Honda S-MX: Time for TLC

Having awoken in Cornwall, it was time to head to a friend on Autoshite who happens to run a garage. The seller of the S-MX claimed there was no history of a timing belt change in the service history. This turned out to be lies, but I didn’t realise it at the point of sale. Thinking the timing belt was probably in dire need of replacement, I’d booked it in to be done, and my pal had offered a very good rate.

Off with the top cover. How old is the timing belt?

Off with the top cover. How old is the timing belt?

It didn’t take him long to get cracking. He’s a bit of a Honda fan boy, so I knew the car was in good hands. I opted to replace tensioner and water pump as well, having been let down by a cheap water pump on the RAV (fitted by a previous owner). I’d rather know everything is ok.

I also decided to change the oil and filter while we were there. With the oil filter buried down the back of the engine, this turned out to be a wise move. Much easier with the car raised several feet into the air. The filter looked quite old.

Yuck! Clearly not changed for a while.

Yuck! Clearly not changed for a while.

The amount of Japanese writing was slightly worrying. Could it be the one fitted to the car when it arrived in the UK in 2008?! Having since gone through the hardly-comprehensive history, there is no mention of basic servicing. A timing belt change and alignment checks yes, but not a sausage about a basic ‘oil and filters’ change. In fact, the timing belt change included a transmission fluid swap too, yet apparently not an engine oil change! Worrying. The state of the air filter also confirmed sheer ignorance of the basics.

Spot the difference. Bleargh!

Spot the difference. Bleargh!

The air filter (red) was quickly ordered up from a local factors at short notice. You’ll note there was no trouble locating one. Thankfully, a lot of items are shared with other cars.

I don’t really understand this level of neglect. Yes, a Honda should be a reliable car, but any car needs looking after to give its best! I can’t comprehend this level of sheer ignorance.

I also decided to replace the transmission fluid. It turns out that this had been done three years ago, but it still looked pretty horrible.

ATF fluid should be clean and red. This is neither.

ATF fluid should be clean and red. This is neither.

That’s the sort of condition that I tell people to run away from when I’m writing buyer’s guides. I never was one for following my own good advice…

The fact that it had already had a fluid change three years ago suggests this is not a gearbox in the best of health. The slipping into gears simply confirms the fact. Hopefully, it’ll keep soldiering on…

My friend also replaced the melted headlamp connectors, so hopefully my headlamp woes have now been banished. With fresh fluids (including fresh antifreeze), I was ready to continue my journey. I refuelled just before crossing the border back into Devon again having finally used up the ‘free’ fuel that came with the car.

After an overnight halt in Bideford, I drove back today. It was a pretty blissful journey to be honest, with little traffic and a very pleasant halt at Gloucester Services.

Bar Tebay, the nicest motorway services in the UK.

Bar Tebay, the nicest motorway services in the UK.

By the way, note how neatly the rear fog light has been fitted. Far better than a lot of grey imports, where a square, dirt cheap aftermarket job is hanging by its wire after the bracket inevitably failed. This is a lot smarter. Though it doesn’t actually work…

The services marked the end of the motorway section, which the S-MX dispatched with great merit. It sails along very nicely at motorway speeds. Still not sure about the torque converter lock up, but fourth is a lot taller than third. No idea what’s going on to be honest, but it feels very comfortable at motorway pace, and excellent, large door mirrors are a big boon.

It does lose its composure on more minor roads though. Generally, it’s fine bar the light steering, but if a bend tightens, it feels slightly like it’s going to fall over its outside front wheel. The Nippa does something very similar. The RAV4, despite a notably tall stance, does not do this. You do have to accept that it is going to kickdown a fair bit too. Top gear is so tall that it runs out of puff, but third gear is so short that it’s immediately up at 4000rpm. Generally though, it’s not bad at all. Respect its limits and it’s fine.

After 285 miles, I had to stop for fuel again. This allowed my first fill-to-fill calculation. I was quite pleased when the sums revealed a figure of 31.95mpg. My hope was that it would do 32mpg. My hope was not in vain.


Refuelling for a second time. 32mpg achieved!

Now, 32mpg is perhaps not that impressive by modern standards, but it’s pretty good for the time given the boxy dimensions, the engine size, the automatic gearbox and the fact that the engine is not running as efficiently as it might due to the stuck thermostat. Certainly not diesel economy, but then it runs on less smelly fuel and sounds a lot nicer too.

In conclusion then, this one is far from perfect, but doesn’t seem a bad base for further improvement. Certainly, it seemed nicely solid when it was up on the ramp, though I’ll need to protect it with anti-corrosion products aplenty to keep it healthy through a Welsh winter.

I’m going to boldly put this one down as a good buy then. Let’s hope it lasts longer than the Rover…

1200 miles in a £230 car

Now with video! (scroll down)

I’m quite rubbish at buying cars. I was going to buy a Lexus, but somehow ended up with a Mitsubishi Colt 1500 GLX automatic. This was clearly not going to be the ideal vehicle for our upcoming holiday to France, so panic measures were resorted to.

That meant heading to Ebay to see what was actually suitable for such a trip, and what was cheap. The Rover 600 was an obvious contender, the purchase of which I’ve already covered. Now, it was time to find out how it would do on the trip.

Firstly, I decided to investigate the air conditioning. It wasn’t working, and a heatwave was forecast. I decided to ask my local garage to investigate, and they found a failed hose. There was no time to source a new one, but they reckoned a local agricultural firm could make a new hose with the existing connectors. All was going well until, the night before we were due to depart, the new hose blew apart. One of the connectors had not been sufficiently crimped. This was especially annoying as I’d actually dug my bicycle out of the storeroom and ridden it 4.6 miles to collect the car! The hose was swiftly removed and the garage offered to try and get it remade the next morning. I decided to take the gamble, even though that meant collecting the car on the day we were due to leave.

The day of departure arrived and I got to the garage just as the new hose had been fitted. It was time to fire it up! Thankfully, the new hose held, and beautifully chilled air came out of the vents (after I’d previously fixed the blower motor). Fantastic! I said my thanks, drove back home, we loaded the car and headed off to our overnight stop in Sussex.

It was already pretty sweltering, so I was glad of the air con. It truly transforms a motorway journey in the summer, because you can keep the windows up. That makes it much, much more peaceful. We even managed to listen to music at a reasonable volume. Perfect.

However, our joy was not to last. During the latter stages of our trek along the M4, I began to notice that horrible hot-electric smell that suggests all is not well. It reminds me of model railways, when dirt is making it difficult for the voltage to get through to the wheels. Sure enough, when we hit traffic on the M25, it became apparent that the fan was not actually spinning – the cool air had merely been a result of the ram air effect of travelling at speed – or perhaps that ram air had been helping the fan to spin. Either way, it was back to windows down.

I did briefly consider trying to strip the motor out at my sister-in-law’s house, but decided eating dinner was a better idea. I also didn’t fancy having a car in bits hours before our chunnel crossing. Noisy windows it was then – at least it was cool on the eurotunnel train!

We then had several hours of French autoroutes to contend with, and it was noisy going. Until I decided to just run the air con with the ram air effect. At 130kmh, this worked very well and we were kept at a comfortable temperature. It only fell down whenever we stopped.

There followed a few days of family, too much delicious food and much sitting around before I got a chance to get the fan motor out.

Essential holiday antics - fan blower motor removal.

Essential holiday antics – fan blower motor removal.

Removing the fan quickly revealed that all was not well. It was reluctant to turn and indeed, was refusing to do so entirely without a little assistance. I recruited my father-in-law to investigate, as I knew he’d enjoy the project. With the motor apart, we could see the problem pretty clearly.

Trying to revive the motor with a clean-up.

Trying to revive the motor with a clean-up.

That’s some pretty drastic wear on the commutator. That step at the end of the brush should not be there. The brushes too were pretty worn. We were hardly going to find replacements in the middle of rural France on a Sunday afternoon, so a bottle of meths was provided, and we settled for just cleaning things up as much as possible. That included using a cocktail stick to clean out the carbon muck between each of those segments to reduce the possibility of short circuit. The brushes act on each of those segments in turn. I also cleaned out the nose bearing and the guides the brushes sit in, to ensure they could move freely.

With that done, I then reassembled the motor and a bit of machine oil was added to the nose bearing. With some scepticism, I plugged the motor back into the car’s loom and prepared to turn it on. Well, I was glad I’d got a firm grip of the motor housing, as the difference was staggering! It had gone from a lumpy, reluctant rotation to generating so much torque that it threatened to rip itself from my grasp! I looked all dramatic as the huge movement of air blew my hair backwards. This was a proper little wind machine.

Now all I had to do was reassemble everything, which I did with only one screw remaining. I’m clearly getting better at this lark. The next day, we went sight-seeing and enjoyed beautiful air conditioning once again. Lovely!

Of course, it didn’t last. The next day was even hotter, and having left the car parked all day, I moved it to a better position for loading up, prior to our long drive home. I turned on the air con, but the vents resolutely refused to chuck out air that was very cool. Sadly, that continued for our drive home. The pump was kicking in, but the air conditioning unit merely made a wheezing sort of a noise and no cold was forthcoming. Bother!

Things got even worse at the Eurotunnel entrance, where British security checks were causing a major hold up. We queued for ages, at the hottest part of the day, with not a cloud to be seen.

Feeling hot. V8 Mustang sounded nice though!

Feeling hot. V8 Mustang sounded nice though!

It was pretty much unbearable, though things improved when we opened both front doors. There was hardly a breath of wind though. Seriously sticky. At least the train was a little cooler, and it was also a fair chunk less scalding in Dover too. Phew. It got a lot hotter soon enough though, with the M25 being pretty bad. I knew there was a weather front heading along the M4 though. If we kept going, perhaps we could meet it!

Having refuelled 45 minutes from Calais, I certainly didn’t need to stop for fuel, but we eventually reached Cricklade in Gloucestershire, where it was decided that tea was most definitely needed. It had been 400 miles since our last brew! Seconds after we sat down, there was a power cut, but it was ok. We had tea. And possibly scones…

As we headed towards Wales, things became cooler still. We eventually arrived home at just after ten pm, having covered well over 500 miles that day, and some 1200 miles in total.

And here’s the thing. While the air conditioning certainly played up, the rest of the car just did what a car should. I drove it at 70-80mph (80mph=130kmh on the Frenchside) for hour after hour. It had to queue in major jams (Calais and M25). It never overheated, it never needed a drop of fluid. It was all quite boring really. In fact, if it weren’t for the air con related woes, it would have been a thoroughly boring experience that would hardly have been worth writing about. It just proves that £230 really can buy you an entirely capable vehicle. I still reckon it looks superb too. It may not be a Lexus, but it might just be the best value car I’ve ever bought.

Resting in the heat at the French services. What a car!

Resting in the heat at the French services. What a car!

New Rover: What’s it like?

Apologies for the radio silence. Things have been rather busy of late. However, the new Rover has been collected. It didn’t make for a particularly exciting collection caper though. I handed over £230, drove it to London, stopped the night, actually had to put some fuel in it, then drove back home to Wales. The only problems were both indicator related – the offside side indicator fell out of the wing (it had obviously been glued in after failing before) in the final few miles, and the nearside front indicator bulb fell out of its housing (and then into the lamp where I couldn’t retrieve it) somewhere around Gloucester.

So, what of the car? First, some boring geekery. The Rover 600 is very much a Honda Accord. No surprise there, as most of Rovers cars at this time had shared development with Honda. Here’s the thing though, of all the Rondas, the 600 was the one that Rover had least say in, under the skin at least. Honda didn’t want to mess with a successful formula, so Rover were pretty much restricted to styling tweaks. What tweaks they were though! Here’s a Honda Accord of this period.

The 1995 Honda Accord yawnfest.

Bland is the key word. The rear end is even worse. A featureless rump that has absolutely no design interest whatsoever. Now, Rover had a challenge. It had to use the same basic structure as this, with the same windscreen, roofline and even the front doors. Yet somehow, designer Richard Woolley came up with this marvellous design.

Rover's design magic.

Rover’s design magic.

Frankly, I consider the 600 one of the best looking Rovers of all time. I rate it ahead of the 75, which always looked a bit bulky to me – and the front indicators were always odd, or even ugly. I may concede that a P4, 5 or 6 win it, but move into the 1980s and 1990s and there’s simply nothing to touch it. In my opinion.

Under the bonnet, there’s a further step away from Honda as Rover’s own L-Series turbo diesel is fitted. This is a rather fine evolution of the old Perkins Prima, as used in the Maestro and Montego, but now with electronic control of the throttle – albeit with a cable still involved. It’s a bloody marvellous engine, with practically no turbo lag at all. It pulls very smoothly indeed from just 1000rpm. Honda actually started to use this engine in its own cars. It is very good – I’d rate it as even better than the 2.1 turbo diesel in my old XM. It isn’t as powerful though, a shade over 100bhp in quite a large car. It never feels slow though, just not neck-snappingly brisk.

The steering is good too, though it was some hours and well over 150 miles into my ownership until I really got to exploit it on entertaining terrain – ie Welsh border country. It turns in very nicely and doesn’t have the worrying nose-heavy feeling of the XM.

Looks nice from behind too.

Looks nice from behind too.

It ambles along beautifully at motorway speeds too, which is good. Frankly, the only reason I have bought this car is because I need something good at motorway speeds. I’ve only used quarter of a tank of fuel so far (65 litres, 15 smaller than the XM), so I’ve no idea what the economy is like. Pretty bloody good is my best guess.

Downsides? Well, naturally, there are some. For a start, the suspension is rather on the firm side. Pity the poor Rover engineers who must have wanted something rather more supple. Instead, they got Honda’s short-travel, double-wishbone suspension. It makes the handling superb, but at the cost of ride comfort. It does crash a bit over broken terrain (ie London streets), and never really feels like it’s settling. It’s always jiggling about. Mind you, I’ve driven many modern cars that behave in exactly the same way, so maybe it was just ahead of its time…

I must concede that I’m not entirely won over by the colour either. These cars actually work well in lighter shades. I would have liked a sunroof too, and that was made even more desirable by the non-working fan blower motor and therefore non-working air conditioning. I’ll include something about that in my next report.

The gearchange isn’t the best either. I know bits on this one have been replaced, so it feels nice and tight, but it is also heavy in operation. It’s not great for quick changes.

But mostly, this story is all about the positives. The Ti-spec seats are a touch firm perhaps, but I got out after six hours at the wheel with no notable backache. There is a flick wipe feature. I can listen to Test Match Special on long wave radio. There is a foot rest (something I always longed for in the XM) for your left foot. I also got a ton of history with the car, including the owner’s handbook.

Frankly, it seems utterly ridiculous that such a good looking, competent car can be bought for so little money. Rover 75s attract plenty of enthusiasts, but the 600 remains overlooked. Having owned both, I know which I prefer already.

The next report will contain fault-finding and even some eradication! After that, I’ll be putting 1200 miles on it in a week. Let’s hope it really is reliable…

Mitsu Mission – I don’t like it

After not even a fortnight of ownership, I have come to the conclusion that I really don’t like my 1987 Mitsubishi Colt.

Colt hatch

Sorry Colt, but you’re not for me. Easier to get in than the sports cars in the background though!

Poor F774 NDL shouldn’t be considered a dreadful car though. That would discredit it when it has been quite remarkably loyal in the 500+ miles I’ve covered since purchase. It has done everything I have asked of it. As a conveyance, it is brilliant.

But, it is not just ordinary to drive, it’s actually unpleasant at times. It has steering which inspires as much confidence as a speech by Donald Trump. The engine sounds about as exciting as underwater snooker. It has all the body control of a walrus in a wheelbarrow. It is to car handling dynamics what baked beans are to the world of fine cuisine.

Sure, I admire it’s ability to start, impeccably every time, just as I admire beans on toast, but this will not go down as one of my better purchases. To be fair, the list of not-very-good purchases is very long in my case…

Do I regard this as a disaster then? No, I do not. I greatly enjoyed buying a sub-£300 car and trusting it with my 500-mile crazy roadtrip weekend. I also appreciate the chance to reset my baseline when it comes to trying other vehicles. It doesn’t pay to stay too blinkered in one particular area. I’m appreciating Citroen BXs and XMs all the more right now, for their remarkable blend of comfort and handling. It’s an opportunity to forget the flaky electronics and problematic brake calipers! Hmmmm, rose tinted glasses.

It’s proof that I love variety. During the short time I’ve owned this vehicle, I’ve been able to drive it back-to-back with a Jaguar XK140, a Nissan 300ZX Z31 and a Toyota Supra Mk3. The Colt is much easier to climb in and out of than all of them, and has a more comfortable ride. See? It does have good points!

But, it has also served to remind me what I really want in a car. Handling prowess is important. I like to drive a car that feels like it wants to corner well. But not at the cost of comfort. I don’t like being jolted, so an actual sports car probably isn’t what I want. That’s why the Prelude had to go (fantastic handling, but it was rather firm of suspension).

To be fair to the Colt, I fell out of love with the Austin Maestro for very similar reasons. Oddly, I found the van version more entertaining to drive. It’s also why the Nissan Bluebird didn’t tick the magic box for me. Even a Volkswagen Golf Mk2 proved a disappointment – more for ride than handling. Dynamics are important to me. I think it’s why I like French cars so much. They really understand suspension.

Another car that didn't tick sufficient boxes.

Another car that didn’t tick sufficient boxes.

So, the search is on for the next vehicle. I’ve done a lot of head scratching already, but I think what I’d really like to own is something actually nice! I will be attempting to do that after a little holiday in France. I was hoping to buy something pleasant in which to travel, but I bought the Colt instead. So, it looks like the RAV4 will be getting that gig after all. Who knows what I’ll end up with after all this!


RAV4: Flaws, more flaws, but CUTE!

On Thursday evening, I felt the need to celebrate some serious graft during the working week. So, I took the RAV4 greenlaning – the first time I’d done so for months. After all, what’s the point in having a 4×4 if you’re not prepared to use the extra ability such a transmission gives you?

All too soon, the limitations of the RAV were coming to the fore as the underside began scraping. I had entered only mild ruts, but the exhaust system hangs very low, right down the middle of the car. You’ve also go the spindly little lower control arms to each wheel. They seem horribly vulnerable. I tried to keep the speed down as much as possible, but that revealed another limitation – the lack of a low-ratio gearbox. First gear is lower than in a normal car, but I’d say it’s only as low as third or fourth in a proper 4×4’s low range gearbox. That’s fine for pootling along, but just does not allow enough control when you want to crawl, or descend steep hills.

It can go greenlaning, but it's not very good.

It can go greenlaning, but it’s not very good.

I wasn’t enjoying this as much as I’d hoped, but things were to get worse before they got better. As the ground became more uneven, I started to lose traction. This was no fault of the Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, as I discovered when I stopped. I got out of the car, and realised I could rock it and lift one of the rear wheels off the ground! The lack of suspension travel was the issue here. The RAV just isn’t flexible enough. I was forced to engage the diff lock to keep me moving. This locks the front and rear axles together, so even if one of the four wheels starts spinning, the two at the opposite end should be able to keep you moving. They did.

Oh dear. Exhaust is rather vulnerable. This isn't a deep rut.

Oh dear. Exhaust is rather vulnerable. This isn’t a deep rut.

I progressed steadily along the lane, getting better at spotting where traction and/or ground clearance might be an issue, and adjusting my speed to suit. I was a bit concerned about a tricky section of this lane known as The Steps. However, as I continued on, I began to realise that I must have already driven up it! The little RAV had clambered up it so easily that I had not even noticed. The Steps don’t have ruts, so ground clearance wasn’t an issue. Brilliant!

RAV4 greenlane

This shot neatly demonstrates the maximum suspension travel. Not much.

I made it to the end of the lane, disengaged the diff lock and hurtled home, enjoying the excellent handling that the RAV4 offers – certainly not something most ‘proper’ 4x4s can match.

The next day, I had to help a friend remove a dead Delica from a car trailer. This spares vehicle had no front axle, so the plan was to pull the front end off the trailer, put it on blocks and then pull the trailer out. Simple, though things were complicated when his own working Delica refused to play ball due to a charging issue – ie no alternator! It wasn’t happy to work.

So, the RAV was called into action. Again, I would have loved a low ratio gearbox, as I was having to work the clutch quite hard to control the pace. We didn’t want to do this quickly! Also, the driveway was very uneven, with the front offside wheel of the RAV heading up a steep bank due to the limited room we had to manoeuvre. This neatly took the weight off one of the other wheels, and so the difflock was called into action once more. It did the job, but there was quite a whiff of clutch!

RAV4 towing

Not ideal for towing projects, but it did do it!

This has highlighted some difficulties with this car. It isn’t very good as a 4×4. Now, I don’t need the ability of a 4×4 very often, so it does make it difficult to justify owning one. The RAV can just about cope with what a throw at it, so perhaps it justifies itself?

But, it’s not a great car to cover distance in. The seats are particularly poor, and the ride isn’t what you’d call comfortable. Despite that, I think I’ll be taking it on a mini-roadtrip next week, before probably taking it to France.

I must conclude though, despite its flaws, the thing that keeps saving this car from a fleet cull is the fact it’s so bloody cute! I absolutely adore the styling, front and rear. How dull and dreary the RAV4 would become in later forms. It would never have this much character again. It may not be very good at all the things I ask of it, but the fact is that it can and has done them. The lack of off-road ability makes it more challenging for the driver. Isn’t that a good thing? It may have struggled with the towing task, but it did manage it in a way a two-wheel drive car would not have. Doesn’t that make it good? After all, it tows the caravan rather more comfortably than the XM, which I truly did not expect (they have the same stated maximum towing weight of 1500kg).

Maybe I should give this little soft-roader a bit more credit. Sure, it’s a master of absolutely nothing at all, but it can turn its hand to many different activities. That sort of requirement is exactly why I love the Citroen 2CV. Maybe my little inferior 4×4 will be the steed for our upcoming trip to France after all.

Now with video!

Ford Puma: Dirty fun

I had a Jaguar XJS on the fleet recently. Not sure I remembered to mention it on the Blog, but it was borrowed from Kelsey Media to act as my muse for the next issue of Classic Jaguar magazine. You’ll be able to read loads about it when the next issue comes out (19th August 2016).

But, all good things come to an end, and Kelsey wanted it back. I had to drive it Birmingham, where it was picked up to return to Peterborough. I was planning to catch the train home, but then I got a better offer. Julian Bailey, who has been a long-time supporter of HubNut, decided to offer even better support. Would I like to drive home in his Ford Puma rather than catch a train?


Ford Puma. Better than the train.

Well, to be honest, that would still be a much better offer than the tired, noisy, slow contraptions that Arriva Trains Wales considers suitable or travel, even if the car in question was a Ford Fiesta Mk6. Diesel. Happily, it wasn’t the disgustingly grim Fiesta, but a Puma. Fiesta-based, but a GOOD Fiesta!

To be honest, Pumas have long been on my wish list. I almost bought one a couple of years ago, and found it utterly charming to drive – so easy! Just how a good Ford should be. I’d not really had a chance to try one for anything more than a quick trip around the block though. Today was my lucky day.

This one isn’t without issues. The clutch bite is rather high, the rear arches are rusty (no surprise there!) and it seems that snails have been crawling around on the windows. Inside. The fact that the rear seat has been replaced by a wooden load bed suggests it may have been on gardening duty quite recently. Which may explain the trails. And the mouldy sunvisors…

But, if you’ve seen my house, you’ll understand that this is hardly off-putting. I threaded my way around the West Midlands and began to assess the new, borrowed steed. First off, Ford column stalks are HORRIBLE. Not one action feels pleasant. Also, the self-cancelling doesn’t work on left turns. The brakes also feel as trustworthy as a government’s promise. They do stop the car, but they never feel like they’re really committed to the process. They’re still far better than the RAV4 though, so maybe I’ll let them have that one.

UGH! Horrible, horrible, cheap, nasty stalk.

UGH! Horrible, horrible, cheap, nasty stalk.

The engine is surprisingly tractable. Surprising because I found myself accelerating from 30mph in fifth gear. Now, sure, the gearing is fairly low, and the ratios are neatly stacked together. The engine really is very happy to pull throughout the rev-range though. Let it rev, and it gets you moving very nicely indeed – this is the 1.7-litre version. Those close ratios then help you keep it ‘on the boil.’ Acceleration almost doesn’t feel like a decision you make. The car decides. And it want to do it very quickly.

There’s no neck-snapping VTEC effect, it just pulls very cleanly, from whatever engine speed. Yes, there’s more punch higher up, but the torque delivery is delightfully progressive, in a way modern petrol engines often just are not.

Eventually, I leave modern conveniences like motorways and dual carriageways behind me and get a good old hurtle on. On the sweeping A roads of Wales, this car is astonishing. Often, I found myself glancing at the speedometer on the exit of a bend to find I was practically at the legal limit already. Alrighty then! It corners well. The steering doesn’t offer tons of feel, but it is very nicely weighted and geared. The brakes are no concern at all, because you don’t really need to slow down.

Definitely the best angle. Love those rear lights.

Definitely the best angle. Love those rear lights. Note wheelarch bubbles…

The gearchange is an absolute delight, even with 122,000 miles of wear. It’s so pleasant to snick your way around the gearbox.

The ride is a bit crap though to be honest, though hard clonks from the back end suggest all is not entirely well in the suspension department. It thumps over potholes and dips in the road, and seems to bounce an awful lot. It’s not a very comfortable car to travel in, and the firm, unsupportive driver’s seat helps not at all. Most annoying of all, the modern hi-fi thing did not have Long Wave, so I couldn’t listen to the cricket. This failure to equip cars with Long Wave needs to stop NOW! I was suffering serious TMS withdrawal symptoms.

This is all going on a bit more than I expected, but I’ve got Jack Johnson on the stereo now, so I’m chilled out and the words are flowing. So, I’ll relate today’s adventure.

I had to get to Oldbury in the West Midlands. I decided to take the Puma, seeing as it was here and that I’d actually put petrol on it. I eyed up the route. No, I didn’t fancy driving the Puma through the horror of Newtown and then on to the horror of the M6/M5 interchange. So, I set the sat nav to avoid motorways, pumped up the rear tyres (they have slow punctures) and set off.

Within a few miles, I’d already overtaken two cars. I swear I’ve never overtaken cars as often as I have in this thing! It zips past slower moving traffic so sweetly. With the 2CV, overtaking needs serious amounts of precision, luck and, often, gravity. The XM was good, as long as you caught it on boost. The RAV doesn’t really have confidence-inspiring power. I’d chosen the right car though. This was huge fun! Yes, it was 8am in the morning, and I was having huge fun on British roads. See? It is possible!

One hour later, the fun had been ramped up to at least eleven. The sat nav, which has a habit of choosing entertaining routes, took me to Pen-y-Bont, then that twisting road to Knighton – the A488. Then it was the B4113 to Leintwardine and Ludlow. By heck, this was ASTONISHING!

Sat nav wasn’t finished though. It then selected the B4364 from Ludlow to Bridgnorth. WOOT! Yes, I had to concede, this was a LOT better than Newtown and the motorway. I was completely ignorant of how much my back was hurting, because I was having a simply magical day. The Puma has the perfect amount of power for Welsh border roads. Not so much that bends approach you with terrifying speed, but enough to accelerate strongly out of bends, even up hill.

Alas, such good times could not last forever, and things got rather more dull after Bridgnorth and into Stourbridge. You know, all urban and boring. Even worse, the sat nav then decided it wanted to ignore the ‘no motorway’ rule. I do hate rebellious technology. By now, I was on roads I knew, so I told it to sod off and found my own way.

Job done, I could then head home. After taking just over 2.5 hours to get there, I was buzzing to drive another 2.5 hours back home! In fact, at one point on the B4113, I did actually yell out loud. It was that much fun.

The only slight issue was the placement of the 12v power outlet. It seems you can either charge something up, or change gear. Attempting both is foolhardy. The sat nav cable got yanked out one last time (it doesn’t help that my sat nav reboots everytime power is restored) and technology got told firmly to do one. I cheered myself up with a drive through the Elan Valley. Bloody lovely!

So, there you go then. If it’s fun you want, a Puma is very capable of delivering it. It’s practical too. A friend of mine, who I suspect of using magic, can transport her three children and the dog in her Puma, and often does. It’s probably economical. I’ve no idea, but it definitely uses less fuel than a Jaguar XJS.

But would I buy one? No. I wouldn’t. I just like my comfort too much, and this car has not enough of it. The French seem able to combine ride and handling in one glorious package – or they did. Why is this so hard to replicate?

Puma roads

A fantastic car, that I do not want to own.

Sorry for coming to the conclusion you probably weren’t expecting, but it just goes to show that I’m a real awkward sod to please. Which is probably why I’ve owned over 60 cars and only one has truly managed to get the claws in. I definitely appreciate a car that’s fun to drive, but I want comfort too. Finding that in a small package certainly is not easy. But, if you’re less fussy than me, and the appalling ride of most modern cars suggests people are, the Puma truly is a bargain fun pot. Buy one, before there aren’t any left.

Citroën Visa: Twin-pot Twin Test

I’m just back from a thoroughly lovely weekend at the 2CVGB event known as Registers’ Weekend. In short, lots of 2CVs, lots of sunshine, lots of friends, no politics, no sodding Pokemon. LOVELY!

I met quite a few people who commented on how much they enjoy the blog, which has given me a major attack of guilt. I have been neglecting it an awful lot recently, though it’s not entirely my fault. Quite a lot of actual paid work has certainly been getting in the way, but I’ve also been on the road a lot, which included two days in my caravan with barely any signal. Besides, writing blog posts on a stupid ‘smart’ phone requires far more patience than I have. Oh, and then our landline at home failed, so woe is me, no blogs, etc, etc.

But I’m here now, and even though I’d really like to go to bed, I’m putting finger to keyboard to share some twin-pot Visa excitement.


A pair of aircooled Visas. Are they any good?

First, a very brief Visa history. Citroën developed a cracking little supermini idea, but when Peugeot completed its takeover in the mid-1970s, it told Citroën to stop being so oddball. Instead, it could keep some of the styling cues, but had to fit them over nice, sensible 104 running gear. To stem the tears of the Citroën engineers, they were allowed to develop an enlarged version of the 2CV’s aircooled, flat-twin engine to act as entry level models – the Spécial and mildly posher Club (it had a cigarette lighter). Citroën engineers are a rebellious lot, so they flogged their original idea to the Romanians, who built it as the Oltcit or Axel.

The Visa was launched in 1978, with the 652cc aircooled flat-twin, or 1124cc Super E with a radiator and other posh things. The engineers focussed their efforts on the interior, with satellite pods to control pretty much everything you need to control, and a single-spoke steering wheel. Awesome. There were later other engines, a facelift in 1982 to make it (slightly) less odd, and, horror of horrors, a sensible interior facelift that involved actual column stalks. Boring.

Happily, I managed to get my hands on TWO of these twin-cylinder Visas, one pre-facelift and one post. Even more happily, the wacky interior lasted for a good three years post-facelift.

I began with the earlier Club. This is a left-hand drive car, that was once white, but is now the most magnificent shade of green. It feels slightly tinny as you get in, though not as much as a 2CV does. The driving position is nice and comfortable, and the switchgear falls neatly to hand – albeit neatly in a way your brain may not actually understand. Let it learn and all will be fine.

I didn't break it, honest

I didn’t break it, honest

Starting the engine is a strange experience. It’s like starting a 2CV engine, only like doing so from inside your house while the car is out on the street. It sounds like a 2CV, but one that is far away. Then there’s the conventional gearlever, that sprouts from the floor in a thoroughly ordinary way. It’s quite clunky to use, with a bit too much travel; just like a GS, or a Nissan Cherry Europe. The clutch in this example seems far too light, but it’s still easy enough to pull away. I did have some issue finding the gears I needed, and can confirm that it doesn’t like going from first to fourth. On grass.

Across our test field, it really was pretty comfortable. It couldn’t match a 2CV or BX, but it could beat nearly every car currently in production. It’s certainly far better than a Cactus. Generally, the feeling is of refinement, though it’ll roll just like a 2CV if you decide to corner a bit briskly. I was quite enjoying it, I must admit. Thanks George. It was ace.

The next day, I got to drive a later, right-hand drive Visa, only I took this one out on the actual road. I even got slightly lost in it, though don’t tell Mark who was sitting in the back. No, it wasn’t his car. He just came along for the ride, so he could pretend to be a really poor person who couldn’t afford a limousine – only a Visa driven by a hippy.

This car belongs to my mate Chris, who recently let me live in his field. I like people like that.  The clutch certainly feels more normal in this one, and my left-hand proved far more adept at finding the gears.


Minimalist, very-different dashboard. You didn’t even get a clock on the Spécial

So, 0-60mph. Well, the claimed time is 26 seconds, which is a few quicker than a 2CV. This is a big-bore engine after all. It certainly isn’t brisk, but nor does it feel as hard work as a 2CV – thank sound deadening for that I reckon. The gearbox is also much, much quieter, as is the exhaust. Once up to 60, it feels very comfortable there. Even 70 doesn’t feel out of bounds, or just for special occasions. It feels eminently possible, and is nice and peaceful.

The switchgear works really well once you’re trained your fingers, and this is a very relaxing way to travel given the lack of power. Of course, grippy handling helps, so you don’t have to lose too much momentum. This is a fun car to corner quickly. It turns in very nicely, then the body also turns in. It’s like a 2CV, though a little less frantic. It doesn’t feel quite so hilarious.

Overall then, a staggeringly competent little car that does pretty much everything you could reasonably expect a car to do. It’s delightfully simple, but has enough of what’s truly necessary. Drat. Another car to add to the wish list.

Project RAV4: First video

Life is exceedingly busy at the moment, which is why my first June blog is ten days into the month! Where does all the time go? Suffice it to say, I’m still loving the RAV4, even if I’ve had to sort out a few foibles. More details on that soon but in the meantime, here’s a video of my new steed. For extra laughs, put the subtitles on. They’re automatic, courtesy of YouTube, and rubbish!

My Perfect Saturday Pt1

Ok, so having a 7am alarm and actually waking up 45 minutes before said alarm would not go down as a perfect start to a perfect day for a lot of people, but Rachel made me a cup of tea for me to consume while still in my bed, and that seemed to set the scene for a rather lovely day.

A car in which I had many funs. As you can see.

A car in which I had many funs. As you can see. It was spotlessly clean when I left home…

The plan was to head to a car auction in Staffordshire, where I would meet fellow Autoshiters for a game. That game is pick seven cars, in seven different categories and aim to ‘spend’ as little as possible by following the hammer prices. Autoshiters were heading down from as far away as Glasgow just to take part – one hero drove down from Glasgow, in a Citroen AX! He left at about 3am. Crikey.

I only had a two-hour drive by comparison, and it should have been easy. However, I hurled my sat nav away after it refused to acknowledge the existence of Cannock and so would rely on my memory. Naturally, I didn’t have a map in the car. Despite this, I decided to see if I could remember the scenic route from Newtown to Shrewsbury that ignores the A458 via Welshpool for some rather more entertaining roads.

This plan had only one significant failing. I took the wrong road from Newtown and ended up heading south. I knew Builth Wells really was in the wrong direction so quickly took the B4355 from Dolfor to Knighton. I was in Knighton yesterday, so I knew I didn’t really want to be heading in that direction either, but it was better than Builth.

Only my Honda doesn't have VTEC Mr Yo.

Only my Honda doesn’t have VTEC Mr Yo. I acquired some graffiti.

By golly! This road is INCREDIBLE! You are never travelling in a straight line. It’s just bend after bend, with altitude changes thrown in for good measure. Fortunately for me, I was in exactly the right car too – my Honda Prelude 2.0i automatic, purchased this very week. Driving on the motorway to get the car home hadn’t really given me chance to discover just how good it is, but now was its chance to truly shine.

The steering is just perfect. The weighting of it could not be better, and assistance just helps. It somehow doesn’t managed to rob too much feel. Yet it’s also wonderfully direct, so you don’t have to turn the wheel very far. The rather firm suspension which had been bothering me, was now absolutely ideal. The Prelude felt taught and responsive, and changed direction beautifully. It was really starting to inspire confidence, and I shocked myself a few times as I exited a corner and glanced at the speedometer!

This was despite me holding back somewhat due to the conditions. Mud and water do not make an ideal racetrack. Public roads are dangerous places to hoon. I was having to rein in my enthusiasm a little. Drive quickly, but not too quickly.

I’m not sure if I’m just getting older and more accepting, or whether I really have finally started to buy cars that I really enjoy driving, but this was truly something special. There’s very little I’ve driven from the past 20 years of production that manages to convey this feeling of utter joy.

You’d think the automatic gearbox would be a hindrance but far from it. I didn’t bother with sport mode, but I just flicked into third gear on the approach to tight-looking bends. It saves the brakes form overwork and gives much better control, ensuring you’re already in the right gear when you want to apply power rather than waiting for the gearbox to catch up. Amazingly, the gearbox is happy to use the torque of the engine, and I found I only went above 3000rpm on steep climbs. Like the XM, this makes it relaxing while also remarkably quick. But it feels much more nimble than the XM – the big Citroen always feels big. And heavy. It’s remarkably capable for a luxurious barge, but a barge it truly is – one with a lot of weight up front.

At Knighton, I joined the A488 which heads via the painfully pretty town of Clun and on towards Shrewsbury. This road had plenty to recommend it too with some seriously sharp corners lurking to catch out the unwary. By the time I reached Shrewsbury, I was exhausted! It had been one of the best drives of my life, and I still wasn’t anywhere near the end of my journey. Now the Prelude could just waft along at motorway speeds with no drama at all.

Rover Honda

Both 2-litre, but worlds apart. 60bhp vs 133!

It gave me chance to reflect on the morning’s experience so far. It made me realise that overlooking the 2-litre, especially in slushbox form, is utterly wrong. Would I have had as much or more fun in a manual VTEC? I’m not sure I would. The VTEC effect gives a massive boost in power as you get beyond 4000rpm, but that can quickly get very tiring – not to mention illegal. 60mph can be some way in the distance very briskly indeed. I suspect that every time I got a VTEC on cam, I’d be straight on the brakes hard for the next bend.

As it was, I was using my momentum-conservation skills learned through many years of 2CVing to keep the Prelude at a good pace without the need for harsh acceleration. There really wasn’t room for it anyway! Bends were coming so thick and fast that power absolutely would not have been any advantage at all. I was having all the fun it was possible to have, while remaining at entirely legal speeds. To be honest, I was below 50mph for quite a lot of it!

I arrived in Cannock in a very dirty Prelude, which had very clean brake discs. The filth was almost a badge of honour that had been deservedly won. Though considering I’d washed the car the day before, it was a little annoying…

Part 2 to follow – auction antics! It’ll have to follow as I’ve clearly got a bit carried away here. Sorry.


A bit of retro Japanese action

I knew saving up for 2CV restoration was a dangerous move. You see, normally, I can easily resist cars for sale because I have no money. Buyers tend to demand an exchange of the stuff for whatever it is they’re selling so if you don’t have any, you don’t get very far.

Now German Classics magazine is live though, my income has received a pleasant boost. Straight away, I shuffled most of it into my savings account, thinking it’d be safe there. I kept a little to pay for things I needed, like new walking boots as my old ones have fallen apart at long last, and the occasional pleasant lunch out. Truly a treat.

But stashing the money in my savings account was not enough. When I found a Honda Prelude Mk4 2.0i for sale on a certain forum, my will was tested. And proved about as robust as a bridge made of Pringles. I chucked in a low offer and to my distress, this was accepted. Oh dear. So, I found myself on a succession of trains to Devon all of a sudden, where the steed was located. I hadn’t expected to get up on Monday and buy a car but I was now frantically searching for cheap train tickets ( helped here) and by Tuesday, was on my way south. Well, North, West and eventually South because trains are rubbish.

Prelude black

A temptation too far for my feeble will power.

I was in a hurry to collect as I’m currently editing another new magazine, to follow on from German Classics. It’s called Retro Japanese, and perhaps now you can see why my head was turned!

I’ve owned Hondas before, and I like them. Even the 1990s Civic posesses something of the Soichiro Honda flavour that so defined this famous Japanese brand. You can feel the precision of engineering, and the car sits so low to the ground.

Prelude rear mk4

Not a hatchback but a two-door with rear wiper!

Clambering aboard the Prelude for the first time – I’ve never so much as driven one – I found myself almost lying on the ground. The scuttle is just as low as I’d come to expect from the Civic, and also Rover’s shared 1980s designs. I like that. I don’t like a scuttle I have to peer over.

Driving home the next day was enjoyable. Sure, it’s only a 2-litre automatic, but it still packs a 133bhp punch, which is plenty for me. I’m a firm believer that there is more to going quickly than out-and-out power, and I was able to hustle the Prelude along very nicely thank you very much.

Prelude engine bay

‘Only’ 133bhp, but more than enough for me. Goes well!

The ride is a little unrefined, but I’d come to expect that. I think Japan probably has smoother roads, and the double-wishbone suspension lacks travel. Something that frustrated many a Rover engineer. It all feels very good in the bends though. The Civic had hideously over-assisted steering but around the straight-ahead, the Prelude feels like it doesn’t have any assistance at all frankly. It turns into bends beautifully and surprisingly even weight distribution and that firm suspension conspire to make it behave wonderfully. No bodyroll, no deviation. I look forward to pushing harder once the weather improves. Frosty or sodden roads do not great confidence make, though the Prelude felt utterly secure.

The automatic gearbox seems to work well, and the fact that the torque converted locks up at about 52mph probably explains why I was able to extract a creditable 34mpg from it. It isn’t overly smooth though, despite what many would regard as a fairly low 89,500 miles. It’s fairly low by my standards, that’s for sure!

Automatic gearbox not the smoothest, but easy on fuel.

Automatic gearbox not the smoothest, but easy on fuel.

The ride then is not cosseting and nor are the firm sports seats, though the bolsters grip me in a far more effective way than the massive lounge chairs in the XM. I did have some backache after several hours, but then to be honest, that’s true of most cars.

Having chosen to read reviews only after I’d formed my own impressions, I learned that the Prelude was considered one of the best handling cars in its class back in the early to mid 1990s. Naturally, most press tests were of the more potent models – VTEC kicked in YO! With those, 185bhp is enough for a 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. I reckon mine is closer to ten seconds for the acceleration dash, and is probably all done by 120mph. Plenty fast enough really. The VTEC could be specified with four-wheel steering too, though I haven’t seen much to suggest this really makes any difference. It seems little more than a fad of those times. Remember the Mitsubishi Galant with four-wheel drive AND four-wheel steer?

A little bland perhaps, but purposeful.

A little bland perhaps, but purposeful.

Anyway, in real-world conditions, what I have is more than enough. The 2-litre really is wrongly overlooked. In fact, aside from the poor ride, I haven’t found very much that I don’t like. The ergonomics are a bit Japanese – the mirror adjustment requires you to stuff your elbow down the side of the seat, and the dashboard dimmer switch is obviously located behind the handbrake – but as a driving machine, it feels like a very purposeful one, that’s also more than capable of cruising along at a goodly rate with no stress at all. There is a clonk from the rear suspension, but this seems to be a very common Mk4 and Mk5 Prelude trait that can be solved by inserting washers above the rear damper bush. Hopefully, it’ll prove to be a  good buy!

Flourescent dials add a touch of glamour.

Flourescent dials add a touch of glamour.