Project: Budget 4×4

After the massive enjoyment factor delivered by my Range Rover last year, I decided I just had to get another 4×4. You may recall that the Rangie had to go due to a heater problem and the onset of winter. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but too late now…

After anxiously enjoying a mild winter, that has generally failed to deliver OMG SNO KAOS thus far, I felt it was time to get another 4×4. A sensible person would wait until March, because 4×4 prices tend to slump as the weather gets milder. Not me though. I reckoned that if I was lucky, I’d grab a bargain despite the season. I was helped by mild conditions that have left people less desperate to get a 4×4 themselves.

Ebay is just one tool for finding a car. I’d also gone along to a Brightwells 4×4 auction for a magazine feature (to be featured later in the year in 4×4 Magazine – another reason to get a 4×4 again!), and watched the bidding with interest. Very little was coming into my meagre budget in either avenue, though perusing many classifieds sites left me in hope that I could achieve a purchase. The question was what do I go for?

I decided I didn’t much care as long as it was within budget, and this technique can be useful. I still drew up a short list. I decided I wanted reliability, solidity, a low-range gearbox and something that wouldn’t be horrific on the road. Mitsubishi Pajeros were an early contender, but they’re not as reliable as you may think. Both 2.5 (head gaskets) and 2.8 (cracked heads) have their issues, and they’re a bit blingy. Vauxhall Fronteras looked to fit the bill, but they’ve always been a bit agricultural, and they’ve had some poor engines fitted over the years.

A forgotten vehicle is the Ford Maverick, also known as the Nissan Terrano II. In fact, Ford’s input was a heap of cash and a box of blue oval badges, so the design is 100% Nissan, down to the engines and the factory they were built in – Nissan’s Spanish one. I’d never driven one, but they were well regarded when new for good road manners and decent off-road behaviour – the latter due to low ratio gears, a separate chassis, good ground clearance and a limited slip rear differential. I began to cast around for an example and had a look on Ebay. I was surprised to find one up for auction in Swansea. It had two minutes to go but hadn’t managed to attract an opening bid of £500. This despite MOT and Tax. Sure, the pictures weren’t brilliant and the text ran to an entire 74 words, but surely this was a bargain? I clicked ‘bid’ and began to very much hope so!

I didn’t have long to wait to see if anyone else would bid. No-one did. I was the winner! Now the anxiety really began to kick in. I’d not bought a car blind since our Mini in 2006. It’s generally a bad idea I think, but 2 minutes didn’t give me time to drive to Swansea and back. I had to be brave.

Maverick 2.4i petrol swb

New purchase seems actually quite good...

I also had to plan how I’d get there. Public transport in Wales is very hit and miss and Arriva didn’t really help by refusing to indicate what their bus fares were. Happily, a friend of a friend offered me a lift for fuel money. A lot easier, even if it was in a Vauxhall Tigra (not a bad little car really, bar the horrific ride). There were issues getting hold of my money (thanks to banks) but eventually the amount of £500 was acquired and I could go buy a car.

On arrival, it certainly looked good. There was a dent (as shown on Ebay) below the left-hand rear side window, and a few scratches, but otherwise all was well. It started first turn of the key, ran smoothly and a quick test drive failed to reveal anything suspicious. Cash was handed over, the V5 was signed and we were on our way. After a cup of tea… (some sellers are very nice!)

I really wanted a Maverick or Terrano with the excellent 2.7 Turbo Diesel engine, but this £500 Maverick had to make do with the Nissan 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. That means torque is not exactly prodigious, but it’s possible to make good progress without having to wring its neck. In fact, my pal in the Tigra was surprised at how quick it could be – though that’s often said of people trying to keep up with me in the 2CV as well. It’s not what you’ve got…

Not that I was hurtling into bends with reckless abandon. You can’t help feeling that it’s going to fall over if you really push it, though I’m sure it’s more stable than it appears. Certainly, I was able to push on a bit later in the journey, encouraged by accurate steering and reassuring grip.

The ride was a touch bouncy, but not as bad as I expected. Sure, it’s some way short of Range Rover composure, but then it handles far less like a wallowy barge. One real surprise is how tight the turning circle it is, especially after a day behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Delica L400! (see separate Blog once I’ve written it…). The gearchange is as I like it. Very tight but quite clunky, as if you can feel the cogs merging when you change.

In fact, the only downside was very squeaky windscreen wipers. They were horrific! Happily I cured them with some spray grease when I got home.

There are some other minor grumbles, but way fewer than you might expect of a cheap ‘banger’ such as this. Some interior trim is broken and the electric windows are both slow. More grease should help here. I’m also slightly concerned at the lack of a ‘following’ for these vehicles. Forum help and advice is never in short supply if you own a Range Rover or Pajero.

I reckon it might just be the perfect car for me at the moment though. I look forward to putting it through its paces off-road!

Yet another new motor – Peugeot 309

It’s been a good couple of months since I last bought a car, so thought it was about time I had a change-around. The Rover 75 joined the fleet with perfect timing, proving just the tool for trips to Croydon, Sussex and Birmingham over the space of a few weeks. However, it needed a few things seeing to and risked becoming yet another project – the two Citroens are more than keeping me busy (and skint!) on that front.

Almost a Talbot

Ian's latest motor is simply delightful. Or is that simple and delightful? Maybe both

A deal was arrange that saw the Rover being swapped for a Peugeot 309 and some cash – the latter being handy as the BX is going in for Stage 1 of welding soon. The Peugeot is everything I love about older cars, especially compared to the Rover. Open the bonnet and you can actually see an engine and gearbox and from the driver’s seat, you can actually see out! If you suffer from claustrophobia, modern cars must be a nightmare.

The Peugeot has a 1254cc Simca-derived engine that is low on technology and high on torque. It even retains overhead valve gear, just like the Mini and the 2CV. None of this timing belt rubbish! No multivalve head either, and that means that the engine pulls well from low revs in just the way that modern petrol engines (and even some diesels!) don’t. Despite the low-tech engine, there is a five-speed gearbox. That’s about it on the toy count though. Keep-fit windows and steering and arm-stretch door locking and mirror adjustment will hopefully prove that there’s simply less to go wrong, while dashboard switches are restricted to just the hazard lights, heated rear window and rear fog light. Brilliant. I much prefer the low-tech life!

Yes, ok, perhaps on such a chilly day, I was missing the Rover’s heated leather seats, but I had a sunroof now, and it’s a clever one. A hidden switch operates a vacuum when the roof is closed, sucking it down to the seal to ensure a water-tight (and pretty air-tight too) fit. It uses the vacuum built up by the brake servo. Clever stuff – AND it still works!

Progress is quite swift too.  While the acceleration is boosted by much lower gearing than the Rover – 60mph has gone up from just under 2000rpm to getting on for 3000 – the engine is undeniably lusty for its size. Low weight helps. No toys keep things from getting heavy. That’s just as well as the unassisted steering was a bit of a shock to the system. After so long driving cars with PAS (I don’t include the Mini and 2CV in this as they’re proper old in design terms!), it’s unusual to once again be able to feel what the front wheels are doing, and feel the steering load up as cornering speeds increase. It’s good though. Much more reassuring. It stops you going too far with chucking it around, as you have a much better feel for when you’re going a bit too quickly – though the bodyroll alarms you as well. The ride is firm, but very composed. It doesn’t crash over bumps, but it’s also good in the handling department – typical French then really. It was also nice that it wasn’t a rattling nightmare of cheap interior parts. The Mk1 was, but this one feels nicely together, especially given the fact that it has clocked up over 120,000 miles.

There are some minor issues to sort out – the ignition timing needs checking, the speedometer cable needs connected up and the wiper blades are horribly smeary – but as a winter hack, it couldn’t be more ideal.

Some history for those who haven’t fallen asleep yet. The 309 wasn’t meant to be a Peugeot at all – which is why it doesn’t fit into the -05 numbering of the time (ie 205, 305, 405 etc). It was actually developed as a replacement for the Talbot Horizon, and was known as the Arizona during development. That’s why this one has a Simca engine as Simca was absorbed into Chrysler Europe, which Peugeot took over (applying the Talbot badge to what had then become Chryslers). At almost the last minute, Peugeot decided to kill off the Talbot marque and decided to badge the Arizona as a Peugeot. 309 was chosen as all the other -05 codes had already been taken. It will be interesting to see what Peugeot replace the 308 with…

Triumph Stag Quick Guide

TRIUMPH STAG QUICK GUIDE

Triumph Stag by Michelotti

The Triumph Stag has the looks, and the noise!

It could have been brilliant, but this V8 Grand Tourer was let down by a hurried engine development, which destroyed reliability. Now these issues have been tempered, the Stag makes a superb classic choice. Production ran from 1970-1977 and 25,877 were produced, all with Triumph’s own overhead-cam V8. That 3-litre V8 puts out 145bhp and has a simply delicious sound. The automatic suits the car well, but so does the manual, especially when equipped with overdrive. Power steering takes the strain out of driving and is far more direct than a Mercedes-Benz SL. Unlike many convertible sports cars, the Stag boasts rear seats, albeit not entirely adult sized. The option of a removable hard top boosts practicality while the chunky rollbar adds safety.

WHY YOU WANT ONE:

  • Thundering V8 engine
  • Stylish Italian looks
  • Plenty of specialist and club support
  • A great Grand Tourer – comfortable and quick
  • Good survival rate

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

  • Corrosion; sills, floors and hood stowage area
  • Overheating or rattly engines
  • Bodged restoration work
  • Rover V8 installs. The market prefers originality
  • Damaged/torn hoods

RIVALS FOR YOUR AFFECTION

  • Mercedes-Benz SL
  • MGB GT V8
  • AC Cobra replica
  • Jaguar XJ-S

The love that left me

Some years ago, I had more money than sense. Now I have little of either. Back then, I worked in IT Support for a large utility company, enjoying the highest earnings of my life up to that point. Then I turned 25. I decided to celebrate this momentous occasion by hiring an MG RV8 for a day. We clocked up 200 miles hurtling around The Cotswolds, enjoying the acceleration and wonderful noise as we exited every village. Other than the engine, the RV8 was nothing short of a massive disappointment. The interior was a horrible mix of controls pinched from such wonderful machines as the Rover 100 and LDV Pilot, the suspension seemed to have been forgotten completely and bends became terrifying as it skitted about like a tea tray skidding down a cobbled street. I digress.

Rover P6B

Ah, the car that broke my heart. What a machine!

It was my first encounter with Rover’s V8 and it was soon clear that like an addict, I needed another hit. The choice of what to go for was enormous. The engine has been fitted to so many cars. Here’s a few for you. Rover P5, P6, SD1, Land Rover, Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Land Rover Forward Control 101″, Ginetta G32, TVR 350, Griffith and Chimaera, Freight-Rover van, MGB, MG RV8, Triumph TR8, Marcos (various), Morgan Plus 8 and even, in Australia, the Leyland Terrier truck. It’s a bit of a whore is that engine.

I rushed out and found a Rover 3500 for sale, more commonly known as the Rover P6B. It was a car I’d long had a hankering for. It mixes British engineering, but with a large dose of Gallic flare – for the base unit construction is very similar to the Citroen DS, the big giveaway being the similar treatment at the top of the windscreen. So won over was I by the wuffle of that V8 (the Rover P6 DID get the engine it deserved, unlike the Citroen), the stunning Tobacco Leaf paintwork and the fact that it was a rare pre-facelift model. I ignored the rotten sills as a mere technicality.

Driving home in my new machine was certainly quite an experience. It was the oldest car I’d ever owned and driven up to that point. It didn’t have power steering, but that seemed no great loss as the large wheel seemed to do a pretty good job of making the thing go where I wanted it to. It was also my first automatic though, and while I had driven autos before, the old Borg Warner 35 gearbox used in the P6 is a clunky old devil and it took time to work out how to get the best out of it. The brakes were superb though – all-round discs were standard on the P6 even from launch in 1963.

I think I’d utterly fallen under its spell by the time I got back home. The cosseting ride and surprisingly nimble handling just left me to savour that V8 as it effortlessly bore me along. I did discover that the kickdown didn’t work, but that would probably end up saving me a small fortune. With so much torque on offer, who needed it? I could always snick the gearlever down into 2 if I fancied a bit of full-blooded acceleration, with the V8 screaming magnificently. It turned out I did fancy this, quite often! Especially as I accelerated out of Lower Boddington in Northamptonshire. I apologise to the residents. Not my neighbour at the time though, he loved it!

I can’t imagine there were many IT professionals (I use the term very loosely in my case…) who were sauntering around in a 24-year old, petrol-slurping executive car, but I was, and I loved it. Sadly, I was becoming aware that the sills were going to need attention before too long. The car went off for some expensive surgery. The bill for £1400 almost floored me, but around this time, I got a job that paid almost twice as well, so all was well. Wasn’t it?

Not really. Despite a wonderful random trip to Wales just after Christmas (not very far from where we live now, and we passed through our current village!) there was no denying that 20mpg was getting a bit tiring, despite my new income. Maintenance bills were making me weep too. Keeping a P6 in fine fettle gets very painful very quickly if you can’t do the work yourself, and I couldn’t then. In the end, I sold her on Ebay for a few hundred pounds less than I paid for her, after throwing a LOT of money at her in the time I owned her.

I still miss that car very much now. Would I forgive TBH 249J (or Tabatha) and take her back? I suspect my wife hopes that opportunity never arises…

2CV, Peugeot, Rover

The fleet was certainly varied in 2003! Only the 2CV survives various fleet culls...

Rover 75 – where others fear to tread

I love reputations. People get all sheep-like about cars at times and some very dumb theories abound. Believe the hype and you’d think that Volkswagens never break down (tell that to someone who’s six-speed gearbox has fallen to bits), any K-Series engined Rover is a headgasket failure waiting to happen and that an Alfa Romeo will only lead to heartache.

Today, I swapped one reputation for another. My Range Rover had the OMG SHYTE ENGINE VM turbo diesel. Believe what you read on forums and you’d think it is the worst engine ever built, only a matter of minutes from complete failure. Sure, having four separate cylinder heads can be a pain, but I thought the engine pulled really well, and never suffered any head gasket woes.

I swapped it for a Rover 75. These are seen as desperately uncool and only fit for grandads. Well, Grandad might well be on to something because the Rover 75 is great! Developed when BMW was in charge of Rover, the no-expense attitude meant that here was a Rover that WAS nailed together properly, and which proves very reliable in use. Yes, there are issues with the K-Series engines, which are very likely to blow head gaskets, but the BMW diesel is the natural choice. Ironically, this engine is actually more reliable in the Rover than it was in BMW’s own 3-Series. In the Beemer, it proved very problematic with all sorts of induction woes. So, BMWs aren’t always problem free either. Another myth busted.

Rover tourer

Ian's bucked the trend again, with good reason!

The drive home in my new motor was very pleasant indeed. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite sad to wave goodbye to the Range Rover. I had a lot of fun in that car and it proved very useful at times, such as when collecting my Citroen BX project. However, with a non-working heater, it wasn’t quite the ideal winter vehicle it first seemed.

Contrast that to the Rover, which has (almost working) air-conditioning, with different temperatures possible each side of the car. It also has gorgeous, heated leather seats, electrically operated and heated door mirrors and rain-sensitive wipers. I think that latter item will be especially useful in Wales!

Does it have any issues? Well, naturally, as is almost always the case with sub-£1000 ‘bangers,’ there are some faults. The not-cold air conditioning is one, the gearbox that crunches into third is another – I’m hoping gearbox oil will help here. The brakes feel slightly juddery too, so new discs may be in order fairly soon. I like it a lot though and hopefully it’ll prove to be an ideal winter vehicle. If I’m feeling flush, I might even consider some winter tyres…

The BX hits the road

With the BX home, I could crack on with the most important jobs. The new radiator was fitted and I managed to free off the reluctant rear seat belts. Other than that, I thought she stood a pretty good chance of passing an MOT, though not being a tester myself, you never know what might be discovered…

As she sat on the ramp and I got my first proper look at the underside, it was pleasing to see how solid she was. There was a touch of softness in the sill – not near anything critical thankfully – but it’s the nearside sill, which has a ruddy great dent in it anyway. It will be replaced at some point. However, the tester spotted what looks like a serious leak from the water pump. I’d spotted this myself at home and had hoped it was something else.

BX is on the road!

It may be battered and bruised, but the BX is now road legal!

That’s not a real biggy – if you’re changing the timing belt, it’s sensible to fit a new water pump at the same time anyway. If the pump seizes, the belt will rip and the valves of the engine will meet the pistons. Bad news indeed. Parts are on order so look forward to a report on how the change went.

Amazingly though, I got my MOT pass! Or rather the car did. Yes, she looks dreadful but as I thought, she’s actually a good, solid car beneath all the dents. As she’d been in regular use before being stored (and stored pretty well) she feels ready to go.

I’m under no illusion that this project is a long way from over. There is considerable expenditure on bodywork to occur at some point, and the to do list remains sizeable. The priority, as ever, is to get her in regular use and hopefully tackle some of the major bodywork projects next year.

 

Saving the unloved – Citroen BX Mk1

I have always found great joy in the cars that the wider public consider rubbish. I’ve been into Citroen 2CVs since long before they were accepted into the classic car world, and ‘desirable’ is a label that rarely attaches itself to one of my fleet. The reasons are simple – if people don’t like it, then it’ll be cheap. Best of all, a bit of bravery often leads you to discover that these ‘shite’ cars are often far better than anyone ever gives them credit for!

This is how I tried to justify my latest project –  a Citroen BX Mk1 estate, with 65bhp of throbbing diesel power. The cream on the cake of shiteness was the condition. There’s barely a straight panel on it and it had been languishing in a Bristol basement garage for over three years.

Citroen BX Mk1 estate project

You see a pile of scrap, Ian sees potential

First glance was certainly not promising. The paint is shambolic, the tyres were flat and cobwebs and dust abounded. However, it seemed solid in all the right places – if not all over – and had been in regular use prior to being parked up. That can make all the difference. Three years wasn’t too long to leave it.

A plan was hatched to collect it, using my Range Rover as a tow vehicle and a hired trailer. My biggest concern was about whether the BX would be prepared to start. Thankfully, the owner had stored the car on blocks – which meant we could get a jack under it if it refused to start. Trying to move a hydraulic Citroen with a dead engine can be a real challenge!

The owner’s Citroen Xantia was used to coax some electricity into the BX, and miraculously, it actually started! It took a few attempts, and it ran on three cylinders for quite a while, but nonetheless, the ran and the suspension began to pump up.

Getting the BX out of the garage proved a tight squeeze and once it was on the trailer, life didn’t get much easier. It really was a tight little street!

Range Rover in tight spot

Bristol proves a tight squeeze

Somehow we escaped, and the three hour journey home proved undramatic. The Range Rover proved itself an ideal tow vehicle – it’s Italian diesel engine slogging away quite happily without having to be revved hard. Agricultural but torquey!

Getting the BX off the trailer proved a surprisingly entertaining side show for the villagers where I live. The LHM level was a bit low, and the back end of the BX was failing to rise adequately. We overcame this by unhitching the trailer and raising the nose on the jockey wheel. Off she came! I then got to drive my new purchase for the first time, if only down the driveway.

The exhaust was blowing very badly – that much was obvious – but it seemed to go well enough. The brakes even worked – not bad after so long in storage! With the car in the garage, I was able to get the wheels off and check the brakes. Yup, a little rusty but working fine. I cleaned them up a bit and left it at that.

The radiator was clearly a right mess though, so a new one was ordered and fitted. I still think the fan switch also needs replacing, and the water pump has now also proved itself leaky. New items are on order, along with a timing belt kit.

With the new rad fitted though, I could focus on getting the BX road ready. I reckoned it was close to passing an MOT, so with a replacement driver’s door mirror fitted – thanks to Tim Leech of the BX Club, and a few replacement light bulbs, it was time to take her in. Would she pass?!

To be continued…

BX - it lives!

The BX lives!