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Skoda Octavia vRS: Retro Road Test

01_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

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

What are its rivals?

02_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

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

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

What engine does it use?

03_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

What’s it like to drive?

04_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

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

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

Reliability and running costs

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

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

Could I drive it every day?

06_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

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

How much should I pay?

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

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

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

What should I look out for?

08_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

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

Should I buy one?

09_Skoda_Octavia_vRS

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

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

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

Pub fact

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

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

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Retro Road Test: British Motor Heritage MGB

MGB roadster: Retro Road Test

Retro Road Test: British Motor Heritage MGB

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

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

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

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

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

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

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

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

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

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

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

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

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

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

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

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

Reliability and running costs

Reliability and running costs

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

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

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

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

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

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

How much should I pay?

How much should I pay?

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

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

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

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

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

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

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

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

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

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

Pub fact

Pub fact

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

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

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BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL (2004) review: Retro Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reliability and running costsBMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pub factBMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

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

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

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

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.

Audi 80 GT review: Retro Road Test

Audi 80 GTArguably the first ‘proper’ Audi after Volkswagen’s takeover of the company in 1966, the ‘F103’ was essentially a facelifted DKW F102 with a Daimler-Benz engine. The F103 range included an Audi 80, as the models were named after their power outputs.

However, it was the ‘B1’ 80 of summer 1972 that heralded a truly new technical concept for Audi. While similar to the Audi 100 in that the newly-developed ‘EA 827’ family of four-cylinder engines was allied to a front-wheel-drive chassis, the 80’s ‘negative roll radius’ steering geometry, which allowed it to stop in a straight line in severe braking situations, was revolutionary.

Its computer-designed safety cell and diagonally-split braking system were both technologically-advanced, too, as was the lightweight but quality construction, which also brought a level of quality rarely seen in the ‘lower-middle’ car class at the time. The 80 won the European Car of the Year award in 1973, ahead of the Renault 5 and Alfa Romeo Alfetta. When it arrived in September 1973, the sporting GT version was marketed as ‘A new dimension in high-performance motoring’. Its 100hp 1.6-litre engine boasted a power output more akin to that of a 2.0-litre unit.

What are its rivals?

BMW 316

In the 1970s, performance-oriented versions of more traditional saloon cars were a new trend, but with its two-door body, the £2,910 80 GT was a quasi-coupé. Which was fine, as its rivals were too. The Ford RS2000 was based on the Mk2 Escort, first introduced in 1974. A regular rally winner – it took victory in the RAC Rally from 1975 to 1979 – it was powered by a 110hp 2.0-litre engine (although at the time of the Audi’s introduction, the first-generation RS2000 was also a competitor).

The ‘E21’ BMW 316 meanwhile, batted a 90hp 1.6-litre engine and was in the thick of sporting saloon action from the start of its career, even though it was actually the entry-level 3 Series.

The seemingly power-deficient 68hp Kamm-tailed Alfasud Ti was pitched against the 80 GT in contemporary road tests, too, while even the 80-based Volkswagen Passat TS with 85hp was seen as a rival.

What engine does it use?Audi 80 GT

The Audi 80 B1’s new water-cooled ‘EA 827’ engine family would prove pivotal to the Volkswagen Group and would go on to power the first generation of new-age Volkswagens, most famously the Golf.

Initially, a pair of 1,297cc and 1,471cc four-cylinder engines gave outputs of 60, 75 and 85hp, but a 1,588cc unit later replaced the 1.5. This engine was chosen for the GT and, with a higher 9.5:1 compression ratio and two-stage carburettor with larger chokes, power increased to 100hp at 6,000rpm. A heady – for the 1970s – 97lb ft of torque was available at 4,000rpm, while top speed was 109mph.

In July 1976, the GT gained Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and became the GTE, with power rising to 110hp. That same year, the engine was dropped into Volkswagen’s Golf to create the GTI. It’s a practice that continued: both the late 1970s ‘B2’ Audi 80 Sport and the GTE of 1984 featured the Golf GTI’s 1.8-litre engine.

What’s it like to drive?Audi 80 GT

Open the door of Audi UK’s 41-year-old 80 GT and the build quality that serves the marque today is very much in evidence. Settle yourself into the Recaro seat and, while the steering wheel could challenge that of a bus for size, it looks suitably sporty with its leatherette rim and aluminium spokes. It’s a very simple cabin, with a smattering of dash-protruding buttons that look like boiled sweets, plus a row of three auxiliary gauges nestled in the centre console.

On the move, the 1.6-litre engine is crisply free-revving. It’s quite loud, but sounds gorgeously and ‘digitally’ clear, as if it were on a CD played through the speakers. The car accelerates keenly and has no problem keeping up with modern traffic. That’s no doubt helped by its light weight. A modern Audi A4 weighs around 1,500kg, whereas the 80 GT is just 885kg – little more than half as much.

Despite that large wheel, the steering is light and precise, and the 80 GT is easy to manoeuvre. The then-new front-wheel-drive chassis makes the car grip well in corners, with surprisingly little body-roll. And even though the 13-inch Golf GTI-style alloy wheels are only wrapped in 175/50 SR13 tyres, the diminutive Audi handles very crisply and tidily, darting from roundabout to roundabout in Milton Keynes.

Watch the Audi 80 television commercial

The front disc/rear drum brake set-up is better than we remember from other Volkswagen Group cars of the same era, but the middle pedal still needs a firm press. The stubby gear lever is connected to a four-speed ’box, which is precise enough but a little notchy. In 1976, when this car was made, Audi quoted a 0-60mph time of 10 seconds. It still feels as quick, an impression no doubt helped by the relatively fat exhaust pipe popping and banging as it occasionally catches the rear bodywork.

But it’s not just the driving experience that makes you smile. That crisp, angular 1970s silhouette and pretty styling are elegant enough, but the period colour palette also helps. On the dull afternoon of our drive, bystanders seemed generally cheered by the Cadiz Orange paintwork of this 80 GT. It cut quite a dash in the Friday afternoon rush hour.

Reliability and running costsAudi 80 GT

Volkswagens and Audis of the 1970s were famed for being reliable, and the 80 GT should be no exception. But while reliability was a plus point, primitive body protection wasn’t. Rust was the major enemy of early water-cooled models from the Volkswagen Group – and, to be fair, most 1970s cars – hence why so few have survived.

When new, Audi quoted a fuel economy figure of 32.8mpg for the 80 GT. The GTE, with its fuel-injected engine, was capable of 7mpg more. That’s pretty good for a car with sporting pretensions, but bear in mind that most economy figures four decades ago were taken at a constant 55-60mph, so aren’t especially realistic.

One thing that won’t fall further is the tax. As the 80 GT was superseded by the 80 GTE in 1976, it falls into the latest road tax exemption rules, which exclude cars from paying Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) if they were registered before 8 January 1977. A classic car insurance policy would help trim costs further.

Could I drive it every day?Audi 80 GT

At just 4.2 metres, the first-generation Audi 80 is around the same length as a 2017 Volkswagen Golf. So yes, threading this small saloon through town and city centres is easy work, as proved by our time navigating central Milton Keynes. However, being from the 1970s, the steering has no power assistance. While that’s fine most of the time, on occasion it can feel quite heavy.

Visibility is first-rate, though, the 80’s expansive glasshouse affording a very clear view out. But, purely because of its age, the sharply-styled Audi feels quite fragile. That trailblazing computer-designed safety cell is arguably safer than many other cars from the early 1970s, though. And the 1.6-litre engine has plenty of pep.

How much should I pay?Audi 80 GT

That’s a good question. To be honest, we think you’d be very lucky to find a B1 80 GT, let alone one in good condition. At the time of writing, we could only find a Group H GTE racer for sale at €15,500 from a German dealer. We did also spot an 80 LS, with the 75hp 1.6-litre engine, however. At £4,000, it had seemed to have escaped the early water-cooled VW/Audi ‘scene tax’, but did need some work.

We have also stumbled across two early low-mileage LS models from 1973, but as they were pristine and very rare, their £10,000 price tags reflected that. With so few still surviving it’s hard to put a price on a mint-condition 80 B1 GT, but needless to say Audi UK’s immaculate heritage car would undoubtedly command well into five figures.

What should I look out for?Audi 80 GT

Providing you do find the proverbial unicorn that is a B1 Audi 80 GT, rust is the most important thing to look for. Corrosion around all the usual places – door bottoms, wings, wheelarches, sills and inner wings – should be easy to spot. Check the fuel filler neck, too. These are a known weak spot on first-generation water-cooled Volkswagen Group cars, and rust can fall into the fuel tank and fuel system itself. Panels and trim are now becoming scarce, so cars with missing parts could be difficult to restore.

Blue smoke from the engine usually points to worn valve guide seals. As some of the B1 80’s running gear was shared with the Mk1 Volkswagen Passat, it shouldn’t prove impossible to find selected mechanical components, though. As a rough guide, a front wing for an 80 GT was listed at £325 on a well-known auction site, while wing mirrors can be found for as little as £25. Service items, such as air and oil filters, start from £5. Brake discs cost from £10 each, and it’s the same for a set of pads.

Should I buy one?Audi 80 GT

Yes! Nicely-balanced proportions make the B1 80 a good-looker, especially with bright paintwork. In our eyes, a proper quality feel, fizzy engine, fun drive and the historic significance to the Audi brand just add to the appeal.

It’s true, parts supply could be an issue, but should you throw back that theoretical dust sheet in a barn and find a minter lurking underneath, the B1 80 – and particularly the GT – will place you near the head of the retro-cool table. If it has the matte-black bonnet, 13-inch alloy wheels, Bilstein shock absorbers and ventilated disc brakes that came as part of the optional Sport kit, your top-table status will be assured.

Pub factsAudi 80 GT

The first-generation Audi 80 was sold in the US and Australia as the Audi Fox from 1973. When the GTE appeared on the scene in the autumn of 1976, it also headed Stateside in limited numbers.

However, there was a major name-change: what logically should have been the Audi Fox GTE, became the Audi Fox GTI – perhaps the US audience didn’t get the German word for ‘injection’ in the original car’s ‘Gran Turismo Einspritzung’ nomenclature. It therefore previewed the badge that would later become legendary when affixed to its Golf (or US-market Rabbit) cousin.

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

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

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

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

What are its rivals?Honda Insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reliability and running costsToyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pub factsToyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

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

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

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

This week has been a little special for team MR, with one of us in Utah driving the fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery. You can read Richard’s five star review here, but the headline points are: it’s nearly 500kg lighter than its predecessor, much better on-road, still brilliant off it, and more like a Range Rover than ever before.

While the new Discovery will no doubt sell by the bucketload just for being brilliant, there’s heritage behind the Discovery name that also drives sales.

And that heritage stretches back to its initial launch in 1989. We’ve been to Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, Land Rover’s test playground for more than 50 years, to see how far the Discovery has come since then.

Discovery 1

Discovery 1

Competition from Japan in the 1980s meant Land Rover was losing customers to vehicles like the Isuzu Trooper and Mitsubishi Shogun. The Defender was too hardcore for the emerging lifestyle market, while the upmarket Range Rover was too expensive.

In September 1989, the three-door Discovery was launched, with a five-door model arriving the following year. With prices starting at a very reasonable £15,750, more than 20,000 were sold within its first year on sale. The Discovery was a success from the start.

The model I’m driving at Eastnor is a 1991 three-door Discovery, powered by the 200Tdi 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine. This was the only diesel powertrain on offer in the Discovery’s early days, while buyers could also opt for the (thirsty, yet not particularly thrilling) 3.5-litre Rover V8, which used SU carburettors to differentiate it from the Range Rover.

Discovery 1

Before we even get to what it’s like to drive, we need to talk about inside the Discovery. Land Rover roped in Conran Design to work on the interior and, even today, it’s certainly distinctive. Buyers got a choice of two colours: sand or blue. We’re pleased to say the example here is finished in the former – a much less depressing hue than the dank, wishy-washy blue.

It’s more car-like than the Defender, yet still very ‘lifestyle’. There’s a built-in sunglasses holder and map pockets hanging from the roof. Big windows and slim pillars give you a good view of the road ahead.

As we meander through Eastnor’s deer park, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view. Swift it is not, taking more than 17 seconds to hit 60mph. Although it’s apparently capable of 92mph, we’re happy keeping the speed down as the steering gets more than a tad vague at anything above pootling speeds.

Taking a laid-back approach works well with the gearbox, too –finding the right gear isn’t something that can be done in a hurry. It’s all part of the charm of driving an older vehicle, but it’s hard to believe that this was seen as civilised and car-like back in 1989.

Discovery 2

Discovery 2

Although the Discovery did receive quite a significant mid-life facelift in 1994 (including a redesigned diesel engine and toned-down interior), the next major change came in 1998. The second-generation Disco was launched under BMW’s watch and, although it looked very similar to the original, was heavily reworked.

Based on the same chassis as its predecessor, the second-generation Discovery was bigger, allowing for increased practicality. Quality was also much improved, with smaller panel gaps, while the interior was brought further up to date.

One of the biggest changes was the arrival of the five-cylinder turbodiesel engine, the TD5. The same powertrain as the Defender, in the Discovery it produced 136hp and would reach 60mph in 14.1 seconds.

Discovery 2

But that isn’t the engine we’re testing at Eastnor. Nope, the Discovery 2 here is powered by a 3.9-litre Rover V8 producing 185hp and hitting 60mph in 10.5 seconds. The stats aren’t really what this car’s all about, however. Even after driving the 200Tdi, the V8 Disco 2 isn’t fast.

It does, however, sound fabulous. And, as you might have guessed from the pictures, this isn’t an ordinary Discovery.

Finished in Tangiers Orange paint, this example would have been used during one of the American stages of Land Rover’s first G4 Challenge. Held in 2003 and 2006, the G4 Challenge was a spiritual successor to the Camel Trophy and put participants (and vehicles) to the test in trials across the world. Modifications fitted to all Discoverys included a Safety Devices roof rack, Warn winch and roof lights, a Mantec sump guard and a raised air intake.

Discovery 3

Discovery 3

Even after a facelift in 2002, the Discovery was feeling very old-fashioned by the end of its life in 2004. But the Discovery 3 represented the biggest change in the car’s history.

Built under Land Rover’s latest owner, Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, the Discovery 3 didn’t have a single part carried over from previous models. As before, it was available with five or seven seats, and a choice of petrol and diesel engines.

Despite being extremely heavy (2,500kg), a Jaguar V8 could propel the Disco 3 to 60mph in 8.0 seconds flat – but most buyers opted for the far more sensible PSA-sourced TDV6 diesel engine. That’s the model we’ve driven here, which hits 60mph in a more steady 12.2 seconds.

Or at least, it does on paper. Yes, this is another G4 model, equipped with all the associated gear – from winch to roof rack. You might have spotted that it’s wearing an ‘08’ plate, and we’ve already said the G4 Challenge only ran in 2003 and 2006.

Discovery 3

That’s because there was meant to be a third G4 Challenge in 2009. It never happened, though, with Land Rover citing the economic downturn and having to prioritise new product launches as the reason for its cancellation. This Discovery is one of the few recce vehicles that were prepped for the event before it was axed.

After driving the older Discovery, the D3 is a revelation. It feels much more upmarket, with almost Range Rover levels of quality. That’s perhaps unsurprising, considering its £26,995 start price. The V8 started at £37,995.

All but the most basic models featured self-levelling air suspension, along with a host of clever features, from adaptive headlamps to hill-descent control. The electronics make it an incredibly competent (and flattering) off-roader. Diagrams on the infotainment screen show what each wheel is doing, while a ‘Terrain Response’ dial lets you flick between different off-road modes, from snow to sand.

Discovery 4

Discovery 4

In appearance, the Discovery 4 appears to be little more than a facelifted Discovery 3. Gone is the black bumper trim (it was actually colour-coded as part of a mid-life facelift for the 3), while the front and rear lights are ever-so-slightly different.

Technical changes weremore in-depth, however.

While the entry-level GS initially stuck with the 2.7-litre TDV6, it became a 3.0-litre in other models, offering the performance that the Discovery 3 turbodiesel always lacked. By the end of the Discovery 4’s life, the only engine was a 3.0-litre SDV6 producing 256hp.

That’s the engine we’re trying at Eastnor, and there’s no doubt that it’s surprisingly swift: hitting 60mph in 8.8 seconds.

Discovery 4

Less impressive, however, is how dated the Discovery 4 feels. The infotainment system looks archaic – it’s difficult to believe this particular car is just a year or so old – and little has changed since the Discovery 3 was launched in 2004.

The feeling of invincibility – that you could go anywhere and the car’s systems would make sure you’re always safe no matter what conditions you face – won’t be lost over time, though. Combine that with rugged good looks and a practical interior and we’ve stumbled onto the Discovery’s winning formula, developed over four generations.

Ready to find out how has the Discovery morphed into the fifth-generation model? Read our full review on Motoring Research now.

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

Mazda RX-8: Retro Road Test

Mazda RX-8 review: Retro Road Test

Mazda RX-8: Retro Road Test

Launched in 2003, the RX-8 was a successor to the RX-7, cost less than £20,000 when new and can now be picked up for less than a grand. A quirky four-seat sports car with suicide rear-doors and a weird engine, it’s a very tempting proposition if you’re hunting the classifieds for something a little unusual.

So, should you buy a secondhand Mazda RX-8? We drove a late example around Goodwood’s famous race track to find out.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

Rivals include the Audi TT and Nissan 370Z. The Audi is more premium (and more reliable – how boring), while the Nissan is faster but lacks the RX-8’s finesse in the handling department. And neither has doors that open backwards.

What engine does it use?

What engine does it use?

This is where things get really interesting. The RX-8 used a bizarre piston-less rotary engine, producing a generous amount of power (232hp in the model we’ve tested here) from its small 1.3-litre capacity.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

One of the biggest advantages of that rotary engine is its refinement. Today, in the age of downsizing and turbocharging, we associate small engines with poor refinement. But with the RX-8’s engine working in a rotational fashion, rather than thrusting pistons up and down, it’s beautifully smooth and refined.

It’s also quick – if you’re prepared to thrash it. Peak torque isn’t that peaky, just 156lb ft at 5,500 revs, but cling onto gears towards the 9,000rpm redline and you’ll be rewarded with a sports car that’ll hit 62mph in 6.4 seconds.

Mazda is good at manual gearboxes, so it’s no surprise to find the six-speed ’box in the RX-8 is slick to use. But if there’s one thing Mazda can do even better than manual gearboxes, it’s making a sports car handle well. It’s got years of experience with its MX-5, not to mention countless RX models, and the RX-8 has that winning combination of a tiny engine up-front, drive directed to the rear wheels and lovely, direct steering.

We drove it around a wet race track at Goodwood, and what a pleasure it was, the steering giving a spot-on indication of how much grip we had to play with. Meanwhile, the traction control reined in any sideways-ness caused by being clumsy with the throttle.

Reliability and running costs

Reliability and running costs

If the way the RX-8 drives is a huge plus-point for the diddy rotary engine, the way it empties your wallet spoils the fun somewhat. We’ll come onto common issues shortly, but before we go any further, we’ll look at day-to-day running costs. Officially, it’ll return 24.6mpg, but consider any day where you achieve more than teens to be a good day. It’s not a sensible low-revving diesel.

Insurance can be a bit expensive (repairing a smashed one using parts from Japan isn’t cheap), and tax will set you back more than £500 if you go for a post-2006 model. Ouch.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

If you can afford the running costs, the RX-8 would be a lovely car to drive every day. Thanks to those quirky rear doors, it’s surprisingly practical; getting in and out of the rear is easy enough, and even full-sized adults will fit in the back with few complaints.

Our high-spec RX-8 featured Alcantara seats, a Bose sound system and climate control. The latest RX-8s are just six years old so, provided you’re prepared to look after it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t drive one every day.

How much should I pay?

How much should I pay?

While there are, incredibly, £500 RX-8s out there, we often suggest ‘pay as much as you can afford’ as a good rule of thumb. A tidy example that’s covered low miles and been owned by an enthusiast will be well worth the extra money over an abused example. A £7,000 budget will get you one of the best in the country, sold by a specialist – but you should be able to find a good one for £4,000.

Another approach is to buy a cheap one with a broken engine from an honest seller. An engine rebuild from a specialist costs in the region of £3,000 and could be a surprisingly economical way of making sure you’ve bought a good example.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

The first question you should ask is how often the oil level has been checked. The official advice from Mazda is to check the oil after every second fill of the fuel tank. Officially, it’ll get through 250ml of oil for every 1,000 miles, but specialists say good examples will use less. A thrashed example can get through oil at an alarming rate, and should be avoided.

When the engine’s running, listen out for unusual noises. A persistent droning noise or a loud clatter could be the sign of stationary gear bearing failure, a relatively common issue that could require an engine rebuild.

Another critical issue with the RX-8 is the common hot-starting problem. On the test drive, attempt to restart the engine when it’s at normal operating temperature. It should start instantly. Many don’t, and some sellers put this down to a ‘quirk’ of the engine. It isn’t, and could signify expensive compression issues.

Should I buy one?

Should I buy one?

If you’ve got this far and haven’t been put off, we’ll assume you’re an enthusiast who will give an RX-8 the attention it needs. Buy one, but be fastidious about checking the oil. There’s an excellent support network out there for the RX-8… join forums, speak to owners and have a couple of grand set aside for work at a specialist.

If you buy a good RX-8, and look after it, it’ll be an enjoyable (and unusual) car to own.

Pub fact

Pub fact

The rotary engine was designed by a German engineer, Felix Wankel. He’s thought to have had the idea at a very young age, as at the age of 17 he reportedly told friends he’d invented “a new type of engine, half turbine, half reciprocating”.

Mazda stuck with the rotary engine for 45 years, starting with the 1967 Cosmo, and ending when the RX-8 was axed due to increasingly stringent emissions regulations in 2012.