Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The shape of SAABs to come, and Nikolai's new TVR.

The next generation of SAABs could be very interesting...

There's a fair bit of rumour-mongery at the minute. Not that there's anything new in that, but this time it's centred mainly around two brands I've always rather been interested in; SAAB and TVR.

According to Dutch site Autointernationaal, SAAB wants to bring back the spirit of the old 900 with it's next 9-3 range. By this, I mean we're looking at losing the saloon and estate, and possibly looking back to three and five door hatchbacks to complement the cabriolet. SAAB haven't yet confirmed or denied this, but they've just been handed a big cheque by the European Investment Bank which should cover it's development and more besides.

And what for old Trevor's baby? The last I heard of TVR was that the five year old Russian who held the purse strings was planning to close down the Blackpool factory, and re-establish production in Russia. This rumour proved to be half true. It now looks as if Nikolai Smolenski is planning to launch a new car in the near future; to be made in Germany and to use an American V8. Rumours would have us believe that the US V8 is to enable worldwide homologation, as TVR would be looking at the US market amongst others.

But my column is not a news column, it's an opinion column. And a good job, because I'm one of the most opinionated chaps you're likely to meet. So it stands to reason that if I've mentioned these rumours I've got something to say about them. And I have.

I like the rumours about SAAB. It's not two months since I was bemoaning the lack of individuality on the roads, and now it looks like we could see the return of one of my favourite oddball shapes to the roads. A new version of the 900 Classic would be an interesting looking piece of kit, and given SAAB's history of turbocharging it could be made to go rather well. And imagine a 4wd rally version...

The TVR, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. Alright, the idea of sticking a US lump in a TVR was first coined in the 1960s by Jack Griffith, who 'did a Carroll' Shelby' to the Grantura. And in the UK these cars were sold under the TVR name. But somehow, I can't see a US-friendly German made sports car being a true TVR. I can't see it being a slightly scary, very hairy sportster along the lines of the original Big Healey. This worries me.

We've got Corvette for people who want a sports car with a Yank V8. We've got Porsches for those who want German sportscars. And I can't see a combination of the two working as a TVR. Good luck to the Smolenski boy, but I think I'll wait and see before praising the idea.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Rover Regency Reminisces

Rover 827 Regency - lives up to expectations

Always loved Rover 800s. Indeed, I'm sitting on my hands - after missing out on that Montego last week I have the urge to buy something else as a reflex action - and I've spotted a rather nice Sterling Coupe for £250...

That said, I have as yet only driven one 800. And much as I liked it, living in the middle of a housing estate and on a narrow road it wouldn't really be practical for me to have bought that one.

It was a MK1 827Si. Right engine, I'm not averse to MK1s, but perhaps the wrong spec for my liking - I'm into leather, so it would have to be a Sterling for me. The slight problem was that as I settled into the grey velour seat, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the rear window some two and a bit feet further back than it would normally be. This was no ordinary 800, it was a Startins Regency limousine. And the owner was in the passenger seat. And I was to take it for a spin on some very narrow roads on a farm.

Let me recount the story as to how I got to be in this position. This was back in October, and my friend Mal Watson had invited me to what would be the last Rover 800 and Maestro/Montego enthusiasts' day out at his barn in Yorkshire, full off spares for anything you can imagine. We're talking a place with a Bond Equipe in 2 pieces amongst it's contents, the MG Maestro Turbo prototype, and an MGBGT shell on a shelf on the far wall. The reason this was to be the last is because Mal has since moved to Somerset after a change in circumstances. At this event, I met Chris Ellis - a chap I've known on various Rover 800 forums, who has just under a million 800s including (at the time) a Regency.

I asked him how it felt to drive compared to a standard 800, and his response was to invite me to have a spin. Well, could I really say no? Setting off, my concern was that I was turning right - immediately to my right was the daily driver of my good friend Richard Moss, a silver LPG-equipped 820Si. Not that I should have worried, for I found the steering of the 800 to be fingertip light, and the car felt no bigger than my daily 306. Indeed, it felt smaller than the Montego 1.6 Mayfair I was to drive the same day. It also felt smaller in that I seemed to be sitting lower, holding a larger steering wheel - this car was made as a tool of pleasure as much as a mode of transport.

To turn, I spotted a driveway some nine feet in width or so, which seemed ideal. And it was, but for the dog stood behind the car. I slid the exquisite gear selector into reverse, half-hoping that the sudden appearance of white lights would make the dog think this large creation was in fact a UFO, and thus run away. This failed. So Chris hopped out, and went to move the dog - which as a result attached itself to him like a limpet for the rest of the day. Backing up was just as easy as going forwards - the Regency may be large but visibility is second to none. As I parked again, I reflected upon the possibility of 800 ownership. He's since parted company with the regency, and had I the space I'd have bought it. But an 18 foot long car isn't practical.

A sixteen foot one, though, is a different matter. Now, where did I put the ad for that £250 Sterling Coupe?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Montego love

The Austin Montego 1.6 Mayfair; delightfully charming.

I nearly bought a Montego the other evening. Sight unseen, a 1988 Vanden Plas 2.0i automatic, in Diamond White over Hurricane Grey. I've known the majority of the car's owners since June 2006, and it only needed a little work to get back on the road. Sadly, it had gone by the time I asked about it, two days after being advertised on the Club site. Not that I had anywhere to store it anyway.

I blame my mate Ray.

Well, if I'm honest, blaming Ray isn't fair. I've had a bit of a thing for Montegos since seeing the car I nearly bought, three years ago, in the hands of another acquaintance. Especially Mayfairs and VPs. So when Ray very kindly offered to let me take his 1.6 Mayfair - in Clove Brown with a Caramel interior for all those in the Brown Car Appreciation Guild - for a quick spin, I wasn't going to refuse.

It's said you make your mind up about a car within the first ten seconds of getting into it. If this is the case, the Montego made a very favourable impression. No, the seats were not leather, but there was wood, it was brown, and let us not forget this car's place in history. The Montego was the last wholly British mainstream production car - the last Austin Rover with no Jap or Jerry input.

I'm a huge fan of automatic gearboxes, and since passing my driving test six months before taking the wheel of the Monty I'd not driven a car with a do-it-yourself 'box. I was thus concerned I'd make a hash of it. Not so. The clutch was forgiving, with a comfortable bite point, the gearbox was smooth, and the car was comfortable enough to make me forget I was in unfamiliar territory. It's spacious too, with ample headroom even for my 6'3" frame. Visibility from the car was second to none, especially out of the back, and I found myself liking it.

What I wasn't prepared for was the steering. Perhaps it's because I'm used to having power assisted steering. Perhaps (though I'd hate to admit it) it's because I'm a limp-wristed fairy with arms like toothpicks - weak, thin, and brittle. But I was unprepared for the initial weight of the steering. It freed up nicely when on the move, however, and I was able to consider more thoroughly my opinion of the car.

One more criticism. I'm a creature of habit, and if I am driving a manual car I like reverse to be underneath fifth in the gate. Whilst I'm happy to put up with a reverse gear next to first instead, I did not like the idea of pushing the lever down, rather than pulling up or leaving as is, to engage it. I admit, it took a minute or two of befuddlement before I gave in and just read the gearknob to discover the art of selecting reverse. But in a car with a proper 'box this would not prove a problem.

It's even comfortable and quiet on the motorway - I've been in noisier and less refined Jaguars. Whilst I admit there was a draught coming from somewhere round the passenger door frame, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume a faulty seal is the cause, not a poor design. I had trouble believing the car was 23 years old, built to a 25 year old design.

Would I buy an Austin Montego? If you look to the top of this article you'll see I nearly did. One with leather to satisfy my love of the upmarket, with PAS to rescue my weedy little arms, and an automatic gearbox to satisfy my lazy side. And if a Yorkshireman is willing to put his money where his mouth is, you can rest assured he's suitably impressed.