My favourite videos of 2015

Excuse the self-promotion as I guide you through my favourite videos of 2015 – my favourite HubNut videos that is. 2015 was a year in which I really stepped up video production, so here are my personal highlights. This is my Top Five.

Number 5 – Nissan e-NV200 Combi

This was the first electric car that I tested long distance, and it has to be said it wasn’t exactly stress-free! Using the Ecotricity Electric Highway, I was able to drive from home in mid-Wales to Bideford in Devon. Choosing to do this in Winter, in a vehicle with a 60-mile range was the problem. This is also a review of the e-NV200 itself. A very useful vehicle but still blighted by good old range anxiety and an inefficient heater.

Number 4 – Perodua Nippa

This one joined the fleet in March, and has proved to be an ideal little runaround. This review was filmed not long after purchase and while it’s certainly a car built cheaply, it continues to run well. Listen to the road noise though!

Number 3 – My first Vlog

Vlogging appears to be a thing – video blogging – so I thought I’d have a go. This is where I began a series of (so far) ten videos. I aired some annoyances with the regime in Saudi Arabia – exacerbated by recent developments as I write – and I also talk about electric cars and the Citroen XM.

Number 2 – Honda Insight first generation

Insight rear

Testing the Honda Insight Mk1

It seems that I love every car that I drive, and I expected the Insight to be no exception. It didn’t quite do it for me, as you can see in this video. Still an appealing car, but not quite what I’d hoped for. It is proving to be a popular video though.

Number 1 – My 2CV and me

Picking one favourite is not easy. My XM V6 video continues to amass a huge number of views, and the Citroen Ami one was an absolute hoot to put together. But, my friend Keith Hicks helped me make a rather special tribute to my 2CV. I still don’t know what the future is for this car, but I’ve had many good adventures in it and I’ve loved every minute behind the wheel.

Thanks for watching. Once the weather improves, I hope to get cracking on some more videos. 2016 promises to be very exciting. Stay tuned!

 

Volvo 740: What’s it like?

A free car is rarely perfect. This is about as surprising as the fact that donkeys are not great at hockey. So, it was with no great surprise that I swiftly discovered that my new 740 estate has one or two issues. As already mentioned, there were a few issues with getting the thing home, though these were easy enough to overcome.

Not bad for Free!

Not bad for Free! Though not all good either…

But let’s ignore those issues for now. What’s it actually like to drive? Well, rather pleasant I think, even though the dampers are shot. I found a Caravan Club badge on the grille, which probably explains why there is no life left in the rear dampers. They’ve had a hard life!

The overall feel I get from driving it is that it feels like a more robust Ford Cortina. It has the unmistakable feel of a rear-wheel drive car, and also one with a beam rear axle. There’s just something about the way the gear lever sits, and how it behaves in corners that give it that clear rear-power feel. Not that it hangs the arse out at every opportunity – it’s far too feeble for that. I know. I tried. Volvo did a very good job of locating that simple live axle, so it behaves very well indeed, with lots of delicious grip. A couple of fairly new tyres help here too.

The driving position is comfortable, though the seat feels very, very different to the one in the XM. It feels like you sit higher up and the seat offers support where you don’t quite expect it. A lack of backache after four hours at the wheel suggests it does the job well though.

I could do with replacing quite a lot of dashboard bulbs though. The heater controls do not illuminate at all, and only half of the speedometer is lit up. The temperature gauge is impossible to see at night which is annoying, as it’s one of few gauges that seems to work correctly at all times.

By far the biggest issue is water ingress. When I got in after a night parked up in Wales, there was a huge puddle in the passenger footwell! Sure, we’d had a terrifying amount of rain that night but even so, it shouldn’t be there. Blocked sunroof drains were swiftly identfied and a gentle poke with a bit of wire soon had them gurgling as the trapped water flowed away.

Grubby but functional. A lot of lights don't work.

Grubby but functional. A lot of lights don’t work.

But the roof rails might be a problem. I thought they were standard, but an eagle-eyed Tweeter soon identified them as actually being from a Volkswagen Passat B. Closer inspection today revealed that the middle part each side isn’t even attached to the car! I may have to remove them to try and stop water getting in. A tube of sikaflex may be needed. I can see bungs from where presumably the original rails attached.

Which all gives me rather a problem, as this is a very poor time of year to be trying to dry a car out – especially as it rarely stops raining at the moment! There’s a lot of sound-proofing in there, which keeps it all quiet and peaceful at speed, but absorbs water like the sponge it actually is.

I’ve also found some nasty rot in the rear corner, right behind the wheel. There’s a little cubby hole here, and I’m amazed nothing has fallen out! Fortunately, aside from a small hole at the rear of the sill on the same side, she seems pretty solid. It’s what these cars are famed for.

Loose trim hints at rot problems...

Loose trim hints at rot problems…

I also need to find time to examine the brakes to find out why they were sticking a bit – though they’re continuing to behave for now. A set of rear dampers would transform it, and I suspect a bush or two at the front end would do likewise. The challenge now, as ever for me, is to keep the cost down. Interesting times ahead!

Crazy Volvo Capers: Part Two

BREAKDOWN!

As I left things last time, I’d just about managed to limp an oil-less Volvo from Haverfordwest in Wales to St Albans in Hertfordshire. I had hoped to meet the new owner that very night, but his plans were derailed slightly and he couldn’t collect until the following morning. So, having got to within walking distance of MY Volvo, I parked up and hoped I’d left it in a nice area. Especially as the stereo was just resting on a Burt Bacharach CD compilation and wasn’t actually attached to the car in any way save for wiring…

Of course, by the time I reached my Volvo, it was very dark indeed. I could see something vaguely Volvo-shaped on a driveway so assumed I’d got the right place. A full inspection could not really take place, but I know the owner’s son (the car was for sale as the owner had sadly passed away) had taken the car for a spin round the block after discovering that the battery was flat.

I’m not sure of the exact circumstances, but the car had sat unused on the driveway since March, though it had passed an MOT the previous month. The car was free, for which I’m truly grateful, although the owner did say that if a donation found its way to the British Heart Foundation, they’d be very grateful. This may well happen come pay day, though if you’d also like to make a donation in the name of this Volvo, that’d also be nice.

We couldn’t find the red logbook at first, which made it impossible for me to tax the vehicle – something you need to do when you buy a car. A frantic search through the paperwork got us there in the end, and I was very swiftly able to set up a direct debit via my smartphone. The joy of technology. Incidentally, the new DVLA system that allows you to register changes of owner online only works during office hours! How rubbish is that? Needless to say, we were about half an hour too late for that.

With the vehicle taxed, I could set off for my friend’s house in Berkshire. Even I have limits and I knew that trying to drive all the way back to Wales was just stupid. Sadly, I didn’t even make it the 20 miles to my friend’s house! It struck me that the wipers were slow, far slower than the Volvo I had just got out of. Then a row of dashboard warning lights came on dimly, including the charging light, bulb warning light and (for some reason) the handbrake warning light. My brain was already very tired, but this was looking distinctly like I was running out of volts.

We then hit a downpour that hit the windscreen like a slab of concrete. It made me jump! It was like trying to drive through the Niagara Falls. The wipers battled against the flow, but were getting slower and slower. Then the car in front pulled into the nearside lane and I noticed how little I could see in front of me. Oh dear.

The wipers got slower and when I spotted a Services sign, I knew my journey was about to come to an end. At least I could break down somewhere with facilities. On the slip road, I was reduced to a crawl as there were no street lights and I could not see a thing! I limped, gratefully, into the car park and may have gently uttered a few obscenities. Despite a history of dreadful cars, breaking down is something that happens to me surprisingly infrequently! At one stage this week, I was on the cusp of cancelling my breakdown cover. Thankfully, I did not!

I have breakdown cover as part of my insurance with Peter James, so I called the freephone number and spoke to a lady who told me that my car was not on the system… I hoped that this was just because I’d only just added the car and the AA were dispatched.

Speedy rescue work by The AA.

Speedy rescue work by The AA.

I called my friend to let him know I was having a spot of bother. I wandered into the store to buy a much-needed drink and then my pal called back to tell me he’d located an alternator in Watford! How quick is that? He also tends to own a lot of dreadful cars, so it turns out he’s well connected in the motor factor world. Even better, it was only £85. Lovely. I had to abandon that phonecall though as remarkably, the AA man was here! It was less than half an hour since I’d reported the breakdown, at 7pm on a Friday evening. Blimey.

The patrolman quickly confirmed that the alternator was kaput. I decided the best move was to get my car to my friend’s house, so we could fit the new alternator in the morning. Being a lovely, old, simple car, fitting a fully charged battery borrowed from the patrolman was enough to get me to my destination nine miles away. Try that in your fancy modern car. The patrolman followed me to make sure I didn’t run out of volts again, but it was fine. He then took his battery back and sailed off for his next mission.

We then dashed out for some food – I was so hungry! My friend’s Fiat 126 was chosen as our steed and we headed into town and discovered how difficult it is to fit an 18″ pizza into a tiny Italian car. What a fabulous little machine though! It’s frantic twin-cylinder engine delivers surprising speed. Well, relatively speaking. My run of luck continued when said Fiat inexplicably lost power. It doesn’t have very much to begin with! We somehow limped back, ate food and crashed out.

Worst pizza delivery vehicle ever.

Worst pizza delivery vehicle ever.

Next day, we removed the alternator from the Volvo and headed to the motor factors – having the old one with us allowed us to check that we’d got the right replacement. Then it was back to St Albans to collect Alan (the new owner of the silver Volvo) and his son. We scooped up some oil on the way and it took quite a bit even to get it registering on the dipstick! Fortunately, the engine sounded fine and off he went.

Then we fitted the new alternator to my Volvo, checked it was charging and had a celebratory brew. I set off homeward at about half one. A productive morning. This was really the first time I’d seen my car in daylight and I was pleased. Sure, it’s cosmetically challenged – brush painted in places, with a black tidemark and a very saggy headlining – but I like it.

My sat nav wisely took me back via Oxford, Gloucester, Ledbury and Leominster and with traffic levels light, it was a surprisingly joyous route – far nicer than the M25 and M4. But the journey wasn’t problem free. The car began feeling sluggish as we skirted Cirencester and I was reminded that when I checked the MOT history, there was an advisory for slightly binding front brakes. That’s certainly what it felt like and as we went down one very steep hill, I noticed that I wasn’t having to touch the brake pedal at all…

I pulled over, but the wheels felt cool to the touch. It was pouring with rain, so this probably saved me from cooking the stoppers. If you continue to drive with a binding brake, it can generate a LOT of heat, which then destroys seals and allows grease to escape from wheel bearings and the like. As we orbited Gloucester, I gave the brakes a few good shoves to try and get them moving properly. Whether this worked or not, I have no idea, but certainly the car was rolling far better as we headed towards Herefordshire.

I was more concerned with getting home than getting photos.

I was more concerned with getting home than getting photos.

Thankfully, that’s as exciting as the journey home would get. I reached home just four hours after leaving Buckinghamshire – an average of 45mph! Not bad considering there was no motorway on this route at all.

So, my ‘free’ Volvo has already cost me £85 for an alternator, and probably £40 in fuel to get it home. Getting to the Volvo was free (in fact, I was £1 up on the deal!) but did cost me many hours on a bus and a lost wallet. However, I grew rather fond of it on our drive back, despite the very tired dampers that make it bounce rather too much, and the steering wheel which is not straight. Watch this space to see what happens next!

Huge thanks to my friends Matt and Bérénice for looking after me when cars began failing all around me, and Matt in particular for running around grabbing bits of Volvo and helping me fit them.

PS – my wallet was somehow dropped on the bus. It has been found and is on its way back to me. Yay!

NEW! Video

Video: Dyane Hibernation

Since I bought my first 2CV in 1996, I’ve used aircooled Citroens throughout the year – apart from 2002-2003 when Elly was in pieces during a restoration. When the second phase of that restoration was completed in late 2005 to January 2006, I celebrated by immediately driving her from Lincolnshire to Aberystwyth at the height of winter.

This project is brought to you by almost no budget at all.

The Dyane will be going sleepy times this winter.

And, you can see the results for yourself. Elly the 2CV is now rotten as a very, very rotten thing indeed. So, I’ll be taking the Dyane off the road this time. I attempt to explain myself in this new video.

 

Road Test: Hyundai i10 Gen1 (2007-2014)

I’m a huge fan of oriental engineering. It’s been fascinating to watch first Japan, then South Korea and Malaysia go from producing cars that were a bit rubbish, to cars that rival the best Europe can offer.

The rather-nice, Indian-built, Korean Hyundai i10

The rather-nice, Indian-built, Korean Hyundai i10

Hyundai first hit the UK scene with the Pony in the 1970s. It was a car developed with the help of some former British Leyland folk. It evolved into a fairly decent hatchback by the late 1980s, though dynamically, it was still some way off the pace – not enough to tempt very many from their Astras and Escorts.

With the Atoz city car of 1998, there was a bold attempt to smash into the class that had opened up below the Supermini. It was battling other oriental mighty miniatures such as the Daewoo Matiz, Daihatsu Cuore and Suzuki Alto. The styling was a bit gawky though, and even when it evolved into the Amica, it wasn’t the very height of desirability. It was still all a bit Oriental, in the same way that a 1970s Datsun was exceedingly reliable, but somehow not quite right in the styling department.

That all changed with the i10 of 2007. Suddenly, Hyundai had a supermini that was every bit a match for Ford’s Fiesta. Five-year warranties and excellent reliability meant people really did start taking this South Korean company very seriously indeed. That run has continued and the current i30 manages to look very handsome, especially now the Ford Focus effectively looks like it has melted.

Acres of black plastic, and not particularly nice black plastic.

Acres of black plastic, and not particularly nice black plastic.

A lot of i10 development was carried out in Europe, and the first generation was built in India – the current one hails from Turkey. Hyundai really is a world player these days.

Behind the wheel, it must be said that the interior plastics are a bit grim, but that’s certainly true of the Fiesta of this era. Like the Ford, the dashboard protrudes noticeably down the middle of the car but the i10 at least leaves plenty of room for your left leg. There’s even a foot rest! Far, far better than the Ford.

The controls are certainly all very logical and straight-forward and once you’re under way, the gearchange is beautifully light, the brakes powerful and the steering nicely weighted – though I did feel it loaded up rather strangely in the bends at first. Possibly because I’m used to a Citroen.

It’s certainly very zingy, with 76bhp on tap. Sure, like most modern multivalve engines, there’s a lack of lower down grunt, but the pleasant gearchange means it isn’t a bind to go hunting through the rev range. It’s certainly very quiet, which means most of what you hear on the move is road noise.

The ride isn’t too bad at all for a small car and while it does jiggle around a little, I reckon it’s actually more compliant than the current model. Certainly, it feels a LOT more pleasant to drive than the Fiesta and reviews of the time suggest it was better than many of its rivals too. Impressive.

Downsides include rear leg room. At 3.5 metres long, it’s not a big car and I would struggle to fit behind the front seat set for my 5’10” frame. The boot is also not entirely generous, though enough for most.

Overall though, it’s a very appealing package. It looks quite smart, with the front end having a particular cheeky appeal. Certainly, this is the starting point of Hyundai becoming a major force in motor manufacturing.

Dyane: The Collection Story

I’ve had to wait patiently for this collection caper, but finally, the day arrived! It was hard to plan for the day, as I wasn’t entirely sure when the paperwork would allow collection.

You see, the problem is that despite many changes to the vehicle tax system, it’s still not possible to tax a car you don’t yet own. The logbook had been lost in the mists of time for the Dyane, so I would have to wait for the logbook to arrive in my name before I could tax it. Or would I?

The DVLA kindly sent me a letter suggesting that the logbook would be processed on 17th August. I phoned on the 18th, and they were able to confirm that yes, the logbook had been processed. The Dyane was now in my name. Even better, I could tax it with them over the phone, so I didn’t have to wait for the logbook to physically arrive with my name on it. Brilliant!

A neighbour just happened to be driving to south Wales, and that proved very handy. Getting from here to Wiltshire by train is a bit of a nightmare. Seven hours or more. Getting a lift to pretty Abergavenny meant a total trip duration of five hours. That’s more like it! The first train took me to Newport.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of rail transport, but I have to admit that I do like it as part of a car collection trip. You get to sit and watch the world go by, while that anticipation gently builds. Plus, you sometimes get to ride on trains like this!

Train

A classic train, still in extensive frontline use.

If my research is to be believed, this particular Intercity 125, or Classic 43, was built in 1982 – so it’s not quite as old as I am. This was the first time I’d been on one since I was a child and while the scream of its Paxman Valenta V12 engine is long gone, the MTU engine fitted during a refurbishment is undeniably smooth. This is still an exceedingly fast diesel locomotive and while the four miles of the Severn Tunnel did hurt my ears, it was a very pleasurable journey to Swindon. The next train was utter rubbish though. Swings and roundabouts!

I now found myself in sunny Warminster, where the train station is ideally situated right next to a scrapyard.

Glamorous Warminster, and my little 'taxi.'

Glamorous Warminster, and my little ‘taxi.’

Gary Dicks of 2CV Imports was waiting for me in a Suzuki Wagon R. Gary has been working to get the Dyane road legal, though I hasten to point out that for a road-going Dyane, this one was very cheap! Which explains why the journey home was not without incident. I have no complaints.

Anyway, tea was consumed, cats were discussed (yes, cats rather than cars) and I was soon on my way. This was my first drive on the road in my new Dyane, and the first Dyane I’ve owned since 2002. I think. Well, ok. There was another Dyane, but it was horribly rotten and I never actually drove it! Back on topic, it was fuel time.

Citroen Dyane

The ‘can you see it’ gags have begun. First fill-up!

The bonding process began in earnest now, as she dumped a load of super unleaded down my leg. How grateful is that?! It seems in the few months that I haven’t been 2CV-ing, I forgot that you have to ease off the pressure as the tank nears being full, or fuel tends to shoot out all over the place. Oops. I treated her to super unleaded for the simple reason that the last time she was on the road, she would probably have been drinking four star. I decided higher octane might be beneficial.

As we departed Warminster, I gently increased the speed. After so long off the road, it seemed kinder to take things gently. That said, I suspected the car had remained in regular use, as it seemed to run so sweetly. I was not wrong. The previous owner rang me while I was stopped for food on the way back and explained that the Dyane had been used as a shooting hack on a farm in Montgomeryshire! It had only been laid up for a few years, some of those in a barn. More on that another time.

As the roads got twistier, the tired state of the dampers became more apparent. Unsurprising, as they’re at least 20 years old I suspect, if not older. It therefore feels a bit precarious and unpredictable in the bends – grippy still, but prone to sudden pitch and yaw that is unsettling even to a seasoned 2CVer.

Bradford-upon-Avon proved stressful, which is a shame. It was the home of Dr Alex Moulton, who developed rubber cone, hydrolastic and hydragas suspension for BMC/BL. The link? He was a compulsive Citroen owner. His bicycle company is still based in Bradford-upon-Avon.

Not that I got to enjoy that fact very much, as the Dyane was struggling to idle. In fact, she cut out several times, and several more times, I just managed to catch her with a blip of throttle to narrowly avoid more starter motor use. Fortunately, the pedals are beautifully set for heel-and-toe, which is good. I was having to operate all three pedals at once! A very useful skill.

After 20 miles, I pulled over to give the car a quick checkover before we hit the motorway, and to have a quick drink. Given the lumpy idle, I turned the engine off. This was a mistake as after my short break, she wouldn’t restart. ARSE!

Bother! 20 miles in and progress is halted.

Bother! 20 miles in and progress is halted.

Fortunately, I’m not one to panic. What’s the main reason for a 2CV refusing to hot start? Yes, a weak coil. Certainly, this one was very hot. I left the bonnet up, stretched my legs and a few minutes later, she purred into life. Phew.

Annoyingly, I went straight from this layby into another sodding traffic jam – pure coil-killing conditions and further three-pedal driving was required. That thankfully didn’t last too long, and I sound found myself racing down the sliproad to the M4.

This was a nervous moment. I’d already discovered that the engine was pinking under heavy load and that coil was causing concern too. I was taking to the motorway in a car that required a certain amount of nursing. I needn’t have worried. She was soon sailing along very comfortably at an indicated 70mph, highlighting the main difference between Dyane and 2CV. No doors flapping, far less wind noise and more space for the driver. This was actually quite pleasant!

Then it was on to the M5 up to Gloucester, then onto the A40 towards Ross-on-Wye. As we enjoyed the traffic-free A road conditions, with much hooning, I can to concede that the car seemed to be running very nicely now. The tickover had come back and she felt a lot happier. Could this be because she used to live near Ross-on-Wye? Did she think she was going home?

She wasn’t. We continued on our way to Hereford, where there was a longer-than-planned stop for food and a rest at a pub that was having problems with its clever till system. My food order got lost. At least this gave longer for the coil to cool…

This camouflage is not much use in a car park.

This camouflage is not much use in a car park.

When I finally got back to the car, I decided it might be an idea to check the oil level. It’s a good job I did, as it was right at the lower end of acceptability. Fortunately, I’d left some oil in the car from when I nipped down to tinker with the Dyane the previous week. Nice, expensive synthetic stuff too. So, it was a bit dismaying to notice that this nice, expensive oil was leaking out all over the engine. I suspect several minor leaks, but it’s certainly enough for the car to mark its territory. Given the crap service, I can’t say I feel too bad about the Dyane marking this particular car park!

So, onwards I drove, being blinded by the setting sun. It was quite pretty though to be fair.

A beautiful evening for a long drive.

A beautiful evening for a long drive.

We’d now covered over 100 miles, but there was still a long way to go! I’d discovered the lack of heater tubes as the temperature dropped, but at least I could close the dash vents. The climb over the Elan Valley mountain road was tricky, as I had to keep dropping a gear to avoid pinking. It tends to happen when the engine is under maximum load, so the trick is to drop a gear, so you end up with lots of revs, but less load on the engine. Noisy work, but we made it.

Home! 172 miles covered.

Home! 172 miles covered.

172 miles covered, in a car last on the road in 1995, that has a 602cc engine developing 33bhp. We averaged 34mph and the journey home took about the same time as the train. I can’t really be anything other than pleased.

Road Test: Peugeot 205 (very) turbo diesel

I could quite easily hold up the Peugeot 205 as one of the best cars of the 1980s. It replaced the dumpy, uninspiring 104 with something that remains super-stylish today. This is one of the most attractive hatchbacks of all time. Every line seems just about perfect. Quite remarkable for an in-house design, from a company that hardly had a track record in producing genuinely attractive cars. I mean no offence, but while the -04 range certainly had charm, they all lacked the game-changing wow-factor of the 205.

This 205 packs plenty of punch.

This 205 packs plenty of punch.

As well as that, it manages to be comfortable, it handles really rather well and even the tiny 954cc poverty models are good fun to drive. The huge hatchback and folding rear seat means they’re surprisingly practical too. There’s a strong, and very lengthy, engine line up. One of the best diesel engines ever made. Hilarious power in the 1.9 GTi. Pretty amusing power in the smaller XS and 1.6 GTi. There’s a pretty convertible. In France, you could even buy a stylish van version – not just the hatchback with plated over windows that we got here.

Quite rightly, it was a huge success. It made cars like the Austin Metro seem awfully old hat (much as I love them) in a stroke, just a few years after that car was launched. The STDT was one of the first DIESEL hot hatchbacks. Here was a car that could be entertainingly brisk, but would also deliver 45mpg or better. Oil burners really had come a long way.

The car tested here has had the larger 1905cc turbo diesel inserted from a 306 (I think). Furthermore, it has undergone quite a few mods (better intercooler positioning, cranked up fuelling) to ensure it really is very brisk indeed. This was the first 205 I’d driven in quite a long time – possibly since I owned a 1.0 XE back in about 2000. So, what was it like?

Firstly, all the usual 205 hallmarks are there. Enormous side doors (this being a 3-door) and a gearlever that was seemingly stolen from a coach. It’s massively long! But this car is all about the power delivery – and how! Progress is sluggish until you sneak beyond 2000rpm, at which point it’ll light up the tyres! This is not a smooth, torque-laden turbo diesel, it feels far more like the abrupt power delivery of a BMW 2002 or early Audi Quattro. It’s a case of lag, lag, lag, OH MY GOSH THAT’S QUICK! Before you hit 4000rpm, change gear and do it all over again.

I’ll be honest, this is not actually my idea of fun. I like the turbo diesel in my XM, which gently increases power from 1500rpm as the turbo whistles into life. It’s smooth, almost seamless and a world a way from this nothing-nothing-BANG approach.

It’s hugely entertaining for sure, especially with the smokescreen it seems to generate, but there is no chance I’d want to live with a car like this every day. I’d find it too frustrating. It’s exactly why I tired of my Peugeot 306 DTurbo and my Citroen BX turbo diesels. You find yourself constantly facing a battle to keep the engine in its incredibly short sweet spot.

One thing is for certain though. This car certainly proves that a little light tweaking can make a fun, economical little car an absolute riot. All while topping 40mpg on waste vegetable oil. Not my cup of tea then, but I can certainly see the appeal.

Video Road Test: Mitsubishi Delica L400

It is still some surprise to me that my most-viewed Blog post of all time is a road test I did on a friend’s Mitsubishi Delica L400 – a Japanese import people carrier that uses Shogun off road tech to create a very multi-purpose vehicle.

So, I thought it was about time I did an actual video review. I borrowed his truck very briefly last night, and cobbled together a quick video. After all, I suspect a lot of people would like to know what it is like to drive one of these seemingly unstable beasts. You may well be surprised!

Road Test: Talbot Alpine LE. Dreadful but fantastic.

A quick break from the world of electric Volkswagens as I correct a massive oversight – how could I forget that I’d finally had a decent drive in a Talbot Alpine?

Talbot Alpine rusty

Sheer glamour, the other week. Surely it must be dreadful to drive?

I’ve long admired the Talbot née Simca/Chrysler Alpine. As Simca’s final flurry, it was a bold statement. It took the basic formula of the Renault 16 – hatchback, space, comfort – and brought it bang up to date, with sharp styling and quite a few less quirks. It was powered by the ‘Poissy’ four-cylinder, overhead valve engine that had first seen life in the 1961 Simca 1000. Ok, that bit was less bang up to date!

Sold as the Simca 1307 in France, and the Chrysler Alpine in the UK, the car took the European Car of the Year award in 1976 – the year after launch. That was also the year that UK production commenced, at the now-sadly demolished Ryton-on-Dunsmore plant near Coventry. Fewer than 200,000 were built there by the time production ended in 1986. Not a hugely successful run, though the Simca 1307/1308 sold much better – 200,000 were built by the end of 1976! This one model accounted for 7% of all French car sales that year.

The British were not so welcoming. The engines were seen as too noisy, and the market the Alpine was aimed at wanted a nice, conventional saloon. Like the Morrs Marina, Ford Cortina or Vauxhall Cavalier. Our loss really, as these are rather good cars. Chrysler Europe was sold to Peugeot in 1979, who dug the Talbot name out of the archives. The Talbot Alpine soon got a restyle, with a squarer nose.

This one looks dreadful. The body was absolutely hanging – at the time of writing, the entire rear quarter on the driver’s side has now been replaced and further work is ongoing.

Chrysler Talbot Alpine

Typical Talbot Alpine rot. This has all been cut out and replaced now.

Oddly, this base LE model has the 1592cc, 89bhp engine. It starts promptly and isn’t as noisy as you might expect. A lot of the ‘Simca rattle’ is down to poorly adjusted valve clearances. It certainly sounds much healthier than it looks! The seats are typically French – very soft, with coverings that have disintegrated in UV light. Pulling away, you soon realise that this is an exceedingly jolly car to drive. It feels leagues ahead of the Cortina/Cavalier/Marina trio. How stupid British conservatism can be. It is hard to place it as a car of the 1970s as it feels much more like a Cavalier Mk2 or Montego. The steering is particularly nice and while the car rolls a bit in bends thanks to that soft suspension, it corners really, really well. They do have a reputation for understeer if you push too hard, but that’s easily avoided by not pushing too hard.

The engine pulls staggeringly well. I tested the car up my favourite hill, and it just loped up it in fifth gear! You barely need to change gear at all, which is a shame as it shifts very nicely, with seemingly none of the baggy nonsense that a Peugeot gearchange usually entails – jump into a Peugeot 205 to see what I mean.

Shabby chic? Soft seats offer great comfort.

Shabby chic? Soft seats offer great comfort. Very 1980s in feel, even though design dates from 1970s.

Overall then, this car was one of the biggest surprises from a day of driving ‘dreadful’ motor cars. That honour is perhaps shared with the Lancia Y10, but while the tiny Italian tearaway was an absolute hoot, it’s the Talbot Alpine that I’d much rather own on a day-to-day basis. A shame then that they rot so readily! I’m glad this one is now getting the restoration it deserves.

Road Test: Toyota Estima Lucida Charme Pleasure Wagon

Yes! The annual Shitefest has happened again, and I can bring you a whole ream of fresh crap car road tests. I’ll start with the one that has the longest name. The Toyota Estima Lucida Charme Pleasure Wagon – equipped with the Joyful Canopy no less.

Lucida

Japanese-spec Pleasure Wagon actually pleases

In the UK, you’ll recognise this as a Previa people carrier, though this Japanese import is slightly narrower and shorter, with different front and rear styling treatments. You still get an engine mounted beneath the front seats, a sliding door on the nearside only and seating for seven – or eight depending on spec.

Mechanically, the main differences from a Previa are that instead of a 2.4-litre petrol, there’s a 2.2-litre turbo diesel, allied to an automatic transmission in this case, with four-wheel drive. It’s not an engine with a great reputation – have a quick hunt on Ebay or Gumtree and you’ll find plenty for sale with blown head gaskets or even cracked cylinder heads. But is it any good to drive?

The answer is, surprisingly, yes! The high driving position and column gearchange immediately put me in mind of the Mitsubishi Delica. But, this is no off-roader. It’s ultimately too low. It’s bloody quick off the mark though, feeling far more sprightly than the Delica. That’s quite impressive given that it only has 101bhp and sure, the 0-60mph time of 14.5 seconds is not actually that brisk. It feels quick enough though, even if you leave the overdrive engaged – unusual for an auto but much fancied by Japanese manufacturers at this time.

See? I didn't make it up

See? I didn’t make it up

The ride is comfortable, but the steering is a little vague, and it all feels a bit wobbly if you try pushing on a bit. Take things easier and smooth your steering inputs, and you can drive briskly enough. Turn sharply though, and there’s a threat of sea-sickness from your rear passengers. I feel the Delica behaves more neatly, which is odd given how tall they look!

The ‘joyful canopy’ means a lot of glazing up top, with a huge sunroof to the rear. It all helps make it feel very airy inside and the driving position is very comfortable. It feels like a car you could drive for many hours. Overall, I clambered out of this car feeling much warmer towards it than when I had clambered in.

Whether they make a decent long-term motor, I can’t really say, though I will point out that while the Rover K-Series also has a reputation for head gasket failure, circumstances are certainly not improved by complete neglect. Just because it’s a Toyota doesn’t mean that you can get away with neglecting coolant changes and/or levels. I certainly wouldn’t rule one out.