Monday, 21 May 2018

New MoT Test - What has changed?

The MoT Test has long been a challenge for the millions of owners of older cars, vehicles over 10 years old being particularly problematic to get through. However, the MoT Test is, and, since 1960, has been, intended to remove unsafe cars from the public roads.

The new rules which came into effect yesterday (Sunday 20th May 2018) are apparently much more stringent, yet have, I think, been very poorly advertised. Most of the general public seem completely unaware of the storm about to engulf them.

Although changes have, over the last couple of days, featured on news broadcasts, and on news websites, obtaining accurate information regarding how these changes will directly effect us, and what we need to do to avoid issues, has been difficult.


The new stricter smoke and emissions tests, which are not something you can check at home, are likely to cause many older diesel cars to be taken off the roads. It will simply be impossible, despite tuning and tweaking, to ever be clean enough to pass the new test. If your Diesel Particulate Filter has been tampered with, you can also run into trouble.

What else has changed?


Out go the old pass, fail and advisory categories, and along with these the old forms, although the maximum fee (for a car) is unchanged at £54.85.

In come 3 new categories:

Dangerous - a definite fail as the car is considered unsafe even to be driven away from the test centre.

Major - a fail and must be repaired as soon as possible. 

Minor - a pass but should be monitored and action taken asap.

...and there are still advisories as before, and they will be displayed on the printed certificate more prominently.

Most of the other checks remain the same or similar... tyres, brakes, suspension, steering, lights, wipers, seat belts etc etc it's a long list... though new items for checks include:
  • under-inflated tyres
  • contaminated brake fluid
  • fluid leaks
  • brake pad warning lights and (amazingly) if brake pads or discs are missing
  • reversing lights (vehicles first used from 1st Sept 2009)
  • headlight washers (vehicles first used from 1st Sept 2009 if fitted)
  • daytime running lights (on vehicles first used from 1st March 2018 when they are first MoT tested in 2021!)


What to do...


If you don't have the last mot certificate for any reason, you can check the status of your vehicle quite easily on the government's DVSA website... https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-status

While there you can register for future text and email reminders... https://www.gov.uk/mot-reminder

Thousands of failures each year are down to neglect, poor servicing, and not doing some simple checks before driving to the MoT Test Centre. 

You can download a full list from:


... and check your own car for (obvious) minor faults which may cause a fail. Some things you may not be able to test, but many of the simpler items are easily checked.... worn wipers, blown bulbs and no water in the washer bottle, are all common fails.

Check Number Plate Lamp
Sometimes your car might be trying to tell you something!



It's too early to assess how these new regulations will affect the 34 million cars already on our roads, but it is very clear that a message is being sent to owners of older diesel cars that it's the end of the road and the scrappy beckons.

Yet, perhaps contradictorily, for cars over 40 years old no MoT is needed. It is assumed they will be classic cars maintained by careful doting owners! However, it is worth noting that the fines are similar if the car is considered not roadworthy.

Don't get caught out... Check you are legal...

One thing that hasn't changed is that you can still be fined up to £1000 for driving a vehicle without a valid MoT Certificate!!

Graham Benge

Monday, 30 April 2018

Stonor Supercar Sunday - 20th May 2018

Stonor Supercar Sunday @ Stonor Park
Stonor Supercar Sunday @ Stonor Park

The Stonor Supercar Sunday, to be held at the 850 year old Stonor Park, near Henley-on-Thames, on Sunday 20th May 2018, is looking like a fun day out for everyone!

Car displays range from pioneering race cars right through to the latest hypercars, and is promised to be "a tribute to passion, power and performance."

If you are lucky enough to be the owner of a suitable Supercar (historic, classic or modern), there is also the opportunity to enter your vehicle for the Supercar Paddock.

“Supercar and classic car owners are always on the lookout for a special destination to drive to on a Sunday” says William Stonor, the 29th successive custodian of Stonor Park, “and there can’t be a more dramatic spot for a car display then our sweeping front lawn in the heart of the Chiltern Hills.”

“My grandfather purchased the first of only ten exceptionally rare Squire Motor cars in 1935 as well as one of the first Jaguar E-type’s off the production line and so there’s definitely a lot of motoring history at Stonor” adds William, “The beauty of a car show is that it appeals to children of all ages!”

Stonor Supercar Sunday will support The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Children’s Fund, with each supercar owner donating £15 for entry into the exclusive Supercar Paddock and Owners Enclosure.

For more information on tickets and supercar entry, visit:

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Globe of Death at Cirque Berserk



A hugely entertaining evening at the Circus/Theatre show, Cirque Berserk, was only beaten by an experience one lucky chap won't forget in a hurry!

After seeing how it should be done, UKMT's Mike Jones took on the Globe of Death... Ok, they didn't give him a motorbike and five minutes tuition, but he wanted to take some photos from the inside of the Globe cage.....

So, did Mike join the circus?

For tour dates and to buy tickets visit http://www.cirqueberserk.co.uk/

Monday, 9 April 2018

Hot Hatches - A Few Blasts From The Past

The recent "Hot Hatches - Where Are They Now?" infographic, and Mike Gates's Fiesta ST piece, brought a big grin to my face as I remembered driving so many of them during my road testing days, especially in the late 80s and early 90s when car makers were all trying to outdo each other with pocket rockets, some of which were rather milder than it said on the tin, some were fairly described, and a few, perhaps fortunately only a few, were awesome and terrifying in equal parts, the latter group usually those with the most hefty price tags.


Clio Renault Sport V6 255
Clio V6 in its second phase 255 guise 

Wandering back down memory lane, I well remember driving the Renault V6 Clio, and following a certain J Clarkson on the high speed switchback at the motor industry's top secret testing ground. The Clio was an extremely potent hot hatch, and it easily kept up with Jeremy in a Lotus. Thoroughly race engineered by Renault's F1 magicians, well setup and great fun to drive, every curve an adventure any tiny bit of straight an invite to a foot down blast. Few were sold and they're now rare as hen's teeth. I've probably only seen one on the road in recent years. (According to HowManyLeft.co.uk , there are only 68 on the road... with 91 SORN.)


Renault 5 Turbo 1982 at Retromobile 2017
Renault 5 Turbo 1982 at Retromobile 2017

Renault 5 Turbos were more affordable but a bit of a curate's egg. Some of the iterations were really quite exotic, and worked and did their stuff well. A lot of thrills for the money. Then, like the later Golf GTIs, they suffered the dreaded bloat where they simply got too big, too heavy, and, despite engine upgrades, too slow. Civilised perhaps but ultimately quite dull.


Ford "Racing" Puma by Tickford
The Ford "Racing" Puma, converted by Tickford

The Ford "Racing" Puma, by Tickford, really was a curious and rare beast with an unusual recipe. Take a standard Puma, fairly quick straight out of the box. Lighten it everywhere. Add loads of carbon fibre in place of the standard steel panels. Give it a race car interior.... Bizarrely, it was, on paper, no quicker than a standard Puma, BUT it handled like a race car, gripped like it was on slicks, and covered ground at an extraordinary rate, far faster than its factory brother, over any twisty bit of tarmac.


Fiesta XR2 Fiesta XR2


Ford have long been a major force in the hot hatch market, but lower down on my favourites ranking was the Fiesta XR2. They sold in their millions, and you still see plenty around (though only about 700 according to HowManyLeft) but I could never see what all the fuss was about! As I see it, its only virtue was it was fashionable because it was affordable... but in performance terms it was a bit ho-hum. (That'll get the correspondence going!)


Ford Escort Cosworth
Ford Escort Cosworth

A very different beast from the house of Ford was the Escort Cosworth. I drove one when they first appeared, doing 5 laps of Silverstone GP circuit in it. It had been carefully explained to me beforehand it was twitchy being intended solely as the basis of what proved to be a very successful rally car. From the very first corner it was an absolute handful, like riding a bucking bronco. It gripped, it turned from understeer to oversteer in an instant, it had a staggering amount of power that switched on and off with the blink of an eye and brakes that allowed later and later entry to every corner every lap. It raised the hairs on my neck and flooded me with adrenaline and I loved every second of the all too brief experience.


Having been a bit unkind to the Golf GTI earlier, I do remember two Volkswagens that are fairly rare, one of which nearly cost me my license.

Volkswagen Polo G40
VW Polo G40

The Polo G40 was a supercharged demon. It just about defines the term 'pocket rocket', fast, agile and very very easy to exceed 70mph, as I found out to my cost in points and fine.

Volkswagen Golf G60
VW Golf Rallye G60

Equally as exciting was the Golf G60, supercharged, again, temperamental perhaps, but very quick in a straight line.

Jimmy McRae and Ian Grinrod (MG Metro 6R4) on the 1986 RAC Rally
Jimmy McRae and Ian Grinrod (MG Metro 6R4) on the 1986 RAC Rally

Not exactly on general sale, and I only ever had one all too brief drive of one, the MG Metro 6R4 was a hot hatch to end all hot hatches. A 'Group B' rally car of which there were a handful of road going versions, it was staggering in every area, went like a Tomahawk missile, braked like hitting a brick wall and had extraordinary road-holding. A true supercar in a very small package with a Formula 1 heritage. It was mind blowing in its intensity.

OK, so I've missed out lots of 'hot hatches' that mean a lot to quick car fans... Offerings from Vauxhall and Peugeot that were very successful, but didn't really do enough for me, didn't stir my loins like those I have included.

I will end with 2 observations... For a purely emotional response anything with an Abarth plate deserves serious attention, just be prepared to spend the original purchase price each year in keeping it running, but it'll be worth it. I remember from many years back, an 850 Fiat Abarth that when it went it just blew everything off the road.

Oh, and of course the Mini... Not the lard-ass monster we now see everywhere as bloated shopping trollies, even as police cars, but the 60s original. Technically not a hot hatch, but the 1275 Cooper S was tiny, cramped, and uncomfortable, with an unforgiving ride, but you drove one with a huge, inane, grin constantly planted on your face. They're still magic to drive. Like the Italian Job, the first film was wonderful, the remake simply awful. 


In closing I must acknowledge a rarely mentioned old friend.

British Touring Car Championship 'AE86' Corolla GT
NOT the Benge's daily transport!

The Toyota Corolla 16 valve, is a personal favourite, and my wife's daily transport for a few years from new. Basically a back to front MR2, it was quickly possessed, with very capable handling. We sprinted it a few times at Goodwood in standard road spec and it gave us both a lot of fun... and was utterly utterly reliable. I've only seen one in recent years. Much missed we regretted selling it. 

So, not a definitive review of 'ot 'atches wot i 'ave drove, but a few of those that have stuck in my memory banks for nearly three decades. Quite literally a few blasts from the past.

Graham Benge

Tyred & Emotional - Part 2 - "The Reckoning"

And so it was dear reader that I found myself limping my temporarily-undershod steed in the direction of the local tyre fitting outfit having just been given the brush-off by the big-name service centre... To catch up, read Part One !


Now, the reason I had originally opted to visit said larger outlet was the belief that they'd be more-likely to have a matching tyre in stock to replace the Hankook item I'd seemingly-lunched earlier that morning.

However, as it turned out (again, see part 1 - ed) they weren't in the mood to supply anything short of a dismissive shrug, so it was with a degree less optimism that I turned into the somewhat less palatial premises of the nearby independent..

Tucked into a small yard adjacent to the local railway station, the facilities consist of traditional elongated sheds with a couple of fitting bays - a far more low-key outfit than the opposition but one in which I was to put my faith as I emerged into the still monsoon-like downpour and made a bee-line for the warm glow emanating from the office.

Once under cover, I was buoyed by the friendly nature of the welcome which was markedly-different to that I'd just experienced at tyre retailer no 1. As per my previous encounter, the chap manning the desk was also on the phone, fielding what sounded like a call from someone in a similar situation to myself, but that was where the two experiences began to differ and from my point of view, very much for the better.

You see, as I walked into the office, glasses steamed up from the warmth emanating from the welcome fan heater on the floor, my soon to be new best friend on the phone cupped his hand over the mouthpiece, smiled at me and told me he wouldn't be long on the call.

Now that, as they say is how you do that.

True to his word, he finished the call and I was in business. Explaining the situation and relating my recent less than ideal encounter with the big boys down the road to a rolling of eyes and knowing grin from my oppo, I asked whether he might be able to help me out with a replacement Hankook.

Without even a glance at his old-skool (is that what the kids call it?) CRT box on the desk he told me that not only did he have one on the shelf, if I could hang on 20 minutes whilst the Transit currently occupying one of the bays was sorted out he'd be able to get it fitted & have me on my way ASAP.

So, handing over the keys and the alloy locknut remover, I settled in by the fan heater, demisted my glasses and set about the stack of well-thumbed copies of Auto Express pending the re-shoeing of my wounded steed..

As I idly scanned an article on the forthcoming Tesla 3, I looked up to see that my car was now up on the ramp with the wheel off and a couple of minutes later my presence was requested the other side of the glass.

With more than a degree of trepidation, I put aside Auto Express and with it thoughts of joining the brave new world of zero-emission motoring as I mentally prepared myself for the impending bad news of knackered lower arms or a squared-off alloy but no, for once the news was all good.

They'd had a good look at the wheel and remarkably it was still straight and true and even more remarkably, the tyre itself - despite absorbing the impact through its less than generous sidewall - was still intact, the only thing being broken being the seal with the alloy rim.

And that wasn't all - Skoda, it seems build things to last as they could see no deformation of the suspension nor any damage to either spring or shock-absorber.

They did advise that it might be sensible to get the tracking looked at at some point - something I was intending to do anyway - but other than that I had, seemingly, dodged a bit of a bullet.

Even so, I opted to have the tyre replaced as despite being legal the wear markers on the original item were getting ever more close to being level with the the tread and, well, better safe than sorry, eh?

A short while later, back in the office as I watched the last of the bolts being tightened back onto the freshly-clad (and still circular, thank heavens) alloy, my chum behind the desk asked me if it was a pothole that I'd hit.

Replying in the affirmative with a rueful smile I related the fact that I had only informed the county council of its presence less than 24 hours previously and judging from the number of graphical "!" symbols on the online reporting map it seemed that I wasn't the only one.

Tilting his head a little, he shot me an inquisitive glance:

"It wasn't down The Drive by any chance..?"

"Spot on." says I.

"Ah..figures - you're the fifth we've had in - you should submit a claim, the others have".

As I headed for the door, having said thanks and goodbye, I glanced again at the total at the foot of the invoice, turned back and said:

"You know what, I think I might just do that.."

And with that, I headed back out into the still biblically-damp elements and headed off to London, studiously avoiding The Drive and its lurking hazards and making a mental note to log onto the county council's online claim system once I'd made it to work..

To be continued.

Dave Wakefield






Thursday, 5 April 2018

Ford's Hotter Hatch


High powered two-seater sports cars are all well and good, but for us mere mortals shelling out on a toy can be a no go. Cue the hyper-hatch, delivering performance previously the preserve of supercars;The Diablo VT would blast the 0-60 in 4.4 seconds (assuming you were brave enough to hold on to it). 

Things have moved on; an average Joe like me can set the launch control in the Focus, stamp on the throttle and have a crack at a 4.5 second 0-62. The A45 AMG? 4.2 seconds. RS3? 4.1. All offer seating for at least two in the back, a boot and driving manners that mean Mum can rip up the backroads, or blast the local Chavs in 'limited edition' Vauxhall Corsas and Dad can pootle to the shops...or something. 

These perhaps represent the best of the hot hatch breed, but all out power doesn't necessarily mean the most fun - (see also Caterham 7, GT86, Classic Mini, Golf GTI). Let's be honest, not everyone has the thick end of £40-50k to spend either. Hot hatches have always been popular and there are a few that absolutely nail that sweet-spot between all out practicality, cost and sheer fun. Frantic front-drivers based around cooking-spec cars offer real performance at a realistic budget. 






This is a car we’ve really been looking forward to; The New Fiesta ST. Its predecessor redefined what was expected from a modern hot-hatch, so complete was the package out of the box a fruity 185PS engine and tight response chassis made it one of the best cars to drive in recent years, regardless of class and won wide critical acclaim. The newcomer then, has A LOT to live up to. It looks good, the Fiesta has evolved, its new shape building on the good looks of its older sister. The pre-production concept wears full LED headlamps which add to a more menacing front end, but it’s the interior where the car really excels. We’re treated to sculpted Recaro seats as is the fast Ford tradition, with the show car wearing a combination of leather and alcantara – they’re comfortable and supportive too. That’s great, because the tech spec suggests that they’ll need to hold on to you…







Power has been upped to 200ps developed from a 1.5 litre 3 cylinder engine, it’ll be flexible, with a trick cam shaft allowing one of the cylinders to shut down when cruising and reactivate when needed in a fraction of a blink of an eye. All this adding up to around 11 percent better fuel economy all told. More interesting is the built-in launch control and selectable drive modes; a feature developed in the most recent Focus RS Hyperhatch. 0-60 takes a brisk 6.5 seconds.





There have been developments in the chassis department too – a significantly wider track helps overall handling and stability, but it is a trick new suspension setup that has the capability to impressive. A new patented design known as force vectoring springs which have been designed to increase lateral stiffness on the rear, saving 10kg of weight from the rear of the vehicle – effectively the design should add agility and stiffness under load but a smoother ride under normal driving. If we had one criticism of the old model it was that the suspension was maybe a little stiff, if not unbearable around town – The fact that Ford have addressed this means that they have listened to consumer feedback. If they’ve managed to keep the playfulness of the old car whilst improving the ride as they have with the regular Fiesta, they’ll be on to a winner.

For the first time, it will also be possible to order the car with a Quaife limited slip diff up front, which coupled with the torque vectoring springs, a fast steering rack and a stiff chassis should make for a great handling little car; we can’t wait to see it in UK showrooms and rest assured, we’ll let you know when we’ve been behind the wheel…






















x

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Tyred & Emotional - Part 1

It's unlikely to have escaped your attention unless you've been fortunate to spend Winter in more temperate climes, but over the last couple of months the UK has been subjected to some of the most inclement and Arctic-like weather it's experienced for quite some time.

With temperatures regularly reaching negative double figures and snow and ice bringing the usual chaos to the nation's daily grind, the 'Beast(s) from the East' - as the weather systems responsible were dubbed for headline-grabbing purposes - certainly made an impact as they plunged the nation into what felt at times like an unannounced Ice Age du nos jours..

So, you might be forgiven for feeling that now the snow has melted and icicles no longer cling to the underside of your bumper in the style of a frigid walrus 'tache that you might be permitted to relax, safe in the knowledge that you'd braved the Siberian conditions whilst keeping your automotive pride and joy intact.

Well, not so fast Speedy Gonzales, for of course, after the freeze comes the thaw, and if you were paying attention at school during double Geography all those years ago rather than idly attempting to outdo Pininfarina with fanciful sketches of the next Ferrari Testarossa you'll recall the principles of 'freeze-thaw' or 'frost-weathering' and the sort of damage it can do to solid rock.

And, if a bit of water coupled with sub-zero temperatures can fracture huge great lumps of granite in the mountains of Wales then it follows that the hastily-laid and many-times-patched sections of asphalt currently passing for road surfaces in the UK these days don't stand a chance..

Yes - once again, it's pothole season!

A time for Kwik-Fit shareholders and board members of alloy wheel manufacturers to rub their hands in glee whilst County Council insurance departments up and down the country brace themselves for a tidal wave of claim forms.

And guess who's large diameter, liquorice-wrapped alloy wheel recently encountered a prime example of such a carriageway crater?

Yep..

I wouldn't have minded (alright, actually I would - very much) but I'd only reported this particular bomb hole less than 24 hours previously using Surrey County Council's online system where - I discovered - I was far from the first to do so.

In my defence, it was dark and wet when I dropped my wheel into the hole in question and it was disguised by being full to the brim with water but that didn't lessen the sheer frustration and physical shock that accompanied the filling-loosening crash.

Pulling over further down the lane I emerged into the Stygian gloom and relentless downpour to study the offending appendage by the light of a torch and I was encouraged to see from a cursory glance that the rim didn't appear to be bent. However, the tyre had certainly lost a bit of air so with great care I turned the car around and set off the 500 metres or so back home at a slow and watchful pace, trying to remain positive about the fact that I had only a short distance in which to nurse the car back to the driveway.





A couple of hours later and I'd got the temporary spare on, having removed the alloy which by now was clad in a completely-deflated tyre. Taking a closer look at the rim in the daylight it seemed that fortunately my initial inspection at the side of the road had proven accurate as there didn't seem to be any obvious damage - which was a relief given how easy it is to bend wide, large diameter alloy wheels with their attendant offset. And so, having checked the opening times of the nearby big-name tyre and exhaust place I rocked up as they opened the doors, optimistically (as it turned out) looking forward to getting a replacement tyre fitted and somewhat belatedly getting on my way to work.

And so I stood, waiting for the chap sitting behind his computer terminal to finish his call whilst his four tyre fitter colleagues lounged around behind him, all studiously avoiding making eye contact with me lest they acknowledge my existence until finally the phone call ended and I evidently became visible to the assembled throng - the conversation unfolding thus:

Man behind counter: Yes, can I help? (this being uttered in the sort of tone that seemed to indicate that he dearly wished he couldn't)

Me: I hope so, yes, is there any chance you could fit a tyre for me quickly if I wait, please?

Man behind counter: Sorry, the earliest I can do is next Tuesday. (today is Wednesday)

Me: (looking around at the 4 empty fitting bays, the 4 tea-drinking tyre fitters and the 4 empty job sheets on the desk as well as the empty waiting room)

Really?

Man behind counter: Yeah, it's the Easter weekend - we're fully-booked out I'm afraid.

Me: (looking around once more at the 4 empty fitting bays, the 4 tea-drinking tyre fitters and the 4 empty job sheets on the desk as well as the still very empty waiting room)

Oh, ok..

Man behind counter: You could try (name of local, independent tyre company) down the road - they might be able to help.

Me: OK..thanks, I guess I'll have to. Bye then..

And with this, I exited the empty waiting room, walked past the empty fitting bays and drove off in the direction of the independent tyre company down the road suggested by my oh so helpful chum..

To be continued.. See Part Two

Dave Wakefield