Let’s Go For A Drive: MGF

Usually the tone of my road tests are defensive, taking the tone that ‘[car’s name] may have been a sales flop and generally seen as rubbish, but it must have some redeeming features’. In this case though the subject of this ‘Let’s Go For A Drive’ is an undeniably good car – one that garnered praise from the press at its launch and which topped the UK sales charts for cars of its type for nearly a decade. I refer, of course, to the MGF roadster.

Now, as good as the MGF undoubtedly is, it is not without its issues and it’s reputation is not unsullied. As well as the standard-issue reliability issues with its K-Series power unit there is the fact beloved of the pub bore – “it’s just a back-to-front Metro”. This is true. It also has Hydragas suspension and, for all that system’s many advantages ‘sportiness’ is not one of them.

So these are my thoughts after driving an MGF for the first time. What is it about the little MG that made it such a success? Can a car based on another car running backwards really be that great a drive? Read on and find out.


The F was MG’s first all-new car since the launch of the MGB roadster back in 1962 and was also the first bespoke MG car since the B had ceased production in 1980. Add to this that the F was MG’s first rear-engined car it was clear that it had very little in common with any previous MG product. The styling bares this out. Nothing about it really says ‘MG’. The styling is very 1990s with smooth lines and rounded detailing. Despite the wholly different mechanical layout the F manages the same largely symmetrical, balanced look as the older MG roadsters without any of the tail-heavy wedginess that some rear-engined cars end up with. There are a few stylistic hints from MGs of the past, with the front bonnet and wheelarches lifting up into ‘wings’ behind the headlamps like the MGB and the two-part ‘moustache’ grille is also an MGB carry-over. All the same the F isn’t a retro product. These cues are very subtle and are in many ways overshadowed by the F’s own styling such as the big rear light clusters and the air intakes behind the doors which are blended into a big styling crease down to the sills. The car sits low to the ground, as you’d expect from a car with sporting pretensions and its short wheelbase and wide track give it a purposeful, planted look. Overall the styling is neat and wholly inoffensive. The MGF isn’t an especially beautiful car but equally there’s nothing wrong with it either.


Like all the best British sports cars you have to lower yourself into the MGF’s cabin and once the door closes it feels cosy and cockpit-like, which is how it should be. If you’re at all familiar with Rover Group products of the 1990s you’ll immediately start noticing all the parts-bin switches, dials and panels, most of which seem to have come from the R3-type Rover 200. The inside is more consciously retro than the outside, with cream leather seats, steering wheel cover and gear lever gaiter, as well as black-on-beige dials and ‘wooden’ surrounds on the heater vents and switch panels. The MGF is certainly better ergonomically than any previous MG roadster. You sit low, in the classic ‘backside on the ground’ pose familiar to any MGB driver, but the seats are comfortable and supportive. The steering wheel is near-vertical and, although it is simply the Rover Group standard-fit one of the time it feels right. The gauges (speedo and rev counter flanked by smaller fuel and temperature dials, just like any other Rover product of the era) are clear. The centre tunnel and console is raised up a little compared to a normal car which helps add to the cockpit feel. The view out the front is very good. The lack of an engine in the front means the bonnet slopes continually away from the windscreen leaving very little of the car visible to the driver despite the low seating position and rather giving the impression that you’re strapped to the very front of the vehicle. The only other dials are a clock and an oil temperature gauge above the radio. I suppose the oil temperature gauge adds a certain hint of performance.The only quirk is the presence of a button for a heated rear windscreen, which baffles me slightly because this car has a hood, with an unzippable plastic rear window.

Being mid-rear engined the MGF has a ‘boot’ in the back and a ‘sort of boot’ in the front. The release handle for the latter is located inside the former, which left me resorting to the handbook (horror!) to find out where it was. The boot proper is a decent size with a large opening and does rather leave you wondering where the engine is, since it seems to back straight onto the cabin. In fact the engine lurks under a series of removable grille panels at the front of the boot. You can just about see the oil filler, dipstick and coolant expansion bottle but apart from a restricted glimpse of the familar twin cam K-Series top cover you can’t see anything else.

Under the ‘bonnet’ is the spare wheel, battery and brake master cylinder, which is on the opposite side of the car to the controls.

Under Way

The MGF’s key is an octagonal variant of the famous Rover ‘bendy key’. Turn it and the 1.8-litre K-Series fires up quickly (incidentally the K-Series’ capacity is within a few ccs of the capacity of the B-Series unit found in the MGB). It’s a little strange to hear all the engine noises coming from behind. The engine breathes though two fairly short exhaust pipes and these, coupled to the usual K-Series fast idle when cold produce a very MG-like raspy noise. Otherwise the engine is smooth and refined and there is very little in the way of vibration and no rattles or squeaks. Very un-MG-like.

It’s a shame that Rover didn’t try and fettle the gearchange a little for their new baby sports car. The standard K-Series/Honda gearbox combo shift is by no means bad but one of the joys of the old MGs was their tight, narrow-gate gearbox with an action that was both slick yet offered just enough feedback to be satisfying. The F’s gearchange is nothing special although it is a little on the heavy side and does feel as if its actually connected to something.


The MGF in this test is a very early Mk1 example. Thus it is in many ways the ‘purest’ in the classic MG sense. Whilst later or higher-specced Fs had more powerful engines with Rover’s VVC system or the Tiptronic CVT this one has the basic 118 horsepower engine and a 5-speed manual gearbox. This bodes well because classic British roadsters were never about outright performance. They were about making a lot of noise, feeling as if they were going a lot faster than they actually were, an involving driving experience and handling that was sharp and quick even if it wasn’t particular good.

K-Series engines without VVC were never particularly strong on low-speed torque and this one is no exception. You need a fair amount of revs in hand to pull away and the initial take-off doesn’t overwhelm you with speed. However the engine is very free revving and offers more the more you ask of it. Keep the revs up and don’t be afraid to work the engine hard and it delivers a very ‘sporty’ experience. The official 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds isn’t great by modern standards and my time with this F made it seem rather optimistic as the car is nippy rather than properly quick. However these cars are all about the experience and the F delivers in spades. Although the engine is only a few inches away from your ears it doesn’t make too much noise, especially when driven normally, other than a slightly coarse note as you’d expect from a wide-bore 4-cylinder. However when you open the taps you get an earful of exhaust rasp, a pleasant amount of induction roar and, at the higher engine speeds, a smooth, purposeful whine. It’s not the same flatulent, ‘rorty’ noise of an MGB or a Midget but it’s engaging.

When not being a sports car the MGF is perfectly happy. Once moving the engine is tractable enough and it has good mid-range poke. It’s a very easy car to drive normally, which is something a lot of cars with performance design briefs don’t manage very well. The cabin is well insulated from the engine and the road and the soft top is free of excessive wind noise and draughts. The best bit is making the transition between the two ‘modes’. The fact that the F has slightly blunt performance means that you can enjoy the odd wide-open-throttle moment (those tempting 30-to-National Speed Limit changes, for example) without instantly finding yourself the wrong side of the law.

Ride and Handling

This is where the MGF really has to shine because, as mentioned, a British sports car is all about the driving experience rather than the actual performance.

The key issue to address is the Hydragas suspension. Anyone who’s seen an Austin Allegro or a Princess bounce and roll its way along even a slightly undulating road will wonder at the sense in putting the system in a sports car. However the point of Hydragas was that it offered a highly compliant ride whilst still allowing good, safe handling. It was also ‘tuneable’ simply by fitting the system with displacer units of different capacities, fluid/gas ratios and fluid restriction. In the MGF the emphasis has, clearly, been placed on handling rather than ride comfort. If you didn’t know I don’t think you’d be able to tell that the F had anything other than conventional suspension most of the time. The ride is certainly good but it is not exceptional. Rough road surfaces, bumps and potholes cause the odd jar and thump but the structure of the car is well insulated from the suspension and it takes a serious defect in the road surface to actually became unpleasant.

Where the Hydragas really shines is in the car’s stability. Cars with short wheelbases are usually skittish, especially when fitted with firmer suspension in search of good handling. With independent but interconnected suspension at each corner the MGF is fantastically stable and planted. As intended the interconnection completely kills any pitching which is the traditional bete noir of short wheelbase vehicles. At the same time the stiffer ‘spring’ rates combined with anti-roll bars mean that roll is also kept to a minimum and even the worst that Hampshire’s back-roads had to offer in the way of a corner, camber, incline and a mid-turn bump couldn’t faze the system and the MG kept tracking straight and true. At the other end of the scale the car also remains rock solid at motorway speeds with no need to constantly tweak the steering and no jumping buffeting when you hit a crosswind or the bow-wave of an HGV. The result is a car which is perfectly comfortable and easy to drive normally which can also turn in a grin-making performance if you decide to ‘make decent progress’ over a fast and twisty road, especially as you can maintain a fast but legal speed where a less sweet-handling car would have to slow down.

The steering also plays a big part in this. It’s a traditional rack-and-pinion setup with electric assistance (rather innovative for the time!). The first thing that struck me was the weight of the steering as for a PAS system its quite heavy. Heavy may not be the right word, perhaps ‘weighted’ would be better. It’s also nicely progressive being responsive without being twitchy. The hefty feel to the steering really makes you feel like you are ‘working the car’ and removes the sense that the car is largely driving itself which I suspect the ride and grip may otherwise make you feel. Given the reputation EPAS has for killing any feel or feedback the system on the MG is very good.

Classic MGs were always rather tail-happy on a wet road if they were provoked. This was part of their appeal- whilst quite safe and easy to drive most of the time if you mashed the accelerator enough on a damp day you could get a little controlled tail slide. I was expecting the MGF, being a modern, safe and predictable car, to not have any such vices. I was surprised (in both the good and bad senses) when I went around a roundabout on a drizzly afternoon and with a little groan from the back wheels the rear end swung out. It was by no means dangerous or excessive- the back wheels just got slightly out of line and it could easily be corrected with the steering but it showed that the MGF wasn’t an entirely compliant car and I’m sure that someone more nerve and driving skill than myself could get a lot more in the way of sideways action from it.


It’s very clear why the MGF was such a hit. Whilst owing almost nothing in terms of styling or mechanics to its predecessors it is very much a ‘proper’ MG with focus on the right areas. It’s not a particular fast car but it excels in providing an entertaining experience. It’s simply a fun car to drive, and that’s what MGs were always about. At the same time it’s a practical, comfortable car that’s easy to use on a day-to-day basis. What the MGF really demonstrates is how good Rover was at ‘making do’. Yes, it uses Metro subframes back to front and yes, it has a suspension system from the 1970s that was never intended to be used on a sports car, and yes, the interior is almost entirely built out of bits of other cars but none of this matters. The MG is much more than the sum of its parts and it shows the ability of Rover to fettle a car to bring out its best which would later come to the fore in the MG ‘Z-cars’ of the 2000s. At the same time the F encapsulates everything an MG roadster should be, which is mainly a car which is fun above all else. Here’s hoping that the current incarnation of the company can do as good a job when they turn their hand to a 21st-century MG sports car in the future.


The Rootes Group – Gone and Forgotten?

As is probably clear by now, my main area of interest when it comes to old cars is the products of British Leyland and its relations. BL has been a part of my life almost literally from birth- my first car journey, aged 3 days, was in an Austin Maestro 1.3. Apparently one of my first words was ‘Rover’. It couldn’t really be any other way. My family was always been a ‘Leyland family’ over the decades and even by the time I came along our family cars were still second-hand examples of BL’s finest. My Dad’s Dad took it even further- he was a ‘Morris Man’ through and through, refusing to buy anything without a Morris badge right up to the end, to the point of buying an alarmingly basic Morris 1100 over a much more suitable Austin 1300 because it was the only ‘Cowley’ product available.

The story of BL is, of course, the story of a good chunk of the British motor industry. Certainly BL had all the best names, from the big mass-producers like Austin to the premium marques like Rover and Jaguar. But British Leyland wasn’t the only big British car organisation in the post-war period. There was another conglomerate of brands that ran the full gamut of the motor industry from cheap-and-cheerful, through sporty, on to luxurious and even including a range of commercial vehicles. It included some of the oldest and best-regarded brands in the UK’s motoring history. It was also troubled and ended up selling out to a foreign company, it’s final remnant being shut down in the early 21st century.

I refer, of course, to the Rootes Group.

As the logo shows, Rootes incorporated six brands- four car makers and two commercial vehicle builders. These weren’t two-bit operations either. Hillman was a worthy mass market competitor to the likes of Ford or Austin-Morris. Humber had an envied reputation for big, solid, conservative luxury saloons. Sunbeam was one of the best established sporting brands in the country with a slew of pre-war Land Speed Records to its name and a heritage of successful motorbikes and aero engines.

The thing is, even if you know nothing about cars you will probably be at least vaguely aware of British Leyland. Even if this knowledge goes no further than the BL episode of Top Gear or that hilarious* time they set fire to a Morris Marina. In fact that’s part of the issue. Top Gear can do a BL episode safe in the knowledge that the viewing public ‘knows’ enough for them to set up the inevitable punchlines. If they did a Rootes episode and a Humber Sceptre appeared on screen (how much I would love to see James May review a Sceptre on that show…sigh) then the audience wouldn’t know if they should laugh or not. Everyone seems to know what an Austin Allegro is and that, apparently, it’s rubbish. British Leyland itself is still alive and well in the public consciousness and it’s still regularly trotted out by TV pundits as an example of how not to do private enterprise/nationalised industry (delete as appropriate). But the Hillman Imp, Sunbeam Rapier, Humber Hawk, the Singer Vogue and the organisation that made them exist in glorious anonymity.

“S’wun of them old Vauxhalls, innit mate?

I suppose that might be part of the reason. BL was a government-owned organisation for most of its existence and so became an irresistable metaphor for the State of the Nation to the press. Even I can remember newspaper cartoons about the Rover Group and there was one last year featuring the MG6 as an allegory for…something. It was British Leyland, after all. There’s also the simple matter of numbers. BL sold more cars because it contained all the big-selling brands. Rootes sold plenty of cars but by sheer force of numbers the Leyland products seem to have stuck in the public’s mind more.

The products themselves may play a part. Rootes made generally forgettable products, and I mean that in a good way. They were rather boring, conventional, unadventurous cars. It’s telling that the Hillman Imp is probably the most ‘iconic’ Rootes product and it was simultaneously their most adventurous and one of their most flawed designs. Rootes never made anything as genuinely game-changing as a Mini or as best-selling as the ADO16. Equally they never made anything as ugly as a Landcrab or as infamously flawed as a Marina.

It’s strange how this difference in exposure manifests itself. When MG-Rover went belly-up in 2005 it made headlines for several days, newspapers ran feature-length articles and retrospectives offering opinion on where it all went wrong and there were documentaries on TV. When Peugeot closed the Ryton plant in 2006 (which was the last remaining outpost of the Rootes Group) it was a third-tier news item like any other major factory closure. There was a rather good documentary on Radio 4 but even that focussed on the human element of those losing their jobs rather than the corporate story.

All this is, in my opinion, quite a shame. Rootes may not have done anything as noteworthy (good or bad) as Leyland but it generally seems to have had its act together and could have taught its rival a thing or too about brand management and effective platform sharing. There are some interesting stories in there as well, like the  unofficial strike by 1,000 workers in the Rootes bodyshop in 1961 which saw Lord Rootes himself intervening and delivering a “return or be fired” ultimatum. They made a film about the seamstress strike at Dagenham but you never hear about the divisive battle of principles that went on at Acton (at least I’d never heard of it before doing some research for this blog!). There’s the story of Group itself, started by one man after the First World War as a dealership and within a decade it had swallowed most of the second-tier motor industry. There are the foreign owners (first Chrylser, then Peugeot) and how close Rootes and Chrysler Europe came to hitting the big-time. And of course, there’s the big face-palm moment of Lord Rootes turning down buying a factory in central Germany that made some funny little economy car because he thought it wouldn’t sell.

Nah, no one will buy one those things. And you’d have to be mad to base a sports car on one…

What about the cars?

There’s the Imp with its clever all-alloy engine that had a 300-mile railway journey halfway through the manufacturing process. Or Commer and their bonkers TS3 2-stroke diesel engine which deafened a whole generation of lorry drivers. There were cars like the Sunbeam Rapier V, which looked like a minature Plymouth Barracuda, or the vast Humber Hawk, an indestructible luxo-barge with the largest steel bodyshell then in production. What about the Chrysler Sunbeam, especially its fire-breathing Lotus version? These cars deserve more attention than they get.

Maybe we need a National Rootes Awareness Day?

Head To Head : Land Rover Series IIA v. Land Rover Ninety

This blog was originally going to be along the lines of ‘old versus new’, until it occurred to me that even the ‘new’ component is now 22 years old and is closer to the year the ‘old’ one was built than it is to the present day. So instead we have a face-off between Old and Older.

It seems almost redundant to pit two Land Rovers against each other, regardless of the age gap between them. Lore states that as vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and microchips,  tie-dye gave way to flares and shoulder-pads, and rock and roll gave way to punk and techno the Land Rover has been an ever-present unchanging facet of life. Reviews and magazines drop in lines like “unchanged in over 60 years” and “design icon”. Land Rover themselves see so little difference that they backdate the existence of the current Defender brand to 1948 whenever they get the chance. But can a vehicle really stay so unchanged for so many decades? Have all those engineers and designers up at Solihull just twiddling their thumbs and occasionally sketching new sidestripe patterns? These are questions that need to answered.

The two Land Rovers in question aren’t exact counterparts. One in a 1970 Series IIA 88-inch and the other is a 1990 Ninety County Station Wagon. The former is straight out of Emmerdale whilst the latter is more To The Manor Born. What they do have in common is that they are still in entirely original factory specification, which is a rarity in the world of Land Rovers.

Series IIA- The Sounds (and Smells) of the Sixties

This late IIA represents something of cross-over period for the Land Rover. Most noticeably it has its headlights in the wings rather than the inset grille panel. This change was required by lighting regulations in several countries (notably the USA and Germany) and, according to people with extravagant beards and tattered Barbours this was the beginning of the end for the ‘proper Land Rover’. There are other hints of the modern world- although this particular one still powers its minimal electrics with a dynamo an alternator was optional so it has a negative-earth system, bringing the British motor industry kicking and screaming into line with the rest of the world. In retrospect this Land Rover is also notable for being one of the last true Land Rovers. It was built by a still-independent Rover Company but in a few short years Rover would find itself part of British Leyland.

These little details aside this Land Rover is still entirely representative of the Series II Land Rover launched way back in 1958 which saw many of the flaws and bugs of the earlier Series I models (only ever intended to be a quick post-war stopgap) ironed out. The Series II also had some basic styling elements courtesy of the masterful David Bache whose portfolio also included the Rover P6 and SD1. The short-wheelbase Series II is a likeable, almost cuddly vehicle, with its strange but satisfying combination of flat panels and curved edges, big goggly headlamps and proportions that are almost as wide as it is long.

For all the refinements that the Series II brought, and the few which had been added by the time this IIA was built, the Land Rover of the time was still a functional vehicle to an almost punishing degree. This one has a few optional extras chucked at it but when I reveal that these include (apparently) DeLuxe seats, an electric windscreen washer pump and a heater you’ll see that we’re still dealing with monastic comfort levels. The instruments are mounted centrally and consist of a speedo (reading up to a breakneck 70 MPH) and a multi-gauge containing fuel and temperature readouts. The few electrical switches look like something out of a Vulcan bomber and the stark labels and untrimmed metal panelling painted a dark green contribute to the military feel. Comfort isn’t a word usually associated with old Land Rovers and in this one the only soft furnishings are the seats. Everything else – dashboard, floors, bulkhead, transmission tunnel – is simply steel or aluminium sheeting.

The seats don’t adjust in any direction but the ‘one size fits all’ seating position is actually quite good. It’s a very upright posture, which adds to the apparent height of the vehicle and helps you easily see over the spare wheel mounted on the bonnet (although at 6′ 2″ I may not be the best to talk about that aspect). The DeLuxe seats are much better than the basic slabs of vinyl and are actually shaped to accept the human body which makes things much more bareable. Ventilation is courtesy of the famous flaps under the windscreen and the side windows which have a single half-length sliding panel which doesn’t open quite enough to comfortably get your head through.

Start-up is the usual procedure for a petrol Land Rover – full choke, turn the key, engine fires quickly, push the choke back in. The 2.25-litre petrol engine powered three generations of Land Rover and is renowned for its durability and simplicity. What’s often overlooked is its refinement. At idle the engine is virtually silent, with just a steady hum from the fanbelt and a gentle tick/tock from the distributor. Unfortunately the engine is encased in a 10-foot long biscuit tin and so all those noises and any vibration is amplified and transmitted throughout the entire vehicle which rather destroys the magic.

The clutch is insanely heavy and the 4-speed gearbox is not slick. The box is a 4-speed with synchro only on 3rd and 4th. It is mated to a gear driven two-speed transfer box which drives the two live axles via propshafts. That’s a lot of gear-on-gear interfaces and they all make their presence felt as you drive. A lot of the gears are straight cut as well so you get a building whine from the drivetrain under power, a symphony of clonks and thuds as you come off the power and the forces in the system reverse and then a differently pitched howl from the cogs on the overrun. This is very helpful in judging downchanges into the lower regions of the box which need double-declutching and a technique approaching the karate-chop to engage, once the gear has been located on the very wide throw.

Performance is a mixed bag. The gearing is all quite low and closely spaced and with around 70 horsepower on tap in a relatively light, simple vehicle initial progress is quite brisk. The engine is also brilliantly torquey and you quickly realise that the best technique is to get into 4th gear as quickly as possible. This allows the IIA to happily pull at speeds at low as 20 MPH all the way up to the apparent top speed at a little over 60. At this velocity the wing mirrors start flapping around uncontrollably, the gearbox is screaming its protests and a general smell of hot oil suggests you slow down. At 50 or 55 the Land Rover is still in its comfort zone and will cruise with throttle travel to spare for mild inclines.

The Series IIA is designed to carry around a third of a ton. It has leaf springs at all four corners. You can infer the quality of the ride from that. The springs on this example are relatively rare in being in good condition rather than having the leaves seized together. This means that on tarmac the suspension actually retains some flexibility and you get used to the tight, undulating bounce as you drive along. However any imperfections- joints in the tarmac, potholes, cats-eyes, manhole covers, white lines with too much paint – are transmitted straight to the chassis, the bodywork and the driver’s backside. The Landy crashes and thuds over bumps in a manner that would reduce a lesser vehicle to its component parts.

The steering is low geared and, whilst unassisted (obviously) it isn’t excessively heavy even when stationary and once moving is actually a little on the the light side. Driving a Series Land Rover is often described as a suggestive rather than instructive experience but that’s because so many have had years of unchecked wear and play in their steering components. This one, with new joints and a properly adjusted steering box, tracks straight and true. The only quirk is the 20-degrees or so of free play around dead-centre and the initially unsettling habit of live-axled vehicles of jumping bodily sideways when hitting bumps at the wrong angle.

Braking is firmly rooted in the 1950s, being all-round drums with single leading shoes and no servo (it was optional but only on the softy Station Wagons which had silly things like interior lights and two-speed wipers…pah!). Given that the vehicle is cleared to tow over 3 tons they don’t inspire confidence even when confronted with the solo Landy with a 1.3-ton kerbweight. They require a firm shove to get any response and even when stamped on hard they could never be described as powerful. ‘Adequate given enough forward planning’ is probably the best way to put it. Fortunately the engine braking is very good but the gearbox also doesn’t like being rushed so it really is a case of planning ahead. In fact ‘doesn’t like to be rushed’ is a good summation of what the Series II Land Rover is about.

Driving a Series IIA for a day makes it very clear what the Land Rover’s good points are. It’s a simple, effective working tool that can be abused without fear of it breaking. It makes no concessions to the likings or wants of the driver if they get in the way of the job and it’s much happier to carting bags of fertiliser around a field that it is out on the open road. The whole vehicle feels dependable and eminently and endlessly fixable should anything go wrong. At the same time the downsides are just as obvious, the masochistic comfort levels, the intrusive and recalcitrant transmission, the poor road performance and the less-than-inspiring brakes being the most striking.

Ninety County Station Wagon – Carpets, Cloth and Cassettes

So now we take a big leap forward into the 1980s and jump into the driver’s seat of a 1990 Land Rover. I should state from the get-go that this is not an entirely fair comparison as this later model is a County Station Wagon (CSW to those who speak the lingo), the ‘County’ moniker denoting the very pinnacle of the Land Rover range at the time and being aimed squarely at people who valued comfort and convenience over the ability to hose out the insides of their Land Rover after a day in the fields. Thus, whilst the Series IIA was representative of your common-or-garden working Land Rover of the time, the CSW is not. None the less it is mechanically identical to any other Land Rover at the time and I shall try and judge it on those terms.

Looking at the Ninety from the outside the resemblance to the Series IIA is striking. The same basic outline is their- indeed in silhouette one would struggle to tell the difference. It’s still the two-box design with a bluff front end and a cavernous, almost cubic rear body seperated by a near-vertical windscreen. The Bache design elements such as the curved side and the rounded wingtops are still there. However there are several detail differences. Most obvious is the flush front end with plastic grille and headlamp bezels (it was the 1980s so they’re colour-matched on the County. On a more-working class example they would have been black plastic). If anything this heightens the overall squareness of the design. Large plastic wheelarch eyebrows now sprout from each corner. The Land Rover has grown a few inches in every dimension so the chunky proportions are the same, although the wheels (16-inch rims and 205-section tyres, just like the Series) now look a little lost under the more bulky bodywork. Bits of the chassis still extrude from various points and the front bumper is still a big square-section of steel, although it’s now painted rather than galvanised, as are the distinctive body cappings that give the aluminium bodywork its strength.

Inside it’s all change. Whilst the Series IIA was a swathe of matt-green metal the County has what is approaching a proper interior. The instruments migrated in front of the driver back in the 1970s on the Series III, which also introduced the full-width parcel shelf seen here but the Ninety and its relations really upped the game in regards to trim. The County has full-width grey carpeting on the floor and seat box whilst lesser models had thick vinyl mats. There’s a fabric headlining, tough plastic door cards and even neat plastic grilles over the windscreen flap vents. There’s much more switchgear than on the Series vehicle, belying an increase in gadgetry, and a pleasing amount of it comes from British Leyland cars of the period (column stalks from an Austin Ambassador are a highlight here). The dashboard consists of a speedo and three ancillary gauges (water temperature, fuel and a voltmeter) and a plethora of warning lights. The heater now lives under the bonnet rather than in the cabin and the self-cancelling indicator mechanism isn’t exposed for all to see. Equipment includes a clock, a heated rear window and wash/wipe, a cigar lighter and an interior light.

The seats themselves are sculpted, rather like the IIA’s Deluxe seats but have higher backs and include head restraints. On the County they’re trimmed in tweed cloth, which is much more pleasant in hot weather, but the Basic specification models had identical chairs trimmed in vinyl. A striking difference is the view out of the windscreen. The screen is now a one-piece item and is deeper, eating into a recess let into the roof panel. This small change makes a big difference to the visibility, removing entirely the ‘looking through a letter box’ feeling that the Series had in some situations.

This Ninety has a 2.5-litre turbodiesel under the bonnet, closely related to the 2.25-litre engine found in the Series vehicles. After holding the key in the correct position to warm the glow plugs for a few seconds the engine fires up quickly with a gritty puff of smoke and settles into a steady beat. As you would expect, it’s nowhere near as whisper-quiet as the petrol unit in the older Land Rover but it is surprisingly refined as it chatters away it itself and very little vibration finds its way to the driver. The carpeting  and the thick layers of sound deadending on the other side of the bulkhead are a big help here.

By this time Land Rovers were using the LT77 5-speed gearbox as also found in the Rover SD1, Triumph TR7, Range Rover and Freight Rover. It’s not a gearbox known for its slick shifting but it’s an improvement over the old Rover 4-speed box in most respects. Most, but not all. Whilst the Series gearbox had a tough shift requiring a firm hand you could at least find all the gears in the pattern. The LT77 has a wonderfully imprecise shift, despite the fact that the lever travels directly into the gearbox. 1st gear especially is a case of trial and error and then relying on muscle memory. The other gears aren’t so bad but there’s none of the satisfying feel of metal sliding into metal that you get with the IIA’s transmission. On the other hand the forces required are light and the gearbox makes none of the shrieks and whines that the old unit made. Another carry-over is the entirely gear-driven drivetrain so the clonks and backlash are still there when taking up drive and you can feel the innards of the transmission shifting back and forth as you come on and off the power. The clutch is still heavy by car standards but is a revelation after driving the Series – in fact I jumped straight from the IIA to the Ninety, put my foot on the clutch and jammed it straight to the floor in one movement so unprepared was I for the improvement.

The immediate sensation is that the Ninety feels bigger than the Series. It is of course- 4 inches wider and a touch under 5 inches longer – but the difference feels much greater than that. I don’t know if it’s because the Ninety feels like you are sitting on top of it rather than inside it due to the taller windscreen and firmer seats or if it’s just because of the greater solidity of the vehicle (the Series IIA is built entirely out of single-skin panels whilst the Ninety has a more complex and stronger body structure) but its a surprisingly significant change.

Given that the Ninety weighs an extra 400kg over the IIA and has only 15 horsepower more you’d think the performance would be no better and you’d be right. Straight-line speed is virtually identical but that disguises where the real improvements are, which is in the later engine’s flexibility. Whilst the boost level is almost negligible (less than 10 PSI) the turbo spools up from very low speeds and the engine’s long stroke means that torque is always on tap. Unlike the IIA the torque delivery continues into the upper parts of the rev range, meaning that the engine actually has a power band rather than a single-speed power peak. More flexible it may be but the basic technique is the same of getting into the high gears as soon as possible. 5th gear is a useable down to 30 MPH. That extra gear is where the other differences come from- the later Landy tops out at a much higher speed simply because it has the ability to use a higher gear and this greatly improves refinement which makes it more acceptable to cruise at speeds that, whilst possible in the Series, aren’t really practical. The Ninety will cruise at 60MPH and will sit at 70 MPH all day provided that the hills aren’t too steep and the driver can afford the crippling fuel consumption that follows (although even at its worst the diesel is superior to the average figure from the IIA’s petrol engine). Whilst incredibly noisy by normal standards the Ninety gives none of the auditory assault that the Series vehicle does even at comparable speeds.

The steering on the CSW is power-assisted (technically an optional extra but almost universally fitted to all Land Rovers sold in the UK). It’s a nice improvement but unlike the performance and noise levels it doesn’t transform the experience. The steering system itself is otherwise the same and the Ninety has the same light feel with a bit of slack around the mid-point. In fact I’d go as far as to say that I preferred the IIA’s steering out on the road. All Land Rovers have relatively little steering feedback to reduce kickback when off-road but the Ninety’s wheel feels almost totally disconnected from the road and it’s easy to enter a corner and find yourself misjudging how much lock is required, which never happens in the Series.

Where the later Land Rover wins hands down is the ride quality. Whilst being rated to a higher payload than the IIA the Ninety’s ride is vastly superior in every way. This, of course, is down to the switch from leaf springs to coil springs. The Ninety’s ride isn’t just good for a 4×4 utility vehicle, it’s good full stop. The back end, fitted with higher-rated springs, is prone to being a bit jittery when unladen. Speed humps and bit potholes can still crash through to the bodywork (which actually creates more noise than the Series due to all the plastic trim panelling rattling about) but even at tis worst it is more comfortable than the IIA can be. On a good  surface the Ninety is planted and secure and the permanent four-wheel drive means that it can actually be hurried along a twisty section of road at speeds surprising for its bulk. The live axles are still there so you still get the odd skip-and-jump over undulates but the 4WD and the dampened steering help keep it in check here.

The brakes are massively upgraded in comparison to the Series IIA, being servo-assisted with discs on the front and big drums on the back. They start biting early and feel well up the dealing with the Ninety on its own and any load it can legally haul. In fact it’s easy to overdo thinga and lock up the lightly laden back wheels on any surface that isn’t perfectly dry or is slightly loose. The all-synchro gearbox, for all its shortcomings, downshifts well and the diesel engine offers huge amounts of engine braking on its own.


For all the similarities in looks the Ninety is so different and so superior to the IIA in refinement, comfort, performance and handling that to compare them is entirely redundant. It should be clear that under the largely unchanging skin the Land Rover changed hugely over the 20 years that seperate the two vehicles. However what’s more interesting is how much has stayed the same. Not only the looks but the general concept. They’re still built along the same lines from the same materials. A lot of the features, good and bad, remain. They’re both mechanically simple and tough. They can both be dismantled almost entirely with a simple set of spanners (included in the tool kit…). They both suffer from cramped cabins with terrible ergonomics. They both put off-road and low-speed ability ahead of on-road capability and refinement. They both have objectively terrible gearboxes. They both slowly cook the driver’s left foot with transmission heat. They both rock gently back and forth if you apply the handbrake on a hill. They both leak water in to the vehicle and oil out of it.

Which one’s best? It’s an easy one. The Ninety is objectively superior in every way as a working tool or just as a car to live with on a day-to-day basis. The Series IIA oozes character and charm from every rivet and if you like your driving to be an experience in and of itself or you revel in a challenge then there’s few other vehicles that can match it. Ninety for the head, Series II for the heart.

Mourning Morris

File:Morris Motors badge.png

It has just come to my attention that this month marks 30 years since the Morris brand was axed* by British Leyland. In a pleasing historical quirk this year is also the centenary of Morris Motors and I couldn’t let a double anniversary like that pass without comment.

It’s no easy task deciding which of its brands British Leyland managed to screw over most thoroughly (I’ll save that debate for a future post or several) but I’ve long had a suspicion that Morris was the most undeserving of being dragged through the mud to the extent that it was.

Back in 1982 the Morris badge was last seen gracing the tailgate of this example of British automotive workmanship:

The Ital was a facelifted version of the Marina Mark 2, which was in turn a lightly facelifted version of the original Marina which was launched back in 1971. It was a half-hearted attempt by BL to string out the one remaining Morris product for a few more years until the entire company would be saved by the Austin Maestro. An infallible plan if ever there was one.

The Ital was just the last of many automotive insults directed at Morris over the years, and I mean insult in a fairly literal sense. You see British Leyland were generally useless at consistent brand strategies but they and their predecessors managed to wage a pretty consistent war against Morris. As conspiracy theories go it’s not a very good one, although I kinda want to see the Hollywood blockbuster version – The Issigonis Code, where an innocent motoring journalist tears around the West Midlands by night trying to unearth the terrible secret of Britain’s industrial past whilst being pursued by sinister agents from BMW.

Where was I? Oh yes. Morris.

As any fool knows, one of the core strategies that British Leyland had to deal with its minestrone of brands was that cars designed around their innovative front-wheel drive layout and fluid-based suspension systems would be Austins whilst the Morris name would be used on conventional rear-wheel drive cars with conventional live axles, conventional leaf springs and conventional styling. Fair enough, you’d think – BL were canny enough to realise that a lot of people, especially company fleet buyers, didn’t trust that fancy hydro-thingy-ma-gubbin suspension and BMC’s previous attempts to sell radical cars in the upper parts of the market (the Glorious Landcrab) had failed precisely because they were radical.

But why were the brands split along those lines? Did Austin have a reputation for engineering innovation that Morris didn’t? The answer is no. It was, if anything, the complete opposite.To fully appreciate BL’s wrongness we need to go back to the start of things.

William Morris (the car guy, not the designer of floral wallpaper) was a latecomer to the motor industry. He didn’t set up shop in Oxford until 1912. He hit on the idea of building his cars almost entirely from parts bought in from other companies. This led to the first of the famous ‘Bullnose’ Morrises and it meant they could be keenly priced, to the extent that Morris was able to gradually buy out all his suppliers at zero expense to himself. Morris then founded what would go on to become the keystone in the whole British Leyland mess, Pressed Steel, becoming the first car builder outside America to make cars entirely from (guess what?) pressed steel panels.

Spurred on by the success of Austin’s ‘baby’ Seven Morris launched the Minor in 1928, the first car to sell for £100. This was complimented by the Eight which sold so well that Morris was able to overtake Austin as Britain’s biggest car maker. The later ‘E Series’ version of the Eight introduced semi-streamline styling and  faired headlamps. After war, with egotistical genius Alec Issigonis in charge of the design office, Morris produced the next generation of the Minor which was arguably Britain’s first ‘modern’ family car, with rack-and-pinion steering, torsion bar suspension, monocoque construction and up-to-the-minute styling. It was Issigonis, of course, who in later years would produce all the genuinely radical features that BL would decide to put on Austins.

In all this time Austin hadn’t been slouching but they hadn’t done anything really innovative since the launch of the original Seven in 1922. They were utterly conventional, mass-market cars built down to a price and they were very good at being so.

We shouldn’t forget that Morris spawned MG (Morris Garages) along the way, thus setting up another national motoring institution.

So why did BL pitch Austin as its ‘white heat of technology’ brand? Because BL, or more accurately the Austin-Morris division of BL, was run by Austin men some of whom didn’t just view Morris as a former rival but actively disliked the company and its people. The Austin v. Morris rivalry was a very personal thing as corporate rivals could be back in the days when companies were run by one man whose name was on the factory gates.

It started back in the 1920s when Herbert Austin and William Morris were going head-to-head in the British car market. Both wanted to buy the ailing Wolseley company, where Herbert had got his big break in the industry as managing director when it was founded. Bill wanted it because Herbert wanted it, and he wanted it more. Herbert never forgave Morris for stealing ‘his’ company and this attitude filtered down to the rest of the top-brass at Longbridge

Herbert Austin- the first victim of a sniping bid?

Ten years later William Morris finally fell out with his General Manager, Leonard Lord, after many years of ‘differences of opinion’ and he found a warm welcome at Austin. So now the two biggest car companies in the country were both stacked full of people who hated each other.

Which wasn’t going to end well when the two companies were ‘encouraged’ to merge by the government to remain competitive in the global industry and formed the British Motor Corporation. Leonard Lord was the first chairman, the corporate headquarters was at Longbridge and the majority of the design and engineering work was moved there too (ever wondered by all the BMC models had ADO [Austin Drawing Office] designations?). Lord was suceeded by George Harriman, who had been his Number Two at Longbridge and was another Austin Man. The attitude, at Longbridge at least, was that BMC was an Austin-led enterprise.

So that’s why, despite all the evidence, Austin was Leyland’s ‘preferred’ brand. Of course, I’m not saying that BL purposely made the Marina rubbish so it wouldn’t sell – that wouldn’t have been in their interests and it was hardly as if the Austin products were all wonderful to put the Morris ones out of the game.

BUT…who had the last laugh?

When the Morris brand was snuffed out in ’82 what stepped in to fill the void? The Maestro and Montego, which were conventional, rather boring cars. They also had named beginning with M, and doesn’t ‘Morris Montego’ have a much better ring to it? When the sporty versions were released they were badged as MGs. The Austin brand was itself ditched just 7 years after its arch rival.

Today half of Longbridge has been demolished and the remaining half is hardly a thriving industrial concern. It’s also owned by MG, a Morris brand. The company that owns it actually uses the Morris Garages name in its home market of China.

The actual Morris factory at Cowley and its neighbouring Pressed Steel plant is full to capacity churning out MINIs, with all its Issigonis heritage. And where does the MINI name come from? It was from the name given to the Morris versions of Issigonis’ masterpiece, the Morris Mini-Minor.

I think, in the end, William Morris can have the last laugh.

To Many Gauges Spoil The Ride

It’s funny to look back and see how your tastes have changed over the years. Often such glances in the rear-view mirror of life are cause for major embarrassment- the period in secondary school when I thought a tartan waistcoat was the perfect addition to the uniform springs to mind- but others just make you go “hmmmm..”.

My taste in cars has always been same (i.e. preferably orange on the outside, velour on the inside and with some odd form of suspension) but there are some detail preferences that have shifted. Like stickers. My first car was a Series III Land Rover, which was notable for not being orange, not having a velour interior and having suspension so conventional that it predates the invention of the internal combustion engine. At the time I thought that it would cheer up following motorists if I scattered s stickers on the back door. Things like ‘You Can Go Fast- I Can Go Anywhere’, ‘Jeep Recovery Vehicle’ and ‘Lethal Weapon Series III’. Hur Hur Hur. It’s all very well to have semi-humorous stickers proclaiming your car’s off-road prowess but you have to make sure that you never do anything stupid like getting stuck on a flat, damp bit of mud through making basic off-road driving errors:

Like this.

Needless to say the stickers went quite soon after this event and did not make a reappearance. A more recent change in my tastes regards the dashboard.

I used to work on the basis that more gauges made a car better. This is a phenomenon well known to manufacturers- giving a car more things that it usually only has two of (headlights, gauges, paint colours) is an easy way to make a sporty version of an otherwise boring and everyday model. The ‘sports dial pack’ is a well-established feature of many an accessories brochure and if that still wasn’t enough for you you could buy a dozen different Smiths 2-inch gauges measuring everything from oil temperature to fuel economy. The ideal look for a dashboard was something approaching the Flight Engineer’s panel of Concorde.

N1%, check…Fuel pumps, check…AC generators, check…Gas Mark 5 for 30 minutes…

There is, of course, a sound reason behind this. On more mundane transport it would be the slight reluctance of the oil pressure gauge to reach its proper place was how you knew that your Morris 8 needed it’s main bearings re-shelling for the second time that year. At the other extreme sports cars need lots of gauges because in the good old days they went wrong all the time. When you’re trying to wring every struggling horse out of your supercharged Austin Seven a slight flicker of a needle may give you crucial seconds of warning that it was about to expire. It follows that having a row of gauges implied that your Ford Cortina GXL had so much performance that it needed careful, constant surveillance.

Now we come to problem with all this. It’s all well and good being able to monitor every facet of your engine’s internals when you’re powering down the Mulsanne Straight at 2am, but it’s quite another thing when the engine is question is an A-Series under the bonnet of a Mini trundling to shops. All the more so when that Mini is a much-loved classic that racks up 200 miles a year going to the local shows at a steady 40 MPH. In that situation it’s a two-edged sword. When all the gauges say what you think they should say, they present you with a reassuring picture of mechanical perfection:

A picture of mechanical perfection

Symmetry means all is right with the world.

However it only takes one needle to step out of line and terrible thoughts fill your head “My water temperature gauge used to always rest a little to the left of vertical. Now it’s vertical!!! Is the head gasket going?” or “I’m sure that oil pressure gauge is starting to move a little later than it used to? I’d better start budgeting for an engine rebuild.” This would be understandable if the gauges never lied but, don’t forget, we’re talking about old cars here, and old British Leyland cars in particular. This means they have Smiths gauge powered by Lucas electrics and that is never an infallible combination. If a gauge that has never done anything than dutifully point in the middle of its scale starts acting up, it’s more likely that some scotch-locked gizmo behind the dashboard has given up rather than any imminent engine death.

Ignorance really is bliss. It’s not as if older cars cocoon the driver away from the rotating parts. Any  problems will make odd sounds, smells and stains given half a chance, often long before the gauge gets upset. Given the general inaccuracy of many gauge designs (Land Rover temperature gauges spring to mind, which, despite apparently having a scale, seem to only be able to say if the engine is cold, not that cold or piston-melting hot and are no more specific than that) it’s just as likely that the engine can be merrily boiling all its fluids whilst your Smiths ‘engine condition meter’ Duplex gauge is defiantly telling you all is well like some automotive equivalent of the Iraqi Information Minister circa 2003.

After many fretful journeys spoiled by a readout a few degrees off what it should be that led to nothing and an equal number of journeys ruined by ‘unforseen stoppages’ that none of the instruments managed to predict I have finally realised that Ignorance really is Bliss where dashboards are concerned. The car that convinced me was the Citroen 2CV, which doesn’t really have a dashboard as such. Instead it seems to have the instrument pack from a Honda 50 moped mounted on a random bit of tinplate.

And this is a relatively complex interior as 2CVs go.

For pesky legal reasons you need a speedo. You also get a fuel gauge, but that’s a sop to modern demands because the original 2CV did without one. That is it. You don’t get a temperature gauge, an oil pressure gauge, an ammeter, a vacuum gauge or anything else. You don’t even get a charge warning light- you can tell if the battery is charging because the windscreen wipers speed up. What you get is a single oil pressure light. Given that the engine is lubricated and largely cooled by oil and has only three major moving parts you know that if the light is off everything’s OK and if it comes on then you’re pretty much screwed.

And that is how it should be. Relaxing.

The MG6 – Too Little, Too Late

It seems that my first proper post on my blog about old cars is going to be about the future of a brand new one.

None the less I follow the trials and tribulations of MG in its current form mainly because it is the latest thrilling chapter in the Eternal Soap Opera that is the British Leyland story. Plus MG is a brand that deserves to be around, with a history and heritage that should be put to good use.

…then you can start saving up to buy another MGB as a retirement present. Won’t that be nice?

It’s likely that some of you reading this will now be thinking “MG? Didn’t they go bust back in 2005?” You’re incorrect but that’s part of the problem (and one I will return to later). In fact the MG brand is still very much alive and now under the ownership of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). Just a quick digression for comic effect – the entire enterprise is now “MG Motor UK Limited, part of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation Motor”. Redundancy FTW.

Anyway, MG is based at what remains of the Longbridge plant in Birmingham (maintained and mothballed at great expense since MG-Rover went belly-up) which also houses SAIC’s European R&D centre where the bulk of the design and engineering of the cars takes place. However most assembly and sales of MG products takes place in China where the range is a combination of reheated Rover models and new stuff.

At the moment the only MG we get here in the UK is the MG6, a car very loosely based on the structure of the Rover 75. As well as being built and assembled in China cars bound for the UK and Europe are shipped in kit-form to Longbridge and ‘assembled’. MG are rather coy about exactly what work they do but it seems to be very much a case of sticking the major units together and glueing on the badge.

Designed in Longbridge, Built in China. Kwality.

The 6 has been on sale since May 2011 and is now available in both 4-door fastback (‘GT’) and saloon guises, the latter brilliantly being called the ‘Magnette’ (I love that fact that I live in a world where it is possible to buy a new MG Magnette…). Power comes from heavily reworked version of the (in)famous 1.8-litre turbo K-Series Rover engine. Prices start at around £15k.

The car has had lukewarm/mediocre reception from the press, generally getting ‘not bad for a first try, could do better’ verdict. It certainly hasn’t been panned and it stands far above any other Chinese car in almost every respect. The ride/handling has been praised and it seems that the build quality and fit and finish is up to scratch given the price. The drivetrain is, as one would expect, way off the pace in almost every respect but not unworkable. I had a good poke around one that this year’s Pride of Longbridge event and certainly nothing screamed “shoddy Chinese car assembled in Birmingham! AVOID!!”

None the less sales of the MG6 have been far below even the company’s modest plans, usually just managing to get comfortably into double figures each month (the latest round of figures is 19 sales in June 2012). The main reason for this is a complete lack of any marketing. There was a brand launch TV advert which spent 90% of the time showing cars from 40 years ago (and criminally failed to mention the MG Maestro Turbo). There was a flurry of magazine adverts showing a black car on a black background and then…nothing.

Nothing that is, apart from an inadvertently hilarious section of the corporate Facebook page where they had pictures of proud new owners picking up their cars which immediately torpedoed any chance they had of building a, shall we say, youthful and dynamic image. Later came a series of posts called ‘Did You Know?’ where they pointed out the MG6’s wonderful features. They quickly began running out of steam and vaunted things such as the windscreen demister and ‘award-winning’ central locking.

All this lead to almost zero-awareness amongst the general public that the company existed, let alone the car. It’s no wonder sales were so low. However those of us, like myself, quietly rooting for MG always had a vague hope that they were playing the long, slow game because of the car’s obvious flaws. From the time of launch MG had said that a diesel version, a better (6-speed) gearbox and other improvements to the 6, as well as more tempting fare like the MG3 supermini (already available in China and several other markets) would be coming our way and maybe, just maybe, they weren’t going to waste effort trying to sell a frankly unsaleable product.

Haven't we met somewhere before?

Haven’t we met somewhere before?

Well the time for reckoning is nearly here, with the diesel MG6 (using an all-new SAIC-built engine that Longbridge had a hand in developing) is very close to launch and the MG3 and MG5 should be available this year as well.

However I think the Ghost of Leyland Past is looming large over Longbridge and its spirit is evident in MG. They’ve launched a car that was old-hat before it left the drawing board, with no clear market segment to attack and a specification that no-one wants. Although not without merit the car is let down by marketing (or a complete lack of it) and only now, a year after launch, is the company actually starting to produce a product that people way actually want to buy. It’s the Austin Maxi all over again.

The worst part is that however good the improved MG6 is it won’t be good enough. Because at the same time their product hits the showroom, so will this:

It’s the Skoda Rapid. It’s a small saloon with a decent diesel engine, impeccable built quality, no real brand value other than a reputation for ‘soundness’, a massive dealer backup and a good marketing pitch. Prices will start at at least £2,000 less than the MG.

Start worrying, Longbridge. And try to remember that multiple touring car wins only help your brand if you TELL SOMEONE ABOUT THEM.


Hello world!

So. Wow. A bit of the internet, all to myself. There’s an echo in here…

I suppose I should start by saying a bit about what this blog is going to be about.

Despite the website’s name, colour scheme, layout and design having no obvious relevance to the subject at all, Balloon_Fish is a blog about cars.

I’ve always been a ‘car person’. In fact it’s worse than that, because it’s not just cars. If it has an engine of some sort, I’ll be interested in it to a ridiculous degree, but aeroplanes are expensive and society generally frowns on people using hovercraft on the public highway so cars are the easiest thing to obsess over.

It taked speedbumps well but it’s a devil to park.

For some reason it’s old cars that interest me the most. This isn’t just nostalgia – I’m fascinated by cars that were out of production and in the scrapyard decades before I was even around, and I really don’t know why. The saddest part of all this is that I’m not even especially interested in good cars. To me good cars are usually quite boring. What can you say about something that’s good other than a hearty congratulations to the designer followed by continually exposing just how good it is? Speed, reliability, build quality, good handling, efficient design, they ‘re all worthy, aspirational things but they’re very dull. Every company, every designer and every engineer sets out to produce a good car.

No one intentionally sets out to make a bad car and that immediately makes them interesting because it means that somewhere along the line something went wrong. Why did it turn out that way? Was it a bold idea that the world wasn’t ready for? Was it one person’s vision that no one else wanted? Was it a story of corporate intrigue and political meddling? Was it overtaken by events? Was it a cynical marketing ploy that failed? Or was it just a hilarious cock-up of massive proportions?

It would be very easy to say why the Toyota Corolla is a successful car, but it would be very boring. It’s just as easy to explain why the Talbot Tagora is a bad car but the process is much more fun.

One of these cars is good but boring. The other is terrible but interesting.

As you’d expect from someone with a taste for rubbish cars I’m a big fan of all things related to British Leyland. BL is an epic, sweeping saga which many have tried to tell in its full majesty and I’m certainly not going to try to match them. I’ll just warn anyone that BL and its products will be featuring heavily on this blog. Nothing comes close to the Morris Marina, Princess or Austin 1800 when it comes to ‘bad cars with good points and an interesting story’.

There’s a year’s worth of content in this one Australian-market advert alone.

I think it’s because all these automotive horrors happened so many years before I was born that I keep finding things to like in them. Time is the ultimate leveller. Old cars have no snob appeal. You get treated like a crazy-person whether you drive a Morris Marina, a Citroen 2CV, a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a Ford Escort Mk3 or a Hillman Avenger. Whether or not these were better than each other when they were new is meaningless. There’s no brand association (most of the brands slapped on the bonnet of most classic cars are now long gone), no politics and no media to distort things. Instead of seeing the Austin Allegro Estate as symptomatic of Britain’s industrial decline, something to blame on the Wilson government and a poor competitor to the Renault 16 I just see it as another old car available in shocking shades of brown with slightly goofy looks but a lot of good points worth mentioning as well.

And that’s what I hope this website will be – somewhere that doesn’t so much celebrate badness as look for the good points in cars that are generally considered bad. A little corner of the internet where we take a considered look rather than an instinctive point-and-laugh.

That sounds very high and mighty. At the end of the day I’m just a car geek who also enjoys writing and this is somewhere to store my random thoughts. I hope to keep this blog updated on a regular basis (how regular exactly) remains to be seen.If anyone enjoys what I do then that’s brilliant.If not then I’m just another opinionated guy tapping out stuff on the net to nobody. But I’ll be having fun doing it.

I think that’s about it for introductions. If any of you have read that and still feel like sticking around, welcome, thank you and I hope you enjoy it.