The Chris Evans car collection

The Chris Evans car collection

The Chris Evans car collection

After nine years fronting the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, car-mad Chris Evans has launched his new Virgin Radio show. “I say, this is very exciting,” Evans said as he greeted his new listeners.

Over the years, he has owned a tremendous collection of cars, with many of his multi-million-pound purchases ranking among the rarest cars in the world. Here, we look at some of the cars Chris Evans can list on his CV.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The Chris Evans car collection

Evan’s most unusual acquisition was the only working car built for the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film. It features a Ford Racing 3.0-litre V6, a dashboard plate from a first world war British fighter plane, a polished aluminium bonnet, a red and white cedar boat deck and brass fittings lifted from Edwardian motor vehicles.

Shortly after buying it, Evans explained how the purchase came about. “My pal had bought the car on his birthday before he went skiing, not realising she is over 17 feet long. Garage problem. No money lost or gained.

“Chitty is now officially part of the Berkshire Automotive Massive. She is indeed Truly Scrumptious. She’s also gone into the workshop for some much-needed road legalisation.”

Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spider

The Chris Evans car collection

Chris Evans clearly has no intention of scaling back his car collection. In 2014, he spent £2.27 million on a 1971 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder – believed to be a world-record price. It looks stunning in black – a marked contrast to the yellow paint worn by the 1969 Frankfurt Motor show car.

Mk1 Ford Escort Mexico

The Chris Evans car collection

Chris may have a taste for rare and exotic Ferraris, but that doesn’t mean he can’t mix it with the rest of us. Here we see him about to set off from Radio 2 at the wheel of a Ford Escort Mexico. Values of good MK1 Escorts are on the rise, but there’s still a way to go before they catch up with expensive Fezzas.


The Chris Evans car collection

And here’s Chris Evans leaving Radio 2 again, this time at the wheel of a Bentley. Looks a bit tight there, Chris. You may want to consider driving something a little smaller.

Daimler SP250 Dart

The Chris Evans car collection

In 2014, Chris Evans had a run in with the law and paid a high price. He bought one of the very last Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’ police cars for a little over £50,000 at auction. The ex-Scotland Yard Dart came complete with all law-enforcing accoutrements, with Chris adding ‘the kids love it; the big kids love it even more.’ Well quite.

James Hunt’s Hesketh 308

The Chris Evans car collection

£230,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money for one of F1’s most famous cars. But that’s the price Chris Evans paid for the Works Hesketh 308, driven by James Hunt before his title winning season in 1976.


The Chris Evans car collection

You have to be invited to purchase cars like the LaFerrari. Fortunately for this chap, he’s owned enough Ferraris in his time to be considered a key client. We’re talking about Chris Evans, not Pudsey Bear.

Ferrari 328 GTS

The Chris Evans car collection

This Ferrari 328 GTS was formerly owned by Chris Evans. In 1985, the 308 GTB and GTS were updated with a new V8 engine, hence the new 328 GTB and GTS denominations. Over 6,000 GTS roadsters were built, far more than the 1,345 hardtops.

Ferrari 458 ItaliaThe Chris Evans car collection

This is the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia that, a few years ago, Chris Evans put up for sale at £189,950 via Auto Trader. It had covered only 5,559 miles since new.

Bentley Turbo R

The Chris Evans car collection

Powered by a 6.75-litre turbocharged mill, a late-90s Turbo R like Evans’ British racing green model can be picked up for less than £20,000. In the past the Radio 2 presenter has also splashed out on a Bentley Brooklands for £102,000 (nearly wiping out his bank balance at the time of £103,000).

1972 Volkswagen Beetle

The Chris Evans car collection

A somewhat impulsive buy, Evans saw this slightly beaten up 1972 sky blue VW Beetle with a for sale note stuck in its window on his way home from work. After a quick telephone conversation the owner met Evans at the car 10 minutes later and the deal was sealed.

Ferrari GTO

The Chris Evans car collection

Evans lusted after a Ferrari 250 GTO for years before he finally bought one similar to this for a staggering £12 million in 2010. One of only 36,250 GTOs ever manufactured, this Ferrari has been called the Leonardo da Vinci of motoring. Evans describes it as the beauty and the beast rolled into one.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The Chris Evans car collection

Evans drove and was chauffeur-driven in his W220 S600 in equal measure. This was also the car he chose for his entrance at the Staines magistrates’ court in 2001, where Evans was banned from driving for 56 days for clocking 105mph in a 70mph zone with his Ferrari 550 Maranello.

1961 Ferrari California Spyder

The Chris Evans car collection

In 2010 Evans made history when he bought the most expensive car sold in Britain – paying a cool £12 million for a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO. This 1961 California Spyder, once owned by Hollywood hard man James Coburn, is the convertible cousin of that car and set the DJ back a not insignificant £5.6 million in 2008.

1965 Mercedes-Benz 230SL


Keen to capitalise on the massive success of the 1950s 300SL, Mercedes-Benz launched the more affordable but equally beautiful 190SL in 1955. Evans sold his classic 1965 Merc in 2004 and it went under the hammer again four years later, fetching its owner at the time a handsome £32,347.

1964 Daimler V8 Vicarage Convertible

The Chris Evans car collection

This is Chris Evans’ 1964 Daimler V8 Vicarage Convertible. The car is rumoured to have cost Chris £135,000 but it sold for just £73,500 when he auctioned it at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in 2007.

Porsche 911 GT2 RS MR

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Hated car features

Car eyelashes and cuddly toys: the car accessories people hate

Hated car features

What’s your most hated car feature? Research carried out by WMB Pride reveals what we as a nation like and dislike about our cars: standard, modified or otherwise. The list includes everything from infotainment and fake engine noises, to add-ons like car eyelashes.

More than half of those surveyed said they’d bought a car because of its extra features. Heated seats, cruise and sat-nav were all popular deal-makers.

When asked about modding, a third said they had altered their car in some way.

Over half did so for looks and a fifth did so for better performance. Around half had fitted rear spoilers and alloy wheels, more than 40 percent had darkened their windows and a quarter had personal number plates. Just 14 percent said they’d fitted a different exhaust to their car.

Hated car features

This is where the fun begins. Those surveyed were then asked what added features they hate the most. By far and away the ‘winner’ was car eyelashes, with three-quarters professing their dislike. We’re inclined to agree. Only the Lamborghini Miura wore lashes well.

An excess of cuddly toys came second, with two-thirds nominating it. More than half said they disliked stickers and decals, too. Fake engine noises came just ahead of neon lights in the list of pet hates.

Why do we dislike these add-ons? Most said they were ugly or distasteful and devalued the car. We are a nation of purists, it would seem…

“Vehicle modifications are a great way to express yourself, but aren’t to everyone’s taste,” said a WMB Logistics spokesperson

“What you might think looks great, others might think looks cheap and tacky. Hey, you’re the one that has to drive or ride around like it, so as long as you’re not offending anyone then you crack on.”

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Ford Mustang

We can’t believe they’re not better: the most disappointing new cars

We can’t believe they’re not better: the most disappointing new cars

There’s no such thing as a bad new car. That’s the theory, anyway. But while the days of deathtraps and shoddily built motors are thankfully behind us, some new cars are better than others. Indeed, there’s a few you really ought to steer clear of.

We’ve selected 20 cars that might be fine in isolation, but must live with a ‘must try harder’ tag when viewed alongside their key rivals.

Mitsubishi Mirage

A mirage: something that seems to be far away but doesn’t really exist. Oh, if only that were true of the Mitsubishi Mirage. While it should be cheap to run, and ultimately reliable, you could say the same about an A-rated energy efficient fridge-freezer. It’s just so lacklustre and not exactly cheap. Our money would be on the infinitely superior Skoda Citigo.

Ford EcoSport

If you manage to get beyond the challenging styling (good luck with that), you’ll find a compact SUV that’s outmuscled in just about every department. The EcoSport was designed and built for emerging markets and it simply cannot compete in the UK. It’s not particularly practical, while the side-hinged tailgate is straight outta the 1990s.

Alfa Romeo MiTo

Alfa Romeo MiTo

That the Alfa Romeo MiTo looks great is in no doubt. In fact, we’d go as far as saying it’s the best looking supermini you can buy. But having been on sale since 2009, it’s really showing its age, with the interior a real weak point. It’s not that the MiTo is a bad car, it’s just that it’s outclassed in most areas. But not the styling, which has aged beautifully.

Fiat 500L

You can understand Fiat’s desire to create larger spin-off models based on the cutesy 500. But that doesn’t mean we can get behind the decision, especially when the result is the 500L. The fact is, an Italian company shouldn’t put its name to something that looks like this. The 500L MPV is even more of a horror show, but at least it boasts the practicality of seven seats.

DS 4

In the future, DS Automobiles will throw off the shackles of its Citroen heritage and start building unique and interesting vehicles. In the meantime we’re left with a range of cars that are more style than substance. The DS 4 is a Citroen C4 that doesn’t ride as well and condemns your rear seat passengers to a life of misery. There’s little room in the back, the doors are too small, while the rear windows don’t open.

Infiniti Q50

Infiniti Q50

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to recommend the Infiniti Q50 as a credible alternative to the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Sadly, we’re unable to do that, because the Q50 is let down by a poor quality interior and a lacklustre driving experience. If you want to stand out, go ahead, but a pair of red trousers will have the same effect and you won’t need to spend upwards of £30,000 for the privilege.

Vauxhall Cascada

In the US, where the Vauxhall Cascada is sold as a Buick, this convertible might make more sense. Cruising Palm Springs Boulevard in your Toasted Coconut Metallic Buick sounds quite appealing. But spending upwards of £26,000 on a Vauxhall Cascada, then watching it depreciate faster than a brick in water is a less attractive proposition. Evacuate the showroom floor, as that German dance act nearly sang.

Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Driving a ‘Baja Bug’ along California’s Golden Coast is the stuff dreams are made of. The Volkswagen Beetle Dune, on the other hand, is more ‘sick bucket’ than ‘bucket list’. Paying homage to one of the coolest vehicles of the 1960s is filled with risk. Time has moved on and the Beetle is nowhere near as cool as it once was. A lick of ‘tanning shop’ gold paint and a small increase in ride height isn’t going to change that.



A carmaker without a crossover or SUV is akin to an episode of Game of Thrones without a grizzly death. Little wonder, then, that MG decided to add the GS to its range. As first attempts go, it’s not too bad, with a decent level of kit and a fair amount of space. It’s also reasonably cheap, but if you’re in search of value, the SsangYong Tivoli and Dacia Duster are more interesting.


Imagine, if you will, that you’re in a restaurant and placing an order for dinner. Having chosen your main meal, the waiter proceeds to offer you an alternative that is less tasty and more expensive than your first choice. You’re not going to change your mind, are you? The BMW X4 is less practical, uglier and more expensive than the BMW X3, so why would buy one? Answers on a postcard.

Hyundai i20 Coupe

A coupe is supposed to be alluring, drop-dead gorgeous, even. The Hyundai i20 Coupe is neither of these things. Instead, it’s little more than a three-door version of the hugely likeable and more practical Hyundai i20 hatchback. It’s not that the i20 Coupe is a bad car – because it isn’t – it’s just that Hyundai has made a rod for its back by calling it a coupe and creating a false impression. Our money would be on the excellent i20 Turbo Edition – in five-door guise.

Fiat Punto

Fiat Punto

The Fiat Punto is the only supermini to offer ‘squint hard and it’s a baby Maserati’ styling, but beyond that it’s hard to recommend this ageing car. Aside from a few tiny tweaks, the Punto is largely unchanged since its 2005 launch, and the sector has moved on. Fine if you’re hiring a car in Milan, Rome or Turin, but as a purchase consideration there are plenty of better options out there.

Citroen C4

In 2015, Citroen updated its C4 hatchback, but this was little more than an exercise in papering over the cracks. The new C3 supermini highlights what Citroen can do when it puts its mind to it, whereas the C4 is outclassed by the likes of the Kia Cee’d, Hyundai i30, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus. Its one saving grace: discounts will be available.

Nissan Pulsar

In 2006, Nissan waved goodbye to the lacklustre Almera and embarked on a crossover-shaped future. Given the success of the Qashqai and Juke, you’d forgive Nissan for not looking back. Only it did, at which point it decided the world needed an Almera for a new generation. The result was the Pulsar: a competent, comfortable and capable hatchback. Fine if you’re after mediocrity, not so great if you’re after anything more.

Infiniti QX70

Infiniti QX70

In the United States or the Middle East, the Infiniti QX70 might make some sense. But over here, where we have things called corners and narrow streets, it’s almost impossible to recommend. The choice of a 3.7-litre V6 or 5.0-litre V8 engine might sound appealing in isolation, but in the real world a Range Rover, Cayenne or X5 would make more sense.

SsangYong Rexton

If you mourn the death of the old-school SUV, you might find the SsangYong Rexton rather appealing. It’s certainly cheap, with prices starting from £22,995, while the five-year limitless mileage warranty holds undoubted appeal. But if you intend to spend most of your time on the road rather than off it, you should look elsewhere.

Subaru XV

We’re big fans of Subaru, whether it’s the imperious Outback off-road wagon or sublime BRZ sports car. The XV is harder to love, especially in the face of some seriously accomplished rivals. It’s uncomfortable, expensive and let down by a poor quality interior. Just as well Subaru is unveiling a new XV at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show.

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

Controversial? While the woeful Euro NCAP safety rating doesn’t change how we feel about the Mustang as a driver’s car, it casts a shadow that’s hard to ignore. It’s the first car to be awarded a two-star rating since the Lancia Ypsilon in 2015, while the 32% child occupant and 16% safety assist scores are even more damning.

Mercedes-Benz GLA

Perhaps it’s unfair to pick on the Mercedes-Benz GLA. It is, after all, just one of a number of hatchback-based premium crossovers that seem to offer little in the way of advantages compared to their host vehicle. But the GLA suffers from being too expensive and lumbered with hideous styling that makes us yearn for the days when Mercedes-Benz built tasteful and elegant cars.

Vauxhall Meriva

Nobody has ever grown up wanting to own a Vauxhall Meriva. It’s the automotive equivalent of a pair of beige slacks and a loose fitting cardigan. Pull yourself together, man, go and spend your £20,000 on something with a little more passion and style. Yes, you read that right: a top-spec Meriva costs £20k. It’s enough to make you spill barley water on your freshly-ironed slacks.

Top 10 most economical cars

Top 10 most economical 2016The most economical cars of 2016 continue to get ever-more fuel-efficient. Recent introductions have broken new ground for fuel economy and mpg with more models now returning more than 90mpg.

A by-product of good fuel economy is low CO2 emissions, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions: the latest Euro 6 models also have low NOx emissions to cut inner-city pollution.

But which are the most economical cars on sale in the UK? Here’s the full rundown of the greenest cars you can buy – and every single one of them emits less than 100g/km CO2.

FYI: We’ve taken figures from the official European NEDC test, and we’ve included regular petrol, diesel and hybrid cars, but not plug-in hybrids as these models will only give maximum economy if the batteries are fully charged.

1: Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDi 75 S&S – 94.2mpg


Two models share the honour of being the UK’s most fuel-efficient car on sale. First up is the diesel-powered Peugeot 208 which, in latest facelifted 1.6 BlueHDi 75 S&S guise, averages a heady 94.2mpg, combined with sub-80g/km CO2 emissions.

2: Toyota Prius – 94.2mpg


If diesel power isn’t for you, the new Toyota Prius also averages 94.2mpg courtesy of its petrol-electric drivetrain – with the added benefit of zero-emissions EV running at slow speed. It’s roomier than the Peugeot too – and has ultra-low CO2 of just 70g/km.

3: Peugeot 308 1.6 BlueHDi 120 S&S – 91.1mpg

Peugeot 308

If you really want a Peugeot but really need more space, the larger 308 is very economical too: the 1.6 BlueHDi 120 S&S version averages 91.1mpg, making it three cars on sale in the UK to officially average more than 90mpg.

4: Ford Fiesta 1.5 TDCi 95 S&S Econetic – 88.3mpg

Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta is Britain’s best-selling car and it offers an ultra-economical Econetic version of the 1.5 TDCi diesel that averages a heady 88.3mpg.

5: Hyundai i20 1.1 CRDi 75 Blue – 88.3mpg

Hyundai i20

The latest Hyundai i20 is a well-regarded supermini and the roomy five-door averages 88.3mpg in three-cylinder 1.1 CRDi 75 Blue diesel guise.

6: Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 ECO – 88.3mpg

Renault Clio

Renault can’t quite match French rival Peugeot for claimed fuel economy but the 1.5 dCi 90 ECO version of the Clio is still impressive at 88.3mpg.

7: Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi 95 S/S Ecoflex – 88.3mpg

Vauxhall Corsa

Vauxhall’s long-running 1.3 CDTi diesel engine remains very fuel efficient with the stop-start-equipped 95hp Ecoflex version capable of 88.3mpg.

8: Citroen C4 1.6 BlueHDi 100 S&S – 85.6mpg

Citroen C4

The Citroen C4 is a forgotten family five-door hatchback but that hasn’t stopped the firm making fuel efficient stars: the 1.6 BlueHDi version averages over 85mpg.

9: Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 75 ISG – 85.6mpg

Kia Rio

Kia can’t quite match brand partner Hyundai’s heady fuel economy with its 1.1-litre CRDi 75 Rio, but it’s still good at 85.6mpg.

10: Toyota Yaris Hybrid – 85.6mpg

Toyota Yaris

If you want a fuel efficient supermini but really don’t want diesel, take the Toyota Yaris Hybrid: its 1.5-litre petrol-electric drivetrain returns a claimed 85.6mpg.

Not found a car here that’s quite right? Here we bring you 10 more of the UK’s most economical cars – and you’ll note, not a single one officially averages less than 83mpg…

11: Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110 S/S Ecoflex – 85.6mpg

Vauxhall Astra

The new Vauxhall Astra is the 2016 European Car of the Year – and it’s a fuel-efficient car too, with a 1.6-litre CDTi 110 S/S Ecoflex version returning 85.6mpg.

12: Volvo V40 D2 – 84.1mpg

Volvo V40

Volvo’s new 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine is fuel efficient in all applications. The very greenest is the 120hp version in the V40, which averages 84.1mpg.

13: BMW 116d ED Plus – 83.1mpg

BMW 116d

The pace of BMW’s EfficientDynamics models may have slipped down the rankings a little but the rear-wheel drive 116d ED Plus still impresses with 83.1mpg.

14: DS 3 1.6 BlueHDi 100 S&S – 83.1mpg

DS 3

Posh MINI rival DS offers an ultra-economical version of the DS 3 which, in 1.6 BlueHDi 100 S&S form, averages 83.1mpg.

15: Fiat 500 1.3 95 MultiJet – 83.1mpg

Fiat 500

Fiat’s stylish 500 is a regular UK best-seller. For those seeking ultimate fuel economy, the 1.3-litre MultiJet 95 version will average 83.1mpg.

16: Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi 105 Econetic – 83.1mpg

Ford Focus

Another UK best-seller that averages 83.1mpg, the 1.5-litre TDCi 105 Econetic Focus offers great fuel economy to the masses.

17: Mazda 2 1.5 Skyactiv-D – 83.1mpg

Mazda 2

Can you resist the temptation to seek fuel economy in the fun-to-drive Mazda2 1.5 Skyactiv-D? 83.1mpg will be your reward if so.

18: MINI One D – 83.1mpg

MINI Hatch

The MINI Hatch is also brilliant fun to drive, meaning you’ll have to show masterful restrain to achieve the 83.1mpg claimed by the three-cylinder One D. We challenge you…

19: SEAT Toledo 1.4 TDI Ecomotive – 83.1mpg

SEAT Toledo

SEAT’s understated Toledo is a very roomy budget-priced car. For ultimate money-saving ability, choose the Ecomotive version and 83.1mpg will be your reward.

20: Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI Bluemotion – 83.1mpg

Vokswagen Golf Bluemotion

The final car to average 83.1mpg is the Volkswagen Golf in economy-optimised 1.6-litre TDI Bluemotion guise. Forget dieselgate, this is a very fuel-efficient car in real-world use, full stop.

14 cars that are slower than the Flying Scotsman

14 cars that are slower than the Flying Scotsman

14 cars that are slower than the Flying Scotsman

The legendary steam locomotive, the Flying Scotsman, is making its official return to the tracks today after a £4.2 million refurbishment. The engine retired from service in 1963 and has undergone a decade-long refit, ready for going on display at the National Railway Museum in York. It departed from London’s Kings Cross at 7.40am today and is set to make a non-stop journey to York.

When it entered service in 1923, the engine was famous for being the first train to have a top speed of 100mph. It got us thinking – which modern cars are slower than the Flying Scotsman? It’s surprising how many can’t reach 100mph…

Citroen C1 1.0

Max speed: 98mph

We’ll start with the more obvious stuff – there are some surprises to come! The Citroen C1 city car is only capable of 98mph…

Peugeot 108 1.0, Toyota Aygo 1.0

Max speed: 99mph

Interestingly, the Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo, which use the same platform and engine as the C1, are capable of an extra 1mph. If speed is important, that should whittle down your choice between the three.

Ford Fiesta 1.25 60

Ford Fiesta 1.25 60

Max speed: 94mph

Britain’s favourite car, the Ford Fiesta, is only capable of 94mph if you buy it with the 60hp 1.25-litre engine. We know, you can only legally do 70mph in the UK, but still…

Renault Twizy

Max speed: 50mph

Ah, the Renault Twizy. The door-less (as standard) electric car tops out at 50mph. That’s half that of the Flying Scotsman. If you want to get to Edinburgh quickly, just get the train.

Renault Twingo 1.0 SCE

Max speed: 94mph

While we’re on the subject of Renaults, the Twingo can only reach 94mph in 70hp 1.0-litre SCE guise. The rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout sounds like fun, but don’t expect Porsche 911 performance.

Smart ForTwo 1.0 71hp

Smart ForTwo 1.0 71hp

Max speed: 94mph

Of course, the Twingo platform-sharing Smart ForTwo also maxes out at 94mph. Not so smart if you want to race a train. Something we all do on a regular basis.

Kia Picanto 1.0

Max speed: 96mph

The affordable Kia Picanto is nudging closer to being capable of 100mph. We reckon with a downhill stretch you might manage it…

Hyundai i10 1.0

Max speed: 96mph

Fellow Korean budget buy, the Hyundai i10 is also capable of 96mph. If your nan has a few points on her licence, it might be worth avoiding the i10…

Volkswagen Up, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo 1.0 60hp

Volkswagen Up, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo 1.0 60hp

Max speed: 99mph

The Volkswagen Group city car trio rightly remain popular. They may be sprightly around town, but don’t expect to hurl them up the M1 at the rate of the Flying Scotsman.

Land Rover Defender

Max speed: 90mph

The Defender is now out of production, but we’ll include it here anyway. The agricultural workhorse and/or status symbol is capable of 90mph flat out. If you’re feeling brave.

Nissan LEAF

Max speed: 87mph

Electric cars are generally made for efficiency rather than speed (don’t mention Tesla), so it’s no surprise that the Nissan LEAF tops out at 87mph. Plenty enough for British motorways.

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Life begins at 40: cars celebrating their 40th birthday in 2016

Life begins at 40: cars celebrating their 40th birthday in 2016

Life begins at 40: cars celebrating their 40th birthday in 2016

They say that life begins at 40. So for these cars, the future’s bright. We’ve selected 25 cars born in 1976, each one celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2016. Say hello to the big Four-O.

Audi 100

The second generation 100 was a big deal for Audi. Not only did it represent the genesis of Audi’s assault on the territory occupied by Mercedes-Benz and BMW, it also featured the world’s first five-cylinder petrol engine. Close to a million were built between 1976 and 1982, making the C2 Audi 100 a huge success.

BMW 6 Series

Can it really be 40 years since the elegant and exquisitely engineered BMW 6 Series first appeared? A 7 Series coupe in all but name, the 6 Series shared its chassis with the chairman’s executive express and even beat it to market by a year. As it evolved, the 6 Series spawned some high performance gems, before it bowed out in 1989.

Bristol 603

Bristol 603

The Bristol 603 may have featured a chassis dating back to the 1940s, but the body was all new. At launch, the 603 was powered by a choice of either a 5.9-litre V8 or a Chrysler-sourced 5.2-litre V8, but the latter was dropped in 1977. A distinctly old-school British gem, designed and built in Bristol’s unique manner.

Chrysler Avenger

The Avenger was born a Hillman and died a Talbot, but that was not before a brief stint as a Chrysler, starting in 1976. Back in 1970, when the Avenger was launched, it was billed as a car Britain could be proud of, designed to be an export star. Badge engineering and company squabbles meant the Avenger never quite fulfilled its potential. Rust didn’t help either.

Chrysler Hunter

Chrysler Hunter

The Chrysler Hunter was another product of the Rootes-Arrow shake-up, with all marques falling under the Chrysler-Europe banner. Today, the Hunter lives on in the form of the Paykan Bardo pick-up.

DeLorean DMC-12 prototype

Most people associate the DeLorean DMC-12 with the 1980s and a certain Hollywood movie. But the story begins back in the 1970s, with John DeLorean establishing the DeLorean Motor Company in 1975, before unveiling the DMC-12 prototype in October 1976. The rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe it’s the future.

Fiat X1/9 (right-hand drive)

Fiat X1/9 (right-hand drive)

The Fiat X1/9 looked every inch the fun-size Lamborghini or Ferrari, helped in no small part by the pen of Marcello Gandini. It was launched in 1972, with the first right-hand-drive models appearing in 1976.

Ford Fiesta

The nation’s love affair with the Ford Fiesta began in 1976, with the launch of Ford’s first ever supermini. By the end of the decade it had already sold a million and – as history will recall – it would eventually become the UK’s best-selling car.

Ford Escort RS Mexico and RS2000

Ford Escort RS Mexico and RS2000

Two classic fast Fords were born in 1976, in the shape of the Escort RS Mexico and RS2000. The Mexico was a German-built performance gem to replace the British-built Mk1 Escort Mexico, but the real star was the RS2000. It featured a 110hp 2.0-litre engine and that famous ‘droop snoot’ nose.

Ferrari 400 GT

The Ferrari 400 GT was essentially a more powerful version of the 365 GT4 (pictured) and featured a 4.8-litre V12 engine developing 340hp. Launched at the 1976 Paris Motor Show, the 400 was the first Ferrari to be offered with a three-speed automatic transmission. This helped win sales in the United States, but wasn’t a move welcomed by Ferrari purists.

Honda Accord Mk1

Honda Accord Mk1

Today, the Honda Accord is more commonly associated with a saloon body, but it actually started life as a pretty three-door hatchback. The follow-up Mk2 Honda Accord will go down in history as the first Japanese car to be built in the United States. It wore the number plate ‘USA 001’.

Lamborghini Silhouette

The Silhouette is the oft-forgotten and short-lived Lamborghini designed to win the hearts of American buyers. Its 3.0-litre V8 engine was good for 250hp, enough to propel this evolution of the Urraco to a 161mph top speed. A total of 55 Silhouettes were built, including two prototypes. The final car was used as the Jalpa prototype.

Lancia Gamma

Lancia Gamma

Like so many Lancia models of the era, the Gamma is a classic case of what might have been. In saloon form, this was a large and technologically-advanced Italian oddity, while in coupe guise it was an elegant surprise. Sales figures fell well below what was expected and the Gamma has to go down as a glorious failure. We’re still missing you, Lancia.

Lotus Esprit

Surely one of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s finest pieces of work, the Lotus Esprit was born in 1976. With a familiar steel backbone frame and glassfibre body, the Esprit was a Lotus that could just about hold its own alongside the Italian thoroughbreds of the era. A year later, the Esprit would star in the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.

Mercedes-Benz W123

Mercedes-Benz W123

The first Mercedes-Benz W123 models went on sale in January 1976 and to some this is the German company’s finest hour. In developing what we now refer to as the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz left nothing to chance. In the case of the W123, ‘life begins at 40’ is perfectly apt. These things will run and run.

Panther Lima

The Panther Lima is a uniquely 1970s take on a 1930s formula. It looks (a bit) like a Morgan, but features Vauxhall Magnum running gear. The car turned out to be a great success for Robert Jankel’s company, with the Lima becoming the Kallista, following a Korean takeover.

Renault 14

Renault 14

Renault did itself no favours by comparing the 14 to a fruit. Nicknamed ‘la poire’ – or, ‘the pear’ – the 14 wasn’t Renault’s finest hour and, like the fruit of the same name, many have long since rotted away. It’s the only car you can wander up to and say “nice pear”, without fear of a slap.

Renault 5 Gordini

Stand down, Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI, for your claim to be the world’s first hot hatch is unfounded. Indeed, the Golf GTI was beaten to market by the Renault 5 Gordini, known in the rest of Europe as the Renault 5 Alpine. It launched in France in 1976 and was later followed by a blistering turbocharged version in 1982.

Rover SD1

Rover SD1

With styling inspired by the Ferrari Daytona, the Rover SD1 (Specialist Division number 1) was a worthy European Car of the Year. Production started in Solihull, later moving to Cowley, but the SD1 was blighted by quality control issues and the usual British Leyland problems.

Skoda Estelle

In 1976, Skoda introduced its first new model since the 1960s. It was called the Estelle, although it was known as the 105 and 120 in other markets. It arrived in the UK in 1977 and, at the time, was the cheapest car you could buy new. Thanks to its rear engine and rear-wheel-drive mechanicals, oversteer was a constant problem.

Triumph TR7

Triumph TR7

The TR7 had launched a year earlier in the United States, but in May 1976 it finally took a bow in the UK. The styling was a radical departure for Triumph and for many people it was too much to take. The V8-engined TR8 arrived in 1980, but it was too little, too late for the much-maligned wedge.

TVR Taimar

In 1976, TVR launched a stylish hatchback version of its 300M, known as the Taimar. The added practicality helped the Taimar to become one of TVR’s most successful models. All were powered by a Ford V6 engine.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

It needs no introduction, does it? Although there had been other hot hatches before the Golf GTI, this was the car that took the concept of a performance hatchback to the masses. Early cars were all left-hand drive, with the first right-hookers arriving in the UK in 1979. An instant classic, prices are continuing to rise.

Volkswagen Scirocco GTI

Another product of Giugiaro’s golden era, the Scirocco was born in 1974. In 1976, the Scirocco GTI was launched alongside the Golf GTI, using the same 1.6-litre engine sourced from the Audi 80 GTE.

Volvo 343

Volvo 343

And finally, it’s the Volvo 343, a fourth generation DAF and the first model built by the Dutch company following the takeover by Volvo. It was a hugely popular model for Volvo, with the third digit in the name representing the number of doors (hence 343 for three doors and 345 for five). Later, the model would be known as the 340 and 360.

Ford RS

The history of the Ford Focus RS: in pictures

Three generations of Ford Focus RSThe Ford Focus RS returned in 2016 with more power, attitude and value for money than ever before. Now in its third generation, the modern day Ford Escort Cosworth is every inch the cult car classic you can now buy new again: here, we look back through the years at how the Ford Focus RS burst onto the scene and has evolved since. 

1992: Ford Escort RS Cosworth

1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth

The rally-bred Escort RS Cosworth pre-dates the first Focus RS by a decade. With a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and whale-tail wing, it became an icon of the era. This car, from Ford’s heritage fleet, was available to drive at the UK launch of the Mk3 Focus RS.

2002: Mk1 Focus RS debuts

2002 Mk1 Ford Focus RS

It all started back in 2002 with the Mk1 Focus RS. A long-awaited super-hatch, it was actually a year late when it was finally ready for launch (a trend we’d come to establish with the Focus RS) – but the wait was worth it…

The new Focus RS was a genuine crack engineering team special. It had a fired-up 215hp 2.0-litre turbo engine and a track-bred Quaife differential to deliver the fireworks to the front wheels. 

Offered only in Ford RS Imperial Blue, the new ultra-hot Focus wore exotic O.Z. Racing wheels which concealed fancy Brembo brakes. Ford spared no expense in the components it fitted to the original Focus RS. 

By modern standards, performance isn’t exceptional, but it was impressive for its day: 0-62mph took 6.4 seconds and it could do 144mph. 

Inside, the budget wasn’t there for full-on changes – even the steering wheel stayed the same and because Ford wasn’t able to fit extra dials, it swapped the temperature gauge for a turbo boost dial instead. 

What Ford did do was deck the interior out in a rather alarming blue colourscheme, liberally deploying blue leather. Bold then, perhaps of slightly dubious taste to modern eyes…

Rather more impressive were the Sparco racing seats, with one-piece backs featuring cut-outs for race harnesses. Also note the green starter button mounted down by the bespoke metal gearlever (the gearbox only had five speeds). 

Critical acclaim

The results were dramatic. For some, the Focus RS was simply too full on and unruly, but for people like your writer here, it was an absolute thriller – an intense, livewire buzz like no other front-wheel drive hot hatch. No wonder why, today, it’s a classic – helped by Ford committing to build just 4,501 of them.

2008: Mk2 Focus RS debuts

2008 Mk2 Ford Focus RS

It was all change in 2008 with the global launch of the all-new Mk2 Focus RS at the British Motor Show in London.  The colour might have been similar but everything else was new…

The car’s fully-formed and more aggressive new looks were not just for show, either.

That’s because beneath the air vent-laden bonnet was a full-fat 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine, producing a whopping 300hp! It didn’t have the Quaife differential to harness it: Ford instead fitted a revolutionary ‘Revoknuckle’ front axle to manage the forces. 

Monster dual exhausts signalled this Volvo-sourced engine’s arrival, set within a prominent rear diffuser and below a teatray-like rear wing: yes, aerodynamics were all.

Not all blue anymore

The Focus RS was also available in colours other than blue – such as this blinding bright green that was actually the British Motor Show launch colour. 

Needless to say, the green proved popular: its official name is Ultimate Green. Ultimate indeed.

As if the colour wasn’t enough to ensure the Focus RS was noticed, Ford also got celebs such as England and Essex player Alastair Cook behind the wheel. 

Those running the new Focus RS soon found it wasn’t the most fuel efficient car. Enter Ford putting it into the annual MPG Marathon. Overall eco miles per gallon? A rather unlikely 38.5mpg…

380hp Mk2 Focus RS

Others had different figures on their mind – namely, horsepower. Enter BBR GTI, which created a 380hp BBR RS380 that could do 0-62mph in just 5.6 seconds. 

Graham Goode Racing was at it too: its tuned Focus RS Mk2 370 FR GGR…

… Cost £4,000 fitted and delivered a similar 0-62mph time – limited more by traction than actual power, said testers at the time…

Official Mk2 Focus RS tuning kit

Noting this tuning trend, Ford decided it wanted a bit of the action itself – so recruited semi-official works tuner Mountune to produce an MP350 kit. You can still buy this: it costs around £2k plus fitting. 

Focus RS 500

In 2010, Ford launched a special edition Focus RS 500 with the Mountune kit as standard. As the name suggests, production was limited to 500, to mark the end of Focus RS Mk2 production. 101 them came to the UK. In total, Ford made over 11,000 Mk2 Focus RS – more than double the original car.

And no sooner had the Mk2 RS 500 landed in showrooms, it was gone, and that was that for the Focus RS. The Mk2 was replaced with the Mk3, Ford launched the hot ST – but no word at all on the RS version. Would the Focus RS end with the three cars pictured above?

Ford ummed and aahed for years – but in the background, the market was doing its own thing. Namely, prizing Focus RS immensely. Retained values rocketed – Britain still loved the Focus RS, which perhaps got Ford thinking… could the world love it too?

2014: Mk3 Ford Focus RS confirmed 

2014 Mk3 Ford Focus RS

In late 2014, the third-generation Focus RS was finally confirmed. Now five-door only, it’s a little less bespoke than the original models on top, but really is the real deal beneath. 

The Focus RS Mk3 doesn’t actually have any bespoke body pressings, unlike earlier models. This means it lacks a little of the bulging wheelarch drama, but also means costs have been kept down… 

… Which is how Ford is able to charge an astonishingly affordable £29,995 for the new Focus RS. Why astonishing? Because this is no less than a 350hp, 165mph super-hatch – with a breathtaking 0-62mph time of just 4.9 seconds! Sensibly, it’s now all-wheel drive too…

Global RS

It’s also a Ford Focus RS that, for the first time, will be sold globally, not just in Europe. Again, this is a key part of both the model’s viability and its affordability. 

Ford’s doing this by selling the Focus RS under its Ford Performance sub-brand – this even stretches to it only being sold through a more limited number of specially-trained expert dealers. 

It means buyers in the United States will officially get the Focus RS for the first time. 

Mustang motor

There’s a neat parallel here: the Focus RS actually uses the same 2.3-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder engine as the latest Ford Mustang. Neatly, that’s an American Ford that’s come to Europe.  

Ford’s significantly re-engineered the motor to cope with the extra firepower it produces (and give it a 6,800rpm redline). It may not have five cylinders anymore, but it still growls, pops and bangs like a muscle car, promises Ford…

The Focus RS gets yet another fantastic set of Recaro seats, the most sculptural and torso-hugging yet. 

The interior is largely as per the Focus ST, but with RS trimmings and materials (and a flat-bottom steering wheel). No point going too bespoke here; it would push the cost up unnecessarily.

The extra dashtop dials as seen on the Mk2 Focus RS appear on the new model; again, naturally finished in RS blue. 

Ford’s spent big on the Focus RS’ components, from these Brembo brakes (they can generate 1.2g of braking force!) to the 20-inch alloys concealing them. Ford offers a lightweight alloy wheel on the options list, and fits Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres; again, Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slick rubber is optional. 

Focus RS reveal

2015 Ford Focus RS reveal

Ford revealed the Focus RS Mk3 to the world on February 3 2015, at a huge extravaganza in Cologne. It rolled out many RS from the brand’s back catalogue…

… Before revealing the new car itself in some style. And with celeb assistance… 

… From the hoonigan himself, Ken Block! It is no coincidence the new Focus RS thus has a special drift mode stability control system…

Block also later gave the Focus RS its dynamic debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2015. Many sets of tyres were consumed. 

Forza Focus

Continuing the pre-launch promo, Ford also showcased the Focus RS as part of the Forza Motorsport 6 video game launch.

The Stig also had a drive but, for obvious reasons, we don’t know what he thought of it.

The new Focus RS certainly has the potential to be a modern classic though, not least because it’s a genuine all-wheel drive model using a fully mechanical system. 

The Focus RS Mk3 has dynamic torque vectoring too; 70% of drive can be sent rearwards, and up to 100% can then be diverted to an individual wheel. That’s how it’s able to drift seemingly so brilliantly.

Indeed, even in the early standard-looking development models, this appears to have been something Ford was concentrating carefully on!

Although many of the body panels are shared, the Focus RS has super-enlarged air intakes at the front end to deliver the necessary cool air to the engine and brakes. Even compared to the ST, it oozes attitude. 

Ford fits electronic adjustable dampers to the Focus RS for the first time; there’s a regular road mode and a racier, firmer ‘track’ setting. 

Although it’s a global Focus RS, development of the new model has still been concentrated in Europe. The team behind it insist it hasn’t gone soft. 

The most hardcore Focus RS yet?

Indeed, the new Focus RS could well be the most hardcore and attitude-fuelled model yet – even more so than the bombastic original. 


Cadillac Allante

Cadillac Allante: the curious motoring disaster that had its own private jets

Cadillac AllanteWhen 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 the moving conveyor that will see it built into a complete car.

It’s a manufacturing sequence that most car-makers follow, although there have been a surprising number of models whose bodyshells have been built on sites some distance from the assembly line.

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

Ferrari sourced bodies from coachbuilders Scaglietti, Lamborghini from Goldencar, both of these local to their factories.

Less clever was British Leyland’s habit of transporting primered bodyshells around the Midlands during the ‘60s and ‘70s, a pretty inefficient activity when most of a raw shell is air.

Cadillac and Pininfarina

Cadillac 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 SL and Jaguar XJS, was the progeny of America’s most upscale car-maker and Italian design house Pininfarina.

Cadillac had flirted with the Italian company before, the body of its ’59 Eldorado Brougham saloon handbuilt and assembled in Turin on 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, coach-built Cadillac and you certainly paid for it, the Pininfarina Brougham costing three times the price of the spectacularly flamboyant standard version made in the US.

Unsurprisingly, this US-Italian hybrid sold slowly despite its more tasteful elegance, only 200 finding homes in 1959-60. There were quality problems too, the lead-loading used to smooth its hand-beaten bodywork causing the paint to fracture.

How not to learn 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 bodyshell, and most of its platform, were unique to the convertible.

And the name? That was generated by a computer that produced 1700 possibilities, the chosen badge being meaningless, although its did sound a little like the sea that this 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 an XJS.

There may have been 4.1 litres of V8 beneath its long bonnet, but this engine was good for no more than 170bhp and a 0-60mph time of 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 its crazy method of 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 installed the sub-frames, suspension, drivetrain, fuel tanks and wheels to complete the car.

Cadillac Allante

Although it was not quite complete when Cadillac launched it 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.

And Mother Earth stuck to her familiar weather patterns, unhelpfully showering the Allantes bought by eager owners. Who 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 ABS anti-lock brake system, and the Bose sound system made strange cracking noises that could have been mistaken for failing trim.

Cadillac didn’t give up

Cadillac Allante

By the early ‘90s, 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 motor was tuned to produce 204bhp 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 285bhp.

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

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

‘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 SL, a tour de force of engineering and quality, had the one thing that the Allante was missing, in the shape of a one-shot power roof. Which 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 ’93 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 4670 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 6000 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 3000 copies 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 $8000, 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. This time without the help of Pininfarina and a small fleet of jumbo jets.

Triumph TR7

40 years of the Triumph TR7: the story of Britain’s forgotten sports car

Triumph TR7Forty years ago, Triumph broke with tradition and launched its wedge-shaped TR7 sports cars. The advert claimed it was ‘The shape of things to come’, and from some angles it even looked like it.

Nose on from above, for example, when you’d see a sleek, steeply-raked bonnet and pop-up (sometimes) headlights. Or from the side, provided you could only see the front half of the car, its gently flared wings, dipping bonnet-line and neatly integrated black impact bumper – a novelty in the mid ‘70s – promising, well, the shape of things to come.

So, what about the rear half? That was the shocking bit. There was so much to take in, too, from the abruptly cut roof and its sharply plunging, flat-paned rear window to the clumsily protuberant rear bumper, plus a curious crease line that arced from behind the front wheels to the tip of the rear wing.

Triumph TR7

Legend has it that designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, then entering the zenith of his career, said ‘My God! They’ve done the same to the other side as well’ when he first saw the TR7 at a motor show.

Today, you can buy a TR7 from around £2,000 – a fraction of the cost of its more traditional predecessors. Perhaps its time as a prized classic will come, but life has never been easy for the TR7…

Journos: startled and confused

Triumph TR7

The TR7 wasn’t only criticised for its startling style. UK motoring journos asked why it wasn’t mid-engined like the Fiat X1/9, Porsche 914, Lancia Monte Carlo Spider and any number of supercars, especially when British Leyland was known to have been working on a mid-engined MG sports car.

Instead, this new TR was merely a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive machine, and more than that, its rear axle was of the cheapskate live variety rather than independent.

But most controversial of all was the fact that this sports car’s roof was steel and firmly welded shut. Weren’t sports cars supposed to be about feeling the summer breeze and seeing the sky above your head?

This, the lack of a six cylinder motor and the TR7’s wedgy contrast to the masculine, brick-like TRs that had gone before added up to a package that was even more controversial than the equally wedged Leyland 18-22 Series (soon to become the Princess) revealed at much the same time – and the Allegro that had lurched onto our roads two years earlier.

Bullet tipped

Triumph TR7
However, quite a bit of thought had gone into the Bullet project, as the TR7 was codenamed. Two top British Leyland engineers had travelled to the United States – by far the biggest market for Triumph and MG sports cars – to sound out a range of experts on how the Triumph TR6 should be replaced.

Almost all of them said that mechanical simplicity was essential – they didn’t want the independent rear suspension of the TR6, they wanted a simple four cylinder engine and they certainly didn’t want an exotic and difficult-to-repair mid-engined layout.

So Bullet got all of these things, and a fixed roof, because it looked like the US government was going to legislate convertibles out of existence for safety reasons.

And while it had that live axle, it was well-located with four links. This and long suspension travel provided the car with ride and handling far more sophisticated than any previous TR had managed.

Triumph TR7

But Bullet wasn’t necessarily going to be an adventurous wedge-shaped car at this point, British Leyland’s management and boss Sir Donald Stokes had yet to decide on design proposals coming from Triumph and from the Austin Morris design department.

Austin Morris was involved because BL also had the problem of replacing the MGB, although the sports car and its GT coupe stablemate were still setting sales records in the US.

But with BL as cash-poor as a gambling addict, there were thoughts of badging Bullet either as an MG, a Triumph, or with minor modifications (that would probably be badges, then) both.

A new TR was the priority though, and Triumph put forward a model based on earlier work by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, who had produced several very successful models for the company, the Herald, Spitfire, GT6 and TR4 among them.

TR7: a clean-sheet design

Triumph TR7

Austin Morris design boss Harris Mann, on the other hand, had the ideal clean sheet of paper and set about creating a more dramatic sports car with American tastes in mind. The decidedly rakish angle of his car’s windscreen was designed to allow the driver to see America’s overhanging traffic lights, for example.

The result was as arresting as a giraffe in a shopping mall, his startling slice of wedge worthy of a blister-packed Hot Wheels toy.

And it was Mann’s design that won the styling model face-off, with only a handful of management attendees voting for the more old-fashioned Triumph proposal. But Triumph’s engineering team did at least get the job of developing the car, and providing the so-called ‘slant four’ engine that enabled Mann’s steeply-sloped bonnet to emerge in production.

Triumph TR7

What didn’t make it were Mann’s hidden door handles and his neat flip-up headlamp covers, the engineering department forcing a shape that was distressingly close to a pair of toilet lids. At least they were body colour, until the paint began to peel off their top surfaces.

Not that this was the most serious of the early TR7’s deficiencies. “Unfortunately the (styling) buck was the only TR7 where the panels fitted and the wheels filled the wheel arches,” reckoned one of BL’s senior US managers. And he was not wrong.

The Speke factor

Triumph TR7

The TR7 was to be produced at BL’s Speke plant in Liverpool, a factory notorious for an unruly, strike-prone workforce that had transferred to the assembly line many of the skills they’d learned from the docks they were recruited from. Among these were gold-standard pilfering, and a lack of cooperation as shocking as the TR7’s style.

There were workers who wanted to work, but their efforts were undermined by the political militants, whose rebelliousness was fired by the presence of the Workers Revolutionary Party and the International Socialists, few of whom actually worked at the plant.

All of which meant that the TR7 was shoddily built and often not built at all, so frequent were the strikes. Not all the faults were introduced by its assemblers, however. Inaccurate body tooling ensured that the doors were too big for their apertures, for instance.

Rain often prompted one or both of the car’s headlights to go on strike, like their assemblers, and on some cars an emergency stop would have the screen popping out, its advanced, heat-bonded seal failing to stick.

Successful launch against the odds

Triumph TR7

Despite all this, dogged work by BL’s US team (who cobbled together a barely acceptable bunch of press demonstrators by cannibalising some cars) meant the TR7’s 1975 American launch was a success.

Poor brakes and a vibratory engine were criticised, and many found the styling less than beautiful, but they welcomed a car that looked refreshingly radical and loved the comfort of its exceptionally well-designed interior.

It was quite keenly priced, it rode and handled well, delivered adequate performance and was far more civilised than any British sports car that had come before. And Americans were already migrating to coupes from convertibles, encouraged by the earlier arrival of the highly desirable Datsun 240Z.

Europe did not see the TR7 until 1976, the priority being the US. And just two years later the car’s career looked like it might be all over, thanks to a five-week strike that began on the day BL’s new South African boss Michael Edwardes arrived, tasked with sorting government-owned British Leyland out.

Some early sorting saw the shutting of the section of Speke factory that made the TR7.

But, despite the fact that the car itself had made no money – and that even Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, to whom Edwardes was ultimately answerable, reckoned it should be killed off – the car was transferred to Triumph’s Coventry plant.

The TR7 survives

Triumph TR7

Over 200 improvements were made in the process, most of them aimed at fixing poor quality – although the doors still didn’t quite fit – and the TR7 briefly entered a more stable period.

Highlights were the arrival of a convertible, which rid it of the turret-top roof that many hated, and for the US, the impressive V8-powered TR8. Convertible-killing legislation never came to the US, and the drop-top TR7 turned out to be a pretty agreeable machine.

More upheaval was to come – literally – with the closure of Triumph’s Canley plant, which saw TR7 production moved once again, this time to Rover’s Solihull factory. With the move came another mild quality upgrade, and plans to introduce the TR8 in Europe.

Unfortunately, by now the TR7’s sales trajectory was much the same as the sinking crease lines on its flanks, and it would not be long before its viability was called into question.

That saw the European TR8 programme cancelled, and by 1981 the plug was pulled on the whole project in spite several attempts, one of them a risible MG rebranding, to save the car.

The TR7 dies (and so does Triumph)

Born 40 years ago, the last TR7 was built on October 5th 1981, ending the long and (mostly) successful career of TR sports cars and in truth of Triumph too. The Acclaim saloon launched at much the same moment was little more than a rebadged Honda.

With a tumultuous history like that, and styling that still startles for many of the wrong reasons, it’s easy to view the TR7 as a total failure.

In profit terms it almost certainly was, but the 7 turned out to be the most produced of all the TRs, scoring 112,368 sales during its six turbulent years.

Triumph TR7 Project Lynx

Had it been better made that number could easily have been higher, enabling the fulfilment of a development programme that also included the Lynx 2+2 coupe (pictured above) and a 16-valve model besides.

But like so many British Leyland stories, this is another one peppered with wistful what-ifs.