Tag Archive | "classic cars"

When Cars Were Simple

At the last count there are 8,176 original Minis rolling around on the ruined roads of Britain, whereas its unloved replacement, the Mini Metro – sold by the last vestiges of the Austin Rover disaster – has fared less well with just 3,262 left despite being produced later on.

The Mini continues to cast its spell fifty years on and the latest versions, great though they are, simply can’t match the simplicity and sheer fun of the original. Open the bonnet of the latest model and you will be none the wiser. Open the bonnet of an original Mini and you’ll find it is completely basic. Anyone can fix it.1 When Cars Were Simple

As with everything in life, we have to move forward but not necessarily when that which follows isn’t as good as that which has passed. This is why the ancient wrinkly rock bands of the Sixties and Seventies can still pull huge audiences today. The problem with the Metro was that it wasn’t introduced until 1980 and it arrived too late with too little. Also, it is generally agreed that the build quality was terrible.

This should have been obvious to the crumbling Austin Rover empire. Had they listened they would have heard – way back in 1971 – that a vessel bearing something called a Datsun was approaching our shores. Presumably they though it was one of those exotic new fruits and thought no more about it. They were wrong on so many levels.

Records show that there are thirty four different Austin Mini models remaining on our roads. Some models are the last of their kind; someone is driving around Britain in the last licensed Austin Mini ‘850 Van’ and there are just 3 Mini ‘SPL’ versions left.

Only 3,261 of the badly-built (thanks to the ruinous actions of Red Robbo and the total incompetence and lack of vision of the management) and unloved Austin and Rover Metros are left on the roads with an amazingly high 77 model versions. Some are facing total extinction; there is just one Austin Metro ‘HL’ left and two licensed Rover Metro ‘MG Turbo’ versions remaining, it seems.

BMW has been hugely successful worldwide with the modern massive Mini and there are nearly half a million registered for British roads. One stand-out fact is that there are 206 different modern Mini models registered thanks to the extremes of customisation now available. Some of these personalised cars are going to be hard to sell on the used car market. When the original Mini came out there wasn’t this problem. The choice was, in the beginning, a Mini, a Cooper and a Cooper S – that was it. Simple, effective and a hoot to drive, it remains today the iconic British car and, like the Rolling Stones and others, continues to appeal by doing exactly as it always has done.

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MB Drives The Morgan 3 Wheeler

In a crowded and busy motoring world where the emphasis is on lifestyle and connectivity it’s nice to get the opportunity to do a bit of old school motoring for once. This is why, during a visit to the Morgan Motor Company I had the chance to leap into the latest Morgan 3 Wheeler.

This is driving as it was seventy or eighty years ago. It transcends modern motoring. The 3 Wheeler is hand-built by craftsmen; it is small, impractical and draughty and the most fun you can have with your clothes on. It’s not even as if the 3 Wheeler is something new. When Karl Benz rolled out his first effort in 1885, it had three wheels. Since then of course there have been very many more across the years.

The latest 3 Wheeler however has received some revisions for the 21st Century. The chassis has been further developed to increase stiffness – this improves the handling. The steering has been modified to eliminate previously reported ‘bump steer’ – a tugging at the steering wheel when the front wheels travel up and down – all of which has improved the on-road stability.3w MB Drives The Morgan 3 Wheeler

At the top I mentioned that I ‘leapt’ into the cockpit. This is not technically true. It is a bit of a squeeze. The driver has to step into the car (there are no doors) and shuffle down behind the steering wheel. No doubt there is a knack to this, but for a new boy who could stand to lose a couple of  kilos it wasn’t easy.

Once installed though the seats are really very comfortable. The dashboard is simple and uncluttered and its centrepiece is a starter button with a flip-up cover. There’s something very special about that. The view out shows the wide track of the front wheels.

I manoeuvred easily out of the car park and took off up the road, elbow hanging nonchalantly over the side of the car on the leather panel as if I did this sort of thing every day. Now, anyone who has motored in an open-topped car knows all about the highs and lows of convertible driving. There’s all that fresh air and sky and then there’s the cold (this is winter after all) and the wind trying to pull off all your hair.

Yet none of Winter’s woes can get the big smile off your face. The engine – a 1,982cc V-twin petrol unit with a reliable Mazda five-speed manual gearbox and driving the rear-wheel by way of a toothed belt – has a purposeful growl but isn’t intrusive. Out on the road it was time to concentrate. The car handles well and steers accurately with no hint of instability. 80bhp will whisk the car up to 62mph is just 6.5 seconds and on up to 125 if you feel up to it. Enjoying the sensations of driving what is this car is all about.

If you ever find yourself in a position to drive one of these cars then grab it with both hands, whatever the weather. If you are fortunate enough to have a spare £31,000 or so (there is a wide range of options for customising to taste) and you could do with a second (or third) car that will bring you infinite driving pleasure, then invest in a Morgan 3 Wheeler now.

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Winter Classic Car Care

For most of us the daily grind will involve driving somewhere. We have become used to our cars starting and performing properly, even in the depths of winter, such is their dependability. Classic cars however require a rather more dedicated approach.

Any car over, say, twenty years old, is likely to be feeling its age and the astute owner will ensure that pretty much any small problem or minor breakdown can promptly be resolved by ensuring that the car is equipped for the job. These days motorists are complacent and are rendered helpless when it comes to DIY repairs; but, to be fair, modern cars are way too complicated for most anyway and we need to rely on specialists in vehicle servicing. This is not the classic car way.

It’s important to remember that auto science has moved on in leaps and bounds and older cars were more likely to suffer problems even when new. With a classic car it makes sense to check all the fluids, belts and moving parts before setting off on any journey and going tooled-up when on the road. It’s obviously impossible to carry the entire contents of the garage in the boot but it is a good idea to take some essential items to deal with the odd eventuality.

Packing a toolbox with a generous selection of the right tools is a no-brainer but it’s easy to get carried away. Don’t forget those basic items that are always needed but never seem to be at hand. Also, as anyone who has ever suffered a breakdown knows, you are rarely wearing overalls at the time. A pair will roll up easily into a corner and could have a pair of those snappy rubber gloves in the pocket.

All classic owners need spare parts and your local specialists can usually find the most obscure things. Seeking out appropriate parts that are manageable at the roadside makes a lot of sense. Fan belts, starter motors and fuel pumps are all notorious, although, of course, there’s a limit to what can be carried. The serious minded may feel that a portable power pack – which these days are light and compact – wouldn’t hurt either.

Finally, a little box containing the usual bits and pieces is essential. Fuses, wire (assorted) and gaffer tape, for example. Often, a lot can be achieved with very little but there is one thing so important, like life itself, that cannot be omitted and that’s a can of WD40. Whoever came up with that should go down in history as the patron saint of drivers!

If none of the above works then a tow rope and a mobile should be your last resort. In the meantime it pays to remember that winter can take its toll on any classic or vintage car and it may well be that the best course of action is to lay the car up over the darker, damp months. Correct car storage is a bit of an art form. You can leave it to professional storage firms or, with a bit of thought and planning, your garage could become a place of hibernation. Use the winter months for maintenance and be ready for the Spring when you can take to the road again. Just don’t forget the toolkit and some wet wipes.

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Three Million Mile Volvo

Just once in a while it is nice to come across a story that demonstrates in this hurly-burly disposable world that some relationships are built to last. Such is the case with 73 year old Irv Gordon and his 1966 Volvo P1800.

Fans of ancient creaking TV shows will know that this is the car similar to that driven by Roger Moore as The Saint. Fans of the P1800 know that this programme formed the basis of, in the UK at least, the popularity of this car which remains an eminently collectible classic today.

Forty seven years ago, on a Friday, Irv went to his local Volvo dealer and purchased his brand new, shiny red P1800; and he’s lovingly kept it ever since. The real beauty of this story is that he didn’t hide the car away for posterity, it was his daily driver. In the first weekend of ownership he put 1500 miles on the clock.IRV2 Three Million Mile Volvo

The retired science teacher hails from Patchogue N.Y., and he holds the Guinness Book of Records recognition for the most miles driven by one owner in a non-commercial vehicle. When working, he had a daily round trip that covered 125 miles which meant he clocked up a not inconsiderable 500,000 miles in just ten years. Most car owners would be happy with that.

Not Irv. He has devoted absolutely total dedication to his car. It has been meticulously serviced and maintained. His dealer reckons that Mr Gordon takes better care of his car than his own person. To date the car has reached 2.99 million miles and is still in regular use. The owner thinks he’ll achieve the magic number by September.

What is really good about this story is Irv’s attitude to the whole thing. To him it is not so much about the car and his dedication but rather what the car has done. To quote him, “The best way to explore America is by car. I challenge everyone to go out and see as much as possible. No matter how many roads I’ve been on, there’s always one I haven’t taken. That’s what makes it exciting.”

Irv believes that the magic number will be reached when he is visiting Alaska later this year – in his Volvo obviously. It is one of only two States he has yet to see. Both the American media and Volvo are taking a great interest in this story and why not. It just goes to show that real motoring doesn’t have to always be about performance or the latest thing. It can be about the pleasure of driving. From the great cities and plains of America through to the small town diners so beloved of writers, Irv has been there. He says that if you live in America and send him an ‘invite’, he will be happy to meet up for a coffee. Irv Gordon – a true petrol head.

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Classic Cream Of The Drop Top Crop

It doesn’t matter how much a car enthusiast might protest to the contrary, they all secretly harbour a desire to own a classic American car. There is just something about them. It might be the sound of an old school V8. It might be because these vehicles remind us of the true golden age of motoring or it might simply be the perverse desire to own something that looks like Liberace’s piano.

Speed and muscle car power are all very well but for pure cruising pleasure the dream drive has to be a leisurely run down California’s Pacific Coast Highway whilst listening to the pet sounds of the Beach Boys. That’s the dream; cruising in our new style British weather through the exotic streets of Swindon or Sawbridgeworth is sadly the reality. Never mind. There are still some days when the sun does make an appearance which means the best Yank tank for true motoring escapism has to be a drop-top.

The beauty of American convertibles is that it doesn’t matter about the drivers age. Older drivers in smaller European or Japanese convertibles – and yes, it is unfair – look to some as if they are trying to recapture their youth. In an American classic they look just fine. Would that it were that easy, though.

With any classic car knowledge is all. It really is important that a potential buyer has done his or her homework. Some of these cars are relatively cheap to buy but are often, unsurprisingly, expensive to run. Mechanical integrity is obviously crucial but the real problem is likely to be the folding roof. Really careful inspection is vital as most period convertibles, even those from fifty plus years ago, mostly have power driven rag-tops. Operation should be smooth and take around thirty seconds. The material, inside and out, should be immaculate and fit properly as leaks are common.dash Classic Cream Of The Drop Top Crop

Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Condition is everything. This applies especially to the interior because, being a convertible, it will have had more exposure to the elements. A car that has been recently imported from a dry American State is likely to be rust free. A car that had been in the UK for a while, possibly isn’t. This is why the history is so vital. Has the car been stored properly when not in use and does the seller seem like the right stuff?

All the usual ifs and buts aside, owning an American classic is just like owning any classic car. There’s plenty about – some at surprisingly low prices – and there’s a big following in the UK, so good advice is on offer. Think about owning a vintage Ford Thunderbird or a Plymouth Fury! Cars with proper names. The magnificent Cadillac Eldorado (pictured). The Pontiac Catalina. Names redolent with the history of the automobile. Who wouldn’t feel just a bit special cruising the sunlit boulevards of Britain – elbow resting nonchalantly on the doorsill – in one of these timeless classics. Protest all you like; you know you want one. Yes you do.

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The Bath Pageant Of Motoring

As the Summer continues (pause for hollow, bitter laugh) the UK will be abuzz with the sound of exotic and classic machinery as the car show season gets under way. There’s something for everyone at a venue near you, such is the British love of cars and bikes of all descriptions. In some cases visitors can also do their bit for a worthwhile charity.

A case in point is the Bath Pageant Of Motoring. This takes place near the City of Bath on the 6th/7th July. It is being organised by Bath Rotary Club and its purpose is to raise money for the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering’s efforts in the production and distribution of “Wizzybugs”; electric wheelchairs for disabled children.

Following last year’s successful event the venue is being moved and will be held at the Walcot Rugby Ground, Lansdown, Bath, BA1 9BJ. There will of course be modern and classic cars and motorcycles galore as well as an extensive programme of parades, exhibitions, demonstrations and super car rides. If that isn’t enough to tempt you how about some competitions, live music and family activities. Fresh food, drinks and refreshments are available throughout the weekend from local suppliers and caterers.

For those of an oily fingered disposition there’ll be an Autojumble containing a wide array of vehicle accessories, parts, tools and clothing. The show includes a special display of unique and high-performance supercars, including Aston Martin, AC Cobra, Lotus, Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, and many others. You can even book a ride in a supercar with a donation to charity. If you have a suitable vehicle that you’d like to display, contact the organisers.

Visitors can camp on site if they fancy making a weekend of it and there’s free parking. Best of all it doesn’t cost very much. A lot of events and attractions these days charge a small fortune that can stretch slender budgets so you’ll be pleased to note that this is a very reasonably priced event serving a very worthwhile charitable cause. http://www.bathpageantofmotoring.com/

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Fuel For The Future

Ethanol is colourless, volatile, flammable and alcoholic and has various industrial uses except in the Deep South of America where it is a recreational home-made beverage – although you shouldn’t try it at home. It is also considered to be a ‘green’ fuel and is probably in your car now. Regular unleaded petrol has, since 2008, a five percent ethanol content. Premium fuels contain no ethanol.

Later this year a new brew with a higher ethanol content will begin to appear on garage forecourts described as E10. In other words this is unleaded fuel but with a 10% ethanol content. This is because ethanol is, in effect, carbon neutral and is as a result beloved of EU decision-makers.

Some European countries have had this fuel for a while so we’re playing catch-up. It has been legal to sell it here since March but in reality we are unlikely to see any before this Summer. Motorists and motorcyclists aren’t obliged to use it and it will be sold alongside our present selection for the foreseeable future. Garages are not obliged to sell it. So that’s all fine then, but for some drivers who might choose to be greener there could be a snag. Or two.

Ethanol in this concentration is known to degrade and damage components in older cars. This is especially true of classic vehicles. It can affect rubber seals and, because it more readily absorbs water, can attack older fuel pipes and carburettor parts. Even used cars registered before 2000 could be vulnerable and, just to be on the safe side, buyers of new cars could check with their dealer. The Department for Transport reckon that 8.6 million vehicles of all types could be affected. Manufacturers are organising a dedicated E10 website where car owners can get all the facts, so watch out for that.

Obviously this is not unexpected. The messianic zeal with which the EU approaches all things green has already had a profound effect on the motor industry; much of it good, it has to be said. It’s all part of their plan to cut the use of fossil fuels to combat global warming etc.

The downside is that a recent study has shown that E10 is not so economical. The report has shown that cars might do less miles to the gallon and that drivers will find that over a year could spend as much as £80 more at the pumps. This is a bit of an issue. If the EU is so keen on their sustainability targets where is the value in a fuel that we’ll all have to buy more of?

The Germans have had E10 for a couple of years now and are said to be deeply suspicious. Many are choosing not to use it because they are unclear on the wider environmental and social aspects of this concoction. Ethanol is a biofuel made from grain so there’s also concern that taking farmland out of the food production cycle could be detrimental to food prices. We’ll have to see how the car makers approach this launch and whether, given their interest in sustainability and our well-being, the government sell it with a tax break! You wish.

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Yet More Intrusive EU Proposals

Sometimes, the things people do beggar belief. It makes you wonder which planet they are from and sometimes it seems that politicians are at the forefront of ridiculous ideas; making up as they do legislation for legislations sake to justify their very existence. It’s not unreasonable to expect our ‘leaders’ to have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world at large and yet it seems that they basically haven’t got a clue as to the true and serious possible outcomes of their crackpot schemes. They just don’t think it through.

Here’s the latest brilliant wheeze to come out of the European parliament in Brussels: Our lords and masters want to ensure that cars cannot be modified once they leave the factory and any changes to the original spec will be identified by way of a hugely altered MOT. Essentially, if their proposal extends to all cars on the road, any car that is so modified will be illegal.

Take the example of a classic car. New cars are safer and better made than ever before and many safety measures have been applied that would never have been possible even thirty years ago. What happens then if the owner of a classic car modifies it to improve safety by fitting, say, bigger or better brakes? Why, this would be illegal under the terms of this lunatic proposal.

Enthusiasts who change cars don’t do so lightly. They are usually responsible people who put safety first. If they add more power then they boost the brakes and so on. Illegal – if the mad-eyed proposers have their way. After-market rear-light clusters on an old Citroen Saxo to perk it up a bit? Illegal. Add your own further suggestions.

Nobody likes having the worry of an MOT and these days the test is pretty rigorous. Why on earth is it necessary to tinker with it further. The Eurocrats will say they have our safety at heart but, if they stopped and thought about it, they’d see that the manufacturers have made huge strides in this area. There is simply no need to interfere.

It will also cost jobs. For example, there exists a thriving classic car market and professional repair sector. Garages who specialise will be decimated simply because they cannot get original parts and resort to using new and usually better made after-market equivalents. Big auto part retailers will lose trade and many areas of the industry will be put at risk.

Needless to say, every motoring organisation is up in arms, as are car makers and anyone involved in the auto trade. Meanwhile, the Department for Transport – obfuscating in the way only politicians can do whilst back-peddling furiously like a clown on a unicycle – are saying that it is only a proposal at this stage and could be amended or even dropped ‘after consultation.’ Yeah, right.

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