A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spot a number of spectacular cars within a few minutes and meters in downtown Zurich, and made a post about it that you can find here if you missed it. One of those was in my eyes far above the rest in both elegance and rarity. To me, the legendary Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet is one of the most elegant cars ever built and as I said in my post, it certainly deserves a bit more attention than sharing a post with a number of other more “everyday” cars (that’s perhaps stretching it, but at least far more common). This week therefore, we’ll take a closer look at the car that is not only beautiful and incredibly elegant, but also historic in several ways!
The 280 SE (as I’ll call it from here on, given that saves loads of time writing…) is part of the W111/W112 range, the roots of which go back all the way to 1959 and which are today known as forerunners to what would later become the S-class. The W111/W112 (the difference being that the latter was a more luxurious version with notably air suspension and a more luxurious interior) was mostly sold as a four-door sedan, which became known as the “Heckflossen”-Mercedes (tail fin Merc) due to the shape of the rear “wings”. However a station wagon, a coupé and a convertible were also built in smaller numbers, all based on the same, non-modified platform. The body parts were different though and most of these were produced by hand, as many other cars at the time. The sedan wasn’t however, and this contributed to making the other versions prohibitively expensive in comparison. In spite of this and the resulting small production run, they are important as they are the last Mercedes cars that were in essence built by hand.
In the first half of the 60’s, the coupé and convertible had the designation 220 SE and were powered by a 2.2 litre, six-cylinder engine putting out a relatively modest 120 hp. Subsequent versions called the 250 SE, the 280 SE and the 300 SE (the most luxurious version, part of the W112 range) pushed that all the way to 170 hp, but it was in 1969 that things really changed, as that was the year the 280 SE got the brand new, 3.5 litre V8 engine internally called M116 with 200 hp, the first Mercedes engine post-WW2 that was larger than three litres. It came together with a modest facelift as the W111 was starting to age, notably including a flatter radiator grille and different rear lights. The new grille’s shape made the car known in Germany under the name “Flachkühler”, translating into “flat radiator”. Contrary to what is often believed it thus had nothing to do with making more room for the new engine, but was rather purely a styling measure. The price issue had been solved somewhat at least vs the coupé, as the convertible was only 10% more expensive towards the end of production. That is slightly different today, as we’ll see below.
The 280 SE comes from a time when Mercedes was shaking off the old post-war heritage and started developing more modern cars to take the brand into the future. Car building itself was however still traditional, panels were still in thick metal and weight considerations weren’t a major concern, neither on the outside, nor on the inside. What looks like wood is indeed wood, and of the finest quality, and quite a few cows must have lost their lives when the interior was sown. The doors are heavy and make the right sound when you close them and the leather-covered dash has another cow or two on its conscience. The engine is said to have power at all revs and the 280 SE was good for 210 km/h at the time, although most people would probably not think of going anywhere near that today. This very luxurious convertible was hence seen as the 300 SE’s successor, but it was actually part of the W111 range and most notably, had conventional rather than air suspension.
The 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet was built 1232 times between 1969-1971, not a lot when you consider the total production run of the W111/W112 of around 400.000 cars. It would be the last four-seater convertible from Mercedes for more than 20 years until the far less special A124 / E-class convertible in the early 90’s. At the time of the launch it cost 35.000 D-mark, no doubt a lot of money but by far not as much as today’s value of around EUR 350.000 – 500.000 for perfect cars, most of which have of course been renovated. There’s not many around and it’s probably easier to find one in the US than in Europe, as that’s where most of them were sold. That’s certainly not cheap, then again 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet has a solid place in automotive history and is perhaps the most elegant Mercedes-Benz ever built. There’s really no reason why it should be cheap!
About 10 minutes’ walk from my office, there’s a small garage specializing in enthusiast cars hiding on a back street. It’s obviously an ideal and favourite destination for a lunch walk, and I try to pass by there at least every two weeks or so as there is usually something special to admire. Boy was I happy to do so earlier this week and discover a car I’ve never seen before and had no idea what it was! Seeing it at first from the side, I noticed the nicely stretched body, which at the C-pillar and backwards reminded at least this old Swede of the Volvo P1800. Next it was the very special windshield that caught my eye, literally bulging out over the bonnet. The badge gave away that I was looking at a Lamborghini but even then, I had no clue how exclusive this piece of automotive history really was!
I was actually especially happy running into this street find since I may not have been kind to the Lamborghini Gallardo in last week’s post on the Ferrari F430. I’m not going to lie, I’m really no fan of the Gallardo and in choosing between it and an F430, I would go for the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Obviously however Lamborghini have a wonderful history and have built some amazing cars through the years, so it’s nice being able to pay tribute to that this week. After some googling and research, it was clear that what I had been looking at was a Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2 (a name that somewhat confusingly was applied to other Lambo models as well).
What is then a Lamborghini 400 GT? To find out we need to go back to the late 60’s, more precisely 1966-1968 when the team in Sant’ Agata built no more than 273 of these beautiful cars. The 400 GT was the successor to Lamborghini’s first ever car, the 350 GT, of which only 120 cars were built between 1965-1967. The 350 was a two-seater, but thanks to a slight adjustment of the roof line such as to create more space, the 400 was a 2+2. Otherwise the cars are really very similar, not only visually but also mechanically. The stretched, typical 60’s body was designed by the Italian coach builder Carozzeria Touring, and they obviously put a lot of emphasis on the driver and passenger not hitting their heads against the windshield in the case of an accident! The headlights are a bit peculiar, but that’s where the complaints end.
Both the 350 and the 400 GT were modern for the time with notably independent suspension and disc brakes on all wheels. The 5-speed gearbox was linked to the most interesting part of the car, namely the V12 engine. As long-term readers of the blog will remember, this is indeed the V12 originally developed by Giotto Bizzarrini for Ferruccio Lamborghini and also featured in other Lambos such as the Miura (where it was transversally mounted) and that I’ve written about several times (see for example my post on Bizzarrini, the one on the Miura, or of course the one on the Countach). As the name suggests, originally the engine was at 3.5 litres in the 350, putting out 280 hp. In the 400 it was increased to 4 litres with power increasing to 320 hp and the torque by 20% to 365 Nm. The car weighed no more than 1300 kgs meaning the power was enough for a top speed of 270 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time around 6-6.5 seconds. Not bad for a 55-year old lady!
The 400 GT in question was not in mint condition and as I learnt from a chat with the garage owner, also not for sale. It belongs to one of the garagist’s clients, reason for which he wasn’t willing to share many details, but the garage is basically performing a mild restoration on it. I learnt all this a couple of days later at which time the car had moved into the back of his workshop, squeezed in between an XC120 Jaguar and a Ferrari 456, with a 550 standing a bit further away. I guess that’s what you call a nice work environment!
After the 350 and 400 GT, Lamborghini would move on to the Isolero in terms of GT cars and to more well-known things in terms of supercars, such as the Miura and the Countach. The V12 would be further developed over the years, but this is really where it started and in that sense, the beginning of a true legend. The cars themselves, even though produced in very low numbers, are arguably less legendary, which doesn’t mean they’re cheap. As we all know by now, limiting supply, be it of cars or of Russian oil is a good way to drive the price up, so if you’ve fallen in love with the Lambo 400, prepare yourself for a long search to find a good one and when you do, to part with at least EUR 400′. That buys you a wonderful automobile, a legendary engine, and guaranteed uniqueness!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered what goes on in the boardrooms of car manufacturers when the decision on what to call a new model is taken. Without getting into the many, less successful names or number combinations we’ve seen over the years, I rather wonder if it’s decided beforehand that numbers will be used, or if it starts by trying to find a name and when you don’t, you then resort to a number combination? In the case of Ferrari back in the 60’s, there’s no question though that numbers ruled, each with a meaning but often so close to each other that separating the cars became rather difficult. Such was the case of the Ferrari 365 GTB4, and that’s probably the reason why the world decided to call it something way more appealing: Daytona!
It’s special for me writing about the Daytona, since in the unlikely case I will ever be able to start my dream car collection, the Daytona will be first in line. I’ve always loved the car for its looks, its construction and of course, its fabulous engine. As someone who grew up in the 80’s and who didn’t miss a single episode of “Miami Vice” and found Don Johnson very cool, of course it didn’t hurt that a Daytona Spider (or as we learned, at least a replica on a Corvette C3 chassis) was featured. But I would have loved the Daytona even without Miami Vice, and we’ll see if I succeed in conveying some of that love to you in this week’s post!
Starting with getting the story of the name out of the way, Daytona comes from the fact that Ferrari finished first, second and third in the prototype class of the 24 hours of Daytona in 1967, the year before the car was launched. The official name was however always 365 GTB4 (alternatively GTS for the Spider), and it was the successor of the 275 GTB4 and the predecessor of the 365 GT/4 Berlinetta Boxer. 365 refers to the volume of each cylinder and 4 comes from the two twin cams on top of the two cylinder banks of the V12 engine to which we’ll come back later. The Daytona is also interesting since it was the last V12 Ferrari presented before Fiat took a 40% ownership of Ferrari, and also the last, new 12-cylinder Ferrari sold (officially) in the US until the Testarossa (another great name!) 15 years later, due to the increasing regulatory and legislative costs that weighted heavily especially on low-volume manufacturers. The car was presented to the world at the Paris auto salon in 1968.
The Daytona was designed by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina, who would later also design the 280 GTO and F40, and the car was put together by Scaglietti, the famous Italian coach builder and a long term Ferrari partner. The design is a clear break with earlier Ferraris, looking much more modern with the shark-like, sweeping nose, the set-back cabin and the rather abrupt tail. Until 1971, around 400 Daytonas were built with their headlights behind plexiglass, but it was again the US authorities that put an end to this by forbidding headlights behind double glasses. Later Daytonas were instead equipped with pop-up headlights. The GTS was introduced in 1969 and became very popular especially in the US. It’s identical from the waistline and down to the Berlinetta and only 10% of Daytonas built were Spiders, but the popularity led to many GTB’s having their roof cut and thus being transformed to “inofficial” GTS’s. That’s a crime comparable to many bad things I can think of… Needless to say, should you be lucky enough to be in the market for a GTS, you’ll want to make sure you know its history and hence that it’s a genuine one!
On the inside, it’s all you can expect from a plush, Italian GT from the era. Early Daytonas had a Momo wood steering wheel which was however replaced by a leather version on later versions (a bit unclear from when), said to give more grip especially at low speeds, since the Daytona’s perhaps biggest drawback often cited is its heavy steering. The shifter is in perfect reach on the high center console and is linked to the rear-mounted 5-speed manual box, a transaxle construction that gave the car a very good balance. It’s a lovely, plush space that at least some experts claim is of higher quality than for example Lambo interiors from the same period. Obviously the Daytona is a two-seater, however offering some space for your Ferrari leather bags right behind the seats as well.
The heart of the car is of course the fabulous longitudinal, 60-degree angled, 4.4 litre V12, developing a claimed 352 hp and 431 Nm of torque, enough to give the Daytona a top speed of 280 km/h as it weighed in at around 1600 kg dry. The engine wasn’t new but rather derived from its predecessor, the 275, but its capacity was increased and it was fitted with six Weber carburettors. The sound that comes out of that construction is, as you would suspect, nothing but glorious, and increasingly so as the revs climb. The 365 is perhaps slightly less economical than a Prius, so it’s very helpful that Ferrari fitted a truly huge, 128-litre tank. That should be enough for at least a couple of hours, at which point you should anyway stretch your legs, so you may just as well fill up at the same time.
The Daytona was built until 1973 when as mentioned, it was replaced by the 365 GT/4. The production time was actually quite long for the type of car at the time, and in total 1284 cars were built. Of these about 400 as mentioned have the original, plexiglass nose. Also as mentioned, about 120 were (original!) Spiders. Today original cars are all immensely valuable but should you be lucky enough to have the choice, I would go with a plexiglass GTB, as this is the original design as intended by Fioravanti. I’d also be very happy to use the muscles a bit, gripping that wonderful, wooden Momo steering wheel. Colour-wise most cars are red but there’s also quite a few in black, blue and in other colours, including 13 cars in a brown metallic officially called “marone metallisato”, which paired with the beige leather interior look absolutely sensational. Chances of finding one of these are… slim, and finding a Daytona in any shape or form today is hard and expensive, with prices having risen quite dramatically to somewhere around USD/EUR 700′-900′ for good cars.
I’m not a believer in miracles and unless one happens, I’ll never park a Daytona in my garage. Then again as we all know, when you realize something you’ve long dreamt about, reality can be a bit… disappointing. So perhaps the Daytona is actually best left as an object of desire. Because as I dream of it, the sun shines all the way down to the French Riviera along the Route Napoléon. The roads are empty, no one has come up with speed limits or invented speed cameras. In the dream I also look surprisingly good and much younger, perhaps with a slight resemblance to Don Johnson (it goes without saying that my wife next to me just looks as good as always!). We stop at a small bistro and enjoy a lunch with a bit of rosé, that in no way affects my driving skills. Of course the Daytona runs like a dream, with the carburettor-powered V12 sound filling our ears as the kilometres run by. I guess I’ll keep on dreaming, and to me, the Daytona is without a doubt the best dream car in the world!
You know how you sometimes think that a person’s name has destined them for their job? I came to think of this earlier this week, hearing of a guy called Andrew Drinkwater, working for the UK Water Research Centre. Yeah I know, very funny, but who knows, perhaps there’s indeed something in the sub-conscious that leads these people through life to their future careers? There’s however a second category of people where the connection is less direct, but where the professional choice is still kind of obvious. I mean, if you hear the name Luca Cordero die Montezemolo and you see a guy looking like the below picture, you know straight away that he’s the president of Ferrari, right? How could he possibly have any another occupation?
Jokes aside, our friend Luca has actually had a number of other jobs through his illustruous career before (and after) Fiat president Gianni Agnelli made him president of Ferrari in 1991. However, not only does he sound and look like a president of Ferrari should, he was also critical to Ferrari’s development both on the track and off it during the 90’s. It was under di Montezemolo’s leadership that Ferrari hired Jean Todt as team president and a few years later Michael Schumacher as driver, leading the F1 team back to their first driver’s and constructor’s world titles in 20 years. Off the track, di Montezemolo also had clear views on Ferrari’s future line-up: he wanted the new models to return to the classical Ferrari set-up with a front-mounted V12 engine in the style of the Daytona, rather than the mid-engined cars which had been the focus through the 80’s. He also wanted them to be true drivers’ cars in the sense of cars that you can drive every day, meaning a clear improvement in build quality.
The two cars that represent di Montezemolo’s philosophy best are on one hand the beautiful F550 which I wrote about a long way back in 2015, but on the other the less well known Ferrari 456. Both share the same fabulous base engine, but the 456 is of course a four-seater and actually something as unusual as a very discrete Ferrari that some people (let’s call them less discerning) could actually mistake for something else. It doens’t screem “look at me!!”, usually doesn’t come in red, and today actually trades at far below EUR 100′, probably making it the best value there is to be had among classical Maranello cars, especially since it’s actually a really good car that is clearly underrated. All good reasons to look closer at it this week!
Starting with that discrete design, that’s absolutely not the same as saying that the 456 isn’t pretty. On the contrary, it’s by most considered one of the more beautiful recent Ferraris. It has kind of a timeless look with the 90’s, rounded styling elements clear to see. Interestingly, the 456 was the last Ferrari to feature pop-up headlights. It’s also one of the more colour-sensitive Ferraris, with most cars coming in silver or various shades of metallic blue, colours that suit the car really well as opposed to the Ferrari red which really doesn’t. The inside is a clear step-up compared to 80’s cars like the Testarossa (or indeed the 365-400-412, a car with the same concept produced through the 70’s and 80’s) with a whole different quality feel to the interior. It’s quite simply a nice place to spend many hours in. That feeling of well-being is further supported by the wonderful work Ferrari did with the V12 under the bonnet.
It’s certainly complanining on a high level, but sometimes V12’s can suffer from a lack of torque at low revs. This was notably a criticism BMW had to hear with the 850, and it can be traced back to various aspects of how the engine is built. Ferrari was conscious of this during the development of the 456 and used various tricks and all the experience of the team back in Maranello to improve power especially at lower revs. They notably went back to the 65 degree-angle of the Ferrari Dino days, but also changed the firing order of the 12 cylinders (each by the way 456 cm3 in volume and thus the source of the car’s name). Rather than alternating the firing order along the crankshaft as is usually the case, the 456 fires the cylinders next to each other, which together with some other clever engineering gave the 456 a clear boost in low-down torque. The naturally-aspirated masterpiece puts out 442 hp in total, which for a weight of around 1900 kg is really all that you need.
The 456 was built on the verge between the mechanical and digital age, meaning it still has some interesting pure mechanical components, such an accelerator by wire. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really make it an ideal do-it-yourself car (even though adjusting that gas wire can do wonders and is quite simple!), and the 456 needs regular service to a larger extent than more modern Ferraris, including a new cam belt every 3-4 years. If it’s taken care of properly, it is however fundamentally well built and ticks all of Luca di Montezemolos desired boxes for an everyday Ferrari. The other thing it needs plenty of, as a true representative of the mechanical 12-cylinder engine age, is unfortunately fuel, but that’s hopefully not a surprise to anyone. Apart from that the 456 is a wonderful, true GT, ready to transport you and your three passengers (with the two in the back preferrably not being basketball stars) and their luggage to some nice southern location, without any need for an infotainment system with 29 speakers!
The 456 was available with a 6-speed manual (with the most beautiful gearshift gate ever built) that you definitely want, and a 4-speed automatic you don’t necessarily. I mean sure, you can imagine the 456 with an automatic, but how could you ever choose not to have a gear changer looking like the one pictured further up? There’s also roughly as many of the Modificata version, the facelift produced from 1998 and onwards and which featured an updated interior, body elements and chassis, but not more power. For both, the market today starts at around EUR 65-70′, going up to to maybe EUR 90′. One thing to note here is that if you speak to Ferrari specialists, they will tell you that the engine isn’t really run in until after 50′-70′ km, meaning you don’t necessarily need to go for the low-mileage cars, but rather those that have been driven, enjoyed and maintained. That’s good, because those tend to come from the right owners, and they’re also typically found towards the lower range of that price range.
There’s no doubt quite a few people who would love to own a Ferrari 12-cylinder but who find most of them a bit too flashy to be seen in. I’d probably count myself among those, and for us the 456 is rather ideal. It has style, it has grace, and it provides all the Ferrari pleasure but in a more discreet format, and right now at a lower price tag. Around 3300 cars were built in total between 1992 and 2003, from 1998 in the “M” for Modificata version. In a world where underrated classics have become few and far between, and none more so than those combining 12 cylinders with a manual transmission, here is certainly one of the last good representatives. So in summary, we should all be thankful to Luca Cordero di Montezemolo for taking on the job his name destined him to!
The other day I spoke to my not-very-car-interested neighbour about a car he had seen illegally parked in our street (this is Switzerland remember, so these are the kinds of things you discuss with your neighbours). When asking him what kind of car it was, he said “it was one of those Jeeps”, which of course doesn’t mean it was a GM Jeep at all, but rather some kind of SUV. Jeep is thereby an example of a quite rare phenomenon, namely when a brand name becomes representative of a whole segment. I’m sure that’s great for Jeep somehow, but let’s assume I had instead asked the neighbour what he thought about when I said “GTI”. I’m quite sure the answer would have been “Golf”, not only from him, but basically from every single person born in the 70’s and 80’s (and perhaps some others as well). Three letters, meaning nothing more than Grand Turismo Injection, have become synonymous not only with all Golf GTI’s built in different versions since the mid-70’s, but with the whole hot hatch segment that followed. That’s beats Jeep by a mile, and today we’ll look at the first generation Golf GTI!
The sun was shining on our summer house outside of Stockholm in the summer in 1976 or 1977 when the father in the neighbouring family arrived in his new Golf GTI. You’ll forgive me for not knowing the date exactly but I was five or six then so this is one of my very early memories, but I do remember how extremely cool the car was and how great it sounded! The neighbours had two sons roughly my age, and I would enjoy many rides to the beach in that Golf together with them in the following years. I especially remember the younger one loving to stand between the front chairs and play air guitar during the drives – yeah, these were slightly different times…
That Golf GTI was of course a representative of the Golf family, one of the biggest car successes of all times and born out of VW’s inability in the late 60’s and early 70’s to develop a desirable replacement to the ageing Beetle, a pre-WW2 construction. Finally Giurgietto Guigiaro took the pen and drew what became the Golf, introduced in 1974. The self-supporting body of the new car showed very good rigidity, and thus a group of engineers came up with the idea to build a more sporty version. They managed to convince VW’s management and “the fastest VW of all time” would be introduced in 1976, with as engine the 1.6 litre four-pot from the Audi 80 GTE, developing 110 hp. Not a lot, but remember this was in a car weighing in at around 800 kg, and also at a time where there was some kind of inofficial consensus that a front-wheel drive car couldn’t handle more than 100 hp. VW’s management may have been convinced to go ahead with the GTI but didn’t have very high hopes for its potential success, estimating the total demand at 5.000 cars. That was of course just slightly off the mark.
The GTI became an immediate success. Some optical touches consisting of a different front spoiler and the famous, red-framed front grill but also black window frames and plastic wheelhouse arches for the slightly larger wheels all helped differentiate it on the outside from regular Golfs. The optical “tuning” with limited means continued on the inside with the famous tartan textile on the seats and the even more famous golfball-styled shifting knob. The Golf GTI had stiffer suspension than regular Golfs and was fun to drive. Given the low weight, its sub-10 seconds to 100 km/h meant it was quicker than many of the popular coupés at the time, such as the Manta we looked at a couple of weeks ago or indeed VW’s own Scirocco. Not only was it faster/better to drive, it remained as practical as any Golf, built like a box and easily fitting both more people and luggage than a coupé. Its pricing was competitive and the 5.000 cars VW had imagined rapidly became much more, eating into a lot of those coupé sales.
Based very much on the idea of never changing a winning concept, there weren’t many modifications to the Mk1 GTI until its production end in 1984. Some of the most important include the five-speed gearbox that came in 1979 and wasn’t to everyone’s liking, and what can be referred to as a face lift in 1981 including larger tail lights and a re-designed interior with notably a new dashboard but also new textiles – and a new gear shifter. In the final year of production the GTI would receive a larger engine at 1.8 litres, primarily with better torque, that would later be used in the MK2 GTI. The purists weren’t more convinced by the new engine than by the five-speed gearbox, as the larger engine to them didn’t feel as “pointy” as the old one. This is of course reminiscent of the same discussion around the 1.6 vs the 1.9 litre in the Peugeot 205 GTI, the hot hatch that is almost as legendary as the Golf GTI and which would make life hard for the Mk2 GTI from the mid-80’s and onwards.
When the lights went out on the first series GTI, a total of just over 460.000 cars had been built. By now this is over a million across all eight series of the GTI, and even though there have certainly been later models that are great to drive, the purity of the original concept has vanished over the years, with the GTI becoming much more of a conventional, and not-very-hot hatch. The no-frills approach of the first series is what made its success, together with the fact that it remained as practical and solid as any conventional Golf, and it’s what still makes it great today. If you can find one, that is.
Given the production numbers you’d perhaps expect that there are still plenty of cars to be had. Unfortunately, the reality is rather that many cars have been crashed, thrashed or tuned to death, or quite simply rusted away, since VW’s rust protection at the time wasn’t great. The Golf is of course not a 12-cylinder Italian full blood and it won’t ruin you even if it’s not perfect but still, for the EUR 20-25′ where the fun starts today (by the way more or less what the GTI cost when it was launched in today’s money), make sure you find the right car. If you do, the grand daddy of the whole hot hatch segment still reamains one of its best representatives. These days however, I’d recommend enjoying it without air guitar playing between the front seats!
The car we’ll look at today comes from Germany, which is obviously not very remarkable. But if I tell you it’s a car that every single German born somewhere between 1960 and 1990 will have a story or memory of, or rather, several stories and memories, that already narrows the selection quite a bit. If I then tell you it’s a piece of German modern culture, and yet forgotten in the rest of the world, you would be scratching your head if you hadn’t seen the picture in the banner. Actually you may still be scratching your head, since the car we’ll talk about this week is an Opel, GM’s European brand not known for exciting cars in any way and not very well known outside of Europe (although the Manta was actually one very few Opel models that were sold in the US). I have a distinct feeling that this is the only time Opel will be featured on this blog, but the legendary Opel Manta shows that even brands that don’t get it right very often sometimes do, at least in creating a true legend. Enough said – this week we’ll have a closer look at the Manta but even more, at the cult and culture that has developed around it every since, and lives on to this day!
Starting with the name, a Manta (or manta ray as it’s also known) is the largest ray fish in the world. You may ask yourself why on earth an auto-maker would name a car after a fish, but remember that animals in general were popular in the 60’s, as shown notably by the Ford Mustang, and fish more particularly so, with both the Corvette Stingray and the Plymouth Barracuda. Very much in line wth the times, Opel thus opted to name its new coupé Manta, and all Mantas had a badge with the shadow of a manta fish on the left front wing. The message was clear: driving a Manta was far cooler than driving any other Opel! Unless you’re a die hard Opel fan, that’s however where all similarities with any of the above animal cars end…
The German auto scene was competitive in the booming 60’s with Opel in the running notably against Ford, as both brands shared the focus on building reasonably-priced cars for the German middle class. Family coupés were very popular at this time not only in Germany, considered a sportier way to drive around your family, typically consisting of your wife, two children and their luggage, than a more traditional sedan or station wagon. This worked since not only the family but also their luggage was for some reason far smaller than today, and Ford had brought the slick and very successful Capri coupé in 1966 which Opel couldn’t compete with as their only coupé at the time, the Kadett, was too small to fit the bill. Something had to be done, which for Opel meant giving the pen to George Gallion, an American designer, and asking him to draw a larger coupé with the Kadett as basis. So he did, the Manta was born, and Gallion became the father on what is after the 911 perhaps Germany’s most well-known car model – in Germany.
Production of the first Manta series started in 1970. Priced from 8.000 German marks and upwards, it was a car people could afford, but neither of the two four-pot engines at 60 or 90 hp were really sporty enough to swing the tail of the rear-wheel drive coupé. Still, around half a million Mantas were built over the following five years until 1975. By then the Manta was getting old and Opel introduced the series 2, or Manta B – according to commercials from the time, a car that was “dynamic, racy, sporty, comfortable, and safe”. In truth it was even less racy than the first series, at least in the beginning as it had to appeal to buyers who had just come out of the first oil crisis. It was however a better car, bigger in every dimension and more comfortable, according to Opel what buyers were looking for. If production is anything to go by, they were right. The Manta B was built over 13 years until 1988 in a total of another half million cars – longer than any other Opel model has ever been built.
The Manta was thus a huge success but not, as you’ve probably guessed by now, a very exciting car. The design of the first series is classic and reminiscent of other coupés from the same era, not only the Ford Capri but also for example the the Fiat 124 Sport Coupé, one of which I was once a proud owner. At the time the Manta set-up with a longitudinal front engine and rearl-wheel drive was the norm, but fitting the engines lacking power to a 3-speed automatic in addition to the 4-speed manual didn’t really contribute to the sportiness. The fact that the owner’s manual was shared with the grandfather-like Opel Ascona, and said so in large letters on the cover, didn’t really help either. The Manta B looks more the part here, at least if spoilers and skirts is a sign of sportiness. It did offer more power at up to 140 hp and with time also a 5-speed manual, but that was really it. Until the tuners toog center stage, that is.
The 80’s were obviously the decade of bad taste in general, and car tuning in every way, both optical and mechanical, in particular. Thanks to its relatively cheap and basic mechanics, the Manta quickly became a favourite among tuners and pretty soon also the laughing stock of the rest of the population. Numerous stories and jokes not really pointing to neither the intelligence, nor the taste of Manta drivers made the rounds, and still do today. An example of one of those that can be translated would go as follows: “what goes through the head of a Manta driver when he hits a brick wall? The rear spoiler”. The type of jokes also had to do with Mantas being cheap, as was often the quality of the tuning, and the Manta thus became a favourite among those with slightly smaller budgets and where things like big black letters screaming “Manta!!” on the side of the car, the 80’s style rear window sun curtain or even small spoilers on the windshield wipers were considered tuning. Other mandatory attributes included a fox tail on the antenna and driving-style wise, always driving your Manta with your left arm leaning out the side window. Engine-wise not much of a budget was required either to get more power out of the four-pot, or as some proud owners did, replacing it altogether!
By the 80’s the Manta was however starting to get old, with the basic construction originating in the 60’s and far more modern cars coming on stage. Opel thought a bit of marketing was all it would take to change this, and tried to re-vitalize the Manta in a big marketing campaign showing it not as a car belonging in front of a fast food joint, but rather in the front yard of a successful businessman. That didn’t really work, to put it mildly. They also tried to enter the rally scene with the Manta 400, which at 260 hp was the most powerful Manta every built. This was however the time of four-wheel drive and more modern constructions in the rally scene, and Opel’s adventure ended quickly, as did production a few years later. The legend was however just getting started…
In 1991, the German movie “Manta Manta” premiered and was subsequently watched by more than 12 million Germans, meaning around 1/6 of the population! It can be described as a mix of Grease and Fast & Furious in an early 90’s German setting, featuring a group of young Manta owners on their adventures and culminating in a race between a heavily tuned Manta and an arrogant 190 2.3-16 driver. It manages to pack every single Manta joke and combine it with 90’s-style racing scenes and some truly amazing hair cuts into 87 minuts, and if you’re into the time period and light entertainment German style (an interesting combination), it’s definitely not one to be missed. The movie was anyway crucial in continuing the Manta legend and also establishing its reputation as a car for those with somewhat simpler minds.
The Manta scene in Germany remains active to this day, with regular gatherings of everything from original cars to, well, less original ones. There is a bit of a difference to be made here between the first and second series, with the first one generally attracting a more traditional, oldtimer-focused crowd, and the second one more of 80’s enthusiasts. Both types are starting to become increasingly rare and thus to increase in price, although we’re still at relatively modest levels of EUR 15-25′ for good cars. If the 911 isn’t your thing or budget but you still want to drive one of the most legendary German cars there’s ever been, and in addition at a very reasonable budget given the not very exciting but very solid technology, you really can’t go wrong with a Manta. If it’s a B, make sure there’s no rust or damage underneath all those spoilers and that if it’s tuned, it’s done in a somewhat proper way. And whichever one you choose, should you go to Germany, be prepared for the a joke here and there – but also for a lot of smiling faces!
Can a supercar that is today worth around EUR 1.5m (or USD 1.6-1.7m) ever be called a bargain? Or actually, let me rephrase that: can a French car worth around 1.5m ever be called a bargain? How you answer that question obviously depends on your economic reality and your relationship to French cars, and you also have to be very clear on the word “bargain” only ever referring to the purchase price – nothing thereafter can be called a bargain, whatever your budget, as we’ll see later. If however you’re lucky enough to have cars above a million being part of your economic reality, then you should certainly have a closer look at the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, built in Mulhouse, France, for all the reasons we’ll look at today!
For those of us with slightly smaller bank accounts, the Veyron will remain the stuff of dreams – but what dreams! Every decade has its supercar shining star (Lambo Countach, Ferrari F40, McLaren F1 etc.), but all these fade in comparison with the Veyron. When it was presented in the mid-00’s, no one had seen anything like it. A street car capable of 400 km/h with a 16-cylinder, 8-litre engine with four turbo chargers putting out over 1000 hp, at a level of luxury comparable to the best in the business, and at a new price of around today’s value, i.e. 1.5m. The Veyron was a true revelation and as such, also the precursor to later supercars like the Pagani, Koenigsegg and of course also Bugatti’s Chiron. In that sense, it is and will always remain a true legend of which a total of 450 cars were built during 10 years, from 2005 to 2015.
There are so many fabulous facts around the Veyron that you can’t list them all. As alluded to above, this is a car with a top speed of over 407 km/h, completely unheard of for a road car in 2006 and a number you really don’t need to be embarassed about in any way today either. In comparison, the current top-of-the-range McLaren Speedtail of which McLaren has built (and sold out) 106 cars and which benefits from all the latest hybrid technology “only” manages 403 km/h. Some other crazy facts around the Veyron includes that it takes in as much air in one minute as you breathe – in four days. Or that if you run it at full throttle (for which you require two separate ignition keys, the second to release the full power), the 100 litre tank will be empty in 12 minutes. or that you need to change the tires after 7′-8′ kms or when you’ve exceeded 400 km/h on four occasions, and that they’re not the type that come with a discount at your local tire dealer. And so on. In every single aspect, they Veyron was the most extreme creation the world had ever seen.
Bugatti has a long and pretty troubled history going all the way back to 1909. Ettore Bugatti founded the company in Mulhouse in the French Alsace region, which borders Germany and belonged to Germany at the time, before becoming French after WW2. The company produced some of the most exclusive sports and luxury cars in the world from 1909 until WW2, when the Maginot front line ran practially through the factory. After the war Bugatti wasn’t able to keep up with the times and was unsuccessfully taken over first by Hispano-Suiza in 1963 and subsequently in 1987 by the Italian Romano Artioli who bought the rights to the name and set it up as an Italian company. His ownership lasted 12 years and it was during this time that the EB110 was developed, the only modern Bugatti car before the Veyron and not a huge success. Bugatti continued to balance on the brink of insolvency until 1998 when it was finally taken over by Volkswagen and returned to Mulhouse. Under VW’s ownership, the company started to work on what was to become the Veyron straight away, with a very clear objective: to build the fastest road car the world had ever seen.
Central to all the Veyron prototypes was the engine, initially planned to be an even larger 18-cylinder monster, basically combining three six-cylinder engines. Technical issues with the highly complex construction led to the company having to settle with “only” 16 cylinders, V-formed and mid-mounted. The whole package with the four turbos weighed more than half a ton, to which should be added the 100 kg of the 7-gear double-clutch gearbox. If you think that sounds like a lot for a gearbox, remember it has to handle a torque of 1250 Nm! The Veyron has a total of 10 radiators with a total system capacity of over 50 litres, and the car’s body is obviously full of air intakes to help cool the massive engine which initially put out 1001 hp and later as much as 1200 hp in the Super Sports version that was built from 2010 onwards.
The Veyron has what I would call a very understated, elegant, sleak design that also looks very aerodynamic in a soap-like kind of way. I’ve seen it live a couple of times and noted it also looks rather small, as supercars often do. It may therefore come as a surprise that in terms of aerodynamics, the Veyron is very far from setting any kind of records. With a wind coefficient of 0.39 it’s worse than most station wagons both then and now, and the problem mainly comes from the giant air intakes required to cool the engine but which upset the air streams. The weight not only of the engine but also of all other mechanical components and of course also the very luxurious interior brings the car to a total weight of around 1900 kg, roughly half a ton more than what was initially planned. If your aim is a top speed of over 400 km/h that kind of wind resistance doesn’t help, and that in combination with the weight helps explain the rather Opec-friendly consumption…
Seeing a supercar from the inside is usually not very exciting, and going back 20 years, things were certainly not better, rather the contrary. The fact that other supercars were rather crappy perhaps makes the Veyron’s inside even more impressive, but it’s an interior that can easily be compared to the best cars in the business, irrespective of category. It’s a universe of leather and metal, a wonderful analogue universe that in its simplicity makes for example a Pagani look a bit over the top. It’s also the quality of the car that people who have been lucky enough to drive it talk about, and which contributes to completely without drama reaching 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and then keep going on, and on, and on…
So what about the bargain part? Well, as mentioned, Veyrons today start at around 1.5m. That’s an insane amount of money, but if you compare it to the very small universe of comparable cars, things look a bit different. To take a few examples, the Veyron’s predecessor, the clearly inferior EB110 costs 200’300′ more, as does a Ferrari F40 or a McLaren P1. The Chiron costs around 2.5m, whereas a Ferrari Enzo is around 3m, same as a LaFerrari. And what they all have in common, is that they’re slower than the Veyron! As noted initially, the purchase price is however only half the story because when it comes to the running costs, the Veyron is very much in a league of its own. To take a few examples, an oil change takes 27 hours and costs around USD 20′. That’s about 5′ less than a set of new tires of the only approved type, the Michelin Pilot Sport PAX, and when you’ve replaced these four times, you will also need to replace the magnesium wheels. You don’t want to think about what that costs. I recently heard about a German dealer willing to add a one-year service and guarantee package to a Veyron he has for sale – for EUR 100.000…
Of course, talking about the Veyron in terms of service costs is the wrong angle to take. You should instead admire it for the amazing technical creation it is, especially considering its technology is almost 20 years old. Volkswagen’s ambition with the Veyron was to showcase its technical capabilities, and it was willing to take very significant costs to do that. The result is enormously impressive, especially considering it happened almost 20 years ago, but it was also extremely complicated, and thereby expensive. No official numbers are available but it’s been estimated that VW took total losses of around EUR 1.7bn from Bugatti during the first eight years of the Veyron’s production time. That equals around EUR 4.5m per car and if you add the sale price of 1.5m to that, the total is around 6m. Given that and that you can buy a Veyron today for 1/4 of that, how can the Veyron be anything but a bargain??
Long-term readers of this blog will probably have understood by now that I have a bit of a weakness for the mechanical age, and a fascination for the fantastic engineers and mechanics that built incredible automobiles in the age before computers and modern production methods had conquered the world. And when all this comes together in the lovely Italian car tradition, then that’s basically as good as it gets – if you ask me. This week we’ll look at what is perhaps the best demonstration of such inspired, but not fault-free engineering. We’ll do so with a bunch of engineers and designers that have already featured a couple of times on this blog, and actually also with an element that can be described as a lesson in good management. This week is about the Lamborghini Miura, small in size but very large in supercar tradition!
We’re back in the mid-60’s and Ferruccio Lamborghini, who has so far introduced three cars to the market, is set on building a better GT car than what Ferrari has to offer. Better in reliability but also better in parts, not recycling racing parts but rather with cutting edge technology. He doesn’t care much for low, loud and uncomfortable sports cars, but he’s keen on using the 12-cylinder engine our old friend Giotto Bizzarrini developed after he left Ferrari to set up his own company (I wrote about Bizzarrini a year ago, see here). That is indeed one hell of an engine which produced 350 hp and revved all the way up to 9800 rpm. That was a bit too much for Ferruccio and he therefore gave the engine to his two engineers Stanzani and Dallara (the latter also the chief engineer of the whole car) to reduce the rev range somewhat and make the engine more reliable. They did so, managing not to lose power in the operation (well, at least not officially), but it doesn’t change the fact that Bizzarrini indeed developed Lamborghini’s first 12-cylinder engine. In Ferruccio’s mind, the only thing missing now was a GT car to put it in.
What Ferruccio had at his disposal next to the engine was an enthusiastic group of young engineers and a designer we’ve also met before, Marcello Gandini, who had just been hired by Bertone. These young stars didn’t really share Ferruccio’s vision of the next Lambo being a GT car, and they were also heavy influenced by a certain Ford GT40 which at the time was big news in the US. The Ford was essentially a race car and heavily inspired by it, the engineers set off on the concept of a race car for the road rather than for the track. Ferruccio watched – and stood back, leaving the youngsters to it. That may not sound as impressive as it actually was. You see, at this time in 1965, in a world where age still counted for quite a lot, chief engineer Dallara was 29 years old, as was Stanzani. Soon-to-be designer Gandini was 27. In a world where old men still ruled, it was in other words a bunch of kids that designed the world’s first true supercar!
Dallara and Stanzani built a frame of a size suitable for the sports car they had in mind, but not necessarily suitable for a large V12. But rather than making the frame any larger, they turned the engine around and basically merged the transmission with it, as there was really nowhere else to put it. This was undoubtedly the tightest package around a V12 ever built and must have been a complete nightmare to work on as a mechanic – and quite a few mechanics would be doing so in subsequent years. The engineers put some wheels on the frame with the engine fitted, and now only the body was missing.
As mentioned, Ferruccio had let the youngsters work on this in peace and probably thought of the project as a good showcase for Lamborghini in general, and the coming GT car in particular. That’s also why the soon-to-be Miura was presented just like that, without a body, at the Turin car show in 1965. To Ferruccio’s great surprise, this was all it took for the first ten orders to come in. For the chassis that is, not for the coming GT car. It became obvious that a body was now needed, and the job was given to 27-year old Marcello Gandini who had started at Bertone two days earlier. He certainly didn’t sit around, but rather designed the Miura in as many days as he’d been employed. Thanks to this, the car in its final layout could be presented just five months later, at the Geneva Auto Show in 1966. 30 more orders came directly at the show, bringing the total to 40, growing to 75 by the end of the year.
Everyone including Ferruccio were obviously happy about the great success, but it also created a bit of stress in Sant’Agata. You see, at the time, Lamborghini employed all of… 78 people. Around 40 of those were engineers, and another 20 were apprentices. The first remark is that it’s remarkable to take an idea to production in as little as two years with such a small team, and even more so when you think of how complicated the Miura was. The second remark is that it would maybe have been good if those apprentices had been real mechanics, as was to be discovered later. For now, everyone was highly motivated, working long shifts all days of the week. Ferruccio was happy to let them work, brought them food at night, and continued to keep out of the way.
Unfortunately the quality of the first cars was problematic to say the least, and probably sensing this would be the case, Lamborghini made sure to deliver the first cars to Italian clients. As the cars came in for service, the clients were then taken to some very long lunches, giving the mechanics enough time not only to service the cars, but actually to do some quite fundamental changes and improvements to them. The first series was thus far from perfect, something that however improved with the updated Miura S in 1969, which produced 25 hp more and had a slightly wider track. Some quite serious problems did however persist during the Miura’s whole production run, including engines breaking down completely because of failing lubrification, and cars catching fire due to a less successful positioning of the tank. On the less than perfect side was also the heat caused in the cabin through the positioning of the engine, and the fact that the slightest touch of the accelerator made any conversation impossible. At the same time, that’s of course one of the Miura’s greatest thrills!
The Miura may not have been a race car but it certainly looked like one. It was also really fast for the time, meaning a 0-100 km/h of around 5.5-6 seconds and a top speed of around 280 km/h. The car was light, as was the front end, causing quite a few rollover accidents. The Miura S was replaced by the last version, the SV, in 1971, and even thought things kept improving, the Miura never became trouble-free. Finally in 1973 Ferruccio decided to pull the plug, but he didn’t do it as you may think, by firing the team behind the less than perfect Miura project. Instead he not only delegated the management of Lamborghini’s whole production to Stanzani, but he even accepted the latter’s demands not to interfere in the day to day work, and never to challenge his decisions. Stanzani, clearly a fan of the saying “when in trouble, double!” quickly moved on to create the Countach, a car no less exotic, but which would become much more well-known and much more legendary than the Miura (see here if you missed my review of it last year).
It may have been the first, but the Miura was thus by no means the perfect supercar. But honestly, how could it have been, with the limited resources and experience Lamborghini had at its disposal? That doesn’t change the fact that what a bunch of under-30-year-olds created in a few months was truly impressive in everything from idea to realization. It’s also a good lesson in management, illustrating that letting young people pursue their ideas usually produces good results! Accidents, fires and breaking engines has reduced the number of Miuras left on the road today from close to 500 produced to no more than a few dozen, and finding one isn’t easy. It’s also not cheap. For most of us, the Miura will thus remain something we may see at a car show, and otherwise a wonderful story of young talent from the golden age of the automobile!
Alfa Romeo is a legendary car brand, which through the years has worked like few others on ruining its legend and making the inherent love many of us have for the Italian brand a tough one indeed. Luckily however there have been periods when Alfa gets it right, and when they do, the cars they build tend to be pretty irresistible. The current Alfa line-up is the best Alfa’s had in years, but today we’ll go back 15 years to when Alfa got it right last time, with the wonderful 8C Competizione. Many will never have seen it as only 500 were initially built (of which 80 went to the US), but it was an important car not only in that it was pretty good, but also as it shaped Alfa’s design language over the coming years and also marked the brand’s return to the US, a market from which it had been absent since 1995. Finally, it’s one of very few, if not the only Alfa from the modern era that costs more today than it did as new. More than enough reasons to look closer at it this week!
The 8C project started in 2003, a time when the Alfa line-up was not much to write home about. It included notably the Brera, a somewhat sporty coupé, far too heavy and with an engine from (hold on tight) Opel… The 159 and 166 were large sedans at a time when no one really wanted sedans anymore and with a design that wasn’t really one. I actually owned a 166 and it’s one of the better cars I’ve had, and surprisingly completely free of any problems, but the world can be forgiven for missing it.
Somewhere around here Alfa’s designers started working on a design study to express a new design language. The study was a sports coupé which the design team and the legendary boss Sergio Macchione were so pleased with that it received the sign-off for a limited production run of 500 cars. It had barely been announced to the market in 2006-2007 before the full production run was sold out. If you look at the car it’s easy to see why, but not only was it beautiful, it was also quite competitively priced at the time at around EUR 150′. That was however still twice as much as anything else in the Alfa line-up at the time.
Looking closer at the design, it’s a lovely combination of classic Alfa elements from the 50’s and 60’s with a modern touch in a well proportioned, compact body, or in other words a true Italian beauty. When comparing it to today’s supercars, it’s almost shocking to see how Alfa managed to design the 8C and get the power onto the road without the use of a single spoiler. Under the carbon fibre body Alfa used a lot of what the Fiat sibling Maserati offered in the Grand Turismo, most notably the new 4.7 litre V8 engine which in the 8C sits right behind the front axle. In traditional Alfa style the gearbox was in the back and the 8C is thus a well balanced, transaxle construction. The engine put out 450 hp and with a weight of around 1600 kg, the 8C was more than 200 kg lighter than the Maserati and good for a 0-100 time of 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of 290 km/h, all very respectable twenty years ago.
The inside features beautifully-designed carbon seats that look very similar to the Ferrari Enzo’s, a carbon dashboard and various other carbon parts, together giving it a suprisingly high quality, but also quite “raw” cabin feel. This is obviously a car from the mechanical age so the interior doesn’t feature touchscreens of any kind, rather solid buttons that you push and turn. What it didn’t offer either was much luggage space., but you can squeeze in a bag behind the front seats and all the way in the back under the glass cover, there’s a leather bag fitted, slightly bigger than a briefcase – that would be the official luggage space. Then again you can always buy what you need when you arrive, especially if you arrive as fast as would (theoretically) be the case with the 8C. Unfortunately however, there are a couple of things that may hamper that progress.
The first is not very surprisingly the gearbox. The 8C comes from the time before double-clutches, meaning the semi-automatic 6-speed box is a bit slow and not very smooth neither in manual, nor auto mode. The second is unfortunately the ride, which is said to be quite harsh and not very composed. Finally, the breaks are not comparable to anything in modern supercars, especially not ceramic ones. The thing is however that when you put your foot down you forget about all of that, because when the sound of the 4.7 litre Masserati engine starts to build all the way up to the limit at 7500 rpm, you’re in heaven. We’ve all heard the same engine in the Grand Turismo where it was introduced shortly after, and it doesn’t sound any less in the 8C. Actually it probably sounds a bit more, given its lower weight and the not very noise-isolating carbon interior.
At EUR 150′ back in 2006, the 8C was quite competitively priced for what it offered, and as mentioned the 500 cars produced were sold very quickly. Alfa didn’t increase the production run but rather brought the 8C Convertible to the market in 2009, but doing so they also increased the price quite massively, making it far less of a good deal than the 8C was. They built another 500 as convertibles in 2009 that all sold, both in Europe and in the US. And even if the 8C marked Alfa’s return to the US market, as so often Alfa didn’t really manage to build on it so that it took another few years until the brand returned for real, then with the 8C’s younger and smaller brother, the 4C.
The 8C is thus one of the best-looking and best-sounding supercars out there even today, and in good Alfa tradition, slightly compromised. As mentioned it’s also one of very few Alfas worth more today than what they were as new. In spite of the limited production run you actually find quite a few cars in the market, more convertibles than coupés, with prices today typically between EUR 250′-300′. At that price point the supercar alternatives are plentiful, and it’s hard to argue that the 8C is a better buy than many of the other cars out there. But if you want something unique that you definitely won’t see on every corner, and which has a sound making any kind of stereo system completely unnecessary, then the 8C is definitely the car for you!
As some of my readers know, my 18-year old son spends this winter as a ski instructor in the Swiss Alps (yes I know, lucky guy). I’ll take credit for teaching him to ski well enough to become a ski instructor, and also for transmitting enough particles of the car virus to him so that he keeps his eyes and ears open at the sight (or sound) of something interesting on four wheels. During this winter I’ve thus gotten regular reports and pictures that have clarified things such as my new beloved Range Rover being no more special in this part of the country than a Skoda Octavia, and some people thinking a Lambo Aventador is so suitable for driving on snow that they fly it in from the Middle East. Be that as it may, the picture he sent me last week beats everything: an Aston Martin DB6, parked outside a fancy hotel with several pairs of newly used, modern skis on the roof. This, my friends, is true class!
The DB6 was the culmination of the part of the DB series which started with the DB4 and was followed by the legendary Bond car, the DB5. The DB6 is less well-known than its predecessor and was built between 1965 and 1971. It’s arguably the most mature of the three cars, with a body which is around 10 cm longer than the DB5, giving it slightly different proportions but above all more room in the back and boot. Officially described as a 2+2, the DB6 will seat four people and in addition carry their luggage. The longer rear ends with a spoiler lip and was referred to as Kammback by Aston, and it wasn’t to everyone’s liking at the launch of the car. The body was designed by the Italian design house Superleggera as a handwritten badge on the side will tell you. Even if everyone didn’t like it then, I believe most would agree today that it’s one of the most beautiful historical Astons around.
The engine is a 4-litre, 6-cylinder unit with tripple carburettors and around 280 hp in the regular version, with another 40 or so in the equally available Vantage version. The base car was good for a top speed of over 240 km/h, a truly scary prospect in a car from the 60’s, even one that drives and brakes as well as the DB6 is said to do. The sound is what you would expect from a 4-litre machine with three carburettors, meaning absolutely fantastic. Most cars have a 5-speed manual gearshift but somewhat surprisingly, an automatic was also available. The large, wooden steering wheel is surrounded notably by a switch allowing you to adjust the rear suspension, a feature taken over from the DB5 but which helps illustrate that Aston was at the top of their game back in the 60’s (somewhat less so today if you ask me).
The original DB cars carry not only the founder David Brown’s initials, but actually the full name as part of the emblem. Brown was a converted tractor builder (clearly a useful background if you want to become a supercar builder, given he shared it with Ferrucio Lamborghini!). What Brown put together in the DB6 was a beautiful creation of which a total of around 1800 were built. There was a Mk II from 1968 and onwards, looking a bit beefier than the car on the initial picture which in other words was produced during 1965-67. There was also a Volante, i.e. a convertible, of which only 140 were built, and independent coachbuilders also built a small number of shooting brakes on the DB6 chassis. The likelihood of ever seeing one of those is… small, and should you wish to park a nicely restored DB6 in your garage, that will cost you around EUR 350′-400′. Then again, that’s only roughly half of what a DB5 is – but it’s also three times more than a perfect E-type of any type, which we looked at a few weeks ago (see here if you missed it).
My son says the DB6 he saw originated in Savoie (France), not sure how he came to that conclusion as the number plate doesn’t look French. If this guy or girl really lives in the mountainous region of Savoie and uses his DB6 as winter daily driver, then let’s just pray it’s had a thorough corrosion protection treatment, as spring otherwise risks revealing many (negative and expensive) surprises! Then again, given how clean it is, maybe the car was just there for some kind of show and the skis on the roof as well, even if they were modern – because no one classy enough to drive a DB6 would put skis on the roof with the tips facing forward, would they? I guess we’ll never know…
There are lots of stories in the classic car world, some true, others not. One of the better ones is about the legendary Ferrari Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari, who when he first saw the car we’ll look at today at its initial presentation in the spring of 1961, referred to it as “the most beautiful car that has ever been built”. Now before you spend too much time trying to figure out which Ferrari he was referring to, let me spare you the effort by telling you that Enzo wasn’t referring to a Ferrari at all, but rather to the latest creation from Coventry – the Jaguar E-Type (XK-E for those of you in the US). Of course Enzo was right. Not only is the E-Type a true legend of the car world, it’s also exactly what he (supposedly) said, i.e. one of the most beautiful cars ever built, until this day. At the time of its launch, it was also one of the fastest and most modern production cars in the world, boosting power and acceleration numbers that remain impressive until this day. And seen over its full production, it’s also one of the most succesful sports cars ever built. The car enthusiast that hasn’t dreamt about driving and owning an E-Type hasn’t been born, so it’s about time to take a closer look at it!
Initially the E-Type wasn’t supposed to be the famous road car it became during its 14 years of production, but rather to succeed the D-Type as a racing car. The D-Type had been hugely successful on the racing scene, notably winning the 24h in Le Mans three years in a row between 1955 and 1957. It was Jaguar’s first car with a self-supporting body frame and no longer a ladder frame solution (basically meaning that the engine was carried directly by the body subframe, notably saving weight), and the E-Type took over this and other solutions. In the end it didn’t succeed the D-Type as a pure racing car, although it has obviously been used for racing many times through the years. Instead it replaced the ageing XK 150 as Jaguar’s new sports coupé and roadster.
The E-Type was first shown to the world in the spring of 1961, more precisely in March at the Auto Salon in Geneva. As we know from previous stories notably on the wonderful Bizzarrini, car shows at the time were slightly less organized than in these days, and Jaguar was fighting against the clock to have the exhibition car ready in time. In the end the firm’s PR manager Bob Berry had to drive the car from Coventry to Geneva, arriving only 20 minutes before the show started. The reception was so overwhelming that Berry had to call Jaguar’s legendary test driver Norman Dewis and ask him to drive down a second car overnight. Dewis did so in 11 hours, averaging at a speed of 110 km/h (whoever said some things weren’t better before?!?). This obviously only added ot the E-Type’s glory and Jaguar sold around 500 cars directly at the show.
The car’s design is truly unique, with a bonnet that looks like it makes up more than half the car (around a third is closer to the truth), and which has sometimes been referred to as the extension of a certain male organ. Be that as it is, there’s a fantastic elegance in the proportions and also a lightness to the whole design, which serves the car well given it weighed in at 1200-1300 kgs. As we’ll see below there’s always been a roadster and a coupé available and although the roadster certainly provides more driving thrills, the (short) coupé is to me clearly the most harmonious design.
During its 14 years of construction, the E-Type was produced in three series, 1, 2 and 3 (or rather, when the Series 2 was started, the previous cars started to be referred to as Series 1). Being an English car from the sixties there are a lot of special series in addition to that, but this is not the place for a complete overview of all different models and types and I’m also not the right person to give you a complete overview. I’ll limit myself to summarizing the main series and their differences below.
The initial E-Type is by many considered the purest of all versions. It’s notably the only type that has the well-known glass covers over its headlamps. The 3.8 litre, 6-cylinder engine with 265 hp was the only thing taken over from the XK 150, with other parts coming from the D-Type or having been developed for the car. It’s worth mentioning the rear axle with individual suspension which was an advanced and very modern construction that was kept well into the XJ series many years later, and which was a crucial part in the E-Type’s excellent road-handling. The Series 1 was available as a two-seater coupé and convertible and the first 500 cars had a so called flat floor, meaning less leg room. Needless to say how sought after they are, as are early cars with external bonnet latches. In 1965 the first series had its engine volume increased to 4.2 litres, giving more torque although not more power, and in 1966 a 22 cm longer coupé version with two reclining seats was added, referred to as 2+2. These versions were built until 1967.
The so called Series 1.5 essentially looked like the previous cars but had the headlamp glass covers removed to provide better light but especially to get approval in the US (basically the same problem Citroën had with the DS in the US). It was also American emission regulations that led Jaguar to replace the three SU carburettors with Zenith-Stromberg units, meaning a power reduction of around 20 hp on US cars.
The Series 2 only saw minor modifications to the 1.5 and is most distinguishable by its wrap around bumpers and diferent grille. Series 2 cars were built until 1971.
In 1971 the Series 3 saw the introduction of the 5.3 litre V12 producing 272 hp, along with improved breaks and steering. Four Zenith carburettors helped the car to a sub-seven seconds time to 100 km/h and a top speed of around 250 km/h. Very impressive numbers, but only a slight improvement to the six-cylinder versions. The benefits of the V12 were rather the 12-cylinder character and sound… The short coupé was discontinued with only the 2+2 seater and the roadster now built until the production ended. Series 3 cars are identifiable notably by the larger grille, flared arches giving room for larger wheels, and the four exhaust pipes.
Through the sixties and into the seventies until the end of production in 1974, the E-Type was one of the fastest sports cars in production. It was also one that drove well thanks notably to the mentioned rear suspension but also its four disc breaks, something neither the Italians, nor for example Mercedes-Benz had at the time. The engines, provided they were serviced well, were reliable, with the V12 being more or less unbreakable, but again provided it was properly serviced and maintained. Given the E-Type cost roughly half of for example a Ferrari 275 at the time it was hugely successful, with over all series more than 70.000 cars produced, most of which in the first series.
It’s a few years since I had the pleasure to drive an E-type for the only time so far, more precisely a 4.2 litre convertible. I will never forget that long bonnet that seemed to go on forever, the low seating position with the large steering wheel, and then of course the sound from the six-cylinder. I had my TR4 at the time and let’s just say this was a different story. Driving-wise the car is impressive but commends respect given the powerful engine, but the precise steering and powerful disc breaks still give a feeling of control. My friend who owned and still owns the car confirmed my impressions, but also the amount of work that seemed to go into it on a regular basis, which brings us to buying and owning an E-Type.
Finding the right car is mainly about three things: rust, engine maintenance and series. Rust is probably the most serious issue and a very common problem, and the monocoque constrution makes it especially critical in certain areas. Any car needs to be inspected carefully also from underneath and ideally with the help of a specialist. As long as he’s there he can then also have a look at the engine, which as said doesn’t usually cause any problems as long as it’s well maintained. Adjusting both the six-cylinder, but especially the 12-cylinder is however a job for those who know, and if you don’t, you will want to know someone who knows! Finally the different series are about taste. Generally first series cars are most popular with their design being considered the purest and most beautiful. Many prefer the original 3.8 litre engine, claiming it’s more responsive and happier to rev than the larger 4.2, probably a matter of taste. The 2+2 coupé with its 22 cm longer body takes some getting used to and is arguably the least attractive design. Between the convertible and the short coupé it’s really a matter of taste, and there is also no meaningful price difference with our without roof.
Finding an E-Type is not difficult, but perfectly preserved or restored cars have reached if not astronomical, then at least ambitious prices. On the good side though, they are still only half or even less as expensive as comparable Ferraris! Good, original cars with some patina start at EUR 90′-100′, with no upper limit depending on condition but even more on the in some cases very limited series. An early 3.8 litre Series 1 is probably where I would put my money but I can obviously see the attraction not only of the V12 but also of the improvement on later cars. Again, the V12 doesn’t have to be a quick way to bankruptcy and is more solid than the 6-cylinder, but it will require more maintenance, and slightly more fuel… Whichever you choose you’ll be driving a true legendary car, one that is never out of place, and that is even more beautiful than the tailor-made Italian suits Enzo Ferrari used to wear!
Regular readers of the blog will remember my post from mid-December on the wonderful Mercedes-Benz E 500 (or 500 E depending on construction year) that I modestly called “The world’s best… car?” given at least at the time, it was just that. You’ll also remember that the 500 E was assembled by Porsche who had more spare factory capacity than money in the early 90’s. It was however a true Mercedes, built from Mercedes parts and not, as some will have you believe, an “almost” Porsche.
Contrary to the 500 E, Porsche was far more active in the construction of another true legend from the same period that was developed on the basis of an Audi. I’m of course talking about the Audi RS2 which not only started a wonderful series of RS models to come, but can also be said to be the first car in the today very popular segment of sports combis (estate wagons for some of you, but I’ll use combi throughout). More than enough reasons to look at it closer today!
The basis of the RS2 was of course the Audi 80 Avant, a conservatively styled, smaller combi from the early 90’s and one of the first models in Audi’s transformation from a brand for grandpas to the cool auto-maker it has become today. Audi and Porsche worked jointly on the project of developing the RS2, which distinguished itself visually from its less powerful siblings notably by its front and rear RS fenders developed by Porsche, its larger breaks with red calipers also from Porsche and branded as such, and its 17″ Porsche wheels. These as well as the exterior mirrors were identical to the Porsche 964, and the rear lightbar going over the whole back is also said to have taken its inspiration from the 964. Together with the fact that the whole car sits lower made it look like a very special Audi 80 indeed! The interior didn’t disappoint either with its bi-color, leather-alcantara combination in black-blue or black-grey (a fully black interior was an option), its Recaro seats and its white dials. If you know the Audi 80 it will feel very familiar, but still special enough – as it should.
Even more exciting is of course what Porsche did with the 5-cylinder, 2.2 litre engine that came from the S2 and originally developed 230 hp. Thanks notably to a larger turbo and intercooler, better engine management and a beefier exhaust system, performance was increased to 315 hp and a torque of 410 Nm. This may not sound like much today and of course it isn’t, however the RS2 Avant only weighed 1600 kg, far less than most power combis today, meaning 315 hp were enough for a top speed over 260 km/h and around 5.5 seconds to 100 km/h. Audi’s legendary quattro system helped bring the power onto the road and the RS2 was equipped both with a Torsen differential and a rear-axle differential, which could be activated up to 25 km/h. Combined with a manual six-speed box this was pretty much as good as it got in the mid-90’s, and it ranks pretty far up there still today!
As mentioned the RS2 was perhaps the first representative of the segment of power combis, and it was quite revolutionary at the time in the way it handled. Of course and RS2 doesn’t feel like a 911, but it also feels nothing like an Audi 80 – in a good sense. Not only the power but also the handling and the preciseness of the whole package was revolutionary in the mid-90’s in a car which over 4.5 metres offered enough room for four people and their luggage, but it’s of course one we’ve seen many times since. Remember though that 25 years ago, these sensations were achieved without a lot of software that help correct less perfect set-ups and excessive body fat!
The RS2 was available in 11 colors but the one typically associated with the car (and also the hardest one to come by today) is the so called Nogaro blue that you can still spec your RS with today. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was always only available as a combi, but actually four (!) RS2 sedans/hatchbacks were built as well. One of these is today in the Audi museum, two apparently somewhere in the Middle-East, and the location of the fourth is unknown.
If you’re in the market for an RS2, I suggest you forget about those an focus on the Avant. That certainly makes it easier and less expensive, but a good RS2 is still not easy to come by, and certainly not a bargain. Of the almost 3000 built between 1994-1996, many have not survived and others are of course cherished by their owners. There are currently 11 for sale in all of Germany and three here in Switzerland, which price-wise come in somehwere between EUR 60′-80′. Whether that’s a good deal or not is up to you, but the RS2 certainly deserves its place among 90’s icons as the first of a legendary range of RS models and a power combi in the purest sense!
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.
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….
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).
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!
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.
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!
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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…
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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 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.
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!
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?
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!