PAST BLAST í80s Supercars Relived
HIS IS the 1980s as people would have you remember it: Big hair, shoulder pads, loud colours, Duran Duran and yuppies with massive mobile phones climbing into show-off cars to pick up girls who look like Elle Macpherson. Unobtainable dreams, in other words. Until tonight, that is. Weíve got the chance to find out what those cars were actually like (though sadly Elle Macpherson was otherwise engaged at the time).
The Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari Testarossa and the Porsche 911 Turbo were so exciting in two-dimensional form on Athena posters that you could barely look away, so what are they going to be like in reality? Can they possibly live up to a 30-year-old fantasy? And like the hair in the í80s weíre going big and heading to the streets of London with a trio louder than the jumpsuits worn for Olivia Newton-Johnís Physical music clip. Itís time to bring childhood dreams to life.
Testarossa Ė itís a wonderful word. As kids, we didnít know it referred to a red-headed engine with scarlet cam covers. Who cared? Here was a new contender for the title of fastest car on the road. In those days, exaggerated claims were the norm. It seemed odd to us that so many supercars (like the preceding Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer) topped out at 186mph, until we realised this was 300km/h, which was impressive to Continental ears. Even if it wasnít always true.
T In the case of the Testarossa, the claim was a mere 291km/h, but for once it was accurate. Thereís a 4.9-litre, four-cam, fuel-injected flat 12 with a peak output of 287kW. Pininfarina tweaked that parallelline styling in a wind tunnel and the TR is probably 16km/h faster than the Boxer. But itís personal posture more than performance thatís your first concern.
There are three cryptic little grey catches on the side of the Testarossaís seat base, two of which appear to do exactly the same thing, but in the end you fit into the cabin with a reclined supercar slouch. The wheel is a long reach away, and beyond that is a fabulous period-piece of a dashboard inscribed in an arcadegame font. It gets your heart beating just to sit here, but you wonder whether the Testarossaís reputation of being user-friendly is deserved. Perhaps a feeble fly-off handbrake jammed between the door and the driverís thigh is nothing to whinge about, or maybe that matrix of knobs and buttons between the seats equals good ergonomics by 1984 standards. And do you dare complain that the pedals are so offset the clutch in this left-hand-drive example is situated directly under the steering column?
At least you have Bosch KE-Jetronic injection and healthy Marelli Microplex electronic ignition on your side. After a surprisingly fast spin from the starter, the Testarossa bursts into life. Itís a charismaticsounding car, even at idle Ė flat-12 Ferraris instantly suggest a 1970s Formula One paddock, thanks to a kind of raw, ear-filling blare from the exhaust.
With 90įC soon showing on the gauge (a figure this car never exceeds, even in the thickest traffic) the on-ramp of one of Londonís arterial roads presents itself and we can probe that throttle travel... Itís ridiculously exciting, with a soaring whoop of noise sending the car spearing down the road and each change becoming slicker and quicker. That F1 blare is still with us, but thereís a rasping, tearing snarl to it, making it all highly addictive.
Itís set up for three-figure motoring, no doubt Ė think of the Testaís five forward speeds as being a modern six-speed íbox with first gear amputated.
Second will easily send you over the legal limit and you feel that this carís natural territory is between 110 and 220km/h, where youíd get the best use of third, fourth and fifth.
However, this is busy London. The brake is more important than the accelerator and itís getting plenty of use. Itís not the carís best feature and they are overly touchy. Thereís also a stab of panic as I glance over my right shoulder and see a huge red thing about to collide with the rear quarter. Then I realise that lump is the rear quarter Ė this Ferrari, at 1976mm across the butt-cheeks, was the widest production car of its day.
Luckily it steers with great precision and, once on the move, a very pleasant weight. The oversized go-kart feel common to lots of big-league, midengined cars is present, but thatís qualified by some well-judged springing and damping to make it surprisingly forgiving of dodgy surfaces and midcorner bumps. Nonetheless, itís a car that requires respect. The steering ratio is quick; a clumsy input can remind you how far back the centre of gravity lies.
Yet, in the Porsche 911 Turbo (930), the centre of gravity is even further back than the Testarossa, but at least youíre allowed to sit up and look out. And although the pedals are crazily offset like the Ferrari, at least Porscheís excuse involves 40-odd years of tradition. Thatís the only common feature with the Italian car. Everything else is utterly at odds. Where there was an open-gated dogleg shift, the German car has a long, lightweight wand in a polite leather gaiter.
Where there were tight little foot controls demanding
both brawn and concentration, here is a friendly, floor-hinged set with a lightweight clutch that feels joyful after the workout you get in the Testarossa.
Perhaps there is one more similarity Ė that throttle, it has a touch of the heft and stickiness that seems common to all supercars of a certain age. And this one has rather more power than a standard 3.3-litre 930. When it was about six months old, the car went back to the factory on the orders of its first owner, who put it through the Special Wishes department for an upgrade that cost him nearly 40,000 Deutschmarks (or about $21,000 in 1984).
That turns out to have involved a whole host of changes that included a different turbocharger and a much larger intercooler, a wastegate that kept the boost going to 14.5psi rather than the standard 11.6psi, a new front air dam containing driving lights and the oil cooler from an RSR, plus air vents in the rear wings for ducting to the brakes.
The car sat lower, wore larger tyres and, most intriguingly of all, gained a four-branch exhaust that operates only through the driverís side pipes until on boost, when the exhaust is diverted from the wastegate to the passenger side. Interestingly, these changes are almost exactly what were offered on the final run-out edition, the 930 Turbo LE of 1989.
The LEís 0-97km/h time was reckoned to be 4.9 seconds and this car must be capable of similar.
Compared to the almost clumsy, muscular lunge from a standard 3.0-litre model, itís surprising how different this is. Those tweaks have given it a smoother power delivery, yet also made it savagely, thrillingly fast. The carís current owner thinks the power output is 22kW more than the 243kW on the paperwork, and from the way it springs from 3000 to 7000rpm, with associated blurring of scenery and g-forces, itís hard to disagree.
Because of the 930ís origins, as expected itís emphatically better in mixed conditions than our Italians. Thereís more ground clearance, more compliance with total docility below 3000rpm and no fussing in hot, stop/start traffic. And thank god for decent brakes when the road opens up.
The 911ís lovely, tactile steering is alive and well here, shouldering a little more weight and not as fidgety as, say, a 3.0 Carrera. Thereís a sense of security on dry roads from the wide Pirelli P-Zeros, but itís hard to imagine a public road on which you could safely approach the handling limits.
Which leaves the Countach. Marcello Gandiniís wild styling has made it probably the most famous supercar of all time. This makes the moment you finally slide over that enormous sill and into the driverís seat a major life event. Itís about meeting a hero Ė and you know what that can lead to. When I was about 12, I assumed the Countach would be great to drive, just as I assumed Clint Eastwood was perfect.
Now I know Clint and I might disagree and Iím terrified the Countach is going to be a disappointment.
But those doors. Pulling the handle and sending one skywards is a childish thrill that probably never gets old. Weíll ignore the fact you have to limbodance round them to gain entry, because once youíre inside you reach up and slice them down again.
Very satisfying. There is even less headroom than in the Testarossa. The pedals are gathered near the
centreline again and while the steering wheel is small enough to get your knees under, itís tight. The dash is an angular pod filled with dials that you struggle to read, and other controls are scattered at random.
This car has a torque-rich 5.2 litres and 48 valves.
Itís supposed to be the easiest, most developed and best to drive, and without the skirts and rear wing (the latter removed by the owner), itís the best-looking of the late Countaches. Thereís a whine, a blast and a gurgle as 12 Weber carb throats send petrol into the quad-cam V12, followed by a thrashing of cam chains and busy valve gear. Move off and you sense the resistance of throttle return springs fighting the pull of one cable. Press hard... nothing. Press harder, and a whack of sound arrives with a 3000rpm jump.
Roll the right foot sideways to modulate that monster throttle and let the heavy clutch in, adding a teensy bit more gas and suddenly itís all happening Ė second gear, a glorious howl up the road, third gear, another outpouring of thrust. A roundaboutís coming up... brakes! The pedal is small and easy to find with your toe, but travels much further than the clutch or throttle before anything happens. Thankfully, there is then some controllable retardation available.
The Countach has the same ultra-direct, weighty steering feel as the Ferrari, but the sense of the front of the car being narrower than the rear is even more noticeable. The snout hunts a little over the ripples in the road and the wheel doesnít offer feedback so much as fight-back. Itís built for very fast, very smooth roads Ė not a lumpy South London. Here, itís difficult not to be intimidated by the terrible visibility and sheer drama of it all. You could pick on the often awkward controls, but you have to ask a question: What would you prefer your Lambo to be? Easy to drive, or exciting?
It is a scary beast in some ways, and itís scarcely manageable with speed bumps, but this all contributes to the challenge. It must be mastered, and thatís where the satisfaction comes from. The sight of a red Countach, lights on, yowling through London at night, is probably the most dramatic thing you can witness as a car-loving pedestrian. People donít just stop and point Ė some actually jump up and down.
Itís okay to meet your heroes Ė itís just a question of managing your expectations.
In the 1980s supercars became a common shorthand for wealth, style and power. They became objects of worship. So before we get the prayer mats out, which way should we be facing in 2017? The Porsche deserves our devotion. Itís an impressive achievement, especially considering itís more than 40 years since the first 930 was delivered. This example is civilised, comfortable, nice to drive and crushingly fast. Itís obviously the best car here. But its 1960s design origins weaken its modern classic credentials.
The problem is itís still a 911 to most casual observers.
Having to explain that your car is more exciting than it looks is not the supercar ownerís dream.
The Testarossa wonít suffer that problem. Itís the quintessential í80s Ferrari and youíd never think it was anything else. But thatís also an issue. You have to buy into the image Ė a caricature of the decadeís owners.
But what, for a while at least, looked a bit ugly is now a symbol of era-defining cool and the Testarossa has
While the GT-R grabs all the Japanese limelight, the Z32 Nissan 300ZX was also a landmark model. With 50:50 weight distribution, Super HICAS rear-wheel steer and a twin-turbo V6 (only sold in Aus as an atmo V6), the techdriven Z-car deserves wall space. If only we got the 206kW/371Nm VG30DETT before production ended in í96.
Buick isnít the first marque you think of for í80s American icons, however with a 3.8-litre turbo V6 sending power to the rear wheels, the two-door Grand National Experimental (GNX) is an oddball highlight.
Developed in conjunction with ASC/McLaren, the 206kW/488Nm six used a Garrett T3 turbo (with a ceramic impeller) and intercooler. Rumoured tweaks claimed to liberate 224kW/569Nm and a 13.26sec quarter.
shot up in value. Itís also pushed along by a wonderful flat 12 Ė one hit of that F1-flavoured blare is enough to make most V12s seem dull.
Even a Lamborghini V12 I hear you ask? Thatís a tough call. We should try to be objective about the Countach, but after a night in London with its presence you wonder if it had this battle won the moment Gandiniís incredible scissor-door shape was signed off for production. The obstructive, aggressive process of driving it only adds to the mystique. Weíre suckers for the splendidly over-the-top Countach.
Alongside it, all else now seems a bit too sensible. M
í80s chic is back in fashion
ENGINE DRIVETRAIN POWER TORQUE WEIGHT 0-100KM/H TOP SPEED VALUE (N0W) 3299cc flat-6, SOHC, 12v, twin-turbo rear-engine, rear-drive 243kW @ 5500rpm 430Nm @ 4000rpm 1335kg 4.9sec (estimated) 275km/h $250,000 (estimated)
4942cc flat-12, DOHC, 48v mid-engine, rear-drive 287kW @ 6300rpm 490Nm @ 4500rpm 1506kg 5.2sec 275km/h $350,000 (estimated)
5167cc V12, DOHC, 48v mid-engine, rear-drive 335kW @ 7000rpm 500Nm @ 5200rpm 1490kg 4.8sec 298km/h $650,000 (estimated)