Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

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In Europe, Smart on June 13, 2011 at 11:22 pm


Garden Tool

Meet the wackiest car I ever owned.

A Smart Crossblade.  Designed by Smart to promote the brand it was eventually launched as part of the innovative “For Two” range.

The car never hit the planned production targets.

Could that possibly be down to the lack of doors, no roof, and no windows?

Even the nifty little “windscreen” was just a decoration that sent the wind straight into your face.

The Crossblade is the car that gave me more motoring pleasure than any other machine in nigh on 1 million miles of motoring.  Sadly it also gave me an equal measure of displeasure.

The Good News

Every journey was an event.

Most of the time I travelled “unprotected”, but on wet days I used a crash helmet.  Even wearing a crash hat in a road car is unusual, so that didn’t spoil the fun.

On the day I took a test drive I was so excited by the “wind in your hair” experience that I couldn’t resist shelling out £7200 for this impractical machine.

Amazingly for such a small car there was pretty decent sized boot, and being left hand drive it trumped “ordinary Smarts” with a great driving position, and supremely comfortable seats.  On the days when I drove it over 400 miles I was totally comfortable behind the wheel.

Visibility was pretty good, and being able to indicate with your feet was a great pleasure.

The Bad News

Realistically the Smart brand is one enormous Mercedes Benz confidence trick.  Forget all the claims, these little machines were not built to a high standard.

The suspension was totally thrown by the bumps and potholes of British roads.  Those wide tyres would lose grip at the slightest irregularity.  Driving quickly on the quieter back roads of Spain and Portugal I found the car gripped well on smooth tarmac, whilst inspiring terrific confidence.

The trouble was most of our 14,000 miles together were on Britain’s black stuff.  Hot any bump and the primitive traction control would chime in cutting power dramatically.

Garden Tool

The heater was pretty poor.  The only way to get warm on a cold day was run alongside a juggernaut.  The air pressure from the lorry would act as an invisible barrier to hot air escaping under the supercar style upward opening side bars.

Whilst the Xenons were bright they dazzled on coming traffic, which made me unpopular.  Reliablity was poor, with several weeks off the road due to unavailability of spare tyres, and break pipe corrosion and parts shortages.

In 30 months on the road the car certainly got grimy, and I was surprised to only get £3600 for it after 30 months.

Performance was poor.  My son could make an ancient Renault 4 accelerate more quickly than the slurry softouch auto. This 600 c.c. machine also failed to attain more than 36 mpg on super unleaded.  That’s hopeless.


A solitary journey through the Pico d’Europa national park in Northern Spain, and hearing and seeing new birds like the Nightingale in Portugal was really special.  Driving a Crossblade makes you feel “connected” with natural world like no other car.

Overtaking cars in a thunderstorm on the A303 was another stand out memory.  People were just staggered by the nutter flying passed.

Incredibly I even “pulled” in The Smart. An attractive young girl at a petrol station jumped in and demanded I take her for a drive.  I’d never seen her before in my life.

I suppose that is indicative of Smart for Twos.  People love them, and want to be part of the action.

Why did I get rid of it?

One Christmas a friend asked to buy it, and the frustrations and expense of this plastic plaything had finally gotten to me. Ultimately this was a machine that was crying out for a proper gearbox, and de-restricted engine.

Believe me an 83mph top speed is too slow for a “sports car”.

Chunnel Crossing Crossblade


Sheep in Wolf’s clothing

In BMW on June 10, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Ever increasing fuel prices forced me into looking at a frugal alternative to our 135 Coupe.  The logical choice was a 320 diesel.  I took one out a low spec manual version.  Did I like it?  No. The notchy gearbox was a bit of a downer. So it seemed like a 2 litre petrol might be a better option. Six months on I’m not so sure.

The 135, and 335 were equipped with fabulous 6 speed autos, but the 120 M Sport seems to have a lazy counter intuitive box.  Usually the electronics seem to be happy to keep it in a lower gear than you’d really want.  Theoretically I can get over 40 mpg out of this petrol version (which misses out on the clever stop/start gizmo).  The strange thing is the car does manage 40 mpg, but the BMW trip computer actually reckons we only do 30.7. Checked miles travelled against fuel put in and can report my maths are better than the car’s.

So what’s good about the 320?

Excellent seats, superb array of “extras”, pretty face, nice behind, good ride, lovely sparkling black paint work.

 Plenty of room in the back, beautiful detailing and upholstery.

Why did I get rid of it?

Well actually we haven’t moved this one on yet, but I have given it to my wife, as I found the lack of oomph disappointing.  The moral of the story?  Always get a test drive before you buy.

Update – We finally traded in the 320 in November 2013.  Five months later it remains glued to Arden BMW’s forecourt. If you want something smart, and not particularly quick it could suit you at £15,495!

Four hundred quid, four months and forlorn.

In Volvo on June 7, 2011 at 6:40 am

The guy on reception joked, “You should buy my Volvo”.

“Do me a favour!, why would I want to buy your Volvo?”

A short time later I was persuaded to take the wheel of car I had utterly despised whilst it was in production, and guess what?  I found it absolutely wonderful.

A few days later I bought what was an almost showroom condition 240 GL auto to act our company delivery wagon.  It came complete with a tow bar, and best of all a full length HUMUNGOUS Webasto cloth roof.

Inside there were legendary Volvo seats, all covered in a sumptuous blue velour. How I wish that was still an option on modern cars, it’s far better than leather.

The only thing which didn’t appear to work was the heating on the seats, but other than this 3 speed auto was “a good ‘un”.

I never once got an mpg figure in 20s, and neither could I get anywhere near the magic “ton”.  However it was a fantastic antidote to modern potholed roads.  There were no low profile tyres, no silly bling wheels and bumps were absorbed without a hint of disturbance inside the cabin.

Performance was quite simply the worst of any car I’ve owned, but somehow the supreme comfort and sense of well being made this a mere trifle.

The back seats folded flat, the roof rails accepted a £25 set of roof bars from Trago and I found I could deliver fake chimneys, tow huge Grp lift pit liners and save on van hire brilliant.

It sounds so good, but why did I get rid of it?

Until one day going down Haldon Hill towards Exeter I appeared to lose all drive.  A quick call to an independent Volvo specialist in Bovey confirmed my worst fears. The auto box was beyond repair.

I could either scrap the car, or buy a new unit for £1500.  Gradually I coaxed my lovely Volvo into the knackers yard on Marsh Barton.  I was given £50 for my trouble, and as I walked away a fork scooped it up into the air ready for crushing!

Four hundred pounds, four months and four thousand miles. Forlorn.

What a shame it all had to end.

Platinum Bronze

In BMW on June 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Without a shadow of doubt this is the most astonishing piece of kit.

I’ve never driven a true supercar, but I can’t imagine anybody feeling short changed if they were forced to run a BMW 335 cabriolet.

Just weeks before the recession started to bite I wandered into Ocean at Plymouth pretty convinced I’d be ordering a new BMW 325 diesel coupe, but I couldn’t help noticing a gorgeous cabrio sitting on the forecourt.

I took out the 325 and it seemed ideal, but what about a 4500 mile old 155mph cabrio for a few grand more? I asked the salesman if I could have a go.

That was it.  I was hooked. If you look at the extras available on a 3 Series this one seemed to have the lot, automatically dimming Xenons which followed every twist of the road were my favourite option.

It didn’t have a TV, but then we had one of those at home.

Roof up this machine could carry incredible speed through corners, or carry 4 passengers in comfort at high speed whilst still returning over 30 mpg. If the sun shone then the comfort access allowed the driver to drop roof whilst having his breakfast indoors, and saving a valuable 27 seconds.

On most roads the cabrio worked well.  Two up with the wind deflector in place it was possible to talk to each other and keep cosy even on a fast dual carriageway. The chassis was less composed on bumpy rural B roads however. On odd occasion mid-corner scuttle shake would lift the rear end and cause more than a little unrest at the helm.

On a long journey it was possible to travel roof down and still have enough room for the luggage in the boot.  When on longer trips away from home the rear seats would fold flat and give space for two extra soft bags.

There were however downsides to our relationship.  For the first few weeks in temperatures below or just above freezing the car simply refused to start, until temperatures rose above 3 or 4 degrees.  After a few days off the road (and a few nice courtesy cars) it was eventually diagnosed as sensor problem on the brake pedal.  If you want to start an auto 335 you have press the start button whilst your foot is on the brakes.  If you don’t nothing happens.  In the cold the car couldn’t recognise my left foot and so the car didn’t fire up.

It also had an appetite for expensive tyres, my memory is hazy now.  I think I replaced all for at a cost of £1000, or was it £2000?  Unbelievable.

As a regular long distance driver, especially at night when the roads are quiet I was annoyed by the glow from the integrated Sat Nav, even when the display was switched off it was still visible.

The flappy paddles were great, it made me feel like an F1 driver.  Whilst in Belgium I had a warning light come on about a loss of engine power, but the diagnostics couldn’t detect a fault.

In our 20,000 mile tenure I managed to avoid all stone chips, and scratches.  Mind you I never parked anywhere near a supermarket trolley or people carrier.

I’ve often lamented the day we said goodbye to our awesome Platinum Bronze 335, but here’s the question I was often asked.

Why do you get rid of it?

There are a few answers to that.

1.  The slow roof often left me wet when I found myself in a sudden downpour, and occasionally the electronics played up.  The thought of all the gubbins going wrong was a concern.

2: The 135 M sport coupe came up at a good price.

3: I fancied a change.

4: Road tax was increased to silly levels (although newer version are greener and now less costly).

Wince-some Rocket

In BMW, Travel on June 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm

The folk at westerly BMW loaned their release edition 135 when I was looking for a serious coupe.

I remember hammering it up to Bideford and just being amazed at what it could do. lazy cruiser, brilliant sat nav which could be closed whilst driving and then flipped up about a mile before the next turning point.

The Devon A Roads were smooth, and traffic free.  It seemed just the thing, and it offered 4 seats and the possibility of over 30 mpg.


It was only offered as a manual.  The clutch was heavy.

After a mile on my second test drive I was stuck in traffic, my leg started to ache.  I aborted the run, did a 3 point turn and saved myself £36,000.

A little later the nation hit a recession. BMW hater Clarkson had a run in of these and pronounced it to be a fine car.  Indeed BMW were actually offering a flappy paddle auto.  Sadly the automotive punters were staying away in droves.  BMW GB released 6 pre-built high spec cars to the dealer network.  None had more than 20 miles on the clock.

Hey presto we were now looking at a £36,000 car for £26,000! Kerching.  Williams BMW did a deal on my 2007model year  335 cabriolet, and I had the car I “always” wanted.

Day 1 – Why did I buy this?  It seemed like there was no suspension travel at all.  Oh, and I did miss the folding roof, even in January.  Oh dear.

Day 2 – Why is the steering so vague compared to a BMW 3 series.  I noticed it on those earlier test drives, but mine felt even worse.

Day 3 – Day 680 – Why, oh why do I have to wince every time I hit a small pot hole?  In Exeter one such hole broke the wheel, whilst the run flat tyre escaped unscathed.  I alter learnt this was a common for M Sport drivers.

My regular jaunt up the A303 would often leave me in doubt that I’d hit a bump or pot hole and must surely have broken yet another wheel.  These trips were often at night, and the standard (non Xenon) lights were particularly hopeless at affording a good view of the road surface.

On a smooth road, and even with 4 up and all their luggage the 135 was a rapid beast.

I am a bit of a continental traveller, and though I never hit the 155mph speed limiter I can report a 135 can do 150 mph without much drama, but you do need one and half lanes of a dual carriage way where a 335 would run straight as a dye on one lane.

I even managed to hit 150 in torrential rain, which was exciting (the road was deserted).

Friends like it.

Best of all in 24000 miles I lost only £3,500.

Why did I get rid of it?

The suspension, and the rock hard run flats.  The 135 just needed a better set up to be simply awesome.  It had a life time average of 27 mpg on regular unleaded.  I think that’s pretty good.