Goodbye Mini

A fleet reduction has become a necessity. When you’re living on a reduced income, which we very much are (happily out of lifestyle choice rather than economic gloom), it has to be said that running five elderly vehicles is not easy! Even though I do much of the servicing and upkeep myself, there’s still road tax, insurance (group classic policies minimise this though) and MOTs to consider.

The Mini is the first casualty, and it sold on Ebay for a sensible amount – £1375. Against the purchase price of £741 in 2006, that’s pretty good! Especially if you ignore the £3500 restoration in the middle of that time…

Rachel took to the Mini from the start. She liked it so much that she even cleaned it! This event was so shocking that I captured the moment on camera. I’m not sure she’s cleaned it since mind…

washing the car

Betsy joins the fleet in 2006, and actually gets washed by my wife! A rare event

Betsy proved surprisingly reliable in daily use, especially given that Rachel was using her for the commute. At the time, that was either a 20 mile round-trip to Banbury from our then home in Northants, or a remarkable 70 miles to Oxford if Rachel had decided to drive all the way rather than catch the train. She did this for a year and I can’t remember any issues in that time.

Betsy behaved slightly less well when we moved to Cambs. The points gap – or rather its propensity to close up – became an issue and more than once, Betsy conked out and refused to play. Not that it ever took very long to get her going again. I even managed to limp her home after she suffered condenser failure! I’ve become quite good at driving cars that are running very badly…

Mini breakdown

Generally reliable, but not always!

I loved the Mini’s handling, but was less keen on the suspension and cramped driving position. I bravely took ‘Betsy’ the Mini to Kent once, for the Bromley Pageant when I was working on Classic Car Weekly. My aching legs made sure I never spent that much time in it again! We were living in Cambs at the time so it was a long trek.

Mini car show

Betsy makes an appearance at the Bromley Pageant

Even though I wasn’t that keen on her though, Betsy won me over with her cheeky charm. But with corrosion nipping in at various points, it was definitely time to say goodbye. She’s gone back to her original home in the Midlands, and the new owner seems very enthusiastic. Betsy is now called James Bund…

Mini on the road

Goodbye old friend! Betsy heads to her new home

Winter Blunderland

I must admit that winter is not my favourite season. Yes, occasionally it gets livened up by having to remember how to drive in ice and snow, but generally, it’s cold, miserable and a dreadful time to be working on the car. Especially when you’ve lost the use of your garage due to an ongoing heating project on your home. We should have got that finished BEFORE winter really, but we didn’t. Bother.

Cars don’t enjoy winter either. They don’t seem quite so keen to fire into life, leak water everywhere (yes, every single one of our cars is as watertight as a paper teapot) and the regular attention that they generally like to receive doesn’t happen because frankly the idea of working on cars at this time of year, when it’s dark and damp and miserable is not really what I’d call appealing.

Mix in those big yellow trucks that throw rot-causing salt at them and you can see why cars would rather snuggle up in a nice, warm garage. In fact, last winter I semi-stripped a 2CV engine and fitted to Elly my 2CV. Yes, I was cold at times but working in the garage was absolute bliss.

2cv Tinkering

Not as dodgy as it looks. Working in a warm(ish) garage

This winter, the jobs have just ended up getting ignored. The 2CV really needs a service. The Mini really needs a service. The BX has a To Do list as long as several arms. The Peugeot needs a degree of fettling. Yet, having been treated to a garage, now it’s out of use I find myself not doing very many of the jobs at all. I just about forced myself to grease up the 2CV’s suspension the other day, and I encouraged myself to tackle a problem with the Peugeot’s exhaust – largely because it had fallen off and I really had to. It’s not good enough really. The 2CV has a very lumpy idle at the moment, caused most likely the exceedingly old spark plugs that are currently fitted. I’ve a feeling that one of them came with a cylinder head I fitted, so gawd knows how old that is.

What makes winter even more unbearable is that driving is no frequently not at all fun. First, you need to try and demist the thing – this winter has boasted some of that super-steam up effect that makes it look like your car has been parked in a stream for several days. The BX and Peugeot have typical French, asthmatic heater blowers. The Mini has a heater blower that just makes more noise than not having it switched on and the 2CV’s heater blower is the engine fan, so revs are needed to clear the screen. Then there’s the aforementioned leakage issue. The Mini and BX have soaking carpets. The 2CV leaks water straight into my shoes. The Peugeot prefers to dump it straight onto your head.

The roads aren’t fun either, being coated in greasy mud and horrible salt. It’s dark too much of the time as well. In short, I’m fed up and enjoying the fact that very slightly, the days are once more getting longer. With winter banished – and I’m very aware that we’ve got a good couple of months to go – I can start getting on top of the fleet once more AND start enjoying time at the wheel again.

Next winter, I just plan to hibernate from about mid-November. The big bonus there is that it’s a good way of avoiding bloody Christmas songs.

Happy New Year. Sort of.

Fickle ol’ me – Rangie gets the chop

So much for the stay of execution! The Range is in for the chop. I have to face facts and I just can’t sort out its minor issues when I’ve got several other automotive projects and a house that needs work too.

I will certainly miss it. Range Rovers are worthy of a lot more respect than they get. This is a vehicle that turned the world of off-roaders on its head. In 1970, Solihull ended up producing a vehicle that while comfortable on the road, could beat a Land Rover in the rough stuff. Worryingly, I reckon that unless I can get another one fairly soon, prices will accelerate out of my price range too. At least I can say I owned one though, and it’s opened up some new avenues from a writing point of view as well – look forward to two very different features on the Range Rover appearing in 4×4 Magazine and the occasional Land Rover World spin-off Range Rover World.

I’m pleased that on a rare day of sunshine, I managed to get some lovely photos of it too. This one really will be a reluctant sale.

A stay of execution?

A week ago, I was quite prepared to wave goodbye to the Range Rover.  It’s appalling interior quality, electrical faults and non-working heater made it seem like a vehicle perfect to get rid of.

Range Rover off road

The Strata Florida bombhole provides plenty of entertainment

Now, I’m not so sure. After a hugely enjoyable day off-roading with a friend from the West Wales Laningclub, the Rangie is definitely back in the good books.

After all, the Range Rover is one of the most iconic vehicles ever built, with astonishing off-road ability and entirely acceptable road manners. It is practical, hardy (interior plastics aside) and thanks to the ‘dreadful’ Italian diesel engine, not too bad on fuel.

Yes, it has its faults, but then so do every one of the other cars on the fleet. So, it may be that the Range Rover stays around a bit longer. Well, unless I get tempted by the higher prices paid for 4x4s as winter approaches…

Maserati Traction Avant

No wonder Citroën went bankrupt in the 1970s. Not only were they building some of the wackiest cars available to the public, but they bought Maserati and decided to have a go at building wacky supercars too.

Quattroporte II at Auto Italia

Even more bonkers than a Citroën SM - the Maserati Quattroporte II

Take the Maserati Quattroporte II as an example. The previous Quattroporte was pretty much the first super saloon. Capable of seating five adults yet transporting them at a constant 125mph (top speed was 140mph), the quirky Quattroporte managed to sell pretty well with 760 sold in an eight year production run. Power came from two sizes of iconic Maserati V8 equipped with four Weber carburettors. Not exactly a thrifty ol’ motor.

A neater, Frua-styled version was on the cards, but then Citroën took over – and they had some very advanced ideas. As if the Citroën SM wasn’t a big enough White Elephant, the Quattroporte II was, in hindsight, absolute madness. To create it, a lengthened SM platform was used, complete with front-mounted Maserati V6 and front-wheel drive. The full range of hydraulic suspension, steering and brakes were fitted and Bertone was commissioned to come up with a dramatic shape – complete with six headlamps behind a glass nosepanel – just like an SM – and triple windscreen wipers.

With only 190bhp, compared to at least 250bhp with the previous QP, performance suffered in this hugely weighty car. 125mph was perhaps just about possible, though only 13 were finally built. Citroën and Maserati both ended up in huge financial straits. Maserati was bought by De Tomaso – who quickly killed this extravagance – while Citroën fell into the arms of arch-rival Peugeot. It can’t really be considered in any way a success – but I’d still quite like one. Shame the only one for sale in the UK at the moment has a price tag of £124,999 – but then, where are you going to find another?

35 years of the Ford Fiesta

This isn’t one of the ‘big’ anniversaries of 2011 – most people are focussed on the Jaguar E-Type – but the Ford Fiesta is arguably much more important.

Fiesta L

Yes, it really has been 35 years since the Fiesta was launched

Launched in 1976, the little Fiesta was the  first front-wheel drive Ford to be produced across Europe (Germany had experimented with the front-wheel drive Taunus as early as 1962) and the Blue Oval’s first supermini. It was rare for Ford to move so quickly to jump into a market – conservatism generally ruled the roost, as would be proved by the Ford Sierra remaining rear-wheel drive into the 1990s. In 1976, the supermini market was still really finding its feet. The Fiat 127 and Renault 5 were early pioneers, but British Leyland did not have anything in this class, and nor did Vauxhall/Opel.

The Fiesta used a transverse engine mounted transversely, with the gearbox on the end of the engine and unequal-length driveshafts powering the front wheels. This was the classic layout used to such good effect by Dante Giacosa first with the little-known Autobianchi Primula, then the Fiat 128 and 127 saloon and hatchbacks. The engines were modified versions of the Kent engine first seen in the Anglia 105E and even the 957cc version gave perky performance and respectable-if-busy motorway ability. A ‘dead’ rear beam axle used coil springs to offer good handling and ride while the obligatory hatchback made this a practical little car indeed. The world was fast learning that a small car needn’t be as cramped nor actually quite as small as a Mini…

UK sales did not actually commence until January 1977 but the Fiesta was arguably Ford’s first ‘world car.’ Built in Spain and Germany as well as Great Britain, the Fiesta would even find itself sold in America for a time. This helped it reach the magic million as soon as 1979.

The Ghia was surprisingly plush for a small car, with tinted glass, alloy wheels and velour seats, but enthusiasts were enamoured by the XR2 of 1981. With a 1.6-litre engine and 100mph+ performance, it was an excellent hot hatch. Mk1 production came to an end in 1983 with the mildly facelifted Mk2 taking over for the next five years.

Engine bay

'Valencia' engine mounted transversely

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.