Friday, 27 June 2014

The two best classic buys and I go too far.

I have nothing against English people per sae, some of my best friends are English, but...there seems to be alarming amount of  Brit nationals managing (or rather mismanaging) our major corporations. It seems not a day goes by without one of these characters  trying to give a positive spin on their disastrous management polices on National Radio's Morning Report. Why I think with all my highly competent NZ friends largely under utilised (if not unemployed) do these idiots have these jobs? When that happens I think of Reginald Perrin. Not that I hold his bumbling bureaucratic nonsense as any way to proceed, but rather I think about how whenever his mother-in-law was mentioned he thought of a hippopotamus. Well when I hear these prisoners of misguided thinking talk, I think of well...the Austin Allegro.
   I know this is weird. But this is British management for you. You know the empire and all that, they won the war with the Spitfire (and later used the British engine in the P51 Mustang) the bouncing bomb, the first computer, Concorde etc. then the Allegro. How did they f%@k it up? I think it should be compulsory for all of these corporate highflyers originating from mother England to have a an Austin Allegro on the front of their CVs! To remind us how bad British Management all got..
   However (and before I get accused of hate speech) back when things were good they produced these two fabulous marvels of automotive engineering. And they are marvels, they are British and they rate! The fact they are both bottom dwellers on the NZ classic scene is completely beyond me.
  Lets start with the Triumph, this came from nowhere, how Triumph suddenly started making this superb saloon from a bunch of old Vanguard parts I don’t know, but they did. These cars have timeless quality, they still look good, seem incredibly hardwearing, don't seem to rust and have lovely dynamics. This was recently brought home to me when I got out of a late Model Mazda6 (itself not a shabby piece of automotive engineering) and drove one. Next to the Mazda it felt... possibly... tens years old. certainly not fifty! And it handled. Get behind the wheel of one of these Triumphs and suddenly your brio is up! You want to take the next corner far too fast and it loves it! Nothing unsettles it, and it's pin point steering gives you that gorgeous precise feeling on the road. With its independent chassis all round it just flows  and rides and corners, its beautiful, with it's silky smooth six it puts to shame so many cars on the road. It feels so safe. (give it some airbags , I'm sure it would fly through the Ancap rating) It would outperform the 3 previous posts cars in every way yet these cars remain stubbornly cheap.
   Talking of lovely dynamics the Rover if anything is even better! With its stylish good looks (I'm bias here I think the Rover is one of the best looking four door saloons ever) the P6 doesn't feel quite as modern as the Triumph, but it does feel...Everything has tactile edge of quality about it. (An Aston martin or Rolls could hardly be more) There is is no skimping here. Nothing is tacky. Everything is built to last (except the Lucas electrics) and they do last, Just look at the lovely 3500 lingering on trade me at 2.5K! Non-restored, still could be a daily driver. You could run it easy, despite the gas and maintenance bills for less than your modern is depreciating. And they are fast! the 3500 runs out of steam at 125 mph, but its accelerated all the way there. My personal fave, the 2000TC is good for 115mph! (In my youth I spent my time dragging off RX3s, I couldn’t get them at the lights but on the highway I slaughtered them; in the speed zone just where their steering was getting wobbly and the rotary sounding coarse the Rover just roared on by) Why are they so cheap? If they had more exotic nameplates (Alfa, Citroen or BMW perhaps) they might be more collectable. But they don’t and they're not, they're over here and they're cheap.
  They're cheap because they were made here (we even exported them to Australia), because they last forever, because there were lots of them.
  Its a funny thing, How did the British loose their car industry when they made such good cars as these. They should still be making them, Updated of course, the way BMW and Mercedes developed their sixties models they still make. The Japanese did alot better with a lot worse. Imagine what they’d done if they’d taken over one of these cars. Instead British management stuffed it up and gave us...the Austin Allegro. You wander how they ever won the Battle of Britain? Oh that’s right there was a New Zealander in charge!

Over priced and over here.
Here we have 3 worthy British classics from the sixties. None with too many problems except one; They're overpriced. Such are the vagaries of the New Zealand  classic car market that this sort of stuff goes for money. It is ridiculous (as I will explain later) really they are bottom dwellers or should be. It is hard to fathom why they are collectable. All have start prices in the $5000 to $6000 mark. two have bids. They arent premeire marques, Humber, Sunbeam and Vauxhall. All are badge engineered attempts at upmarket luxury. They probaly all go well. I drove a Sceptre once, it went really well for a Hunter. Like a Hunter on Steriods and I admit the wood and intruments and the flash seats really made it quite a nice classic, highly under rated really. The same could be said for the Viscount and the Imp. though the wood on the Imp is plastic...still its a nice facia and instrumrents, it claims a healthy asethetic over the awful standard  model. But for $5k? madness! Because for a lot less you can buy two of the best British cars ever made, that have real pedigree, long lasting properties superb looks and dynamics. All for a pittance. Which brings me to my next post...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

All square round here!

I'm on a theme here, you can tell! Fiat square rigged Saloons from th 60s and 70s, marvellous things! Boxy boxy styling that whilst never pretty or sexy has stood the test of time and even looks quite pleasant, besides if you wanted something beautiful you brought the coupe didn't you! They weren't that more expensive. This 128 saloon is a rare thing at this price, Fraser always told me how good his 128 saloons had been to him, I never listened, but I'd want one now.
For: Despite only 1100cc, lots of brio, four doors and excellent handling, what a marvellous little classic, Doesn't seem much rust.problems for such a car.
Against; what can you say the colour? if it has rust problems it would have dissolved by now.
Bottom dweller status; 5/5
Arguably a bit out of bottom dweller price range and almost a classic. But whats it doing here at $4k and no takers. 125s are gorgeous saloons, if not in looks then in every inch of their sporty utilitarian practicality. Twin cam motor can be as smooth as silk ( I was forever grinding the starter when it was going on my one) and wheel spin in second gear. These babies really want to go! In my opinion as good a car as an alfa, certainly as good looking (sorry Michael) and the engine is a dam sight quieter and less expensive to fix. back in the early eighties boy racers as we were then (but not called so) could not afford escorts, maybe stretch to a Hunter, BMWs were for pratts at $6k plus and alfas where ridiculous. At the time you could pick up a good NZ made Fiat 125 for $2k (oh life was so hard!) which was cheap for great handling and performance. So 4k for this is pretty good.
For: Superb classic saloon, at least as good as if not better than its contemporaries, Lovely to drive. The car you should have married. The colour!
Against; Remembering your 125 (now I want it) although my suspension fell off due to terminal rust!
bottom dweller rating: 3/5 close but has moved out of range.
From the sublime to the ridiculous? well its the same thing really, only better built! Thicker steel and better rust treatment, a deal from the dairy board these things sold like hot cakes in NZ. great Fiat dynamics but tempered with stalinist sobriety. Still better than other communist fair (Marinas, princesses and allegros) we had to put up with!
For nearly all the virtues of the 125 but lacking the thoroughbred qualities of the original, Great price, nice colour, honest, A classic without snob appeal, so much nicer than a morris minor!
Against: Great for commuting round the Gulag Archipelago!
Bottom dweller Status; 4/5

Ford Ka's hit bottom dweller status!

Which just goes to show if you wait long enough everything passes through here. Finally Ford's masterpiece has is available for reasonable money here. Recently Kas have sold as low as $900 and $1300 bucks on Trade me, well in to bottom dweller territory. This is the most exciting news on the altenate classic car movement for years and heralds a whole new era for bottom dwelling. Now you can have everything!
Why (you might ask) is this such exciting news?
Simply because the Ka is one of the best driver's cars around. If you driven one you'll already know what I mean, if you havent, one of lifes great motoring treats still awaits you. The Ford ka is one of those cars that you can just wind up, hurl into any corner and still expect to live. I don't know what it is about it but it just encourages speeding up for corners.This diminuative little car gives the driver a feeling of superb control, with its rigid body frame the whole car stays one harmoneous object as it sails round the tightest curve. Its willing too. Those used to the sluggish response of modern 6speed squential boxes will be blown away by that old fashioned 'press the accelerator and go' sort of performance.Its so old school. Of course the engine is good and bad, nowhere as smooth and balanced as modern japanese engines this ridiculous unit is nothing more than the 50 year old Ford kent engine dumped from the Cortina range in the sixties (and the escort in the 70s). Still it has that old fashioned thing called Torque and while it can't wind out, its all go at 3000rpm! You might ask how do I know this...well all kas are fitted with a sonic tachometer. i.e you listen to the engine as it howls! Which is good, as one complaint about the Ka is, it has few other intrusments to look at; a speedo and a fuel gauge (which you dont really need because it doesn't really use any). Still you soon find yourself admiring that quirky interior, Falcon sized doors, tiny little hatchback. its a cute package, quirky almost sporty, almost good looking. But who cares, anything that handles this well, has this much 'driver feel' can be forgiven any aesthetic crime. These cars are a classic, the real cla$$ic car market will (of course) ignore them, but here at bottom dweller true enlightenment takes different forms, and these little cars are just gorgeous.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Two on trade-me this week

Who says you need money to own a great classic in New Zealand. These Alfas are wonderful cars, great handling and good looking and cheap to buy. A facsimile of a Alfas traditional twin cam (albeit with a fiat block) with twin spark plugs (an old Alfa thing) you could also opt for a V6. But the twin cam looks the part without all those awful timing chain rattles of the traditional motor. These were seen to be  the best looking of the Type 4 cars, with a body shared with Lancia,Fiat and Saab. I would begg to differ , I know of a Blue Lancia Thema which is pretty gorgeous as well. 
 Made sexy my Juillette Binoche in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s movie: Three Colours; Blue. Where the car (ironically green) actually crashes (it is fiction). Still , luckily Juilette survives, later to have sex squashed against a fish tank. But it’s a great movie and a great car once you get into that 80s Pininfarina asethetic..
For: Cheap, big, exotic and wonderful, Owner’s of earlier  alfas will scorne you. V6 motor ended up in nearly every non german european car, so plenty of spare motors around.
Against: Some of the more liberal earlier Alfa owners may deign to talk to you. Styling vaguely remminiscent of 2 –litre ice cream container.
Bottom dweller rating 4/5 (not many under a grand yet)

I need a fiat 850!

Where did I go wrong in life? That I have ended up in my mid fifities without a Fiat 850? No doubt I musn't be too hard on myself as the last 7 years has been a huge period of Automotive gain in my life. I now own 2 Pinninfarina coupes which have brought my motoring level to an unexpected high. Before I make up some story of new found wealth I must confess if I had to sell them I could probally exchange them for a basket case 850 (such as this Why do people take cars apart! madness!) How I ended up with $160,000 of Automotive exotica which is almost worthless is quite beyond me.(this is another story) But i really can't complain. In reality I am spoilt rotton by the downturn in  prices of gorgeous coupes on the New Zealand Market.
    Still being the odd person I am (or is it human nature) I never quite have enough. And i still hanker after one.My first one I brought when I twenty, for $900! It was 10 years old british racing green, in almost concours condition, (although it already had terminal chassis rust)off a dealer (only car I ever made money on - I sold it for $1200). It taught me how to corner, that car.It was a mini ferrari, It had a huge rev counter! It was great, I loved it, I wanted to marry it but I was fickle and fancy free, I wasnt serious on a long term relationship (which eventually came with a Sunbeam Alpine) Although I am very happy now (the Alpine is gone too) I wonder if I had more sense then, I could have enjoyed a life of Italian mini exotica. I guess I began to feel the 850s faults... it was....too small, All my friends had holdens, the fiat was a wimpy 903cc! The engine was at the wrong end, it wasnt a real car because of it like VWs, Imps and Skodas& Simcas.It bucked quite a lot (such a short wheel base) The fool I was! The problem was the Fiat was down right beautiful.Almost karmann ghiaish! later in my shed days i had another, it had bits missing, most of the front, although by then in my late 30s I much handier with a welder, for the life of me I couldnt see how to invent the shape of the bits that werent there.
    This is when I realised the 850s mysterious dark shame. They werent really cars at all! They were gorgeous yes but they were truly spirtual! They had no earthly place! They were the non-materialist cars, it was hopless to hang on to them! Like the androids in Bladerunner, they burned brightly but they had no staying power.They were Aspirin cars.For in reality they dissolved before your eyes after 12 years and that was that; no more!
     Yes I know theres rumours of them on trade me. But I ask you are they real? or has some clever conjurer really just managed to cobble together some avatar? I know for a fact one recent 850 on Trade me was actually printed on his 3D printer! In reality there are no Fiat 850s left in New Zealand. Despite being made here, Despite selling like hot cakes. They where so plentiful I thought an Austin Healey Sprite was exotic! Oh, how many sprites I would trade now for a decent 850!
  So I dont feel so bad really, and I have happy menories  and well... how many gorgeous sports coupes do you really need? Theres a lesson here for all bottom dwellers, those of us who love classic cars on the cheap. Buy whats cheap at the time, drive and enjoy it, Life doesn't get better than that! I enjoyed my fiat 850, I'm so glad I experienced one.