Lotus S1 Exige
This is my pride and joy – and the car I hope I never need to sell. Mine is build #447, finished in laser blue and now sporting a few modifications to make it less bearable on the road and more capable of showing up my ineptitude on the track.
It shall probably remain a constant work in progress but at the moment it is blessed with Nitron suspension, braided brake hoses, Emerald ECU, vernier cam pulleys, sports exhaust, de-cat pipe, quick shift gear linkage, 4-point harnesses, uprated rear toelinks and some rather natty front and rear aero devices courtesy of Lotus Power.
The car itself is an experience to drive and to passenger in. Compared to more recent Lotus efforts it’s raw, noisy and uncivilised. It thrives on revs and commitment. The harder you drive, the better it feels and it certainly comes alive during early-morning traverses across North Yorkshire or out on track.
It’s not perfect – far from it in fact – but it is a wonderfully analogue and involving car to drive. It looks incredible, though one is never short of attention, especially around town. But I’m not one for posing and the best times I enjoy are usually just the car and me out together early morning enjoying that great bond man can form with his favourite machine.
Porsche 997.1 Turbo
While my old Lotus is crazy in every way, the Porsche is crazy only in one way: it’s ludicrously, stupidly accelerative. In fact, it’s a struggle to discuss this car for more than a few seconds without pausing to ruminate on the sheer ferocity of unleashing full fury down a narrow country road.
If that makes the 911 sound rather one-dimensional, it would be to do it a significant disservice, for part of what makes the performance so shocking is the ease with which it can be deployed. Even in streaming wet conditions, one can easily find oneself committing all manner of automotive sin. The traction is absolute which means big throttle openings in low gears. The drivetrain is every bit as epic as the car’s reputation would suggest.
The 997 feels like the last of its generation – a little like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage I sometimes get to enjoy. It’s a bit old school: the clutch is quite heavy; the steering is weighty and the throttle response natural. The ride isn’t perfect but it feels like a big, fast, analogue sports car and that is a heady brew for regular road use. It’s not the last word in poise but it’s honest and the whistle as the turbos light up and you start scanning the horizon for your next overtaking victim is utterly addictive.
Peugeot 306 Rallye
At the risk of sounding like something of a stuck record, I rather fear this car will end up being passed down the Motorcardiaries generations, much like the Exige. I bought it as a daily driver to get me through Lotus withdrawal symptoms during my weekday commute. As it transpires, in its own way, it is just as much fun to drive as the Exige and the Elise I owned prior to that.
Since the arrival on the scene of the new upstart (see below), my wife has become the Rallye’s custodian and she is an enthusiastic owner. Tunnel runs through Leeds have become morning sport to ease the tedium of the commute. The 306 Rallye may not be quite so involving and flyweight as its little 106 brother, but it is tremendous fun in its own right.
The damping is superb and it is never flustered by mid-corner bumps and crests. Over challenging country roads it appears to float along the highway, as if riding a magic carpet. The steering is perfectly weighted and blessed with abundant feel. The throttle response is lazy compared to sophisticated fly-by-wire systems from Honda and Toyota, but there is a mechanical honesty and tactility to the Rallye which genuinely endears one to it.
This example hasn’t been without its troubles and I’d frighten readers and myself by listing the parts which have been replaced over the last ten years. However, it has never once left me stranded and has ploughed through conditions fair and adverse while always keeping a smile on my face – and now that of my wife. It’s part of the family and a welcome one at that.
Renault Megane RS265 RB8
250 RB8s were produced to celebrate Red Bull’s 2012 F1 title success and this is build #133 – one of 30 sold in the UK. In reality, it’s little more than a paint n stickers job but the substance upon which the tinsel lays is deeply impressive. Based on an RS265 Cup, the RB8 features 19″ wheels wrapping Brembo four-pot brakes, an LSD and uprated suspension.
This makes the rattly Renault among the most impressive driving tools I’ve ever experienced. The RB8 was specified only with Recaro seats – along with bold red seat belts – and the forces it generates justify such an unyielding perch. The conviction with which it sets about a challenging road is remarkable – and makes it the best front-wheel drive car I’ve piloted by an enormous margin. It seems almost impervious to torque steer and that LSD offers staggering traction.
The drivetrain perhaps lacks a little of the chassis’ overall sparkle but it behaves in a decidedly naturally aspirated way, in spite of its turbocharger. It really comes on cam over 4,000rpm and the induction rasp is as addictive as the subtle pops on the overrun. Perfect pedal spacing and nicely modulated brakes make heal and toe downchanges a synch.
So, it isn’t the last word in sophistication and some of the interior plastics would give an Audi engineer a nervous twitch, but it maintains a wilful insistence on taking the scenic route which I greatly admire. It is a remarkably uncomprising machine for a mainstream manufacturer. I genuinely worry about how I might ever bring myself to part with it.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.7
The Aston, sadly, isn’t mine but it does belong to my father and he is kind enough to share it with me on occasion. We have indulged in a couple of major European road trips in it together and it must rank as one of the all-time great GT cars.
There’s something about an Aston which imbues in its occupants a greater sense of well-being than any other car of my experience. Somehow it indulges one like no other. The interior is not, perhaps, the ergonomic masterpiece one might expect of the Germans but it’s comfortable and smells nice and every detail is tactile.
The exterior is peerless and the Vantage shape remains as beguiling today as it was ten years ago upon release. Other motorists adore it and nothing else seems to attract such public goodwill. Even Audi drivers seem to be in its thrall, diving out of the outside lane of the motorway at the first sighting of those distinctive LED highlights behind them.
Much like my 997, it isn’t the last word in delicacy and don’t expect to be able to chuck it around like a flyweight sports car. This is a serious, old-school GT car but one blessed with great steering feel, natural balance to give away and a soundtrack to die for. It’s impossible not to instantly fall for its charms.
Alpina B3 Touring
Another car that belongs to my father but another to which he kindly hands me the keys from time-to-time. This is the rarest car in our little fleet, being one of only three B3 Tourings in the UK at the time of delivery. It is #123 worldwide, which must make it one of the most unusual new cars on British roads.
The current B3 is a particularly potent dog-carrying weapon. Blessed with 410bhp from a twin turbo straight-six, it’s stupendously rapid. The engine breathes through a full Akropovic exhaust system which offers a distinctive rasp at high revs but ensures near-silent cruising conditions.
The most obvious differentiator from the BMW donor car is, surprisingly, the chassis. Wearing huge 21″ wheels and appropriately low-profile tyres, one might reasonably expect the B3 to pogo down the road with the subtlety of Nigel Farage addressing the European Parliament. Remarkably, though, this is a car of unique compliance and unrivalled suspension sophistication. It smooths out bumps and shrugs off potholes with disdain. Its traction is phenomenal and it simply gets on with the business of demolishing every road in its sights. It’s a remarkable trick and lends the Alpina a premium feel which does much to justify the – not inconsiderable – cost increase over the equivalent BMW.