Google Analytics

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Talbot Samba

Never again would I have a French car, not of any kind, and especially not a Peugeot. I used to fantasise that if I were to win a nice one in a competition – no that is simply not possible – a nasty, unreliable, expensively overpriced rustbucket – I would take great delight in inviting the world’s media to come and watch me push it over the edge of a cliff.

click for video

I once had the misfortune of owning a Talbot Samba. It sounds like the name of the dictator of some obscure African republic,[1] but it was actually a French-designed supermini based on the Peugeot 104, manufactured by the Peugeot-Citroen group from 1981 to 1986. It was similar to other French cars of the time like the Renault 5 and the Peugeot 205 which used mainly the same parts.

My Samba was B-registered, brand new in 1985, the first new car I ever had. I reasoned that, properly looked after, it would give me seven or eight years of economical, trouble-free motoring. It seemed a bargain at the time, clinched by blue metallic paint thrown in ‘at no extra charge’. Never was I more misguided. An East German Trabant or a Sinclair C5 would have been better. 

Surely, it cannot be unreasonable to expect a new car, serviced at the correct intervals by the dealer, with all recommended work carried out including the 2-year and 4-year rust inspections, to be still in  good condition after four years. Admittedly mine was kept out of doors, and I did tend to drive it fast on regular long journeys between Yorkshire and Scotland, and I had been doing 12,000 miles a year, and once or twice I did over a hundred on long straight slopes, but in general I looked after it and am a gentle, careful driver. It should still have been good. It wasn’t. I doubt it would have passed its next MoT test.

The trouble started within three months. A small rust bubble appeared on the roof – an unusual place I thought. It was treated under warranty by the Nottingham dealer that supplied it. I was surprised to be told they had in fact re-sprayed the whole top half of the car but, being a trusting sort, I felt entirely secure in the six-year anti-corrosion warranty.

For the next couple of years all seemed well. I moved to a new job in Aberdeen and every couple of months drove the 750-mile round trip home to Yorkshire. In those days you could dash along for miles and miles at ninety without much fear of offending the police, and I often managed the one-way trip, with one stop, in less than six hours. The smooth slate-grey colour of the exhaust pipe was the envy of every motor sport fan.

The drive did not always go so well. Once, stuck in long queues of summer holiday traffic after an incident on the A1, a trip south took more than ten hours, but basically the car always did its job brilliantly. The key to surviving such long drives without becoming too irritable is to plan your stopping points in advance, and so I always ate my sandwiches in the same places depending the route. A shady lay-by on the A68 through Kielder Forest was one regular stop. The trip was a carefree existence outside of normal space and time, rootlessly drifting through an inspiring landscape that changed through Northumberland and opened up north of Edinburgh, and in the other direction, a warm sense of arrival back home in Yorkshire on the A1 approaching Wetherby.

But it was not to last. Rust reappeared when the car was two-years old. After the first treatment the back hatch had not been properly re-aligned, and rust returned where the door seal had been rubbing against the car. I also began to notice that the smallest scratch or chip anywhere in the paintwork would quickly corrode unless touched in immediately, and the paint on the roof guttering was flaking off leaving exposed rusty metal. There was a similar problem with the pinch-weld behind the rear bumper.

Morrison Brothers, the courteous and helpful Peugeot-Talbot dealers in Aberdeen dealt with everything under warranty, and after the back door had been correctly refitted I realised there had been a faint exhaust smell which had now gone away. That was frightening in retrospect, bearing in mind the long trips I had been making. It explained the frequent headaches.

The problem with the rear pinch-weld occurred twice again at yearly intervals. Morrison Brothers dealt with it again on the first occasion, but by the time it reoccurred I had moved back to Nottingham. I took the now four year-old car back to the original dealer and was treated abysmally. “Nothing to do with us,” they claimed, “It’s the Aberdeen dealer’s fault. They didn’t treat it properly. It invalidates the warranty. You will have to take it back to them.” They were entirely unconcerned that Nottingham and Aberdeen are four hundred miles apart.

I wrote a letter of complaint to Peugeot-Talbot but got no response whatsoever. It looked like they were playing for time – using excuses and delaying tactics until the car was out of warranty. Also unbeknown to me the Nottingham dealer was on the point of losing its Peugeot-Talbot franchise.

I suspect they had also looked at the car more closely than I had, and realised the full seriousness of the problems. When I looked more carefully I found severe rusting on the horizontal box section below the radiator grill. Under the back seat was a crumbling pinch-weld which appeared to be coming apart. The paint inside the boot was bubbling where the wheel arch joined the floor. When I pressed gently my finger went straight through the metal leaving a hole through to the road wheel. It was obvious that corrosion was raging inside the box sections. Outside, the roof sills were flaking again, and generally the paintwork was appalling. I suppose that after conveying me between Yorkshire and Aberdeen so many times, the car did not owe me much, but I kept coming back to the fact that it was little more than four years old. It was infuriating to observe other B-registered Sambas, even X- and Y- registered ones, driving around seemingly in pristine condition.

Perhaps the rust-proofing had not been done properly when new, I don’t know, but to my mind these are exactly the kind of faults that should be covered by a six-year anti-corrosion warranty. I also had a list of other problems that seemed excessive in a car of its age: leaks in the radiator bunged up with Radweld; a deteriorating clutch and gearbox; a broken door handle; a window winding handle that came off in your hand; a wobbly, squeaky and I thought inaccurate speedometer; a non-functioning fuel gauge; broken clips for anchoring the back seat; and more broken clips for holding down the tool kit. The slightest dampness in the air would prevent the engine from starting or make it run erratically if it did. As well as all that, the service and MoT test were coming round again, and it needed new tyres and brake shoes.

I wanted trouble-free motoring, not delays and excuses. I am ashamed to admit I part-exchanged the Samba for a year-old Volkswagen Polo. I would never have dared sell it privately. The VW dealer hardly gave it a glance. By then it was four years and nine months old with 59,000 miles on the clock. They only allowed me £1,395 for it but I could hardly get off the forecourt fast enough. I should apologise to whoever got the Samba after me, but really, you should have examined it more carefully. I was delighted with the Polo. It was so solid you could hear the stereo at 70 mph, and the doors closed with a thud like the doors of a railway carriage.

From then on I resolved never to have anything more to do with Peugeots, or any French car for that matter. And the recent news that Peugeot are to take over Vauxhall adds a whole new set of models to my list. It’s probably irrational. ‘Friday afternoon’ cars can be anywhere, but being fobbed off in the face of such incontestably serious deficiencies is unforgivable: hence the fantasy of pushing a Peugeot over a cliff.

But Jeremy Clarkson did it for me. I would not normally endorse either him or his antics, but in his 2009 DVD ‘Duel’ he catapulted a Talbot Samba, “a terrible little car,” at high speed into a wall (see from 1:13:15 at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2mb96v). What a pity it wasn’t a brand new top of the range Peugeot.


[1] I was probably thinking of Dr. Hastings Banda of Malawi formerly Nyasaland.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Alt-0247 and Rule: the Ed Sheeran Prize for Computer Science Education

Perhaps there should be a new category at the next Brits, the award for the year’s most outstanding contribution to computer science education, the first winner to be Ed Sheeran for his new album ÷ (pronounced Divide). This follows up his previous albums (or LPs as I still call them) + (Plus) and × (Multiply).

In trying to search for the new album, my daughter was frustrated by the lack of a ÷ key on her computer. She was about to go through the tedious procedure of using the ‘Insert Symbol’ menu in Microsoft Word to create one, which she could then copy and paste into the search box, when I said “Just type Alt-0247”, and the stargate opened into a whole new world of understanding. Ed Sheeran’s title had brilliantly illustrated the concept that everything you do on a computer has an underlying numerical representation.

The concept is ASCII – the American Standard Code for Information Exchange. I found it extremely useful in the early nineteen-eighties in working with Tandy TRS-80 and BBC computers, when I had the dubious honour of being the author of an educational computer program called Munchymaths.

ASCII had been developed twenty years earlier by IBM’s Bob Bemer and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as a standard way to represent characters in computers. It allows computers to communicate with each other.

In ASCII, the divide (or obelus) symbol is represented by the number 247, and can be produced by typing Alt-0247 on the number keypad.

To do it, hold down the Alt key while typing 0247 on the number pad, (number lock must be switched on), and the ÷ symbol appears when you release the Alt key. Some of us know this, and some of us don’t. It’s the Great Alt-0247.

Here are some other well known phrases or sayings in ASCII format:

  • To be, or not to be; that is the Alt-63
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created Alt-61
  • Alt-62 love hath no man than this
  • To see the World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Alt-8734 in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour

Apologies if some or all of these symbols do not work or render as intended on your device. They appear correctly in the most used fonts in Windows 10 on Microsoft computers, but different devices, software and font selections use different codes. There are now several versions of the extended ASCII table to provide for the enormous number of characters computers are called upon to represent, such as  ê   €  Œ   ¶  and so on. The infinity symbol ∞ is particularly troublesome. Unfortunately, ASCII is not as standard as it could or should be.

Furthermore, ASCII is only an intermediate representation to make things easier for us stupid humans to understand. Underneath ASCII there are lower-level concepts such as octal, hexadecimal and binary, but let’s not go there now.

Ed Sheeran, however, is always going to be spoilt for choice for new album titles.