ford

The Volkswagen Scirocco is part of a dying breed

The VW Scirocco is now part of a dying breed of car

I DON’T know if the car world has a Grim Reaper – I imagine he’d look a bit like The Stig in some black robes – but he must be rubbing his hands with glee at the moment.

Not long ago I wrote about the death knell being sounded for Skoda’s Yeti, but now an entire automotive species is facing extinction; the fun, affordable coupé. Rumour has it that once Volkswagen’s Scirocco is put out to pasture, it won’t be replaced. Which for a fan of small two-doors is a big deal, because it’s pretty much the only one left.

Cast your mind back to the days when Tony Blair was eyeing up Number Ten and you were spoilt for choice if you had roughly £20,000 and a generous fleet manager prepared to offer you something sleeker than a Mondeo. Ford had the trendy Puma, and was in the process of replacing the Probe with the Cougar. Smile at a Vauxhall salesman and he’d rustle up a Tigra or Calibra, and that’s before we get to all the sleek two-doors Peugeot, Fiat, Honda, Toyota and just about everyone else had to offer. There were 20 different coupés on offer, and they were all exciting in their own way.

But now there’s the Scirocco, and that’s about it. Sure, there are a couple of three-door hatchbacks flaunting the c-word on their bootlids – and they’re coupés in name only, really – but nowadays you have to venture more upmarket before you arrive at the Toyota GT86, Ford Mustang and BMW 4-series. Hardly the sort of affordable offerings that give Mr Family Man hope.

The world needs coupés as much now as it did when the Ford Capri and the Opel Manta were the top dogs. They offer a welcome injection of panache into a motoring landscape dominated by boring family hatchbacks and me-too off-roaders, but because their underpinnings are ordinary they’re affordable, reliable and easy to service. So what if they’re a bit cramped in the back?

Perhaps we should persuade Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn that as part of their election pledges there should be state-funded grants for people prepared to brighten up the landscape with two-door coupés.

Alternatively, just buy a Volkswagen Scirocco while you still can.

Advertisements

Closed roads motor sport is a good thing for Britain

F1 cars have long been a big draw at the Ormskirk MotorFest

GIVE the Government credit where it’s due. It’s stuck to its promises and handed power back to Britain’s towns and cities – about 475bhp, by my reckoning.

That’s roughly how much the Cosworth V8 in a Saudia-Williams FW06 F1 car makes, as driven by Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni in the late 1970s, when they’d have been able to use every last inch of its power on the world’s race circuits. But if you’d seen the same car doing its lap of honour at Ormskirk’s MotorFest event it would’ve been limited, for legal reasons, to the same 30mph your mum’s Fiesta does on the town’s one-way system.

Until now. After years of talking about it Whitehall’s finally gone ahead and lifted the ban on cars doing more than the speed limit at one-off events.

In recent years it has technically been possible to have Ferraris and Jaguars do high speed runs on closed-off British roads, but as it was very complicated and involved obtaining an Act of Parliament very few actually bothered. But as of last Monday it’s now much easier to stage races, sprints and various other forms of motorsport on public roads and in town centres – which I reckon is definitely a good thing.

Take the MotorFest. Every year it brings roughly 15,000 of you into the West Lancashire market town for a bit of high-octane fun, making it Ormskirk’s busiest trading day. It’s a great event, but imagine how much more compelling it’d be if you could watch F1 cars, Jaguar D-types and rally-prepped Subaru Imprezas being given the beans on the one-way system. Obviously these closed-off roads would be properly policed and ‘elf ‘n’ safety checked until the organiser’s desk creaks under the weight of paperwork, but the adrenalin rush of great cars being driven as their makers intended would boost all the businesses nearby.

In fact enterprising so-and-sos could use these new powers for all sorts of things. I’d love to see Lord Street in Southport turned into a sprint course for an afternoon – my bet’s that a Lamborghini Huracan would easily beat a Ferrari 488 in a dash from Duke Street to the fire station. Half Mile Island in Skelmersdale could easily host a round of the British Drift Championship. And what about the Parbold Hill Climb?

I’m sure that precisely none of these ideas will end up anywhere other than the bottom of a beer glass, but it’s nice to know we’re legally allowed to.

These are the ten cars that made my 2016, and why

IT’S been a whirlwind year of motoring adventures. Over the past 12 months I’ve driven 88 different cars and been to 34 classic shows, but a couple have left particularly big impressions, and for very different reasons.

These are the automotive memories that’ll stick out more than most…

 

Porsche 928

img_8168

Where: Southport, Merseyside

Confession time. I’ve had my fair share of Ferraris, Astons, Jaguars and TVRs, but until 2016 I’d never driven any kind of Porsche. No 911s, no Boxsters, nothing. But what a car to start with. Wonderful looks that have barely aged in four decades, a thumping great V8 soundtrack, plenty of straight line shove and handling to die for.

 

Vauxhall 6hp

595a0576-ps

Where: Luton, Bedfordshire

How can a car that only does 18mph be so tricky – and a bit frightening – to drive?  This 112-year-old is one of the stars of Vauxhall’s heritage collection, and for one morning its custodians were brave enough to let me have a go. The steering’s by tillar, none of the pedals do what you expect them to do and it has just two gears – but boy is it rewarding when you finally get it right.

 

Wolseley Hornet Crayford ‘Heinz 57’

_smc1511

Where: Swanley, Kent

Regular readers will already know I love Minis. I’ve owned two and over the years sampled many a Cooper, van, Moke and just about every other derivative besides, but this just about tops the lot. It’s one of only 50 convertible versions of the Wolseley Hornet created by Crayford as prizes to give away to the winners of a Heinz competition back in 1966. It’s Half a century on it’s still bloody brilliant to drive.

 

Ferrari Testarossa

_scp4435

Where: North York Moors, somewhere near Whitby

It’s one of my favourite Ferraris and it was in the North York Moors – home to some of the best roads you’ll find anywhere in the UK. You might think the Miami Vice poser might not be the best car for this sort of territory, but the Testarossa handled more deftly than any of the armchair critics would have you believe. It didn’t disappoint.

 

 

Ford Mustang

img_4904

Where: Birkenhead, Merseyside

It’s a blisteringly hot summer afternoon, you have a bright red Ford Mustang convertible at your disposal – oh, and it has a V8 for good measure. It didn’t matter a jot that the summer afternoon in question was in Birkenhead rather than Beverley Hills. Everybody loved the ‘stang, including the guy grinning behind the wheel.

 

 

Volkswagen Up!

img_1026

Where: Stelvio Pass, Italy

I have longstanding affection for the Up!, honed after many weekends using a company-owned one on Classic Car Weekly adventures. What turned out to be jolly good fun on the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peak District translates into equally smile-inducing motoring on the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. It might have only had 60bhp at its disposal but its size and agility made it a perfect partner, embarrassing plenty of quicker cars up there. Hire car motoring at its best.

 

Messerschmitt KR200

_scp4425

Where: Scarisbrick, Lancashire

Until 2016 I’d never driven a bubble car – and then I got to drive three in one day! The BMW Isetta and Trojan 200 were huge fun but for ultimate kicks the Messerschmitt KR200 is in a different league. Super-sharp, yoke-operated steering, a tiny engine that thrived on revs and a centrally-mounted driving position made this a drive quite unlike any other. Utterly exhilerating.

 

 

TVR Chimaera

img_7655

Where: The Golden Mile, Blackpool

Over three wonderful days I fell just a little bit in love with a TVR Chimaera I borrowed. It was very, very good on the roads criss-crossing the Trough of Bowland (keep an eye for the forthcoming feature in Modern Classics magazine) but the real highlight was cruising into Blackpool at the height of the Illuminations. It was a huge privilege to bring this piece of the resort’s motoring heritage home for the night.

 

MGB GT

img_6178

Where: Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Not just any MGB GT, but my MGB GT, and it was finally on the spectacular journey I’ve always wanted to do with it. Wonderful roads, spectacular scenery – and it actually got there AND BACK without breaking down!

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

595a6737-ps

Where: Southport, Merseyside

I wasn’t even behind the wheel – that job I left to Bryan Glazer, the car’s owner – but this was the most important journey of my motoring life. On 29 July a blushing bride hopped out of it – and she’s now my wife. Then I got to do a champagne-fuelled lap of my hometown of Southport in it. It was the motoring moment that left the biggest impression on me. Well it had to be, didn’t it?

Additional photography courtesy of Richard Gunn and Classic Car Weekly

When hot hatchbacks get overcooked

Our David reckons the Ford Fiesta ST is the best hot hatch on offer at the moment.jpg

SUPPOSE you’re about to sink half a million quid into a nice house. There’s a sizeable swimming pool, a huge kitchen with an AGA cooker, and an enormous dining room – but the entire upper floor is out of action because it’s been filled with scaffolding to make the building a bit stiffer.

Not only would it make a particularly bad episode of Grand Designs but chances are you’d walk away from the deal after a particularly shirty conversation with the estate agent. Which is pretty much how I felt after trying a new breed of car for the first time. Ladies and gentleman, meet the extreme hatchback.

The souped up supermarket chariot in question was the first iteration of the MINI Cooper’s more aggressive sibling, which I spent a couple of hours at the helm of last week. The MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works GP has the name, spec and credentials to really get dyed-in-the-wool driving fanatics frothing at the mouth, but in the real world it’s a deeply frustrating set of wheels.

It’s hard not to get addicted to the instant whallop of the supercharger – unlike a turbo, the power’s always there the second you need it – and the steering is pin-sharp and effortlessly talkative. It is huge fun to drive.

But you get all that with a regular MINI Cooper S anyway – and without the big sacrifices the GP asks you to make. I’ll forgive the ride being harder than Bear Grylls, but glance in the rear-view mirror and where the back seats should be is a single strut brace, literally pulling the two sides of the car together to make it tauter.

It makes it childishly good fun on a track day, but in the real world having a two-seater hatchback is a pointless as our imaginary house full of scaffolding. Same goes for the old Renault Megane R26R too, which eschews back seats for a roll cage. Brilliant at Brands Hatch, but no so great for giving your mates a lift. Then there’s the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari, which did have back seats but was a still essentially a £30,000 Fiat 500. All of these cars have one problem; the Toyota GT86, which is far more fun for less money.

I love hot hatches because they give normal people the chance to embarrass sports cars while doing the school run – a Golf GTI has all the fun and feistiness you could ever ask for, and it has five doors, lots of seats, a big boot and a sensible starting price. Stripping out seats and asking silly money is why extreme hatchbacks, for all their Nurburgring lap times, don’t work in the real world.

Give me a Fiesta ST any day. For under 18 grand you get 182bhp, sublime handling, a revvy engine that howls with delight every time you put your foot down – oh, and there’s room for you and four of your fellow car nuts. Now that’s what I call a hot hatch.

The new Ford Mustang has a tough rival – the old one

The new Mustang looks good - but the old one really turns headsTHE NEW Mustang is one of the real feelgood motors of the moment.

There’s an almighty buzz about the GT supercar and the turbo nutter vibe of the Focus RS but I honestly reckon the American import is a better measure of everything Ford’s doing right at the moment. I’ve yet to drive one but it has that all-important thing far too many of today’s offerings miss; a want-one factor.

For starters it looks superb. They’re just starting to trickle into the real world, and it looks just as good in the supermarket car park as it does in the brochures. The closely-stacked triple rear lights, the slippery profile and those pinched headlights have clearly been designed by someone who had posters of fast cars – rather than Farrah Fawcett – on his bedroom wall as a kid.

It’s also the first Mustang that’s been designed with us in mind. It’s available in right-hand-drive and while more than two thirds of the buyers have ordered theirs with the full fat, 5.0-litre V8, you can also order it with a 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine that’s a bit more in keeping with Cameron’s Britain. In a nation that wears a pair of Levis and sups its coffee in branches of Starbucks, you can’t help wondering why the Mustang didn’t apply for its visa earlier.

So the Mustang is clearly creating a bit of a buzz as a new car – but that’s nothing compared to the seismic impact of the old one.

The other day I was lent the keys to a real American icon – a ’66 Mustang Convertible in Rangoon Red. Like the new car it has a 5.0-litre V8, but the baritone rumble the original makes has to be experienced to be believed. Until The Champion lands through your letterbox with a free CD of V8 engine noises you’ll just have to imagine it!

It also looked – even when you compare it to the current car – utterly sensational, and whenever I parked it up it always drew a crowd of curious onlookers.

Reality check. A 50-year old car isn’t going to have a DAB radio, traction control or airbags and you’ll struggle to top 20 miles to the gallon. It’s also left-hand-drive and a bit ponderous to drive – the steering in particular is a little on the lazy side – and it’ll be comprehensively out-cornered and out-braked by the class of 2016.

But if you’re only going to use it occasionally, go for the old one. I would say that it’s hard to put a price on the wonderful noise it makes and the smiles it puts on people’s faces as you drive past – but you can, because at £23,000 for the one I drove it’s eight grand cheaper than the new one. Oh, and it’s tax exempt.

Sounds pretty good value to me.

Can’t afford a Civic Type-R? Here’s Honda’s solution

The Civic Sport looks like the Type-R but has a third of the powerHONDA has launched a hotted-up Civic that looks like the Type-R but costs eleven grand less to buy.

The new Civic Sport has a colour-coded rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels and a mesh grille to mimic its 306bhp sibling, but with a 100bhp 1.4-litre engine it’s a lot cheaper to buy, run and insure. It goes on sale next month, with prices starting from £18,360. That’s £11,635 less than you’ll pay for the Type-R – and at a glance most people won’t be able to tell the difference.

Personally, I reckon it’s a great idea – it gives hope to all those go-faster younger drivers who can’t afford to insure Japan’s turbocharged answer to the Ford Focus RS. It might come across as a bit of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, but let’s hope some of the Type-R sparkle has rubbed off on the new arrival.