Project Dirty Daimler: Collection

I’ve edited three different magazines this year, but that’s about to change. Rolls-Royce and Bentley Driver will be passing to a new editor, because I’m busy enough with Classic Jaguar and Retro Japanese. Indeed, Classic Jaguar has been selling rather well, so we’re moving to six issues per year instead of four.

I already have the Honda S-MX (and to a lesser extent the Daihatsu-based Perodua Nippa) for Retro Japanese, but lacked a Classic Jaguar to call my own. So, I decided to do something about it, in the way only I know how. By rushing out and buying the worst one I could find. Not only that, but it was over 300 miles away in Glasgow. Oh, and it had a fuel leak. So, how did that pan out? A full report will be in the next issue of Classic Jaguar magazine (June/July 2017), but here’s my video of the day itself.

Project OMG: Work begins

Now I’ve got the car home, I can focus on making it better. Naturally, curing that diesel leak is a major priority. It turns out, diesel leaks from the Bosch fuel pump are hardly rare. Anyone who has a BMW with the tds engine, or that engine installed in an Omega or Range Rover will be well aware of it. In fact, stands a chance that if you own a Volkswagen diesel, it may also suffer in the same way. There are two seals in the pump housing, and it seems they do leak with time.

I don’t have the new seals, but I thought that I might as well make a start on the job. We’re having a few issues with the paperwork, so I can’t actually tax it yet. May as well take it to bits then. To make life a LOT easier, I decided to remove the intake manifold. There are only a few bolts holding it in place, though access to all of them is not easy. I also found I had to clamber on top of the engine to reach those at the back. It’s quite a long motor!

Eventually, success was had.

The inlet manifold is successfully removed.

The inlet manifold is successfully removed.

I plugged the inlets with paper roll to stop any foreign bodies getting where they shouldn’t be. I also removed my tape bodgery, which had stemmed, but not stopped the flow of diesel. I have since ordered up a seal kit, but it’ll likely take quite a few days to arrive. That’s ok. I’ve got work and minibus duty to attend to this week.

Here’s a blurry shot of the pump though, now access has been granted.

The pump. Note the anti-tamper screw. Defeated!

The pump. Note the anti-tamper screw. Defeated!

While I was here, I thought I’d check whether I could defeat the anti-tamper screw. You really need a special tool to undo it. I smashed a spare 7mm socket over it. Does the same thing.

You can just see diesel pooling in that little recess. There’s one failed seal at that level, and another slightly further up, where you can see the next line. I need to scribe the pump on two sides, so that I can line everything up again. It seems that tiny amounts of movements are absolutely critical here. If I don’t get it back exactly where it should be, I’ll disturb the fuelling settings, which could leave the car not running at all, or producing black clouds of soot. Neither are desirable outcomes.

Incidentally, that black and blue pipe you can just see was not attached to anything. It’s part of the EGR valve set-up, so I think I’d better connect it up when I’m done. EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) shoves some of the exhaust gas back into the engine, to burn some of the impurities. To be honest, they’re a bit of a flaky idea, as you need a valve in the exhaust, and they can get gunked up with time. It seems quite easy to disable the EGR valve, though whether this is desirable is up for debate. It can improve the engine’s performance (especially if you have a faulty EGR valve), but it can also increase harmful nitrous oxides from the exhaust – these are what diesels are currently making the headlines because of. I’ve got time to think that one through.

In other Omega news, I’ve started touching up some of the rust spots with Vactan rust converter, and got the windscreen washers working again. I also found that I’d been sitting on the locking wheel nut tool all the way home. Not sure how I didn’t spot it, or feel it!

You can now also watch the first part of the Collection Caper, right here.

And the second part is now live too!

SUVs – I don’t think I get it

I’ve spent the past week tooling around in an MG GS and before that, I took a Nissan Qashqai on a Tour of the North. Just before that, I sold my own Toyota RAV4. These three vehicles have combined to make me wonder what the point of an SUV is.

Only one of those vehicles had four-wheel drive – the RAV4 – though the Qashqai can be specified with all-wheel power, as can the MG in markets other than the UK. Here’s the thing though – buyers seem to be quite happy to buy SUVs with only two-wheel drive, so what’s the appeal?

The MG GS is very, er, SUV-shaped

Extra height, but is it actually a benefit?

I will say, I do like an upright driving position, with the feet considerably lower than the buttocks. I guess years of 2CV ownership have seen me grow rather accustomed to this. I’ve never been a huge fan of low, low seating positions. I may still be in my 30s, but I really can’t be doing with getting in and out of something that’s low to the ground.

But you don’t need an enormous vehicle to get such a position. The Nippa has a decent stab at it, as did my Daewoo Matiz from many moons ago.

Sure, neither offers the height of an SUV, but what does that extra height actually deliver in the way of benefit? With SUVs becoming ever more popular, it certainly doesn’t necessarily gain you that commanding view over other traffic that you might desire. Your view will simply be blocked by another SUV. It doesn’t get you a nice, low loading lip for the boot either, so you’d better build up your muscles for loading in the weekly shop.

One of the most successful British-built cars - the Nissan Qashqai.

You can’t stray far from the beaten track in a two-wheel drive SUV

It will give you less stability. No, you won’t wobble over the first time you go around a bend, but in a collision, an SUV may be more likely to take a tumble than a regular hatchback. It’s simple physics once you start raising a vehicle’s centre of gravity.

You aren’t necessarily safer either. These cars do a marvellous job of making you feel safer – all chunky styling that looks like it should repel other cars like water meeting the impenetrable barrier of a duck’s back. But, they don’t necessarily protect you any better in a collision than a regular car. In some ways (ah, stability again), they may be worse.

Then there’s the running costs. I was impressed with the 50+mpg of the Qashqai, but that’s pretty dreary these days for a family hatchback. Citroen was delivering such figures in the 1980s in a car with pretty much the same level of space, and a far better ride (though nowhere near the same interior refinement to be fair). The MG seems to be doing a terrifying 31mpg, which can be bettered by my 20-year old Honda with the aerodynamics of a fridge-freezer. I do not see the expected progress here.

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

A pioneering SUV, and one that, despite four-wheel drive, just isn’t equipped for the rough stuff.

You can’t shove an SUV through the air as efficiently as a conventional hatchback. That chunkiness and raised ground clearance do not help here. Nor does the greater weight they have, though some weight has been saved by not bothering with the four-wheel drive system that you’d expect such a vehicle to have. You can even specify a Land Rover Discovery Sport with front-wheel drive only. I just find this laughable. It’s like buying a rain hat that isn’t waterproof. Sure, it might look nice and stylish, but when conditions turn, you’re going to be left looking foolish.

That came so close to happening to me this very weekend. Travelling back from Sussex in the MG, we encountered freshly falling snow. Grip was reduced by a very large amount, but thankfully we managed to get through. However, I can say with certainty that it wouldn’t have taken very much more snow for us to really start struggling. The fat tyres needed to keep an SUV from skidding off the road are absolutely no help in snow at all. Nor is not actually having four-wheel drive (before you query it, four-wheel drive does not make you invincible in the snow, but it can help you get moving).

All three SUVs seemed hampered by their suspension too. With the need to control a high centre of gravity, there’s not as much give as you might hope for. They’re all rather firm in the springing department.

So, they cost more to buy, cost more to run and actually do a worse job of ‘being a car’ than a more conventional hatchback or estate. I shall continue to be bamboozled by the rise of the SUV.

Project Elly: The End!

EDIT – now with video! Scroll down

No, don’t worry. Not The End of Elly, I’m just formally closing Project Elly. She is back on the road and, she appears to be reliable again. Hoorah! Time to step away from the project and steer her back into regular use.

I eagerly awaited the postman this morning, because I knew he’d have goodies for me – or rather, Elly.

Hello Mr Postman! What have you got for me?

Hello Mr Postman! What have you got for me?

I wasn’t disappointed. My ECAS 2CV Parts order had arrived!

Cor! A lovely, new, resin-filled coil.

Cor! A lovely, new, resin-filled coil.

I had to pay attention fitting it, as it seems it’s imperative that the positive and negative connections are the right way around. This differs from the normal coil. In fact, it’s actually sensible to swap the connections every now and then to even up wear on the spark plugs due to the wasted spark system the 2CV employs (in short, no distributor, so it sparks on both cylinders twice during the four-stroke cycle).

With it fitted, and with the ignition now being back on the points-assisted Velleman kit, she fired very promptly into life. Brilliant! Naturally, I ignored my substantial work load and went for a drive. At last! I could drive along with the engine firing cleanly, even after pulling over and letting her tickover for a while as I took photos. There was no spluttering, no misfiring. Phew!

Finally, she is finished and healthy!

Finally, she is finished and healthy!

Of course, there’s not really any such thing as finished. The grey wheels look wrong – they should be white. I also need to get the rear seat fitted, and sort out some sound proofing as she’s LOUD. The grey felt on the interior body sides needs purchasing and fitting, the gearbox oil needs replacing, the reverse light also needs to actually be fitted and I’d like to sort out an interior light. Then there’s the rear wings that need painting, and the side stripes that need recreating (I’m pondering options here – I still fancy a bit of an art project). Oh, and the hatchback kit. That needs fitting, but I also need to get a hinge made up to complete it first.

But, she’s very much back, and that makes me very happy. A lot of people have donated funds, parts, advice and support during this project. I can’t thank you enough. Alan at Citwins turned a complete wreck of a 2CV body into what you see here, with the frightening number of replacement panels needed funded directly by your contributions. That was over £1100. If there’s anything I’ve learnt during this project, it is that the 2CV is supported SUPERBLY well when it comes to parts. We are very, very lucky.

As am I. I’m able to drive my 2CV again. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Thank you!

Thank you!

 

MG GS: First impressions

Following hot on the heels of the surprisingly British Nissan Qashqai, I’m testing the British/Chinese MG GS this week. Now, I’ve only covered about 55 miles in it so far, so these are very much my first impressions. Firstly, it’s a rather different spec to the Qashqai, being  the range-topping Exclusive model, with DCT (dual clutch transmission), which is, in effect, an automatic, and a petrol engine.

It’s still a 1.5-litre engine like the Nissan, but a rather sweeter sounding petrol, with a turbocharger for extra giggle factor. Quite substantial giggle factor, as it produces over 160bhp. It also has 188lb/ft of torque, all the way from 1600rpm to 4300. That’s even more astonishing than the power output. It is the only engine though. There’s no diesel option in the UK, and no four-wheel drive option either – not a problem for most people, but you can’t back up those adventurous looks with actual adventure. What’s that? It’s going to snow later this week? Ah…

2016 MG GS

Is the range-topping MG GS worth a look?

The retail price, as tested, is a meaty £22,430, with the spec including heated leather seats with electric adjustment, 18″ alloys (in black – horrible), a fancy computer thing with bluetooth, sat nav, DAB radio and lots of other settings I’ll never explore, remote central locking, electric windows all-round and very bright headlamps. £250 gets you some black trim outside. I’ve not entirely worked out which bits yet, or whether they’re worth paying to have in black.

The MG GS is very, er, SUV-shaped

The MG GS is very, er, SUV-shaped

This much I gleaned from the press pack, before heading straight out for a drive. After all, that’s kind-of the important bit. Annoyingly, there is an electronic handbrake, but it works very well with a two-pedal driving experience to be fair. There’s a steep hill at the end of my driveway, which is where I first discovered that this was not a conventional automatic. In one of those, you have a torque converter and a fairly consistent application of said torque at low speeds. A DCT is an automatic manual, with computer controlled clutches and two rows of gears, with each bank also having its own clutch. If you know Volkswagen’s DSG system, then it’s like that.

1.5-litre, turbo petrol produces an impressive 160bhp, linked to DCT gearbox.

1.5-litre, turbo petrol produces an impressive 160bhp, linked to DCT gearbox.

That means you can feel the clutch biting, then releasing, much as you would yourself at low speeds to avoid a stall. The hill-hold stopped the car rolling back, and I smoothly pulled away, with my sensitive ears only just noticing the immediate change to second (of seven) gear, and pretty much missing the slushy move to third. In fact, by the time we reached 30mph, I had no idea what gear we were in. Nor did I much care. Sure, this wasn’t electric motor smooth, but I was pretty impressed.

60mph was reached pretty briskly without fuss (just under ten seconds from the official figures), with the engine settling to a smidge under 2000rpm in whichever gear it was – presumably seventh. The ride was comfortable, notably without the jiggle I’d noticed on the same section in the Qashqai. This seems slightly at odds with findings by other reviewers in this very same car. I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve driven it on poor, city streets.

Similarly, I can’t really review it at motorway speeds yet. That’s coming later this week with a quick 600-mile roadtrip.

I can tell you that the handling seems pleasant, though with notable bodyroll if you quickly change direction. Grip levels are good though, with the steering having a very nice weight to it from the off. It’s an electric-hydraulic system. I like that, because hydraulic PAS tends to give a less numb feel than a full electric system. EDIT – I was quite wrong. It IS an electric power steering set up, but one that is weighted much more sweetly than the Nissan, even if you put the Qashqai’s steering in Sport mode.

I can also tell you that the wipers are excellent, even if there is no Auto function. There is a variable intermittent option, and the rear wiper reassuringly wipes three times before going intermittent – heritage is maintained.

Drive the GS for longer and the quirks of this type of transmission become apparent. Sometimes, when you’ve slowed down and hit the pedal, there’s a pause – almost as if the cars wonders what gear to be in. On occasion, this causes you to react by pressing harder, at which point it suddenly makes a decision, drops several cogs and opens the throttle, sending you hurtling down the road like a teenage lad in a Corsa who has spotted a lady and has found his hormones destroying his ability to use pedals. It’s really quite anti-social. The only difference is that, unlike most Corsas, this thing really can pick up its skirts and fly. It’s definitely amusingly brisk.

It’s far more relaxing not to drive like that though. Most of the time, it’s very happy to keep the revs down and ride that fat wall of torque, which makes it very relaxing. At manoeuvring speeds, then yes, it can feel a bit strange, as the clutch cuts in and out. Reach a standstill and the stop/start kicks in – it restarts as soon as you lift off the brake pedal.

Sadly, one bad thing I did notice at these slower speeds was the sound of a very tired bearing. It reminded me of the failed auxiliary belt tensioner on my ZX. I turned the air con off, and the noise stopped. That’ll be the culprit then. Oddly, I could not discern the noise outside the car, only inside it. How strange.

I found the GS very comfortable, with lots of legroom front and rear, though the rear bench is a touch low for me. The controls have a nice feel, though there’s no getting away from the acres of cheap plastic that litter the dash. It does not feel like a premium product, though nor does it feel horribly cheap – just not as pleasant as some rivals.

The boot seems a little small, though the high boot lip leads straight to a flat floor – a false one with a spacesaver spare stashed beneath it. There’s an annoying lack of lashing points – this would have been no good at all for collecting a 2CV engine. The rear parcel shelf is a bit awkward too, with a dangly bit between the main shelf and the rear seats, with clips running to the head restraints. This flappy bit is necessary because you can alter the rake of the rear seat back. Also annoying is that you need to press parts of BOTH head restraint holders to get the restraint fully lowered.

That’ll do for now though. Stay tuned for further findings and don’t worry, the 2CV Project will be back soon.

Where’s the progress? ZX vs Qashqai

Two vehicles landed on my driveway in December. One of them cost me just £4 (though its total non-raffle price was £120). The other was a loaned car with a brand new value of over £24,000. One is a Citroen ZX diesel, that’s over 20 years old, has covered over 112,000 miles and has a 71bhp non-turbo engine. The other was brand new Nissan Qashqai N-Connecta 1.5dCi with a 108bhp turbocharged engine. One has a kerb weight of 1035kg. The other has a kerb weight of 1365kg. One of them has about six buttons on the entire dashboard. One has more than that on the steering wheel alone. Here’s the thing though. Strip away with glitz and baffling gadgets and does the Qashqai actually deliver a better driving experience than the leggy Citroen? No, I’m not sure it does.

A fine looking motor.

Yes, we’ve pitted a £120 Citroen against a £24,000 Nissan.

This was proved to me when, halfway through the Qashqai test, I jumped into the ZX for a drive on the fast, flowing A roads of mid-Wales – where I’m fortunate enough to live. Both cars have had a fair degree of ingenuity in order to make them handle well. The ZX has passive rear wheel steering, courtesy of compliant bushes, that make it grip surprisingly well, even on skinny Chinese ditchfinders.

The Nissan has Active Trace Control and traction control. The former brakes the inside wheel if it detects you’re getting a bit hoony, to encourage the car to track around the corner rather than understeer into the scenery. Traction control ensures wheelspin is avoided when you gun it.

Here’s the thing though. Both cars have enough grip to corner very well indeed, regardless of the technology employed. To get the Nissan’s tech to cut in, you have to drive in a particularly unsociable manner. Ignore all this, and the truth is that both cars have slightly numb steering, but then both turn in eagerly, and go where you point them. Both cars are pleasant to drive quickly and both feel like your nerve will ask you to slow down before the grip vanishes.

20161221_141401

Better than the ZX, in some ways, but certainly not all.

Yet, the Citroen does all this while keeping the ride composed, something the Nissan cannot match. It’s not bad, but there is an endless jiggly sensation on some surfaces that is entirely absent on the same roads in the ZX. I reckon the 18″ wheels can’t help with this. The Citroen wears 13″ wheels with plenty of sidewall. The tyre is an important part of the suspension – sadly, this seems to have been forgotten by modern manufacturers and buyers. A Tesla Model S on 22″ wheels, with sports suspension, is absolutely terrible.

The Nissan arguably has the advantage in braking, with extra force applied if you do an emergency stop, backed up by anti-lock braking. It’ll even apply the brakes for you if it detects you’re about to hit something. I did get one warning (a parked car I fully intended to go around), but it never applie the brakes when I didn’t want it to. I’ll let it have that, even though I don’t mind non-ABS braking. It has the edge in safety as well, though I was glad not to put this to the test. There are more airbags than the Citroen has head restraints. Visibility is pretty bloody awful though, as is the modern way. A posts are hugely chunky, waistlines have risen up and you really do need the neat parking camera to slot the Qashqai into a space. With the ZX, a huge glazing area makes it a doddle to see out, even if the single windscreen wiper does leave an annoying unswept area in the top corners of the windscreen. You have to (shock horror!) operate that wiper yourself, whereas the Qashqai has automatic control of its pair of wipers. That’s a real boon in Wales, where rain conditions can change on a regular basis – not that they always responded as well as I’d hoped. Sometimes, I had to manually intervene, which is more annoying than just operating the wipers yourself.

In terms of space, the Qashqai does possess a very nice driving position, but both cars lack a rest for the clutch foot. The rear seat in the Nissan is also quite firm. The Citroen has softer seats, even if they aren’t overly supportive. The ZX also has a much lighter interior, thanks to its sunroof – standard equipment in 1994. The Qashqai can be specified with a panoramic roof, but it’ll cost you £595. I reckon it’s worth it.

When it comes to performance, obviously the Qashqai walks it. It’s not actually that brisk, and some may prefer the 136PS option for a bit more overtaking grunt, but it’ll leave the ZX for dead. With no turbocharger, you have to gently wind the Citroen up to a cruising speed, and maintaining pace uphill can be tricky. You have to use that excellent handling to allow you to maintain momentum – it’s rather like a 2CV in that regard. So, your foot tends to be mashed into the carpet in a way it just isn’t in the Nissan.

The Qashqai is also more peaceful (though not by a huge amount) at motorway speed, with its engine turning over at 2000rpm rather than 3100. That makes quite a difference, even if the ZX still manages to seem refined and fairly quiet at these speeds.

But, I can’t escape the fundamental problem that the Qashqai does not do the basic concept of driving any more competently than the Citroen. In fact, it’s worse in some areas. Yes, it is a good car, and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you bought one, but does it (or any of its rivals) really justify the price tag? I’m not sure it does. Where is the progress? The Qashqai feels like a car of the 1990s, but loaded with tech – much of it simply unnecessary.

In terms of economy, it’s not very far ahead of the ZX at all (50-55mpg seems a reasonable expectation from either), though I will concede you get usefully more performance. But does it leave the ZX feeling like a disappointment after I’ve driven a Qashqai? No, emphatically not. I also like the fact that the ZX can be fixed with a few tools and a bit of know how. I know this, because I’ve already had to fix bits – that can be an issue with a 23-year old car that you hopefully won’t get with a brand new one. Therefore, most people will consider the extra £24,000 well worth paying perhaps.

I can’t blame people for wanting that security, but I think I can blame manufacturers for being a bit lazy. Where has the development been in the past 20 years? Sure, engines have more power, but they also have terrifying complexity and have become something the enthusiast daren’t go near, while arguably deliverying little advantage over the cars of two decades ago. What will a Qashqai be like to own in 24 years’ time? Horrendous I imagine.

This is why I’ve drifted away from brand new vehicles. My interest just isn’t there. Except for electric vehicles. These interest me because they DO move the game along. Significantly. There IS exciting new technology at work here. You DO get a driving experience which feels markedly different to anything with a conventional engine. There is huge excitement here, and I feel it every time I jump aboard a vehicle with an electric motor.

I’m afraid that otherwise, I’ll still to my cheap old bangers thank you very much.

20161221_143149

My personal choice? Bangers, not Qash.