58 YEARS, BOILED DOWN TO SEVEN CAR KEYS ON GOODWOOD’S PIT WALL…
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 dicult 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