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Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road TestIn 2017, most drivers are aware of hybrid cars. That wasn’t the case in 1997, when the original Toyota Prius was launched. Richard Gooding, features and road test editor of GreenFleet magazine, finds out how the original Prius introduced the hybrid car to the masses.

The Toyota Prius is 20 years old in 2017. Now in its fourth generation, it has become the embodiment of affordable hybrid cars, and led Toyota down the successful petrol-electric path that has seen it sell 10 million similarly-powered cars.

A trailblazer when it first appeared in December 1997, the Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid car, and is now one of Toyota’s most famous models. Endorsed by celebrities and minicab drivers the world over, how does the first version of the Japanese eco car stack up today?

What are its rivals?Honda Insight

The first-generation Prius hit UK streets in the autumn of 2000. Even though development of elec-tric and part-electric vehicles had been ongoing for decades, at the turn of the millennium Toyota’s green baby had very few rivals using the same fuel-saving technology. The most notable was the Honda Insight. Also a hybrid, the Honda adopted a coupé-like silhouette that referenced the 1980s CRX. This made it a two-seater only, whereas the saloon-like and more practical Prius could carry a full complement of five occupants. At a pinch.

What engine does it use?Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Under the little Toyota’s stubby nose is a 1,496cc petrol engine, which runs an Atkinson combustion cycle for maximum fuel efficiency. The VVT-i unit produces 70hp, and is supplemented by a 40hp electric motor. Unlike its rival from Honda, though, the Prius can be powered by either the petrol engine, the electric motor or a combination of both. To aid its electric-ness, a bank of 6.5Ah nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries sits behind the rear seats, along with a generator. CO2 emissions, now the motor industry watchwords of choice, were 120g/km – very low for the time.

What’s it like to drive?Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

While you’d be right in thinking the original Prius isn’t an exciting car to drive, there are pockets of wonder to be had. There’s a familiar enjoyment in the way the older car goes about its business, which you also experience in the current car – its laid-back and relaxed demeanour shared by its descendant.

The petrol engine and electric motor are monitored by a control system which measures the ratio of power coming from each source and operates the car in the most efficient way. That power is directed to the front wheels, with any excess energy used to recharge the battery pack.

Start off in purely electric mode and the original Prius feels very contemporary and very quiet, but it doesn’t take long before the petrol engine makes its presence felt. Move up the rev range, and it gets quite vocal – don’t worry, it won’t rev past 4,500rpm – but you’ll more than likely be concentrating on the column-mounted gear selector wand to notice. Slot it into ‘B’ when going downhill, and the little Prius recaptures energy. Just like a modern hybrid.

Elsewhere, there is light steering – vague in feel if we’re honest – but with keen turn-in from its low-rolling-resistance 15-inch tyres, the original Prius is fun and enjoyable to drive, as long as you remain aware of its eco limitations and purpose. One of those limitations is speed – the first-generation Prius isn’t a fast car; that would be counter-productive to its environmentally-friendly ethos.

Reliability and running costsToyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota’s first-generation Prius appears to be a paragon of reliability, with may cars racking up 200,000 and even 300,000 miles, many more than Toyota GB’s 77,000-mile example. Low ownership costs are another benefit, too.

In 2003, towards the end of its life, early cars were offered with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, while the hybrid components and battery were guaranteed for eight years/100,000 miles. For the really unwary, an optional 11-year/unlimited mileage extended hybrid battery warranty was available.

Could I drive it every day?Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

There’s no reason why not. The original Prius shares its 2017 counterpart’s fuel-saving values, and is similar to to drive in spirit. So yes, you could quite easily pootle around in it on a daily basis. The hard-wearing interior – unremitting in its grey-ness – shouldn’t be too taxing to keep in good condition, either. Rather more obviously, it’s the hybrid powertrain that will need the most care.

To ease the car’s passage into the digital age of convenience, there’s a smattering of modern-day equipment, too. Most cars came with ABS, alloy wheels, air conditioning, a CD/radio/cassette system, electric windows, metallic paint, twin airbags, and a – 5.8-inch LCD! – colour touchscreen as standard. Optional kit included satellite navigation and a six-disc CD autochanger.

How much should I pay?Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Prices for an original Prius range from £600 to £1,500. That’s very cheap compared to its great-grandson of today, which starts at £24,100. However, price isn’t the problem: finding a car in good condition is. Between 2000 and 2004, only 1,200 first-generation cars were imported. Price when new was £16,495, around £5,000 more expensive than Honda’s similarly-sized Civic hatchback.

Early example of the Prius are out there, though. We saw a 2001, 128,000-mile sat-nav-equipped car for £1,190. Also,  78,000-mile model with 11 months’ MOT was up for £1,650, while a 2002 car with 107,000 miles was advertised at £975.

What should I look out for?Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

If you can find a decent example of Toyota’s debut petrol-electric car, the main issue is the hybrid system’s battery life. The lifespan of those Ni‑MH batteries was expected to be around 10 years or 100,000 miles, which, by definition of age at least, every second-hand version will have reached in 2017. However, certain reports suggest that little battery degradation happens at all.

In 2011, the Mk 1 Prius was recalled to check the nuts that secure the pinion shaft in the steering box assembly. Cars affected were registered between 25 January 2000 and 30 May 2003. Transmission failure has been known to occur, too, which manifests itself as an illuminated warning light on the dashboard.

Should I buy one?Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

While many modern-day small capacity turbocharged petrol engines now get close or exceed the original Prius’s fuel economy, the little hybrid is certainly worth a look – provided you can find one.

If you fancy a taste of hybrid motoring, this is a very affordable option. Just double check that hybrid powertrain and battery pack.

Pub factsToyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

The Prius first appeared on 27 October 1995 at the 31st Tokyo Motor Show. A concept car wearing one of Toyota’s most famous nameplates and featuring the Japanese company’s ‘Toyota Hybrid System’ (THS) technology was unveiled. Few could have predicted what a success the Prius would go on to become.

It wasn’t just on the road that the car was a trailblazer, though. In 2002, the Prius became the world’s first hybrid rally car to complete an FIA-run event: the Midnight Sun to Red Sea Rally. Three years later, a second-generation car set a new world land-speed record for a hybrid vehicle, posting a speed of 130.794mph at the infamous Bonneville Salt Flats.

Ferrari 328 GTS

Ferrari 328 GTS review: Retro Road Test

Ferrari 328 GTSWe’ve covered a lot of bases in these reviews, from a £2,000 Skoda to a £200,000 Porsche. But we’ve never driven a classic Ferrari… until now. Welcome to the Retro Road Test Christmas special.

The prancing horse in question is a 328: the entry-point to Ferrari’s mid-1980s range, alongside the Mondial, Testarossa, 412 and – latterly – F40. Thirty years on, it remains one of the most beautiful ‘modern’ Ferraris – and potentially one of the most sensible, too.

This 1988 328 is a targa-topped GTS (Gran Turismo Spider), kindly loaned to us by GVE London. It’s for sale at GVE’s Uxbridge showroom, priced at £129,900.

What are its rivals?Honda NSX

If you were shopping for a new Ferrari 488 GTB, you might also look at the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan, Noble M600, McLaren 650S, Mercedes-AMG GT S or Porsche 911 Turbo S.

Back in 1988, supercar buyers weren’t so spoilt for choice. The 328 had just three rivals: the Lamborghini Jalpa, Lotus Esprit and Porsche 930 Turbo. Oh, and the De Tomaso Pantera, if you really must.

Perhaps the most obvious alternative today is the original Honda NSX. Launched in 1990, the NSX has an identical power output to the 328 and shares its mid-engined layout, wedgy profile and cockpit-style cabin. It’s a sharper drive than the Ferrari – and cheaper to buy, too. But it doesn’t offer the same investment potential.

Which engine does it use?Ferrari 328 GTS

Fire up this mid-mounted V8 and there are no theatrical throttle blips or showboating exhaust pops. Only when you approach its lofty 7,700rpm redline does this engine sound special. Well, needs must…

The 328 uses a 3.2-litre development of the 3.0 quattrovalvole (four valves per cylinder) V8 from the Ferrari 308. Maximum power is 274hp at 7,000rpm, while peak torque is 224lb ft at 5,500rpm. In a car weighing a modest 1,325kg, that’s good for 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of circa. 160mph.

What’s it like to drive?Ferrari 328 GTS

Ferrari’s open-gate manual gearbox looks timelessly cool, but boy it needs some muscle – especially when cold. I’m advised to short-shift from first to third until the oil is warmed-up. However, I immediately fail by forgetting first gear is on a dog-leg: down and left, where reverse might usually be. Forget your click-click flappy paddles, this car demands deliberate, decisive inputs.

The same goes for the unassisted steering, which is heavy at low speeds, and the engine, which demands to be kept on the boil. The brakes are far better than most cars of this era, though, despite the pedals being ridiculously skewed towards the centre of the car.

On damp, December tarmac, I won’t pretend I pushed the 328 anywhere near its limits. But I did escape the London suburbs and find some quiet lanes, stowing the targa top behind the seats (a two-minute job, incidentally) and relishing the rasp of the V8 as it bounced off the hedgerows.

It took a while, but here the Ferrari and I had a meeting of minds. Its gorgeous Momo steering wheel danced in my hands as we dived through a series of bends, poised and precise. If offers no electronic safety nets, and thus no excuses. Driving a 328 is physical, cerebral and utterly analogue – and all the better for it.

Reliability and running costsFerrari 328 GTS

The 328 is considered one of the most reliable classic Ferraris. An evolution of the 308, launched in 1975, it’s a relatively simple car, free from electronic wizardry. Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection was the order of the day here.

Unlike many Ferraris, a 328 can be serviced without removing the engine. This keeps servicing costs down: GVE estimates around £750 for a new cambelt, plus oil and filter change. Taking into account wear-and-tear parts, such as tyres and brake pads, budget around £2,500 a year in total.

Fuel economy is quoted as 22.5mpg at a constant 56mph – and probably low teens if you give the car a workout. Still, look after your 328 and it should be an appreciating asset. With luck, that rise in value could outweigh the running costs altogether.

Could I drive it every day?Ferrari 328 GTS

In theory, yes. Amazingly, the 328 is shorter and narrower than a current Ford Focus, so it’s compact enough to feel nimble in the city. That’s not something you could say about the wide-boy Testarossa, or indeed the majority of 21st century supercars.

Ride quality is better than modern machines, too – thank absorbent 55-profile tyres – and the 328 has enough luxuries (air-con, electric windows, um… a cassette player) to be comfortable on longer journeys. It feels like a sports car built for the road, rather than the racetrack.

The big question, of course, is should you drive it every day? There, the answer is probably ‘no’. The rising value of 328s dictates that most owners want to keep wear and mileage to a minimum. And on that note…

How much should I pay?Ferrari 328 GTS

The 308 GTS was built in large numbers for a Ferrari. In total, 6,068 left Maranello, versus 1,344 for the hard-top GTB.

Prices vary widely depending on mileage and condition. The cheapest UK-based GTS at the time of writing was a left-hand-drive car with 60,000 miles for £59,995. At the other end of the scale, a GTS with a scant 275 miles on the clock was advertised at £169,990.

GVE’s car falls somewhere in the middle. It’s covered a modest 13,000 miles from new – the equivalent of less than 500 miles a year – and is offered at £129,900.

What should I look out for?David Rai

We asked GVE owner David Rai (pictured) and the company’s leading Ferrari expert, Guy Tedder, what to look for when buying a Ferrari 328. These are their top five tips:

  • As with all Ferraris, service history is of paramount importance. Originality is vital with older cars, too.
  • Don’t be scared off by service stamps from a specialist; they can be a better bet than Ferrari main dealers, who don’t necessarily know much about the classic models.
  • All 328s had a galvanised body, so rust problems aren’t a big issue. However, check the bottoms of the doors and the back of the rear wheelarches for possible corrosion.
  • Windows can become slow and shuddery through lack of use. This can be rectified by lubricating the moving parts inside the door.
  • Always check that the air conditioning works efficiently. It wasn’t the most well-designed system in the world, and most cars have been converted to new gas by now.

Should I buy one?Ferrari 328 GTS

The Pininfarina-penned 328 is an object of beauty. I had one on my bedroom wall as a child and, unlike yours truly, it has only grown lovelier with age.

It isn’t particularly quick by 2016 standards (a Ford Focus RS would leave it for dust), but that hardly matters. The Ferrari offers a driving experience that’s immersive, invigorating and intoxicating. It’s a car you’ll want to learn more about: to discover its abilities by developing your own. It isn’t perfect, but the quirks are all part of its character.

For the price of this particular 328 GTS, you could buy a new Porsche 911 Turbo, a car that is, objectively, better in every way. But that is missing the point. The Ferrari is a car to be enjoyed on sunny Sunday mornings and special occasions. And it’s a savvy investment, too.

So, our Retro Road Test Christmas special didn’t disappoint. Let’s just hope Santa is paying attention…

Pub factFerrari 328 GTS

Ferrari built 542 UK right-hand-drive examples of the 328 GTS between 1986 and 1989. Of these, 292 had anti-lock (ABS) brakes.

According to Guy Tedder, ABS, models are slightly less desirable due to revised suspension geometry that made the car feel less responsive. ABS cars – like the one seen here – are easily identified by their convex alloy wheels. Non-ABS cars have concave alloys.

Porsche 964 Carrera RS

Porsche 964 Carrera RS: Retro Road Test

Porsche 964 Carrera RS

Porsche doesn’t use its Rennsport badge lightly. Or rather, it does: RS models are stripped of excess fat, making them the most focused and most fêted – 911s of all. And, in traditional Porsche style, you pay more money for less car especially when it comes to used examples.

The 964 Carrera RS was the first 911 with ‘RS’ on its rump since the epochal Carrera 2.7 RS of 1973, and just 2,282 were made. Today, a mint-condition 2.7 RS could set you back £1 million, versus £168,000 for this 964 currently for sale at Autofarm in Oxfordshire (01865 331234).

Could this be our most exciting Retro Road Test yet? Time to discover what all the fuss is about…

What are its rivals?Porsche 993 Carrera RS

If you’re in the market for a classic 911 RS, you probably won’t consider much else. These low-volume sports cars exist in a rarefied bubble, scrutinised by enthusiasts and investors alike. And with prices edging ever upwards, there’s no sign of the bubble bursting yet.

Perhaps the 964’s closest rival is actually its successor, the 993 RS. Despite its more aggressive styling (a huge GT2-style rear wing was optional), the 993 is a slightly softer, more road-biased alternative to the 964. It’s also rarer, with only 1,241 made, meaning prices are even higher. Good ones can exceed £200,000.

What engine does it use?Porsche 964 Carrera RS

Porsche 911 engines never look very special. But this air-cooled flat-six is meatier than most, at 3.6 litres and 264 hp. That’s modest by modern standards, but the RS is around 150 kg lighter than the standard car – plus it boasts a lighter flywheel and close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox.

The net result is 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 161 mph; hardly old-fashioned performance. There was also a 3.8-litre, 304 hp version of 964 RS, although very few were made.

What’s it like to drive?Porsche 964 Carrera RS

The 964 RS feels very different to a modern 911. It’s amazingly compact, for starters – shorter and narrower than the current Cayman – and utterly bereft of creature comforts. Infotainment? Dream on.

The pedals are offset sharply to the right in this left-hand-drive car, with the clutch positioned dead-ahead where you’d usually find the brake. UK cars came with power steering, but this Spanish RS does without, so manoeuvring between parked Porsches at Autofarm is a bicep-busting effort. A lumpier cam (the only engine modification) also makes it embarrassingly easy to stall.

Escaping onto the Oxfordshire lanes, it’s time to let the RS off the leash. The mechanical clatter of its flat-six hardens to a visceral snarl as the revs rise. Below 4,000rpm it feels merely quick – then all hell breaks loose and it explodes to the 6,800rpm redline faster than you can grab the next gear. It’s uncouth, uncompromising and utterly fantastic.

The brakes require a firm shove, but all the controls are deliciously analogue. Riding on 40mm-lowered suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels, the 964 feels totally tied-down – like a Carrera Cup racer with number plates. Perhaps less really is more, after all?

Reliability and running costsPorsche 964 Carrera RS

The Porsche 911 is famed for its bulletproof mechanicals. And the RS produces just 11hp more than a standard 964 Carrera, so its engine isn’t unduly stressed. You need to judge each car on its individual merits; some have been worked hard at track days, while others have led pampered lives in air-conditioned garages. Originality is ultimately more important than mileage, as bespoke RS parts – such as the thinner glass and aluminium bonnet – are rare and expensive.

With any luck, other running costs, such as maintenance, insurance and road tax, can be offset against the car’s increase in value. Fuel bills won’t be cheap, of course, but this isn’t a car you will drive every day. Or is it?

Could I drive it every day?Porsche 964 Carrera RS

We’d shake the hand of anyone who does their daily commute in a 964 RS, but such owners are few and far-between – soaring values have seen to that. We could live with the heavy steering (not an issue on UK-spec cars, as noted above) and lack of air-con, but the ride is only borderline acceptable on broken British bitumen. What feels taut and agile on Sunday morning could be tiresome and annoying by Monday morning.

Better to savour the RS as a car for special occasions. A car to drive just for the hell – or indeed heaven – of it. On narrow lanes in Wales or the Scottish Highlands, the diminutive Porsche could keep pace with many of today’s bloated supercars. And its driver would have more fun, too.

How much should I pay?Porsche 964 Carrera RS

You probably won’t find an RS for less than six figures, such is the demand for this classic Porsche. Expect to pay from £150,000 for a well-cared-for example, with the very best cars advertised at nearly double that. Not bad for a car that cost £61,000 in 1991.

This particular ‘matching numbers’ RS has covered 77,000 miles from new and has just benefited from a £50,000 Autofarm renovation – including a respray in the original Guards Red. As such, it looks decent value at £168,000.

What should I look out for?Mikey Wastie

Mikey Wastie is managing director at Autofarm and an acknowledged Porsche expert. Here are his five tips for buying a 964 RS:

  • Some have been used as track day cars, so check for brake and suspension wear
  • Authenticity is key. Has it got the correct numbers on the engine and chassis? History is important, too – you need to know what it’s done and where it’s been
  • Has it still got the correct magnesium wheels? Keep an eye out for poorly refurbished ones or spider blistering
  • Gauges are prone to the printed face delaminating – a problem on all 964s
  • Check for front boot floor damage. Accident repairs should be easy to spot here

Should I buy one?Porsche 964 Carrera RS

The 964 Carrera RS is the Porsche 911 in one of its purest forms. Raw and unfiltered, it distils all that’s great about Germany’s sports car into a shot of pure petrolhead adrenalin. It’s a car you’ll ache to spend time with, to learn its quirks and exploit its talents. The buzz of driving it stayed with us many hours after we reluctantly handed back the keys.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford one, go for it. There are few better investments in the world of classic cars than a 911 with an RS badge. The only problem is, you’ll never want to sell it.

Pub factRUF CTR

The previous owner of ‘our’ 964 fitted various upgrades from Porsche tuner, RUF. These included spoilers and an innovative ‘Electric Foot’ EKS clutchless semi-automatic gearbox. Autofarm has since returned the car to standard ‘Lightweight’ spec – as it left the factory.

The 911 pictured is the famous RUF CTR Yellowbird, a turbocharged 964 that starred in the famous ‘Faszination on the Nurburgring’ video (look it up on YouTube), driven by Stefan Roser.

Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

Toyota MR2: Retro Road Test summer special

Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

Summer has finally arrived and now is a good time to treat yourself to a set of weekend wheels. If your budget is limited to around £5,000, you could do much worse than looking at Toyota’s ‘midship runabout 2-seater’.

In a Motoring Research Retro Road Test special, we’ve driven a first- and third-generation MR2 from Toyota UK’s heritage fleet to find out which one you should spend your money on.

Mk1: What are its rivals?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

Launched in 1984, the original MR2 was intended as a fun-to-drive car that was cheap to run. It was unusual in its mid-engined layout, but its compact dimensions complied with strict Japanese regulations. It arrived around the same time as the Fiat X1/9, Volkswagen Scirocco and Honda CR-X.

Mk3: What are its rivals?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

The third-generation MR2, launched in 1999, was a bit different to its predecessors. While it stuck to the mid-engined layout, it was a proper convertible and closer to the Mazda MX-5 and (also mid-engined) MG F.

Mk1: Which engines does it use?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

The original MR2 shared a naturally-aspirated, 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with the more mainstream Corolla. It produced 128hp in the UK and could hit 62mph in less than 9.0 seconds – quick for its time, and faster than its peers.

Mk3: Which engines does it use?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

By the third-generation model, the MR2 used a 1.8-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated engine. Like its predecessors, it used dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves – while the camshaft timing was adjustable using Toyota’s VVT-i system. The car’s low kerb weight meant it could hit 62mph in between 6.8 seconds and 8.7 seconds, depending on transmission (five- and six-speed manuals were available, as was a five-speed sequential ’box).

Mk1: What’s it like to drive?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

The 1987 example we’re testing here still feels incredibly sprightly, even though it’s probably lost a few horses over the years – and isn’t, by Toyota’s admission, the best example just yet. With the engine’s weight sitting close to the rear wheels, it’s clear from the start that the original MR2 offers extraordinary levels of grip. Give it the beans from a standstill, for example, and you have to be very clumsy with the clutch for the wheels to (briefly) spin up.

Despite a shortage of power assistance, the steering is light (perhaps overly so) when you increase the speed – something that’ll happen soon as you work the twin-cam engine up through the gears, changing close to the 8,000rpm redline. It has an appetite for being driven hard and encourages you to do so.

While the old Toyota won’t see which way a modern hot hatch went, it still provides one of the most enjoyable driving experiences you’ll get for the money. The sound, steering feel and unusual driving position combine to make it feel like a wonderfully analogue experience.

Mk3: What’s it like to drive?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

After driving the first-generation MR2, the Mk3 feels a little bland on first impressions. The interior is very dull in comparison – while the Mk1 is wonderfully 80s, the recent model is as we’ve become used to from Toyota. Lots of black plastics, and nothing particularly exciting.

But spend some time getting to know the third-gen MR2, and it’s equally likeable in a different way. Just like its predecessors, its mid-engined handling provides oodles of grip, while its diminutive dimensions give you lots of confidence for threading it down rural roads. While it’s not as playful as an MX-5 (if you get the rear out, you’ll probably need more than a dab of oppo to get it back in), it feels more agile. Turn into a bend and it’ll shrug off any thoughts of understeer.

Mk1: Could I drive it every day?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

We quite often say this in Retro Road Tests: you could drive the Mk1 MR2 every day, but it’d be a bit of a shame to. Its lack of storage space, general shortage of refinement and the potential to break down (yes, it’s a Toyota – but a very old one now) means you’d probably start to hate it fairly quickly. Save it for the weekend and you’ll relish every mile behind the wheel.

Mk3: Could I drive it every day?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

If you’re looking for a daily drive, the Mk3 MR2 is much more realistic. It feels like a modern car inside, but don’t be fooled into thinking its practical. The boot space is… lacking, even for a couple of weekend bags. You have to take it very easy in inclement weather, too.

Mk1: How much should I pay?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

Prices for the Mk1 MR2 are strengthening, and it’s definitely one of those cars where it pays to spend more money on a cherished example than be tempted by one at the cheaper end of the market. You can pick one up for less than £2,000, but it’ll probably need some bodywork in the near future and there’s no shortage of parts that could need replacing to make it drive as well as it did when it was new: bushes, droplinks, shocks and springs all wear with age.

Mk3: How much should I pay?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

Prices for the Mk3 are pretty similar to the Mk1. You can buy one for less than £2,000 now, but they tend to be for leggy examples that have been owned by an unenthusiastic owner who may have skimped on maintenance. Ideally, we’d be looking to spend at least £3,000 on a 2003 or later model.

Mk1: What should I look out for?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

Rust is the big issue with Mk1s. They rot everywhere: the wheel arches, wings, B-pillars, A-pillars, sills. Fibreglass skirts make it easy for rust to be hidden, so make sure you get underneath the car and have a poke in every nook and cranny. Other than that, the engine is fairly robust – but you’ll want proof of regular servicing. Listen out for a tappety engine, not a huge concern, but a sign that it might not having maintained as well as you’d like. And watch out for smoke coming out of the exhaust.

Mk3: What should I look out for?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

In the first instance, look out for signs of how well the car’s been treated. Has it got many marks on the body, are all the tyres a good brand with plenty of tread, and does the owner have a folder full of paperwork? Earlier models can often face excessive oil consumption, while abused examples that have been thrashed from cold can suffer from the pre-cat breaking up and being sucked into the engine. Costly.

Although the third-generation model doesn’t suffer from rust as much as older examples, the rear crossmember is known to corrode – and it’s usually disguised by an undertray, meaning it won’t be picked up by the MOT.

Which one should I buy?Toyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

In reality, whether you should buy a Mk1 or Mk3 depends largely on what you want from a car. If you want a project that will attract admiring glances and attract comments at a classic car show, but will need regular maintenance to keep it on the road, you should definitely invest in a Mk1 while you still can.

The Mk3, despite its limitations in a practical sense, is a much more usable buy. If you pack light and want to take it on a European road trip, you can feel pretty reassured it’ll get you there – and in more comfort than the Mk1. A tidy one is probably a good investment and you’ll love every minute behind the wheel.

If you gave this reviewer £5,000 and told him to buy a Mk1 or Mk3 Toyota MR2? I’ll take the original, thanks.

Pub factToyota, MR2, review, Mk1, Mk3, Series 1, Series 3, buying guide, Retro Road Test

The third-generation model we tested here was actually one of the last off the production line. One of 300 special editions, it’s badged ‘TF300’ and would have cost £18,015 when new in 2006. Each model came with custom leather and Alcantara upholstery, a twin sports exhaust and a dedicated vehicle number stitched into the seats.

Porsche 993 Targa

Porsche 911 Targa (993): Retro Road Test

Porsche 993 Targa

For Porsche enthusiasts, this is as good as it gets. The venerable 911 has been in production for 53 years (and counting), but the ‘993’ version lasted just four: from 1994 to 1998.

The 993 was the last 911 with an air-cooled engine – Porsche switched to water-cooling for the 996 of 1999 – and sleek styling, compact dimensions and superb handling, combined with relative rarity, make it highly sought-after today.

This particular 993 is a Carrera 2 Targa, meaning it has rear-wheel drive and a retractable glass roof. It was supplied by renowned Porsche specialists, Autofarm – and has since been sold.

What are its rivals?

The current 911 has a long list of rivals, from the Audi R8 to the Nissan GT-R. Sports car buyers weren’t so spoiled for choice in the mid-1990s, though.

BMW’s E36 M3, built from 1992-1999, comes close for on-paper performance and, as the least fashionable M3, is vastly cheaper to buy. Expect to pay from £6,000, compared to least £30,000 for a 993.

Prices for the Honda NSX are roughly on par with the Porsche, and the Japanese car is arguably even better to drive. However, its aluminium body can make repairs prohibitively expensive. The Mazda RX-7 is a less exotic and cheaper alternative – if you can find one that hasn’t been modified.

Lastly, potential 993 buyers may also consider the – much newer – ‘997’ Porsche 911, sold from 2005-2012. Prices start at around £18,000 and there are hundreds listed in the classifieds.

Which engines does it use?

Porsche 993 Targa

A 3.6-litre ‘boxer’ six-cylinder engine is mounted just aft of the 993’s rear axle. This 1997 car has the Varioram intake system, which boosts power to 286 hp (earlier cars has 272hp). It also boasts a six-speed manual gearbox, rather than the – less desirable – Tiptronic semi-automatic.

The 993 Carrera 2 Targa hits 62mph in 5.7 seconds and has a top speed of 162mph. Pretty respectable stats, even today.

What’s it like to drive?

Porsche 993 Targa

First impression of the 993 is how compact its cabin is – even for my equally ‘compact’ 5ft 8in frame. The pedals are very offset to the left, too.

Any minor discomforts are soon forgotten when you fire-up that flat-six, though. It’s turbine-smooth, and surprisingly quiet at low revs. But push the floor-hinged throttle a little further and that familiar hollow air-cooled bark echoes around your eardrums. There’s nothing quite like it.

On the road, the 993 feels darty and surprisingly dainty; it’s closer in size to a Cayman than a new 911. The steering is wonderfully talkative and the brakes are better than expected for a 19-year-old car.

At low speeds it understeers (runs wide), but push a little harder and the rear end comes into play. Tail-wagging oversteer is there on-demand if you want it. However, conscious that 993s lack any electronic stability aids – and that this car is worth around £44k – I back off before brimming confidence gets the better of modest talent.

Reliability and running costs

Porsche 993 Targa

The 993 comes from the era that spawned the ‘Germanic build quality’ cliche. Serviced regularly, it should prove a paragon of reliability; the most likely issue will be rust – we’ll come to that shortly.

No 911 is cheap to run, but a network of knowledgeable specialists, such as Autofarm, means you aren’t reliant on pricey Porsche dealers. Budget up to £500 for a minor service (every year), and £1,000 for a major one (every two years).   

With official fuel economy of (ouch!) 16.8mpg, filling up could be your biggest expense. At least classic insurance and pre-2001 road tax of £235 a year keep costs down.

Could I drive it every day?

Porsche 993 Targa

Assuming you could stomach the fuel bills, the 993 is comfortable, refined and practical enough to use every day. There’s less room in the front ‘boot’ than current 911s offer, but many owners simply use the child-sized rear seats as additional luggage space.

The 993 was the first 911 Targa with a sliding glass sunroof in place of a removable panel. So you can enjoy the sunshine at a moment’s notice – along with styling that’s barely distinguishable from the 911 coupe.

How much should I pay?

Porsche prices seem to be spiralling ever upwards, and the 993 is one of the biggest appreciators. That’s good news if you already own one, but less so if you’re looking to buy. GT2 versions can easily top £500k, with the lightweight RS not far behind. Even the once-unloved 993 Turbo is now a six-figure car.

Fortunately, prices for ‘regular’ Carrera 2 and Carrera 4 versions of the 993 aren’t quite so inflated. The cheapest cars are around £30k, although we’d advise spending between £40k and £50k for a tidy car with comprehensive service history.

What should I look out for?

Porsche 993 Targa

Autofarm founder Josh Sadler is a leading expert on Porsche 911s. Here are his top six tips for buying a 993 Targa:

  1. Check for poorly-repaired accident damage. These are sports cars that were driven hard and the rise in values means even damaged cars may have been repaired for a quick profit.
  2. Look for good history. Brakes and dampers wear out, which is normal, but check the car has been serviced by a specialist.
  3.  Targas can rust around the roof mounts and it’s a real pain to sort out. Walk away if these are rusted.
  4. Also check carefully for rust around the windscreen. That said, rust is less of an issue than on earlier 911s.
  5. There have been some cars with clicking door hinges. The weld cracks, possibly because the door is swung open too hard. It requires welding to fix
  6. Parts availability is good, but the two-piece alloy wheels on the Targa are specific to that model. As such, they may be harder to find.

Should I buy one?

We’ll leave the air versus water debate to the Porsche purists, but there’s no doubt the 993 is a high-point in 911 history. And when we’re talking about arguably the world’s greatest sports car, that makes it very special indeed.

The odd driving position and haphazard ergonomics would take more getting used to, but we suspect the 993 is a car that worms its way into your affections over time, transforming flaws into mere quirks, and eccentricities into something broadly defined as ‘character’.

Yes, you could have a very nice 997 for similar money. However, we doubt that car – for all its brilliance – will ever be revered like the 993. And besides, drive it carefully and the older car’s increase in value should, hopefully, more than cover its running costs. A free Porsche? Now there’s a thought…

Pub fact

Porsche 993 Targa

The first 911 Targa was introduced in 1967 and had a zip-out plastic rear window, replaced by a fixed glass window just one year later. The early ‘soft-window’ Targa seen here is actually a Porsche 912 – a budget four-cylinder 911 sold between 1965 and 1969.

Porsche 911S

Porsche 911S: Retro Road Test

Porsche 911SFirst, the bad news. If you want a classic Porsche 911, you’ve already missed the boat. Prices soared skywards years ago. For one of the very best cars, like the 911S tested here, you can now expect to pay well into six figures.

However, let’s not be blinded by finance. Regardless of its material value, a vintage 911 is both beautiful to behold and – as we’ll discover – bewitching to drive. So whether you’re a potential 911 driver or a penniless 911 dreamer, sit back and enjoy our most exotic Retro Road Test yet.

Thanks to Porsche specialists Autofarm for supplying this 1971 Porsche 911S, which was for sale at the time of writing.

Ferrari DinoWhat are its rivals?

The 911S arrived in 1969, initially with 170hp. The same year, Ferrari launched its six-cylinder 195hp Dino 246 GT and (open-top) GTS. The delicate Dino trumps the 911 for sheer beauty, but not for value. Prices can easily top £300k today.

Other rivals included the Jaguar E-Type and BMW 3.0 CS. However, neither is a pure sports car like the Porsche.

Porsche 911SWhat engine does it use?

Autofarm describes the 180hp 2.2-litre flat six in this 911S as ‘the ultimate form of Porsche’s original 911 engine’. It was a modern unit for 1971, with mechanical fuel injection and an automatic choke.

The engine sits behind the back axle in trad-911 style and drive goes to the rear wheels via a five-speed dog-leg gearbox. For the uninitiated, first gear is across and down (where reverse would often be), while the other four ratios are arranged in a simple H-pattern.

Porsche 911SWhat’s it like to drive?

Turn the key and the air-cooled six coughs and chunters into life. Its turbine-like whirr fills my ears and vibrates my fingertips through the skinny, four-spoke wheel.

Old 911s don’t like cold starts, so I give the engine a few minutes to warm up, using the hand throttle (a small lever next to the handbrake) to keep the idle speed high. Did I mention the sickly-sweet smell of oil? A classic Porsche is a car for all the senses…

Pulling away, I’m struck by how light the steering is (most of the car’s weight is at the back) and – shortly afterwards – by how ineffective the brakes are. That’s to be expected in a car of this era, of course. But it’s worth acclimatising yourself before you reach that first roundabout…

The engine is smooth and deliciously free-revving, although it doesn’t really wake up until about 5,000rpm. From there, the noise hardens to a synapse-tingling snarl and it charges to the 7,200rpm redline with real urgency.

Grip is limited by modern-car standards and there’s no doubt the rear-engined Porsche could bite back if you overcooked a corner. But it’s refreshing to drive a car that can be enjoyed at sensible speeds. The 911S is as much fun at 30mph as a new 991 Carrera at 60mph.

Porsche 911SReliability and running costs

Porsches have a reputation for robustness and the 911S comes from an age where most things could be fixed with a socket set and a can of WD40. Even so, any car this age will need regular TLC to keep it running properly. Prepare to budget several thousand pounds for maintenance each year, as official Porsche parts won’t come cheap. Especially if they’re rare, deleted items, such as obscure pieces of trim.

On the plus side, car tax (VED) is free and a classic car insurance should keep costs down.

Porsche 911SCould I drive it every day?

Compact dimensions, light controls and excellent all-round visibility (thank those skinny roof pillars) make the 911S a surprisingly capable commuter. Yes, the dog-leg gearbox is a pain in town, but you’d get used to it. Ditto the old-car brakes.

However, it seems a shame to use a car this special for the daily grind. The lack of air-con would be a pain in summer, while salty roads would ravage the bodywork in winter. And, much as we hate to say it, a classic Porsche is an investment – so it pays to use your car sparingly and keep it in tip-top condition.

How much should I pay?

This immaculate 911S would set you back you £180,000-£200,000, although many are worth considerably less. It’s rare to find an old 911 that hasn’t been restored, so condition is more important than mileage. And service history is vital.

Classic Porsches are very colour-sensitive, with bold, bright hues commanding the highest prices. Perhaps that’s why this particular car was resprayed from its original beige to Blood Orange, the factory competition colour of the era.

Porsche 911SWhat should I look out for?

There isn’t much that Autofarm’s founder, Josh Sadler, doesn’t know about 911s. These are his five top tips for buying one:

  • Always take a qualified Porsche expert with you. They know the cars well and be able to assess all key aspects.
  • Heads for the paperwork first. Look for careful ownership, authenticity and whether it’s possible to contact previous owners. Get a certificate from Porsche to see what the original specification was. This is still key to values.
  • Rust, rust and rust. Older Porsches rust all over – even the roof. Check for poor repairs, plating and patching. Look around the windscreen pillars (especially on cars with a sunroof), plus the inner wings, bulkheads… literally everywhere. Putting it right costs a lot!
  • Look for accident damage. These were early performance cars and it wouldn’t be unusual. Autofarm started its business by selling parts from a crash-damaged 911.
  • Matching-number cars are worth more. Check the engine and body numbers match the car’s details.

Porsche 911SShould I buy one?

This, or a new 911 GT3 RS – plus a BMW M3 for your significant other? Put like that, a £200,000 911S seems expensive. But remember, while most modern cars will lose value faster than you can say ‘depreciation’, a classic 911 is an appreciating asset. Admittedly, Porsche prices can’t continue their rapid ascent indefinitely, but a rare and desirable car like this will always have value to collectors.

Anyway, we promised not to get carried-away with all that. And the 911S is so much more than a set of figures on a balance sheet. I loved every minute of driving it – climbing back into a modern car seemed desperately dull by comparison. Sadly, I’m firmly in the ‘dreamer’ category when it comes to cars of this calibre. But if my numbers came up…

Porsche 911 2.7 RSPub fact

If you think a 911S is pricey, try shopping for a Carrera 2.7 RS. Only 1,580 examples of this most desirable of 911s were made, and the best cars can top £1million. Amazingly, on my visit to Autofarm, I spotted no less than five.

The car seen here was sold by Autofarm in 2014. The company can also ‘backdate’ more recent 911s to make them look like a 2.7 RS – or another classic 911.

 

Ford Fiesta XR2

Ford Fiesta XR2: Retro Road Test

Launched in 1984, the second-generation Fiesta XR2 is the plucky underdog of 1980s hot hatches. Forever associated with yoofs sporting baseball caps and Reebok Classics, it has never been esteemed by enthusiasts like many of its rivals.

However, with prices creeping upwards and bona fide classic status on the horizon, perhaps it’s time to revisit the much-maligned XR2? When an invite to a special ‘fast Fiestas’ event in Dagenham popped into the MR inbox, we jumped at the chance.

What are its rivals?

The XR2 competed with sportier (SR and GTE) versions of the Vauxhall Nova, plus more celebrated hot hatches of the era, such as the Renault 5 GT Turbo, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI.

Money-no-object, we’d choose the Peugeot for its chic styling, superb steering and delicately-balanced handling (a little too delicate for some). But a 205 GTI will typically cost you more than twice as much as an equivalent XR2.

What engine does it use?

The original – and much rarer – Fiesta XR2 of 1981 boasted a modest 85hp. For the Mk2 version seen here, Ford upped output to 97hp with the aid of a new 1.6-litre CVH engine from the Escort XR3.

In a car weighing just 839kg (a new Fiesta ST is 1,163kg), that meant 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds and a top speed of 112mph.

The Fiesta also inherited the Escort’s five-speed gearbox, replacing the four-speeder in the first-generation car.

What’s it like to drive?

With unassisted steering, no ABS and no electronic driver aids, the Fiesta offers a refreshingly back-to-basics driving experience.

Its rorty, carburettor-fed engine feels eager, while compact dimensions and great all-round visibility make it a joy to duck and dive through the streets of Dagenham.

Heading to open roads, the XR2’s limitations become more apparent. It thumps over bumps and leans like a listing ship in fast corners. And the brakes – front discs and rear drums, with a cross-linkage to the master cylinder that deadens pedal feel – don’t inspire confidence.

On a more superficial level, public reaction to the XR2 can’t fail to give you a buzz. Pensioners point, a lorry driver nods approvingly and two young lads even request a selfie. Everybody, it seems, loves a fast Ford.

Reliability and running costs

The quality of the Fiesta’s interior trim would make even Dacia blush. There are no soft-touch plastics here. Despite its flimsiness, though, there’s little to actually go wrong. The CVH engine is pretty robust, and most problems can fixed with a spanner and a well-thumbed copy of the Haynes manual.

Fuel economy is quoted as 32.9mpg at a constant 56mph. That’s half what the current Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost achieves on the combined cycle, while producing a near-identical 100hp.

Could I drive it every day?

Thousands did in the 1980s, so there’s no reason why not. But we’d keep our XR2 for high days and holidays. Its rough-and-ready charms might wear thin if used every day, and the threat of rust is ever-present – particularly if you drive the car in winter. Best not to think about crash safety either.

How much should I pay?

XR2s have been vanishing from our roads (many as victims of the scrappage scheme) so – in common with other 1980s hot hatches – prices are rising rapidly. Expect to pay £2,500 for a scruffy-but-usable example, up to around £8,000 for restored cars in as-new condition.

Emerging classic kudos means the Fiesta should hold onto its value, though, and may appreciate over time. The Mk1 XR2 is a surefire investment opportunity – if you can find one.

What should I look out for?

The Fiesta’s 1.6-litre engine is simple and tough. Even so, it needs regular oil and cambelt changes, so check the condition of the oil using the dipstick and look for blue smoke from the exhaust on start-up.

Corrosion is the biggest potential problem. Inspect the wheelarches and sills carefully, as dirt and moisture can become trapped between bodykit and metal. The front suspension turrets and bulkhead (at the base of the windscreen) are potential rust traps, too.

Cosmetic items, such as seat fabric or the rear spoiler, can be hard to find – and thus expensive. On that note, check the V5 registration document to ensure the car is a genuine XR2. Plenty of fakes were built by aspiring boy racers back in the day.

Should I buy one?

Of all our Retro Road Tests so far, this one surprised us the most. We approached the XR2 with low expectations and it resolutely won us over.

Its engine is rough, performance is mediocre and it’s hardly the last word in dynamic finesse. But the XR2 is also a car that you can wring every last horsepower from. It connects you to the road in a way that few modern cars can.

So while would be difficult to overlook such faults in a daily-driver, in a classic car they simply become part of its character. Like a cheeky Eastender done good, the XR2 is a rough diamond. And we love it for that.

Pub fact

Ford eventually replaced the XR2 in 1989 with the fuel-injected XR2i. However, it was dull to drive and roundly panned by the motoring press. In January 1990, CAR magazine ran a cover story with the unequivocal headline: ‘XR2i: another duff fast Ford’.

It would take until 2004, and the first-generation ST, before the Fiesta became a credible hot hatchback again.