Laughably Bad Cars of the 80s

Through the nostalgic filter of my rose tinted spectacles it is easy to see the 1980s as an age of extremes. At the time it seemed largely rubbish of course, with rubbish synth bands crowding out the rare indie gems and rubbish clothes, lots and lots of them. Now, 30 years on, it is all quite different. And even the 70s are cool. Whodathought?
One woman, of course, embodied these extremes of good and bad - Mrs Thatcher. Even at the time we either thought she was mad or magnificent. Following her staunchly black and white approach to the concept of doing things well, several car manufacturers in the 80s gave us extremely bad cars.  In the decade that fashion forgot - which, in retrospect, may be every decade - we had two types of extremely bad cars. We had obviously bad cars, that we laughed and pointed at, and subtly bad cars that we all bought because those evil marketing bods told us they were brilliant.  Damn those wicked, wicked marketeers.
So here is a list of the usual suspects - the obviously bad. Later, when I've recovered, there'll be a subtly bad list. 
Compiling this list was like shooting fish in a barrel. The 80s produced so many wilfully bad cars that choosing just 10 is probably the hardest part of putting this article together. 

1. DeLorean
Few cars sum up the 80s quite like the stainless steel wonder from Belfast. It tops the list because it let down every schoolboy in the land. Here was a home-grown, out-of-this-world sports car that wanted to take on the world. It had gullwing doors for goodness sake. None of us really knew why but it did. And yet not only did it all go horribly, horribly wrong very quickly but the car itself was utterly useless. I say this with considerable experience of driving and living with one.  Inevitably the DeLorean is a bitza, combining proprietary parts from around the world. You'd have thought that with millions to play with DeLorean could have sourced the best of everything. Perhaps he thought he did. But to my mind the engine out of a Volvo 260, the switchgear from a Rover SD1 and the chassis from an under-developed Lotus don't spell Best Practice. The DeLorean handles quite well, sounds great and rides well but none of that matters much when you can hardly see where you're going and you're worried about it falling to bits. Which it did. When I discovered that the front suspension design was developed with an inbuilt Death Wish that would see it eventually and inevitably collapse I decided never to inflict a DeLorean on anyone ever again. I wonderful experiment in form over function.

2. Yugo 45
The fascinating story of the Yugo 45 is detailed in an excellent book by Jason Vuic but if you haven't got time to read it here is a summary - rubbish. Yugoslavia wanted exports so it decided to develop a world car, the 45. But first of all it tested the market with a hatchback based on the Fiat 128, which was bad but not shockingly so. The 45 was much more home grown albeit based on a Fiat 127.It was  reasonably styled and neatly packaged and some bright spark decided it would sell well in America. The trouble was two-fold. Firstly, the Yugo seemed to struggle with the fundamental concept of staying together - it suffered build quality issues that made contemporary Austins seem like models of Teutonic efficiency. It was also not the ideal place to be in an accident. In fact, jumping out and throwing yourself at the mercy of the oncoming vehicle was probably a safer option compared to actually being inside a Yugo in an accident. Obviously it was cheap, remarkably so, but cheap is no consolation when you're standing in Tesco's car park trying to start it. Or dead. The Yugo factory, I think, makes Fiat 500s today. Another small car but a decidedly better and decidedly Teenies one. 

3. Reliant Rialto
Regal. Robin, Rialto. Different name, same concept. All unerringly bad. The sheer badness of the plastic pig starts and largely finishes with the fact that it lacks what most people would consider to be the normal number of wheels for a car. This was in order for its owners to avoid having to pass a driving test for cars. Putting people who, to be factually accurate, shouldn't be driving a car in a car with one crucial element missing seems to me like a recipe for disaster. And it was. As Jeremy Clarkson demonstrated, the Rialto wasn't strictly stable. It was also slow - slow because it had a tiny engine and three wheels and slow because its occupants feared death at every roundabout. Reliant attempted to remedy this problem by revisiting the drawing board where they identified what might be causing the problem - it only had three wheels. Having had their Eureka moment they gave the world the Kitten, which besides having the worst car name in history did have the saving grace of an extra wheel. In our current safety obsessed era it is hard to imagine just how incredibly popular the Rialto was in the 80s - they were everywhere, usually at the head of a long and increasingly frustrated queue.   Today, to fulfil the need to drive a car without legally being entitled to, we have microcars instead, which are equally slow but more conventional in the wheel department. 

4. Skoda Estelle
In a way it is sad that Skoda has become just another car company because in the 80s it was so much  more. Thanks to the Estelle it was a cultural phenomenon, the source of lots of jokes. What's the heated rear screen on a Skoda for? To warm your hands when pushing it. How do you double the value of a Skoda? Put petrol in it. It's not entirely clear why the Skoda earned its rubbish reputation because it was quite stylish and decently screwed together.  But in the 80s we weren't keen on the unfamiliar and a saloon car with an engine in the boot was obviously plan silly. What earns the Skoda its place on this list is its unreliability and propensity to swing into hedges at the sight of any corner, thanks to a roughly 100 to zero weight distribution back to front. Sure, Porsche 911s did much the same but Porsche had a lot of money to spend on advertisements telling us how great drivers learnt how to tame a 911. Skoda didn't. It did respond with the Skoda Rapide, a stylish coupe claimed by Skoda to do what a 911 could do for a fraction of the cost. Ie. ruin hedges. 

5. Dacia Denem

In the 80s we had a bit of an unflux of Eastern European tat. Modern day Dacia might like us to forget this Renault 12-based monstrosity. Giving it a name that tried plaintively to jump on the Nick Kamen 501 jean bandwagon did nothing except kill any chance of it succeeding, which was already slim at best. The first rule of any cheap recycled Eastern Bloc car is surely to start off with rehashing one that was good in its day. The Renault 12 wasn't. It was a dull, not very good 1970s family Renault. Remaking it, not very well, in the 1980s didn't improve its chances of global success. Dacia clearly hoped for a Lada-esque success story fuelled by miners spending their redundancy money (that isn't flippant - it was an actual phenomenon). It didn't happen and our patience with Dacia wore out faster than Nick Kamen's endlessly washed jeans. 

6. Hyundai Stellar

In the history of car names only the Mitsubishi Carisma pips the Stellar to the Worst crown. Hyundai made some pretty duff cars in the 80s, including the Pony, but the Stellar was its worst. Marketed as the car to fill the gap created when the conservative, boxy Cortina was replaced with the cutting edge jelly mould Sierra - no, honestly - the Stellar was luxuriously equipped and cheap. Taxi drivers loved it because it was also reliable. But it was 80s motoring at its worst - a four wheeled tin box without an ounce of character and a propensity to motor on whilst large chunks of it fell off. 

7. Nissan 300C

Because cynical Brits were liable to laugh and point at a car called Cedric, Nissan wisely shortened its name to C and bolted 300 on to make it sound a bit Mercedes-esque. And there was something Mercedes-like about the big 300C executive saloon, from its boxy lines to its bold chrome grille. There was also something distinctly Transatlantic about it too for the 300C had more electrical gizmos, ruched velour trimmings and fake wood inside than your average Cadillac Eldorado Fleetwood Brougham Coupe. For some perhaps this unique mix of European and American design touchstones represented motoring at its best, but it would seem far more of the car buying public didn't. The big Nissan was aimed at a market that didn't exist - high flying executives with a desire to be openly ridiculed. And not surprisingly it failed dismally. All of which means current owners can advertise it on EBay using that much-abused term 'rare'. 

8. Lada Riva

Riva is a beautiful town in the Italian Lakes. Visitors to Riva might be surprised to discover that it is neither cheap, ugly or smelly.  So it was something of a surprise for 80s observers to watch Lada's boxy evergreen Fiat 124-based saloon re-emerge blinking onto a brightly coloured 80s scene as the Riva. Ostensibly nothing more than the old car with a shiny plastic chrome-coloured grille and handy headlamp wash-wipe, the Riva was a good example of the emperor's new clothes. And yet it seemed that Lada had hit automotive pay dirt. It seemed that what cash-strapped Brits did in fact want was a cheap, ancient, Fiat 124 with a brand new suit. That grille and those headlamp washers were the sort of thing that you got on top spec Granadas, like the boss drove, so were surely A Good Thing. It is true that the Lada was excellent value and pretty well built, it's just that it was so incredibly ancient. Lada put second hand car buyers into a new car ad helped miners burn away their redundancy money. Beyond that it was a seriously bad car that depreciated faster than virtually any other car. And yet, when they stopped importing them a black market in 'new' Ladas sprang up as eager buyers carried on trying to get them. 

9. FSO Polonez

In the early 1980s FSO took a long, hard look at the UK car market. Their small but crack team of specialist researchers poured over the data looking for the key to success. After what seemed like eternity but was in fact probably no more than 5 minutes they found what Vauxhall, Ford, VW and even BMW had missed. What Britain desperately needed and didn't have, they discovered, was an ugly Fiat 124 hatchback with massive impact bumpers. And if said car could be made extraordinarily badly, all the better. And that, of course, is what FSO promptly did. The Polonez sounded like a nasal spray but its effects lasted much much longer. Sure it was practical and with its big boot and bumpers vaguely Saab-like, but in all other respects truly awful. Noisy, unreliable, cheap and ugly, the Polonez was the nadir of the much-abused Fiat 124 platform.  

10. Wartburg 

The name doesn't do it many favours, lets be honest here. Powered by an ancient engine whose only saving grace was that it produced so much smoke that you could rarely actually see the car it propelled, the Wartburg was another 4 door Russian monstrosity. It's heyday was the 70s but it soldiered on into the 80s before the Government, otherwise unbothered by environmental concerns, banned it. Solid but slow and ugly, the Wartburg served only to remind us of the East West divide and of course how much better we all were in our dayglo leg warmers and permed hair (and that was just me). 

So, there you have it, the obviously worst cars of the 80s. The list could easily be longer but to do so does feel like kicking a few horses when they're down. None of these automotive lemons will ever be available to hire from Great Escape - if only because we can't find any - but if you fancy a spin in one of their infinitely better contemporaries call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. 


The Best Classic Cars of the 80s

There are plenty of reasons why the best classic cars must have been made in the 1980s. Decent electrics, galvanised chassis, automated production lines for better quality. Compared to every preceding decade, 80s car manufacturers got their act together. And compared to subsequent decades they weren't weighed down by complicated safety equipment and electronic gizmos.
So the 1980s should be classic car nirvana and in many ways the decade of big hair and shoulder pads is exactly that. But there is a problem. In the 1980s not a lot of great cars were made. Perhaps the manufacturers were blinded by all the dayglo leg warmers or too busy listening to Falko. Whatever the reason, the evocative makers were still churning out updated 70s models like the Alfa GTV while the more mundane were launching Maestros and Montegos on an unprepared world. 
Amongst the dreadful Austins and dull Vauxhalls, however, the 80s did give us a thin smattering of gems. Currently undervalued but excellent classic car buys because of the improvements in manufacturing, these cars are well worth buying now. Here are our favourite real-world cars of the 80s - and our top buying tips.

1. Ford Capri

On many levels the humble Capri is a bit silly to modern eyes. It's more macho than a factory full of Brute, it has a silly power bulge on the bonnet and two be-permed blokes off the telly drove one. But that is why it is so good. The Car You Always Promised Yourself is an excellent, neatly styled car in final 2.8 and 280 guise and practical too with space for four and a decent boot. It's cheap to own with good parts supply and a reliable old thing thanks to Ford mechanicals. This is the sort of car that nobody makes any more, a burbling, lusty coupe that is a joy to drive. Buy one now - prices have doubled in 18 months but £3,000 will still get you into a decent 2.8. 

2. Audi Quattro

In many ways the Quattro is the Capri's clever big brother, the swotty high achiever in a sharp suit. Rally bred with of course 4WD, the Quattro is a complicated but brilliant drivers car. It also looks good with its chunky Teutonic lines and blocky dashboard. Sure, it will be expensive when it goes wrong, but it doesn't do that much thanks to robust engines and German engineering. Good cars are £20,000 plus but Quattros can still be picked up for under £10,000.  Buy now before that changes. Phew, all that and we didn't use the words 'fire up'.... Dammit...

3. BMW M635

In the 1980s BMW found its mojo. Across the nation managing directors traded their Jaguars for cramped 5-Series while their top sales reps shoehorned themselves into 3-Series. Despite Ford and Vauxhall loading their offerings with every conceivable 80s-tastic option, Britain's professional achievers donned their automotive hair shirts and picked Beemers, cars which came with wheels as standard and not a lot else. At the top of the brand-driven automotive tree was the M635, the shark-nosed coupe with the BMW M1 engine. A stunning car to look at and drive, it was a worthy successor to the lightweight CSL Batmobiles but with a sharper, more sober suit suitable for the Goldman Sachs car park. Well built and rare, the M635 is worth seeking out now - prices have already begun to skyrocket but there are bargains out there. Or opt for a Highline - you lose the M motor but get everything else that makes this car brilliant.

4. Saab 900 T16S

Of course, I am wholly biased. I love the 900. For the unconverted, look beyond the socialist dentist image and see a genuinely brilliant hot hatch. The 900 is more than just a stretched 99 - well built, ingenious, practical, good to drive and very, very fast. According to Saab the full pressure 900 Turbo was the most powerful front wheel drive car you could buy and faster than a 911 in the critical 40-70 overtaking zone. All this for £2,000 today. Those prices are going up quickly but there are plenty about. 

5. Ford XR3

Even in the 80s Ford's original hot hatch was a bit of an afterthought. After the Golf GTi took off in Britain it took the major manufacturers years to stick plastic wheel arch extensions, Recaro seats and boot spoilers on to their humdrum hatches. Most of them, to be honest, put style ahead of substance. The MG Maestro Turbo torque-steered into oblivion, the Astra GTE brought the missing link, a Speak and Spell dashboard, to the game. Ford did what Ford does best - created an attractive, well-priced car and marketed it well. The XR3 sold in droves, despite initially being more 'hatch' than 'hot' and never being the last word in dynamics. The under-rated RS1600i and RS Turbo moved the game on, despite still not being very good drivers' cars. Nobody really cared as the XR3 had colourful seats and a rev counter. Today there are few original XR3s left and values are quietly exploding. 

6. Ford Sierra Cosworth

There are several Fords on this list with good reason. They are good classic buys because they're reliable, once ubiquitous but now rare and their values are driven by nostalgia. The Cossie was the weapon of choice for blue collar entrepreneurs, the Subaru Impreza of its day. Quick, technically advanced and rally-bred the rather brilliant Cosworth was the super car that sales reps in their Sierras could relate to. Most were TWOC'd and crashed and the rest were generally thrashed to death but the few that remain are blue blooded classic Royalty. Like Quattros, prices have already begun to rise but will likely go further.

7. Lancia Delta Integrale

You may spot a bit of a theme here. Humble manufacturer makes high performance version of everyday model. Lancia arguably did it best and to the greatest extreme with the Integrale. Essentially a  rally car in a boxy hatchback suit, the Integrale continuously evolved over its life, becoming closer and closer to a super car with every evolution. Early cars are quick, late cars devastatingly so. Only available in LHD the Integrale is a typically fragile Italian but utterly brilliant to drive. Late cars are now expensive but early cars are cheap and worth a punt. 

8. Rover SD1 Vitesse

I've owned one of these and there is a lot not to like. The appalling build quality (genuinely worse than you can actually imagine), the horrible driving position. But the SD1 Vitesse looks so good and sounds so great that you have to forgive it these shortcomings. After all, most classics sit in garages being polished and swooned over and with its Daytona-esque lines it is as an object d'art at which the Vitesse excels. It's the last great British saloon and with most having rotted away or simply fallen apart, the few remaining cars are surely due to appreciate. 

9. Peugeot 205 GTI

Another hot hatch but then the 80s is synonymous with them. This is definitely the best of the breed, a simply brilliant sports car by any criteria - quick, nimble, practical and easy to own. Sure, it's built from old Coke cans and is still stuck in a chav-infested world of sports exhausts and spoilers, but an unmolested 205 is a thing of utter joy. I prefer the sweeter, lighter 1.6 over the 1.9 but either car is near perfect. Early 205s had pretty rubbish interiors so go for a later car. There are lots and lots of 205s out there but very few decent low mileage cars. Find one and buy it now before prices go stratospheric - £2,000 will get you a reasonable one (that would have been £1,000 a year ago). But beware - 205s can make you drive like a looney. I have owned two and both were written off very quickly (but not by me). 

10.???

80s cars haven't quite established their classic credentials yet. Think of the 60s or 70s and it is easy to create a list of the top 10. So we've left the 10th slot on our list free so that you can tell us which car or cars we've missed. Or tell us the cars we should have consigned to the classic dumper instead. 

Many of the cars above would not make ideal hire cars - unless sleepless nights are your thing - but we have tested a few of them on the Great Escape fleet. Some are still available to hire. We continue to look for new 80s cars to hire so if you have a suggestion just let us know via www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.

To view our full hire fleet visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733




Can you commute in an E Type?

In 1961 an E Type was the height of sophistication. And George Best had one, who was less sophisticated. For Joe Bloggs in his Cortina it was even exotic. It was the everyday Ferrari for the sporting high flyer, a role similar to the one fulfilled by the F-Type today.
Assuming that an E Type was ideal, not to say perhaps luxurious, transport for top execs on their way to their oak panelled corner offices, surely you could do exactly the same in one today? 
We thought we'd find out. The main hurdles to anyone using an E Type every day today are worries about reliability. Sure, put a little used classic into daily use and it will waive the white flag. We find it takes about a year to make each new car reliable because classics are used so rarely by their owners. For our experiment we took one of our E Types that has been on the fleet for a while and drove it from Harrogate to London in a day. 300 miles imagining we were racing between high powered meetings to discuss whether to buy, buy or sell, sell.
Of course today's high flyer would skype that sort of thing. Ask E Type man if he had Skype and he'd probably reply 'yes, series 1 4.2, a beaut.'
We wanted to test, through a combination of motorway and city driving, whether you could commute in an E Type, what it would be like and how it compares to modern commuter wheels. I decided to use our red E Type coupe series 2 4.2, a car I have owned for several years after inheriting it in a sorry state from a hire company in Suffolk. We have spent a lot of money improving the car including engine rebuild, new clutch, rebuilt rear axle and suspension and bodywork improvements. It is one of our busiest and most reliable cars and this winter will be treated to a new interior. 
The E Type is a big but small car. In its most beautiful short wheelbase coupe form it is exotically styled but not entirely practical. The doors are small - imagine slipping inside a letter box and you'll have some idea. 60s man must have been thinner and more lithe than most modern drivers.
You sit a long way back in an E Type, virtually over the back wheels. The dashboard is a thin sliver of padding and scattered dials fronted by a huge wooden wheel. The seat is small - no headrest - and the pedals off down a narrow tunnel. The windscreen is immediately in front with a view down acres and acres of swooping bonnet. Behind is a huge boot with a tiny board to stop everything in the back hitting the driver in the back. 
Whatever else it may it may or may not be, the E Type is purposeful. The bonnet may provide quite possibly the best view in motoring but it serves a purpose - it covers a massive engine and channels air efficiently. The dashboard has come to be iconic, a masterpiece of design but it is first and foremost functional - main dials where you want them, auxiliaries and switches within easy reach. The rest of the car is designed to be aerodynamic, that it is also practical with a big boot is a secondary issue. You sit far back in the car to improve weight balance, not because it looks cool. 
This is all a very, very long way from modern cars. So many considerations about showroom sparkle, safety, fuel economy and electronic gadgetry muscle into modern car design that our cars rarely combine form and function in a way that the E Type does. It is beautiful because it just is, not because someone tried to make it so. 
The E Type is considerably smaller than modern equivalents - long but narrow. But the interior is probably similar size because there are no airbags or side impact bars. In fact the only concession to safety is a bit of padding on the dash top and disc brakes all round - believe it or not, these were considered safety features in 1961.
Whether or not the lack of safety features makes the E Type any less safe than a modern car is an interesting conundrum. Of course, if you do have an accident in an E Type you'll come off worse than you will in a F-Type. As I zipped down the m1 at 70 though, the big straight six rumbling away, I wondered whether the issue wasn't what happens in an accident but the likelihood of an accident. In an E Type you feel more vulnerable. You are closer to nature thanks to wind and road noise and you have to concentrate on driving. Original E Type man would never phone and drive or text and drive because he would die immediately. The E Type isn't hard to drive but it has to be driven. In comparison a modern car turns the driver into an autopilot - it's silent, cocooning and with endless safety devices and driver aids that reduce the need to actually do anything. 
All of which means you drive an E Type with considerably more care and attention than you might do in a modern. You can't stop quickly so you leave room. You don't have panoramic mirrors so you plan your lane changes rather than just pulling out. When it rains the wipers do a sterling job of slapping across the screen in perfect unison, but rather less effectively remove water. So you slow down. On b-road corners you can feel the weight of the car shift and the tyres and steering tell you where the limit is, so you work within it. On A-roads you could do 90 but it feels like 200mph so you do 50, which feels like 90. So when a tractor pulls out you can stop. 
I scooted down the M1 easily keeping up with traffic and not feeling particularly in need of stopping. In the 60s E Type man didn't have many service stations to stop at so he probably did what I did and kept powering on, enjoying the delectable view down the bonnet. This view is particularly good in the dark when the E Type's low and feeble lights cast a shimmery pall over the immediate 3 foot of road. With the green dash lights dimly glowing it is an eery sensation. Eventually I stopped, parking in a distant spot at the service station to avoid door dings. Inevitably a small crowd appeared with camera phones, something anyone driving an E Type will get used to. Rarely when driving my company Audi A4 did anyone take my picture (except you Northants constabulary). 
There's no question that driving the E Type with brain switched unavoidably to 'alert' is more tiring than piloting a modern car. Add in the narrow wafer thin seat, arms-aloft driving position, uniquely uncomfortable donut door armrest and the wind and road noise, not to mention keeping a beady eye on fuel, battery, oil and water gauges, and I have some sympathy with 1960s E Type man. But all of that sort of misses the point. The E Type rides brilliantly, as every Jag should, and handles well. The steering and road holding are not in the 911 category but you know where the limits are and it is fun to hustle along. Which you can do very quickly - this is still a very rapid car that flies from low revs in any gear. By 1961 the XK motor was already antiquated yet it is a thing of brilliance - hugely torquey, smooth and with instant power on tap. 1960s E Type man may well have had to wrestle with heavy steering and wind noise but when the reward was a car that looked this good and went this well, who cares?
Despite the shortcomings that only a cosseted modern driver would notice, the E Type proved to be a rapid, smooth and well behaved sports car on the motorway and it would be easy to imagine keeping on going to Geneva or Milan, stopping only to stock up on fuel and Marlboros. Reaching London set another challenge as I piloted the E Type through the rush hour commuters. On the motorway the main peril was rubber nckers slowing to admire the E - which made lane changing awkward at times. In London the car barely lifted a single eyebrow. Odd, as it is more London, arguably, than a London bus. Crawling through traffic the E Type proved relatively easy to use although the heavy brake and clutch pedals might irritate after a while. The engine is not keen on ultra low revs, combined with a long clutch travel this can make stop start motoring a jerky affair. Despite the lack of power steering the car isn't heavy to steer, thanks in part to a massive wheel. The only real issue with an E Type is that you sit so low down - modern cars are so big and high that you feel as if you're a Lilliputian. 
In a way I was glad to reach my destination. After 300 miles I was pretty tired. But also disappointed. Not in the car but that the journey was over. An E Type engages you, makes you listen to it and respond. It demands your attention because to drop it for an instant risks death. All of which makes a journey in an E Type truly memorable and one you want to, have to repeat. The E Type may not cosset and flatter with an array of safety and driver aids but as a result it worms its way into your psyche in a way that a modern car never will.
The car performed faultlessly. Just as well as I was delivering it for a 10 day customer hire. I came away, as usual, aware of its limitations but not wanting to change a thing. Later cars have power steering, better seats and more space but good as these things are I don't feel I missed them during my drive. A 911 handles better and is much better built, but an E Type that matched it in either area somehow would be less of an E Type. It's the car's commitment to doing what it does in the way that it does that I admire. 
So can you commute in an E Type? You can and you should. An E Type, or for that matter any classic car, turns a day's drive into a lifetime's memory and that can never be a bad thing. 
We have 5 E Type Jaguars on our classic car hire fleet, ranging from Series 1 coupe to Series 3 convertible. You can hire them from our sites in Devon, Yorkshire and Cotswolds. For more details call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. 



Project Alfa

Across this fair and green land there are  innumerable otherwise perfectly useful  garages and workshop spaces filled with, for want of better words, automotive wrecks. Sometimes these derelict vehicles reappear on EBay after many years under the delightfully whimsical title of 'barn find' or 'easy project.'  The project phenomenon is so prevalent that it is the subject of many books and a regular feature of monthly and weekly classic car magazines. 
I've often wondered how a car can get to that state and, what's more, stay that way. How do otherwise desirable classic cars linger for years unloved and untouched? It wasn't at all obvious to me. Until, of course, it happened to me.
There is a point in every classic car fan's life when they decide to take on a project. This idea is certainly related to the number '4' in a man's age (for we are generally men) and seems borne out of a caveman-esque desire to make and do something. Obviously the desire to make and do is entirely disconnected from any suitable skills to either make or do whatever is required. Which is invariably a lot.  
Taking on a project is like accepting a well worn heirloom. The greatest joke on EBay is the listing that says '99% complete' or 'requires a couple of weekends to finish.' Because of course anything easy to finish would surely have been finished by the person best placed to finish it, the current owner. I suggest that in the entire history of classic cars nobody has really ever fully and completely finished a project. It is, after all, the first rule of a project. 
So hundreds, probably thousands, of classic cars hang in limbo between the road and the crusher, nobody quite having the energy to fire the bullet. I know all this because I have my own project. Actually across the Great Escape fleet we have about 6 projects, but 5 of them are still at the Probably, Definitely, Almost Certainly Will Go Back On The Road stage. Only one hangs by the thin, withered thread between action and inaction. 
Rather inevitably, because I like them, it's an Alfasud. It's story, both as roadgoing car and project is rather typical of the ouvre. Several years ago, when I couldn't find a roadworthy Alfasud to buy, I bought this Alfasud as a project. It came to me from a fellow enthusiast who had dismantled it, done some inexpert welding and then discovered that something more interesting beyond the confines of a murky lock up was far more appealing than proceeding further with the restoration. The car came to me with a big folder of stuff, including a lot of photographs showing the car in the early '00s in concours condition. It was rather a long way from that when I got it. Essentially rust free it was in a million and one bits. 
Not long after the sorry bundle of bits arrived at my unit I chanced upon a mint road going Sud. So the project Sud languished in a corner of my unit. At one point I offloaded it to a classic car specialist who promised to work on it 'as and when' in his spare time. The trip to the helpful specialist is a common if not essential stage in any classic car project's life. Naturally, this specialist either never had any spare time in 2 years or, like me, forgot the car existed. Eventually he gave it back to me, dirtier but in all other respects exactly the same as it was when I gave it to him. 
Back in my larger unit it sat in a corner rather forgotten. The trouble was that I had no real use for it and no firm idea what to do with it. I could easily have got rid of it - I had a few offers - but assembling all the bits and shifting it required time and focus that, with a busy business, I just didn't have. 
Eventually, a couple of years ago, someone suggested turning it into a track day weapon. This potentially solved at least one of my problems in putting it back on the road. There are now so few Alfasud left - and this car is a particularly rare TiX - that sourcing all the parts needed for a decent rebuild was going to be a tough challenge. A track day car made sense in this respect and would be fun.
Decision made some progress began. I sourced a 1.7 litre engine, a roll cage and various other racing parts. We took the old 1.5 engine out and refurbished it. Then things stalled, mainly due to demands of the business. 
Which is where we are now. In time worn fashion, it's 99% complete. Any easy project to finish. The trouble is keeping 60 classic cars reliable and safe means we never quite get to the Sud. A shame as it would be - sorry, will be - a great track day car. For the times, whenever they might be, that we all have a weekend free to actually go to a track day. 
As with any project, the Alfasud still has a chance of progressing. And in our defence, that chance is getting bigger. In the next few weeks we move to a new, larger unit where we plan to install an extra ramp and a spray booth. To test the new spray booth out we'll need a willing candidate that we're not too bothered about. Cue the Alfasud. 
I only mention that because almost certainly in 5 years I'll be updating this post with proposals for turning the Alfasud into a stylish desk or object d'art. Alternatively I could just sell it but, well, where would the fun be in that? 
Our other projects, which will be ready for the 2014 season we promise, include a Jaguar XJS V12 coupe, Triumph Herald convertible, Fiat X1/9, Saab 900 convertible and MGF. For more details on our roadworthy fleet visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733


We need Great Escape test pilots


It's a tough job but someone has to do it.  And that someone could well be you. This October we're testing out a new route for our very popular Break For The Borders rally (we're calling it, rather inevitably, Break For The Borders, The Sequel). So we need some test pilots.
We are looking for between 10 and 20 people to drive some of our favourite cars around the 150 mile route. And the first people we thought of were our Twitter followers.  So this opportunity is only available to them and their friends.  The event is being held on 5th October 2013
To make it interesting we're running the day exactly like one of our rallies, so every driver will get the chance to drive at least 5 classic cars. Since it's the last event of the year we'll be including our personal favourites for the trip too. So that means Jensen Interceptor, E Types, Jaguar Mk2 as well as Saab 900 Turbo and Chevrolet Corvette amongst others.
The route will head into the Welsh Borders on some superb driving roads, which after all is the point of the event.

Unfortunately because we're a small company we do need to cover some of our costs with this.  So we're asking just £149 per driver to cover insurance, fuel and food (breakfast and lunch are included).  The normal price for this sort of event is £279 per person. If you are able to tweet or blog about the event then we'll drop the price per driver to just £99.

So for less than £150 you'll be driving at least 5 cars over at least 150 miles. We may be biased of course but it seems like .  a bit of a bargain. Or rather a lot of one. Hopefully you'll agree.
This opportunity is only available to our Twitter followers and their friends.  It's not available on our website and as soon as the places are gone, they're gone. To see what other people have said about our rallies visit our Testimonials page here - http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk/cars-packages-testimonials.asp
The day will start and finish at our Cotswolds base in the Midlands (near Stratford Upon Avon) and involves a full day of driving - we don't pad the day out with loads of tea and coffee stops. We can arrange local B&B accommodation for you from £70 per room.
To secure your place on this unique event call 01527 893733 or email me directly on graham@greatescapecars.co.uk. For more details on our rallies and what we do visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.


A replica is a better car

Putting 'replica Ferrari' into EBay is not a good idea.  Unless of course your eyesight is such that a 1997 MR2 with a glassfibre bodykit does actually look like a Ferrari. The history of motoring is scattered with the worthless remains of cars that somebody somewhere thought would be considerably improved by pretending to be something that they definitely weren't.

Nobody in their right mind, you would think, would settle for a replica when the real thing is so much better. And I wholeheartedly agree.  For instance, we could have added a Cobra replica to our fleet years ago, but so far I've resisted.  Yet my resistance may be about to break because we have added a replica. But a good one, a very very good one.
When it comes to replicas the new Rule of Great Escape dictates that one exception proves the rule.  Minis. Everyone wants a Mini Cooper, at least everyone who has ever watched The Italian Job does, and frankly, who hasn't?  Consequently the cost of proper original Mini Coopers is astronomical - £5,000 will just about buy you barn find basket case, £20,000 is nearer the mark for a decent one. Compared to standard Minis of the period or even 90s Mini Coopers, the price for an original, genuine car redefines the meaning of Premium.
So when it came to thinking about what to add next to the Great Escape classic car hire fleet and the word 'Mini' came up we faced a dilemma.  For a £20,000 investment we'd need to hire the car out at somewhere between £200 and £300 a day. For a Mini. We realised that wasn't going to work. We looked at later 90s Coopers. Despite the popularity of our 2000 model at our Northants site we wanted something different - simpler and closer in feel to the original.  Which meant treading a well worn path and creating a Cooper replica. Taking a standard classic Mini and Cooper-ising it is relatively easy and would enable us to offer a classic Cooper experience for less than £100 a day. A result for us and our customers.


Cooperising a standard Mini is a pretty simple task. Aesthetically original Coopers looked much like the standard cars, which was really one of their main attractions. In fact, VW may stake claim to the GTI phenomenon but they simply stole the idea from Morris by creating a faster car that looked much like the rest of the range.  Mechanically the cars are also pretty similar with any modifications being relatively straightforward.  We chose to concentrate on the aesthetics changes rather than mechanical for two reasons. Firstly, a Mini is about corners not straights, so any improvement in speed is a bit pointless. And secondly, the standard engine is so reliable that any modifications potentially risk that - as the Mini would be a hire car we felt this wasn't a risk we wanted to take.  We may change our minds in future but for now it's about simple fun.


We found a car that had been professionally restored and Cooperised but needed finishing.  Fortunately it was white with a black roof, a simple, stylish combination that we feel works well for classic car hire. The interior was still standard Mini so we fitted new red carpets and a new interior - classic Cobra bucket seats with a matching rear bench. The emphasis throughout is on simple, stylish fun that is true to the original Cooper ethos. And now it's ready to be tested.
It may not be a Cooper but when we can hire it for a fraction of the price of an original, who really, honestly actually cares? I don't and I have never been a replica fan. But I absolutely love our new Mini (and, whisper it, I've never been into Minis).  In fact, if it's free I take it home - my two mile commute transforms from a windy country road into a stage of the Monte Carlo rally.  Well, a bit anyway.
The Mini is available to hire from our Cotswolds classic car hire site and is in immaculate condition.  But don't let that put you off - just jump in and enjoy. Hire costs £95 for 24 hours or £160 for 48 hours and includes a full 24 hrs use for every hire day, unlimited mileage and full UK breakdown cover.  Comprehensive insurance for 1 driver is included in the price and extra drivers can be added for £25 each.
To find out more visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.


Spanners - a dying art?

When a Great Escape car needs repair work our Workshop Manager Julian has a bench full of spanners at his disposal. Fixing one of our fleet of classic hire cars is mental as well as physical job.
As we search for the modern classics of tomorrow we have begun to wonder whether this might have to change. Because to fix a modern car you plug it in to something called Diagnostic Equipment. This stuff tells you what's wrong and what to fix. Increasingly it's some sort of hideously expensive electrical gremlin. 
All of which assumes that we will be adding lots of modern classics over the next few years. The problem is, we can't really think of any. In the 70s, 80s and even 90s there were lots of everyday cars that small boys coveted. Sure, I am a long way from being small or a boy but it can't just be age that makes me feel that  in the 00s and teenies there seem to be rather less future classics. I'd genuinely love to be proved wrong. There are a few possible candidates - BMW Mini mk1. Maybe, but we're over-run with them. Golf GTI? An endless rehash of the original. 
The sad fact is that even if you we can between us muster a half-decent list the chances of any of them surviving long enough to become classics seem extremely low. Classics become bangers before they become cherished and to survive that stage they need to be maintainable at low cost. Cars that need to be plugged in to be diagnosed aren't. Car makers have ensured that you need to get your car diagnosed at a dealer, who can charge £100 just to plug in and tell you there's a problem. Once diagnosed finding and fitting parts isn't as easy as it once was. Because there is so much more to go wrong on modern cars. The MOT test has also been tightened to ensure that errant warning lights, that might otherwise have been ignored, can now take a car off the road. 
Sorry to sound a note of doom and gloom but at Great Escape we don't think the chances for modern classics look very promising. What this will do for the classic car scene is not clear but hopefully the simpler, older stuff will continue to survive and prove popular. 
We'll continue our search for modern classics and keep the flame alive for these old crocks. Leave the hassle of maintenance and repair to us and just enjoy some of the best cars of the last 50 years. 

www.greatescapecars.co.uk
 


MG: The Last Man Standing

In the 1960s there were really rather a lot of British car manufacturers. In a moment of, lets be honest, total madness, they all decided to be one called British Leyland. As a result in 2013 there are rather less. 
Of those original British Leyland manufacturers only one stuck it out to the bitter end and survived - MG. 
When BL was created nobody wanted MG. Stuck down in Abingdon it was cut off from the chaotic hub of the business in the Midlands. As a two-model niche manufacturer it was always in the firing line once it became clear that BL's strategy was marque rationalisation, badge-engineering and model pruning. MG's rather small, antiquated factory, which had limited scope for expansion, also played against it. In retrospect it is clear that BL's priority was rationalisation without losing jobs, an almost impossible goal but one that favoured the company's Midlands manufacturing heartland. 
All of which, of course, is rather a shame. MG - in common with many of its new sister companies - had the misfortune of becoming part of BL at exactly the point when it needed to replace its model range. The 60s had been very good to the little firm - it's Midget and B models were hugely popular in the UK and USA and profitable too thanks to simple, robust mechanicals. MG was the only true sports car brand in the BL stable and as a result carried strong cache in the market, with lots of loyal customers.
However, the inward looking BL management didn't see it this way. MG's geographical isolation and relative size meant it lacked heavyweight representation at senior levels in BL. The new conglomerate did recognise the importance of a decent sports car in the range, one that would earn lucrative dollars, but they could only afford to sell one. And Triumph was busy laying considerable claim to the sports car arena within BL.
It is another travesty of the British Leyland era that Triumph, which could have been so relevant to modern car buyers, died sad and prolonged death. In the early 70s the company was battling for survival, stuck with a foot in virtually every market occupied by other BL companies. Its mainstream cars competed with Rovers, Austins and Morrises. Its sports cars butted up against MGs. Its new GT car threatened Jaguar's new XJS. Triumph's solution to this challenge was all out war. Its head honchos fought tooth and nail to ensure the company, its factories and its models rose to the top in the BL rationalisation wars. Of course it failed, rather spectacularly. 
By the time BL got around to developing a sports car Triumph had lost a lot of battles. Most of its range was ageing and even its newer cars, like the Stag, suffered from being astonishingly badly built so they didn't sell. BL had decided that its new mid-market car, the SD1, would replace the Triumph 2000 and Rover P6 but be a Rover (albeit with some Triumph engines). The Dolomite would be limped on but ultimately this market segment was left to die by BL. The Stag would be taken outside and shot. The only nettle left for Triumph to grasp was sports cars. 
In the 70s Triumph had a decent argument for making any new sports car a Triumph - it was perceived as more premium than MG (so they could charge more for a Triumph-badged car) and it had factories to fill and people to keep gainfully employed.
While BL fiddled around developing its new sports car MG and Triumph received limited investment to help limp its ancient models on a few more years. The MGB initially continued virtually unchanged but the Midget got, heresy of heresies, Triumph engines.  The Spitfire evolved more significantly with cosmetic and mechanical improvements.
MG and Triumph both had input to what became the TR7, the Spen King penned travesty that was launched on a unsuspecting world in 1975. Until quite late in the process MG was led to believe the car would, at least in some guises, carry the MG badge. Perhaps the muddled BL management even imagined it might. But this seems unlikely. Because it is difficult not to see a growing sense of anti-MG thinking in some of the decisions made during the second half of the 70s. MGs received little or no investment in models or manufacturing efficiency and managers were cut out of the central decision-making process. 
History will show, however, that this was ultimately really rather fortunate. While the rubber bumpers and increased ride height foisted on the MGB may have gone down in history as A Bad Thing, not putting a MG badge on the TR7 probably saved the brand from disaster. The 7 was so incredibly bad that it simply hurried Triumph's journey to the dumper. Everything about the car was a compromise - the svelte design of the original was wrecked by decisions that were more about cost and production than sales. The engine was straight out of a Morris Marina. The interior was, to be polite, chucked together. And of course it was badly, terribly catastrophically built. Here was a car that was meant to be a successor to the Karmann-designed TR6 but which couldn't out-drag an unladen Cortina. Eventually a V8 arrived but it was too little too late.
By the mid-80s MG and Triumph were dead as manufacturers. Michael Edwardes is often seen as the bogey man by MG fans but he simply and rather inevitably fired the gun - his predecessors had led the little Oxfordshire firm out to pasture. By the 80s it was too late and too expensive to replace the Midget and B. BL tried to flog the remains of MG to Aston Martin. When that failed BL realised that its old friend badge-engineering was A Good Thing. MG badges began to grace sporting versions of Metros, Montegos and Maestros. It was an obvious and clever plan. Unlike Triumph, MG's niche focus on sports cars was the quick and easy way to signal to customers - Here Is The Sporty One. Of course the red go-faster seatbelts also helped. The MG old brigade grumbled into their half-empty pints of Speckled Hen but the wider car-buying public lapped it up. And why not. They may not have owed much to Abingdon's finest or even had much Abingdon input but the MG versions were more than just rebadged cars. They had different engines and suspension tweaks amongst other go-faster goodies.
In the late 80s the MG badge engineering was phased out and for a few years MG disappeared. Then this 'virtual' car company became a real one in 1992 when Rover launched the R-V8, a remodelled B convertible with a Rover V8 engine. The car took advantage of the new MGB Heritage shell which finally made it possible to effectively build a new MGB from aftermarket parts. This R-V8 was expensive - and, lets be honest here, like an old age pensioner on roller skates - but it proved popular, rejuvenating interest in MG amongst hard core (mainly retired) fans. Clever stuff. 
Remarkably for the former British Leyland there was a clearly thought out plan behind the launch of the R-V8. It paved the way for the totally new MGF, a car aimed squarely at the rediscovered market for cheap convertibles opened up by the Mazda MX5. The F was a roaring success mainly because it is an excellent car. At launch the F stuck to the simple MG formula of a sporting car that was cheap to buy and prioritised comfort and style as much as outright performance and handling. It isn't compromised, it's complete.
When BMW bailed out in 2000 there wasn't much in the cupboard for the Phoenix Four to work with. Once again new models were needed but there was no money to develop them. So it was back to badge engineering and the only badge of any value left in the store cupboard had two familiar letters on it. Thanks in large part to the MGF, sticking a MG badge on a Rover increased its perceived value. So we got a new range of MG-badged models with something vaguely approaching visual differentiation from their softer Rover cousins. It worked rather well and would probably have continued working if the top brass had found a partner to help MG Rover fund new models. Sadly they seemed to be too preoccupied building up multi-million pound pension pots.
So when the inevitably happened and 6,000 loyal Midlands workers were cast adrift with empty pension pots, it was MG that survived. By the mid-noughties even the excellent Rover 75 couldn't stop the Rover badge having about as much cache as a Louis Vuitton fake. Initially the new owners' plans to launch with a limited run of rejuvenated MGTFs was met with quite a lot of perfectly reasonable cynicism. Here was an ancient design whose relaunch seemed like yet another low-budget attempt to trade on past glories. And for a while it did seem a fair assessment because despite a lot of talk not much happened. 
Then it did. First we got the MG6, now we have the MG3. Sure, the MG DNA may be a little diluted and the new cars haven't so far set the world on fire, but that isn't the point. After decades of varying fortunes, the unloved Cinderella of the early 70s has ultimately Triumphed - it is the only brand to survive the whole of the BL fiasco (Mini, lest we forget, is a car that only subsequently became a brand). That it is the only name of any value to survive and remain relevant to the buying public is also testament to the brand's astonishing band of loyal owners and followers. No other brand, let alone one with such mixed fortunes over the last 40 years, has a bigger club scene. 
We know the value of the MG brand here at Great Escape. Alongside our popular Jaguar classic hire cars it is our MGs that people love. We have several Bs for hire in Devon, Yorkshire and Cotswolds as well as a new fleet of MGFs. They are all about simple, top down joy - you can jump in any of them, turn the key and feel instantly at home. Prices start at just £160 for the weekend.
To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. 



If we build it, they will hire it

If you like Minis then you really like Minis with a Cooper badge on them. So obviously when looking for a Mini to add to our hire fleet we found one that didn't. There is a good reason for this. We wanted a classic 60s style Cooper rather than a later Rover Mini Cooper and, if I'm honest, they're a bit pricey. At £15,000 upwards for a decent Cooper we would have to charge a lot of money to hire it out. Plus, being an old Mini, it would probably break down a lot.
No, we needed a Mini that would be affordable to hire but with the character of an original Cooper. Of course, we were taking the first step down a well worn path. Because the original Mini must be the most modded car ever made with updated versions doubtless now outnumbering standard cars. And a lot of the modded cars are aiming to be Cooper replicas, mainly because doing so is remarkably easy. And some of them are quite hard to tell apart from the real thing. Yes, a decent Cooper replica, done right, would enable us to offer a Cooper-esque experience but at under £100 per hire day. 
Mini Cooper replicas fall into two categories - extreme and not extreme. We looked at the existing Cooper replicas for hire and decided that they were just too 'out there' for most of our customers with rally-style stickers and similar go-faster paraphernalia. We wanted something more stylish and useable. The original Coopers were subtly modded with wider wheels and arches and were proper street sleepers, bereft of endless spotlights. That was the look we wanted. 
We began looking for a Mini that had been mildly Cooperised, a project that we could finish and make our own. We could easily have taken a rotten car and rebuilt it - our mechanic Julian has a lot of experience with this - but with a huge workload in the workshop this wasn't practical. A part-finished project would enable us to short cut the process and get the car on hire quickly.
There are a lot of Minis for sale. There are a lot of very nice Minis and quite a lot of not so nice ones, and the asking price is not much of a guide to either. As luck would have it we chanced on an Old English White Cooper replica in Exmouth, very close to our new Devon base. The car had been restored from a wreck by a local mechanic. Fortunately he'd stopped at exactly the point we wanted to start - the bodywork and paint had been done but the interior and detailing needed sorted. A last minute EBay bid and the car, otherwise overlooked by Ebayers, was ours.
We picked the car up at the end of July and were very impressed by the standard of work and quality of the paintwork. The car started life as a red Mini City but is now a white (with black roof) Cooper replica. With its after market Cooper badges it fools most people. We bought the car with a MiniMayfair  interior and a carpet that wouldn't have looked out of place in a car showroom, but on the floor. Julian and his apprentice James ripped all that out and today we installed new red carpets and black Cobra bucket seats with matching rear bench. The car is really beginning to come together. Next we will fit some chrome bullet rear view mirrors, tidy up the dashboard and other minor areas and fit an older registration plate.The car will be ready to hire from this weekend.
What about the engine? Well, for now we'll keep it standard. Minis are about corners not straights so eking a few extra horsepower out of the engine at the risk of compromising reliability doesn't seem the right approach for a hire car.  But we'll listen to customer feedback. 
We'll be adding new photos and information about the Mini to the website shortly. In the meantime to pre-book hire call us on 01527893733. Hire is just £95 for 24 hrs or £160 for 48 hrs, including unlimited mileage, insurance for 1 driver and full UK breakdown cover. The car is based at our Cotswolds site south of Birmingham. In the meantime, here are a couple of photo tasters. It may not be a proper Cooper but it's about a third of the price to hire as a result.

Www.greatescapecars.co.uk