Four years of Welsh living

It is now just over four years since we got the keys to our cottage in Wales. That means it’s over four years since we jacked in our jobs and decided to have a bash at the Good Life. I hadn’t realised that Felicity Kendal had made such an impression on me.

It’s good fun to look back. It was a somewhat bold move after all. We decided we could live on one exceedingly variable freelance income with financial sacrifices made in order to have a better overall life. After all, I’d been married for four years, but felt like I barely saw my wife due to hectic work-lives. For the past four years, we’ve been barely separated – it’s a bloody good test of a marriage! Happily, we seem to have passed it. We’ve absolutely loved living somewhere so special though. Every view is astonishing. The people (a mix of Welsh and English for the most part) are marvellous. It has been a largely very happy time. Living in Wales comes highly recommended.

Initially, I was a bit crap at the whole hippy thing. I sold my 1955 Austin Westminster A90 as it hardly seemed ideal hippy transport at 20mpg. Within two months of moving to Wales, I’d replaced it with a Land Rover 90 V8 which did 15mpg. Go me! To be fair, I later sold it for an actual profit! This happens not very often. So overjoyed with my money-making spree was I (all £700 of it) that I went out and bought a Reliant Scimitar GTE. Again, not really a prime example of hippy living. But that’s ok, as I later replaced it with a diesel Range Rover, which ate up lots of money and put a stop to such silliness.

Land Rover 90 V8 County Station Wagon

A crap hippy’s steed – 15mpg Land Rover V8

Since then, I’ve been more hippy-like. There has been a pretty constant stream of dreadful, but cheap motor vehicles. Driving adventures have been few and far between though, as we rarely have budget to do much travelling. Heading to Scotland in January 2014 was a very rare actual holiday, paid for by my lovely wife taking a part time job at a local tourist attraction. We drove all the way there and back in a rusty Daihatsu that cost less than £400 to buy.

But now there’s a problem. It’s the 2CV. Famed for being the original hippy machine, I can only assume that it rained less in the Swinging Sixties. My 2CV is very rotten, and fixing it will be very expensive. Very Expensive is something we just don’t do anymore. It feels like a decision needs to be made, as current income does not support restoration fees. Something has to change. Either The Good Life needs some thorough re-jigging, or I can no longer own a 2CV.

Inside the rear seat box was ok. Around it less so

2CV keeps doing this. Restoration costs are significant

For now, I’m going to try and buy an XM and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. I’m sure everything will work out in the end.

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!


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…

I don’t want to like it, but I do

The Land Rover Freelander is a car I really don’t want to like, but must admit that I do.

The whole idea of soft-roaders is fairly disagreeable after all. If you want an off-roader, buy an off-roader. If you want a chariot to take the kids to school, buy an MPV. Your kids will probably be safer in it for a start. The whole idea of buying a 4×4 to use for anything other than heavy towing or off-roading does seem peculiar. It’d be like picking a stilleto as the ideal shoe for running a marathon.

Land Rover Freelander

Freelander. A bit rubbish really. Looks nice though...

So, the type of vehicle it is certainly grates. What else? Ah yes. The fact that it’s quite rubbish. Engines consist of head-gasket blowing petrols (1.8 K-Series or KV6 if you’re really brave), and really quite good diesels. Don’t get carried away though, as the transmissions seem to have all the robustness of a Citroen BX 4×4, and there’s no low-range option. You do get hill descent, but that’s a bit like making friends with your computer rather than actual people. And it’s so dangerous on ice and very slippy surfaces that the handbook tells you not to use it. “Just stay in with a cup of tea and a nice book,” it says. Possibly.

Build quality is also what you’d expect from Solihull. Rubbish. Bits will fall off and electrical components will impress with the way that they fail. On the plus side, all these problems mean that there are lots of forums where owners share their latest disasters and look for a shoulder to cry on.

Yet I really like them. That must come down purely to the looks. They got this one about spot on really. It looks like someone took the Vauxhall Frontera Sport – another 4×4 I’m sadly quite fond of – and gave it a smart makeover. The front end is chunky and menacing without being threatening, the 3-door looks solid and purposeful and the rear end, despite what should be complete and utter tail-lamp carnage, looks really quite pleasant. The gimmicky drop-down rear door glass is the sort of gimmick I hate myself for liking.

I’d really quite like to own one, even though I have driven one and found it remarkably dull. Thus, the fact that blokes judge looks before ability is proved. I’m pleased to say that I don’t always make that mistake…

Sweet Music?

Owning a selection of cars is a lot like managing a rock band. Probably.

You need the right ingredients. After selling my Citroen BX, the ‘band’ that is my fleet felt out of balance. It was like the drummer had stopped mid-track and dropped his sticks. Don’t get me wrong though – the BX was no Keith Moon. Rather it was a bit of a Ringo Starr. Didn’t do anything spectacular really, but kept everything together (most of the time), though I don’t think the BX would be any good at narrating Thomas the Tank Engine. Sure, the stripey nature of the car and the trick suspension was perhaps a bit of an Octopus’s Garden, but generally, it provided the rhythm to fleet harmony. With the car gone, harmony departed with it and the fleet was unable to continue its career in any meaningful way. There was only one thing to do. Scout about for a new drummer. The Saab was chosen to fit that role, and while there have been some teething troubles (always tricky when a new musician joins an outfit) it’s poised to take on the Ringo role. Maybe a bit more jazzy like John Densmore of The Doors.

I did try a V8 Land Rover in the role of bassist, but it proved lacking in the thundering bass department, despite 3528cc of American-bred, aluminium engine. Perhaps that was the problem because the Scimitar fits the role rather well. The heavy V6 Essex engine bellow a strident bassline at the world. It isn’t the most exciting of bassists perhaps, lacking the zaniness of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or sheer oddness of Roger Waters from the mighty Floyd, but it adds that all important lower level noise with plenty of style, while looking good in Seventies vinyl. Suzi Quatro it is then.

The colourful guitar stylings are naturally the home of the Citroen 2CV. It may only pack 602cc but crikey does that light-weight engine sing and scream! It’ll hurt your ears with its force, but don’t let the bark fool you – it’s all cuddly and nice really. Only one band fits the bill for me, being the only force of music that I’ve ever seen that left my ears ringing two days after the concert. After the final song, the lead singer/guitarist just stayed at the microphone and pleasantly asked whether everyone was having a nice time. Aw, he did seem nice. That man is Robb Flynn of Machine Head.

All this leaves the Mini a bit like Linda McCartney in Wings. Pointless and not really necessary. She needs to go, so if you can offer Betsy the Mini a new life, perhaps launching a range of vegetarian food and guest-starring in The Simpsons, please feel free to come and visit with your chequebook open.

Fuel crisis? Maybe not

The rise in fuel prices is worrying for those of us who drive for the sake of driving, rather than just to get somewhere. Yet it pays to look at more than the headline figures, or that way madness lies.

Filling up

Fuel prices are on everyone's mind at the moment

I still maintain that nothing is cheaper to run than a classic. Yes, you need to be able to tinker with it yourself to reap the maximum benefits and yes, you’ll find that you have to tinker with it more than a modern car – when a brand new car only needs servicing every 2 years and your trusty classic needs an oil change every 3000 miles, the advantage does seem reduced.

That said, good old fashioned mineral oil is still very cheap to buy – sometimes as little as £6 for 5 litres. That’s a cheap service, especially if you’ve upgraded the distributor to electronic and therefore don’t have to worry about the points and condenser anymore. You also get the buzz of doing the work yourself rather than be left reeling with a main dealer service bill.

Depreciation is the biggest cost with a new car, and if you don’t buy sensibly, your shiny new car can cost thousands per year, even if you don’t drive it! That’s why I always go for an older car. Let someone else pay the depreciation and then you’re only liable for servicing and running costs.

On the face of it, it may seem that selling the Land Rover proves what a hypocrite I am. Here I am saying don’t worry about fuel prices when I’ve sold my fearsomely thirsty V8 powered Landy just as fuel prices get as high as they’ve ever been. Not so. Anyone who knows me well knows that boredom is the biggest danger for any vehicle I buy. Is the Landy value for money? I don’t think so. That’s why it’s getting the heave-ho.

To entirely banish any thoughts of me trying to save fuel, I should point out that I’m selling my 54mpg Citroen BX diesel. Replacing both vehicles is a car that comes somewhere between the two – the Reliant Scimitar. This should achieve anywhere between 20 and 32mpg – I look forward to finding out which figure it ends up nearer. Sure, I’m somewhat daunted by the possibility of a £100+ fill-up thanks to the 77-litre fuel tank, but whatever the fuel prices do, I’m determined to keep enjoying 0lder cars. At the end of the day, higher fuel prices don’t scare me – the thought of the stuff running out really does though…

Land Rover – Bye 4×4

Landy for sale

It's been fun, but the Land Rover must go

Yes, my 1988 Land Rover 90 V8 County Station Wagon is for sale. Currently on Ebay and fast approaching the reserve price.

I’m glad I bought this Landy, but to be honest, I don’t have much reason to own it. On the road, it’s no great shakes – though clearly better than a Series Landy. Off-road, it’s brilliant, but despite managing two off-road trips in as many months, I don’t think I can keep that up with other stuff going on, which means that it’s an occasional-use toy. That’s not right for me – I like to own cars I’m always happy to jump into and drive pretty much anywhere in Europe.

So, she’s on Ebay and I’m trying to work out what on earth I end up with next…

Link >>>

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…

Let’s off road!

I’ve already had the opportunity to put my Land Rover, only purchased just before Christmas, through its paces.

Testing my bog-standard Land Rover 90 V8

Testing my bog-standard Land Rover 90 V8

The Bala Off Road Centre proved an ideal place to test the limits of my 90 V8 County Station Wagon, even though it has no modifications and sits on pretty standard Mud and Snow tyres rather than chunky, off road rubber. It was good too! We only had to resort to locking the centre differential on a few occasions and while better tyres would certainly have been beneficial, we never once got irretrievably stuck. While some sections required one or two attempts, we clambered up rocks and through muddy forests with aplomb.

It was great fun and I’m looking forward to a green lane session in February now.

Classic winter motoring

Using a classic through the winter requires courage!


As we move into 2011, it’s time to look forward to digging out your classic and preparing to hit the road.

Or maybe, like me, your classics have been in regular use throughout the winter. If so, then congratulations on your bravery! A recent clean of my Citroën 2CV revealed that the poor thing is rather rusty in places – to the state that I’m considering hand-painting it to keep on top of the corrosion. Keeping a classic in first rate order at this time of the year is certainly a challenge.

But I find a lot of joy in driving classics at this time of year. Sure, it can be cold and it does create issues such as the rust-chasing, but journeys gain an epic sense of adventure – especially the 700 miles I clocked up over Christmas in the Tin Snail. There’s other bonuses too. When grip is at a premium, as it has been here in the wilderness of West Wales, I’d much rather be in a car  that lacks power assistance of its controls, allowing me to feel when grip is there and when it is not.

Sometimes, it really is not  there, which is where my 1988 Land Rover 90 County Station Wagon V8 comes in. At 15mpg however, I tend to rather hope that we don’t get too much snow! Sitting somewhere in between the two is my Citroën BX TGD estate, though as 12-hour mission to get from Cardiff (two-hours away) to home revealed that there’s no substitute for four-wheel drive when things get really slippy. A journey I’d rather forget. The BX also disgraced itself by freezing its heater matrix at one point.

It’s a battle to keep all three vehicles in sound condition with so much salt on the roads. I think I’d better get out there with the hose once more…