Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Weathered Elan

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Looks, as the old saying goes, can be deceiving. At first glance this lime green Elan may appear to be a shabby and unloved example, but a helpful note left in the windscreen reveals that this is very far from the case; indeed, it's owned by an ardent enthusiast who prizes functionality and driving enjoyment over flawless aesthetics.
This chap actually bought the 1972 Elan Sprint way back in 1980, and - aside from the sturdy Safety Devices rollcage - he's deliberately kept the car's extensive modifications under the radar. Beneath that gently weathered skin lurks a Stage 3 tuned twin-cam from Quorn Engine Developments, uprated Elan +2 brakes, grippy modern tyres, and a 3.77:1 diff. It sounds like a hoot, and makes that cracking and patinated fibreglass seem all the more noble - the little Lotus is wearing its decades with pride, and there's a dark heart within the lurid dishevelment.

Spotted at the Goodwood Breakfast Club - more pics here.

Monday, 25 April 2016

BTCC Volvo 850

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Stance. Fitment. Call it what you will, that implacable notion of wheel-positioning perfection that today's scene kids are perennially chasing is something that was actually nailed by Volvo back in the mid-1990s.

A pair of stickered-up 850 estates hit the BTCC series in 1994, which made for a fairly bullish entry into the series. The brand had form with European Touring Car racing back when the 240 Turbo was pounding the circuits, but their entry into the BTCC neatly leveraged the common perception of being a bit, well, mumsy, by throwing the estate cars back into the world's face. The model was repurposed, refocused, and did a lot to make people re-evaulate just what Volvo were all about. It's perhaps hard to imagine today that the idea of a performance Volvo was an inconceivable notion for many, but in such a beige environment the 850 BTCC cars really were a game-changer.

Volvo were, of course, very aware of the staid image, and delighted in installing a stuffed collie dog in the boot during parade laps. They were lapping up the attention, and while it may not have been a hugely successful race car (it never finished higher than 5th place in its debut season), the 850 estate certainly served as a gold-standard PR exercise. TWR's development was constant and fastidious, however, and Rickard Rydell took 3rd place in the championship in the following season, and again in 1996 - but for these years the team wasn't running an estate car. Those successes came courtesy of the car you see here, the 850 saloon.

And yes, the aesthetic is very much dominated by those massive wheels tucked deep inside the arches. But this isn't the product of a measured and fashionable effort to get the thing sitting improbably low on the showground - this is pure race car function. Which is, naturally, very cool indeed. Check it out, scenesters - you're lusting after a nineties Volvo.

Spotted at 74MM - more pics here.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Gitanes Capri

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Is there a more apposite fusion of symbols of the 1970s than a V6-powered Ford Capri and a packet of strong French fags...?
This glorious specimen of a free-leetah was prepared by the fastidious and near-superhuman Ric Wood, and driven at Goodwood's 74th Members' Meeting by BTCC star Adam Morgan. It's wearing its correct period Gitanes colours with pride, and never looked any less than utterly delicious all weekend. Makes you want to leap inside, hang a Feu Orange from the mirror, make un-PC comments about 'bits of skirt', and get amongst some mischief, doesn't it?

More from 74MM here.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Mini Cooper(ish)

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The Mini Cooper is, it goes without saying, a timeless and appreciating classic. They're appreciating like crazy in fact, so much so that it would be an act of sheer madness for a company like Great Escape Cars to put one on their hire fleet and allow the general populus to muck about with it. Wouldn't it...?

Well, yes, of course it would. So they haven't. What they've done instead is to restore a classic Mini from the ground up and infuse a little Cooper flavour into the mix. Clever, eh? All the fun, none of the sleepless nights. So what we have here is a proper old-school Mini that's been torn back to first principles and fully rebuilt, finished in the classic combo of Old English White with a black roof. It's got racy Cobra buckets and red carpets for that retro sixties go-go flair, and there's all sorts that's fit-for-purpose when it comes to mischief-making - the Italian Job spotlights, the Cherry Bomb exhaust, the front tyres with the soft grippy sections on the edges... built for fun, this.
Sorry, I know I pandered to the Mini cliché and mentioned The Italian Job there. I sort of had to. There's a 'Croker & Bridger' sticker in the back window, you see. And having driven the thing, you really do feel like one of Charlie Croker's getaway drivers, ready to splash across a weir or barrel-roll through a sewage pipe. It's a darty, precise little thing, tight as a drum and eager for rev-happy thrills. Just, er, don't actually drive it through a weir. The guys will get really cross.

Effusive thanks to Great Escape Cars - check 'em out here.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Astra VXR Nürburgring

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Well, this was a surprise. You know what it's like when you climb into a car with low expectations and it totally shocks you? That's what the VXR Nürburgring did to me last week. It really is very good indeed.

Launched in 2005, this generation of Astra VXR was already a fairly manic thing, with 240bhp-odd and an aggressively firm chassis setup. The Nürburgring edition was, on paper, something akin to a cynical marketing exercise - a set of white wheels and some stickers, along with a modest 15bhp power hike. Oh, but it was so much more...
From time immemorial our motorsport heroes had been leaping and jinking through the Eifel mountains and, with the importance of lap times at this venue spiralling into an arms race, this was an easy win for the marketing men. With a few choice tweaks to the oh-so-eighties-inspired white-on-white hot hatch, they smashed in a time of 8:35 (well, they didn’t actually – that time was set in a stock Astra OPC some years previously, but don’t let something as trivial as a fact get in the way of a good story), then set about selling 835 special edition cars to celebrate. The chosen few of the clamouring public were treated to chequerboard decals and stylised ’Ring logos, but more significantly a shouty centre-exit Remus pipe, lighter wheels, and a certain implacable dynamic frisson. It worked, too – the Astra VXR Nürburgring cost a hefty £1,575 more than the standard VXR, but they shifted every one.

These cars are surprisingly fast - hooligan-fast, with a thudding power delivery and the ability to make the scenery go blurry really rather quickly, backed up by excellent brakes to scrub all that thrust off again - but the real bonus is that Remus exhaust. Sure, citing one sole bolt-on mod as the character-defining marker of a model may seem frivolous, but this truly is a great exhaust: the VXR Nürburgring pops and crackles like a rally car on the overrun, and blasts what sounds like shotgun fire out of the back end every time you change gear. It's absurd. Brilliantly absurd.

I wasn't expecting to like this car all that much, but it was so good that I started checking the classifieds to see what they're selling for. That, to me, is a pretty good sign.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Seventies Wedges

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

All the coolest cars were wedge-shaped in the 1970s. If your angles weren't acute then you were just being obtuse.
So here, for no other reason than that they're both frickin' supercool, are two iconic silhouettes of the mid-late seventies; the Lamborghini Countach and the Lotus Esprit. Which one would you take home? Italian flair or British espionage chic? It's a tough call...

Spotted at the London Classic Car Show - more pics here.