs to look at such fine cars as the Maserati Quattroporte, Lancia Ypsilon, and the upcoming Alfa Romeo Junior – and then perhaps compare them to the infuriatingly bland looking new Laguna and Mondeo – to see that the Italians are in real danger of leading the way (again).

Luckily we have the new Jaguar XF to stake Britain’s claim in the automotive design hall of fame.

Right now… to call Fiat…

25 September

Happy birthday Sierra


Cor blimey – it’s 25 years ago to the day that the Ford Sierra first made its appearance in the UK press… and doesn’t that make me feel old? We’ll pass on commenting on the cultural significance of any car that came along to completely replace Britain’s best selling car – the Cortina – for over a decade, because, well, you all have your own opinions on what most people remember as the Dagenham Dustbin.

My own memories of the first time I clapped eyes on colour pictures of Uwe Bahnsen’s Sierra are ingrained with me forever. They were something like ‘wow!’, and ‘one day I’m going to own one of those.’

All that time later and I’ve yet to make good that promise – and I have to say, that after seeing a metallic bronze 1983 2.3 Ghia model, the desire’s as strong now as it was back in school. Most people couldn’t get with the looks when it first appeared, and gave it all kinds of nicknames – and those in the market found the more palatable alternative to driving a ‘jellymould’ was to get behind the wheel of GM’s nicely engineered Mk2 Cavalier.

Sales started slowly – and Ford tweaked away at its ‘unloved’ child… in the end, the boy done good, and sales took off. But not quickly enough for Luton’s rival to go to the number one spot in its sector. The genius of the Sierra took time to embed itself into the psyche of the nation, and by the time it did, Ford developed cold feet, and had already started working on a FWD replacement, which came on to be known as the Mondeo.

The Sierra’s maker may have gone all conservative as a result of the backlash from (non-)buyers, but its influence ended up spreading far and wide through the industry. By the end of the 1980s, almost all manufacturers of repmobiles had produced their own jellymoulds (although admittedly with FWD), and we all became used to the many benefits of aerodynamics in car design.

Given the significance of this motor, it seems a shame no one seems to have remembered to mark its birthday… Well, no-one except us.

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24 September

We’re living in the Eighties


…WELL, for one day anyway.

Today, I had the delightful experience of spending some time with four of the defining hot hatchbacks of the 1980s – the Golf GTi (not pictured), Escort XR3i (so pretty now), a Peugeot 205 GTI (what the hell happened to Peugeot since?), and a Vauxhall Astra GTE (so rare now). Once I’d got over my overriding first impressions – just how often do you see such unmolested examples of any of these cars anymore – I was overwhelmed by an appreciation of why this breed of car swept the aging sportscar class that had been festering on the marketplace since time immemorial.

In an instant, the idea of buying a leaky, arthritic and frankly laughable sportscar for sensible money got thrown out of the window. When the Golf GTI hit the UK market in right-hand drive form in 1979, it cost £5444… about the same as an MGB GT, and yet you could use it every day, lean on it like mad in country lanes, and generally have shed loads of fun without any of the traditional sportscar downsides.

Of course, as the 1980s rolled in, everyone had a crack at beating the little VW at its own game, but it wasn’t really until the 205GTI came along that someone managed – and only by creating a car that had a different agenda.

…just how often do you see such
unmolested examples of any of these
cars anymore?

But that was so long ago now… and time’s moved on. The Mazda MX-5 allowed us to buy sportscars without compromises, and the hot hatch became the joyrider’s weapon of choice. It’s only really in the last five or so years that this breed of pumped-up hatchback has become truly fashionable again, losing the negative connotations associated with being a successful child of Thatcher’s decade.

But it was good to be reacquainted with the original trailblazers once again. All stylish and utterly fun to drive, the quartet of pocket rockets I spent time with today could all be used as daily drivers, and you’d have a grin from ear to ear in the process. Truly these are the classics of choice for the upcoming tough times?

And before you ask: why no MG Maestro? No one had a suitable one that wasn’t either being restored, or needed bodywork.

No further comment required…

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21 September

Madcap but worth it


YESTERDAY, while you were fast asleep dreaming your dreams, I was reluctantly acknowledging my clock radio, shreiking a 3.00am start. Why such so early? I had the 5.30am Eurotunnel to catch of course…

The ungodly start was all to do with the plan I’d hatched – to drive to the Nurburgring, do some laps, have some laughs, and get back in one day for not much money… Could it be done? There was no doubt that it could be – but without breaking the bank, and raising a smile once on the track? Of course – I love a challenge.

I ended up taking a MINI Cooper D for the jaunt, and thanks to a light throttle foot on the way down, managed a very impressive 60mpg, while keeping to a realistic 75-80mph once over the Channel. A quick fill-up at the ‘Ring, and off for some laps (after an irritating amount of time spent waiting), and the DERV R56 didn’t disappoint in the handling department.

Job done, a quick dash back saw me back in Blighty before Midnight, and in the office the following morning. So if you ever have a day off, and have a few quid to burn (less than you’d think), why not get up early, jump in the car, and head for the track? Actual reality sure as hell beats the digital imitation you get from your PS2 or XBox…

Read the full story soon.

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17 September

The Austin AR6


WHAT a fantastic little car this looks. However, I cant help wondering if Rover would have caught a huge cold if they had managed to bring this car to market.

Even today constructing mass produced cars from aluminium is a costly business. Jaguar struggle to keep costs under control even on the premium XJ and XK models hence the decision to revert to steel for the new XF. Its hard to imagine that 20 years ago it would have made economic sense to build a cheap super mini from aluminium. This could have been the Mini all over again. An expensively engineered car that the market only valued as a cheap small car.

Now if Rover had kept the AR6 concept but ditched some of the extravagant engineering they could have had a real hit on their hands. This car, styled the same but with a conventional steel body and a drive train featuring Honda engines would have cost a fraction to develop. Its unlikely the car buying public would have cared what it was made of so healthier profits would have flowed as well.

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14 September

RDX60: the car that died for a lack of love


I THINK I’ve found out why MG Rover went bust. No one loved it. Sorry, I did that for dramatic effect. Obviously lots of people loved it. They loved the interesting cars that came out in spite of the fact that the firm was strapped for cash; they loved the heritage; they loved the Brummies who worked there, maybe apart from the ‘Phoenix Four’ who oversaw its final collapse. There have been some nasty allegations about those boys. No too many people loved MG Rover sufficiently to actually buy a Rover 75 or MG ZR, but there we are.

However, having met the project manager of the doomed RDX60 project, I now know why MG Rover didn’t have a future. I recently bumped into this individual at a car launch, and he was more than happy to talk to me about the project he worked on – although he was employed not by MG Rover, but by TWR, the consultancy that was charged with engineering it. He was also keen not to allow his identity to be known; presumably because none of us wish to be associated with failure, however heroic.

“No one loved it,” was what he said about the RDX60. It was about five years ago that MG Rover was putting what it could into the much-needed replacement for the Rover 25 and 45. It was the mid-market car to compete with the Focus/Astra/Golf classes of this world. Without it, MG Rover really was going to be relegated to the Lada class of car manufacturing – selling an outdated design for a rock-bottom price. No fancy grilles were going to alter that. It was, as so many had been, a “make or break” car. But unlike, say, the Metro in 1980, there was little fervour attached to it.

The next most depressing thing about my
contact’s tale was the revelation that
RDX60 was going to be no world-beater;
it was a ‘mediocre’ thing…

My contact himself was pretty much told that he’d be taking responsibility for the vehicle, seemingly because no one else at TWR wanted to touch it. Perhaps they sensed the vibes from MG Rover. It seems that throughout the entire development of the new MG/Rover, none of the Phoenix Four – men who, after all, actually owned this company and not just managed its decline – ever came to see it. Like a neglected child in care, it was never seen by it parents. They had better things to do, cavorting with their fancy Chinese and Indian suitors. Everyone knew that MG Rover didn’t have much cash; it’s a bit more disappointing that it didn’t have much faith.

The next most depressing thing about my contact’s tale was the revelation that RDX60 was going to be no world-beater; it was a ‘mediocre’ thing. Now, if that meant that it was, say, as good as a Focus or a Golf, that would be praise indeed. But coming from a small carmaker that really needed a hit, ‘mediocre’ was not going to be good enough.

The ‘alternative history’ of MG Rover can now therefore be written, with the ‘what ifs’ filled in. If MG Rover had somehow found the money to build the car – courtesy of Tata, Nanjing Motors, Shanghai Automotive or HM Government – it would have gone on to the market and achieved respectable – but no more – sales success. Appropriately (given MG Rover’s sponsorship of them), it would have been an Aston Villa of a car, not a Chelsea. End of.

And, by the way, where’s the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s report into the MG Rover collapse? It’s cost nearly £10m so far – and I’ve beaten ’em to the story.

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THE real problem, right from the start, was that management interfered with the design process and would not allow the designers to do their job properly. This is not just limited to the RDX60 but also the Rover 75/MGZT facelift – in particular, the rear end of the tourer. I shall not quote my source, but some of the design boys had a rendering of the rear end of the car laid out on a wall along with a few other bits and pieces. It was rendered incorrectly, so it was just a reference guide illustration that was going to be thrown out anyway. One of the senior managers saw this and told them to implement it onto the overall design immediately!!! The designers tried to convince him that it was a bad idea, but he insisted!

RDX60 you see was created, again, purely as a reference design, of which management were NOT supposed to select – but they chose the turkey! TWR did its best to interpret the car in CAD terms, but even they could see how bad the thing looked. Having seen the mock-ups on, it looked like a bloody ugly thing – no wonder they didn’t want anything to do with it.

The Roewe 450 that you see was effectively the design that was supposesd to go through, had the management taking the rubbish out of their eyes and looked at it properly. Also if the management had put all their energies into developing the new car and not wasted time and money producing pointless V8 saloons and profitless sports coupes, AND fully developed the car in-house – yes there WERE the facilities and huge skill at Longbridge believe it or not – then you would be seeing a new R45/ZS by now and possibly even developings of a new R25/MGZR…

More Kevin Howe bulls ups….


10 September

A wonderful sighting.


IN case you didn’t know, I’m a bit of a Citroeniste. I’ve loved these idiosyncratic cars for as long as I can remember – celebrating the way they’re different, somehow more intelligent, than their more conventional brethren, and truly appreciating their almost feminine form on the road. That’s just me though. Okay, so there’s been a long barren spell in Citroen design, which led to the reprehensible Saxo, Picasso and Xsara – but the arrival of the C6 last year signalled the the double chevron was back with a bang.

Anyway, during another schlep down the A605, I spotted one. In the wild. And it wasn’t wearing press garage plates.

It’s funny how seeing something rare and interesting like this can lift your day, and it did mine – and in this case the spotting was doubly coincident because I’d just been saying to my colleague, as we left the office, how our car park resembled BMW’s in Munich. I’d also commented on how these German cars were so common these days (obviously in less polite terms).

Yes, it’s good to know that there’s a buyer out there with the bravery and commitment to lay 40 big ones on a car that is so refreshingly different to the rest of the herd. The world would be a duller place without the Citroen C6…

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Re the elusive C6 spotted recently, Citroen and the other French car manufacturers seem to have a problem with their large ‘luxury’ cars in that they largely seem to be bought by the French government/civil service for ferrying dignitaries/ministers around. Fine up to a point but rather putting all their eggs in one basket and hardly mass market penetration..

There is an upside to all this though, presumably the ’40 big ones’ will rather soon turn into a rather more affordable ‘5 big ones’…


Pleased to hear that I’m not the only one to spot a C6 in action, having seen one on the M62 a couple of weeks ago. Much as I am a hardened BL man (currently with a Mini 1100 Special about to be renovated and a Mini Cooper 35 just come out the back end of a restoration), my daily weapon of choice is… a Peugeot 607 2.2 HDi.

Having had numerous 3 Series, a couple of Audi’s and a Lexus IS, I wanted something different and my 607 is just that. The ride is superb, you can do 400 miles a day in it and not feel tired. That’s why when the 607 goes in for a change, it will be replaced by a C6. I’m convinced that people who drive big French cars have a lot in common with those of us that revel in the sight of an older car that came out of Longbridge, Cowley, Canley, Abingdon, Speke and Solihull, in that we don’t follow the crowd and we’re proud of it.


7 September

Not because, but in spite of…


I WOULD like to begin this blog by saying that I discovered this site some three year ago and have been a member of the forum for a year. The information I have garnered from reading and digesting both have increased my PK emphatically and this goes for ‘The eternal soap opera” that is BMC>MG, as Lord Reith would say I have been ”Informed, educated and entertained”.

It has sharpened my focus in many areas not least in the area of my passion for BMC>MG. ‘Why am I here’, which is the subject of this blog.

In maudlin moments it is hard to escape the depressing fact of the cars themselves. There are just moments when the rose tints have to come off and the reality that is BMC>MG bites. Being harsh the R8 was only car launched in the entire 53 years history of the company that can be regarded as a complete success – where Rover was for a brief three years ahead of the game and set new standards to the rest of the market to follow. But the reputation of the R8 has now been tarnished by cost cutting post-93 model year and need I mention the HGF woes of the K-Series. Other exceptions would be the P5 and the P6 but really these were in house Rover cars, which were not directly involved in the BL malaise.

Being harsh the R8 was only car launched
during the entire 53-year history of the
company that can be regarded as a
complete success…

To be fair, the Range Rover Land Rover Defender, Metro, Acclaim, SD3, MGB, Dolomite, all Jaguars and the Rover 600 are in the main regarded as good cars and receive a good press most of the time but none are free of the BL condition. I would define this as follows; all were beset with the seemingly obligatory poor build quality, cheap component parts, thin low grade steel, and risible standards of interior plastics and trim. Not all the products suffered from all of these faults, however, in short has there ever been any car from the BMC>MG stable that was built and finished to the standard and finish of their German, Japanese and Swedish peers.

Hand on heart I have to say no.

This not to mention the laughing stock that was the launch of Allegro, Marina and Maxi which were obviously under developed and thus behind before they began and by the time they became competent no one listened or cared. Why would they after the initial enthusiasm of the launch of the Princess, SD1, Maestro and Montego that only flattered to deceive as the endemic and seemingly obligatory quality control problems surfaced, and like the Allegro by the time they were sorted the damage had been done, the reputation of the cars and company lay in taters. As if that weren’t enough the Phoenix years if it was possible, has well and truly nailed the coffin shut with a melancholic flourish in the form of Project drive, which seems destined to supply a constant stream of dissatisfied owners until the bitter end.

So why do I like these cars? There is not one I wouldn’t like to have be it an Ital 1.3L or a Daimler Double Six. I am not entirely sure, for a start our family has been a loyal to BL and our experience has been almost entirely positive, and of course the great British trait of love of the underdog.

The depressing part of my situation is that it would be nice to like the cars because they’re good – not in spite of their faults.

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6 September

Why I love…


ALTHOUGH I’ve made my mind up that I would like to buy Fiat’s trinket-like new 500, if I were of greater means, I’d be more than happy to see a new Jaguar XF on my driveway. Public reaction to the new car’s styling has been mixed – some hate it, but most absolutely love it, appreciating what is a bold step into the 21st century. Finally, the Leaping Cat can forget the nightmarish S- and X-TYPE retro pastiches, and offer its clientele something much more sexy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the old S-TYPE a great deal – and driving the R version last year was a real eye-opener (dynamically it exceeded the M-Spec 5-Series) – but the heart of that car’s problems were its saggy, sad and slightly embarassing styling. A saving grace was that you’d not see the exterior when behind the wheel – although the cramped and twee interior was a reminder of the fact that you were riding in a Sainsbury’s pre-packaged version of a gentleman’s club. False and ill-advised.

In a market sector awash with excellent design and typified by the cool, crisp and Teutonic Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series (love ’em or hate ’em), the S-TYPE was as appealing to look at as three week old porridge.

I’ve been banging on about it for a long time, but when William Lyons rolled out the Mk2 and XJ6 saloons, he was looking forwards, rather than backwards. Ian Callum’s XF appears to meet the same aim with aplomb, and moves the marque on at least three generations. It’s not perfect by any means – but neither was the XJ6. One thing it is, though – is a real Jaguar, but one conceived to appeal to a new generation of buyers. Not those three breaths away from the coffin.

It’s just a shame that Ford’s Premier Auto Group looks like it’s not going to profit from the Leaping Cat’s new found confidence.

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TO me, the XF looks more like it has evolved from the SD1 than from any previous Jaguars. IMHO (and confining the argument to styling, not mechanicals) the XJ Series 1 was a good evolution of the Mk.10 with rear-end cues from the E-Type, the Series 2 a BL botch-up rescued by the Series 3; the XJ40 was a poor evolution from that, rescued by the revamp (not sure of the nomenclature for that one) and the present XJ another poor evolution of the same basic shape. It is surprising how relatively minor changes to the Series 1 to 3 and to the XJ40 managed to make the same shape work better.

I wonder if a makeover of the X-type saloon with a front end evolved from the XJS might work wonders – IMHO it is only the front end (which looks like an XJ after a minor shunt) that makes that model miss out on the good looks.


AT least the rear of the new Jag is designed by the same bloke who did the front, unlike the S type… It will also be nice when Jaguar decides what their family grille/badge theme looks like across all models as Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW seem to manage! I hope there won’t be any more of those pretentious and alienating ‘Gorgeous’ TV adverts to go with it.


The new XF is simply stunning, the best looking British exec since the SD1.

According to our local Jaguar dealer they have already taken deposits for 25 out of an allocation of 70 cars for 2008. Order today and you could not expect delivery until next June. Other dealers are apparently in a similar position and thats before anyone has actually seen the car in the flesh let alone drive one! Looks like Jaguar have a real hit on their hands.


5 September

What price class?


WHILE going through my old pictures, I found this one – as taken at the Longbridge re-opening in May. As you’ll see, a large MG flag was left for visiting dignitaries – both Chinese and British – to sign.

Not being one to miss a trick, and do a bit of self promotion at every opportunity, I thought it would be a cool idea to crash the VIP’s reception to see who was there… and in the middle of it all, this flag was lying there whispering seductively at me, ‘sign me, sign me, big boy.’ So I did.

An hour later when the event went into full PR friendly back-slapping mode, the flag was handed over to the management of NAC-MG by representatives of the MG Owners (or was it Car?) Club. What I’m hoping now is that flag resides on the wall of one of NAC-MG’s big cheese’s offices in China – because I can truly say that there’s a little bit of the AR website holding its head up high in down town Nanjing…

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4 September

He’ll be missed


So… it’s adios amigo, as one of the most open, approachable and down-to-earth industry executives walks out of MG, and into the back of a shiny new (Chinese built) black cab. I must admit that I only met Paul Stowe once, but in our brief conversation (that saw the PR people fussing in case he was too candid with me), he was charming and refreshingly honest about the whole situation as it stood on that day.

Well, things have moved on from that cautiously optimistic re-opening of Longbridge a few short months ago, and NAC-MG – the plucky underdog – is soon to become part of the SAIC empire, and I can only assume that Paul didn’t like the look of what was coming along in the pipeline.

Whatever his reasons for leaving – and they’ll come out in the wash soon enough – I do wish him the best of luck in the future, and hope that you’ll continue to read his blogs. China is a very interesting place, and while Paul’s out there doing his bit, we’re getting a unique insight into what makes its industry tick…

Paul Stowe’s blog.

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Keith Adams

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