Winter tyres vs 4×4

Ok, so this isn’t the most scientific of tests, but an unexpected burst of snowy weather has allowed me to compare my Daihatsu Sirion and its Avon Ice Touring tyres versus my Land Rover Discovery on a set of Avon Ranger All-Terrain tyres. It has been a very interesting day.

Discovery still a handful in the snow

Discovery still a handful in the snow

First of all, I’d like to point out that the biggest factor in surviving tricky conditions on the road is the driver. Owning a 4×4 does not make you invincible. Of this, I was already well aware. Even so, I was surprised to get wheelspin as I pulled away in the Discovery (diff lock not engaged as snow coverage was patchy) and even more surprised that the first sharp turn had it feeling very twitchy. Proof that despite the rather general ‘Mud and Snow’ tag on the Avon Rangers, the compound just was not soft enough to provide good grip.

I engaged the diff-lock for steep descents, and it was nice to have that luxury. By engaging the diff lock, I was more effectively spreading the braking between the two axles, hopefully making it less likely that I would lock a wheel should I have to brake. The best way to avoid wheel lock is of course to use a low gear and keep well away from the middle pedal, but you never know what’s around the next bend.

But, even when the snow had cleared enough to leave dry tracks on the road surface, hitting the banks of slushy snow in between left the Discovery feeling very unstable. I got back home and jumped into the Sirion.

Sirion proved very capable

Sirion proved very capable

Straight away, the Sirion felt very different. Sure, the lack of four-wheel drive meant wheelspin was impossible to avoid when starting on a snowy slope (or from where it is pictured above on fresh snow) but it felt more stable. Hitting slush was no more dramatic than dry tarmac. The Sirion also proved how great proper winter tyres are at stopping on snow and ice. For the above shot, I braked gently on the fresh snow with no ill effects, then pressed the pedal really hard, which finally made the anti-lock brakes kick in. For me, this stopping power is what makes winter tyres an essential item.

It isn’t a conclusive test, as I was unable to test both cars on exactly the same roads, at exactly the same time. I also didn’t have the luxury of trying the Discovery on winter tyres or the Sirion on summer ones for direct comparisons. One thing I will say is that the high degree of power assistance to the steering on both vehicles is very detrimental in these conditions. It’s very hard to know exactly how much grip the front wheels have, as so little feedback comes through the steering wheel. This means it’s easy to be in a skid without realising it. A reminder that perhaps I should have dragged the 2CV out of its cosy garage!

 

Buying a car back

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A superb bodge, I’m sure you’ll agree

I didn’t really think whether buying the BX Mk2 back was a wise idea. I’ve never bought a car back before – plenty have gone over the years, and one have returned. In theory, it was a bloody stupid idea – and it still might be in practice…

But if you strip all of the emotion out of car ownership, it would be a very sad, boring and unfulfilling experience. For me at least. Yes, it’s stupid to feel a bond with a lump of metal and plastic but I’m incredibly attached to my 2CV – just as I have a favourite T-Shirt. And my current toothbrush is nowhere near as satisfying as the previous one, which sadly wore out. Perhaps I gave it too much love.

Anyway, the point is, buying the BX back made no sense at all but was driven by my memory of what a satisfying car it is to own. Supreme comfort, 50mph, a massive boot, self-levelling suspension and an entertaining driving experience. You might well ask why I sold it in the first place. A valid question.

Naturally, I overlooked such things as the crap single-wiper design with its equally crap washer spray bar. One wiper is half the number I normally like. The more the merrier when you live in Wales. The washer packed up so I was forced to fit a scuttle-mounted (with cable ties) washer to get an MOT. There is also no flick-wipe. This irritates me.

I also forgot that when it’s really cold, the doors freeze shut. I neglected to remember that the heater is stuck in the Hot position. I overlooked the fact that 187,000 miles is really quite a lot, especially when the car has been utterly neglected for the past 30,000 miles without any servicing at all really. Impressive that it stood up to that.

I also used my rose-tinted spectacles to ignore the fact that it’s really quite rusty in places. The rear crossmember is sufficiently soft for my MOT tester to give me an official advisory, the left hand rear wing has a great ruddy hole in it and the sills are not going to get through another test.

The first few weeks have been tough as well. The brakes have been playing up, I replaced the wrong wheel bearing (and then had to replace the correct one), the clutch feels like failure is imminent and the height controller linkage is very stiff. That means that getting the car to raise or lower is not very easy at all.

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Back, but was it a good idea?

Yet this is still a special car to me and after many hours of fettling, she’s starting to come good. I can sit behind the wheel and remember driving across the south of France in the most torrential rain I’ve ever seen, or slogging up a 2000m tall mountain in horizontal snow with a coolant leak. Or helping to move our belongings from our old house to this one. Or towing my Bond Equipe (I’ll tell you about that long-departed beast one day) to a garage after it started spewing petrol everywhere. It’s a car with many memories and a car that does many things very well.

In fact, the main reason that I sold it is because I didn’t want to be the one who scrapped it. Perhaps the hardest part of having it back is that once the rust gets too much, it could be me reading the BX its rites.

2CV – fun in the sun

It’s been a while since the 2CV has appeared on this blog and I apologise for that massive oversight. I’ve been rather busy with other vehicles and work, but that’s not to say that I haven’t been using the 2CV. In fact, the little Tin Snail has been very busy recently, reminding me why I love it.

When it comes to bombing around the roads of rural Wales, I honestly think there isn’t another car I would rather be in.

Citroen 2CV Dolly

For hurtling around Wales, few things can match a 2CV

That may seem a bold statement, but there’s a reason for it. For a start, much as I love TVRs, it would be left for dead by the 2CV on some of the twisty, trecherous mountain roads around here. It simply doesn’t have the ground clearance and with bends coming at you like a herd of demented cattle, there are few opportunities to exploit the power. You might as well have a mere 29bhp that allows you to keep your foot down.

So, with undulating roads, perhaps a 4×4 would be useful? Well, not really. 4x4s are big, bulky and generally don’t handle as well as smaller cars. If I was in one of those, I’d have to be seriously worried about meeting another car. The 2CV is skinny enough to nip past most things.

A modern supermini then. They’re nippy things aren’t they? Well, no. They’re heavy with city-friendly and therefore lifeless steering. Oh, and huge blind spots. I’m here to appreciate the view, so it’s roof back in the 2CV, which makes it easier to keep an eye on kites and the like. Well, until I got too cold…

Mix in the 2CV’s keen steering, sharp brakes and fabulous all-independent suspension and you’ve got an exceedingly entertaining machine that’s also very comfortable. Also, it took in a forestry commission lane (to a legit car park, don’t just go heading off down random lanes) and transported a household door. The 2CV may not be brilliant at everything, but it’s bloody good at a lot of things.

Road Test: Mitsubishi Delica L400

EDIT – Video Review now available!

I’ve always loved off-roaders, though I’m very quick to distance myself from those who go tearing around the countryside upsetting ramblers, churning up byways and going where they like.

Nor am I particularly interested in getting stuck and needing thousands of pounds of kit to get me moving again. Pay and Play sites can be fun, but there’s a bit too much focus on driving like an idiot for my liking.

Mitsubishi Delica L400

Delica. No award winner for beauty!

No, to me, an off-roader is a car you use like a car, but which you also use for heading off the beaten track when needed. This brings me neatly to the vehicle tested here. It’s a Mitsubishi Delica L400, owned by someone for whom a 4×4 is essential. It gets used to drive across muddy fields to collect wood and even the chap’s driveway is a struggle at times. A 4×4 isn’t a nicety – it’s essential really.

A great off-roader isn’t enough though. Occasionally, it gets used as a tour bus for his musical endeavours, so the six comfortable seats it has are also necessary. As is the ability to eat up a lot of miles in comfort and relative quiet – something the traditional Land Rover is not exactly known for.

It was people carrying duty that gave me a healthy dose of wheel-time in this hard-worked steed. A 230 round-trip to North Wales gave me plenty of time to acclimatise. The first thing that strikes you about the Delica is how ridiculous it looks. She’s no beauty, and it looks  a bit like a home-brew attempt to make a monster truck out of a van. They’ve always looked rather precarious to me, so I was interested to discover how it behaved.

Clambering aboard, which is a bit of a challenge at first, I was struck by the typical Japanese ergonomics. There are buttons all over the place, though this example is further ‘enhanced’ by a large section of missing trim, some buttons that fall off when you press them and a cork that replaces the missing overdrive switch on the column-mounted gear lever. Oh yes, a column mounted lever! Just like the old days.

Cork gear lever

Well, if it works, why not?

The floor is quite high, so you don’t sit in quite the impressive manner of a Range Rover. Your view is certainly impressive however. Forwards at least. Large door mirrors aid rear visibility, which is good as ‘privacy’ netting rather restricts vision through the windows themselves.

On the move, it all feels rather tight and not as wobbly as you might expect. There’s very little bodyroll and while the ride can be crashy, it’s not uncomfortable. The steering is nicely weighted and accurate too. We suspect the transmission wasn’t in finest form on this one as it did a peculiar thing when it reached top gear, and actually accelerated despite lower engine revs. The ‘automatic with overdrive’ is a novelty too, but does mean low-rev cruising. Pulling the cork out turned the overdrive off and gave the engine an easier time when coping with gradients. Incidentally, FX4 Taxis with the automatic gearbox usually have a similar overdrive system.

While this certainly isn’t a fast-accelerating machine though, it does build up speed nicely – which is what you want when carrying passengers. You don’t really want neck-snapping power. It did feel like it could really pick-up pace if you wanted to, but it did also suggest that doing so would generate an awful lot of engine noise and cause the economy to suffer to a very large degree!

So, best to sit back and enjoy. It’s quite relaxing, which is good as 230 miles on Welsh roads is exhausting! Especially when it rains and gets dark. Overall though, I enjoyed my time at the helm. It’d be good fun to put one through its paces off-road next…

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.

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…

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...