Regular readers of the blog will remember my post from mid-December on the wonderful Mercedes-Benz E 500 (or 500 E depending on construction year) that I modestly called “The world’s best… car?” given at least at the time, it was just that. You’ll also remember that the 500 E was assembled by Porsche who had more spare factory capacity than money in the early 90’s. It was however a true Mercedes, built from Mercedes parts and not, as some will have you believe, an “almost” Porsche.
Contrary to the 500 E, Porsche was far more active in the construction of another true legend from the same period that was developed on the basis of an Audi. I’m of course talking about the Audi RS2 which not only started a wonderful series of RS models to come, but can also be said to be the first car in the today very popular segment of sports combis (estate wagons for some of you, but I’ll use combi throughout). More than enough reasons to look at it closer today!
The basis of the RS2 was of course the Audi 80 Avant, a conservatively styled, smaller combi from the early 90’s and one of the first models in Audi’s transformation from a brand for grandpas to the cool auto-maker it has become today. Audi and Porsche worked jointly on the project of developing the RS2, which distinguished itself visually from its less powerful siblings notably by its front and rear RS fenders developed by Porsche, its larger breaks with red calipers also from Porsche and branded as such, and its 17″ Porsche wheels. These as well as the exterior mirrors were identical to the Porsche 964, and the rear lightbar going over the whole back is also said to have taken its inspiration from the 964. Together with the fact that the whole car sits lower made it look like a very special Audi 80 indeed! The interior didn’t disappoint either with its bi-color, leather-alcantara combination in black-blue or black-grey (a fully black interior was an option), its Recaro seats and its white dials. If you know the Audi 80 it will feel very familiar, but still special enough – as it should.
Even more exciting is of course what Porsche did with the 5-cylinder, 2.2 litre engine that came from the S2 and originally developed 230 hp. Thanks notably to a larger turbo and intercooler, better engine management and a beefier exhaust system, performance was increased to 315 hp and a torque of 410 Nm. This may not sound like much today and of course it isn’t, however the RS2 Avant only weighed 1600 kg, far less than most power combis today, meaning 315 hp were enough for a top speed over 260 km/h and around 5.5 seconds to 100 km/h. Audi’s legendary quattro system helped bring the power onto the road and the RS2 was equipped both with a Torsen differential and a rear-axle differential, which could be activated up to 25 km/h. Combined with a manual six-speed box this was pretty much as good as it got in the mid-90’s, and it ranks pretty far up there still today!
As mentioned the RS2 was perhaps the first representative of the segment of power combis, and it was quite revolutionary at the time in the way it handled. Of course and RS2 doesn’t feel like a 911, but it also feels nothing like an Audi 80 – in a good sense. Not only the power but also the handling and the preciseness of the whole package was revolutionary in the mid-90’s in a car which over 4.5 metres offered enough room for four people and their luggage, but it’s of course one we’ve seen many times since. Remember though that 25 years ago, these sensations were achieved without a lot of software that help correct less perfect set-ups and excessive body fat!
The RS2 was available in 11 colors but the one typically associated with the car (and also the hardest one to come by today) is the so called Nogaro blue that you can still spec your RS with today. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was always only available as a combi, but actually four (!) RS2 sedans/hatchbacks were built as well. One of these is today in the Audi museum, two apparently somewhere in the Middle-East, and the location of the fourth is unknown.
If you’re in the market for an RS2, I suggest you forget about those an focus on the Avant. That certainly makes it easier and less expensive, but a good RS2 is still not easy to come by, and certainly not a bargain. Of the almost 3000 built between 1994-1996, many have not survived and others are of course cherished by their owners. There are currently 11 for sale in all of Germany and three here in Switzerland, which price-wise come in somehwere between EUR 60′-80′. Whether that’s a good deal or not is up to you, but the RS2 certainly deserves its place among 90’s icons as the first of a legendary range of RS models and a power combi in the purest sense!
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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!
I’ve been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember. It started with counting antennas on cars from a very young age and has grown exponentially (as virologists love to put it these days) ever since. My interest has always been general in nature, basically as reflected in the content of this blog. I can feel just as passionately about a beautiful oldtimer or an 80’s legend as about a modern supercar. That’s not the case for everyone though. For many, their love of cars is tied to one particular model, one of which they know all there is to know and which follows them through the years. I don’t know which category you fit in, but since a few weeks I know which one my friend Philip belongs to. His category is the one of air-cooled 911 passionistas, and his story is a wonderful one of true passion for the Zuffenhausen legend. We therefore sat down for lunch back in December for me to understand how his life-long interest developed.
Philip lives in Zurich and I’ve known him for many years. Coming from a Swiss-Swedish family, he grew up in Sweden but spent a lot of time in Switzerland around the capital Berne but also in beautiful Ascona in the southern, Italian-speaking part. As newly retired, he today splits his time between Zurich and Ascona, when the weather allows using his tangerine-coloured (blood orange) 1972 911 2.4T. The way there has however been a long one that starts in Philip’s young years in the Swedish town of Uppsala, as Swedish readers (and potentially some others) may know an unspectacular mid-sized Swedish city mostly known for its university and certainly not for its car scene, and even less so back in the 60’s. This stood in stark contrast to Ascona where back in the day, Pilip tells me you regularly saw Lamborghini Miuras and Ferrari 365 (Daytonas) on the streets. It wasn’t one of these that would become the passion of Philip’s life though – it was the 911 2.4T Targa his neighbours in Uppsala had parked outside their house, one of less than a handful 911’s in the whole town. At first it was the sound of the air-cooled engine that captivated him, so different from the Italian beauties. Then there was also the fact that the neighbours drove their car all year around, very much unlike anything you would do with the Italian fullbloods, had they ever seen the Uppsala winter climate.
The 911 2.4 was presented in the German auto magazine Auto, Motor & Sport nr 23/71. It was Philip who told me this, he was 14 years old at the time and the reason he still knows is that he kept that number of the magazine for more than 30 years. His grandmother in Switzerland sent it to him and with at the time a very limited grasp of German, Philip went over it time and time again until he understood it. The seeds had been sown but it would take more than 20 years and a number of other cars for the dream to result in Philip’s first own 911. By now he had moved to Switzerland and met a car dealer outside of Zurich, one of those you would go to when you needed a special car. Of course he knew “just the car” when hearing that Philip wanted a 911, but when Philip heard that “just the car” in the dealer’s view was a 1987 white convertible with a blue top, he wasn’t fully convinced.
In fact the dealer had found not only one but three 911’s and had lined them up in a nice diagonal outside his shop by the time Philip arrived. With the late afternoon sun shedding its mellow light on the street, it was immediately clear to Philip that he white one with the blue top was indeed THE car. it was a 1987 911 3.2 and a US import meaning it was equipped with A/C and an electric top, both quite rare options in Europe. He would enjoy and love every moment of his first 911 for eight years until 2002 but by then, he had his sight set on something else – an original 911 Speedster. This also tells you that Philip didn’t collect cars. Being of a practical nature his line of reasoning is clearly that you can’t drive more than one car at any time. That’s usually a sensible approach but as we’ll see, when it comes to old 911’s, things are a bit different….
Today an original 911 Speedster is beyond most people’s budgets, but you need only to go back 20 years for that to be different. Philip went about finding the Speedster in precisely the right way. He consulted the dealer from eight years earlier who of course knew of exactly the right car and was happy to join Philip on the two-hour drive to check it. When they arrived he told Philip to stay in the car. “I’ll take care of this” is all he said. An hour passed, Philip grew impatient and went up towards the seller’s house but when he was about to knock, the dealer opened the door and said “I’m almost done with him”. Luckily the indicated violence was at most psychological but it did result in a final price of around CHF 90.000, a good price at the time and obviously a bargain today. What will always remain a secret is how much the seller really got and how much the dealer took in between…
If Philip had loved his first 911 deeply, the Speedster wasn’t his thing at all. The car that is a dream to many of us was in his view impractical, extremely loud and with a top that would let water in when it rained. So he went on to sell it a few years later, unfortunately before prices started to climb. He got his money back though and what followed was two far more practical 964’s and also a -94 964 WTL, a 30-year limited 911 series. Philip then switched to a 993 that he kept for eight years and with which he participated in several classic rallies. Other regular participants in those events included 356’s and original 911’s (Urelfer), and it was when seeing one of these that it dawned on him: what he really wanted and subsequently set out to get was the car which had started his love story with the 911 in the first place: an early -72-73′ 190 hp 911 2.4S. This was the most powerful of the three models sold at the time, with the 2.4E (165 hp) and 2.4T (130 hp) being the other two (the T actually put out 140 hp in the US version where like the S and E, it was fuel injected).
I consider myself a relatively experienced used car buyer, and anything else would certainly be pretty disappointing given how many cars have come and gone through the years. And yet, compared to a real expert such as the one Philip called upon when deciding to find the perfect 911 2.4S, I’m not even a beginner. There are people out there who know everything there is to know about a car and by that, I really mean everything. Philip’s expert whom he subsequently travelled around Europe with in search of the perfect 2.4S (and whom he met through the 964 WTL mentioned above) would not only notice residual marks from an engine number having been scraped off, but also that the new stars that had been engraved didn’t have the right number of arms. He would notice very minor chassis imbalances and imperfections and would use a tool to check the thickness of the paint in different places as an indication of potential body repairs. He would use surgical instruments in investigations of rust in every hidden body pocket. He would do it all. And of course, if you do it all, finding the perfect car is a near impossibility. This is what Philip noted as well, as potential candidates came and went over the coming years, none being good enough in the expert’s view.
I think there are a couple of lessons to be learnt here for all those in search of their dream car. Firstly, whilst you should always make sure to buy a fundamentally healthy and non-accidented car, you need to define your tolerance for imperfections, both visual and in documentation. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to find the perfect car with a complete documentation, that requires not only true expertise but also (lots of) time and money. Not only that, when you finally get your hands on the perfect item, will you still dare to drive it and participate in those oldtimer gatherings and rallies you dreamt about, or will it just sit in your garage? On the other side of this spectrum there are the “rally pros” who don’t care too much about the looks, only being concerned by the mechanics. They certainly rev their engines and drive their cars hard, but the cars don’t necessarily look as they were meant to. In between these extremes is where most classic cars would land. This is where my old Triump TR4 was: a nice car but with visual imperfections, and lots of documents, but not all. An expert would thus have found many faults with it, yet for the use I made of it during close to ten years it was perfect. If you’re able to define your level of tolerance ahead of, or early in the buying process, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour!
Secondly, although it should be obvious but isn’t always as we humans tend to be social creatures, the seller is not your friend. He won’t be coming to any dinner parties and you won’t meet his wife. His objective is another than yours, namely to get as much money from you as fast as possible. This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone person selling a car is dishonest and deserves to be treated as such, but believing everything a seller says can also be a recipe for disaster. A case in point was one of the 911’s my friend Philip looked at, the one where the old engine number had been removed and a new “matching numbers” one had been engraved, however with incorrectly engraved stars. This car was sold by a well reputed Porsche dealership in Switzerland, not by some back yard dealer. They claimed not being aware of the problem which was maybe true, who knows. The point is obviously that if you pay for matching numbers you should get that, just as you should get whatever else the seller claims to be selling. If you’re unsure, get someone to help you, as you definitely want to be safe rather than sorry.
With each car Philip visited with his expert friend his own knowledge obviously grew as well so that he also started to look at cars on his own, at least for the first round. Doing that and I guess also growing a bit impatient about finding his car and thus increasing his personal tolerance level, he enlargened his search somewhat and also included potential 2.4T’s and 2.4E’s. Doing that he would finally find his dream car, the tangerine 911 2.4T that has been his ever since. It looked perfect to him and once the expert got to see it, even he didn’t find more than some minor imperfections. Today Philip is an active owner and driver, notably participating in classic rallies and a member in the Swiss Porsche Urelfer Club, taking part in their various events. He’s optimized his car somewhat, notably with sports seats (not originals but replicas close enough for anyone but a real expert to be fooled…), and he certainly doesn’t sound like he would be selling the car any time soon.
As we reached the end of our lunch I was thinking to myself that this was perhaps where this long love story with the air-cooled 911 that started on the snowy streets of Uppsala 50 years earlier comes to an end. As I put my pen down, Philip looked at me and said “you have to understand, the 911 is much more than a car to me, it’s a life-long passion”. I was certainly convinced by then, but at the same time this gave me a glimmer of hope. As all of us suffering from the car virus know, Philip may think this is his last 911, but you can never be sure. Before leaving the table, I therefore made sure that if he changes his mind and decides to sell his beautiful 2.4T, he lets me know first!
There was a time when Mercedes-Benz was led by engineers as opposed to accountants. This notably meant that a car’s price would be determined by what it cost to build and not by what accountants and even more suspect marketing people would say it should cost. Interestingly, this period which lasted until some time around the mid-90’s (a bit of an argument here) is also when MB’reached the summit of car build quality. Stepping into an MB from this period even today is impressive and conveys a feeling of something that is truly unbreakable. Unfortunately the engineers lost out to the accountants in the end and ever since Mercedes, although good, has never rached the same level of unbreakable quality as in the golden period around the 80’s.
At the time the Stuttgart-based brand was however not only well-known for build quality but also for being especially appreciated by elderly men wearing hats. Elegant, luxurious and as said with perfect quality, sure, but nowhere on the fun-to-drive radar. So if I say W124 to you (or if you prefer early 90’s E-class), chances are that you picture an owner who has very little to do with the picture that pops up in your head when I say BMW M5 from the same period. This was a true problem for Mercedes – until the engineers decided to do something about it. The end product was called the Mercedes-Benz 500 E and is still considered by some as the best car ever built.
To understand the context we need to go back to the 70’s oil crises and the fact that Mercedes had walked right into these with the big S-class equipped with two massive V8 petrol engines at 6.3 and 6.9 litres. There was an urgent need to downsize meaning smaller engines but also building a smaller car, or as it turned out actually two, the W201 and the W124. It would have been surprising for an engineer-led company to appoint a flashy Italian to design their new car, but they did. Or at least he was Italian. Bruno Sacco was at the time working in Mercedes’s safety department and most probably had no clue how legendary he would be considered as a designer a couple of decades and a few design projects later, but those that cared to look a bit closer could already in the W124 see the genius of an engineer-safety-designer at work. How exactly? Well consider the following.
It may have looked a bit boxy but with a wind drag factor of 0.26, the W124 was one of the most aerodynamic cars ever built at the time. The back lights had ribs such as to avoid snow clogging in winter. The single-arm windshield wiper covered 83% of the windscreen and its movement meant it was never lifted off the screen by the wind at high autobahn speeds. And the two side mirrors had a different shape, not enough to disturb the overall design but just enough to ensure an optimal angle and captured area on both sides. If that isn’t good design at work, then I don’t know what is. Sure, the interior was perhaps not the most inspired ever imagined, but it was oh so solid, and everything was intuitively where you expected it to be. And on the 500 E, the squared textile used for the standard seats looked even better than the optional leather.
The W124 (and the W201) thus brought the required downsizing in an attractive and almost revolutionary design. What the new cars didn’t bring initially was however something that allowed Mercedes to compete with the BMW M5 in its home market and with the new kid on the block in the US – Lexus and its smooth V8. The solution was to be found in a heavily modified and modernized version of the inhouse V8 also used in the SL. With a power output of 320-326 hp however, it also meant that many other components had to be re-inforced, and many of these were also taken from the SL. The end result was a 500 E that was wider than a normal E-class, so wide that it no longer fitted on the production band in Mercedes’ Stuttgart factory. And that in turn meant the start of one of the most bizarre production routines of any car in any brand’s history.
Notably thanks to the new cars, Mercedes stood on pretty solid financial footing at the time, something Porsche in nearby Zuffenhausen could only dream of. With an ageing 911 and massive problems to find an accepted replacement, Porsche was on the brink of bankruptcy and looking to make money wherever they could, and since production of the 959 had ended, its production band was at a standstill. Therefore, when Mercedes called (and rumour has it some local politiciants may have lifted the phone as well) to see if Porsche could possibly help putting together the 500 E, they didn’t have to wait long for a positive answer. But this was not the case of Mercedes sending an E-class to Porsche and getting a 500 E back, far from it. It’s also not the case that Porsche helped on the development of the 500 E as they did with the Audi RS2 in the same period, and as some 500 E ads today screaming “Porsche!!” would have you believe. The 500 E was a true Mercedes car, built with Mercedes parts, that Porsche helped put together – at least partly.
A regular E-class with body and drivetrain would be delivered to Porsche who would put it together, including widening the fenders ever so discretly a couple of cm on each side. The car would then be returned to Mercedes to be painted. It would then be sent back to Porsche for fitting of all the remaining parts, and after that be returned to again Mercedes for a final quality control. Sounds overly complicated and expensive? Yes on both accounts and the process took about three weeks for each car. It also contributed to the 500 E being about 1/4 more expensive than a BMW M5. The engineers at Mercedes just shrug their shoulders and pointed to the fact that this was the true cost of building the car. In a way they were right, but luckily efficiency has improved since. Quality-wise however, those who know claim that the 500 E was even more solid than a regular E-class, as if that was possible…
I haven’t had the pleasure to drive a 500 E but speaking to people who have and having indeed heard the V8 roar, I have no problem at all believing what tests at the time also said, namely that this was a true high-performance sedan that not only looked right but also drove right, thus not only beating an M5 in outright speed. It thus brought not only what people expected of a Mercedes, but also what they didn’t and which until then had only been found in Munich.
The W124 in all its different iterations was built during 13 years between 1984 and 1997, with the 500 E as part of the production between 1990 and 1995 (called 500 E until 1993 and E 500 therafter). Two other eight-cylinder siblings are worth mentioning, the slightly de-tuned 400 E, mainly intended to compete with Lexus in the US market and built in parallel to the 500 E, and the E 60 AMG, built in 1993-1994 as a more powerful version of the 500 E. Back in the day the 400 E was the bargain of the lot, producing 40 hp and 80 Nm less but also costing DM 40.000 less. Today that’s still the case as good 400 E’s can be had for as little as EUR 15.000. The E 60 AMG was much more expensive than the 500 E as new, but also had 60 hp and 110 Nm more. Should you be lucky to find one today it will cost you far more than EUR 100.000. The 500 E comes in in between, with nice cars costing EUR 35-45.000. Interestingly the pre-facelift models until 1993 are typically more expensive than the in my view nicer looking (and arguably slightly better) post-facelift ones.
Facelift or not is obviously not where you should focus but rather on the quality of the car. Yes, they are built to last an eternity, but many have also been driven a good way towards that eternity so a complete documents and a regular service history are essential. Bringing a Mercedes expert (an engineer perhaps?) to check the car is certainly not a bad idea. After all, the engineers who built this masterpiece wouldn’t expect any less. And of course they would also assume that the car had been regularly serviced in an approved garage. If that’s indeed the case, the 500 E is a car it’s really difficult to go wrong with. It’s also the last real power sedan from Mercedes own factory, as these would be built by AMG going forward. Not more than 10.469 (out of 2.5 million W124!) 500 E / E 500 were built and irrespective of their underlying quality, many have obviously disappeared since. Is it the best car in the world? That’s as always impossible to answer, but to me it’s clearly the best performance sedan of its era. Do I want one? Jawohl!!
PS. A couple of hours ago, Max Verstappen became the new and the first Dutch F1 world champion after a very intense and in the last part, completely crazy season. Congrats Max, I’ll come back with a season summary next week!
Last week I wrote about the popular trend of re-creating classic cars in their former beauty but with modern technology beneath, what is also known as restomods. One of the examples I gave was the UK firm Kingsley that does this kind of work on the first series of the Range Rover, also referred to as the Range Rover Classic. This 50-year old creation that rightfully counts as the grand daddy of all modern, luxury SUV’s is getting rare on our streets, which given its age isn’t surprising. I was however lucky not only to see one last week but also to strike up a discussion with the owner who opened my eyes to the fascinating story of this marvelous piece of UK automobile technology, that we’ll look closer at this week!
The first version of the Range Rover (hereinafter RR or Classic) was produced for almost 40 years, from 1969 to 1996. That’s remarkable in itself and among the longest production runs of any car model, but it’s also remarkable as the US market entry didn’t happen until 1987, by which time the car was 17 years old! Less known is also that during the first 11 years of existance the RR was only available in a 3-door version. The 5-door car didn’t appear until 1981 with the 3-door version being phased out in the years thereafter. It does however remain the favourite version of restorers and restomod builders, including Kingsley.
The Range Rover story and subsequently brand starts with the Land Rover that had been built by the Rover Group since 1948. it was a pure utalitarian car with no luxury or comfort whatsoever. As it evolved, it dawned on the Rover Group that there was appetite for a terrain-capable car that was more comfortable and a bit later in the 60’s, the first SUV-like jeeps from Ford (the Bronco) and Jeep (the Wagoneer) started appearing in the US. After having tried to develop the concept on some other models without much success in the 50’s, Rover finally bought a Bronco which served as development car for what was to become the first Range Rover, presented to the public in 1970.
The first RR may have been a wonder of comfort compared to a Land Rover but was obviously far from being so by any modern standard – or for that matter compared to the luxury cars of the time. It did however have something they didn’t, namely outstanding offroad capabilities, and it was of course that combination that made its success. The four-wheel drive system along with the long suspension and ground clearance made it almost as capable as a Land Rover offroad, and onroad, the Rover V8 helped it to a top speed of over 150 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of less than 15 seconds (both considered fast at the time…) while also being able to tow up to 3.5 tons. Rover referred to the RR as “a car for all reasons” and the public seemed to agree.
There weren’t many changes to the RR during its first ten years of existance but a vinyl coverage of the c-pillars that was introduced around the mid-70’s made it easier to distinguish the really early cars. What all the 70’s cars had in common was the complicated access to the back seats given the car only had two doors. This was solved by the four-door version in 1981, with further updates in the mid-80’s including the quality of the interior, updated transmission and the front design. Moving into the 90’s the Range was getting old but still kept popular by further improvements to the suspension, the engine, and also through a long-wheel based version. As production of the Range Rover MK II started in 1994, the first generation was given the name “Classic” and remained in production for another couple of years.
Most SUV’s sold today in Europe are of course diesel-powered but Rover had great difficulty finding a diesel engine that suited the RR. A diesel option didn’t come until 1986 and even then, although the engine was quite advanced for the time, it was seen as inferior to the petrol V8. Most Classics thus have a petrol V8 under the bonnet, something that remained the case well into the MK III. This certainly didn’t help the RR during the 70’s oil crises but even as consumption generally became more important, the Classic retained its loyal fans who wouldn’t really consider any alternatives to petrol- and still don’t!
The feeling of entering, or rather stepping up into a Range Rover is something truly special and perhaps conveyed best by the Classic. Given the old construction the pillars are very thin and the glass areas enormous, providing a brilliant view all around. You obviously sit high and although the car is large it’s not difficult to see where it starts and ends. Cars from the first years didn’t have power-assisted steering which is a bad idea, but cars after that provide a truly special driving experience, but obviously one that is far less exact and more floating than a modern SUV. It doesn’t matter as much as for some other types of oldtimers though since a RR is not one to be stressed – never was, never will be.
If you want to get the genuine British tweed countrylife feel, I would claim no car does it better than a Range Rover Classic. There is a bunch of people out there who will look upon you as a complete maniac if you say you’re considering one, claiming it will fall apart the minute you’ve handed over the money. I would say sure, things can break as they can do on any old car, but the best proof of an RR’s inherent quality is that Range drivers are among the most loyal owners out there. Many of them would never consider another car, they’ve stayed with the different models through the decades and often have more than one RR. I find it very hard to believe they would do that if the car was as bad as those (who typically have never owned one) claim. In any case, there’s is no RR that has less things that can break than the first series!
The good news is that getting a good RR Classic is still quite affordable. What’s even more affordable is the MK II that came out in 1994, but would claim it’s very doubful if that car will ever claim the same classics status as the MK I, and I would definitely pick a late MK I car over a MK II. Somewhere around EUR 25.000-30.000 is where you find the really nice ones. I’d go for a later one from 1986 and onwards, but in terms of collectibles it’s clearly a three-door RR you should go for, but then again one of the later production years. If you can find one Britannia will surely rule all the way and you will just have stepped up a level in your car experience!
A few weeks ago I wrote about the original Lamborghini Countach, one of the biggest dream cars of my generation of which a fair number of us had posters on the wall (I may have mentioned those posters often sitting alongside Samantha Fox or Sabrina…). Obviously most of us had more than one wall in our rooms and it certainly happened that on one of the others, there would be a poster of another supercar legend from the same period: the Ferrari Testarossa. The Testarossa was no doubt the Countach’s main competitor and a car that even influenced its later iterations, notably in forcing the development of a more powerful engine. And whilst referring to a Ferrari as the “other” supercar will not go down well with the Ferraristis, it just so happens that the Countach was around before the Testarossa – which doesn’t in any way make the story of the latter any less interesting, as we’ll see today!
The Testarossa saw the light of day the first time at the Paris auto show in 1984. It was designed by Pininfarina and it’s difficult to think of a single item from the 80’s that is more representative of the era than this car. This is of course especially true for the giant, grille-covered air intakes on the sides and the fat, wide, grill-covered back, but also for the front with the typical pop-up headlights. It certainly looked the piece then and today it remains a brilliant representative of its time period. Luckily it wasn’t just about the looks though as the Testarossa was also quite a car, as we’ll come back to. Staying with the design slightly longer, another thing to remark is obviously that it’s a less dramatic car than the Countach but also that the Countach somewhat surprisingly is actually the wider car, including over the rear. At 197 cm the Testarossa is certainly not slim, but Pininfarina’s masterful design makes it look even wider than it actually is.
If the rear was all about design, the side air intakes actually had an important function as the radiators had been moved back and sat next to the mid-mounted engine. And the engine was of course nothing less than the Ferrari 4.9 litre, flat 12-cylinder putting out 390 hp, enough for a top speed of 290 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.2 seconds. The engine certainly looks the part and the red top of the valves is also what gave the car the name Testarossa (“red head”), a name Ferrari has used before in its history. It sits slightly higher than you would expect as the gearbox is located underneath it. Everything was in other words concentrated between the cabin and the rear axle in a relatively small space. This complicates one of the more frequent jobs on the car, namely the need to change the cambelt regularly. To do this, the bad news is that you need to remove the whole engine from the car. The good news is that Ferrari actually though of making this relatively easy, but according to good sources you’re still talking about around 20 man hours of work, and that’s by a guy who knows what he’s doing. That all fades into the background though when you see the fantastic engine, presented to your eyes in the same masterful way Ferrari always does. And when you turn the key…
Move to the inside, which in most cars was black or tan, and you’re again taken back to the 80’s. Certainly not an interior worthy of the price Testarossas trade at today but well of the 80’s, meaning angular forms and as in many Ferraris from back then, switches and buttons sometimes in places you wouldn’t expect them. Given how few of them there were however, that doesn’t really matter, and the poor sound isolation certainly has the benefit of letting you hear the full drama of the 12-cylinder! The car is much more modern than its predecessor, the 512 BB, and not in any way complicated to drive. It received some early criticism for being a bit light in the front at higher speeds, but that will hardly be an issue today as you probably won’t drive your 35-year old Testarossa north of 200 km/h (you certainly don’t need to go that fast to enjoy the engine!), In other words, except for the cambelt, the Redhead doesn’t have to be the nightmare to drive or maintain that many believe.
The Testarossa in its original form lived until 1991, but its life was then extended by the slightly modified and 428 hp strong 512 TR until 1994, and after that another two years through the at 440 hp even more powerful F512 M (Modificata). The TR is distinguishable form the side where it has a design close to the 348, and the F512 M is from both the front (no more pop-up headlights) and from the rear as well (see below). When production of the F512 ended in 1996 it also meant the end of the Ferrari flat 12-cylinder engine, and the Testarossa was also the last unlimited (in production numbers) mid-engined Ferrari. As for the numbers almost exactly 10.000 cars were built of the three versions, split as around 7.200 Testarossas, 2.300 512 TR’s, and only 500 F512 M. That is also reflected in the prices they go for today. A Testarossa will be yours for around EUR 100′ and upwards, the TR for around EUR 50′ more, and the Modificata for more than three times an original Testarossa – if you can find one. If you buy it to drive, which I would dare hope, those that have tried all three say the price difference isn’t worth it as the “base” Testarossa conveys both enough power and even more of the original Ferrari spirit from the golden 80’s. Also, you’ll probably want to make sure that cambelt was replaced not too long ago!
The sun has been out in Zurich lately which certainly doesn’t hurt given it seemed to be very far away during most of the summer. This obviously means that some classic car owners have extended the season, but it was still a very nice surprise to walk out of the office door last week and see… an Alfa Romeo Montreal! It certainly doesn’t happen often, and as can be seen below, it was also a Montreal in very nice condition.
To start with the not very Italian name, why on earth did Alfa name the Montreal after a town in Québec? The simple explanation is taht the Montreal was first shown at the world exhibition in 1967 in, you guessed it, Montreal, and Alfa apparently had no better name in mind than that. Production started three years later in 1970 and ended in 1977. The beautiful coupé was designed by our old friend Marcello Gandini at Bertone and the most striking feature is certainly the covers over the headlights that move back when you turn them on.
The second most noticeable feature of the Montreal is certainly what looks like air intakes for a mid-mounted engine. The Montreal however never had, and was never intended to have a mid-mounted engine, so what you first think are intakes for the engine is actually intakes to cool the passengers. It is true that at the time of the original design Alfa indeed had the idea of a mid-mounted engine, but when the project moved on, this was scrapped but the air intakes were kept and certainly help the design of the car!
Even if the engine is in the front, it’s clearly the highlight of the car. The four-cam, eight-cylinder engine had been developed for the Tipo 33 that Alfa had raced before it moved into the Montreal. At 2.6 litres it was quite small but still developed 200 hp, but did so using quite a lot of fuel which wasn’t ideal in the early 70’s, as we’ll come back to. As so often Alfa then ran into a bit of a money problem and therefore chose to use the chassis and brakes from the Giulia GT, meaning they were a bit under-dimensioned for the car given the powerful engine. In other words acceleration was better than braking, so staying up in front was a good idea!
The Montreal interior doesn’t reach the heights of some other Italian legends from Modena or Sant’Agata from the period, then again the Montreal was cheaper to buy and is still a nice place to be, and ties into the tradition of GT cars from the 70’s. Unfortunately all these also had in common that they drove straight into the 1973-1974 oil crisis, which in the case of Montreal certainly didn’t help the sales numbers. In the seven years of production, only around 4.000 cars were therefore built.
They were however built with surprisingly good protection against corrosion, which wasn’t a typical feature of Alfa for the period but which means that Finding a nice Montreal today isn’t that difficult. As in so many cases, buying one of those five-six years ago had been far cheaper than today with nice cars now trading around EUR 60-80.000. Although it’s easy to love the design and even more so with a V8 under the hood, at that price level there a bit too many interesting competitors for me to be swayed by the Canadian Alfa!
You may have seen that Lamborghini has re-introduced the Countach. Yes, you read that right, the most legendary of all sports cars of the 80’s – scrap that, of all times! The one a fair number of us born in the early 70’s with a head full of petrol dreamt about and put a poster of on our bedroom wall, next to Samantha Fox, Sabrina or Miami Vice. Just hearing the news, I imagine I wasn’t the only one filled with not just a little excitement. It didn’t last long though. The fall back to reality was heavy a few moments later as I learnt more about the new car.
You see, what Lambo dares calling the new Countach, under the official name LPI 800-4, has precious little to do with Marcelo Gandini’s jawdropping design from back then – nor is it a modern interpretation of the same theme. Nope, visually the new Countach is nothing more than a relatively modestly re-designed Aventador with some clumsy Countach references, of which 112 will be built (that’s good as it reduces the risk of being disappointed seeing it “live”). They’re of course extremely expensive (price not known at this point but probably around USD 3m), atrociously fast with 814 hp leading to a 0-100 time of below 3 seconds, naturally hybrid with a small electric engine making up 45 of those 814 hp, supporting the V12 and, it goes without saying, all sold, presumably to buyers of which a majority will park them in a garage and never drive them. Disappointed? Me?
That is however all I’ll say about the new Countach and I also promise not to make this a long rant about how much modern supercars lack the heart and soul of the true legends. Instead we’ll do something much more fun: we’ll travel back to our younger years when our jeans were stone-washed, our socks white and our shoulders impossibly wide. For a few minutes, we’ll return to that poster on the bedroom wall (no, not Samantha) and have a good look at the original, REAL Countach! Interestingly, doing so also involves coming back to some legendary Italian car builders that have been featured on this blog earlier and only serve to highlight the true legend that the original Countach is.
The story begins in the early 70’s with Bertone being commissioned by Lamborghini to come up with a replacement for the Miura, which had only been on sale for a few years but already faced strong competition from the new Ferrari Daytona, introduced in 1969. Marcello Gandini, lead designer at Bertone, had a few years earlier started to experiment with a new design language as notably shown in the Lancia Stratos: a much more wedge-like, angular shape, and he took on the new Lambo project in the same spirit while the engineers were working on the engine. It was clear that the new car would remain rear-wheel drive with a rear-mid 12-cylinder engine as on the Miura, but for weight distribution along with some mechanical reasons, not transversally mounted as on the latter.
The name Countach has always been a bit of a riddle and is a story in itself. Countach doesn’t mean anything in Italian and is also not following Lambo’s tradition of naming cars after bulls or bullfights. The story goes that one of the mechanics in the Sant’Agata factory only spoke Piedmontese, a regional language closer to French than to Italian in which there is the word “contacc”, an expression showing astonishment. The unnamed mechanic used it quite frequently when working on the car and Marcello Gandini therefore half jokingly sugested it as a possible name to Bob Wallace, Lambo test driver at the time, who confirmed it worked in English with a minor adaptation. The most spectacular supercar of all times was thus named on the factory floor and not in a board room! The first prototype was presented to the public at the Paris Auto Show in 1971 with sales starting three years later in 1974. They wouldn’t stop until 16 years later, in 1990.
Next to the long production time itself, it’s impressive how well the new design held up (and still holds up if you’re lucky to see one!). If you remove the increasing amount of spoilers and skirts that were added over the years, the basic design of the car remained unchanged throughout the 16 years of production. I guess I wasn’t the only one who in my youth found things like the giant spoiler on some later cars ultra-cool, but looking back with (slightly) more mature eyes today, it’s pretty clear the the first iteration was the cleanest and best-looking. I’m not sure beautiful is the right word, but spectacular definitely is. The wedge shape, the side air intakes, the forward movement created by the cutting of the rear wheelarches – and of course the scissor doors. The doors did not only come about for show though, as given how wide the Countach is and especially how massive its doorsills are, fitting conventional doors would have been both unpractical and complicated. Owners of later Countaches with the dome on the engine are especially thankful for that given for them, sitting on the doorsill with the door open and turning your head backwards is the only way to have any kind of rear-view visibility. If the Countach was wide (almost 2 metres) with poor rear visibility, it certainly wasn’t long. At 4.15 metres it’s far smaller than you would imagine, and actually shorter than a Lotus Evora!
If the design was spectacular, the engine was of course not less so. The V12 came from the Miura and as shown in the first picture, had its origins back in 1963, having been designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, whom you can read an earlier post of here. Also as mentioned it was longitudinally mounted such as to improve notably weight distribution and solve some other issues, with the 5-speed manual transmission being placed in front of the engine. The initial Countach LP-400 had the same 3.9 litre volume as the Miura, with a power output of 375 hp. It was later increased first to 4.7 litres in the LP5000S in 1982, and then 5 litres in the LP5000 QV (Quattrovalvole, four valves per cylinder) version from 1985 with 440 hp. It’s noticeable that until the end in 1990, the engine retained carburettors when everyone else had switched to fuel injection (for emission reasons the Countaches going to the US had to be injected). Having originally been side-mounted, the carburettors moved to the top of the engine on later cars, explaining the dome over the engine. This wonderful machine would outlive the Countach over the Diablo all the way to the Murcielago, meaning a production time of almost 50 years! Contrary to what you would maybe think, it also has a reputation of not being very primadonna-like, but rather very reliable.
Except for in my dreams I’ve never been in a Countach, much less driven one, but this is very high on the bucket list (you wouldn’t happen to own one, would you?). I have however peaked in to several of them and as anyone who does so, you may not realize that the window you look through only opens 5cm or so, but definitely that the money had run out before the time had come to design the interior. Not that it’s worse than on many other 80’s cars but the grand plans Lambo had for notably digital instruments never materialized and the interior is thus very conventional compared to the spectacular body. The seats are however a wonder of comfort compared to modern bucket seats, but they can only be adjusted in length. If you’re taller than 180 cm you should also be prepared to have contact with the roof lining (here, the later cars helped, giving another 3cm of head space in the “high” versions). And when it comes to driving, taking it from multiple reviews, it’s all hard work with an unassisted steering, a heavy clutch (those six carburettors are partly to be thanked for that, but you can’t have it all!) and a general experience of needing to work hard to get the most out of the car. Then again, isn’t that the way it should be in a true supercar?
Production of the Countach came to an end in 1990, with the 25th anniversary edition introduced in 1988 with a certain Horacio Pagani (on whom you can read more here) being responsible for a lot of the restyling. The final iteration wasn’t loved by everyone given it departed from some of the most classical design features on previous Countaches and had a bit too many skirts, even for the late 80’s. It was however the fastest version of the Countach, capable of a top speed of 295 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds. Remember this is 30 years ago on a car that was equipped by 345 mm rear tires, however only 15″ in wheel size! At the time, those were the biggest tires on the market.
The Anniversary edition was also the most popular version in production numbers, built 657 times and thus making up a third of the total production of around 1970 Countachs ever built. That’s right, the most legendary supercar of all times was built less than 2.000 times, to be compared for example with the over 7.000 Testarossas (not counting the 512’s). Not only that, a third of all Countaches were sold when it had already been on the market for 14 years! Another third was made up of the Quattrovalvole version (610 cars), thus leaving just a third of the early Countachs. Good luck finding one of those today… The easiest one to find today is the QV with prices starting around EUR 300′, with real jewels going for up to EUR 700′. That’s a lot of money, and a lot more than you would have paid ten years ago. Having said that, it’s still a couple of million less that you would pay for the new 2022 version if you were on the list of the selected 112 owners, and seen in that light, probably one of the greatest bargains out there! Junior may have more power and features, but in the Countach world, there’s no doubt that Daddy still rules big time!
When you speak to fans of the French automaker Citroën (something which unfortunately happens less and less often as most of the true enthusiasts are getting old!), one of the most sensitive topics is no doubt which model of the legendary brand constitutes the last real Citroën. To a real “citroënniste”, nothing in today’s line-up is even close to fitting the bill. Some say it all ended with the legendary DS that I wrote about a while ago (see here). Others are more progressive and would draw the line at the 90’s XM, a strange, space-ship like creation and certainly a true Citroën in terms of quirkiness, but to me a car that lacked both looks and innovation. I’m rather in the camp in between the two. To me, the last real Citroën is the CX launched in 1974, notably as it was the last Citroën designed and developed before Citroën was bought by Peugeot and became a part of the PSA group the same year. Next to that however, the CX can be described as the every day version of the SM that I wrote about in January (see here), but also taking the best of the DS and modernizing the rest in a packaging that was truly Citroën. It thus forms the last chapter in the trilogy of the DS-SM-CX, reason why we’ll look closer at it this week!
It’s never easy to succeed a true legend and with very few exceptions, there’s really no greater legends than the DS and SM. The CX however did a great job, being built during 15 years until 1989 (the estate all the way to 1991) and selling more than 1.1 million times. Given that it’s surprising how few have survived until today, something that also goes for its two predecessors. Then again, quality is not the first word you think about when talking about cars from the 70’s and it didn’t prevent people from being amazed when the CX was first shown to the world in 1974. The name makes reference to the wind resistance coefficient in French which for the CX was 0.37, not as good as the SM but still much better than most cars at the time.
When the development of the CX started in 1969 as an “inofficial” successor to the DS, a clear objective was to make the car easier and thereby cheaper to build than its complicated predecessor. That goal was achieved in a Citroën kind of way, meaning that everything except the bodyparts was fixed onto the chassis, with the body being screwed onto it at the very end of the production process and fixed with six rubber-metal fixings. No one but Citroën would probably think of this construction as a good way to save costs, but it worked well in terms of rigidity and also in isolating passengers from vibrations. Here, the legendary hydro-pneumatic suspension that the CX inherited from the DS was obviously a great help as well.
Another arbuably less glamorous thing the CX inherited from its predecessor was the engine. Not that Citroën didn’t have grand plans here as well. The original idea was to fit the car with a Wankel engine which with a planned 170 hp would have given the car sportscar like performance, and also suited it well given the Wankel construction’s lack of vibrations. That plan had to be scrapped for cost reasons though and instead, the CX inherited the 2-litre and 2.2-litre engines from the DS, developing 102 and 112 hp respectively, a bit later complemented by a diesel with 66 tired horses. These engines helped sell more than 100.000 CX’s in the first year of production, more than the DS had sold in any year but one. In 1975 Citroën also introduced the CX station wagon, a 25cm longer version of the car with a cavernous luggage space in the back. It was that same extended chassis that would also be used for the Prestige model that appeared shortly thereafter but where the extra 25cm instead benefitted the back seat passengers, making it a favourite car for many heads of state. Interestingly though, it wouldn’t be so for the French president until Jacques Chirac in 1995, when the CX was no longer manufactured.
If the CX was a revelation on the outside, it was no less so once you entered it. Once you’ve taken place in the extremely soft seats, you look out over, or rather through the one-spoke steering wheel at something which at first looks like a bathroom scale, but is in fact the speedomoter and rev counter. You then notice the lack of levers on the sides of the wheel, as the CX instead had two satellites with all necessary functions that you are supposed to operate with your left and right hand finger tips. The right satellite includes the horn, but any need for it will probably have passed by the time you find the right switch. The turn signal on the left is no less surprising since you have to actively turn it off – it doesn’t reset automatically when you straighten the steering wheel. Better? Not really. Different? Bien sûr! And by the way, if you think the CX is a hatchback, think again. In fact the concave and thereby self-cleaning rear window doesn’t open, meaning it has a traditional boot below it which is quite low and small. This was one example of the CX’s success becoming its enemy: it was well known that CX owners wanted Citroën to make the car a hatchback, something that could easily have been done, but the responsible people at PSA just looked at the strong sales numbers, shrug their shoulders and put that budget somehwere else in the large group.
The first series of the CX was built until 1984 and luckily the strong sales numbers didn’t prevent PSA from improving the engines on offer with more powerful versions. The 138 hp GTI was introduced in 1983 and the most powerful CX in the line-up, the 2.5 litre turbo developing 168 hp came a year later. The turbo had an impressive top speed of 220 km/h, of course thanks to the excellent aerodynamics. When the second series was presented in 1985 the most notable difference were the plastic front and rear bumpers which replaced the previous metal ones and helped further lower wind resistance to a quite astonishing 0.28, in line with the SM. A turbo was now fitted also to the diesel engines but the most powerful version remained the petrol 25 GTI Turbo II, the “II” coming from it now having an intercooler. The interior of the second series was modernized and for the Turbo II even quite sporty with red piping on the seats and dash in some countries, but not necessarily more logical. As an example the radio was moved from the dashboard to down between the seats, next to the handbrake. Changing radio station had just become something you needed to look away from the road for a couple of seconds to do…
If the above all sounds irrestistible and owning the – perhaps – last real Citroën is something you cannot go through life without having done, the good news is that the CX remains and under-apprecitated car to this day. It’s not easy to find a good one but when you do, it will still be cheap – we’re usually talking EUR 15-20.000. That means it’s much cheaper than either a good DS or a good SM, and much cheaper to own, while still giving you a good piece of the real Citroën experience! The second series looks more modern but the first has all the coolness of the original car, and the metal bumpers resist sunlight better than the 80’s plastic. Most CX’s were sold as manual which was a good thing. It’s also good to know that cars after 1981 have better rust protection, a big issue with earlier cars. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, the thought of a Turbo II is hard to resist. Objectively though, the best one to go for would probably be a late first series GTI – less prone to issues than the turbo, and with all of the Citroën genius intact!
The Porsche 911 is no doubt the most successful sports car of all time. However, it’s also a car which Porsche tried to kill off around 911 times before it earned the unshakable position it has today. The first try dates all the way back to the mid-70’s when the idea was that the newly developed 928 would take over from the ageing 911. As we all know it didn’t work at the time and it’s never worked since. Today we’re glad that Porsche failed and be that as it may, the 928 became a great complement to the 911 when it was launched and today remains one of very few old Porsche’s that is both a great car and something you could (with a bit of a stretch) still call a bargain. That’s more than enough reasons to look closer at it this week!
Although I don’t like discussing design since it’s a matter of personal taste, I think most of us would agree that design-wise, the 70’s weren’t a happy period. The world was brown and orange and most cars looked like they’d been drawn with a ruler by someone loving 90-degree angles. When it was launched in 1977, the 928 was therefore a true revolution design-wise with the long hood and the “reversed” pop-up headlights, earning it the nickname “landshark” in some countries, and the rounded rear with integrated shock absorbers. It would be exaggerated claiming that it could just as well have been designed today, but it’s to my mind the car design from the 70’s that has best stood the test of time. This was also proven by the production which ran until 1995 with the main parts of the car’s design remaining pretty much unchanged until the end.
Having said that it’s difficult to see how Porsche actually thought that fans of the air-cooled, rear-engine 911 would ever consider the 928 as a replacement. Firstly it was obviously a larger car, even if it’s better described as a 2+2 seater than a real 4-seater. Secondly it has quite a large boot, meaning the engine was up front. Thirdly, that engine was a newly developed, water-cooled V8 rather than a legendary, air-cooled six-cylinder. Finally all this led to a heavier car, much more at home on the Autobahn than being thrown around curvy mountain roads. To this day, the 928 is a true motorway cruiser that sits nicely alongside a 911 from the time, although it never saw its success its smaller brother did.
Even though the 928 was heavier, Porsche were very focused on keeping its weight down. The doors, front aisles and hood are all made out of aluminium and the front and rear bumpers were as mentioned made in composite material (arouna metal core). The original, 4.5 litre V8 with 240 hp was at the time the second most powerful engine from Zuffenhausen, losing out only to the 911 Turbo, and the 928 was thus well motorized from the beginning. It was available with either a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic from Mercedes (later a 4-speed) from the start, mounted on the rear axle and thus contributing to the excellent balance. The 928 was generally an advanced construction with notably double wishbone suspension all around and Porsche’s so called “Weissach axle” in the back of which I’ll spare you the technicalities but which can be described as a system for greater stability and less oversteer. That system was certainly never fitted to the 911’s of the time, and even 911 fans would probably agree that the 928 was in many areas far ahead of not only it, but of most other cars at the time as well.
The first series was built between 1977-1982, with the 300 hp 928S launched as a more powerful version in 1980 (and a couple of years later becoming the only version available). The S managed the sprint to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds, a very respectable time in the early 80’s. It was also the car Porsche ran for 24 hours non-stop on the Nardo track in Italy, achieving an average speed of 250 km/h! Think of that a minute – we’re talking 24 hours with the pedal to the metal at top speed, back in the fully mechanical age! Porsche kept improving the S interior- and equipment-wise, but also technically with notably ABS breaking before it was replaced by the 928 S4 in 1987.
The S4 was the first car with the face-lifted body, best visible in the rear through the new lights and the standard-fitted wing. Engine-wise it went form 2 to 4 valves and hereby to an output of 320 hp. The 0-100 km/h time was now sub-six seconds with a top speed of 270 km/h. The even sportier GT was introduced in 1989, adding another 10hp and only being available as five-speed manual. Both versions were replaced by the 350 hp GTS in 1992, produced until 1995 and actually Porsche’s last GT car until the Panamera 15 years later. Over 15 years of production a bit more than 62.000 cars were built. Not a huge but still quite a large number, and in that sense it’s surprising how few of them you see on the roads today.
Unless you’re not a die-hard, nothing-but-911 kind of person, a 928 will deliver the true Porsche feeling from behind the wheel. The engine is like a solid companion at all speeds, especially in combination with the manual box. The suspension is superb given the car’s age, but It’s clear from the first meters you drive that although smaller than modern cars and in spite of all the Porsche attributes, this is a true GT that is most at home on long distances with two (or 2+2) passengers and surprisingly, quite a lot of their luggage!
When writing about classics I usually add a sentence along the lines of “make sure you check the history and the condition”. Never ever has that sentence been more true than if you consider a 928. As mentioned, the car is a complex construction. Parts have always been expensive and haven’t become less so today, only in some cases harder to find. The engine and gearbox are of course the most critical parts and inspecting the car from underneath before the purhcase is mandatory. If you’re unsure about what you’re looking for, get a specialist to help you or take it to a Porsche garage. Trust me on this but also know that even if you go through all the checks, you shouldn’t buy a 928 with your last money, but rather keep a reserve for things that may come up.
So which one? Well, no surprise that a manual is preferrable, but the automatic is actually not as catastrophic as you may think, so potentially try it if the rest of the car is good. Design-wise it’s a matter of taste between the first and second generation, but be aware that the 2-valve engine is easier (and thereby cheaper) to service than the 4-valve from the S4 onwards. If that doesn’t scare you, the 928 GT of which only around 2000 were built is especially interesting. Otherwise, the 300 hp second series is also a good choice. Please don’t go for the Strosek or Gemballa 80’s versions with massive plastic wings but rather try to find a car that is as original as possible. For the first series, both the phone dial wheels and the pepita interior you can see higher up are sought after today.
A good first series 928 will set you back around EUR 25-35.000, probably around 50% more than 10 years ago (but you’ve hopefully gotten richer in those 10 years as well!). The second series will typically cost around EUR 10.000 more with the GT and GTS potentially even more for low-mileage cars. High kilometres need not be a problem though, if the car has a solid and well documented history – but only then. In terms of value for money, this means that you still get one of the best GT’s ever built for less than half of a classic 911. That my friends not only makes this a bargain among Porsche classics, it does so among classic GT cars in general as well!
it’s time to leave the world of over-powered and over-priced SUV’s and return to a more traditional, and dare I say classy thrill of driving, which after all is what this blog is all about. We’ll do so by going back to a theme that I explored almost two years ago in a post entitled “The best Ferrari is a Maserati”. The reference here was the Maserati Coupé from the early 00’s, equipped with the brilliant 4.2 litre, Ferrari V8. The coupé is however not the only way to profit from a Ferrari engine in a car of a different – and usually cheaper – brand. Another example of that was the breathtakingly beautifful Fiat Dino Coupe from the mid-60’s, one of the highlights of that decade and a car we’ll look closer at today!
It’s the early 60’s, the Vietnam war rages, the mini skirt is the latest fashion and Americans are told smoking is dangerous through warning labels on cigarette packages (Europe wouldn’t get these for another few years). Our American friends however also had the Mustang whereas in Europe the English drive Minis and the French the eternal 2CV and the clever but not very beautiful Renault 4. Design-wise therefore, you had to go to Italy to find the true masterpieces (yep, some things don’t change!), and south of the Alps, Fiat is planning for an upmarket GT coupé and convertible, without having a suitable engine to power it.
Further east in Maranello, Ferrari’s world is a little less rosy. Enzo is still deploring the loss of his son Alfredo (“Dino”) in 1956, only 24 years old. Dino was credited with the development of the Ferrari 2-litre V6 engine that over a few years had been used in various racing cars. Ferrari now needs precisely this kind of engine, i.e. no more than 2 litres and 6 cylinders for its Formula 2 cars, but the engine needs to be homologated through serial production of at least 500 units. At the time this was too much for a small manufacturer like Ferrari and it was therefore agreed with Fiat that they would build the homologated engine and also be free to use it in future Fiat cars. Contrary to what Enzo Ferrari had wanted, Fiat insisted on the engine being built in its Turin factory and not in Maranello, meaning that the Dino engines in cars like the Ferrari Dino 206 and 246 will have the Fiat logo casted somewhere on the motor block. Fiat now also gives the green light to Bertone to design the coupé and to Pininfarina to design the convertible. This was of course not very logical and led to the two cars looking rather different with most people (including me) agreeing that Bertone did a better job – judge for yourself. The convertible was introduced in 1966 and the coupé a few months later, in 1967.
The Dino engine was indeed quite special. A 2-litre V6 with an alloy block, it’s most famous for its unusual, 65 degree angle but also features quad cams and triple Weber carburettors, bringing the output to 158 hp (and also the need for a specialist to make sure those Webers are aligned as they should be!). The face-lifted engine that came in 1969 when homologation was no longer an issue was increased to 2.4 litres and was the world’s first serial engine with electronic injection. Power increased to 180 hp with notably improved torque, and all this was fitted in a magnificent coupé body with flowing lines, an aggressive front with a big grill, and a sweeping, lower rear. I owned a Fiat 124 Coupé from 1965 a few years ago which was also designed by Bertone and the similarities are clearly there but the Dino is a larger, more elegant car. The interior matches the exterior in a plush combination of leather (one of few options but a feature on many cars) and wood with a thin, large steering wheel. The gearbox is five-speed, there are dual-circuit disc brakes all around and even electric windows (still quite rare in Europe at the time). Even though the later 2.4 litre engine has more power and greater torque, enthusiasts will often tell you the smaller 2-litre is actually the sweeter one to drive. The later car was however also updated notably with independent rear suspension, improved brakes and some othe features making it a more modern car.
Around 5800 2-litre and 2.4 litre Dino coupés were built between 1967 and 1974, with latter cars being assembled not in Turin but at Ferrari’s plant in Maranello. Of all these, few remain today and although only around 2000 convertibles were built, these are easier to find than the coupé. That hasn’t meant they haven’t gone ballistic price-wise though, with good convertibles today costing at least EUR 150.000, and the 2.4 litre being even more expensive as only 400 were built. A good coupé will still be yours for somewhere around EUR 50-60.000. Unless you have a very firm idea of what you want, the individual condition of the car is probably more important than which engine it has. One of the few available options was metallic paint and the dark grey metallic you can still find some cars in is to me the colour which really highlights the car’s beauty!
The most beautiful Dino in my eyes indeed carries the Fiat badge (except the one in the picture above…) and to finish where we started, even though they’ve gone up in price in the last years, a Fiat Dino Coupé is still more than EUR 300.000 (!) cheaper than a Ferrari Dino 246 with the same engine! That’s of course an even more legendary car but it’s not a GT and it also doesn’t have the elegance of the Fiat Dino, one of the most beautiful cars of the 60’s. Good design never goes out of style so if there’s still room in your garage, get one while you still can!
Hot hatches is not something I write often about, quite simply because I’m less passionate about the segment than others such as supercars and intersting oldtimers. I will however be the first to admit that there is something very appealing with the concept of a small car with low weight and lots of driving fun, and I have at least touched on some classic hot hatches in past posts, such as the Peugeot 205 GTI and recently the oh so lovely A112 Abarth.
A problem with the hot hatch segment is however that it’s (also) become expensive: new ones easily cost as much as a mid-sized car, and the classics such as the Golf GTI Mk1, Peugeot 205 GTI, Renault Clio Williams (not to talk about the Turbo 2!) have today gone stratospheric. There are some exceptions though, and in my opinion, none more so than one of the smallest hot hatches on the market. Maybe it’s because of the size, or because it looks sweet rather than dangerous. Whatever the reason, I can’t think of a single car today that offers as much driving pleasure per your unit of money than the forgotten, underrated and undervalued VW Lupo GTI. Doesn’t ring any bells? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one, and that’s why we’ll look closer at it this week!
The reason I came to think of the Lupo is the current search for a car for my son, who (if all goes well) will pass his driving license in ten days. He’s inherited the car sickness gene from me and has therefore been on the lookout for an affordable while still fun car, with four seats, a decent amount of hp but not too many such as not to scare his mother, and at the same time with low consumption and being cheap in insurance. Affordable in this case is around CHF 5-6.000 (about as much in EUR/USD) but given his level of mechanical knowledge is lower than a Lotus Esprit, there’s also a strong wish for the car not to be something Esprit-like but rather quite solid. The task looked difficult for a while with not many more candidates springing to mind than a Mini, which is arguably an excellent choice but also something you see on every corner, which in this case doesn’t count as a positive. But then it struck me – the Lupo GTI actually fits the bill perfectly!
The Lupo (Italian for “wolf”, which is in turn the first half of the name of the town VW comes from, Wolfsburg) came about as a result of “size inflation”. The Golf, traditionally the small car in the VW line-up, was getting bigger and bigger and all of a sudden there was room for a smaller car below it. Launched in 1998 and built until 2005, the Lupo filled that gap, and whilst most of the almost 500.000 Lupos built were quite boring small cars selling rather on fuel economy (the Lupo 3l TDI consumed just that, 3 litres, on 100 km), around 6400 of these were the GTI model. That’s not a big number, and although most of them are still on the road today, it also explains why the supply is thin – there’s currently four for sale in Switzerland, and around 15 in all of Germany.
True to the philosophy shared by the Mini that a car should ideally have a wheel in each corner, the Lupo is a boxy little thing with practically no overhangs, bringing the advantage that you can actually seat four adults on far less than 4 metres (3.52 metres to be exact) and also a bag or two, as long as they’re not too big. The GTI sits 20 mm lower than the regular Lupo and looks the part with 15-inch wheels, xenon lights and some decent skirts and spoilers all around, complemented by the lovely, centrally-mounted dual exhaust pipes! The interior is typical VW, however with the (also typical) VW GTI feel, with nice touches such as sport seats, a leater shifter and chrome rings in the gauge cluster which together bring a bit of exclusivity to the otherwise solid but dull interior. It’s not fun, but it’s solid and quite nice. Most GTIs sold were in silver and black, which are also the colours that fit the car best. Importantly, try to find one from 2002 onwards, as those have a six- rather than five-speed gearbox.
Turning the ignition brings a lovely sound from those double pipes, which accompanies you all the way up to the 7000 rpm limit. That’s good since chances are you’ll spend some time up there, given the 1.7 litre engine needs revs. As long as you do rev it, power is however plentiful as the car weighs in at only 975 kg. The rest of the drive is also pure joy, with the Lupo offering as much gokart feel as you can get in a normal car. The driving experience has been compared to the GTI Mk1 and the 205 GTI which is obviously a huge compliment, but I woudl say the Lupo is actually a more modern drive than both of them, and more precise in most areas. Once again, it’s a great testament to the advantages of the light-weight philosphy!
As noted above there aren’t many Lupos around and many of those that are have also been modified, which doesn’t have to be negative as long as it stays decent and well-done. Lowered suspension combined with bigger wheels is probably the most common modification, and obviously you then need to make sure that the suspension leaves enough room for the wheels and provides at least a minimum of comfort. Engine tuning is less common, but there are a couple of cars in Germany where they’ve managed to squeeze the 300hp+ Audi S3 engine into a Lupo GTI. Having driven the standard car, that sounds like a truly terrifying experience! The high mileage you see on many cars is obviously a testament to the quality and shouldn’t put you off as long as the car’s been serviced regularly. Another testament to the quality is no doubt that of the around 1500 GTI’s sold in Germany, around 2/3 are still on the road 20 years later.
So where did we end up? Well, we managed to find a silver GTI from 2002 with around 160.000 kms on the clock, owned by a VW mechanic, in almost perfect condition. It’s been lowered a further 2 cm from standard with new suspension and combined with the almost new 16-inch wheels looks absolutely terrific. The driving experience is amazing and to my great surprise, the seller was happy to negotiate the CHF 6.300 asking price without me saying anything, as the car has been on sale for a while without success. He was therefore also happy to reserve it for us until my son’s test. If you ask me, the weak demand will soon be a thing of the past, as it’s difficult to imagine a more fun, more solid and more practical car for the city and short trips than the Lupo GTI. As for my son, he is now more motivated than ever to pass that driving test – as if that was ever needed…
As mentioned in my before-last post on the Alfa GTV6 a couple of weeks ago, one of the reasons I liked it so much was that pretty much all other cars you would see in the mid-80’s on the streets of Stockholm were various Volvos and Saabs, which to a young teenager were all rather boring. In the case of Volvo this was rather intentional, as the company at the time put security and practicality far ahead of any kind of driving thrills or exciting design. But as the 80’s became the 90’s things started to change, and when a few years later Volvo started racing with a large estate, by then it was clear that nothing was the same any longer at the Volvo factory in Torslanda, next to Gothenburg. No car examplified Volvo’s “new” profile better than the top of the line 850 T5-R, a racing estate that has today become a rarity on our streets. But how did it all happen, and should you secure a T5-R before it’s too late? That’s what we’ll look closer at this week!
When the Volvo 850 was introduced in 1991, it was a small revolution for both Volvo and many of its owners, arguably less passionate than Alfistas and other more engaged car owner groups, but still with a firm idea as to what a Volvo should be like. And for as long as anyone cared to remember, large Volvo estates had been rear-wheel drive and in their top version fitted with a big, longitudinal six-cylinder engine up front. The concept is actually quite surprising for a brand selling on practicality and security in… Sweden, a country not really known for its warm temperatures and with quite long, snowy and icy winters. There’s a saying that the when a client would complain about a slight lack of traction in his 945, the Volvo salesman would tell him to throw in a sand bag or two in the back. I never tried that, but I did own a Volvo 965 at one point and ended up precisely in this situation on the way up to the Alps. My mother was part of the trip, so we solved it by moving her back to the cavernous boot, to give it a bit of extra weight. It worked as intended, so I guess the Volvo people had a point.
I realize I just compared my mother to a sand bag, so let’s perhaps move back to the 850. Not only was it front-wheel drive but it also introduced a five-cylinder, 2.3 litre transversal engine, a combination that would from then become the Volvo standard for the coming 25 years, in a clear break with the past. Presented to the world in 1991 first as a sedan and from 1993 as an estate, the latter was a bit smaller on the outside than Volvo’s earlier large estates, but thanks to the transversal engine as well as the preserved boxy shape, it still offered a comparable luggage space. This was important as until then estates, and especially Volvo estates were were bought for their practicality and not for their coolness, but that was about to change… Various engine options were available, none of them terribly exciting, except the top-of-the-range 850 Turbo with 225 hp that came out in 1994.
1994 will however go down in the 850 history for a different reason. Volvo had decided to participate in the at the time very popular British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), primarily as part of a marketing drive to try to add some spice to the company’s profile. The 850 sedan was expected to be the basis of the new racing car, but some marketing genius up in Gothenburg realized how much more attention an estate would gather, and so Volvo lined up the 850 estate for the 1994 championship together with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The plan worked wonders in all respects. Seeing a Volvo estate on two wheels through the corners of British racing tracks was very memorable, and the cars were fast as well. They didn’t win the championship but they caused enough commotion for BTCC’s management to change the rules for 1995, forcing Volvo to switch to the sedan. From a marketing perspective that no longer mattered – Volvo had gotten all the attention they wanted, now the only needed to follow up with an 850 version that connected to the racing car – and so enter the 850 T-5R.
The T5-R was introduced in 1995 and was based on the aforementioned 850 Turbo. Volvo worked together with Porsche (yep!) for the engine tuning that gave the engine another 18 hp, as well as the revised transmission. The mechanical developments were complemented by a large front spoiler and a rear wing which together made the car look rather cool and helped improve its wind resistance, enabling a time of around 7 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 245 km/h. At the time, this made the T5-R one of the fastest estates in the world, and (by a margin) the fastest Volvo ever built. Available with a five-speed manual or a slow and not very motivated four-speed auto box, colour options were limited to a very bleak “cream yellow” or a traditional black.
The T5-R was so successful that Volvo had to revise the planned limited production of 2500 cars of the 1995 model year, extending it into 1996 and adding dark green as a third colour. When production stopped in 1996 a total of around 7.000 cars had been built. In the same year the successor 850R came out (offering far more colours!), essentially the same car but never being able to connect to the T5-R glory, also since it wasn’t a limited production run. A year later production of the 850 ended as it was replaced by the S70/V70.
Driving a T5-R doesn’t bring the same ketchup effect as an old 80’s-style turbo, but still gives much of the same feeling. Front-wheel drive may be beneficial on snowy roads in Sweden but as everyone knows, the concept does cause some limitations when you associate it to a relatively powerful, front-mounted turbo engine, meaning you need to manage power to the front wheels carefully at red lights and on curvy roads. Otherwise the T5-R offers all the qualities of a Volvo estate in a very cool, 90’s shape and remains an autobahn express par excellence until this day. And it still feels very fast, also since it weighs in at below 1500 kg.
Coming back to the initial question then, should you add a T5-R to your driveway while you still can? I certainly wouldn’t mind, given the car’s inherent qualities but already today, it’s easier said than done. Very few 850 T5-R’s are still out there and most of these are real high-mileage cars, with anything from 250′ to 350′ km on the clock. That’s often the case with old Volvos and is obviously a great testament to the quality of the cars, but it also means you need to be very thorough when considering one. Price-wise the T5-R is on the way up with cars coming in at between EUR 15.000-30.000 depending on mileage. It doesn’t end there though since to my mind, the only T5-R you should consider is a cream yellow, manual estate. If you find one of those you don’t want to miss it since not only is it one of the coolest estates from the 90’s, it’s also a car that played a significant role in Volvo’s history!
As a young boy growing up in central Stockholm in the late 70’s-early 80’s, what I saw on the streets were mostly a mix of more or less boring Volvos and Saabs. There was however one memorable exception – a car I would regularly pass on my way home from school. It was a black Alfa GTV that to my young eyes had not only a cool, coupé shape, but was also the only car I had ever seen (still to this day!) that had what looked like fish nets in the center of the headrests. It was love at first and regular sight, and since my father was about to change company car (a common feature in Sweden back then…), I begged and implored him to go for the Alfa. He didn’t and we ended up with a Saab Turbo instead. Given that the winter in Sweden is VERY long and that there were at the time at least 30 Saabs for every Alfa sold, that was probably a wise choice. To me, the Saab could however never compete with the Giugiaro-designed GTV which since that day has a solid place on my 80’s car list. That’s a reason as good as any to have a closer look at it in this week’s post!
The GTV was born in 1974 and was called Alfetta GT for the first two years of production. This was the time when Alfa was still Alfa, i.e. before being taken over by Fiat. Business was however far from good, with the company only managing to scrape by thanks to frequent capital injections from the Italian state, and with limited success seen for its various models. The Alfetta on which the GTV was based, was a 4-door sedan produced since 1972 in a transaxle construction and with the same chassis that all rear-wheel drive Alfas would use until the takeover by Fiat in 1986 – including the GTV. The looks of the Alfetta however had very little to do with the GTV. The former was a very unspectacular family sedan, the latter a cool coupé with a low, four-eyed front and a sloping, hatchback-like design. Giugiaro did an excellent job at the time and the GTV looks as cool today as then, in my own, completely unbiased opinion!
The GTV (“Grand Turismo Veloce (speed)”) from 1976 and onwards was powered by two four-cylinder engines, one 1.6 and one 2-litre, the latter producing around 130 hp and the only engine in many export markets. As Alfa prepared for a face-lift of the GTV in 1981, they had the brilliant idea of adding a more powerful engine and for a while considered the V8 from the Alfa Montreal, before the final choice fell on the 2.5 litre, six-cylinder engine from the limousine Alfa 6 (a big, luxurious Alfa limousine launched in the mid-70’s). The power output in the GTV remained at around 160 hp but there was a small problem in that the engine didn’t really fit the car, so the bonnet of the GTV6 has a “hump” that differentiates it (and makes it look even cooler!) from the 2-litre version. As other popular coupés in the early 80’s the GTV6 had fuel injection, another difference to the smaller engines with carburettors. The transaxle construction with both the gearbox and the battery in the back gave the car a nearly perfect weight distribution, and as mentioned, it was also rear-wheel drive. All in all, a very promising package!
The pre-face lift, four-cylinder GTV’s had a lot of chrome in typical 70’s style, but to keep up with the times, the face-lifted versions after 1981 took on the typical 80’s black plastic look, and the GTV6 was only ever avaiable in the face-lifted version. This makes the styling of both cars rather different, seen with today’s eyes. Pre-face lift, the GTV comes across as more elegant than sporty, with some nice details such as the visible GTV inscription on the left c-pillar. The face-lifted version looks sportier, especially the GTV6 with its hump and (at 15″), at least slightly bigger wheels. Unfortunately many cars today have fallen victim to all kinds of transformations, generally of bad taste. The cool black plastic unfortunately also looks less cool 40 years after, as it tends to become grey with time.
Driving-wise the GTV provides the typical 70’s and 80’s Alfa experience in everything from the mechanics to the seating position. The latter was a constant point of debate, being referred to as a “monkey position” requiring short legs and long arms. Having experienced quite a few Alfas, I never agreed to that as especially on longer drives, that position actually works quite well. Other typical features include a steering that is precise enough but very vague around the center, and a gear change that requires a good warm-up and a precise hand. None of this really matters though from the moment you put your right foot down and hear the lovely engine note both engines put out. This is clearly the highlight of the car, and there is no doubt the six-cylinder in the GTV6 sings more than the still enjoyable, 2-litre four-pot in the GTV 2.0. The general comfort including the suspension also deserves praise, and even though the GTV has a conventional boot rather than being a hatchback, it’s quite roomy which together with the reasonable room in the back makes this a practical GT car. In the 80’s, it was enough for a family of four. Today, its width is almost exactly the same as a modern Fiat Panda…
Altough produced to a total of around 135.000 cars over its 13-year existence, the GTV couldn’t save Alfa from being taken over by Fiat in 1986 and the GTV production stopped the year after. Since then, a chassis and body more prone to rust than most, together with generally poor build quality have quite drastically reduced the number of cars that have survived until this day. As mentioned, many of these have also been tuned, lowered or otherwise modified to something you don’t want. Finding a good car of either engine, pre- or post face-lift can thus be difficult and starts getting expensive. EUR 20.000 will buy you a good car, be it a four- or six-cylinder as the market doesn’t really differentiate between the two, the general condition being more important. The GTV6 will always be the “all else equal” pick, but on the other hand, a well preserved pre-face lift car has stood the test of time better than the face-lift version. Then again the GTV6 that this post is about was only available in the face-lifted version, as were the seats with the fish net headrests!
PS. You may remember my post on the Ferrari FF from a few weeks ago, which you can otherwise find here. This week Doug De Muro featured the FF much under the same tone as me, i.e. that at today’s price-levels, it’s quite a bargain. I’m not saying this because I think Doug’s inspired by the blog (although it would be nice…), but rather as you may want to check it out!
Everyone knows AMG, the independent company specialized in the tuning of Mercedes engines that the latter took over in 2005 and that is since fully owned by MB. Next to building the most powerful version in most product lines, having AMG inhouse also enables MB to stick various AMG logos on lots of other models as well (and whether that “logo inflation” is a good thing or not is something that certainly can, and perhaps will be discussed in a future post). AMG is thereby comparable to the M-division at BMW. M didn’t start as an individual company, but today represents the same for BMW that AMG does for Mercedes, i.e. various cosmetic sports packages as well as the most powerful models.
But if you’re a BMW fan. there’s also the option of getting an Alpina. To clarify, given this is sometimes misunderstood, Alpina is neither an M car badged differently, nor is it a brand owned by BMW. It is something far more exclusive. An Alpina can be viewed as the grand tourer version of BMW’s M offer, different in character, very individual and built in small quantities. BMW and Alpina work closely together since more than 50 years, but BMW has no ownership in the little known manufacturer from the small town of Buchloe, close to Munich. Today we’ll look closer at the company’s history and whether, if you’re a market for a “real” BMW M, you should consider the corresponding Alpina before deciding. I don’t think I’m ruining the party by answering that last question straight away: in most cases, yes you should!
Burkhard Bovensiepen from Buchloe (an alliteration as good as any) could have had an easy if not very exciting life, had he decided to take over the family’s thriving typewriter business. But somehow, back in the early sixties, he decided that this wasn’t what he wanted his life to be about. A couple of years earlier, Bovensiepen had owned a Fiat 1500 he felt needed more power, so on a trip to Italy he had visited a local tuner who sold him the standard kit of improved camshaft and double Weber carburettors, thereby managing to squeeze out a bit more power from the small engine. Unfortunately though the treatment wasn’t long-lived, and the motor literally fell apart on Bovensiepen’s way back to Buchloe. That convinced him of two things: firstly, more power was fun (as long as the engine doesn’t break), and secondly, professional tuning had to be done in a way adapated to the specific car, rather than as standardized after-market kits for various engines. On the basis of that philosophy Alpina was born in 1962, and Bovensiepen decided to focus on cars from the automaker right around the corner in Munich: BMW.
BMW had at this time launched the 1500 (yep, same name and nope, that wouldn’t be possible today!) that was to become Alpina’s first project car. Bovensiepen bought one and started working on the carburettors, exhaust and various other parts, hereby improving the output by 10 hp to 90 hp. The rather basic marketing effort consisting of sticking notes under the wipers of BMW 1500’s, inciting owners to give their cars the Alpina treatment for around 1000 DM. The very basic marketing proved surprisingly successful and in 1965, BMW approved of the modifications and went as far as granting Alpinas the same guarantee package as the original cars. That’s how a close collaboration that lasts until this day started, with Alpina, initially with only 8 employees, tuning most new BMW models and with time, also offering further options for interior design and suspension.
During the 70’s Alpina competed in German car races with its own team next to BMW, in both cases based on the BMW 02-series. Both teams were very successful and with drivers such as Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Jacky Ickx, they would go on to win most races both in the European and German championships, be it touring, rallies or mountain races. In 1977, Alpina ended the racing adventure as other projects had now become more important, most notably three new developments: BMW Alpina B6 2,8 based on the 3-series, the B7-Turbo based on the 5-series, and the B7 Turbo Coupé, based on the 6-series. Both B7’s, thanks to a KKK turbo and intercooler, would develop up to 330 hp and had a top speed over 260 km/h, but were at the same time very civilized to drive, thereby setting the mark for Alpina’s niche: powerful but not edgy, more grand tourer than sports car.
Alpina continued to grow and develop through the years, although the number of cars built on each specific BMW model in the 80’s and 90’s could be as low as 20-30, so very small series, obviously making these very sought-after today. A further recognition of the seriousness of the Alpina proposition came in 1983 when the company was registered as a car brand in Germany, i.e. not just a tuner. Other notable developments were the first bi-turbo engine in 1989 and the first diesel Alpina ten years later, in 1999. Today, diesels make up close to half the cars produced.
It’s difficult to summarize all the models Alpina have worked on over the years and the highlights are to a certain extent a matter of personal preferences, but a couple of noteworthy ones are clearly the two BMW Alpina Roadsters based on the Z1 and the Z8 (and where Alpina fitted an auto box to the otherwise manual Z8 to boost US sales), as well as the Alpina B6 GT3, based on the BMW 6-series and that in 2010 marked Alpina’s return to racing, going on to win the German GT3 series the year after. Today the company offers a version of most BMW models, including the big X7 SUV (of which there is no M-version). Many of the engine parts as well as gearbox, instruments and wheels are today sent to BMW from Alpina. BMW then build and paint the cars before returning them to Alpina for fitting of tailor-made interiors and aerodynamic kits etc.
There’s basically three ways to distinguish an Alpina from the corresponding regular BMW: firstly by colour, at least if it’s in the specific Alpina green or blue, both rather bright and flashy, and colours Alpina also like to do interior stitching in. Secondly, by side stripes. Because yes, the stripes that to all intents and purposes look like something straight out of the 70’s and aren’t necessarily very elegant, is something Alpina still sticks on its cars if they owner wants them to. There seems to be roughly a 50/50 split between those opting for and against them. Finally though, and by far the nicest mark of an Alpina, are the lovely, 20-inch and beyond multi-spoke wheels. Interiors can be individualized and are again, often a matter of taste, but typically include different steering wheels, gauge clusters, seats, wood trim etc. Nothing very spectacular, and arguably also not always of good taste, but with a high degree of individualization.
Whether an Alpina is a better proposition than an M-car depends on what you’re looking for. Driving-wise it’s been described pretty well as the M-version being the track car, and the Alpina the car to get you to the track. After the racing era in the 70’s, Alpina’s focus has been to build powerful but easy to drive cars, which in most tests are described as less sporty than M-cars, but also a more rounded experience all in all. So it’s really up to your personal preferences. If you’re looking for the sports car characteristics of an M-car, that’s probably the way to go. If however you’re looking for more of a GT nature, then you really can’t go wrong with an Alpina. Warranties are the same as for any BMW car, and the local BMW garage will also not have any issues servicing it. The starting price of an Alpina tends to be close to the corresponding M-car (net of some equipment differences) with resale values typically higher, obviously due to the fact that in spite of its success, Alpina even today sticks to building no more than 1500-1700 cars per year. You’ll thus pay more if you buy a used one (especially if it’s one of the smaller series), but future values can be estimated to remain very stable. Given this, although there’s nothing wrong with answering the question on what car you drive with “BMW”, saying “Alpina” definitely has a more exclusive ring to it!
The car we’ll have a look at this week can very truthfully be described as a well-designed, well-built, practicle and perfectly balanced transaxle coupé with a real Porsche engine. Or, as is far more common, looked down upon as a Porsche-badged Audi. You’ve guessed it, this week we’ll look at the Porsche 944 in its different iterations, a car that is far better than generally believed, and in my view one of the few remaining bargains in the Porsche line-up!
The year is 1981, Ronald Reagan is the new US president, pope John Paul II gets shot (but luckily not killed) and Kim Carnes tops the charts with “Bette Davis Eyes”. The Porsche 924, the car that was indeed more of an Audi, had already been produced five years by then, and interestingly, was originally not intended to be a Porsche at all, but rather a Volkswagen. Had Porsche not picked up the project when Volkswagen decided to abandon it in the early 70’s, the 944 may never have existed (and, Volkswagen could potentially have had a far cooler image than it does today, had it not abandoned it!). As known though, when VW pulled the plug, Porsche picked up what was to become the 924 and thereby inherited quite a few parts along with it, notably the Audi engine with a power output of only 125 hp in the base version. Both the origin of the engine and its lack of power were always the weakest points of the 924. So in 1981, when Porsche decided it was time to launch the beefed-up 944, the first priority was more power. The six-cylinder from the 911 was not an option, notably since there were rumours at the time that rear-mounted engines would be banned in the US, and the only other engine Porsche had in stock was the newly developed, aluminium V8 in the 928. Cutting the V8 in half became the solution, and resulted in the original 2.5 litre four-cylinder of the 944, in its first version developing 163 hp (in Europe, 20 hp less in the US). Better, although still not shooting the lights out.
Apart from the engine which we’ll come back to in a minute and which except for the power output had a lot going for it, the rest of the 944 did and still does so as well. Firstly it looks good, in a nice 80’s way. At the basis it’s obviously the same body as the 924, but the more muscular, wider rear part makes a big difference and makes the 944 look like a real sports car. It’s also quite a practical car, with back seats (that can be folded) offering reasonable comfort for children, and quite a large luggage space under the glass lid. Secondly, the transaxle construction witth the new engine in front and the gearbox in the back gave the car a near perfect weight distribution of 49/51, making it very well-balanced. The advantage of the aerodyamic shape was also to give the 944 a very respectable top speed of far more than the 210 km/h Porsche had officially quoted. Thirdly, after the face lift in 1985 it also offered a nice interior, far better than the one of the first years that had been identical to the 924, and also far nicer and more modern than the 911’s (911 Carrera or 964) of the time.
Until 1985 there was only one version of the 944, but in 1986 the Turbo was added, producing no less than 220 hp and thereby putting it in a different league to the base model and improving the 0-100 km/h time by all of three seconds, to 5.9 seconds. The Turbo had various other improvements to it as well, notably larger breaks. A year later, the even stronger Turbo S (a name that is obviously still around today for Porsche’s strongest versions) took that up to 250 hp, making it the strongest four-cylinder engine in the world at the time. During the last three years of production until 1991, the S-engine then became the standard engine in the Turbo. There were however also improvements made to the naturally aspirated engine, through the “S” version in 1987 that thanks notably to 16 valves took the power to 187 hp, and then the “S2” in 1989, increasing that further to 208 hp, by now with an increased engine volume of 3 litres. All these engines were also available in the convertible version of the 944, that in my taste however loses a lot of the nice lines of the coupé, with a strange convertible top and through that also a strange looking boot.
It’s a couple of years since I last drove a 944 in the 187 hp S version, but interestingly I remember doing so in the same week as driving a 964. No doubt the latter conveyed more of the “true” Porsche feeling, largely also thanks to the engine which is far stronger at lower revs than the 16v four-pot in the 944 S, which needs a bit of revs to reveal its best side. When you do rev it, it does however turn out to be a very nice companion that in no way feels short on power. The 944 also left a very positive general impression in everything from the steering over the surprisingly precise gearshift to the nice cabin, which as mentioned feels quite modern, especially compared to the 964. I actually struggle to remember a single car from the 80’s that presents a better total package for the money in question if its a true sports car feel you’re after. There are clearly atlernatives, some of which we’ve explored here such as the BMW 635i (see here) or the Jaguar XJ-S (see here), but those convey more of a GT than a true sports car feel.
EUR 25-30.000 buys you a nice, late 944 in the S or S2 version, which would be the ones I would for. The first 163 hp version is a bit too weak, and the Turbo is on one hand at least EUR 10.000 more expensive and also more prone to problems. Potential issues are less costly than with a 911 but owner and maintenance history are nevertheless critical. The precise feel in both steering and gearshift that I mention above is a notable sign of a well maintained car, but also something that can vary a lot. Equipment-wise there wasn’t much to be had in the 80’s, but a well-maintained leather interior is nicer than the textile one, and the sunroof is indeed quite special, as it can be tilted but also fully removed in a slightly complicated procedure – nice as long as it works!
If your set on a Porsche but don’t think it necessarily needs to have six cylinders in the back and your budget is around EUR 30.000, options are still few and far between. I’ve mentioned the 911 Carrera (G) and 964 here, which in a comparable condition cost two to three times as much as a 944. You could obviously also go for not only half but all of the engine, i.e. the V8 928, but that will also set you back at least EUR 10-15.000 more. It will also mean losing a bit of the sports car feel and vastly higher maintenance costs (as the 911’s will as well). That leaves the more modern 996, which is comparable in price and equally underrated. I can’t believe it’s almost to the day six years since I wrote about it, in a post you’ll find here. Compared to six years ago the 996 is still a bargain (albeit slightly less so) and the better car, but also one you see if not on every, then at least on many corners. If you buy the right car you can’t really go wrong with either one of them leaving it down to personal preferences. What is clear however is that the 944 is a true Porsche and we should be thankful to its “Audi” cousin 924, without which it would probably never have existed at all!
The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!
Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.
With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.
That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!
So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!
If you’re part of the crowd for which Porsche is equal to a 911 and you’ve looked at the 911 market lately (or for that matter at any point during the last 10 years), you’d be forgiven for thinking that unless a 911 is already safely stored in your garage, the train has left the station. But while that is indeed true in the case of classical 911’s up until the 996, it’s slightly less true for later 911’s and very much less true for the other models in the Porsche line-up, which today make up 85% of the company’s production. Today we’ll talk about one of those models, one that doesn’t receive much attention, that was always slightly controversial in terms of its looks, but also one that in its first iteration offers an unbelievable value for money whilst being capable of transporting four adults and their luggage in a way that no other family sedan can. You guessed it – this week is about the Porsche Panamera.
Porsche’s decision to start producing other models than the 911 had been taken many years before the Panamera, notably through the Cayenne in 2002. Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche’s visionary CEO at the time and until 2009, had recognized that many 911 owners also had an SUV in their garage and wanted to have a share of that market, something he definitely succeeded in given the Cayenne today makes up alomost 1/3 of Porsche’s production. But then again everyone doesn’t want an SUV and Wiedeking also saw room in the market for a sports sedan-coupé, whatever you want to call it, the development of which ran during the 2000’s with the Panamera finally being launched in 2009. Importantly Wiedeking was not only visionary but also tall, and this is where the most criticized aspect of the Panamera – its roofline – comes into play.
It is said that at the beginning of the Panamera project, Wiedeking set as a condition for the car that he, and thereby well-grown adults, should be able to sit comfortably in the backseats (which in the first generation of the car were two separate seats, whereas later versions had the option of a 3-passenger rear bench). This forced the designers to raise the roofline which is what gives the Panamera its strange profile and earned it the nickname “buckle whale” in the home market Germany. Add to that the headlights resembling the Cayenne and some slightly strange-looking backlights, and you get a car that in the eyes of most is not beautiful, but luckily has a large number of other qualities that you experience once inside – which is where you spend your time anyway.
It’s absolutely true that four adults travel in comfort in a Panamera, even when back passengers are over 180 cm. Contrary to many other coupé-GT’s the Panamera is a hatchback offering around 450 litres of luggage space, in addition to which the back seats can be folded. This is in other words a car that is fully capable of transporting not only people, but also their luggage. And if the exterior is controversial there is not much to say about the interior that is very nicely appointed and offers a true sports car feeling. Actually a 911 feeling, until you look over your shoulder and see the backseats. As so often a dark interior is to be preferred as it usually stands the test of time better – and make the few pieces of plastic that don’t have the real qualitiative look shine less.
The best part is of course the drive, which can be described as all the 911 feeling you can possibly get in a family car format. Going back to the Cayenne, it was at the launch said to convey the same 911 feeling in an SUV format, something all of us who have driven one know is not the case, as it can never be in a car riding as high as an SUV does. The Panamera is also a big car (almost five meters long and two meters wide) but it obviously rides much lower. At just under two tons it’s however no light-weight, making the driving experience even more impressive. Again, you won’t find a “family-compatible” car at an even remotedly similar price point (more on that below) that is more fun, precise and enjoyable. Two features that are important in that regard is opting for a car with PDK and if possible also air suspension which clearly enhances the ride quality.
The first generation Panamera was offered as two- or four-wheel drive with six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines and a six-cylinder diesel. There was also a six-cylinder hybrid but we’ll pass on that and the diesel here, as there is no doubt that the eight-cylinder is the engine that was intended for the car – just looking under the hood of a six-cylinder shows you that, as half the space is empty. Also, the only engine that has given rise to mechanical issues through the years is the 300 hp, petrol six-cylinder, so steer clear of it. The 400 hp Panamera S and 4S where offered along with the 500 hp double turbo Panamera Turbo from the start in 2009, and were complemented with the (naturally aspirated), 430 hp GTS and 550 hp Turbo S in 2011. Except for the “basic” 8-cylinder Panamera S, all other versions are four-wheel drive as standard and all except the S also come with a 7-speed PDK. I would go for one of those and basically let you be the judge of how much power you need. The GTS is in my view especially interesting, being a bit more unusual and the strongest of the naturally aspirated V8’s.
The reason you can be the judge of how much power you need is also that in the second-hand market, where plenty of Panameras are to be found, it doesn’t really make a difference. A budget of EUR 30.-40.000 will get you plenty of great candidates of all configurations, and neither the type of engine nor the equipment level make them differ significantly in price. You don’t even need to go back to the first model year as that budget will also be sufficient for the 2011 GTS and Turbo S with around 100.000 km on the clock. There is for example currently a fully-loaded, 100.000 km Turbo S in Switzerland in fantastic condition, that cost CHF 290.000 as new, for sale for CHF 37.000… 100.000 km is of course no issue for a Porsche V8, as long as the car has been taken care of, preferrably has had one owner and comes with a complete service history. When it comes to options, the more is generally the better but you should probably steer clear of the ceramic brakes that are supposed to hold a lifetime, but often need to be replaced already around 100.000 km or so – at a cost of half the budget given above.
So there we go – a slightly strange-, but also expensive-looking four-seater Porsche, four-wheel drive with ample luggage space that is a true joy to drive, for the same money as a diesel Passat. Come to think of it, it’s also far more enjoyable and much cheaper than a family XC90… Unfortunately the Panamera can do many things really well, but fitting a dog cage isn’t one of them, so I’ll have to pass on this one. If it wasn’t for the dog (stop looking at me like that!), a 2011-2012, well-equipped GTS with standard brakes sounds pretty unbeatable in terms of value for money!
If you’re a petrol head born sometime between the mid-60’s and the mid-70’s, there’s probably few cars that you were more excited about in your youth than the famous DeLorean. Thinking of it, you probably didn’t even need to be a petrol head to find the car exciting. The looks, the gullwing doors, the unpainted, stainless steel body, the story around John DeLorean himself and of course, the car’s appearance in the “Back to the future”-movies have all contributed to this being one of the most famous cars from the 80’s.
Somewhat surprisingly we’ve never written about the DeLorean on the blog and it definitely feels like it’s time to change that, also as I met a very nice DeLorean owner with his car not too long ago. This week’s post will therefore be on the car with almost a decade-long delivery time but that was only in production for 18 months, that at the launch was hopelessly overpriced and under-powered, and likewise the car whose creator was charged in a major drug smuggling case!
The car commonly referred to as the “DeLorean” was the only car ever built by the DMC, the DeLorean Motor Corporation, founded by John DeLorean in 1973. DeLorean had previously made a name for himself at General Motors in the muscle car era as lead engineer and vice president at Pontiac and later at Chevrolet. After many years at GM he got bored with what he perceived like a lack of innovation. He decided to leave, set up his own company and launch what he called an ethical sports car with notably more focus on safety than was the standard at the time.
The DeLorean was designed by Giugiaro, however based on an existing proposal Giugiaro had submitted to Porsche as an idea for the coming Porsche 928, but that Porsche had turned down. By 1975 the design was completed and apart from (very) minor tweaks remained unchanged until the car was finally launched in 1981. The initial plan was to use a 6-cylinder engine from Ford. That was then dropped for the four-cylinder engine from the Citroen CX (yep, really!), but in the end even DeLorean he had to realize that the power at just over 100 hp in the US due to stricter emission regulations was not enough. Finally it was decided to use the so called PRV 6-cylinder engine from notably the Renault 30 and the Volvo 760. In “US mode” the engine put out around 130 hp, better than 100 but still far less than somewhat comparable competitors.
The long development time was also caused by DeLorean realizing that his thinking around safety features wasn’t viable in the end and that some features such as a full-width knee bar in the interior had to be rethought. He therefore took in Colin Chapman from Lotus quite late in the process, who looked at the prototype and saw a need for re-working large parts of the car. When it was finally launched in 1980, the DeLorean was built on the Lotus steel chassis from the Esprit and had the engine not in the middle but in the rear, as the 911 (but unfortunately without the power of the latter). During the car’s development, the intention had been for it to be named the DMC-12, where 12 would refer to USD 12.000 as its sticker price. By the time deliveries started that price tag had more than doubled and the name was thus dropped for the more neutral DeLorean.
Around 9.000 DeLoreans were built in total in 1981-1982 in a factory in northern Ireland before being shipped to the US. The factory was financed by UK taxpayer money as a way to bring jobs to the region but didn’t last long as DeLorean filed for receivership at the end of 1982. As illustrated by the selling price, the long development time had caused costs to spiral out of control and although the car was well received for its futuristic looks, many prospective buyers were disappointed by the lack of innovation on the inside and again, the lack of power. To be fair though, had DeLorean gone on a bit longer such as to start selling cars in Europe, the power output would have been significantly higher at around 160 hp, thanks to more generous regulations, which would have been more in line with comparable cars at the time. There were also thoughts around a double-turbo version with over 250 hp, but that was never to be.
Back then to my newfound friend a few weeks ago who graciously showed me his DeLorean. It is indeed a spectacular car with notably the steel body panels looking really timeless and very cool, as do of course the doors. Who knows, if the first “Back to the future” had come out in 1981 rather than 1985, perhaps that would have given DeLorean enough of a boost to go on a bit longer? The car’s interior is far less innovative with a very 80’s feel to it. Here DeLorean had wanted a more futuristic thinking with digital displays and gauges, but again delays and costs forced him to adopt a more conventional look. The owner told me that driving-wise the car is much more of a cruiser than a sports car. He says he was happy to have a manual box rather than the slow automatic, but also that the PRV isn’t the sportiest of engines. He also mentioned what all DeLorean owners can probably testify to, which is that half the pleasure from driving the car comes from all the happy smiles, thumbs up and photographies from bystanders and other drivers.
Next to the lack of power DeLorean was also criticized for bad build quality, especially in the interior. This was probably true but then again I can’t really think of an 80’s car with an interior that has stood the test of time. The truth is that interiors were pretty bad over the board at the time and seen from that angle, the DeLorean at least doesn’t look worse than the rest. The owner hadn’t had any major issues but admitted that small things do break, a lot of them electrical. From that perspective it was probably a good thing that DeLorean didn’t have enough money for his more futuristic ideas… What is very good however, is that the car enjoys a very strong following and very active owner clubs in varous countries. It is believed that more than 6.000 of the 9.000 DeLoreans produced are still on the road today which is a truly impressive number, testifying both to a quality that can’t be that bad, and also a well functioning parts supply through the owners’ network.
So what about the drug dealing charges? Well, it’s kind of a strange story, but in 1982 DeLorean was arrested and charged with cocaine smuggling. He fought the case several years in courts and was finally acquitted of all charges, and it appears the whole thing had been an FBI setup, the purpose of which isn’t really clear. What is, is that following the bankruptcy of DeLorean, John tried to start a number of new businesses but was unable to find investors for any of them. Having been charged in a drug smuggling case probably didn’t help, even if he was acquitted…
So there you are – almost. Because following the demise of DeLorean, in 1983 all remaining parts and stock of unsold cars were shipped to Ohio where they sat a few years until they were acquired by a company in Texas called… the DeLorean Motor Company. Still in existance today and present across the US, the “new” DMC built new DeLoreans out of spare parts, sell spare parts, and service and restores DeLoreans. They’ve also had plans to bring back the DeLorean as an electric car for a number of years, but whether that will ever happen is unclear at best – the original launch date was in 2013. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out http://www.delorean.com.
The new DeLorean company, the many owners’ clubs and hereby the good supply of spare parts along with an engine that was widely used and for which parts can also be found thus make the DeLorean a less problematic car to own than you may suspect. Should you be convinced, it should be noted that values of DeLoreans have gone up in the last years and around EUR 50.000 is what a good car will cost you. Looking across the Atlantic could definitely also be worth it, notably thanks to the new DeLorean Motor Company. As with all cars from this period, the manual version is to be preferred over the automatic which will make the experience even slower. The limited power means it’s not much of a sports car and the interior is nowhere near as spectacular as the stainless steel body with the gullwing doors, but few designs have stood the test of time as well, few still catch as much attention and arguably, few cars make you feel more like an 80’s filmstar!
Arguably many beauties have come out of Sweden over the years, but next year the Volvo P1800, hands down the most beautiful Volvo in history if you ask me, will celebrate its 60th birthday. Let’s therefore wind back the clock to the early 60’s and have a closer look at what is not only a good-looking but arguably also one of the most robust oldtimers you can buy. And in the ES shooting brake shape, an even more beautiful and practical one!
The P1800 planning at Volvo in Gothenburg started in 1957. Volvo was in full expansion and its management and especially CEO Gunnar Engellau wanted something that would be an eye-catcher both in showrooms and at auto salons. Volvo had already given the sports car segment a try a few years earlier with the roadster P1900, modelled on the Chevy Corvette, but that had proven to be an utter failure with only 67 cars produced. That did however not change Volvo’s enthusiasm for the idea of a sports car, and the design mandate for what was this time going to be a coupé was given to the Italian design firm Frua – where, as became known much later, the 25-year old Swedish design trainee Pelle Petterson was responsible for it… Swedish readers of the blog will know that the same Petterson then went on to become a famous sailor and boat designer.
Launched in 1961, the P1800 was thus an international project form the start. Planned in Sweden, designed in Italy (by a Swede), premiered at the car show in Brussels in 1961, and initially built by Jensen Motors in the UK, as the strong demand Volvo enjoyed meant there was no free production capacity in Sweden. Volvo was lucky to get away with that, as the first 6.000 P1800 built in the UK suffered from massive quality issues. From 1963 onwards production was relocated to Sweden, however the bodywork was still handled in Scotland until 1969. The UK build years 1961-1963 can be seen in the model name “P1800” as the cars subsequently built in Sweden were called “P1800S” (S for Sweden). The injection version from 1971 was referred to as the “P1800E”.
The P1800 saw very few modifications through the years. Design-wise the body was left untouched with only minor modifications to turning lights, chrome applications etc. A testament to a good design from the start! In fact the design was deemed so good that the P1800 was chosen as Simon Templar’s (Roger Moore) car in the British cult TV-series “The Saint” that aired through the 60’s. To be honest though, the producers had first asked Jaguar, but when they declined their attention turned to the P1800, which certainly didn’t hurt the popularity of the car.
If the body stayed the same until the end in 1973, the engines did evolve, however moderately. All P1800 derived their engines from the P121 Amazon, with the first British-built cars having the Volvo B18 engine with 100 hp (later 108 hp and 115 hp in the Swedish-built ones). From 1971 the cars had the B20 engine with 135hp. Not only the engine but also most other parts under the body were derived from the Amazon, no doubt one of the most solid creations that has ever been built and pretty much in a league of its own at the time. But whilst solid is good, was the P1800 any fun to drive?
Well, the honest answer is that compared to some other sports cars at the time, the P1800 was a rather heavy-footed companion. The solidity no doubt came at the expense of the thrill of driving, and there were certainly more fun cars, roadsters and others, if that rather than the looks was the priority. Today it’s of course a different story. You don’t really buy a 60-year old car to drive it on two wheels through the corners and the solidity is probably of bigger appeal, as are the four disc brakes on cars from 1969. The car has aged very well and few oldtimers turn as many heads as the P1800, but one that does is its own sibling – the P1800 ES.
With an E for Estate added to the name, the ES was only produced during the two last production years 1972-1973. Aggressive US emission rules combined with the first oil crisis together contributed to the ES not seeing the interest it deserved, as this was an early version of what we would today call a shooting break. The whole concept was new at the time and looked upon a bit more critically than today, and the car earned many nicknames in different countries, not always very flattering. In the German-speaking part of Europe it went by the slightly morbid “Schneewitchensarg” (Snow White’s coffin), in Sweden it was called the fish car… Beneath the body work, the ES was exactly the same as as the last version of the “normal” P1800 with the 135 hp B20 engine.
Finding a P1800 today is becoming tricky and also expensive, even more so the ES, and you may not have the luxury of choosing between model years. That’s however less important given how similar the cars are. If presented with a choice, the first, second and third priority is to check everything, really everything, for rust, which was a big issue at the time. Next, you probably want to avoid the early English cars unless we’re talking about a complete renovation. Finally, you would want to find a late car with the B20 engine and disc brakes all around. If the P1800 ES is your thing, then there’s really only one version to choose from, but in terms of ES colours, my preferred one is not the most common gold but rather the oh so cool 70’s orange one as pictured below! Expect to pay at least EUR 25′-30′ for a decent P1800 today, and probably an extra EUR 10′ for an ES in the same shape. If you’re thinking of renovating then do make sure you know where to find the necessary parts before signing the contract, as some have become increasingly hard to come by.
So there we are – a Swedish beauty from the 60’s that if treated well will run for a very long time (there’s reportedly a P1800 out there with more than 4 million kms on the counter, still with the first engine!), that is solid as an ox and easy to maintain, and that will turn heads more than most – what more could you possibly wish for?
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