DESPITE being badly hit by the recession, the British car industry is tuning up its welcoming smile for its super-showroom, the Motor Show, which opens at the NEC in Birmingham next week. So this week the Candid Caller pulled into a lay-by and got on the car phone to ask these questions: have you ever bought a British car, and do you know any good Skoda jokes?

Mr T Ford of Albert Dock, east London: 'I've had four Fords - Prefect, Cortina, Escort and Fiesta. They've all been good and I would definitely buy British again.

'What happens if you leave a Skoda parked with its windows open? People use it as a bottle bank.'

Mr M Cooper of Stockport: 'I had an Austin 1300 - it was very unreliable, particularly in the winter. I would buy British again, and I'll be going to this year's motor show to have a look at what's new. Actually, I was in a Skoda showroom the other day, and some of the cars are looking quite good now. Still . . .

'What do you call a soft-top Skoda? A skip.'

Mr B Leyland of Warrington: 'I don't drive now but I have had a Vauxhall, it was OK. I haven't got a Skoda joke for you - I never listen to trash like that.'

Mr A Morris of Harrogate: 'I once owned a Ford Capri and it was good news. I would buy a British car again if I could get one that I wanted, but I've got a Volvo now.

'How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill up the tank with petrol.'

Mr M Minor of Stoke-on-Trent: 'I've had an Austin Maestro and now have a Montego MG. I've enjoyed both and will happily buy British again.

'Why do Skodas have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm when you're pushing them.'

Mr H Hunter of Salisbury: 'I've had a Ford Anglia, Austin Cambridge and Maxi. The Anglia was a problem but it wouldn't stop me buying British again, I might buy a Rover. I don't go for Skoda jokes; I owned one once and quite liked it, it was a thoroughly reliable car.'

Mr R Royce of Norwood, south London: 'I had a Montego and although it wasn't a fashionable car, it was jolly good. Now we've got a Volvo - my wife's choice, not mine. I'm sorry: I think Skodas have been much maligned and I feel sorry for them.'

Mr A Bentley of Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex: 'I had a V4 Ford Corsair and a Humber Snipe Estate. The V4 was good, but had the inherent fault of most V engines with a down-draught carburettor: if it didn't fire first thing in the morning, it went straight into flood. There was no way of blowing the petrol out, you had to go indoors and have a cup of tea and wait for it to evaporate. But it was a good car.

'I've got a BMW now and to tell you the truth I'm well sold on them, so I don't think I would buy British again.

'This man went into a garage and asked: 'Would you give me a windscreen wiper for my Skoda?' The assistant replied: 'Sounds like a fair swap to me.' '

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