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Inside Ford’s secret retro and classic car collection

Ford Heritage Centre

Tucked away on the outskirts of Ford’s sprawling Dagenham factory is a small, slightly ramshackle warehouse. Inside is a huge array of classic cars representing more than 110 years of Blue Oval history. From Cortinas to Cosworths, we lifted up the dust sheets to photograph the highlights.

Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Ford Heritage Centre

The mighty Sierra RS Cosworth celebrated its 30th birthday in 2016. A turbocharged 204hp 2.0-litre 16-valve engine meant 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 149mph – serious stuff in 1986. This particular car was used for development work at Dunton, Essex, and is still fitted with a rollcage.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Ford Heritage Centre

The 1992 Escort witnessed the second coming of Cosworth. It retained the trademark ‘whale tail’ wing of its predecessor (albeit as an option), but boasted 225hp and four-wheel drive. The ‘Cossie’ was also a successful rally car, before being replaced by the Focus WRC in 1999.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Heritage Centre

The Fiesta is the UK’s most popular car. This 1976 model is 43 years old and – as a brief drive around Dagenham revealed – still in great shape. In fact, it was actually driven to Switzerland for a recent Geneva Motor Show. Not bad for 957cc…

Ford Fiesta

Ford Heritage Centre

The Mk2 Ford Fiesta arrived in 1983, facing rivals such as the Austin Metro and Vauxhall Nova. This is the back-to-basics 1.1 Popular Plus, with a four-speed manual gearbox.

Ford Fiesta XR2

Ford Heritage Centre

The 1980s were the halcyon days of the hot hatch, and the Fiesta XR2 was one of the biggest sellers. With a bodykit, spotlights and ‘pepperpot’ alloys, it looked the business. Performance was less spectacular: 0-60mph in 10.2sec and 112mph flat-out.

Ford Model T

Ford Heritage Centre

The 1908 Ford Model T was the first car to be mass-produced. Doing so brought costs down, putting cars within the reach of ‘normal’ people. Thus the Model T changed the world more, perhaps, than any other car. Unlike most old cars, it looks remarkably big alongside modern metal.

Ford RS200

Ford Heritage Centre

Now for something somewhat swifter… The RS200 is one of the fastest and most exclusive Fords ever made. A road-legal rally car, it had a mid-mounted 1.8-litre 250hp turbocharged engine and lightweight fibreglass body panels. Only 200 road cars were made.

Ford RS200

Ford Heritage Centre

The rallying version of the RS200 was even more extreme. Designed to compete in the notorious Group B, it was boosted to 450hp and could hit 62mph in 3.8 seconds. Sadly, the Group B era was cut short in 1986 after several fatal crashes.

Ford rally cars

Ford Heritage Centre

Ford has a long history of rallying. Indeed, the rear-wheel-drive Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts and are among the most successful rally cars of all time. The Mk2 RS1800 in the foreground won the 1977 RAC Rally with Björn Waldegard at the wheel.

Ford Anglia 105E

Ford Heritage Centre

Harry Potter fans will recognise this one. The Anglia 105E was built from 1959 to 1968 and had American-influenced styling, including small tailfins. Its 997cc engine accelerated the Anglia to 60mph in 26.9 seconds – probably not fast enough to take off…

Ford Escort Mexico

Ford Heritage Centre

Now we’re talking. The Escort Mexico was a sporty special edition created to celebrate the Ford’s victory in the 1970 London to Mexico rally. This car was also displayed at the Geneva Motor Show, alongside the Sierra Cosworth featured earlier.

Ford Mondeo

Ford Heritage Centre

A future classic? Certain members of the Motoring Research team certainly think so. This Mondeo GLX, complete with blue velour trim, would have been a sales rep’s dream back in 1994.

Ford Escort

Ford Heritage Centre

Few people are likely to dream about a Mk5 Escort, but this example is notable for having covered just 800 miles from new. The much-maligned Escort was replaced by the Focus in 1998, a car that turned around Ford’s reputation.

Ford Escort XR3i

Ford Heritage Centre

Here’s an Escort we can get excited about. The Mk4 XR3i wasn’t particularly special to drive, or even very quick (0-62mph in 9.1sec). But with its red go-faster stripes and racy graphics, it sums up the 1980s for us. Everyone loves a bit of nostalgia, right?

Ford Capri

Ford Heritage Centre

Another car very evocative of its era is the Capri. This 1977 example is one of the later Mk2 cars, and boasts a herculean 72hp from its 1.6-litre engine. Still, it could be worse: the 1.3-litre Capri produced just 55hp…

Ford Capri 280

Ford Heritage Centre

With a 2.8-litre V6 under its lengthy bonnet, the 160hp Capri 280 had more than twice as much power as the lowly 1.6. This Brooklands Green beauty was the last hurrah before Ford discontinued the Capri for good – making it a highly sought-after special edition.

Ford Mustang

Ford Heritage Centre

The Capri was effectively the European version of this car: the iconic Ford Mustang.

Ford Mustang

Ford Heritage Centre

And here’s an example of the more recent Mustang – the full-fat 5.0-litre V8 version, no less. With 412 ponies to its name, the V8 ’Stang will hit 62mph in 4.8 seconds. Or you could just use the Line Lock function to create lots of tyre smoke. Better to burnout than fade away…

Ford Transits

Ford Heritage Centre

Now for something altogether more practical. The Ford Transit van is approaching its 55th anniversary, and it remains the UK’s most popular commercial vehicle. The record for the highest number of people ever squeezed into a Transit is… 48.

Ford Transit

Ford Heritage Centre

This is the oldest surviving roadworthy Ford Transit. It has a 64hp V4 engine, plus leaf-spring suspension front and rear. It would have cost £542 when new in 1965.

Ford Transit Connect X-Press

Ford Heritage Centre

This one-off Transit is a little racier. Its running gear comes from a Mk1 Focus RS, which means 215hp – amplified by a Bosal sports exhaust. The X-Press also has lower suspension, a stiffer chassis and hip-hugging Recaro seats. We bet it’s a riot to drive.

Ford Transit Supervan 3

Ford Heritage Centre

Ford built three Transit Supervans. This third version arrived in 1995, complete with a 650hp 3.5-litre engine from a Formula 1 car. It has since been fitted with a 2.9-litre Cosworth engine, which is being tinkered with here.

Ford Cortina

Ford Heritage Centre

Here’s another one that takes us back. There was once a Mk5 Cortina on every suburban street in Britain, but they are all-but extinct now. This 1982 Cortina Crusader has a 91hp 1.6-litre petrol engine, Strato Silver paint and grey velour trim.

Ford Cortina

Ford Heritage Centre

This is an earlier Mk3 Cortina from 1974. Its 1.3-litre Kent engine would have provided steady progress at best. However, we love the ‘Coke-bottle’ styling and very-70s lurid green paint.

Ford Granada

Ford Heritage Centre

Above the Cortina sat Ford’s flagship: the spacious and luxurious Granada. Three body styles were available: four-door saloon, two-door coupe and the estate seen here. Few cars say ‘East End gangster’ like an old Granny…

Ford Granada

Ford Heritage Centre

The squarer Mk2 Granada was launched in 1977 and boasted innovations such as fuel injection and air conditioning. A prime candidate for a future Motoring Research Retro Road Test?

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Ford Heritage Centre

As if the Escort Cosworth wasn’t in-yer-face enough, how about one in bright yellow? The bloodline between the RS Cosworth variants of the Escort and Focus is clear to see.

Ford Focus RS500

Ford Heritage Centre

Ford has a knack for producing ultra-desirable special editions, and the matte-black Mk2 Focus RS500 is just such a car. Its 2.5-litre turbocharged engine is cranked up to 350hp, giving 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 165mph. Only 500 were made.

The meeting room

Ford Heritage Centre

The meeting room at Ford’s Heritage Centre is just as fascinating as the cars. It looks like it hasn’t changed since about 1965. The bookshelves are crammed with dusty tomes about Ford history.

Model magic

Ford Heritage Centre

There are some fantastic models on display, too. In the days before computer-aided design, scale models like the Mk1 Escort here were used to show managers and potential customers how a new car would look.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Heritage Centre

Some cars in the Ford Heritage collection get more love than others, and this 1996 Mk4 Fiesta clearly hasn’t moved for a while. Top marks for spotting the near-identical Mazda 121 version on the road.

Ford Fiesta XR2i

Ford Heritage Centre

Another unloved Fiesta is the 1989 Mk3 XR2i. This lukewarm hatch gained fuel injection (hence the ‘i’ suffix) but lost the cheeky, fun-to-drive character of the Mk2 XR2. Not one of the finest fast Fords.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Heritage Centre

Few things say ‘1970s’ like a beige Mk1 Fiesta with brown vinyl upholstery. Although this lovely example actually dates from 1981.

Formula Ford

Ford Heritage Centre

Tucked away behind the fibreglass front of the Supervan 3 (it’s having work done, remember?) is a Formula Ford racing car. The series has served as a springboard for many Formula 1 drivers since the 1960s.

Rolling chassis

Ford Heritage Centre

The Ford Heritage Centre isn’t a museum, and many of the cars are works-in-progress. Three guesses as to what this rolling chassis belongs to. We know it’s a Ford, but beyond that we’re stumped…

Ford Model A

Ford Heritage Centre

As the car that replaced the Model T, the 1927 Model A had a tough act to follow. UK versions had a 2.0-litre 28hp engine and were available in a huge range of body styles – from roadster to panel van. Note the rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors.

Ford Model Y

Ford Heritage Centre

The Model A gave way to the Model Y in 1931. A compact car well suited to European roads, the Y had a 933cc engine and a top speed of 60mph. It remained in production until 1937.

Ford Zodiac

Ford Heritage Centre

With its two-tone paint and plentiful chrome, the Mk2 Ford Zodiac was clearly influenced by more glamorous cars from across the pond. The Zodiac was the upmarket version of the contemporary Ford Zephyr.

Ford Transit

Ford Heritage Centre

Finished in what looks like period ‘British Telecom yellow’, this Transit will look oddly familiar to anyone who remembers the 1980s. Spot the promotional World Rally Transit from 2001 in the background.

Ford Thames 307E

Ford Heritage Centre

The Ford Thames was essentially a commercial version of the Anglia. In fact, it was renamed the Anglia van after 1965. The chrome grille marks this out as being the more capable 7cwt version of the 307E – others had a basic, painted metal grille.

Ford Quadricycle

Ford Heritage Centre

This Ford Quadricycle is actually a replica, made by apprentices in July 1963 for the Henry Ford centenary. It’s a faithful reproduction of the first vehicle Ford built in 1896.

Ford Fiesta XR2

Ford Heritage Centre

We couldn’t resist another XR2. We borrowed this car for one of our Retro Road Tests – and didn’t want to give it back. It’s crude and almost comically basic by modern standards, but fabulous fun. And it got a hero’s welcome on the streets of Dagenham.

Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Heritage Centre

Can’t afford the brilliant new Fiesta ST? Don’t worry, neither can we. The Mk5 ST, however, is a cheaper alternative that is ageing well. Prices are starting to rise, so grab one while you can.

More models

Ford Heritage Centre

How cool is this Mk4 Zodiac model? The real thing was powered by a 3.0-litre V6, and a very stylish way to travel in 1966.

Number crunchers

Ford Heritage Centre

Before microchips, mechanical adding machines were used to calculate Ford’s profit and loss. These perfectly-preserved examples are in the Heritage Centre meeting room.

Ford Cortina

Ford Heritage Centre

The Mk2 Cortina was launched in 1966, and in 1967 it became Britain’s best selling car. This dusty 1600 Super still looks great.

Ford Cortina

Ford Heritage Centre

We even love the Cortina’s chrome badges. From an era before ‘metal-effect’ plastic…

Ford Model T

Ford Heritage Centre

As our gallery draws to a close, let’s go back to the beginning with the Ford Model T. Looks like this Tin Lizzy has a slight oil leak…

A treasure trove of Ford history

Ford Heritage Centre

Sadly, the Ford Heritage Collection isn’t open to the public, but we hope you enjoyed this peek beneath the dust sheets.

Porsche 914 retro review: unloved sports car at 50

Porsche 914 review

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

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

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

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

What are its rivals?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

What engine does it use?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

What’s it like to drive?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

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

Reliability and running costs

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

Could I drive it every day?

Porsche 914 at 50

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

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

How much should I pay?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

What should I look out for?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

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

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

Should I buy one?

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

Pub facts

Retro Road Test: Porsche 914

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

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

Autofarm

Porsche owners: join us for an open day at Autofarm

AutofarmIf you love Porsches, Autofarm is your dream garage made real. The Oxfordshire specialist has been repairing and restoring Stuttgart’s finest since 1973, and its converted barns are a treasure-trove of rare and exotic cars. The last time we visited, there were no less than five examples of the legendary 911 Carrera 2.7 RS on-site.

Sound good? Well, Autofarm is having an open day on Sunday 30 April in conjunction with Motoring Research – and you could be there. Our second Retro Road Test: Live event is your chance meet other enthusiasts, show off your Porsche and get a guided tour of the amazing Autofarm workshops.

Your car (and you, if you wish) will also be photographed for a special feature on MSN Cars and Motoring Research. Our previous Retro Road Test: Live article on Ford owners at the Dagenham workshop shows how it could look.

All you need to do to enter is send us a picture of your Porsche. Whether you own a classic 911 or a modern Cayenne, anything goes, but there’s a limit of 25 cars on the day.  

You can share your photo with us through Facebook (comment on this post), by tweeting us @editorial_MR, or tag us in a picture on Instagram (@motoringresearch). Alternatively, send it by email to tim@motoringresearch.com.

Remember, the event will take place on the morning of Sunday 30 April – so make sure you’re free then. We can’t wait to see you there.

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

We drive the unassuming little saloon that kick-started the hybrid car revolution: meet the original 2000 Toyota Prius

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

We’ve driven the latest fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery – but how does it compare to its predecessors? We head to Eastnor to find out

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Driving the ultimate BMW M3 – the E46 CSL. On the road in the lightweight 2003 BMW M3 CSL – does it live up to the legend?

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

We reunite Ford Lotus Cortina TV star with its owner after 40 years

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years onSome people remember names, others never forget a face. A select few of us even recall our online passwords. Rob Jones, however, has an uncanny memory for car number plates. Hey, we all need a party trick.

Rob knows the registration marks of every car he’s ever owned, from the MG Midget he bought after passing his test to the SEAT Leon Cupra he drives today. And one of those remembered registrations – FGF 113C – led to an emotional reunion with the car he owned 40 years ago.

Like many great love stories, our tale begins on a sofa in front of the telly. The show was ‘Car SOS’, and presenters Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw were battling to restore a Mk1 Ford Cortina GT from little more than a bare shell.

Made in DagenhamFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Seeking inspiration, the team visited Ford’s heritage workshop in Dagenham. Their mission: to drive the GT’s big brother – the legendary Lotus Cortina. Rob nearly fell off his sofa. This immaculate white-and-green classic, hailed by Tim as “a sensation of the era”, wore the same number plate as a Lotus Cortina he’d bought in 1976.

“It had to be the same car,” explains Rob, “but I searched through my old photos to be sure.” The Polaroid print he found proved it beyond doubt. There was Rob, in glorious faded sepia, wearing a pair of turned-up flares and leaning on a Lotus Cortina, registration: FGF 113C.

The Ford heritage workshop is usually off-limits to the public, so Rob contacted Motoring Research – having seen our gallery feature on the Dagenham collection. A few excited emails later, Rob had a date in Dagenham. Even better, it was on his birthday.

From road to racetrackFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Before our heart-warming ‘boy meets car’ moment, a few words on the Lotus Cortina. This skunkworks special was launched in 1963 and is arguably the first fast Ford. It packs a 106hp 1.6-litre Lotus engine and close-ratio Ford gearbox, clothed in lightweight alloy panels.

Tipping the scales at just 826kg, the Lotus Cortina reached 60mph in 9.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 108mph. It was an instant hit on the racetrack, with Jim Clark winning the British Saloon Car title in 1964, then Alan Mann Racing clinching the European title in 1965.

A total of 3,301 Mk1 Lotus Cortinas were built before the squarer Mk2 arrived in 1967. By this point, well-publicised reliability problems and the launch of the Escort Twin Cam meant the Cortina’s star was fading. But it has gone supernova since, with prices for concours examples stretching well into six figures.

Show some appreciationFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob negotiated a rather better deal. “I paid £370 for my Cortina,” he laughs, “then sold it for £500 eight months later. I didn’t own it long as I kept having problems with the starter motor. The ring gears would slip or jam – I ended up replacing them about once a month.”

There are no such issues when, four decades on, Rob twists the key of his old car. The twin-cam engine bursts raucously into life, its throaty bark reverberating off the walls of Ford’s workshop – a huge warehouse that used to be a truck factory. Rob’s smile says it all.

“This brings it all back,” he beams. “I was a Lotus fanatic, but I couldn’t afford an Elan – so this was my dream car at the time. It’s been lowered a couple of inches since I owned it, but otherwise nothing much has changed.”

For the custodians of Ford’s heritage fleet, Rob’s visit provides a valuable chance to fill in the blanks about this Cortina’s history. “We don’t know much about the car before it came to us,” they admit.

A Christmas crashFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

One story in particular raises a few eyebrows. “Yeah, I crashed it,” admits Rob. “I’d just finished my Christmas shopping. I pulled out of a pub car park in Newbury [sober, he adds] and got sideswiped by an Austin 1100. It ploughed into the nearside wing and I ended up paying a £25 fine as it was his right of way.”

On the rain-drenched roads of Dagenham, Rob is being extra-careful: “I didn’t want to push it in the wet. I’m very conscious the car is worth a few quid more than when I owned it.”

It’s clear Rob loves being back behind the skinny wooden wheel, though. “It’s just lovely. I remember that twin-cam sound – and the smell. But the steering is so heavy compared to a modern car. You need muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a three-point turn.”

A great motoring memoryFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob has owned many cars over the past 40 years, including several self-built Ginetta sports cars, but the Cortina is the one he wishes he’d kept. “Just being back behind the wheel felt special. I’d have another, definitely. I just need to discover one in a barn.”

Seeing Rob reunited with his Lotus Cortina reaffirmed our belief that cars are more than mere transport. They bookend periods in our lives, our memories of past journeys and destinations inexorably linked to the vehicles we travelled in.

For Rob, driving the car he owned in 1976 is the closest he’ll get to time travel. And unlike his flares, the Lotus Cortina hasn’t aged a day.

The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the yearThey say nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. But pressing rewind on a year of driving fabulous old cars certainly gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling. The MR Retro Road Test is published every Thursday, and 2016 has seen us cover the full spectrum of classic cars – from a Vauxhall Nova to the £200,000 Porsche 911S pictured above. Join us as we round-up the highlights.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

Launched in 1976, this outwardly-humble hatchback continues to influence car culture. Just look at the latest, seventh-generation Golf GTI: its tartan seats and red go-faster stripes are a direct homage to the classic Mk1. Richard, who owns a tidy Mk2 GTI, went to see what all the fuss is about.

Richard said: “If you want one, find one and can afford it, absolutely buy it. You’ll regret it if you don’t, and won’t be disappointed if you do. The Golf GTI Mk1 is a bona fide classic and fully lives up to the hype of being a legend. As hot hatches become ever more powerful and sophisticated, its delightful blend of simplicity, purity and performance shines ever brighter. It’s a lovely reminder of where the idolised hot hatch lineage started.”

Read the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 Retro Road Test

Mercedes-Benz W123

The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the yearComfortable, understated and beautifully-built, the 1976 W123 may be the greatest Mercedes-Benz ever made. One man keen to make that case is MR’s Gavin, owner of the gold 1982 230E auto seen here. Is he biased? Possibly. But Gav has owned more old cars than most, and the W123 is a classic he recommends unreservedly.

Gav said: “It might not be the most expensive, the cheapest, the quickest or the most beautiful car we’ve ever bought, but it’s arguably the best. Spend some quality time with the W123 and evidence of the craftsmanship will shine through. Few cars offer such a supreme blend of charm and classlessness. Be warned: once you’ve own a W123, all other cars might seem rather ordinary.”

Read the Mercedes-Benz W123 Retro Road Test

Ford Sierra RS CosworthThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

Our Tim had two passions in the 1980s: Erika Eleniak (of Baywatch fame) and the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. Erika, sadly, never reciprocated, but Tim finally met Ford’s winged wonder in Dagenham this year. Could the squared-jawed Sierra possibly live up to the legend?

Tim said: “Like shoulder pads and Shakin’ Stevens, the Sierra Cosworth is a product of its time. Drive one today and it’s fun, but ever-so-slightly underwhelming: a little bit baggy and not outrageously fast. Does that matter? Probably not. The Cossie remains one of the coolest cars ever made. If, like us, you grew up reading Max Power and lusting after hot hatchbacks, it’s still the daddy.”

Read the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth Retro Road Test

Vauxhall NovaThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

There was once a Vauxhall Nova on every street in Britain. Now, as Andrew points out, there are less than 1,800 left, which makes these endangered superminis worth saving. Andrew spent a week with the Nova seen here – a 1.2 Merit borrowed from Vauxhall’s heritage fleet – and compared it with the Austin Metro he owned at the time.

Andrew said: “Not everyone will understand the appeal of a 1.2-litre Nova. But as an affordable, cheap-to-run retro car, there’s a lot going for it. There’s a pure, simplistic pleasure to pootling around in a simple supermini such as the Nova. Just look after it more than you might have done as a 1990s 17-year-old.”

Read the Vauxhall Nova Retro Road Test

Porsche 964 Carrera RSThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

Here’s one for the fantasy garage. The lightweight 964 RS was the first 911 to wear the ‘Rennsport’ badge since the iconic 2.7 RS of 1973. Its 3.6-litre flat-six had a lightened flywheel and close-ratio five-speed gearbox, while 40mm-lower suspension sharpened the chassis. Tim was lucky enough to get behind the wheel.

Tim said: “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.”

Read the Porsche 964 Carrera RS Retro Road Test

Bentley Turbo RThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

In 1985, the Bentley Turbo R was the fastest saloon money could buy. With a 6.75-litre V8 producing around 300hp, it reaches 60mph in 6.6 seconds: pretty respectable for something that weighs 2.4 tonnes. Andrew captained the Turbo R to ‘slightly illegal speeds’ and came away charmed – and thoroughly relaxed.

Andrew said: “A Bentley Turbo R would be a lovely thing to drive every day. Even the fanciest massaging seats of today’s super saloons can’t compete with the huge, cosseting leather of the Turbo R for pure stress relief after a tough day in the office, while the V8 engine will never get boring. There’s a line of thought that suggests the Turbo R much prefers regular use to being left standing, but you’ll have to have deep pockets to run one as a daily-driver.”

Read the Bentley Turbo R Retro Road Test

Sinclair C5The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

Sir Clive Sinclair pitched his C5 electric trike as the future of commuter transport, but safety concerns and a distinct lack of weather protection meant it became little more than a historical footnote. Today, the C5 has a cult following, particularly among electric car fans. Richard Gooding wrapped up warm and clambered in…

Richard said: “The C5 is such a recognisable and symbolic piece of motoring folklore, due to both its promise and failure, that it will always be a talking point. ‘Driving’ a C5 in the UK is mostly a cold and draughty experience. And we’d dispute the ‘extremely safe’ claims, too. We certainly wouldn’t want to have an accident in one, however minor.”

Read the Sinclair C5 Retro Road Test

Ford Fiesta Mk1The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

Amidst all the hype about the new, eighth-generation Ford Fiesta, we quietly published a Retro Road Test of the 1976 original. And guess what? The response was fantastic. Ford fans on social media got in touch to share their photos and wax lyrical about this simple small car. Andrew was somewhat smitten, too.

Andrew said: “It’s an absolute delight to drive. You forget how small superminis were 40 years ago, yet the interior manages to be surprisingly spacious, while the large windows and tiny windscreen pillars mean visibility is much better than modern cars. There’s a sense of vulnerability, though, which brings out an element of cautiousness. But once you get into the groove of the first-gen Fiesta, it’s a really fun little car.”

Read the Ford Fiesta Mk1 Retro Road Test

Toyota Corolla GT AE86The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

Most people would look at the picture above and see an old Toyota Corolla. A remarkably rust-free example, sure, but an old Corolla all the same. Yet to fans of drifting and hot Japanese cars in general, the rear-wheel-drive AE86 is close to the Holy Grail. Tim grabbed the keys and went in search of wet roundabouts.

Tim said: “It just looks so cool (especially to in-the-know petrolheads), and that analogue driving experience can’t fail to make you grin. We’d have one in our dream garage, no question. Back in the real world, though, a nearly-new GT86 offers similar thrills with all the convenience and reliability of a modern car. And it’s a guaranteed future classic, too. Alternatively, you could pick up an original MR2 for around a third of the price.”

Read the Toyota Corolla GT AE86 Retro Road Test

Shelby Cobra Daytona CoupeThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

We bent the rules a little here, as the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe is actually a new car. This beautifully-detailed Daytona replica is built in South Africa and was officially sanctioned by Carroll Shelby himself before he died. Powered by a 520hp Corvette LS3 V8, it’s the automotive equivalent of raw rib-eye. Richard was the man wearing the brave pants.

Richard said: “Looking for a head-turner that will cheer others as much as it delights you? This beautiful machine might just be for you. It’s a tantalising collectable that is packed with character, yet has abilities and long-striding comfort that may well surprise. It’s undoubtedly a challenge, of course, but far from insurmountable and, as a possession to have in your garage, is seriously tempting for any committed petrolhead.”

Read the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe Retro Road Test

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6 vs Peugeot 205 GTI Mi16The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The first rule of motoring journalism states: ‘thou shalt not question the greatness of the Peugeot 205 GTI’. But can the original GTI be bettered – perhaps with the addition of a more powerful Mi16 engine? Richard and Andrew compared a 1.6 GTI – the hot 205 in its purest iteration – with a modified Mi16 built by Peugeot apprentices.

Andrew picked the standard car as his winner, saying: “As a car to truly enjoy, the light and nimble 1.6-litre 205 GTI is hard to beat.” Richard preferred the Mi16, however. His verdict: “It’s the greatest GTI that never was. It takes all that’s wonderful about the regular car and builds upon it with a searing, exotic, race-bred engine”. Tough call.

Read the Peugeot 205 GTI Retro Road Test

Mazda MX-5 Mk1The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The world’s best-selling sports car seems a fitting subject for a Retro Road Test. As a former owner, Andrew knows the original MX-5 better than most, yet familiarity hasn’t blunted his enthusiasm. The car tested has the 130hp 1.8-litre engine, introduced in 1993, and little in the way of luxuries. It’s all you need for back-to-basics driving fun.

Andrew said: “There’s a reason why the original MX-5 is so popular. It’ll be a while before it draws crowds at classic car shows, but for a sunny weekend nothing will make you smile as much for the money. Find the elusive rust-free example while you still can.”

Read the Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Retro Road Test

Honda NSXThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The NSX gave Ferrari a bloody nose, proving that mid-engined supercars don’t need to be unreliable or difficult to drive. It looked sensational (try to ignore the ‘1990s Honda Civic’ interior) and was laugh-out-loud thrilling to drive. Andrew, ahem, quite liked it.

Andrew said: “The NSX is incredible. It feels like a supercar should – how we’d want a supercar to drive if we could go back to a time when manufacturers weren’t pandering to ever-more-stringent emissions and safety regulations. The engine is out of this world. It wails like a nymphomaniac on acid. You hit the redline at 8,000rpm, but before you get to that point the VTEC variable valve timing kicks in and you surge down the road in a much more satisfying way than a modern turbo engine could manage.”

Read the Honda NSX Retro Road Test

Audi ur-QuattroThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

“Fire up the Quattro!” Forget Philip Glenister, the undisputed star of Life On Mars was a Tornado Red Audi ur-Quattro. Boxy, butch and brilliant, the four-wheel drive Quattro redefined the performance car – not least for a young and impressionable Gav. Years later, on rural Welsh B-roads, he met his childhood hero.

Gav said: “This is a bona fide legend of road and track, so you’re unlikely to lose any money if you buy a good one. Given the prices being asked for certain fast Fords and a particular hot Pug, we think £20,000 is a small price to pay for a car that changed the fortunes of an entire car company and revolutionised world rallying. In fact, we think it’s a bit of a bargain.”

Read the Audi ur-Quattro Retro Road Test

Renault Clio V6The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The Clio V6 is an unholy alliance between supermini and supercar. Following the template of the original 5 Turbo, Renault stuffed a 3.0-litre V6 behind the front seats, creating an instant classic. Andrew found out if this mid-engined monster is as wild as it looks.

Andrew said: “A budget of £35,000 buys you a lot of car. You could treat yourself to the brilliant Ford Focus RS, fresh out of the factory, and have a couple of grand left over. Or, on the secondhand market, how about a mint Lotus Exige, a more useable Porsche Cayman, or even a three-year-old BMW M3? None of these have the novelty factor of being an ageing French supermini from a time when Renault was bonkers enough to use a mid-engined V6. Do you want to be different that much? Only you can make that call.”

Read the Renault Clio V6 Retro Road Test

Toyota MR2 Mk1 vs. Toyota MR2 Mk3The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

A visit to Toyota’s heritage collection gave Andrew a chance to sample both Mk1 (1984) and Mk3 (1999) iterations of the MR2. They’re both mid-engined and very impractical, but the similarities end there. Which proves more appealing as a budget classic sports car?

Andrew said: “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. But if you gave this reviewer £5,000 and told him to buy a Mk1 or Mk3 Toyota MR2? I’ll take the original, thanks.”

Read the Toyota MR2 Retro Road Test

Fiat 500The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The inspiration for one of motoring’s most successful retro-remakes, the original Cinquecento is a car even non-petrolheads recognise. It’s as cute as it is slow (this 500F develops 18hp) and driving one can’t fail to make you smile – as Richard Gooding discovered.

Richard said: “As with almost all classic cars, there’s characterful appeal to the 500 that rubs off on you as you drive it. A happy little car with plenty of personality, for retro-chic appeal, a Nuova 500 beats the current Fiat 500 hands down.”

Read the Fiat 500 Retro Road Test

Ford Fiesta XR2The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

The Fiesta XR2 has always lived in the shadow of other 1980s hot hatches, such as the 205 and Golf GTIs – and perhaps deservedly so. But there’s still lots to love about this underdog 97hp fast Ford, as Tim discovered on yet another trip to Dagenham.

Tim said: “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.”

Read the Ford Fiesta XR2 Retro Road Test

BMW Z1The top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

That’s ‘Z’ for ‘zukunft’ – the German word for ‘future’. And yes, the future looked pretty damn good in 1986, even if we didn’t all adopt disappearing, drop-down doors. The Z1 is one of the bravest BMW designs ever to make production, and now a fast-appreciating classic. Richard borrowed one for his journey to Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Richard said: “Very few Brits know what the BMW Z1 is. Most were sold in Germany and its lack of official right-hand status here affords it an exclusive image. This makes it a genuine modern-classic BMW curio, one that you can pick up for similar-to-E30 M3 money and turn far more heads. It’s not as thrilling to drive as an M3 but it’s surely a bona fide classic that, so long as you’re careful with it and keep it in tip-top condition, will surely only go up in value in years to come.”

Read the BMW Z1 Retro Road Test

Porsche 911SThe top 20 Retro Road Tests of the year

We finish with this beautiful Blood Orange Porsche 911S, one of our most exquisite (and expensive) Retro Road Tests yet. A lifelong 911 fan, Tim jumped at this one – and he wasn’t disappointed. The classic Porsche was a feast for the senses, a car that commands respect and admiration in equal measure.

Tim said: “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…”

Read the Porsche 911S Retro Road Test

Peugeot 205 Rallye: Retro Road Test

Peugeot 205 Rallye review: Retro Road Test

Peugeot 205 Rallye: Retro Road Test

This is a forgotten hot hatch gem, that’s for sure. But you can be forgiven for forgetting about the Peugeot 205 Rallye. Here in the UK, it was little more than a spiced-up 1.4-litre single-carb 205 XS, producing not a great deal of power and providing nowhere near the excitement of a GTI.

But the car we’re testing for this week’s Retro Road Test is the real McCoy. It’s a European-spec LHD version of the Rallye, boasting a kerb weight of just 794kg: a whole 100 kilos less than the GTI. And a decent amount of power, too…

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

If quirky hot hatches are your thing, there’s no shortage of cars you should be considering. It’s a different character, but if you’re considering a 205 Rallye, you should definitely look at the more commonplace GTI. There’s also the newer and again, more common 106 Rallye, along with the hot Renault Clio Williams. The Citroen AX GT is a plucky little pocket rocket, while the much newer Suzuki Ignis Sport follows the Rallye’s ethos.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

In European guise, the 205 Rallye dumps the lacklustre 1.4 in favour of a revvy twin-carb 1.3 producing 103hp  just 2hp short of the GTI when it was launched in 1984. Intended to compete in sub-1300cc rallying, the Rallye was a stripped-out homologation special.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

At first, honestly, a little disappointing. It’s an old French hatchback, and it feels it. The brakes take some prodding, the steering is heavy and the interior, red mats aside, feels relatively normal. And old. This is not a car for drivers seeking instant gratification.

But as the Rallye starts to warm up, and you start to get into the experience, it gradually becomes more rewarding. It’s well suited to tight, winding B-roads (out of its element on larger roads), and it responds well to enthusiastic front-drive driving. So, on the brakes in a straight line before the bend, powering through and  whatever you do – don’t lift off. Not that it’s as snappy as the GTI.

The analogue steering is infinitely more communicative than the electrical systems fitted to today’s hot hatches. The performance, meanwhile, would probably be shown up by most modern turbodiesels but, once it’s warmed up, it’s fun to work it hard chasing the redline and staying below speed limits.

Reliability and running costs

Reliability and running costs

It’s an old French hot hatch so don’t expect it to be painless, although it’s a relatively simple car. Parts can be difficult to source  be prepared to join Peugeot clubs (there isn’t a dedicated 205 Rallye one in the UK, but there are plenty of more general ones) and fire up Google Translate in order to ship parts from abroad.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

Cut and paste answer to almost every Retro Road Test we’ve done: you could, but you probably shouldn’t. It’s a rare car, especially in Euro-spec, and it’ll soon start to show its age if you did use one as a daily driver. Plus, the novelty of driving a left-hand-drive car without a radio and little in the way of creature comforts will soon wear thin.

How much should I pay?

How much should I pay?

Finding one in the UK is difficult, so providing a solid valuation is tricky. If you can find a cared-for original example, the limit is essentially the maximum you feel comfortable paying for an old Peugeot hatchback.

We’d probably budget around £10,000 for a nice one, or £15,000 for a minter. But bear in mind the direction in which GTI prices are going. A Rallye could be a sound investment.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

Signs of abuse and crash damage are the main concerns. Look under the bonnet: does all the paintwork look original? Are there any signs of repair?

Other than that, buy with your head rather than your heart. If you’ve been waiting a while for one to be advertised, it’s easy to dismiss minor faults – but bear in mind that even simple parts could be nigh-on impossible to find.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

In truth, it makes more sense to go out and buy a GTI. They’ve got more of a following  so could be a wiser investment  while support through clubs and online forums is more readily available. It’s easy to find a good one, too, as long as you’re prepared to pay good money.

If the right 205 Rallye comes up, however, grab it, spend as much as you can keeping it tidy and original, and enjoy driving one of the best forgotten hot hatches that never officially made it to the UK.

Pub fact

Pub fact

Top Gear’s Chris Harris bought a 205 Rallye last year. He described it as “every bit as special as an RS Porsche”, despite his slightly ropey example showing more than 300,000 miles on the clock and having been used as a tarmac rally car.

Thanks to Nick Bailey of Elan PR for the use of his lovely Peugeot 205 Rallye