Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Henley Classic Minis: Caveat Emptor

Today I'm having a rant. Hopefully it will help some poor sod being parted from their hard-earned readies and might even prevent them being injured or killed. As is evident from this column, one of my hobbies is classic rallying. I campaign a 1965 Morris Mini Cooper. So here's the story...

Five years ago I purchased the vehicle from Henley Classic Minis, Henley-on-Thames, UK, with the intention of competing in the 2000 Monte Carlo Challenge rally. I should really say I bought the car in 1998 as restoration project. The owner of this business, one Alan Tozer, claimed to be an expert at restoring Minis and that he knew all about rally preparations. I must say he was very engaging and convincing at the time. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I eventually picked the car up on January 4, 2000, four days prior to the rally. In the process of driving the car home I realised that its restoration was far from perfect or complete. Subsequent inspection by another garage well versed in Minis revealed that the car was in extremely dangerous condition. They then proceeded to work on it virtually around the clock for almost three days to get the little beast into reasonable shape for the rally. In the end we made it to the South of France although had numerous breakdowns on the way. We also encountered three other individuals who had purchased cars from Henley Classic Minis who had similarly sorry stories.

After the rally I took the car to Bill Richards Racing, Ashford, Kent for an engineering report. Bill subsequently gave me a litany of egregious bodges that defied belief. Needless to say the engine was destroyed and needed completely rebuilding. Actually the whole car needed rebuilding, rewiring and repainting which I did at some considerable cost. Interstingly at BRR I encoutered another of Alan Tozer's victims. A Morris Cooper that had competed on the 1999 Monte Carlo challenge and owned by Geoff O'Nion. Geoff's story was virtually identical to my own. He subsequently sued Tozer in the small claims court for approximately £4500. Judgement was found in his favout but recovering the money was a different story. To this day I understand he only got back a couple of hundred quid. The outcome of Geoff's case caused me to reconsider legal action, especially as I was moving to the USA at the time and didn't want to deal with a lot of emotional and time consuming hassle. The car was sold and I traded up to a Cooper S, although I did transfer the Cooper's number plate as it was similar to those used on the BMC Works cars. I used it to compete on the 2002 Monte Carlo Historique rally and then I departed for a job in America.

Fast forward three and a half years. Since my departure to the US, the Cooper S has been living in a cosy lockup somewhere in the south of England. I'm planning to do one more rally in it (see previous blog entry) and in the course of preparing it for the event I've started to read the Mini press, bulletin boards etc. Now it seems there is no end to the number of people who are still being stitched up by Alan Tozer and his rotten company. The man is a habitual criminal and has no conscience about misrepresenting cars or selling them in appalling and dangerous condition. And he appears to be getting worse. The latest atrocity that has come to my attention is that he has threatened to send heavies after an individual who withheld payment on a bodged repair. These stories have me spitting venom. In 2000, it did occur to me that Tozer was simply a sad, technical incompetent who cut corners to make a fast buck. Now it's very evident that he's a cynical petty criminal. I have thus decided to do everything I can to publicise his disgraceful practices. Hopefully I may put him out of business although I'd prefer to see him in prison. Thus if you have a story please let me know. I won't publish your name but for now I want to collect a dossier. Watch this space for updates. In the meantime here's some reading matter...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Doctor of Science (and a bit more on rallying)

This is a plain and simple brag. Yesterday I was notified by the University of Plymouth (Plymouth, UK) that I have been awarded the degree of Doctor of Science (DSc) for my contributions to science. A great accolade but in fact it wasn't something for nothing and represents 30 years of research described in about 110 papers and books. Anyway I'm delighted and will go to Plymouth for the graduation ceremony on December 15. This has certainly been a good month for the Morrow clan.

While in Europe, I'll also take the opportunity to do a recce for the Monte Carlo Historique rally in which I hope to compete in January 2005. The night section loop over the infamous Col d'Turini is notoriously difficult, especially if the weather is foul (it usually is) and the crew are exhausted. Thus Bill Richards and I will drive part of the route in a rental car and try to determine where at least the worst traps lie. Whether this will be enough to narrow the gap with local drivers who know the route intimately remains to be seen....