A life-long passion for the 911

I’ve been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember. It started with counting antennas on cars from a very young age and has grown exponentially (as virologists love to put it these days) ever since. My interest has always been general in nature, basically as reflected in the content of this blog. I can feel just as passionately about a beautiful oldtimer or an 80’s legend as about a modern supercar. That’s not the case for everyone though. For many, their love of cars is tied to one particular model, one of which they know all there is to know and which follows them through the years. I don’t know which category you fit in, but since a few weeks I know which one my friend Philip belongs to. His category is the one of air-cooled 911 passionistas, and his story is a wonderful one of true passion for the Zuffenhausen legend. We therefore sat down for lunch back in December for me to understand how his life-long interest developed.

Philip lives in Zurich and I’ve known him for many years. Coming from a Swiss-Swedish family, he grew up in Sweden but spent a lot of time in Switzerland around the capital Berne but also in beautiful Ascona in the southern, Italian-speaking part. As newly retired, he today splits his time between Zurich and Ascona, when the weather allows using his tangerine-coloured (blood orange) 1972 911 2.4T. The way there has however been a long one that starts in Philip’s young years in the Swedish town of Uppsala, as Swedish readers (and potentially some others) may know an unspectacular mid-sized Swedish city mostly known for its university and certainly not for its car scene, and even less so back in the 60’s. This stood in stark contrast to Ascona where back in the day, Pilip tells me you regularly saw Lamborghini Miuras and Ferrari 365 (Daytonas) on the streets. It wasn’t one of these that would become the passion of Philip’s life though – it was the 911 2.4T Targa his neighbours in Uppsala had parked outside their house, one of less than a handful 911’s in the whole town. At first it was the sound of the air-cooled engine that captivated him, so different from the Italian beauties. Then there was also the fact that the neighbours drove their car all year around, very much unlike anything you would do with the Italian fullbloods, had they ever seen the Uppsala winter climate.

Uppsala in the 1960’s – very far from Ascona…

The 911 2.4 was presented in the German auto magazine Auto, Motor & Sport nr 23/71. It was Philip who told me this, he was 14 years old at the time and the reason he still knows is that he kept that number of the magazine for more than 30 years. His grandmother in Switzerland sent it to him and with at the time a very limited grasp of German, Philip went over it time and time again until he understood it. The seeds had been sown but it would take more than 20 years and a number of other cars for the dream to result in Philip’s first own 911. By now he had moved to Switzerland and met a car dealer outside of Zurich, one of those you would go to when you needed a special car. Of course he knew “just the car” when hearing that Philip wanted a 911, but when Philip heard that “just the car” in the dealer’s view was a 1987 white convertible with a blue top, he wasn’t fully convinced.

In fact the dealer had found not only one but three 911’s and had lined them up in a nice diagonal outside his shop by the time Philip arrived. With the late afternoon sun shedding its mellow light on the street, it was immediately clear to Philip that he white one with the blue top was indeed THE car. it was a 1987 911 3.2 and a US import meaning it was equipped with A/C and an electric top, both quite rare options in Europe. He would enjoy and love every moment of his first 911 for eight years until 2002 but by then, he had his sight set on something else – an original 911 Speedster. This also tells you that Philip didn’t collect cars. Being of a practical nature his line of reasoning is clearly that you can’t drive more than one car at any time. That’s usually a sensible approach but as we’ll see, when it comes to old 911’s, things are a bit different….

A 1987 964 3.2 cab in white, although Philip’s was blue inside

Today an original 911 Speedster is beyond most people’s budgets, but you need only to go back 20 years for that to be different. Philip went about finding the Speedster in precisely the right way. He consulted the dealer from eight years earlier who of course knew of exactly the right car and was happy to join Philip on the two-hour drive to check it. When they arrived he told Philip to stay in the car. “I’ll take care of this” is all he said. An hour passed, Philip grew impatient and went up towards the seller’s house but when he was about to knock, the dealer opened the door and said “I’m almost done with him”. Luckily the indicated violence was at most psychological but it did result in a final price of around CHF 90.000, a good price at the time and obviously a bargain today. What will always remain a secret is how much the seller really got and how much the dealer took in between…

If Philip had loved his first 911 deeply, the Speedster wasn’t his thing at all. The car that is a dream to many of us was in his view impractical, extremely loud and with a top that would let water in when it rained. So he went on to sell it a few years later, unfortunately before prices started to climb. He got his money back though and what followed was two far more practical 964’s and also a -94 964 WTL, a 30-year limited 911 series. Philip then switched to a 993 that he kept for eight years and with which he participated in several classic rallies. Other regular participants in those events included 356’s and original 911’s (Urelfer), and it was when seeing one of these that it dawned on him: what he really wanted and subsequently set out to get was the car which had started his love story with the 911 in the first place: an early -72-73′ 190 hp 911 2.4S. This was the most powerful of the three models sold at the time, with the 2.4E (165 hp) and 2.4T (130 hp) being the other two (the T actually put out 140 hp in the US version where like the S and E, it was fuel injected).

A nice Speedster starts at around EUR 200′ these days

I consider myself a relatively experienced used car buyer, and anything else would certainly be pretty disappointing given how many cars have come and gone through the years. And yet, compared to a real expert such as the one Philip called upon when deciding to find the perfect 911 2.4S, I’m not even a beginner. There are people out there who know everything there is to know about a car and by that, I really mean everything. Philip’s expert whom he subsequently travelled around Europe with in search of the perfect 2.4S (and whom he met through the 964 WTL mentioned above) would not only notice residual marks from an engine number having been scraped off, but also that the new stars that had been engraved didn’t have the right number of arms. He would notice very minor chassis imbalances and imperfections and would use a tool to check the thickness of the paint in different places as an indication of potential body repairs. He would use surgical instruments in investigations of rust in every hidden body pocket. He would do it all. And of course, if you do it all, finding the perfect car is a near impossibility. This is what Philip noted as well, as potential candidates came and went over the coming years, none being good enough in the expert’s view.

I think there are a couple of lessons to be learnt here for all those in search of their dream car. Firstly, whilst you should always make sure to buy a fundamentally healthy and non-accidented car, you need to define your tolerance for imperfections, both visual and in documentation. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to find the perfect car with a complete documentation, that requires not only true expertise but also (lots of) time and money. Not only that, when you finally get your hands on the perfect item, will you still dare to drive it and participate in those oldtimer gatherings and rallies you dreamt about, or will it just sit in your garage? On the other side of this spectrum there are the “rally pros” who don’t care too much about the looks, only being concerned by the mechanics. They certainly rev their engines and drive their cars hard, but the cars don’t necessarily look as they were meant to. In between these extremes is where most classic cars would land. This is where my old Triump TR4 was: a nice car but with visual imperfections, and lots of documents, but not all. An expert would thus have found many faults with it, yet for the use I made of it during close to ten years it was perfect. If you’re able to define your level of tolerance ahead of, or early in the buying process, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour!

Whether THE perfect car is original or not is a matter of taste

Secondly, although it should be obvious but isn’t always as we humans tend to be social creatures, the seller is not your friend. He won’t be coming to any dinner parties and you won’t meet his wife. His objective is another than yours, namely to get as much money from you as fast as possible. This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone person selling a car is dishonest and deserves to be treated as such, but believing everything a seller says can also be a recipe for disaster. A case in point was one of the 911’s my friend Philip looked at, the one where the old engine number had been removed and a new “matching numbers” one had been engraved, however with incorrectly engraved stars. This car was sold by a well reputed Porsche dealership in Switzerland, not by some back yard dealer. They claimed not being aware of the problem which was maybe true, who knows. The point is obviously that if you pay for matching numbers you should get that, just as you should get whatever else the seller claims to be selling. If you’re unsure, get someone to help you, as you definitely want to be safe rather than sorry.

With each car Philip visited with his expert friend his own knowledge obviously grew as well so that he also started to look at cars on his own, at least for the first round. Doing that and I guess also growing a bit impatient about finding his car and thus increasing his personal tolerance level, he enlargened his search somewhat and also included potential 2.4T’s and 2.4E’s. Doing that he would finally find his dream car, the tangerine 911 2.4T that has been his ever since. It looked perfect to him and once the expert got to see it, even he didn’t find more than some minor imperfections. Today Philip is an active owner and driver, notably participating in classic rallies and a member in the Swiss Porsche Urelfer Club, taking part in their various events. He’s optimized his car somewhat, notably with sports seats (not originals but replicas close enough for anyone but a real expert to be fooled…), and he certainly doesn’t sound like he would be selling the car any time soon.

Philip in his car during a 911 gathering

As we reached the end of our lunch I was thinking to myself that this was perhaps where this long love story with the air-cooled 911 that started on the snowy streets of Uppsala 50 years earlier comes to an end. As I put my pen down, Philip looked at me and said “you have to understand, the 911 is much more than a car to me, it’s a life-long passion”. I was certainly convinced by then, but at the same time this gave me a glimmer of hope. As all of us suffering from the car virus know, Philip may think this is his last 911, but you can never be sure. Before leaving the table, I therefore made sure that if he changes his mind and decides to sell his beautiful 2.4T, he lets me know first!

Range Rover Classic – the grand daddy of SUV’s !

Last week I wrote about the popular trend of re-creating classic cars in their former beauty but with modern technology beneath, what is also known as restomods. One of the examples I gave was the UK firm Kingsley that does this kind of work on the first series of the Range Rover, also referred to as the Range Rover Classic. This 50-year old creation that rightfully counts as the grand daddy of all modern, luxury SUV’s is getting rare on our streets, which given its age isn’t surprising. I was however lucky not only to see one last week but also to strike up a discussion with the owner who opened my eyes to the fascinating story of this marvelous piece of UK automobile technology, that we’ll look closer at this week!

The first version of the Range Rover (hereinafter RR or Classic) was produced for almost 40 years, from 1969 to 1996. That’s remarkable in itself and among the longest production runs of any car model, but it’s also remarkable as the US market entry didn’t happen until 1987, by which time the car was 17 years old! Less known is also that during the first 11 years of existance the RR was only available in a 3-door version. The 5-door car didn’t appear until 1981 with the 3-door version being phased out in the years thereafter. It does however remain the favourite version of restorers and restomod builders, including Kingsley.

The earliest cars were all 3-door and were without c-pillar vinyl.

The Range Rover story and subsequently brand starts with the Land Rover that had been built by the Rover Group since 1948. it was a pure utalitarian car with no luxury or comfort whatsoever. As it evolved, it dawned on the Rover Group that there was appetite for a terrain-capable car that was more comfortable and a bit later in the 60’s, the first SUV-like jeeps from Ford (the Bronco) and Jeep (the Wagoneer) started appearing in the US. After having tried to develop the concept on some other models without much success in the 50’s, Rover finally bought a Bronco which served as development car for what was to become the first Range Rover, presented to the public in 1970.

The split tailgate is a feature of all RR’s since the very first.

The first RR may have been a wonder of comfort compared to a Land Rover but was obviously far from being so by any modern standard – or for that matter compared to the luxury cars of the time. It did however have something they didn’t, namely outstanding offroad capabilities, and it was of course that combination that made its success. The four-wheel drive system along with the long suspension and ground clearance made it almost as capable as a Land Rover offroad, and onroad, the Rover V8 helped it to a top speed of over 150 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of less than 15 seconds (both considered fast at the time…) while also being able to tow up to 3.5 tons. Rover referred to the RR as “a car for all reasons” and the public seemed to agree.

Luxury is certainly relative, but it was much better than a Land Rover!

There weren’t many changes to the RR during its first ten years of existance but a vinyl coverage of the c-pillars that was introduced around the mid-70’s made it easier to distinguish the really early cars. What all the 70’s cars had in common was the complicated access to the back seats given the car only had two doors. This was solved by the four-door version in 1981, with further updates in the mid-80’s including the quality of the interior, updated transmission and the front design. Moving into the 90’s the Range was getting old but still kept popular by further improvements to the suspension, the engine, and also through a long-wheel based version. As production of the Range Rover MK II started in 1994, the first generation was given the name “Classic” and remained in production for another couple of years.

A 1986, four-door car, still very recognizable as a Range Rover!

Most SUV’s sold today in Europe are of course diesel-powered but Rover had great difficulty finding a diesel engine that suited the RR. A diesel option didn’t come until 1986 and even then, although the engine was quite advanced for the time, it was seen as inferior to the petrol V8. Most Classics thus have a petrol V8 under the bonnet, something that remained the case well into the MK III. This certainly didn’t help the RR during the 70’s oil crises but even as consumption generally became more important, the Classic retained its loyal fans who wouldn’t really consider any alternatives to petrol- and still don’t!

The feeling of entering, or rather stepping up into a Range Rover is something truly special and perhaps conveyed best by the Classic. Given the old construction the pillars are very thin and the glass areas enormous, providing a brilliant view all around. You obviously sit high and although the car is large it’s not difficult to see where it starts and ends. Cars from the first years didn’t have power-assisted steering which is a bad idea, but cars after that provide a truly special driving experience, but obviously one that is far less exact and more floating than a modern SUV. It doesn’t matter as much as for some other types of oldtimers though since a RR is not one to be stressed – never was, never will be.

The interior of a 1990 car – a nice place to be!

If you want to get the genuine British tweed countrylife feel, I would claim no car does it better than a Range Rover Classic. There is a bunch of people out there who will look upon you as a complete maniac if you say you’re considering one, claiming it will fall apart the minute you’ve handed over the money. I would say sure, things can break as they can do on any old car, but the best proof of an RR’s inherent quality is that Range drivers are among the most loyal owners out there. Many of them would never consider another car, they’ve stayed with the different models through the decades and often have more than one RR. I find it very hard to believe they would do that if the car was as bad as those (who typically have never owned one) claim. In any case, there’s is no RR that has less things that can break than the first series!

The good news is that getting a good RR Classic is still quite affordable. What’s even more affordable is the MK II that came out in 1994, but would claim it’s very doubful if that car will ever claim the same classics status as the MK I, and I would definitely pick a late MK I car over a MK II. Somewhere around EUR 25.000-30.000 is where you find the really nice ones. I’d go for a later one from 1986 and onwards, but in terms of collectibles it’s clearly a three-door RR you should go for, but then again one of the later production years. If you can find one Britannia will surely rule all the way and you will just have stepped up a level in your car experience!

Winter may be here, but you won’t care!

Restomods – best of both worlds?

When I wrote about the Zurich Auto Show last week (see here if you missed it), I mentioned that a whole floor had been dedicated to the classics, mostly restored to their former glory by experts in the field either belonging to the marks, such as Mercedes-Benz Classics, or being individual outfits. I also mentioned that this floor was one of the most visited on the show, and typically so by men in their 50’s and 60’s which I guess are the typical clients for this kind of automobiles – and lucky they are!

A beautifully restored Mercedes or Ferrari from the 60’s is difficult to beat in looks, but not very hard in driving experience, at least if you’re after the relative perfection of a modern car. What I mean is that although driving a classic is a special feeling, it means driving something with inexact steering, pretty useless suspension and breaks that require a bit of planning to stop the car before it’s too late. That’s no wonder considering the cars are several decades old. In other words the driving experience hasn’t really stood the test of time, but the looks definitely have. And it’s in that junction that the concept of restomods saw the light of day.

The E-type is a popular restomod base

Restomods (the word combining “restoration” with “modern”) have been around on a somewhat larger scale for the last 4-5 years or so, but whereas they used to be confined to a barn on a yard somewhere and only be known to the real enthusiasts, their popularity has grown tremendously lately. Obviously this has also led to a multitude of manufacturers, typically focusing on different sportscars – but not only. The basic concept of a restomod is that of taking a classical design and modernizing everything below it, but quite often the design itself is also changed a bit on the way, notably with larger wheel arches and – especially – larger wheels. Most body panels may still look old but are usually new and quite often made out of carbon. Restomod builders are small outfits, in many cases building cars with unique parts as basis, which obviously means they aren’t cheap. What they provide is however a car that can be a true one of a kind, as even the largest restomod outfits only produce a few dozen cars per year.

Of all the possible candidates I’ve picked three builders as examples of the various iterations of the restomod world. The first is the most legendary of them all, specializing in the most legendary sports car of all. The second is a bunch of UK-based, Italian racing enthusiasts, and the third specializes in creating a modern driving experience for the world’s first luxury SUV. Three different cars, three different approaches, but also three different visions of what a restomod can be.

California-based Singer Vehicle Design, founded by ex-rock star Rob Dickinson, focuses on optimizing 911’s (964) according to the firm’s motto “everything is important” and the principles of “Restored – Re-imagined – Reborn”. To Singer this means starting with a 911/964 that can be transformed however the owner wants it, within the limits of the classic 911 design. Singer offers a multitude of options for the chassis, engine, suspension and body, including manufacturing specific parts in very small runs. In collaboration both with Williams and Cosworth the result is absolutely outstanding as a work of art, and journalists that have had the honour of driving the unique cars usually talk about it as allowing the 911 to reach new levels of perfection. It’s important to note that it’s not about raw power as Singers are usually around 300-350 hp. As we all know however, a great drive is about so much more than straight-line speed, and no one does it better than Singer. Also, no one does it more expensive, as prices start somewhere around USD 500′ + a 964 delivered by the client, and obviously have no upper limit – Singers have been sold for more than USD 1.5m.

Alfaholics, based in Bristol may be far from California, but is without doubt the world’s leading specialist on the Alfa 105 series. Founded by Richard Banks and today run by his two sons Mark and Andrew, the racing inspired family with a true love for the Italian brand renovate 105’s to very high standards, sell standard as well as custom-made racing parts for the 105 and some other models – and then they build the GTA-R, which can be described as the modern iteration of the 105. Just like with Singer the specification of each car is largely up to the client, but the basis is usually the classic 2-litre twin spark engine, developed to produce 240 hp. The rest of the car is completely reworked and notably through extensive use of carbon, the end result is a car that weighs 800 kg and thus can be said to have all the power anyone can ask for. It also produces all of the sound anyone could ask for, and it’s a wonderful one. Costing from around GBP 250′ and upwards, the GTA-R is a very driver-focused car, clearly better in every way than the original 105, but also very much a racing car.

Finally, something completely different. We’re now up in Warwickshire in central UK where as a child Damon Oorloff (yes, written with two oo’s) didn’t have a playground and therefore spent his time in the Land Rover factory yard. He thus grew up with what was built at the time, meaning the Defender and the first generation Range Rover, and fell in love especially with the latter. He went on to found Kingsley and has today built a business of restoring the Range Rover Classic and bringing it into the modern world in terms of technology and driving experience. This is no small achievement since the Classic is a construction from the 1950’s, so it basically means rebuilding the whole car. The extent of the work, updates and modifications is individual, however always staying within the original design and thus being the purest form of restomod, according to the original concept. The result is of course magnificent: the ultra-coolness of the original RR, combined with modern comfort and an updated driving experience. Kingsley’s start around GBP 50′ and GBP 100′ pretty much gives you the full experience.

So there we are – three different interpretations of the broad restomod concept, and three that have different objectives in mind. Singer is all about 911 perfection, but also about creating unlimited cars for unlimited budgets. Alfaholics has a clear racing focus in their builds that they share with many other restomod builders (but where most are not a the same level), and that take in this case a 60’s car to the modern racing standard. Finally Kingsley gives you a pure, classic design with modern features and an up to date driving experience.

Should you really mess with something as good as the 964?

Looking at these but also at the concept of restomods in general, I admit I’m split. Taking Singer as example, the first thing to note is that a fraction of the total budget buys you a pretty perfect 964, and at least I would be more than slightly reluctant to start re-working the original build. And if you still decide that’s the way you want to go, then you have other types of specialist such as Ruf that we looked at a while ago (see here), the provide another interpretation of the 911 concept which is also highly attractive and almost as exclusive. In the other ring corner, Kingsley transforms the RR Classic and from many angles make it a modern car – but not from all. The general body design with its overhangs, wind resistance and thereby wind noise, old-fashioned exploitation of the interior space and obviously things such as modern security thinking – all that can be improved on the margin, but essentially remains the same, as in the original, which is to say very far from a modern car.

An original 105, not as performing – but still as beautiful!

You thus need to put up with a bit if you want to make a Kingsley you daily driver. Not to mention a GT-R from Alfaholics, that in many aspects is a true race car. Of course you can drive a Singer as a daily driver if your budget is right, but for most it will probably be a Sunday car – but what a car! If a Singer is the best Sunday driver, the Alfa is clearly the best race car, whilst still not on the level of modern race cars. And the Kingsley classic RR is far better than the original car, but not as good as a modern Range Rover, making you wonder on what day of the week you should use it. My conclusion is therefore that whilst restomods are beautiful and technologically fantastic creations and I fully understand if you fall for them, I would probably rather stick to the original 964 as a daily driver and an original RR Classic for the Sunday family drive, with all its original imperfection and charm. And if I had a race track somewhere near, I sure wouldn’t mind having a GTA-R in the garage!

The other 80’s supercar legend!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the original Lamborghini Countach, one of the biggest dream cars of my generation of which a fair number of us had posters on the wall (I may have mentioned those posters often sitting alongside Samantha Fox or Sabrina…). Obviously most of us had more than one wall in our rooms and it certainly happened that on one of the others, there would be a poster of another supercar legend from the same period: the Ferrari Testarossa. The Testarossa was no doubt the Countach’s main competitor and a car that even influenced its later iterations, notably in forcing the development of a more powerful engine. And whilst referring to a Ferrari as the “other” supercar will not go down well with the Ferraristis, it just so happens that the Countach was around before the Testarossa – which doesn’t in any way make the story of the latter any less interesting, as we’ll see today!

An unmistakeable line until this day!

The Testarossa saw the light of day the first time at the Paris auto show in 1984. It was designed by Pininfarina and it’s difficult to think of a single item from the 80’s that is more representative of the era than this car. This is of course especially true for the giant, grille-covered air intakes on the sides and the fat, wide, grill-covered back, but also for the front with the typical pop-up headlights. It certainly looked the piece then and today it remains a brilliant representative of its time period. Luckily it wasn’t just about the looks though as the Testarossa was also quite a car, as we’ll come back to. Staying with the design slightly longer, another thing to remark is obviously that it’s a less dramatic car than the Countach but also that the Countach somewhat surprisingly is actually the wider car, including over the rear. At 197 cm the Testarossa is certainly not slim, but Pininfarina’s masterful design makes it look even wider than it actually is.

Early cars had a single rear view mirror high on the a-pillar, as here.

If the rear was all about design, the side air intakes actually had an important function as the radiators had been moved back and sat next to the mid-mounted engine. And the engine was of course nothing less than the Ferrari 4.9 litre, flat 12-cylinder putting out 390 hp, enough for a top speed of 290 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.2 seconds. The engine certainly looks the part and the red top of the valves is also what gave the car the name Testarossa (“red head”), a name Ferrari has used before in its history. It sits slightly higher than you would expect as the gearbox is located underneath it. Everything was in other words concentrated between the cabin and the rear axle in a relatively small space. This complicates one of the more frequent jobs on the car, namely the need to change the cambelt regularly. To do this, the bad news is that you need to remove the whole engine from the car. The good news is that Ferrari actually though of making this relatively easy, but according to good sources you’re still talking about around 20 man hours of work, and that’s by a guy who knows what he’s doing. That all fades into the background though when you see the fantastic engine, presented to your eyes in the same masterful way Ferrari always does. And when you turn the key…

It doesn’t get much better!

Move to the inside, which in most cars was black or tan, and you’re again taken back to the 80’s. Certainly not an interior worthy of the price Testarossas trade at today but well of the 80’s, meaning angular forms and as in many Ferraris from back then, switches and buttons sometimes in places you wouldn’t expect them. Given how few of them there were however, that doesn’t really matter, and the poor sound isolation certainly has the benefit of letting you hear the full drama of the 12-cylinder! The car is much more modern than its predecessor, the 512 BB, and not in any way complicated to drive. It received some early criticism for being a bit light in the front at higher speeds, but that will hardly be an issue today as you probably won’t drive your 35-year old Testarossa north of 200 km/h (you certainly don’t need to go that fast to enjoy the engine!), In other words, except for the cambelt, the Redhead doesn’t have to be the nightmare to drive or maintain that many believe.

Comparing to today’s interiors, it’s amazing people got to their destination, and in one piece!

The Testarossa in its original form lived until 1991, but its life was then extended by the slightly modified and 428 hp strong 512 TR until 1994, and after that another two years through the at 440 hp even more powerful F512 M (Modificata). The TR is distinguishable form the side where it has a design close to the 348, and the F512 M is from both the front (no more pop-up headlights) and from the rear as well (see below). When production of the F512 ended in 1996 it also meant the end of the Ferrari flat 12-cylinder engine, and the Testarossa was also the last unlimited (in production numbers) mid-engined Ferrari. As for the numbers almost exactly 10.000 cars were built of the three versions, split as around 7.200 Testarossas, 2.300 512 TR’s, and only 500 F512 M. That is also reflected in the prices they go for today. A Testarossa will be yours for around EUR 100′ and upwards, the TR for around EUR 50′ more, and the Modificata for more than three times an original Testarossa – if you can find one. If you buy it to drive, which I would dare hope, those that have tried all three say the price difference isn’t worth it as the “base” Testarossa conveys both enough power and even more of the original Ferrari spirit from the golden 80’s. Also, you’ll probably want to make sure that cambelt was replaced not too long ago!

The F512 M is rare – and expensive!

Street finds: the Canadian Alfa Romeo!

The sun has been out in Zurich lately which certainly doesn’t hurt given it seemed to be very far away during most of the summer. This obviously means that some classic car owners have extended the season, but it was still a very nice surprise to walk out of the office door last week and see… an Alfa Romeo Montreal! It certainly doesn’t happen often, and as can be seen below, it was also a Montreal in very nice condition.

To start with the not very Italian name, why on earth did Alfa name the Montreal after a town in Québec? The simple explanation is taht the Montreal was first shown at the world exhibition in 1967 in, you guessed it, Montreal, and Alfa apparently had no better name in mind than that. Production started three years later in 1970 and ended in 1977. The beautiful coupé was designed by our old friend Marcello Gandini at Bertone and the most striking feature is certainly the covers over the headlights that move back when you turn them on.

Sleak lines with characteristic headlights and side air intakes

The second most noticeable feature of the Montreal is certainly what looks like air intakes for a mid-mounted engine. The Montreal however never had, and was never intended to have a mid-mounted engine, so what you first think are intakes for the engine is actually intakes to cool the passengers. It is true that at the time of the original design Alfa indeed had the idea of a mid-mounted engine, but when the project moved on, this was scrapped but the air intakes were kept and certainly help the design of the car!

Ample space for two on the way to the Côte d’Azur!

Even if the engine is in the front, it’s clearly the highlight of the car. The four-cam, eight-cylinder engine had been developed for the Tipo 33 that Alfa had raced before it moved into the Montreal. At 2.6 litres it was quite small but still developed 200 hp, but did so using quite a lot of fuel which wasn’t ideal in the early 70’s, as we’ll come back to. As so often Alfa then ran into a bit of a money problem and therefore chose to use the chassis and brakes from the Giulia GT, meaning they were a bit under-dimensioned for the car given the powerful engine. In other words acceleration was better than braking, so staying up in front was a good idea!

The Montreal interior doesn’t reach the heights of some other Italian legends from Modena or Sant’Agata from the period, then again the Montreal was cheaper to buy and is still a nice place to be, and ties into the tradition of GT cars from the 70’s. Unfortunately all these also had in common that they drove straight into the 1973-1974 oil crisis, which in the case of Montreal certainly didn’t help the sales numbers. In the seven years of production, only around 4.000 cars were therefore built.

Many cars had leather seats rather than cloth

They were however built with surprisingly good protection against corrosion, which wasn’t a typical feature of Alfa for the period but which means that Finding a nice Montreal today isn’t that difficult. As in so many cases, buying one of those five-six years ago had been far cheaper than today with nice cars now trading around EUR 60-80.000. Although it’s easy to love the design and even more so with a V8 under the hood, at that price level there a bit too many interesting competitors for me to be swayed by the Canadian Alfa!

Celebrating the real legend!

You may have seen that Lamborghini has re-introduced the Countach. Yes, you read that right, the most legendary of all sports cars of the 80’s – scrap that, of all times! The one a fair number of us born in the early 70’s with a head full of petrol dreamt about and put a poster of on our bedroom wall, next to Samantha Fox, Sabrina or Miami Vice. Just hearing the news, I imagine I wasn’t the only one filled with not just a little excitement. It didn’t last long though. The fall back to reality was heavy a few moments later as I learnt more about the new car.

You see, what Lambo dares calling the new Countach, under the official name LPI 800-4, has precious little to do with Marcelo Gandini’s jawdropping design from back then – nor is it a modern interpretation of the same theme. Nope, visually the new Countach is nothing more than a relatively modestly re-designed Aventador with some clumsy Countach references, of which 112 will be built (that’s good as it reduces the risk of being disappointed seeing it “live”). They’re of course extremely expensive (price not known at this point but probably around USD 3m), atrociously fast with 814 hp leading to a 0-100 time of below 3 seconds, naturally hybrid with a small electric engine making up 45 of those 814 hp, supporting the V12 and, it goes without saying, all sold, presumably to buyers of which a majority will park them in a garage and never drive them. Disappointed? Me?

The new Avent… sorry, Countach.

That is however all I’ll say about the new Countach and I also promise not to make this a long rant about how much modern supercars lack the heart and soul of the true legends. Instead we’ll do something much more fun: we’ll travel back to our younger years when our jeans were stone-washed, our socks white and our shoulders impossibly wide. For a few minutes, we’ll return to that poster on the bedroom wall (no, not Samantha) and have a good look at the original, REAL Countach! Interestingly, doing so also involves coming back to some legendary Italian car builders that have been featured on this blog earlier and only serve to highlight the true legend that the original Countach is.

The story begins in the early 70’s with Bertone being commissioned by Lamborghini to come up with a replacement for the Miura, which had only been on sale for a few years but already faced strong competition from the new Ferrari Daytona, introduced in 1969. Marcello Gandini, lead designer at Bertone, had a few years earlier started to experiment with a new design language as notably shown in the Lancia Stratos: a much more wedge-like, angular shape, and he took on the new Lambo project in the same spirit while the engineers were working on the engine. It was clear that the new car would remain rear-wheel drive with a rear-mid 12-cylinder engine as on the Miura, but for weight distribution along with some mechanical reasons, not transversally mounted as on the latter.

The true legends – from left to right, Giotto Bizzarrini, Ferruccio Lamborghini and Gian Paolo Dallara in 1963, admiring a prototype of the coming Lamborghini V12, designed by Bizzarrini!

The name Countach has always been a bit of a riddle and is a story in itself. Countach doesn’t mean anything in Italian and is also not following Lambo’s tradition of naming cars after bulls or bullfights. The story goes that one of the mechanics in the Sant’Agata factory only spoke Piedmontese, a regional language closer to French than to Italian in which there is the word “contacc”, an expression showing astonishment. The unnamed mechanic used it quite frequently when working on the car and Marcello Gandini therefore half jokingly sugested it as a possible name to Bob Wallace, Lambo test driver at the time, who confirmed it worked in English with a minor adaptation. The most spectacular supercar of all times was thus named on the factory floor and not in a board room! The first prototype was presented to the public at the Paris Auto Show in 1971 with sales starting three years later in 1974. They wouldn’t stop until 16 years later, in 1990.

A 1974 Countach, with 14″ inch wheels and lovely rear wheelarches!

Next to the long production time itself, it’s impressive how well the new design held up (and still holds up if you’re lucky to see one!). If you remove the increasing amount of spoilers and skirts that were added over the years, the basic design of the car remained unchanged throughout the 16 years of production. I guess I wasn’t the only one who in my youth found things like the giant spoiler on some later cars ultra-cool, but looking back with (slightly) more mature eyes today, it’s pretty clear the the first iteration was the cleanest and best-looking. I’m not sure beautiful is the right word, but spectacular definitely is. The wedge shape, the side air intakes, the forward movement created by the cutting of the rear wheelarches – and of course the scissor doors. The doors did not only come about for show though, as given how wide the Countach is and especially how massive its doorsills are, fitting conventional doors would have been both unpractical and complicated. Owners of later Countaches with the dome on the engine are especially thankful for that given for them, sitting on the doorsill with the door open and turning your head backwards is the only way to have any kind of rear-view visibility. If the Countach was wide (almost 2 metres) with poor rear visibility, it certainly wasn’t long. At 4.15 metres it’s far smaller than you would imagine, and actually shorter than a Lotus Evora!

As long as your garage is high enough, you’ll never have issues getting in!

If the design was spectacular, the engine was of course not less so. The V12 came from the Miura and as shown in the first picture, had its origins back in 1963, having been designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, whom you can read an earlier post of here. Also as mentioned it was longitudinally mounted such as to improve notably weight distribution and solve some other issues, with the 5-speed manual transmission being placed in front of the engine. The initial Countach LP-400 had the same 3.9 litre volume as the Miura, with a power output of 375 hp. It was later increased first to 4.7 litres in the LP5000S in 1982, and then 5 litres in the LP5000 QV (Quattrovalvole, four valves per cylinder) version from 1985 with 440 hp. It’s noticeable that until the end in 1990, the engine retained carburettors when everyone else had switched to fuel injection (for emission reasons the Countaches going to the US had to be injected). Having originally been side-mounted, the carburettors moved to the top of the engine on later cars, explaining the dome over the engine. This wonderful machine would outlive the Countach over the Diablo all the way to the Murcielago, meaning a production time of almost 50 years! Contrary to what you would maybe think, it also has a reputation of not being very primadonna-like, but rather very reliable.

Except for in my dreams I’ve never been in a Countach, much less driven one, but this is very high on the bucket list (you wouldn’t happen to own one, would you?). I have however peaked in to several of them and as anyone who does so, you may not realize that the window you look through only opens 5cm or so, but definitely that the money had run out before the time had come to design the interior. Not that it’s worse than on many other 80’s cars but the grand plans Lambo had for notably digital instruments never materialized and the interior is thus very conventional compared to the spectacular body. The seats are however a wonder of comfort compared to modern bucket seats, but they can only be adjusted in length. If you’re taller than 180 cm you should also be prepared to have contact with the roof lining (here, the later cars helped, giving another 3cm of head space in the “high” versions). And when it comes to driving, taking it from multiple reviews, it’s all hard work with an unassisted steering, a heavy clutch (those six carburettors are partly to be thanked for that, but you can’t have it all!) and a general experience of needing to work hard to get the most out of the car. Then again, isn’t that the way it should be in a true supercar?

Initial plans for a singe-spoke, Citroën-style steering wheel were also dropped

Production of the Countach came to an end in 1990, with the 25th anniversary edition introduced in 1988 with a certain Horacio Pagani (on whom you can read more here) being responsible for a lot of the restyling. The final iteration wasn’t loved by everyone given it departed from some of the most classical design features on previous Countaches and had a bit too many skirts, even for the late 80’s. It was however the fastest version of the Countach, capable of a top speed of 295 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds. Remember this is 30 years ago on a car that was equipped by 345 mm rear tires, however only 15″ in wheel size! At the time, those were the biggest tires on the market.

The Anniversary edition was also the most popular version in production numbers, built 657 times and thus making up a third of the total production of around 1970 Countachs ever built. That’s right, the most legendary supercar of all times was built less than 2.000 times, to be compared for example with the over 7.000 Testarossas (not counting the 512’s). Not only that, a third of all Countaches were sold when it had already been on the market for 14 years! Another third was made up of the Quattrovalvole version (610 cars), thus leaving just a third of the early Countachs. Good luck finding one of those today… The easiest one to find today is the QV with prices starting around EUR 300′, with real jewels going for up to EUR 700′. That’s a lot of money, and a lot more than you would have paid ten years ago. Having said that, it’s still a couple of million less that you would pay for the new 2022 version if you were on the list of the selected 112 owners, and seen in that light, probably one of the greatest bargains out there! Junior may have more power and features, but in the Countach world, there’s no doubt that Daddy still rules big time!

Arosa Classic Car 2021!

A bit of a different post this week since last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the Arosa Classic Car rally here in Switzerland, unfortunately only as a spectator, but still with some pictures from the race that took place for the 17th time in front of a record audience of almost 30.000 people with and 175 cars.

The race takes place on the 7.3 km road from the small village of Langwies to the quite well known ski resort of Arosa, on a road that has no less than 76 turns of which a few hairpins. Cars built between 1905 to 1986 compete in different categories between regularity and outright speed. The whole thing started in 2005, having been called to life but some car passionated locals, and is today part of the FIA calendar.

There’s always a bit of show around the race itself which explaines the far more modern Porsche cars in the pictures – this year’s host was the Porsche center in close-by Maienfeld. Hope you enjoy the picks of some of the beautiful cars from the weekend!

The last real Citroën (sort of…)

When you speak to fans of the French automaker Citroën (something which unfortunately happens less and less often as most of the true enthusiasts are getting old!), one of the most sensitive topics is no doubt which model of the legendary brand constitutes the last real Citroën. To a real “citroënniste”, nothing in today’s line-up is even close to fitting the bill. Some say it all ended with the legendary DS that I wrote about a while ago (see here). Others are more progressive and would draw the line at the 90’s XM, a strange, space-ship like creation and certainly a true Citroën in terms of quirkiness, but to me a car that lacked both looks and innovation. I’m rather in the camp in between the two. To me, the last real Citroën is the CX launched in 1974, notably as it was the last Citroën designed and developed before Citroën was bought by Peugeot and became a part of the PSA group the same year. Next to that however, the CX can be described as the every day version of the SM that I wrote about in January (see here), but also taking the best of the DS and modernizing the rest in a packaging that was truly Citroën. It thus forms the last chapter in the trilogy of the DS-SM-CX, reason why we’ll look closer at it this week!

An aerodynamic design with (today sough after) TRX wheels.

It’s never easy to succeed a true legend and with very few exceptions, there’s really no greater legends than the DS and SM. The CX however did a great job, being built during 15 years until 1989 (the estate all the way to 1991) and selling more than 1.1 million times. Given that it’s surprising how few have survived until today, something that also goes for its two predecessors. Then again, quality is not the first word you think about when talking about cars from the 70’s and it didn’t prevent people from being amazed when the CX was first shown to the world in 1974. The name makes reference to the wind resistance coefficient in French which for the CX was 0.37, not as good as the SM but still much better than most cars at the time.

When the development of the CX started in 1969 as an “inofficial” successor to the DS, a clear objective was to make the car easier and thereby cheaper to build than its complicated predecessor. That goal was achieved in a Citroën kind of way, meaning that everything except the bodyparts was fixed onto the chassis, with the body being screwed onto it at the very end of the production process and fixed with six rubber-metal fixings. No one but Citroën would probably think of this construction as a good way to save costs, but it worked well in terms of rigidity and also in isolating passengers from vibrations. Here, the legendary hydro-pneumatic suspension that the CX inherited from the DS was obviously a great help as well.

The cavernous CX station wagon, here in the first series

Another arbuably less glamorous thing the CX inherited from its predecessor was the engine. Not that Citroën didn’t have grand plans here as well. The original idea was to fit the car with a Wankel engine which with a planned 170 hp would have given the car sportscar like performance, and also suited it well given the Wankel construction’s lack of vibrations. That plan had to be scrapped for cost reasons though and instead, the CX inherited the 2-litre and 2.2-litre engines from the DS, developing 102 and 112 hp respectively, a bit later complemented by a diesel with 66 tired horses. These engines helped sell more than 100.000 CX’s in the first year of production, more than the DS had sold in any year but one. In 1975 Citroën also introduced the CX station wagon, a 25cm longer version of the car with a cavernous luggage space in the back. It was that same extended chassis that would also be used for the Prestige model that appeared shortly thereafter but where the extra 25cm instead benefitted the back seat passengers, making it a favourite car for many heads of state. Interestingly though, it wouldn’t be so for the French president until Jacques Chirac in 1995, when the CX was no longer manufactured.

An ocean of 70’s plastic around a bathroom scale!

If the CX was a revelation on the outside, it was no less so once you entered it. Once you’ve taken place in the extremely soft seats, you look out over, or rather through the one-spoke steering wheel at something which at first looks like a bathroom scale, but is in fact the speedomoter and rev counter. You then notice the lack of levers on the sides of the wheel, as the CX instead had two satellites with all necessary functions that you are supposed to operate with your left and right hand finger tips. The right satellite includes the horn, but any need for it will probably have passed by the time you find the right switch. The turn signal on the left is no less surprising since you have to actively turn it off – it doesn’t reset automatically when you straighten the steering wheel. Better? Not really. Different? Bien sûr! And by the way, if you think the CX is a hatchback, think again. In fact the concave and thereby self-cleaning rear window doesn’t open, meaning it has a traditional boot below it which is quite low and small. This was one example of the CX’s success becoming its enemy: it was well known that CX owners wanted Citroën to make the car a hatchback, something that could easily have been done, but the responsible people at PSA just looked at the strong sales numbers, shrug their shoulders and put that budget somehwere else in the large group.

Not a hatchback – that would have been too… logical.

The first series of the CX was built until 1984 and luckily the strong sales numbers didn’t prevent PSA from improving the engines on offer with more powerful versions. The 138 hp GTI was introduced in 1983 and the most powerful CX in the line-up, the 2.5 litre turbo developing 168 hp came a year later. The turbo had an impressive top speed of 220 km/h, of course thanks to the excellent aerodynamics. When the second series was presented in 1985 the most notable difference were the plastic front and rear bumpers which replaced the previous metal ones and helped further lower wind resistance to a quite astonishing 0.28, in line with the SM. A turbo was now fitted also to the diesel engines but the most powerful version remained the petrol 25 GTI Turbo II, the “II” coming from it now having an intercooler. The interior of the second series was modernized and for the Turbo II even quite sporty with red piping on the seats and dash in some countries, but not necessarily more logical. As an example the radio was moved from the dashboard to down between the seats, next to the handbrake. Changing radio station had just become something you needed to look away from the road for a couple of seconds to do…

A turbo II with optional leather seats – note the radio’s position…

If the above all sounds irrestistible and owning the – perhaps – last real Citroën is something you cannot go through life without having done, the good news is that the CX remains and under-apprecitated car to this day. It’s not easy to find a good one but when you do, it will still be cheap – we’re usually talking EUR 15-20.000. That means it’s much cheaper than either a good DS or a good SM, and much cheaper to own, while still giving you a good piece of the real Citroën experience! The second series looks more modern but the first has all the coolness of the original car, and the metal bumpers resist sunlight better than the 80’s plastic. Most CX’s were sold as manual which was a good thing. It’s also good to know that cars after 1981 have better rust protection, a big issue with earlier cars. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, the thought of a Turbo II is hard to resist. Objectively though, the best one to go for would probably be a late first series GTI – less prone to issues than the turbo, and with all of the Citroën genius intact!

Note the T for turbo in the wheels!

The Zuffenhausen Express!

The Porsche 911 is no doubt the most successful sports car of all time. However, it’s also a car which Porsche tried to kill off around 911 times before it earned the unshakable position it has today. The first try dates all the way back to the mid-70’s when the idea was that the newly developed 928 would take over from the ageing 911. As we all know it didn’t work at the time and it’s never worked since. Today we’re glad that Porsche failed and be that as it may, the 928 became a great complement to the 911 when it was launched and today remains one of very few old Porsche’s that is both a great car and something you could (with a bit of a stretch) still call a bargain. That’s more than enough reasons to look closer at it this week!

A 928 from the first model year 1977

Although I don’t like discussing design since it’s a matter of personal taste, I think most of us would agree that design-wise, the 70’s weren’t a happy period. The world was brown and orange and most cars looked like they’d been drawn with a ruler by someone loving 90-degree angles. When it was launched in 1977, the 928 was therefore a true revolution design-wise with the long hood and the “reversed” pop-up headlights, earning it the nickname “landshark” in some countries, and the rounded rear with integrated shock absorbers. It would be exaggerated claiming that it could just as well have been designed today, but it’s to my mind the car design from the 70’s that has best stood the test of time. This was also proven by the production which ran until 1995 with the main parts of the car’s design remaining pretty much unchanged until the end.

Having said that it’s difficult to see how Porsche actually thought that fans of the air-cooled, rear-engine 911 would ever consider the 928 as a replacement. Firstly it was obviously a larger car, even if it’s better described as a 2+2 seater than a real 4-seater. Secondly it has quite a large boot, meaning the engine was up front. Thirdly, that engine was a newly developed, water-cooled V8 rather than a legendary, air-cooled six-cylinder. Finally all this led to a heavier car, much more at home on the Autobahn than being thrown around curvy mountain roads. To this day, the 928 is a true motorway cruiser that sits nicely alongside a 911 from the time, although it never saw its success its smaller brother did.

The “phone dial” wheels are sought after today

Even though the 928 was heavier, Porsche were very focused on keeping its weight down. The doors, front aisles and hood are all made out of aluminium and the front and rear bumpers were as mentioned made in composite material (arouna metal core). The original, 4.5 litre V8 with 240 hp was at the time the second most powerful engine from Zuffenhausen, losing out only to the 911 Turbo, and the 928 was thus well motorized from the beginning. It was available with either a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic from Mercedes (later a 4-speed) from the start, mounted on the rear axle and thus contributing to the excellent balance. The 928 was generally an advanced construction with notably double wishbone suspension all around and Porsche’s so called “Weissach axle” in the back of which I’ll spare you the technicalities but which can be described as a system for greater stability and less oversteer. That system was certainly never fitted to the 911’s of the time, and even 911 fans would probably agree that the 928 was in many areas far ahead of not only it, but of most other cars at the time as well.

…as is the psychedelic, pepita square interior offered on the first series!

The first series was built between 1977-1982, with the 300 hp 928S launched as a more powerful version in 1980 (and a couple of years later becoming the only version available). The S managed the sprint to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds, a very respectable time in the early 80’s. It was also the car Porsche ran for 24 hours non-stop on the Nardo track in Italy, achieving an average speed of 250 km/h! Think of that a minute – we’re talking 24 hours with the pedal to the metal at top speed, back in the fully mechanical age! Porsche kept improving the S interior- and equipment-wise, but also technically with notably ABS breaking before it was replaced by the 928 S4 in 1987.

The S4 was the first car with the face-lifted body, best visible in the rear through the new lights and the standard-fitted wing. Engine-wise it went form 2 to 4 valves and hereby to an output of 320 hp. The 0-100 km/h time was now sub-six seconds with a top speed of 270 km/h. The even sportier GT was introduced in 1989, adding another 10hp and only being available as five-speed manual. Both versions were replaced by the 350 hp GTS in 1992, produced until 1995 and actually Porsche’s last GT car until the Panamera 15 years later. Over 15 years of production a bit more than 62.000 cars were built. Not a huge but still quite a large number, and in that sense it’s surprising how few of them you see on the roads today.

The rear part of the S4 shows where the Panamera inspiration came from!

Unless you’re not a die-hard, nothing-but-911 kind of person, a 928 will deliver the true Porsche feeling from behind the wheel. The engine is like a solid companion at all speeds, especially in combination with the manual box. The suspension is superb given the car’s age, but It’s clear from the first meters you drive that although smaller than modern cars and in spite of all the Porsche attributes, this is a true GT that is most at home on long distances with two (or 2+2) passengers and surprisingly, quite a lot of their luggage!

When writing about classics I usually add a sentence along the lines of “make sure you check the history and the condition”. Never ever has that sentence been more true than if you consider a 928. As mentioned, the car is a complex construction. Parts have always been expensive and haven’t become less so today, only in some cases harder to find. The engine and gearbox are of course the most critical parts and inspecting the car from underneath before the purhcase is mandatory. If you’re unsure about what you’re looking for, get a specialist to help you or take it to a Porsche garage. Trust me on this but also know that even if you go through all the checks, you shouldn’t buy a 928 with your last money, but rather keep a reserve for things that may come up.

As in late 944’s, the interior has stood the test of time surprisingly well

So which one? Well, no surprise that a manual is preferrable, but the automatic is actually not as catastrophic as you may think, so potentially try it if the rest of the car is good. Design-wise it’s a matter of taste between the first and second generation, but be aware that the 2-valve engine is easier (and thereby cheaper) to service than the 4-valve from the S4 onwards. If that doesn’t scare you, the 928 GT of which only around 2000 were built is especially interesting. Otherwise, the 300 hp second series is also a good choice. Please don’t go for the Strosek or Gemballa 80’s versions with massive plastic wings but rather try to find a car that is as original as possible. For the first series, both the phone dial wheels and the pepita interior you can see higher up are sought after today.

A good first series 928 will set you back around EUR 25-35.000, probably around 50% more than 10 years ago (but you’ve hopefully gotten richer in those 10 years as well!). The second series will typically cost around EUR 10.000 more with the GT and GTS potentially even more for low-mileage cars. High kilometres need not be a problem though, if the car has a solid and well documented history – but only then. In terms of value for money, this means that you still get one of the best GT’s ever built for less than half of a classic 911. That my friends not only makes this a bargain among Porsche classics, it does so among classic GT cars in general as well!

3 budgets – 3 naturally-aspirated legends!

Will our automotive future be completely electric? The political will of making it so is certainly there and although a number of questions haven’t been answered (where all the electricity in the Western world is supposed to come from if at the same time we close down base-power providing nuclear energy is one, what to do with all the millions of existing cars is another) at least right now, the signs all point in one direction. Reinforcing that is clearly also the important advances that are made in battery technology, examplified by the brand new Mercedes EQS that has a real life range of 700 km. And although e-fuels such as the solutions Porsche is exploring off Chile’s coast (see here a recent post on it) could present an alternative for making combustion engines “clean” and thus part of the future, they are still far from mass production.

This and other charging stations will not be empty for much longer

Whatever direction the world takes, it’s clear that downsizing is here to stay. All new combustion engines we see from here on will be smaller, supercharged versions of their predecessors. No one in their right mind would today build a new 10 or 12-cylinder naturally aspirated engine, and thus the large cylinder engines we have on the road today will be the last of their kind. If a big, naturally aspirated engine is your thing (and if you read this blog, I guess there’s a good probability of that!), it’s probably time to act and make that old dream of owning a naturally aspirated 10 or 12-cylinder car come true!

To help you on the way I’ve therefore taken the liberty of selecting three candidates in the price categories up to 30′ EUR, from 30-50′ EUR, and up to 100′ EUR. My logic doing so has been that they should be at least 10 years old such as to be out of the depreciation “J-curve”, and also have no more than 100.000 km on the clock. engine should be a 10- or 12-cylinder naturally aspirated one, sporty in nature and together with the car it’s fitted in, also have the potential for some value appreciation over the coming years. Doing this has been a fun exercise that I can recommend, You could of course have picked different cars across the three price segments, but here is what I came up with!

Up to 30′ EUR – BMW M5 E60/61

507 hp in a rear-wheel drive car means… smoke!

You can now find nice E60 sedans for as little as 30′ EUR, which is a true bargain in view of what the car and its fabulous engine offers. The latter, a 10-cylinder, 40-valve, 5 litre naturally aspirated engine developing 507 hp was also used as basis for the M6 of the E63 generation and was BMW’s only 10-cylinder engine. In the M5 it was coupled with an early 7-speed SMG box (i.e. single-clutch, automatic manual) that won’t shoot the lights out today but does the job. There was even a manual version which was however only sold in the US. That’s a shame, then again rumour has it that even the manual isn’t that great. Another rumour also has it that you need a bit more than the initial 30′ EUR as the 10-cylinder isn’t the most reliable engine, certainly a reason for being thorough when selecting the car. The E60 was built between 2005-2010 with a face lift in the first half of 2007, to a total of around 20.000 cars, making it the most popular M5 series.

Still a nice place to be!

Interestingly the E60 is so far the only M5 that has been offered as an estate/combi. From 2007 around 1.000 M5 Tourings were built and these are today even more desirable than the sedan. They are however also more expensive at around 50′ EUR, so that would move you to the next price class. In both cases, this generation of the M5 is a great car and the 10-cylinder engine one of the true legends of the naturally-aspirated world!

Between 30′ and 50′ EUR – Dodge Viper RT/10

It certainly looks the part on the outside

The Viper is quite a rare car in Europe and in many ways a true American muscle car with a massive, 8-litre 10-cylinder engine developing 408 hp (394 hp in Europe) and an even more impressive torque of 664 Nm! It was hereby an odd bird in Europe from the start and is so even more today. It was built during 15 years between 1992-2007 and later cars also had other engines, but the RT/10 is the first generation which was in production until 2002.

…but you’ll have to apply for example some carbon (as here) to help it do so on the inside.

The Viper and especially the first generation was really a car built around the engine, meant as a modern day Cobra. That’s to say that a very minor part of the budget was spent on things like the interior, which is basic, to put it mildly. Other standard items in other cars such as door windows, door handles and airbags were also not prioritized. You have to reach inside the door to open it and the door windows were delivered in a separate bag, to be stuck into the door if you wanted them. Not many did. The Viper also doesn’t have any kind of driving aids, so in many ways it is indeed a true muscle car, something that becomes very clear when you turn the key and are greeted by the sound of the giant engine. Any thoughts on the crappy interior will vanish quickly and as long as you’re slightly careful with applying the power, you’re set to enjoy every meter in this American legend!

Up to 100′ EUR – Ferrari F550 / F575

Looks are a matter of taste, but you cannot not like the F550!

Long-term readers of this blog may remember my post on the F550 from back in 2015. I speculated then that it may start appreciating soon which so far hasn’t happened. Depreciation has however stopped and prices have been stable ever since, meaning you can get a fabulous, mechanical 12-cylinder Ferrari for a bit less than EUR 100′. That is as much a bargain today as in 2015 and I’ll stick my head out again and say prices may well be starting to climb soon. I’ll ask you to go back to the 2015 post for full details on the car, but at its heart is the fantastic, 5.5 litre 12-cylinder engine producing around 485 hp, which is paired to a six-speed manual box (the F575 had a slightly bigger and more powerful engine). I wouldn’t bother with the F575 as the very limited facelift and increased power don’t warrant it, especially since most F575’s came with one of those semi-automatic boxes. A good F550 with a full history is a buy you will never regret!

The world’s most famous gear change!

There you go – three budgets, three cars. Grab them now and enjoy them while you can, and I promise you won’t regret it. And if Porsche or someone else is successful with an alternative fuel solution that allows our combustion cars to stay on the road, you’ll definitely be a long time winner!

The beautiful Dino from Torino!

it’s time to leave the world of over-powered and over-priced SUV’s and return to a more traditional, and dare I say classy thrill of driving, which after all is what this blog is all about. We’ll do so by going back to a theme that I explored almost two years ago in a post entitled “The best Ferrari is a Maserati”. The reference here was the Maserati Coupé from the early 00’s, equipped with the brilliant 4.2 litre, Ferrari V8. The coupé is however not the only way to profit from a Ferrari engine in a car of a different – and usually cheaper – brand. Another example of that was the breathtakingly beautifful Fiat Dino Coupe from the mid-60’s, one of the highlights of that decade and a car we’ll look closer at today!

Classic 60’s, sweeping GT lines!

It’s the early 60’s, the Vietnam war rages, the mini skirt is the latest fashion and Americans are told smoking is dangerous through warning labels on cigarette packages (Europe wouldn’t get these for another few years). Our American friends however also had the Mustang whereas in Europe the English drive Minis and the French the eternal 2CV and the clever but not very beautiful Renault 4. Design-wise therefore, you had to go to Italy to find the true masterpieces (yep, some things don’t change!), and south of the Alps, Fiat is planning for an upmarket GT coupé and convertible, without having a suitable engine to power it.

Further east in Maranello, Ferrari’s world is a little less rosy. Enzo is still deploring the loss of his son Alfredo (“Dino”) in 1956, only 24 years old. Dino was credited with the development of the Ferrari 2-litre V6 engine that over a few years had been used in various racing cars. Ferrari now needs precisely this kind of engine, i.e. no more than 2 litres and 6 cylinders for its Formula 2 cars, but the engine needs to be homologated through serial production of at least 500 units. At the time this was too much for a small manufacturer like Ferrari and it was therefore agreed with Fiat that they would build the homologated engine and also be free to use it in future Fiat cars. Contrary to what Enzo Ferrari had wanted, Fiat insisted on the engine being built in its Turin factory and not in Maranello, meaning that the Dino engines in cars like the Ferrari Dino 206 and 246 will have the Fiat logo casted somewhere on the motor block. Fiat now also gives the green light to Bertone to design the coupé and to Pininfarina to design the convertible. This was of course not very logical and led to the two cars looking rather different with most people (including me) agreeing that Bertone did a better job – judge for yourself. The convertible was introduced in 1966 and the coupé a few months later, in 1967.

The Dino engine was indeed quite special. A 2-litre V6 with an alloy block, it’s most famous for its unusual, 65 degree angle but also features quad cams and triple Weber carburettors, bringing the output to 158 hp (and also the need for a specialist to make sure those Webers are aligned as they should be!). The face-lifted engine that came in 1969 when homologation was no longer an issue was increased to 2.4 litres and was the world’s first serial engine with electronic injection. Power increased to 180 hp with notably improved torque, and all this was fitted in a magnificent coupé body with flowing lines, an aggressive front with a big grill, and a sweeping, lower rear. I owned a Fiat 124 Coupé from 1965 a few years ago which was also designed by Bertone and the similarities are clearly there but the Dino is a larger, more elegant car. The interior matches the exterior in a plush combination of leather (one of few options but a feature on many cars) and wood with a thin, large steering wheel. The gearbox is five-speed, there are dual-circuit disc brakes all around and even electric windows (still quite rare in Europe at the time). Even though the later 2.4 litre engine has more power and greater torque, enthusiasts will often tell you the smaller 2-litre is actually the sweeter one to drive. The later car was however also updated notably with independent rear suspension, improved brakes and some othe features making it a more modern car.

Leather was one of few options, switches and gauges standard!

Around 5800 2-litre and 2.4 litre Dino coupés were built between 1967 and 1974, with latter cars being assembled not in Turin but at Ferrari’s plant in Maranello. Of all these, few remain today and although only around 2000 convertibles were built, these are easier to find than the coupé. That hasn’t meant they haven’t gone ballistic price-wise though, with good convertibles today costing at least EUR 150.000, and the 2.4 litre being even more expensive as only 400 were built. A good coupé will still be yours for somewhere around EUR 50-60.000. Unless you have a very firm idea of what you want, the individual condition of the car is probably more important than which engine it has. One of the few available options was metallic paint and the dark grey metallic you can still find some cars in is to me the colour which really highlights the car’s beauty!

The Ferrari logo in the grill wasn’t a factory option…

The most beautiful Dino in my eyes indeed carries the Fiat badge (except the one in the picture above…) and to finish where we started, even though they’ve gone up in price in the last years, a Fiat Dino Coupé is still more than EUR 300.000 (!) cheaper than a Ferrari Dino 246 with the same engine! That’s of course an even more legendary car but it’s not a GT and it also doesn’t have the elegance of the Fiat Dino, one of the most beautiful cars of the 60’s. Good design never goes out of style so if there’s still room in your garage, get one while you still can!

The spirit of 007!

I’ve been told I was mean to Lotus last week, referring to them as unreliable in my post about the fabulous Lupo GTI and my son’s limited mechanical knowledge, so let’s deal with that straight away. I love Lotus deeply and was reminded of it when I had the opportunity to drive my friend Erik’s Elise a couple of weeks ago (I did a piece on when he bought it that you’ll find here), but I maintain that to describe them as reliable at the level of a modern VW would be about as true as claiming that Sweden plays entertaining football.

Growing up in the 80’s one of my real dream cars was indeed a Lotus, however for obvious reasons not the Elise. It was the true supercar-like Lotus Esprit that enchanted me, from the original, 007 one to the later versions. To me it looked cooler than a Ferrari and comparing a 308/328 to an Esprit, I think that holds true even today, as I was able to determine when by chance driving into a Lotus club gathering in the Swiss Alps a couple of weeks ago. One owner was kind enough to give me a close-up tour of his Esprit V8, and that’s obviously a very good reason to look closer at this legendary car, as we’ll do this week!

The clean, wedge-like shape of the S1

The Esprit was a true long-runner, coming to market in 1976 as replacement for the Europa, and being produced all the way until 2004, i.e. for 28 years. The wedge-shaped original car was designed by Giorgio Giugiaro and the Esprit’s father and developer was of course none other than legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman, so the Esprit was a true symbiosis of Italian design and Chapman’s view of what a sports car should be like (read light-weight!). And then it also became a film star, featured in two James Bond films (“They spy who loved me” and “For your eyes only”), as well as in the 1990 classic “Pretty Woman”, where Julia Roberts teaches Richard Gere how to use a stickshift in the hills above LA.

When the Esprit was launched in the mid-70’s, Lotus was still a big name in Formula 1 with Mario Andretti as the star driver. Andretti took his world championship title in 1978 in a Lotus, and this was to be Lotus’s last of a total of seven F1 titles. It was perhaps not a surprise therefore that the first version of the Esprit (called S1, Series 1) actually had a lot in common with an F1 car: the driving position is pretty much the same, i.e. half-lying , the handling is perhaps not on the level of an F1 car but still superb, the whole car is 1.11 metres high, i.e. low enough to make an Evora feel like a family sedan, and with the engine located directly behind the seats, the sound is said to be fantastic, although perhaps not at the level of a 70’s F1 car. The S1 had a four-cylinder engine that until 1978 only put out 160 hp in Europe and 140 hp in the US, however the car weighed only 1050 kg and was therefore still as fast as a 911 SC. In terms of interior materials and quality, let’s just note that the world has come a long way since the 70’s, although there is actually more cloth in the S1 than in a modern Elise…

Enough space for two to lie in the 70’s, checkered seats

The S2 was introduced in 1978 with some minor cosmetic revisions but most famously also in the John Player Special edition with the same black paint with gold stripes as Andretti’s F1 world championship car. The big technical innovation was however the introduction of the turbo in 1980 that took the performance to 213 hp and gave the car a top speed of 240 km/h and a sprint to 100 km/h in around six seconds. The S3 which succeeded the S2 in 1983 was the list incarnation of the “original” Esprit and remained largely unchanged, albeit with a bit more power and offered both with and without turbo until 1987.

The second version of the Esprit that came out in 1988 and was designed by Philip Stevens was a largely different car. Although staying true to the original shape, the design was much more 80’s-like, but also more polished and offering occupants more room in an improved interior. The production process was also improved, as was the car’s rigidity. The mechanical components and engines would however remain pretty much the same until 1994 when the Lotus 3.5-litre V8 engine with twin turbos was introduced in the S4, taking the Esprit from a fast sports car to supercar territory. The V8 put out a very healthy 350 hp, 50 more than the regular, 2.2 litre S4 that was still produced, leading to a 100 km/h sprint in less than 4.5 seconds and a top speed of more than 280 km/h. From here on the Esprit remained largely unchanged until the end of production in 2004. It should however be noted that in addition to the main models described above, there was also a multitude of smaller series produced, often in very low numbers, and all of which are of course real gems today.

The second Esprit iteration looks – and is – a far more modern car

Coming back to the Lotus gathering I ran into a couple of weeks ago, even if this was a dream car in my youth, I had never even sat in an Esprit and was thus about as nervous as a 15-year old on his first date when I was offered to do so. That I’m no long 15 then became very obvious, as I tried to maneovre myself with some kind of elegance into the very low seat, with the smile on the owner’s face indicating I was less successful than I thought. Once you’re in and have assumed the half-lying but not uncomfortable position, you quickly note that visibility is comparable to how a good friend of mine says you should live life, i.e. with a big front screen and a small rear mirror. That’s to say that it’s very limited in all directions but forward, and if you look sideways your eyes will be on the same height as bystanders’ behinds. You also have a very limited feel for how large the car is, but interestingly, whereas back in the day the Esprit looked like a large car, today it feels rather small – as so often is the case.

There are worse surprises you can run into in the Alps!

The owner was kind enough to turn the key and rev the V8 of his S4 a bit, and the sound is of course wonderful and as he said, also a constant companion on the trip given where the engine is located, so you’d better enjoy it. Using a devoted Esprit owner as source for any kind of objective information is obviously not ideal, but going by his enthusiasm I have to believe that the car is indeed the tremendous drive the looks promise, with almost perfect balance, great steering and a gearshift that is far more precise than the rather chubby changer would have you believe. I did however sense a bit of hesitation as to whether the V8 is a better engine option than the four-cylinder, and even got an admission that from a budget perspective, it’s probably the four-pot you should go for…

A nice – but low – place to be!

Speaking of money, Esprits have been on the way up price-wise for the last few years. Around 10.000 were built all in all but many have died far too early and the offer is thus very limited, especially if you’re looking for a special series where you have to be prepared to pay big bucks. The market for good cars starts somewhere around EUR 40.000 and goes up to six figures for really well kept, low-mileage cars, or special series. Whether you go for the original Esprit (S1-S3) or the updated version is a matter of taste: the early cars seduce with their clean lines and 70’s charm, but the later ones are clearly more liveable, comfortable and, if I dare say so, reliable. As for the best engine, the four-cylinder is probably the sensible way to go, potentially even without the turbo given the car’s low weight. So to end where we started, whatever version you go for, do make sure you have enough of a budget left to give it the love and maintenance it will no doubt require. Then again, so does a 308/328 or any other sports or supercar from the same era. And choosing between those, at least to me, 007 was always cooler than Magnum!

Street finds – the Saab 95 V4!

I hadn’t seen a Saab 95 for probably 20 years when I bumped into this one in the old town of Zurich last week! As all Saabs of the 92-96 generation they’ve become a rare sight these days, but were they a frequent one when I grew up in Sweden… The 95 was especially popular out in the archipelago where we had our summer house, with the locals appreciating the combination of flexiblity and (low) price it provided. This was indeed Saab’s first estate, and interestingly the last until the modern 9-5 21 years later, carrying the same name but now with a dash between the numbers.

Curious lines and angles – maybe not Saab’s most beautiful creation…

So what makes the 95 something to write about, except of course the fantastic condition of this almost 50-year old example? Well, the design is… interesting. I wouldn’t call it ugly, but it’s a bit unclear what Saab was trying to achieve. Especially seen from the side, the different windows and angles create an interesting mix that certainly takes some getting used to, but the front and back are rather cool. More interesting though is the fact that the car was approved for not four, not five, but seven passengers, all in 4.1 metres: two in the front, three in the back and two in a reversed foldable seat in the boot, the same system Mercedes used in the E-class over many years. The extra seat had to be removed during the last production years for safety concerns.

Not a bad paint job – the sun plays tricks

Around 110.000 Saab 95’s were built over 19 years from 1959 to 1978, in parallel to the more well-known Saab 96 sedan. The model range started with the Saab 92 back in 1949, Saab’s first production car. The 93 followed in 1956 and became known for its rally successes, mostly with the (for Swedish readers) famous Erik Carlsson “Carlsson på taket” behind the wheel (the nickname translates to “Carlsson on the roof” from Astrid Lindgren’s children’s book of the same name, and was one he earned in a rally where he ended up on the 93’s roof). The Saab 96 was the 93’s replacement and was built until 1980 when the range was discontinued in favour of the 99 that was already produced since a few years, and later the 900.

Saab actually raced an estate long before Volvo did!

At the start, the 95 had a not very exciting two-stroke engine, but it then got the famous V4 in 1967 which in the last years developed up to 68 hp, in other words almost ten per allowed passenger! Then again, the car weighed less than a ton. From the two-stroke and onwards, all engines had the so called “free wheel”, an invention Saab made popular and that can be explained as the engine going down to idle as soon as you release the throttle. This was seen as a way to save fuel and also not having to use the clutch when downshifting. The system would actually survive mechanically until the Saab 99 and notably Toyota have used an electronic version of it on modern cars. Then again, it was never a lack of technical innovations that caused Saab’s premature death – this was after all the brand that popularized the turbo engine!

“Why do we always have to sit back here….”

Very few 95’s are left today which isn’t very surprising when you consider these were work horses rather than Sunday cars. And they really didn’t have the best rust protection in the world… So seeing such a nice one on the street as I did was great, as finding one today isn’t easy. This is however one of those Swedish classics where there can be important price differences between Scandinavia (especially Sweden) and the rest of Europe. This is clearly explained by the offer of cars being larger, but unfortunately many of these are in poor condition. That said, even the few you would be interested in usually go for very reasonable prices, meaning around EUR 10-15.000 in the case of the Saab 95.

Whenever you see a car like the Saab 95 it’s also interesting observing how people react to it. Whilst I was taking the two top pictures of the car, a number of people stopped, pointed fingers and smiled. If you compare this to the rather testosterone-rich, guttural sounds you tend to hear around for example an Aventador, it’s clear how a car like the Saab 95 awakens positive memories and emotions. Mind you, this was even without the owner being there to ignite all the 68 hp of the V4… I’m not sure it can compete with an Aventador, but those who know it tend to remember it, even if like the Saab 95, it belongs to a bygone era!

When Volvo went racing!

As mentioned in my before-last post on the Alfa GTV6 a couple of weeks ago, one of the reasons I liked it so much was that pretty much all other cars you would see in the mid-80’s on the streets of Stockholm were various Volvos and Saabs, which to a young teenager were all rather boring. In the case of Volvo this was rather intentional, as the company at the time put security and practicality far ahead of any kind of driving thrills or exciting design. But as the 80’s became the 90’s things started to change, and when a few years later Volvo started racing with a large estate, by then it was clear that nothing was the same any longer at the Volvo factory in Torslanda, next to Gothenburg. No car examplified Volvo’s “new” profile better than the top of the line 850 T5-R, a racing estate that has today become a rarity on our streets. But how did it all happen, and should you secure a T5-R before it’s too late? That’s what we’ll look closer at this week!

Volvo 850 T5-R – no other Volvo had ever been like it

When the Volvo 850 was introduced in 1991, it was a small revolution for both Volvo and many of its owners, arguably less passionate than Alfistas and other more engaged car owner groups, but still with a firm idea as to what a Volvo should be like. And for as long as anyone cared to remember, large Volvo estates had been rear-wheel drive and in their top version fitted with a big, longitudinal six-cylinder engine up front. The concept is actually quite surprising for a brand selling on practicality and security in… Sweden, a country not really known for its warm temperatures and with quite long, snowy and icy winters. There’s a saying that the when a client would complain about a slight lack of traction in his 945, the Volvo salesman would tell him to throw in a sand bag or two in the back. I never tried that, but I did own a Volvo 965 at one point and ended up precisely in this situation on the way up to the Alps. My mother was part of the trip, so we solved it by moving her back to the cavernous boot, to give it a bit of extra weight. It worked as intended, so I guess the Volvo people had a point.

Four-wheel drive is for whimps…

I realize I just compared my mother to a sand bag, so let’s perhaps move back to the 850. Not only was it front-wheel drive but it also introduced a five-cylinder, 2.3 litre transversal engine, a combination that would from then become the Volvo standard for the coming 25 years, in a clear break with the past. Presented to the world in 1991 first as a sedan and from 1993 as an estate, the latter was a bit smaller on the outside than Volvo’s earlier large estates, but thanks to the transversal engine as well as the preserved boxy shape, it still offered a comparable luggage space. This was important as until then estates, and especially Volvo estates were were bought for their practicality and not for their coolness, but that was about to change… Various engine options were available, none of them terribly exciting, except the top-of-the-range 850 Turbo with 225 hp that came out in 1994.

1994 will however go down in the 850 history for a different reason. Volvo had decided to participate in the at the time very popular British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), primarily as part of a marketing drive to try to add some spice to the company’s profile. The 850 sedan was expected to be the basis of the new racing car, but some marketing genius up in Gothenburg realized how much more attention an estate would gather, and so Volvo lined up the 850 estate for the 1994 championship together with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The plan worked wonders in all respects. Seeing a Volvo estate on two wheels through the corners of British racing tracks was very memorable, and the cars were fast as well. They didn’t win the championship but they caused enough commotion for BTCC’s management to change the rules for 1995, forcing Volvo to switch to the sedan. From a marketing perspective that no longer mattered – Volvo had gotten all the attention they wanted, now the only needed to follow up with an 850 version that connected to the racing car – and so enter the 850 T-5R.

Dutchman Jan Lammers showing a different type of 2WD

The T5-R was introduced in 1995 and was based on the aforementioned 850 Turbo. Volvo worked together with Porsche (yep!) for the engine tuning that gave the engine another 18 hp, as well as the revised transmission. The mechanical developments were complemented by a large front spoiler and a rear wing which together made the car look rather cool and helped improve its wind resistance, enabling a time of around 7 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 245 km/h. At the time, this made the T5-R one of the fastest estates in the world, and (by a margin) the fastest Volvo ever built. Available with a five-speed manual or a slow and not very motivated four-speed auto box, colour options were limited to a very bleak “cream yellow” or a traditional black.

The T5-R was so successful that Volvo had to revise the planned limited production of 2500 cars of the 1995 model year, extending it into 1996 and adding dark green as a third colour. When production stopped in 1996 a total of around 7.000 cars had been built. In the same year the successor 850R came out (offering far more colours!), essentially the same car but never being able to connect to the T5-R glory, also since it wasn’t a limited production run. A year later production of the 850 ended as it was replaced by the S70/V70.

The T5-R has part-alcantara seats, otherwise it’s a standard 850

Driving a T5-R doesn’t bring the same ketchup effect as an old 80’s-style turbo, but still gives much of the same feeling. Front-wheel drive may be beneficial on snowy roads in Sweden but as everyone knows, the concept does cause some limitations when you associate it to a relatively powerful, front-mounted turbo engine, meaning you need to manage power to the front wheels carefully at red lights and on curvy roads. Otherwise the T5-R offers all the qualities of a Volvo estate in a very cool, 90’s shape and remains an autobahn express par excellence until this day. And it still feels very fast, also since it weighs in at below 1500 kg.

Coming back to the initial question then, should you add a T5-R to your driveway while you still can? I certainly wouldn’t mind, given the car’s inherent qualities but already today, it’s easier said than done. Very few 850 T5-R’s are still out there and most of these are real high-mileage cars, with anything from 250′ to 350′ km on the clock. That’s often the case with old Volvos and is obviously a great testament to the quality of the cars, but it also means you need to be very thorough when considering one. Price-wise the T5-R is on the way up with cars coming in at between EUR 15.000-30.000 depending on mileage. It doesn’t end there though since to my mind, the only T5-R you should consider is a cream yellow, manual estate. If you find one of those you don’t want to miss it since not only is it one of the coolest estates from the 90’s, it’s also a car that played a significant role in Volvo’s history!

Alfa GTV6 – the coolest 80’s coupé!

As a young boy growing up in central Stockholm in the late 70’s-early 80’s, what I saw on the streets were mostly a mix of more or less boring Volvos and Saabs. There was however one memorable exception – a car I would regularly pass on my way home from school. It was a black Alfa GTV that to my young eyes had not only a cool, coupé shape, but was also the only car I had ever seen (still to this day!) that had what looked like fish nets in the center of the headrests. It was love at first and regular sight, and since my father was about to change company car (a common feature in Sweden back then…), I begged and implored him to go for the Alfa. He didn’t and we ended up with a Saab Turbo instead. Given that the winter in Sweden is VERY long and that there were at the time at least 30 Saabs for every Alfa sold, that was probably a wise choice. To me, the Saab could however never compete with the Giugiaro-designed GTV which since that day has a solid place on my 80’s car list. That’s a reason as good as any to have a closer look at it in this week’s post!

Face-lifted GTV left, original 70’s version right.

The GTV was born in 1974 and was called Alfetta GT for the first two years of production. This was the time when Alfa was still Alfa, i.e. before being taken over by Fiat. Business was however far from good, with the company only managing to scrape by thanks to frequent capital injections from the Italian state, and with limited success seen for its various models. The Alfetta on which the GTV was based, was a 4-door sedan produced since 1972 in a transaxle construction and with the same chassis that all rear-wheel drive Alfas would use until the takeover by Fiat in 1986 – including the GTV. The looks of the Alfetta however had very little to do with the GTV. The former was a very unspectacular family sedan, the latter a cool coupé with a low, four-eyed front and a sloping, hatchback-like design. Giugiaro did an excellent job at the time and the GTV looks as cool today as then, in my own, completely unbiased opinion!

The GTV (“Grand Turismo Veloce (speed)”) from 1976 and onwards was powered by two four-cylinder engines, one 1.6 and one 2-litre, the latter producing around 130 hp and the only engine in many export markets. As Alfa prepared for a face-lift of the GTV in 1981, they had the brilliant idea of adding a more powerful engine and for a while considered the V8 from the Alfa Montreal, before the final choice fell on the 2.5 litre, six-cylinder engine from the limousine Alfa 6 (a big, luxurious Alfa limousine launched in the mid-70’s). The power output in the GTV remained at around 160 hp but there was a small problem in that the engine didn’t really fit the car, so the bonnet of the GTV6 has a “hump” that differentiates it (and makes it look even cooler!) from the 2-litre version. As other popular coupés in the early 80’s the GTV6 had fuel injection, another difference to the smaller engines with carburettors. The transaxle construction with both the gearbox and the battery in the back gave the car a nearly perfect weight distribution, and as mentioned, it was also rear-wheel drive. All in all, a very promising package!

The original GTV as 1.6 or 2-litre

The pre-face lift, four-cylinder GTV’s had a lot of chrome in typical 70’s style, but to keep up with the times, the face-lifted versions after 1981 took on the typical 80’s black plastic look, and the GTV6 was only ever avaiable in the face-lifted version. This makes the styling of both cars rather different, seen with today’s eyes. Pre-face lift, the GTV comes across as more elegant than sporty, with some nice details such as the visible GTV inscription on the left c-pillar. The face-lifted version looks sportier, especially the GTV6 with its hump and (at 15″), at least slightly bigger wheels. Unfortunately many cars today have fallen victim to all kinds of transformations, generally of bad taste. The cool black plastic unfortunately also looks less cool 40 years after, as it tends to become grey with time.

The GTV6 with the characteristic “hump” on the bonnet

Driving-wise the GTV provides the typical 70’s and 80’s Alfa experience in everything from the mechanics to the seating position. The latter was a constant point of debate, being referred to as a “monkey position” requiring short legs and long arms. Having experienced quite a few Alfas, I never agreed to that as especially on longer drives, that position actually works quite well. Other typical features include a steering that is precise enough but very vague around the center, and a gear change that requires a good warm-up and a precise hand. None of this really matters though from the moment you put your right foot down and hear the lovely engine note both engines put out. This is clearly the highlight of the car, and there is no doubt the six-cylinder in the GTV6 sings more than the still enjoyable, 2-litre four-pot in the GTV 2.0. The general comfort including the suspension also deserves praise, and even though the GTV has a conventional boot rather than being a hatchback, it’s quite roomy which together with the reasonable room in the back makes this a practical GT car. In the 80’s, it was enough for a family of four. Today, its width is almost exactly the same as a modern Fiat Panda…

Altough produced to a total of around 135.000 cars over its 13-year existence, the GTV couldn’t save Alfa from being taken over by Fiat in 1986 and the GTV production stopped the year after. Since then, a chassis and body more prone to rust than most, together with generally poor build quality have quite drastically reduced the number of cars that have survived until this day. As mentioned, many of these have also been tuned, lowered or otherwise modified to something you don’t want. Finding a good car of either engine, pre- or post face-lift can thus be difficult and starts getting expensive. EUR 20.000 will buy you a good car, be it a four- or six-cylinder as the market doesn’t really differentiate between the two, the general condition being more important. The GTV6 will always be the “all else equal” pick, but on the other hand, a well preserved pre-face lift car has stood the test of time better than the face-lift version. Then again the GTV6 that this post is about was only available in the face-lifted version, as were the seats with the fish net headrests!

PS. You may remember my post on the Ferrari FF from a few weeks ago, which you can otherwise find here. This week Doug De Muro featured the FF much under the same tone as me, i.e. that at today’s price-levels, it’s quite a bargain. I’m not saying this because I think Doug’s inspired by the blog (although it would be nice…), but rather as you may want to check it out!

One half of a Zuffenhausen V8

The car we’ll have a look at this week can very truthfully be described as a well-designed, well-built, practicle and perfectly balanced transaxle coupé with a real Porsche engine. Or, as is far more common, looked down upon as a Porsche-badged Audi. You’ve guessed it, this week we’ll look at the Porsche 944 in its different iterations, a car that is far better than generally believed, and in my view one of the few remaining bargains in the Porsche line-up!

The year is 1981, Ronald Reagan is the new US president, pope John Paul II gets shot (but luckily not killed) and Kim Carnes tops the charts with “Bette Davis Eyes”. The Porsche 924, the car that was indeed more of an Audi, had already been produced five years by then, and interestingly, was originally not intended to be a Porsche at all, but rather a Volkswagen. Had Porsche not picked up the project when Volkswagen decided to abandon it in the early 70’s, the 944 may never have existed (and, Volkswagen could potentially have had a far cooler image than it does today, had it not abandoned it!). As known though, when VW pulled the plug, Porsche picked up what was to become the 924 and thereby inherited quite a few parts along with it, notably the Audi engine with a power output of only 125 hp in the base version. Both the origin of the engine and its lack of power were always the weakest points of the 924. So in 1981, when Porsche decided it was time to launch the beefed-up 944, the first priority was more power. The six-cylinder from the 911 was not an option, notably since there were rumours at the time that rear-mounted engines would be banned in the US, and the only other engine Porsche had in stock was the newly developed, aluminium V8 in the 928. Cutting the V8 in half became the solution, and resulted in the original 2.5 litre four-cylinder of the 944, in its first version developing 163 hp (in Europe, 20 hp less in the US). Better, although still not shooting the lights out.

Porsche ads were frequent – and funny – in the 80’s

Apart from the engine which we’ll come back to in a minute and which except for the power output had a lot going for it, the rest of the 944 did and still does so as well. Firstly it looks good, in a nice 80’s way. At the basis it’s obviously the same body as the 924, but the more muscular, wider rear part makes a big difference and makes the 944 look like a real sports car. It’s also quite a practical car, with back seats (that can be folded) offering reasonable comfort for children, and quite a large luggage space under the glass lid. Secondly, the transaxle construction witth the new engine in front and the gearbox in the back gave the car a near perfect weight distribution of 49/51, making it very well-balanced. The advantage of the aerodyamic shape was also to give the 944 a very respectable top speed of far more than the 210 km/h Porsche had officially quoted. Thirdly, after the face lift in 1985 it also offered a nice interior, far better than the one of the first years that had been identical to the 924, and also far nicer and more modern than the 911’s (911 Carrera or 964) of the time.

Until 1985 there was only one version of the 944, but in 1986 the Turbo was added, producing no less than 220 hp and thereby putting it in a different league to the base model and improving the 0-100 km/h time by all of three seconds, to 5.9 seconds. The Turbo had various other improvements to it as well, notably larger breaks. A year later, the even stronger Turbo S (a name that is obviously still around today for Porsche’s strongest versions) took that up to 250 hp, making it the strongest four-cylinder engine in the world at the time. During the last three years of production until 1991, the S-engine then became the standard engine in the Turbo. There were however also improvements made to the naturally aspirated engine, through the “S” version in 1987 that thanks notably to 16 valves took the power to 187 hp, and then the “S2” in 1989, increasing that further to 208 hp, by now with an increased engine volume of 3 litres. All these engines were also available in the convertible version of the 944, that in my taste however loses a lot of the nice lines of the coupé, with a strange convertible top and through that also a strange looking boot.

Later 944‘s had a low “diffusor” spoiler, improving the rear looks

It’s a couple of years since I last drove a 944 in the 187 hp S version, but interestingly I remember doing so in the same week as driving a 964. No doubt the latter conveyed more of the “true” Porsche feeling, largely also thanks to the engine which is far stronger at lower revs than the 16v four-pot in the 944 S, which needs a bit of revs to reveal its best side. When you do rev it, it does however turn out to be a very nice companion that in no way feels short on power. The 944 also left a very positive general impression in everything from the steering over the surprisingly precise gearshift to the nice cabin, which as mentioned feels quite modern, especially compared to the 964. I actually struggle to remember a single car from the 80’s that presents a better total package for the money in question if its a true sports car feel you’re after. There are clearly atlernatives, some of which we’ve explored here such as the BMW 635i (see here) or the Jaguar XJ-S (see here), but those convey more of a GT than a true sports car feel.

Still today, a nice place to spend time in!

EUR 25-30.000 buys you a nice, late 944 in the S or S2 version, which would be the ones I would for. The first 163 hp version is a bit too weak, and the Turbo is on one hand at least EUR 10.000 more expensive and also more prone to problems. Potential issues are less costly than with a 911 but owner and maintenance history are nevertheless critical. The precise feel in both steering and gearshift that I mention above is a notable sign of a well maintained car, but also something that can vary a lot. Equipment-wise there wasn’t much to be had in the 80’s, but a well-maintained leather interior is nicer than the textile one, and the sunroof is indeed quite special, as it can be tilted but also fully removed in a slightly complicated procedure – nice as long as it works!

Sunroof off almost gives a true convertible feel, with wind deflectors!

If your set on a Porsche but don’t think it necessarily needs to have six cylinders in the back and your budget is around EUR 30.000, options are still few and far between. I’ve mentioned the 911 Carrera (G) and 964 here, which in a comparable condition cost two to three times as much as a 944. You could obviously also go for not only half but all of the engine, i.e. the V8 928, but that will also set you back at least EUR 10-15.000 more. It will also mean losing a bit of the sports car feel and vastly higher maintenance costs (as the 911’s will as well). That leaves the more modern 996, which is comparable in price and equally underrated. I can’t believe it’s almost to the day six years since I wrote about it, in a post you’ll find here. Compared to six years ago the 996 is still a bargain (albeit slightly less so) and the better car, but also one you see if not on every, then at least on many corners. If you buy the right car you can’t really go wrong with either one of them leaving it down to personal preferences. What is clear however is that the 944 is a true Porsche and we should be thankful to its “Audi” cousin 924, without which it would probably never have existed at all!

Street finds: the A112 Abarth!

The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!

The very cool 70 hp Abarth I saw on the streets, with stripes and a white roof!

Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.

With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.

The double pipes ensure a great sound to this day!

That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!

Brilliant Abarth steering wheel, wonderful bucket seats, long wooden stickshift – what more do you need!

So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!

Dieppe – France’s own Maranello

Renault is not a brand that is featured very often on this blog given, if you allow me to be a bit harsh, it mostly consists of a bunch of boring small cars and family SUV’s, that partly have some, hmm, intersting looks (Avantime anyone?) but are never associated with any kind of thrill of driving. Yeah, I know there’s a few racier versions of the Mégane that some love, but that’s never really been my thing. What is very much my thing on the other hand, is what a crazy bunch of engineers in the French town of Dieppe, traditionally the home of Alpine, developed in the late 70’s: the Renault 5 Turbo / Turbo II. And then 20 years later, also in Dieppe, a similar (same?) group of engineers reinvented the whole concept with the Renault Clio V6. This week will therefore be the story of the two siblings with twenty years between them, but sharing the same crazy concept and making them two of the if not greatest, then at least most exciting hot hatches ever!

Turning the clock back to the late 70’s, Renault had quite a strong rally tradition and had been racing the Alpine A110 for a number of years. The car was getting old though and a replacement was needed. As always the budget was a bit tight so the project started internally using the Renault 5 as basis. The R5 had been around since 1971 so it wasn’t the most inspiring starting point, but that’s before the guys in Dieppe came into the picture and did a few rather major modifications… In becoming the R5 Turbo, the R5 not only gained 20 cm in width, the engine also moved from up front to behind the front seats, i.e. mid-mounted, and the car went from front- to rear-wheel drive. The result was a body that all of a sudden looked spectacular (and still does!), an interior that was more or less untouched and thereby an ocean of 70’s plastic, and a weight distribution that changed quite radically, with around 60% over the rear axle (counting with the driver).

As a rally car the R5 Turbo and subsequent Turbo II (built from 1983, looking the same but technically improved) saw some success. It raced in the legendary Group B until the end in 1986 and won a total of three races which could probably have been more, had it not been for the fierce competition from notably Audi and Lancia at the time. What made the legend of the car was however not its rally pedigree but rather the total of around 5.000 homologation cars, split roughly as 1/3 Turbo and 2/3 Turbo II. Back in the early 80’s, at least in France this was the really cool car to have (which was good since price-wise it was on par with true sports cars!), but it was also one that required some basic driving skills, as you’ll guess from a combination of a short wheelbase, a mid-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive! The pengine’s position helped contribute to what was a great engine tone, making the 1.4 litre, turbo-charged 4-cylinder sound like far more than it was. 160 hp was not a huge power output, but with the setup as described and an 80’s ketchup turbo lag, more power was not really necessary.

No other Renault 5 has a natural place in the port of Monaco!

After the R5, Renault went back to its slumber and the Dieppe engineers went for a well-deserved break that lasted for around 15 years. This takes us to the late 90’s when Renault presented a study based on the Clio with a mid-mounted, V6 engine. The interest was so big that Renault decided to produce the car, this time in collaboration with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The engineers in Dieppe were back from their break and developed what was at least in concept a true follower of the R5 Turbo. As the Turbo 20 years earlier, the Clio V6 had a considerably widened body, exactly the same boring interior as the standard Clio, rear-wheel drive and a mid-mounted engine behind the front seats. This time the engine was however a naturally aspirated V6, producing between 226-254 hp. It made the V6 only slightly quicker than the Turbo though, since the Clio also weighed i400 kg more at 1400 kg. A lot of that weight was actually not linked to the Clio being a new car but rather to the heavy modifications from converting the regular Clio to a rear-wheel drive, mid-engined two-seater.

The similarity in concept also means a certain similarity in the driving experience, even if the lack of a giant turbo gap given the Clio V6 is naturally aspirated makes it, shall we say not quite as full of surprises… What remains is however the rear-heavy weight distribution combined with a short wheelbase, so being slightly careful cerrtainly doesn’t hurt. Again, both the looks and the sound are (almost) as good as the old R5 Turbo and no doubt the Clio V6 will age as well.

Under the official, very selling name Renault Clio V6 Renault Sports, the V6 was built in two versions called phases, the first between 2001-2003 and the second until the end of production in 2005. It was thus built roughly as long as the R5 Turbo, but with only around half as many produced. That doesn’t show price-wise yet with a good Clio V6 coming in at around EUR 40-50.000 whilst the R5 Turbo / Turbo II is at least twice as much. There is no objective measure in this world that makes it rational to buy either one of them, but then again rational is boring and if that’s your philosophy, these cars are both a lot of fun and not seen on every corner.

Had they spent 1/10 of what they spent on the exterior on the interior…

The new Alpine A110 is being built in Dieppe since 2017, a car that I covered last summer in a post you can read here. We’ll come back to the upcoming F1 season in the coming weeks but it’s no secret that Renault’s F1 team has been renamed Alpine from this season, so there’s no doubt Dieppe is going strong with hopefully some other great cars coming out over the coming years!

Street finds: the great Bizzarrini!

A great thing with writing this blog is that whereas in some weeks I know well in advance what to write about, in others I don’t have a clue. This is a bit of a thrill since inspiration (at least so far) then comes somehow, but very rarely does it do so in such an inspired way as this week! Taking a lunch walk on Tuesday in the currently locked-down and therefore half empty city of Zurich, I turned a corner and saw something low and red that looked very much like a 60’s Ferrari but was… something else. A model name I didn’t recognize, and a logo that said Bizzarrini. I know we have some really knowledgeable readers here and as those of you familiar with Bizzarrini will know, seeing one doesn’t happen every day; nor every week, month or year! I had never seen a Bizzarrini before which is perhaps not very surprising, given the whole production of Bizzarrini automobiles in the 60’s amounted to a few dozen cars (more on that below). The 5300 GT I had in front of me looked spectacular, and when doing some research around Giotto Bizzarrini and his brand, a wonderful story of great engineering in a bygone era combined with the temper of several protagonists, including a certain Enzo Ferrari emerged. So this week will be about Giotto Bizzarrini and his cars, from the age when cars were sketched with a ruler and built with sweat rather than computers!

What I couldn’t identify straight away – a Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada!

Giotto Bizzarrini was born in 1926 close to the port city of Livorno near Pisa in Italy, and as a young engineer started working for Alfa Romeo where he quickly made a name for himself as a very promising and talented engineer with a special love for racing cars. He was in fact so promising that the great Enzo Ferrari became aware of him and quickly recruited him, so from 1958, Giotto worked at Ferrari where he led the development of several Ferrari GT cars, notably the legendary 250 GTO. No doubt that Giotto had his career cut out for him at Ferrari had it not been for Enzo’s strong personality, Latin temper – and love for his wife Laura. Laura was not as loved by other key Ferrari employees, especially on the sales side where Ferrari’s sales manager Girolamo Gardini was getting very tired of Laura messing up his sales plans by always requesting special deliveries of race cars for personal contacts and friends. Betting on his long and successful background at the firm, Gandini together with a group of other senior executives, including Bizzarrini, one day walked into Enzo’s office and basically told him “it’s her or us”, confident Enzo would see the logic. He didn’t. Laura stayed and Enzo fired the senior executives (consisting of most of the race team at Ferrari) in what was referred to as the Palace Revolt or the Great Walkout. You’d better know what you’re doing before you mess with the boss’s wife, especially if that boss is (or rather was) Enzo Ferrari!

The Ferrari 250 GTO – 36 built, all of them still in existance, changing hands at USD 50-75m…

Giotto Bizzarrini was especially passionate about engines and before the Palace Coup had started a department within Ferrari where engines were tested and notably the Testa Rossa 3-litre engine was developed. When he left Ferrari, Giotto went on to found a company named ATS with the ambition to build a Formula 1 car (which he never did), before founding his next company called Società Autostar as a freelance design house (chassis and engines) in Livorno. One of his first clients was a a certain Ferruccio Lamborghini who was set on building a V12 engine and much like Bizzarrini, wasn’t best friends with Enzo. Bizzarrini took on the project and thus built Lamborghini’s first V12, with an architecture that was far ahead of what Ferrari was producing at the time and so powerful it had to be tuned down from its original 375 hp for street usage. This is in other words how Lamborghini’s first V12 came about, and you have to believe Giotto wasn’t too displeased to indirectly get back at Enzo…

The first Lambo V12 – Bizzarrini to the far left

Autostar under Bizzarrini also worked on a number of other cars, notably for Iso, another small Italian automaker from the 60’s, including the Iso Rivolta and Grifo, especially the race version of the Grifo called A3/C. For these, as well as for the later cars in the Bizzarrini name, he would however not be using that Lambo V12 but rather the small block Chevy V8 from the Corvette. Throughout his career he had developed a love for the larger volume, US engines, and even tried (unsuccessfully) to convince Ferrari to build a larger volume engine. A year later Giotto ended the collaboration with Iso, took the A3/C with him and fulfilled his dream by starting Automobili Bizzarrini Spa, where the A3/C was to become the first Bizzarrini car under the name GT 5300.

The GT 5300 was produced both in a Corsa (race) and a Strada (street) version, with a power output from the Chevy small block of between 350-400 hp. The car was front-mid-engined with the engine sitting behing the front axle, probably sharing quite a lot of heat with the passengers but above all, producing a sound out of this world… The body was a combination of aluminium and fibre glass, the rear axle was independent and brakes were inboard i.e. mounted on the axles such as to remove weight from the wheels, as notably on the Citroën SM. The box was a Chevy four-speed manual. Giotto raced the Corsa version himself notably in Le Mans, and it’s hard to believe today when you learn that doing so, he drove the car himself from Livorno to Le Mans, won his class and then drove back home!

The rear is the part most will have seen of the 5300 GT, and it’s a good-looking one!

Unfortunately, although there’s no doubt about his capabilities as an engineer, car designer or for that matter driver, Giotto Bizzarrini wasn’t very talented as a businessman. The race career never really took off, notably since Giotto didn’t have enough money to homologate the GT 5300 Corsa. Even worse, the whole company was permanently under-capitalized, the GT 5300 never became a success, and after the bankruptcy filing of the company in 1969, Giotto even admitted that he had not keep track of how many cars had been built. This is still a debated topic today. It’s clear that the GT 5300 Strada was the most popular car with presumably 50-75 cars produced. The Corsa version is estimated to have been built no more than 10 times, thus making it three times rarer than a GTO, and the following and last race car, the P 538, was only built a few times. So the total production of Bizzarrini during five years was probably no more than 100 cars. Those still in existance mostly sit in car museums (if you happen to be in LA, the Peterson Automobile Museum is said to have one) or personal collections, so I was indeed a lucky guy to see one parked in the street with the window half-opened!

I’m not a 100% sure but as late as last November Giotto was still alive, so chances are he still is, in that case 95 years old and most probably quite surprised to see the prices his cars fetch on the few occasions they change owners. A Bizzarrini would have been a great investment around 20 years ago when they traded for somewhere around USD 100.000, today you need to add a zero to that. But that’s of course not what makes the story special. Rather, it’s the story of a man who today counts as one of the gratest racing engineers ever, not only in Italy but globally, who developed Lamborghini’s first ever V12 and,who could probably have helped Ferrari became even more successful as a racing team, had Enzo had his wife and temper under control!

The most exciting Citroën ever!

What do Leonid Brezhnev (ex Soviet leader), Idi Amin (ex Ugandan dictator) and Adam Clayton (present U2 member) have in common? Well, hopefully not more than the fact that they were all proud owners of one of the most legendary cars of all times and the subject of this week’s post – the wonderful Citroën SM! Actually so did further, less democratic guys like Haile Selassie and the shah of Iran, but let’s please not consider this wonderful automobile creation as a transport for dictators – it was more a testament to the position of the SM as one of the most spectacular cars in the world at the time of launch, and therefore something political leaders of different kinds (and also including some more democratic ones like the French president) were keen to be seen in.

I’ve wanted to write about the SM for a long time as to me, no other car symbolizes the true innovation and great engineering from the mechanical age. Long before computers, the SM had some features that it’s taken the automobile world 40 years to catch up with, as we’ll see below. And it was all packed in a format that in my opinion has stood the test of time better than most. And…. Hold it. Before I get too carried away, let’s take it from the beginning, which in the case of the SM means going back to the early 60’s.

Some of you may remember my post on the Goddess, the Citroën DS last summer, that you can otherwise read here. The DS had been launched in 1955, and ever since, Citroën had wanted to add a more luxurious but beyond that, initially quite undefined luxury car to its line-up. This project went under the name S and was officially started in the early 60’s. When Citroën aquired Maserati in -68, the plans to build a GT had taken shape, and the SM was launched in 1970 with an engine provided by the new Italian colleagues. Or rather, an engine newly developed by them, since there was not enough room for the Maserati V8 of the time under the bonnet of the SM, and so it had to be shortened to a V6 with an unusual 90 degree angle. The volume was limited to 2.7 litres, a tribute to France’s fiscal system that ever since WW2 has been very mean to large engine volumes. And so, the Citroën SM also became known as the Maserati Citroën, and was the only Citroën ever to use a Maserati engine.

V6 far back behind the gearbox and suspension clocks

The DS had a futuristic form when it was launched back in 1955, and the SM was no less remarkable in that regard. The body has the shape of a droplet with a wider front than rear axle, as was also the case in the DS. The sleak body with the typical back wheel covers and the abrupt rear all helped achieve a wind resistance CV-value of 0.26, basically unheard of at the time. In its low position (more on the suspension below) the car looks very futuristic still to this day, and it should be noted that in spite of the shape, the SM offers sufficient room for 4, including a boot of a reasonable size. It was only sold in one version that equipment-wise was very complete, and the SM was in other words a true GT.

So what about all the innovations? Well, to start off, the SM obviously retained the hydraulic, self-leveling suspension system from the DS. I covered it in the post last summer I won’t do so again, but given it can be adjusted in height, the SM can go from very low to indeed very high by using a mechanical lever on the left side of the driver’s seat. The high position could for example be used on uneven roads or in snow, the lowest corresponds to its “resting” position. But there is a lot beyond the suspension to be mentioned. This includes the turning headlights that saw into corners, and that were also featured on late DS’s. There are the rain-sensitive windshield wipers, a first that it took decades for other car brands to replicate, the inboard front disc breaks, reducing the unsprung weight of the wheels and thereby improving ride quality, and of course the steering called DIRAVI, providing much assistance at low speeds and progressively less as the speed increases, again a first at the time. The DIRAVI steering in the SM had only 2 turns from lock to lock and a very strong centering back. In combination with the mushroom brake, another feature taken from the DS, the steering makes anyone driving an SM for the first time look like a beginner. Just as you will always apply too much breaking pressure, you will also steer far too much. The SM is a car that you have to learn, but when you do, boy does it allow you to travel in utter comfort and style!

The rear is the least beautiful part, but the shape helped the CV value

Unfortunately the Maserati engine wasn’t very spectacular but it sure sounded better and was more powerful than the 4-cylinder Citroën had used in the DS. With a power output of 174 hp it put the SM in the middle of the GT pack at the time in terms of performance, with a time of something like 8.5 seconds to 100 but given the aerodynamic shape, a top speed around 220 km/h, making it the fastest front-wheel drive car in the world in 1970. The shape also saves fuel as an SM will roll better than most modern cars without loosing much speed. Given it’s a 50-year old construction, that in itself is quite remarkable!

Citroën thus built a Maserati-powered car that was unlike anything the world had seen, and unlike anything it had driven as well. The car is far sportier than the DS with the exhaust providing a relatively raw exhaust note. Ride comfort is exquisite and superior to the DS, and once you get used to the steering and breaking, the SM is a cruiser by excellence. it’s actually capable of much more than that, as proven by some rally wins in the early 70’s. The standard power output didn’t make it a sports car however, and today few would think of doing more than cruising, something it excels in.

Ferari-like gear shift, radio between the seats, as it was later on the CX

Unfortunately, after a 5-year run and 12.900 cars produced, the SM story came to an end due to a number of factors. For one, Citroën had gone bankrupt in 1974 and been taken over by Peugeot who were far less keen on the SM and also on Maserati, that they sold a few years later. Secondly, the SM had always been destined for the US but ran into various issues in the US market, notably the fact that headlights at the time had to be fixed in the US, so the turning headlights had to be replaced by some of the ugliest fixed lights the world has ever seen. Thirdly, Citroën messed up a bit in terms of after-service both in the US and elsewhere. They didn’t give the US market the attention it deserved and they didn’t make buyers aware of some quite critical timing chain adjustments. This latter point was also a more general problem with the Maserati engine, which Citroën garages often didn’t know how to handle, meaning owners basically had to visit two different garages to service the car. Not a recipe for success and after five years, production of the SM came to an end.

Like so many other youngtimers, finding a good SM today has become an expensive story that starts somewhere around EUR 50.000. As said there is only one version and most cars are also manual, as they should be. Injection models made up some 3500 of the total production are to be preferred, all else equal. Otherwise your attention should go to a thorough check of the body where rust can hide in many places, and a likewise very thorough check of the engine. The timing belt issue can be fixed and has been so on many cars, make sure to choose one of these. Obviously check the suspension as well and how it has been maintained, but of the three areas mentioned, that’s by far the least worrisome one.

I don’t fall in love with all cars I write about, but I find the SM very, very hard to resist. No doubt there are many astounding innovations on our modern cars, but there is something truly special with the revolutionary stuff that was developed by engineers with the help of nothing but brains and tools. No other car pays tribute to the mechanical age better than the SM with its unique shape, its many ground-breaking innovations and of course, the lovely sound of the Maserati engine. A few weeks ago when writing about the DeLorean, I got some criticism for referring to it as legendary. Point taken in that regard, but I’ll dare use the word again when speaking of the SM – I really struggle to imagine a more legendary car!