Wednesday, 1 April 2015

PC Rea's Morris Minor

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Driving a police car isn't all about high-speed pursuit, sliding dramatically across the bonnet and firing a few rounds at a bad slag who's done over a bookies... sometimes it's necessary for Plod to plod about sedately and deal with the mundane minutiae of day-to-day policing. Making sure everyone's keeping their noses clean, being visible. And it's for this purpose that the Morris Minor 1000 found its niche. Sure, its performance would never set your trousers on fire, but it was a reliable and dependable old Hector - and hey, if you needed to chase the perpetrators of a diamond heist who were escaping in a MkII Jag, you'd just radio the control room and get them to despatch a V8 Rover...

This may all sound very logical, but it doesn’t sit well with car-nut crooner Chris Rea. The gravel-throated petrolhead is determined to kick sand in the faces of those sedate local-constabulary Minors by taking this one – a genuine ex-patrol car – and turning it into a race car. The livery is correct, the sign on the roof is legit (although it has to be removed on track, natch), and yet it’s stuffed full of FIA-approved safety gear and simmering horsepower. If the wide rubber and low-slung stance don’t give the game away, just take a peep at the interior. This is one Minor that the more eager bobbies of yesteryear would have scampered straight past the big-banger Rovers to be a part of. A hilarious and boisterous build – a proper restomod to shake up Scotland Yard. If you’re thinking of leading the rozzers a merry dance in your 3.8 Jag, you might want to think again.

Click here for more pics from 73MM.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Vauxhall Cavalier MkII CD

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The MkII Cavalier stirs up a surprising amount of nostalgic fondness among some people. Take this 2.0-litre CD, for example, which I recently borrowed from Vauxhall’s Heritage fleet. I pulled over on a country lane to take a few photos and, as I was propping open the bonnet, a postman stopped behind me in his van. I thought he’d assumed that I’d broken down – this was a remote spot, the sort of road that you wouldn’t drive down unless you had a reason to do so – and he was being a good Samaritan. So my opener was ‘Thanks, everything’s fine, I’m just taking some photos’. But it turned out that he hadn’t stopped for that reason. He’d stopped because his dad used to have an identical grey 2.0-litre CD, and he’d been overwhelmed by a vast wave of nostalgia. He asked if he could have a look around. I told him to help himself. So he climbed into the back seat, luxuriating in the revelry of memory for a moment, then cracked open the boot and had a good poke around, sat in the front passenger seat and played with the stereo and the heater, then pored reverentially over the engine. It made his day, he seemed genuinely overjoyed.
‘Is it for sale?’ he asked. ‘Sorry,’ I had to admit, ‘it’s not mine.’
‘Hmm,’ he pondered. ‘Well, you could just, y’know, give it to me…’

I’d have loved to, I really would. But, selfishly, I was rather enjoying driving the thing, and I had to be on my merry way. The MkII is a surprisingly entertaining steer, far more so than I’d expected. What looks like a standard travelling salesman-spec block of utilitarian functionality actually turns out to be something of a delight. The 2.0-litre 8v OHV motor could never be described as a firecracker, with its 113bhp pushing along 1,100kgs, but it’s spritely enough, and the three-speed auto ’box, while a little slow-witted, is eager enough to help the thing scamper from a standstill with some degree of gusto. Sure, the handling’s a bit wallowy and the damping’s rather harsh by modern standards, but it’s got an airy glasshouse and nice squodgy seats, and it does have one vital ace up its sleeve: it’s a survivor. It wasn’t that long ago that MkII Cavaliers were everywhere, but when was the last time you saw one on the roads?
Driving this car, you receive a lot of double-takes and raised eyebrows, and it’s all very heartwarming. People miss the Cavalier. Their parents had them. They aspired to them. And now there aren’t many left. So take it from me, there’s a lot of joy to be had here – it’s not the most accomplished motor ever hammered together, but its big heart and cheerful persona more than make up for it. The MkII Cavalier enjoys that most rare and aspirational quality that all manufacturers aim for… people actually like it.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Audi Quattro

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

'Fire up the Quattro! Shut it, you slaaaaag!, Oi oi, apples and pears, my old man’s a dustman, and so forth!' Alright, I never watched Ashes to Ashes, but that first ubiquitous phrase is as much a part of the TV-inspired everyday lexicon as 'D’oh!', 'Here's one I made earlier' and 'We were on a break'. You almost feel sorry for the owners of ur-Quattros, as they must hear the bloody thing every day of their lives.

Almost, yes, but not quite. Because the pay-off for having gawping bystanders relentlessly firing TV catchphrases at you is that, er, you get to own a Quattro. And having recently driven this timeworn but feisty red example, I can confirm that this must be a Very Good Thing.

The model was a revelation when it appeared at Geneva in 1980. How could it not be? It took the generally agricultural process of sending drive to all four wheels and repackaged it as a means to go faster. The face of rallying would never be the same again, Audi’s racy Quattros decimating all comers and forcing every rival into an adapt-or-die position. And for those people who used the road-going variants as daily drivers? Oh, they were heroes…

In a modern context, of course, it’s not all that astonishing. We’re spoilt today – every new hot hatch boasts the sort of performance figures that would have been supercar territory back in 1980; brakes are infinitely better, suspension system far more advanced – the game has moved on. So today, the Quattro feels quick-ish rather than actually fast, and the brakes are a bit wishy-washy. But this really isn’t the point. You see, the thing about the Quattro is that… it’s a Quattro. It’s an icon, a legend, those eighties-fade rings on the doors speaking volumes about none-too-subtle sporting intent. This is a car that Audi sold to the public with switchable diffs and a boost gauge, and a 2.1-litre 20v 5-pot offering 200bhp – a demonstration of trust in the man on the street that he could handle what their rally department had been cooking up. And for those lucky punters, the reward came in the form of a chassis so good, so poised, that it offers up oodles and oodles of unrelenting grip, sublime body control with surprisingly little roll, and the sort of dependable agility that few cars can match even now.

This example may have over 170,000 miles on the clock, but it still feels as tight as a drum; whereas other performance machines of the era feel flimsy and rattly today (I’m looking at you, 205 GTI), this is testament to the fastidiousness with which Audi nailed the Quattro together. It smells exactly like a 1980s car should in there, it has appropriately boisterous seat trim and headlining, the driving position is superb – it’s a great relief to find that a car that’s so revered is actually as good as everybody makes out. Sure, it could do with being more powerful (quite a lot more powerful would be nice), and it really needs better brakes. But that’s true of a lot of cars of the early 1980s. All of them, probably. But few of them work in harmony with the driver quite like this one does – it encourages and complements your inputs, urges you to push harder; it’s never scary, it just feels right. Even when you realise that you’re going 20 or 30mph faster than you thought you were. Even when, as happened to me, you find the bright sunshine suddenly being switched off and replaced with a momentary torrential blizzard. ‘Hey, it’s a rally car, it’ll cope,’ you think. And it does, tremendously.

The one feature that really entertains, however, is the turbo. And not just for the fact that it delivers its thrills in a thoroughly old-school way, building the tension through treacly lag before spiking on boost and thumping you in the back. No, it’s the fact that it sounds exactly like an approaching police siren. The first time you properly boot the throttle, you immediately back off assuming that you’re about to be tugged by the fuzz. There are no blue lights in your mirrors, so you press on – and it happens again. Then you realise, and it becomes a game – suddenly, you’re not the mouse but the cat; you are DCI Gene Hunt, firing up the Quattro. And if I’d ever watched the show, I’d know exactly what that meant.

Fancy having a go yourself? This one belongs to Great Escape Cars, drop 'em a line

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Type 2 Detectives Beetle

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Type 2 Detectives are, as the name suggests, pretty well known for their skills with fettling Type 2 Volkswagens - buses, campers, transporters, you name it, they'll slam it to the ground and make it faster.
And as this menacing Beetle demonstrates, they're pretty handy with a Type 1 as well. Prepared by T2D for Salvage Hunters' Drew Pritchard, it was racing at Goodwood's 73rd Members' Meeting with Touring Car legend Robb Gravett at the wheel. As you can see, the finish is utterly impeccable - just look at the depth of shine on that paintwork - and it sounded just as gnarly as you'd hope for. Look out for a feature in Retro Cars magazine in the near future...

More 73MM photos here.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

SEAT León Cupra 280

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

276bhp. For car fans of a certain age, that’s a very significant figure. As we strove to rise through the ranks of the original iteration of Gran Turismo, the training-wheels Mazda Demio a fading memory, we reached for the automotive stars toward a galaxy of Japanese supernovae. The Honda NSX, the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, the deliciously obscure Subaru Impreza 22B, they were all subject to the gentleman’s agreement of Japanese manufacturers – the actual headline power figure was immaterial: from an official standpoint, they all had 276bhp. It was an important number.

Of course, time marches on and makes fools of us all. 276 is a pedestrian figure today, isn’t it? It’s not as if horsepower is rationed out to those most in need, it’s an abundant commodity. If it can be feasibly shoehorned into a sensible family hatchback, then why not, eh?

No, that’s an awful avenue of thought. Abandon that. Horsepower is brilliant, and we should count ourselves bloody lucky that today’s Golf equivalent can offer the sort of thrust that our teenage selves spent weeks on end saving up the credits to buy virtual facsimiles of. That SEAT’s magnificent León Cupra 280 manages to combine this ethereal grunt with everyday usability, sensible fuel economy, an even idle, and generous service intervals is frankly some kind of modern miracle.

And if your perceptions of front-wheel drive performance are still mired in Saab’s infamous early-noughties assertion that 250bhp was the technical limit before the whole thing imploded under the crushing volatility of its own torque-steer, think again. The Cupra 280 has a magical diff that’s artfully hewn from octarine and stardust, ensuring that you can bury the throttle at any quantity of revs, in any gear, and the damn thing just tears off toward the horizon like a retriever with the scent of fresh partridge in its nostrils. It can send up to 100% of the torque to either front wheel if need be. You don’t need to check that your thumbs are clear of the steering wheel spokes first in case it spins like a Catherine wheel – this is modern FWD performance wrapped up in a veneer of sensibleness. It all just works. It’s not trying to hurt you.

Of course, it’s not totally sensible. How could it be? That mighty, supercars-of-yore bhp figure combines with the otherworldy DSG ’box to hurtle the thing from standstill to 62mph in a befuddling 5.7 seconds. The León’s limited – limited! – to 155mph. It sounds hilarious, it accelerates like a cheetah with a burning tail, and the fancy suspension setup – slightly lowered all round, with a lovely new multi-link effort at the rear – combines with the dinner-plate-sized brakes to create a fabulously eager chassis. Oh, and if you push the ‘Cupra’ button, which firms up the dampers and sharpens the throttle response, the doorcards glow red. It’s a real wolf in hatchback’s clothing. It’s just gorgeous to drive, urging you to push it further and further toward the very bleeding edge of adhesion, that hyper-intelligent turbo forcing ever-more vast gobs of fresh air into the generously fuelled cylinders. It howls, it flies, it… suddenly calms down when you reach a village, allowing you to amble through sensibly and unobtrusively, annoying the local vicar by holding him up at a sedate pace. And when you reach the national speed limit markers, all hell breaks loose once again. Hydrocarbons collide, rubber molecules atomise, lubricated metals enmesh, and SEAT’s absurdly entertaining über-hatch makes a laughable mockery of the very fabric of physics itself.

Yes, I like this car. Rather a lot. If you get the chance, I urge you to try it – I think you’ll like it too.