Saturday, July 16, 2005

Austin Ambassador

Usually with product placement, it is a requirement of the deal that the 'star' is only seen to use the approved suppliers' products - hence the ruckus if Jamie Oliver is spotted shopping in Asda or Linda Barker is seen to use a product from one of the few suppliers that she hasn't endorsed.

So, how gutted do you think PricewaterhouseCoopers must be to see Mike Whitby - the keeper of their pride and joy MG SV - return from a trip to Spain 'experiencing the new Jaguar diesel engines' and then letting the press report that fact? Not that I'm convinced that having Mike seen to be driving one of these actually enhances the image of the marque.

A classic car nut friend of mine stepped out of his garage long enough to pass comment on the events. Pushing his flat cap clear of his eyes and wiping the sweat from his brow with a grease-smeared hand, he reckoned that Whitless might be on to a good thing here. Now this might come as a surprise to many, but he reckons that the MG SV/SVR series have the makings of a genuine classic car. Amazing, but true. 'Look,' he said, 'There are only about 50 of these things in existence and no prospect of any more being made. Far worse cars have become classics - most classic cars are awful to drive and cost a fortune to run.'

As he slid back under the rusty, unrecognisable heap that he's been restoring for the past decade, I thought that my petrolhead friend might be right, you know. You see, PwC initially demanded all employees' cars back immediately, but they calmed down after a while and allowed them to be kept in return for a payment of a third of the book price. Oddly, this payment tended to be quite close to the redundancy payment already promised, so most employees chose to pay their mortgages rather than pay for a car with no dealer network and a plummetting resale value. Plus, PwC already had around 60,000 of the blasted things sitting around rusting quietly at sites around the UK.

But those cars were the ordinary, mass market vehicles that Rover used to make. The MG SV/SVR is a different kettle of fish entirely - Parkers describe it as a 'brute of a car' and note it comes with a harness rather than the standard seatbelt fitted to lesser models. No word on whether Mike has the full performance pack which offers a scary 400 bhp or the terrifying option of nitrous injection, which would give him a whopping 1000 bhp to play with. Clarkson liked it, but felt that it wasn't worth the price tag - although added that with a bit of work, it could be. It even appears that Rowan Atkinson has one on loan, judging by this review in Auto Express. Perhaps Whitless should apply to play Baldric in any further episodes of Blackadder, given his penchant for cunning plans. And turnips, looking at the cabinet, but I digress.

The upshot is that despite all the faults in the vehicle, its plus points and very scarcity gives it the potential to be an instant classic, so if Whitless were to be offered the chance to buy the car under the same terms offered to employees, £20,000 or so would be a bargain price for what is a rather fast and stylish muscle car, let alone the swansong of the last British volume car manufacturer. Give it a couple of years and he may well find that he could sell it on for a VERY tidy profit - so keeping it on the driveway and not taking it out much might prove a sensible investment decision.

He could always use it to drive into Sandwell to see Lightwood Park, apparently owned by Birmingham City Council and causing some discontent amongst residents. They were so desperate for help, they even invited Bob Piper to attend their meeting (I do hope he brought his passport).

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