Sunroof, Targa or Drop Top?

While politicians ponder economic recovery and whether to allow their offspring unfettered access to Facebook, here at Great Escape we have weightier matters on our minds and it's all caused by the weather.
For the last few weeks the sun has cracked the paving stones with metronomic regularity and predictably our fleet of convertibles in Devon, Yorkshire and the Cotswolds have been working overtime. But good things don't last and while the warm weather looks likely to stick around, it's interspersed with rain, in some places rather a lot of it. 
Since at Great Escape our brains are pretty much hard wired into classic cars our immediately thoughts were about the right way to enjoy Britain's esoteric weather - full convertible, targa top or sunroof? Of course, the obvious answer is 'who cares?' To which the obviously answer is, sadly we do. So here are the pros and cons of each option so you can make an informed decision. To ensure fairness and equality we have more targa top, convertible and sunroof-equipped cars on our fleet than anyone else. 
Targa Top 
Cars with removal roof panels - targas or T-Tops - became popular in the 1970s, largely in response to US safety legislation that looked likely to outlaw full convertibles. It didn't but targa cars continued to sell. Targa cars either have one removable roof panel or two and were popularised by Fiat with the X1/9, Porsche 911, TVR and Chevrolet with the Corvette. This style has remained popular because it offers a compromise between full convertible and hard top while retain much of the structural rigidity of  its metal roofed cousins. The benefits of a targa include that relative lack of scuttle shake and a big sky view without big-hair-bothering breezes. On the downside, targa top roofs need storage space when removed and in compact sports cars this generally means Most Of The Boot. They are also slower to remove and replace than most convertible roofs. However, if you like open top motoring without needing to visit the hairdresser after every trip and you like structural rigidity, a targa is a surprisingly good compromise. Great Escape has several excellent targas on the fleet - Fiat X1/9, TVR Chimera and Chevrolet Corvette.

Sunshine roof
Back when electric windows were considered a luxury, a sunshine roof - or sunroof for us plebs - was similarly out of reach on the options list. Until the 1980s that is, when virtually every car suddenly sprouted a glass roof. Now, in our era of air conditioned luxury, sunroofs are a relatively rare sight again. But affiionados love them. A decent sunroof provides ventilation, a glimpse of the sky and a hint of open top motoring. It doesn't compromise structural strength and keeps even the loosest of hairdoes intact. There have been several sunroof designs - the pop up, the pop out, the steel sliding, the glass sliding. On the plus side a sunroof opens up a car and can be used in all weathers, on the downside it isn't a convertible. But for Britain's endlessly changing fickle weather perhaps a sunroof's versatility and simplicity represents an excellent choice. We have many sunroof-equipped cars on our fleet including Saab 900, Jensen Interceptor and Ford Capri.

Convertible
Britain buys more convertibles than anyone else and when the sun does shine on our sceptred isle convertible classics are dusted off and grace our roads in droves. There is a simple reason - our weather favours convertibles because we have warm rather than scorching summers. Perhaps there is also an element of wishful glass-half-full thinking going on in the heads of convertible buyers too - maybe, just maybe I may get to use it this year. A good convertible is an utter joy - there can be few more fun ways to drive than with the top down in the sun on a quiet country lane. The upsides are obvious, the downsides less so - scuttle shake, wind in the hair and the chance of getting wet. But, frankly, who cares when the upsides are so good? A Great Escape we love drop tops and we have more on our fleet than anyone else - with prices from just £95 per day covering everything from Fiat X1/9 to Jaguar E Type.

So which is better? The answer is none of them. Whether you choose a targa, sunroof or convertible will depend on what you plan to do and where you plan to go. Although if you've never driven a convertible in the sun we higghly recommend it.  Whatever the rest of summer throws at us we have the choice of open top motoring to suit you and your budget. To find out more about our hire fleets in Yorkshire, Cotswolds and Devon call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. Mention this article and claim 10% off hire from one of these sites.



Italy vs Britain vs Japan

In the 1990s car manufacturers went to war. Well, a few of them did. When Mazda discovered that people still wanted to buy cheap, fun sports cars its rivals suddenly discovered this too. Alfa Romeo, MG, Toyota and even Lotus, father of the original cheap, fun sports car, got in on the act.
All of which us at best a bit odd. Because despite the remarkable popularity of convertible cars in Britain, elsewhere they're not such big news. Only Britain has the perfect summer storm of Not Very Warm Weather and a bit of occasional sun to make dropping the roof tolerable. In countries like Italy, arguably home of the convertible, it's just too hot to go top down. 
Still, young relatively affluent Brits downed tools from taking Ecstasy and wigging out to The Stone Roses to enter MG, Alfa and Mazda showrooms in their droves to buy Fs, Spiders and MX5s. They were fewer queues at Toyota showrooms because the MR2 mk3 looked rubbish and at a Lotus showrooms because nobody knew where they were. 
Each of the three main offerings differed markedly. The F marked a departure from MG tradition being mid-engined and driver focused. However much we may love the B at Great Escape there is no getting away from the fact that it isn't the last word in sporting sophistication. The F was different and surprised the market in being Pretty Good. The MGFs biggest bugbear was the MX5, a sports car that, in mk1 form, was about as near to perfect as it could be. Light, nimble and cheap, the MX5 was the Golf GTi mk1 of the 1990s, a sure fire winner. Bringing up the rear in terms of sales was the Alfa Romeo Spider, the brand new 1995 successor to the original Graduate-era Spider. Stylish and luxurious, the Alfa was something different from the MX5 for the style set.
Each of these cars faired quite well in the UK market. The MX5's virtues are well known - it's spot-on looks and drivability were matched to Japanese reliability but it lost out in ultimate sales to the MGF. The F is flawed in a way that the Mazda is perfect but this seemed to appeal to UK buyers more. The F doesn't quite make the grade in terms of on-limit handling but it is more luxurious than its Japanese rival and it has the character and heritage bestowed by its octagon badge, something the slightly anodyne MX5 lacks. 
In the style stakes even the MGF has to bow down to the Alfa. Styled dramatically by Pininfarina with a rising waist line, chopped rear and clever scalloped bonnet, the Alfa looked brilliant. With a choice of proper Alfa Romeo 2 litre or 3 litre engines, the Alfa eschewed the 90s fashion for backward-looking ret,to design to offer convertible enthusiasts a proper new design. It's Achilles Heel, in common with other Alfas of the period, was that it was based on the rather less exotic Fiat Tipo platform, not known for its dynamic strengths. The Alfa was a bit disappointing to drive, particularly as it was an Alfa. But as Alfisti know, the idea of brilliant handling Alfa Romeos is a bit of a myth - you have to stretch back to the early 70s and the GTV, early Alfasud and Guilia to find Alfa cars that handled well. 
That was all 20 years ago. Today these three cars are on the cusp of classic status. As aspiring classics their relative merits are viewed rather differently. Assessing their potential as classics is quite important to us here at Great Escape Classic Car Hire because they are the future of our business. Often cars that were hugely popular when new don't work we'll as classics, and sometimes the reverse is true. Taking the Alfa, MG and Mazda side by side you'd probably assume that the Mazda is the sure-fire classic. But we're not sure. Classic fans seem to revel in the character of their cars and character is just another word for flaws and failings. The Mazda doesn't have any flaws, unless you count rust. Ergo, it doesn't have a huge amount of character. It is a great driver's car but it doesn't require a great driver to drive it well. It flatters. Few Japanese cars have cut through to classic status perhaps because of this perception of characterless ruthless efficiency and we suspect that the MX5 may be the same. 
The MGF is rather different. It has character in spades and the benefit of perhaps the most classic of classic car badges. It is the last true British mass-produced sports car and once the poorly maintained cars drop out of the market we think good examples will become more sought after. The F has all the ingredients of a successful classic car - heritage, usability and capability and excellent parts supply. 
Which leaves the Alfa. The Spider may not be the last word in sporting prowess but Alfa enthusiasts are used to loving rough diamonds. The Alfa's looks and heritage are a winning combination on the classic scene and we expect it to grace damp fields beside country mansions in increasing numbers each summer. Of course, the Holy Grail is a 3 litre v6 Spider as this engine was the last true Alfa v6 engine, but the 2 litre T-Spark is probably the better real world option being lighter and more fuel efficient. 
Never ones to hide behind the sweeping curve of progress, we've already added MGFs and a later Alfa Spider to our classic car hire fleet. You can hire a F in Yorkshire, Cotswolds or Peak District and we have new and old Alfa Spiders in the Cotswolds. These modern classics are available to hire for just £160 for the weekend or £95 for 24 hrs. These prices include unlimited mileage, full UK breakdown service and comprehensive insurance. You can find out more by visiting http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733







In praise of the MGF

To some it's two halves of a Metro stuck together, to others it's the last true mass-produced home grown British sports car. I'll be honest, for a long time I've been more the former than the latter. But the addition of two MGFs to hire on our Yorkshire and Cotswolds fleets has changed my mind. The MGF is great.
The F was launched in 1995 after years of discussions and design proposals around the idea of a MGB replacement. In stark contrast to, well everything else BL had done over the last 30 years, the result was not only innovative but good. For a start it was mid-engined, the format favoured by Ferrari. It looked good too, modern with a healthy nod to its heritage. It was quite well made. Rover had also cleverly used a lot of proprietary parts - including those Metro front ends - so the selling price was reasonable. All of which made the MGF the best selling car in its category for most of its lifetime.
So why is it languishing in the motoring doldrums with bargain-basement used prices? To some extent it is a victim of its success - there are more MGFs than interested buyers. This is, of course, a common problem for cars on their journey to classic status. But it also has an Achilles Heel and its name is Head Gasket. Rover's K-Series engine was designed with an in-built water flow problem that puts the head gasket at risk. This seriously affects every Rover, MG and Land Rover fitted with this engine but is a particular problem with the MGF because the mid-engine layout means the motor suffers poorer cooling. During its lifetime the F also suffered from Not Being A MX5. The Mazda so brilliantly fulfilled the requirement for a cheap sports car that it made the MGF look a bit second rate, particularly since it should have been the true heir to the MGB. The MGF probably also suffers by association - MG Rover products are hardly a by-word for risk-free purchase. And perhaps there is an image issue here - when new small convertible cars tend to have a slightly effeminate image. But as emerging classics, that isn't the case.
I therefore approached the idea of buying a MGF with some trepidation. But the sheer logic of it for a classic car hire company means it has been on our wish list for a while. We want to add cars that are cheaper to hire so that we can make what we do more accessible. This means we need cars that are cheap to buy, reliable and with excellent spares supply. The MGF ticks all those boxes. Any new addition to our fleet needs to be desirable too, the sort of car that will bring a smile to our customers on their weekend getaway. Again, advantage MGF. Sure, the MGF isn't as focused a drivers car as the MX5 but it is more comfortable and luxurious, plus points that arguably appeal more to classic car and second car enthusiasts than ultimate cornering power. 
It was very easy to find two good MGFs as there are absolutely loads for sale. We have added an early Mk1 in Nightfire Red metallic - based at our Cotswolds site - and an early mk2 in dark metallic blue based in Yorkshire. We paid a lot less than £2,000 for the pair in immediately hireable condition. Being up close to a MGF has impressed me. It looks good, it's well appointed and comfortable and it is really nice to drive with alert steering and decent chassis balance. It isn't as sharp as a MX5 but the Mazda has always underwhelmed me - it flatters the driver as it can be driven well and quickly with little effort. 
VAT, insurance and our maintenance regime mean there is a limit to how cheap we can go with our daily hire rates but we are offering both cars at £95 for 24 hrs or £160 for the weekend. Those prices are fully inclusive - unlimited mileage, insurance and full UK breakdown cover. 
If you're now heading to eBay looking for MGFs you can do no better than buying a good one for the summer. But a word of warning - they aren't the last word in reliability and their low prices mean there are a lot of poorly maintained cars out there. We can afford to take this risk because we maintain our own cars. If you buy one make sure you put the money you save on the purchase price aside for maintenance. Anyone who does decide to jump into MGF motoring will discover a true successor to the B that is easy to live with and will never be cheaper. 
To sample the joy of F or try before you buy visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733. Mention this article and we'll lop 10% off the MGF hire price. 







The story of a Saab

ESometimes cars submit to repairs, sometimes they fight back. This is the story of a long legged Saab that fought back. But we fought back harder. And, just now at least, it looks like we may have won.

The story concerns my 1989 Saab 900 T16S Aero and its boomerang mechanicals, particularly the engine and gearbox, which have been in and out of the car twice in 2013. I bought this car in 2011 because I've always wanted a full fat, full pressure 900. It has the full Aero body kit with obligatory whale tail and smoked out rear windows - borderline chav, but seems to rather work. I love it. 

The car had covered 212,000 miles when I bought it. After a further 7,000 miles in January 2013 the gearbox began to exhibit traditional signs of Saab weakness by popping out of reverse. Great Escape's Workshop Manager Julian Mills took the engine and box out and we sent it to a succession of gearbox specialists for repair. The trouble, we quickly realised, is that parts supply for old Saabs is virtually non-existent. The situation wasn't helped by this Saab being from a changeover year, making sourcing parts even harder. In the end we found a reputable specialist who cobbled together a repair, although he didn't sound too confident that it would work. 

This process took until May, meaning that we were Saab-less for a long period. To enable us to fulfil hires - and give me a daily runaround - I bought a second 900 T16S, another red car with Aero kit. But sadly no whale tail and a slightly lower power specification.

The Saab the languished in the unit for a couple of months as Julian dealt with the daily demands of keeping 60 classic cars mobile for customers. Last week he got the new box back in. The 900 is a bit of a technical tour de force and the gearbox sits directly underneath the engine, which is canted to one side. This means everything has to come out to access the box.  Although reverse gear was now operational it wasn't brilliant and quite likely to fail sooner rather than later. Which it did the next day. Now we faced a problem because the Saab was due on a long hire with a Saab enthusiast from Australia who was keen to have the whale tail car. The only option was to take a risk and fit a second hand box. So it was onto EBay the same day where we found and collected a box. The second engine  and box removal is underway and the car will be ready and tested well ahead of its hire.

This story highlights some of the issues facing anyone who hires out classic cars, or relies on one as a daily driver. As hirers we need to balance what cars will be popular with how easy and quickly they can be repaired when they inevitably go wrong. There is a reason, for instance, that MGBs are popular - spares supply is almost as good as a modern car. Similarly, Lamborghini Espadas may be glorious but the outlook on parts supply is less rosy. I've learnt the hard way what cars are easy to run as hire vehicles and which aren't - either because they're unreliable by nature or parts are hard to get.  And yet, poor parts supply won't stop us renting a car that we love or we think our customers will. Like the Saab. When it works - which is usually - it is a brilliant car, perhaps one of the best of the 80s. So we find a way around the parts problem, like buying a second 'just in case' car. 

The story also highlights the advantages of having our own in-house workshop. Great Escape is one of the only classic car hire companies with full workshop facilities. This investment means that we can repair our cars quickly and more cost effectively. A job like the Saab would have been uneconomical through a third party garage and the car would doubtless have been broken for parts. The workshop also means that our Workshop Manager Julian really gets to know the fleet and can control the maintenance and servicing. If we used outside garages we would lose that knowledge of each car.  For customers the workshop means we can turn around cars quickly when they go wrong and we can maintain them to a higher standard than would be possible if we were paying garage premiums.  

You can find out more about the Saab 900 and the rest of our fleet by visiting www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733


New MGF to hire in the Cotswolds


We're always looking for new cars to add to the fleet, particularly great value convertibles that don't cost the earth to hire. So we've added a beautiful Nightfire Red metallic MGF convertible to our popular hire fleet in the Cotswolds.  it's available to hire now from £95 for 24 hrs or £160 for the weekend.
The Great Escape Classic Car Hire MGF convertible to hire in the Cotswolds is an original, excellent condition Mk1 car with the classic round headlights.  It is a strict two seater with two small boot areas for luggage.  It is fitted with a 1.8 litre engine in high performance 'VVC' specification, a five speed manual gearbox, power steering and a very simple to use manual roof.
The MGF convertible was the last true mass-produced British sports car and was extremely popular during its long production run. The combination of mid-engine and Hydragas suspension means that the MGF has excellent handling with a very good ride.


"The MGF is the perfect way to turn a weekend away into a real getaway," explains Graham Eason of Great Escape.  "From our base on the edge of the Cotswolds you can collect the car conveniently from London, Birmingham or Manchester and be in great countryside within minutes.
"The low hire price is all-inclusive - unlimited mileage, insurance and even breakdown cover."
Great Escape Classic Car Hire operates the UK's largest fleet of classic MGs for hire from sites in Devon, Cotswolds, Yorkshire and Peak District.  For more details call 01527 893733 or email info@greatescapecars.co.uk

Work in Progress

If John Harvey-Jones was blasting his belligerent way through Great Escape he'd call it Product Development or Future Proofing or some other description we don't quite understanding. We call it buying new cars that we think customers want to drive. Admittedly not as catchy but slightly more to the point.
Over the last few months we've put together a list of the cars we want to add to the fleets in Devon, Cotswolds and Yorkshire. The additions reflect customer feedback, demand for existing cars and trends we see in the classic car market. To avoid giving the game away to certain of our competitors (you know who you are) we can't publish the list in full. But we can let you know how we're progressing. 
There are about 10 cars that we want to add fairly soon and we've got four of them already. Through experience we've found that buying cars that need work and then restoring them is generally the best way to create high quality, reliable hire cars. Apparently good condition, restored cars often struggle when we subject them to the demands and high mileages required of our fleet. Classic cars are often cosseted, low mileage, much loved vehicles that reveal their weaknesses when they are used regularly. By doing the work ourselves we can ensure a high standard of work and fit new parts wherever they are needed. This means we know the car well and what work has been done and when.
The new cars below have generally been bought requiring work, with the exception of the Corvette. Due to its rarity and parts supply it made sense to add a very good condition example to the fleet, so we did.
Triumph Herald Convertible
We have been after another four seater convertible to add at the lower end of our price range and the Herald was the obvious candidate. Heralds are simple, fun and easy to drive and blessed with excellent parts supply. We considered a Vitesse but decided to plump for a 13/60 for its blend of simplicity, reliability and performance. For the money we could get a much better 13/60 than a Vitesse. We bought our car as a restoration project from TRGB and we will be working on it over the winter for hire in 2014. The car has had a full under-body restoration and is otherwise in good condition. It will be resprayed before hire - right now, we haven't decided on the colour but off-white looks the most likely candidate. 
Jaguar XJS V12 coupe
The XJS has spent so long in the classic car doldrums that its time had to come eventually. We think it is pretty much now. Hire volumes on our existing V12 convertible XJS' in Yorkshire and Cotswolds have increased year on year as customers discover what a svelte, capable and, dare we say it, stylish car this is. The convertible may be the more versatile hire option, but for our third XJS we've gone for a V12 coupe. Aficionados of the XJS - yes, there are some, us included - seem to favour the original 'flying buttress' style of the hard top XJS and while we do like the drop top we have to agree. Of course we had to get a V12 because a XJS without one isn't the real deal. Our car, a 1987 pre-facelift model, has a MOT but needs tidying before we put it on hire - we'll do this over the winter. 
Fiat X1/9
If the Fiat X1/9 had been made by MG or Triumph our roads would be full of them on classic car Drive it Day. As a dreaded Fiat, the story here is rather different. Because the oddly named X1/9 is an utterly brilliant low-cost sports car. Mid-engined with just enough power and no more it handles superbly, looks good and is practical too. So it was the ideal choice when we were looking for a low cost two seater sports car to fit into our hire fleet. The diminutive Fiat that we've bought is one of the last X1/9s made and while it has a MOT there are a few improvements we want to make to it before we release it for hire. It may not be a car you have thought of hiring, but trust us, you'll want to. 
Corvette C3 Stingray
Hotdoggedydandy, there really ain't nothin' like a 'vette. With that obligatory bit of American cliche out the way lets tackle another cliche about out friends over the pond - Their cars don't handle bend very well. Sure, that is almost certainly true of your typical Cadillac Eldorado Fleetwood Brougham Coupe, which probably takes even longer to negotiate corners than it does to say, but the Corvette is different. It handles, accelerates and cossets all at the same time. Don't just take our word for it, visit www.classiccarsdriven.com to view their verdict. 
The Corvette can be hired now, the other three cars are our work in progress and will be ready to hire in 2014. We'll put them on the website in the autumn but if you want to discuss hiring them feel free to contact us now on 01527 893733.

www.greatescapecars.co.uk