mg

How my MX-5 helped to break two world recordS

rhdr

LAST weekend I broke a Guinness World Record. Well, me and 1,543 other people, from all walks of life and every corner of the country.

What did we all have in common, other than all happening to be on the same windswept airfield in North Yorkshire last Sunday? The Mazda MX-5. You won’t have seen it because all the news cameras were down in London focusing on some running event that took place the same day but the result was spectacular; a convoy of sports cars stretching as far as the eye could see, all moving in unison. It was spread across four lanes of cars taking up the entire length of Elvington’s three-kilometre runway and back again, plus the taxiways linking it all together. So there you have it – the world record for the biggest ever parade of convertibles now belongs to a load of us who own Mazda MX-5s (and the record for the biggest ever parade of Mazdas too, for that matter).

There were MX-5s everywhere, but if you’d have been in for a bit of a shock if you think that once you’ve seen one MX-5, that you’ve seen them all. Sure, there were shedloads of bog-standard cars, but there were also super-rare BBR Turbo models and RS models shipped in specially from Japan. There were lads who tricked theirs up with big alloys and bodykits, and a lady who’d given hers some TVR Tuscan-esque flip paintwork. And, of course, mine; a Eunos V-Spec with lots of little luxuries that were never offered here on the UK MX-5s. Say what you like about the world’s best-selling sports car being fitted with an auto box, but I’ll have the wood, leather and air con any day.

But the really big shock was getting out of Yorkshire and back to reality. Head out in an MG or an Alfa Spider and you’re virtually guaranteed a cheery wave if you pass a fellow owner coming the other way, but in an MX-5 it’s a rare occurrence, and even now, three decades after the MkI was originally launched, you’ll still get occasional sneering comment if you take one to a classic car show.

Which is all Mazda’s fault, of course. Had it made the MX-5 a bad car that breaks down all the time, fewer people would’ve bought them and wouldn’t have been inclined to use them as daily drivers. I know plenty of people who still use MX-5s fast approaching their 30th birthday as everyday cars – which means you see them more often, and that sort of takes away the novelty. Which is why, I figure, most of them don’t wave.

I reckon it’s time they started giving those cheery waves in the same way other owners of old cars do – and that they get their names down next time there’s another attempt at the record. At the last count there were 26,438 MX-5s on the UK’s roads – a​nd I’m sure a few of the 95% who didn’t take part last weekend would be another go.

They’re going to need a longer runway next time.

Why the MG Hector needs to be a sales hit

HECTOR was – according to Government’s own statistics – the 90th most popular name for baby boys in Britain back in 1905. After that it dropped out of the top 100, and has never reappeared since.

So I can safely say that there are few Hectors to heckle me if I declare that it’s just about the worst name to give a new car. Yet that’s genuinely what MG is calling its latest model. The MG Hector. Say that again. The MG…Hector?

The name’s apparently taken from a World War II biplane – the Hawker Hector, which itself was christened in honour of a mythical Trojan prince – but this isn’t anything like the Triumph Spitfire or the Bristol Blenheim. Those were cars that lived up to their aeronautical namesakes by being sleek, agile and proudly British. The MG Hector, which is about to go on sale in India, but has no planned UK launch yet – is a rebadged version of a rather bloated-looking Chinese 4×4, the Baojun 530. Not since the Mazda MPV has a carmaker got a badge so depressingly spot-on. The new MG actually looks like a right old Hector.

Yet I want it to do fantastically well. Forget the MGB selling half a million units and becoming Britain’s best-ever selling sports car; ideally the Hector, even if it doesn’t come to the UK, needs to snapped up by roughly a quintillion eager buyers each year.

It’s perfectly equipped to pull off such a feat, especially in its core markets of India and China. The one thing the Chinese love even more than Britain’s heritage is copious amounts of rear legroom, and the MG Hector has ample amounts of both. If they released a long-wheelbase version and called it the William Wordsworth Special Edition, they’d double sales overnight. This is the country that called one of its cars the Byton – with no sense of irony whatsoever – simply because its name sounded English and imposing.

It’s also offered with a sensible choice of a 1.5-litre petrol and choice of Jeep-sourced diesel engines, and MG – over there, at least – is selling in on its equipment levels and how it’s constantly connected to the internet. It is perfect for the Chinese market, and I really hope that they sell every single one.

I mean it. Every single one, because the money MG makes from Hector sales is what it needs to finally fund the new sports car the rest of us have been crying out for. Sports cars don’t have a great reputation for powering profits – which is why Porsche makes the Cayenne, and why BMW reportedly sold every Z8 it ever made at a loss – but they’re crucial when it comes to building exciting brands. MG desperately needs a new Midget. Or, at the very least, a proper sporting saloon or hot hatch that lives up to everything the two most evocative letters in motoring stand for.

If the business case doesn’t stack up on its own then it’ll just have to be subsidised by all those people buying Hectors. Even if it means having to bring it to Britain, I reckon it’ll be a price worth paying.

Just change the name. Apparently Hunter – which is also the name of an old aircraft – is back in the top 100 names to give your child. An MG Hunter? Now that’s more like it.

The Suzuki Jimny is a proper off-roader. A Vauxhall Viva on stilts isn’t

The Vauxhall Viva Rocks has just gone on sale across the UK

ON THE other side of the world Suzuki’s crack team of engineers are doing what I thought would never happen. After nearly 20 years they’re finally preparing a replacement for the Suzuki Jimny – which is a good thing, because it’s a proper small off-roader.

It’ll look a bit macho, but that’s because it’ll have four-wheel-drive, chunky tyres and proper ground clearance. But I am bored to tears with virtually every new car being launched nowadays attempting to look like an off-roader, but coming across instead as a bloated, watered-down pastiche of one. It’s though an entire generation of outdoor types have stopped aspiring to be Ray Mears and have settled for being Ant and Dec on I’m A Celebrity instead.

Take the new Vauxhall Viva Rocks. Its makers are doing exactly what Rover did with the Streetwise 15 years ago – jacking a perfectly good hatchback up by about an inch, cloaking it with all sorts of cosmetic add-ons to make it look a bit like an off-roader, and convincing roughly no one. The Viva’s a perfectly good car, of course, but this new one is being given mud-plugging aspirations it can’t possibly live up to. It won’t even crawl over a kerb to escape a supermarket car park, which was always the town centre party trick of proper off-roaders.

It’s the same with all the other dreary, derivative crossovers and sports activity vehicles clogging up the new car market at the moment. Why, for instance, is a sporty brand like MG making them? Why are Maserati and Lamborghini joining the fray? And why would you buy a BMW X1 or X3 when a 3-Series Touring is a far, far nicer car to drive in the real world?

I suspect the answer’s because I grew up in a household with two old Land Rovers and am desperately out of step with today’s I’m A Celebrity­-loving crossover buyers, but I still long for the day these cars go out of fashion and people go back to buying hot hatches, swoopy coupes, and plush saloons instead. Oh, and proper off-roaders, with four-wheel-drive and fancy locking diffs, for that matter.

If you want a small, outdoor-type sort of car then by all means buy the new Jimny when it arrives, because it’ll be able to escape the muddy field a Viva Rocks won’t.

Jaguar Land Rover has a great opportunity right under its nose

Currently the Jaguar Land Rover range starts with the XE saloon

WHAT’S your worst nightmare? Perhaps it’s giving an important work seminar wearing nothing but a bikini – even though you’re a bloke – or being locked inside a hi-fi shop overnight with every stereo system set to play Justin Bieber’s greatest hits on repeat, ad nauseam.

For me it’s trying to explain Jaguar Land Rover’s plans for world domination to someone who doesn’t understand cars. The Jaguar stuff’s fairly simple – you start with the wonderful XJ, replicate in slightly smaller sizes and then chuck in a two-seater sports car for good measure, but I’m completely lost when it comes to Land Rover. There’s no Land Rover-shaped Land Rover any more, a Discovery that looks just like a Range Rover Evoque, and a big Discovery that’s now tremendously ugly. Then there’s the Range Rover, but it’s accompanied by another Range Rover that obsesses over Nurburgring lap times and looking good outside footballers’ homes, a really small Range Rover that now looks a bit like a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and the Velar, which sits somewhere between the two.

All of which hurts my head (and probably yours) slightly. So rumours that JLR’s looking to expand its range of offerings even further are going to have me reaching for the Nurofen.

The manufacturer’s Indian bosses are reportedly thinking about snapping up another brand to boost its luxury offerings, with everything from Aston-Martin to MG under consideration. Even Jeep’s been linked to a potential deal, although this would be a bit like Liverpool snapping up Arsenal.

Then there’s serious consideration apparently being given to launching what’s being dubbed the ‘Road Rover’, which would be a sort of tarmac-orientated twin to Land Rover’s current offerings.  All of which would make it… a Rover, surely?

Rover would be a great name to bring back. If VW can successfully turn Skoda from the butt of motoring jokes to a champion of sensibly-priced family cars, how hard can it be to turn an (admittedly tarnished) British brand back into the luxury name known for cars like the P5 and P6? BMW so nearly did it with the 75 but famously bottled it in 2000. Jaguar Land Rover, with its clever engineering and healthy cashflow, might just crack it.

Admit it – a properly engineered Rover with wood, leather and some Jaguar-esque tech beneath the skin really wouldn’t be a bad thing. Better than presenting that work seminar in a bikini, anyway…

I’ll admit it – driving in Scotland is fun

David was able to enjoy Scotland safely in his Mazda MX-5

IT’S BEEN a while since I’ve had a pen pal but I seem to have picked one up at Classic Car Weekly. He doesn’t write often but the topic’s always the same – I’m apparently guilty of glamorising driving dangerously on rural roads.

So he’ll no doubt be writing in when he discovers I’ve just spent a weekend driving around the Scottish Highlands, not to visit a distant aunt in Fort William, but for fun. I’ll admit it; I did nearly 1000 miles over four days for no good reason other than to drive on great roads simply because I enjoy doing it.

We’ll start with the location. Pick up any of the glossy travel mags and they’ll tell you that the A82 between Glasgow and Glencoe is Europe’s best stretch of road but this simply isn’t true – you can’t enjoy driving it because you’ll be stuck behind a lorry winding its way up to Inverness, and you can’t stop to admire the view because all the laybys are full of Dutch motorhomes. But the A87 and the A887 are utterly wonderful. Set off from Southport tomorrow morning and you’ll be there by mid-afternoon, and because you’ll want to stay overnight you’ll be giving the Scottish economy a helping hand, too.

But the real joy is you can do all of this without going anywhere remotely near a speed limit. Yes, I’ll freely admit that there were far too many people up in the Highlands driving dangerously in BMW X5s and doing silly overtakes in Honda Civic Type-Rs, but that’s something you’re as likely to see in Parbold as you are in Pitlochry. The trick is to drive around in a car that thrills at real world speeds.

I spent the weekend up there in my Mazda MX-5 but you’d be just as happy in any MG, Caterham, Lotus or Alfa Spider – and if you do need something with an extra set of seats, anything vaguely old with a Peugeot, Ford or BMW badge up front should suit the bill. Some of the best drives I’ve ever done have been at the helm of a derv-driven Peugeot 306 and a 15-year-old Ford Mondeo, so don’t knock ‘em until you’ve tried them!

But the end result is always the same; you emerge with a smile on your face, the Highlands economy gets a boost, and – unless you really do drive like a berk – Police Scotland don’t have to deal with unnecessary paperwork. Drive sensibly of course, but freely admit that it’s something you enjoy, like playing a piano or going fishing.

I might even arrange for my pen pal to go up there and for there to be an Austin-Healey 3000 waiting at the other end. Chances are, I suspect he’ll enjoy it…

While you were away…

rollsroycess

MY HUMBLEST apologies. While Life On Cars has been cruising along in print form in The Champion newspaper as usual, the blog’s been parked up, tucked away beneath a car cover and had its battery disconnected for the past few weeks.

That’s because over the last few weeks every moment when I haven’t been scribbling for Classic Car Weekly and The Champion I’ve been planning for a particularly tricky outing – my wedding, which takes place later this week.

The soon-to-be Mrs Simister has done all the really hard work, but my contributions include sorting out the car she’ll be taking her last journey of singledom in – and I was absolutely determined it wasn’t going to be one of those horrid kit cars with Volkswagen Beetle door handles and Ford Granada running gear that seem to take up so much of the wedding trade’s business these days.

So I’ve gone for a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow instead.

Not a plastic-bumpered one in white, you understand; that’d be the later Shadow II you see pictured above, and in completely the wrong colour for what Crewe intended to be a gentlemanly express aimed at a new class of owner-drivers when the Silver Shadow was originally launched. The car I’m using is the original Silver Shadow with chrome bumpers in a subtle shade of blue – the ribbons will do the talking on their own, thank you very much.

The bridesmaids, meanwhile, will be taking their trip to the aisle in an MG Magnette – the ZB Varitone version, in case you’re interested. Unless of course the Breakdown Fairy decides to strike twice in a single day, in which case a colleague’s Mercedes-Benz S-Class is on hand instead.

Unless of course that breaks down too (and if you’ve been reading Classic Car Weekly over the past few weeks, that’s not actually that unlikely), when my dad’s Range Rover will valiantly come to the rescue on a surge of Rover V8 rumble.

Unless of course that breaks down too, in which case…

 

 

MGB vs MX-5 – which would YOU take to Scotland?

IMG_8310THE MGB’s fresh MoT has just made one of my big motoring calls of 2016 that little bit harder.

In a few weeks’ time I’m going on a stag do with a petrolhead twist; driving around the glorious roads of the Scottish Highlands for three days. There’s an odd assortment of automotive gems going on the trip, ranging from a Hillman Imp and an MGB GT V8 to a Saab 9000 Turbo, a Mercedes W123 and a Mazda MX-5.

But – and most of the fellow stag weekend attendees already know this – I’m having a genuine dilemma over which of my two classics to take. MGB GT or MX-5?

Until this morning the Mazda had it in the bag. Drive any early MX-5 and you’ll know instantly why it’s such a masterclass in steering and handling – it genuinely is one of the great driver’s cars of the past 30 years, and yet you can pick ’em for under a grand. If I took mine up it’d be big fun on Scotland’s wonderful country lanes, and if the sun makes a rare appearance it takes all of two seconds to drop the roof down. It’s endlessly reliable too and it’ll easily eke 35 miles out of a gallon on the M6 on the way up there. The only slight snag is that my import-spec one’s been fitted with a three-speed auto rather than the snickety five-speed manual, but that’s a small price to pay for it being such a brilliant companion every day I’m not barrelling down a B-road.

Mazda Eunos Roadster - David Simister

But then last weekend I took the MGB out for a 250-mile trip to the Lakes and back for a Classic Car Weekly gig last weekend. And it was brilliant.

Yes it’s noisy, you have to work with the heavy steering to manhandle it through corners and it’ll do 25mpg on a good day, but it’s so much more of an event to drive. It involves you so much in the experience, and while it’s more tiring to drive on long motorway slogs it’ll happily pound along with the Audis and BMWs in the outside lane if it needs to.

I just assumed the MGB would be too unreliable to turn up and it’d fail its MoT – but having just done a faultless return flight to Cumbria and earned itself another 12 months’ ticket it’s time to think again. I love both cars and would happily take either up to the Highlands – but until I work out how to drive two cars at once, I’m going to have to make a tough choice.

Which would you go for?