For every classic favourite, there’s a car you love to hate, even if it is the mighty Ford Escort. Eddy Rafter tells us why…
We’ve looked at favourite classic cars in earlier columns and it’s fair to say everyone has one. Mine, you will doubtless remember, is the Vauxhall Cresta/Velox PA series. But there’s another side to that coin, isn’t there? A dark side, you might say. The classic cars you wouldn’t have as a gift. The cars, in short, that you hate.
Now I accept that this column is likely to be controversial. I can almost feel the stirrings in the hornets’ nest already. A bit of controversy is a good thing, let’s encourage some debate. Let’s fill the Letters page!
So if I’m going to be controversial, how about starting with the first car I could legally drive on the road? The first driving-school car I got my hands on, in 1977. I’m sure many of us have fond memories of that point in our lives… but mine are forever tarnished. I hadn’t been able to forgive the Ford Escort for replacing the achingly pretty Anglia in 1968; the new version for 1975 did nothing to improve matters.
Wait a minute: the Ford Escort? Is this man mad? Has he seen the prices they fetch now?
Well no I’m not, and yes I have. I accept that the Escort was, almost from the beginning, a potent rally weapon, and that is what drives the rocketing prices, but the regular models, the cars that you could see in every street, were plain and uninspiring at best.
The 1.1 Popular I first drove was, quite simply, horrible. The interior had little to commend it beyond the stalk placement. The engine had so little power I was in danger of being overtaken by paperboys on bikes. Noise suppression was minimal, handling was soggy. Dynamically, the car was a disaster. Even a brand-new learner could see that!
I’ve driven several others since, and even owned a 1300 estate briefly, but that was when you could buy one for the cost of a good dinner out. Now, the same car would cost you the head chef’s annual salary. A genuine performance version is going to cost two or three used Bentleys. Seriously?
Let’s stir up some more hornets. While you’re still reeling from the Escort attack, I’m going to hit you with a peculiarly British icon: the Austin Maxi.
I didn’t get the point of the Maxi in the beginning. If you’re going to take on another manufacturer, why target a French one? Especially, why target their funny-looking mid-range family car that was neither saloon nor estate? Why open your attack with a range of brand-new engines completely unrelated to any of the engines you already have in your vast range? And why make it look so dowdy? At least the Renault 16 had some style to it.
BL, as we all know, was beset with problems anyway. Quality control virtually didn’t exist, strikes were rife and investment capital was severely rationed. The range was extensive and confusing, with massive internal competition, never mind the outside world!
The one Maxi that I owned was a 1750HL from 1978. The model was nine years old when mine was built; not a good sign in the ’70s and even less so in 1986 when I owned mine. The driving position felt rather too old-fashioned for that to be a compliment. The gears were poorly-chosen; the car seemed to run out of steam in every one, without even accelerating at a respectable rate.
By this time I’d already owned mainstream offerings from other manufacturers – cars the Maxi would have been up against when new. I would own several more afterwards. But never another Maxi. It quite simply wasn’t good enough.
In a recent column I discussed my history with Ford Granadas. Let’s just say I won’t be having another one. I should qualify that! I won’t be having another European Granada. America had a Granada too in the ’70s but it was a whole different model, somewhat bigger, and perhaps more familiar this side of the Atlantic in upmarket Mercury Monarch guise. The comic Tom O’Connor had a white one for some time around 1980.
We all know the BMW E28 model: the 5-series of the 1980s. Two of them, dressed as German police cars, chase after James Bond in Octopussy, and they appear in other films too. They are, undeniably, a handsome car. The spec, on paper, should have suited me down to the ground. A roomy four-door saloon, rear-wheel drive; my 525e being automatic with a 2.7-litre inline six up front, OHC and fuel-injected. I should have been dancing! But it simply didn’t fit. It was like wearing someone else’s shoes (and I have big feet). I had it four weeks in 2002 and sold it to a friend, who loved it.
For all the reverence they are usually given, German cars on the whole have never left me with any feeling better than ‘unimpressed.’ I’ve driven many, from a 1200cc VW Beetle to an assortment of vans and lorries from Mercedes-Benz and MAN. If the commercials are a letdown (and trust me, they are) the cars disappoint on a grand scale. One naturally expects them to be more comfortable and dynamically superior to their working cousins, but they fail.
If you ever see an overtly German car in my staff car reports, chances are it’ll be a big Opel of the ’60s or ’70s. They’re beyond my means at present, but that doesn’t mean they always will be.
This list is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to my dislikes… I would need several more pages for that! But now that I’ve said all the above, let me repeat something I’ve said before in these pages, and will again.
I don’t care what kind of vehicle you like to preserve, I’m just glad you do. Preserve a car, a van, a motorbike; any car, any van, any motorbike. Take every opportunity to use it, show it off to the public. Engage with them. Tell your story. Preserve something!