Thursday, July 22, 2010
Chinese Hope To Make British Car That Works
Remember the MG? Worse yet, did you ever own one? Then cower in fear. The Chinese bought the MG brand name and are about to open a plant to build the malfunctioning suckers in Oklahoma. The Nanjing Automobile Group, which acquired bankrupt MG Rover Group last year, plans to be the first Chinese automaker to open a factory in the US. The product will be called the MG TF Coupe and will be out in 2008. Let’s hope they do a better job with the racy brand than the Brits did. I never did own an MG, but I owned another British car, a venerable Jaguar, that I had repaired at a place that specialized in servicing MGs. Here is my story, with one caveat. I understand now that Ford bought the Jag brand, it works better. My old Jaguar XJ 6 sedan was a beauty, prettiest car on the road. Only trouble is the mechanical aspects brought home the idea of a hornet's nest. There were always at least five things going wrong at the same time. To save money on the upkeep, I used to take it to place that worked on MGs instead of to the Jag dealer. I asked the guy who ran the shop, a wily Irishman, why the cars always had problems. “Well, you know the limeys," he replied with a ornery glint in his eyes. "A bunch of socialists. So they’re on the assembly line, and they see an engine with a loose screw. So Frank looks at Harry and says, “Harry, would you look at that? A loose screw.” And Harry says, “Why, yes, I believe you've got that right. It is a loose screw. ” But do either one of them bend over and tighten it. No. The engine just keeps moving along the assembly line. Then there was the day I was parked outside the shop, waiting for a space inside the busy place, so I could pull my car in for repairs, when suddenly I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Then there was a huge thump on the side of the car near the sidewalk. I turned and an otherwise normal-looking businessman in a suit had a furious look on his face and was actually kicking my car. I rolled down the window and, in keeping with the British spirit of the car, I asked calmly, “Excuse me, sir, but why are you kicking my car?” “I used to own one of these damn things,” he shouted, “and every time I see one I think how many problems I had with it and I get upset.” Then he quieted down, as if the confession let the hottest steam out. “I’m sorry,” he went on, “but I couldn’t help myelf.” “That’s OK,” I said, “I might decide to kick it myself.” Then there were the two worst problems I had with it. The drain in the dashboard for the air conditioner used to get plugged. Apparently, it was too small. Anyway, the condensation would build up, and pretty soon I could hear water sloshing in the dashboard. The real problem was, when I turned a corner, the water would rush to one side and pour out of the vent onto my lap or, worse yet, onto the lap of the person who was unfortunate enough to be on the passenger side. The other rather inconvenient problem was, when I’d be driving down the highway at night and a car would come my way, and I’d push on the button on the floor to dim the headlights, they’d go out completely. That’s right. I’d be hurtling down the highway in pitch darkness, except for the scant illumination provided by the distant oncoming lights. So I’d quickly start slamming at the button, and, after three or four desperate shots, back on would come the headlights. When I brought the problem to the attention of my world-weary mechanic, he referred to the name of the manufacturer of the electrical setup, as he informed me, “You now what they call the Lucas electrical system, don’t you? The prince of darkness.” To add insult to injury, I went to the automobile show at the old New York Collesum one year. When I saw the Jag on display, I went up to the dealer in attendance and asked, "Why can’t they make a Jaguar that works right?” He smiled slyly and gestured toward the sleek, gleaming grey sedan, and just said, “But look at it.” Yep, if you liked the design, you were expected to put up with the malfunctions. Last, when the time came that I could no longer stand the wreck, primarily because the radiator wouldn’t stop leaking, I looked in the yellow pages for the places that buy used cars. I saw an ad that said "2000 Cars Wanted." I called. The guy who answered was very receptive till he asked, “What kind of car do you have?” “A Jaguar,” I confessed. “Oh," he said, his voice growing recessive, “that’s the only car we don’t take.” So I loaded the radiator of the embarrassingly rejected beast up with fresh water and drove it to the nearest dealer in American cars, swearing I’d never buy another import. Fortunately, I arrived before the thing started to smoke and managed to make a halfway decent deal. I drove out in a new American car. While it didn't turn out to be a flawless mechancial achievement, either, it was at least a hundred times better than the Jag. Obviously, this article strayed from MGs, but the car was cut from the same carelesss cloth as the Jag. Both brands help account for why, in these sleekly robotic times of exact Japanese assembly, English cars now own even less of the road than Detroit’s.