- 07 May 2011
- 2 Comments
I have just hit ‘save’ for the last time on a classic car piece for an upcoming feature. As is usually the way this feature involved me spending countless hours on the internet doing research. Invariably this research took twice as long to do as the actual writing and involved copious amounts of time on Carzone checking prices, availability etc. That much time in front of a computer usually leads me off on weird tangents but this time I decided to put them to some use. So I pulled out the crystal ball and had a look for some future classics. Do you agree or disagree with my shortlist? Did I completely miss a car that you would have included? If so let me know in the comments section but until then – enjoy!
Ford Focus RS
The RS (Rallye Sport) name has been around since 1970 when Ford first applied it to the Mk1 Escort RS1600. The nameplate is best remembered though in Sierra and Escort guise when it was joined by another name always synonymous with performance Fords, that of Cosworth. The Sierra and Escort ‘Cossies’ were the stuff of dreams to performance fans of the eighties and nineties and both limited production cars are verifiable classic cars today. In 1996 Ford dropped the Cosworth from production due to changes in legislation and with it went the RS badge leaving many fans of fast Fords fearing it may never return. With no replacement for the RS Cosworth on the horizon many fans of the car turned their attention to the Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Evolution.
Then the Escorts replacement, the Focus, went rallying and Blue Oval fans had a new icon. Ford initially released the lukewarm ST170 at appease the fans who were demanding a new high performance Ford but it did not capture the publics imagination. The Focus RS was released in 2002 with production running for just over a year. In that time less than 2,150 right hand cars were produced all finished in Imperial Blue. The car runs on the same track as the WRC car on which it is based and features wide fenders front and rear to cover the extra 65mm. Unlike the WRC cars it does not feature four-wheel-drive meaning that the 212bhp from the 2.0 turbocharged engine is fed through the front wheels. To combat the problems associated with putting too much power through the front wheels the Focus RS utilises a Quaife differential. The drivetrain specialist were not the only ones involved in the RS’s production with Sparco providing much of the interior (including the bucket seats), 18’ wheels were specially developed by OZ Racing, Garrett supplied the turbocharger while noted brake specialist, Brembo, supplied the braking system.
With the exception of the Sparco additions and some RS only touches such as blue leather on the doors, the interior is exactly as you would find in any other Focus. The bucket seats so encroach on rear legroom a bit but it can still accommodate four adults in comfort. Like the normal Focus it is also remarkably easy to drive around town with the wider arches the only thing you have to watch out for. Get it to the open road though and it becomes a different animal. This is were all those aftermarket parts come into their own and the RS’s true intent becomes apparent. Maximum torque of 310NM is available from 3,500rpm while the power distribution means you don’t have to wring the engine to its 5,800rpm redline to extract the most from it. Being a performance car the suspension setup is quiet firm meaning it can be on the jarring side over bumpy roads. Also with all the power directed through the front wheels there is a tendency to torque steer when pushing hard.
Fast Fords have always had enthusiast appeal and this means they tend to depreciate slower than some of their rivals. Just look at the prices commanded for clean examples of the Sierra and Escort Cosworths. With so few of these cars produced they are sure of attaining cult status in the near future. Ford even made things easy by only offering one colour and no optional extras meaning all you have to do it find a well maintained one.
Renault Clio Renaultsport V6
The Renault brand has been going through something of a resurgence in recent years and it has nothing to do with the MD of Renault Ireland appearing on TV all the time. Through their involvement in Formula One they have gained the knowledge and expertise to build performance cars and this can be evidenced in the numerous hot Clios and Meganes. The most extreme of these is the Renaultsport R26 F1 Team 230 – a lunatic of a car that pushes the boundaries of front wheel drive cars by producing 230bhp from its 2.0 turbocharged engine. The fancy Megane is eclipsed by one of the craziest cars ever made though – the Clio V6.
I have written elsewhere that the VW directors who gave the go ahead for some of the special edition cars must have been two sheets to the wind when they signed off on them. Well the Renualt directors must have been on Class A narcotics. As the name suggests the humble Clio has been outfitted with a V6 engine, taken from the range topping Laguana. However instead of fitting it under the bonnet like with other Clios they instead ripped out the rear seats and placed it in the middle of the little hatchback. The original mid-engined-rear wheel drive Clio V6 was launched in 2001 and quickly gained rave reviews as well as a reputation as something of a widowmaker with a tendency to swap ends without notice, generally at speed.
The MkII V6 and the one we are interested in was released in 2003 and given the fresher looks of the facelifted Clio. As well as the looks Renault also sorted out the handling issues by comprehensively redesigning the chassis and running on specially developed Michelin Sport tyres. With the handling more predictable Renault saw fit to boost power from the original cars 230bhp upto 255bhp. Until the BMW 130i and Audi S3 came along was the most power offered in a hot hatch.
Visually the V6 differs from the rest of the Clio range thanks to a wide arch kit that facilitates the wider track of the rear-wheel-drive car. The deeper front bumper makes negotiating multi storey car parks difficult but not quite as much as the atrocious steering lock – in the V6 three point turns are a thing of the past. Inside, apart from an engine where you would expect the rear seats, all is pretty much as you would expect of a Clio. This is something that has always grated with V6 owners. Despite some touches such as leather and alacantara seats, aluminium trim on the dash and white dials the interior is the same as the one found in a base model 1.2. This car just feels like it should have something more than the car your granny drives. The V6 engine, that screams away just behind your left ear and propels the car from 0-100kmh in 6 seconds, tends to make up for it though.
Production of the Clio V6 ended in 2005 and over two generations less than 900 right hand drive cars were produced. Limited supply means that you will never see many on the streets. The V6 is likely to depreciate in the first instance, but if you keep one for a few years or so, it might well end up increasing in value.
Does anyone other there fancy owning a mi-engined, rear-wheel-drive convertible? Maybe as a fun weekend toy that is also equally at home slogging it out on the daily grind. How much would you be willing to spend on such a thing? Ignoring the ‘Ferrari for Mondeo money’ type ads that will inevitably break your heart there are precious few cars to choose from that wont break the bank. The Toyota MR2 is a creaking dinosaur at this stage while the Lotus Elise is too hardcore to be used as a daily driver. A Porsche Boxster would fit the bill perfectly but represents a significant outlay in purchase price and day to day running. Instead in this day and age what you need is a Smart Roadster. It offers all the thrills that go with open top motoring, has a engaging chassis set up and best of all is cheap to run as it is powered by a 698cc turbocharged engine that returns 5.6L/100km.
The Roadster comes in two forms: straight Roadster, with electrically-folding canvas roof and removable roof bars, or Roadster-Coupe, with a removable glass rear hatch. The Coupe is the rarer of the two cars on the Irish market but is possibly the better looking of the two. The sloping rear hatch, that covers a rather useable boot space, has a better flow to it than the ‘cut off in its prime’ looks of the roadster. Whichever car you choose though they are both a hoot to drive. Based on a lengthened version of the Fortwo’s chassis the Roadster is low slung with a low center of gravity and a well balanced chassis thanks to the mid mounted engine. The three cylinder engine is a lively unit that loves to be revved. In standard guise it produces 80bhp but a later, Brabus tuned model, upped power to 101bhp. This may not sound like much but when you consider that the Roadster tips the scales at 790kg, some 150kg lighter than the original Mazda MX5. Zero – 100KMH times are not scorching with the mark passed in a leisurely 11 seconds but this is mainly due to the rather dimwitted semi-automatic gearbox that is carried over from the Smart city car. This really is the Roadster’s Achilles heal and something that fans of the car had hoped Brabus would rectify, but even the higher performance car has to contend with it. In gear acceleration is brisk though and once you learn the characteristics of the gear shifts you can really drive the Roadster hard, making the most of the 6,000rpm redline.
Over its two year life span Smart produced some 43,000 Roadsters and Coupes. These were predominantly left hand drive models though and both cars are a rare sight on Irish roads with the Brabus model being the rarest. As a form of cheap, back to basics thrills there are few that compete with the Roadster for value of money. The roofs on both models are susceptible to leaking and many cars were fixed under warranty. It is worthwhile checking to see if the repairs have been carried out to any car you are looking at as all cars will be outside of their warranties at this point and it can be an expensive problem to rectify.
BMW Z3 M Coupe
Some thirty years ago a group of engineers banded together to build a performance version of a car that had just recently hit the market. After working late nights and countless weekends they presented their finished masterpiece to the board for approval – that car was the Mk1 Golf GTI, a car that was never thought of when the original Golf line up was considered but one that has gone onto be a huge sales success. Fast forward to the late nineties and again an intrepid group of engineers are reworking a car that has only just hit the market in an attempt to build the car they wanted and not the one wanted by the PR guys. The result was the maniacal M coupe – a car that the head of BMW’s M division chose over all others to drive home in every night.
The puny 1.9 litre engine and the loss of rigidity due to being a convertible were the main bug-bears within the M division and the reason they locked themselves away in the workshop. The styling of the finished car is a bit marmite to say the least. Looking somewhat like a two door estate the M Coupe has been jokingly referred to as the breadvan or clown shoe. The styling is functionary though and gives the baby M nearly three times more structural rigidity over the Z3 on which it is based – at the time this was the most rigid car BMW had ever built which bodes well for dynamic handling.
The suspension is the same trailing arm set up as used in the lower spec Z3’s but the reworking of the M Coupe’s chassis and body mean it works perfectly. With the driver effectively sitting over the rear axle it is a real seat of your pants drive especially in the wet. The sort wheelbase and wide rear tyres lead to a tendency for aqua planning but this car was designed with petrol heads in mind and a little bit of aqua planning is easily rectified by those who know how to control a high performance car such as this.
Initially the M Coupe featured the 3.2 litre straight six from the E36 M3 Evo model but in 2001 this was replaced by the 3.2 from the E46 model. Power output only increased marginally from 321bhp to 325bhp but the later engine is much smoother and much more exploitable. Performance is what can only be described as earth shattering. 0-100kmh in 4.3 seconds and an electronically controlled top speed of 250kmh – that is Porsche 911 territory and is exactly the car that the M division engineers used as a benchmark.
Due to the quirky looks many dealers did not even stick the M Coupe instead pointing interested parties in the direction of the M3 coupe. In the end it became a special order model with only about 1,000 RHD cars being produced. Demand amongst enthusiasts remains strong though and consequently depreciation has been low.
Over the years Opel has built some cracking performance models of their standard cars. In my youth I fantasised about the Astra GTE and since then they have lumped a whacking big turbo into the old shape Astra Coupe and now of course have the OPC tuning package across pretty much the entire range. At some point the executives must have convinced themselves that if people were snapping these cars up they would also snap up a mid engined, two seater sports car if they made it. Unfortunately the purchasers of hot hatches and the purchasers of dedicated sports cars are different breeds and the Opel Speedster was a resounding sales failure.
This had nothing to do with the car itself. Any car that has a Lotus developed chassis, 151mph top speed, Ferrari matching acceleration, will return 9.4 L/100kmh and costs about as much as a decent hot hatch is a great car in its own right. Instead it was a case of badge snobbery that saw the failure of the Speedster. People spending Lotus money on a two seater sports car want a Lotus and not an Opel. This is a shame cause in may ways the Speedster is actually a better car than the Elise on which it is loosely based.
Sharing the same chassis and underpinnings there is little to choose between the two cars when it comes to road manners and comfort. Neither of these cars are comfortable day to day cars – they are too focused and unapologetic about their stripped to the bones nature to really be used for a daily commute. What separates the Lotus and the Opel then is power. The Elise is available with two engine choices – the older 1.8 K series engine or the newer, Toyota sourced VVti engine producing 190bhp. The Opel has either a 2.2 natually aspirated powerplant with 145bhp or the more popular 2.0 turbo with 200bhp on tap. Both of these engines were sourced from the Astra coupe but in the lighter (875kg for the 2.2 and 930kg for the 2.0) mid engined chassis they positively fly. In the turbo model, the 0-100kmh time of 4.7 seconds is enough to embarrass a Ferrari 430 owner.
It’s not just the raw horsepower that defines this car though it is the manner in which it is delivered – the engine is supremely responsive and the slightest prod of the loud pedal is felt in the seat of your pants. Once you get above the 1,500rpm range where turbo lag slows things down everything is instantaneous, cleaning delivered and easily controllable. Get a little bit over enthusiastic with the Speedster and it is a hell of a lot easier to rein in than most other mid engined sports cars and thanks to the Lotus chassis it darts and changes direction like a house fly.
Volvo S60/V70 R
Over the years I have devoted countless print space to discussing the merits of the cars that I have labeled ‘Autobahn destroyers’. Unsuprisingly, given the name, these cars are inevitabely German and feature such trouser raising acroynms as ‘M’, ‘AMG’ or ‘RS’. For the most part these cars are reps fodder that after a complete overhaul by the manufacturers respective tuning division possess performance that would put a dedicated sports car to shame. There is another acroynm to add to the list but in truth it does not quailfy as an Autobahn destroyer. Instead it is a Motorväg Marauder and comes with a simple ‘R’ badge. The car, or actually cars, in question come from those pioneers of automotive safety Volvo and are known as the S60 and V70 R.
Fast Volvo’s are nothing new – the T5 series has been around for years but purists will always turn their noses up at a car that only funnels its power to the front wheels. The R variants however utilises an advanced AWD system complete with what Volvo calls FOUR-C chassis that switches the suspension between Sport and Comfort modes. In comfort setting the S60 R saloon and V70 R estate waft along like you would expect a big Volvo to do. Like the other cars in the range it is endowed with class leading safety features features an interior that is a comfortable to sit in as it is good to look at. Switch the FOUR-C over to Sport settings and depress the loud pedal though and the car becomes a totally different beast.
The turbocharged 2.5 litre five cylinder engine is the same that is used in the current Focus ST but whereas the ST has to do with a lowly 225bhp due to its front wheel drive set up the big Volvo has the all singing all dancing 300bhp on tap. This comapres favourably with its main competitors – the Audi S4, BMW M3 and Mercedes C32 AMG. The understated saloon completes the 0-100kmh sprint in 5.4 seconds while the heavier estate comes in 0.2 later. There is a choice of two gearboxes with which to exploit this power – the six speed manual is ideal for those who prefer a hands on appraocah to their driving even if the throw is a little long. The five speed automatic features a manual override so offers the best of both worlds. Stick it in ‘D’ while cruising up and down the motorway system and switch over to tiptronic when the roads start to twist and turn and you want to enjoy the delightful chassis from the comfort of the custom designed sports seats.
In the mid eighties the Mercedes Cosworth and BMW M3 went head to head with the M3 coming out on top. Today an E30 M3 will set you back in the region of €20,000 while a Merc Cossie can be picked up for around €7,000. In much the same vein the S60 and V70 R’s already represent a viable alternative to the usual suspects and in time will offer a great option for those looking for ‘affordable performance’