Sports Car, Cool Car, Girl’s Car.
At a time when mainstream British car manufacturers thought it impossible to go on making small convertible sports cars, Mazda from Japan came up with the M-X5. The little Mazda carried the torch first lit by classic English sports cars like the Austin-Healey Sprite, MGB, Triumph Spitfire ~ and in particular the brilliant Lotus Elan. The original Mazda M-X5 could almost have been copied from the Elan, what with its 1.6 litre twin-cam engine, pop-up headlights, and clever longitudinal truss, (Power Plant Frame), that mimics the Elan’s backbone chassis.
The MX-5 wasn’t designed in Japan either ~ it was planned in California by a team led by Englishman Bob Hall. An Englishman in California is just about the perfect combination when it comes to cars. Of course what the Mazda team didn’t copy from Colin Chapman’s Lotus was fragility, unreliability, and extreme lightness.
First launched at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the M-X5 was and is a fairly small front-engine, rear-wheel-drive roadster, with a twin-cam engine of between 1.6 and 2.0 litres. There’s a five-speed gearbox in the middle, double wishbone independent suspension at both ends, and disk brakes, (ventilated at the front). The original model weighed in at almost exactly ton, (which is a portly 600 pounds more than the diminutive Lotus). It even looked like a Lotus Elan ~ which was no bad thing.
As well as the looks and layout, what the original design team got right was balance. The unladen M-X5 has an ideal 50/50 weight distribution, which means that the handling ~ the feel of the car when you drive it ~ is just about perfect. This makes the little Mazda a ‘nice’ and ‘fun’ car to own and drive.
The M-X5 is by no means a fast car. The 1989 original came with just about the same power as a Lotus Elan, but it weighed a third more, so it was a tad sluggish. The traffic-light sprint 0-60 mph time was over 8 seconds and it would run out of steam at about 115 mph. But do you know what? With the top down, on country roads, with the brilliant handling and roadholding the design naturally produces, the original M-X5 was more than fast enough.
Among older English car enthusiasts the word to describe the way an M-X5 drives is ‘chuckable’. (It reacts easily, safely, and can be forced into doing things it really shouldn’t ~ it probably won’t kill you.)
The little Mazda is also a great car for a long road trip. It’s a nice place to sit for hours, rides fairly comfortably and quietly, there’s decent luggage space, it’s economical, and the top comes down. What’s not to like?
If you are mechanically minded with some practical skills, you could buy yourself an early M-X5 for a couple of thousand pounds / dollars. The thing is simple enough to allow a complete rebuild, in the same way that one could rebuild an MGB. But why would you bother? The Mazda M-X5 is a classic design, but it isn’t actually rare, (unless it’s a really early car in light blue mica or British Racing Green), and a newer car needing much less work is within the spending reach of just about everyone.
A new M-X5 will set you back around £20,000, (or $30,000), depending on the exact specification. For that you will get a very capable, very over-engineered, and very over-styled car that is so attractively modern-metrosexual it should only be bought by make-up artists, hairdressers, or real estate agents.
At the upper end of the scale a new M-X5, the fastback with a retractable steel roof will cost you about £28,000, (you can get one of these for $35,000 in California). That would also give you a 160 bhp two-litre engine and six-speed gearbox, all in an overstyled package that weighs in at 2,470 pounds ~ no thanks.
The new M-X5 is so far away from its Lotus Elan spiritual inspiration that it’s not even in the same millennium. I would not waste my money on a new M-X5. If I was really in the market for one of these little Japanese / English / Californian sports cars I would look for an early example, pop-up headlights and everything. In comparison to rebuilding a rotted MGB, working on a Mazda would be child’s play. The three critical areas for structural soundness are the Power Plant Frame and the front and rear subframes, and all three can be replaced.
Some cars are obvious Guy, some Girl, and a few go both ways. Why is the Mazda a Girl’s Car? If you have to ask then you’re either a girl, or a metrosexual male who doesn’t know one end of a torque-wrench from the other. You wouldn’t expect to spoil your manicure if you owned a new Mazda M-X5.
Would I buy one? Yes, so long as it does look like a Lotus Elan.
Jaguar or Bus?
Valentine’s lovemaking in my sports car
Sweetheart, that was not ever going to be us
I’d never take our first conversation quite so far
but, I’d rather make love in a Jaguar than on a bus.
words and pictures by jack collier
Reliabilty is Not One of its Good Qualities
At its launch in 1970 the Triumph Stag was a big sports car aimed at the luxury end of the market. At a stretch it could accommodate 4 smallish adults in considerable comfort, but realistically it’s more of a 2+2. Sharing the pretty Giovanni Michelotti styling of rest of Triumph’s range at the time, the Stag was unusual for a sports car in that it had an integral roll-0ver bar joined to the windscreen frame by a T-bar. This was to meet Californian regulations, but it also gave the monocoque bodyshell considerable extra stiffness.
The Stag was supposed to compete with the Mercedes-Benz sports-touring range, but that was always a very forlorn hope. Back then a Mercedes-Benz built by proper German engineers didn’t break down so often.
Powered by a new Triumph 3 litre overhead cam (OHC) V8 giving an alleged 145 bhp and 170 foot pounds of torque, driving the rear wheels through a Borg-Warner three speed automatic transmission, the good looking Stag should have been a great car. In fact it was a disaster, and only 25,939 were ever built with just 2,871 going to the United States. One look at an engine dwarfed by the engine bay, and the tiny Stromberg carburettors tells you most of what you need to know.
There were some obvious issues. Although the basic Stag weighed in at just a ton and a quarter, (2,800 lbs), by the time you added a couple of adults and their luggage it was underpowered and sluggish for a sports car. The benchmark 0 to 60 mph time was a pedestrian 9.5 seconds and the top speed about 120 mph. The three speed auto transmission did not help at all. The brakes were a mixture of discs at the front with rear drums, and if you took a Stag over the Alpine passes you’d cook the brakes on the way down. Remember with that auto-box there is no engine braking, so you’re riding the brake pedal all the way. Suspension is by very conventional MacPherson struts at the front with semi-trailing arms at the rear, and it’s pretty good for a sports-touring car, which is what the Stag really is. I’ve never heard of any problems with the power-assisted rack and pinion steering.
But, the biggest problem with the Stag is right at its beating heart. The engine was utter crap. From day one Stags broke down, and went on breaking down, again and again. Usually, by the time it had done 25,000 miles the Stag’s V8 engine was a pile of junk, needing a total rebuild or only fit for the scrap yard. Problems started with cooling, and included issues with the oil system, ignition, carburettors, crankshaft, timing chain, galvanic corrosion… I don’t know how any company could get something so badly wrong. And yet, SAAB, a brilliant company in engineering terms, took the left half of that V8 engine, enlarged that half to two litres, and successfully used it to power their entire range of quirky cars.
Many Stags are now bastardised and powered by the Rover V8 engine, which gives brilliant power and reliability, but renders the resultant abberation almost worthless in terms of originality and desirability. I wouldn’t touch a hybrid Stag / Rover with your ten-foot pole, let alone mine.
You can buy a very decent Stag for £7,500 ~ or less if you’re willing to take on something that is much less than perfect. At the top of the market you could be looking at paying £15,000, which is stupid money for one of these scions of unreliability. If you are thinking of buying a Stag, join the owners’ club before you do anything else.
The burning question is, should I buy a Triumph Stag? Well yes, given a huge budget to spend with parts companies like Rimmer Bros. to completely rebuild the engine and drivetrain. The Stag is still a brilliant concept and would make a great sports-touring car for transcontinental road trips. Would I recommend the Triumph Stag to a friend? Not a chance. And to be honest, I think the much maligned Triumph TR7 is the better car, and that also uses the left half of the Triumph V8 engine. Either would be good for a long road trip, and as a full-time hobby getting it ready for a long road trip.
(The Avro Vulcan is to the B52 what a Lotus is to a Ford.)
these opinions are mine and mine alone
Caterham has launched a ‘new’ Seven, the ‘Sprint’ with retro ‘swinging sixties’ styling reminiscent of Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven, clamshell wings, steel wheels, chrome hubcaps and all.
The Caterham Seven Sprint is largely based on the entry level Caterham Seven 160, and uses the same little 660cc, 3 cylinder Suzuki engine, albeit with dohc, 4 vales per cylinder, and fitted with a turbocharger to give 80bhp and 79 foot pounds of torque. That’s a lot more power than the 39bhp of the very first Lotus Seven, but in today’s terms, it’s pretty puny. It isn’t a good looking engine bay.
The Seven Sprint is also fitted with a live axle, which is fine in its way, but there is such a thing as taking nostalgia too far. The last Caterham I owned used a very sophisticated de Dion rear end, and even that was very prone to power oversteer. Every live axle car I’ve ever driven has had ‘interesting’ roadholding and handling ~ I’ve no reason to suppose the new Caterham Seven is any different in that respect. Still, it all adds to the terrifying fun.
I have built, owned, and driven a Caterham Seven with clamshell wings, and they are a mixed blessing. On the upside they are so much better looking than cycle wings, on the downside clamshell wings have the aerodynamics of a box-kite. Given a couple of Sevens with otherwise identical specifications, a car with flared clamshell wings will have a lower top speed and much worse acceleration at higher speeds, than a Seven with close-fitting cycle wings.
However, there is no doubt that the new Seven Sprint is a pretty little car in those retro colours, flared wings, and with a brilliant red leather interior. As a driver’s car it will be utterly brilliant too ~ you haven’t driven a sports car until you’ve driven a Seven. But in comparison with other Lotus / Caterham Sevens available, it’s sort of the runt of the litter. Pretty but lacking in spirit.
There is one huge problem with the Caterham Seven Sprint ~ prices start at £27,995, which is a stupid amount of money to pay for this particular little car. Mind you, Caterham Cars aren’t the remotest interested in what I think of the Seven Sprint, the limited production run of 60 cars sold out in a week.
I have a sneaking suspicion that not many of the 60 people signed up to buy a Caterham Seven Sprint will be driving it much, if at all. It seems to me this is a Summer Sunday afternoon car to take for a short drive to the country / beach / pub. Or even worse, a lot of the buyers could be ‘collectors’ who will stick this Seven in their heated Motor House under a dust cover, and mostly leave it there.
Would I recommend a Caterham Seven 160 / Sprint to a friend? No.
the BRG and yellow car is my last Caterham Seven
these opinions are mine and mine alone
When men have a cold it’s like the biggest medical disaster ever inflicted on the human race. Well, today I have a cold, and I’m feeling thoroughly miserable. Autumn’s shadowy fingers are crowding around the garret, the sky is grey, and so is the sea. All I want to do is sleep. I don’t feel quite human, more like a number standing in line waiting for I don’t know quite what.
The hot California desert calls, and so does the open road, and neither of them are going to see me today. Anyhow, there’s no way I’m alert enough to drive a Seven until this cold had gone. When I’m well, do I drive down through France our head West?
Chris Rea ~ Auberge
This music video is as weird as I feel right now. I may have a fever. I have a fever, it’s 101. Man-flu strikes again.
Please listen responsibly.
When driven with real bravery, a Lotus / Caterham 7 is the fastest point-to-point car you can get on English country roads.
A new report says that more and more women are buying classic cars, both as an investment, and as fun and sexy drive. So, is it a good idea for women to buy classic cars? Generally speaking no, or maybe yes.
Classic cars are a much, much, more satisfying buy than any ‘ordinary’ used car, and a financially much better buy than all but a miniscule proportion of new cars. Buy a new car, and as soon as you’ve driven it off the lot you’ve lost a huge proportion of its value, (the exact loss depending on how well you’ve chosen in the first place). In contrast, most classics will at least hold their value in real terms, and may well appreciate in real value over the years, (again depending upon how well you’ve chosen).
There are a couple of problems owning a classic car, and especially for women owning a classic car;
- As an investment a classic car really only offers capital appreciation. It’s not impossible, just very, very difficult to generate an ongoing income from your classic car. However, in most tax regimes there is no tax liability on the gain in capital value of your classic.
- Classic cars are difficult beasts to drive on an everyday basis. A classic car will need regular specialised maintenance, and a more sympathetic driving style than your regular automobile. In my experience, most women are not good at either of those. Some will not even be able to start a classic car.
For example; your classic will likely burn oil, have suspension and drive-train joints that need greasing, carburettors that need tuning and balancing, and an electrical system designed by Heath Robinson on a bad day. It will most likely have manual gearbox, (stick-shift), use more petrol, (gasoline), than a more modern car, it won’t stop as well, and it will most likely leak when it rains.
On the upside; it will be better looking than a ‘modern’ box, have loads more character, be much sexier, (any attractive woman looks even better getting out of a classic car), it will be cheaper to insure, and if it does go wrong a good mechanic will be able to repair anything and everything on it. For example, take the little Austin-Healey Sprite. I can, (and have), rebuilt one of these things from the ground upwards. They’re cute, fun, nice looking, great when the sun is shining, and when properly looked after will keep up with modern traffic and run forever.
At the other end of the scale is the utterly beautiful Jaguar XJ saloon. This gorgeous car re-defined luxury transcontinental motoring. Lovely to look at, comfortable, blisteringly fast, and as reliable as the sunrise if properly looked after. But the XJ is complicated ~ take one of these beasts into your usual garage and they probably wouldn’t have a clue, (if it’s a V12 they definitely won’t have a clue).
Or for something completely different, the ‘proper’ Land Rover is now achieving status as a classic car. If you live out in the country, or need to tow anything, or you live in an area where it snows a lot, or you just want to intimidate other car drivers, then a ‘proper’ Land Rover may be the classic car for you. Once again, these things are very strong and very reliable, if they are properly maintained.
In some ways a classic car is a very good investment, it’s almost certainly a much better home for your savings than any savings account / product offered by any bank. You benefit in other ways too, a classic is a great car to drive every day. But, no real classic car is a plain vanilla, drive it and forget it, eco-box. Classic cars need tender loving care to survive and thrive. This is where a smart woman will find a can-do guy.
Any interesting car can become an appreciating classic, especially if it’s a sports car. My tips for upcoming classics; Land-Rover Defender, Early Mazda MX-5, Toyota MR2, Jaguar XJS and XK8, just about any Saab, And the first generation Ford Ka.
If you’re thinking of buying a classic car then, read the magazines and look at the prices, go to car shows, think about who you are going to get to look after the thing, (because it will need on-going care and maintenance at least every weekend). When you think you’ve made your choice of car, then join the appropriate owners’ club, take specialist advice, and never, ever, wear rose-tinted spectacles. (The Triumph GT6 pictured is a really cute and practical car for any woman to own and drive on a daily basis.)
Personally, I think I’d really like an MGB GT V8, with full length Webasto sunroof. Or any MGB GT really.
No woman is going to want to admit that she’s had casual sex in an Edsel. The Ford Edsel is not a cool car, it’s not even so ugly-pretty that it’s cool. The Edsel is just one of the worst cars ever made.
So what makes an Edsel such a terrible car? Start with how it looks, and it looks as though it was designed by a committee of the most boring preppy men Ford could come up with after searching through the worst colleges in America. I mean, who would design a grille that looks like a surprised toilet seat?
For a brand-new design the Edsel was about as innovative as a horse and cart. It was big and heavy ~ over 18 feet long and weighing in at two tons. It had a newly designed ohv V8 Ford MEL engine, (Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln), which was big at 410 cu in, (6.7 litres), powerful with 345 bhp and 475 ft lbs of torque, and very heavy. The Edsel had a slush-pump auto-box, and Hotchkiss live axle rear suspension that dated back to the 1930s. It also had some weird features, such as push-button gear selectors on the steering wheel.
And then the Edsel had the second worst marketing and sales campaign in the history of road transport, only eclipsed by that even bigger disaster, the Sinclair C5. From a teaser campaign that heralded the Edsel as the car for the future, to setting up a separate Edsel division within the Ford Motor Company and a separate dealership network, everything about the Edsel’s sales and marketing is a textbook example of how not to sell anything. Small wonder this dog of a car sold only 110,847 heavily discounted units ~ peanuts by Ford standards.
The Edsel was also relatively expensive, costing about the same as a Mercury, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Dodge, which were much better products, with much better and more well-known names and images.
Because the Edsel was built on the same production line as standard Fords, the assemblers had to interrupt their routines when an Edsel came along, and many workers just didn’t bother to put the right parts in the right places. Therefore the Edsel was very badly built and suffered from consequent reliability problems. Issues ranged from a leaking trunk, (boot), in wet weather, to bad welding, and catastrophically dangerous power steering failures.
Allegedly, the Edsel drives like a canal barge. That huge V8 delivers pedestrian performance with a top speed just short of 120 mph, a 0-60 time of about 11 seconds, and terrible fuel consumption figures. The suspension is nothing to write home about, and so pressing-on is supposed to be accompanied by a lot of tyre squeal, initial understeer and then mad oversteer. Have I ever driven an Edsel? You have got to be joking.
Luckily there are only about 6,000 examples of this terrible car still in existence. There has to be more than that, everywhere I go on my various road trips I seem to come across an Edsel, or maybe they’re just so bad that they’re memorable. You can expect to pay about $10,000 for an immaculate example, if you were ever insane enough to want an Edsel.
Don’t buy an Edsel. They are not cool, an Edsel won’t make a satisfying hobby, they will make a terrible investment, and no cool girl will ever want to have sex with you in that car.
Life is filled with rocks and shoals. To help us overcome life’s problems this blog is changing a little. From today this blog has got a formal structure. From today this blog is all about Urban Survival Skills for Men. So, on Saturdays I am going to post something that includes the kind of song a real man will play on his turntable. Art, music, and literature are important to the Renaissance man, and yes, real men still think the best sounds come from 12 inches of black vinyl.
Sinatra ~ I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Sometimes only The Chairman Of The Board will do.
This is a later recording of the great Cole Porter song with Nelson Riddle providing the music, as usual.
Urban Survival Skills for Men are very different from Wilderness Survival Skills, but the former does include all kinds of disaster recovery ~ from surviving an earthquake, to recovering from a failed relationship. Survival is more than just living, survival is living the life of a man.
And, by the way, if she doesn’t approve of Sinatra, or doesn’t like cool cars, or can’t hold an intelligent conversation, then perhaps you should think about finding yourself a better girl. Alternatively you could be a real man and love your girl for who she is, rather than trying to change her into someone you think you’d like her to be.
Please listen responsibly.
As good-looking as a high-priced hooker, and with the same kind of sex appeal. (Just think of a 2/3 scale Corvette Stingray.) Sex appeal is the one damn good reason to own a Marcos. It’s not a self-effacing little car.
This thing started life in 1964 with a plywood chassis, (later replaced with steel tubing), and if you’re thinking about buying one of those early cars watch out for wood-rot. The Mantis is actually a very clever little car, designed by a couple of brilliant guys; Jem Marsh and Frank Costin, (hence MarCos). It’s as rare as hen’s teeth and a good one will set you back £15,000 or so, which is bloody expensive for a pocket rocket.
The Marcos was built with Ford, Volvo, and Rover engines, but whatever engine is fitted, driving a Marcos is a frightening experience. It’s lower than your hips and from the driver’s seat the long-long bonnet is just about you can see.
Forget a Marcos if you’re over about 5’9″, fat, and can’t touch your toes. Getting in and out is not easy. Once inside it’s a comfortable place to sit, except the seat doesn’t adjust, (the pedal box does), and it will smell of hot plastic, (and perhaps damp carpets / damp leather).
If you like cool cars, you will adore the little Marcos. If you’re a cool girl / woman, your sex-appeal is geometrically multiplied if you arrive driving a Marcos, although you will flash a lot of leg getting in and out of the thing. Oh, that’s good for your sex appeal too.
A word of warning, it’s impossible to have sex in a Marcos.
Saying anything else is utterly superfluous.
The MGB is a reliable, understated, practical, economical, and fun quintessentially English sports car. It can also be a little boring and old-fashioned at times, which is another reason it’s quintessentially English. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never fallen in love with the MGB in the way I have loved some other cars. I can’t quite bring myself to believe the MGB is a cool car. Yet the MGB is a huge success story, the biggest selling British sports car ever.
Introduced in 1962 the B is a two-door, two-seat, soft-top, sports car with the engine at the front, four-speed manual gearbox in the middle, (with optional overdrive), and a live axle at the back. In looks and construction it was modern for the time. The monocoque construction was very modern for 1962 ~ strong, light and with built-in crash protection. Yet, the monocoque still harks back to the old days because there large are longitudinal chassis rails welded to the bodyshell. Belt and braces, very English.
The best I think I can say about the MGB’s appearance is ‘inoffensive.’ It was designed in-house, when an external car design studio may have had a lot to offer, and resulted in something a little less bland.
As far as the drive train is concerned, well it’s antediluvian. The B series engine was lifted out of the 1955 MGA, and bored out to 1,798cc, which gave the MGB some 95 bhp at a leisurely 5,400 rpm. USA specification cars came with a strangulated 65 bhp lump.
There were two major revisions to the MGB a potential owner needs to consider. Firstly the engine. That B series cast-iron lump originally came with only 3 main crankshaft-bearings, which is less than ideal. In a 5 main bearing block was introduced, and given a choice, this is what you want. Then in late 1974 the grotesque, and very unpopular, rubber-bumpered version of the B was introduced in response to California’s Ralf Nader inspired road safety campaigns. Unless you want to do major work to lower the suspension and take off the ugly black appendages, do not buy one of these cars.
The MGB is a fairly practical car, but if you want real practicality and having a convertible isn’t at the top of your list, then you could seriously think about the MGB GT (what a great name for a car….???). It’s better looking than the soft-top, has more luggage space, and was a hatchback before anyone came up with the term ‘hatchback’. If you really must have sun and practicality, then try and find an MGB GT with a dealer-fitted full-length sunroof by someone like Webasto. Around 125,000 MGB GT were sold. I’ll publish a separate post on the MGB GT.
Right from the start it was obvious that the MGB could use more power, and someone had the ‘brilliant’ idea of sticking a big heavy iron six in the front to create the, inherently flawed, 2,912 cc MGC, (which was actually intended to replace the Austin~Healey 3000). Only 8,999 of these nose-heavy brutes were ever made, so this is now a seriously expensive car. You would have to be insane to try and drive one of these fast on an English country road. I think you would have to be insane to buy one.
In 1970 a garage owner named Ken Costello stuck a Buick / Rover all aluminium 3,528 cc 137 bhp V8 in the front of an MGB GT, to create the legendary MGB GT V8. Despite the clunky name this is a seriously desirable car. Sadly only 2, 591 were produced by MG between 1973 and 1976. A final development using the V8 engine was the MG RV8, (and for my American friends this was not a RV in your sense of the term). Good luck finding an RV8, and congratulations if you can afford it.
Tuning and ‘personalising’ and MGB offers the keen mechanic endless opportunities. There are a plethora of firms offering parts and specialist tuning services. The MGB can be turned into a seriously fast car ~ it did well at Le Mans. All one has to decide is how much you want / need originality, against how much you want a car that looks and drives really well.
From 1962 to 1980 some 387,000 MGB roadsters were made, so it isn’t exactly a rare car, even though 87% were exported. You can expect to pay above £10,000 for a decent example. And, you can consider an MGB as a pretty good investment. If you’re considering buying an MGB, first join one of the owners’ clubs. You want an example with all it’s paperwork intact. Rubber bumpered versions may look OK, but beware of hidden crash damage and rust behind those black appendages. Rubber bumpered cars are a lot cheaper than the chrome bumpered cars. Look for bodged repairs and rust in the sills, which are structurally crucial, (beware of oversills, hiding rot underneath). If you can see any bodywork rust at all, walk away unless you are prepared to do a major structural rebuild. A good test is to jack up the car using the original jacking points, if the door gaps open up at the top, then the car is bending because it’s rotten underneath. The suspension needs regular maintenance, and if this hasn’t been done it’s likely that much of it will need replacing.
The good news is that you can buy just about everything you need to make an MGB from scratch, including brand new bodyshells. (about £10,000) Personally, if I wanted an MGB, I’d look for a rubber bumpered heap of junk and rebuild the thing to my own standards and specification. I would have £500 in my pocket and expect to have the thing trucked back to my workshop.
A long road trip in an MGB? Magical, you can cruise or hustle along, but make certain to take your tool-kit along with you.