No, we have no bananas



One of the questions we get asked a lot at Great Escape Cars is: have you got this or that classic car? With 50 hire cars the questions come much less often nowadays, but still they come.
Usually the requests are for cars that are too obscure or expensive to be economically viable, sometimes they are for cars that I have had on hire but for one reason or another no longer have. Sometimes the decision to sell or keep can seem illogical to customers: why have an Austin Allegro, for example, and not an Aston Martin DB6? So here, for your delectation, is a list of the cars I have lost, even if not quite all were loved. And why.

1. VW Golf GTI Mk1



Surely, you might think, the Golf GTI is a bonafide classic, the creme de la creme of hot hatches, an object of lust for anyone over the age of 30. Sadly not. In 2009 I bought a Mk1 GTI in Mars Red, restored it at considerable expense (which is another story) to mint condition and sold it in 2012 after precisely one hire. What happened? Well, quite simply, nobody wanted to hire it, even at £160 for a weekend, the cheapest price we can offer with insurance. Lots of people said they wanted to hire it, but hire it they didn't. Whether or not a Mk1 GTI would hire now, I'm not really sure, although our Capri and Quattro are now popular.
Perhaps the biggest disappoint was that I didn't actually like driving it: compared to my Alfasud it felt anemic and characterless with an absurdly high roof and screen that made it feel like a prototype MPV.

2. Aston Martin DB6



Over the years I've had two DB6s on the fleet - one was written off by an incompetent fool and the other proved about as dependable as a chocolate fire guard. The DB6 does look amazing and it has great steering. In all other respects it's not actually very good. With an E Type, if you factor out how it looks and the fact it's An E Type, you're still left with quite a nice car. With a DB6 you aren't. None of which particularly mattered to customers. What did matter was the expectations vs reality conundrum. They could put up with the DB6 not being that great to drive because after all they were driving a DB6. What they couldn't get over was that for the price I had to charge to let them out in a DB6 the ventilation still wasn't very good, sometimes bits fell off and overall it did what a 50 year old car does. Namely, break down. When a DB6 breaks down frankly nothing else is going to cut the mustard. I began to realise that hiring out Astons was probably going to kill me.  So I stopped.

3. Porsche 928



Few cars stick in my memory quite like my 1986 Porsche 928. Despite undertaking endless research before buying one I still managed to end up with a car that suffered from all of the typical maladies associated with these bargain GTs. In a few short months of ownership the car cost more to repair than I paid for it and I sold it at a loss. It is true that the 928 is built like a tank and it is quick and eye-catching. But, and here is where the bubble gets burst, it's not particularly great to drive and it is a ticking time bomb of repairs and expense. Any old car is going to cost money but a 928 is a complicated old car with a premium badge: even if you can find a specialist who'll muster the enthusiasm to fix it you're looking at the thick end of £90/hr for the pleasure. I've owned a lot of cars, not many of them without problems, but the 928 is the only one I'd recommend you never, ever buy.

4. Rover SD1 Vitesse



I have fond memories of the Rover SD1. Not my Rover SD1, you understand, but of The Rover SD1. Back in the 80s it was the car that people genuinely aspired to, and the Vitesse version was a proper Q-car for the masses. My dad had a Fiat Strada but I went to school in a neighbour's SD1 Vanden Plas.  It had leather seats and rear headrests and everything.
So I had high hopes for the Rover Vitesse I bought a few years ago. One of the last 150 built it would surely benefit from a decade honing the production of this much-maligned Solihull express. But no. The panel gaps should have carried an audible warning like the London Underground and the interior was not so much assembled as thrown together. I've seen orgami that's more substantial. The Rover looked amazing, sounded brilliant and was fairly practical. But it wasn't much cop to drive, had a horrible driving position and disintegrated at will. It had to go.

5. Triumph Stag



We still have a Stag on hire in the Peak District, which I am glad about as they are genuinely great cars to hire. But I'm also quite glad we don't run one at our Midlands site any more.  Because when it comes to Stags, owning is a long, long way from hiring.
At the risk of inciting the ire of all happy Stag owners, I feel I have to be honest.  The Stag may be a lovely looking thing, it may drive nicely with sweet steering and a lovely burble, but as a designed and engineered motor car it leaves a lot to be desired. Our Stag hire car suffered every malady in the Stag Old Wives Tales Handbook: overheating, fuel pump failure, starter motor failure (several times), head gasket failure (on a rebuilt engine) and the piece de resistance: a hood mechanism designed by Hades himself. The hood works fine if you're using the car for a day or a weekend. Over prolonged use it is prone to damage and collapse. Stag aficionados will argue that this is due to misuse. No, it's down to just using it. I came to believe that the hood on our Stag was actually possessed, or certainly that it hated me, and when you reach that stage with any car, it's time for it to go.

6. DeLorean



It is perhaps indicative of the sheer horror that is hiring out a DeLorean that until I was reminded of it, after posting this article, I had completely forgotten about ever hiring a DeLorean. Without doubt, the DeLorean was the worst car I have ever hired out: more painful to recall than the 928, more frustrating and life-shortening than a DB6. 
And life shortening it very nearly was. The DeLorean DMC-12 by any measure looks amazing. No other car I've hired has quite the same impact as John Z's wacky coupe. What puts it on this list isn't the obvious stuff: it's horrible to drive (it is), you can't see out of it (you can't), you can't get out of it (ditto) or the sort of gearchange that makes stirring porridge seem precise and firm. No, it was none of these things. I grew to hate the DeLorean because it was madly, insanely, stupidly dangerous. The first time one of the front wheels nearly fell off on the motorway I thought it was merely bad luck. Even after I'd spent 3 hrs trying to winch it onto a trailer at 1am after said falling off I still maintained it was one of those things. The second time it happened, in exactly the same circumstances, I realised that something more serious might be at work here. 
And, as it turns out, it was. The car's front suspension was so badly designed that over time it collapsed. Sure, you can retro fix it, but is that really, honestly, frankly enough? After all, a car company that can release a car for sale with such a fundamental weaknesses probably hasn't designed and built the rest of it much better. I called my DeLorean foray a day. 

There are many other cars that I've worked through over the years, many I've burnished from my memory, others that will never leave me. But in many of these cases, it was the actual car in question that was the problem, rather than anything fundamental about the model. There was the shoddy blue 60s Spitfire that has somehow found a home at another hire company, the Mk2 Jaguar that burned a hole in my pocket (you know who you are) and the green Austin Healey with the on/off brakes.  Only the five cars above are ones I would never, or perhaps probably never, hire again.

Despite these occasional aberrations we still have over 50 classic cars for hire.  To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk.

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733











It takes four

When it comes to classic cars, strangely two seems to be better. A process of Darwinian survival of the fittest seems to have decided that old cars with two seats are much more popular than old cars with more seats. I'm not entirely sure why.
Of course, there are exceptions. Like the Jaguar Mk2. But they are surprisingly rare. Even rarer are four seater convertibles: beyond the Triumph Stag the four seater drop top world is quite a limited one.
At Great Escape Cars we often get asked for four seater drop tops by customers who want to enjoy time with family and friends, I decided to make it my mission to add more. So we have.  We already had a Triumph Stag on the fleet in the Peak District, as well as Morris Minors and a Mercedes SL, which has a small rear seat. To that list we've now added a Triumph Herald convertible and Saab 900 Turbo.

The Herald is a 1967 13/60 in white, which we've been restoring in our workshop over the last year. It's white with a black interior, new mohair roof and lots of other new parts. Unlike some 60s classics the Herald is a proper four seater and is a sprightly alternative to the leisurely Morris Minor.



I am, I confess, a Saab nut. I own a few classic 900s and bought this metallic grey convertible in 2014 to add to the fleet.  It's taken a while to get it sorted - it had been standing for 12 months when I bought it - but now it's ready. The Saab may not be the most obvious classic convertible for our fleet but with a combination of four seats, electric roof, 175 bhp full pressure turbo and a decent radio it is a great way to enjoy a weekend away. Without spending the earth.

The Herald costs just £150 for 24 hrs or £260 for the weekend while the Saab is a paltry £160 for the weekend.  All prices include insurance for 1 driver, unlimited mileage, RAC cover and local tourism guides.  To find out more visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733
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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733





Is it time to put an old dog down?


Today comes the news that a 'new' Jensen is about to grace the market - the Jensen GT. Designed and marketed by the Jensen Group, which owns the rights to the name, the car will be built by Jensen International Automotive, which created the Interceptor R a few years ago.  The GT, we're told, is definitely, category not a new Interceptor (we're promised that 'soon').  Instead it's a low volume handbuilt car combining modern materials - there's talk of composites - with traditional coachbuilding techniques. 80 will be built at £350,000 a pop.
Anyone who has followed the story of David Brown Automobiles may feel a touch of deja vu. This all sounds very similar to the Speedback GT, another low volume, very expensive, coachbuilt/modern materials mash up based around an iconic 1960s design.


Jensen Group is being a little vague about the details. There is talk of a spaceframe chassis, composite structure and 'lessons learned' from Jensen International Automotive's Interceptor R. And, apparently, some suspension componentry from the last Jensen revival, the SV-8. Production is due to begin in 2016, when we're also promised the new Interceptor.
I want to like and support the Jensen GT and Jensen Group's plans, but I can't ditch this nagging feeling of impending doom. That the 'new' car has been shown to the world as a clay mock up doesn't help.  Sure, to try and fail is better than never to try, but in the case of Jensen what we risk is yet another pothole along an already pockmarked road. The GT is being built by two separate companies, both called Jensen, which demonstrates the problem. This is a company whose DNA has been fractured into a thousand pieces.
Even before Jensen collapsed in 1976 the company had had a torrid time: since the mid 60s management and ownership changes had resulted in endless false starts and a gradual drift towards calamity.  Since it all disintegrated the Jensen name has been revived more times than Lazarus. First off we had Jensen Parts & Service, which bought most of the old Jensen assets and began making Interceptors again in low volume. JPS sold everything except the name to Martin Robey, the Nuneaton Jaguar parts specialist, who transferred everything, including many of the staff, to its Warwickshire site.  This effectively separated the business from the name, resulting in the current situation.


The first revival began in 1998 with the SV-8, a handful of which were built in Liverpool before the business went bump in 2002. Since then the name has limped along with various companies promising much but delivering little. The closest we came to a 'new' Jensen was the Interceptor R; good as it is, a handful of warmed up Interceptors built in a shed in Oxfordshire hardly moves the brand on.
Contrast this thorny tale with the fortunes of Jensen's close rival, Aston Martin. Aston similarly struggled in the 70s, running through several owners to its current relatively stable and prosperous position. Unlike Jensen, the Aston name and business remained together and the company has, like Jaguar, evolved its cars rather than rewarmed them.
All of which makes me wonder what relationship this Jensen, or any car made under this arrangement, possibly has with Jensen Motors. Isn't this the equivalent of SAIC nailing MG badges to conventional saloons and persuading us they're suffused with the DNA of Abingdon's finest?
I'm a realist: I know that launching a new car company is risky and costs a fortune. So far better to bolt on a defunct brand and benefit from its existing 'market traction.' I also want Jensen to be reborn, I really do. Who wouldn't? But is a handbuilt bitza homage to a car last made 40 years ago, by a company with no real link to Jensen, really the way forward?


Jensen Group indicates that the new Interceptor will be a step forward, but from the existing designs - and the decision to use that name - we can only assume it's evolution not revolution. And that is the problem. Regurgitating history implies a link with that history, but Jensen cannot lay claim to any of that. At least the SV-8, whatever its foibles, was a genuine move forward and one that was true to the spirit of Jensen. The GT and, I suspect, the Interceptor, aren't. My worry is that by relying so heavily on an idea of Jensen that doesn't have much relevance to the modern day, the new venture is betting the farm on a financial cul de sac: to stand a proper chance of moving forward Jensen needs to look forward. Jaguar made this mistake for decades, endlessly rejuvenating the XJ shape; eventually they realised that the market had drifted away.
The new GT uses rear lights from a Jaguar F-Type.  I can only hope that some of the creative thinking that saw Jaguar relaunch for the 21st century without fireburning its history rubs off on the new venture.


I genuinely wish Jensen Group, Jensen International Automotive and David Brown Automotive best of luck. Anyone trying something new deserves respect and support. But I hope the GT and Interceptor are springboards to something forward thinking and new: it's what the Interceptor was all about and it's the spirit of Jensen.
I have owned an Interceptor since 2006 and you can hire it as part of Great Escape Cars' fleet at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.

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www.greatescapecars.o.uk
01527 893733
info@greatescapecars.co.uk





There's no such thing as the right classic car


Some classic car fans know what they like and like what they know. They have discovered what fires their engines and through the gloomy mists of years and decades doggedly stuck with it. I admire them: they're secure, content; they're experts in their chosen field and they form the backbone of the many clubs and forums that keep the classic car world spinning.
Although I am slightly envious of the almost religious zeal with which some car enthusiasts pursue their chosen interest, I am not one of them. I like some cars a lot (that'll be Saabs and Alfas) and I like other cars quite a lot (that'll be pretty much all other classic cars).  And, as it turns out, quite a lot of people seem to be like me. Which is a little disappointing when you run a classic car hire company, which is based on providing the dream car that you've always hankered after.


It turns out, in fact, that most people who like classic cars like quite a lot of them. They may like one a lot but they also like several quite a lot. This can get expensive. If you choose to work your way through owning several of the cars you love then you'd better have deep pockets. Alternatively, you could join a club for classic cars, at upwards of £2,000 for the year. Provided you live in London, where the only only one in the UK currently resides. Or, and here's where the plug comes, you could join one of our driving days. For £249 you can knock five cars off your bucket list.


Besides revealing my roots as a snake-charming marketeer, there is sense to this. I started running driving days in 2011 as a way to broaden the appeal of what we do. I realised that some people want to immerse themselves in one car, but others are happy to just have an hour or so in several cars during a day. For the first couple of years it felt like a daft idea: we struggled to sell the idea to people and only ran a few rallies a year. I felt like the man who invented Betamax: better, but way, way too ahead of the curve.


Now who's flipping laughing? Me, that's who. In 2015 we are running a rally every other week during the season and most are already fully booked. For the price of a mid-range car hire (£249) you get to drive a range of classic cars - always no less than 5 in one day. We vary the routes and cars so that customers can pick and choose what they drive; many customers now sign up for every rally throughout the year. We've also added the option of bringing along a passenger for £99 - so it makes a great day out for couples or lads and dads. Every day includes around 8 hours driving, fuel, insurance, refreshments and lunch.
We recently ran a showcase event for the Autotweetup organisation of classic car journalists. 30 drivers and 15 cars with a tour of the Cotswolds and Warwickshire including lunch and a stop at the Coventry Motor Museum. If you check the hashtag #EnglishEscape on Twitter you can see photos and feedback on the day.
Classic car hire, renting single cars for one or more days, will always be our bread and butter. But for many our driving days, providing a taster of several cars, represent the ideal way to meet your heroes without full on immersion. Many driving day customers do go on to hire individual cars for a day, which is great, but others sign up for more rallies.
To find out about our rallies call 01527 893733 or click here. Prices are £249 for drivers and £99 for passengers. Daily classic car hire starts at £95 and we have a range of 50 cars to hire.

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733









Sports car wars round two



A week or so ago I wrote a fairly glowing piece about the MGF to celebrate the car's 20th anniversary this year. Despite not really being a MG fanatic, I am impressed by how good the one we have on hire is. When you spend your life around old cars, anything vaguely new can feel a bit anaemic, yet the MGF displays proper character. 
And so, riffing on the character versus efficiency vibe I may have over-reached myself a little. I called the MX5 a washing machine, a good one admittedly, but to everyone outside the Washing Machine Appreciation Society (and yes, that exists), just a washing machine. It wasn't a popular statement and one of the first people to contact me was Lee, our man in the north, who runs our cars in the Peak District. And owns a Mazda MX5 Mk2. 
He quite rightly and in no uncertain terms, put me right. That he also owns a MGF probably makes him a bit more informed than me. Although I have owned a MX5 it was a while ago. 
So, where does that leave me and the MX5? I've had a think. 
Mazda developed the MX5 in California in the 1980s as part of a blue-sky project to develop new cars. It was good, of course, but not exactly a new idea: it rejuvenating the original Lotus √Član concept and design. But it was still a revelation to modern car buyers. The original car's success was down to delivering on some very simple goals: lightness, sufficient performance, brilliant handling and simplicity. While its creed was pure Lotus, it actually fulfilled latent market demand for a MGB type car: low cost, durable and fun. Ironically it did that 6 years before the MGF and arguably much more effectively.  
Since the MX5's 1989 launch it has evolved through several versions but remained remarkably true to the original concept: the curent car is bigger and more sophisticated but still conforms to the 'add lightness' pure, basic fun mantra. 
My MX5 was a Mk1 'Dakar' with silly 16in factory wheels. As soon as I switched to 14 inch rims the car was transformed: the MX5 handles brilliantly, it's light, pointable, poised and grippy. It isn't quick but it feels fast thanks to the low ride height and compact dimensions. The gearbox is slick, the steering pin-sharp and the engine revvy. Apart from practical stuff like its minuscule boot and propensity to rust, there is almost nothing the Mk1 and Mk2 MX5 doesn't do very well. 
At this point I need to declare an interest. I wear glasses. Hobbled by the inability to see clearly beyond the end of my nose I'm rubbish at sport and other things that involve hand-eye coordination. Or exercise. I like Alfas and Saabs, the automotive equivalent of the kid who persistently turns left when he's told to go right. 


The MX5 is the school's effortless all-round sports champion, also good at academic study, endlessly excelling and succeeding. That isn't the MGF at all. But I do like the MG better. 
It is wrong to knock a car for being brilliant at everything it does. Without doubt the MX5 is better than a MGF, it will put a bigger smile on your face and make you wonder how something so small and light can stick to the road so well. I made a mistake: it isn't a washing machine, it certainly engages as a proper driver's car should. 
The MGF and MX5 demonstrate two different ways to create a weekend fun car. One is significantly better than the other. But I prefer the underdog. I'm not alone: the MGF out sold the Mazda when new. So there is obviously more going on here than good vs better. 
Our internal battle at Great Escape Cars is one you can settle for yourself by testing both over a weekend. It's certainly an unusual conundrum. Just £190 will put you behind the wheel of both cars for a weekend. Or try them mid-week with our February offer for just £95. Offer ends 28th February: call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk for more details. 


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www.greatescapecars.co.uk



Keeping the wheels of Government turning



There is, in case you missed it, an election looming. Between now and May 7th we the people will doubtless have our dinners endlessly interrupted by doorstepping MPs and activists, all smiling and eager to secure our support. 
If, like me, you find yourself flustered and bothered by this sudden increase in enthusiastic strangers at the door, then you might find yourself unable to muster a suitable reply when they ask what it will take to secure your vote. After all, all the usual questions are pointless: they'll have a quick and easy answer to anything involving immigration, the economy and the cost of the average shopping basket, whatever that is. As a car enthusiast, of course, you want to know about the things that really matter. So here is a handy response if you do find yourself caught out: 'Yes, I particularly want to know what will be keeping the wheels of Government turning?' They won't actually swear of course, but they may take a step back. As they retreat, smiling sympathetically, you may want to elaborate: 'No, no I want to know what your chap will be driving when he becomes PM!'
Once upon a time the car that our top dog drove really mattered. Today, less so, but on The World Stage we still take pride in knowing our man (because it usually is) has the best motor. Until relatively recently the choice Prime Ministerial car was very important: when we looked up to our politicians we admired what they chose to drive. And aspired to drive the same. 
So here, according to the Internet for the first time, is a list of the best Prime Ministerial cars. 

The First Car 


Prime Ministers haven't always been bicycle-pedalling Eco-warrioring fitness fans. In 1902 Arthur Balfour, the then PM, was the first Premier to toddle up Downing Street in a car. It was probably a Sheffield Simplex, although nobody seems quite sure. Balfour was an early car enthusiast, although in other areas, like his views on race, he wasn't quite so pioneering. 

The Churchill Factor


Few of our statesmen have done Statesmanship quite like Winston. Before selfies, Twitter and Facebook Churchill was the master of media image and his cars were a big part of that. Despite being a dismal driver, Churchill worked his way through a succession of high end state cars including Austins, Humbers, Daimlers and a Rolls Royce. The Government operated an official car policy from 1940, initially using Austins, but they weren't fast enough for Churchill so he demanded a Humber, the first of many different cars he used. And so it was that the image of our top bloke stepping out of a posh car captured the mood as Brits rushed in increasing number to the post-war car showrooms. 

Hillmans
Today, if we remember the Hillman brand at all, it's for the Avenger. Sadly Clement Attlee didn't roar up Downing Street in an orange Avenger Tiger. His Government instead opted for the company's stately 50s and early 60s models. Records don't show whether Attlee and his crew actually used any of the 'Gay Look' models (advertising strap line: As Gay as a Mardi Gras') but we can only hope. 

Daimlers 


In the late 50s and early 60s the Government dabbled with Daimlers. At the time these cars were the height of opulence just below Rolls Royce in the pantheon of luxury. Daimlers were considered solid and a little staid: ideal for Downing Street duties. But Daimler's decision to very publicly court Hollywood with the infamous 'Docker' Daimler show cars ('designed' by the flamboyant wife of the company's then Chairman) led to them being dropped.

Rover P5


The switch to Rovers from Hillmans seems to have been made because of Chrysler's increasing ownership of Rootes. The P5 and P5B seemed virtually tailor made for ministerial conveyance: it was big, imposing, more British than a bulldog and could lift its skirts briskly when pursued by the great unwashed. No wonder it was a Downing Street staple until the early 1980s, despite going out of production in 1973. Its longevity was down to Thatcher who insisted on using her existing ministerial car when she became PM. Clearly shades of Churchillian media theatrics...

Jaguar XJ


by the early 80s the PM's automotive options were much reduced. Rover's move downmarket with the hatchback SD1 was deemed more suitable for the security detail than the PM so Thatcher favoured the Jaguar XJ Series 3: Pinifarina's redesign with higher rear roofline probably helped. Although the Jaguar is almost the polar opposite of the Rover P5, being long and low, it seemed to suit the times: it was stylish, swift and classic, a modern update on the rather staid Rover to suit Britain's upwardly mobile, go-get it times. Every PM since has used Jaguar XJ, from the original to the current Tata model. 

Rovers 


While Jaguars have become the most common PM wheels since the 1980s, Rover didn't entirely abdicate its role. Rover 800s have appeared on The Street, plus the occasional Rover 75, apparently intended to show support for a British manufacturer after Jaguar was taken over by Ford. The 800's poor reliability prevented it being a regular fixture. 

Wild Cards 


Like many of their subjects, Prime Ministers are not immune from wanting to do different. Some have had to (Harold Wilson had to use a 5 year old Vanden Plas Princess because of strikes at Rover) while others have wilfully shunned convention. When he became PM Gordon Brown had to be almost forcibly detached from his creaky old Vauxhall Omega, standard issue at the time for the Premier's underlings. Despite efforts to put him in an Austin Ambassador ex-PM Jim Callaghan stuck with his Ford Minster until his death. In his pre-PM days David Cameron, of course, favoured a bike, albeit followed by his official Jaguar XJ. As PM he's settled into hand stitched luxury and sticks to four wheels. 

We don't have any ex-PM cars on the fleet but you can certainly get with the ministerial vibe in one of our Jaguar XJs. We recommend taking a back seat: plenty of legroom and quiet enough to make inopportune comments about voters as you are whisked away. 

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk











Is the MGF the best car BL didn't make?



Pity the poor MGF. It spends years in development hell somewhere in the depths of Longbridge as Austin Rover umms and aahs over what to do and then, finally, when it sees the light of day Mazda has already stolen its thunder. It still manages to outsell the MX5 yet all anyone talks about, to this day, is how the MX5 is a proper sports car and the MGF isn't as good.
2015 is, remarkably, the 20th anniversary of the MGF's launch, itself 6 years after the MX5 arrived. In 1995 what nobody actually expected was for MG to rise like a Phoenix from the flames. MG had been killed off in 1980 (the decision to end production was announced the day after the company's 60th anniversary) with the brand consigned to high performance versions of Austin Rover's humdrum models. 
The launch of the MGF was both surprising and odd. Rover was as usual struggling, despite BMW ownership, and investing in a low volume, relatively complex sports car hardly seemed a priority over rejuvenating the company's lacklustre mainstream models. And yet the MGF hit the spot. Whereas previous MGs had been relatively simple, almost rudimentary cars more sporting than sports car, the F was the real deal. Mid engined, propelled by a decently swift motor and neatly styled, the new MG was almost alarmingly good compared to some of Rover's contemporary offerings. The car was also fairly well screwed together and, while not cheap, it wasn't daftly priced. 


All of which explains why the MGF sold well. The steering may have been too light, the gearchange a bit porridgy, the chassis may have had more Metro origins than dealers would care to admit, but the car was easy to own and fairly practical. It was also fun to drive, neat-handling and swift. What it wasn't sadly, was very reliable. The K-Series engine is one of Rover's better efforts, and it has proper sporting credentials from powering the Lotus Elise, but the one thing it isn't, at least in the MGF, is dependable. The MGF's Achillies heel is its head gasket, thanks in part to its mid-engine layout which restricts cooling and therefore causes overheating. 
So 20 years on, where has all this left the MGF? The car has a loyal, enthusiastic following but so far it has failed to ignite the wider world like the MGB. Or, indeed, the MX5. While the miniature Mazda has proved a hit with the young as well as the old, the MGF has drifted into a more amorphous zone, a cheap weekend-stroke-second car popular with couples. Mostly this seems to be a consequence of its woeful reliability: buying a MGF is certainly a risky prospect, it's not so much a question of if as when.  Which at least has one advantage: the F is cheap as chips. You can get into a road legal F for a few hundred pounds. And I do really mean A Few. 
It may seem odd, then, that we have two MGFs on the fleet and just one MX5. If all I've said is true, who would hire one? As it turns out, quite a lot of people. Today, 20 years on, the F may not be an ideal purchase but it is a good car to hire. Everything that made it good when new still applies: it's quick, comfortable and practical. It's also engaging and characterful to drive. I owned a mk1 MX5 for a couple of years: it handles much better, changes gear better, perhaps even looks better. And it has none of the F's reliability woes. But for me it lacked character: it felt like driving a very good washing machine. The F isn't like that. The MG is fun, it doesn't flatter the foolhardly like the MX5 and it's comfortable to drive over any distance, unlike the MX5. 


It may take a while for the F to be seen as a worthy successor to the B but let's hope that day does come. Because the F is, whisper it, much better than a B: sure, you say, it was designed 30 years after the B, of course it is. But it's more than that: the F does the job it was designed for better than its predecessor. 
You can discover the F at our Midlands or Peak District sites from £160 for the weekend. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk. Mention this blog and claim 10% off. 

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk 

It's the journey not the destination



When I set up Great Escape Cars the idea of planning out the 'customer journey' from enquiry to completion was laughable: I worked from a rickety shed next to another shed where mysterious Land Rovers with no number plates mysteriously turned into Land Rover parts.
Things now are a little different. We deal with more customers in a week now than I handled in a year back then.  And the world has changed.  If you run a retail business you're looking down the barrel of Trip Advisor on a daily basis. Customer expectations have ramped up and they know their rights - and what they can do to achieve them. Whether you run John Lewis or a lowly classic car hire company, the internet has made the perception and expectation of service pretty much the same for every business.
This is not by any means a moan. Things change, you step up or step out. We've also grown, which has put pressure on the way we work. Customer service is critical to my business because we're selling a relatively high end product that carries with it an intrinsically high risk of problems or failure. Try lending any typically recalcitrant British classic car to 100+ drivers in a year to see what I mean.
Great Escape Cars is like any business: we tend to get it overwhelmingly right, but the happy people rarely tell you.  Sometimes, but not very often, we get it wrong. And those people make damn sure you know about it. And everyone else. A few years ago customers were generally tolerant of mistakes and problems, now that is generally not the case. Blackmail is the new modus operandi - do this or pay this or we will rant on social media and Trip Advisor. 


This is my business and I take customer service personally. I still meet most of the customers myself.  There are, after all, many many simpler ways to earn a living but I do this because I love it. 
Which is the main reason why I have spent quite a lot of the last few weeks mapping, as I believe fashionably disheveled marketing consultants would term it, the customer service journey. It didn't actually take long to work out what we do and with the help of the team here we were able to list out what we do now and what we wanted to make better. This week we applied the results, which I hope, if you're a customer reading this, you'll feel are effective and an improvement.
My objective in looking at customer service wasn't to deliver some airy fairy nonsense about exceeding expectations, meeting desires blah blah blah. I want what we do to be as good as it can be: to make hiring a classic car a very happy memory that remains with you for life.
This, of course, is the stuff of pink fluffy greetings cards and I am not really a pink fluffy greetings card sort of bloke, although the goal is no less critical to me. So we broke it down into some simple goals. These are:

1. Make it simple and easy to book - with transparent pricing and no hidden costs
2. Make the administration process straightforward, simple and easy
2. Make the hire experience as enjoyable and relaxing as possible
3. Find out what we did well and what we could do better

To deliver all that we have introduced some new procedures, including a revamped customer section of our website, which now includes much more information about the hire experience as well as driving tips on each car that customers can download and print before they arrive. We've also improved communication before the hire, including a local events calendar, list of places to stay, eat and visit and advice for overseas customers. When you arrive to collect your car we've improved the vehicle checking and valeting process and the handover procedure. We also provide pre-printed driving routes, information guides and other useful tips when you collect the car. 



Normally it would end there: thanks for the hire, see you again. But now we have a feedback system when you bring the car back - so that we can follow up any niggling faults - and a follow up email to find out each customer's more detailed views. 
Nobody sets out to do a bad job, at least not anybody I know. If I wanted a business where Not Caring was permissible there are plenty easier options. Yet of course we get it wrong. This process is designed to identify what has gone wrong, analyse any trends and put the wrong right. 
I know, sadly, that none of this will stop the acerbic Trip Advisor reviews: we won't be blackmailed so we'll still get them. But hopefully for more level headed objective customers it will mean a far better overall experience. I hope so, because it's genuinely why I and the people who work at Great Escape, do this. If that's made you feel sick, I apologise. I blame the love in the air. 

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk

The Classic Car TV Show: where was the passion?



In 1978 the collected members of 10cc informed us, admittedly without prompting, that no, they didn't like cricket thank you very much. In fact, they actually loved it. And so it is with me and classic cars: I don't like them, I love them.
So when the close-knit world of classic cars began bubbling and frothing with the news that Channel 5 was launching a TV series dedicated to classic cars, I was not happy, I was excited. Very in fact. Because for a pastime that distracts huge numbers of enthusiasts and casual observers, classic cars rarely make much of an appearance on TV. Apart from Top Gear, where they are generally derided and laughed at, there is just Antiques Road Trip (which of course is brilliant because it features our cars) or the dull-as-dishwater Richard Wilson Drives Around Britain.
The Classic Car Show, which aired for an hour for the first time last night, has been heavily promoted and features Jodie Kidd and Quentin Wilson as its main presenters. The first programme followed a Top Gear On a Budget sort of format, cutting between studio sofas and outside features. As a representation of the sheer diversity of the classic car world it did quite well, interspersing a feature on Gullwing Mercs and London Fashion Week with a TR7 and dying Studebaker. This is what it's all about - we may all like classic vehicles but it's the incredibly fractured and fragmented nature of what we love that makes the scene so dynamic and self-sustaining.


My problem with the show, however, began there. Firstly, the producers managed to bag a duo of Gullwing Mercedes. Wow: old and new supercars rarely seen on telly. Together. There is much that can be done here I thought. Instead we got a 15 minute Mercedes advertorial wherein the annoyingly Mockney presenter posed and tried to answer the question of whether the embarrassingly disinterested fashionista preferred the old one or the new one. Which, frankly, is like buying a Rolex and wondering whether it would make a good hammer.It's the answer to a question nobody cares about. Worse, in asking it we missed hearing what we really wanted to know: what is a Gullwing actually like?
Then there was a feature on the TR7. This was better, because the TR7's story is interesting and it is a genuinely overlooked car. But if you have even a passing interest in classic cars you already know all about it: the feature was good, but broke no new ground. Compare how the show treated this subject with Jeremy Clarkson's feature on Allegro vs Marina (well worth a watch on YouTube) and you wonder what could have been achieved with more thought.


The rest of the show mixed a feature on the Ferrari California with studio chitchat and some low hanging YouTube fruit. The former, with Jodie Kidd, was nicely shot but followed a now-familiar theme of telling us little that we didn't already know: the California looks and drives beautiful. Back in the studio we heard Quentin and Jodie tells us how much they loved classic cars whilst watching old car adverts that have been doing the rounds of Twitter and Facebook for years. 
At various points I nearly switched over, which is a fairly depressing thought given that my life is filled with and my livelihood depends on classic cars. The show's ingredients are great and promise much but for me at least they missed one vital element: the enthusiasm and the people. I wanted to hear from the grass roots classic car fans who love TR7s, who spend their weekends polishing, displaying and competing.
Perhaps this is all best summed up by the show's sponsor - a watch retailer. Classic car magazines and now it appears, TV shows, seem obsessed with the idea that watches and classic cars go together. And maybe they do. But personally I own over 20 classic cars and I don't even wear a watch.
The classic car scene isn't really about the cars or watches, it's about ordinary people and the sheer joie de vivre and passion that feeds classic car forums and Facebook pages. I got the feeling that The Classic Car Show's producers and presenters like classic cars. But I didn't feel the love. And that, like 10cc said, makes all the difference.
I genuinely wish the show the best because I suspect it's heart is in the right place. I'll keep watching but I hope we see some more genuine passion and enthusiasm - and more from the people who make this pastime what it is.

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733






It takes two



The world of big business spins, apparently, on one axis, and it's called Networking. It's about Relationships. It's not what you know it's who you know. The daily mantra drummed into sales people is - people buy from people. It's all about getting to know you.
The trouble is that getting to know your customers and prospects is not all that easy. It can even be a struggle getting them to just meet you.
This, of course, is where the perennial Corporate Event fits in. After you've Linkedin to them, emailed them to death and dropped in on them unannounced multiple times 'on the off-chance,' you realise you need something that will push them a little further, make them commit to you, move things to the next level.  That's the role of the corporate event - on the face of it, it's a jolly, an expenses-paid day out. Below the surface it's more, much more: it's about us getting to know you.
And so you convince your sales director to invite your target people to the annual golf day, where a selection of customers, prospects and the sales director's PA play golf and get drunk. All of which largely works in cementing deals and meeting targets.
If you're anyone who's anyone you've been on golf days and clay pigeon shoots until you're royally sick of them. Persuading prospects to commit a day out of the office therefore gets harder.  These events also generally only deliver one-to-one networking, as you're paired up for the day, but if you want to wine and dine two or three people it's less effective.


Now, consider something entirely different for a moment: a car journey. You're sat in a metal box with driver and a passenger or two. There really is nothing else to do but talk. Anyone who has been on a car journey will know that by the end of it you either love or hate your fellow passengers, but you definitely know them better.
So in theory if you want to get to know your customers and prospects, get in a car with them.  There is, of course, a fundamental reason why that idea fails to gain much traction on the annual corporate entertainment calendar. Car journeys and road trips are generally something to be endured if your mode of transport is a Ford Mondeo, Audi A4 or anything else modern and innocuous.  Doubly so if your route involves a motorway.


Take away the boring car and dull road and replace them with a bunch of dream classic cars and some twisting A- and B- roads across the Cotswolds and Wales and things begin to look up. You still have the bonding element but the stuff that made it Not Work is replaced with stuff that will turns a dull journey into a, ahem, great escape.
This is the basic premiss behind our corporate driving days and one of the reasons why they are so popular with our corporate clients. The idea is fairly simple: that pairing up clients and customers in a variety of classic cars over a scenic driving route, with lunch, cannot fail to bring both sides closer and on better terms.


We vary the format to suit customers but generally each guest will drive five different cars: pairs can stick together throughout the day or switch, enabling clients to mingle effectively with different guests. The refreshment stops and lunch break provide extended periods for networking, with the backdrop of classic cars and fine scenery breaking the conversational ice. 
The driving route is simple to follow and the cars relatively easy to drive so that there is little to interrupt the natural flow of conversation. But without satnavs each pairing has to interact, with the passenger directing the driver.


We have been running classic car driving days for clients since 2008, with group sizes varying from 4 to over 100. We can run them from our Midlands unit, on the edge of the Cotswolds, or anywhere in the UK. With 50 classic cars to choose from and a fleet of transport trucks we are the only classic car specialist with the range and capability to meet bespoke requirements. And the price is cheaper than you probably expect: on a par - hoho - with a good quality golf day.
You can find out more about what we do and what our customers say by clicking here. below. Or call 01527 893733 or email graham@greatescapecars.co.uk for more details.

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733




Quattro or Capri?



In the 1980s shoulder pads were in. It's not quite clear where they came from or indeed why, but suddenly overnight everyone looked like they'd forgot to take the hanger out of their jacket.
In much the same way cars suddenly sprouted bulging wings, bonnet scoops and spoilers. As if overnight it seemed you were nobody if your car didn't bulge or swoop at least somewhere. Compared to the hairshirted 70s, where anything that wasn't acrually beige, brown or one of their close relatives was considered Dashing, the 80s was a technicolor, anything-goes era of I Want It So I'll Have It. 
Two cars typify that typify this era well are the Audi Quattro and Ford Capri. The all-wheel-drive German screams 80s so loudly that they gave one to Gene Hunt: usually red, blistered of arch, tartan of interior and big of spoiler, the Audi was Duran Duran on wheels. 
Conversely, the Capri, so dapper and risque in the 70s, was like the Quattro's thirty-something dad. To get with it and down with the kids in the 80s Ford bolted on a spoiler, bigger wheels and fancy seats, so you knew it was still a Capri and a car of a certain age, but also not as old or as past it as you might expect.

Where the Audi ushered in 80s-esque technical innovation like 4WD and 5 cylinders, the Capri simply shrugged in response and performed a spectacular tail slide around a roundabout. 
The Capri was analogue in a digital world, real drums in a drum machine universe. And it all happened very quickly. 
Today we're experiencing another technological revolution, perhaps of greater speed and magnitude than that of the 80s. So we can probably empathise with the baffled Capri owner who has just been blown away by a new fangled Quattro.  The fight between Capri and Quattro on the road married the offroad battle between Escort and Quattro rally cars, an unequal war between the old dog and the new usurper.


The Capri is arguably the last of the old-tech sports car while the Quattro is the first of the new. In the mid 80s the Capri's rear wheel drive was considered retro and low tech, as was its lengthy bonnet and unsophisticated suspension. Even Ford seemed to have tired of it, launching the XR4i Sierra essentially as its replacement: a slippery, modern design with a massive pair of rear spoilers.
And yet the Capri soldiered on, despite the onslaught from Audi and within the Ford ranks. Capri buyers wanted a simple, no-nonsense sports car bereft of technological nannying. So it was 1986, several years after it should have been pensioned off, when the Capri finally bowed out.
For 1980s fast car fans the Audi was a revelation, and yet it flattered to deceive: you went round corners fast in a Quattro because you owned one, not necessarily because you knew how to drive one. The Quattro raised the bar at which real skill became a factor, which is no bad thing but that game wasn't the Capri's bag.
Even a last of the line Ford like our 280 Brooklands, fitted with a limited slip differential, is about as high tech as a banana. This tends to make a Capri far less relaxing to drive, but one that is fun at relatively sedate speeds, in a way that the Quattro isn't. You can power slide a Capri at any speed above walking pace. This is a car that has to be controlled, mainly because there is not much in the way of technology otherwise doing the job for you.


The Quattro effectively killed off old school blue collar coupes like the Capri. The 90s saw a small resurgence with cars from Alfa, Fiat and Vauxhall but the days of simple, relatively low powered two door cars were over. The arrival of the Toyota GT86, effectively a Capri in all but name, finally gave enthusiastic drivers on a budget exactly what they wanted.
Today few would put the Capri and Quattro in the same category, but on a basic level they aimed to do exactly the same thing: move four people from A to B quickly and enjoyably. The Quattro is every inch the barn-storming B-road banzai that you expect - fast and surefooted. It is a supercar for everyday roads. You have to drive it very fast to gain the same level of engagement and reward as the Capri, but its sheer speed and capabilities are deeply impressive. The Capri, in this comparison, is the definite underdog. On the road it is relatively slow compared to the Quattro and fidgety, like a hound constantly seeking out the nearest hedge.  But it is much more practical than the Quattro, which has a tiny boot, and the interior is a nicer place to be compared to the Quattros tartan n Lego interior.
If you love Quattros then the chance are you don't much care for Capris, and vice versa.  But if you just enjoy driving then a weekend split between these two is hard to beat: the contrasts are startling and illuminating. Cars have moved on a very long way since both were built, but our enthusiasm for travelling down a scenic B-road at speed remains undiminished. These two cars deliver on that in very different ways, but they're both equally exciting.
You can put the Capri and Audi back to back in our new 80s Coupe Challenge. To find out more click here or call 01527 893733. 

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733