Modern Motoring's Best Near Miss

Every once in a while a brilliant car comes along that's saddled with a major Achilles Heel. A demerit that's big enough to virtually wipe out all its merits. Think Lotus Elan or Jaguar XJ6 or in fact any TVR-engined TVR.
There are few cars, if any, that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory quite so comprehensively as the diminutive Alfasud. In 10 short years the Sud became a watchword for failure, a brilliant car that was simply impossible to live with.  
The car's reputation for recalcitrant took a simple form: rust. Buyers could perhaps live with the unreliability - after all, the Alfasud shared parking space with Allegros - but watching new cars literally disintegrate before their eyes was less palatable.

Many will be familiar with the Sud's story: a small car built near Naples to provide work for tomato pickers, or so the story goes. Inevitably the truth is a little more complex. Under state ownership, Alfa was tasked with creating a mass market family car. They brought in Rudolph Hruska, who had worked on the recently launched Golf. Given a considerably cleaner sheet he devised a space efficient hatchback-esque car with more than a drizzle of Alfa DNA. The Sud was innovative where the Golf was pedestrian: FWD, inboard brakes, complex suspension and innovative Boxer engine to improve space and handling.  The Italian Government may have imagined a fairly ordinary people's car. What Alfa gave them was an advanced, brilliantly engineered saloon that brought sports car standards to the humble family car market.

The car, as the name suggests, was to be built in an ex-aircraft factory near Naples, mainly for political expediency. Much has been made of this decision, attributing it as the cause of the car's poor quality. There is perhaps some truth in it, but in reality most car building at the time was shoddy. The problem was perhaps building a fairly complex car in a new factory with new staff.  
Suds weren't built particularly well, but it was rust that sealed the car's reputation. Like contemporary Lancias and Fiats, they disintegrated with incredible speed. Two factors seemed to be at play: firstly, poor quality Russian steel with foam injected into the cavities. Secondly, high volume sales into wet countries. The rot wasn't such an issue in Alfa's core Italian market, it was more of a problem over here.

The quality and rust problems have tended to make the Alfasud something of a forgotten hero. It rarely features in magazines nowadays and with just 50 left on the road inevitably rarely sighted.  In period the car's reputation for rust meant it was often overlooked by buyers and the media. All of which tends to disguise how incredibly good the Alfasud was. Road testers adored it. Buyers loved it. Mention Alfasud and chances are someone will know someone who loved them and had several. The Alfasud's handling, steering and driveability embarrassed far more exotic cars. It did that thing that few modern cars can ever hope to achieve: turn a simple run to the shops into a proper drive. The Golf GTI might have been a far better all-rounder, but it was the irritating school prefect to the Alfasud's flawed genius.

When I bought my first Alfasud in the late 90s the model was the pariah of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club. The Sud was blamed - perhaps rightly - for Alfa's nosediving reputation and it was dismissed as not being a proper Alfa (because it wasn't built in Milan). With few supporters it's not hard to see why the Sud has often missed out on the plaudits it genuinely deserves.  
Today the Alfasud is all but extinct. They rarely come up for sale and values are finally rising quickly. Few mass produced can be quite so rare now. But its reputation is finally being reclaimed. Alfa may have shunned the late 90s reborn Alfasud (which became the Seat Leon) but today they're more comfortable with its legacy. After all, the Alfasud is arguably Alfa's best car of the last 40 years. 
Other cars may have done the job of family wheels far better but none have left a legacy quite like the Alfasud.

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November Workshop Update: 1965 Jaguar E Type

During November the exciting start of this restoration began to take shape.  With the carbs back from the specialist, the fuel lines and tank in place and new ignition barrel fitted, we could finally fire it up. We're not sure when the car last ran but it appears to have been looked after: the engine runs very smoothly with no untoward sounds.
The suspension improvements have now been done - new track rod ends, new ball joints and steering gaiter - and the new stainless exhaust system has been fitted. Most of the brake work is completed - we are simply waiting for the calipers to return.
The final step will be to fit new tyres and then MOT the car.  The owner wants to keep the paintwork and interior 'as is' for now, treating the car as a running project to use and enjoy.  We completely agree.
To find out more about our workshop call 01527 893733 or visit

October Workshop Update: 1965 Jaguar E Type

When a car like an E Type has been off the road for several years, recommission doesn't quite nail the complexity of the task.
We approached this task by undertaking a ramp assessment. We run several E Types on our daily hire fleet so are familiar with their weaknesses and the typical areas for attention.  This car was surprisingly solid, thanks to life in a dry climate, but our report to the owner was inevitably lengthy. The engine had not run for some time so would need a full service, carburettor overhaul, new starter and distributor plus various hoses replaced.

The fuel lines were also in very poor condition, along with the fuel tank and brakes. New pads, calipers, servo and master cylinder would be required. The exhaust system, clutch master and slave cylinders, ball joints and track rod ends all needed replacement.  To some extent this is exactly the list you would expect when a car has been unused for many years. There were also localised areas of rot to the chassis, but nothing particularly significant.
During October we attended to the welding and fuel system, including replacing the tank. The carburettors were sent off for refurbishment along with the calipers: these items tend to have long lead times so are best tackled early on.
Comparing this LHD car to our V12 and straight six RHD cars has been interesting: aside from the engine specification changes, the LHD car features the above unusual dashboard arrangement. On an E Type the heater and choke controls are on opposite sides of the car.  Rather than switch the heater and choke controls around to suit LHD markets, Jaguar just left the controls in the same place.  So American drivers have easy access to the heater controls - less so the for the choke, which is in front of the passenger.
For more details on our workshop call 01527 893733 or visit

Workshop Project: 1965 Jaguar E Type

This project has been quite an unusual one and has proved to be right up our street.  When you're choosing a workshop to restore your car it's important to be clear about what you want to achieve: whether you want a concours job or a car to use every day will determine the advice you're given.
As I run a large fleet of classic hire cars we tend to be from the 'daily driver' school of classic cars: I like to see them used and I'm not sufficiently precious about them to worry too much about it.  But that isn't to say we don't respect owners who chase concours awards: I get that as well.
The owner of this rare Series 1.5 E Type was very clear about what he wanted: a reliable, presentable example that would he wouldn't worry about using daily.
The car had been bought at auction in Los Angeles and we collected it from the docks at Southampton. It had lain unused in Beverley Hills for some time and arrived dusty with flat tyres and drained of fluids. At first glance it looked as you'd expect: cracked black paint, deteriorated interior but otherwise dry and sound. You can read about the project using the links below.
For more details on our workshop call 01527 893733 or visit

1965 Jaguar E Type: October Workshop Update

1965 Jaguar E Type: November Workshop Update

November Workshop Update: 1974 Jensen Interceptor blue/red

Any Jensen restoration is an involved process. These are complex cars with acres of lead loading and inevitably plenty of historical bodges.  Until recently Interceptors have languished at the lower end of classic car values, which usually means that they are patched up rather than properly repaired.
The first task with this car was to strip it and begin to assess the level of work required. The front wheel arches and valance were obvious rot areas so these were cut back and the rot removed ready for new panels.

Stripping the car revealed other problems.  The driver's door, which otherwise looked solid, was completely rotten at the bottom. Replacement panels are either hard to source or ridiculously expensive so the only solution here is going to be fabricating new sections and welding them in.

The paint on the bonnet louvres had cracked and peeled due to poor previous repairs and heat but we hadn't spotted the pin hole rot spots until now.  The insulation on the inside of the bonnet had trapped water, causing rot to work its way through from inside. So the bonnet will be going off for soda blasting next week.

Inspection of the car revealed suspicions about the nearside inner sill: although this is a huge job it would be foolish not to do this at the same time.

Work will proceed on repairing the door and sill while we wait for panels, some of which have to be specially made for us. This is one of the frustrations of restoration: while you can order some panels in advance, you don't always know what you need until you start work.

You can find out more about our workshop by visiting or call 01527 893733.

Workshop Project: 1974 Jensen Interceptor blue/red

The contradictory lives of the two 1974 Jensen Interceptors going through our workshop this winter proves the value of finding a good example of any car.  While the blue and cream car has suffered variable reliability since 2012, the blue and red car shown here has faired considerably better.
This Jensen was one of the two cars that formed the original Great Escape Cars hire fleet back in 2006. Launching a classic car hire business where 50% of your fleet was built by Jensen is not necessarily a recipe for an easy life, and so it proved for the first couple of years.
'LPB' needed an engine rebuild soon after I bought it and suffered fairly regular faults with electrics and ancillaries for the first year or so. This is fairly typical of any car we put on the fleet, although it felt personal to the Jensen when I started out.

Once the teething problems were ironed out it became obvious how good this example was.  It has always driven superbly and structurally has withstood 60,000 miles since 2007 extremely well. By the start of 2015, however, it was obvious that the car was going to need some fairly significant work: the offside sill was rotten and the front wheel arches were deteriorating quickly.
During January and February 2015 we replaced the offside sill in our workshop.  The Interceptor's inner sills are largely hidden, meaning that structurally compromised cars will often pass the MOT without comment. Removing the outer sill revealed serious corrosion so we began the 130 hr task of replacing this side.
With no time to undertake further repairs the Jensen plodded through the 2015 season, reliably clearly deserving of some love. In autumn 2015 we took it off the road and began stripping it. Click on the links below to see what's been happening.

Call 01527 893733 or visit to find out more about our workshop.

Jensen Interceptor: November Workshop Update

Jensen Interceptor: January Workshop Update

November Workshop Update: 1971 MGB GT

The renovation of this 1971 MGB GT is cosmetic rather than structural.  Multiple shades of black and covered in scratches and scrapes, the car was looking a little sorry for itself.  The only real area of rot was the hatchback, which had developed holes at the lower edge of the screen, a notorious rot spot.
We began by stripping the car and removing the existing hatch back.  We sourced a very good second hand replacement for £80, which was fitted.  Then the whole car was flatted back to enable priming. The mechanicals and structure of this car were fine: it has received attention on our ramps throughout 2015 whilst on hire so we know that it's reliable and solid underneath. There was some minor surface rust around the bottom of the headlamp bowls, which was ground back to fresh metal. 

The car was skimmed with filler as required to rectify dents and damage and improve the panel lines.

To find out more about our workshop visit or call 01527 893733

Workshop Project: 1971 MGB GT

There can't be many reasons to own two MGB GTs but earlier this year I found one that seemed fairly cast iron.  When Great Escape Cars originally bought the 1978 BGT - that you can read about on this blog - it was going to be used for a TV programme, with filming due to start in March 2015. So the car went into our local body shop in autumn 2014, giving six months to complete a fairly simple restoration and respray.
With the film dates rapidly approaching it became alarmingly obvious that the car wouldn't be ready. In fact, it hadn't even been started. Cue Plan B: find another, similar MGB GT. And so it was that I bought this 1971 example in early March 2015.
For a B it's a fairly rare example being black and with the short-lived 'Mustang' style recessed front grille that was designed to modernise a distinctly unmodern design. MGB prices fluctuate more regularly than Brazilian exchange rates and I happened to be looking during one of the highs. Locating a good car at a sensible price took some doing but this one turned out to be a winner. I bought it from a dealer - not my preferred route, but needs must - and it was exactly what I wanted: a tidy, solid car but not excessively so.

The tough filming schedule through up a few inevitable issues, which our workshop sorted, and by June the car was proving very reliable.  But the bodywork was less so.  The dealer had done an excellent job of valeting it, disguising the myriad of dings, scratches and blemishes that, close up, detracted from the car's appeal.  This car was therefore an obvious candidate for renovation over the winter of 2015/2016.
Click on the links below to find out what we've been up to with the B. Or call 01527 893733 to discuss this project or your own.  Visit to find out more about our workshop.

1971 MGB GT: November Workshop Update 

November workshop update: 1978 MGB GT

This car returned to us in November after a lengthy sojourn with a local body shop. We had already done the welding work before it left us - this was mainly to the rear of the sills - so the car simply needed prepared for painting. We stripped it, including chrome work and glass, before it left went to the body shop.

The paintwork needed stripped back, particularly on the wings, and various dents and blemishes rectified before the car was flatted back and put into primer. It will be painted this week in the attractive and unusual dark grey mushroom colour that covered it when we bought it.  Once finished it will be put up for sale.

For more details on our workshop call 01527 893733 or visit

Workshop Project: 1978 MGB GT

The MGB GT's style and mechanical simplicity are the keys to its popularity. But like every British car of the 60s and 70s it suffers from tin worm. And that stylish body is not always straightforward to fix.
Great Escape Cars bought this '78 car in early 2014 as part of a deal involving another MGB. It had been off the road since 2008 and was partly stripped ahead of a restoration that never happened.  In the intervening two years this 'never quite' mood seemed to hang around the BGT.  We sorted out the minor bodywork repairs it needed and outsourced the work to a local paint shop in Spring 2014, where it sat unattended until we recovered it in November 2015.  We're now completing the work ahead of a respray in December.

This BGT started life of course as an unloved rubber bumper model, but was professionally converted at some point to a chrome bumper car, including correct wings and lower ride height.  It has a tuned 1800cc MGB engine.
Since the car has been back out our workshop we have begun the process of putting this car back on the road.  When it's ready our plan is to sell it.
Click on the links below to find out more about the work on this car.  Call 01527 893733 or visit for more details on our workshop.

1978 MGB GT: workshop update November 2015

November workshop update: Audi Quattro ur

This Audi Quattro came off our hire fleet in the autumn rather more suddenly than we'd expected: a bash on hire meant it was unuseable for customers.

Normally we would rectify bodywork using new panels, particularly on a relatively youthful car like this 1984 Quattro. However, OEM panels are extremely expensive and a very poor fit: the work required to make the new panel align would probably be greater than attempting to repair the existing wing. Factor in previous bodges, which had adjusted the bodywork lines, and new metal would have involved considerable work.

The Audi project therefore presented us with the classic 'bodge or better?' conundrum. To sort out the panel and body lines would have required stripping the car right back to bare metal throughout and probably involved new doors and rear panels. This would have massively increased the cost of the job, potentially questioning the viability of repair.

We decided to repair the existing panels and work with what we had: this, we are confident, will create a repair that is indistinguishable from the more expensive job.  It will return the car to the road faster and to a much higher standard than previously. Given the level of skill required to do this properly, I'm not sure if you can really call it a bodge.

We repaired the wing with patch panels and stitched new metal into the sills. Stripping the car revealed a bizarre previous respray: the bodyshop painted around the Audi decals on the doors rather than remove them and do the job properly.
The car's owner has decided on our recommendation to get the car fully resprayed: the poor condition of the paint warrants this invest.
At the end of November the car is in primer and ready for paint. It will be painted and reassembled during December and January.

To find out more about our workshop call 01527 893733 or visit

Workshop Projects: 1984 Audi Quattro ur

This original Audi Quattro is part of the Great Escape Cars hire fleet. When it suffered a low speed shunt in the hands of a customer earlier this autumn we decided to take the opportunity for a more comprehensive overhaul of the car.
The original Audi Quattro was engineered to a high standard and generally built to one too, with original cars effectively taken off the line and hand built. So structurally the cars are durable, but repairing and restoring a ur Quattro can be an expensive task since much of the car uses unique or low volume parts and panels.

The crash damage affected the front offside wing, headlight and grille.  Not extensive but also not a simple repair, since body panels are in very short supply. Checking over the rest of the car we identified localised rust in the rear of the sills and damage to the passenger door where the check strap had failed. The car's paintwork was generally poor and faded, which tends to be typical of the Mars Red finish.
The main challenge with the Quattro was going to be effecting a cost-effective repair. Although these cars have increased in value they're still not silly money and don't necessarily warrant huge expenditure where it can be avoided.  Yet with panels and parts at premium prices, this is not as easy as it sounds.
Click on the links below to read our updates on the Quattro restoration. Or call 01527 893733 or visit to find out more about our workshop.

Audi Quattro: Workshop Update November 2015

Audi Quattro: Workshop Update February 2016

November workshop update: Jaguar Mk2 3.4

The humble grey Mk2, which has been a staple of our hire fleet for many years, has come on leaps and bounds during November.  It is ready for paint preparation this week and will be painted during December.

The work to get the car to this stage has been involved and skilled. Having stripped the car and removed the rot during October, this month we have stitched in new metal to the arches and front panel and repaired the wing tops.  The latter is a complex job as the marker lights tend to rot and are often poorly repaired.  We removed the rot, repaired with fresh metal and then filled over the repair to recreate the correct shape and line. This is a very time-consuming job but one that has to be right in order for the whole car to look right.  The car has now been flatted back ready for primer, as shown above.
We also rectified older poor repairs to the door bottoms and around the door handles. Our goal with this car is to create a useable, very presentable and solid example suitable for hire.

November workshop update: Jensen Interceptor blue/cream

After rapid progress in October, work on the blue and cream Jensen has hit an impasse due to parts availability. As we identified in October, the car needs a rear wheel arch repair panel, an expensive item that is being specially made for us.  This is one of the frustrations of classic car repair: it isn't always easy to identify the extent of a problem and therefore what parts are needed until the car is dismantled. By that point you generally need the part quickly, but invariably with rare old cars they're out of stock or on back order.
We expect to get back onto the Jensen in December when we will be repairing the rear wheel arch and then getting the car ready for paint. Once the panel arrives this car is not a great distance from completion. Fingers crossed...

For more details on our workshop visit our website at or call 01527 893733.

Workshop Projects: 1965 Jaguar Mk2 3.4

In the 1960s Jaguar made some beautiful cars, and few came more beautiful than the original Jaguar Mk2. But those looks came at a price because the Mk2 is a fearsomely complex car to restore, thanks to its endless curves.  With the youngest cars now 50 years old the problems associated with decades of cheap repairs and bodges also hinder modern restorers.
We have been working on Mk2s for several years, including major bodywork improvements and mechanical overhauls.  This particular Mk2, a 1965 'Moss box' model, has been on our hire fleet for many years and has never needed much attention. However, the years and the miles have begun to take their toll and it was clearly time for a bodywork and interior overhaul during the winter of 2015/2016.
We took the car off the road in October and stripped it to identify the main problem areas.  The Mk2, like most cars of its era, has a huge number of water traps and rot spots - this one was ostensibly solid but with cosmetic deterioration in the wheel arches, front wings and door bottoms.
This project is to remove the rot, replace with fresh metal and repaint the car in the original gunmetal metallic grey. Along the way we intend to fit Coombes arches to make the car easier to transport on our low loaders.
Click on the links to follow the restoration of this car. Call 01527 893733 or visit for more details on our workshop.

1965 Jaguar Mk2: workshop update October 2015

1965 Jaguar Mk2: workshop update November 2015

Workshop Projects: 1974 Blue/cream Jensen Interceptor

The Jensen Interceptor is one of those classic cars that has most enthusiasts reaching for the smelling salts.  Which is understandably, because the car has a reputation for unreliability and complexity, so restoring one is not necessarily for the faint hearted.
We don't claim to be Jensen specialists but we do have a lot of experience with them: we have run several on hire since 2007, including one car continuously over that time.
This car, which is one of the last 'J-Series' models with the 7.2 litre V8 engine, has been known to us for many years.  The car was on hire with us between 2012 and 2015.  The car was taken off the road for restoration this year.

Despite a long list of repairs by marque specialists, this Jensen needed a considerable amount of work when it was taken off the road. This is fairly typical of the Interceptor: it is a complicated, hand-built car with a huge number of rust traps and hidden crevices. Consequently keeping it in A1 condition is a little like painting the Forth Road Bridge.
The car was mechanically fine but needed repairs to the front wings, bonnet and rear wheelarches, where rot had taken hold.  Once done the car will receive a full respray in the original Royal Blue.

Click on the links below to read the updates on this car's progress through the workshop.

Jensen Interceptor: workshop update October 2015

Jensen Interceptor: workshop update November 2015

Week one with my classic daily driver

I am a man of good intentions. I intend to give up alcohol during the week, I intend to never drink caffeine again. I intend to drive my 1989 Saab 900 Turbo as a daily driver.
Like most of my good intentions, with the Saab there is a fair chance I'll fall off the wagon. But so far I haven't and don't have any immediate plans to either. Seven days in and its suitability as a daily driver is becoming more and more apparent.
Most of my week has involved my short daily commute, with a couple of longer runs into Birmingham. The Saab has done everything that was demanded of it: started first time, engaged every gear as required, kept up with traffic and, in recent days, kept me warm.

The Birmingham run, in the rush hour, did highlight a few challenges that might make me think twice if I was doing this run daily. The Saab's ride is bouncy and hard, made more so by our terrible modern roads, so much worse than I remember when the Saab was new. The steering, gearbox and clutch are all considerably more mechanical and involving than modern cars, making stop/start driving a little tiring. The Saab was a very refined and comfortable drive in its day but by modern standards it's noisy and a little cramped.  Commuting in 1989 would have been a much more tiring process than it is today, but then there were fewer cars and better roads.  It wasn't enough to put me off using the Saab daily but it did highlight how far cars have come since.

A trip to the local supermarket was more positive, the Saab's svelte lines and distinctive shape making it easy to park amidst modern motoring's inflated and homogeneous metalwork.

The Saab, so far, has proved itself adept in daily life. I am enjoying driving something that needs driven and turns every mudane trip into a bit of an adventure. Which, frankly, is surely the purpose of any classic car.

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