We met ‘Zelda’ in the Auckland Airport car park. A four door Mk1 MG ZS180 in Xpower grey and sporting the large rear wing. Over the top, but why not?

So began our work/holiday visit to New Zealand, with Zelda as ‘our’ car. As guests of the Walbran family, we were delighted to be attending the centenary celebrations MG 100 NZ National Rally. Generously sponsored by Paul Walbran Motors, all I had to do was stand up one evening and talk about my days working on MGs and Rovers. Easy for me, though I’m not sure whether the audience agreed.

What a fabulous rally. Really well organised and with delightful experiences every day. Sight-seeing is only enhanced when driving a decent car on great roads, with a chance to meet like-minded enthusiasts along the way. On the Auckland to Taupo ‘Monte Carlo’ run, I revelled in the dynamics of a well sorted sports saloon with my wife Julie navigating splendidly. Roads with undulations mid-bend are a good test of both the driver and car (Zelda being helped by a set of recently fitted VHS Bilstein dampers) and I loved it. Unfortunately, Julie decided that we would swap seats for the afternoon session, where she proved to be a much better driver than I am a navigator….

We had been invited to join the track day at the Taupo International Motorsport Park. Sounded like fun until we realised it was a timed, competitive event. Julie hates wearing a helmet and has never competed before (although she did drive a great lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleiffe in our BMW 3 series many years ago). In my own race car, this would be fine. But in a car kindly loaned to us for our holidays? Hmm. Maybe we will sit this one out.

The Walbrans wouldn’t hear of it, insisting that both of us had a go. Well, what a lovely day. Julie took chunks of time off on each run, clearly getting her eye in for this motorsport lark. When the flag lifted for my runs, I carefully eased Zelda off the line, hoping to reduce wear and tear. Each time, I looked for the electronic timing beam that would start and end the clock and made a mental note to ask where it was…..

Well, what an easy car to drive quickly. Yes, a bit front axle heavy on the hairpin, but carrying speed into the quicker corners, trail braking whilst rolling the car in soon brought the rear axle into play to help rotation. A 20-year-old car and I remembered the fun of the tuning work as though it was, er, 20 years ago. I laughed into my helmet!

Mid-afternoon, I decided that I wouldn’t want to push the car any harder as all I would do was wear out the brakes and tyres without going much quicker. Then I was told that there was no timing beam. Stopwatches were in hand, thumbed when the flag went up. Oops. Perhaps one more run with a more enthusiastic start. Typical. Zelda’s owner Andrew had taken over flag duties so could witness the wheelspin first hand. Oops again. Competition over, it was lovely that both Julie and I were awarded trophies.

As a vehicle dynamicist, I have to say that on the road, Zelda has a rather ‘open’ steering feel on centre. Turning into bends hints at a momentary lack of side force build up at the rear axle. This could be caused by wheel alignment, a tyre characteristic (construction or pressure) or (as if often the case) a combination of issues. The tyres are also a non-standard size, so maybe a little wide for the wheels. I mentioned my thoughts to Andrew; I would check the wheel alignment. If all is well (nominal) then increase the rear toe-in to the factory maximum value. This might wake up the rears earlier and make turn in more linear. Raising the rear tyre pressures a little may also help. It would make a great car even better. See, I was working a bit.

New Zealand. Take a visit and check out Paul Walbran Motors for all your British car needs (see www.mgparts.co.nz ). Fabulous scenery, lovely people, great car. Even better, Zelda is wearing a VHS sticker in the rear window. If it looks right, it is right.