How we got big, fast estate cars


Until the advent of the people carrier, estate cars were the automotive equivalent of waving a white flag at life. Their wordless message of family, carpet samples and trips to the tip said practicality and ordinariness had won the war with youthful dash and verve.

Two rare and distinctive Ford estates
Estate car owners of yesteryear tended to underline this by speccing their Cortinas, Cavaliers and Montegos in a multitude of autumnal hues. And mostly they opted for the hair shirt end of the trim and engine spectrum, perhaps spiced by the occasional special edition such as a Calypso or Countryman.







Cortina Savage
It took budding entrepreneurs in back streets to push the manila-coloured boundaries of the estate car envelope.  The Ford Cortina Savage was the brainchild of a Ford works driver and it was a simple one: shoehorn a 3 litre V6 under the capacious bonnet and nail a growly badge to the boot.  But this was a rare exception in a world of 1.6 Ls.



Audi 200 Avant Quattro 20V
Some time in the late 1980s, the automotive marketing men decided that this wasn't good enough. Having lots of kids or lugging photocopiers for a living shouldn't have to mean saying 'Hari kari' to excitement.

And so, with Ford and Audi in the vanguard, they started offering their high performance specs in estate car versions too. The Audi 200 Avant Quattro brought the company's rally technology to a wider market.  With over 200 bhp it was the sober-suited and sure-footed.  But expensive.




Ford Sierra Ghia 4x4 estate
Ford spotted a good idea and popularised it.  The Sierra 4x4 Ghia gave gentleman farmers an Audi-bating estate with a bigger engine and more luxury. Like the Audi the Sierra was geared towards luxury rather that sport, suggesting that the marketing men were still unsure how uber-conservative estate car man would react to spoilers and sports seats.

While Audi and Ford nibbled around the edges of the performance estate car market, it took Volvo to make the bold step forĊµard and offer the world a fast estate.




The Volvo 240 GLT. Gulp. 
Volvo had previous when it came to sporting estates and it meant the world wasn't exactly holding its breath.

In the 1980s, in a bid to eke out the life of its elderly 240 range, Volvo created the 240 GLT, an erstwhile sporting estate that in reality had the athletic prowess of a bowl of porridge with a go-faster stripe.






Volvo T5 Touring Car

This time, however, things were very different.  In 1993 the erstwhile grey man of motoring introduced the Tarmac-burning 850 T5 estate.  It was a 240 bhp, be-spoilered hoon-mobile that put fast estates firmly on the map. Porsche had even had a hand in its development.
Few T5s were sold but Volvo milked the car's halo-effect.  T5 estates ran in the British Touring Car Championship and bright yellow was a popular colour option.

Audi RS2 Avant
Perhaps sensing they'd been out-manouvred, Audi quickly put in its own call to Porsche.  The result was the iconic RS2 Avant, which was actually built alongside the 911.  Its paltry 2.2 litre engine pumped out over 300 bhp and set the new estate car benchmark.

The RS2 showed that estate cars could be truly fast.  Where the Volvo T5 retained a faint whiff of antique dealers and country pursuits, the Audi had rally pedigree and Porsche construction.  Here was proof that you could have your cake and eat it - power, performance, fun.  And space for the dogs and kids.


Audi RS6 Avant

The RS2 really is the car that gave us the fast estate. From here it was a quick hop, skip and a jump to high performance versions of big estate cars - the Audi RS6, E55 Mercedes and BMW M5 all took power to well over 400 bhp, delivering performance similar to contemporary supercars.  Soon enough James Bond - well, nearly - was driving one in Layer Cake.

By the late noughties car makers were really getting carried away with the fast estate theme.  Audi's RS6 and BMW's M5 were both churning out nearly 600 bhp and posting sub-4 second 0-60 times.  These top models were becoming almost too fast and too powerful.

Today most premium car makers still offer uber-quick estate cars, but the body style is on the wane.  The ubiquitous SUV in all its endless incarnations has put paid to the humble load lugger.


Fast estate cars are, to my eyes, way cooler than their saloon car cousins.  The incongruous combination of dog-friendly load space and Lamborghini-bating performance will always be proof that car makers have a sense of humour.  But in today's height-obsessed motoring world they seem to be a dying breed.

Estate cars are now viewed much as they were when we started this journey.  Compared to Q5s, Tiguans, Edges and even Qashqais, the humble load lugger is too straight, too functional and, well, too low.


If the estate car can continue to plug quietly away up and down the motorways of Britain, perhaps we'll see it rise from the ashes again.  I certainly hope so.

Graham Eason

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Sadly no estate cars have made it onto the Great Escape Cars fleet. Yet.  But you can drive a range of classic coupes, convertibles and saloons from just £95.  Or try several on one of our road trips. Find out more at www.greatescapecars.co.uk.

01527 893733










Bring back Lancia



Lancia Fulvia
Hard as it may be to imagine now, there was a time when one car company embodied everything that BMW and Audi strived for decades to be. That company was Lancia. Technically innovative and dynamically brilliant, Lancias delivered stylish, sporting and clever in a way that the Germans could only dream of.

Lancia Trevi dashboard
This isn't simple nostalgia for a company that is currently on its knees.  In the 70s and 80s Lancia gave us the Gamma, a stylish executive express with a remarkable boxer engine. And the Beta Volumex, a delicate supercharged coupe that BMW could only dream of. Then there was the Delta Integrale, a tarmac-burning hot hatch that out-GTI'd the Golf and ate Audi Quattros for breakfast. In coffee breaks between tweaking the Integrale, Lancia gave us the Y10, a premium super mini before Audi built the A1.

And the Trevi, which can lay claim to having the greatest dashboard design of any car. Ever.
It isn't all about rose tinted glasses either. As Jeremy Clarkson recently explained on The Grand Tour, Lancia's technical innovation enabled it to beat Audi at its own game on the rally stages - the company's gorgeous 037 rally car beat the Quattro by being more agile and, amazingly, more reliable.

Lancia 037
So why are we all driving anonymous Audis instead of stylish Lancias? Today Audi offers us 15 different models. Lancia has one. And you can only buy it in Italy. It's a posh Fiat Punto. How did we get here?

Lancia Delta Integrale
It's tempting to blame Lancia's straightened circumstances on the reputation it gained in the late 1970s. Prior to those dark days Lancia was a byword for quality, technical excellence and aspiration. It built sophisticated cars for intelligent people. Then the Italian government stepped in and Lancia started building sophisticated cars for intelligent people very, very badly. Like Alfas of the same period, Lancia's 70s and 80s output was plagued by rust and unreliability. In those dark days Lancia wasn't alone in selling cars cars that rusted quickly - even BMWs rotted. But Lancia turned its back on the problem, ignoring owners and letting the problem escalate. Combine this with other reliability problems caused by shoddy build, plus an aging model line up, and it's not hard to see why sales failed to recover. By the late 80s Lancia was making a lot of dull cars and two exciting ones - the Integrale and the Ferrari-engined Thema 8.32.

Lancia Thema 8.32
In response to falling sales and emptying coffers Fiat, Lancia's owner, decided to make Lancias less Lancia-like. They swept away the last thing that made Lancia buyers buy Lancias - their essential Lancia-ness.

Lancia Thesis
By the 90s Lancias were just rebadged Fiats with big, soft spongey seats. The Dedra was awful the Kappa dull and the Thesis, as pictured here, an exercise in out-guppying the Ford Scorpio.  It would be quite hard to image an uglier and less appealing executive car, despite considerable competition.

The culprit, of course, is platform sharing, an idea pioneered by Fiat but popularised by VW.  As the plethora of identikit Skodas, Seats, Audis and Volkswagens tends to show, platform sharing often leads to decisions driven by the lowest common denominator.  For Fiat this meant front wheel drive Alfas when the world wanted rear wheel drive, and Lancias that eschewed innovation and style in favour of cost cutting.

Platform sharing obviously makes sense as car companies seek economies of scale.  It works where the brands applying it are largely functional, mass market and anodyn. Seat, Skoda, Audi and VW buyers aren't, in the main, looking for individuality and quirkiness.  Before platform sharing, few car buyers got emotional about any of these brands in quite the same way as Italian car fans so the compromises were less obvious.  Lancia and Alfa buyers, on the other hand, are. In order to deliver the compromises required by platform sharing, the Italian brands had to sacrifices too much of their DNA, one key ingredient of which is individuality.

Not surprisingly, Lancia sales dwindled as Fiat performed a Jenga-like gradual withdrawal of every reason to buy one.  Over the last 20 years Lancia has been brought to its knees by a combination of boring, commonplace cars and a lack of new models. The new Delta was a decent-looking, individual car and the Ypsilon is unusual.  But by the time Fiat got round to launching them nobody really cared.  Buyers had migrated elsewhere.

Lancia Dedra
And that's the problem Fiat faces if it plans to rebuild Lancia.  Most people under 30 have little or no idea what Lancia is. For the last 20 years the firm's output has been so tawdry and removed from its heyday that contemporary buyers would have to be shoehorned into showrooms.
And yet, all is not necessarily lost.  Skoda was dead in the water when VW bought it and is now a proper driving force.  Likewise, Alfa Romeo has skimmed along the margins for nearly as long as Lancia and now appears to be on its way back.  There is still a lot of love out there for Lancia.  So, who knows? Surely there is room for a left-of-centre, quality, luxurious, technically advanced premium brand that isn't German?

At Great Escape Cars we hope Lancia does get a second (or third) chance.  A rejuvenated brand would stoke interest in the older cars and enable us to add some to our fleet - a Fulvia, Integrale or Beta Coupe would make brilliant additions.  We can only hope.

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733




5 classics we should love but don't





Some great classic cars seem destined to languish in the shadows, knocked back by prejudice or because they never hit their stride when new. 

Here are the classic cars we think deserve more love.


1. Jensen Healey


On paper the Jensen Healey had it all - an illustrious name, a Lotus engine and exclusivity.  The reality fell somewhat short.  Despite decent dynamics and performance, the car looked ungainly.  It was also cursed by Jensen's enduring inability to nail cars together properly.  Add in a criminally unreliable Lotus engine and you had a recipe for disaster.  And it was - the Jensen-Healey is the real reason Jensen Motors failed.  Today the Jensen-Healey is a cheap and arguably much better alternative to a MGB.  But few take up the opportunity.

2. Triumph TR7

There was and is nothing very sexy about the TR7, despite British Leyland's determined efforts, as shown here, to persuade us otherwise. Sure, it looked ok, but then on closer inspection there was something unsettling and wrong about virtually all of it - the proportions weren't quite right, the interior was finished in brown tartan for some reason and it had an asthmatic 2 litre engine. 
All this was a far cry from the carefree MGB and hairy-chested TR6. The TR7 also broke down a lot, which is not really sexy in anyone's book.  All of which endowed TR7 buyers not with legendary prowess but something of an image problem.  One that sadly prevails to this day. 










3. Scimitars


Building Scimitars alongside Reliant Rialtos and Robins always gave the four-wheeled cars a deep-rooted image problem. That wasn't really helped by lukewarm branding that failed to determine whether this was a Reliant Scimitar GTE or a Scimitar Scimitar GTE. And that's a shame because the GTE in all its guises and names was a lovely car and the later SS1 a fascinating precursor to the MX5. 

Most people's introduction to the GTE was via Princess Anne, who owned several and therefore probably stopped several people buying one. The car's clunky interior design and questionable reliability didn't help either.
The later SS1 was designed by Michelotti, but clearly on an off day. Glassfibre is not the greatest friend of panel gaps and the SS1 has a lot of them. But beyond the unhappy design is a dynamically impressive car and the rare Nissan Turbo versions are genuinely exhilarating. Sadly the Rialto's doom-laden spectre hangs heavy over both cars, pushing them decisively off-grid for most classic car buyers.

4. Lancia Montecarlo

Yes, there is a low volume mid-engined Italian sports car that nobody really loves. Admittedly, of this list the Montecarlo is probably the most desirable, but it's hardly a car that features on many enthusiasts' wish lists. 
That is all down to the car's reception when it was launched.  Despite looking amazing and being built by a legendary Italian car company, the original Montecarlo wasn't much cop.  Under-powered, slow, stodgy and not obviously targeted at anyone, it also had a tendency to lose its brakes. All of that was quickly addressed, but the image stuck.  Montecarlos remain cheap - is there a more tantalising £10k coachbuilt Italian car out there? Thankfully, values are beginning to move for this great little car. 

5. Renault Alpine GTA

Just like the Scimitar GTE, the Renault Alpine has a bit of an image problem. It might be a proper exotic, the equal of a Porsche 911, but it's got a Renault badge. What may have been intended as a halo model for Clio owners turns out to be a big turn off for anyone in the market for a performance coupe. 
The GTA's success as a classic isn't helped by its confusing branding - is it a Renault, an Alpine or a Renault Alpine? 
Like the Montecarlo, values are slowly beginning to rise for this oft-overlooked car. 



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Sadly you can't hire any of these cars on our fleet because demand doesn't justify it.  But we would like that to change - so show them some love if you can.
01527 893733





When Jags Went Bad

Jaguar has probably contributed more 24 carot classics to the world of old car motoring than any other single manufacturer.  But between the E Types, Mk2s and supercharging, Jaguar has also made some notorious duds. Browns Lane has its excuses, but facts is facts.






1. XJ40

In the mid 70s when the XJ40 was originally conceived, it probably wasn't a bad car. Despite recycling the XJ6 design to appease the heritage-obsessed US market, the car did play to its predecessor's strengths. But even without the subsequent delays - it was eventually launched in the mid 80s - the XJ40 was a limpid answer to the threat from Germany. It was cramped and not noticeably better than the car it replaced, which is probably why Jaguar kept making the XJ for most of the XJ40's life.
In a bid to make the XJ40 relevant in the technology-obsessed 80s, Jaguar loaded the car with innovation.  This was a dangerous move for a company that struggled to master the age old art of just building a quality car.
The XJ40 wasn't a bad car, just not a great or even good one like the cars that preceded it. It also sealed Jaguar's reputation for crap quality for decades.

2. Early XJS

The XJS is Jaguar's age-old whipping dog. Unfairly so in my view, because it is a brilliant GT car. But even I have to agree that the first cars weren't much cop. Badly built, pretty shoddy inside and massively out of step with the fuel efficiency-obsessed 70s, the original XJS was a poorly conceived answer to the E Type. That Jaguar saved it from oblivion with subsequent improvements is nothing short of miraculous.



3. X-Type

Oh dear. It's hard to remember now but at Jaguar back in the early Noughties it was all about retro, recycling and something called Brand Heritage. Ford's strategy was to cater to the gin-n-golf set who had fixed ideas about what a Jaguar should look like (they still do). This is what happens when customer focus groups dictate strategy. For the golf set we got the X-Type, Jaguar's full-on tilt at the compact premium market dominated by the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. It should have worked - Jaguar had the brand and, in the Mondeo underpinnings, the right ingredients. Except they chose to make the X-Type look like a shrunken pastiche of the 1960s XJ - and, for that matter, every Jaguar saloon since.  Where the Beemer and Audi shouted 'thrusting progress' to every pointy-shoed regional sales manager in Britain, the X-Type suggested nothing less than a retirement backwater somewhere near Torquay. Even 4WD and V6 motors couldn't save it. And the absence of a diesel when it was launched didn't help either. A shame because the X-Type is a good car and final versions, particularly the estate, are well worth digging out. If looks and image aren't your thing...

4. E Type 2+2

The long wheelbase E Type's real crime is taking such a lovely car and making it truly awful. Size, it turns out, really does matter.  Those extra 9 inches grafted into the Series 1 and 2 E Type chassis, plus extra height - - presumably to accommodate all those top hat-wearing buyers - turn a stunning car into an equally stunning one but for all the wrong reasons. The 2+2 didn't even do anything with the extra space - the rear seats are unusable. And some were autos. Autos! The Series 3 used the same chassis to much better effect - adding flared arches and butchness to cover over the styling cracks.

5. S-Type

The 1960s Jaguar S-Type was a Mk2 that was much better than a Mk2 but somehow nobody then and now wanted one. The 1990s S-Type was a Lincoln with a bad case of bloat. A victim of the era's obsession with retro, the S-Type oozed self-satisfied golfer like few other cars. Even before you get to the sludgy driving dynamics, the S-Type just looks awful. It was meant to 'echo' the Mk2 but where that car was delicate with exciting detailing, the S-Type was lumbering, obvious and fat. The final R versions do address the problem and are worth investigating, but these are cars for people who's reason for buying a Jaguar starts and finishes with 'yes, I own a Jag.'

While traditionalists lament the demise of 'Jaguars that look like Jaguars' I'm thankful that all that nonsense has stopped and the firm is back to making innovative and forward-looking cars. William Lyons was never about heritage and retro - look at the way he designed cars in the 50s and 60s for proof. The real crime of these 5 cars is that they played to history rather than progress. And that's a culdesac that reaps reducing rewards.

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Great Escape Cars has the largest fleet of classic Jaguars to hire in the world (no, really). You can hire them by the day or by the hour - or join our popular Jaguar Driving Day to drive 5 big cats. Use code JAG10 to save 10% online.

Find out more at www.greatescapecars.co.uk. Or call 01527 893733.

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Goodbye Card Fees

Amidst much waving of flags and shaking of consumer group fists, on January 13th all UK companies will stop charging fees to process credit and debit cards.  This is being sold as A Good Thing, removing an extra transaction charge from all kinds of purchases from holidays to cars to grocery shopping.

And, in some ways, it is A Good Thing.  The card processing fee has been seriously abused with many companies charging a flat fee to use a debit or credit card.  This is unfair because it doesn't reflect the actual cost of card processing - either because it inflates the cost or applies it across all cards, whether debit or credit.

The trouble with the ban is that it ignores the nuances.  In describing card fees as unfair, consumer groups overlook those companies - of which there are many - that only charge a fee to process more expensive payment methods, such as credit cards.  Where a business incurs an extra cost for a customer to pay in a certain way, surely it is reasonable to highlight this and pass on that premium?

The ban and the furore that caused it also ignores the reality - most customers understand the fee and, where they have the option and desire, use alternative means to pay.  At Great Escape Cars we only charge for credit cards - so if a customer wanted to avoid the charge they can pay by debit card or bank transfer. This system worked fine - although perhaps the credit card companies were less happy (which may be the rub here).

When the card processing ban began to loom, we faced a dilemma at Great Escape Cars.  Removing the charge would, of course, reduce our profits, a fact we need to resolve. I think we have.

Our solution is to increase our prices by 2%. If a customer then wants to pay by bank transfer or debit card we'll provide a 2% discount. That way the customers who cost us less receive that saving back. And the customers who use credit cards and are therefore less profitable, pay for the credit advantage they receive.

Businesses need to be profitable to survive.  A 2% increase in costs is impossible for most to absorb.  And, after all, why should they? Similarly, why should customers who use cheap forms of payment be penalised for doing so?

The counter argument is that card processing fees are a normal cost of doing business. Of course they are.  Except, unlike staff or premises or stationary or marketing, they are costs that are specific to and vary from customer to customer.  My argument is that if a certain customer makes a choice to use a payment method that is more expensive for me to manage, surely that cost should be passed on to that person alone?

If the counter argument is carried through to its logical conclusion, the 2% charge would be absorbed into the price (as a price rise) and applied to everyone. Which I don't think is fair.

Our new system incentives people to help us save costs - an advantage that we are happy to pass on. We think that's a win-win.

Our new prices kick in on 18th January. 

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www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733