The Road Show #32

Jack Mortimer May 17, 2020

[PODCAST]

 

 

News:

So last week we talked about Jaguar Land Rover’s new V8 version of the Defender, set to release next year, this week someone’s spied their new Range Rover. Now, it’s all under that patterned wrapping and if you’ve ever wondered why they all look like that, it’s so it’s harder to take decently focused photos of. Nevertheless, with a Range Rover you kind of know what it’ll look like – a more modern version of that classic boxy shape Range Rovers have had since they first launched in the 70s. And much like those original models, this Range Rover will have the usual split tailgate to accommodate those bulky loads. We know that this Range Rover is based on the current MLA platform, a supposedly more reliable basis for JLR’s SUV range. It also means that, as well as the typical combustion variants, a hybrid or even a fully electric model, could be on the cards. It’s also understood that the new Range Rover will make use of the BMW V8 engine too, when it launches next year.

And there’s also more news on BYD, the Chinese company who are expanding to Europe with their new SUV. Well, this week they’ve revealed another car which will soon go on sale over here. It’s called the Han and it’s a family saloon that’ll compete with the Tesla Model 3. It’s set to go on sale over in China next month and BYD claim that it’ll do 376 miles on a single charge and reach 60mph (or 100kph) in as little as 3.9 seconds. Despite this we have yet to find out the size of the battery or the motors used, which we’ll hopefully know when it’s released. What we do know is that it features a very large central touchscreen and 5G connectivity which will allow the Han to use DiPilot drive assistance. When the Han reaches Europe, BYD expect that it’ll sell for anywhere from 45,000 to 55,000 euros.

In other news, Vauxhall Opel have a new version of their small SUV the Mokka in the works. Another spotted car that’s still quite literally under wraps, the Mokka appears to be completely redesigned. And with Opel under PSA ownership, the new model will use the CMP modular platform, that the Peugeot 2008 also uses, which means that, much like the little Corsa, a fully electric model will be available from launch. Whilst it hasn’t been confirmed yet, it is believed that the 50kWh battery and 134bhp electric motor will be used along with the 1.2 three cylinder turbocharged petrol and the 1.5 diesel. Vauxhall’s boss, Steven Norman has high hopes for the new Mokka too, as he recently stated that it “will change people’s perception of our brand”. He also confirmed that the Mokka is set to launch at the start of next year.

And we have some more electric news as Lotus this week have partnered with British Gas’ parent Centrica. Now, already Lotus are making the only fully electric hyper-car – the Evija – but with an ambition to have a full range of zero carbon vehicles and with this new partnership, a new fully electric Lotus will be developed soon. But perhaps that’s not the most exciting piece of this partnership as Centrica will be creating a totally new infrastructure for electric vehicles, along with a sustainability programme to ensure that innovations continue. Naturally, this partnership has only just been formed this week so there’s very little information to give you but when something more comes to light The Road Show will indeed let you know.

Finally, from the auction house, another rare and exciting classic is to go under the hammer. This time it’s a recreation of a Jaguar D-Type and if you thought there wasn’t much value in reproductions, well think again as when this 1962 model is auctioned off through the Silverstone Auctions live online sale on the 23rd of May it’s expected to fetch anywhere from £225,000 to £275,000. It was made by two specialists who created the car from drawings of the car along with any spare, and indeed very rare, parts that they had accumulated over the years. But even so, if you think that a quarter of a million pounds isn’t that bad for a real classic, a genuine D Type went under the hammer some years ago. It’s cost? £16,772,619!

My Dad Had One of Those – Rover P6

Ok so it’s time for a ‘my dad had one of those’, but as always it doesn’t have to be your dad. Maybe this was a car your mum owned, or a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle, even a friend. For me this was a car driven by my grandparents in the late 1970s and early 80s. It was a really innovative car to so let’s take some time to learn about the Rover 2000, 2200 and 3500, also known as the Rover P6.

In the early 1960s, Rover was making two cars – the Rover P4 and the Rover P5 – two highly luxurious saloons that were seen as the car of choice for the Prime Minister and even the Queen. However these cars, as excellent as they were, were traditional and dare I say conventional with their large chrome grilles and tall stature. During this time Rover noticed that there was a gap in the market between ever so upmarket family saloons like the Ford Zodiac and the Singer Gazelle and proper luxury cars like their current range or the Wolseley 6/99. And with executives being ever younger, they wanted a relatively high-end car that could drive like a normal family car.

And so Rover set about designing a totally new car. It would officially replace the Rover P4 in the range, the older and smaller car that the company was building at the time, but be infinitely more modern. During this phase, the Rover design team took a lot of inspiration from the Citroen DS, a car that looked entirely unique and actually at the time would have been the P6’s only real competition in that class. Much like the Citroen, the Rover would have an advanced suspension system, more specifically de Dion tube suspension (sometimes refered to as dead axel suspension as it is unrelated to giving power to the wheels).

The front suspension in particular was innovative as it used a bell crank (that’s essentially a rotating bracket) which carried the motion of bumps to a horizontally mounted spring at the rear wall of the engine compartment. This meant that the set up was wide – wide enough to fit Rover’s famous gas turbine engine prototype. One vehicle was produced which did feature this engine, the T4, which you can find in the British Motor Museum. This would be Rover’s last gas turbine prototype and the only one that was front engined and front wheel drive. At the time Rover claimed that such a car would have cost buyers anywhere from £3000 to £4000 (bearing in mind that at this point the most expensive Rover in the range was under £2000) and achieve around 16 to 20mpg, so it sadly proved to be to expensive to purchase and run for most buyers at the time.

Nevertheless, the P6 was also quite advanced in having all round disk brakes, a fully synchromeshed four speed gearbox and a unibody design that essentially worked as a skeleton to which all of the other body panels (which were mostly aluminium to keep the weight down) could be attached. The front wings featured small plastic prisms that allowed for night-time drivers to easily see the corners of their vehicles and as such avoid crashing on tight corners.

It would take Rover about seven years to fully develop their executive saloon, but in early 1963 a pilot run of vehicles were released with an official launch in October. This rather smart move not only helped to iron out any initial issues but also meant that deliveries could begin as soon as the orders began. The P6 launched as the Rover 2000 (a name that quite logically related to its 1978cc four cylinder overhead camshaft engine which could produce 104bhp).

However, only one week after the launch of the new Rover, the 2000 already had some serious competition from… well… the 2000. More specifically, the completely unrelated Triumph 2000 saloon, a slightly less innovative yet still modern looking executive saloon that used a straight six cylinder engine.

But, despite the tough competition, the 2000 was a great success for Rover and gave them a reputation for exciting and modern flashy cars. Facelifts and revisions occurred throughout the mid-60s to keep the car fresh and interesting however, a plastic dashboard, complete with formica woodgrain was added, as was a new exhaust system and gear linkage. In March 1966 came a new engine choice, too, as you could now have the Rover 2000 with a twin-carburettor engine for better performance. Initially, production of the TC model was mostly for overseas markets such as America and continental Europe, given that the UK had just introduced a blanket 70mph speed limit on our motorways. Nonetheless, after so many British buyers expressed their interest in the new high performance model, Rover officially launched it for its domestic market in October of that year.

However, the most exciting development for the P6 came in 1968 when Rover decided to put an entirely new engine into the bay. Whilst, the gas turbine idea didn’t plan out, that wide engine bay meant that Buick’s 3.5 litre V8 could be installed. This engine was originally launched in 1960 for the ever American Buick Special and, much like the Rover, it was really ahead of its time. Being an overhead valve engine made entirely out of aluminium meant that it weighed a mere 144kg (that’s 317lbs) meant that it could produce 200bhp in the Buick, which was a huge amount for the era.

So in 1964, Roved began to convince GM to sell the tooling for their engine. It took a year to do but it was definitely worth it. When Motor magazine tested the new Rover 3500, they found that it could get to 60mph in 9.5 seconds and managed a top speed of 117mph. Initially, the 3500 was only available with Borg Warner 3 speed automatic transmission but, from 1971 you could also buy the 3500S – that’s S for synchromesh. This gave you a 4 speed gearbox which gave the 3500 a slightly faster 0-60 time of 9 seconds and better fuel economy of up to 24mpg! … I said better, not in any way good.

Also, during the turn of the 1970s the P6 range received a facelift. Goodbye, alloy grille, hello plastic front end. Yes, it was a time when plastic was seen less of a problem for the world and more-so something that made your car a bit more modern and exciting. There was also a totally redesigned interior and the battery was moved to the boot. For 1973 there was also a new engine to replace the now decade old Rover 2000. This was mostly done, not because the car was in any way dated but because of tighter restrictions over in California. The new engine was cleaner but it’s power took a hit.

Sadly, by this point in time, thanks to the issues that a lot of British Leyland cars were known for, combined with strike action and a real lack of money, the Rover P6 gained a reputation for making unreliable cars. One 1975 article in Drive magazine talks about a ’74 model that, in the process of covering 6000 miles in six months, had gone through three engines, two gearboxes, two clutch housings and an entire set of electric cables. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time either as by the mid-70s a range of executive cars had launched like the Ford Granada, Citroen CX, Audi 100 and many more.

Nevertheless, the P6 continued being produced until 1977 when it was fully replaced with the new Rover 2300, 2600 and 3500 – known collectively as the SD1 range. And whilst they were seen as unreliable in their later years, they were still a huge success for Rover, transforming the company from a stuffy company that produced really elite traditional cars to one that was on the forefront of technology. If you want a P6 today, well the prices vary on what you want. A pretty late 2200 can sell for as little as £3500 whereas currently there’s a 1966 Rover 2000 ex works car that’s selling for over ten times that price at £39,950.

Cars You Love To Hate – Alfa Romeo Arna

Alrighty then time for I’m sure quite a few of you won’t know, however if you do I’m sure you love to hate it. The issue with this car is that it could have been so much more than it actually was is the producers had actually given the project more thought, but what we really got was awful in pretty much every possible way. Today, we’re covering the Alfa Romeo Arna.

So when you think about Alfa Romeo you probably think about little Italian sports cars cruising around country lanes with the roof down. Wonderful. Well that wasn’t really where they were coming from with the Arna. It wasn’t the first though, the Alfasud, launched in 1971, Alfa Romeo had successfully expanded their range into popular and innovative family motoring. However, even with a facelift in 1980, the 12 year old car couldn’t keep up with the competition, not helped with an increasingly poor reputation when it came to rust.

But Alfa Romeo wasn’t alone with this new family car. In 1980 the company had created an agreement with Nissan to create Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli. And I really have to say that that is the most uninspired name I can think of, surely that’s a bad start. Anyway, Nevertheless, this was a deal endorsed by the Italian prime minister, most likely given that Nissan (branded as Datsun during this time in Europe) was doing increasingly well thanks to their reliability.

Now it’s a good time to think about what this car really could have been. The Italians are widely known for their styling with companies such as Pinifarina, Guiagrio and Ital Design. Then, Japanese cars are seen as incredibly reliable and often need minimal amounts of maintenance. So here was the potential to build an incredibly stylish and reliable car that so many families had dreamt of for decades. But… that wasn’t what happened.

To save money the Arna was heavily based on the Nissan Pulsar N12 (also known as the Cherry in some parts of the world), fair enough as that meant the Arna’s underpinnings were of a very good quality but Nissan also got control of the styling, which was also very Pulsar-ish – boxy and minimalist. It’s certainly a very 1980s design but in doing so it’s nothing inspiring.

Then when it came to building the thing, a new factory was created in Pratola Serra in Italy. Now, whilst Italian cars tend to look excellent their build quality does tend to leave a lot to be desired. So to summarise we could have had a stylish and reliable family hatchback but instead we got a dull and unreliable one. Great!

So to give you some more information about the car, well instead of using the low maintenance range of Nissan engines, the Arna used three boxer engines taken out of the Alfasud. At launch you could choose from a 1.2 or a 1.4, but for a sporty car company these engines weren’t exactly fast. Even the 1.4 couldn’t get to 100mph. Eventually they also added a 1.5 into the range which was quite powerful for the time but certainly not a car that could compete with the trendy hot hatches like the Golf GTi.

There was a bit of a saving grace however, as the Arna did inherit Nissan’s independent rear suspension and breaks, but the front half was all taken from the Alfasud – so it was literally a car half made by Alfa Romeo and half made by Nissan.

And so the Arna launched at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor show and the public quickly saw it for what it was – not very good. It got worse when the automotive journalists test drove it too as they soon found that the steering, like a lot of Japanese cars of the time, was incredibly poor, the opposite to the highly acclaimed handling of Alfas.

So, it wasn’t looking good. A lot of countries sold the car as a Nissan Cherry Europe to try and cover up its flaws, however when people found out about the Arna’s flaws and that they could have just bought a regular Japanese built Cherry which was considerably better built, the Arna fell flat on its square face.

My trusty 1987 What Car price guide shows that a 1984 Arna 1.2 was worth anywhere from £1225 to £1875. Now, bear in mind that an equivalent 1984 Austin Maestro, which also wasn’t particularly good, was worth £2550 to £3100 and even the, by 1987 standards decrepit, Alfasud was still worth up to £1000 more than its successor.

Now because of its severe failings only 53,047 Arnas were ever made over its pitiful four year production run. It wasn’t replaced with a new car, but the much better Alfa Romeo 33 and the original Nissan Micra (known in some markets as the Nissan March) can be seen as cars that filled the gap. And over the years thanks to bad Italian rustproofing there’s now very very few left. In my 18 years of living I’ve only ever seen one Arna, well Nissan Cherry Europe, and that was at a car show rather than out in the wild.

They barely ever appear for sale online but, thanks to their rarity they are seen as highly collectable. Nevertheless, across Europe right now there are four Arnas for sale, with prices ranging from 2,800 euros to 9,500 depending on the condition – not too expensive but you could certainly get something a lot better looking, more reliable and with a bigger community for the money.

 

 

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