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Letter from Europe: of Rolls Royce, Rover, and a new Volvo

5 August 1998

by Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chiefi

Well, one way or another it has been quite a Summer so far.

After Monaco, which was its usual mad self, things moved positively up-market with the Louis Vuitton Concours d'Elegance at London's prestigious Hurlingham Club. Situated by the River Thames it is usually the domain of tennis players, but once a year some rather fine cars take over. There were Astons, Ferraris, Bugattis and there was even sunshine, something of a rarity during an English Summer!

Wimbledon was somewhat overshadowed by the World Cup, as was the French Grand Prix. The British fared somewhat better because the race was in the afternoon and the final in Paris in the evening. There were lots of people rushing to their private planes in order to do both in one day!

Whilst Formula One was and is dominated by Messrs Hakkinen and Schumacher, the British Press were full of something profoundly sad--the tragic, and pathetic sale of Rolls-Royce to Volkswagen. I am sure readers the world over realise that apart from the Queen and Buckingham Palace, RR was the epitomy of everything British. Whilst the Government are not, as yet, selling off Buckingham Palace, one would have thought that with successful giant companies such as GEC, a home-made buyer could have been found.

Can you imagine for one minute the Germans parting with Daimler-Benz? I know all about rationalisation, cost-effectiveness, global economy, economies of scale and all the other boring cliches analysts and politicians will come out with like a bunch of boring predictable parrots, but like most people living in Britain, I would have thought that at least Rolls was sacred.

Not so. It was sold, like a sack of coal.

And yet, there was worse to come.

Whilst VW thought they had bought the company, it transpired that Rolls Aero engines actually owned the trade-mark. This, much to VW's chagrin they sold to their old chums-BMW. So now we have a situation where Rolls and Bentley will be split between the two German companies. VW will make Bentleys and BMW will put the Rolls badge on whatever they care to put it on. Presumably a stretched version of the 750.

Let me quote you Professor Jim Randle, ex-Jaguar chief engineer: "It's like crows quarrelling over a carcass, all the people who have never actually created anything themselves. It's always the same--they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I am sick to death of it. We've let it all go--Aston Martin, Jaguar, and now Rolls and Bentley."

He should have added Rover as well, a company BMW bought a few years ago.

Which brings me to another topic. My Rover. Yesterday, after 11 years I sold it. How much did I get for it? Precisely 800 pounds which is about 1200 dollars. Great engine (Honda), new, fine tyres (Goodyear), rusty old body (Rover). I may have told you that when I phoned up the PR guy in Birmingham he said and I quote:

"Good heavens, you should have sold it years ago . . ." How about that for belief in your product?!

Anyway, rust or no rust, the car ran like a dream during all those years and, whilst it may have leaked and various bits may have fallen off, it never let me down. If only someone had bothered to teach Rover a four letter word years ago.

No, not that one.

This one is called rust.

Consequently I am sure you won't be surprised to learn that I did not buy another Birmingham rustbucket. I felt that after three rusty Rovers spanning over 20 years, I deserved something a little bit better. The choice: a Volvo. I was tempted by a Mercedes but I was given such a hard time by their UK PR man that I decided against that, however much I admire their products and their US operation. Arrogance, where ever it comes from, I can well do without. I did think of a BMW 528, and in the States I would have bought one without any hesitation. Unfortunately here in England BMW drivers have acquired an appalling reputation for carving up other motorists and generally behaving like pigs on the road. If you ever see one letting you out of a side-turning do let me know. Great shame because the cars deserve better people.

And so to Volvo. A company which has had an amazing transformation. From safe but rather dowdy they moved on to safe but doing-in some instances 150 miles per hour- thank you very much! The one I bought, a 2.5 litre saloon, is not one of the super-tweaked ones and as I only got it yesterday I cannot really say to much about it.

On the other hand, we are about to embark on a tour of Europe, after which which I will be able to give you an update. The people I got it from, Marshalls of Slough, have been very helpful and promised me years and years of happy motoring. If not, they will be the first to know..

So far I have been very impressed with the seats and the stereo system. The air-conditioning will have its work cut out in Europe, right now its raining in London for a change. Now that is one thing the Brits would be happy for someone to buy, but so far there have been no takers!