The simple life!

It’s a pretty established phenomenon that as we grow older, we tend to look back on our younger days with a feeling that life was both better and simpler then. That it was better is nothing but a myth as any statistic, and I do mean any statistic, will tell you. In terms of simplicity however, it’s a different story. Earlier this week I was sitting at a corporate dinner when the discussion turned to the early gigantic mobile phones at the turn of the 80’s and 90’s. I said something about life being simpler before the mobile phone and to my surprise, all of the far younger than me basically gave up a cheer.

Simplicity is of course something we’ve lost in the car world too. It feels like most new cars today have more chips than bolts (and quite some difficulty sourcing all of them!), and even a lightweight fanatic like Lotus has with the new Emira crossed the line to something more settled and mature for an audience today expecting more comfort, even in a Lotus. Not too long ago, this was very different, which is of course part of the charm of classic cars. So if you’re wishing for a simpler life and perhaps also for a classic set of wheels to put in your garage without having to rob the bank, let’s look at a cheap and simple option that has enchanted car enthusiasts for 60 years. A car that is one of the biggest successes of UK car industry ever, and that has also inspired further more modern legends, such as the Mazda Miata. I’m of course talking about the wonderful Triumph Spitfire!

The Mk1 Triumph Spitfire

The story starts in the UK in the late 50’s, when the UK car industry was cash strapped as always but not yet in the very dire straits it would find itself a few years later. Triumph watched the success Austin Healy was having with the Sprite, a simple roadster with a small engine and an equally small price tag launched in 1958. Triumph had themselves built the TR2 and TR3 since the early 50’s, but realized there was market share to be taken by marketing a cheaper and simpler car, that was still better than the Sprite. The design was commissioned to Giovanni Michelotti, a legendary Italian designer with cars from Maserati to Ferrari under his belt, but also less exotic ones of which notably quite a few for Triumph, including the TR4 and (later) the Stag.

And yet, the car that was to become one of few real successes of the UK car industry almost never happened. In 1960, Triumph was sold to Leyland Motors and in the midst of the merger, the Spitfire which at that time was only a single prototype, was forgotten in the corner of the Triumph factory in Coventry. If not for a Leyland manager poking around and finding the car under the dust, it may never have been. As it happened, not only did it come to be but it did so very quickly, as the first car was presented only 18 months later, in 1962. The name obviously comes from the Spitfire fighter plane from WW2 and it’s unclear to this day how Triumph agreed with Vickers, makers of the Spitfire plane, agreed to use the name – if they ever did.

A Mk III interior – unlike later cars, the instruments are still in the centre

Presented in 1962, The Triumph Spitire 4, where “4” represented the 1.1 litre, four-cylinder engine with 63 hp, was a simple car indeed. It only weighed around 700 kg so even with 63 hp, it had reasonable speed for the time, but the reason it weighed so little was that things we would tend to think of as quite standard even for classic cars, such as carpets and heating, were optional. It also had a very light folding top that should perhaps better have weighed a couple of kilos more, as it was almost impossible to use. Of course, at 63 hp, the Spitfire wasn’t what we would call a sports car today. It needed around 16 seconds to reach 100 km/h, but given you’re basically sitting on the road given how low the car is, that actually feels like plenty. Especially when you notice that the rear end is very lively indeed when the road starts to turn, something that wouldn’t be solved on later Spitfires until the 70’s.

The little modified Mk II Spitfire came in 1965 with now 67 hp. Sales in the US were really picking up and Triumph encouraged owners to race their cars on weekends, advertising any success they would have in the Triumph name. The “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” philosophy led to the Mk III in 1967 now with a larger engine at 1.3 litre, and – horray! – an updated soft top that could actually be closed. By this time you also got carpets in your Spitfire. By 1968, 100.000 Spitfires had been sold of which over half to the US. Two years later Michelotti did a pretty complete re-design for the Mk IV version, including the same rear lights as on the Triumph Stag, and a heater as standard. The final Spitfire 1500 that came in 1974 was the most powerful version there would be at 71 hp, however only outside of the US as there, emission regulations actually made it slower than its predecessors.

The Spitfire 1500 with rear lights form the Stag. Objectively the best Spitfire.

In the mid-70’s, the UK car industry was in full crisis mode and there was no money to further update the Spitfire as would have been required to keep the car competitive in view of increasing competition, notably from Japan. The GBP/USD exchange rate also meant the car became expensive in the US, with sales numbers starting to dip. The Spitfire would be with no further updates done to the car until the end of production in 1980. By then, over 300.000 Spitfires had been built with the last version, the 1500, representing about a third of total sales and no doubt also being the best car.

Even for an ex-TR4 owner like myself, driving a Spitfire as I did a few years ago, is a different experience. It feels like you literally sit on the ground, everything is smaller and trust me, the least of your concerns is a lack of speed, especially as the small four-cylinder produces a wonderful sound! That said, the early cars are perhaps a bit too simple even for those looking for the simple life this post started with. So if a Spitfire sounds like your thing, I would go for a late, 1500 car or if you prefer the earlier design, then for a Mk III. A good car will be yours for around EUR 15-20.000, a small price to pay for a pure driving experience. So leave the mobile phone at home, put on the gloves and go for a drive in a truly simple UK car legend!

Wonderful British quirkiness!

There was a time not too long ago when the UK was perhaps together with Italy, the world’s greatest sports car nation. A large number of brands built various roadsters, coupés and GT’s, many of which have today become classics. Some are obviously more well-known than others, and their fame is often reflected in the astronomical prices many of them trade at today – think for example Aston Martin. What most of them have in common though, except Aston Martin and one-two others, is that they’re no longer around. The late 70’s and 80’s were a period of demise for the British car industry and through that, a number of highly original and quirky brands were lost. That’s of course how a market economy should work but just like with Saab a few decades later, it also meant losing a bit of the originality the car industry was characterized by not too long ago. One of the quirkier brands from this period is no doubt West Bromwich-based Jensen Motors, builders of the Jensen Interceptor of which I was lucky enough to see one earlier this week. This week we’ll therefore look closer at a quirky English brand, its cars and, well, the British view of the world beyond the channel! Jensen started as an automobile body manufacturer back in the 50’s, notably for the British car maker Austin Healy. Next to that however, the founding brothers Jensen decided to produce their own sports cars in small series. The first in line was a car with neither a very selling name (C-V8), nor a nice design – some would go as far as call it outright ugly. Jensen’s designer Eric Neale certainly didn’t think so but given the client is always right, the C-V8 was pretty much a complete failure. Jensen cv8 It was the search for a somewhat more successful car than the C-V8 that led to the Interceptor, Jensen’s by far most well-known car, presented in 1966. This time the design had been commissioned to the Italians at Carrozzeria Touring (another company that would go bust a few years later) and although certainly more convincing than the C-V8, it was definitely still quite original. The front looked like many sports car in the day, the rear which in the UK became known as the “fish bowl”, is rather reminiscent of the 70’s AMC Pacer (which was of course designed after the Interceptor). If the exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste the interior is much more so, with a selection and quality of materials that led to the Interceptor being compared to high-end brands such as Aston Martin, Bristol or even Rolls-Royce. Interceptor interior We’ll make a quick pit stop here for a small side story that I find a wonderful illustration of Jensen and British car industry of the time. Jensen in parallel to the Interceptor built another model referred to as the FF. That’s actually a historic car as it was the first non-SUV passenger car with four-wheel drive, and thus highly innovative for its time. Neither in the 60’s nor now however does it snow a lot in the UK so if you build a four-wheel drive car close to Birmingham, you have to assume it was also intended for exports. All good so far. It’s just that no one in the Jensen factory apparently thought about the fact that most of the world outside of the UK by now had the steering wheel on the left side. So the FF only came as right-hand drive. Let’s just say it wasn’t a tremendous recipe for export success… Back to the Interceptor, which during the 10-year production came in three series with only subtle design differences between them but where the MK III was by far the most produced. The MK III also came with three different bodies: the most common “glass bowl” saloon, the much rarer and arguably better-looking convertible, and the ultra-rare coupé with a plexiglass rear. All three series had Chrysler big block V8’s and 3-speed automatic transmissions, but whereas the first two shared the same 6.3 litre, 325 hp V8 as the predecessor C-V8, the MK III had an even bigger, 7.2 litre engine, however at 285 hp with less power. This all had to do with the new US emission rules that limited the power of large engines quite heavily. Not only was the 7.2 litre engine less powerful, it was of course also heavier, and just a tad thirstier: apparently we’re talking 25-30 litres per 100 km (8-10 MPG) … Interceptor grey The convertible version of the Interceptor was presented in 1974 and is another example of Jensen’s risk-willingness or complete ignorance of the world beyond the UK, depending on how you see it. At this time most other brands were halting the development of new convertibles altogether, as it was widely expected that US safety authorities would enact a complete ban on open cars without roll-over bar. So Jensen was basically the only brand brave or foolish enough to launch a new convertible in this period. They were ultimately right given a ban was never enacted but they were kind of wrong anyway, since the whole company went bust only two years later, in 1976. By then they had produced about 500 convertibles, out of a total of some 6400 Interceptors. Interceptor cab Although the big block Chrysler engines were quite bullet proof, the fact that they all had carburettors and lots of them, didn’t make them any easier to run or service. The carburettors had to be adjusted frequently for optimal performance, apparently up to as often as every 1000-2000 km. Cooling was another issue Interceptors were known to struggle with and then there was of course the same issue as with all other cars in the 70’s – rust. You can certainly convert the engines to injection and upgrade the cooling system, an idea that some won’t like at all given the car is then no longer original. It will however be far more drivable, and thus possibly a solution for those preferring to spend time on the road rather than in the garage. Cooling and carburettors aside, the Interceptor is known as quite a wonderful GT car, offering loads of 70’s luxury and charm typically for far less money than a comparable Aston or Rolls (who as we all know also tend to have an issue or two…). There aren’t many in the market which makes pricing uncertain, but good saloons tend to start somewhere around EUR 50′ with convertibles costing much more. If this wonderful example of British ingenuity combined with a dinosaur-engine of a type will certainly never see again, then please make sure that if you’re not mechanically talented, you know someone who is, and go for a car as perfect as possible, as finding replacement parts for an Interceptor risks being as hard as finding a UK prime minister who will stay longer than a few months!

The forgotten one

Life as a motor journalist can’t be easy. Depending on what you write or say your audience often finds you biased, and if you don’t love the car you’re reporting on, manufacturers won’t like you very much, putting at risk your future access to their cars. An example of the former are my own feelings as someone who reads motor press from different countries. I can’t remember a single sports car test in Germany’s most important car magazine Auto Motor & Sport where a German car didn’t come out on top. And British Evo, the magazine whose tagline this blog takes its name from, had a period about a year ago where there would be a McLaren in every single issue. Literally. You wouldn’t think you could ever tire of McLaren, but Evo at the time proved you wrong.

An example of criticism not going down well with manufacturers also comes from Evo, who at the introduction of the Aston Martin DB9 had the audacity to picture it on the front of the magazine against a title that read “Why the DB9 it fails its toughest test”. The journalists in question were actually summoned up to Aston HQ in Gaydon and basically told they were wrong. It didn’t jeopardise their future access to Aston cars in any way, but they’ve testified to this not being a very pleasant experience…

Not a cover that made people happy at Aston HQ…

The DB9 may have failed the ultimate test in Evo’s eyes, but it was certainly the car that put Aston on the map for a larger public than had previously been the case. As one of the most beautiful modern sports cars ever, it was built for all of twelve years until 2016 with various updates along the way. And just as the DB9 was not an update to the DB7 but very much a new car, the same was true in 2017 when its successor, the DB11, was introduced. And so we’ve finally arrived at this week’s topic. You see, the DB11 is officially a failure, and even Aston will tell you that. Underneath however it’s a pretty good 2+2 GT car, which today is somewhat of a bargain. Let’s look at why it’s worth considering!

Many DB11’s are two-tone to help enhance the design

When it was introduced at the Geneva Auto Show in 2016, the DB11 received a lot of praise for its looks and was seen as a worthy successor to the DB9. Relatively quickly however, it became clear that not everyone was convinced by the design that remains quite decisive to this day. Personally I find the DB11 stunning and far better live than in pictures. Especially the rear sets the car apart from anything else in a positive way and as a 2+2 GT, I find it one of the best looking cars out there. And by the way, 2+2 is exactly what it says, with the rear seats meant for luggage or rather small children.

Turning the key certainly doesn’t make matters worse. Initially the DB11 was offered not with Aston’s 5.9 litre V12 from the DB9, but rather with a new 5.2 litre twin-turbo V12 developed in-house and producing slightly more than 600 hp. A year later Aston used its by now well established relationship with Mercedes-AMG to complement the V12 with the well-known, double-turbo V8 offered in various AMG models. The V8 delivered around 100 hp less than the V12 but with almost the same torque, and with more than 100 kg less weight on the front axle.

Cosy, but also far more spacious than a DB9!

The concept the DB9 and various other Astons up until the DB11 were built around was referred to as VH (Vertical Horizontal), a name that basically doesn’t tell you anything unless you’re an Aston engineer. We won’t dwell on it here but the construction carried with it that both the DB9 and other cars, especially the DBS, were very stiff and not very pleasant on longer rides. Given their character as GT more than sports cars, this wasn’t ideal. The DB11 doesn’t take the VH concept further and is built on a new chassis, bringing far more comfort than its predecessors. It carries over to the cabin which has the right amount of leather for an Aston, meaning a lot, and is generally a nice place to be. Its infotainment unit is the same Mercedes used in the early 2010’s pre-MBUX and is of course hopelessly dated, but it lets you connect your phone and the (optional) B&O stereo more than compensates for it. Driving-wise, most agree there isn’t much to complain about either. The DB11 doesn’t shoot the lights out and isn’t made for throwing round a track, but it does a pretty fabulous job as the GT it was built to be.

The DB11 was introduced as one of Aston’s “make or break” cars. The firm’s CEO at the time was still Andy Palmer and he felt it so important to convince buyers of the car’s qualities, and fundamental quality, that he apparently gave his personal mobile number to the first 1000 of them, telling them to call him should they have an issue. It’s unclear how many did, but what is clear is that it didn’t help much. The DB11 failed pretty spectacularly, to the point where Aston cancelled it after only 18 months of production – at least in its first version. By then, only 4200 cars had been produced. The second version that remains in production to this day is referred to as AMR (Aston Martin Racing) and saw the V12 boosted by another 30 hp. The V8 wasn’t affected by the update and has remained unchanged, but both versions will see a major review in 2023 as part of a general overhaul of Aston’s model line-up.

A far nicer front than on the current Vantage!

DB11’s today start around EUR 100′ for both versions, meaning half or even less than half of their price as new for cars that are two-three years old. I’ve written lately about cars preserving their value in today’s market, but this is clearly not one of them. Until now that is, because we may just have hit the bottom in terms of resale values here. If you like the looks (and how could you not?!?) and are in the market for a 2+2, EUR 100′ for a V8 or V12 Aston is really quite attractive. Between the two I’d go for the V8 given it produces the same torque and drives better given far less weight on the front axle. It’s also an engine that is tried and tested throughout in various AMG cars. There is however a reason to look at the first version of the V12 given only 4200 few were built. When the AMR update was introduced, CEO Andy Palmer referred to the pre-AMR cars as future collectibles. I’m not sure about that, but I’m quite sure that EUR 100′ is a pretty attractive entry ticket for one of those, collectible or not. The DB11 is a fabulous car that you don’t see on every corner, and the downside from here is certainly far more limited!

Two is more fun than one!

Turbo. the concept arguably made popular in petrol cars by Swedish Saab in the 70’s, has come such a long way that it doesn’t get much attention anymore. Yet if you want to challenge the US saying “there’s no substitute for cubic inches”, at least in terms of power output there’s no way around the turbo. Its advantages are obvious in allowing a far larger output from a smaller engine than would otherwise be the case, and a smaller engine means lower weight and potentially lower consumption, a bit dependent on how often you rev the turbo. Over time things have gone from one to two or even three turbos in modern engines, engaging at different revs, and the concept of more than one turbo on a petrol engine actually goes back to the late 70’s as well, and was somewhat surprisingly pioneered by none other than Maserati. In fact, most observers agree that had it not been for the Biturbo engine family, Maserati would have gone under there and then – and that would have been a shame!

A first generation Biturbo Spyder

There were two reasons times weren’t rosy at Maserati’s HQ in Modena, Italy, in the mid 70’s: firstly Maserati was owned by Citroën at the time in something that was far from an ideal marriage and secondly, various cars were built in small numbers without standardised production methods. Next to that however, much like other sports car brands at the time, Maserati was not helped by Italian taxation law which heavily penalised engines larger than two litres. This led manufacturers to the same thinking that Saab had up in Sweden, albeit for different reasons, namely to get more power out of a smaller engine. The turbo was the answer, but whereas Saab found one turbo to be sufficient, down in Modena the idea was an engine with two turbos boosting power even further. The project was led by a certain Alejandro de Tomaso, the Argentinian who had run his own car brand in Modena since the 50’s (and whose cars until then had certainly not used turbos but rather cubic inches, but that’s a story for another day…).

A less spectacular rear, but notice the Maserati emblem on the c-pillar!

De Tomaso took over Maserati in 1976 and saw its way back to profitability in cheaper cars through standardised production methods and with sub-two litre engines such as to avoid taxation penalties. The result was on one hand a range of different models over the coming years that we’ll look closer at below, and on the other the six-cylinder Biturbo engine which initially put out 179 hp from only 1996 cm3. That number would later be increased to as much as 245 hp in the early 90’s and siblings to the engine would offer even more power but at larger volume, and were therefore mostly destined for the export market.

The cars Maserati started producing under de Tomaso’s management were comparable to the BMW 3-series of the time in size and came as two-door coupé, convertible/spyder and four-door sedan. At 4.1 metres long and only some 1100 kgs weight, the first generation Biturbo cars that came onto the market from 1982 used carburettors, which combined with the small six-cylinder engine produced a wonderful sound. Initially de Tomaso’s plan seemed to work as sales numbers picked up from around 2000 in 1982 to over 5000 in 1983. By then however, early cars started having pretty important quality and reliability issues, and sales numbers fell regularly over the coming years. Issues were actually so important that Maserati decided to remove the Biturbo reference in car names after 1988, by which time both engines and cars had seen quite an important facelift and had also improved quality-wise.

A late Spyder interior with lots alcantara, leather and wood! Notice the watch…

Be it the two-door coupé, the Spyder or the four-door sedan, what they all have in common are quite an angular design which is far from the the sweeping lines of Italian cars in the 60’s. It’s a matter of taste whether you like it, but the car definitely has more presence than for example a BMW 3-series. And once you open the door, everything changes as you’re greeted by an ocean of leather an alcantara in a cabin that no one on this side of Rolls Royce and Bentley offered at the time, and hardly do today either. The interior could be chosen in different colours and with different mixes of alcantara and leather, and looking at most cars today makes it clear how much better leather stands the test of time than alcantara!

The sharp lines were softened a bit both inside and out with the first facelift in 1987 and perhaps more importantly, the engine was changed to fuel injection. Further improvements over the coming years included the suspension, steering and brakes, and as mentioned, the overall quality improved. In 1991 the two-door Shamal was added to the range with further design changes to other cars as well, generally in the form of more painted plastics in line with what was popular in the 90’s. The 2-litre V6 by now produced up to 245 hp but was only sold in Italy. It was complemented by the larger 2.8 litre engine in other markets, and models in the late 80’s and early 90’s were called 2.24 and 222 (two-door) and 4.24 and 422 (four-door). Next to these the Spyder was still built, featuring the same engines. A couple of years later in 1994, the lights were out for Biturbo engine, although elements of it lived on into later Maserati engines.

The Shamal is hard to find and could only have been built in the 90’s!

It’s a few years since I drove a late 80’s coupé, but it was probably the most Italian driving experience I’ve ever had. As said the car is small, so you sit relatively tight in quite an Italian position, meaning one that requires long arms and short legs, which isn’t really how I’m built. It also made clear that Italians are usually smaller than my 183 cms. it’s not too bad though and when you look closely at the interior, you discover how wonderfully hand-sewn it looks, with uneven stitching here and there which only adds to the charm of the package. It’s a car you can definitely throw around the corners should you want to, but be slightly careful doing so given the engine of course has the same Ketchup-like power delivery as other 80’s turbo engines. Generally though, the car is a pleasure to drive and gives you real 80’s vibes!

The quality issues Maserati ran into with the first series of cars meant values reached rock-bottom on the used car market, and although good cars have started to gain somewhat in value, we’re pretty much still there. This is clearly driven by many cars having been purchased by drivers on a small budget who could buy the cars thanks to the cheap entry ticket, but who have then neglected maintenance or used the car like a hot hatch. Service history is therefore key, as is a thorough inspection of the rust-prone body and the sensible, and today partly irreplaceable interior. Did I mention checking the engine as well? You should, but even if you do it all, a Biturbo will probably not be the problem-free perfect car for those who love German precision. It’s thus important to know yourself in this regard. The best part is of course that you won’t have to spend more than EUR 15-20.000 for really good cars, meaning a bit of investments isn’t all that bad. That’s with the exception of the Shamal though, a car by many considered a the best (and certainly sportiest and most 90’s) of the Biturbos, but which today is very hard to come by, and correspondingly expensive.

The Spyder gives you even more engine sound for the same money!

The four-door Quattroporte is generally slightly cheaper than the coupés and Spyder, and arguably the least attractive in the range. Later cars after 1987 and into the 90’s are quality-wise the best and most powerful. They don’t have the unbeatable sound of the carburettor six-cylinder though, and have also lost some of the angular appearance of the early cars. Both earlier and late cars in good condition are becoming more difficult to find but if you do your research, you will definitely find a Biturbo that provides plenty of pleasure along with a few frustrations, and the value of which can only go one way from here. Should that not be enough, driving it will also make you feel more Italian than anything this side of Modena!

The best car Hethel ever built!

As regular readers have no doubt noticed, I don’t often write about new cars. Enough other people do that, and the fact that most new cars these days are EV’s is certainly also a contributing factor. I’m also no big fan of losing 30% in the first year, although as highlighted recently, that’s something that seems to be changing in these crazy times, at least for some cars. However, when one of the favorite brands among all car enthusiasts brings out a new car with two petrol engine options, and indications are that it’s the best car they’ve ever built, then I do believe it’s worth a few lines. I’m talking about Lotus and the all new Emira, that we’ll look closer at this week!

Beautiful – with Evija and F8 elements all over!

The Hethel-based brand is something like northern Europe’s Alfa Romeo; every time they launch a car we all want them to get it right and in terms of driving pleasure they usually do, but unfortunately the cars just as often are a deception both in quality and comfort, especially since they tend to be a tad too expensive for what they offer, making them an enthusiast, niche product. This is no doubt one of the reasons behind Lotus’s financial difficulties through the years. After a drive in an Exige a few years ago, I mentioned to the dealer that I found it slightly harsh. He just pointed at the Evora saying that in that case, that was the car for me. I had some back problems then, and the time it took me to get into the Evora was exremely unworthy. When I was finally in, what I discovered was a car that was perhaps refined compared to an Exige, but miles away from a Cayman, yet still more expensive. That’s not a winning package. Luckily, having had the opportunity to experience the Emira inside and out recently, I’ll risk it and claim things have very much changed – in a positive way!

The Emira is Colin Chapman’s last Lotus iteration and also the last Lotus with a combustion engine, before the brand goes fully electric under the new Geely ownership. The chassis comes from the Evora but has been heavily reworked and Lotus has developed a new steering rather than buying it from another brand as they’ve done previously. In terms of looks it’s no big surprise that the Emira has clear design elements in common with its sibling, the coming, all-electric supercar Evija. Next to that however, it also looks like a mini Ferrari. More precisely, like a mini F8 Tributo. There are elements on all sides that makes you think of the cars from Maranello in general and the F8 in particular, but the design combines looks with function, with air being led through various channels from front to back in an Evija-like way. The result is absolutely fantastic, and the Emira definitely has a supercar look about it, far from the more toy-like looks of some of its predecessors.

Replae those lights with round ones and the F8 resemblance i clear!

Initially the Emira is offered with two engines: the well-known, supercharged Toyota V6 featured in both the Exige and the Evora, and here putting out 400 hp. It’s coupled to either a manual or an automatic gearbox. The other option is a four-cylinder, turbo-powered Mercedes-AMG engine from the A45s with 360 hp, which is only available with an auto box. That engine actually puts out 61 hp more in the A45s, so AMG tuned it down for Lotus such as not to challenge the V6 as the top engine. It’s a pretty safe bet that with the first facelift in a year or two, the four-pot will have its performance increased… Both engines produce similar speeds at just over 4 seconds to 100 and a top speed over 280 kph but as said, if you want a manual (and many Lotus drivers do!), then the V6 is the only option. And there’s another, very Lotus-typical reason for wanting a manual, namely that the gearing is still fully transparent and visible on the inside under the center console!

The inside is also were the biggest differences to previous Lotuses are to be found, and it’s a bit like night and day. Gone is the rudimentary interiors of earlier Lotuses, replaced by a very nice place to be, still with a clean design that is not overloaded, and offering a good mix of new, digital elements and phyiscal buttons. It also feels very roomy compared to for example an Evora, which is interesting given at 4.4 metres long and 1.95 metres wide, the car isn’t much bigger. The squared (almost) steering wheel and shifter sit exactly where they should, the digital instruments and infotainment screen offer all modern features you could wish for, but have been combined with physical buttons notably for climate and radio controls. Why can’t everyone do that?? With a total weight of only 1400 kg, the Emira is heavier than an Elise or an Exige, but still qualify as lightweight in today’s world, thus staying true to Chapman’s legendary lightweight motto. But for 5 kgs, the weight is actually on par with a Porsche Cayman.

The interior has nothing to do with previous Lotuses!

Next to the manual box, another reason to opt for the Toyota V6 is a great sound through the Emira’s exhaust. First tests indicate that the car drives like a Lotus should, diving into corners, perfectly controllable over the steering, well-balanced and very happy to wag its tale and drift as much as you want, should you want to. There are no active elements in the suspension, Lotus has rather set up the car as they believe it should be set up and offer you the choice of two versions, a sportier one and a more comfort-focused one. To go with that are two different 20-inch tires that have been specifically developed for the Emira (something that was actually last done for something as exclusive as the AMG GT Black Series!), one sportier than the other, and inside them are really big disc brakes that should have no problem bringing the 1400 kg to a halt.

Launch cars are available in a First Edition with the V6 and with a driving package, special wheels and various other visible elements highlighting it is precisely that, i.e. the First Edition. The initial batch of V6 cars have been sold out in most markets, although most haven’t made it to the road yet. If I were to order a car in Switzerland today, I could chose between the V6 and the AMG engine, and Lotus indicates delivery in about a year for both. That may be better than some other cars, but it’s still a long time! Prices are not fully clear but are somewhere around EUR 80-90.000 for the V6 version and about EUR 10.000 less for the four-cylinder. All cars are well equipped with few options. Considering that and that this is a mid-engined, two-seater which at 1400 kg offers 400 hp, the Emira very much looks like a supercar for sports car money. And when you add to that the interior quality, comfort and practicality it also offers, it starts sounding not only attractive, but actually pretty irresistible, especially when you know that with a Toyota or an AMG engine, servicing it won’t ruin you either.

I’ve yet to see a colour that doesn’t fit the car!

Should you get this instead of a Cayman or for that matter, an F8? As always, that depends on who you are. Even though the Emira is miles ahead of previous Lotuses, if you’re looking for perfection, then the Cayman is probably the way to go. And if you really want the full drama, looks and sound from Maranello, well then an F8 is the car to get. But if you’re on a smaller budget, you enjoy special things that aren’t seen on every corner, you find it has enough supercar looks and feels special enough, well then the Emira could be the car for you. Personally I would be in that corner, and buying the last petrol car that will ever come out of Hethel also feels quite special! In terms of which one to get however, Lotus hasn’t made it easy. I like the V6 but by the sounds of it, the AMG four-pot could be a real peach. What settles it for me though is that to me, a Lotus needs to be a manual, especially when it lets you look into the gearing mechanism. I’ll take the V6 please!

The only car you’ll ever need!

If you don’t want run the risk of serious depression, you need to be selective when watching the news these days. Between the war in Ukraine, rampant inflation, lock-downs in China and other de-globalization effects (and in addition to that a full energy crisis in Europe), it’s not a wild guess that the coming years may well be more difficult than the last ones. Is it maybe time to downscale, and reduce the number of cars in the garage? Thinking about it, I started playing with the idea that you would have to stick to one car and one car only for the rest of your life. What would you choose? I realize many would probably answer with an EV these days, but for this exercise, let’s forget about those and stick to the good old combustion ones. A sports car would be nice but not really in line with down-sizing, and also not very practical. Coupes are nice to drive but not very good for your present or future kids and all their stuff. SUV’s is obviously the way most of us have gone in the last years, but they’re not really a thrill to drive, unnecessarily heavy, and loading them is quite tiresome given the height.

If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll reach the same conclusion as me. The one car that will serve you well for the rest of your life is – drumroll – a German power station wagon and more precisely, an Audi RS6 Avant or a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. They will carry all your children and their gear when they’re young, and all the furniture when you’re re-designing your house after they moved out. Their four-wheel drive systems will ensure you reach your favorite winter destination while beating most supercars (at least those a few years old) on the highway. But they can also take your stepmother to the grocery store without her noticing anything special, and she’ll be able to load the groceries herself in the back. The RS6 and E63 are thus pretty unbeatable and have obviously been head to head competitors for many years.

Purposeful and muscular with tremendous presence!

Regular readers of this blog might rightfully be a bit surprised at this point for two reasons: firstly the fact that up until three years ago I owned an E63 so why on earth did I sell it? And secondly, wasn’t I the one who complained about how bad the (then) new E-class was? You’d be right on both points and I’m not sure my defence will convince you, but in terms of my E63, if there’s one car I wish I hadn’t sold it’s indeed that one and if I had a second chance, I might well have decided differently. Trading it in for an XC90 was perhaps sensible, but if so, proving how boring sensible can be.

On the second point it’s indeed true that I’m still far from convinced by the current E-class but luckily, a downsizing budget is more compatible with a somewhat older car, which in this case would mean the Merc (W212) E63 AMG and the Audi (C7) RS6 Avant, built from 2013 until 2016 and 2018 respectively (meaning for Merc, the face-lifted version of the W212). These were the last not-fully digital versions and they can now be had at between 1/3 and 1/4 of their price as new, meaning around EUR 50-60.000. For what is arguably the world’s greatest car concept, that’s no less than a tremendous bargain and one that is hard to resist, whatever the world does next!

An elegant line, appreciated by those “who know”…

As a short background, the W212 MB E63 AMG in its face-lifted version was introduced in 2013 and unlike its predecessor, it had four-wheel drive as standard, which is very useful in getting the power from the 5.5 litre, double-turbo V8 with 557 hp in the regular version, or 585 hp in the “S” version, to the tarmac. The additional power was more noticeable in the torque which increased from 720 Nm to 800 Nm. The corresponding C7 RS6 was built between 2013 and 2018 and was the third version of the RS. Its 4-litre, double-turbo V8 produced 560 hp as standard or 605 hp in the version called “Performance” in most European markets, with corresponding torque numbers of 700/750 Nm. It goes without saying that it also came with four-wheel drive as standard – how could it be any different from the home of Quattro?

The engines and drive trains are thus very similar, as are acceleration and top speed numbers with drag races normally ending slightly in favor of the Merc. The difference is however negligible, but it’s far more common that Audis have been tuned to even more power than E63’s, and it’s not uncommon to see RS6’s with over 700 hp. What is more surprising given Merc’s reputation is that the E63 is the hooligan of the two, very happy to drift as much as you desire but only if you so desire. This is very different to Audi’s more controlled behavior – it drives like it’s on rails whether you want it or not. Then again, if you’ve tuned it beyond 700 hp, that’s perhaps a good thing…

A fault-free interior – perhaps slightly dull?

In terms of styling this is of course a matter of personal taste, but I think most people would agree on the Audi having more presence than the Merc which is more of a sleeper. I would also say that the Audi looks sportier, the Merc more elegant. The same is carried over to the interior where most would probably agree on Audi’s being more modern, which of course has to do with the W212 having been introduced already in 2009 and the face-lifted version taking over most of the original car’s interior in 2013.

In terms of quality and feel however, the Merc has a solidity to it which I find difficult to replicate (and which the current E-class is light years away from). It very much leaves you with the impression of being the last “real” E-class. The E63 is also the roomier car, both cabin- and booth-wise, with up to 200 litres more space in total. If you still rely on onboard infotainment you’ll prefer Audi’s larger screen and more modern system, and it’s also far easier to find an RS6 with the B&O sound system. Mercedes also offers that as an option, but it’s far less common. That’s a shame, since it’s a fantastic system, far superior to the cheaper systems in both cars.

An ageing interior, but ageing well!

If you’re still with me and haven’t made up your mind just yet, there’s two other things to note before you do so: firstly, the RS6 is much more often to be seen than the E63. The latter is quite rare and content with being only noticed by those “who know”. If you don’t want to see the same car on every street corner, or indeed if you want to be noticed less than you are in an RS6, that’s worth considering. Secondly, comparable RS6’s are generally more expensive than E63’s by somewhere between EUR 10-20.000. Good sub-100.000 kms E63’s will start around EUR 50.000, corresponding RS6’s at around EUR 60.000.

Whichever one you choose, do so carefully. A 700 hp RS6 with unclear history and imported from Germany is not necessarily the one you want, neither the car that rides on 23-inch wheels with nothing between rubber and the wheelarch. This is far more common with RS6’s than with E63’s, so beware. As always, original cars from countries with high fines for speeding, and elderly owner and a complete service history are the best and worth a few thousand more. Think about the equipment that is important to you and although this may make the search longer, don’t compromise but rather wait until the right car comes along, because it will. And if that happens to be a bright red RS6, who cares? Firstly it’s one of the few cars in this class that looks good in red, secondly you’ll probably never want to sell it anyway and thirdly, if you do, the secondary value will take much less of a hit than if it had been a new car 3-4 times more expensive. As for myself, if downsizing really kicks in and my beloved cars had to go to focus on one, then I would buy an E63 again. But just to make sure, I would test drive that RS6 once more before doing so!

Street finds – Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2!

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).

Somewhat peculiar headlamps, typical 60’s bodywork

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.

The 400 GT 2+2 has a modified roofline compared to the 350 GT

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!

Paul McCartney apparently owned a 400 GT – this one!

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!

Baby Enzo comes of age!

There’s a lot of talk among car bloggers and vloggers (me included) about the concept of “real”, in the sense of for example “which is the last real this-and-that?”. These days it often has to do with partial or full electrification, where the last “real” car is understood as the last version before that happened. You only need to wind the clock back a few years however for the debate to have been between naturally aspirated and supercharged, and before that, analogue and digital. I could go on but I think it’s already clear that this is a discussion that’s been going on maybe not since the car was invented, but definitely for a long time (assisted steering? who needs that? Naa, the predecessor was definitely the last “real” car they offered!).

I believe to know that most of those reading this blog will have lived through at least the three stages described above, meaning mechanical/analogue vs digital, naturally aspirated vs supercharged, and petrol vs hybrid/EV. I also think that many of you have a preference for the first world in those three categories. Which is why this week, I thought we’d talk about the last “real” Ferrari corresponding to the above brief in the sense of it being (mostly) analogue, very much naturally aspirated, and definitely only running on gasoline! It also happens to be one of my all-time favourites from Maranello one of the most beautiful cars they ever built. As if that wasn’t enough, today it’s even a bit forgotten, and hence bit of a bargain: ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ferrari F430!

A beautiful, compact and timeless design by Pininfarina

It was in 2004 that the F430 was presented to the world as the F360’s successor and sales started the year after. This was important for Ferrari since the competitors in Sant’ Agata had launched the Lambo Gallardo, a much more powerful car than the F360, in 2003. The nervousness only lasted until 2005 though, as the F430 was a true competitor to the Gallardo. Outside the changes compared to the F360 could be considered as a major facelift, but they were changes that took the already beautiful F360 to the next level. And obviously, not only the looks did so, but very much the powertrain as well!

Most noticeable are of course the Enzo rear lights, knowing the Enzo had been introduced two years before and is obviously the main reason the car was often referred to as “baby Enzo”. There’s other details as well though, notably the side mirrors that are held by thin arms such as not to interrupt the air flow to the air intakes on the rear aisles. On the driver side the mirror cap also has the very cool “F430” inscription. Inside the car, the step-up in quality from the F360 is very clear to see. The F430 is still analogue to the extent that it doesn’t have any screens, but a bit depending on the optional extended leather package, the interior feels very high quality. Some people insist on the optional bucket seats but the standard seats not only look better, they also offer enough hold and more comfort and thus fit most people absolutely fine.

The F430 is a Ferrari that doesn’t need to be red!

If the looks can be considered a facelift rather than a full re-design, there were definitely other quite revulationary news on the mechanical side. The wonderful 4.3 litre V8 was a completely new engine replacing the 3.6 litre one in the F360 that could be traced all the way back to the Dino. Weighing only 4 kgs more than its predecessor but putting out 490 hp that had only around 1300-1400 kgs to carry, not only was its power much higher than the F360 but the torque was also significantly higher at 465 Nm. For about 90% of the 15.000 F430’s built, the engine was associated to an F1 semi-automatic gearbox, with only 10% of cars being manual.

The F430 was the first Ferrari to be equipped with the by now classic “manettino”, located on the steering wheel and allowing you to select the different driving programs. Linked to that, it was also the first Ferrari to have the electronic or e-differential, a limited slip active differential that could vary the torque distribution by taking into account lateral acceleration, steering angle and so on. Brakes came from Brembo and carbon-ceramic breaks were available as an option. All this gave as end result a car that had much better downforce than the F360, better handling, and much more power: a time to 100 km/h under 4 seconds and a top speed of 315 km/h is really all you need still today! When you press the throttle, the exhaust sound is quite simply sublime and of a kind only natural aspiration can produce. Sorry Pavarotti, this is Italian opera at its best!

Coupé or Spider, the interior remains the same but the coupé gives you additional storage behind the seats

Initially the F430 was available as a coupé and in 2005 a convertible/Spider was added to the line-up, obviously allowing you to enjoy the action and the sound to the max, but doing so also sacrificing at least a bit of the beautiful lines. In 2007 the F430 Scuderia came out as the racing version and successor to the F360 Challenge Stradale, taking up the competition with notably the 911 GT2 and the Lambo Gallardo Superleggera. The Scuderia weighs 100 kg less and has a few more hp, but only comes with a semi-automatic gearbox – no manual Scuderias were built. The F430 was replaced by the 458 in 2009, the car that took Ferrari into the modern age.

The F430 is thus not only one of Ferrari’s most beautiful creations and a great sports- or even supercar, it’s also the last, naturally aspirated Ferrari. That makes it special but strangely, that doesn’t seem to be fully appreciated by the market yet. For a “regular” F430, meaning a coupé with the F1 semi-automatic gearbox, prices start around EUR 80-90′. The Spider will be slightly more and cars with manual gearboxes will add 40-50%, a premium hardly worth paying. That’s only slightly more than on one hand the predecessor F360, clearly an inferior car, or the Lamborghini Gallardo which, let’s be honest, looks like it was designed by someone who could only draw boxes and has a VW engine. Given that, the standard F430 is clearly the bargain of the lot!

The Scuderia is more than twice as expensive but it’s also quite an extreme car that is really only interesting if you do track days. It does get even better as although boasting supercar performance, the F430 is generally considered quite reasonable to run. We’re obviously not talking a Toyota Prius here, but certainly not Enzo-level either. So in summary, EUR 100′ will easily get you the last real Ferrari without ruining you on the way. In today’s inflationary world, that’s a true bargain for a car that I’m sure we can all agree on is the last real Ferrari!

The best dream car in the world!

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!

Shark-like nose with the original 5-spoke wheels

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 GTB has more harmonious lines than the GTS

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!

A beautiful – here restored – interior!

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.

One of the best V12’s in all its beauty!

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.

A later car with pop-up headlights – almost, but not quite as beautiful!

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!

The land of rising rev’s!

Japanese cars aren’t featured all too often on this blog, mainly because if you’re not a true fan of a wing-clad hot hatches of different kinds (as I’m not), there really hasn’t been that much to write about from Japan in the last years – or actually, make that decades. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule of Japanese cars being very high quality, but also very clinical and rather impersonal. The most obvious ones are certainly the beautiful and today very sought after first version of the Honda NSX, and of course the Mazda Miata, the world’s most sold sports car ever and which has been a true source of enjoyment in the classical roadster sense for now more than 30 years. And then, there is the far less sold and thus also less well-known direct competitor to the Miata that we’ll look at today – the Honda S2000. Because if naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines that can be revved until eternity is your thing, then there’s really no better car out there!

It may not look like it will rev to 9000 rpm but trust me, it will!

The S2000 was introduced in 1999 at the Geneva Autosalon and it was a rather successful start since the car was straight away elected Convertible of the Year, but this was still ten years after the Miata had been launched, so clearly Honda were late to the party. The S2000 would subsequently be built during ten years in the NSX factory in Japan to a total of around 110.000 cars which really represent Japanese car making at its finest. Honda’s ambition was clearly to tap into the successful roadster market especially in the US but also in Europe, in presenting a car that corresponded to the traditional roadster brief, combining low weight (in the case of the S2000, around 1300 kgs) with rear-wheel drive, and exploited so successfully by the Mazda Miata. To the difference of the latter though, it did so with an engine that had much more power and may well be the finest four-cylinder engine ever built.

Before we get to the engine, if we look at the car itself, there’s, really not that much to say. It looks good, in my eyes less “cute” than a Miata and more purposeful. Optical changes during the 10 years of production were if not far between then at least few, so all S2000’s look rather the same, making the year of production less important (one mechanical exception being the throttle by wire system, that was featured on US cars and on European cars from 2006, with many enthusiasts preferring the wire system on earlier cars. Moving to the interior, as so often, there’s no points awarded for design or creativity, but on the other hand it’s a no-frills, purposeful interior that works as you would expect it to. It is very digital though, in a very early 00’s way. All in all it’s a package that has stood the test of time really well, or put differently, that you could easily update to something that wouldn’t look old at all.

More purposeful, but still with similarities to the Miata.

So what about that engine? As mentioned, all European cars were equipped with a 2-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder putting out 241 hp at 8300 rpm, and where the limiter only kicked in at 9000 rpm (a larger 2.2 litre engine was fitted to US cars from 2004 but didn’t give more power). Those are pretty extreme values for any car engine, especially when you consider that it was also efficient enough to be categorized as Ultra Low Emission in California at the time, and also to produce exactly the same power when run on everything from 92 to 98 octanes. The engine gave the S2000 a top speed of 240 km/h and a time of 6.2 seconds to 100 km/h, but what it didn’t give it was much torque. As you would guess, the high revs come at the expense of torque and with only 208 Nm at (also quite high) 7500 rpm, it really is simple: you need to rev the car close to the limit to get to the full power, but what a pleasure it is to do so! If you don’t want to take my word for it, the 2-litre engine actually won the international Engine of the Year award in its category five years in a row, between 2000 and 2004!

Except for a somewhat high seating position, the S2000 is really enjoyable to drive. It was criticized in the first years for its unpredictable rear end, and an ESP therefore became available in 2006. The balance is superb, helped by the engine being front-center mounted, sitting behind the front axle. Even though it’s a roadster, the car is very rigid with typically few cracks of any kind. It also usually has few problems of any kind as long as it’s been properly looked after. Therein lies a bit of the issue as the S2000 is popular in the tuning scene, with everything from sports exhausts sounding great to paint jobs and spoilers looking less great being very frequent. They don’t all look like the S2000 featured in “Fast & Furious” but as always, it’s the original cars that preserve their value best.

Given there aren’t many features, there’s not much that can go out of style!

Speaking of value, S2000’s aren’t cheap, holding their value really well given they have a loyal following and are clearly well appreciated by a perhaps increasing group of owners. Given the fundamental solidity of the car, chasing low-mileage cars isn’t really necessary, but these tend to be around EUR 35-40′ with higher-mileage ones starting at around EUR 10′ less, i.e. around EUR 25′. The very limited CR (Club Racer) racing version of which only 699 were ever built, and which is basically a harder version of the original, but without any speed advantage, cost way more than EUR 100′ these days – if you can find one.

If you’re a fan of the classical roadster concept but not of mechanical failures and quality issues, if you love naturally-aspirated engines with a heavy right foot that likes revs, and if you think the driving experience is everything and you’re not bothered by black interior plastic, then you really can’t go wrong with an S2000, and you can also expect values to stay stable with upwards potential. This is also since Honda has never gotten round to produce a successor to the car. It is now rumoured again that one may come for 2023, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s more than just rumours. Until then, why not enjoy the original and to paraphrase a classic, keep on revving in the free world!

Luca’s sleeper!

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?

Destined for his job!

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!

Generally considered one of the more beautiful Ferraris, with a clear 90’s vibe!

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.

Everything you need, and nothing that you don’t!

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 fabulous 5.5 litre, 12 cylinder engine

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!

GTI – letters that changed the world!

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!

Doesn’t look like much today, but a car that changed the world!

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.

A rather modest-looking engine bay…

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.

Tartan sport seats and a golf knob in the pre-1981 cars!

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.

From 1981 on, notably tail lights were larger

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!

Manta Manta!

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…

As cool as it gets – if you’re an Opel fan

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.

A nice Series 1 and next to it, not the Manta’s typical buyer!

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.

A very green Manta B with clear 80’s flair…

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!

Classic Manta tuning – no carbon here…

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 film car from “Manta Manta” – the world’s most famous Manta!

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!

Vive la République!

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!

Most Veyron’s are bi-color, but the real cool ones in my eyes are the single-color ones!

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.

Not that you’ll see a Veyron often on the road, but if you do, this is likely to be the angle

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.

The Royale is one of Bugattis most famous cars from the pre-war era

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…

Same style as a Pagani, but far less extravagant!

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…

The Bugatti factory in Molsheim – impressive and in spite of prices, heavily loss-making!

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??

When youngsters create legends!

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!

When Alfa gets it right!

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!

Purposeful, compact, with elements reminding of Alfa’s past!

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.

It may not be a compliment mentioning that the same rear lights later featured on the MiTo mini hatch…

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.

What looks like plastic is carbon fibre – raw…

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.

Beautiful engine sitting behind the front axle

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!

Winter street finds: the Aston Martin DB6!

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!

An Aston Martin DB6 in Gstaad, Switzerland, in February…

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 so called Kammback wasn’t to everyone’s liking

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 wonderful 4-litre straight six, with the carburettors in the back

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).

I bet those seats still have the original leather smell!

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…

Enzo’s favourite Jaguar!

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 D-Type, to this day a successful racing car

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.

They made it – just in time!

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.
A Series 1 convertible in all its beauty
  • 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.
A Series 2 short coupé with the side-opening luggage door

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.

The interior certainly keeps up with the exterior!

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!

The other “almost” Porsche!

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!

Not spectacular but purposeful – if you know, you know.

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.

I struggle to think of anything more you would need!

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!

Probably not how most owners use them today – but you certainly can!

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!

Almost 30 years of wonderful RS cars!

The Ferrari F8 is a supercar “bargain”!

If last week was all about the classic 911, today will be about something completely different, namely one of the latest creations from the legendary auto maker a bit further south, in Maranello. Ferrari has built many fantastic cars through the years and some of these have today reached truly astronomical valuations. All haven’t however and as all enthusiasts know, saying in advance which car will not only procure an immense driving pleasure (for this writer always the priority!) but also be a good investment is if not impossible, then at least very difficult, except of course for the very limited, small series versions. So without claiming to have any form of chrystal ball, today we’ll look at the Ferrari F8, a car that is still being built and I believe is perhaps one of the best supercar deals you can currently make.

Aggressive, purposeful, beautiful: the F8 Tributo

The F8 is a bit of a strange animal, namely something as rare as a facelift of a facelift. The line starts with the 458 introduced back in 2010, followed by the (face-lifted) 488 in 2015 and then from 2019 the F8 as Tributo (coupé) and Spider. In between there was however also the 488 Pista introduced in 2018, the lightweight version of the 488 and a car that in several aspects is close to the F8. The completely bonkers 3.9 litre, triple-turbo V8 engine with 720 hp and 770 Nm of torque is one of them, as are many other parts as well. Compared to the Pista, the F8 is however a very different drive, a much smoother and far less racy experience. And as I write this, the price difference between the two is huge, making the F8 an interesting proposition also compared to its most comparable predecessor.

Double rear lights and a hood with vibes from the F40!

In terms of design it takes at least a slightly trained eye to spot the difference between the 488 and the F8. It’s a matter of taste which front you find more purposeful, but the new design elements of the F8 contribute to 15% more downforce. Most would also agree that the F8’s rear where the double lights have been reintroduced looks better and contributes to a more aggressive look than on the 488. Noticeable is also the slatted, transparent engine cover in deference to another legendary V8 turbo-equipped Ferrari, the F40. The interior has an updated look compared to the 488, but this is not the fully digital experience: no big screens dominate the interior and most functions are still accessed through classic controls. The LED steering wheel helping you to perfect shifts on the track is standard in most markets but not in all, and it’s an option you should make sure is there.

The LED steering wheel is a “necessary” option

The F8 is thus one hell of a car, but is it a future classic? That’s a question I can’t answer, but there are a few reasons to think that it’s a surprisingly good investment in the segment of true supercars and thus at least potentially a good deal. The first of those is no doubt the engine. You see, the F8 is the last Ferrari – ever – to have a combustion V8 not combined with some kind of hybrid solution. You could say that it’s the culmination of the mid-engined V8 Ferrari concept that has been around for almost 50 years, since the legenday 308. The F8 may not sound as wonderful as a naturally aspirated 8- or 12-cylinder from Maranello, but then again you can’t have it all, and the power will certainly not disappoint anyone!

The culmination of Ferrari combustion V8’s!

Next to the engine the current price point is interesting, with pre-owned F8 Tributos starting at around EUR 250′-260′. Depending on options, this is at or slightly below the price as new. This is especially interesting as the F8 Spider trades at a clear premium and the large spread between the two isn’t really warranted. If it converges, chances are that it’s on the upside for the Tributo. It’s even more of a bargain if you compare the Tributo to the 488 Pista where you’ll be lucky to find a good car for EUR 100′ more. The McLaren 720, probably the most logical non-Ferrari competitor, is also at least 10% more expensive. In summary, Tributos may not start to climb in price tomorrow, especially as long as they are still being built, but there’s good reason to believe that cars currently on the market will hold their value well and that this could be an interesting entry point in a longer perspective.

The Spider currently commands a bit too much of a premium

Finally a point that is valid for the 458 and 488 as well, namely that since 10 years Ferrari offers a 7-year service package on most models including the 458, the 488 and the F8, actually extendable to 14 years in total and following the car, not the owner. This obvioulsy does wonders for the cost of owning. Most F8’s will also still be within the 3-year factory guarantee time which can also be extended. As the F8 is a better car than the 458/488, the risk of owning one of the best supercars out there has thus never been lower.

If you agree with me on the above and decide that life is too short not to own a supercar and if you don’t plan to use it on track every week, then the F8 is a great choice – under a few conditions. Choose your colour wisely and if the cheapest F8 on the market is blue with a greeen interior, don’t buy it. Also, do make sure the car has certain key options. The list is basically endless especially in terms of various carbon applications, but some of these definitely help brighten up especially the interior. The LED steering wheel does so as well, as does the JBL audio system. If you complement that with the reverse camera, the lift system and the sports seats, you have yourself a nice package with the last non-hybrid, non fully-digital Ferrari that gives you all the driving pleasure. Time to start browsing!