Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Pick-Up a Convertible

In Skoda on May 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

The Skoda Fun was out of price range when it was new.  Many years later I fancied a car that offered the joys of open air motoring, and low insurance so our boys could get out on the road.  For just £2995 I picked up this brightly coloured Skoda.

Skoda brought just over 400 of these special pick ups into the country.

The standard car was launched to a fair bit of interest as vehicle featured a fold out rear bench which left those in the back seat exposed to the elements.  If that wasn’t wacky enough what about the interior?

Bright yellow soft touch leather seat bolsters and steering wheel look unsual enough, but the fabric on each seat was covered in a frog motif.

Probably half the Funs sold came with an expensive hard top, which allowed the car to operate as cavernous (if noisy) estate. Mine came with this useful addition, which was held on by four flimsy looking steel clips.  Taking the roof off was a two man job, and often disturbed the front rubber gasket.  So whilst the hard top was handy it certainly wasn’t a brilliant piece of engineering.

I bought s568 TWC from “The Chequered Flag” in Norfolk. It was the only one still for sale within the official dealer network.

My first impressions were good.  The salesman collected me from the nearby railway station in an Octavia VRs, even though it was nearly closing time.

If I remember rightly it had about 34,000 on the clock when I picked it up.  Once I left the dealership I struggled to make the petrol cap work and thought I may be marooned 300 miles from home.  Somehow I got it off and my journey began.

Sadly with the seats back and the hard top in situ this was going to be one horrendous journey.  The after market radio was next to useless.  My only sense of gratification came from the sip, sip nature of the 75 bhp VW engine.  In those early days I managed 40 mpg.

Back in Devon the car was pressed into regular use, both in our business and as expected as a runabout for our young sons.  Nobody really liked to go on a long journey using it as a 4 seater, that Truckman Top and the lack of insulation made it feel like you were driving along in a giant tin drum.

But on a normal day, roof off and two up the car had an altogether more agreeable character.  On a hot day with the seats back it created what you might call “an airy cabin”, and on a wet day with the bulkhead in place the little Fun was just that.  It was commendably quiet at 70 mph (it didn’t fancy going any quicker, and I broke a water pump trying to hit the magic ton).

Somehow even this low mileage example started to “hit” a few problems.  Like a rusty front wing (who had cunningly disguised it, the guy who traded it in or the dealer?), fixings for the rear seat came away and had to be replaced by parts from an old Laguna.  Tyres wore out but were replaced for a ridiculous £72 for a a pair.  I used it for towing, and abused it carrying stone from a Dartmoor quarry.

You’d never believe it but one pallet of rock 18″ high nearly broke the poor thing, boy did it struggle on the short journey back to our factory.

Worst of all was the horrid rust on the rear suspension bushes, oh and all the rotten wood strips I had to painstakingly rip out, replace and re-stain.

Why did I get rid of it?

Well it was looking tatty, the seats wouldn’t close properly which meant every journey was noisy.  I sold it for a knock down price of £600, and I;ve seen it on the M5 since.  I hope it gives him good service.


Saving Grace

In Cadillac, Volvo on May 26, 2011 at 7:51 am

Meet the remarkable Volvo C30. Of all the cars we’ve owned in recent

years this has been the most disappointing.

The high output diesel engine 180 bhp, and a bucket load of torque

looked good on paper, but hid something a test drive couldn’t uncover.

Ridiculously poor fuel economy.

We had our beautiful C30 for two years and just over 20,000 miles.

It came from a Stratstone dealership in Plymouth, and was bought at a

snip.  £15,000 with 50 miles on the clock, which surprised us as we were only really in Plymouth to go to the theatre.  The reason for the incredible “offer” became apparent just 2 weeks later when the place shut down.

The SAVING GRACE?  Well firstly there was that incredibly good deal when we bought it, and secondly when we traded it in against the Cadillac it hardly lost any money.  We got £13250, having lost just £1,750 over 2 years, that’s good, very good.

The other down sides were, the growly engine, hard ride, cheap interior plastics, all those addenda made it difficult to wash.  The rear boot cover was a horrid piece of plastic and useless unless you had two free hands.  Fuel economy was pathetic, with 40 mpg on only two tanks, and a normal average of between 30-35.  Not what we had hoped.

The upsides were, Roz loved it.  It would get from Devon to London and back on one tank of fuel, and would seat 4 in total comfort.

Why did I get rid of it?

Well the Cadillac took my fancy, and somehow the car never lived up to those pretty looks.

One that got away

In BMW, Cadillac, Europe on May 25, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I packed everything in my BMW ready for the road trip of a life time.

The aim was to visit several missionary friends in locations all across Europe, and the 135 had a comprehensive Sat nav (whilst the Caddy wouldn’t map anything east of Germany).

What should I choose?

Certainty that I wouldn’t get lost, or the comfort of knowing I’d save a fortune in fuel and could fold down the back seats if I couldn’t find an hotel for the night.

In the end the Cadillac was “the one that got away”.

Together we covered 6000 miles in two weeks, whilst motoring in 15 different countries.

Highlights?  Germany really surprised me.  What a wonderful country! so many beautiful buildings, lovely ice creams for less than a euro, it was so green.

My Saabillac (the BLS was the result of Swedish engineering and American bling) legally managed to clock 136 mph downhill on an autobahn.  It was wonderful to travel that fast and still be within the law.

But back to the “plot” the photo shows the car just down the coast from Split in Croatia, after I had spent the night sleeping in the car.

I managed to escape a speeding fine as I hugged the Adriatic  before taking the scenic route into Bosnia and checking out the beauty of Mostar.

My European map was too big a scale to be much use, but somehow I avoided getting lost apart from in the the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where all the road signs were written in cyrillic. The resulting confusion losing me about 2 hours.

Mind you the diversion meant I did get to see a kingfisher flying across the motorway, and spot a police car actually parked on the inside lane of the Croatian E70 facing the traffic to catch unwary motorists with a heavy right foot.

At times in my travels the BLS recorded 49 mpg, which on a fair sized diesel automatic estate seemed pretty good. In Austria one of my fog lights packed up, but an English speaking manager at the Innsbruck Mazda dealer kindly waived any fee when they fixed it!

In Switzerland I managed to overtake a Ferrari on the mountain pass leading to St.Moritz, but try as I might a Fiat Panda 4×4 left me for dead on a twisty high altitude  road just moments later.

All in all the Cadillac was a great car, especially as I bought mine as a “pre-reg model” saving £9000 off the list price.  It often turned heads, and earned it’s keep carrying anything from boxes of coving to grp chimneys to building sites around blighty.

Only two events soured our relationship.

The first was a minor fuel line leak, which rendered me car less for nearly 3 weeks whilst Phoenix in Wimbledon tried to get a genuine “Cadillac part”.  The AA came quickly when the problem occurred, but once the car was at a dealer I was left exasperated.

In the end a Saab part was fitted, and Phoenix took pity on me, goodness knows when the official Cadillac parts would have arrived.

At about 36,000 I thought I could detect the early signs of a worn wheel bearing. A visit to St.David’s Saab revealed it was stepping, a weird wear pattern on the inside of the rear tyres.

Buyrite Tyres in Newton Abbot said it is an increasingly common problem on front wheel drive cars, and some tyres are worse than others.  Our Pirelli P7s suffered from an irritating moan, and was I going to replace them? No way.

Why did I get rid of it?

Those niggles, and a hankering after a certain French roadster.

FOOTNOTE: Depreciation over 16 months and 37,500 miles – £8772, or a shocking 55.6%. Ouch.

I’ve got Wind

In Renault on May 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Here’s my latest.

A Renault Wind 1.2 TCE GT Line.

Press the magic button and the roof stows away in the just 12 seconds. Add another 12 on the open road the turbulence inside the cabin is phenomenal.

At this stage I should point out I don’t eat baked beans or rhubarb, oh no.

Those crafty frogs have designed their latest roadster with a screen that’s too low, and seats that are too high.

Is that a problem?

Could be, but after 16 months tin top motoring I’m inclined to think not.

If I’d wanted something more “normal” I could have tried a Mini One convertible, or a Mazda MX5. After years of boring company cars I’m through with normality.

I prefer left field.

In my first few weeks I’ve covered over 2000 miles, and averaged 37.5 mpg. “Brainy” people have suggested I’d get better economy with the roof up! Duh!


The turbulence with the roof down enables me to keep within the speed limit.  Put the roof up and speed rises accordingly, with a net loss of a few fractions of economy.

The dry weather has afforded an opportunity to go topless for about 75% of the time. My face is getting red from the blustery wind, and sun’s UV and I’m not about to start using sun cream.


I’m just back from the Renault’s second trip to London.  No matter how much I sing the praises of the little batmobile I have to admit it’s very tiring in comparison with the 268bhp BMW Z4 coupe I just drove back from Belgium.

Ragging the Renault  all the way home mpg has dropped into the 36 mpg range, whilst a 3.0 litre Z4 loped along getting 30 mpg.

I really enjoyed pressing on even in heavy rain.  My personal challenge was to make sure I could still see where I was going without relying too heavily on the wipers.  Keeping within the legal limit and using the wipers in the normal fashion it wasn’t long before the wind pressure spilt swept rain into the open cabin.  Knock off the auto wipers surprisingly the view out stayed pretty good, and the cabin stayed dry.

Over 200 odd miles I managed to average 68 mph, but then the roads were pretty deserted.

4000 Miles

We’ve been together nearly two months now, and I think i’ve established what’s good and not so good about this little roadster.  Firstly it quite patently isn’t a “Grand Tourer”.  The road noise wears me out in half the time of a “normal” car.

Secondly it isn’t a “Sports Car”.  It hasn’t got enough grunt to be sporting, especially away from the lights or up a long hill against any diesel repmobile.

What is it then?

Well, it’s a fun car for twisty A and B roads, and fabulous with the roof down at speeds below 50 mph. Old style pre-motorway routes then just like you get in Cornwall.  We just took it to Cornwall with luggage for 2 and clutter for 6 and it all squeezed into the boot without problem.

The more I look at it the more I am coming round to the fact it’s pretty. People keep making favourable comments, and even though there’s no open rear deck it feels wonderfully breezy on a hot day.

Now the fuel meter is reading 36.3 mpg I’d have to say it isn’t even that economical.  But it’s a car you do want to just get in and drive, even when you’ve nowhere particular to go.  How many £12,000 new cars make you want to just get in and drive?  Not many!

P.S. We were together for 15,000 miles and eventually the road noise and disappointing economy became too much.  I said goodbye to the Renault in November 2011.  I lost £5000 when I traded it in, and a few weeks later Renault UK confirmed this model is being dropped from their range due to disappointing sales.