Like so many other ideas that emerge from the febrile hive mind of the Unique Cars team, comparing bargains from across generations sounded straightforward but produced a bit of head scratching. Where to start? We began with a notional budget of around $35,000 but that was only the loosest opening pitch. The Monaro instantly blew the budget but almost picked itself and we put it up against a newer six-cylinder macho coupe with similarly distant Bathurst resonance in the Skyline R33 GT-R. You could imagine a father and child buying these two cars, arriving at a similar end via different means.
The other chrome-bumper contender that we’d identified was a spookily perfect MGB that Uncle Phil Walker was brokering the sale of. And what better to compare the MGB with than the car that, in many regards, carried on the mantle of the traditional British sports roadster, the Mazda MX-5? Not a lot lost in translation there.
Now as you might well imagine, a straight comparison beween the old and the new seldom does either car any favours, so we’re not going down that road. Think of this exercise as examining different ways to spend a notional amount of money. Do you prefer carbs and chrome from the old school or the fire-and-forget reliability of modern Japanese classics? There really are no losers in this one.
Small wonder that you couldn’t get the grin off John Bowe’s face all day...
There’s a pretty cool story – in fact a couple of cool stories – to this 1969 HK Holden Monaro. Mostly original and unrestored, it’s owned by Melbourne car nut Leigh Schneering.
He bought this Monaro late last year.
“I was surfing through eBay,” says Leigh of his Monaro destiny. “This Monaro popped-up: you know that side-bar on eBay? I wasn’t even looking for a Monaro – and it had all these people watching it, but no bids.
“So I smashed in a bid – that revealed the reserve price – and sent a message to the seller asking if I could call him.
I was the first person to actually call him. I told him that I wasn’t just kicking tyres, that I had the money.
“Anyhow, after proving I was serious, we started talking price.”
That was in October last year. The odometer showed just 75,000 miles (120,000km). Remarkably, it’s a base Monaro – doesn’t every other Monaro on Aussie roads these days seem to be a GTS wearing shiny two-pack paint? – so wears Kingswood-spec tail light/bootlid garnish rather than the GTS’s full-width tinsel. Of course, there were no racy black go-fast stripes on the more modest Monaro. This one is fitted with the 186 cubic inch (3.0-litre; rather than the standard 161ci/2.6-litre) engine and those groovy sports wheel covers
that are familiar to many Aussie car nuts by being fitted to the Monaro GTS replaced the Monaro’s standard chrome hubcaps.
A few things required Leigh’s immediate attention beyond the usual fluids and filter change anyone would immediately do for an older car: the heater core leaked and the gearbox was whiny. Both were, of course, repaired. Leigh upgraded the tragic original style tyres – probably only the second set the car had ever worn – with red-wall radials and added era-correct rear seatbelts so he could take his young fella William – and of course his missus Denise – cruising with him. He also bought a rear-window venetian – but more on that in a moment.
That repaired gearbox is a three-speed manual column shift without synchromesh on first gear. What that means, kids, is that you can only select first gear with the car at a standstill which was considered absolutely normal tech in the 1960s; Holden upgraded to an all-synchromesh gearbox a couple of years later.
The interior is the base Monaro’s simple heat-welded vinyl over a moulded vinyl floor mat. Bucket seats – with a skinny console in between, even for the column shift models – were standard with Monaro; the individual flip-forward function was required for rear seat access. All are original in this car, complete with a few cracks and stains from nearly five decades of existence. It really is a time capsule.
The padded dash – like Holden’s prominently badged Energy Absorbing steering column, a noteworthy safety feature in 1968 – is uncracked which is testament to both Holden’s original quality and the relatively quiet life this car has led. The HK
Holden had a wide speedo with a three warning lights – oil pressure, engine temp and alternator – squaring-off the corners of the instrument cluster with the fourth vital, the fuel gauge. Amazingly, the original selling dealer’s decal – Smiths of Geelong – and the vent lock decals remain on the windows. We didn’t know it at the time but the ’68 HK Holden series was the last all-new Holden to have the breezy benefit of flipper windows in the front doors.
But the real cool story is what Leigh did soon after buying the rear venetian blind. It was about six weeks after he bought the car and to be honest, it’s best to let Leigh’s words, first published on Facebook in December last year, tell the story [edited]: “I went to Geelong today to get some bits ’n’ pieces for my HK Monaro and, on my way home, I decided to pull into the street where my Monaro lived from 1969-2002. The original owner traded it in, in 2002 at Smiths of Geelong, and they kept it, displayed it for a little while to promote the [new] CV8 style Monaro and then it was sold and stored as part of a private collection in Corio. It’s only run 78,000 miles, and has pretty much been hidden all this time. I bought it in October 2015 and I wanted to meet the man who walked into the Holden dealer in 1969 and bought this car brand new… if he was still alive.
“The address was in Newton, Geelong. I parked out the front and thought: ‘this car has lived here so long, someone must still live around here and
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remember it.’ I got out and went to take a pic when an elderly neighbour came up and asked, ‘Is that John Smith’s old car?’ I said yes. She began to tell me about the car and how much he loved it and how everybody in the street had always admired it.
“So I asked if he was still around. She said he had moved out and into aged care about four years ago. I asked where, and she gave me a rough idea of where.
“I thought I’d go on a little adventure, and see if I could find this aged care facility. I went to one – no go. Then I found another and after providing ID and explaining why I had come to visit, the lovely nurses and carers brought Mr Smith out in a wheelchair.
“Well were there tears! He said “that’s my car – that’s my car!” He looked at all the receipts and invoices that he’d kept and collected whilst owning it and we spoke about the car.
He’s well into his 80s but he was still with it enough to happily chat about his car which he bought on April Fools’ Day 1969 and drove around Geelong its entire life.”
LEIGH Schnerring is a career firefighter who – like a lot of us – is into classic cars and street machines.
He owns an ex- US Ford Fairlane two-door and until October last year, he jangled the keys to a beaut HK Holden Brougham luxobarge, the sale of which financed this Monaro.
Although he has a late model VW ute as a daily driver, he’s found himself driving the Monaro to work several days per week and it’s travelled more than 5000 miles since October.
“Mate, you gotta use and cruise these things,” he reckons.
“I’m a firefighter so when I kiss my missus, it could be for the last time – you never know when your number is up. Cruising this Monaro is about enjoying life. My son loves it – he’s already calling it HIS car!”
BODY Two-door fastback WEIGHT 1315kg ENGINE 3048cc Inline pushrod OHV six-cylinder TRANSMISSION 3-speed column-shift manual (four-speed manual and auto optional) SUSPENSION Independent – wishbones with coils, tele shocks (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs, tele shocks (r) BRAKES 254mm drums (front discs/pwr assist optional) POWER & TORQUE 94kW @ 4200rpm, 245Nm @ 1600rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 14.0s
The BMC MGB is a classic car icon. Launched in 1962, around half a million were built before the model was discontinued in 1980. One of the most popular and long-lived drop-tops of all time, it was built in the UK (and also in Australia for a time) and sold internationally, for the obvious reason of its drop-top roadster design, it was especially suitable for the laid-back lifestyle and sunny summer climate of California… far more fun there, than under the generally gloomy skies of Britain.
The MGB is built to a simple, sensible formula and with simple, sensible technology, even for its time: The two-seater body, designed from the ground up as a no-roof roadster (not chopped-down from a contemporary sedan, such as the Morris Minor convertible) features quite deep and wide sills for good length-ways and twisting stiffness and during design, there was attention paid to the 1960s’ emerging technology of crash safety, too, with an energy absorbing crush zones designed into the nose of the car.
While some other European sports car manufacturers of the time developed sports cars – even sedans – with more highly strung twin-cam motors, the MGB’s all-iron 1.8-litre pushrod four cylinder engine (carried over from the MGA) is a simple design. Breathing through twin SU carbies, it delivers
an optimistic 95hp (70kW) at 5400rpm. It really isn’t a performance engine; its best asset for driveability is the way it doles out is torque from low in the rev range through the four-speed gearbox.
But despite the MGB’s lack of cutting-edge tech, the design and development engineers spent their budget well: the coil-sprung independent front end uses an upper and lower wishbone layout for tidy handling, the philosophy shared by the competent location (if not sophistication) of that simple leaf-sprung beam axle that although behind best-practice – by the early 60s, coil-sprung semi-trailing arm independent under some Euro sedans and sporties – it behaves well.
The MGB has a front mid-engined layout; the engine is located behind the front hubs’ centreline to keep weight as far down and rearward as possible. The batteries’ installation – two six-volters wired in series for the car’s 12V system – follow the same weight-low mantra; they’re mounted behind the front seats. The rack and pinion steering not only provides good feel and precision but its design symmetry made the MGB easy to manufacture in both right- and left-hand drive, in the era when Britain exported more cars than any country on the planet and more MGBs were sold in America than anywhere else.
However, by the early 1970s, Britain had lost that crown and one of the casualties was the MGB. Its design was past its prime by the early 1970s – the design was by then a decade old – and due to a variety of reasons a suitable replacement wasn’t developed. Rather than being replaced, the original design was ‘updated’ with such high-technology tweaks as a taller ride height and rubber-faced energy absorbing bumpers to suit American regulations. The US market dictated ever-more strangling emissions regulations, too, which the 50s-era pushrod engine struggled to cope with. After all, even small family cars from Japanese manufacturers such as Datsun and Mitsubishi had graduated to OHC designs by the mid-70s.
So by the end of production in 1980, the MGB was an elderly design.
Because of this, it’s a commonly-held belief that the MGB was around for eternity, but its lifespan was actually a ‘mere’ 18 years. That’s about the same as nameplates like the Audi Allroad or Mercedes SLK , neither of which are seen as stalwart brands. It’s also significantly less than Mazda’s MX-5 (although with fewer design updates – the MX5 is now in its fourth generation, although the first and second were very closely related). It’s a testament to the popularity of the MGB that you can a) buy a complete replacement bodyshell for the car and b) that bodyshell has been on sale longer than the MGB was ever available in showrooms: 28 years versus 18. Believe it or not, the UK company British Motor Heritage re-established production of the MGB shell, using original tooling, in 1988.
This most British of roadsters was even built here in Australia between 1963 to 1972 from CKD (complete knock-down) kits in Sydney; firstly at Zetland and later Enfield. Of course, production numbers in Australia (just over 9000 over more than a decade) were far fewer than the British factory but it allowed the car to meet the governments’ (state and federal) local content regulations that were in place during the 1960s.
For all its flaws, the MGB was a hugely successful model and one which set the template for the Mazda MX-5. Under the tutelage of its American-born, Japanese-speaking creator, Bob Hall, Mazda refined and refreshed the concept for a new generation.
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I’VE ALWAYS liked the British sports cars look and the MGB is an affordable sports car to own.
I’ve been looking around for the right car for a couple of years and this one just came along.
There’s a lot of ‘em out there but getting the right one that’s been restored to this level is very very hard to find.
JB’s got a nice little E-Type Jag and we were both having a few drinks one night and he told me that I had to get a sports car so that I could get out and enjoy driving. A lot of sports cars today are very sophisticated but to actually get out for a drive in one of these things and take it down the Great Ocean Road, up through the Dandenongs or up through the Black Spur is just pure driving. It’s the purity of it that appeals. To have the top down, the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, listening to the engine note of something like this and driving through beautiful scenery….
It’s hard to beat.
BODY Two-door roadster WEIGHT 920kg ENGINE 1799cc inline pushrod OHV four cylinder – twin SU carbs TRANSMISSION 4-speed manual (overdrive optional) SUSPENSION Independent – wishbones with coils, tele shocks (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs, tele shocks (r) BRAKES 273mm discs (f) 254mm drums (r) POWER & TORQUE 67.5kW @ 5400rpm, 133.5Nm @ 2100rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 12.0s
The Nissan Skyline GT-R is a car that forever etched its legend onto the slopes of Mount Panorama in the early Nineties, Mark Skaife and Jim Richards’ Winfield-liveried car earning a contentious victory over the Johnson/Bowe Sierra back in 1992, causing Gentleman Jim to resort to some distinctly ungentlemanly language. Nissan’s toe in the water of 100 official Aussie imports of the R32 GT-R wasn’t a notable success, Nissan Australia’s chief Ivan Deveson using the exercise as a brand-building opportunity to capitalise on the success of the race cars. All the ADR work had to be done on a $250,000 budget and the changes were extensive. A
new transmission oil cooler was required, the muffler and windscreen were changed, instrument panel, rear lights, and side intrusion bars required changing and the 112km/h speed limiter was removed.
By the time its successor, the R33 GT-R was launched, the Japanese had abandoned any expectation of bringing the car to these shores in an official capacity. An early feasibility study showed that the R33 GT-R would need the ADR work done in Japan and his would push the price of the car up to over $190,000 by the time it reached Australia, almost 75 percent more than the old R32. The numbers just couldn’t be made to work.
The R33 was bigger and heavier than its predecessor, despite carrying over the same RB26DETT 2.6-litre straight six. Built on the Laurel underpinnings, the R33 was 130mm longer, with another 105mm tacked into the wheelbase. Weight went up 10 0kg, the drag coefficient came down from 0.40 to 0.35 Cd and the V Spec model, like we have here, was fitted with the fiendishly clever ATTESA E-TS PRO system, which integrates control of the driving and braking forces on all four wheels independently. The key element of this system is a computercontrolled limited-slip diff which talks to the four-wheel steering system to deliver optimum traction out of corners. The V Spec models also got beefier springs and sharper damping for better control of the hefty body.
Whereas here in Oz, we see the R33 GT-R’s as the R32’s fatter and less successful sibling, around the world, it’s the R33 that’s usually perceived as the hero car. Why? Put that down to an inspired piece of marketing by Nissan. Back in 1996, the company proudly trumpeted the fact that the Skyline R33 GT-R had claimed the production car record around Germany’s fabled Nurburgring Nordschleife. Right under Porsche’s nose, the Japanese had hired hotshoe racer Dirk Schoysman to pedal a GT-R around the Green Hell in 7m59s.
Now clearly there are a few issues with this claim. Nissan did not cheat, because it’s impossible to cheat when there are no rules.
There’s no official lap time record around the Ring, merely self-reported times with no independent sanction. The car wasn’t inspected to be standard beforehand and even Schoysman will have a little chuckle when asked if the GT-R was the same as the ones that rolled off the lines. It even ignored the fact that Jaguar had registered a 7m46s time in their XJ220. It nevertheless set the media into a frenzy and kicked off a Nurburgring lap time arms race that continues to this day.
I have history with silver R33 GT-Rs.
When Nissan started official imports of the car into the UK, I managed to get hold of an early car on my very first journalistic
assignment and then promptly drove it into an Armco barrier on a remote Welsh mountainside before hitching a lift to the hotel in the back of a beer dray. Eighteen years later, I’m a good deal more circumspect with the loud pedal.
Twist the slimline machined-metal key in the ignition and the straight six fires up into a smooth idle. Choose a car that’s in relative standard trim and the clutch and gearbox are docile, the car willing to pull away gently without you having to trouble the throttle. There’s that same elasticated power delivery as you wait for the boost to build at 3500rpm, the firmish ride, the tramlining steering and the fluid, long-throw gear shift. It always feels a hefty car but it nevertheless feels one that you could work with at speed, one that you’d get a real sense of satisfaction from piloting skilfully. Today isn’t the day for any heroics and besides, I want to get that monkey off my back that’s been sitting there for almost two decades. This Skyline’s going back to its owner without incident.
Time has been kind to the R33 GT-R. It still pulls hard enough to generate a big smile. You can tell JB’s impressed as he gets out of the car and straight away asks how much they’re retailing for these days. The answer is, more than they were a few years back at the height of import fever. Once a tantalisingly forbidden fruit, now that the R32 GT-R is more than 25 years old, it can legally be imported into the US.
This has started to have a knock-on effect on
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pricing, with demand for clean, unmolested cars at Japanese auctions starting to pick up noticeably. That knocks onto the rarer R33 too and the $29,990 being asked for this 101,000km 1995 GT-R V-Spec seems about right. It’s still a lot of car for the money.
There’s ample headroom in the market for prices to pick up still further too. Tidy R34 GT-R V Spec Nur models are now changing hands at around $130,000, well in excess of some R35 GT-Rs. Chalk that one up to the success of the Gran Turismo games franchise, the R34 Skyline becoming the poster car for a whole generation of Nineties teens who now have the means to buy the real thing.
While the R33 probably won’t ascend to those heights, they’re getting rarer every day and there’s money to be made in keeping them original.
All four of the cars we’ve assembled have transcended the normal and have piqued the interest of enthusiasts and collectors. The Skyline might carry the biggest stick, but it could just be the quiet bargain of the bunch.
HERE AT Import Revolution we import quite a few Skylines.
The R34 V Spec II Nur is my favourite of the lot. The R32s and R33s are very popular because they’re still selling at a reasonable price but they’re hard to find in good original condition.
The last R33 that I saw sold in Japan was a 400R limited edition and it sold for about $110,000. I look for clean, unmodified, unmolested cars, as stock as possible because you don’t know what’s been done to them. I have a good network in Japan because I’ve been doing this for sixteen years now.
BODY Two-door coupe WEIGHT 1540kg ENGINE 2568cm inline six cylinder 24v DOHC TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual SUSPENSION Multilink (f/r) BRAKES 4-pot Brembo, 324mm vented discs (f) 2 pot Brembo, 300mm discs (r) POWER/TORQUE 206W @ 6800rpm / 368Nm@ 4400rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 5.4s
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Now here’s something. There have been four generations of Mazda MX-5. The original NA arrived in 1989 and the NB succeeded it in 1998.
The NC we have here lobbed in 2005 and lasted a full decade until the all-new ND dropped last year.
Four generations, three outright Wheels Car of the Year awards, with only the NB missing out in ’98 to the Subaru Liberty Wagon. That’s a pretty solid record of achievement that none of the other cars arrayed here can get close to. Likewise with sales. If you lined all the MX-5s built from nose to tail you’d probably get to about twenty before sacking it off as a bad job. By any account, the MX-5 is an absolutely exceptional thing.
Records are one thing but does this NC model MX-5 still feel sufficiently special in this company? It’s undoubtedly the safe choice for your $25k and the one we’d instantly recommend if you’re averse to ending up standing on the shoulder waiting for a flatbed ride home, but can the Mazda shine here? In many regards the MX-5 is a grower. It’s easy to get into the car and come to an instant conclusion that the engine wants for a bit of charisma or that it’s a bit tight inside but spend time in an MX-5 – any MX-5 – and you can’t escape the conclusion that this is a car for drivers.
It’s been engineered to reward the committed driver
without costing a fortune in consumables.
The better you are, the more it delivers, which is the reason why many who can afford a Porsche 911 GT3 or similar also have an MX-5. It also acts as a handy barometer for judging who knows nothing about vehicle dynamics. Anyone dismissing it as a hairdresser’s car probably couldn’t buy themselves a clue.
“It’s very civilised”, noted John Bowe after getting out of the little Mazda, which smelled like damning it with faint praise.
Of all the cars here, it’s the only one you could use as a daily commuter. On a twisty downhill stretch of road, there wouldn’t be a whole lot between this and the GT-R in terms of pace, but the Mazda driver would probably be wearing the bigger smile. For this NC model, the Hiroshima company ditched the four-wheel double wishbone suspension setup for a more sophisticated wishbone front and multilink rear end, with the addition of stability control giving the less confident a welcome safety net.
Bigger brakes, a lower centre of gravity, a far stiffer chassis, better tyres, slicker gearchange, a superior soft top and more space in the cabin, this NC is certainly a serious improvement on the old NB. Some have a downer on the NC because it’s the biggest, heaviest and softest of all the MX-5 generations, and it got a working over in the sales charts from the Toyota 86. It’s notably bigger inside than the current ND car and that’ll swing the decision for taller blokes. Arguments for each? The NA is the original, the NB is much the same with a little extra polish and represents a real bargain nowadays. I reckon the NC might just be the smartest used buy of the bunch and then there’s the ridiculously talented but compact ND.
Perhaps it’s the sheer ubiquity of the MX-5 that makes it easy to forget quite what an incredible car it is. It’s easy to adopt an elitist point of view and reason that there can’t be that many who have made such an informed decision, but while a good percentage of MX-5s are bought by those who just want a pretty and reliable soft top,
that’s good news for those in the market for a used example.
Even this NC Special Edition, with its Bilstein sports suspension, special wheels, red and black leather, extra chrome on the windscreen surround, instrument bezels and door handles, the silver trim inside and the numbered plaque on the dash, would only run you around $16,000 for a low mileage 2005 car. Running on a new chassis, the NC shares nothing bar a side indicator with its predecessor. Personally speaking, I’m not sure the silvery dash inserts are much of an improvement over the piano black of the normal NC, but otherwise the Special Edition upgrades are nicely judged. All of the touch points feel just right. You sit low, the pedals are perfectly spaced and the wheel has a decent range of adjustment. Mazda also took a leaf from Porsche’s book with the consistency of control weights too, something that hasn’t been forgotten in the latest car.
It’s quicker than you’d give it credit for too.
Sure, the 0-100km/h time of 7.8 seconds doesn’t seem any great shakes until you consider the fact that second gear runs out at 99km/h. It makes its peak torque of 188Nm at 5000rpm which gives the engine a decently muscular feel. By contrast a Toyota 86 will need 6400rpm on the clock for it to afford its peak torque, and this is going to mean more gearchanging on give and take roads. Ten year old NC MX-5 versus a box-fresh 86 on a snaky road in the high country? The
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Mazda would have the Toyota covered every time.
Here at Unique Cars, we love the fact that the MX-5 is a retro car in the best tradition.
It’s no great secret that Mazda benchmarked the feel and appeal of the original Lotus Elan in the development of the NA MX-5, even aping some details such as the door handles and front grille, but it’s not a slavish rehash.
It would have been easy to create something corny and twee but the MX-5 took the ingredients of what made the classic British sports car great and reinterpreted them for a more modern audience. That’s what makes the MX-5 so right for this comparison. You could choose the MGB or the MX-5 and be equally satisfied with either, each employing different means to achieve the same ends.
Even better than the real thing? That’s about the size of it.
THIS IS an ’05-plated car first registered her in 2006. I’ve owned it since November. I owned a Sunbeam Alpine in my youth which was good fun, but my son has recently purchased an MX-5 – an NA model. He took me for a couple of spins then he took my wife for a drive down the Great Ocean Road. When she came back she said, “Richard, we’ve got to get one of these cars.” So I started searching and I found this one, which is a Limited Edition. It’s in mint condition so I didn’t look any further.
This car actually came with a hard top which I didn’t take because I don’t believe in them, so I left that for the guy to sell separately.
I’ve joined the MX-5 club and they go on regular runs. They’ve sussed out every twisty piece of road in Victoria and so we get 10, 20, 30, 40 MX-5s whizzing round corners. It doesn’t perform like the GT-R in a straight line but I’d be willing to bet it could corner just as quickly. I fit in it okay but getting in and out of it’s another matter!
BODY Two-door roadster WEIGHT 1105kg (manual) ENGINE 1999cc inline four cylinder DOHC TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual SUSPENSION Strut (f) multilink (r) BRAKES 290mm vented discs (f) 280mm discs (r) POWER/TORQUE 118kW @ 6800rpm / 188Nm @ 5000rpm PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 7.8s