Tag Archives: motor

Who wants a new car anyway?

Mini One DI have been driving my Mini for about 18 months now and I have come to a few conclusions. The first is that BMW make a very good car and the second is that I don’t want a new one. A bit of a contradiction? Maybe, but my reasons are firmly fixed in my personality, let me explain a bit further. Continue reading

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Wow! It’s a Peugeot Focus 318i RS VXR!

I’m very rarely surprised these days, I seem to have contracted a  state of mind that has grown over my psyche, encompassing it in a hard shell of cynicism and grudging acceptance. Sex, violence and swearing on TV hardly raise an eyebrow, but I remember back in the 1980’s when Channel 4 tried to advise the viewer that their late night movie might contain a flash of breast or the odd profanity, by putting a little red triangle in the upper corner of the screen. You can imagine how the ratings soared when that little symbol flashed up. Continue reading

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You can’t fuel me!

I have said in the past that owning a car and then moaning about putting fuel into it to make it work is proof enough of the stupidity of some people. Its like buying a cat to keep you company and then being astonished that it needs feeding and taking to the vets once in a while. Since the dawn of time (well since I started driving) people have been moaning about the price of petrol. I remember when we all went nuts as it hit 50p a litre (yes I AM that old) and again when we all fainted as it tipped then infamous £1.00. Now its heading for £1.50 and I think all of us will just keel over and die. Continue reading

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Restoration, a stupid idea

A good mate of mine has just bought himself a new toy. He parted with quite a few of his hard earned pounds for something to have some fun in, a tweeked Peugeot 106 Rallye. It has a tuned engine, a weird differential and suspension that makes it go on three wheels at every corner. Surprisingly he has had it for a fortnight and has traveled less than 50 miles in it.

Now this is how you work on cars...

You see, as soon as he got the thing home, before the engine could stop its ticking cooldown after the, let’s be honest, enjoyable-with-spirit drive from its former owner, he had the spanners out and was taking the thing to bits. A phone call later and another friend arrives with an angle grinder and more spanners and set about pulling whatever he could out of it. This includes seats, trim, carpets, and even the rear wiper. Brackets, bolts and bits of the wiring loom that are no longer needed succumb to the grinder and manical eye of the new bloke, until we are left with a box with two seats and an engine that is capable of pulling it all along at a speed that would make most sane people faint. This car is so empty and light that it has to be kept tied to the house on windy days.

Why do all of this to a perfectly good, functional car, that’s already a light, nimble, sporty model as good as Peugeot could make it? Apart from the obvious power to weight gains, this car becomes his. There will never be another like it, and the car will be used to its full potential which suits my friend very well as driving on the edge round tracks is what he loves best. Curious about this, I asked ‘What if you crash it?’ Theres quite a lot of cash tied up in this, and I realise  its relative, but money is money! ‘Meh’ he shrugged his shoulders ‘Then we fix it’

Emptier than a hermits address book

All of this got me thinking. There is a guy who also has a little Peugeot that he has as a project, and again its being stripped and fiddled with but this time its being done to such a standard that makes OCD look normal. Every nut and bolt is polished or painted. Custom made, bloody expensive wiring looms make everything neat, the paintwork is perfect on all surfaces, including the engine bay. The whole thing somewhere stopped being a car, and become a very expensive work of art. The guy is obviously getting a huge amount of pleasure from this but I wonder how long lived that pleasure will be? Car restorers are similar people. Here are a bunch of guys that trawl autojumbles and Ebay to find the exact toolkit to finish their 1961 Mini Cooper, that has been restored exactly how it was when it rolled off of the production line. I’m not sure about these types of people. For one, this perfect Pug will be great until it rains, or someone bumps it in a carpark or a seagull craps on it.

These things can be avoided if he chooses never to take it out and keep it under a sheet in the garage like those dreadfully boring blokes who buy Ferrari’s do, and whats the point of that? What about that restored Mini? Dull I’m afraid, whats the point of spending a years salary to make something the same as everything else that came out of that factory? If you go to a classic car show, you will see rows and rows of the same restored marque but your eye will be caught by the loony that decided to make a monster truck out of a Mk2 Jag. My old VW is great, It has dings, dents and scratches but It has one thing a sterile ‘perfect’ show car doesn’t have and thats character.

If my mate bins the car at a track, I bet that if the damage isnt life threatening to the car, he would beat it out with a hammer and then spend the next two years telling everyone the story of how the power caught him out on that nasty hairpin at some track somewhere in Europe, and then, probably with a beer or coffee in hand, they will crowd around it and offer opinion and ridicule in bucketloads, probably from the bloke with the grinder.

Telling someone your showcar once got pooped on by a seabird is just dull, wear your dents with pride.

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Hole lot of nothing


Driving throws up many questions, like why do rubbish lorries have a cuddly toy tied to the front of them, and why the hell do they leave it to get all dirty and disgusting? Another favorite is why do some people drive at 28 mph everywhere? And why do the people who drive at 28 wear straw hats?

My current question is why the hell do we pay road tax?

I have a nice new car (well it was new in 1989, but its new to me) and it has a nice set of firm springs and dampers to enable me to have a fun quick drive round some fun quick corners if the mood takes me, without the car lurching and wallowing like some drunken fishing trawler in rough seas. Every six months, regular as clockwork, the government send me a nice bit of paper reminding me that my car is not meant to be any fun, I should sell it and get a small soulless eurobox with a sewing machine engine, and stop killing the planet. They do this in the form of a road tax reminder/SORN.
The idea is a good one, we all pay a bit toward the upkeep of the roads, keeping them clean and smooth, free of dead things and building new ones when we get fed up with where the old ones go. We are all reminded that if we use the car on the road then we should pay for it and will be fined and frowned at by a policeman if we don’t. Actually we don’t even get the pleasure of a frowny policeman as these days a faceless silicone monster that lives in DVLA headquarters checks its calendar, complete with fluffy kitten picture, against your registration number and if you are a day out fires an automatic fine direct to your house.
Its worse if you DON’T have your car on the road! Heaven forbid you forget to tell the computer that your car is broken and is currently sulking in your garage. I committed this terrible crime and was hit for 65 of my pounds for not telling anyone my car wouldn’t move. So we pay up promptly, send bits of paper back and forward to Swansea keeping the bureaucracy and computers happy.

So why are we not sending them a million fines and bits of paper because they are failing to keep up their side of the bargain?

It snowed a bit in January, and this (I am told by a bloke who knows) speeds up the formation of potholes. Fair enough. Why then are there potholes in May? Why can I not drive my car without getting double vision? Why is it better to drive on the beach than the road? Who is going to pay for my shot suspension? But the best bit is Why the hell do we put up with it?
There are currently some three million unemployed in the UK, most of which would rather watch daytime TV than actually go outside, and a larger part couldn’t count their own legs, however I am sure with a weeks intensive training they could be taught how to stick a bag of tarmac into a hole an flatten it. I realise this is nowhere near what we should be expecting for our £200 or so a year, but its better than smashing your springs for the hundredth time in 10 yards as you painfully make your way along the dirt track they laughingly refer to as road.

My car is insured, MOTd, taxed and in good, safe working order. I don’t care how much petrol costs because I get what I pay for, petrol goes in, goes bang, moves me along. The roads, however, are a forgotten no mans land of craters, scars and forgotten weather. I paid my dues and play by their rules, the twits in the government just buy moats, porn and duckhouses.

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Welcome back to Motoring!

Some of the more awake of my readers will have noticed that this is the first blog entry for quite some time. I thought of writing a long and deep explanation and grovelly apology, but wisely thought the better of it. Instead ill bring you right up to date whats been going on since December, and where we are now.

Rusty, clapped out cars have been fact of life for all of us, me especially (you will remember with hilarity the speed at which Honda threw me out of their showroom last year) So with the close of 2009 bringing the MOT on the Civic to stark reality I had to decide what to do. Patch the rust? Hope to God the bushes hold up, or MOT man has a bout of blindness? Spend more on it? Or scrap it and spend the repair money on something with more ticket? I see the sagely nods of you who have been faced with a similar situation. Well the decision was put off as a good friend of mine happened to have the exact same car for sale, but a few years older, that had an extra 5 months of MOT on it and was practically giving it away. The women out there are now saying “But that’s just putting the problem off for 5 months…” and yes you are right but I am a bloke and of course I don’t think like that.

Money changes hands and I am in possesion of a new Civic, much like the old one but even rustier as I found out when I pulled the sideskirts off to search for a creaking noise. Quickly putting them back on I felt more confident as I couldn’t see the rot. A bit of tax and we are off! Yes! motoring heaven!

Well no, not really. The car is in need of several mechanical repairs, having clicky CV joints is a bit like playing russian

Now, THATS what I call RUST!

Remember, rust is lighter than Carbon Fibre

roulette every corner, you never know when its going to pop and you are going to walk home. Then there was the cambelt… the car shows 175,000 miles and there is no record of it being changed. This is like playing Russian roulette with two guns, you get to walk and the engine gets mangled if it fails.
All this paints a gloomy picture. No fun corners, no whiffs of lift off oversteer, no nothing. Only the fear that the car will explode like a clowns, right in the middle of the high street. Then the rear wheelbearing started to fail…

So why the hell did I not throw money at it and fix it? The answer comes from the wife (!?) She says that if I can make it last, we can save some cash for something ‘newer’ and ‘nicer’ and (worryingly) ‘family’ (Subaru Forester is an estate car I told her…) So she duly does some hours, delivers some babies and earns the money, while I flick through Autotrader and fail to make money from any of my writing.

At this point it has to be said that you really shouldn’t ask one of your best mates, who happens to be a huge petrolhead, to come over and ‘Help me find something’ because all you end up doing is looking at one silver Astra, then spend the rest of the night drinking coffee and looking at track cars on pistonheads.com. (was great fun though!)
We are now about 6 weeks or so away from having the money, and I have sort of settled on a Suzuki Wagon R, I like its Japaneseness, its small and its cheap to run. It ticks the boxes of low mileage, newish and reasonably practical. Comfortable too and space enough for kids and stuff for the beach so we are on a winner! I am a little worried about its total lack or performance, and even more so the reports that it tends to understeer rather than go round bends, but hey a bit of suspension work and a degree or so of camber will fix that! Then for no reason whatsoever, I find myself on the VW Polo forum.

I have always loved Volkswagens, one of my first cars was an old 1968 Beetle, a 6 volter with a massive 1200cc aircooled engine that made you choose between lights and wipers if it rained at night. But it had something that I have not found in any other car. Character. But character is no substitute for power and excitement, the Mk1 Golf had that covered, but was way out of reach of my meager teenage funds. Flicking idly through the forums ‘for sale’ section I stumble across what at first looks like a Mk1 Golf in white, but turns out to be a Mk2 Polo, I am about to move on, when I notice that its had some subtle modifications carried out by the owner. Out goes the Polo’s engine and in goes a fully rebuilt unit from a Mk3 Golf, then its head is ported and polished, has a nice twin choke Weber bolted on, the cam is reprofiled and an adjustable vernier pulley added. Flywheel is lightened and the bottom end is balanced. All this ups the power from 50hp to a 90hp and adds a nice big dollop of torque (the car weighs about 700kg) Underneath the wheels are kept on the road with some nice Eibach springs and adjustable dampers.
All of this makes a subtle and nippy little car that’s totally wrong for me as it’s not new, has a hard ride, won’t fit the kids very well and is pretty crap on fuel.

Of course I bought it straight away.

I have now had it for about two weeks and have drained most of Kuwait of its oil reserves, its absolutely brilliant to drive and I’m finding excuses to go buy milk on an hourly basis. Being an old Volkswagen it smells bad inside, but has the advantage of being reliable and well-built (unlike the new ones) It’s terrible on fuel, if pushed I get 35mpg, which means a very gentle trip to the Nurburgring or I will be filling up every 6 feet.

The moral? If you are fed up, for god sake buy something fun! Regular blogging has now resumed, its great to be back, I feel a rant coming on.

For those interested, here are some specifications of my new Polo:

Engine: Fully rebuilt 1391cc ABD, balanced bottom end, CR raised, ported and polished head, Kent Cams cam, 2G inlet, Weber DMTL carburettor, K&N rudebox, Facet fuel pump, 8P gearbox

Suspension: Koni Adjustable Dampers, Eibach 40mm springs, supersport lowering top caps.

Brakes: VWII calipers, 239 Brembo MAX disks, Pagid TQ pads.

You wouldn’t belive it to look at it eh?

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Being Popular.

The Trabant, as cool as it gets.

Did you know its been almost a year since we started on this journey into motoring?

A quick look at the stats tell me that readership is growing and people searching for porn still find this blog because of some clever meta tagging (thats a computer geek thing that makes what you type into Google find this column, neat eh? Who says sex doesn’t sell anymore!) Popularity is important. I write this stuff for a number of reasons but one of the main ones is to see peoples reactions to what I write. If the blog is crap and boring then no one will read it and  the hate mail dries up.

So what makes you popular? Being different I think is one of the main reasons, people look at you and are interested because of the different spin on life or laugh at you because you are doing something out of the ordinary. Popularity then has to be fresh and new, but user friendly and acceptable.  The Detroit motor show threw up some very interesting new designs including a hyper cool electric three-wheeler called the ZAP Alias that if painted matt black would not be out of place in the Batcave, but will it be popular? I doubt it. It will generate interest at the show and loads of people will take pictures of it and discuss it over a plastic cup of beer, but would they buy one? No, they head for Toyota and buy a Prius. Middle ground needs to be found and the Prius is a good example of that. It’s quirky enough with its Star Trek dashboard and weird, hybrid engine that can silently sneak up on pedestrians in urban situations, to be interesting; and because it claims to be green, give you high MPG (It doesn’t really, its 48MPG average is the same as a Golf TDi, but the Golf is £5,000 cheaper much cooler and faster) and celebrities drive it, its popular. But would you buy one? Drive one? Be seen in one? Didn’t think so.

Soon it is new car time for me and as I am still waiting for the editor to call me and offer that lucrative column, I am forced to buying another 10 year old ‘a bit past it’ car. The popular choices are uninspiring and have galactic milages on them with several owners, and all of them are dull. A while ago I was looking at Audi, Honda and Alfas, now as poverty tightens its grip I am looking smaller. I am looking at a Suzuki Wagon R.

Mk 1 Wagon R

Ok Ok settle down, stop the hoots of laughter and the old man jokes and listen to my reasoning. This is a very overlooked car, and the joker at the back who just said ‘I wonder why?’ can bugger off. Here is a quirky and interesting little car that just oozes Japanese charm. Its a tiny MPV thing with a tiny 1000cc cam chain driven  engine that redlines at 8000rpm (even tinier in Japan!) and is classed as a ‘Kei’ (click here to see an earlier post on this) its bought and driven by old people who only go to the shops for cat meat and service it at dealerships. Consequently they are cheap, well maintained, cost nothing to run and in very good condition.

Wagon R with added hot sauce!

With a little imagination they can be made to look and behave like a mini hooligan. I doubt if I will increase my popularity or street cred (whatever that is) as I drive my little Suzuki, and know it will never go round the ‘Ring, and I am not cool and hip, but you know what? I don’t care because I will be different, and as you will see in future posts, it will bring some fun and discourse to this funky little column, and who knows? we might just make the little guy popular AND acceptable!

I have found a nice selection of custom kei cars if you are interested, click here

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