Classic book

Guild of Motoring Writers on a front line? A handful of founders in 1944 maybe but not many. Road tests can be written under fire from unhappy PRs, readers throw brickbats, but it’s a relatively safe business so long as you choose carefully who to drive with on press launches. Yet Mike Brewer was actually shot at doing an illuminating series on army vehicles in Afghanistan. Bouncy and enthusiastic, his publicist describes Brewer as TVs best-known car dealing expert, and now he has produced a book on buying and selling modern classic cars.

Brewer presents Discovery channel’s Wheeler Dealer series, which has been running for nine years and is shown all over the world. It illustrates what interest there is in classic cars and Brewer’s book is a useful primer. It covers buying, owning, selling, auctions and basics like giving a car a deep clean. “It never ceases to amaze me how little effort people make when it comes to tidying up their cars,” Brewer says. Quite right. I learned it long ago during a brief spell in the rough and tumble of the Glasgow motor trade. “If it’s looking a bit grimy get the engine steam cleaned, and don’t forget the painted areas like the inner wings.” Every motoring writer should have a spell selling cars. What makes people buy can be revealing, and it’s hardly ever understeer or oversteer or how many seconds it takes to 60.

Brewer’s experience in the trade was more successful than mine. See his Tales from the Trade. There is cogent advice on starter classics. He recommends Mark 1 Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva HB - plenty of variants and spares are cheap. I was less convinced about his advocacy of the Triumph Spitfire although he does recommend later ones after 1974.

Sporting classics? MGA yes, Delorean definitely not – terrible car – a dishonest pastiche. Favourite modern classics? VW Beetle – OK. Ford Capri ? Maybe. Lotus Elan? Yes. Jaguar E-type, yes certainly although not the lugubrious V12. And Morgan? OK but probably not the Plus 8, which I always thought over-powered for the frail frame. As for the Citroën DS; well to say the complicated suspension and hydraulics aren’t for the faint-hearted is an understatement. I’d go for something more bullet-proof - an MGB maybe with a Heritage bodyshell – to fend off the Taliban.

Mike Brewer’s The Wheeler Dealer Know How! £16.99 ISBN 978-1-845844-89-9 everything you need to know about buying, preparing and selling collectable cars.
Top: Jaguar E-type. Ford Capri II. My sturdy MGB. Bottom - I tested military vehicles in my Gunner days. 8 (Alma) Field Battery Royal Artillery Daimler Ferret armoured car, like they used to build in what became the Jaguar factory in Browns Lane. That’s me in the turret.

Too old to drive a Duster

Three months before its UK launch the new Dacia is Scottish Car of the Year (SCOTY) and The Sunday Times thinks it fifth best 4x4. A thousand have been ordered. It looks a bargain. I even thought of replacing my Nissan Terrano with one, when I saw it at the SCOTY awards. As a Life Member of the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers I was not eligible to vote. No longer on the Scottish rota, I thought I might borrow one on road test.

No, said Dacia, only if you arrange your own insurance. We know you are over 75.

I have only once been refused a test car on account of age, a Porsche 911 Turbo so a certain caution was perhaps understandable. I said I had been road testing Porsches without incident since 1964 and the ban was quickly rescinded. I test drive Jaguars and Bentleys and Audis but Dacia seems to doubt I can handle its 1461cc and 0-60mph in 12.5sec. Even The Sunday Times thinks the build quality isn’t great. Should Dacias be sold to over-75s? If Dacia has such concern over its press cars, probably not.

I will carry on with my trusty Nissan (behind the Bentley, below).

Requiem for a Puma

Suddenly at 71 years... Well, 71 thousand miles in this case. Obituary for a well-liked car. 71,000 miles at an average speed of, say, 30mph means Ruth or I spent 2,366.666 hours at the wheel of the Puma. That is 98.61 days. Fourteen weeks, day and night, or three and a half months. First registered in 2001, one of the last Puma Thunders, R50DOV had been on show in the foyer of Ford’s Brentford office and came to us with 4 miles on the clock. It was brought on a transporter from Essex to Wemyss Bay, so by the time it reached Duncan, the Ford dealer on the Isle of Bute, it had gone further by sea than it had on its own wheels.

What a pretty car. Silver. It may have been only a Fiesta underneath, but designed by Ian Callum (Jaguars, Aston Martin DB7, RS200, Mondeo) it was well proportioned and beautifully detailed. Ruth liked it from the start. It only did around 6,500 miles a year because we had other cars and a throughput of test cars. Ruth used it for commuting and going out saving lives, so I suppose most of the 14 weeks’ day-and-night in it was down to her. We used it surprisingly often for long distances between the north of Scotland and the south of England. Her friend Iona liked the Puma’s style so much she bought one too.

R50DOV had distinguished company from time to time

Buying R50DOV’s replacement was an unedifying experience. What with the time it took and the rigmarole. “The Financial Services Authority insists I read out the following…” Rubbish of course. Car salesmen try to sell you policies for this and policies for that and the FSA would only insist on you sitting down to listen if you were actually going to buy one, which we were not. It was all a ploy to get your attention and after a couple of boring read-outs we got wise and said Shut Up We Are Not Going To Buy That. One stupid salesman, trying to sell Ruth a car too noisy by half, told her that Nobody Drives Nowadays Without The Radio On, so she wouldn’t be aware of the racket. He didn’t stand a chance. An Audi A1 was a possibility but to get a decent one you have to add on this and add on that.

So fatigue was setting in by the time we came to several choices of Ford or a Honda Jazz. Sales lady at Ford did a good professional job – she will go far – but the Honda won despite a salesman blundering over things one would have expected expunged by Honda main dealer salesmens’ school. The Jazz is not as stylish as the Puma and Ruth will miss the heated windscreen this winter – what a boon that was. She already misses the pert Callum styling. The Jazz doesn’t cut as much of a dash, but it’s bigger and we can use it for journeys for which the Puma was really too small. The Jazz will hold more, it could even hold two Labadors, and it is quiet. Ruth hardly needs to turn the radio up beyond Quite Normal.

Room for a couple of Labradors in here?

Formula One - BMW Nil

My BMW Z3 on a fine day

Wet drive in prospect for Silverstone practice. BMW Z3 wiper blade shredded. Can I come to Soper, Lincoln main dealer, and have new ones fitted? Not till Tuesday. Nice lady suggested try Sytner, Nottingham, on your way to Silverstone. Gave me a phone number. Four calls and long waits listening to recorded advertising drivel about BMW and the Olympics. Gave up, called Formula One Autocentre, Lincoln. “We’ll fit new blades right away.” And they did. A lot cheaper than Soper would have on Tuesday. Convincing. BMW service always disappoints.

Ford Kuga and Nissan Terrano

Should I replace the Nissan with a Kuga? When the time comes? The Nissan is taller (see above) but the room inside is comparable. A Kuga is on my shortlist. I bought the Nissan new in 1998 for something like £26,000, about the price of a decent Kuga now, yet it carries its years well, passing its MoT the other week, pausing only to have brakes dusted down. I bought it to replace a 1993 Maverick, its Ford twin, which had also been the soul of reliability so they have been a family mainstay for 17 years. With a stout chassis and non-rusting body I thought it would last for ever, and it very nearly has but its 2.7 diesel has the charm and refinement of a London taxi (no coincidence, lots of London taxis used Nissan diesels) and I now need something more saloon car-ish. Twenty years’ development in diesels shows. The Kuga is smoother, quieter and feels lighter. The only clue to being a diesel is a limited rev range but the strong torque and 6-speed automatic mean that scarcely matters. It was so much smoother and livelier than the Nissan I did actually stop and looked at the fuel filler (which is only a flap – it has no screw cap) to see if it said DIESEL. You can use the automatic like a manual if you want.
I have thought about an estate car yet I am reluctant to forgo four wheel drive. You only need it once in a while but in emergencies, winter, towing, or off-road occasions that happen infrequently you bless it. So, maybe a crossover, on a car platform, with a tall body, high seating, good ground clearance and the appearance of a Sport Utility. The Kuga behaves like a saloon car, handles securely, rides smoothly and doesn’t feel a bit like the harshly sprung Terrano. It hasn’t got a big strong separate chassis but its C-car architecture of Focus and C-Max provide a good balance of comfort and control.

Would a Kuga be big enough for the dogs? That is Wellington looking superior. The luggage space of 360l (12.7cuft) is smaller than a Focus but with the back seats flat it goes up to 1355l (47.8cuft), which is big enough. Underseat storage beneath the rear seats and the boot floor are practical features, the back seats have a 60/40 split and the flat glass upper section of the tailgate can be opened separately. I might miss the third row of seats. The Nissan’s have seldom been used; they are usually folded away or taken out and left in the garage but once again, what a boon on occasion. Their leather upholstery is like new. I would miss the Nissan’s leather. The seats on Kuga I had on test only had leather facings although they are well trimmed and practical. Kuga has some road noise and bump-thump, a bit of winfd noise on the motorway, but against the Nissan it is luxury. Although 41.7mpg is not as economical as some rivals it beats the Nissan’s 27.
The kerbside-opening door was never an inconvenience but the Kuga's upwards one is better. It has a little handle to help short people close it.
Tail-ender. Nelson would not be left out.

BMW Z3 and Shoemakers' Bairns

Beyond starring in jokey thrillers, Cary Grant and Pierce Brosnan had not much in common, yet both made a sports car famous. In 'To Catch a Thief' (Hitchcock, Paramount, 1955) Grant and Grace Kelly raced through the Riviera in a Sunbeam Alpine. In 'Goldeneye' (United Artists 1995) Brosnan forsook James Bond's Aston Martin and pursued baddies in a BMW Z3.

Both had the underpinnings of production saloons, the Alpine the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, the Z3 the BMW Compact 318i. They had 'retro' styling. The Alpine was aimed at North America. Stirling Moss won Coupes des Alpes in it, yet production ones were not quite up to scratch as road-going sports cars. Triumph TR2s were faster, MGAs more precise, Austin-Healeys lower and racier. All borrowed bits from mass-production, TR from the Standard Vanguard, MG from BMC, Austin-Healey from the A90.

The BMW Z3 was not only aimed at North America, it was made in South Carolina. Quick, lively, it handled well, with a smooth-revving 4-cylinder in front, driving the rear wheels as a sports car's should. The recipe was right, it was well put together, and when I drove one in California, on a visit to the Pebble Beach concours, where streets seemed thronged with Ferraris, it drew admiring whoops of 'Nice car...'

The 4-cylinder was feeble but BMW already had plans for a six and I bought a 2 litre 6-cylinder. Was it a sports car or a born-again roadster like the Alpine? I suppose it is about as fast as an early XK120. It looked a thoroughbred. It was not large, the cockpit close-fitting, the boot big enough for a week-end. The hood was fine for 1996, folding away after undoing a couple of clips, it was draught-free although California may not have been the best place to try out its weatherproofing.

Mine had 2000 miles on the clock and it has been a delight. However, “Shoemakers’ bairns,” as the old saying has it, “Are aye the worst shod,” and it’s the same with motoring authors’ cars. They get neglected. My Z3 was deeply cherished by me but ill-served by BMW dealers. Up till now that is. Glasgow Giffnock's Harry Fairbairn was useless, expensive and inefficient. Visit after visit failed to cure trifling faults. And when the faults grew big, once out of warranty, the cost of fixing them was eye-watering. New brake callipers and discs were needed before 35,000 miles. They seized apparently through lack of use and corroded because, said Fairbairn, I lived near the sea. My Nissan Terrano and Ruth’s Ford Puma didn’t suffer but there you are.

There was paintwork trouble and a failed repaint. “You’ve got an adhesion problem,” said Fairbairn without a trace of irony. The new paint wasn’t adhering. Douglas Park in Glasgow was better, but now Soper of Lincoln look after it, I get a courtesy Ford Fiesta when it goes in for service and to have some neglected bits put right. The cost seems about right for a car that is still relatively low mileage and runs beautifully.

Snow and the 4X4


No more sneering at 4x4s. The snow has shown they are essential. We live by country roads, if not impassable probably problematical. Our Nissan Terrano 2 has been used by the family District Nurse; the West Country has been calling up WRVS volunteers with 4x4s to maintain meals on wheels, so where would people have been without them? All wheel drive cars have become part of everyday life and apart from a few carping complainants, with terms like Chelsea Tractors, fulfil a real need.

Four wheel drive might not be in the same league as rotary-winged aircraft, but it should never be scorned. It is a technical achievement too easily taken for granted, and like rescue helicopter crews picking up injured children or survivors from foundering ships, it has a great deal to its credit.

My first 4x4 was a Ford Maverick. After reporting on it and the Nissan Terrano 2 in The Sunday Times of 6 June 1993, I borrowed a Maverick, and then bought it when it became indispensable. It carried four daughters and the dogs, pulled the horse-box, took bicycles on the roof and carried many books. I exchanged it for a new Terrano 2, now in its 13th year having become part of the family. The daughters have gone and so has the horse-box, in effect exchanged for pushchair and baby, but the Terrano goes on and on.
It is a matchless multi purpose vehicle. Mine has still only done 68,337 miles, I have just checked; we have other cars and I use test cars a lot. It was invaluable during our recent move and is the most dependable and longest-serving car I have ever had. Except for an occasional exhaust system and battery, it has cost next to nothing beyond routine servicing. It does 27mpg, tows a trailer, and everything on it still works. When I get round to it a new air conditioning compressor will be the only thing I have ever spent money on. The bodywork is like new, except for a rusty bit where the dogs scratch it getting in the back door, and it feels good for another 68,337.

So, no more sneering at 4x4s please, but let us have a small rant blaming global warmists for predicting so mild winters for so long that the authorities did not have enough salt to keep roads clear. The BBC has just interviewed the hapless Hilary James Wedgwood Benn MP, secretary of state for the environment, predictably without challenging him over the warmists’ main argument. The northern hemisphere is having its third freezing winter in succession, most of Canada and America was snowbound in December for the first time in decades and our Met Office, after getting the barbecue summer wildly wrong, predicted this would be a mild winter. Let us have done with panic mongering and consign the Roundheads to Cromwellian history.