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A Pragmatic Choice

Mercedes C63 after a jaunt round town.

The time has come to say goodbye to my Mercedes C63 Estate, possibly the best car I have ever had (so far). The image here will illustrate the reason why. After some very careful driving I managed to get the average MPG up to 23.2. And careful driving is not really what the car was about. It was about noise, acceleration and more noise. Yet if driven quietly and carefully it was an extremely capable car although the suspension was a little harsh. The rear tyres lasted for 23000 miles, incredible for a rear wheel drive car with 450BHP, and servicing was no more expensive than any other comaparable vehicle. It was the thirst, and the fact that I only ever put Shell V Power in her that combined to make using her as an everyday hack unaffordable.

BMW 520d and its astonishing range.

So we come to the BMW, an ordinary but newer car, a 520D Estate, also capable and solid but soooo boring. It does not make my willy tingle, something the Merc did whenever I got in and it started with a roar like Zeus clearing his throat. The pragmatic part however is it cost around £85 to fill the Merc for around a 230 mile range. The Beemer is a similar price for the cheapest diesel to fill but the range is well over 700 miles. In fact I can confidentally set off knowing that I need not worry about where or when to fill up whereas with the C63 and my Shell V Power pedantry, the smaller range gave me the sort of anxiety that I imagine drivers of electric vehicles suffer.

Essentially then, the BMW 520d is like an ugly mistress; it does the business when required without complaint and who knows, I may grow to love her.

Twisted Land Rover – Yes, it is.

Whilst doing time for Her Majesty in the Queens Royal Irish Hussars during the mid 70’s I had the fortune to be selected for an expedition to Afghanistan, the journey to be undertaken by road from Paderborn in West Germany using the veritable Army spec Land Rover 109 Series III.

Landrover Series III
9000 miles in one of these

The total round trip was around 9000 miles, there were three LR’s, each with a very heavy military grade trailer and three people in each vehicle.  The only modifications to these were the addition of a custom made roof rack and  purpose made outriggers slung from the sides that carried three jerry cans each.  Together with the trailers full of supplies including three months of army ‘compo’ rations, you may assume that their 4 cylinder 2.25L petrol engines were a little under powered.  We must have annoyed countless motorists toiling in convoy up even the slightest incline.  Downhill, with the overweight trailers trying to overtake, was even more challenging, particularly when the brakes overheated.

Pink Landrover
I wanted this one!

So the point of all this pre-amble, if you are still with me, is that I have covered quite a few miles in Land Rovers and I still have fond memories of them.  This has surfaced in the desire in recent years to aquire a Defender, short wheelbase, to use as a second vehicle.  Those of you in the audience thinking about the financial implications of running a second car, please go and join my wife at the back of the room, out of sight.

I am under no illusions about how a Defender is an awful car in everyday use, they are noisy, cramped, uncomfortable and unable to challenge a modern four wheel drive car in road manners and handling.  But I still want one.

Landrover V8
Image courtesy of Autocar

Just a few months ago I nearly plumped for an old 4Lt V8 version, a much sought after special edition, but commonsense prevailed, sadly.  When the lottery finally pays out then maybe one of the new limited edition Defenders will fit the bill.  The new Defender Works V8 produces 399bhp and 380lb ft, eclipsing the output of the discontinued standard Defender, which made just 120bhp and 266lb ft.

It was therefore a very nice experience to be able to drive a Twisted Land Rover the other week so that Number 2 Son could take some photographs for his University project.

Portrait of the author as a show off

We drove the car out of town and up on to the moors for some very good photos, but I must say, the difference between the original that I drove in 1976 and this one is incredible.  The sound insulation that Twisted have added has made the most enormous change, the engine is quite responsive and the gearchange was slick and easy with the clutch being lighter than I recall.  You could tell that the coil springs have improved the overall feel of the car from the medieval cart springs of old.  As for the interior, there was a Sat Nav, with leather and luxurious trimmings aplenty.

Twisted Interior

Old Interior

However, the car is still quite uncomfortable, cramped and seriously out of date and almost undriveable for anyone over 6 foot.

An icon? Certainly.
A replacement for your daily driver at 12000 miles per year? No.

Of course if you want the ultimate Defender then Harry does it best!

As someone remarked with understated sagacity, “You can’t polish a turd.” to which the swift reply was, “No, but you can roll it in glitter.”

Climate Control – It’s not Rocket Science

Simple Mini heater controls

There are many things in life that wind me up, amongst them are drivers that don’t understand the Climate Control function in their car.
Early heating systems in cars were fairly rudimentary, water from the cooling system flowed through a matrix located near the front bulkhead controlled by a valve.  As this matrix got warm a fan would blow air through it, gathering heat, and then distribute it through the cabin utilising various outlets up to the screen and down to the footwell.  Variations in the valve and the fan speed would alter the temperature; after a fashion.  Journeys usually involved lots of fiddling and trial and error to get and maintain a satisfactory temperature.
Of course in the summer cars became unbearably hot and windows needed to be open to cool the vehicle down whilst moving.
Air conditioning was the answer and this was developed first in the USA in 1933, and then in 1939 Packard introduced the “Bishop and Babcock Weather Conditioner” which also incorporated a heater. Cars ordered with the new “Weather Conditioner” were shipped from Packard’s factory to the B&B factory where the conversion was performed. Once complete, the car was shipped to a local dealer where the customer would take delivery, with quite a large bill.  Air conditioning is now standard on almost all cars however lowly.

Climate Control is a smart form of air conditioning in that a desired temperature is set and then the system will work to maintain that temperature regardless of external weather conditions.

Merc Air Con
Typical modern Climate Control

This may be by increasing the fan speed, or the heat from the engine, or the amount of cooling from the compressor or a combination of all of them. Essentially, set the temperature (say 22° C) and LEAVE IT ALONE! A possible and rare exception may be to direct a little more air to the screen in the event of frost or condensation but otherwise LEAVE IT ALONE!

Being a passenger in a car driven by a Climate Control Denier is the most frustrating experience.
One driver of my acquaintance would start the journey with the whole system off, after a couple of miles the screen and side windows would steam up due to our breath. He would then turn on the fan at full blast, wind up the temperature knob and switch on the aircon, of course the screens would clear fairly quickly and then he would turn it all off again only to repeat the procedure several miles further on.
Many drivers seem to think that when the car is cold turning up the temperature knob to full will heat the car quicker, after a while it is now too warm so they reduce the setting to cool. Repeat.
Some get into a cold car, set the system to manual so that cold air is blowing across a cold heater matrix into an already cold footwell whereas an intelligent Climate Control would wait until there was some heat in the system.
Countless drivers seem to think that opening a window of a carefully streamlined and aerodynamic car will be more efficient than using ‘expensive’ air conditioning. It has been proved that you can use 30% more fuel simply by opening a window.

It’s really quite easy, set the desired temperature when you first purchase the vehicle then LEAVE IT ALONE!

Out of the Roof

It’s the policeman’s boots that I recall, an image of two shiny black boots viewed from ground level; that and the pain from various scuffs and bangs I had suffered whilst headbutting the road.

Some hours earlier my best chum, Lizard (G. Lister) and I had been on a pub crawl around the Wetherby, Tadcaster and Selby area.  The rules for our pub crawls were fairly simple, no John Smiths and no lager.  Allowable ales included Tetleys, Websters, Whitbread and Bass whilst Samuel Smiths was allowed as a last resort.  There will have been others but Tetleys was always the favoured one.

We had driven about in my Clan Crusader and had consumed around 12 pints of beer in around 12 different pubs, and although it was my car, Lizard was driving because for some reason I was too pissed and he always seemed to handle his ale better.  In those days pubs closed at 10:30 and although there were several that did ‘late tastes’ (The Pax at Thorpe Arch or the Fox & Hounds at Walton among others) we had a last pint at one of the many Tadcaster pubs, I forget which, and made our way back to Boston Spa and home.  It was a ‘school night’, work in the morning!

Now the Clan was a little 2 seater sports car but it did have a sunroof, a rather cheap fabric one but it opened a reasonable amount.  I decided in my iniebriated state that it would be a good idea to stand on the seat with my body out of the roof whilst driving through the village.  As we passed down the High Street Lizard spotted a police car further ahead outside Millies Fish & Chip shop so he put the brakes on, an automatic reaction.  My automatic reaction was to slump over the windscreen.  Lizard’s forward vision was now impaired by his drunken passenger so he pressed the brake even harder, another automatic reaction.  The laws of physics then propelled me out of the roof, down the windscreen and then the bonnet, where I finally made contact with the road just as the car came to a stop, conveniently next to the police car.  The police car door opened and two boots placed themselves near my face into which a torch was shone.  I jumped to my feet and muttered ‘Evening officer’ and clambered back in the car.  Lizard shot off like a startled rabbit round the corner up Church Street and just up on the right into my mother’s driveway.

My mother was in the kitchen preparing a nightcap of whisky when I burst in through the door, some blood on my face and a general dishevelled appearance.  Lizard was seconds behind me saying loudly ‘I hope the police haven’t followed us!’  Mother dropped the glass…..

Fiat X19

A quick peruse of the superb PistonHeads website brought me to their SOTW (Shed of the Week) page and a Fiat X19. I had one of these some years ago and although it gripped the road like poo to a blanket, I don’t recall really driving it too much, my memories of the late seventies has faded somewhat, must be the beer.

Fiat X19

I had bought it from a garage in London, when it was still very much a rarity in the UK, or even Europe. In fact I think the salesman told me that it was the first RHD model ever made and we all know that car salesmen never lie!  Whatever, as is usual with all my car dealings common sense went out of the window, rapidly followed by the contents of my wallet; I had to buy it….

In those days I was in the Army and based in Paderborn in Germany, so the car came with me to the Fatherland. For various reasons I didn’t use the car much whilst there, but on one trip out the car broke down with an electrical fault. I called out ADAC (the equivalent of the RAC) who arrived to investigate. They found that the car had been adapted from LHD to RHD and moreover rather than using the correct wiring loom, ALL the wiring connections had been done in green earth wire! Disaster! Any wiring faults were therefore impossible to trace.

I had the car towed by one of our Land Rovers back to barracks…. It may still be there.