Veteran Cars

Veteran cars. Nice in their way but would you buy one? Bonhams’ catalogue the other day had Lord Llangattock’s elegant 1902 Panhard Levassor at an estimated £550,000 to £650,000. You need a lot of cash-in-hand to shell out so much for something to drive on the London to Brighton. Don’t misunderstand me; I like the London-Brighton. I did it in 1992 and fared better than Prince Michael that year - but only just. He failed to finish but the Benz I borrowed from Stuttgart got a finisher's plaque, passing the pylons at Brighton with five minutes to spare. I was cold and wet but the experience helped understand a little why people do it. I had a minder and an entourage of back-up so it was easy enough, yet the driving needed concentration. Doing 12½ mph could be scary. Uphill was painfully slow. Downhill alarmingly fast.
Somewhere near Cuckfield I was unable to shift down to get engine braking. The transmission brake was never very good and it seemed to get in the way of the gearchange lever, so we were suddenly quite out of control. At breakneck (literally) speed we passed a bunch of policemen and cheering bystanders who little realised I was hurtling to disaster in a double-fronted shop. Happily Herr Benz's steering and stability was up to the job, so we teetered across mini roundabouts and went on our way, but it was an anxious moment. Braking was indifferent in the dry, precarious in the wet, and almost non-existent when hot. An accident on a Veteran with no seat belt, no crush zone, no airbag and a long way down if you fall out was not to be countenanced.
The right pedal on the Benz was the brake, the middle one a combination of gearchange lever and transmission brake, the left one did something obscure I never discovered. A handbrake of sorts acted directly on the rear tyres and my minder pointedly told me it was a parking brake only. You changed gear by preselecting 1 2 or 3 (there is also a reverse - this was one of the first cars ever to have one), then engage it by a lever on the vertical control column. Steering was by tiller - logical in an era when only horses or boats were ever steered. A pointer shows which way you are about to proceed and final drive to the back axle is by chain.
The ride turned out surprisingly smooth with two lots of front springs, a small transverse leaf and two fore and aft elliptics. The single cylinder engine could be retarded to teuf-teuf astonishingly slowly and I stalled it only once. It produced great pulling power at idling speed almost from rest, like a steam engine. A tidy flap at the back provided access to engine and lubrication points, which had to be attended regularly. Cooling is by gilled-tube radiator, notably good that boiled a couple of times on long climbs. With no fan and certainly no rush of cooling air, it was a wonder it didn't more often. The fuel is pure refined spirit - pioneer motorists bought it at chemist's shops.
The charm of a Veteran, which so thrilled pioneers of 110 years ago, is that it represents such a triumph over being stationary. It scarcely matters how well it goes - the clever thing is that it goes at all. If I had a spare half million – I just might.
Top: Ruth and Eric at the start, Hyde Park, early morning. 2) Joanna started the Run in the Benz. 3) Charlotte rides towards Brighton. 4) Joanna inside a wolf fur in the backup Benz - it was a cold day. 5) Anne, Charlotte, Jane and Joanna at the start.


All cars look alike these days. Well, that's not new. The 1948 Ford V8 Pilot (left) picked up styling cues from the 1937 Wanderer W24 (middle), as well as a contemporary postwar Lanchester 10.

Publicity pictures

Scanning images for a new edition of Dove Publishing’s Audi book, which goes back to the early years of the 20th century, shows the heritage of NSU, Horch, DKW Wanderer and Audi. What pictures. Take “The greatest motorcycle factory in the world” (above) in 1930. The enterprising Dane Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen came to Saxony as a student and aged only 25 in 1903 set up Rasmussen & Ernst GmbH, boilermakers. The firm bought an empty textile works at Zschopau, and profits between 1914-1918 led to making motorcycles in this vast factory with chimneys and grandiose offices.
The 1922 Audi Type K was a 4-cylinder 3.5 litre 14/50 with an aluminium block, pressed-in liners, a ball-action gearshift and four wheel brakes. A dignified car Sebastian Vettel would approve its radiator motif, a figure 1 indicating Audi’s place in the world.
Horch went for the premium market in 1922 with its 10/35 4-cylinder engine designed by Arnold Zoller (1882-1934). Probably better remembered for his supercharger, Zoller also designed an astonishing 1464cc 12-cylinder 2-stroke racing car. The block was cast in one, the cylinders in two rows, each pair with a common combustion chamber. All the inlet ports were on the left of the engine, exhausts on the right, superchargers on top. Unfortunately it all proved too much for their inventor who died before the cars were properly developed.
Paul Daimler (1869-1945) designed this twin overhead camshaft for Horch, shown in Berlin in 1927. Gear-driven camshafts, 8-cylinders, the 3.3litre was the first in a series to secure Horch’s prestige.

Wanderer (below) was more middle-class with the 1926 W10 6/30, a modest 1551cc 4-cylinder. Its appeal was helped by a new electro-plating facility for bumpers and radiator. Side-mounted spare wheel wrapped in tidy cover.

Publicity caption for the 1971 Audi 80L (below) says “…rear part of Audi models redesigned so that it appears broader and appeals more to public. It can radiate charm and grace.” Car manufacturers’ publicity pictures. Phds have been compiled on less.

Spitfire Monaco

Diamond heists at the Cannes film festival. Why didn’t the heisters try Monaco at Grand Prix time? When I covered the race in the 1970s I got to know a lot of ways round the circuit the most amateur footpad could have worked out. You could reach most of the corners by obscure little paths. There was even an underground passage from the Hotel de Paris that came out somewhere just above the exit from the tunnel. You could sprint to a little sloping garden there to photograph cars from above. It was necessary to get from place to place without hindrance during practice or race, so you had to know how to go from one side of the track to the other. Any self-respecting jewel thief planning to liberate a cache from some socialite’s bedroom in the Metropole would be able to make his way to the harbour front, while the gendarmerie and the commissaires were looking at the action on the track. They could have been on board a yacht and half way to Algiers before the rocks were missed. Raymond Baxter used to quip, during his commentaries at Le Mans or Rheims, how it was always a good day for French burglars when lines of white-gloved and belted gendarmes did their self-important sweeps of the pits or the starting grid.

Drove to Monaco in 1967 in this Triumph Spitfire with MLC of Motor Sport. Can’t remember how long it took before the days of the Autoroute, but we usually stopped overnight en route. Can’t remember much about the Spitfire either. It wasn’t a memorable car. I ran one for a while when I was on The Motor road test staff. It was still relatively new, having been introduced in 1962 on the Triumph Herald backbone mainframe, with somewhat agricultural high-pivot swing axle independent rear suspension. This would get up on tiptoe and operating on only the edges of the 5.20x13 tyres get quickly out of control. The one I took to Monaco was the newly introduced Mark 3 with a 1.3 75bhp engine and larger front calipers. It did 95mph but I never took to it, unlike its 1968 derivative the GT6 once its rear suspension had been fixed. A reversed bottom wishbone linkage and rubber doughnuts in the drive shafts transformed the handling. Everybody dubbed it a miniature E-type Jaguar, which it was with the emphasis on miniature. It really wasn’t a very big car yet I drove one to the Swedish Grand Prix at Karlskoga. We drove everywhere then. Never thought about a diamond heist.


Lest we forget. A messy 30 years in the dog days of British Leyland. Extract from chronology section of The Classic MG File.

1965 Jly: BMC makes offer for Pressed Steel effective September 1965.
Jly 22: Rover buys Alvis.
Oct 20: MGB GT at Earls Court.
1966 Jun: Leonard Lord, now Lord Lambury, retires from BMC board. George Harriman becomes chairman, Joe Edwards managing director.
Jly 11: BMC and Jaguar agree merger, finalised December.
Oct 19: MG Midget Mark III (GAN4) (above) launched at Earls Court with 1275cc A-series engine. Also Austin-Healey Sprite Mark IV.
Nov 3: Assembly of pre-production MGC begins at Abingdon, two months after Healeys reject BMC’s proposed Austin-Healey 3000 Mark IV. 13 pre-production MGCs built for development.
Dec 11: Leyland agrees merger with Rover, effective March 1967.
Dec 14: BMC and Jaguar announce joint company: British Motor Holdings. Joe Edwards becomes BMH chief executive under Sir George Harriman.
1967 Feb: Industry Minister Anthony Wedgwood Benn announces exploratory talks between Leyland and BMH in House of Commons.
Oct: Merger discussions between BMH and Leyland follow meeting at Chequers between George Harriman (BMH), and Donald Stokes (Leyland), at invitation of prime minister Harold Wilson.
Nov: first cars to meet new US safety and emissions requirements built with ‘Abingdon Pillow’ padded dashboards and dual-circuit brakes. Austin-Healey 3000 Mark III discontinued.
1968 Jan 17: £320 million merger of Leyland Motor Corporation with BMH forms British Leyland Motor Corporation. Cars divided into Austin-Morris (including MG) and Specialist Cars (with separate Rover, Triumph and Jaguar boards).
Apl: MG 1300 replaces 1100 Mark II. Joe Edwards resigns from BMH prior to formation of BLMC. Harry Webster and George Turnbull, ex Triumph, in charge of Austin-Morris.
May 14: Creation of British Leyland Motor Corporation.
May 22: Roy Haynes proposes MG ADO28 (Morris Marina).
Aug: Harry Webster announces advanced engineering and conservative styling policy for Austin, more style and conservative engineering for Morris.
Aug 5: BLMC board views three AD028 prototypes by Pininfarina, Michelotti, and Roy Haynes. Haynes’s proposals accepted.
Oct 15: Earls Court Motor Show. Sir Donald Stokes instructs competitions department to go only for outright wins.
1969 Apl: Austin-Morris design transferred from Cowley. Interior design remains at Cowley until October.
Jun 27: John Thornley retires, Les Lambourne now assistant general manager.
Jly: Riley 1300 production discontinued; Riley 4/72 carries on until October.
Sep 18: Last MGC leaves Abingdon.
Sep 19: BLMC board approves ADO67, the Austin Allegro of 1973.
Oct 11: British Leyland facelift Midget and MGB - recessed matt black grilles.
Oct 15: Mini Clubman and 1275GT at Earls Court. Austin and Morris 1300 GT effectively replaces MG 1300.
Nov 5: Abingdon starts work on mid-engined AD021.
1970 Autumn: Engineers Spen King and Mike Carver visit USA to research market for TR sports car. Competition between Austin-Morris styling Longbridge, Triumph Canley and Michelotti. MG Abingdon not invited to put forward mid-engined AD021.
Oct 31: Abingdon Competitions Department closes. Special Tuning continues as low-cost unit.
Nov 4: MG ADO21 full-size clay viewed by British Leyland management.
Dec 29: Work ceases on ADO21.
1971 Jan: Austin-Healey Sprite rebadged Austin. Healey royalties cease.
May 27: 250,000th MGB, left-hand-drive Blaze MGB GT, made at Abingdon.
May: Syd Enever retires as chief engineer. Roy Brockleburst takes over.
Jly: Austin-Morris styling studio MG Magna proposal for new BLMC corporate sports car approved, and becomes Triumph TR7. Last Mini Cooper, last Austin Sprite.
Aug 4: Abingdon instructed to build MGB GT V8, following assessment of Costello conversion.
Aug 31: MG 1300 Mark II discontinued.
1972 Mar: Rover-Triumph created under Sir George Farmer. Board has seven Rover and five Triumph members.
Spring: MG SSV1 experimental safety vehicle shown at Washington road safety exhibition.
Aug: MGB range facelifted for 1973 MY.
Sep: O-series engine emerges as overhead-cam B-series. Soft bumpers approved for MGB.
Dec 12: Production of MGB GT V8 starts.
Feb: British Leyland plans MGB in case TR7 is late; O-series engine is due by April 1974
1973 Aug 15: MGB GT V8 launched.
Sep: Bumper overriders for MG Midget, MGB and MGB GTs in the USA
1974 Jan: Work starts on ADO88.
Summer: O-series engine decision for MGB and Marina by 1977 model year, autumn 1976. Delayed to 1978 MY.
Jly: British Leyland cash crisis. Banks talk of £150 million loan.
Oct 16: Soft bumpers for Midget, MGB, MGB GT and MGB GT V8. Midget adopts Triumph Spitfire 1493cc engine.
Nov 27: Banks and government discuss BLMC’s finances.
Dec 3: Triumph Spitfire 1500 launched in UK with same engine as Midget 1500.
Dec 6: Tony Benn tells Parliament government guarantees BLMC’s capital.
Dec 18: Sir Don Ryder, governmental industrial advisor, appointed to investigate BLMC by March.
1975 Jan 1: MGB GT withdrawn from USA.
Jan: Triumph TR7 two-door sports coupe announced for sale only in USA.
26 Mar: Ryder Report recommends government contribution of £2.8 billion over seven years; company split into four divisions: cars, trucks and buses, international, and “special products”.
Jun 27: British Leyland Motor Corporation renamed British Leyland; government 99.8% shareholder.
Aug 11: British Leyland formally nationalised.
Sep 13: First post-Ryder marque realignment. Austin-Morris 18-22 series renamed Princess.
Dec 16: Government secures Chrysler UK with £162.5 million.
1976 May 19: Triumph TR7 introduced in UK and Europe.
Jun: MGB withdrawn from Continental Europe.
Jly: Last two MGB GT V8s finished at Abingdon.
1977 Jan: Work restarts on “federalizing” O-series engine for MGB, aiming for introduction in 1980.
Feb: pilot-build of Triumph TR7 Sprint and TR7 V8 begins at Speke.
Nov 1: Michael Edwardes joins British Leyland.
1978 Jan: ADO88 replaced by larger LC8 project.
Feb: Edwardes reveals plan to reorganise Austin-Morris including MG, and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph.
Feb 15: Proposal for Speke factory to close and move TR7 production to Canley.
Apl 1: BL Motorsport Abingdon homologates TR7 V8 rally car.
Apl 3: government provides £450 million equity in British Leyland.
May 26: Triumph TR7 production ends at Speke. TR7 Sprint and Lynx cancelled. TR7 V8 – the TR8 – delayed two years.
Jly 1: British Leyland renamed BL. Leyland name remains on commercial vehicles. Austin-Morris is under Ray Horrocks, and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph under William Pratt-Thompson. Development MGB with O-series engine presented to BL management. Approval of £275 million for LC8 Metro.
Aug: BL in exploratory talks with Honda.
Sep: 1.7-L O-series engine for Marina 2. MG becomes part of Jaguar-Rover-Triumph.
Oct: Triumph TR7 production restarts at Canley after five-month gap. US dealers unhappy.
1979 Apl: US-market MGB Limited Edition (LE) model introduced at New York Motor Show.
May 15: Memorandum of understanding between BL and Honda. New Triumph saloon to be built at Canley based on Honda Ballade/Civic. Introduction planned for October 1981.
Jun: Sharp rise in strength of sterling affects BL, in particular US exports. BL forms CORE (Co-ordination of Resources) strategy. Edwardes Plan streamlines company.
Jly 9: BL meets industry minister Sir Keith Joseph to discuss funding of LC10.
Jly: Triumph TR7 convertible launched five years after TR7 coupe, for USA only.
Aug: Midget production runs down; among the last are 500 for Japan. Assembly of Vanden Plas 1500 transferred to Abingdon. Golden Jubilee celebrations at Abingdon.
Sep 10: Announcement of closure at AEC Park Royal. BL plans to end production of MG sports cars at Abingdon and manufacturing at Canley.
Sep 13: John Thornley invites 445 US Jaguar-Rover-Triumph-MG dealers to urge BL to continue MGB production.
Sep 26: BL claims loss of £900 on every MGB.
Sep 30: MG clubs stage London protest rally
Oct 14: Alan Curtis of Aston Martin Lagonda and Peter Sprague in the USA prepare bid for MG marque and MGB.
Oct 17: Union leaders recommend BL workers accept Edwardes Plan.
Oct 18: Consortium led by Aston Martin Lagonda announces bid to take over MG name and factory.
Nov 1: BL workforce ballot: 80% vote, of which 87.2% accepts Edwardes Plan
Nov 6: Californian MG dealers and 416-strong US JRT dealer council threaten to sue BL for £100 million if MGB is withdrawn. BL says MGBs will remain available until 1981, pledges to keep the MG marque.
Dec 12: Last MG Midget down Abingdon production line. Black UK-specification car for British Motor Heritage brings total to 224,817.
Dec: BL discusses MG Boxer project, low-cost MG offshoot from Triumph TR7, to placate US JRT dealers. Idea abandoned early in 1980, and MG returned to Austin-Morris from JRT.
Dec 20: BL says government agrees to recovery plan and a further £205 million.
1980 Jan: 500,000th MGB, a black roadster, built at Abingdon.
Jan 14: Jaguar-Rover-Triumph press release: “MGBs will be produced until late 1980 ... available into early 1981. The MG name will be retained and there are plans to build a successor to the MGB when production ends at Abingdon.”
Mar 31: Aston Martin consortium meets BL board, proposing £30 million deal for exclusive world-wide license to MG name and Abingdon factory.
Apl: Triumph TR7 production begins at Rover in Solihull, overlapping with production at Canley.
Jly 1: Aston Martin announces nearly half required £30m has been withdrawn. Last hope is that Japanese and Arab backers provide £12m. Aston Martin makes a quarter of its workforce redundant.
Jly 2: William Pratt-Thompson, head of BL International, announces Abingdon factory to be sold.
Jly 4: Alan Curtis talks with Japanese in an effort to acquire funds for take-over.
Jly 9: BL car divisions reorganised again: JRT dissolved, Jaguar becomes separate once more. Volume cars (Austin-Morris) absorbs Rover and Triumph to form Light Medium Cars (LMC). Cars Commercial looks after marketing and product planning. Triumph Spitfire discontinued. LM10 approved by BL board for 1983 launch.
Aug: last production-specification MGB bodyshell produced at Pressed Steel, Stratton St Margaret, Swindon.
Oct 8: Austin Metro launched.
Oct 23: Last MGB goes down the line at Abingdon.
Oct 24: MG factory at Abingdon closes.
1981 Jan: £990 million further state funding of BL over next two years.
Jan 26: announcement by BL of last MGB derivative, the UK-only MGB and MGB GT LE.
Mar 18-24: Auction of MG factory contents: 434 buyers, 3600 lots, totalling £100,000 for BL.
May 10: BL claims Jaguar loses £2 million per month due to unfavourable dollar/sterling exchange.
May 13: Ray Horrocks of BL announces closure of Solihull Rover factory for all but Land Rover.
Jun 15: BL Motorsport moves to Cowley. Plans laid for MG Metro 6R4.
Jly 26: Sunday Times says BL plans MG-badged version of the Metro.
Aug 6: MG is among names considered for performance Metro.
Sep: Austin Allegro discontinued.
Oct 7: Triumph Acclaim launched.
Nov 12: Ray Horrocks and Honda sign co-operative agreement in Tokyo for new executive car, coded XX.
1982 Jan: Banks agree to lend BL £277 million over 8-10 years. David Bache resigns as design director following management disagreements. Replaced by Roy Axe, formerly of Chrysler.
May: Austin Rover Group formed from Austin, Morris, MG, Rover and Triumph. Harold Musgrove chairman and chief executive.
May 5: MG Metro 1300 announced.
Jly 1: BL announces Morris name to be phased out.
Oct 22: MG Metro Turbo announced at motor show.
Nov: Sir Michael Edwardes leaves BL, publishes Back From The Brink.
1983 Feb: MG Metro 6R4 prototype handed over by Williams Engineering to Austin Rover Motorsport at Cowley.
Mar 1: Austin Maestro range includes MG1600.
1984 Apl 25: Montego range includes 2-litre fuel-injected MG version with O-series engine. S-series replaces R-series in MG Maestro 1600. LC10 has cost £210 million. BL reports first operating profit, £4.1 million, since 1978.
Aug 10: Jaguar privatised. Government keeps “golden share” until end of 1990.
Sep: Austin Rover formed as LMC is integrated with Cars Commercial.
1985 May 8: Harold Musgrove announces Austin Rover Cars of North America (ARCONA) in partnership with Norman Braman to launch Austin Rover/Honda XX in the USA in 1987.
Sep 19: MG EX-E concept car launched at Frankfurt Motor Show. (in Heritage collection, Gaydon with other MGs)
Nov 1: MG Metro 6R4 homologated for international debut on RAC Rally.
Feb 2: Roy Hattersley claims General Motors wants to buy Leyland Trucks and Land Rover.
1986 Apl: MG Maestro introduced in Japan. Design studios at Canley reorganised.
May 1: Graham Day appointed chairman of BL.
Jly: BL renamed Rover Group
Jly 15: Honda/Rover joint project XX launched as Rover 800 series.
Sep: Harold Musgrove leaves.
1987 Apl 18: US-market Sterling (Rover 800) launched at New York Motor Show.
May: Austin Rover Motorsport Division at Cowley closed down.
Nov: Sterling 800 range on sale in the USA.
1988 Mar 1: British Aerospace (BAe) talks with government on acquisition of Rover.
Mar 30: British Aerospace buys Rover Group for £150 million; government writing off £800 million debt. £2.98 billion in state aid received since 1975.
Apl 13: British Motor Heritage launches MGB bodyshell.
Oct 22: MG Maestro Turbo, to be built by Tickford, announced at Birmingham Motor Show.
1989 Jan: Rover board restructured. Graham Day hands over to George Simpson, board members reduced from 36 to 11. John Towers becomes production engineering director and Graham Morris takes over as Sterling president from Chris Woodwark.
Jly 14: Honda announces £300 million first European assembly plant at Swindon, and 20% equity stake in Rover. Rover takes 20% stake in HUM (Honda UK Manufacturing).
Sep 18: Graham Day suggests sports car. Appoints Project Phoenix to investigate three MG concepts with different engine/drive train configurations: PR1, PR2 and PR3. ‘PR’ stands for Phoenix Route, nicknamed ‘Pocket Rocket’.
Oct 11: New Rover 200 range launched at London Motorfair. First production application of K-series engine.
Dec 1: Jaguar shareholders accept Ford’s cash offer.
1990 Mar 28: Executive committee approves Rover Special Products (RSP) prototypes.
Mar: Work starts on Heritage MGB V8 project; Mark Gamble builds prototype at Snitterfield.
May 2: Launch of revamped Metro with 1.1- and 1.4-litre K-series engines. Top of range GTi not an MG.
Jun: Rover board reviews PR1, PR2, PR3 and PR4 (similar to PR2, but with a steel body). PR3 increased in size.
Sep 19: Graham Day tells press, “We are going to do a proper MG.”
1991 Jan: Rover commissions consultants MGA and ADC to develop styling clays based on mid-engined PR3. John Towers becomes MD in charge of product supply.
Apl: Rover Special Products researches significance of MG badge to potential customers.
May: Two styling models for PR3 presented. Rover approves PR3 from development to D Zero.
Jun: Customer clinic tests of sports car concepts; leads to rejection of pop-up headlamps and abandonment of PR5, seen as a Jaguar/Aston Martin style, not MG. Rover management approves RV8.
Jly: proposal of PR3 1.6-litre K-series engine with optional supercharger.
Aug 9: Rover Group drops US Sterling marque.
Sep: Gerry McGovern begins work on styling clay for PR3 at Canley.
Autumn: MG-badged saloons discontinued after MG Maestro and Montego 2.0i.
1992 Jan: MG RV8 prototype presented at Rover dealer conference.
Jan 22: Styling of PR3 clay model approved.
Mar 3: Geneva show. Rover 200 Cabriolet launched (Project Tracer nearly became an MG). Rover 800 coupe also launched.
Mar: Styling of PR3 approved. Rover staff invited to give opinions on “elements of an MG”.
Jun: Teaser brochure for RV8 issued with studio photograph of DEV1 prototype, “The Shape of Things to Come”.
Sep 18: MG Car Club, MG Owners’ Club and others invited to preview of MG RV8 at Canley.
Oct 20: RV8 launched by John Towers at Birmingham Motor Show, together with Rover 200 coupe.
Nov: Rover board approves 1.8-litre K-series with optional VVC.
Dec: PR3 design signed off. Mayflower and Rover agree Mayflower Vehicle Systems (the merged Motor Panels and IAD) to raise £24 million for design, engineering and production of bodyshells.
1993 Mar: Rover board approves PR3. Launch planned for 1995.
Mar 31: Mayflower investment includes rights issue to raise £34.6 million. Production of over 10,000 a year expected, with sales of £20 million for a 6-year contract.
Mar 31: First production MG RV8 made at Cowley for BMH museum (chassis Nr 251, British Racing Green metallic). First six customer cars completed on 19 Apl.
Oct: Woodcote Green MG RV8 at Tokyo Motor Show.
1994 Jan 13: First 46 RV8s leave Southampton for Japan.
Jan 31: British Aerospace sale of Rover Group to BMW AG for £800 million.
Feb 21: Honda relinquishes 20% shareholding in Rover, which releases its 20% in Honda’s UK manufacturing subsidiary.
Mar 18: Title and ownership of Rover Group officially transferred to BMW AG. Rover Group comprises two sub-groups: Rover Group Holdings plc, Birmingham (with 89 subsidiaries) and Rover Group USA Inc, Lanham, Maryland (with four subsidiaries).
Jly: Pre-production examples of MGF completed, using final tooling.
Sep: Pilot production of MGF.
1995 Feb 6: Preview of MGF for MG Car Club, MG Owners’ Club, Octagon Car Club at Gaydon.
Feb 20-24: Dealer MGF launch.
Mar 7: MGF launched at Geneva.
May: Rover 416 and 420 launched.
Aug 4: First volume-production MGF built at Longbridge CAB2.
Sep 23: First customer MGF deliveries.
Oct: MGF makes its UK and Japanese Motor Show debuts.
Nov 22: Last MG RV8, Woodcote Green bound for Japan.

Back to the Future

Drivers in cars will seem bizarre. Future generations will never understand why we put up with the congestion, danger and inconvenience of cars driven by people. Allister Heath, editor of City AM points out presciently that the £35 billion HS2 will be obsolescent almost as soon as it is built in 2032 or so, as driverless cars develop. Driving as we know it will be relegated to a leisure pursuit rather like riding or carriage driving with horses. Motor racing? It has already become so far removed from the real world of cars that, like the Grand National or the Derby, it will survive in its own anachronistic way. (Above: Fisker had the vision)

Nothing’s new. On 30 April 1989 I wrote in The Sunday Times: An automatic pilot for cars is practical. Prometheus, a pan European research and development programme now in its third year looks like getting into the driving seat by the end of the Century. "Driving along motorways without electronic controls will be seen, in years to come, as savage and dangerous," according to Sir Clive Sinclair in a report on traffic published last week by the Adam Smith Institute. "Fighter aircraft perform in ways which would be inconceivable if a human brain had to regulate them. Cars under electronic control could travel at 100 miles per hour, closer together and in great safety. I envisage motorways where the control of the vehicles is taken over by the road," says the inventive Sir Clive.

One of the pioneers of Prometheus (PROgramme for a European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety, not a catchy title), Dr Ferdinand Panik of Daimler Benz agrees. "Present day traffic with individual elements will evolve into an integral system of co operating partners." He regards the electronic revolution in cars as analogous to typewriters. "Twenty years ago, as a purely mechanical product, the typewriter had reached a very advanced state of development. Everyone was satisfied with it. Yet within a short time, computers and communication systems had brought about a change from independent typewriters to interlinked word processors, and conquered the market."

Jerome Rivard, former chief of electronics at Ford, now Vice President of Bendix Electronics in the United States believes we are entering the final phase of handing over control of the car to electronics. "Phase 1 was from the mid 60s to the late 70s, when we saw the solid state radio, electronic ignition, and digital clocks. Phase 2 brought integrated circuits and microprocessors which started to link components together. This included electronic engine controls, instruments, and anti lock brakes, now familiar to many drivers. Phase 3 began in the mid 1980s, in which we will see the total integration of vehicle electrical and electronic systems."
(Jensen and successors will survive)
What this means is that with developments such as anti lock brakes, and its corollary, electronic traction control for preventing loss of grip through wheelspin, coming into use, the stage is set for electronics to take the wheel. "We shall drive on to motorways, but once we are there, control of the vehicle will be taken over by the road," says Sir Clive. Rivard puts it another way, "The skills required in handling an automobile are, in some cases, beyond the capacity of the average driver. The advances in steering, braking, and suspension technology during Phase 3 will allow him to employ the full performance potential of the vehicle even in exceptional situations like avoiding accidents." The immediate safety related task of the new systems will be to create an electronic field round the car with ultrasonic, radar, or infrared beams, to measure the distances and speeds to other vehicles. Approaching a parked lorry at night or in fog, the driver will be alerted to the danger of collision. Before the invention of anti lock brakes (ABS) he would have put the brakes on, or swerved by himself. Now the car can do the job better than the most skilled driver, and on the Sinclair motorway, will apply its own brakes. The same applies to unwise overtaking. The on board computers calculate the speed of the lorry ahead, the speed of the car overtaking, decide there is danger of an accident, and over rules the driver's decision to pull out. Research chiefs such as Professor Dr Ing. Ulrich Seiffert of VW see measures of this sort as a solution to the problem of congestion on motorways. "With electronic controls regulating the cars, you could double or treble the capacity of a motorway," he told me during a meeting at this year's Geneva Motor Show. "And automatic traffic will also be more fuel efficient, and so less polluting."

At the inception of Prometheus in 1986, Professor Werner Breitschwerdt, Chairman of the Daimler Benz board of management defined its target as cutting road traffic casualties by half before the year 2000. At a meeting in Munich earlier this year by the participating companies which include most of Europe's principal car manufacturers (Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Renault, Peugeot Citroën, Fiat, Volvo, Saab Scania, VW, BMW, Volkswagen Audi, and Daimler Benz), the research and development phase of the programme was officially inaugurated. "It was a meeting to provide the project's board of management with a progress report," according to Daimler Benz, the prime mover and still the principal co ordinator of Prometheus. "The first year, 1987, was taken up with defining the programme, in 1988 the participating companies were discussing how to do it, and research proper starts this year."

I rode in road trains of vehicles on test tracks 25 years ago. (Below - Nissan Leafs at a Silverstone demonstration - imagine them driving like this on the motorway at 100mph without drivers) I marvel now at Google’s vehicles that have covered 400,000 miles without an accident. With 360degree sensors, lasers, GPS and learning algorithms everything is in place to make driverless cars practical. Public transport, except in close-packed cities, is doomed. People will travel by night, dozing off and waking up at journey’s end. Commuting, along with everything else, will be transformed.

Weep for a Wolseley

When a serious commentator like Martin Buckley contemplates a Wolseley Six Eighty you are obliged to help. We were a Wolseley family, and while I wouldn’t put the 6/80 among his allegedly rubbish cars, it did have shortcomings. Valves. Wolseley’s obsession with shaft-driven overhead camshafts stemmed from copying Hispano Suiza aero engines during the First World War. It continued as Nuffield Morris Engines in the 1930s, so when a post-Second World War Wolseley was contemplated ohc seemed just the thing. There were two. The 4/50 and the 6/80, essentially Minor monocoque masterworks, developed under Alec Issigonis into cars not so much badge engineered, as family resembled. Torsion bar sprung, with decent ride and handling the 6-cylinder was 7in longer, had bigger brakes and fatter tyres. The middle bit with the doors and boot was pure Morris Oxford with not much room in the back.
Alas, the valves. The 2214.8cc produced 72bhp @ 4,700rpm and you could do over 80mph, but to an 18 year old a 0-60 of about 21sec probably seemed lacklustre, and 6/80s didn’t have a rev counter. Taggart’s service manager grew weary of warranty claims and mentioned, unkindly I thought, to father that the trouble was over-revving. In fact the valves and guides were made from poor materials and overheating was endemic. 6/80s had no temperature gauge. By 1952 the cylinder head and cooling system were redesigned, starting with engine number 20,301. I have no idea if ours was before or after, but it certainly burned a lot of valves. Owners nowadays use Stellite. Father replaced it with an Armstrong Siddeley. So, blemished rather than rubbished for Classic & Sports Car readers. I liked the 6/80, steering column gearshift notwithstanding. Ours was metallic green (top at Dunure, Ayrshire). I was into photographing cars even then – I thought you had to if you wanted to be a motoring writer. Mother had the Wolseley tricked out with trendy tartan seat covers over the fine leather seats; they were as good as new when it was sold.
Pity it didn’t have rack and pinion, like the Minor. They didn’t think R&P would work in a big car and it had low-geared Bishop cam steering. Four and three quarter turns lock to lock meant a lot of wheel-twirling when you were in a hurry. Nice wood facia. Mother liked that. Two big SUs and although there was 57 per cent of the weight on the front I don't remember too much understeer. Didn't really know what understeer was. Got the 6/80 stuck in a sand dune at Troon late one night. Girl involved. I was 18.

Nothing new about a London Grand Prix

There’s nothing new about a London Grand Prix. Sunday Magazine in 1981 wasn’t first to suggest it and now, apparently, Bernie is encouraging the idea of one round the Olympic Stadium. Thirty years ago I revived a 1930s proposal. Innes Ireland came to lunch and agreed a Hyde Park Grand Prix course with racing cars tearing down Park Lane at 180mph, braking hard for a sharp right hander at the Hilton, flat-out in fifth past the Serpentine.

Grand Prix cars only had five gears then and were racing round some unlikely places, like the Caesar’s Palace car park, Las Vegas, and street courses in Montreal, Long Beach and Detroit. Lunch with Innes was always entertaining.

Maybe Whitehall, Birdcage Walk and The Mall was a bit ambitious. Hyde Park was probably more practical; Grosvenor House and The Dorchester would have been good viewing points. Decent breakfast and all-day bar. Parliament Square was a product of artist Geoff Hunt’s imagination.

On Wednesday Telegraph Sport revealed that a bid, tabled by Intelligent Transport Solutions Ltd, was among the shortlist of four accepted. According to the formal documentation, it was listed as being “on behalf of Formula One”, though Ecclestone said on Thursday he “had not put his name to it”.

The plan is thought to propose a track running into the stadium and then around the Olympic Park, which has considerable wide-open spaces, though designed for pedestrians rather than F1 cars. Intelligent Transport Solutions Ltd was founded last year, with headquarters listed as Wanstead, east London.

Santander is sponsoring a competition to envisage a London grand prix circuit. Nothing’s new.

Silent Travel

Cars that cancelled out their own noise by playing it back in stereo was not sci-fi fantasy. I heard it working. Yet little has been done with Adaptive Noise Control developed 20 years ago at Lotus. Cars have become so quiet, it seems, there is no need.
Quietude by technical mastery. Crewe. Assembling a 12-cylinder Bentley engine (above).

Lotus's invention consisted of a computer, four loudspeakers some microphones, and sound sensors for tyre and exhaust noise. Development engineers chose a small Citroën AX for experiments because it was lightweight and noisy, and demonstrated it to me on the runways at Hethel.
Unitary small saloons tend to be boisterous inside. Layers of sound-damping materials would only cancel out the advantages of weight-saving for economy. The engineers decided the most annoying noises were low-frequency booming, which reverberated through the body shell from what they described as, “an acoustically complex mix of tyre swish, suspension rumble, engine vibration, and exhaust resonance.”
They had worked with Southampton University's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research since 1986 on a system they claimed was ready for a production car. There were four tiny microphones in the headlining, costing about 35p each, connected to a microprocessor control unit linked into the ignition to sense engine speed.
Detecting sound pressure levels inside the car through the microphones, the control unit matched them with changes in engine speed and played them back through an amplifier with 40 Watts RMS per channel. The effect was astonishing. You could switch the system in and out, making it easy to hear a 20dB reduction in noise in the lower-frequency sounds below about 100HZ.
It didn’t make the car silent. Tackling higher frequencies, the sort of buzz that comes from engine valvegear, or whine from gears, demanded more microphones and loudspeakers, as well as sensors in each seat to localise noise levels to each occupant. It could have been incorporated into a stereo system relatively cheaply for about the cost of the microprocessor Lotus used, under £100 then and probably a lot less now.
Anti-noise would have permitted softer engine mountings which, it was claimed, could make cars almost vibrationless. What high hopes. Adaptive noise control turned out difficult to engineer, much like active suspension Lotus and Volvo tried out in the 1990s. Noisy and heavy, it was overtaken by simpler computer controlled oleo and air springing.

Gaydon, cutaway MGB GT

Silver Arrows land on Goodwood

So, the Second World War is really over. Goodwood welcomes the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union grand prix cars to the Revival in September. It is really about time. Westhampnett, satellite to Tangmere during the Battle of Britain, will echo to the noise of engines made by its adversaries and 75 years after their first appearance in the UK, it promises to be one of the most spectacular historic vehicle events ever.
(Top, Nick Mason drives the V12 Auto Union, above and below, W 125 Mercedes-Benz of 1937-1938)
It is 75 years since their first time in Britain and 74 since their second. This was 1938 for a Donington Grand Prix arranged on 2 October, but the teams had to pack their cars back into their transporters and retreat to Harwich for a ferry back to Germany as the Munich Crisis deepened. Only after Mr Chamberlain brought back his piece of paper was the race rescheduled for 22 October.

Although effectively British Grands Prix the 1937 and 1938 races were called the Donington Grand Prix. Dear old RAC, member of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR founded 1904), was chary about allowing provincial Donington to use the title. Even though Fred Craner, of the Derby and District Motor Club, and JG Shields, landowner, managed to persuade Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union to race against what were essentially local amateurs, the RAC couldn’t quite persuade itself that it should be a British Grand Prix.

Auto Union won both races, Bernd Rosemeyer in 1937, Tazio Nuvolari in 1938 after some disarray in the Mercedes camp.

D-type Auto Union, reconstruction of Nuvolari's winner.
There could be ten Silver Arrows at Goodwood. There were only six at Donington in 1937, eight in 1938 and they will compete with some of the also-rans, ERAs, Maseratis, Rileys, Bugattis and MGs. They will overwhelm them just as they did three quarters of a century ago. The German cars have appeared occasionally in Britain since then, John Surtees drove an Auto Union at Silverstone in 1990, along with Neil Corner in a Mercedes-Benz, but the prospect of seeing - and hearing – them all together is a heady one. Mercedes-Benz W25, W125, W154 and W165, plus the extravagantly rebuilt Auto Union Types C and D will take part

Perhaps it will make the Revival a touch less jingoistic. Motor racing at Goodwood was, essentially, a creation of the 1950s; it was only happenstance that it took place on a wartime airfield. Douglas Bader (below) and his brave contemporaries would be agreeably entertained by the most spectacular grand prix cars of all time on their old “perry track”.