Much has changed since Tomalin was last on ecoty…


THIRTEEN YEARS. THAT’S HOW LONG it’s been since I was last invited on ecoty. Clearly I must have behaved appallingl­y on the Isle of Skye in 2009, for which I can only continue to apologise; I just wish I could remember the evening in question. But here I am, brought out of cryostasis like Austin Powers with less hair but slightly better teeth, and thrown right into the thick of ecoty 2022. So what’s changed in the interim? Almost everything – and, in one important sense, nothing at all.

The first thing that hits me when I look back at that 2009 contest (issue 138 if you fancy joining me for a quick blat down memory lane) is the sheer number of cars (13!). There were many more judges too, 12 no less, including a pair of chancers by the names of Metcalfe and Harris. I wonder what happened to them.

The next thing that strikes me is the number of genuinely affordable cars: Focus RS Mk2, Scirocco R, MX-5 Mk3.5, Clio 200 Cup… Contrast with this year’s solitary ‘people’s champion’, the GR86. The current shortage of new, sensiblemo­ney performanc­e cars is a cause of genuine regret round here. Another, at least for a hopeless Luddite like me, is the inexorable march of electronic tech, only hinted at in 2009. Back then, driving modes and advanced chassis electronic­s were still in their kindergart­en phase, hybrid supercars a mere twinkle in the eyes of engineers. It was two years before the launch of the first modern Mclaren, the 12C, for heaven’s sake.

These were the final days of the properly old-school analogue supercar, so the line-up featured Lamborghin­i’s Murciélago LP670-4 SV and Gallardo LP550-2 Balboni, as well as Noble’s M600 and Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage. I’d wager this year’s M4 CSL has more computing power than all four of them put together. But by God they were exciting; visceral rather than cerebral, and raw in a way many of today’s supercars aren’t. One notable exception, of course, being the Maserati MC20. On this year’s test, I found myself pining for the days when manual gearboxes were at least still an option, when electronic interventi­on was generally limited to ABS and TCS. I know, verified Old Git.

Back in 2009, strongly fancied from the off were the Lotus Evora and Porsche’s 997.2-gen GT3, while busily managing expectatio­ns were the Jaguar XFR and Ferrari California (a greater contrast with the 296 GTB is hard to imagine). And the final contender? A car I confess I’d pushed to the deep recesses of memory – the Artega GT, that pretty little mid-engined Vr6-powered German coupe that shone brightly but all too briefly.

The GT3 is an interestin­g one. For me, the series peaked with the previous, Gen 1 997, the RS version of which won ecoty 2007. That car struck me as the perfect blend of potency, pliancy and poise. The Gen 2 was noticeably more stiffly sprung, its focus narrower. Some judges docked points for its uncompromi­sing track bias. And I bet if you drove it back-to-back with this year’s Cayman GT4 RS, it’d feel almost plush. But you could see how the GT department’s output was already becoming more extreme, a trend that I fervently hope has now peaked with the 4RS, though you might not bet your house on it.

Other difference­s? Back then, there was a chasm in performanc­e between the regular stuff and the genuine supercars. Today, even an M4 feels crazy-fast. And hybridisat­ion has transforme­d the power delivery of today’s supercars: much as I adored the 296 GTB, all that torque meant you were already at insane speeds before you’d barely started to enjoy the V6 engine’s top end. That was certainly one of the reasons the Toyota did so well – you could savour every last morsel of its performanc­e.

I would just love Ferrari to take that brilliant V6, strip away all the hybrid elements, put it in a car slightly smaller in every dimension but especially width, set the weight cap at 1350kg and take a few styling cues from another ’60s classic. Make it a present to all the fans, a pure, joyful celebratio­n of 75 years of Ferraris. Call it the 296 Dino. Well, we can dream…

One thing that hasn’t changed at ecoty is the camaraderi­e and the piss-taking. Another is the irrefutabl­e rule that the fastest car/driver combo will be a photograph­er in his daily driver. Back in the day it was usually Kenny P and his Mondeo, this year Aston P and his Skoda.

But most importantl­y, when it came to scoring the cars, we still voted on instinct and gut feel. Both the Maser and the Toyota blew us away, the Maserati through being exciting at any speed and having a unique, thrilling character, the Toyota for making pure driving pleasure so accessible.

As part of evo’s original ‘mission statement’, we imagined a scenario where the drivers of a brand new 911 and a well-used 205 GTI would find themselves at adjacent petrol pumps, sharing a common bond of appreciati­on for what makes a great driver’s car. Substitute the Maser and Toyota, and in this the 25th running of ecoty, that’s never been more apposite.

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