Two countries divided by a common language

In the 1960s, with British culture ruling the airwaves, British car makers were overwhelmingly focused on selling cars overseas. Particularly to America. Back then America was finding its post-war feet and, in common with other new-ish countries throughout history, was borrowingly heavily from established cultures to fill its own culture vacuum. In particular, British culture. 
Of course, this magpie approach to British music, fashion, politics and of course cars wouldn't last. How could it. Eventually America would do everything it's own way, and in time encourage most of the world to do likewise. But for a short period in the 50s and 60s, America couldn't get enough of British stuff and that included its cars.
America mostly wanted our open top cars, so we sent it E Types, TRs, MGs and Austin Healeys, a diverse mix of small starter cars and big-engined grown up cars. Such was the demand for anything British that smaller, more bespoke companies got in on the act too - Jensen and AC being principle among them. 
Americans lapped up our convertible cars - a surprising 80% of E Types went to the USA (over half of them convertibles). In return Britain got much-needed export dollars. The first cars we sent over were more British than American in their style and specification but this gradually changed as American consumers became more discerning and the competition hotted up.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the evolution of two cars on the Great Escape fleet - the AC Ace and the E Type. As American tastes changed Detroit switched from big lazy tourers to more compact, sports-focused cars like the Mustang and Corvette, cars that combined performance with comfort and long-legged interstate cruising appeal. Hardly the territory of the early Austin Healey or E Type. In return Jaguar made the E Type more luxurious and more powerful, Austin Healey did the same and AC went bonkers, creating the Cobra with the help of Carol Shelby, a man whose lady's name belied his obsession with horsepower. 
The British motoring vanguard reached its apotheosis in the mid-60s with the 4.2 E Type and AC Cobra, two brilliant, scintillatingly quick cars that combined the best of British desires with the best of America's. We wanted svelte and stylish, America wanted fast and brutal. In the Cobra and E Type AC and Jaguar gave both nations what they wanted. Shelby's transformation of the Ace to the Cobra almost embodies the culture change afoot - from Britain dictating American culture to being driven by it. Instead of selling America what we had, we started to give them what they began to realise they really wanted. 
This change is not only evident in the Ace's evolution but also that of the E Type and the Triumph sports car range. The E Type and eventually the XJS reflect this export or die approach to America, increasingly luxurious and softened models that aimed to compete with Detroit for the Yankee dollar.  It is a testament to Jaguar's skills that it managed to evolve the E Type to appeal to UK and USA buyers by flaring the arches and dropping in a V12. Triumph responded with the V8 Stag and big-engined TR6. But it was a battle they could never win. America in the 1970s was carving out its own culture and while it still kept a weather eye on what was happening in Britain, the Limies were dictating culture less and less. In fact, amongst the old-tech motoring duds churned out by Detroit there were a few sporting golds, in particular the Stingray Corvette. The shark-nosed 'vette showed Britain what Americans really wanted in a sports car - big, stylish, simple and long-legged.  The Corvette, despite its size, was really very, very good, an American bid for the sales pitch vacated by the E Type. And it was fixed head. Historians may argue that the proposed legislation to ban open top cars killed British interests in America but the game was up long before that. By the early 70s the cars we were selling there were expensive and compromised evolutions of 1960s models. 
Ironically American culture was increasingly dictating what we did here. While we lapped up their burgers and TV we were less enamoured by their four-wheeled ventures. Instead of dictating and driving American culture we were following it and by the 1970s our car makers didn't understand it. Which is hardly surprisingly really because what Americans appeared to want was American cars massive land ships that wallowed and pitched and had chrome, lots and lots of it. Jaguar had tried to match this with the Mark X. And failed. They didn't try again. 
Some Americans still wanted smaller sports cars. They trouble is, they didn't want creaky old unreliable British ones. They much preferred Japanese versions, which did what the British ones did but they kept on doing it for as long as you needed them to. Call Americans fickle and picky if you will, but they just didn't want the TR7...
It took Britain quite a long time to learn its lesson. Dwindling American sales meant there was no money to develop many new cars. And the ones we got were pretty half-baked. The XJS should have done the job but it was rushed into production, had a complicated V12, a low-rent interior and was built very, very badly. The TR7, as we've already heard, was a dud. 
Throughout the 80s our car makers mostly gave up on the American market. Only Jaguar persevered, sticking to a British heritage niche that served it well. And naturally it was at the vanguard when the renaissance finally arrived. The Americanised X300 and XK8 with their 6 cylinder and V8 motors were what Americans wanted - perhaps it was the 'valet' button on the dashboard that finally convinced them. Since the turn of the 21st century then we've begun to do rather better over the pond. And not just with sports cars - Americans want our original SUV, the Range Rover, and our plutocrat express, the XJ. We are, once again, motoring.
All of which is fine and dandy and great news. But we owe it all to those cars of the 60s like the E Type and Cobra that established the bridgehead for British sports cars over there. We ceded a lot of ground in the years since but when we finally stopped trying to sell what we wanted to make and instead sell what Americans wanted to buy, we started to gain ground again. It took us 30 years to learn why Americans love the Corvette and in the F-Type and XK we finally have cars that incorporate the louche, relaxed pace of the 'vetted with the svelte lines and sporting capability of European sports cars. 
You can now discover the best of British vs American sports cars with Great Escape's enlarged fleet - it now includes E Types (all models from '61 to '74), XJS', Corvette and Cobra. Prices start at just £199 for 24 hrs and the cars can be hired from our Devon, Yorkshire or Cotswolds sites. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. 



Battle of the budget rag tops

Britain and Italy, two countries with more in common than you might think. Sure, food isn't necessarily one of them. Or climate. Or a commitment to democratic ideals. But we have both had empires, which we still sort of imagine we still have, and we both like open top sports cars.
Come to think of it, it is hard to imagine two countries more closely aligned on the subject of cars. We like small cars. So do Italians. We like small convertibles, so do Italians. We have a legacy of a highly unionised state-owned car industry churning out years of rubbish. So do they.  And we both made some brilliant cars in the 1960s. And, sporadically, again in the 90s. So really, we Brits are more Italian than we think. Except perhaps in our love of brightly coloured trousers and slip-on shoes. You can keep those Italy.
Naturally, it is the ouvre of cars that interests us here at Great Escape most about Italy and Britain. And in particular, with spring a mere sparrow's leap away, convertible cars. 
The parallels between the pasta and potato chomping nations are pretty remarkable. In the 60s we amalgamated our car industry and stopped doing anything worthwhile for 20 years. Much the same happened in Italy. But before the rot set in we each produced two great sports cars - the MGB and Alfa Spider. These models, designed pretty much to do exactly the same thing, ie. help young men get the girl and whisk her away for the weekend, were spectacularly successful but in their own very different ways. 30 years later at pretty much the same time Alfa and MG decided to repeat the trick. Here's the story of what happened and why.
The MGB was built to be a lithe, modern aerodynamic replacement for the MGA, an affordable, relatively simple car for Young People, here and in America. Despite being not exactly sporty to drive, or very quick, it won many friends because it looked great and was rugged and reliable. 
The Alfa, meanwhile, grew out of a similar obsession with aerodynamics, initially launched as the beautiful boat tail Spider. It replaced the bigger and more expensive Guilietta Spider, part of Alfa's drive for mass-market appeal. 
The two cars reflect their national origins. The B has that peculiarly British pie and pint no-nonsense image that some love and others love to hate. The Alfa has the air of a floppy haired feckless, unreliable rogue. I love them both equally. 
On the road the Alfa is undeniably the better car - sportier, more engaging and more relaxed with its bigger engine and fifth gear. It also has a bigger boot, better roof and more comfortable cabin. The Alfa crackles and fizzes and, for me, is one of the best if not the best convertible sports cars of the last 40 years. It is utterly brilliant. 
The MG lags behind in all areas and yet seems somehow better for it. It feels more solid and more durable than the Alfa. It is so unassuming that it is hard not to warm to it; because the B is not the most capable sports car in history it seems to expect nothing of the driver, leaving you happy to just pootle along at a relatively sedate pace and enjoy what's happening around you. That, for me, is the joy of the B.
Both cars stayed in production for ages. No, literally ages. The MG died in '81 while the Alfa soldiered on until '93. But their production lives were very different. While the MGB of 1981 was pretty much identical, save for the ugly bumpers, to the car of '61, the Alfa changed continuously. The early boat tail design, lauded now for its beauty, was universally reviled for its ugliness in the 60s and so quickly replaced with the long-lived Kamm Tail design. Alfa developed the twin cam engine to two litres, added fuel injection later in life and executed its own impact bumper upgrade in the 80s - rather more successfully than MG even if the Series 3 Alfa is the least loved. The final hurrah was the Series 4, launched in 1990 and made over by Pininfarina (who also built it). Some dislike the colour coded bumpers but this is the best Alfa Spider for me - reliable, relatively modern and yet harking back to its  60s heyday. It is testament to the versatility of the original Spider's design that it lasted 10 years longer than the B.
The last of the 105-series Alfa Spiderscoincided with the launch of the MGF in the mid 90s, a car designed to rejuvenate the mass market for small, inexpensive convertibles vacated by the B and Spider. Over in Milan Alfa had been having similar thoughts and within the space of a year or so launched the new 916 Spider, based on the Fiat Tipo floor pan. These two cars couldn't have been more different, reversing the technological tables set up in the 60s. Back then the Alfa was the ground-breaker, now it was the MG. The F was mid-engined, relatively light and packed an advanced VVC engine. The Alfa wasn't really competing on the same terms. It was bigger, more grown up, more conventional and more luxurious. It was also drop-dead gorgeous, from its clam-shell bonnet through its rising belt line to its cut off boot. Where the original Spider was intended to push Alfa into the mass market, the new one was aimed at pushing it up market. And it sold quite well despite some obvious flaws. Like contemporary Alfas it looked brilliant but wasn't exactly reliable. The twin cam 2 litre engine was lively but not that quick and on the road it shook more than Mr Stevens. The car handled quite well but the Tipo's front wheel drive chassis wasn't as lively as the old 105 Series Spider.
Conversely, the MGF drove better than it looked. The F is quite a good looking car but lacks the detail finesse of the Alfa, yet it drives nicely with a good balance between handling and ride. It is also quite quick, particularly with the VVC engine. 
So, two flawed but popular drop tops. Much, it seems, like the originals that we have come to love and hold dear. The MGF and 916 Spider are emerging classics and although they have their shortcomings they are hardly issues to worry classic enthusiasts and weekend hirers. I love them both because they are so entertaining - the F is a hoot, perfect for a weekend getaway, the Alfa is more mature and relaxed, the ideal budget drop top to get away from it all. And it's an Alfa, a brand with magical DNA that this car has in spades. 
Whether you want to buy a B, F or Spider or hire one for a weekend, the choice is not that simple. Like choosing roast beef or pasta, it depends entirely on your mood. The B and early Spider require more effort than their modern counterparts but reward with their head-turning style. The F and later Spider are much easier and more relaxing. Whichever you choose, with prices starting at just £160 for a full weekend, adding a budget sports car to your weekend away is a great way to turn it from a break into a real escape.
We have MGs and Alfas to hire for our sites in Yorkshire, Devon and Cotswolds. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. You can also hire the Japanese upstart MX5, which took on Alfa and MG at their own game, from our Peak District site. 




Say it.... in a classic style


There's no doubt about it, love is in the air. Every supermarket and petrol station is packed to the gunwalls with red roses, boxes of chocolates and cards with bears on the front. Were aliens to land from outerspace  - and that's not an if, that's a when - they would surely rejoice in the sheer loved-upness of Britain.
The trouble is, flowers and chocolates and fluffy bears don't quite cut it with everyone. If you want to go off piste a little with a unique gift that shows how deeply and uniquely you care, one that crucially doesn't necessarily cost the earth, then we have the solution. And the great thing is, if you're buying for him, you can share it too, if you're buying for her, it's sort of a gift for you too. Bingo. Result. Back of the net etc.
So here they are, our top Valentine's Day gifts, all for under £150. Buy before Thursday 13th February and we'll get them to you by Valentine's Day, guaranteed.

From now until Valentine's Day we'll take 15% off the classic car hire prices below - just use discount code valentines2014 online at http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733

Romantic Getaway Day


The Cotswolds. A classic car. A picturesque pub. Honestly, if it wasn't so cold it would melt even my heart. Our Romantic Getaway Day lets you choose a Morris Minor, VW Beetle, MGB or Alfa Spider to enjoy for the day on a carefully chosen tour of the best of the Cotswolds.  We'll even recommend a good place for lunch. All you have to do is add fuel. Yours for £106.25 with discount.

Pot Luck Voucher


It does, literally and perhaps surprisingly, exactly what it says it does. Just choose a date and we'll give you our best available car on the day - and we guarantee it will be worth more than the price of the voucher. So you could get behind the wheel of an E Type, Jensen or Corvette for just £1148.75 with discount. The Pot Luck voucher is valid for 12 months and provides 24 hrs use of our best available car on the day you book.

Morris Minor & Mini Hire


A Mini or a Minor put smiles on faces that would otherwise crack mirrors. They are the ultimate feel good wheels and therefore perfect for a Valentine's Day surprise. You can hire either car from £109.65 with our Valentine's discount. They are available to book for a particular day or buy a voucher and it's valid for 12 months.

To find out more about these special offers call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. to take advantage of the offer online use discount code valentine2014 or mention this email by phone.







Silver drop top dream machines


The Great Escape Cars Peak District classic car hire site recently brought a Porsche Boxster to add to the growing fleet and with the Mercedes SLK at the site has given Lee Adams the owner of the site a unique insight into the cars that are strictly pitted against each other from the two German companies.

Lee has put the SLK and Boxster back to back and here tells us what he discovered....

I’ve been driving the Boxster for the last 4 weeks and even though the Boxster is a direct rival to the SLK the two are completely different in how they drive and make the driver feel. The two cars remind me of two famous actresses from the 1950’s era of Hollywood, the Mercedes is Audrey Hepburn cool and sophisticated whereas the Porsche is Marilyn Monroe racy and flirtatious.  


The Mercedes is car that looks gorgeous with its sweeping lines and from every angle it’s a beautiful car with its lovely 3.0 V6 engine that gives the exhaust a deep gurgling noise and when you accelerate you can’t help smiling. When you drive the car in comfort mode you want to drive the car and push the car along and sweep in corners and as you exit the bend put your foot down and hear that exhaust making that wonderful noise. If you was driving down to Monte Carlo you want to think you are a 50s movie star and the roof down and showing the car and you off and just enjoy the scenery and breeze through the villages and let them stare at the SLK and you know they want to swap places with you. When you get to Monte Carlo you know you got the right car for the right place.  Would you use the sports mode in essence no you wouldn’t to me it’s a gadget that really doesn’t enhance the driving of the car, it’s a car you want to drive but not really push hard.


The Porsche design is simple and so pleasing to the eye with a racy exhaust that snarls as you and with that 2.7 litre engine is phenomenal and delivers power through the whole range. This to me is a driver’s car the chassis engages you and tell you; right you and me are going to drive to the edge and whatever you throw at me I can take it and deliver you the confidence to hit that next corner faster and gives you a grin like a Cheshire cat, the Porsche is a truly driving car and the controls are simple to operate and with the wind deflector you won’t even get messy hair. If you was driving down to Monte Carlo you want to get there using the B roads because you and the car are one with the road.  As you drive through the villages they will wish they are in the car because they know you are enjoying driving and when you get to Monte Carlo you don’t stop, no you drive through and want to carry on driving this fantastic car.


To me I would use the SLK as an everyday car with the automatic gearbox and when you see yourself in shop window you know you have made the right choice. Everything about the car with the hardtop roof and the airscarf system and easy use of the controls makes the car easy to drive and own. The Boxster as a lovely gearbox and the changes are so sweet and would be easy to use as an everyday car but I would wait for the weekend, you will see this Silver car flying through the roads of the Peak District and me whooping with joy.

The two cars are available to hire at the Peak District site at £199.00 per day or our new package to hire both cars for one day each and see if you agree with me for £349.00

http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733

Devon is open for business

It's been raining recently, and according to the news it's been raining recently mainly in the South West. The Somerset levels and certain coastal parts of Devon and Cornwall have certainly been hit hard by floods.  Great Escape has been lucky to avoid the floods but we feel very sorry for the people and businesses who have been desperately affected by the water - in the South West and across the UK.
But the South West is a big area and the vast majority of it is accessible and operating as normal.


So, in support of the region we're doing what we can to encourage Devon tourism. We're offering 20% off our Devon classic car hire fleet - that includes our rallies too. We'll also donate £5 to the Devon Communities Fund for every purchase made under this offer. 
While the rain may not be ideal for experiencing a classic car, the offer lets you sample the delights of Devon and Cornwall later in the year when the weather improves. 
The discount applies to any hire on our full fleet of classic cars to hire from our base near Exeter. The fleet now includes Mercedes SL, Jaguar E Type and mk2, MGB, Morris Minor, VW Beetle and Jensen Interceptor. Prices start at just £120 for 24 hrs with the 20% discount. 
You can use the discount to buy gift vouchers valid for 12 months - and choose the date later - or to save money off a booking for any available date during 2014. To buy online use discount code devoncream or call 01527 893733 and buy by phone. To find out more about our Devon fleet visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. 


Every little helps, but a lot helps more

Great Escape Cars is not, and never will be, a supermarket. I think I can say that with some confidence. Appealing as that proposition at times may be.


And yet when it comes to pricing what we sell, we are quite a bit like one. Just like Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons et al we benchmark our prices to make sure we're the best value in the classic car hire market. Because, as Ed Milland keeps reminding us, the cost of living is not getting better. 
We haven't increased our prices since 2011. In fact, we've just cut them again. We have cut the price of some of our most popular hire cars. Our MGBs, Jaguar Mk2s, Alfa Spider, Mercedes SL and E Type coupes can now be hired for the lowest prices we've ever offered. This isn't a 7 day offer, it's a permanent reduction.


We've reviewed and reduced our prices because we've lowered our costs. Most of our costs are in maintenance and insurance. By doing our own maintenance and improvements and by leveraging the size of our fleet, we've cut our costs. Our fleet has got more reliable, which also helps keep costs down.  And we're passing that saving on. The latest round of cuts makes our Mk2s, MGBs and E Type coupes as well as Alfas and Mercedes the lowest price of these models to hire in the UK. We don't cut corners on the package either - comprehensive insurance, unlimited or generous mileage allowance and full UK RAC back up (we don't charge you if you break down, which believe it or not, some companies do). 
Unlike the supermarkets, all of whom claim, and claim to prove, that they're the best value, we don't fudge our claims behind market research and analysis techniques. We just check our prices against everyone else and make sure we're better value.

Our new lower hire prices

MGB - was £169/24 hrs, now £150 
Alfa Spider - was £169/24 hrs, now £150
Mercedes SL - was £199/24 hrs, now £150
Jaguar Mk2 - was £229/24 hrs, now £199
Jaguar E Type coupe - was £279/24hrs, now £249

Our 48 hr prices on the cars have also been slashed. 



A sign of the times



Cars and culture go together like Ant and Dec, albeit perhaps in a less annoying way. And some car marques are an accurate bellwether for the changes in culture and society. Like BMW, doyen of the middle classes, aspirational and ambitious to suit, changing from sober suit to razor edge style troubadour through the ages.  BMW's unfaltering ability to track the changing fads of the middle classes is the key to its phenomenal success.
Rover's story is, sadly, somewhat different. Back in the 60s Rover was the perfect embodiment of the aspirational middle classes. It made big, boxy, opulent saloons beloved of doctors, dentists, solicitors and, of course, vets. Mercedes did much the same and neither was overly troubled by the young upstart from the Bavarian Motor Works with its flashy saloons and coupes. The British middle classes wanted sturdy, conservative and solid. While they could just about stomach the new Rover P5B's Transatlantic lines, and even a svelte Jaguar was fine with its acres of wood and chrome, nobody was ready for a Beemer. 
Today 1960s Rovers such as the P4 are like machines from another world. Upright, bulky and very, very proud, the P4 and, to a lesser extent, the P5, convey a sense of place and confidence like few other cars. These cars perfectly reflect Britain in the 60s - proud and supremely sure of its place in history. Seeing a P4 today it is hard not to hear the distant hum of the National Anthem. 
As we now know, in the 70s and 80s the middle classes gradually discovered something new, primarily a need to shed conservative and pursue image and aspiration. Those 1960s Rover buyers would have been appalled by the brazen pursuit of stuff and status that became the driving force of the capitalism-drive. 80s and 90s. More to the point, they'd wonder why everyone was buying Beemers and why Rovers were so terribly, shockingly badly built. 
In the space of just 12 years Rover went from the robust P4 to the less than robust SD1. The change in style from upright and solid to svelte and shakey demonstrates the changes in society, as the middle classes struck out for something less stuffy and conservative. The SD1 was, in concept at least, great and possibly one of the nicest looking executive cars of the last 40 years. With the SD1 Rover accurately reflected the market's move towards flash and consumption. The trouble is, it lacked the vital extra ingredient - aspiration. Because it fell apart and broke down without outside assistance and rusted rapidly, the SD1 wasn't aspirational at all. Compared to the restrained but quality offerings from Mercedes and BMW the SD1 was a joke. 
Rover's solution to these problems was to screw the SD1 together more tightly and throw wood and leather at it. The latter, plus the use of olde worlde badges like Vanden Plas, emphasised the Rover's heritage; but, as Jaguar discovered years later, looking backwards means your customers look away. Mercedes and BMW focused on the here and now, meeting the changing aspirations of the middle classes. Rover, meanwhile, concentrated on appealing to a dwindling band of traditional loyalists resisting the changes to the modern world. It wasn't a good idea. 
By the late 80s with enough drive and money Rover could have effected a dramatic change, such as the one we are seeing right now at Jaguar. But they didn't. They made more anonymous cars with wood and leather. Finally in the 90s the BMW-funded 75 arrived. A great car but another one trapped in aspic with its gentleman's smoking club interior. The 75 was popular, but it hardly accurately reflected the wants and needs of the middle classes in the 90s. 
The journey from P4 to 75 was along and tortuous one that says as much about Britain's changing society as it does about BL mismanagement. Now our roads are filled with identikit saloons where there was once Mk2s and P4s. The sense of occasion, presence and place these cars conveyed is largely gone, replaced with a set of often quite negative motoring stereotypes. 
We have Mk2s and now a P4 on our hire fleet and it is easy to imagine the world they inhabited, even if it feels very unfamiliar.  These are cars from an era when everything had its place and everything was in its place. Perhaps we don't really want to go back there, with all its prejudices and barriers, but in these uncertain times it is hard not to see some attraction in it. 
Neither the Rover P4 or the Mk2s have radios fitted but you won't need them. Just step in, settle back in the deep leather seats and let the strains of Elgar sweep over you.
You can now hire the Great Escape Rover P4 from our site in the Midlands for £150 for 24 hrs or £260 for 48 hrs. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. 

There's Something About A B


My name is Graham and I am a MGB convert. I'm outed. When I set up Great Escape Cars I'll confess that one of the main objectives, our Mission Statement if you will, was Not To Own A MGB. Back then, to me the B was ubiquitous and a bit obvious. Every hire company had one and I wanted to be different. 
Seven years later and things are a little different. I've owned several Bs and come, reluctantly, kicking and screaming, to realise what everyone else discovered years ago - they're B-rilliant (see what has happened there). I don't just like Bs from a professional point of view - because they're popular with customers and reliable - but because they're cracking little cars too. 
The MGB is that very British thing, a car that does nothing exceptionally, and some things not very well, but it is still more enjoyable than its equivalents from overseas. It is the MGB's flaws that make it great. Starting with the good stuff, it looks great, with a shape that was modern and aerodynamic in the 60s and on a style par with anything from Italy. It continued to look good right through to the mid 70s when the rubber bumpers arrived. The subsequent BGT, to my eyes, looks even better than the roadster, a well balanced and practical mini GT car. 
The B is also robust and reliable - the engineering is so basic and simple that there isn't much to go wrong, and when it does it's pretty easy and inexpensive to fix. They rust of course, but what car of the 60s doesn't. The car's popularity also means that there are plenty of experts about to put them right - and lots of new and old parts to do it with. 


A B is the perfect budget weekend car - ideal for two and not too valuable that you're scared to use it. It stands for Everyman Freedom now as much as it did 50 years ago. 
Of course, the MGB is not quite what it promises - a sports car. The evergreen Morris Oxford sports car jibes have their basis in fact. A standard B is pretty slow and a bit wooden to drive. All of which can be addressed with the numerous improvements and upgrades on offer. My anti-B, pre-enlightenment self put these facts forward to justify my position. 


But I realise now that improving a B sort of misses the point. A B should be about unhurried, relaxing progress, a step back into involving 1960s motoring. Yes, the steering could be better, sure, it hops and skips when it should adjust and settle, of course it is slow. It doesn't matter. The MGB is so easy to drive, so dependable and simply so much fun to be in that none of this actually matters. It is, perhaps above all, very unprepossessing. It's good but not flash, and that's a very appealing British characteristic. 
The B is popular because no other sports car quite achieves what it delivers. The Spitfire is fun but rudimentary and small. The Alfa Spider is brilliant but fragile. The TR7 is rubbish.  This explains why the B lasted so long in production - over 20 years - and why a gaping hole appeared when it disappeared. Today only MG survives from the final days of the British Leyland legacy, a fitting testament to the B's enduring popularity. 
We have early, mid-period and late model B roadsters on our fleet to hire in Yorkshire, Devon and the Cotswolds. And a BGT in the Peak District. Our latest addition is a late model B that was recently extensively restored by Practical Classics magazine, now available to hire in the Cotswolds. We also have a BGT in the workshop that will hopefully be on hire later in the year. You can even put the B back to back with its nearest rival, the Alfa Spider, on our unique Cotswolds Roadster experience. 
B hire starts at £150 for 24 hours. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk 

Blow away the blues

A cold, wet and windy trip to Wolverhampton for a small corporate event was a chance to reaquaint myself with two of the 1980s most 1980s classic convertibles - the Mercedes SL and Jaguar XJS. Two very different ways to deliver the super-wafty drop top experience for the cultured classes.
Our hire fleet includes this 1985 Mercedes 280SL, the smaller-engined 6-pot model designed to combat the fuel crisis, and a 1988 Jaguar XJS. Our XJS is one of the first 'proper' factory XJS convertibles and it's concession to fuel economy is a High Efficiency (HE) head on its gallon glugging V12 motor. 
The Mercedes SL R107 was pretty long in the tooth by the mid 80s but remained a benchmark for upmarket drop top cars. The slab-sided R107 replaced the iconic 60s Pagoda Merc, ramping up the engineering and weight whilst dramatically improving the waftability. Today the long-lived SL embodies a certain strand of understated, confident cool, with it's rock solid build quality and svelte, uncluttered lines, with that long, long bonnet. And it is hard to convey just how engineered this car feels - a simple description will never quite nail the sense of quality and solidity bestowed by the hefty doors and perfect fit and finish. The interior may represent that curious transition point in history between olde worlde and modern impact-absorbing plastics but it is cohesive, ergonomic and tasteful. 
You sit in the Mercedes behind an enormous wheel, so designed to enable all of the dials to be visible. The downside is that it requires a slightly uncomfortable splayed-knee driving position, perhaps the car's only negative. Thanks to all that studious engineering the SL is a heavy car but even with the lowly 2.8 straight six it is a sprightly performer. The driving experience is set up for comfort and relaxation rather than inch-perfect apexing but the SL does handle and ride well. However, pushing on is hardly what this car is meant for. As the simple roof, large boot and big soggy seats attested, the SL is for blasting top-down to Nice, sunglasses and Sophia Loren to hand. 
The Jaguar XJS is a different proposition. The big Jag was originally planned in drop top and coupe styles at launch but the convertible fell by the wayside due to threatened US legislation. Jaguar launched the cabriolet halfway house in the mid-80s, a curious mix of T-bars and removable panels that didn't really hit the spot. Finally, 13 years after launch, the full convertible appeared in 1988, only available with the silky V12 5.3. The attractive convertible arguably released the full potential of the XJS, revealing the big Jag's GT credentials. 


Jaguar did a very good job of chopping the XJS roof; the car has good lines with roof up or down, and the roof is a well engineered and simple to use item. All of which simply enhances what has always been an underrated and deeply capable car. The XJS does the job of relaxed GT cruiser incredibly well, thanks in no small part to its XJ saloon underpinnings. This chassis is one of the nicest riding and handling set ups of any to lie beneath a saloon or GT car, acclaimed at launch to be better than a Rolls Royce. And so good it underpinned Jaguars until quite recently. The XJS, shock of shocks, handles really well and when allied to the brilliant V12 it is quite a package. 
The big Jag sports car's looks have always split opinion but I feel they've begun to mature nicely, such that the XJS is a genuinely attractive car in late 80s chrome-equipped guise. Things are less positive inside, where it achieves a less harmonious mix than the SL with its off-the-shelf switchgear, casually strewn wood and dated dashboard. It isn't bad, just not as good as it could be. A shame that Jaguar cut corners like this when 60s Jaguars were so beautifully designed inside. 
On the road the XJS achieves a better balance of relaxation and engagement than the slightly wooden SL. It is also practical, with a comfortable interior and decent boot. Where it loses out to the SL is in the sense that you might actually get where you're going. The SL exudes a never-let-you-down vibe, which only tends to highlight the Jaguar's rather less sure-footed approach to durability. The Jaguar is a quality product, and we've always found the XJS reliable on hire, but it can't help feeling thrown together compared to the solid SL. 
Choosing between these cars is not easy and, ultimately pretty pointless. If you like SLs, chances are you're not a XJS person, and vice versa. Driving either car is an event, a relaxing introduction to GT motoring as it should be. The SL is undoubtedly the better everyday classic - which may explain why you see so many around Islington - but the XJS shouldn't be overlooked. It is so much better than its reputation suggests.
You can hire either car from us from £150 per day. We also offer a comparison weekend that lets you drive the cars back to back for only £349 including local delivery and collection. 
To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.