Buying with plastic

Oh gawd. I’ve gone and bought a new car, BEFORE the Land Rover has sold. Well, I’ve left a deposit anyway. The balance needs to wait for a certain Land Rover to finish on Ebay – which it’s close to doing.

Scimitar SE5a rear

Another new purchase, will this Reliant Scimitar GTE prove reliable?

The new car? A 1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5a in a bright shade of red. It seems to be a good one and I’m waiting for it to have a fresh MOT before collection – which hopefully leaves enough time for the Land Rover to sell and for the new owner to hand me a load of cash.

I felt I had to move quickly on this Scimitar. The owner may have just been pushing me into a sale, but it sounded like others had spotted what a good buy it could be – it’s had an enthusiastic club owner for the past 14 years, and isn’t wanting for very much at all. Even better – everything seems to work as it should! That’s not always the case with Scimitars. As values are traditionally low, neglect is sadly very much something Scimitars become used to.

I will be paying very slightly more than I paid for the Land Rover – and the Scimitar feels like much better value for money. Don’t forget that the Land Rover may have covered half the miles (78k v 153k for the Reliant) but it has no service history with it, and is a touch scruffy in places. It should still do well though – scruffiness is after all a look that suits the Land Rover rather well!

Scimitars continue to offer excellent value though. With every parts bin raided, the beauty is that you can still get a huge amount of parts – the drivetrain is Ford, the brakes Rover, the front suspension Triumph TR. The bodywork is rust-free glassfibre while the steel chassis is fairly easily repaired should rust strike – as long as you get on top of it before it eats everything.

Are they cheap for a reason though? I guess I’m going to find out…

Mini caliper rebuild – Part 2

Having received the new wheel stud, I could complete the left-hand side. It all went back together beautifully and with an attractive assistant (the wife) on pedal duty, it was soon bled and functioning correctly. Lovely.

New brake caliper and disc fitted to proper Mini

Hmmm. Sooo shiny. seems a shame to cover it up with a wheel. New disc and pads plus refurbished caliper

Now attention could turn to the opposite side. I lowered the car back to the ground as I needed to reposition it – space is tight in the garage. This time,  I remembered to undo the main driveshaft nut BEFORE jacking the car up. Having read the Haynes manual, I decided to remove the caliper complete with pads this time. That was stupid – I then couldn’t get the pistons out. So, I connected the caliper back up and with the handy assistant again, could use hydraulic pressure to force the pistons most of the way out – using a spanner to stop the first one from popping all the way out until the second one was also easing outwards. It was then an easy job to use pliers to pull the pistons out – you wouldn’t want to do this if you were planning to re-use the pistons, but I wasn’t. They were in a dreadful state.

The only seized bolt on the entire job caused some issues – I couldn’t get the caliper into its two main parts. Eventually, I managed to smash a slightly-too-small socket onto the corroded head, and out it came. There may have been some colourful language before this! I then had to locate another bolt, which involved a trip to see a Mini enthusiast in Aberystwyth. Thanks Dave!

This was the side that had seized the most ferociously, and getting the old seals out proved a real ‘bind.’ See what I did there? The new seal holder things are incredibly soft and easy to damage but on this caliper, I actually managed to get one of the new ones to fit – though had to resort to an old one for the second piston. Then it was a simple case of swapping the disc and then re-fitting the caliper. New pads completed the job and with another bleeding session, she was ready to go!

The difference on the road was marked. When you’ve only got 45bhp to play with, binding brakes can be a very noticeable drag. I’m still to bed the brakes in – only 8 miles covered so far – but look forward to seeing how they go.

Very rusty brake disc

Yup, that'll be scrap then. No point putting this back on.

Betsy the 'proper' Mini

With fixed brakes, Betsy the Mini is ready to go!

Addicted to dreadful motoring

Yeah, I might as well admit it. I LOVE crap cars.

Skoda Estelle and  Rapid

Hmmm. A sight to make our ClassicHub journo go weak at the knees

I realised that I had a problem when a ten-year old me was reading a copy of Auto Express in 1988. I still have the copy now. In it is a budget car group test between the Citroën 2CV, Fiat Panda 750, Yugo 55 and Skoda Estelle. So far, I’ve owned two of the four and deeply want to own the Fiat and Yugo that I haven’t yet sampled.

In a way, I find it frustrating that the Citroën 2CV now has an established classic car following. I think I preferred it when everyone derided them. That was one reason I got into them in the first place. I’ve never paid much heed to the opinions of others – I always have to try things for myself.

And I have too. In fact, my first Skoda really was quite crap. The starter ring gear was worn, so I’d often have to bump start it. In fact, I had to do that having handed over my £150 to buy the thing. The ignition timing was so retarded that sparks would come out of the exhaust at motorway speeds. Exciting! As I wasn’t much of a mechanic at the time, and couldn’t afford to pay for the labour involved in replacing the ring gear, I scrapped it. I still wish I hadn’t. Not only because I only got £30 back for it. I will own another.

I realised that I still had a problem when someone on the Autoshite forum saved an FSO Polonez from being scrapped. Most people would ask “why” but I thought this was brilliant. I’d love to try an FSO Polonez. Were they really so awful? Yes, they probably were but I still want one anyway.

So, why do I like shite? Well, cost is a large part of it. People’s snobby attitudes cost them a lot of money. I rarely if ever pay more than £2000 for a car, and most often, quite a bit less than £1000.  There are a lot of really quite good cars available for less than a grand, and some awful ones too. It doesn’t matter, they’re all an experience.

This is why I need to sell my Land Rover. It’s getting in the way of me continuing to own shite cars. Wonder what I’ll end up with next…

 

An Oxford Six nearly kills me

To be a classic motoring journalist, you need driving skills like no-one else. You must be able to jump from one classic to the next and quickly adjust – well, you can’t go around pranging people’s lovely classics because you didn’t know where the brake was.

Ergonomics were yet to be discovered even as late as the 1950s. Take a Citroen DS, Ford Zodiac Mk2, Daimler Conquest and Austin Westminster A90 for example. All were in production in 1956 and the differences are staggering. Sure, the DS was quite unlike anything else at all, but let’s focus for the time being on gearchanges.

DS semi-automatic

Baffling controls an everyday challenge for the motoring journalist

On the DS, you move a small arm that sprouts from the top of the steering column in its own quadrant. The car looks after the gearchange and clutch operation for you – you just tell it what gear to be in. The Daimler uses a pre-select gearbox, so while there is a ‘clutch’ pedal, you don’t use it as one. To move away, just select first and raise the revs – the fluid flywheel transmit the power. Select  the next gear using the column change and operate the pedal when you want it to engage.

In theory, the Ford and Austin are much closer. Both have a column gearchange to a conventional gearbox – the Ford packs three cogs while the Austin manages four. But consider how you select first. On the Ford, you push the lever away and down, the Austin away and up. Second? Towards and up on the Zodiac, but straight down from first on the Westie.

It’s learning to adjust to these differences that enables us to do our jobs quickly and without breaking stuff. Yet there’s always one that nearly catches you out.

Austin Sevens I always find hard work. The clutch is a button with about an inch of travel, the steering is exceedingly vague and the brakes – especially on earlier uncoupled versions – are horrifically poor. I always return with a smile on my face though, even when one recalcitrant Ruby conked out on my test drive and only came back to life after vigorous hand-cranking. A journey in a Seven is never dull.

But it was a Morris Oxford Six, dating from 1933, in which I almost came a cropper.

1933 Morris Oxford Six

This 1933 Morris Oxford Six proved a challenge! A beautiful car however

For a start, the pedals are in the ‘wrong’ order. The throttle is in the middle, the brake where the throttle would normally be. The gearbox thankfully had synchromesh – I had driven an earlier Oxford without it and found coming down the gearbox a real challenge. What I didn’t know is that it had a freewheel! You can picture the scene as I come down a hill towards a red traffic light. I’m already focussing my mind on the pedals, so I don’t accidentally accelerate. My foot is right down and not a lot is happening  – brakes weren’t very good in the 1930s. To make matters worse, there is no engine braking as the car is now freewheeling down the hill!

My heart was truly in my mouth as I sailed just past the stop line. I’m very glad brakes have improved since then! While it may have scared me, it was a beautiful car. It had a top speed of barely 60 miles an hour, but sounded absolutely beautiful. While it came close to killing me, I still did rather like it!

Classic bed test

Better than a tent?

How does the BX estate handle, when asked to be a bed?

I’ve just returned from a weekend of camping with 2CV chums in Derbyshire. The weather this weekend has been rather horrid, and the idea of pitching a tent just for a few hours kip, then dealing with the soggy, mud-strewn thing the next morning was not appealing.

Therefore, a plan was hatched to turn my Citroën BX estate into a bed. After all, it is just about long enough.

I started by removing the rear seat base and folding the rear seat backrest down. This allows me to stretch my entire 5’9″ out. A self-inflating mat was added to provide some modicum of comfort. Pillows and a thick duvet completely the facility.

I must admit, after a drive across Wales and England on some very, very damp roads, it was nice to arrive at the campside, park up and consider bed ready for the night. After an evening of one or two drinks and a lot of friendly chat, it was back to the car to see if we really could sleep comfortably in it.

Judging by the snoring, my wife managed this very easily – though I suspect the addition of some alcohol may have helped and therefore her feedback is not to be entirely trusted. I found it almost-comfortable, though a touch narrow. The BX has a fresh air vent in the tailgate though, which was right above our heads. I do like fresh air and this feature was definitely appreciated, though we doubt it was designed with camping in mind.

The car has a number of features to increase comfort. By dropping the suspension to its lowest setting, I was able to prevent too much bodyroll during the strong winds, with only the occasional wobble giving a slight rock-a-bye-baby feel. However, the orthopaedic back massage system – masquerading as boot floor runners – did not give satisfaction. I had to keep trying to find a comfortable spot between them.

So, good ventilation and a slightly-sozzled wife provided adequate heating. Too much in fact – the car proved warmer than our house. We may need to review sleeping arrangements at home.

Overall, it was a cosy if slightly uncomfortable bed test, and we feel that perhaps we need to upgrade to a Maxi or Saab 95, advertising material for both suggests that people find them very comfortable. Is this true? We’ll have to find out…

Who needs a house?

Does the Saab 95 really deliver as a bed?

V8 Conundrum

If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know that in December, I bought a Land Rover 90 V8. A childhood dream realised at last!

Yet there’s a feeling of ‘don’t meet your heroes’ that has crept in of late. Don’t get me wrong, I love V8s, and this is my second car equipped with Rover’s ex-Buick engine – the first being a Rover P6B. But I don’t think it’s the right engine for a Land Rover.

To me, Land Rovers are agricultural – trucks with just about enough comfort to make them realistic as road transport, albeit nowhere near as competent as an actual car. I love them for that. But you don’t get many trucks with a V8 engine do you?

No, they employ diesels both for economy and because when it comes to low down dirty grunt, a heavy oil burner has it by the bucket load. Yes, the V8 has a remarkable amount of torque for a petrol engine, but having twin carburettors and an ignition system, it doesn’t have that serene pull of a diesel at lower revs.

But then, if I wanted a diesel Land Rover, I’d find there’s quite a premium to pay – especially if I got my hands on the one I really want. That’s the TD5. It’s an engine with a rather poor reputation, yet my neighbour’s Discovery has clocked up 225,000 without significant fault. It’s a great sounding engine too – a hint of five-cylinder warble and the growl of an engine that knows how to do its business.

Oh well. Can’t afford one anytime soon, so I s’pose I’ll have to make do for now. Or sell it and buy something completely different…

Victor Victor!

The Vauxhall Victor FE. A bit like a weak cup of tea

The Vauxhall Victor FE represents the last slice of hope for Vauxhall as an independent entity within General Motors. Sure, the basic structure was shared with the Opel Rekord, but Vauxhall still had an opportunity to style its own nose and use its own running gear.

Sadly, the nose they chose was frankly, a bit hideous – rescued only by the quad-lamp attractiveness of the hotter VX4/90. Sales were not a huge success – even when the ageing victor name was tossed aside for the much more exciting VX1800 and VX2300 – and it proved the final nail in the coffin of Vauxhall’s independence. Well, unless you include the Chevette, which was just an Opel Kadett with an ancient Viva engine stuffed in.

Compared to other European express arrivals during the 1970s, such as the formidable Citroën CX, Lancia’s wacky Gamma, Rover’s SD1, Ford’s Granada and the futuristic Princess, the Victor really did look a bit lame and very much of another, older era.

Still, an opportunity to take a 1975 Victor 2300S on a trip to Devon was not to be missed, especially when said car belonged to Vauxhall itself – part of the impressive Heritage Collection housed in Luton. Sadly, by this stage, the overdrive option had been removed. Did Vauxhall up the gearing to compensate? Well, no. They didn’t really.

But we jump ahead of ourselves. The Victor is sitting all shiny and beautiful on my driveway – let’s take a closer look.

With only 12,000 miles on the clock, it’s every bit as immaculate and tidy as you’d expect. Already, fear was starting to mount. I lived in East Anglia at the time and had to drive this beautiful machine to Devon and back – a round trip of some 500 miles. I may have said ‘eep’ when this struck my mind.

The metallic blue paintwork is rather fetching, allowing the eye to almost ignore the slab-like snout and rather feeble grille. Stepping inside was a wise move, with delightful seats finished in that fake cloth that was everywhere during the Seventies. Finished in blue, the seat trim is matched by blue wooly carpet smeared all over the centre console, why a slab of fablon fake-wood stretches across the dashboard.

At rest in Devon, during a 500 mile roadtrip

There’s plenty of space, front and rear, and the driver sits low, which gives a surprisingly sporty feel. Mind you, this is a 2300S which means there are twin-carburettors bolted to that familiar 2247cc four-cylinder engine. This unit is a touch raucous perhaps, but has oodles of grunt, making progress rather effortless. All of which shows up the low gearing even more alarmingly. Motorway progress is hard work, because the engine is spinning so frequently that any attempt at relaxation is met with the same success as trying to sleep upon a washing machine.

Head off the motorway, and things improve. The rack-and-pinion steering was not shared with the Rekord and is light and accurate, if a touch devoid of feel. The suspension is soft though, and this car doesn’t really beg you to enjoy the corners, rather it just eases you through them. The low gearing is a positive boon on twisty roads as due to the torquey engine, downchanges are rarely required. That’s a good thing as the long lever, angled towards the driver, is not particularly pleasant to use.

Yet the car made the 500 mile journey without issue and certainly without causing its driver to break out in a sweat. Ventilation is good and the weather was horrible – mind you, this was British summertime.

Overall then, this is a car that doesn’t excite, but at the same time is a very acceptable way to travel. It certainly doesn’t disgrace itself, but nor does it make the driver eager to head back outside for another drive once the destination has been reached. In other words, it’s like a cup of weak tea – does the job, but rather forgettable and a little disappointing.

 

 

Datsun 240Z Quick Guide

DATSUN 240Z QUICK GUIDE

Japanese, but with a Big Brit Bruiser feel - Datsun 240Z

The first Japanese sportscar to score international success and a Japanese take on the Big Healey format. Great fun to drive with a lusty six-cylinder engine and values have really started to take off. Watch for rot and see what the fuss is all about. Production ran from 1969 to 1973.

WHY YOU WANT ONE:

  • Wonderful driving experience – bellowing straight-six
  • An improving Oriental car club scene
  • Reliable and great for regular use
  • Easy to work on
  • Still rising in value

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

  • Corrosion wherever there is metalwork – some panels hard to find
  • Poor running – could hint at major problems
  • Market prefers genuine UK cars – check the history
  • Trim very hard to find
  • Noisy or crunchy gearboxes

RIVALS FOR YOUR AFFECTION

  • Austin-Healey 3000
  • MGC GT
  • Triumph TR6
  • Ford Capri

Lusty big-six sounds fabulous

Best sounding classic?

No, not which one has the best sounding engine – I’d argue strongly for the Triumph Stag there – but which one has the best name?

Is this the best sounding classic? Or is he blogging about something different?

Triumph Stag is certainly a contender – a successful and aggressive beast is what the name suggests. Much better than Maserati Bora for sure. Some are a bit more functional – the Bond Minicar was just that, the Triumph Roadster likewise. Not very exciting though eh?

I recently drove a Bentley Brooklands Turbo R Mulliner, but that’s all a bit of an unnecessary mouthful. It’s like they were trying to chuck in every English thing they could think of. They might as well have called it the Bentley Royal Family Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I’m quite pleased they didn’t though…

The Gordon-Keeble GK1 starts well, but they clearly ran out of inspiration. Others just lie. The Morris Minor 1000 ended up with 1098cc, the Citroën 2CV actually had 3CV by the 1970s. Mercedes-Benz on the other hand just confuse. A 220SE has 2.2-litres, a 300SE has 3-litres. But you can also get a 300SE with a monstrous 6.3-litre V8! They called this the 300SE 6.3. Obviously.

The French were never much into names. Renaults were generally numbers after the Fregate/Dauphine/Caravelle era, Peugeots stick with the number-0-number and Citroën at most pulled a few letters together. The Traction Avant merely started life as 7A and only the Ami, Mehari and Dyane broke theme right up to the Xantia of 1993. That’s the French out for a refusal.

I guess it’s hard to decide, so I’m going to pick two Rovers with identical engines – something that gave the Solihull fellows a few sleepless nights. I therefore crown the winners of this non-competition the Rover Three-Point-Five and Rover Three Thousand Five.

This is a Rover Three Point Five...

...whereas this is a Rover Three Thousand Five. Very different (in engineering if not name!)

Variations on a theme

When is an Austin 1100 not an Austin 1100? When it’s an Austin Victoria!

When is an Austin 1100 not an Austin 1100?

If you think it looks a lot like a Triumph, then that’s no surprise, as Michelotti himself was responsible for the styling. In fact, the history of this car is a little unusual as it was built by Authi in Spain, but was based on a South African variant of the 1100. The Victoria was launched in 1972, when UK production was starting to run down. The most interesting aspect of the re-design is the addition of a boot to make the 1100 a proper saloon.

The Victoria sadly wasn’t a success, which is a shame as it’s rather an attractive little thing, with all the hoon-ability of the original but a larger dose of practicality. In fact, it was rather more attractive than the South African Apache, which had a rather unhappy snout.

From the rear, the design is even more clearly the work of Michelotti, being almost a scaled down version of the Triumph 2000 Mk2. Triumph can’t have been impressed and perhaps that’s why we weren’t treated to the Victoria in the UK.

Clearly Michelotti's work - very Triumph-like!