Sunday, July 31, 2011

Importing British Rust

Our new Mini - a 1999 Rover Mini Standard with the 1275cc MPi engine.That's what my colleague rather unkindly referred to my car buying habits as. And here we are again, barely 6 months after buying a Jaguar XJ-SC, yours truly is the proud owner of a 1999 Mini.

That's right, THE Mini. Not the (admittedly very nice, albeit the spoils of a treacherous asset-stripping operation) BMW imitation Mini, no sir - the real deal. It's an end-of-the-line standard Mini with the 1275cc block. It's an MPi engine, which means fuel injected, and internally it has all mod cons like driver air-bag and seatbelt pre-tensioners (as if that'll save you if you hit anything of any moment in a Mini!) a radio/cassette with actually quite decent factory speakers in the parcel shelf, alarm and engine immobiliser, a rather attractive walnut dash, "pepper pot" alloy wheels, even a rev counter!

I must confess, this was a bit of a gamble. I've never driven a Mini before, though I remember mates having them when I was at school. I even remember once being forced to sit in the back of one (thanks Pat) and surviving to tell the tale (just). Which meant it was quite cute when I took it round to Pat's house, whose wife also used to have a Mini, and now have photos of their little daughter leaping all over the inside of mine...

Anyway, I digress, never driven a Mini, knew little about them, just had a sense they'd be fun, soulful little cars and of some value for their cute looks and head-turning abilities alone. And this is a late one with about as big an engine as a Mini can have, so I figured it'll start first time in the morning, behave itself reasonably well on the motorway and be a genuinely viable second car.

So I bought the Mini. In Liverpool. (That's right, 1,000 miles from home.) And flew over to fetch it. And drove it back to the south of France. This was approximately my route.

I have rarely had so much fun. The Mini is a *fabulous* car. I am still grinning from ear to ear. It's noisy, it's bouncy, it leaks oil all over the driveway, but all is forgiven when you hear that exhaust note. Driving it through the Peak District National Park, in Derbyshire at dusk, was just amazing fun. This car is every bit as much fun as my Lotus used to be, and I sincerely mean that! That's right, the Mini has the soul of the Lotus Elan! Wonderful handling, glued to the road, gutsy 1275cc engine, just bags and bags of fun.

I'm so happy I've got this car. I've a feeling it will be a pain in the ass to maintain, but who cares?! I am loving driving it, and that's what really counts.

Another win for the old British car in my book - yeh, it might rust, but I can live with that.

Monday, February 07, 2011

I Have That Jaguar

Ok, so I've talked about this for a while. And it's happened. Sitting in my garage is a beautiful, flame red and black leather, 1990 Jaguar XJSC.

It's awesome! Of course, it's a crazy car. I can't afford to run it, but I'm proud to own it. Why did I buy this petrol-guzzling luxury monster? It was, quite frankly, a steal! I think I am going to sell it again soon, but right now I am enjoying the hell out of having it.

This car represents the end of an era. I don't think anyone will make a production V12 engine again, ever. It just doesn't make sense, but as a genuine collectors piece and as an amazing statement of luxury from a time only recently passed, I love it.

If you live in Europe (France, Italy, Germany, Spain, etc.) and you want it, email me. Otherwise, I'm going to have a bit of fun and decide when I'll eventually put it up for sale. For now I'm grinning ear to ear as I drop my toe and get pressed in to the seats while listening to my favourite CD with the electric hood down!

(PS - not a great photo, but will post more when I've taken them.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Keep A Fiat?

So, it's been almost a year since I posted! Sorry. Life, work, etc. All got in the way.

A few weeks ago we listed our Fiat 500 for sale. We decided it was 'do or die' time. Either we restore the Fiat (a year outside under a tarp in a yard in the south of France has not been kind to it) or we sell. With that in mind, we placed an ad for the car, as it is, rust, dent in the roof, squeaky brakes and all, at 4,500€ on a French website.

In all honesty we didn't expect it to go. And we actually needed an offer to decide whether we really wanted to sell it or not.

And today that offer came. And we couldn't. Bottom line is, this car is special to us. We thought if we got 4,500€ for it we could get something else. Maybe a Mk 1 Golf Convertible, maybe a Jaguar XJ-S 3.6 Cabriolet, something we could at least ride the motorways with and use to go on holiday.

But when push came to shove, we realised we would rather spend a few thousand Euros getting the Fiat perfect again than have something else. This car is truly an icon. Though the would-be buyer is a sincere fan of the marque and model, we felt we wanted to keep this car in the stable and ensure its future personally.

So our Fiat 500 is not for sale. We will restore it in the spring and look forward to many happy years (and blog posts) to come. Ok, we'll never do 2,000km road trips with it, but it's fine for ducking around the region, and as practical classics go it's near-impossible to beat. It costs us nearly nothing to run and the joy we get every time we take it out is hard to surpass.

Here's to another 20 happy years of Fiat 500 ownership!

And I might buy that Golf separately, but that will be another story.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Broadcast From Foreign Soil

It's been over a year with no post. Wow! Life has run away with me. I guess I've lost subscribers by the boat load as well.

Well, lots has happened. Firstly, the Lotus is sold. To a Frenchman living near Cambridge, a lovely guy who is perfect for that sort of vehicle - loves to do his own servicing, etc. He has just relocated from the south of France to Cambridgeshire for work.

Secondly (and here's the big one) I finally did it! I used the money to relocate, ironically given who bought the Lotus, to the south of France. So here I am, on the outskirts of Uzes, on the border between Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, writing my first blog post in flippin' ages!

And what of the Fiat?

It had another marathon haul across Europe. The result of which was a knackered wheel bearing, but never mind. It was an epic performance from the little car and it got me there without issue. I went from Dover, England to Uzes, France in 15 hours. That's not bad in a modern car, never mind in a 1971 Fiat with 15bhp (if you're lucky). My tactic was to slipstream trucks the entire way and it worked well. 0600 start in Dover and rolled up the drive in Uzes at 2300.

And I sang loudly most of the way to alleviate the boredom. Stereo? What stereo?

Of course, we now have the hassle of getting the Fiat on to French plates (just declared it as exported to the UK authorities yesterday) so the little car from Milan will, having spent the first 30 years of its life pottering about Italian city streets, have been driven from Italy to London, all over the UK and now back down to the Mediterranean once more.

One of the things the French want, before you can register *any* car in France, is proof of EU type approval. This is ludicrous for cars that were bought in and have never left the EU - what's the point in a common market then? - but there's no telling the French authorities that. Fortunately, wife being Italian and all, we were able to procure a faxed copy of an original Fiat 500 F type approval document from the 1960s, courtesy of one of the Italian Fiat clubs. We read some people have spent hundreds of Euro buying such a document, so count ourselves rather fortunate.

Now all we need to do now (besides a lot of form filling and queueing) is organise a CT (or Controle Technique - the French equivalent of the MoT, the British safety check). After that we'll be all set to get some French plates on this baby, and add the British ones to the mantelpiece, beside the Italian ones that came off it in England.

After we buy a new battery that is. The old one packed up the other day, stranding my wife in town. Fortunately, we are now seasoned classic car owners with tow ropes, jump leads, tools handy and a large-engined Volvo estate for towing things home!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Going Continental

I may not have mentioned my intention to move to France. Some may have guessed, after I mentioned "driving a lot in Europe" while considering my next purchase, that I may not be long for the UK. Well I can now inform you my specific intended destination is the south of France, somewhere between Nîmes and Perpignan. I'm not sure where yet.

And at this rate, the Lotus and the Fiat will be going with me. Actually, I never really intended to get rid of the Fiat, though transporting it to the south of France could be, um, time consuming. The Lotus, however, is not selling. It seems a global banking crisis is not the best time to try and sell a luxury item. Who'd have thunk it??

Ironically, I think I'll have a better chance of selling it in the Côtes d'Azur than I do in the UK. This is a millionaire's playground, where £10,000 is an evening's bar bill and Jaguar XJ-S convertibles go for £25,000, even though they struggle to reach a third of that value back in Blighty.

I was contemplating this when it dawned upon the French are probably as big in the classic cars scene as the British. It is they, after all, who host the most prestigious classics race in the world, the Le Mans Classic. And when the classic sportscars tour came to Silverstone this month (I got complimentary tickets from a nice chap called Guillaume, who is a classic sportscars organiser from Paris) the pitlane was awash with French accents. Far more French folk than British, even here in Silverstone. In fact, since my car has been for sale, two thirds of the serious approaches have been from French people.

If I were going to move anywhere in Europe, I can't think of a better fit for the classics enthusiast than France.

The Italians love cars, but can't be bothered with old ones (with a few notable exceptions). The Germans love efficiency, so that's that really. The Spanish are indifferent. The Swiss government positively hates cars, and while the Swiss themselves drive around in some of the most expensive cars in the world, the only Swiss person I know who is fortunate (and rich and half English) enough to have a stable of vintage sportscars only bothers to drive them when he's going to France for a few days. The Dutch are up there and enjoy their motorsport, but the French beat all comers hands down when it comes to passion and enthusiasm for classic cars.

I actually look forward to driving the Lotus on French roads for a few months. We're aiming to move in spring 2009 so, savings permitting, I may well be flinging the Lotus around some French country lanes in the spring sunshine.

That would be nice.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The End Of The Roundabout

I note with some sadness that the highway powers that be are removing the last of the roundabouts from the A1, a secondary (though still major) dual-carriageway running the length of the country, from London to Edinburgh. Most motorists will rejoice at this, but not the Elan pilot.

The only fun bit of driving from London to Newark on the A1 is the roundabouts. Without breaking any road traffic regulation, it is possible to enter a roundabout on such a road, drop in to second, fling the car through the effective chicane and boot the throttle.

This is great fun! You get to use all of the cornering and acceleration of these fantastic little sportscars and roar away up to 70mph then just knock it over from 3rd in to 5th gear and continue on your way, with a broad grin on your face.

Sadly, this era is coming to an end. My drives from London to my parents, in north Nottinghamshire, are about to become an even more tedious experience. Ho hum.

On a more positive note, a nice French chap, who took an active interest in the Lotus, turned out to be the organiser of several well known classic car racing events, including the prestigious Le Mans Classic. Even though he hasn't even met me yet, he has sorted me out with two VIP, all access, guest tickets to the 1,000km of Silverstone (AKA the 6 hours of Silverstone).

What a thoroughly decent fellow. Clearly a gentleman and a scholar. I'll take the Lotus up for him to have a play with, naturally. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Youth Crime: The Bane Of Modern Britain

I'm going way off topic today, but I need to get something off my chest. Liberals, stop reading now and come back next week when my mood has lightened.

I am deeply saddened to report that some idiots of questionable parentage kicked in every panel of the off side of the Fiat and caved in the right-front headlamp, before battering the guttering with rocks and pushing it against a wall. About £2,000-worth of damage, all told, in the name of "fun".

Essex Police have lifted fingerprints, but here lies the biggest problem: even if they catch someone for it, the aforementioned individual will certainly get little more than a tap on the wrists from a magistrate and a firm instruction not to do it again. Which he or she will dutifully ignore, next time they're out of their tiny minds on cheap cider and looking for something to smash to compensate for their total lack of prospects of becoming anything other than another drain on the British tax payer.

If it were up to me, the magistrate would be able to present the repair bill to the parents or guardians of the perpetrators and tell them to pay up or go to prison. Then they might actually take some responsibility for what junior is doing at 3am on a Saturday morning. (Coincidentally, this is already how they handle truancy, so I'm hoping someone in government will apply the same logical approach to youth crime, and soon!)

The point is when people under the age of 18 years old suffer no consequences for violent and anti-social behaviour, either in the home or in the courts, and have nothing better to do except spend their unemployment benefit on White Lightning and get blind drunk, what possible incentive is there for the disillusioned youth to behave? British law is unable to decide where responsibility for the actions of teenage criminals lies, and as a result it does not know how to deal with them.

With the system mired in apathy, the teenage criminal receives no punishment, nor do his or her parents, and they get the impression they can do what they like. Which, sadly, is the correct impression. Until they turn 18 and get sent to a proper prison, and then it's too late. By the time they come out of Pentonville Road, two years later, they'll be fully fledged adult criminals and those vital formative years during which their lives could've been turned around have been thrown away.

British society as a whole shrugs it's shoulders. Irresponsible parents are free to ignore the behaviour of their offspring. Education professionals are exasperated and powerless. Police are fed up with not getting convictions or, when they do, seeing sentences so light they are an insult to the victims and the police men and women who spent so much time bringing the perpetrators to justice. Judges and magistrates have no choice but to sentence according to British law, which is decided by... The Government.

The one group of people who seem to be saying it's not their fault either and they appear utterly impotent in the face of it - totally devoid of policies and ideas. Every week, in every newspaper, nationwide, the letters section is alive with commentary on this major social issue of modern Britain, but the present government are doing precisely nothing visible about it whatsoever. May I quote a line from a letter sent to The Metro, a free London paper, last week which nicely sums it up:

"Young people in this country have rights but no responsibilities."

So how do you make them responsible, if their parents won't do it and they no longer have to go to school? Well I think I know what the answer is. It's not a new idea, by any stretch of the imagination, but since we are getting a teenage stabbing in a British city almost every night of the week now, it's time someone took some drastic action:

Bring back National Service.

It's simple enough. If you are not in bona fide full-time education or gainfully employed between the ages of 16 and 21, you are joining the services whether you like it or not, be it military, or medical/charity alternatives for the conscientious. All of these organisations are down on recruits, you are unemployed, there many potential career paths for both men and women, front-line or back office, where they will have responsibilities, fair pay, role models and education.

I'd rather my tax paying pound is spent on supporting a teenager's career in the military or public services, than it being spent paying for a teenager's dole cheque, the police time required to investigate my vandalised property and the near-inevitable stay at Her Majesty's pleasure for the poor, stupid fool who is abandoned and shunned by our nation's society.

If the person who kicked seven bells out of my car the other weekend had been RAF ground-crew based up in Lincolnshire, he or she would've been safely tucked up in barracks by 11pm, having a well-earned sleep after a long, hard day of paid work. Not drinking cider in the streets and looking for something to break.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mad French Cars

The weird, but wonderful, Panhard CD.
This car is all my friend Tom has bubbled on about since we got back from Le Mans earlier in the month. Before I took Tom to this year's Le Mans Classic, he wasn't much of a car fan. He was just coming along for the ride, doing something a bit different, enjoying a break. When we left the Le Mans Classic, he had a new love in his life. (His previous love was beer, by all accounts, so this probably isn't a bad swap.)

The Panhard CD. Tom is now, officially, a petrol-head.

True to form, he had to pick a real odd one. This crazy, 850cc, two-stroke French saloon was actually entered in the Le Mans GT class, back in the '60s. It never had a prayer, of course, much as it looked rather silly in the glorious re-enactment, but nevertheless, it's a pretty special piece of engineering. It had all manor of technical innovations, unique at the time and not seen again for another decade, before becoming common-place in modern racing.

Sadly, so few CDs were made that the few remaining in good condition are worth a king's ransome. Since Tom is not a king, he'll be left gazing wistfully from a distance at the object of his desire. There is, however, some good news for Tom. Panhard also made a model called the Panhard 24, which is positively cheap in comparison. You can pick up a lovely 24 for just a few thousand quid, which is an absolute bargain for a truly unique car, especially here in the UK.

I love French engineering of that period. In fact, it was Clarkson who once bemoaned the way French car companies have ceased to make "big, mad cars", mostly in reference to the myriad of big Citroens launched in the '60s, '70s and '80s (some of which are still favourites of mine). It's nice to see Citroen weren't acting alone. Panhard were also doing plenty in the "big, mad" stakes.

If you're interested, here is the UK club (there may be others):

Ps - we stayed in this bed and breakfast, about a 45 minute drive from Le Mans, and it was simply stunning - highly recommended:

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Different Angle On eBay Sales

I have been Following Greg's efforts to sell his car on eBay, and wonder how one venue like eBay, can produce such different results, to a wild degree of ridiculousness.
One the one hand there is Gregs Lotus - a well loved, quite well kept usable car that one would think would sell reasonably well for various reasons - and on the other hand - there are cars like this car, Then and Now,
The 1954 Mercury XM800

This was a concept car
This 1954 Mercury Monterey XM800 was first unveiled at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show. The car was built for Ford by Creative Industries of Detroit, Michigan and was designed by the Mercury pre-production studio with John Najjar serving as the studio manager. Elwood Engle worked on the project as well, serving as a consultant assigned by George Walker's design firm.

The XM800 traveled the auto show circuit through 1954 it made a brief appearance in the 1954 20th Century Parade of Progress before fading from the spotlight.

Benson Ford promoted the idea of creating the car as a second Mercuy car line which would compete with Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile.

Although the car was never put into production, it did take part in a Fox twentieth Century Film, and was made famous buy having its model put into Grape Post Nuts Cereal boxes.

The engine is supposed to be in excellent condition, and has only ever driven for 5 miles.
43 bids after it was posted on eBay, the bidding closed with the amazing amount of $125,350!!

So, my conclusion is that in order to make good sales on eBay, you need a lot of patients or a little stardust!

This is a guest post by Leslie, who's own blog is at Antique Cars Club

Thursday, June 26, 2008


We have a new author on the Classic Cars Blog (AKA The Money Pit). Leslie is a blogger from the USA with a keen passion for classic and vintage cars and she has very kindly offered to write a few posts for this blog too. I look forward to reading her posts, as I'm sure you do as well!

Leslie's own blog can be found here: Antique Cars Club.