DO CARS GET BETTER as they get older and move into the realms of Ďclassicí status? This month, Iíve stumbled upon a car thatís given me food for said thought - the Maserati Shamal.
I try to drive older stuff with my road-testerís head on. Forget the romance, forget the rarity and the allure of the badge. Just drive and report on the sights, sounds and dynamics. There are times this isnít easy - try driving an Integrale with pure objectivity - but it does at least mean you donít get sucked into projecting your own personal memories or wishes onto a car and wrongly hailing it as The Greatest Car of All Time because I used to have a poster of it on my wall.
Getting back to the Shamal, although I havenít driven one, I imagine it has glaring dynamic faults that give it Ďcharacterí - but maybe they make a rare drive on a sunny Sunday morning all the more exciting.
Itís a pretty persuasive argument. Maybe the bizarre torque-steer of the first Focus RS is a cool trait to learn to drive around. More interesting than the smooth, easy-going nature of the Golf GTI, surely? Maybe the Honda S2000ís strangely spiky on-limit behaviour gives it a sense of drama thatís way beyond the benign Boxster? Maybe the cars that didnít shine in group tests when they were new actually have more of the tools to make for a unique Ďclassicí experience? Perhaps high-quality dynamics arenít the currency by which classic performance cars should be judged?
Well, maybe. I accept without question that a 10-minute test drive in a Shamal will be more bewitching than the same in a Porsche 993, for example. Itís so unfamiliar and exotic. Its power will come on so strong, and refereeing the fight between tyres and turbocharged torque is no doubt a full-time and absorbing job. These are big gestures, giving unforgettable adrenaline-fuelled moments unmatched by the rounded, cohesive talents of the ubiquitous Porsche.
The thing is, you buy a classic to cherish and to drive. To build a relationship with and grow into. For my money, that means that eventually, when the novelty fades and the lustre of the badge is subsumed by the richness of the driving experience, high-quality driving dynamics still matter.
Theyíre crucial. They keep you hooked for longer and they reward more intensely. Itís why I still judge cars on how they drive rather than simply what they represent in your hopes and dreams. Iíve driven so many modern and new cars and, while many have provided little moments of magic, the very best deliver it from the first moment that the wheels start rolling - and donít stop. ĎConsistentí sounds dull. How about Ďconsistently brilliantí? Thatís what separates the great from the good.
Of course, Iím not immune from the pull of the slightly shoddy. I would actually love a Maserati Ghibli Cup - and, even though I know I donít adore driving them, every time I see an Integrale I go weak at the knees.
I understand how important memories are in our classic car choices too. Along with my 996, I have a Citroen DS in the garage. A D Super was the first car I ever rode in and my dad had a gorgeous DS23 Pallas.
Maybe thatís the real answer. You need at least two classics to really cover all the bases. Maybe three. Or four...