The camaraderie of classic car connoisseurs, and my first tastes of Leyland

Sam Skelton
startins-regencyHuge car. Huge fun too.

Last Sunday I went to a Rover 800 forum and M+MOC forum meetup at the premises of my friend Mal Watson near York. I met up with several old friends, and met some new faces. However, I will remember the weekend mostly for two things. Mal’s barn is on a farm, with several private roads, and I was lucky enough be offered the chance to try two cars I have never driven before.

Firstly, Chris from the Rover 800 board offered me a spin in his Startins Regency. For those who don’t know, a Regency is a Rover 827Si with two feet added to the middle. I’ve always liked big cars, and the Rover 800 is an old favourite, so I relished the opportunity to drive my first 800. The first thing I noticed was that the steering is very light indeed – there is feel but it’s a very easy car to drive. Secondly, the extra length didn’t seem to adversely affect it that much – only when trying a three point turn – that became 5 due to the width of the roads – did I have any problems. It’s also cemented my desire to own an 827 – although maybe not one quite that long to begin with.

Secondly, Ray Greenwood, who had given me a lift up from Sheffield, gave me the keys to his Austin Montego 1.6 Mayfair. This was the first manual car I’d driven since passing my test, so my first thought was not to foul up and stall it before I’d set off. However, the gearbox wasn’t a worry at all. What was a concern was the steering. Perhaps I’m a limp-wristed fairy nancy-boy, but I found the non-assisted steering unbelievably heavy – here is a car which needs power assistance. I’m assured by Ray that it frees up at speed, but it’s certainly enough at parking speeds to make a man out of it’s driver. From a passenger’s point of view, the car surprised me in it’s civility. Even at motorway speeds it was relaxed and quiet; more so even than my father’s 2001 Jaguar. A twenty-five year old design it did not seem. Again, I’m impressed enough to want one – although a Vanden Plas EFi auto is more my thing I think.

The event also taught me something that those into the old car scene will appreciate. It’s not just about the cars, nor even the shows. It’s about the friendships you form. This was the first time I had met Chris, and only the second time I’d met Ray. And yet both were willing to let me drive their cars; when neither had seen me drive before. It was only the second time I’d met Mal Watson, and yet he was kind enough to welcome me into his premises like an old friend. I knew a number of people from previous events, and some were new to me. Yet all of them greeted me as an old comrade, and made me feel at home. And because we are BL enthusiasts, there’s no elitism amongst us such as you’d find in Mercedes or Jaguar circles. It was the perfect way to end the show season.

Except that it isn’t the end. In a fortnight I’m doing the NEC show, which should be just as good.


  1. Interestingly, while waiting on yet another tyre change for my GTV, the tyre fitters reception had a recent Autocar magazine.

    In the magazine, one of the columnists argued that the Rover 800 is an ideal first car – cheap (ie. no crippling finance schemes), relatively safe (twin airbags), decent sound system (6 CD changer) and the chance to get your hands dirty with the oily bits. The only problem, and a huge problem for young drivers, is the insurance on a V6.

    The mk1s have a definite visual link to the SD1, especially the hatch, but the mk2 subtle facelift to me does look a bit more ministerial and elegant. Shame about the “Alan Partridge” connotations.

  2. Will,

    You’d never believe this, but I’m 18 and have had a cheaper insurance quote on an 827 than a 216 VP EFi. I shan’t pretend it’s peanuts, it’s not, but it’s not as crippling as I’d expected.


  3. @Sam Skelton

    That’s excellent! Wish I was driving such a classy big car when I was a teenager 🙂

    All I can say is, when I was 17 ten years ago, looking to insure a Rover Metro (to possibly buy), the insurance companies were looking £2000 a year Third Party.

    All because I live in a postcode that used to usually be mostly on fire, and some of the locals took great pleasure in playing the “5 whiplashed passengers in an old Ford Escort” game.

    Ended up when I moved to Scotland and finally lived in a postcode acceptable to the insurance companies I got a 1.2 4 speed Clio and built up the no claims.

  4. I suffer the same issues re: postcode, and in all honesty the quote is in a similar ball-park. But it’s cheaper than many seemingly more sensible alternatives…

  5. yes i think you may be a limp wristed nancy boy as i am when driving my friends ’78 escort estate!
    i digress i had a gsi monty and i thought the power steering was terrific after a 1.6 base and an mg maestro both without pas

  6. Still peeved I missed the Barn meet.

    Give me a good long time to get the Vitesse rebuilt and I’ll try to make the next one with her present! Won’t be so far to go once Mal’s down this way either!

    As for insurance, even the T16 Turbo equipped Vitesse isn’t horrific either – certainly one of the cheaper 2.0l Turbocharged cars to insure as a young driver.

  7. True Vard, but at 18 the insurance companies see Turbo and the pound signs start spinning in their eyes. Besides, you can’t buy a Vitesse automatic, and though I can drive a manual I’m lazy.

    Shame you missed it, would’ve been nice to meet up with you.

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