There aren’t too many of these things still around, but it’d be worth the time to snoop one out. To me, they’re kind of like a more useable Citroen 2CV (if that’s possible) thanks to the (slightly) bigger performance and the hatchback/wagon layout. And I love those utilitarian looks.
I drove one a few years back and it was wonderful. Well, once you got used to the weirdburger gearshift with gates in front of each other rather than side-by-side.But, that mastered, the R4 was a magic little gadget with vastly better ride quality than you’d imagine and just enough poke thanks to the willing little 747cc mill. (Weighing about 700kg didn’t hurt, either).
This is a car that could do double-duty; from turning up to a car-show and not having to explain, to taking the dawg to the beach and hosing the car out afterwards. I’ve seen these advertised now and then over the years but I’ve never taken the plunge. That could change if a good one comes along. Actually, thinking about it, I’ll have mine in a goofy beige or battleship grey or some period-correct hospital green thanks.
We all dream about a rapid road car with a stripped-out interior, half-cage, sticky rubber and a side-exit exhaust, don’t we? Don’t we? Just me, huh? Anyways, if you do harbour such lusts, then a Porsche 944 is the perfect starting point. These were so well balanced (front-engine, rear-gearbox) that it takes a serious cock-up to send one into the scenery. Not saying it can’t be done, but it aint easy (like it is in the 944’s charismatic but murderous stablemate, the air-cooled 911).
Seriously, if you were ever contemplating classic tarmac-rallying, the 944 would be the first stop. Which is kind of the problem with a lot of them; many are well shagged from a hard life.
So you’ve got to find the right one. A later, update model with the vastly nicer dashboard, a manual, is the go-to version. Engine-wise, you’re kind of stuck with the 2.5-litre four-banger in the standard variant because the 2.7 and the three-litre S2 is fetching drug-money. A Turbo? That’d be nice, but I’m fond of both my kidneys. So stick with a 2.5, keep it tuned and maybe add a spicy zorst. They’re not fast per se in a straight line, but be honest, what’s the farthest you’ve ever driven before you’ve come to a corner? At which point the 944 starts to make sense.
I know I’m playing with fire here, but I just can’t help myself over the looks of the 2500. Michelotti got this one as right as he got the Leyland P76 wrong.
Conventional wisdom is that you need to throw the Lucas fuel-injection in the nearest skip and switch to the twin-carb layout of the earlier version, but I reckon I’d be prepared to do whatever it took to get into a 2500 that started first go and ran properly when it did.
These things are, despite the Italian styling, so utterly Brit with the timber dashboard and lush interior that always reminds you you’re driving something a bit special. I reckon with modern dampers and brake pad materials you could also get the thing to work reasonably well, even if it was never going to be a track-day car.An example with the overdrive manual gearbox would be the prize pick. And no, I’m not going to apologise for this nomination.
It was the lovely Delsie who introduced me to the Daimler 2.5. One day during a stint in the UK I paused before crossing our village High Street as a Mk II Jaguar cruised into view. It was in stunning condition with Delsie behind the wheel adding to its visual appeal. She was a doppelganger for the contemporary Brit jazz singer Cleo Laine. Then I noticed the rumble from the exhaust. A V8 rumble…
Mk II Jags had been high on my desirable four-door car list since I was a kid. You always knew that Jaguar was about performance. And when they came out with the XK-powered Mk I you had performance combined with modern looks (for the day). Pity about the Mk I’s skinny-track rear end though. A basic error, surely. But then came the wide-track Mk II. Perfectamundo! – as Fonzie might have said. Bob Jane and I were both rapt.
But Mk II Jags don’t sound like V8s. Thanks to Delsie I learned about the Daimler 2.5 – a lovely MK II Jag rebadged as a Daimler with a distinctive wrinkle-topped Daimler grille and powered by a sweet V8 from the drawing board of Brit motorcycle luminary Edward ‘Triumph Bonneville’ Turner.
Thanks again Delsie.
After the long line of impressive TR-series Triumph sports cars the TR7 was a great disappointment to me. I always saw the TRs as no-nonsense driver’s cars, lacking the recognition and the charisma that came with an MG badge, but with heaps of go on tap from their Vanguard-derived big-bore four-cylinder powerplants. They easily outran BMC B-series powered MGs in acceleration and top speed. The last of this impressive line was the six-cylinder TR6 with 150hp and independent rear suspension. A pretty damned impressive car.
Then came the TR7 coupe with its little scaled up Dolomite four-cylinder engine producing just over 100hp. And it adopted the dreaded ‘Wedge’ styling. Say no more…
My new TR-day dawned when former Unique Cars Dep-Ed Andy Enright reviewed a TR8 soft top a while back. While I knew that some TR7s had become 8s thanks to the insertion of Rover’s 3.5-litre V8 under the bonnet, the ‘Wedge’ thing kept me at bay. When Andy urged me to check out the looks of the soft top version I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike the coupe, the rag-top roadster has nice lines – top up or top down. It’s an attractive car. And hey, the TR8 has decent power. It’s a lovely poor-man’s Sunbeam Tiger.
While we’re quick to credit Greece for giving us democracy and the souvlaki we don’t sufficiently acknowledge the contribution of one of its stellar sons, Alec Issigonis – the man behind the giant-killing Mini.
With a long history as an automotive engineer in the UK, Issigonis had quite a bit on his CV before he dreamed up the game-changing Mini. As part of the post-WWII push to produce innovative and efficient cars Issigonis was responsible for the ultimately very successful Morris Minor. In Australia the Minor won an enviable reputation as a capable and reliable small family car. Like me, many local fans of ‘Woody Wagons’ were disappointed that BMC/Leyland didn’t see fit to offer the Traveller Estate version of the Morry here. The Kiwis got them but we didn’t.
If I’m honest my fav Woody Wagon is a flathead-V8 powered 1948 US Ford, but I’m obviously not on my own there – the odd ones that have surfaced in recent years have attracted ridiculous money.
But there’s nowt wrong with the little Morries. Hard not to love their looks – most people think they look like a pet. There’s also the Issigonis factor. And if I put my mind to it I can characterise the little A-series four as half a bent-eight to cheer myself up.
What never fails to amaze me is just how much value for money there is out there in Euro and Brit cars. Sure, sometimes they’re complex and can be expensive to fix if things go wrong, but they tend to handle and be ultra-satisfying drives. And, really, once you have one in good shape, it’s no great chore or expense to keep it that way.
In reality, I don’t have a million or even a hundred grand to throw at a toy, so my choices reflect a modest budget and a determination to get the maximum bang for those bucks.
Right, so what would I throw my hard-earned at? The first is easy – E24 BMWs. I’ve owned two and still have one in the shed. They’ve gone up in price and a good one (preferably in manual) will set you back around $25-30k, but they’re still value at that price. My ultimate, however, would be the M6 version, with the four-valve M1 version of the straight six, and I’d expect to fork over closer to $70-80k for a solid one now.
Number two, since I have a soft spot for coupes, is a Mercedes-Benz SLC 450 or C107 in Benz-speak. These things are undervalued, with presentable examples on the market in the mid-twenties. Keep in mind these V8s have an international rally history (albeit with the speciallyhomologated 5.0 litre engine), and a good thing to drive as a quick cruiser. I reckon they’re a bargain, particularly when you look at the prices of some of their predecessors.
Last one? Well, shock horror, I’m moving out of the chrome bumper era and into the nineties. An early Jaguar XK8 holds some appeal – always fancied having a big cat in the shed. The four-litre V8 should be reasonably bulletproof, though there were issues with early engines that were fed a diet of high-sulphur fuel. Nevertheless they were used by Ford as well as Jag and seem robust in normally-aspirated form. The handling and ride are signature Jaguar and an ask of mid-thirties seems fair. I reckon they could do alright in the long-run, if you looked after it.
If you read Issue #416 of Unique Cars, how much of a fan of BMW’s am. It was a technological and BMW’s ill-timed attempt proper world-beating dream Avant-garde pillarless design wrapped retro wedge fashion, they were $220,000 when new but hover $50,000 on the secondhand market.
They make a more frugal (and version but hell, give me Manual preferably but I wouldn’t a modern classic super all the style, technology and grunt you could want. You’d be looking at around $50,000 for an automatic V8 or V12, with a bit of a premium for a manual.
There’s nary a Porsche left that’s still attainable, thanks to the cashed-up hipster boom of the aircooled 911 – which has subsequently sunk its talons into seemingly everything bearing the Stuttgart shield (seriously… you guys were making fun of 928s just a few years ago!).
Porsche’s front-engined coupes were introduced as the entry-level offering for the brand, but after years of being snuffed, are now hitting their stride.
They’re still affordable for now, and would be a handsome classy cruiser for my inner gentleman. You can even find turbo manuals for around $25,000, which would be my pick!
Speaking of cars affected by cashed-up hipsters; I imagine serious 4x4ers (of which I am not one) who see 90% of Defenders on the road, driven by moderately young professionals must feel some sort of personal affront as they never have so much of a speck of dirt on them.
But by golly do I want to be one of them!
There’s something cool about Defenders, and I’ve been rather enamoured by big rig fourbies of late as the current garage consists of two wildly loud, low, obnoxious, uncomfortable and impractical race cars.
I like the idea of a big comfy car that I don’t have to worry about on the road – so the Defender fits the bill nicely as it’ll more than survive anything I can throw at it. There’s plenty for sale with prices starting in the low-teens. Find me one without the massive muddies, and as close to factory as possible.
As a young bloke I spent many nights driving a Lotus Esprit in the 90s video game Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge. My love for the virtual Lotus has transferred very successfully to the real thing.
It was the shape I loved then and I still do. You just can’t beat great styling. To me the Esprit has a true supercar look and feel to it and a nice one is still an affordable proposition. My ideal would be the 2.2 litre Turbo 4 Pretty Woman model.
From the earliest days much of the finest automotive styling has come out of Italy.So an Alfa was always going to be on my list. The GTV6 has to be one of the best looking Alfa Romeos. It has just the right balance between classic fastback design shape and modern touches, from the bonnet bulge to the Kamm tail.
The GTV6 was much more than a good looking car. The 2.5-litre V6 engine gave it plenty of performance.
It’s very simple – Italian styling and American V8 drivetrain in a British grand tourer. What an awesome combination! Until I stumbled across one advertised in Unique Cars I knew nothing. The more I learned about the Interceptor the more it impressed me. Chrysler power does the trick. What a great car.
SYDNEY DEALER and collector Alex Holland says there is still value in the Euro market, if you know where to look. He points to a super-clean mid-1970s BMW 633 in his showroom as an example, priced at $29,000.
“Seventies and eighties are certainly taking off,” he says, “but the challenge for us today is finding good quality examples. And we spend most of our time looking and searching around Australia.
“We don’t generally import. We’ve got enough cars in this country but, saying that, it can be hard to source them.” So what’s worth buying? “Anything that’s of quality, such as 633 or 635 BMW or a 280CE Mercedes coupe at mid-twenties. Eventually Triumph Stags will come good, and I think they’re already being chased and going up in value.
“Even something a little more modern, such as Mercedes SL320, is worth a look. It’s a sensational car. “We love all our Porsches, and 928s are still a relatively affordable car. Anything half decent will be in mid-thirties-plus. A lot of car for the money.
“Old Rolls and old Bentley are underpriced. A Bentley Arnage, a $600,000 car, is now around $100,000. – that was the fastest fourdoor car available at the time.”
THE HARDEST PART of this exercise is narrowing it to three cars, because there is so much desirable metal to choose from. But three it is, so here we go in no particular order.
If you are going to have a 911 from the seventies, it has to be the daddy of them all, the iconic Carrera RS.
While it looks like an old-school 911 with a spoiler on its bum, it was much, much more. For starters the flat-six engine was 2.7-litres and produced a healthy 150kW via its mechanical fuel injection.
The suspension was stiffened and it had flared rear guards and fatter rear tyres. Not only do I adore its looks but that engine, with a bootful of revs on board sounds like nothing else. It is one of the world’s greatest exhaust notes. Not many were built and they are worth a fortune now but were never cheap to start with. Tricky to drive and very few could ever find its limit, I know I couldn’t but I so want one.
Price range – I could only find on recent sale $800,000. The perfect weekend fangmeister.
Before Benz became Ikea flogging everything from utes to coupes to vans and hatchbacks, their range was much smaller and more exclusive. The flagship was the 6.9-litre V8 limo that could make a Falcon GT-HO look slow at the traffic light grandprix. And that’s a big part of its appeal and probably why James Hunt, amng others, owned one. Moreover, I love the over-engineering of all components and the majestic, solid feel from behind the wheel. It’s extremely spacious and comfortable with leather and real timber everywhere and powered everything. A true interstate flyer and perfect for a drive to lunch in the country on a Sunday.
My art teacher had one as I learnt one night; while doing after school detention and it turns out she was a true petrol head. From then on our relationship bloomed, to the point of me having a sneaky drive of it around the school grounds, supervised of course. The Alfa was another car to dwell in the shed when I was a young bloke. Dunno how Mum, Dad, myself, two brothers and sometimes the dog crammed in it but we did. I digress. I think the 105 Series Alfa is one of the prettiest cars on the road, even today, and its shape is as distinctive as it is timeless. Whenever I see one I stop and stare… and smile. What’s more these 2000 GTV went, stopped, handled and steered pretty well. The pedals pivot from the floor, the gearstick pokes out from the dashboard at an odd angle and the steering wheel and dash are made of real timber and leather. From memory they aren’t endowed with masses of grunt but their agility meant they could keep up with faster rivals on the track. Finding a good one wouldn’t be easy but if I could, I’d have one in a heartbeat and go and find some twisty roads to play on.
Regular readers will know of my Volvo 262C: The Bertone-built Coupe has been a regular in Our Cars for the past year or so since I bought it in the NSW Snowy Mountains town of Cooma in mid-2017. Since then it’s been road-tripped to Melbourne and back but as I write this, it hasn’t been driven for two months as I’ve concentrated on restoring something else. One of my intentions with the Bertone is (or was – but more of that in a moment) to slide-in a stout alloy GM 5.7-litre V8… but the back-yard layup for the gold coupe has me questioning if it’s too rare and significant to molest with a toey V8. So I’ve been re-thinking my idea of a decade ago of grabbing a Volvo 2-Series wagon as a regular classic driver. No matter what, I reckon any 2-series Volvo is a terrific classic car bargain: they’re tough, comfy, useful, relatively plentiful, inexpensive to buy and fix and will cop a V8 transplant without too much grief. The wagons are enormously useful and have a quirky Euro coolness to them.
I’ve always had a fascination for the 1990s MG RV-8. This was a bit special – or weird, depending on your take on things – as it more or less blurred the lines between ‘factory’, ‘aftermarket’ and ‘restored’. What 1990s Rover did was grab a recreation MGB body (from British Motor Heritage), reskin it for smoother more contemporary styling and power it with a Land Rover Discovery V8 engine. I never drove them when new but fuel-injected V8 torque and the 1960s-era leaf rear springs meant the result was apparently a hoary thing and not quite the best machine for stitching corners together. Most of the production run (was it 2000 made?) went to Brit-crazy Japan and it’s usually these ex-Japanese cars that pop up in Australia. The Japanese export-spec cars are right hand drive with the advantage of factory installed airconditioning.
I’ll never forget the awesome day I spent assisting with a WHEELS comparo: the then-new 300kW HSV GTS vs the Jaguar XJ-R; a supercharged V8 gentlemen’s express. The jag’s traditional styling lowered over big wheels and enormous brakes working with the supercharged 4.0-litre V8 made it a weapon. For me, the big Brit is not yet old enough to be on these pages – it’s years away from being H-plate eligible in Victoria and a decade from H-plate in NSW – but it would almost be worth hanging full rego on one for six months each year for the next 10 years to savour that big brawny blown V8 before H-plates can be pasted on. Um, okay, that comparo was nearly 20 years ago (Jeez? Already!) so no, I’m not going to even entertain any questions about pommy reliability… I’ll just savour the memories of that day over the NSW Blue Mountains where we got to chuck around two of the world’s great performance four-doors.
Only a few among us can afford an E30 Series BMW M3 and that’s probably just as well. Documented cars are headed for $80,000 and there are barely enough kicking about even at those prices to satisfy demand. Alternatives? Well, there is one but owners are so reluctant to sell them that available 325iS two-doors can be more challenging to locate than an M3. However, they are cheaper.
The 325iS is just like an M3 except it has a six-cylinder engine. It didn’t ever win a World Touring Car Championship but if you are South African and a motor sport fan you know that the local Shadowline version was a regular winner of Group N Touring Car events. Cars that came here made do with the factory-stock 125kW but had the potential to unleash a lot more.
Those with a sooky attitude towards cars that ride like a billy-cart despite handling like a supercart need read no further. However, if you like the idea of something that looks completely anonymous while scorching the paint off advisory speed signs, stay with me.
Providing somebody has taken care of their underpinnings, these old E30s will have you up early every Sunday morning hunting for those signs that read ‘X km of winding road ahead’.
Just in case anyone has forgotten, the Series 1 XJ6 sits high on my ‘Best Jags Of All Time’ list. Yes, better than an E Type even though it isn’t all that sexy and better than the later lookalike XJs because retired buggers with a piece of rubber hose can still tune the carbs. Best of all, the XJ6 turns 50 this year and still rates as an impressively competent motor vehicle.
Series 1s are rare now and getting expensive. Manual cars seem to have all but disappeared which is a shame because four speeds plus overdrive added spice to an already brilliant car. I wanted a manual but it was a bit too rusty. I bought an auto instead, with visions of snaring the correct ‘box and doing the conversion but it didn’t happen.
Even with a Borg-Warner slush-box that 4.2 twin-cam would grow an extra litre once the tacho hit 4000. Pulling out to pass a couple of semis with a 351 Fairlane up your clack and holding second until well past 140 you found the poor old Ford involuntarily clunking into Top and becoming a diminishing dot in the mirror. All of the while enjoying leather-bound luxury and knowing your twin 45-litre tanks will get you most of the way to Brisbane without stopping.
Happy Half Century to the best sedan of its era, the like of which will not come again.
Back in the 1980s my next door neighbour Geoff bought a Mark 2 Cooper S. It was a bit ratty, painted a very incorrect orange and fed by a massive Weber. It was loud, went hard and could be hurled through bends at ridiculous pace.
The Mini appeared a few weeks after I bought my first Jaguar, costing slightly more than I had outlaid on something with four times the engine capacity, leather trim and far less racket. The neighbour’s wife, an accountant by profession, was less than impressed.
“So, you spent $3000 on THAT thing and he got a Jag for $100 less?”
At the time the Cooper S and 420 Jaguar were selling for roughly similar money. As years passed and the Mini legend grew so did the values of Coopers S while the Jaguar languished.
At 19 I had desperately wanted an S as my first car. Just not as desperately as the insurance industry wanted to prevent it.Today I couldn’t afford a good one and probably shouldn’t anyway. Too many cameras and helicopters.
Genuine Coopers are today worth three times what they cost a decade ago and 10 times the 1980s value Hopefully Geoffrey held onto his and made some money from The Car That Changed The World. If not, I know he certainly had some fun.