Video: The Shitefest Series


Shitefest has been and gone, already a week ago, but I’ve been working hard on getting new video content uploaded since the event. Here’s what I have so far. Do keep an eye on my channel, as further videos will be forthcoming over the next few weeks. I’m afraid the day job is about to get seriously busy again, which may delay things, but there are already three videos for your enjoyment, with a wealth of unusual car content!

First, an overall event report, including my visit to the 2CVGB event Registers’ Day.


Next, a thoroughly boring review of a Renault.


And for variety, the Innocenti Small 500! Daihatsu power, in a Bertone/BMC spin-off. Wonderful.

Now with more videos!

Do subscribe to my channel, and you’ll automatically be notified when new video content has been uploaded.

I’m quite proud of that channel. It now contains over 120 videos, covering cars as varied as the Tesla Model S, LDV Pilot van, Innocenti Small 500 and Nissan Bluebird. It also now has over half a million views! My videos will never have impressive production values, nor an actual script. It’s just me and my mobile phone. I’m thrilled that folk appear to enjoy them!

A Mini, but with Italian styling and Japanese mechanicals. Pic courtesy Michael Carpenter.

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.

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.


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.


My personal choice? Bangers, not Qash.

Tested: Nissan Qashqai

You may be surprised to learn that the Nissan Qashqai is one of the most successful British cars ever built. Over a half a million of them (across two generations since 2006) have been sold worldwide, with the vast majority coming out of Nissan’s Washington plant, near Sunderland.

I was certainly surprised, so I thought I’d see what is so appealing about this crossover SUV thing. Proving that the Talbot Matra Rancho was truly ahead of its time, this is a car with a bit of a 4×4 look about it, but it only has two-wheel drive. That now seems to be the way of the world, with Land Rover Freelanders and Range Rover Evoques now available with only half-driven wheels.

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

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

That makes sense really, as there’s little point carrying around the extra weight of a four-wheel drive system you will probably never use. Now, people will also say there’s no point having the raised ground clearance and poorer aerodynamics of a 4×4-alike either, and that’s a fair comment. For plenty though, the more upright driving position, raised view over traffic and those chunky looks more than make up for it. You can specify a four-wheel drive version, but the vast majority will be two-wheel drive.

The car tested is the Nissan Qashqai N-Connecta 1.5dCi 110PS. The retail price is £24,660 as tested, which includes £550 for the rather fetching Ink Blue metallic paint. The spec list is lengthy, including a 7″ touch screen with ‘Around View’ parking monitor – a Grand Theft Auto view of the car, which is very handy given the curvy shape of the car – 18″ alloy wheels, a Smart Vision pack (speed limit sign recognition, high beam assist and other goodies), chassis control (various electronic driving aids) and all the usual stuff you’d expect – keyless remote central locking, electric windows and power steering (which has two settings).

Chunky SUV styling but this model, as most, is only FWD.

Chunky SUV styling but this model, as most, is only FWD.

The initial testing was done on local roads, which was rather frustrating in some ways. This car has so many electronic goodies that you can’t possibly experiment while driving on Welsh roads. In some ways, it could be considered a distraction, though the speed limit reminder is a good idea. It actually ‘sees’ the signs, and puts a reminder on the dash. This only got caught out once, when the windscreen was still misted up slightly and clearly the car couldn’t see a 20mph sign. Fortunately, the driver could.

I had a play with various electronic driver aids, but ended up turning most of them off. The main beam assist is particularly annoying, as I found it would often refuse to put the main beams on when I needed them. It seemed to deem them unnecessary at 30mph, and would dip them for buildings or strong reflections from puddles or walls. Sure, it was fairly good at dipping when a car approached, but only when that car was in full view. Here in the countryside, we generally try to dip BEFORE a car appears. It isn’t good enough to do that. I turned the Auto feature off.

Interior styling is pleasant, some controls a bit fiddly.

Interior styling is pleasant, some controls a bit fiddly.

I also turned the Lane Departure Warning off, because it’d bleep continuously as I drove on small Welsh roads. Perhaps it didn’t like my racing lines. The parking sensors bleeped continuously on my driveway too, scared by blades of grass and the proximity of the walls and vegetation – things that don’t overly threaten a 3.5 ton minibus that I sometimes bring down this track.

I soon set the steering to Sport mode, which gave less assistance in the bends. It isn’t a vast difference though, but it felt better. I also tried putting the driver aids to the test. Active Trace Control brakes the inside wheels on a turn when you’re pushing on a bit. It has to be said, you really do have to push on a bit to get this to activate. I suspect most people will not. There’s Active Ride too, which subtly applies the brakes to reduce body movement over crests. There’s quite a few of these in Wales, though I doubt most folk would notice the system kicking in. The ride isn’t bad some of the time, but pretty dreadful at others. It can get a bit jiggly, probably not helped by the entirely unnecessary 18″ wheels.

Renault-derived 1.5-litre turbo diesel has great low-down torque.

Renault-derived 1.5-litre turbo diesel has great low-down torque.

Overall though, this is a very pleasant car to drive. The six-speed gearbox feels a touch unnecessary, as the engine has a good spread of torque at lower engine speeds. Let it rev, and you don’t really access much more power. All the torque is below 3000rpm, so its best to stay down there. The driving position is superbly comfortable though, which I tested by covering over 600 miles in two days. The only slight comfort complaint is the lack of a footrest for your left foot.

Other downsides include the big sat nav screen, which is difficult to use on the move ie when changing radio station. That’s entirely down to the ride, which is not smooth enough to allow an easy selection of an option. There is one more big issue. The electronic parking brake. Quite why anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a nice, simple lever, so I shall assume it was an idea put forward by an interior designer.

Like many such systems, the Nissan requires you to press the brake pedal before it’ll let you release the parking brake. Now, I don’t know how you were taught to drive, but I was taught to balance the clutch and throttle to get the biting point before releasing the parking brake. In the Qashqai, this is quite impossible, so you find yourself having to use all three pedals. Being a diesel, you can actually get the bite point quite comfortably on zero throttle, but hill starts are something else. It does have hill start assist, but this just makes it feel like the brakes are dragging. It’s a pretty woeful technical solution to a problem that shouldn’t bloody exist. In actively encourages you to just not bother with the parking brake at all, which turns you into one of those idiots who keep their foot on the brake pedal at traffic lights. Of course, all this ignores the fact that there are now ECUs, sensors and electric motors which will almost inevitably go wrong at some point. I’m far from a fan, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Boot is a nice size, with extra storage below the floor. Load lip is too high though.

Boot is a nice size, with extra storage below the floor. Load lip is too high though.

This is all rather a distraction from the car itself, which is very impressive. It handles well (even without its electronic assists) and is whisper-quiet at speed. There’s plenty of space for passengers and luggage, with a handy hidden section beneath the boot floor. The rear seat backs fold, though not the base. However, the folded seats sit level with the boot’s false floor. There is a high loading lip though, and this made lifting a Citroen 2CV engine into the boot quite a challenge. Getting it back out wasn’t much fun either. Therefore, I’d suggest the Qashqai isn’t ideal if you plan to move a lot of engines. It is more economical than a 2CV though, delivering an average of 51mpg, and achieving 56 pretty easily on a run. Mind you, that’s some way short of the ridiculous manufacturer claim of 73mpg. Manufacturer figures have about as much truth to them as the tabloid press. Do not believe them.

After a week with the Qashqai, I had to admit that I was impressed. It’s a very good car, and rightly popular – I saw loads and loads of them on my travels, which is hardly surprising given how many have been built. Whether you like it or not, the truth is that this car does appear to deserve its success.

Honda S-MX: 2000-mile review

Er, I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I seem to have clocked up 2000 miles in the S-MX already. About 2300 in fact. Blimey.

So, how has it gone? Seeing as I’m just back from yet another trip to the South East of England, I’m well placed to give a report.

Not entirely smoothly is how it’s gone. I’ve had to spend a fair bit of time, effort and money on improving this car, though the good news is that it feels like time, effort and money well spent. As already reported, the collection caper included fitting a new timing belt and water pump, as well as giving the poor thing a much-needed service and an optimistic transmission fluid change. That’s because these Honda gearboxes can be a bit weak. I found it was flaring, or revving up on downshifts, and also on upshifts when cold. I can’t say the fluid change has greatly improved matters, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you can only drop about half the fluid in the gearbox. I plan do it again and this time, remove all the solenoids and clean the gauze filters underneath. Hopefully that’ll speed up the changes. When I got the car home, I changed the thermostat, which got the torque converter lock-up working again. That does seem to have improved economy – it varies quite a bit between 32 and 36mpg on the previous two fills – I suspect because different pumps click off at different points. 32-34 is my gut feel. Not bad.

Honda S-MX on ramp

More work! Track rod ends get replaced.

I also had to get both track rod ends replaced, which then allowed me to get the tracking set correctly. It was way off, which destroyed a tyre and left it feeling exceedingly uncomfortable on wet bends. The local garage did this work, and I’m happy to report that it is much improved. That said, the steering is still hideously light – it seems they’re like that. This is not a car for hooning. It handles like a wardrobe on the Cresta Run.

That work included fitting a full set of Nokian Weather Proof all-season tyres. I’ve not tried all-season rubber before, so I look forward to seeing whether they really do work well in all conditions. Typically, it has been pretty much drought conditions since they went on, but they certainly grip well enough in the dry. They’re pretty quiet too.

At the same time, I liberally applied Bilt Hamber’s excellent Dynax UB anti-corrosion wax to the underside, having already treated the rear wheelarches to a dose of Vactan rust converter. None of this stuff was blagged by the way, this is all honest appraisal of stuff I paid for (though if I ever do blag stuff, I’m honest about that too!).

I was sent Autoglym’s Headlamp Restoration kit to try on my hideously ruined headlamps, and I can honestly say I’m very impressed with the results. I’ll do a more detailed report on that at some point, as it definitely deserves it. It’s so nice to have an actual headlamp beam pattern again! Night vision has been improved immensely. It’s quite a scary kit to use, because you make things a lot worse before making things better. Worth persevering with.


Before. Note lens deterioration.



After. Note masking tape protecting the bodywork.

One small thing I did was paint the wiper arms using some matt black paint. That’s improved the looks no end, along with using Autoglym’s Bumper and Trim gel on the scuttle trim. Sadly, the paint on the roof remains terrible. I think it’s a combination of sun bleach and salt from surfboards. LIFESTYLE YO!

I also had to replace the rear washer pump, which became a bit of a farce. I discovered that the front washer pump was also leaking – huge globules of sealant hinted that someone had already tried to fix this one. A new pump sorted it out, so I ended up replacing both pumps in the end. Screenwash consumption has dropped dramatically! A drop or two of Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure seems to have cured a small leak at the rear washer jet itself. Water was dribbling down the inside of the rear window.

There’s still stuff to do though. The rear anti-roll bar drop links are utterly ruined. I’ve no idea how they got through an MOT to be honest. Thankfully, replacement looks easy, and they’re shared with an Accord, but I’m still waiting for another pay day to pass before sorting them out. It’ll be nice to banish the constant rattle from the back end. I wonder about a fresh set of dampers too, as it is really quite bouncy! Being a Lowdown model doesn’t help – it has shorter, stiffer springs from the factory – but firm doesn’t have to mean bouncy. Given the pitiful level of car this poor car has received in the past, it wouldn’t surprise me if the dampers are the originals.

Then, as mentioned earlier, I need to do another transmission fluid change and see if I can get the gearbox to behave. It’s generally fine, for a good 99% of the time. In fact, it’s a rather pleasant car to waft around in. It sailed back from Sussex with no bother at all. It’s like driving a cosy armchair. I’ve even got deep pile carpet mats, so I drove home in my slippers.

Amazingly, I still like this car!

Amazingly, I still like this car!

I really like this car though, which has surprised me. Hopefully that means an end to the frantic flurry of car changes during the latter part of this year.



NSX – I didn’t like it

Earlier this year, I achieved a dream! I drove a Honda NSX – the all-alloy masterpiece with suspension tuned by Ayrton Senna himself. In fact, he had once driven this very car! A short distance…

A fantastic driving machine, and an NSX.

A fantastic driving machine, and an NSX.

A fantastic experience then? Er, no. Really, not at all.

Things didn’t start well when we collected the car, hitting rush-hour traffic as we desperately tried to get from Bracknell to Santa Pod for a photoshoot. A super-quick supercar is not much use if the traffic is barely moving. Not that it was really super-quick. This one had an automatic gearbox, which meant a drop in power to just 252bhp and a 0-60mph time of around seven seconds. Hardly supercar stuff. It really is a dreadful gearbox too, far inferior to the one in my S-MX, though it did at least take the sting out of the seemingly endless jams. There’s no sport mode, which seems shameful on an alleged supercar. It was also reluctant to kick down, changed up too soon and thumped through full-bore changes – when we got the opportunity (Milton Keynes).

The biggest problem isn’t really the car itself though, but the overall experience of driving a supercar on public roads. I surely can’t be the only journalist who’s felt uncomfortable in such a situation, but you absolutely cannot enjoy what this car is all about without getting up to some very naughty speeds. I’m not the sort of person to get up to very naughty speeds, whether I’m in a Chevette or a Corvette. The Honda’s zingy engine doesn’t deliver maximum power and torque until over 6000rpm though, so for the most part, it just felt sluggish and unexciting – punctuated by very brief bursts of ‘WOW!’ as the engine screamed and before I decided that was quite quick enough for the public roads thank you very much.

Better to look at than drive on the roads.

Better to look at than drive on the roads.

I did a full-bore acceleration test at Santa Pod, and that highlighted the difficulty. It got quite exciting once we reached about 80mph – in second gear. By which time I’d started running out of space.

After all that, we then had to fight our way back to Bracknell, where the super-firm suspension really did get quite annoying. I’d covered 180 miles in the NSX and I was bloody glad to get out of it, with my hopes and dreams lying shredded on the floor. Getting out is a good idea, because it really does look bloody stupendous. It is a fantastic looking car. I think it is a car best enjoyed via the medium of a poster. How pleased I was, though, to jump into my soft, floaty XM – its turbo diesel engine provides plenty of performance for public roads thank you very much, even if it doesn’t even sound one tenth as pleasant.

It feels like sheer rebellion to be a motoring writer and conclude that a drive in something like an NSX was anything other than ridiculously fabulous, but that’s the truth. I’m not Chris Harris, I don’t have access to a race track and even if I did, I’d probably crash. I just can’t relate to cars like the NSX. It’s telling that when I arrived at Honda’s fleet storage facility, I got quite excited about the Mk1 Civic they also have. “Not available for drives,” I was told. How depressing. When it comes to motoring heroes, I think I shall stick to the real world variety. There’s a lot more joy to be had in a bland, family hatchback than in a car you can’t even exploit. Driving a supercar on the road is like winning the lottery, and being told you can only spend your winnings on soap.

Here’s a video of the NSX (and some others). Great fun! When not on public roads.

Brilliant, and also, terrible.

If someone offers you the chance to drive a race 2CV, then it’s hard to say no. After all, this was a car I had helped nurture through 24 hours of racing in August 2015. I had spent much of the time trying to imagine what it must be like to drive. Very different from a normal 2CV I thought. These ponderings were useful as I attempted to overcome the very strong desire to actually sleep during my pit duty.

What's a 2CV race car like to drive?

What’s a 2CV race car like to drive?

Roll forward to 2016 and the owner of the car, Chris Yates, offered me the chance to actually drive The Blueberry Muffin. Well, I was hardly going to say no was I? I originally wrote a feature on the experience for Classic Car Buyer, which was published prior to this year’s 2CV 24-hour race – one I sadly couldn’t attend. Here, I’ve re-written things for a slightly different audience. HubNutters!

Chris had got the car road legal to assist with engine-running-in duties. Well, that’s what he told me. I reckon he just wanted to see if he could make his race car road legal. An awful lot had changed since this 2CV last saw the highway!

So, what makes a race 2CV so different then? For a start, it actually has more in the way of interior appointments than it ever had before. Far from being stripped out, it’s actually packing a lot more kit. There’s just the one seat, a proper race one of course, and a rather impractical roll cage. The seat is placed further back, and lower. From it, you can’t see the bonnet, and you look sidewards pretty much straight out of the rear side door glass.

Not very 2CV-ish in here.

Not very 2CV-ish in here.

The steering wheel is smaller and lower, and the column stretched to place it in your hands. The gearlever is extended and the dash-mounted handbrake has been replaced by a proper floor-mounted one. You’d never reach the original.

Then there’s a generous smattering of gauges, a fire extinguisher and a bank of resettable fuses.

Outside, the 2CV sits much lower, on shorter, stiffer springs. The ride height is terrifyingly low, with the axle bolts almost skimming the surface of the road. The windscreen is glass, but all other glazing is polycarbonate. The front windows still flip up as normal.

Suspension is very different to stock.

Suspension is very different to stock.

The canvas or plastic roll-back roof is gone, replaced by a sheet of aluminium, while the rear wings and entire front bodywork are amended 2CV items designed to be removed in double-quick time. The bonnet already slides off in seconds – standard fitment.

Under the bonnet, rules dictate that you must use a 602cc 2CV engine and standard gearbox, though modifications are allowed to the exhaust and carburettor – a Weber DTML is used here, along with the compulsory club specification camshaft. The heat exchangers are gone, with the two exhaust pipes merging neatly into one near the bulkhead. Power output is somewhere around 45bhp at the wheels, compared to 29 (at the flywheel) in road trim. The standard crankshaft is used, which is good for a 6800rpm rev limit – a standard 2CV engine produces maximum power at 5750rpm. These engines are used to high revs.

Still 602cc, but with a Weber carb and exhaust mods.

Still 602cc, but with a Weber carb and exhaust mods.

I go about the difficult process of clambering aboard, and strap myself in. A quick press of the starter and the engine fires noisily into life. It has a purposeful snarl to it. I find the gearlever a little tricky to use – it seems to have some extra play as a result of several extension pieces. I pull away and my ears adjust to the sheer volume. A normal 2CV is hardly quiet, but this is very much louder.

Let the revs rise and it gets noisier still. It never feels all that quick, which is probably my fault for having driven a 2CV with a 100bhp BMW motorcycle engine in it, but it’s certainly entertaining. It may be loud, but it’s a good noise. It isn’t unpleasant and encourages you to go rev-limit hunting.

A race car is rubbish at some things.

A race car is rubbish at some things.

Do passers by find it all amusing or just annoying? I’m not sure, but they certainly take notice.

The cornering experience is very strange. There’s not a hint of bodyroll! I’m sure that’s great on a track, but must concede that I find it all a bit wrong and disappointing for road use. Worse, the ride is terrible! I actually ground the car out at one point, all because of a pothole. It doesn’t take long for me to miss a normal 2CV’s ability to go charging over speed humps with nary a whimper. That’s not the case here. I’m having to work very hard to avoid undulations and bumps.

An utterly ridiculous vehicle for shopping. And a race 2CV.

An utterly ridiculous vehicle for shopping. And a race 2CV.

There’s certainly a novelty value to driving something quite so ridiculous, but getting in and out is a right faff. I must concede that there are better vehicles for pottering to the shops – though perhaps it’s still better than a 4×4 pick-up…