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…

Van Damned

A press shot of an LDV Maxus because Ian's own shots are rubbish

Just closing the door told me all I needed to know about the potential of this machine. The clang instantly told me that yes, this vehicle was a pared down Korean design, nailed together using the thinnest metal possible in Washwood Heath, Birmingham.

The dashboard, with its many missing blanking plates ticked boxes in my head. Those boxes were cheap, nasty and beyond-basic. After being warned not to lean too hard on panels for fear of denting them, I was nervous as I reversed my steed out of a tight space, not helped by the warning that I should avoid using too much strength when changing gear for fear of ripping the delicate linkage apart. Well, yes, that might be nice but this gearchange has all the smoothness and ease of progress as that of an Austin-Healey 3000. At least I didn’t have to use two hands.

It didn’t seem a very good van, but then I guess it didn’t need to be. After all, in 2004, this model replaced both the Pilot and Convoy. The Convoy was a derivation and enlargement of the basic Sherpa theme, launched in the early 1980s as the Freight-Rover 300. The Pilot was effectively a Sherpa, first launched in 1974. The cutting edge these vehicles were not, despite a sporty engine line-up that included the MGB engine (Sherpa) and Rover’s V8 (optional on the 300).

I once owned a Leyland-Daf 400 (a tidied up 300) Beavertail, with the Peugeot turbo diesel engine, and it was a fine old beast – slogging on despite the exhaust falling off and a geyser-like oil leak. It didn’t have power steering, so was rather hard work, but you didn’t mind, as sticking to 70mph seemed like rather hard work for the poor truck. A few years later, I drove a Convoy (a tidied up 400 but with an even cheaper interior and a Transit engine) and it was dreadful, with such wear in the kingpins (yes, a vehicle built after 2000 with kingpins) that the steering wheel threatened to give me vibration white finger.

I digress. The point is, the Maxus didn’t have to be good. The thing is though, I was fast discovering that this failed Daewoo (well, technically, Daewoo failed the Maxus by going into receivership – the joint project with LDV was taken over fully by the British firm) was actually not a bad old thing. The Italian VM engine produced a wonderful wall of low-down torque that made acquiring a naughty amount of speed almost Merc Sprinter easy. It handled too, thanks to front-wheel drive.

Switchgear leaves a lot to be desired

I wasn’t the only one impressed either. The Maxus really didn’t sell too badly at all, with Royal Mail buying up hundreds of them. It even won awards! Sadly, it wasn’t enough for LDV, a troubled company dogged by funding issues from the very first Sherpa. In 2009, administration beckoned, though it’s likely that the Maxus will be reborn in China. Can then make it even more tinny?

Back to the drive. A 200 mile trip from Wales to Cambridgeshire to collect the last of our belongings beckoned. Yet, it was remarkably pleasurable. At motorway speeds, the van tears along quite happily. You might even call it refined. At least you don’t have to change gear much on motorways, so that’s one weakness temporarily banished from my mind.

Loaded up for the return trip the following day, the gutsy engine barely noticed the payload. Even in the ‘mild’ 95bhp form here, there’s a stonking 250Nm of torque available at a mere 2000rpm. Handling was still assured and I had to be careful not to destroy a completely unnecessary amount of flowerpots through the bends.

You know what? I was actually a bit sad to take the van back to the rental centre after our 400 miles together. It was very capable, sipped fuel like a child sipping mummy’s wine and despite a rather bland appearance, I think it actually had some character.

And that ties it in with all the other commercial vehicle products of Washwood Heath, Birmingham. It could very easily be argued that this factory didn’t build one good one. Yet there’s a willingness to deliver that shines through, just as the monotonous accent hides the willingness of Birmingham itself to please.

Let the ol’ girl go?

Is it time to bid farewell to the BX?

You are looking at possibly the best car in the world. It has the ride comfort of a Rolls-Royce, the practicality of a small van, the quirkiness of a true Citroën, easy motorway cruising yet also 50+mpg. It was stupidly cheap to buy, and despite what people believe, really quite simple.

And I’ve decided that I no longer want it. The problem is, I do rather tend to get bored of cars, and am always seeking something better – or at least different. Hence why I find myself wanting to get rid of probably the best car I’ve ever owned.

I bought the BX in September 2009, primarily to take part in the BXagon Rally – a drive around the circumference of France  to raise money for Cancer Research UK (hence the tiger stripes – well, you’ve got to look the part). It covered the 3500 with aplomb and I liked it so much that the car remained on the fleet, clocking up 20,000 miles in my ownership this week. That’s a total of 162,500, but you wouldn’t really know it. These cars eat up miles.

In that time, I’ve used it on my daily commute, towed car trailers with it, filled it with stuff when moving house, collected a new oven and a new washing machine, driven it around Scotland, Wales and the South West of England – as well as through parts of Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Spain on that epic trip around France.

It cost £266 to buy, and that included tax and MOT. I’ve since probably spent £1000 on upkeep – including a pair of brilliant Hankook tyres, a hydraulic flush, the odd pipe repair, a new rear axle arm bearing and basic servicing. That’s cheap motoring in anyone’s book.

So, it’s bloody good at everything, costs pennies to run and garners attention like nothing else. It is the curse of the car enthusiast with wide tastes that I now want to sell it. Yes, it’s good, but it’s not ‘something else’ anymore. £300 anyone? Then I’ll go and buy something completely impractical, that will cost a fortune to run. With a £300 budget. Should be fun!

Imp-ressive!

Ian reveals the Imp that won him over

Sometimes, you leap behind the wheel of a classic and quickly search for the door handle, wanting to escape as quickly as possible. Some classics are really not that pleasant to drive. Others take time to win you over – you need to travel at least 100 miles in most Citroëns before you get ‘it.’

The Imp was one of those classics that had me falling head over heels in love. Yes, I liked the Porsche 928 a great deal, and a day spent with a TVR Chimaera was utterly joyous, but then you expect a sports car to deliver. The downside is that they often have far too much power to use on the road – a 440bhp Lola T70 replica I once drove in the depths of winter was absolutely terrifying. And cold as it didn’t have a roof…

Where the Imp really delivered is that despite only a short time behind its tiny steering wheel, I could explore the perky engine on the public highway without risking the wrath of PC Plod. Sure, it had considerably more than a standard Imp, but we’re talking of only 39bhp to start with. Exact figures for this ‘hot’ Imp were not available, but I’d estimate it was somewhere around the 55bhp of the sporty Stiletto sibling. With my foot right down, the Coventry-Climax-inspired engine barked its desire to the world as we hurtled along – feeling much faster than the speedometer was telling me. Quick, communicative steering left me in no doubt about its cornering ability, and with that engine slung out at the back, once I’d steered into a bend, all I could do was balance the throttle to stop the pendulum effect from hurling me into the weeds.

Being a stripped out rally car, the experience was noisy but thoroughly dramatic, despite the lowly spec. The quick gearchange was a delight and time and again I’d ease off and drop a couple of cogs so I could begin the exciting rush of acceleration all over again. The ride was a revelation however – surprisingly comfortable, despite being firmed up over standard. Thankfully, it had not been lowered too much, in anticipation of forest rally stages.

Too soon, it was time to head back, but the car’s deed was done. I loved it. The Imp may have been something of a failed Mini rival when new, but right now? Sorry Mr Cooper but I’d rather take this cheeky little Imp.

Oil cooler hints at tuned-up engine

Rally spec clear to see here - note passenger foot rest