CAR (UK) - - Car: The First 700 Issues -

Yime to grab some keys. There’s no bad pick, no car we haven’t loved driv­ing and writ­ing about over the past 700 is­sues of CAR. But I haven’t driven at Good­wood for nearly 20 years and Gavin reck­ons it’s nearer 30 for him. The tick­ing siren song of the F40’s gen­tly cool­ing nd ex­hausts might be strong, but it prob­a­bly makes sense to lim­ber up with some­thing a lit­tle more mea­sured.

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the cal­i­bre of me­tal here to­day that the car I’m lim­ber­ing up with is an iconic ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial that notched up dozens of race wins and even suc­cess­fully turned its hand to ral­ly­ing.

The orig­i­nal M3 looks so right on the out­side and feels so right on the other side of the door. That’s the left-hand door be­cause all E30 M3s came from M di­vi­sion’s Garch­ing fac­tory with the steer­ing wheel on the left. But the M3 feels so com­pact you know the lo­ca­tion of the steer­ing wheel won’t be as big a prob­lem as on other, less wieldy, cars.

At Good­wood, of course, it’s no prob­lem at all. You sit low, with the wheel canted slightly sky­wards, un­fash­ion­ably large ex­panses of glass and NCAP-un­friendly pipe-cleaner screen pil­lars giv­ing a bril­liant panoramic view of the rib­bon of track un­furl­ing ahead.

In typ­i­cal ’80s BMW style, the in­stru­ment di­als are al­most as clear. They tell you the lit­tle 2.3-litre four un­der the bon­net is good for 7500rpm be­fore you need to reach for an­other cog from the dog­leg-pat­tern Ge­trag ’box. It’s good for just over 210bhp too – a de­cent spe­cific out­put in a pre-VTEC era, though noth­ing spe­cial these days. But it’s not just the power that looks dated; for­tu­nately, the weight does too. An un­laden E30 M3 weighs just 1250kg, or around 70kg less than a bot­tom-rung 85bhp Fo­cus to­day. It’s al­most su­per­mini light, and it feels it.

None of these orig­i­nal E30 M3s feels gen­uinely quick, not even the later 2.5-litre Sport Evo­lu­tion mod­els, and this rare Roberto Ravaglia spe­cial edi­tion has fewer horses. But it’s fast enough to keep you in­ter­ested, and just about fast enough to make the bril­liant chas­sis work.

The steer­ing is use­fully quicker than a con­tem­po­rary 325i’s, and with two fewer cylin­ders over the nose you can pick your apex and nail it ev­ery sin­gle time. And if the dog­leg gear­box lay­out sounds off-putting, it’s quickly learned, and be­sides, it just adds to the cool fac­tor, mak­ing you feel like Ravaglia him­self as you roll your right foot from brake to gas try­ing to re­mem­ber an­other car so per­fectly set up for a deft bit of heel-and-toe. ⊲

Words Chris Chilton

Jink­ing through the chi­cane on a cool-down lap af­ter three hot ones, and coast­ing down the pit­lane, we all have the same thought: some­one should still make this car, even if BMW can’t. Maybe Jim Rat­cliffe could have a crack when he’s fin­ished with the Gre­nadier.

Back in 1988 CAR’s sis­ter ti­tle Su­per­car Clas­sics was say­ing the same thing about the then 15-year-old Porsche 911 Car­rera RS. ‘Porsche should still make this car’ as­serts the cov­er­line of the Jan­uary 1988 is­sue sit­ting on the shelf be­hind my desk. But in 1988 Porsche was still ped­dling air-cooled 911s that – we can now see with the ben­e­fit of 2020 hind­sight – weren’t ac­tu­ally that dif­fer­ent from that Car­rera RS. How does it feel to­day?

‘It feels old,’ says Green, who raced one in the ’80s when they were merely vaguely in­ter­est­ing old cars, and not £500k works of art.

He’s right. But then it is old. A near-50-year-old car based on a near-60year-old de­sign. Climb in­side and tug the door strap and it feels far closer to a Bee­tle than a mod­ern 911. You sit high and strangely close to the up­right wind­screen. The floor-hinged ped­als ask un­usual things of your an­kles and, when you reach for­ward to se­lect first gear, the lever does that Beet­ley thing of feel­ing com­pletely dis­con­nected from the trans­mis­sion, then sud­denly slot­ting home.

Porsche had sorted the con­tem­po­rary 911’s gearchange by the time that Su­per­car Clas­sics story was writ­ten, and even the base Car­rera made 21bhp more than this 207bhp RS by then. But those later im­pact-bumper 911s didn’t pick up revs like this me­chan­i­cally-in­jected 2.7 does, and they cer­tainly didn’t sound as raw or ur­gent.

They didn’t feel as light on their feet, ei­ther. I owned an ’89 Car­rera for a while, but where that felt sto­ically planted, the RS fizzes with play­ful ner­vous en­ergy, goad­ing you into giv­ing it death at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

They didn’t feel as light on their feet, ei­ther. The four-spoke steer­ing wheel looks de­cid­edly un­sporty, but the feed­back is vi­brant and the brakes still feel firm and use­fully strong. Like the M3 it’s a car you feel com­fort­able driv­ing like you stole it. In fact it’s hard to drive it any other way. Mind­ful that I’m driv­ing Josh Sadler’s pen­sion I come in af­ter four laps. I’d have hap­pily stayed out there all day, and given that nei­ther Ben Oliver or Gavin Green shared my en­thu­si­asm, I prob­a­bly could have.

Just as the ’73 RS’s shadow still looms over Porsche’s mod­ern prod­uct, so the 205 GTI’s hangs over ev­ery hot hatch made since. The Golf GTI might have pop­u­larised the genre, but three decades later it’s still the 205 GTI that de­fines it. Nos­tal­gic non­sense?

I haven’t driven a 205 GTI since buy­ing a ropey but taxed and tested 1.6 from a friend of a friend for £75 in 2004. Ben Oliver’s is a 1.9 and must be worth 10 times that to­day. Still feels £75-flimsy, mind.

Like the 911’s, the driv­ing po­si­tion is a dis­ap­point­ment af­ter the M3’s. The driver’s seat is set high and the way the dash­board falls away from the base of the screen re­in­forces the feel­ing that you’re sit­ting on – not in – the car.

At low speed the heavy clutch and steer­ing (power as­sist was op­tional, but rarely fit­ted), over-light gearchange and a bru­tal throt­tle re­sponse that makes ma­noeu­vring smoothly near im­pos­si­ble don’t bode well. Is this re­ally the car peo­ple still tout as the great­est hot hatch ever built?

Yes it is, and by the first right-han­der you know why. Good­wood’s a fast track, the kind of place that can make mod­estly pow­er­ful road cars feel very dull. The 205 is never dull. It turns in beau­ti­fully, that meaty steer­ing telling you all about the sur­pris­ing amount of grip the lit­tle 185-sec­tion tyres can muster, and in the dry there’s plenty of scope for ad­just­ing your line with­out awak­en­ing the lift-off over­steer mon­ster that sent so many to the crusher.

A mod­ern hot hatch would crush the 205 in a straight line, but the gutsy eight-valver’s snappy throt­tle, broad spread of torque and peachy bal­ance mean it’s still a weapon. Though maybe not one you’d want to arm your­self with ev­ery day.

Per­versely, or per­haps hero­ically, daily use is ex­actly what the last owner of our re-imag­ined E-Type, an Ea­gle Low Drag GT, got from his car, de­spite it be­ing val­ued at around £1m.

‘He used to wind me up by send­ing me pho­to­graphs of it parked in the su­per­mar­ket car park with the rear win­dow full of shop­ping bags,’ laughs Ea­gle’s Paul Brace.

While Jaguar Her­itage ob­sesses about the pe­riod-cor­rect orig­i­nal­ity of its £295,000 re­born E-Types, Ea­gle ob­sesses about pro­duc­ing ones that are bet­ter to drive, both slow and fast. ⊲

Good­wood’s a fast track that can make road cars feel very dull. The 205 is never dull

There’s air con­di­tion­ing to cool the cabin while you fa­mil­iarise your­self with the con­trols, hav­ing squeezed through the freak­ishly small door open­ing. And some­where, in a land far away down a bon­net that seems

there’ns to stretch to the first cor­ner at the end of the start-fin­ish straight, 345bhp worth of fet­tled Jag XK straight-six and proper mod­ern brakes and the rub­ber to help har­ness it.

You sit with your legs stretched out ahead, ped­als slightly off­set to the right, gear­lever a stretch to the left. The last Low Drag I drove had power steer­ing; this one doesn’t, but it feels en­tirely man­age­able, and to­gether with the snort of real carbs (fuel in­jec­tion is also avail­able) gives this car the kind of mus­cu­lar feel you’d ex­pect from some­thing that looks this tough.

What you don’t ex­pect if you’ve ever driven an E-Type, or any car that can trace its lin­eage back seven decades, is a car so well sorted for tak­ing a good beat­ing. The gearchange is sur­pris­ingly slick, the power de­liv­ery smooth and strong, and the sus­pen­sion does a per­fect job of re­tain­ing some of the char­ac­ter of an old car, while car­ry­ing over few of the dy­namic com­pro­mises. It’s an old car you need make no ex­cuses for. Just as you’d hope, given the price. It’s not out­ra­geously rapid but it feels tight and to­gether round Good­wood, the grip, body con­trol, brak­ing and steer­ing pre­ci­sion all far be­yond an orig­i­nal E-Type.

The orig­i­nal un-Ea­gled E-Type was never a par­tic­u­larly CAR car, but the Lo­tus Elise was, and still is. Light, in­no­va­tive, en­gag­ing, and above all in­tel­li­gent, the Elise is the epit­ome of ev­ery­thing we’ve tried to cham­pion over the past 58 years.

To­day is per­fect Elise weather. And that’s less to do with the track sur­face and more to do with not hav­ing to thread your­self be­tween the high sill and the potato sack that passes for a roof.

Even with the top off it feels shock­ingly small in­side – so small you can eas­ily roll the pas­sen­ger win­dow up from the driver’s seat – and to first­timers the sparse­ness is equally dis­com­fit­ing. If it’s not needed, it’s not here.

That in­cludes any kind of power as­sis­tance for the brakes and steer­ing. And even then the steer­ing is dis­arm­ingly light in the few de­grees off the straight-ahead, only load­ing up on one fast left-han­der, and again through the chi­cane when you’re re­ally lean­ing on the out­side front tyre.

Lo­tus di­alled in more un­der­steer to the S2 cars by re­duc­ing the tyre sec­tion af­ter too many own­ers binned the orig­i­nals, mean­ing S1s like this are the purest, most sat­is­fy­ing form of Elise. They’re lighter, grip harder and con­nect you to the road sur­face in a way al­most no mod­ern cars do.

They’re not per­fect: the gearshift is frus­trat­ingly vague, and the in­stru­ments could be clearer. And of course the chas­sis could eas­ily take – and was later given – more power than this bog-stan­dard 118bhp K-se­ries de­liv­ers. But we’re nit­pick­ing. The Elise has hardly dated at all. It’s as much fun as it ever was, and even more rel­e­vant. It proves you don’t need mon­ster power to have fun, and you don’t need to a driv­ing de­ity to un­der­stand its fun­da­men­tal bril­liance.

Will we still be say­ing that about the Ford GT in a 25 years’ time? It was built to win Le Mans and its job is done. But in the here and now it feels in­cred­i­bly spe­cial, and is draw­ing more at­ten­tion from passers-by than even the Fer­rari.

If the GT’s mis­sion was se­ri­ous, so is the driv­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The cabin is small and in­stead of mov­ing the seat to the ped­als, the ped­als come to you. There’s car­bon­fi­bre ev­ery­where. And so many switches, in­clud­ing ones to se­lect from the five avail­able driv­ing modes.

The en­gine’s down on power, cylin­ders and cred com­pared to mod­ern su­per­car op­po­si­tion. A tur­bocharged V6, it sounds or­di­nary at low speed and makes 638bhp while su­per­cars cost­ing half as much make far more.

But the throt­tle re­sponse is sharp, in part thanks to an anti-lag func­tion, the body con­trol is tighter than a jam jar lid in an OAP’s cup­board, and the steer­ing feels more like a sur­gi­cal tool than some­thing with which to aim two rub­ber hoops at a bit of tar­mac.

And, when you wind it up, that V6 re­ally digs deep, thump­ing you square in the back and de­liv­er­ing a sound­track that, if not quite V12-sensual, is ⊲

You’d still be learning the F40 months down the line, which has real ap­peal in an era when so many cars roll over and give up their se­crets

cer­tainly stir­ring. Even the F40 can’t match it for pace, though the F40 de­liv­ers it like a hand grenade lobbed into a hand grenade fac­tory; the Fer­rari’s zero to 62mph in around 4.0sec feels way more ex­plo­sive than in an en­try-level, 992-gen 911 that’ll do the same num­bers.

Even parked, the F40 ex­cites and in­tim­i­dates like mod­ern per­for­mance cars, tamed by elec­tron­ics as they are, just don’t. Set­tling into the thick bucket seat and tug­ging the Tup­per­ware lid that passes for a door closed be­hind you is an un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence. The three-spoke wheel is tilted up­wards, like the M3’s, while the ped­als are heav­ily off­set to the right, and, in the case of the clutch, just plain heavy. A mod­ern Fer­rari feels like a Kia in com­par­i­son.

But mod­ern Fer­raris don’t talk to you like this one does. On the move the steer­ing is sub­lime. Much heav­ier than the Lo­tus’s, but al­most as com­mu­nica­tive, it’s as much a stand­out fea­ture of this car as the en­gine, which draws you in slowly at the laggy bot­tom end of each run to the red­line be­fore hurl­ing out at the top, a sweaty mess, eyes wide, heart thump­ing, ready to do it all again.

It’s a diŒcult car to drive fast, or at least to drive well. The ped­als are heavy, the gearshift too. The F40’s a car that re­wards your pa­tience. You’d still be learning about it months down the line, which has real ap­peal in an era when so many cars roll over (metaphor­i­cally speak­ing) and give up their se­crets straight away.

Is that char­ac­ter or just a flaw? This en­counter with the F40 has seared it­self into my mem­ory just as vividly as the oth­ers. Driv­ing one is al­ways ev­ery bit as spe­cial as you hoped it would be when you first clapped eyes on one. But for all its power, its noise and per­for­mance, is it re­ally a bet­ter driver’s car than the Elise, a ma­chine that isn’t over-en­dowed with any of those qual­i­ties? I’m lean­ing to­wards the Lo­tus, but I sense that Gavin and Ben’s votes might swing the de­ci­sion the other way. ⊲

For driv­ing, not for ad­mir­ing. Which makes them all the more ad­mirable

If Good­wood did trackdays… Oh, hang on, it does

Don’t worry, this E-Type doesn’t rely on ’60s brakes

Chas­sis is a time­less clas­sic; power out­put dates the M3

F40 asks more of the driver, and gives more

Light, lighter, light­est

nd It’s not of­ten Ford tack­les Fer­rari, and it’s never dull

Ford looks chunky and clut­tered, but steer­ing feels ul­tra-pre­cise

Elise shows what you can do with 118bhp

Are you Nigel Mansell? His lack of imag­i­na­tion would be handy

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