The Cars We Drive Say A Lot About Us
Women like clothes. and guys like cars.
Sports Car, Cool Car, Girl’s Car.
At a time when mainstream British car manufacturers thought it impossible to go on making small convertible sports cars, Mazda from Japan came up with the M-X5. The little Mazda carried the torch first lit by classic English sports cars like the Austin-Healey Sprite, MGB, Triumph Spitfire ~ and in particular the brilliant Lotus Elan. The original Mazda M-X5 could almost have been copied from the Elan, what with its 1.6 litre twin-cam engine, pop-up headlights, and clever longitudinal truss, (Power Plant Frame), that mimics the Elan’s backbone chassis.
The MX-5 wasn’t designed in Japan either ~ it was planned in California by a team led by Englishman Bob Hall. An Englishman in California is just about the perfect combination when it comes to cars. Of course what the Mazda team didn’t copy from Colin Chapman’s Lotus was fragility, unreliability, and extreme lightness.
First launched at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the M-X5 was and is a fairly small front-engine, rear-wheel-drive roadster, with a twin-cam engine of between 1.6 and 2.0 litres. There’s a five-speed gearbox in the middle, double wishbone independent suspension at both ends, and disk brakes, (ventilated at the front). The original model weighed in at almost exactly ton, (which is a portly 600 pounds more than the diminutive Lotus). It even looked like a Lotus Elan ~ which was no bad thing.
As well as the looks and layout, what the original design team got right was balance. The unladen M-X5 has an ideal 50/50 weight distribution, which means that the handling ~ the feel of the car when you drive it ~ is just about perfect. This makes the little Mazda a ‘nice’ and ‘fun’ car to own and drive.
The M-X5 is by no means a fast car. The 1989 original came with just about the same power as a Lotus Elan, but it weighed a third more, so it was a tad sluggish. The traffic-light sprint 0-60 mph time was over 8 seconds and it would run out of steam at about 115 mph. But do you know what? With the top down, on country roads, with the brilliant handling and roadholding the design naturally produces, the original M-X5 was more than fast enough.
Among older English car enthusiasts the word to describe the way an M-X5 drives is ‘chuckable’. (It reacts easily, safely, and can be forced into doing things it really shouldn’t ~ it probably won’t kill you.)
The little Mazda is also a great car for a long road trip. It’s a nice place to sit for hours, rides fairly comfortably and quietly, there’s decent luggage space, it’s economical, and the top comes down. What’s not to like?
If you are mechanically minded with some practical skills, you could buy yourself an early M-X5 for a couple of thousand pounds / dollars. The thing is simple enough to allow a complete rebuild, in the same way that one could rebuild an MGB. But why would you bother? The Mazda M-X5 is a classic design, but it isn’t actually rare, (unless it’s a really early car in light blue mica or British Racing Green), and a newer car needing much less work is within the spending reach of just about everyone.
A new M-X5 will set you back around £20,000, (or $30,000), depending on the exact specification. For that you will get a very capable, very over-engineered, and very over-styled car that is so attractively modern-metrosexual it should only be bought by make-up artists, hairdressers, or real estate agents.
At the upper end of the scale a new M-X5, the fastback with a retractable steel roof will cost you about £28,000, (you can get one of these for $35,000 in California). That would also give you a 160 bhp two-litre engine and six-speed gearbox, all in an overstyled package that weighs in at 2,470 pounds ~ no thanks.
The new M-X5 is so far away from its Lotus Elan spiritual inspiration that it’s not even in the same millennium. I would not waste my money on a new M-X5. If I was really in the market for one of these little Japanese / English / Californian sports cars I would look for an early example, pop-up headlights and everything. In comparison to rebuilding a rotted MGB, working on a Mazda would be child’s play. The three critical areas for structural soundness are the Power Plant Frame and the front and rear subframes, and all three can be replaced.
Some cars are obvious Guy, some Girl, and a few go both ways. Why is the Mazda a Girl’s Car? If you have to ask then you’re either a girl, or a metrosexual male who doesn’t know one end of a torque-wrench from the other. You wouldn’t expect to spoil your manicure if you owned a new Mazda M-X5.
Would I buy one? Yes, so long as it does look like a Lotus Elan.
Should You Make Your Next Car A Diesel?
The first thing I need to tell you is that, contrary to everything Governments, Left Leaning Liberal Media, The Green Lobby, and exponents of Man-Made Global Warming have been saying for years, diesel cars are no cleaner and no better for the environment than petrol, (gasoline), engined vehicles. Like so-called renewable energy, all these green lunatics are costing us the Earth banging on about various means of powering a vehicle. Electric cars are not green, the electricity has to come from somewhere.
There is a huge difference between the manufacturer’s official pollution figures, and the amount of nasty stuff diesel cars chuff out in the real world. Volkswagen, (VW), have just reached an agreement to pay $4.3 billion in fines after fiddling the fuel consumption and pollution figures of its vehicles ~ and that’s after agreeing a $14.7 billion settlement to recompense aggrieved VW diesel owners in the USA. In the United Kingdom VW diesel owners are looking for a settlement of £3,000 each for the German car maker’s lies. Respectable scientists even say that diesel cars produce ten times more pollutants than buses and trucks. I don’t believe that either.
Jumping on the anti-diesel bandwagon the mayors of four major cities; Athens, Madrid, Mexico City, and Paris have announced that diesel cars will be banned from entering their towns from 2025. Who gives a damn? These cities are so bad to drive in that you’d have to be mad to take your car into the centre, and come 2025 it can only be worse than today. Banning diesels won’t make these urban areas any better, the exhaust from petrol engines is just as ruinous to your health.
One should never believe anything car manufacturers are car salesmen tell you, because they always lie about everything. For example, in the real world most cars use twice as much fuel as the car makers’ own fuel consumption figures, and some bad and aggressive drivers get terrible fuel consumption. It’s obvious that the more fuel you use, the more pollution you create. And bad, aggressive drivers often end up in accidents, which also create a lot of pollution, and death. Death in car accidents is bad.
However, diesel / compression ignition cars have two major advantages over an exactly comparable car powered by an exactly comparable petrol, (gasoline), engine. Firstly, you get about 50% more miles to the gallon from a diesel engine. Secondly, properly looked after a diesel engine should last for twice as long as the equivalent petrol engine. Longevity is good for the environment as the real pollution of any car should be measured over its dust to dust lifespan.
Right now diesel fuel costs just a few pence / cents more than the same amount of petrol / gasoline. However, you get far more miles from a gallon of diesel than you do from a gallon of petrol / gasoline. Take a new Kia Sportage as an example.
- Petrol / Gasoline 37 miles per gallon (Imperial)
- Diesel 61 miles per gallon (Imperial)
The diesel engined car is perhaps 5% more expensive to buy than the petrol car, and perhaps it’s 5% slower, but one gets about 165% of the mileage from each tank of fuel. Diesels are a lot more fuel efficient than petrol cars. (Don’t actually believe the total fuel consumption figures, most drivers won’t get that in the real world.) So, if you are a higher mileage driver, (more than 6,000 miles a year), or you want to keep your car a long, long time, (100,000 miles plus), then a diesel makes a lot of sense. And, there is always the likelihood that a diesel car will depreciate slightly slower than its petrol engined equivalent, (although with all the controversy over diesel cars this may be a good time to pick up a used bargain).
Except in terms of extreme speed and acceleration there is nothing wrong with the performance of modern diesel-engined cars ~ in fact Audi, (another German manufacturer), has won at Le Mans and other endurance races with a diesel racing car. Bentley’s new diesel SUV, the Bentayga will go from 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds and on to 187 mph, mind you, you will pay in excess of £160,000 for the privilege.
So, the bottom line is, would I buy a diesel car? And the answer is maybe. If I expected to do a hell of a lot of miles, take transcontinental road trips, and keep the car a long time, then a diesel wins hands down. But then I don’t live in California smog all the time, and I don’t care one jot about man-made global warming, or inner city pollution.
I would buy a classic SAAB diesel convertible in a New York Second.
these opinions are mine,
and mine alone
Reliabilty is Not One of its Good Qualities
At its launch in 1970 the Triumph Stag was a big sports car aimed at the luxury end of the market. At a stretch it could accommodate 4 smallish adults in considerable comfort, but realistically it’s more of a 2+2. Sharing the pretty Giovanni Michelotti styling of rest of Triumph’s range at the time, the Stag was unusual for a sports car in that it had an integral roll-0ver bar joined to the windscreen frame by a T-bar. This was to meet Californian regulations, but it also gave the monocoque bodyshell considerable extra stiffness.
The Stag was supposed to compete with the Mercedes-Benz sports-touring range, but that was always a very forlorn hope. Back then a Mercedes-Benz built by proper German engineers didn’t break down so often.
Powered by a new Triumph 3 litre overhead cam (OHC) V8 giving an alleged 145 bhp and 170 foot pounds of torque, driving the rear wheels through a Borg-Warner three speed automatic transmission, the good looking Stag should have been a great car. In fact it was a disaster, and only 25,939 were ever built with just 2,871 going to the United States. One look at an engine dwarfed by the engine bay, and the tiny Stromberg carburettors tells you most of what you need to know.
There were some obvious issues. Although the basic Stag weighed in at just a ton and a quarter, (2,800 lbs), by the time you added a couple of adults and their luggage it was underpowered and sluggish for a sports car. The benchmark 0 to 60 mph time was a pedestrian 9.5 seconds and the top speed about 120 mph. The three speed auto transmission did not help at all. The brakes were a mixture of discs at the front with rear drums, and if you took a Stag over the Alpine passes you’d cook the brakes on the way down. Remember with that auto-box there is no engine braking, so you’re riding the brake pedal all the way. Suspension is by very conventional MacPherson struts at the front with semi-trailing arms at the rear, and it’s pretty good for a sports-touring car, which is what the Stag really is. I’ve never heard of any problems with the power-assisted rack and pinion steering.
But, the biggest problem with the Stag is right at its beating heart. The engine was utter crap. From day one Stags broke down, and went on breaking down, again and again. Usually, by the time it had done 25,000 miles the Stag’s V8 engine was a pile of junk, needing a total rebuild or only fit for the scrap yard. Problems started with cooling, and included issues with the oil system, ignition, carburettors, crankshaft, timing chain, galvanic corrosion… I don’t know how any company could get something so badly wrong. And yet, SAAB, a brilliant company in engineering terms, took the left half of that V8 engine, enlarged that half to two litres, and successfully used it to power their entire range of quirky cars.
Many Stags are now bastardised and powered by the Rover V8 engine, which gives brilliant power and reliability, but renders the resultant abberation almost worthless in terms of originality and desirability. I wouldn’t touch a hybrid Stag / Rover with your ten-foot pole, let alone mine.
You can buy a very decent Stag for £7,500 ~ or less if you’re willing to take on something that is much less than perfect. At the top of the market you could be looking at paying £15,000, which is stupid money for one of these scions of unreliability. If you are thinking of buying a Stag, join the owners’ club before you do anything else.
The burning question is, should I buy a Triumph Stag? Well yes, given a huge budget to spend with parts companies like Rimmer Bros. to completely rebuild the engine and drivetrain. The Stag is still a brilliant concept and would make a great sports-touring car for transcontinental road trips. Would I recommend the Triumph Stag to a friend? Not a chance. And to be honest, I think the much maligned Triumph TR7 is the better car, and that also uses the left half of the Triumph V8 engine. Either would be good for a long road trip, and as a full-time hobby getting it ready for a long road trip.
(The Avro Vulcan is to the B52 what a Lotus is to a Ford.)
these opinions are mine and mine alone
The MGB is a reliable, understated, practical, economical, and fun quintessentially English sports car. It can also be a little boring and old-fashioned at times, which is another reason it’s quintessentially English. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never fallen in love with the MGB in the way I have loved some other cars. I can’t quite bring myself to believe the MGB is a cool car. Yet the MGB is a huge success story, the biggest selling British sports car ever.
Introduced in 1962 the B is a two-door, two-seat, soft-top, sports car with the engine at the front, four-speed manual gearbox in the middle, (with optional overdrive), and a live axle at the back. In looks and construction it was modern for the time. The monocoque construction was very modern for 1962 ~ strong, light and with built-in crash protection. Yet, the monocoque still harks back to the old days because there large are longitudinal chassis rails welded to the bodyshell. Belt and braces, very English.
The best I think I can say about the MGB’s appearance is ‘inoffensive.’ It was designed in-house, when an external car design studio may have had a lot to offer, and resulted in something a little less bland.
As far as the drive train is concerned, well it’s antediluvian. The B series engine was lifted out of the 1955 MGA, and bored out to 1,798cc, which gave the MGB some 95 bhp at a leisurely 5,400 rpm. USA specification cars came with a strangulated 65 bhp lump.
There were two major revisions to the MGB a potential owner needs to consider. Firstly the engine. That B series cast-iron lump originally came with only 3 main crankshaft-bearings, which is less than ideal. In a 5 main bearing block was introduced, and given a choice, this is what you want. Then in late 1974 the grotesque, and very unpopular, rubber-bumpered version of the B was introduced in response to California’s Ralf Nader inspired road safety campaigns. Unless you want to do major work to lower the suspension and take off the ugly black appendages, do not buy one of these cars.
The MGB is a fairly practical car, but if you want real practicality and having a convertible isn’t at the top of your list, then you could seriously think about the MGB GT (what a great name for a car….???). It’s better looking than the soft-top, has more luggage space, and was a hatchback before anyone came up with the term ‘hatchback’. If you really must have sun and practicality, then try and find an MGB GT with a dealer-fitted full-length sunroof by someone like Webasto. Around 125,000 MGB GT were sold. I’ll publish a separate post on the MGB GT.
Right from the start it was obvious that the MGB could use more power, and someone had the ‘brilliant’ idea of sticking a big heavy iron six in the front to create the, inherently flawed, 2,912 cc MGC, (which was actually intended to replace the Austin~Healey 3000). Only 8,999 of these nose-heavy brutes were ever made, so this is now a seriously expensive car. You would have to be insane to try and drive one of these fast on an English country road. I think you would have to be insane to buy one.
In 1970 a garage owner named Ken Costello stuck a Buick / Rover all aluminium 3,528 cc 137 bhp V8 in the front of an MGB GT, to create the legendary MGB GT V8. Despite the clunky name this is a seriously desirable car. Sadly only 2, 591 were produced by MG between 1973 and 1976. A final development using the V8 engine was the MG RV8, (and for my American friends this was not a RV in your sense of the term). Good luck finding an RV8, and congratulations if you can afford it.
Tuning and ‘personalising’ and MGB offers the keen mechanic endless opportunities. There are a plethora of firms offering parts and specialist tuning services. The MGB can be turned into a seriously fast car ~ it did well at Le Mans. All one has to decide is how much you want / need originality, against how much you want a car that looks and drives really well.
From 1962 to 1980 some 387,000 MGB roadsters were made, so it isn’t exactly a rare car, even though 87% were exported. You can expect to pay above £10,000 for a decent example. And, you can consider an MGB as a pretty good investment. If you’re considering buying an MGB, first join one of the owners’ clubs. You want an example with all it’s paperwork intact. Rubber bumpered versions may look OK, but beware of hidden crash damage and rust behind those black appendages. Rubber bumpered cars are a lot cheaper than the chrome bumpered cars. Look for bodged repairs and rust in the sills, which are structurally crucial, (beware of oversills, hiding rot underneath). If you can see any bodywork rust at all, walk away unless you are prepared to do a major structural rebuild. A good test is to jack up the car using the original jacking points, if the door gaps open up at the top, then the car is bending because it’s rotten underneath. The suspension needs regular maintenance, and if this hasn’t been done it’s likely that much of it will need replacing.
The good news is that you can buy just about everything you need to make an MGB from scratch, including brand new bodyshells. (about £10,000) Personally, if I wanted an MGB, I’d look for a rubber bumpered heap of junk and rebuild the thing to my own standards and specification. I would have £500 in my pocket and expect to have the thing trucked back to my workshop.
A long road trip in an MGB? Magical, you can cruise or hustle along, but make certain to take your tool-kit along with you.