Retro Road Test reviews by Motoring Research. We drive old cars on modern roads to discover just how some of the most popular classic cars stack up today.

Mercedes-Benz SL (R107) review: Retro Road Test

Mercedes-Benz SL

All cars eventually become classics, but not all classics are created equal. The ‘R107’ Mercedes-Benz SL is a case in point.

This luxurious grand tourer – we’ll stop short of calling it a sports car – was a cut above the automotive norm when new, and remains so today. Indeed, it’s one of the best classics you can buy.

The R107 replaced the iconic W113 ‘Pagoda’ SL in 1971 and ended up becoming the longest-lived Mercedes ever. By the time production ceased in 1989, it arguably held classic status even as a new car.

Initially V8-powered, it was later offered with more economical six-cylinder engines. All came with a removable metal hard-top to supplement the manually-folding fabric hood, while the vast majority of buyers opted for an automatic gearbox.

A fixed-roof SLC coupe was also sold, albeit in much smaller numbers.

Mercedes-Benz SL

The car I’m driving today is one of the final R107s: a 1989 300 SL. Steve Leigh of Essex Classic Car Auctions is clearly a fan. “They’re just so reliable,” he says. “You could jump in right now and drive across Europe.”

It’s a tempting offer, but Billericay and Basildon will have to suffice. Besides, it’s just started raining.

Clearly I watched too much Dallas and Dynasty as a child because, even roof-up in the drizzle, the SL speaks to me of sun-drenched California cool. It isn’t breathtakingly beautiful like a Pagoda, but its long, louche lines are elegant and perfectly proportioned.

I love the understated 15-inch alloys and Smoked Silver paintwork of this example, too – the latter glinting gold when it catches the light.

Mercedes-Benz SL

Inside, it’s all rather more retro, not least thanks to the beige-and-brown colour combo. If you’ve just stepped out of a modern Mercedes, be prepared for a culture-shock; there are no touchscreens or technology here, just a simple, wood-veneered dash and flat, springy seats.

Also, the large, low-set steering wheel can’t be adjusted and there’s surprisingly little headroom for those above average height. At least those ‘Germanic build quality’ clichés ring true: everything I touch feels weighty and well-made.

The SL – in 176hp, six-cylinder guise, at least – doesn’t like to be rushed. Its power steering is ponderous, its suspension feels floaty and the whole car leans like a listing ship when cornering.

Oddly, this dynamic ineptitude (at least by today’s standards) forms a large part of its appeal. It encourages you to slow down, retract the roof and take it easy, wafting along on a wave of effortless torque.

Few cars – then or now – are so easy and utterly relaxing to drive.

Mercedes-Benz SL

After an hour of subdued, comfortable cruising, I’m rather sold on the idea of an SL. Unfortunately, values have rocketed in recent years: bad luck for me, but great news if you’re looking to invest. “You can find a basket-case R107 for £5,000,” says Steve, “but the best nudge £50,000.

“Parts are expensive and certain bits of trim – such as the seat fabric – are getting hard to source. So buy the best, most original car you can afford.”

This particular SL had covered 94,500 miles and carried an auction estimate of £20,000 – £22,500.

What to look for when buying an SL? Steve explains: “Post-1986 cars have galvanised bodywork and are more rust-resistant. Even so, check the sills and wheelarches carefully, and examine the carpets for signs of water leaks.

Mercedes-Benz SL

“Engines are solid, but you’ll want evidence of regular servicing – preferably from a Mercedes specialist. Make sure the hard-top hasn’t gone missing, too. It should be stamped with the car’s chassis number below the nearside window.”

Lastly, a top tip for investors: this car’s successor, the blockier R129 SL (1989-2002) is now creeping up in price.

If a good R107 is beyond your budget, it’s a sensible and equally seductive way to enjoy the SL experience – and certainly a classic in the making.

PRICE: From £5,000

0-62MPH: 9.6 secs

TOP SPEED: 126mph

CO2 G/KM: 254

MPG COMBINED: 26.0

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Skoda Octavia vRS retro road test

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Skoda Octavia vRS: Retro Road Test

01_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Skoda’s vRS badge has come a long way in nearly 20 years.

Back in 2001, when the first Octavia vRS was launched, the idea of a hot Skoda was too much for some people to take in. The Skoda brand was still emerging from the dark days of ill-informed jokes, continuing to find its feet under Volkswagen Group ownership.

With a knowing tap on the inside of its nose, the Skoda Octavia vRS emerged from nowhere, making the Golf GTI look expensive and impractical.

For those in the know, the Skoda Octavia vRS was the performance car of choice.

What are its rivals?

02_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

We could argue that the original Skoda Octavia vRS had no direct rivals. With a launch price of £15,100, nothing could touch it.

The one notable exception was the slightly cheaper Seat Leon Cupra, but pound for pound, the cavernous Octavia vRS stood out like a big shiny beacon.

Remember the early press cars were all painted in striking Corrida Red? And we all know red is faster, right?

Other rivals? Well the Octavia vRS trounced the Mk4 Golf GTI in just about every department, while the UK’s first Honda Civic Type R was waiting in the wings.

The £15,995 Ford Focus ST170 was a palatable prelude to the blistering Ford Focus RS and was arguably the Octavia’s most direct rival.

What engine does it use?

03_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The Skoda Octavia vRS made good use of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 1.8-litre 20v turbocharged engine, also seen in the Audi TT, Audi A3 and S3, Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and standard Octavia.

In Octavia vRS guise, the engine develops 177hp at 5,550rpm, plus 173lb ft of torque. The 0-60mph time was quoted as 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 144mph.

At the time, this was the fastest Skoda ever built.

What’s it like to drive?

04_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Seriously good. Given the mediocrity of the equivalent Golf GTI, you have to ask what wizardry was applied to transform the Octavia vRS into such a performance bargain. 

You could say the same about the Seat Leon Cupra, which was also better than the Golf.

The gearing is comically long, with 70mph achievable in second. The engine also feels more characterful in the Octavia vRS, urging you to press on.

The steering on this 77,000-mile car seemed lighter and less communicative than it did when new and, subjectively, the Octavia vRS lacks the intimacy and immediacy of a more hardcore hot hatch.

However, considering the size of the Octavia, not to mention the 528-litre double wardrobe over the rear wheels, the Skoda is a huge amount of fun.

Reliability and running costs

05_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The Skoda Octavia vRS offers combined fuel economy of 35.3mpg, although figures in the mid 40s aren’t uncommon on a long run. 

The availability of parts will not be an issue and there are number of excellent Volkswagen Group specialists who can service the car for less than a main dealer.

Could I drive it every day?

06_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Oh, absolutely. The Skoda Octavia vRS is an easy car to drive, with a simplicity that is lost in so many hot hatches.

There are no driving modes to choose from, no concerns about all-round visibility, just a highly practical and immensely likeable performance hatchback. And if you demand more practicality, there’s the Octavia vRS estate.

Back in the day, they were a motorway patrol car for many police forces. The combination of supreme pace and space, plus the unknown quantity of a hot Skoda, made for a brilliant unmarked cop car.

It helped to springboard the vRS brand into the public domain.

How much should I pay?

07_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

Prices start from around £1,500 – still tremendous value for money. For that, you’ll get an Octavia vRS with a six-figure mileage and part service history.

A budget of £3,000 will secure a really good example, but it’s worth noting a newer, Mk2 Octavia vRS is available for a similar amount.

We’d buy on condition and service history, rather than age. Optional extras were few and far between, but it’s worth searching for cars with parking sensors (that’s a big boot when reversing), cruise control (to maximise those long-distance credentials) and an electric sunroof.

What should I look out for?

08_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

The excellent Briskoda forum offers an extensive Skoda Octavia vRS buying guide that should be your first port of call if you’re considering a purchase.

The timing belt and water pump should be replaced every four years or 60,000 miles, and you should check for signs of accident damage. This is a performance car, so it may have been used accordingly.

An engine misfire could be caused by a faulty coil pack, while water in the boot may be the result of a broken rear washer pipe.

Better to wait for a cherished and much-loved example than to take a chance on a cheap vRS of iffy quality.

Should I buy one?

09_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

If you’re looking for a practical, spacious and quick hot hatch with a difference, you must consider the Skoda Octavia vRS.

Green brake calipers may not appeal to all, but Skoda deserves huge respect for transforming an everyday hatchback into such a purposeful-looking machine.

You also get a smattering of vRS goodies on the inside, such as a special gearknob, vRS seats with white inserts and silver-rimmed instruments. There’s even an ASR traction control button.

Pub fact

10_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

In 2002, Skoda launched the Octavia vRS WRC, built to celebrate 100 years of Skoda in motorsport. Only 100 were sold, of which 25 were right-hand-drive cars for the UK.

At £20,700, they were more expensive than the standard vRS, but they did offer a host of extra features, including Candy white paint, WRC replica graphics, a numbered plaque, xenon headlights and heated front seats. A future classic, for sure.

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Retro Road Test: British Motor Heritage MGB

MGB roadster: Retro Road Test

Retro Road Test: British Motor Heritage MGB

The MGB is perhaps Britain’s most popular classic car. But it’s also a victim of its own success – owners love them, but some enthusiasts turn up their noses when they see yet another MGB turning up at a classic car show.

We’ve put the MGB through our rigorous Retro Road Test to discover whether it’s deserving of the love it gets, or whether it’s overrated.

This example is owned by British Motor Heritage (BMH). The firm was originally established in 1975 as a subsidiary of British Leyland, to support owners of classic cars with parts created using original tooling.

BMH was acquired by BMW as part of its £800 million Rover Group takeover in 1994, before being sold by the Germans in 2001. Since then it has operated as a private company.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

In its time, the MGB would have been a rival for the likes of the Fiat X1/9 and Triumph Spitfire. The MGB is a more appealing proposition in our eyes, but these rivals will certainly be a rarer sight on the roads.

Buyers today might also consider newer classics, such as the original Mazda MX-5.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

Apart from the special V8 version, all MGBs used the same 1.8-litre B-Series engine. It produced 95hp at most (power was reduced in some versions) – not a lot by today’s standards.

Although it was considered a heavy car at the time, 95 horses are plenty for a car weighing less than 1,000kg. This example isn’t entirely standard either, using fuel injection rather than the standard carburettors.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

This subject divided opinion in the Motoring Research office. If you’re used to modern cars, the answer is: not very well. The brakes are, naturally, hard work – requiring a big shove of the middle pedal to lose speed. You soon get into the habit of using gears to slow down.

For a car that can trace its roots back to 1962, however, it handles very well. The rack-and-pinion steering provides the kind of feedback drivers of modern cars can but dream of.

It’s a proper sports car driving experience – you sit low down, and its four-cylinder engine creates a pleasing rasp.

What’s really surprising is how muscular the B-series engine feels. Most of the time, you can leave it in fourth gear, flicking the overdrive on and off using the switch on the gearknob.

If you do need to shift, the gear change is a smidgen on the notchy side, but a short throw means it’s not much of a chore.

Reliability and running costs

Reliability and running costs

Being such a popular classic car, there’s a huge amount of support for the MGB in both the club scene and specialist companies.

While there’s no reason why an MGB should be unreliable if it’s looked after and serviced regularly, parts are readily available. Also, you’re unlikely to encounter an issue that isn’t covered in depth on internet forums.

Although the 1.8-litre engine isn’t the most powerful, it will be thirsty by modern standards. Don’t expect to see more than 30mpg on a regular basis.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

Despite this, you’d have to be very committed to drive an MGB every day. Even this very tidy example could soon become a chore: our man Tim tried it on an M25 commute one November evening and complained about how noisy it was on the motorway – not to mention the lack of radio and heavy steering.

On the plus side, it’d be easy to make an MGB easier to live with – whether by fitting power steering, a radio, or comfier seats. The overdrive makes things quieter, too.

How much should I pay?

How much should I pay?

MGB values vary dramatically. The GT model is less desirable than the roadster, and people are happy to pay more for the earlier examples with chrome bumpers.

You can pick up a ropey rubber-bumpered GT for a couple of grand, but you probably shouldn’t. A £7,000 budget will buy a tidy roadster, or you can double that in the hunt for a restored example.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

Rust. A few minor bubbles on the wings or sills can be hiding much more serious rot – and that can be expensive to sort out.

BMH can provide panels – they’re brand new, and made using the original tooling so should fit perfectly – but they’re not cheap. To give you an idea, a steel bonnet will cost £532 (and that’s not including painting or fitting). An aluminium one is more than £900.

Other than that, it’s pretty much the regular classic car precautions. Has it been looked after? Serviced regularly? Are there any modifications – if so, have they done to a good standard, and are they the sort of modifications you’d want? Track day mods won’t be ideal if you’re looking for a car to pootle around in at weekends.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

It depends what you want in a car. If you get your thrills from driving flat-out on country roads, or are looking for a track-day car, there are better, newer options out there.

If you want a rare classic that’ll get lots of attention, there are lots of slightly leftfield options available.

But if you want a British sports car that’s brilliant at cruising around on a sunny day, with a huge support network, the MGB is ideal.

Pub fact

Pub fact

In 1967 MG launched a 3.0-litre straight-six version of the MGB, known as the MGC. It was intended to replace the Austin Healey but soon developed a poor reputation.

The heavy engine and new suspension meant it didn’t handle as well as the MGB, and journalists at the time criticised it. It was axed after just two years.

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Renault 4

Renault 4 GTL review: Retro Road Test

Renault 4

A car that could take the family on holiday, be driven as a work vehicle and wouldn’t cost a fortune to run. That was the idea behind the Renault 4 when it was launched in 1961.

Production lasted until 1992, and they’re still a common sight in rural areas of France. Just like a Citroen 2CV, a French holiday isn’t complete without catching sight of a well-worn Renault 4.

Renault 4

This immaculate example is a Renault 4 GTL. Part of the manufacturer’s massive heritage collection, it was first registered in 1980 and has led an easy life since then.

As a GTL, the car is powered by the same water-cooled 1,108cc engine as the Renault 6 TL and Estafette van.

It can be identified as a GTL by its grey grille, bumpers and plastic cladding running along the bottom of its doors.

What’s it like to drive?Renault 4

The 4 was the Renault’s first front-wheel-drive car (although the technology had previously been introduced with the Estafette), with a focus on economy and practicality over performance or driver engagement.

It’s surprising, then, just how much fun the Renault 4 is to drive. The gearstick protrudes from the dash in an unconventional manner, not dissimilar to the seventh-generation Honda Civic. This is out of necessity more than anything – it links to a rod that runs over the top of the engine before dropping down to the gearbox at the front of the car.

While it seems bizarre at first, it’s a really sweet gearbox to use. By this stage in Renault 4 production, it had a four-speed ’box with synchromesh on all ratios. Finding gears is easy once you’re used to the strange position of the lever, and the change feels wonderfully precise.

Renault 4

Although it’s not quick (it boasts just 34hp and a top speed of 75mph), it’s sprightly enough. The ride quality – a hallmark of old French cars – allows you to keep pace over potholes, while the brakes are adequate, if a little worrying if you’ve just jumped out of something modern.

Things can get a trifle concerning in corners, too, where it nudges near-2CV levels of lean.

The light steering also means you’re not entirely convinced it’ll make it around bends without running out of road. Perhaps that’s why R4s are such a common sight in French fields…

Tell me about buying oneRenault 4

Although you might see plenty of Renault 4s in daily use in France, they’re a little harder to find here in the UK – especially in good condition. We’d favour a later model, like the one we’ve driven here, simply for its extra power and four-speed synchromesh ‘box.

Prices depend on condition more than age or anything else. While you’ll pay more than you once would, they’re not extortionately expensive (or indeed as pricey as the Citroen 2CV). Expect to pay up to £5,000 for a tidy, usable example.

As with many old cars, rust is the biggest concern. It’s particularly prominent around the rear suspension mountings, so inspect carefully. If it’s been repaired (and it probably has at some point), satisfy yourself that it’s been done properly rather than a quick patch to get it through an MOT test.

Another rust-spot to watch out for is inside the rear doors, while all four corners of the floorpan can also rot (but repairs are relatively affordable). Panels also rust, but replacements are available from Renault.

Mechanically, Renault 4s are pretty robust, while the interior is equally hard-wearing. Get one that’s structurally solid and anything else can be fixed fairly cheaply.

Renault 4 GTL: VerdictRenault 4

 

The Renault 4 is a bargain of the classic car world. Utterly charming to drive, it’s incredible that you can buy such an iconic vehicle for less than £5,000. Just imagine what an original Mini of a similar vintage would cost. And the latter are a lot more common, certainly here in the UK.

Although we’d be reluctant to drive an R4 every day – and it’s certainly not the choice for long motorway journeys – it’s perfectly pleasant to pootle around in, while the interior is functional and endearing.

Finding a good one may take a little time, but you haven’t missed the boat. Running one won’t break the bank either, unless you get one with a chassis that resembles a colander…

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Mercedes-Benz W123: Retro Road Test

1982 Mercedes-Benz W123 review: Retro Road Test

01_W123_RRT

Drive a Mercedes-Benz W123 (officially the ‘W 123’) and you’ll never look at cars the same way again. Own one and you’ll never look back.

In creating the W123, Mercedes-Benz left nothing to chance, delivering a worthy successor to the Strich Acht (Stroke Eight) that was every inch the S-Class for the family man.

I added a very gold 1982 230E auto to my fleet back in September 2015. Here are my thoughts.

What are its rivals?

02_W123_RRT

It would be too much to suggest the Mercedes-Benz W123 is a car without equal, but to some it’s the high watermark in the German company’s long and illustrious history.

As the precursor to the E-Class, the W123’s arch-rival would have been the BMW 5 Series, initially in E12 guise, but latterly as the E28. The BMW was certainly the sportier of the two, but the Mercedes-Benz took quality to new heights.

Other rivals would have included the Audi 200, Citroen CX, Peugeot 504, Ford Granada, Vauxhall Carlton and Volvo 244, but the W123 truly was in a league of its own.

The project started way back in 1968 and Mercedes-Benz took a no-expense-spared approach, with the sole aim of building the world’s finest saloon car. By the time it was launched in January 1976, the W123 had been subjected to eight years of rigorous testing, with crash safety at the heart of its development. Mercedes left nothing to chance.

What engine does it use?

The W123 was mostly powered by a range of powerplants carried over from the ‘Stroke Eight’, but a new 129hp 2.5-litre six-cylinder (M 123) unit was developed for its debut.

Other engines included the 94hp 200 (2.0-litre), 109hp 230 (2.3-litre) and 280/280E, offering 156hp and 177hp respectively. Note, the ‘E’ stands for einspritzung, which is German for injection.

The diesel range included the 55hp 200D, 60hp 220D and 65hp 240D, while the flagship derv was the five-cylinder 300D, which produced 80hp. The engine range was later revamped to include a fuel-injected 230E (as tested here) and – for some markets – a 125hp 300D turbodiesel.

What’s it like to drive?

04_W123_RRT

You can tell by those power outputs that the W123 is never going to offer autobahn-storming levels of performance, although the six-cylinder 280 models are hardly lethargic.

The four-cylinder diesels and 2.0-litre petrol engines can feel sluggish, especially when trying to keep up with today’s traffic, but the 2.3-litre engine offers the best compromise of performance and economy.

Time seems to slow down when you’re driving, with everything feeling more relaxed and composed. It feels big, with a huge, clutter-free steering wheel giving the impression that you’re a captain steering a land yacht.

Acceleration would be best described as ‘leisurely’ and you’ll be able to recite a few lines of poetry while waiting for the four-speed automatic transmission to engage the next gear. But it all adds to the appeal. Sit back and enjoy life in a W123.

It’s the ride comfort that really stands out. Today, you’d probably need to spec Airmatic air suspension to get anywhere close to the softness and suppleness of the W123, which seems to float over rough surfaces, smoothing things out with grace and aplomb. It’s quite literally from a different era, when steel wheels and tyres with large sidewalls ruled the roads.

Reliability and running costs

05_W123_RRT

These things were built to last and intergalactic miles are not uncommon in a W123. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach ownership with your eyes wide open, as these cars are up to 40 years old and rust could be a big problem.

That said, a well-maintained example should provide effortless reliability, with potential problems ironed out by a strong network of independent specialists.

Since buying mine in September 2015, I’ve averaged 27.7mpg, which is perfectly adequate for a large, petrol-engined car of the era. I’ve read reports that 30 to 35mpg is possible on a long run, but if fuel economy is you’re thing, you’ll be better off with the diesel version. Or buying a more modern car.

As for the six-cylinder engines, if you break into the low 20s, you’ll be doing well.

Could I drive it every day?

06_W123_RRT

Absolutely. Two years ahead of its launch, Mercedes-Benz sent a number of W123s around the world for testing, including faraway places such as South America and Africa. To this day, you’ll find them enjoying active service as cheap-to-maintain runabouts and taxis in many corners of the globe.

A few years ago, it was estimated that some 55,000 W123s could be found operating as taxis in Morocco.

It’s a surprisingly easy car to drive, with superb all-round visibility and a feeling of lightness, which is unexpected for a vehicle of this type and era. My car weighs 1,360kg, which is a shade lighter than a new Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Don’t expect infotainment screens, iPod connectivity and head-up displays. Do expect a comfortable and relaxed drive to work.

You’re also spoilt for choice when it comes to body styles. At launch, the W123 was available as a saloon and coupe (CE), but in 1977, Mercedes-Benz launched its first estate car, known as the T, for Touring and Transport. The internal designation was S123, with the ‘S’ standing for Stationswagen. Today, the T is the most sought-after model, not least because it can provide reliable everyday transport for growing families.

How much should I pay?

07_W123_RRT

In common with other cars on the cusp of classic status, prices vary depending on condition, mileage and history. According to the latest Practical Classics price guide, you should expect to pay between £650 and £5,500 for a 200/230, and slightly more for a 250/280.

The CE (coupe) models, which are rarer than their four-door cousins, command a sizeable premium – at typically twice the price. You’ll spend even more for a low mileage estate car, which are in demand as useable, everyday classics.

Look after a W123 and you’re unlikely to lose any money. Improve one and you may even make a small profit. In the meantime, simply enjoy what is a useable and quite delightful everyday classic.

What should I look for?

08_W123_RRT

Although the W123 offered better rust protection than its predecessor, corrosion still has the capacity to kill a mechanically-sound car.

Standard checks apply, such a rot around the sills, jacking points and wheelarches, but there are a number of notorious trouble spots to look out for. These include the front wings, battery tray, inner sills and sunroof opening. Check beneath the underseal, which can hide a multitude of sins.

If you intend to use your W123 everyday, the 2.3-litre engine makes a great deal of sense, offering performance close to that of the six-cylinder units, but with the benefit of improved fuel economy and reduced costs should things go wrong.

It’s still possible to buy new parts from Mercedes-Benz, but a specialist such as Mark Cosovich of W123 World would be a good first port of call for support and advice.

Should I buy one?

09_W123_RRT

If you’re thinking of buying one, don’t hesitate. If, on the other hand, you’ve never previously considered a W123 and fancy a future classic you can drive everyday, put one on your shortlist.

It might not be the most expensive, the cheapest, the quickest or the most beautiful car I’ve ever bought, but it’s arguably the best. Spend some quality time with the W123 and evidence of its craftsmanship will shine through.

Few cars offer such a supreme blend of charm and classlessness. Be warned: once you’ve own a W123, all other cars might seem rather ordinary.

Pub fact

10_W123_RRT

Production of the W123 saloon came to an end in November 1985, but the station wagon lived on until January 1986. A total of 2.7 million were built, of which 2,389,140 were saloons, 199,517 were wagons and 99,884 were coupes, with the remainder used for special-purpose bodies, such as ambulances

Around 1,080,000 were exported overseas, with the 240D the most successful model. The 230E was the most popular petrol-engined W123.

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BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL (2004) review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road TestThe BMW M3 CSL sounds like nothing else I’ve driven. Its baritone blare builds to a surround-sound DTM wail as air is sucked through its carbon manifold then spat out through quad exhausts. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Soundtrack aside, there’s little to distinguish the Coupe Sports Leichtbau from a standard E46 M3. Only the cognoscenti will spot the bespoke 19-inch alloys and subtle lip spoiler.

This is no badge-engineered special edition, though: BMW tuned the engine to 360hp, fitted a quicker steering rack, stiffened the chassis, beefed up the brakes and stripped out 110kg of weight.

Does that make a used CSL worth five times the value of an equivalent standard M3? That’s what I’m here to find out.

What are its rivals?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

The CSL’s closest rival is perhaps the Porsche 911 GT3. Both have a track-focused ethos and are fully-paid-up modern classics.

The 996 (1999-2005) and 997 (2006-2011) iterations of GT3 cost similar money to a CSL: £50,000 upwards. The hardcore GT3 RS strays well into six figures, though.

Prefer a sledgehammer to a scalpel? The Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black is a few dollars more, while early examples of Nissan’s formidable GT-R nudge £30,000.

Don’t forget the 420hp ‘B7’ Audi RS4, too – yours from just £12,000. 

What engine does it use?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Cloaked in carbon and squeezed beneath a strut brace, the CSL’s 3.2-litre six is something quite special.

Power is upped from 343hp to 360hp at a heady 7,900rpm, with a modest 273lb ft of torque at 4,900rpm. Yes, this engine needs – no, demands – to be worked hard.

Find an autobahn and the uber-M3 will hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds (0.4 seconds quicker than standard) and a top speed of 161mph.

Controversially, the CSL was never offered with a manual gearbox. All cars had a quicker-shifting version of BMW’s SMG semi-automatic, which allows sequential manual changes via the lever or steering wheel paddles.

What’s it like to drive?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Based on a 3 Series, the M3 is already a fairly practical performance car. And while the CSL doesn’t thumb its nose at such matters – it has rear seats and a decent boot, while air-con and a radio were options – it isn’t a car I’d want to drive every day.

The ride is very firm, for starters: more akin to a tightly-damped GT3 than a regular M3. And the lack of sound deadening puts your ears under constant assault from wind noise, tyre roar and, of course, that freer-breathing straight-six.

Around town, it feels like a caged animal, the ageing SMG ’box venting its frustration with occasionally clunky shifts.

All of that is soon forgotten once you find the right road, though. With no turbo to spool up, throttle response is instant, the engine exploding to 8,000rpm, the gearbox banging each ratio home by brute force.

For all its straight-line performance, it’s the CSL’s handling that elevates it to legend status. The last car I drove that felt so tied-down yet adjustable was a Porsche Cayman GT4. High praise indeed for a BMW first launched in 2003.

The steering is sublime, too, while the chunky Alcantara-wrapped wheel and snug glassfibre buckets add to the road-legal-racer vibe.

Reliability and running costsBMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Official fuel economy for the E46 CSL is just 23.7mpg, although you’ll be lucky to see mid-teens if you drive one hard.

Likewise, CO2 emissions of 287g/km mean annual car tax (VED) of £580. Consumables, such as tyres, clutches and brake pads, are expensive too.

On the plus side, the engine – including its Vanos variable valve timing – is reliable if properly serviced. And there are plenty of specialists that cater for M cars, usually with lower labour rates than BMW dealerships.

Could I drive it every day?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

A CSL is a bit like a Jagerbomb: stimulating and intoxicating, but you wouldn’t want one for breakfast.

As I mentioned previously, it’s a bit too single-minded for commuting or ferrying the kids to school. This is a special car best saved for special occasions.

The ideal place to experience a CSL, of course, is on-track. But I suspect very few still see action on circuits: more likely they are tucked up in air-conditioned garages. Such is the fate of the appreciating classic car.

How much should I pay?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Appreciating? You bet. Paul Michaels, Chairman of Hexagon Classics, says CSL values shot up in 2016, although they have stabilised since.

“You’ll pay between £40k and £50k for a car with high miles,” he told me in 2017, “but the best examples are close to £100k”. The same is broadly true today.

A total of 1,400 M3 CSLs were built, including 422 right-hand-drive cars for the UK. Only two colours were offered: Black Sapphire Metallic and Silver Grey Metallic, but black is rarer and thus worth slightly more.

What should I look out for?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Let’s defer once again to Paul Michaels, who sold BMWs for 46 years. “Service history is absolutely vital,” he says. “Values have increased, but it still isn’t economical to spend large sums restoring them. You could throw a lot of money at a bad CSL.”

Check the service indicator lights on the dashboard aren’t illuminated and scour the paperwork. The car should have had its first oil-change at 1,000 miles, followed by intermediate (Inspection 1) and major (Inspection 2) services at annual intervals. The Inspection 2 includes a valve clearance check: missing it could result in Vanos problems.

One well-known M3 issue, not unique to the CSL, is a cracked boot floor – caused by wear in the subframe mounts. If caught early, it’s a minor repair, but once the floor is damaged, the only option is to weld in a new one: a minimum of £1,500.

Parts are still available, but CSL-specific items, such as the carbon front bumper, can be frighteningly expensive.

Remember, originality is key to future value, so check bodywork and interior trim carefully. And steer clear of cars with aftermarket modifications.

Should I buy one?BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

On paper, the CSL doesn’t stack up. You could have 90 percent as much fun in an E46 M3 for 20 percent of the price.

However, the most iconic M Power BMWs have followed the lead of Porsches and rocketed in value. And that makes the CSL – arguably the greatest M3 of all – a potentially savvy investment.

Still, let’s forgot money and talk about the car. When the oil has run dry and we’re all moving from A to B in autonomous electric pods, the CSL will be looked upon wistfully as a legendary driver’s car. It hard-wires itself into your head like a craniotomy, leaving your mouth dry, palms damp and soul stirred.

If that sounds like hyperbole, so be it. Perhaps I’ve been swept up in the CSL’s almighty sound and fury. Ultimately, I think the lack of a manual gearbox would steer me towards a Porsche 996 GT3.

Nonetheless, the CSL has earned its place in my dream garage.

Pub factBMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

The 2005-2006 M3 CS cherry-picks some of CSL’s best bits for less than half the price. These include the steering rack, brakes and springs, plus a slightly wider version of those gorgeous alloys. Pay £25,000 for a good one.

Paul Michaels also tipped the BMW Z4 M Coupe as one to watch: “Just look at what’s happened to values of the Z3 M Coupe,” he says.

“Classic BMWs don’t get the recognition they deserve at the moment, but I think that will change.”

Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS (2002): Retro Road Test

Ford Focus RSSo, it’s official: Ford has canned the fourth-generation Focus RS. Apparently, the car would require a hybrid drivetrain to keep fleet CO2 emissions down, or Ford risks heavy fines from the EU.

Sadly, for a low-volume model like the RS, the cost of investment simply doesn’t stack up.

That leaves the 280hp ST as the flagship of the Focus range. It’s talented hot hatch, as my review concluded last year:

The ST needs to tick a lot of boxes. It has to work as a daily driver, a school-run shuttle, a family holdall – and it does all of those with a similar breadth of abilities to the benchmark Golf GTI. 

…but it lacks the raw excitement and, well, focus of the RS. The time feels right to revisit the rowdy original.


Even today, few family cars drive better than the original 1998 Ford Focus. With its clever Control Blade rear suspension, this humble hatchback out-handled some sports cars.

Opinions of the first Focus RS, though, are more mixed. Launched in 2002, some rate it as one of the greatest fast Fords ever. Others, meanwhile, dismiss it as a torque-steering tearaway.

We borrowed Focus RS number 0001 of 4,501 cars made fresh from Ford’s heritage fleet to decide who is right.

What are its rivals?

Mitsubishi Evo

The Focus is a front-wheel-drive hatchback, yet its most obvious in-period rivals – the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (pictured) and Subaru Impreza WRX – were four-wheel-drive saloons. Both offer more oomph and, special editions aside, are cheaper to buy second-hand. However, neither is likely to appreciate in value like the Ford.

Fancy something more civilised? Consider the Audi S3 or Volkswagen Golf R32. These four-wheel-drive Germans outgun the Focus in terms of horsepower, but not driving thrills.

What engine does it use?

Ford Focus RS

The Ford’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine drives through a five-speed manual gearbox.

Peak power of 212hp arrives at 5,500rpm, with maximum torque of 229lb ft from a useful 3,500rpm. The 0-60mph dash takes 5.9sec and top speed is 143mph.

ALSO READ: Ford Focus RS M520 (2020) review

To tame those wild horses, Ford used a Quaife torque-biasing differential. It works by diverting twist to the opposite front wheel if wheelspin is detected, improving traction and agility – at the expense of some refinement. And on that topic…

What’s it like to drive?

Ford Focus RS

That mechanical front diff is essentially a sticking plaster – a solution to the absence of four-wheel drive. But it defines the character of the RS more than any other component, giving it a ravenous appetite for corners.

Find a B-road and car turns in with eager immediacy, the wheel writhing between your palms. Then the diff starts to bite, hauling it around like an arm hooked around a lamp post. It’s pointy and purposeful.

In line with its reputation, the RS also quite physical and more than a little unruly. There’s torque steer, some turbo lag and plenty of whooshy wastegate noise. But we’re inclined to see these traits as part of car’s character, rather than faults to be ironed-out  

A 212hp output is merely Fiesta ST territory now. But the 1,278kg RS is a fast car and, believe me, it still feels like one.

Reliability and running costs

Ford Focus RS

Fuel economy of 27.9mpg won’t impress your neighbours in their Focus 1.0 Ecoboost. But rebut any comments with a gentle reminder that, as your car increases in value, theirs is plummeting.

Service and maintenance costs should be manageable (this is a Ford, after all), but custom RS-specific body panels mean accident or rust-related repairs can be expensive.

Reliability will largely depend on how the car has been driven. Sounds obvious, but some will have been pampered, while others will have been thrashed (and possibly crashed).

Could I drive it every day?

Ford Focus RS

Wrestling the RS along a country road can be tiring. If you want to ‘make progress’, the car makes you work for it.  

At anything less than eight-tenths, though, it calms down and does a passable impression of an ordinary vanilla Focus. The ride on 18-inch OZ Racing alloys is firm, but not hyperactive like a Fiesta ST.  

Also practicality is a match for any mid-size hatchback save for the three-door-only body (ironically, the Mk3 Focus RS only came with five doors).

There are aren’t many classics you could comfortably commute in, but the Focus certainly ticks that box. Shame the number of Mk1 RS daily-drivers is dwindling fast, as owners eye-up the car’s investment potential.

How much should I pay?

Ford Focus RS

Just less than half the Mk1s built came to the UK, so you may find cheaper left-hand-drive examples from Europe in the classifieds. For a RHD UK car, prices currently start at around £15,000, although the best examples stretch beyond £20,000.

For that price, you could also consider the MK2 RS, which is faster and even better to drive. However, it’s also more common (with 11,500 made) and arguably less exciting.

ALSO READ: Why the Ford Focus RS is already a modern classic

Then there’s the Mk3 version, which adds four-wheel drive and yet more power to the mix. Like its predecessors, it’s one of the defining performance cars of its era. Here’s a snippet from my 2016 review:

Ford has kept us waiting a long time for this car, but it doesn’t disappoint. It’s something quite special, a genuinely five-star hot hatch that takes its place alongside the Fiesta ST, Escort Cosworth and other notable fast Fords in the pantheon of greats.

What should I look out for?

Ford Focus RS

If anything, the Mk1 RS is over-engineered. Mechanical components, including the engine and Quaife differential, are tough, but that shouldn’t stop you insisting on a fully-documented service history.

Ensure the cambelt has been changed at least once, preferably well in advance of the recommended 100,000-mile interval, and don’t dismiss cars with an additional non-standard intercooler – it can help prolong the life of the engine. Steer clear of any mods aiming at boosting power output, though. Winding up the turbo boost is a recipe for lots of lag and lots of trouble.

Check those unique RS body panels carefully, as some are becoming hard to source. Peer under the wheelarches for signs of rust where the bodykit meets the metal and look for uneven panel gaps due to crash damage.

Don’t forget to check all the RS-specific interior bits, such as the two-tone steering wheel and Sparco gearknob, are also present and correct. That garish blue trim might look a bit ‘Halfords’, but it’s an important part of the car’s identity. Remember, originality is key when it comes to value.

Should I buy one?

Ford Focus RS

Speaking of value, fast Fords are always in demand and, in theory, this longer-term gain in the car’s worth can be offset against the cost of running one. Bear in mind, however, that nothing is guaranteed, so I’d buy a Focus RS to drive and enjoy – with any rise in value a welcome bonus.

Despite my initial misgivings, the Focus RS won me over with its old-school hot hatch charm. Handing back the keys, I ached for more time behind the wheel.

For my money, the Ford Racing Puma from the same era feels even more special. But the added performance and practicality of the Focus would swing it for many.

Pub fact

Ford Focus RS

The Mk1 RS was an effective halo car, but Ford lost money on every one sold. The exact amount is uncertain; internet forums (always, ahem, a reliable source) suggest anything between £4,000 and £6,000 per car.

This hole in the balance sheet is one reason the later Mk3 Focus RS (seen here) didn’t have custom body panels and shared a higher percentage of parts with the standard car. Ford execs insisted that even the RS must be profitable in its own right. 

It’s a terrible shame that a new Focus RS apparently wouldn’t be.

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Peugeot 205 GTI Retro Road Test

Peugeot 205 GTI: Retro Road Test special

Peugeot 205 GTI Retro Road Test

Welcome to an MR Retro Road Test special: a face-off between two very different examples of an icon. 

When the Peugeot 205 GTI was launched in 1984, it wasn’t the first hot hatchback on the block. It followed in the tyre tracks of the equally legendary Volkswagen Golf GTI, while further competition came from the Renault 5 GT Turbo, Fiat Uno Turbo and Ford Fiesta XR2.

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6

The first car we’re testing is an original 205 GTI 1.6 in concours condition. While a more powerful 1.9-litre version followed, many purists rate the revvier 1.6 as the ultimate 205. 

The apprentices from the Peugeot Performance Academy, who created the black car here, felt differently. They were given a training project to die for: restore a snotty 205 GTI to perfect condition. They did this with one major tweak – swapping the standard 1.9-litre engine for something more special… 

Building a hotter hatch

Peugeot 205 GTI Mi16

Early 205 GTIs mustered a mere 105hp, a figure topped by even a 1.0-litre Fiesta today. But they did also weigh less than 900kg. Peugeot upped output to 115hp a few years later, but the really exciting upgrade came in 1987: the launch of the 205 GTI 1.9.

This enlarged engine offered a thrilling 130hp for 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds (the 1.6 needed 8.7 seconds). It had way more torque as well – 119lb ft rather than 98lb ft – so felt much more muscular. Thank goodness Peugeot fitted rear disc brakes and bigger 15-inch alloy wheels.

However, save for the addition of a catalytic converter in the early 1990s, that was it for 205 GTI evolution. It wouldn’t happen today: Peugeot would surely create a swansong special edition – fitting the 16v version of the 205’s XU engine, for example.

Yes, this unit was freely available in the range, sported by the Peugeot 405 Mi16 and Citroen BX GTI 16v. Boasting 160hp, the all-aluminium 1.9-litre engine had a motorsport-spec head, revved to 7,200rpm and, even in the 1,100kg 405, managed 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds. In the 205 GTI, it could have been heroic.

And for years, that’s just what the tuning scene has been doing: creating the 205 GTI 16v, the hot hatch that never was. It’s an easy swap if you know what you’re doing, a Peugeot veteran told us, adding weight to the logic of what could have been.

When tuners tell you it will do sub-6.5 seconds to 60mph with ease, you can only conclude Peugeot might have dropped the ball by not making it.

Peugeot 205 1.6 GTI: original and best?

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6

While values of 205 GTI 1.9s have soared (the best examples sell for £30,000+ at auction), the lesser 1.6-litre is still relatively affordable. That’s despite enthusiasts reporting this is the one to have.

To find out what the fuss around a standard 205 is all about, we borrowed a show-winning example from motoring journalist and well-known GTI enthusiast Chris Hughes.

Built in 1991, this 205 GTI has been owned by Chris since 2000. It’s not led a sheltered life – it’s been on numerous European road trips – but it’s been meticulously cared for, and regularly picks up gongs at classic car shows.

We spent a day with a car on rural Dorset roads, and what a car for summer B-road blat! It’s such a pure, mechanical experience – the heavy clutch takes a minute or two to get used to, while the unassisted steering requires muscle around town.

Once you get into the 205 GTI’s groove, though, it’s an absolute joy. Working towards 6,000rpm (“I rarely go over 5,000rpm,” Chris nudges me), with the car’s Milltek exhaust (its only modification) providing a rorty soundtrack, it makes us genuinely sad that modern hot hatches can’t come close.

And the best thing? It’s all happening at sensible speeds. Take a roundabout a similar pace to your average Audi A4 driver and you’ll be having infinite fun, while even ragging it down dual carriageways won’t get you into licence-losing territory.

Peugeot 205 Mi16: modified magic

Peugeot 205 GTI Mi16

Can you improve on an icon? The Peugeot Performance Academy apprentices certainly thought so: It’s as tacit an ‘OE approved’ admission as could be. Using the same engine mounts as the regular 1.9 motor, all that’s needed is a bit of tweakery to clear the inlet and exhaust manifolds.

Peugeot’s car has a 205 Automatic bonnet, to give extra clearance over the engine, but it’s not really necessary. And once installed, the engine looks factory-spec.

It doesn’t feel modified either. It rumbles, vibrates and hums at tickover like a regular retro car, has the same impossibly direct and rifle-bolt gearshift as all 205 GTIs, has similarly heavy non-PAS steering until you’re moving and pulls at lower speeds with the same free-breathing vim as all non-emissions-conscious 80s cars.

Heavens, though, it’s fast. It still weighs barely 900kg, so pick-up is instant and effortless, but the way it powers forward as the revs rise is staggering. It gets on cam and comes alive above 4,500rpm – the kick is VTEC-like – and, with a heavenly induction roar and cam yowl, explodes towards the redline. A few seamless gearchanges later and you’re quickly backing off to regain legality.

This is no shabby conversion that feels ready to fall apart. It’s the mighty GTI to sucker every other GTI on the planet, an engaging speed demon that even today feels sensational. Particularly as all the effervescence of the 205 GTI chassis remains intact: the grippier 1.9 GTI wheels mean more planted handling, stacks of front grip and a more trustworthy rear end – yet still the blindingly well-telegraphed on- and over-the-limit exploitability so many love.

The firm, ever-varying weight of the steering is to die for, body control is exemplary and the free-flowing connectivity to the road surface is Lotus-like. Because it’s so light, it doesn’t need to be over-stiff – suspension is softer than you may expect, meaning the ride is better than you’d ever believe – which enhances its mighty fast-road ground-covering ability. With a revvy 160hp always at-hand, it’s incendiary.

Lion kings: choosing a winner

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6

Andrew’s winner…

Both of these cars would be lovely things to keep in your garage, ready to enjoy on sunny days while also increasing in value with every bit of TLC you give them. The Mi16 is a tantalising glimpse of what might have been: the world’s finest hot hatch could have been a true performance icon with that wonderful Mi16 engine.

But as a car to truly enjoy, the light and nimble 1.6-litre 205 GTI is hard to beat. Peugeot got it spot-on, and such a car offers maximum thrills for the least outlay. Buy one while you still can.

Peugeot 205 GTI Mi16

Richard’s winner…

I was amazed. In my youth, a 205 Mi16 was an ultimate, right up there with a red-top Vauxhall Nova for teenage desirability. But with age came the love of originality– what could modders know that the car manufacturer didn’t? In this case, plenty, because the 205 GTI Mi16 – the 205 GTI 16v – is sublime. It’s the greatest GTI that never was.

It takes all that’s wonderful about the regular car and builds upon it with a searing, exotic, race-bred engine that, because the car itself is so light and pure, you interact with so tremendously vividly. It feels OE, it drives brilliantly and it’s simply thrilling to experience. I surprised myself with how much I loved this car. Find one done right and so will you.

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Renault 5 GT Turbo review: hot hatch hero still excites

Renault 5 GT Turbo

When I was 17, there were two things I yearned for: a girlfriend and a Renault 5 GT Turbo. I eventually acquired the former (credit: Dutch courage and Clearasil), but the latter slipped through my fingers.

Fast-forward two decades and the fast Five is no longer the darling of sex-starved teenagers, Maxers and TWOCers: it’s now a bona fide classic car. And with prices for 80s hot hatches spiralling skywards, you may have already missed the boat.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Renault 5 GT Turbo. Ever see one back in the day that DIDN’T have its yellow fogs blazing?

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This 1989 Phase Two GT Turbo belongs to Renault UK and must be one of the few completely standard examples left. As it emerged from the delivery truck, squat and perfectly proportioned, the excitement in the MR office was palpable. How would it measure up on the road?

Can a 122hp hatchback still excite in 2019? Or is the Supercinq, like an inexpedient ex., better left in the past?

What are its rivals?

Think ‘1980s hot hatches’ and one car above all comes to mind: the Peugeot 205 GTI. However, for all the 205’s fleet-footed brilliance, the standard (1.6-litre) version is outgunned by the GT Turbo for power and acceleration. And the Renault is cheaper to buy. More on that later.

Other competitors for what Car magazine frequently called the ‘hot hatch crown’ included the Ford Fiesta XR2, Fiat Uno Turbo and Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2.

The Golf is the sensible choice (no change there, then) while the Fiesta offers rough-and ready fun. As for the Fiat, finding one will be your greatest challenge; there is just one for sale in the UK at the time of writing.

What engine does it use?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Unlike the original, mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo, the GT Turbo’s powerplant isn’t shoehorned behind the seats. Instead, it resides beneath the front-hinged bonnet, driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. So far, so conventional.

But Renault had secret weapon. Clamping a turbocharger to the humble 1.4-litre lump unleashed 117hp from launch in 1985, upped to 122hp in Phase Two models from 1987.

In a car weighing just 853kg (the outgoing Renaultsport Clio weighs around 400kg more), 0-62mph took 7.5 seconds and a top speed was 120mph. As the TV ad of the time gleefully revealed, the 5 left the 205 and Uno trailing in its wake.

What’s it like to drive?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

A reminder of what good, old-fashioned turbo lag feels like. Up to around 4,000rpm, the 5 feels decidedly ordinary, certainly not quick. Then the Garrett blower takes a breath, the steering wheel squirms and you blast forwards, grabbing the next gear in a fabulous, frenetic rush.

Car manufacturers have spent years ironing out the on/off effect of turbo lag. However, for me at least, this belated blast of boost is a big part of the retro Renault’s appeal. It’s a nitrous hit for the head, one that provokes me into driving this 29-year-old classic harder than I probably should.

The car’s’s dynamic repertoire is a bit of a mixed bag, too. The steering is direct, but lacks the telepathic connection of the 205, while ride comfort is poor – despite tiny 13-inch alloys and 55-profile tyres. As with the powertrain, you need to up the pace to make the Five come alive.

Grab it by the scruff and the GT Turbo is still a quick cross-country machine. The front end bites hard into corners, pulling the rear around neatly with barely a hint of body-roll. Commit yourself and it will cock an inside wheel in classic 80s hot hatch style, but don’t worry – there are no snap-oversteer demons here. The brakes are better than many cars of this era, too.

Reliability and running costs

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Funky and flaky in equal measure, the Renault 5’s interior conforms to every cliché about old French cars. Speed humps and potholes are greeted with a chorus of plastic squeaks, while one of the minor gauges nonchalantly went on strike mid-drive.

Of greater concern is the temperamental Turbo’s dislike of hot starts. Tweaks to the Phase Two cars, including revised ignition mapping and a water-cooled turbo are said to have improved matters. Nonetheless, be prepared for less-than-perfect reliability.

On the plus side, classic insurance means the GT Turbo is no longer an underwriter’s bête noire. And fuel economy of 39.8mpg (measured at a constant 56mph) still looks respectable today.

Could I drive it every day?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

You could… but I’d advise against it. Rain and road salt will ravage any 30-year-old supermini. And while mechanical repairs to the simple, overhead-valve engine should be straightforward, fixing bodywork is a pricier problem.

I’d keep my GT Turbo garaged over winter and save it for the summer months. Indeed, secure storage is advisable year-round; these cars hail from the ‘coathanger and screwdriver’ era of car theft. Fit a tracker to protect your investment, too.

Lastly, the 5 also comes from a time long before Renault aced Euro NCAP crash tests. There’s no safety equipment to speak of, its doors are barely thicker than a biscuit tin and the interior trim has all the structural integrity of a croissant. This is a car for clear June mornings, not murky January evenings.

How much should I pay?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

‘A lot more than a few years ago’ is the short answer. Like all hot hatches of the 1980s, the Renault has rocketed in value as folks who grew up lusting after them finally have the wherewithal to buy them.

There’s another factor here, of course: attrition rate. Many GT Turbos were crashed and many more modified, leaving few good examples left. I found less than 20 GT Turbos for sale, and only a handful of those were standard-spec.

Starting price for a project is around £4,000, with decent, usable cars costing from £7,000. You’ll pay around £15,000 for a rust-free, original car like the one here: on par with a Mk2 Golf GTI, but still cheaper than many fast Fords. It’s also around half the price of an equivalent 205 GTI.

What should I look out for?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Here are our top five Renault 5 GT Turbo buying tips:

  • Originality is key – particularly when it comes to future values. Many of these cars were modified, but turning up the boost won’t do wonders for reliability. Likewise, the last thing that fragile interior needs is stiffer, lower suspension.
  • Check for rust, particularly on doors, inner wings and behind the bodykit.
  • Look for evidence of crash damage, such as uneven panel gaps or paint overspray. Remember, many of these cars were stolen in their prime.
  • Test all the electrics and check for missing or broken interior trim. Some parts are becoming very difficult to find.
  • Join the Renault Turbo Owners Club – a great resource for parts, advice and discounts.

Should I buy one?

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Like yours truly, the GT Turbo feels its age. From its modest power output to its frankly woeful build quality, it shows just how far cars – in particular hot hatches – have progressed in three decades.

No matter. Driving this pocket rocket made me feel 17 again. And, before you ask, that’s a vibrant, devil-may-care 17, rather than a greasy, socially-awkward one. The Renault goads you into driving fast, then rewards with flashes of boisterous brilliance when you do. It’s flawed, but beguiling.

Yes, a 205 GTI is ultimately more fun. And a Golf GTI will be easier to live with. But if you grew up lusting after a GT Turbo, neither of those facts may matter. Buy carefully and Régie’s little ruffian could prove a sound investment, too. Time to hit the classifieds…

Pub fact

Renault 5 GT Turbo

The original 1980 Renault 5 Turbo was a homologation special: bred for rallying, then sanitised (a little) for the street. It had a 160hp 1.4-litre engine atop the rear wheels, making it the most powerful French car at the time.

Renault’s second bout of mid-engined madness came 18 years later, with the Clio V6 of 1998. Read our Clio V6 Retro Road Test to see how this hyper hatch stacks up today.

Renault 5 GT Turbo: in pictures

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Porsche 914 retro review: unloved sports car at 50

Porsche 914 review

The Porsche Boxster reinvigorated the company’s fortunes in 1996 and has gone on to be an unmitigated success. But, 27 years earlier, an entry-level Porsche with the same mid-engined template went on sale. To celebrate 50 years of the unloved sports car, we take a trip down memory in a 1974 Porsche 914.

The Porsche 914 was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October 1969 and its flatly-styled roadster body, twin luggage compartments and removable targa roof panel were a world away from the curvy 911 coupe.

Born of a Volkswagen/Porsche joint project to serve the needs of both companies, the 914 was built by Karmann and fitted with a range of Volkswagen-derived air-cooled four-cylinder engines and Porsche-engineered six-cylinder units.

While seen by many as a failure, the baby Porsche was in production from 1969-1976 and was considered a sales success, with 118,962 examples of the two-seater made. Rare in the UK, over 80 percent of 914s ended up in America.

What are its rivals?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The 914 was one of the first small sports cars to embrace the mid-engined idea. The little Porsche’s most notable competition was the Fiat X1/9 (pictured above) which shared the German car’s mid-engined layout and flat nose, but added a Triumph TR7-like wedge silhouette.

The Matra 530 pre-dated the Porsche and was another small two-seater which used the same configuration, while other competition included the front-engined, rear-wheel drive Fiat 124 Coupe/Spider as well as the Datsun 240Z and Opel GT. The MGC and Triumph TR6 meanwhile had the six-cylinder 914/6 in their sights.

What engine does it use?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Are you sitting down? If not, take a pew: we could be here a while. During the 914’s short six-year life, there were a bewildering 10 engine options. Early four-cylinder 914/4s borrowed an 80bhp fuel-injected 1679cc flat-four engine from the unloved Volkswagen Type 4/411 saloon, while the ‘proper Porsche’ 914/6 used a carburettor-fed six-cylinder 110bhp unit from the 1969 model year 911T.

Poor sales saw the 914/6 discontinued for the 1973 model year, replaced by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with a similar output. Two years later the 1.7 was replaced by a 1.8, and various tweaks to the four-cylinder units to comply with tough U.S. emission laws resulted in a range of units with much-reduced power.

What’s it like to drive?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Most 914s weigh around 900kg, so expect adequate rather than blistering performance from a standard car. Early four-pot cars did the 0-60mph dash in around 13 seconds, while the six-cylinder 914/6 knocked three seconds off that. Performance isn’t at the top of the 914’s agenda, though. On a sunny day, with the roof stowed away in the boot, outrageous speed doesn’t matter when you’re bowling down leafy-lined country lanes.

When it was new, the 914 earned itself a reputation for being an arguably better-handling car than the contemporary 911 due to its mid-engined layout. Sit in the snug seat, grab the small steering wheel (all 914s were left-hand drive only) and revel in the little Porsche’s nimble control as you dart from corner to corner on relatively skinny 4.5/5.5-inch-wide 15-inch wheels.

Long footwells thanks to the car’s clever packaging mean short and long bodies shouldn’t have much trouble getting comfortable, and while the five-speed gearbox isn’t the most positive (sorted in 1973 with a side-shifting linkage), it just about does the job. Just inches away from your ears, the flat engine throbs behind you in a similar way to a Volkswagen Beetle’s.

Reliability and running costs

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

Just like the Volkswagen Polo featured in a previous Retro Road Test, the 914 has long lived in the shadow of more illustrious and famous siblings. Even more less well-known than other entry-level 1970s and 1980s Porsches such as the 924 and 944, the 914’s popularity is increasing.

Forty-five years since its birth and as values rise, it is now being seen as a classic in the making and even a member of the ‘proper Porsche’ club. Lots more replacement panels and parts are now available and there are a healthy number of Porsche specialists who actually know what the car is.

Could I drive it every day?

Porsche 914 at 50

The 914’s small footprint and practical body with its pair of luggage areas can make it a everyday proposition. We know of one enthusiast who does just that and uses a later, more scruffy car (from a fleet of 10!) to bumble around in on a daily basis, keeping his concours condition car stored away.

The intense driving experience – given in part by that engine noise emanating from just behind your seat – steering wheel on the wrong side and sometimes recalcitrant gearbox might be too much for some. Unless the car has been seriously rust-proofed, we’d probably recommend occasional use only.

How much should I pay?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

As befits their more popular and desirable status, range-topping 2.0-litre 914s are more expensive than their 1.7 and 1.8-litre siblings. Project four-cylinder cars can start at around £4,000 for a non-runner, rising to £8,500 for one which needs some spucing up. Tidier cars can command tickets of around £12,000, while restored models can fetch £15,000-£25,000.

The six-cylinder 914/6 is a rare thing and you should be prepared to pay upwards of restored four-cylinder car prices – we’ve heard of genuine matching number cars going for anything from £40,000. Always buy on condition, rather than specification.

What should I look out for?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

As with all classic cars, rust is one of the major enemies of the 914. Check the labels for corrosion and damage, as well as misaligned doors which can point to more serious accident-related issues. Door handles can be fragile, too.

The battery tray can be a big 914 issue as rust can creep towards the rear suspension mountings and, along with corroded suspension turrets, can cause the car to collapse on its wheels. Check too for correct fit and alignment of the removable glassfibre targa roof panel – a non-sung fit can mean sagging sills.

Body seals can also go, especially on U.S. cars which have spent their lives in a hot climate. Replacement sets cost around £1,000. Similarly, sun-exposed dash tops can crack. Engines usually suffer few major problems, but where fitted, original fuel injection is much more preferable to carburettors.

With the earliest cars now 50 years old, fuel lines will need checking for leaks if they appear to not have been replaced in the past. Four-cylinder cars should have chassis numbers starting with ‘47’ (for Volkswagen Type 47), while genuine six-cylinder models will be known by their Porsche-derived ‘914’-led identifiers.

Should I buy one?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

If one of a wide range of 1970s motoring oddballs tickles your fancy or you want a rare piece of Porsche history, then yes. Bold colours, striking looks, a practical and roomy body, and rarity value – when was the last time you saw one? – make the 914 genuinely appealing.

Those largely reliable Volkswagen-engineered and Porsche engines mean parts can be easily sourced, with around 1,700 now available. An eager online network of 914 owners and forums will lend enthusiastic support should you have a problem.

Pub facts

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

The Porsche 914 was badged ‘VW-Porsche’ in Europe and most other major markets thanks to its shared parentage, but only appeared with a Porsche badge in the U.S., removing all traces of the Volkswagen connection.

Eight Porsche 916 prototypes fitted with the engine from the 1973 911 Carrera RS were built for a suggested limited production run – before Porsche pulled the plug – while an even more powerful pair of near-300bhp eight-cylinder 914/8s were also made: a Blood Orange one for Ferdinand Piech and a silver car for ‘Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche.