History's most infamous vehicles

History's most infamous vehicles

World’s worst cars: cyberspace is plagued with lists like this. The typical ‘Top 10’ features a selection of the same old cars – Austin Allegro, Matra Rancho or the Ford Edsel.

Well, here’s a twist – seven infamous cars that are actually great classics today. And why they deserve a place in the automotive hall of fame, after all.

How to spot a gem when buying a classic car

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Hints, tips and pointers that’ll help you buy a brilliant classic car

Buying a classic car should be one of the most exciting purchases of your life. These cars are treats for most people - a significant investment of money, time and emotion. Yet the reality is that many people find it a process fraught with danger and risk.

Will you end up buying a dud? A car with a fake history, botched accident repairs or one that’s beset with rust and problems galore? 

Follow our simple six-step guide to provide more reassurance when you come to buying a classic car.

Could you be a Classic Car Dealer?

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See yourself as a bit of a wheeler dealer? Or are you thinking about buying and selling your first classic? Take the quiz to see if you've got what it takes!

Plus, a chance to WIN London Classic Car Show tickets. 

Gene Hunt: what would he have driven in the 1990s

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Gene Hunt is the larger-than-life TV cop starring in the BBC hit series Ashes To Ashes and whose catchphrase “Fire up the Quattro!” introduced millions of viewers to the delights of an original Audi Quattro.

It was a 1980s classic - a brutal road car borne out of Audi’s rally programme and fitted Hunt’s character role perfectly. The red 1983 coupe was sold on eBay in 2014 for £15,100.

But what would happen if Hunt, played by actor Philip Glenister, was playing bad-boy detective in the 1990s? He drove a Ford Cortina in prequel Life On Mars, set in the 1970s. Which got us thinking…

Edd China's Classic Car Health Check

Pre 1960 classics are no longer required to pass an MoT test and pretty soon, it looks likely that all historic vehicles will become MoT exempt. Even without an MoT, your car must be roadworthy by law and doing your own classic car health check at home is well within the capability of most owners. Even before MoT exemption is introduced, giving your classic an MoT in the driveway in readiness for the real deal can save you time and money so Skill Shack and Heritage Classic Car Insurance have teamed up with Edd China to bring you Edd China’s Classic Car Health Check!
 
 Sign up today and be the first to watch these exclusive videos, we’ll let you know as soon as each video in the series is released. If that’s not enough, you’ll also be entered into a prize draw to WIN a pair of tickets to Goodwood Revival, plus our first 250 sign-ups will receive a FREE 6 month subscription to Skill Shack!

Which Classic Car Are You?

Ever wondered which classic car you are? Well, wonder no more!
Find out whether you’re an E-Type or more of a Range Rover Classic – just answer a few short questions in our classic car quiz and you’ll be matched with the car that suits your personality. 
Take the quiz, share with friends and you’ll get the chance to win tickets to the Classic Motor Show, 10-12 November 2017!

How Not To Fix A Mini Mayfair

Words: Calum Brown
Pictures: A Kindly AA Man


Calum escapes back to Edinburgh to spend some time with his 1992 Mini Mayfair. Then wishes he hadn't bothered. 

Hate is a word usually reserved for low-fat foods and Windows 8.  However, my Mini Mayfair ‘Audrey’ appears to truly hate me - it despises me on even a molecular level. For the best part of 18 months I’ve ensured that the little red bull has been kept safe and warm in an underground storage facility, free from the rain and the dangers of the outside world. I’ve even travelled north at great expense to continue work on getting it back onto the road and provided it with 24 hour watch under a security camera. Yet, it’s like greeting a disgruntled, knife-wielding juvenile upon arriving at the facility in Edinburgh. I genuinely suffer anxiety upon clocking its headlamps poking out from its parking space, as Audrey’s demonic puppydog face scans the car park - searching for me in a sinister manner, picturing the many ways in which to kill me off.

Since last updating the team back in February 2016, the Mini from hell has only started up and moved once - and even then it soiled itself and promptly poured every fluid imaginable, some of it green, all over the ground. It’s punishing me for something, albeit I’m not sure what. Tired of Audrey’s irrational behaviour, I felt it was time to delve in and inject some logic into the engine bay and interior.

‘Time for some tough love, you unspeakable lunatic’.

There was blood everywhere. My arm was cut open; the tools released from my grip into a dank, coiled, pool of black oil and my red stuff. The bonnet had come down on me, without warning. After much swearing and some bandages, I set back to work. All I wanted to do was drain the oil, and yet I looked like something out of Casualty.

Now unable to open the bonnet, as the release clip had jammed, I decided to check under the floorpans to judge the level of crustiness. My magnet wouldn’t stick to anything. The sills appeared to be constructed from 100% filler, which explained the strange handling characteristics when I bought her. Then, scraping away some rust on the boot floor my screwdriver plunged straight into what felt like an air lock. The rear of the car was rampant with the tin worm.

Having failed to change the oil, jammed the bonnet release, cut myself open and then depressed myself at the lack of metal holding my Mini together, I then felt that attacking the interior would offer some sort of success. Instead, I was met with a variety of spiders - some the size of my head, I swear - and enough mold to create a new Austin-Rover cheese.

The heater had clearly been leaking while the car was in storage, resulting in my red carpets resembling a 1950s b-movie horror beast from the depths. There was more horror to be found when I then moved onto the brakes, which were solid - almost like cement holding each wheel in place. It felt wrong to start laying into the minilites with a sledgehammer, but it was the first taste of victory since starting this epic work 3 hours earlier.

After breaking open the bonnet catch and successfully draining the oil and radiator, having then topped up with fresh fluids, I removed the old battery and connected up a new one. There was ignition light! The fuel was slightly old, fearing a stale fuel supply, but the urge to start her was too much to bear. Unbelievably, Audrey spluttered into life. Except, the victory was short lived - in my excitement, I had forgotten to check if the vehicle was in gear - and the Mini jumped back, clattering off the wall. Then the engine cut out and I couldn’t get it going again. Then the rear bumper fell off completely.

If I weren’t so determined to get her on the road again, she would be bean cans by now. The saga continues... 

Why You Want: The Ford Sierra XR4i

Gillian Carmoodie is sent out to experience the coolest Sierra of them all. Forget the Cosworth, it's the XR4i that you really want!

With just a single glance at a Ford Sierra XR4i, I was turbo-charged straight back to the 1980s. In the same year I was born, this striking 3-door hot hatchback was sold to its first owner who, like the era they’d bought the car in, likely didn’t care much for the idea of subtle.  With bodywork tailored by aerodynamic design, a lusty 2.8 litre V6 Cologne engine under the bonnet and bright stripes down the side combined with that ever so prominent rear bi-plane spoiler, I’m certain the XR4i would’ve attracted a good deal of attention wherever it went back in the day. 

Fast-forward thirty-two years and now I’m all grown-up and sat within the XR4i’s generously equipped interior. I try to scribble some notes on how the various components have faired over time but all I can think is ‘I just want to drive the damn thing!' 

I’m impressed.  I feel as if I’ve aged more in the last three decades than the Sierra has. The exterior is wonderfully loud and proud and the interior still feels remarkably modern.  I’m particularly taken with the flashes of red around the gauges and steering wheel whilst also being fascinated by the central dashboard display as it gives me all sorts of information about the car. 

Now it’s time to take this rebellious motor back to the dealership.  Instantly I can feel the XR4i’s sporty credentials I’ve been reading about as the Sierra delivers an impressive burst of initial acceleration followed by a slick delivery of power as I work my up and through the 5-speed gearbox.  As I corner this way and that, the XR4i’s handling feels responsive and tight, cornering with as much attitude as her controversial styling suggests. All the while I keep catching sight of that large spoiler out of the back window and I realise I’m grinning as I drive along.  The Sierra XR4i is bloody good fun!

On our way back into town, a set of lights up ahead turn red and the XR4i and I come to a halt where I’m promptly asked through the open driver’s window if I might give the passing male pedestrian my telephone number.  I laugh and tell him it’s not my car!  He’s not the first person to have noticed me in the few miles I’ve been out with this special motor. The XR4i has gleaned more thumbs-up and friendly toots of approval than any other car I’ve driven.

Reluctantly I have to hand the ‘two-miles a minute’ XR4i back into the dealership whilst being all too aware that in less than 10 miles it’s completely and utterly won me over. I suddenly feel pangs of jealously towards the generation who could buy this car new at the age I find myself at now. I simply can’t think of a modern car that is simultaneously as unashamed in its styling as it is a bloody good drive.   

Inside Donald Campbell's Personal Garage

Donald Campbell took the public imagination by storm with his powerful, beautiful and world-record breaking vehicles - both on land and water, remaining to this day as the only person ever to break both the land and water speed record in the same year (1964.) Here we take a look at Donald's personal garage - just what cars scratched the speed king's itch for on-road excitement? 

Words and Research: Gillian Carmoodie
Pictures: Thanks to Chris Lowe, Practical Classics and Classic Car Weekly.


This article was first published in Classic Car Weekly on January 4th, 2017. Fifty years to the day since Campbell's fatal accident. 

Donald Campbell (right) with his right-hand man Leo Villa (left), alongside Bluebird K7. 

Donald Campbell (right) with his right-hand man Leo Villa (left), alongside Bluebird K7. 

Famous for having scooped numerous speed records for Britain on both land and water during the 1950s and 1960s, Donald Campbell's life came to a tragic yet heroic end on 4 January 1967 while attempting to break the water speed record on Coniston Water in his Bluebird K7 speedboat. He was aged just 45.

As a patriotic supporter of British industry and connoisseur of fine motorcars, Donald opted for an enviable selection of homegrown classics as personal transport – often finished in similar shades of blue to that which he favoured for his Bluebird record vehicles and boats. Here’s our pick of those he drove... well, at least the ones that weren’t gas turbine-powered.

1. 1965 Jaguar E-Type

Picture taken from 1988 film 'Across The Lake', where Donald Campbell is portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. 

Picture taken from 1988 film 'Across The Lake', where Donald Campbell is portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. 

Of all of Campbell’s personal machines, Donald’s Jaguar E-type Series I in Opalescent Silver Blue is the car with which he is most closely associated.

Bought in May 1966 from HR Owen, Donald was photographed beside the Serpentine in Hyde Park as he handed the keys to his wife Tonia Bern-Campbell. Registered GLM 37C, the 4.2-litre E-type was often seen driving through the village of Coniston, with Donald waving and tooting to locals on his way to Bluebird K7’s workshop. The E-type was the last car Donald drove and it remained parked alongside Pier Cottage after Donald’s fatal accident on Lake Coniston 50 years ago.

Removed on 6 January 1967, the Jaguar was sold about a week later along with the registration of DC7. In the intervening decades, the E-type has been treated to panel work, a full respray and an engine rebuild while retaining the non-standard wooden gearknob fitted by Donald. 

2. 1964 Radford Mini

In the 1960s, it was fashionable to have a Mini Cooper customised by Radford to create a more opulent and exclusive version (actor and comedian Peter Sellers is pictured with one, above).

When Donald Campbell treated his wife Tonia to a 1964 1275 S, it had benefitted from the Radford treatment. Among the extras was a full leather interior, electric windows and a record player. The Radford also had a radio with roof-mounted aerial and a grille with recessed spotlights, in line with the company’s Mini de Ville Grande Luxe specifications. Although it is unclear if Donald ever drove the Mini himself, it was photographed on Campbell’s driveway at his home of Priors Ford in Leatherhead as it sat beside a full-scale prototype of the land speed record car Bluebird Mach 1.1, designed to reach speeds of up to 840mph. Bluebird may have been significantly faster, but the Mini probably handled much better. 


3. 1937 Bentley 4.5-litre (DXU 2)

Donald Campbell became the third owner of this stunning 4.5-litre Bentley after buying it on 3 February 1949. Sporting Standard Steel Park Ward coachwork, the car was originally black but had been painted silver prior to Donald’s purchase.

Famously photographed in a publicity shot alongside Bluebird K7 in the French port of Aixs- Le-Bains by Lake Bourget, Donald Campbell’s XK150 SE fixed-head coupé was as stylish as the settings it often found itself in. 

On the sale receipt he gave his address as the Reigate Hill Hotel in Surrey. It is believed he was living there while Bluebird K4, a speedboat previously owned by his father Sir Malcolm, underwent alterations prior to Donald’s first attempt at the water speed record.

He had a St Christopher badge fitted to the dashboard, as well as aircraft seatbelts, both of which are still in the car. Donald owned the Bentley for little less than a year, selling it in December 1949. The 4.5-Litre was bought by the Lakeland Motor Museum in 1989 and fully restored, including a respray in Bluebird Blue and the fitting of a radiator mascot in the shape of a swift. 

4. Jaguar XK150  (DC 7)

Built in June 1958, this 3.4-litre XK150 was finished in Pastel Blue and came with numerous special factory options including Koni shock absorbers, Pirelli Cinturato tyres, a high compression cylinder head, D-type camshaft and overdrive, while the luxurious interior was finished with grey upholstery with safety belts and a Derrington steering wheel.

Registered to Donald by Henlys of London, the XK150 was used as a daily driver and looked after by Donald’s long-term mechanic Leo Villa. Rumour has it that Donald also used the XK150’s engine in a speedboat.

The XK150 remained in Campbell ownership until mid-1963; it is now privately owned, with its most recent public appearance being 2016's NEC Classic Motor Show in November. 


5. Land Rover Series I (JNJ 375)

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As Donald strove for his speed records, he was supported by various Land Rovers that worked tirelessly to keep his attempts going.

They pulled stranded speed record vehicles free when they became stuck in soft terrain and were also employed winching Bluebird K7 out of the water at Coniston Water.

Perhaps one of his slowest ever vehicles, Donald’s Series I was likely chosen thanks to its sheer dependability but was never tasked with record-related work. Bought on 29 January 1960, JNJ 375 was petrol-engined and had an 86in wheelbase.

Unusually for one of Donald’s cars, it is believed this Land Rover retained its original green paintwork while under Donald’s ownership. This is despite his superstition that the colour green was unlucky.

Beneath the now blue paintwork, the panels of the Series I are made of Birmabright, the same corrosion-resistant alloy that made up much of Bluebird K7’s bodywork. 

Donald's Other Road Cars

Donald also owned, at various times an AC Ace, Aston Martins DB2/4, DB MkIII and DB4 GT, Jaguars XK120 and MkI and a Morris Minor Traveller, used as a general purpose runaround.

His first-generation 1955 Jensen Interceptor had a brief drive-on part in 1962’s motoring-orientated The Fast Lady movie, starring Stanley Baxter, Leslie Phillips and Julie Christie. Despite his preference for true blue Brits, he also acquired one of the zeniths of 1950s sports cars, a Mercedes- Benz 300 SL ‘Gullwing’. 

You can find excerpts from BBC's 'Across The Lake' in this Marillion music video, the song of which is about Campbell's final record run. 

 

 

 

 

Triple Test: Communist Cars

You may mock and jump on the soviet car-bashing bandwagon, but so-called older ‘communist cars’ have a bucket load of charm to offer for relatively little money. CCFS sent Calum Brown, Gillian Carmoodie and Sam Skelton out to defend their favourite.  Prepare yourselves…

Words and Video: Calum Brown, Sam Skelton and Gillian Carmoodie
Pictures: Gillian Carmoodie

 

It’s not everyday that you find yourself presented with three cars to cause so much argument. One is a Lada Samara, of which Calum claims ‘strikes the perfect balance between Soviet dependability and retro goodness’, the second is a Yugo 45 that has stolen Sam Skelton’s heart and the third is a Fiat 126 ‘Brown’, a car from Italy that Gillian Carmoodie insists is true to the communist spirit.

It’s long been a point of argument in the CCFS office, so when Morris Leslie Auction’s found one of each vehicle on their forecourt it was only right that we sent our three contributors out to put this argument to bed. We can only but apologise to Morris Leslie and Keith Murray for the squabbling.
 

Calum - The Lada Samara

It’s easy to open your ill-informed mouth and dispense with Lada jokes like Skelton does opinionated wind, but don’t heed to the moronic remarks he casts over my preferred Lada.  Although far from perfect, with ‘brakes’ capable of‘stopping’ the car and an interior that appears to have been crafted from prickly plastic trimmings straight off Katie Hopkin’s face – it offers everything you would expect from a soviet workhorse.  Unlike Sam’s varicose-vein-blue Yugo 45, the Samara is a genuine workhorse, and unlike Gillian’s Fiat 126, you can use the Lada in modern day life without soiling your underwear.

Tough, no-nonsense and devoid of any decadent electronics to go wrong during Donald Trump’s upcoming nuclear winter, the Samara easily ticks all the soviet boxes.

Is it a pleasure to be in the company of the Samara? In a strange way, it is.  Despite suffering a few shortcomings – the car’s basic charm wins the day. While the Fiat and Yugo violate several UN human rights with legroom issues alongside an intense smell of petrolchemicals, the Lada is the only car here that you would dare undertake a long journey or an errand with. You can see the Samara driving up a snowy mountain while towing several fallen trees and simultaneously being attacked by a bear, before driving across a frozen lake towards a solitary wood cabin carrying a year’s supply of fish. I can’t see the Fiat managing a speed bump, let alone an incline.  

I won’t deny that I like the other two cars here – but the Lada remains the only one to really feel like a soviet vehicle. It’s tough wearing, it’s bomb proof and it’s red. It’s also the fastest, the tightest on the bends and strikes a chord between retro 1990s looks with a soviet flair. It’s a fantastic vehicle – and the outright winner from our trio.

Sam - The Yugo 45

Calum has clearly got it wrong. The Samara is not the best communist car out of our trio – because my little Yugo is.  Granted, Lada’s first homespun family car is larger and certainly more powerful, but the Yugo retains that semi-Italianite feel of a small Fiat. It’s endearing – not as fun perhaps as a 126, but it makes you smile. I wasn’t a fan of the petrochemical smells from the cabin, but once I’d confirmed it was the plastics and not a fuel leak I grew more comfortable with it. And it might only have 45bhp, but it pulls cleanly without leaving a cloud of death behind it.

It’s fun to punt along – not the smoothest-riding nor the most confident in the bends but when you’re talking about a car that leaves you grinning from ear-to-ear none of those aspects matter.  I can see the point of Carmoodie’s 126 ‘Brown’ – it’s charming and cute and has the best special edition name ever. But it’s too small to use as an everyday car – and when communism is about giving to each according to his need, you have to question the market at which it could be targeted. Its lack of flexibility as a vehicle marks it down. As does the fact that Italy wasn’t a communist country in the 1970s – while the Fiat workforce was broadly socialist, it doesn’t actually make the 126 ‘Brown’ a communist car.

How Gillian can expect it to win a communist car challenge is beyond me. And as for the Lada, while it’s far from the worst I’ve ever driven, in this company the Italian and the semi-Italian outflank it. The Lada is roomy, but it also feels the flimsiest of our trio and the most likely to break. Strangely, it also feels too powerful for its own chassis, and stopping from anything above walking pace is truly terrifying. Frankly, the Lada comes a very distant third.

So – the Fiat is disqualified and the Lada is rubbish. The Yugo is therefore the winner and the only one that I want – and secretly, I do rather want it. But not as much as I want to see Brown explain convincingly as to why he’d pick that Lada.  
 

Gillian - The Fiat 126 'Brown'

I’m not going to attack like the boys – instead, provide a much more logical approach to championing the little Fiat 126. Firstly, while it may not set the road alight with rip-snorting performance, it feels like a little road rocket no matter the pace. 35mph is quite fast enough with it’s tiny cabin, but straight from the off the enjoyment factor is present.

It’s quirky, too – as I found when trying to use it. Despite the tiny size, some of the Fiat was a big mystery. ‘How do I even start it up?’ was my main thought as Calum and Sam cranked their soviet beasts into life. Keith Murray from the auction house had to jump in the passenger side to show me what to do – as it turns out, the starter rests under the handbrake.

The ride was somewhat noisy and bumpy – but it didn’t put me off. It was something of a hoot – even if I opted to take it easy when cornering, as it didn’t feel like it would take much to topple over. Yes, it may be underpowered in comparison to the larger two offerings but unlike the gruff Lada or rigid Yugo, the Fiat is sheer good fun and full of enthusiasm. Taking on every challenge with determined gusto – and isn’t that the communist spirit?

I can’t ignore that the Fiat isn’t really from a communist country, but it captures the spirit of Soviet willpower and fortitude without the haircurling stench of petrolchemicals from the Yugo and the scary attributes and image problem of the Lada. I know Calum and Sam will disagree, but feel you will not only understand, but agree with me wholeheartedly.

For me, the Fiat wins.

Verdict

Seeing as our team clearly can’t reach a viable conclusion, CCFS are left to pick up the pieces and regulate the result.

Looking at the ramblings of our trio, we can tell you that the Fiat is not a regular communist car. We can also tell you that Sam’s Yugo may appear the cleanest, but the square offering from Yugoslavia remains slower and less practical than the Lada. But the Lada is not winning that easily.

We have to look at it in a new way – what is Communism? In essence, it’s where the community owns all property and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs. Therefore – which car would the population be happiest to use?

We’ll leave that open to your opinion. 

Crap Cars Take on Brooklands

Defending his Rover 115SD, Calum challenges Murray Scullion and Richard Kilpatrick to a Brooklands time trial. It doesn't go well for team Metro... 

Words: Calum Brown
Photos: Gillian Carmoodie

Calum Brown, Murray Scullion and Richard Kilpatrick pose with their vehicles alongside Paul Stewart - who kindly let them onto the track. 

Calum Brown, Murray Scullion and Richard Kilpatrick pose with their vehicles alongside Paul Stewart - who kindly let them onto the track. 

Some aspects go hand in hand, such as a Rover 800 and the overpowering aroma of Old Spice and fax machine toner, or Channel 5’s ‘The Cars That Made Britain Great’ and the urge to lob a brick through the telly, hunt down Phil Tuffnell, make him eat his stupid, stupid words alongside force-feeding him a ceramic mug. Some things, however, do not - such as children and automatic weapons, Donald Trump and politics or, in this case, a Metro and steep hills.

After defending my recent purchase of a ‘diesel powered wheelbarrow’ from the CCW hyenas, I dared Murray Scullion to a challenge after one cutting comment too far - expecting him to look at the floor sheepishly and for the print team to back off. However, to my surprise, he accepted. And then came the kick in the knackers, the challenge was to take place on Brooklands’ notorious test hill, courtesy of Paul Stewart. I was in for a beating - how in the world could a 1.5 diesel Rover 115SD top a Mazda MX5, even if it was Murray's ropey one held together purely with hope? 

To try and mask the Metro’s frankly lethargic acceleration, a truly terrible car was needed to complete the trio - so I contacted Richard Kilpatrick, who held the CCW’s Ford Puma keys that week - and he agreed to join in. CCW's Ford Puma is a truly hateful car - like driving that little bit of material between the chocolates and the lid on a box of Cadbury's Milk Tray. You can find out how we got on with it in our 'Puma enjoys a mudbath and crashing into a ditch' article from October 2016 - and our opinion of it hasn't changed. 

Nevertheless, the date was set for the Metro’s first challenge - taking on a Murray’s MX-5 and Ford’s runt, under Richard's control. This was going to be interesting - like watching Daniel Craig and Bradley Cooper take on Alan Carr. 

The noise from the Rover diesel sounded like an abused Transit Van.

The noise from the Rover diesel sounded like an abused Transit Van.

Shoe-horned into the cacophony of traffic that is the M25 car park, after five gruelling hours dwarfed by trucks and pushed around by disgruntled commuters, team Metro bounced into the Brooklands courtyard, greeted by Murray and Paul. Then the Puma arrived, slicing Brooklands’ net value clean in half with it's gauping face and pathetic stance. And that's rich coming from a facelifted-Metro owner. 

With the paperwork signed to disclaim that if we crashed and died it was our own senseless fault, we lined up for the start in, what was described as, ‘the worst cars ever to grace Brooklands’. That noise is Sir Malcolm Campbell spinning in his grave at 5000rpm.

After having witnessed Murray’s MX-5 depart in a plume of tyre smoke and roar up the hill on a crest of admiration from those watching, I approached the starting point with extreme trepidation. Chances are, my little blue tractor was going to stop two thirds of the way up and roll back down, probably on fire and upside down - like Benny Hill on steroids.

Paul instructed me to get ready and I prepared my biting point, resting the cars eager flatulence on the handbrake. Then the handbrake snapped completely, leaving me to jut forward and up the hill in a panic as the engine revved so hard I automatically changed into 2nd gear, which killed my momentum stone dead. My time was woeful - 16.20 seconds. However, in doing so I found that you could get impressive wheelspin from the Rover. And it even looked as though it happened on purpose. 

You can see some snaps from the challenge below by clicking on the carousel: 

For the second run I tried to be savvier, but instead left the marshals laughing hysterically. While the MX-5 and Puma held some style taking on the climb, the Metro offered all the elegance of a drunken clown running across a ploughed field. However, I discovered we had sliced 3 full seconds off our time - courtesy of a surprising burst of extra torque on the redline.
 Then, for our final run, things went badly. My clutch was cooked, the biting point shallower than Katie Hopkins - this 3rd attempt could kill it completely. And it did. The smell was enough to curl your nose hairs, but I had set my best time of the day - 13.09 seconds. I was still the slowest, however - by a vast margin.

 Yet, it’s not all about the winning, as quoted by most of history’s runners-up. At the end of the day, the little Rover 115 made it to Brooklands and back, completing three runs of the car-killing gradient, on only £15 worth of diesel. I’ll call that a win for the face-lifted Metro. Also, it’s not a Ford Puma. 

You can find the full report in the 09 November 2016 issue of Classic Car Weekly - currently on sale throughout the NEC Classic Car Show. 

Classic Cars For Satire: Why Donald Trump is an Austin Allegro

In many ways it seems harsh to compare Donald Trump to the Austin Allegro, as the Allegro hasn’t really done anything wrong, but there are some striking similarities between British Leyland’s unloved misfire and the new President of the United States of America.

Words: James Barnett
Pictures courtesy of The Mirror/CCFS

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Don’t take this the wrong way  – there is plenty about the Austin Allegro to love and we all root for the quintessential underdog – but – like an incontinent, aged Pug with no control over its bladder, there are enough leakages from the colander-esque underside to start a rival Wikileaks campaign. And it’s the dog-like comparisons where we kick off.

The Allegro looks like a gurning Labrador that has suffered from the vet’s finger having explored a route it shouldn’t go, whereas Trump in ‘smug mode’ wears the same look as an Afghan hound omits having ‘enjoyed’ a rough checking of its temperature.

No matter what the Allegro’s enthusiasts claim, the pudding-shaped Austin can often be wildly unpredictable and engage in a weapons-based tantrum until it gets its own way - something, at least according to the American Press, we can look forward to watching during 2017’s Congress meetings.

However, it’s not all comparison. The British Leyland colour schemes (brown, orange and beige) would leave Donald Trump white-faced, despite already being the same colour as a spacehopper.

Just like an Allegro – Donald Trump also violently changes direction, whether political or physical, upon being presented with an obstacle. Furthermore – much like the panels on an Allegro – Mr Trump has a number of monumental gaps in his political ideals, big enough to allow his beloved immigrants through.

But is it fair – is it fair I ask you – to be quite so harsh on this BL car – reviled by many and loved by… Calum (and members of the Quartic club)?

No – in the same way that it’s probably unfair that we are comparing the president of the free world to an incontinent, gurning, bumbling dog suffering a rectal exam. The Allegro was rather forward thinking, what with it’s hydragas suspension and cruising ability - whereas The Donald has displayed a view through public speaking and in-depth interviews cementing that his political correctness lies firmly in the 1970s - when the Allegro was being made.

Countless debauched things have been said about the Allegro – various slanders have been quoted about Donald Trump too, but one thing we can all agree to be true; some of us love to hate and some of us hate to love an easy target in the media.

While both largely unloved, the Allegro has raised through the rankings to become one of Britain’s best sleeper classics, America’s new ‘leader’ could well prove to be a rational, level-headed success in which history shall eventually accept with a dollop of appreciation. We shall find out after Trump’s first nuclear winter. 

Brooklands – Britain’s Most Haunted Race Track?

Is the Brooklands Racetrack Britain's most haunted? 

Words: James Barnett

With Halloween rapidly approaching and with Calum’s most recent escapade in his Rover Metro 115SD on the infamous “Test Hill” down at Brooklands’ racetrack in Weybridge (landing with CCFS on the 13th of November), we wanted to follow-up with a little automotive history and an intriguing ghost story.

Paul Stewart from Brooklands Museum kindly shared a lot of information with us about the track in its heyday and since, however, given the time of year - the story that stuck with us was the one about Percy Lambert – a British racing legend from the early part of the twentieth century.

Percy Lambert was best known for achieving a land speed record of 103.84mph with his 4.5 litre side-valve Talbot in February 1913– the first time anyone had driven over 100 miles in an hour.

What made this most remarkable at the time was that other vehicles that had attempted the same record (and failed) were reportedly far bigger 9.1 - 15 litre racing cars.

Percy was due to get married later that year and therefore promised his fiancée that he would give up racing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to Peugeot beating his original record, a few months later he decided to get behind the wheel again to make another attempt – sadly dying in an accident caused by a burst tyre on Brooklands race course. Spiralling through the air and landing with force, in a car with no protection, well beyond stopping speed, Percy passed away as he was rushed to hospital.

Tragic given that a mere 2 weeks before he was to marry and give up racing…

The incredible thing is – Percy actually managed to average over 110mph for the first 20 laps on the day of his death – which meant, had things not ended in disaster and his untimely demise, he would have beaten his original land speed record.

Percy is buried at Brompton Cemetery in London in a streamlined coffin – curiously morbid given that it was built to resemble the car he died in…! His epitaph reads:

“A modest friend, a fine gentleman and a thorough sportsman. The first man to cover 100 miles in one hour. Killed by accident at Brooklands Motor Racing Track whilst attempting further records. October 21st, 1913.”

There have been numerous sightings of a ghost in full racing kit – leather coat, cap and goggles, pacing the track and strolling into a large hangar – known as “The Vatican” – where Percy used to store his Talbot race car.

Other sightings claim to have seen him racing his car along the now disused race track, sometimes accompanied by the roar of an engine.

Whilst Percy Lambert is by far Brooklands’ most famous ghostly visage there have been reports of others – many of which are reportedly far grislier to behold!

Here are just a few of them:

·       A young local boy reportedly needed medical treatment following a run-in with a man staggering around with a semi-dismembered head hanging off. It’s believed that the man could be Captain Toop – who crashed in a Peugeot in 1924.

·       Ghosts of airmen and ground crew who worked at Brooklands during World War 2 (when it was converted to accommodate the RAF and disguise the track so that the German pilots had no landmark to identify their location) have been encountered.

·       Reports in the early hours of the morning of hearing cars roaring along the racetrack and the sounds of crashes – including splintering wood.

·       Doors around the site opening and closing by themselves.

Whether the sightings of the ghosts and ghostly goings on are real or figments of an over-active imagination – it does make for interesting reading and for discussions.

Do you have a spookily good motoring story to tell for Halloween? Have you had an experience or encounter down at Brooklands that you would like to share?

We want to hear from you!

Brooklands Circuit has a number of tunnels running under the track - of which CCFS will have access to soon... 

Brooklands Circuit has a number of tunnels running under the track - of which CCFS will have access to soon... 

Andrew Roberts - Suffering From the Benz

Contributor Andrew Roberts decided to sell his humdrum Volvo and splash out on an old Mercedes-Benz. Sensible? No, not really... 

Since I last wrote about my fleet, my Volvo 760GLE passed its MoT, needing only a set of new tyres. As an everyday car that was comfortable, generally reliable, and very capacious it had certainly served its purpose but, after a year of ownership, I was wondering if I really needed it.

Most of my non-classic work involves commuting to London by train, and my stepchildren are now grown up, so a large estate is not as advantageous as it once was. The Volvo was one of those cars that was bought for a purpose  which no longer exists, leaving me with a large and fairly thirsty vehicle that is not exactly the last word in charisma. So, what I really needed was something sensible – something small, cheap and economical.

I still miss my old Mercedes-Benz S-class of the W126 persuasion that I sold in 2013, and once the 760 had been despatched to a fellow classic car enthusiast in the New Forest, I acquired, for a very reasonable sum (£1300) a 1989 Mercedes- Benz 300SE. The vendor, Anwarul Haque, was clearly very sad to see it go but, as he has other vehicles to worry about, including a rather magnificent Honda Legend Coupé, I did not feel overly guilty.

Interior is restrained yet opulent. The steering wheel is known to go straight.

Interior is restrained yet opulent. The steering wheel is known to go straight.

A few minor idiosyncrasies were pointed out to me – the central locking functions only on the front passenger door and opening the sunroof can cause major disruptions to the headlining – but this is rather a lot of motor car for not a lot of money.

And so it was time to return from North London to the badlands of Peterborough, in the company of my intrepid co-driver Nick Larkin. We both agreed that this M-B lent distinction to the roads even if its parking brake mechanism takes a little acclimatising  and the car’s sheer width can seem quite disconcerting in town. But on the A1(M), the 300SE was in its element, speeding past other cars with verve and aplomb.

There was even a cruise control, a device that Mr Larkin and myself vowed not to use until we had the car’s full measure and were no longer confused by the combined indicator/wiper/
headlamp flash stalk.

I can report that the heater is magnificent – and who could resist ivory coloured leather trim? Then, it was time for the last leg of the journey, a trip to my new home in Oxfordshire and here the 300SE proved utterly adept at tackling rural B-road bends and totally unsuited to picturesque market town high streets.

 The charming settlement of Sonning proved a particularly interesting experience when enjoining a narrow road filled with very expensive (although none with the elegance of the W126) and very bulky parked Hedge Fund wagons. 

We then approached a mist shrouded bridge that looked even narrower – ideal for negotiating in the dark with a large, wide and heavy 25-year-old car.

That engine bay is certainly packed full... 

That engine bay is certainly packed full... 

But we finally made it to terra firma (actually just outside Reading) and with only £30 spent on fuel – although this was really due to Anwarul kindly providing half a tank of precious petrol.

In short, I do like the 300SE and after New Year, I plan to treat it to a paint refurbishment. It will not be used for London commuting but I do envisage a future for it as a classic for longer journeys.

As for my VDP Princess 4-Litre R, this is due for MoT (it has been treated to some new front dampers and a brake refurbishment) but that will be the extent of my fleet.

The BMC car speaks to my ‘cultural leanings’, such as they are, but it is good to have a machine of a more recent vintage (and one fitted with a decent heater) for bouts of winter motoring.

Two such fine cars is plenty and, after 12 years of writing about classics, my new motto is the Orwellian ‘less is more’.

How to Spend £200 on Shortbread - Use a Mercedes-Benz

Calum is sent packing back to his homeland, with the instruction to acquire a Scottish delicacy for CCW editor Keith Adams. And not to break CCW's big Merc barge while getting there. 

Words: Calum Brown
Pictures: Colin Brown

I was originally apprehensive about taking the S280 to Scotland, due to its temperamental behaviour with Murray Scullion and David Simister on the continent, but this was an exceptional assignment.

Editor Keith Adams required the very finest shortbread, for reasons never quite explained, which can be found on Tennant Street in Edinburgh. Being from that neck of the woods, I couldn’t let him settle for anything less. And, as usual, all my cars were broken.

So, with all the Mercedes’ maladies listed to me – the lack of kickdown, the intoxicating stench of petrol, the Skynet-style immobiliser that seemed to be self-aware – I set off for the motherland with a sixth of a tank of Peterborough’s finest petrol.

Naturally, this didn’t get me very far, about 30 miles to be exact. So with the threat of an immobiliser likely to leave me blocking off a petrol station while awaiting the AA, I gingerly pulled in to brim the mammoth tank and ensure my arrival in Lothian.

I would be lying if I said, after £80 came and went, I didn’t check underneath to see if petrol was pouring out the bottom. As it turned out, the tank was ridiculously huge.

Then I cried a little while coughing up 90 quid to the wide-eyed cashier. Despite the Merc’s already daunting reputation, the distance north was lapped up in serene comfort. The cruise control worked, the CD player operated without issue and turning on the air conditioning and sliding the double glazed windows into place easily masked the  weird grinding noises from the rear axle. I was expecting a monumental breakdown of epic proportions, but instead the journey up to Edinburgh was uneventful.

The only issue was Murray’s choice in music. I’m not sure exactly who The Schytts are, but I never want to listen to them again. The real fun began arriving at my parents for the night, as the Range Rover-bashing farm track loomed. Yet, with impressive ground clearance higher than Keith Richards in his heyday and a ride more comfortable than Fred Goodwin’s retirement fund, it dispatched the rutted track with considerable ease.

Parking up alongside the family Land Rovers in an S-class led to confused looks from my parents. They probably wondered why a lowlevel Swiss banker or a dishevelled drug dealer had arrived - or worse still, an automotive journalist from Modern Classics. And, in a completely new experience, I had  turned up without a trail of oil and fire in my wake too.

I set off early the next day to track down the perfect shortbread, venturing deep into Edinburgh with the fuel-guzzling, 17ft long colossus enjoying every minute. The engine seemed to relish every blip of the  slab-sized throttle and, after finding the best culinary treats Scotland had to offer and placing them in a boot larger than my first flat, I deliberately got lost just to flounce around in the German first-class lounge on wheels.

I spent so much time slicing through Lothian’s back roads, that I received a phone call around 11pm asking me to pick my mother and her friend up from a night out. What better car to do that with than an S-class? I arrived to a scene straight out of Absolutely Fabulous. My mother was half cut, while her friend, Debbie McLarty, had somehow managed to bring her very large dog along. Country life, and all that.

After dropping Debbie off, myself and the Patsy Stone Tribute Act set off for home with murmurs of ‘Why are there so many corners? I feel sick.’ Needless to say, the comfort prevented any vomiting action. 

Departing home for Peterborough on Sunday morning, the voyage down south was effortless. I arrived seven hours later without so much as a backache or technical problem. Proof then that, if you treat the Panzer limousine with respect, it’ll see you through.

I can see why the allure of a £500 S280 was too much for Murray to ignore. With no issues to report, the Mercedes did a stirling job and the shortbread handover went without a hitch. However, I did live in constant fear of the immobiliser. And hearing Murray’s CD again.

People at the very top, leaders of international conglomerates and the world’s richest countries, have travelled by S-class. And now, I can say that I have too. Albeit it, at the cost of three tanks of fuel over 800 miles - well over £200. You’ll now find me selling my internal organs on the black market in order to gain some money back.

On another note, Keith, you still owe me for your shortbread... 



 

Driven: 1968 Austin 1800 London-Sydney Marathon Car

Minis were the rallying surprise of the decade, but could the 'big Mini'- the 1968 Austin 1800 Landcrab- with some help from Abingdon, echo its little brother's successes? 

Words: Murray Scullion
Pictures: Stuart Collins

Antipodean adventures don’t come much thicker, faster or furious than one with prizes, adventures, the threat of wilderness breakdowns and Landcrabs.

In late 1967, Sir Max Aitken, proprietor of the Daily Express, decided to create an event his newspaper could sponsor, as well as showcase the ingenuity of British engineering. He felt that the streams of British machinery passing through far flung colonies would encourage export sales.

Within weeks, the first marathon was announced for November 1968, with a prize of £10,000 offered by the newspaper for the winning team. The newly-formed British Leyland concluded that it must take part in these events – and it was the 1800 Landcrab that was deemed perfect for the mission. Its super-rigid shell combined with beefed-up Hydrolastic suspension made the 1800 the most suitable car on paper. 

A works team of six, plus a service car, were prepared for the marathon. Five of the cars were built by Abingdon’s Competition Department, with the remaining two to be built by the Special Tuning Department, with Basil Wales taking charge. One was for the Royal Navy, and one was for the RAF.

This one was the Royal Navy’s. It was painted all white– unlike the other cars that were painted the BMC colours of red with a white roof. 

 

VLM 128G was driven by three Navy men – J Hans Hamilton, Philip Stearns and Ian Lees-Spalding. These men piloted the Landcrab through thick and thin, across varying road surfaces and through countries as wide ranging as Italy, India and Australia. They finished 31st out of 56 finishers – considering 99 cars set off from London, this was an outstanding achievement.

Andrew Cowan and Brian Coyle won in their factory-backed Hillman Hunter. Paddy Hopkirk and Tony Nash were placed second in the BMC 1800, and Australian entrants RH Forsyth and Ian Vaughan completed the podium in their Aussie-built Ford Falcon GT.

After being brought back to Britain, the ‘Crab was used by BSM for use as a fast pursuit training vehicle. In 1981 it was purchased by the current owner, who had it extensively restored and put back together in 1985. In true spirit of the event, it was road and rally raced until 2013 – when it was once again extensively rebuilt. 

On the Road

Landcrab is a good analogy for this car – it can pretty much go anywhere, but it’s fairly slow and awkward for anyone who’s not driven one before. Initially, you’ll think it’s cumbersome, especially in 1800 form without power-assisted steering – but looks are deceiving, wait until you get it cornering.

Even without the rally paintjob, and oh-so cool roof-mounted wheels, this car screams competition at you. But the interior is far from stripped out – there are some neat features to surprise and delight, not least it retains the five seats and wood trim from the production Landcrab, making it a comfortable bruiser to do a few thousand rough miles in.

Watch out though – a few of the buttons and switches are quite hot. The light for the windscreen washer on the navigator’s side is really bright, and rather scalding. Was it used to keep their leg warm or is it just a coincidence?

 

A lot of the instruments and buttons are on the left hand side of the cockpit, so the navigator has easy access to them. The driver has no need be worried about trivial things like windscreen washer switches, rear fog lights or even speed. The tachomoter sits right in front of the driver, like they’re driving an Italian thoroughbred, which is easy to read between the big rimmed wheel.

Get behind that wheel and the driving position is also reminiscent of an Italian thoroughbred – your legs are facing left but your body is bolt upright, as is the steering column. Not as upright or as bus-like as a Mini, but definitely a reminder of why it’s often referred to as the Mini’s big brother.

 

Start the uprated 1894cc B-series on the button and it explodes into life with urgency and gusto. Engaging the clutch for the first time is surprising as it’s so light and usable. The long-throw gearbox is surprisingly smooth to engage and highly user friendly, with synchromesh on all four gears. It was built for longevity and ease of use, not for 0-60mph times. Natty wooden BL gearknob is a nice touch, too.

Part of the joy of this car is how highly strung it is – it really doesn’t like going slowly. Forget town work, that’s out of character, and truly wearisome. No, what it really wants to do is get on the open road, and bound playfully through the bends. Once up to speed, it wakes up, and truly rewards you.

The initially crashy suspension smoothes out surface irregularities, while the fat-rimmed Moto-Lita wheel delivers large chunks of feedback, too. The ride is set higher at the back than the front, and is tuned especially for a variety of terrains with lots of weight (spares for both the cars and driver) in the back. It’s here that the true benefits of interconnected Hydrolastic suspension are shown in full.

Having only four widely-spaced ratios to choose from, with no overdrive, does blunt acceleration, but fourth is long and results in relaxed high-speed running. And the B-series is a torquey old lump, which at least you’re not left floundering too much waiting for the revs to rise.

It’s easy to imagine spending 12 or more hours in this car without being drained. Braking is sharp and full of feel with very little fade. The pedal has a strong and sturdyfeel – befitting of the car. It’s not the be all and end all of refinement, and neither is it the last word in acceleration. But what it is is a  genuinely impressive and refined way to travel more than 10,000 miles, often foot-to-the-floor. Not a lot of cars can do that.

Epic Battle: BMW M6 vs Jaguar XJS

Four decades after its launch, BMW’s 6-series is now an affordable coupé. We pitch it against the Jaguar XJ-S to find out which rules the roost. 

Words: David Simister
Pictures: Stuart Collins

What a cruel birthday party this has turned out to be. We could have congratulated the 6-series on reaching the ripe old age of 40 by treating it to a few glasses of Director’s bitter at a nearby pub, or sent it on a genteel weekend lolloping around the Cotswolds.

But instead we’ve lined up BMW’s coupé masterstroke against its old foe from across the North Sea – Jaguar’s XJ-S. During the late Eighties this Anglo-German battle played out in reserved parking spaces and outside golf clubs the world over, not to mention the top lane of the motorway, as well-heeled managing directors toyed over which two-door slice of lavishly equipped grand tourer was best at gobbling up long stretches of motorway and  twisty country roads in equal measure.

The great news is that what were flights of fantasy for most motorists when new are fantastic value for money today, with 10 grand being all it takes to secure a first class ticket at the helm of a BMW 6-Series or a Jaguar XJ-S.

Each is still capable of turning a long journey into a leather-lined adventure, but the big Brit and the German ’bahnstormer tackle the task in very different ways. Obviously we’ve given both contenders a fighting chance – the 6-series we’ve picked is the range-topping M635 CSi, while Coventry’s finest comes with the full-fat V12.

Many happy returns, BMW – but we’re still about to let battle commence.

 

On the Road

It might be the BMW’s birthday bash, but you know even before you twist its ignition key that you – as the driver – are its guest of honour.

The centre console leans out from the rest of the dashboard and virtually hands its Blaupunkt cassette player and heater controls to you, and not to whomsoever landed the passenger spot. Not that they’ll be complaining much. Both seats are firm but lavishly trimmed, and go about their business on electrically guided motors, and there’s plenty of space behind for two of your more amply proportioned pals.

Once you’ve finished playing with the seat motors you’ll discover the driving position’s spot on; you sit low, but the visibility’s superb, the pedals ideally placed and you’re afforded a clear view of the white-on-black speedometer and rev counter through the thin-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel.

It’s all very logically laid out with a minimum of visual clutter to distract you from the job in hand, although the Connect Four-esque panel of warning lights to the right hand side hasn’t dated as well as the rest of the cabin. Buy an ailing 6-series and you’ll be forever staring at it. Far more intriguing is the tiny swoosh of M-Power stripes at the bottom of the steering wheel – the only real dash of colour in a sea of grey and cream, which along with the miniscule ‘M’ logo on the gearknob is the only initial clue that this is no ordinary 6-series. 

Until you fire up the M1-derived straight six, that is. From the off it delivers a smooth but urgent bark that lets you know it means business, and when you’re on the move it quickly becomes apparent it wants to be a sort of roadgoing PA; it’ll do great things, but on the strict understanding you’re the boss.

Ask it to deliver some straight-line shove and it’ll gently remind you that you need to stir its beautifully accurate five-speeder into action so you can unwrap the middle reaches of the rev range, where the real torque resides. Pin your right foot into the BMW’s carpet at just above 3000rpm and you’re treated to a delightful burst of brisk of acceleration, but it’s another 1000rpm north of that when the straight six really wakes up. Stick with it and change up and the surge just keeps coming, giving no indication that its relentlessness will abate anywhere on the car’s journey well into three-figure speeds.

 

Nor is it a machine that attempts to channel out the important information by smothering you in layer after layer of ride comfort. Sure, its Bilstein gas dampers do a commendable job of ensuring the potholes and bumps don’t spoil your afternoon, but there’s no way around the fact the springs are 15% stiffer than they are in the M-free 635CSi and that the ride height is half an inch lower.

As a result you feel the truly nasty stints of the terra firma outside as subtle jolts through the  seat of your pants, but the trade-off is superbly composed handling. Team it up with steering that’s power assisted but still more than happy to throw plenty of feedback to your palms and you end up with a GT car that you can place happily into corners knowing where the doublekidney grille and blue and white propeller are going to be pointing on the way out. It’s an M-car created with comfort in mind, but with a supercar’s heart and suspension to match.

But the XJ-S begs to differ. The trick it’s made its shtick is to shrink long journeys into brief blasts and to wave any unnerving bends with one wave of its supple suspension wand – but it’s firmly of the belief that discomfort, even of the minor variety, shouldn’t be part of the act.

Stepping into it from the CSi is like swapping a Canary Wharf boardroom for the sort of drawing room the National Trust would be proud of. The plump leather throne up front actively encourages you to slouch, and the narrower window apertures make the Jaguar’s cabin feel like a more cocooned and somehow safer environment. Once you’ve pulled the sumptuously padded door behind you the outside world might as well be in a different county, not a few feet away.

 

It’s an impression carried on by the V12 beyond that vast bonnet, which you can hear gently rumble into life but then virtually disappear as soon as you’ve started it up. It only  re-emerges when you prod the accelerator to ask it for some more torque, and even then it’s only a soft, delicate note to remind you it’s there.

The two have virtually the same power but the Jaguar uses its extra six cylinders and 1.8 litres – think of it as having an entire Mazda MX-3 above and beyond the BMW’s engine – to make life easier rather than add outright thump.

The torque is lower down the rev range and more instantly available when you’re looking for an overtake, and it’s accessed via a three-speed auto operated by a spindly shifter that actively discourages hurried changes. Yes, the XJ-S might have been available with a five-speed manual, but it’s hard to imagine being able to make progress any more smoothly with it.

You’ll notice the biggest difference when the countryside plants a bend or two between you and the XJ-S’s destination. While the BMW is happy to let you feel a few bumps in exchange for its handling, the Jaguar’s insistence on being the comfiest cruiser in town means it’ll wallow through the same corners. And while there are messages being delivered to your fingertips through the steering they’re smothered by a system that majors on lightness and ease.

The wafty Jaguar offers smooth, silent comfort while the sportier BMW actively involves you in the experience. Each is a great grand tourer, but there has to be a winner here.

I’ll take the Jaguar home. Um, happy 40th BMW... 

Cars Worth Saving: The Austin Ambassador (Y-Reg, Naturally).

The Ambassador is a Princess you can enter from the rear. Austin’s much-mocked Princess model may have offered a comfortable ride and distinctive styling, but it never took off for one main reason - it was a saloon in a practical hatchback market. The Austin Ambassador addressed the practicality issue, but it was all too late. On the verge of extinction, here’s why you should save one.

Words: Calum Brown
Pictures: James Walshe

Often dubbed ‘the car with no name’, launched as a series of three models by Morris, Wolseley and Austin, the Princess was nothing short of controversial upon launch. It was styled like nothing else and promised things no other manufacturer had assured the public about. Sadly, these promises went unfulfilled and the usual British Leyland political melting-pot image branded the Princess an undesirable failure. 

Yet, over a six-year production run almost quarter of a million vehicles found owners. It even developed cult status and is currently enjoyed within classic car circles by those who appreciate the innovation lurking under that arresting figure. However, its replacement - the Austin Ambassador - is yet to find its true place.  And there are numerous reasons for that. 

To address the European market and demands from target customers, British Leyland budgeted £29 million towards facelifting the Princess, which should have yielded a Renault 20 rival to bring UK motoring back from the brink. Yet, in transforming the charismatic Princess towards the public hatchback hungry vision, all charisma and feel was lost. 

Venturing free from the most turbulent striking period in their history, build quality of the Ambassador was no less than shocking, with no left-hand drive conversion for the European market it was aiming for and a ‘range’ of engines that allowed the choice of 1.7-litre lethargic petrol, slightly larger 2.0-litre lethargic petrol or twin-carb 2.0-litre slightly less lethargic petrol.

Nought to 60mph times were woeful unless you went for the top of the range Vanden Plas -and even then cracking 100mph was dangerous. Reaching 60mph took a grand total of 14 seconds. In the era of the Ford Sierra this was so out dated it left Bernard Manning's rantings feeling fresh. Handling wasn’t overly great either, with steering components offering all the feedback of damp cardboard. The new corporate nose didn’t give any aerodynamic benefit over the original face worn by the Princess before it, either - leaving the Ambassador a flaky, badly built, awkwardly styled relic with underpinnings dating back nearly two decades.

However, while viewed as a failure of epic proportions by many, the amount of preparation and thought on cash-strapped BLs behalf was creditable. Over the short-lived two-year production run close to 50,000 were manufactured and sold - which in rather incredible, taking the cars purpose into mind.  In relative terms, it actually out-sold the Princess in relation to time on sale. 

Launched upon the prospect that continuing with the Austin Maxi as the flag-ship five-door was out-dated and pointless, with the Princess not practical enough to take the premium spot and the Montego still two years off, the tweaked Austin Ambassador was the product concocted to fill the stopgap.

It may have been stripped of the plush aspects gifted to the Princess, such as the leather steering wheel, swanky armrests and silky six-cylinder engine, but contrary to belief it wasn’t just slightly new stuff in a Princess shell. According to Austin-Rover at least, the only body panels carried across were the inner front door skins. Regardless, the aged design appeared to turn potential customers away - especially as the trendy Sierra was so fresh on the market. 

This was unfair on the Ambassador, as it actually had various benefits to offer. It provided electric windows and central locking - rather splendid for the time - alongside acres of interior space, a humongous tailgate for carting about large objects and comfort levels to rival those used to business class when in transit. It offered a relaxed stance on the road, too.

While heaped with criticism and a stern source of amusement - Not The 9o’Clock News included a sketch where it was built by people only called Robert (a play on the advertising campaign of 'Handbuilt By Robots', alongside John Shuttleworth’s irritatingly catchy song ‘Austin Ambassador Y-Reg’ - finding an Austin Ambassador for sale used to cost mere pennies, and they made for decent everyday cars. Finding one nowadays is near impossible, but if you should then you should save it. 

Just like the Marina, Princess and Allegro before it - the Ambassador is a prime slice of British automotive history. With an estimated 60 examples still left in existence, surely it’s time for the Ambassador to claw back some respect. After all, it did what it was designed for perfectly.