Princess Diana Audi L541 GJD

How Princess Diana transformed Audi’s image and doubled sales

Princess Diana Audi L541 GJD

World rallying, four-wheel drive, gilt-edged branding and killer product placement deals are often credited as the reasons behind Audi’s meteoric rise to the top. But while they all played a part, Princess Diana’s role in the story is underestimated.

Audi had spent the 1980s riding the crest of a Quattro wave as the quieter, more considered German car company. Its cars were well engineered and understated, appealing to those who didn’t long to see a Mercedes-Benz or BMW parked on the gravel driveway of their mock-Tudor commuter belt home.

Little changed in the 1990s. There were high points – the S2, S6 and RS2, for example – but these felt like token efforts, akin to Colin from accounts undoing his top button and loosening his tie, before downing half a pint of Beck’s.

Colin’s shirt collar wasn’t going to cut it. Audi needed an injection of glamour. Some sex appeal, if you like. Step forward the most famous person on the planet: Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana falls for a German

Before Diana, the royal family drove British cars. It was the done thing. But all that changed in 1991, when Diana leased a thoroughly German Mercedes-Benz 500 SL. It’s not clear whether Charles choked on his Laurent-Perrier, but the tabloids were up in arms.

This was 1991, the year in which, coincidentally, Audi launched the cabriolet version of its steadfast but abstemious 80 saloon. The roofless 80 could breeze past The Ivy without anyone looking up from their seared foie gras or beetroot carpaccio. No, when it came to topless glamour, the SL, 3 Series and 900 were the main courses.

But nobody banked on Princess Diana taking a shine to Audi’s first production drop-top. Legend has it that Diana fell in love with the model having borrowed one belonging to the wife of Viscount Linley.

Never one to tow the line, and with her relationship with the Royal Family growing increasingly fractious, Diana set about bagging her second German. She wasn’t short of willing suitors.

Dovercourt Audi of St John’s Wood was quick to realise the potential of the world’s most photographed woman being seen at the wheel of its slow-selling cabriolet. Majesty magazine estimated that Princess Diana generated £14.5 million worth of publicity for products she was seen with, a fact not lost on the canny team at Dovercourt.

Dovercourt Audi

It was a match made in heaven. Diana had the car of her dreams, and Audi had a passport to riches. In 1994, Audi reported that sales virtually doubled after Diana was seen driving the car. Hardly surprising, when a magazine with the Princess on the cover would expect to see a circulation increase of between 30-40 percent.

As Jeremy Clarkson said at the time: “She alone has turned what might have been just another nice car into by far and away the coolest and most sought-after-four-wheeled status symbol of them all.”

But this was no stage-managed exercise in product placement. Photos of Diana and her Audi captured moments in time, most famously with the young princes in the back, roof down, showcasing Audi’s reinforced windscreen surround, which provided enough roll-over protection without the need for an ugly superstructure.

Not that readers of Hello, Tatler or Vanity Fair were interested in roll-over protection and superstructures. They simply saw Audi as a chance to live the life of a Princess, albeit without the constant gaze of the paparazzi.

These were different times when column inches were the media’s currency, long before the days of sponsored tweets and paid Instagram posts. Diana drove an Audi because she fancied one. As a result, the relationship felt more authentic. More believable.

Don’t pay the Ferry, man

Sure, Iron Man ‘chose’ an Audi R8, but when Loren Angelo, director of marketing for Audi of America, justified the product placement, there was a shallowness to the rationale. “When we read the script for Iron Man, he was someone who was self-made. He utilised technology and a certain level of personal intelligence to create things,” Angelo told Automotive News.

“That was a perfect fit for Audi because that’s exactly what we’ve done with our brand.”

Whatever. Just admit it, Tony Stark is a cool dude, and you kinda knew that a film that would gross nearly $100m in its opening weekend would be really beneficial for your profile. Oh, and everybody likes Robert Downey Jr, right?

And when Bryan Ferry drove to Sheffield, did he have to cc @Audi?

Back to Diana. In 1991, Audi sold 14,344 cars in the UK. By 2008, that number had increased to 100,845. Vorsprung Durch Umsatz, as Geoffrey Palmer nearly drawled.

Was Diana responsible for Audi’s ascent to the automotive top table, where it would rub shoulders with BMW and Mercedes? Not solely. But did she play a part? Absolutely.

Fit for a Princess?

Princess Diana Audi cabriolet

The 1994 Audi 80 Cabriolet seen here is one of at least three examples driven by Diana in the mid-1990s. Back in 2016, L449 TRP sold for £54,000, having been cherished as a piece of royal history for its entire life.

L541 GJD passed into private ownership and was used a family car between 2004 and 2009. It was then stored away once the link to Diana became apparent.

Princess Diana’s charitable work left a lasting legacy following her death in 1997. Twenty-three years on, Audi is still benefiting from her brief fling with an unassuming German.

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‘My dad borrowed a Bond car’ – Lotus veteran on life at the firm

Richard Hill

Spoiler alert: this story is mostly about aerodynamics. From downforce to drag, venturis to ventilation, and splitters to, yes, spoilers. 

If you don’t recognise Richard Hill, you’ll know his work: the Lotus Evija hypercar, for example, or the bicycle Chris Boardman rode to Olympic glory. These are just two highlights of a lifetime at Lotus, studying the science of speed.

Having joined Lotus in 1986, Richard has risen to the role of chief aerodynamicist (Chief Engineer of Aerodynamics and Thermal Management, to be exact).

Here, he talks through a remarkable career, ending with thoughts on where car design goes next. And it all started with ‘Wet Nellie’…

His dad borrowed Roger Moore’s underwater Esprit

Lotus Esprit

“I can remember the exact moment of deciding I wanted to work for Lotus,” reminisces Richard.

It was 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. But while Johnny Rotten sneered “there is no future in England’s dreaming,” Richard thought otherwise. He dreamed of being Bond, James Bond.

“My father was general manager for a paint company that supplied Lotus,” he explains. “Somehow, he managed to borrow the Esprit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me, released that same year, for display at a show. I’ve no idea how he pulled it off.”

Known as ‘Wet Nellie’ and driven by Roger Moore, the aquatic Lotus captured the young Richard’s imagination. “It inspired me to pursue a career in cars.”

His first job for Lotus was a Corvette

Richard’s big break came nine years later – but his first job at Hethel wasn’t a Lotus.

After studying aeronautical engineering and composites at university (including work on the Ralt RT30 Formula 3 car) his wife-to-be spotted a recruitment ad for Lotus. “They were looking for engineers, so my first job wasn’t in aerodynamics.”

Instead, Richard was tasked with designing a torque tube for a Chevrolet Corvette concept – likely the 1986 Indy (pictured) or subsequent 1990 CERV III. Lotus, you will recall, was owned by General Motors at the time.

Both the Indy and CERV III were futuristic, mid-engined design studies. Ironically, it would be early 2020 before a mid-engined Corvette finally reached production.

‘Aerodynamics was very important to Colin Chapman’

Lotus Esprit and Colin Chapman

No car company is so inextricably linked with aerodynamics as Lotus. Along with ‘lightweighting’ (used as a verb at Hethel), it defines the marque’s approach to performance.

“Aerodynamics was very important to Colin Chapman,” says Richard. “In the Formula One world, Lotus pioneered the use of wings and ground-effect – with amazing success.”


The trophy cabinet at Classic Team Lotus (located opposite the new Evija production facility) includes silverware from seven F1 constructor’s championships, won between 1963 and 1978. 

Notable high-points include the 1963 Lotus 25 (the first racing car with a fully stressed monocoque chassis), 1968 Lotus 49 (the first to use an aerofoil wing) and 1977 Lotus 78 (the first with ground-effect downforce). All these innovations later appeared on Lotus road cars.

He helped design Team GB’s Olympic bike 

Lotus Engineering and Hope Technology track bike

“My claim to fame is being the second person Chris Boardman hugged when he won Olympic gold in Barcelona,” says Richard. “His wife was rightly first!”

The famous Lotus Type 108 bicycle used carbon composites and advanced aerodynamics, helping Boardman to gold in the 4,000m pursuit – and a new world record. “It was a good platform to demonstrate our engineering skill.”

Those skills were called upon again for Team GB’s latest track bike, a joint-project with Hope Technology. Pictured above with Ed Clancy, it’s a more conventional design than the revolutionary 108.

“Racing bike design took a big step backwards after the 108 and 110,” Richard explains. “We went from monocoque frames to a more traditional tubular, triangular design. That was dictated by regulations, and demands a different approach. With the 108, we aimed to separate the airflow around the bike from the rider. Now, we treat man and machine as one.”

Look out for the new two-wheeled Lotus at the postponed Tokyo Olympics in summer 2021.

The Esprit is very close to his heart

Lotus Esprit

Asking Richard to name his favourite Lotus elicits a long pause. So we settle for a selection of cars that have meant the most.

“The Type 18 in 1960 was the first true mid-engined Lotus Formula One car, which led to our first mid-engined road car: the Europa of 1967. My favourite of those was the JPS twin-cam special of the early 1970s. They were the genesis of all mid-engined Lotus sports cars.”

Despite his admiration for the Europa, though, I sense the Esprit tugs hardest at Richard’s heart strings. “I saw that car through much of its production life and had some amazing road trips. Believe it or not, we worked through 17 different rear wing designs between 1987 and 1993. Each one a nickname”.

Honourable mentions also go to the Elise (“The first Lotus engineered with zero lift. We spent so many hours in the wind tunnel”) and Evora (“It developed our dynamic handling strategy”). 

‘Lotus looks at aerodynamics differently’

Wet Nellie

“Most companies focus their efforts on drag reduction: achieving a low Cd figure. That’s what car buyers tend to look at”.

A low coefficient of drag helps reduce fuel consumption and increase top speed. However, as Richard explains, Lotus looks at the bigger picture.

“Inspired by motorsport, the balance of downforce and lift is our main priority. It’s about high-speed stability, both in a straight line and when cornering. We minimise drag where we can, but that’s our secondary focus.”

This philosophy is taken to extremes in the new Evija, a car that “literally breathes the air”.

The Evija is ‘a fighter jet in a world of kites’

Lotus Evija

Unless you have seen self-isolating for the past year, you’ll know the 2,000hp Lotus Evija is the most powerful production ever. The £2 million electric hypercar will hit 62mph in ‘less than three seconds’ and exceed 200mph.  

Such performance requires a radical approach to aerodynamics. “The front acts like a mouth. It ingests the air, sucks every kilogram of value from it – in this case, the downforce – then exhales it through that dramatic rear end.” 


The word “porosity” crops up frequently, particularly with reference to the dramatic rear venturis. “Without them, the Evija would be like a parachute, with them it’s a butterfly net. And they make the car unique in the hypercar world.”

Lotus hasn’t revealed drag or downforce figures for the Evija yet, but it goes way beyond conventional sports cars. “It’s like comparing a fighter jet to a child’s kite,’’ says Richard.

Electric tech will change the shape of cars

Lotus Evija

Few cars will harness airflow like the Evora – “It wouldn’t be possible in a car you drive to the supermarket with a family of five” – but elements of its design will appear on future Lotus models.

“We’ve learned a lot from this project,” Richard adds, “and some of its aerodynamic concepts will be carried forward.” 

Indeed, Richard is excited about the future of car design in a world increasingly populated by EVs. “Packaging an electric car is very different. You don’t have a bulky engine and cooling system to accommodate. There’s more freedom.”

With huge investment from parent company Geely and a new Esprit due in 2021, the future looks bright for Hethel. And thanks to Richard and his team, the forthcoming range of cars should stay faithful to Lotus’ aero-led legacy.

Who knows, maybe even 007 will place an order. The Evija would look awesome as submarine…

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Volvo 480 ES side

Volvo 480: remembering the Euro wedge that wasn’t sensible or square

Volvo 480 ES side

There’s something wonderfully Swedish about the Volvo 480, and yet its development was a truly international affair.

Built in the Netherlands, penned by a Dutchman, interior designed by a Brit, mechanicals supplied by the French – and with a thoroughly Swedish badge tucked away below the front bumper.

With its pop-up headlights and wedge-like styling, it’s as though the 480 came out of nowhere, but it borrowed from the past while laying the foundations for Volvos of the future.

Today, the Swedish oddball is a bit of a cult classic and a retro bargain to boot.

Volvo Galaxy

Volvo 480 ES

Volvo rejected proposals submitted by two Italian styling houses before designing the 480 in-house at Volvo Car BV (Holland). It was a product of the Galaxy project, which began in 1978 when the company started considering replacements for the 240, 340/360 and 740/760.

Internally, Volvo had accepted that its future would be driven through the front wheels, but externally the message was entirely different. Just a couple of years before the front-wheel-drive 480 went on sale, Volvo was extolling the virtues of rear-wheel-drive to its American audience.

“In an era when just about everyone seems to be touting front-wheel-drive as the greatest thing ever to come down the pike, there’s one thing you should know. Virtually every car in the world today that’s famous for performance and handling uses rear-wheel-drive”, proclaimed a press advert.

“Of course, a Ferrari or Formula 1 car may not exactly fit your family’s driving needs. So why not consider a Volvo Turbo? When it comes to handling and performance, you’ll find it leaves a lot of front-wheel-drive cars bringing up the rear.”

To ram home its message, Volvo positioned its car alongside a Ferrari, Corvette, 911 and a couple of race cars.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Volvos weren’t exactly known for their whippet-like pace and apex-kissing cornering capabilities. Its smallest cars, the 340 hatch and 360 saloon, were more geriatric than a packet of Werther’s Originals wrapped in a knitted toilet roll holder.

Volvo 480

Unveiled at the Geneva motor show in 1986, the 480 didn’t so much send jaws dropping to the floor as leave onlookers scratching their heads. The shooting brake design, penned by John de Vries, tipped its hat to the 1800ES, most notably the all-glass tailgate, but the pop-up headlights were straight out of an Amsterdam coffee shop.

It’s perhaps a little generous to reference the Ferrari Daytona when considering the front end styling, but if you see it, you’ll get it. It’s also worth remembering the two-door coupe segment of the time: you could still buy a new Ford Capri, for goodness sake, while the cool kids drove around in Sciroccos and Celicas.

But let’s not give the 480 ideas above its station – this was no sports coupe. It was a proper four-seater, albeit with the inconvenience of entering the rear seats via the front. In fact, its closest rival was the cheaper and remarkably similarly styled Honda Accord Aerodeck. In profile, it’s as though the pair were separated at birth.

Volvo 480 ES interior

The interior was the work of Peter Horbury, who managed to create a roomy cabin, complete with a dashboard layout that, by today’s standards, would be considered cluttered. On the plus side, the two-spoke steering wheel of the early cars was a nod to Swedish eccentricity.

It’s easy to focus on the pop-up headlights and glass tailgate when gawping at the 480, but more in-depth scrutiny will reveal a host of neat touches. Take the ‘hockey stick’ rear lights, which combine to create a single strip running along the back of the car. Above it is a grab handle, which looks entirely at odds with the clean design.

Also, note the pillar-mounted door locks and the side markers situated at the edge of that long rear section. It has been suggested that the Volvo grille was a last-minute addition at the request of the board, but regardless of whether or not this is true, it became one of the 480’s hallmark features.

Volvo 480 ES

Other nods to Volvo’s safe and dependable heritage include the impact-absorbing front and rear bumpers and the stone-resistant plastic bonnet and front end. As you’d expect, the 480 far exceeded the safety standards of the time.

That’s not to say that cars rolling out of the Nedcar factory were built to the same high standards of Gothenburg. By Volvo’s own admission, the Renix (Renault and Bendix) engine management system was a particular weak point. “Volvo 480 was very well equipped in standard version, filled with practical and personal solutions. A lot of them were electronically controlled which in turn caused its fair bit of reliability problems.”

Even allowing for what is perhaps a slightly clunky translation from Swedish, that’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

Initially, all 480s were powered by the same Renault-sourced 1.7-litre engine, which provided adequate performance at best. With 109hp available, the 480 could top 118mph (eventually), crawling to 60mph in, well, how long have you got?

But did anyone genuinely arrive at a Volvo showroom expecting sports car levels of performance? Given Volvo’s image and audience, it’s unlikely. Besides, the 480 had other qualities.

Volvo 480 ES rear

Cleverly, Volvo turned to Lotus for help with the suspension, which resulted in a car with excellent driving manners. Motor Sport commented on the “absolutely superb handling” before praising the ride quality.

“The 480 ES rides almost as well as a heavier 700 series saloon, taking high-speed bumps without flinching. It also handles as well as most pedigree sports cars, flicking through tight turns and hairpin bends like a rally-tuned Mini of yesteryear. But it would not understeer. Volvo’s first FWD model truly feels like a rear-drive, which is exactly what the engineers intended.”

If that doesn’t result in you turning to the pages of Car & Classic in search of some Swedish wedge, nothing will.

Things got even better in 1988 when Volvo added a turbocharger to the mix. A blown version had been promised from the outset, with Porsche called in for help with its development. It increased the output to 120hp, giving it the performance to match the chassis.

In 1993, a hugely improved 110hp 2.0-litre version was introduced, although this was never treated to a turbocharger. Volvo even toyed with the idea of convertible and Targa versions, but these never progressed beyond the concept stage. Shame.

Volvo 480 Turbo

There had never been a Volvo so unlike a Volvo

Production ended in 1995, by which time 76,375 480s had rolled out of the Dutch factory. With 22,000 sold over here, the UK was its biggest market, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of all global sales.

Unfortunately, neglect and general apathy towards the 480 during its banger years means that Volvo’s oddball is living on borrowed time. Although How Many Left isn’t entirely accurate, there are thought to be fewer than 300 on the road, with a more substantial number listed as SORN, presumably in varying states of decay.

Buying a cheap one is fraught with risk. Build quality was patchy when new, so up to three decades of use will have only made things worse. And while servicing parts are easy to source, others are either obsolete or hideously expensive.

Better to spend a little extra on a good example, ideally one owned by a Volvo Owners Club or Volvo 480 Club Europe member. You could even buy a ‘brand new’ 480 ES, although you might want to check the price first.

More than just a turning point in Volvo’s history, the 480 is a quirky, oddball classic, with styling that seems to get better with the passing of time. Until its arrival, all Volvos built since 1927 had been rear-wheel drive, while all vehicles manufactured from 1998 have been front- or four-wheel drive.

To borrow a line of copy from a press advert for the 480 Turbo, not since the 1800ES had there been a Volvo so unlike a Volvo. Unfortunately, there’s unlikely to be anything like it ever again.

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Cadillac Allante: Great Motoring Disasters

Cadillac Allante
When it comes to building cars cost-efficiently, it’s generally a good idea to manufacture the body somewhere in the vicinity of the final assembly line.

Next door is ideal, the freshly stamped and welded body immediately making its way to the paint shop, before being baked, undersealed and despatched to a moving conveyor that sees it built into a complete car.

It’s a manufacturing sequence that most carmakers follow, although there have been a surprising number of models whose bodies have been built on sites some distance away.

Rolls-Royce used to buy in shells for its Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit from British Leyland, which manufactured them in what is now the BMW Mini factory in Oxford. And today, a Roller’s body shell comes from Germany.

Ferrari sourced bodies from coachbuilder Scaglietti, and Lamborghini from Goldencar, both of them local to their factories.

Less clever was British Leyland’s habit of transporting primered bodyshells around the Midlands during the 1960s and 1970s, a pretty inefficient activity when most of a raw shell is air.

Cadillac and PininfarinaCadillac Allante

But that was nothing to the manufacturing process that produced the Cadillac Allante. This two-door convertible, which debuted in 1986 as an alternative to the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, was the progeny of America’s most upscale carmaker and design house Pininfarina.

Cadillac had flirted with the Italian company before. The body of its 1959 Eldorado Brougham saloon was hand-built and assembled in Turin on a chassis sent from the US. Once Pininfarina had finished with it, the Brougham was shipped back to America for final finishing.

This was the last hand-made, coachbuilt Cadillac and you certainly paid for it. The Pininfarina Brougham cost three times the price of the (spectacularly flamboyant) standard version, which was made in the US.

Unsurprisingly, this American-Italian hybrid sold slowly, despite its more tasteful elegance, with only 200 finding homes in 1959-60.

There were quality problems, too. The lead-loading used to smooth its hand-beaten bodywork caused the paint to fracture.

Not learning from history

Cadillac Allante

Despite such mixed results, GM decided to have another crack at creating something special with Pininfarina a couple of decades later.

This time, Italy got the task not only of designing a classy two-seat roadster, but also of building and painting its body as well. The broad basis of the Allante was Cadillac’s front-wheel-drive V8 Eldorado, although its body, and most of its platform, were unique to the convertible.

And the name? That was generated by a computer that produced 1,700 possibilities, the chosen badge being meaningless – although its did sound rather like the sea that the Cadillac’s body had to cross.

Cadillac Allante

That body was neat, slender, crisp and excitement-free, the Allante’s potential athleticism undermined by an over-short wheelbase, a curiously high-riding stance and a powertrain that was never going to threaten a sprinting SL or XJS.

There may have been 4.1 litres of V8 beneath its long bonnet, but this engine was good for no more than 170hp and 0-60mph in 9.8 seconds, languidly delivered via four-speed automatic.

All of which meant that the most dramatic aspect of the Allante was not the car itself, but the crazy method of its construction.

Building cars with Boeing

Cadillac Allante

Once Pininfarina had finished the bodies, which were painted, fully trimmed and equipped with their folding roofs, they were transported from Turin to America by jumbo jet.

GM called it the ‘Allante Airbridge’, a trio of Boeing 747s specially modified to carry the part-finished Caddys across the pond. Detroit then installed the sub-frames, suspension, drivetrain, fuel tanks and wheels to complete the car.

However, it was not quite complete when launched in autumn 1986, Pininfarina having realised that the soft-top was prone to leaks and squeaks. They wanted to delay the launch and fix the problems, but GM insisted on sticking to its timetable.

Cadillac Allante

 

Sadly, Mother Earth stuck to her familiar weather patterns, unhelpfully showering the Allantes bought by eager owners. They soon found that some of that rain wasn’t returning to earth, but pooling in the footwells of their prized new convertibles.

Stemming the leaks cost Cadillac tens of thousands of dollars, besides staining the Allante’s reputation. And its carpets.

Leaks were not the last of the Allante’s functional troubles. Bosch discovered problems with its anti-lock brake system, and the Bose hi-fi made strange cracking noises that could have been mistaken for failing trim.

Cadillac didn’t give up

Cadillac Allante

By the early 1990s, the Allante’s reputation was glittering like an old tyre. But Cadillac didn’t give up on it, despite slow sales.

The pushrod 4.1-litre motor was tuned to produce 204hp, before being replaced in 1992 by GM’s excellent new 4.5 litre 32-valve quad-cam Northstar V8, which delivered a far more convincing 285hp.

Despite its front-drive chassis, the Allante drove well, too, blending refinement with a decent show of twisty road agility.

And it had plenty of the toys that Cadillac owners expected, including sumptuous power leather seats, digital LCD instruments, traction control – necessary, with front-drive and 285hp – and later in life, electronically controlled suspension.

‘Quite decent’, eventually

Cadillac Allante

By the end of its career, the Allante had become quite a decent grand touring convertible. Trouble was, the 1989 Mercedes-Benz SL, a tour de force of engineering and quality, had the one thing that the Allante was missing: a one-shot power roof. That didn’t leak.

Cadillac ran hard to fix and improve the Allante in the first few years of its life, but it never ran hard enough to keep up with the SL and XJS despite some substantial improvements.

Like most cars that gain an unsavoury early reputation, it never fully recovered. Still, the 1993 model-year Allante was the best yet, featuring revised rear suspension with electronic dampers, upgraded brakes and myriad detail improvements.

It was also the best sales year for the car, the 4,670 sold far higher than had been achieved in earlier years. But Cadillac nevertheless announced the Allante’s demise in the same year, the model still falling short of its 6,000 annual sales target.

Profligate, yet loss-making

Cadillac Allante

It’s hard to imagine GM making much money on this car when it sold an average of around 3,000 a year, was produced by such tortuously profligate methods, shared relatively little with other Cadillacs and almost nothing with Oldsmobiles and Buicks.

The total Allante production tally was 21,430. Today you can find them on sale in America from around $8,000, while the best examples, often with mileages well below 40,000, cost under $20,000 – a third of the $60,000 or so that this Cadillac cost at the end of its career.

The Allante was not Cadillac’s last two-seater, the company taking another shot at the SL with the XLR. But this time without the help of Pininfarina and a small fleet of jumbo jets.

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Audi TT Quattro Sport

Modern classic Audis driven: a Retro Road Test special

Audi TT Quattro Sport

Audi made some of Europe’s most glamorous cars in the 1930s, but faltered in the post-war years and merged with Volkswagen in 1964.

The models that followed were, in some cases, simply rebadged VWs, which left Audi with a middle-of-the road image, lacking the sporting pedigree of BMW or upmarket kudos of Mercedes-Benz.

What a difference a few decades makes. Today, Audi is one of motoring’s most-wanted marques, its cars both exceedingly popular and emphatically premium.

So, what’s changed? There’s been some clever brand-building, for sure, but the roots of Audi’s renaissance lie in its products.

We cherry-picked four modern classic Audis from the company’s fantastic heritage fleet: the TT Quattro Sport, R8 LMX, Cabriolet and A1 Quattro. Each one is a significant part of the recent Audi story, yet all are decidedly different. Here’s why they matter.

Audi TT Quattro Sport

Audi TT Quattro Sport

“Fire up the… oh, hang on.” This isn’t that red Quattro, but it’s very nearly as cool. The limited-edition Quattro Sport was the last hurrah for the Mk1 TT. Now a sought-after cult classic, just 800 were sold in the UK.

This first TT is still a fabulous piece of design: a rare example of a production car looking better than the concept. Launched in 2005, the Quattro Sport has an S Line bodykit, contrasting black roof, black tailpipes, bespoke 18-inch alloys and red brake calipers.

Inside, Alcantara swathes the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, hard-shell Recaros were optional and the – virtually useless – rear seats were binned, replaced by a strut brace and luggage net. The total weight saving is 49kg.

There’s more power, too: the familiar 1.8-litre turbocharged engine gains 15hp for 240hp in total. Driving all four wheels via a six-speed manual ’box, it hits 62mph in a swift 5.9 seconds – 0.3sec quicker than the flagship TT 3.2 V6. Stiffer S line supension and a relocated battery (now in the boot) sharpen up the chassis.

On the road, the Quattro Sport is agile and engaging, with lively steering, a snappy gearshift and confidence-inspiring brakes. It feels more akin to one of today’s 4WD hot hatches than a traditional rear-drive sports car, offering formidable point-and-squirt pace.

Ultimately, a Porsche Cayman delivers a purer driving experience, but the Audi is rarer and feels more exotic. Be quick, though: the Quattro Sport is the most desirable Mk1 TT and values are on the up. Expect to pay £6,000 for a high-miler, rising to around £15,000 for the best of the breed.

Audi R8 LMXAudi R8 LMX

The 2006 R8 was Audi’s answer to the Porsche 911 and, in 550hp V10 guise, arguably Ingolstadt’s first supercar. This R8 is one of the crown jewels of Audi UK’s heritage fleet: a 570hp R8 LMX – number 23 of 99 made.

Like the TT Quattro Sport, the 2015 LMX is a run-out special edition. Costing a hefty £160,025 when new, it came with every virtually option available, including carbon-ceramic brakes, Bang and Olufsen audio and quilted Alcantara headlining. Most were painted Ara Blue, with a front splitter and fixed rear wing in bare carbon fibre.

The LMX also boasted ground-breaking new laser headlights – the first production car to offer this technology as standard. They deliver searing white light and a 600-metre range on high beam: around twice that of LED lamps. A camera system dips the lights automatically when it detects oncoming cars.

Our test-drive was conducted in glorious sunshine, so the LMX’s lasers were somewhat redundant. Fortunately, I made full use of its snarling, naturally-aspirated V10.

Audi R8 LMX

Revving to 8,500rpm, this remains one of the great modern engines: fantastically responsive and brutally rapid (0-62mph in 3.4sec and 198mph). My only wish was for an open-gate manual gearbox, instead of the paddleshift auto fitted here.

The R8 has already joined the super-sports establishment, and the achingly desirable LMX is the original car at its zenith. Finding one will be a challenge, but the good news is that V8-engined R8s now start from £30,000. That’s a seriously special car for the price of a Golf GTI. Tempted?

Audi CabrioletAudi Cabriolet

Discussing the Audi Cabriolet without mentioning Princess Diana is like talking about the Reliant Scimitar without mentioning Princess Anne. It simply can’t be done.

Diana’s decision to drive a German car was controversial at the time (what was wrong with a Rover 800?), but it gave the Cabriolet a huge boost. In 1994, sales nearly doubled after Diana was repeatedly photographed by the paparazzi, sometimes with the roof down and the young princes in the back.

Inadvertently, she thrust Audi into public consciousness, and helped build the aspirational, upmarket brand we know today.

Many of the cars on Audi’s 50-strong heritage fleet are scarcely run-in, but this 1995 Cabriolet has 152,000 miles under its wheels. Thankfully, it still feels rock-solid: clichéd ‘Teutonic build quality’ present and correct – even if Milton Keynes’ many roundabouts reveal some chassis-flex when cornering.

Indeed, despite its 150hp 2.6-litre V6, the Audi doesn’t like to be rushed. Throttle response is wooly, the steering feels vague and 0-62mph takes a leisurely 10.2 seconds. 

Audi Cabriolet

Better to retract the electric hood, recline the supportive seat and bask in the admiration of onlookers. Two decades on, this is still a great-looking car.

More than simply a footnote in Audi history, the Cabriolet hasn’t yet graduated to classic status – and that means they’re still very affordable. A good one will cost £2,500, while even the best examples are less than £5,000.

Audi A1 Quattro

Audi A1 Quattro

Coolest alloy wheels ever? The rally-style turbines on the 2012 A1 Quattro are certainly in with a shout. This one-of-333 supermini also packs a 256hp punch, with a manual gearbox and, naturally, Quattro four-wheel drive. Even the 231hp S1, launched in 2015, can’t top that.

The A1 Quattro has its steering wheel on the wrong side and cost a wallet-wilting £41,020 when new. No wonder Audi only sold 19 in the UK. Today, however, such rarity is key to the car’s appeal; only the cognoscenti realise what it is. It’s also the reason that A1 Quattros simply haven’t depreciated. Assuming you can find one, expect to pay near-as-dammit list price.

In terms of oily bits, the uber-A1 is essentially an S3, with a 2.0-litre TFSI engine that delivers 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and 152mph flat-out. Audi ditched the A1’s torsion beam rear suspension for the S3’s four-link axle, making substantial modifications to the floorpan and fitting a new, saddle-style fuel tank.

Standard equipment was comprehensive, including leather trim, sat nav and a Bose audio system.

Audi A1 Quattro

Unsurprisingly, the A1 is fiercely quick across country. A neutral and forgiving chassis, combined with limpet-like grip and Quattro traction, means you can take huge liberties with cornering speeds. The engine is obviously turbocharged (it doesn’t fully wake up until nigh-on 4,000rpm), but there’s much fun to be had in riding that wave of boost. Shame the suspension is too stiff for broken British B-roads.

For most, the S1 is a far better option: cheaper, more comfortable and almost as quick. But the A1 Quattro showed Audi could do limited-run, hardcore hot hatches just as well as parent company Volkswagen. It’s not a rational purchase, but the most interesting cars rarely are.

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Ford Scorpio

Ford Scorpio: Great Motoring Disasters

Ford ScorpioFord knew it had a problem. How it got to have this problem is a little harder to understand.

Nonetheless, in the few remaining months before the 1994 Scorpio’s launch, Ford’s communications machine realised that it must try to adjust the media’s minds – and fast.

What it had to talk up, explain or, at worst, excuse, was the look of the company’s new big car. A few scoop pictures had appeared in the press, and with them some uncomfortably acidic words.

Before all this, the Granada had been a comfortably familiar machine, the population well used to the bold, almost Citroen-esque car that arrived in 1985.

This smooth-nosed, curve-windowed hatchback was an arresting contrast to the quietly handsome, square-jawed Granada that had gone before. However, people were better prepared for the shock of the Blue Oval’s new, the jarring arrival of the Sierra three years earlier thoroughly softening their senses.

Ford Scorpio

The Granada sold well, its spectacular cabin space, comfortable ride and hatchback practicality winning sales, as did its standard ABS brakes and a long list of equipment. Those unable to adjust to its hatchback silhouette were eventually offered a saloon.

The birth of the Scorpio

By the mid-1990s, though, the Granada needed renewing. Ford had already performed one minor facelift and should really have replaced the car completely, given its age. But the market for executive models from mainstream makers was dying, so it chose a light mechanical upgrade and reskin instead.

With this came a rebadging to Scorpio, this name used for the high-end Granadas in Britain and the entire model line-up elsewhere.

The word ‘reskin’, however, doesn’t really describe the transformation effected. The usual battery of words from the designer’s lexicon, like ‘stance’, ‘dynamic’, ‘looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still’, ‘proportion’ and ‘muscular’ didn’t really do it either.

Instead, you had to reach for adjectives used for some of the less winsome of Earth’s creatures; the Scorpio resembled something that David Attenborough might reveal from a dank cave in Borneo.

The front end was particularly troubling, your eyes irresistibly drawn to it before your brain fought over whether to focus upon the globular triangles of its headlights, or the reptilian gurn of its grille.

Ford Scorpio

With a face like this, the new Scorpio’s oddly fat flanks were easy to pass over until you arrived at a plump rear end resembling a giant cushion.

Decorating it like an ill-chosen necklace was a gratuitously narrow strip of chrome-capped lights. Apart from the uncertain use of glitter, this was a tail that seemed to have nothing in common with the Scorpio’s nose beyond the doors that joined them.

This, of course, prompted many to mouth that old cliché about the car’s front-end being designed by people who had never been allowed anywhere near its rear.

‘Gargoyle-ugly’

Ford Scorpio

So, the new Scorpio was gargoyle-ugly. And all of a sudden the press was going to be shown the car, months before any test-drives, in an effort to persuade them that black was actually white. The (re) education was to take place at Ford’s Cologne engineering and design centre.

New European design boss Fritz Mayhew, who defended the car stoutly despite having no hand in it, kicked the proceedings off. And he gave the assembled hacks, your reporter included, an interesting and very plausible account of where car design had been heading during the past decade.

This was towards a uniformly bland, identikit look with grilleless noses, flat flanks and rounded corners that made loads of European cars – Fords included, although he didn’t say that – look two-dimensional, rather than three. And he was not wrong.

Prescient Ford?

The antidote to this, Mayhew reckoned, would be the re-emergence of the radiator grille (as per the facelifted Rover 800 now outselling the Granada), the dawn of more sculptural lamps and the return of chrome.

Mayhew was right about all of this – these trends are still in vogue today – and he was right about the shift towards more sculptural, less blocky dashboards, too.

Ford Scorpio

Then came a quick-fire sequence of pictures of handsome classic cars, each with distinctive grilles. Surprisingly, given what the 800 was doing to Granada sales, the first of these was of a Rover P5, followed by an Austin-Healey 3000, a Bristol 401, a Jaguar XK120, a Facel Vega and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider.

There was much admiration in the room for Ford’s willingness to acknowledge the existence of good design from other carmakers, something that big corporations can rarely bring themselves to do. But admiration was in short supply when the new Scorpio was unveiled, mostly to looks of wonderment. And not of the positive kind.

Ford Scorpio

But you couldn’t argue with the design’s content. The new Scorpio was distinctive rather than Euro-clone in its looks. It had a face, it had chrome and it had a strikingly curvaceous dashboard, though much of this was filled with nasty ‘Timberlex’ wood rather than the aluminium that Ford’s designers had presciently reckoned it should flaunt.

A struggle for sales 

Mayhew considered the Scorpio a signpost towards a newly individual design trend for Ford, rather than a breakthrough look – even if this was a worryingly unpromising start.

The Scorpio also proved worryingly unpromising in the showroom, the new car struggling to sell despite a considerable improvement in the way it drove.

Ford Scorpio

Ford’s designers gave it one more tweak two years before its death in 1998, darkening its headlights to make it look less bug-eyed.

Yet despite its unsettling aesthetics, the Scorpio previewed a rich era for Ford styling, the company’s adventurous ‘New Edge’ design philosophy producing ground-breakers such as the 1996 Ka and 1998 Focus. The success of these soon eclipsed the embarrassment of the Scorpio.

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Gocycle GX

Gocycle GX (2020) review: the supercar of electric bicycles

Gocycle GX

Gocycle is a British electric bicycle manufacturer founded by a former designer of McLaren racing cars. It has produced several bikes since being founded in 2002, but the Gocycle GX, introduced in 2019, is easily its fastest-seller.

The GX’s secret is a commuter-friendly fast-folding design. You could fold older Gocycles, but the process took several minutes. With the GX, it takes as little as 10 seconds. Then, simply grab the saddle and wheel it away.

Gocycle GX

Now, with the post-coronavirus world potentially leading to a boom in commuting (or part-commuting) by bicycle, many will consider riding a bike for the first time in years – perhaps ever.

An electric bike, or e-bike, could be the answer these rusty riders are looking for.

Added bonus of electric assist? The potential for businesspeople to avoid buses, trains and the underground without getting sweaty. It’s a genuine barrier to cycling for some.

To find out what commuting by electric bicycle is like, we have been living with a Gocycle GX for the past few weeks. Here’s what we discovered.

What is the 2020 Gocycle GX?

Gocycle GX

The Gocycle GX costs £2,899 (a Brompton Electric, a rival premium electric bicycle, costs from £2,595). It is driven by a custom-designed front hub motor, producing 250 watts. There are three Shimano Nexus gears sealed in a patented Cleandrive transmission – so your trousers won’t get covered in oil.

Top speed before the electric assist cuts out is 15.5mph (or 25kph), limited by European law. It is powered by a 300 Watt-hour lithium-ion battery hidden in the frame. This gives a range of up to 40 miles, depending on pedal input. Charging time is seven hours. Gocycle says it costs 4p per charge.

A simple five-LED display indicates battery charge, but the Gocycle GX also connects via Bluetooth to a comprehensive smartphone app.

The 2020 GX model has improvements over 2019 bikes. There is a new front fork design that makes it easier to ride and (along with changes to the frame) saves 0.4kg. The whole bike now weighs 17.4kg: light enough to lift into a car boot with one or two hands without tweaking your back.

Gocycle GX commuting

The folding mechanism is also smoother, and Gocycle has reduced external cabling down to one thin cable, making it easier to fold and stow away, as well as cleaner-looking.

It is a genuinely stylish and head-turning bike, as modern-looking as a Brompton is traditional. 

Unboxing the Gocycle GX

Gocycle GX unboxing

Buyers can order a Gocycle from a local dealer or online. Our test model was delivered, and unboxing it was a fun process in itself.

Importantly, it was fully assembled. We simply opened the box, folded back the protective padding and lifted out the GX. The folding mechanism is so intuitive, we didn’t need instructions: flip the frame sideways and click the clasp, then lift up the handlebars and do the same.

We slotted in the saddle and tightened the clasp using the slightly fiddly thumb wheel, then adjusted it for height with an Allen key. If you want to let someone else ride it, you need the Allen key, which isn’t the smoothest solution, although there is a stowage slot for it beneath the saddle.

The bike arrived fully charged. Once we found the ‘on’ button – a black rubber pad on the other side of the folding clasp – we were ready to go. 

Riding the Gocycle GX

Gocycle GX

This is a premium bicycle to ride. It is smooth, sturdy and stable. Unlike some folding bicycles, you barely feel any trace of flex, and it rolls along serenely.

It’s child’s play to ride. Simply step over the low frame and push away on the pedals. It’s exceedingly easy to roll along wobble-free. Those who haven’t ridden a bike in decades should have no trouble – proven by a willing volunteer.

It has a firm but absorbent ride, taking the edge off broken roads without shaking the rider or causing any instability. In fact, it has a similar rolling feel to a McLaren supercar, with the same feeling of controlled accuracy. The disc brakes are also superb, and a tactile pleasure to use.

Gocycle GX

But what about the electric part? To be clear, this is not a pure electric bike where you press a button and sit back: you still have to pedal. Indeed, you don’t actually get any electric assist for the first couple of pedal rotations after pulling away – Gocycle believes human legs are best for getting going.

However, you soon feel the assist kick in. This takes the load off your legs and makes acceleration much easier. There are several modes, allowing you to vary the amount of assist given, and it eases out at 15.5mph (you can legally go faster in America, though).

Even without assistance, this is an inertia-free ride. The really clever bit comes when you reach a hill. As your speed drops, you’ll feel the electric assist kick back in, easing you up the hill without making you out of breath. A little button on the left handlebar grip gives you an on-demand e-boost, provided your speed is below 15.5mph.

On faster roads, more gears would be nice, so you could go more quickly. But then, this is a city commuter bicycle, so perhaps that’s not so relevant. Certainly, first gear is low enough to help you pull away easily even before the electric assist starts up.

Oh, and being electric is no cop-out. You still pedal, still get fit, still burn calories. What the electric assist does is take away the spikes in effort that put many off cycling, and make it too much of a burden in everyday use for others.

The Gocycle takes away the excuses and fear factor of cycling, opening it up to many more people. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

No sweat

Gocycle GX review

What about the sweat aspect? I put on jeans and a shirt, then went for a 13-mile ride. It was a hot day, too.

Verdict? Barely a trace of sweat – and I was putting the bike through its paces. This is the secret of cycling: once you’re up to speed, the wind keeps you beautifully fresh and cool, while the Gocycle’s e-assist means you don’t have to ramp up the effort going up hills.

I would not think twice about using it to zip around the city between meetings while suited up for work. Don’t forget the added bonus of relieving stress while out cycling, either: it’s far preferable to catching a busy tube – or, indeed, getting anxious in traffic.

The folding aspect is crucial here. The GX collapses in seconds to be popped into a car boot, meaning you can do the long-distance stuff by road, then last-mile it into the city by bicycle. When things get back to normal, this is absolutely what I’ll be doing.

2020 Gocycle GX: Verdict

Many commuters will now be investigating bicycles as an alternative to public transport. The Gocycle brand aims to capitalise on this by easing them into something that could transform their daily routine.

Yes, it’s expensive. But electric bicycles do cost more, and premium machines cost more on top. This is a quality item, the British supercar of electric bicycles, with a head-turning design and impeccable riding characteristics.

There’s also the government Cycle to Work scheme (of which Cyclescheme is the biggest provider). This now allows bicycles costing more than £1,000 to be purchased. It works by employers buying the bicycle and employees ‘hiring’ it via a salary sacrifice scheme. After 12 months, employees can then buy the bicycle at a ‘fair market value’. It’s a tax friendly-way of buying a Gocycle without forking out upfront costs.

It saves you between 25 percent and 39 percent on the price of a bicycle: on a Gocycle GX, that’s many hundreds of pounds. You can calculate here how much you could save

You might not be able to commute in a supercar in this world of staying alert for coronavirus. But the Gocycle GX means you can certainly ride one. Swap that public transport season ticket for one of these instead. It’s one of the easiest ways to finally make cycling one of your main forms of transport. 

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The cost of a car in the year you were born

Ford Anglia 100E

Your first encounter with a car was probably when your parents drove you home from the maternity ward.

Safe to say you won’t remember much about the journey, but did your folks ever reveal their choice of wheels for this momentous drive?

Make no mistake: they’ve probably never driven in a more careful and considerate manner.

The coolest car from the year you were born

This got us thinking: how much did it cost to buy a car in the year you were born? To find out, we’ve selected a broad selection of cars from 1950 to 1999.

The 1950s: Tutti Frutti

03_Year_Born

This was the decade in which Britain got back on its feet. Still recovering from the effects of the Second World War, the nation’s economy began to improve, with a surge in housebuilding and a raft of new time and labour-saving devices.

The car industry was also beginning to find its feet. Trips to the seaside and picnics in the park were made possible by a new and exciting range of family cars, with the Morris Minor, Standard Vanguard, Ford Popular and Rover P4 just four examples.

America’s obsession with fins and chrome was influencing British car design, with two-tone paint jobs also proving to be rather popular. The future was bright.

According to a copy of Motor, October 1948, the Ford Anglia was the cheapest four-wheel car in Britain. In 1950, the Anglia – an ancestor of the current Ford Focus – would have set you back £310, the equivalent of £10,703 in today’s money.

To give that figure some context, the average house price in 1950 was £1,940.  

02_Year_Born

Costing significantly more, the Austin A30 of 1952 was – together with its replacement, the A35 – one of the most popular cars of the 1950s. None other than James Hunt was a fan, as was Wallace of Wallace & Gromit fame, who drove an A35 van.

In 1951, an Austin A30 would have set you back £507, with the A35 – which arrived in 1956 – starting at £541. The most expensive A35 was the Countryman, which commanded a price tag of £638. That’s the equivalent of £20,190 in 2020.

Other vehicles of note include the luxo-spec Humber Hawk, which would have cost £695 plus £290 in purchase taxes back in 1955. In today’s money, that’s £26,037, about the same price you’ll pay for a Ford Mondeo Titanium Edition in 2020.

It would be remiss of us not to mention the Mini. Though synonymous with the Swinging Sixties, the Mini burst onto the scene in 1959, with prices ranging from £497 to £537. It quite literally changed the shape of British motoring and laid the foundations for a new decade.

Year/Car/Price new (2020 adjusted)

1950: Ford Anglia – £310 (£10,703)
1951: Austin A30 – £507 (£16,045)
1952: Ford Consul – £717 (£20,786)
1953: Ford Popular – £391 (£10,199)
1954: Austin A50 – £649 – £720 (£17,903 – £20,111)
1955: Humber Hawk – £985 (£26,037)
1956: Austin A35 – £541 – £638 (£13,606 – £16,046)
1957: Berkeley Sport – £574 (£13,944)
1958: Austin A40 – £676 – £698 (£15,913 – £16,430
1959: Mini – £497 – £537 (£11,651 – £12,599)

The 1960s: Good Vibrations

04_Year_Born

The 1960s: a decade of flower power, free love, the first man on the moon, the Beatles, the Mini and miniskirts. Britain was the centre of attention, with the nation leading the way in fashion and pop music.

And England won the football World Cup, which is something we’re reminded about every four years…

If London felt like the centre of the world, the likes of Coventry, Dagenham, Luton and Cowley were the epicentre of car manufacturing. Sadly, by the end of the decade, the rot had set in, with the British motor industry already in decline.

In 1960, the original Skoda Felicia would have cost £744, the equivalent of £17,264 when inflation adjusted. Today, that price will secure you a Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, or a Scala, if you’re prepared to do a little haggling.

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Another car of note is the Ford Lotus Cortina. Back in 1964, you could drive away in this super-saloon for £1,100 – about a third of the average house price. Inflation adjusted, that’s a little shy of £22,500. Good luck securing a Lotus Cortina for that price in 2020.

In 1966, as England lifted the still gleaming Jules Rimet trophy, the Porsche 911 was still in its infancy. You could have celebrated the Three Lions’ triumph by purchasing a 911 for £3,438 (£64,529 in 2020). Today, you’ll need at least £83,000.

There was an alternative. The four-cylinder 912 – so often unfairly overlooked – was available for the more affordable price of £2,466. That’s the equivalent of £44,285 – quite a significant saving. All of the flash, a lot less cash.

As if to bridge the gap between the 60s and 70s, Ford launched the Capri in 1969. The ‘car you always promised yourself’ became a firm favourite of the 1970s, not least because of its low price. Just £890 for the ‘European Mustang’ – what a steal.

Year/Car/Price new (2020 adjusted)

1960: Skoda Felicia – £744 (£17,264)
1961: Hillman Super Minx – £854 (£19,153)
1962: Ford Classic – £723 – £779 (£15,542 – £16,746)
1963: Hillman Imp – £508 – £532 (£10,718 – £11,224)
1964: Lotus Cortina – £1,100 (£22,459)
1965: Saab 96 – £729 (£14,222)
1966: Porsche 911 – £3,438 (£64,529)
1967: Rover P6 – £1,358 (£24,834)
1968: Renault 4 – £599 – £629 (£10,467 – £10,991)
1969: Ford Capri – £890 (£14,759)

The 1970s: Go Your Own Way

06_Year_Born

The optimism of the 1960s was washed away in the 1970s, with the decade remembered for its conflicts, political unrest and unemployment. Many people also consider the 70s to be the decade that style forgot.

An unfair reflection? Perhaps. Families were richer than ever and people had more social time than before. The likes of David Bowie and Marc Bolan gave rise to new-found self-expression, while women enjoyed more freedom than in previous decades.

Of course, from an automotive perspective, the 70s will be remembered for the decline of the British motor industry and a new wave of cars being imported from the Far East. But how much did you have to pay for cars in the 1970s?

We kick things off with the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow: the car that saved the company, while – in the long term – tarnishing its reputation. Oversupply led to falling values, with the Silver Shadow developing a reputation for being associated with ‘end of the pier’ entertainers and some rather shady characters.

It wasn’t always like this. In 1970, a Silver Shadow would have cost £9,272 in old money, the equivalent of £144,509 in new money. Take a moment to consider the average house price in that year – £4,975.

A year later, Jaguar unveiled its first V12-engined car: the Jaguar E-Type V12. Not the best time to be launching a gas guzzler, considering the imminent fuel crisis, but at £3,139.39, at least it wouldn’t break the bank.

In 1972, a basic Ford Cortina cost a mere £963 – not a bad price for the fastest selling car in Britain. In today’s money that’s £12,802. Try getting a new Ford Mondeo for that price.

07_Year_Born

But that’s nothing compared to the £1,894.75 Renault was asking for the brilliant and forward-thinking 16TX. Its 1,647cc engine helped to propel this smooth-riding hatchback to 50mph in under 9.0 seconds, while the big Renault was also generously equipped. Great car, sadly missed.

We’ll leave the 70s with two cars that went on to lead very different lives. The rather brilliant BMW 2002 Tii cost an eye-watering £3,659 in 1975, while, a year later, the 1976 Car of the Year Chrysler Alpine cost £2,164.49.

One of those cars has gone on to become a gilt-edged classic car, while the other rusted into oblivion.

Year/Car/Price new (2020 adjusted)

1970: Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow – £9,272 (£144,509)
1971: Jaguar E-Type V12 – £3,139 (£44,703)
1972: Ford Cortina – £963 (£12,802)
1973: MGB – £1,393 (£16,974)
1974: Renault 16TX – £1,895 (£19,898)
1975: BMW 2002 Tii – £3,659 (£30,925)
1976: Chrysler Alpine GL – £2,165 (£15,693)
1977: Renault 4 – £2,595 (£16,244)
1978: Ford Capri 2.0S – £4,035 (£23,324)
1979: Fiat Strada – £3,044 – £3,742 (£15,517 – £19,075)

The 1980s: How Soon Is Now

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Big hair, big shoulder pads and big cellphones: welcome to the 1980s. If the years before were brown and nicotine-stained, the new decade ushered in an era of brighter colours and renewed optimism.

Greed was good, or so we were told. As Madonna sang, we were living in a material world and she was a material girl. It was the decade of MTV, yuppies, video games and blockbuster movies. And, let’s not forget, the hot hatch…

We kick things off with the TR7. Triumph claimed it was ‘the exciting car you can afford’, pitching it alongside the £35,100 Ferrari 512 BB. A bold approach for the £6,361 sports car, but “… in these hard times, you’ve got to economise somewhere”.

Two years later, Fiat celebrated the Panda’s first birthday by slashing its price to £2,995. “Fiat [has] discovered a way of making Pandas breed like rabbits.” Well, quite. The equivalent price today: £10,649. That’s cheaper than a 2020 Fiat Panda…

By 1985, the Citroen 2CV was about to enter the twilight years, with £2,774 securing some ‘Tin Snail’ action. In 1986, Seat was a relative newcomer in the UK, with the Spanish firm asking between £4,095 and £5,771 for its neatly-styled Ibiza.

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Oh, Rover, where did it all go wrong? Actually, that’s a rhetorical question, because its demise has been well documented. In 1988, the not so small matter of £19,944 could get you behind the wheel of the fastest road-going Rover: the 800 Vitesse.

Consider that price for a moment. That’s perilously close to BMW M3 or Jaguar XJS money. But what a car: 2.7-litre 24-valve V6 engine, 140mph top speed and more gadgets than a branch of Dixons.

We close the curtains on the 80s by mentioning the Lada Riva. Back then, a budget car probably meant something from the Eastern Bloc, with the Riva available for ‘just’ £3,495. Compare and contrast with the £6,995 Dacia Sandero.

Year/Car/Price new (2020 adjusted)

1980: Triumph TR7 – £6,361 (£27,482)
1981: Mazda 323 – £3,399 – £4,499 (£13,127 – £17,375)
1982: Fiat Panda – £2,995 (£10,649)
1983: Ford Escort RS1600i – £6,700 (£22,779)
1984: Saab 900i – £8,510 (£27,559)
1985: Citroen 2CV Special – £2,774 (£8,468)
1986: Seat Ibiza – £4,095 – £5,771 (£12,090 – £17,038)
1987: Citroen BX GTi – £10,205 (£28,922)
1988: Rover 800 Vitesse – £19,944 (£53,882)
1989: Lada Riva – £3,495 (£8,761)

The 1990s: Spice Up Your Life

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What’s the story, morning glory? Welcome to the 1990s: the decade of Brit Pop, the Spice Girls, the Tamagotchi and Noel’s House Party. Yes, it was a bit of a mixed bag.

Football very nearly came home, Blur and Oasis often came to blows and Jarvis Cocker bared his bottom at the Brit Awards. House prices rocketed from £59,785 in 1990 to £101,550 by the turn of the Millennium.

Looking back, cars weren’t exactly cheap. The Daihatsu Charade GTti might have been the world’s most powerful 1.0-litre car, but you’d need £8,299 to secure a slice of three-pot turbocharged loveliness.

Today, the equivalent price will secure a Ford Fiesta ST. A year later, a Renault 19 16v – a forgotten gem from the 90s – would have cost £12,725. In today’s money, that’s not enough for a new Renaultsport Megane RS.

Check out the price of a Jaguar XJS 4.0 Convertible in 1992. At just shy of £40,000, it was about two-thirds of the average house price. Expensive? At £83,195 in today’s money, that’s around £15,000 more than a Jaguar F-Type First Edition Convertible.

In 1993, the Citroen ZX Volcane turbodiesel would cost less than £13,000 – not bad for what was arguably the world’s first diesel hot hatch. At £21,895, the Vauxhall-based Saab 900 SE Turbo Coupe looks expensive, as does the £15,499 Hyundai Sonata 2.0 CD.

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But that’s nothing compared to the launch price of the Porsche Boxster. At £33,950 it sounds good value, but inflation adjusted that results in a figure of £62,255. There are two things to consider here.

Firstly, the average house price in 1997 was £76,103. Secondly, you can buy an entry-level 718 Boxster in 2020 for around £46,500. You’ve never had it so good.

We’ll say goodbye to the 90s by referencing the Bristol Blenheim. The price in 1998 was an eyebrow-raising £119,000, which is around £37,000 more than the average house price. You pays your money, you takes your choice…

Year/Car/Price new (2020 adjusted)

1990: Daihatsu Charade GTti – £8,299 (£19,005)
1991:  Renault 19 16v – £12,725 (£27,525)
1992: Jaguar XJS 4.0 Convertible – £39,900 (£83,195)
1993: Citroen ZX Volcane TD – £12,630 – £12,995 (£25,922 – £26,671)
1994: Saab 900 SE Turbo Coupe – £21,895 (£43,879)
1995: Hyundai Sonata 2.0 CD – £15,499 (£30,020)
1996: Land Rover 90 County V8 – £14,468 (£26,363)
1997: Porsche Boxster – £33,950 (£62,255)
1998: Bristol Blenheim – £119,000 (£210,981)
1999: Lexus IS200 – £20,500 (£35,794)

Prices sourced from Car, Autocar, Autocar & Motor, Motor, What Car? Today’s prices sourced from the Bank of England’s inflation calculator and are based on 2019 figures.

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Windrush car storage

The secret underground garage where Londoners store their supercars

Windrush car storagePicture your lottery-win fantasy garage: polished floors, gleaming white walls and rows of rare, exotic Ferraris, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis.

That’s the scene greeting me as the door glides back and I enter a cool, dehumidified chamber known as the ‘bat cave’. I’m at a secret location underneath Shepherd’s Bush, discovering where Londoners store their supercars. Welcome to Windrush.

Windrush car storage

Founded by Tim Earnshaw after he quit a job managing logistics for Ferrari’s F1 team, Windrush offers secure storage for special cars.

Not everything here is worth six or seven figures, though – some simply have sentimental value. “We had an Austin Metro City that a client bought because he’d passed his driving test in one,” explains Tim. “Each car is treated equally, though, irrespective of whether it’s a Metro or a McLaren.”

These are the most popular supercars on Instagram

At the moment, all the cars are covered up, but I’m itching to discover what lies beneath. First though, let’s meet the man himself.

Video: custom LaFerrari and Porsche 911 GT3

Tim’s love of cars started at school, where he bunked off games lessons to help at a firm building Lotus 7 replicas.

When the gearbox broke on his parents’ Land Rover, he took it to the workshop and repaired it himself. “It was incredibly satisfying,” he remembers.

Windrush car storage

Soon he began work on his own replica, using a Morgan 4/4-style body and MGB mechanicals. “The process took five years,” says Tim, “but I learned how to fabricate, weld, panel-beat, fit a wiring loom and much more.”

The finished car was his pride and joy, but several months of parking on the family farm took their toll.

Windrush car storage

“Windrush started from the simple need to store the car,” Tim explains. “I set to work converting one of the farm out-buildings into a clean, secure lock-up, but there was plenty of surplus space. I saw a business opportunity.”

He advertised locally and soon had a Jaguar E-Type and Mitsubishi Evo VI alongside his ‘Morgan’. “I built a website and the company grew from there, although it was five years before I took the plunge and left Ferrari.”

Today, Windrush stores, cleans and maintains around 300 cars: 200 in the Cotswolds and 100 in the London location we’re visiting today. Time for a guided tour…

Prancing horse power

Windrush car storage

With a degree of OCD that can only be admired, the team have lined up all the cars by marque. We start with the Ferraris, which make up roughly a quarter of cars here.

There are two oh-so-pretty Dinos – both sought-after ‘chairs and flares’ editions with Daytona-style seats, flared wheelarches and Campagnolo alloys – followed by a pair of Berlinetta Boxers: one grey, the other traditional Rosso Corsa red.

Windrush car storage

Next up are two F430s, one registered in the Middle East, followed by a 550 Maranello and a 612 Scaglietti.

The 612 was always judged one of Pininfarina’s poorest efforts, yet it looks oddly handsome now. Perhaps there’s space for one in my dream garage after all.

Windrush car storage

The rest of the row gets progressively more modern: FFs, GTC4Lussos a 458 Speciale and several 488 GTBs.

One of the 488s is a one-off with custom paint that we’re politely asked not to photograph. Likewise, several cars belonging to a “well-known Instagrammer” are off-limits. No matter, onto the best of British…

Rule Britannia

Windrush car storage

The mouthwatering mix of Aston Martins includes DB5s and DB6s, two original V8 Vantages and a rare and rather handsome DBS.

Parked side-by-side, the contrast between the classics – upright, muscular GTs – and the modern Astons – low-slung sports cars – is immediately apparent, but both hold their own appeal.

Windrush car storage

There are Rolls-Royces and Bentleys here, too. Some of the coachbuilt Rollers are very valuable indeed and thus can’t be photographed, so we snap a Wraith – along with a Bentley Mulsanne and Continental GT (the latter in shocking pink).

Other local heroes include two examples of the McLaren 720S, a British Racing Green Jaguar XK120 and a number of E-Types, their sleek silhouettes recognisable even before the covers are lifted.

Porsches and a Pagani

Windrush car storage

Porsches are well represented, too. I count two Cayman GT4s and three RS 911s. There’s even the Holy Grail: a 1973 911 Carrera 2.7 RS, although we can’t photograph it.

The number of 993-generation (1994-1998) 911s is interesting to note, and a sure sign of this still-relatively-modern Porsche’s burgeoning classic status. Rare Carrera RS and Turbo S versions are the highlights here.

Windrush car storage

However, we’ve saved the best until last. At the far end of the building is a special trio of hypercars belonging to one wealthy customer.

There’s a LaFerrari on FXX-K wheels, a special-edition Ferrari 599 GTO and a Pagani Huayra – one of seven in the UK.

Windrush car storage

Allan from Windrush fires up the LaFerrari for our video (see above) and 6.3 litres of Italian V12 reverberates through the underground echo-chamber.

It sounds raw and red-blooded: a reminder that cars like these are alive with thrilling kinetic energy, not simply static investments. The stuff of dreams, in fact.

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Talbot Matra Rancho

How the oddball Matra Rancho invented the crossover

Talbot Matra Rancho

If you grew up in the 1980s, the chances are you played with a Matra-Simca Rancho – later the Talbot-Matra Rancho – without ever really knowing what it was.

It certainly looked like an off-roader, with its split tailgate, plastic roof rack, wheelarch extensions and large spotlights. In reality, your Matchbox Superkings had as much, if not greater, off-road prowess than the real thing.

Does this make the Rancho a bit of a fraud – all show and no go? Well, partly, yes. But that’s not to say that the Rancho is without appeal. It might have lacked the skills to tackle the rough stuff, but this was a genuine pioneer. Where it led, others followed.

Matra takes off

Mecanique-Aviation-Traction grew out of CAPRA, a small French aeronautical firm that became Matra in 1942. It began manufacturing Renault-powered sports cars in 1965, before building its first road car in 1967.

It was the Ford V4-powered Matra 530, which paved the way for the Bagheera of 1974. By now, Matra was developing a reputation for flair and innovation, but its next creation was the most groundbreaking and influential design to date.

With its aeronautical background, it’s hardly surprising that Matra had such broad horizons. With the fuel crisis of 1973 fresh in its mind, it knew that it needed to look beyond sports cars to secure its future.

The Bagheera was a joint development between Matra and Chrysler-owned Simca, which had developed a strong dealer network and a successful range of cars. For Matra, this meant access to an extensive distribution network, as well as a bountiful supply of spare parts.

Bagheera

The Simca-Matra-Chrysler-Peugeot-Talbot story is long, complicated and too convoluted for this ode to the Rancho, but a little knowledge is enough to understand where the faux off-roader came from, how it developed, and what led to its demise.

Matra turned to Range Rover for inspiration and Simca for a leg-up. Spen King’s creation had enjoyed seven years of market dominance, offering an unrivalled ability to look good outside the King’s Arms, parked on the King’s Road, as well as working on the Queen’s estate.

It’s hard to believe now, but other SUVs of the era were mostly crude, utilitarian affairs, offering next to nothing in the way of creature comforts. A trip to the garage for the annual MOT test was about as far as you’d dare go in an off-roader.

A year before the Rancho arrived, CAR magazine, when testing the Toyota Land Cruiser, said: ‘The Toyota Land Cruiser is a nasty piece of work. Ugly, ill-fitted to its dual purpose, priced at £4,392 to (theoretically) take on the Range Rover, its overall performance is inferior to the lowly Land Rover Station Wagon’. Ouch.

The Rancho takes shape

Matra Simca Rancho

The stage was set. Matra felt that the world needed the prestige and practicality of the Range Rover, without the need for a cumbersome, inefficient and, in many cases, redundant four-wheel-drive system.

Chrysler had enjoyed some success with the Simca 1200 Campero, a Spanish-built vehicle based on the Simca 1100 and designed for unmade roads and forest tracks. Launched in 1973, the Campero’s styling, hardware and approach almost certainly led to the development of the Rancho.

It was based on the 1976 Simca 1100 van, with power sourced from a 1,442cc Simca 1308/Chrysler Alpine engine. Christened P12, there were more than a few subtle nods to the Range Rover, including the split tailgate, two doors, the separate letters on the bonnet and tailgate, and large side rear windows.

At the back, the Rancho featured a fibreglass-clad steel frame body, with the back seats positioned 10cm higher than the fronts for maximum visibility. The doors, front wings and windscreen were lifted from the 1100 pick-up, while the dashboard was taken from the 1100 hatchback.

It was by no means quick – top speed was 91mph – and it wasn’t particularly fuel-efficient. You can blame the lack of aerodynamics and the relatively high kerb weight for the Rancho’s failure to return decent economy. But, hey, doesn’t it look great?

The roof rack was Matra’s attempt to mask the step from the front half to the rear section, while the wheelarch extensions, side mouldings and big bumpers provided protection from swinging shopping bags on the streets of Paris and Chelsea.

Chelsea traction

Rancho

‘Built for you to spread your wings,’ proclaimed the launch brochure, but while Matra was occasionally guilty of promoting off-road skills it just didn’t possess, it knew that fashion and image would sell the Rancho.

‘For people who don’t mind being noticed a little,’ said the press advert in 1979. ‘Matra Rancho, from Chrysler – a very noticeable car at a rather un-noticeable price: under 6 grand.’ The inclusion of Chrysler was significant – few buyers would have heard of Matra – as was the image used on the ad. The Rancho was parked outside Harrods, Knightsbridge.

Chrysler pulled out of Europe in 1978 and sold its holdings to Peugeot, with the Rancho gaining Talbot-Matra badging in 1979. It remained without any serious competition. Manufacturers were beginning to cotton on to the lifestyle benefits of a 4×4, but the Rancho stood alone in a field offering space, practicality and the option of seven seats. That’s assuming you could drive to the field…

‘Perfectly at home in both town and country. Rancho seats seven in comfort, and with the rear seats folded there really is an astonishing amount of carrying space,’ said the Talbot range ad in 1981. Alongside the Tagora, Alpine, Solara, Horizon and Sunbeam, the Rancho sticks out like an eccentric French exchange student in a room of sombre-suited sixth-formers.

Sheep in wolf’s clothing

Yet it remained popular, especially in its native France, where the automotive press was more accommodating than others. The Rancho story is one of overcoming adversity, forging ahead in a non-existence market, dealing with multiple management changes and a somewhat cynical press.

‘An exercise in form as much as function. It’s intended for well-heeled Europeans who want the rugged look and feel of an off-roader for practical or social reasons,’ wrote Car and Driver in 1980.

‘It is a con trick, nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing,’ said Motor in 1978, before admitting that it looked better than a Range Rover – quite a surprise, coming from a UK title – and had a sharp image.

‘The Rancho has become a very fashionable car in which to be seen along the boulevards of Paris,’ said Chrysler of its ‘multi-purpose leisure vehicle’. And that’s the point of the Rancho – it was never intended to be a Range Rover rival. It was more of a lofty estate car with the driving characteristics of a family saloon or hatchback.

Sure, it cost the same as a well-equipped estate car, but it undercut the Range Rover by some £3,000. Little wonder, then, that Rancho sales were more than double the original forecast, with 56,700 finding loving homes.

Sadly, Britain wasn’t offered the special editions, such as the more rugged Grand Raid of 1980, the well-appointed Rancho X, the metallic black Midnight, or the very lifestyle Découvrable. There was also a French-only commercial vehicle.

Production ended in 1984, with Matra concentrating on its next pioneer: the Espace. The MPV began life as the P11, with Matra building the first three generations and the Avantime. When Renault took on the production of the Espace, Matra was effectively dead, although the name lives on in the form of a company building electric bikes.

Childhood hero

Toyota and Nissan have both claimed to have invented the crossover, but the Rancho was out of the blocks before an enlightened marketer had coined the term. It would be another decade before the RAV4 arrived, the growth of the ‘crossover’ segment slowed by the advent of the MPV.

It could be argued, then, that Matra invented the segment, only to stop it in its tracks with the development of the Espace.

About the absence of four-wheel drive – so what? For most buyers, a drive along a forest track to go camping or turning into a beach-side car park is more than enough off-roading, thank you. And when you get to your destination, the Rancho not only looks the part, it has the practicality and space to out-muscle any full-fat 4×4 or estate car.

Whatever your thoughts on the Rancho, that quirky ‘off-roader’ you pushed along the living room carpet was as relevant and beautiful as the Countach and GTO you had pinned to your bedroom wall. Pass that Matchbox Superkings or Corgi model to your young offspring – the Rancho legacy needs to be kept alive.

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