Simply the best: the top cars owned by the Autocar team
Cropley’s V8-ified Triumph TR7: a great car built badly
Autocar’s staffers are lucky enough to drive plenty of new cars. But which of our own motors do we remember most fondly?
The Autocar team have owned plenty of excellent, if not always very glamorous, cars. Here, we round-up the best motors we spent our own money on.
*Triumph TR7 V8 convertible - *St*eve Cropley*
‘Best’ is a tough call so, if you don’t mind, I’ll tell you about the car I wish I still had: a Triumph TR7 V8 convertible. Always liked the TR for its bold styling, the more so after meeting its designer, Harris Mann. It had surprising virtues, a terrific driving position, great seats, space, big doors and a well-protected cockpit so you drove top-down a lot. The view down the bonnet was great. Its problem was the British Leyland norm: they built it badly.
My car was a V8 conversion by S&S in Ramsbottom. I found it in a sorry state in North London, had it shipped to S&S and paid steadily for the fitment of a Rover V8, five-speed ’box, better brakes, new suspension and a taller back axle. Then it was great: quick, comfortable, long-legged and easy to use, with a fabulous exhaust note. I shouldn’t have sold it, and to this day I remain jealous of the new owner.
*Mk2 **Nissan Micra - *Jim H*older*
Stop laughing at the back. Yes, I am nominating a 1.0-litre Nissan Micra Mk2 – the bubble-shaped one beloved of nervous new drivers and doddery grandparents everywhere – as the best car I have ever owned.
It cost £500 (well, the first one did – we’ll not dwell too long on why a second one was later acquired), and a further £1000, some welding and a lot of help later it became eligible for the Formula 1000 Rally Challenge, which was just starting out 15 years ago but which is now thriving, with a certain Elfyn Evans among its alumni.
Wisely, given the proximity of trees in forests, I stuck to Tarmac events, discovering that 50bhp, not much weight and good Proflex suspension and brake upgrades could turn even this humble shopping trolley into a barrel of fun. Less wisely, a few events in I discovered that oil drums lying about on military ranges were as unforgiving as trees. My second-favourite car swiftly followed.
*Volvo C30 - *R*achel Burgess*
It was debadged and had one unnecessary tailpipe but, for all the bad choices of its previous owner, I absolutely loved my Volvo C30 and still miss it to this day. When I bought it, it felt like a proper grown-up car, even though I’d been fond of my previous transport, a 0.9-litre Peugeot 106 and 1.2-litre (upgrade!) Volkswagen Polo. The C30 was so comfortable that I often reference it when discussing the comfort of today’s new cars. It was the most practical of the line-up – the 1.6-litre diesel Driv-e – which suited me fine for long commutes, and it only struggled at the top end of the range. Every time I spot a C30, I regret selling mine. I reckon it has aged remarkably well, too.
*Range Rover Sport SDV6 - Matt Saunders*
Poverty is, I always think, a rubbish excuse for such a patchy car ownership history as mine – but, having been a lowly paid staff motoring hack all my life, it’s all I’ve got. The total roster of cars listed by the DVLA as having had Matthew Roderick Saunders as registered keeper include a Triumph Acclaim L, Peugeot 306 XTDT, Ford Fiesta Zetec, Fiat Cinquecento Sporting, another Ford Fiesta Zetec and our current Mazda CX-5 family jalopy. None are worth writing about (although that hasn’t stopped me doing just that about several of them on these pages over the years).
I’m currently ‘looking after’ a seven-year-old Range Rover Sport SDV6 for my father, who has recently given up driving and has asked me to sell it on his behalf. It’s, well, lovely really, and more tastefully understated – copper paint with two-tone cream-and-black leather, HSE Black run-out trim – than you might think a Sport could ever be. And I am, inevitably, getting quite attached to it and fast running out of excuses to explain why I haven’t sold it yet.
When Dad bought the car a couple of years ago, he did it in spite of the advice I gave him that a used L320 would break down and go wrong (neither of which it has done), and at a time when I thought of any Sport as little more than a Land Rover Discovery in a sharp suit.
And now? Well, for Mike’s sake don’t tell him, but let’s just say I’m glad that fathers aren’t always duty-bound to follow advice given by their supposedly expert progeny.
*Westfield SE *-* Matt Prior*
I was young, lived walking distance from the office, sometimes borrowed a car from work and couldn’t stretch to a Caterham. So I bought a Westfield SE – the original unoriginal Seven.
It was on a Q-plate, in yellow, with a lumpy 1700 Ford crossflow and a four-speed ’box and was tidy enough to drive. Well, it steered okay, and it made a good noise through Weber carbs and, one night, when the exhaust had a hole in it, a passenger told me it shot out quite decent flames.
I never used it on track but I did a fair few road miles, almost treating it like a daily hack. It had a hood but no heater, but that didn’t matter because the engine and ’box would toast your legs anyway. Eventually I needed some money for a house deposit, so it had to go. I didn’t mind then but now I think I’d enjoy it just as much, if not more, today.
*Peugeot 205 - *Ja*mes Attwood*
My first car was a parental hand-me-down – and rather a good one at that, my mum giving me and my brother the keys to a 1.4-litre Peugeot 205. Given that most of my car-driving mates were tootling around in Rover Metros, this was clearly a big win.
The brilliance of the 205 is well-known, and I revelled in the sharp handling and plentiful power. To me, my 205 was as desirable and dynamic as a GTi or T16 Group B version. Yes, even when the starter motor began to falter and I kept a hammer in the glovebox to bash it back to life. Or when it had a string of driveshaft issues. And when failing window seals occasionally forced me to scrape ice off the inside of the windscreen. I loved it, and still do. Meanwhile, having given away her 205, my mum bought a 306. She was never sure if she made the right decision.
*Peugeot 206 - Kris Culmer*
Even if it weren’t the only car I’ve owned, I still believe my 2004 Peugeot 206 1.1 would be the best. Not because it was great to drive; with 60bhp and steering about as vague as you could imagine, it never could be. My requirements when buying were something that looked stylish, would be cheap to insure and had five doors, and all of those things this 206 was. What made it so special was the fact that it liberated such independence. It allowed me to take my partially sighted mum anywhere she wanted; took me to journalism college and work experience at local newspapers; opened up the social lives of me and my friends to endless possibilities; and enabled my first romantic relationship. It had to go when its oil and water systems became one, but its rear lion badge still sits on my desk at home.
*Ford Fiesta Zetec S - *M*ark Tisshaw*
In Norfolk, all used cars cost a bit more. A supply-and-demand thing, perhaps, but cast your search farther afield and bargains open up. So it was with my first car, which was also the best car I have ever had my name alongside in the logbook. There it was: £2500 for a 2001 Ford Fiesta Zetec S in black. It was a late-shape Mk4 and the then range-topper before the ST arrived in the next generation, with a lovely bodykit, 15in alloys and 100bhp from its 1.6-litre engine. For that money in Norfolk and at that time, you’d struggle to get even a basic Fiesta. I can’t remember why I sold it a couple of years later to switch to a more tired, tattier and older Fiesta for about the same money (at Norfolk exchange rates) as the Zetec S was then worth, but it was a mistake. That Zetec S was a beaut; the replacement was not.
*Fiat X1/9 - *M*ark Pearson*
I regret to say I have never yet spent more than £10k on a car, and nor have I bought one at all for the past 10 years, but I have owned at least 28 of ’em. I’m quite sure that if the readers of Autocar could see the full list, most would pick the Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9 that was mine in the 1990s. However, I wouldn’t: its unassisted steering annoyed me, as did its gearchange and its overall quality. I preferred the four-wheel-steer Mk4 Honda Prelude and some of the older Alfas and Lancias I owned, to be honest. If I could pick just one vehicle, it would be my ancient, modified Honda 750 café racer motorcycle, but car-wise it’d be my Fiat X1/9, a diminutive mid-engined hipster whose potential was never properly realised but which offered, by the standards of its time, huge grip and bargain-bucket driving pleasure.
*Audi 80 1.9 TDI -* *Felix Page*
How did I love my 1993 Audi 80 1.9 TDI? Let me count the ways. One: I loved it when it was sold to me with a full tank of diesel, eight months’ MOT and plenty of rubber left on the tyres for just £550. Two: I loved it when it accompanied me on my year abroad in southern France, mustering 55mpg on l’autoroute and barely complaining when I drove it up some perilously steep roads to Grenoble’s Bastille viewpoint. And three: I loved it after I sold it and the Peugeot 405 GTX I subsequently bought had started to prove itself a thoroughly unworthy replacement.
This bargain German saloon replaced a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle as my daily driver, for Pete’s sake. The Audi had power steering, it had ABS – hell, it even had an electric sunroof: it was basically a Rolls-Royce Phantom to a cash-deprived second-year student. Not only was it quicker than the blueish smoke from its 90bhp turbodiesel motor would have you think possible, but it was also supremely comfortable, faultlessly reliable (apart from catastrophic water pump and brake failures that we’ll gloss over) and effortlessly cool to boot.
*Mk1 Honda Insight - Richard Lane*
An old commute was almost 100 miles each way and my daily driver was… an original Ford Focus RS. Cue 17,000 miles in a single year and a fuel bill way out of kilter with my sub-editor’s salary. Clearly the Ford needed substituting, but the thought of leasing a vanilla pocket-spec hatch that would do 55mpg rather than 25mpg wasn’t at all appealing.
A colleague came to my rescue and sold me his Mk1 Honda Insight. We once put it on the scales, where it weighed just 820kg, thanks to its aluminium body, tiny dimensions and 999cc, lean-burning VTEC three-cylinder engine with an electric motor fixed to the crank. Even with a tired battery, the car would deliver 80mpg door to door with ease. And if you found a National Express coach on the motorway, slip-streaming would tip the trip meter’s retro-look digital digits into triple figures. Visibility and driving position were also first-class, and the Jaguar XJR-9-style spats will always be very cool. It’s a bit rickety on the move, but that only adds to the Insight’s vibe, which is that of a single-minded and groundbreaking concept car made real several years before its time. I can’t think of much else that nails its brief so completely. And I love it.
*Mk2 Toyota MR2 - Lawrence Allan*
In many ways, my first car was the best car I’ve ever owned, simply because of the sense of limitless freedom and fun it afforded at the time. But I’m not going to pretend I want to return to ownership of a 1.2-litre Seat Ibiza that we dyno’d at 55bhp and which had ride-ruining wheels from an FR and badly installed aftermarket speakers.
In terms of what it offers for such little money, my current E90 BMW 330i (sub-£3000, 80,000 miles) is fantastic. But actually, the one I still hanker after most is my cheap Mk2 Toyota MR2. It was grey, it didn’t have a turbocharger, the doors were rusting from the inside out and it never stopped properly. Yet that 1990s junior Ferrari design, the rorty twin-cam engine’s proximity to your head, the lovely gearshift and the purposeful driving position made it look and feel far more exotic than it actually was. Prices are shooting up now, which is no surprise.
*The ones we wished we'd owned*
*Fiat Dino Coupe: *Dino Coupés are incredibly pretty and not much dearer than the Ducati 748 I bought over one. I don’t regret it but would still love a Fiat. Matt Prior
*Ford F-150:* Actually, this is the car I wish my brother owned. He has lived in Texas for more than a decade yet has never owned a pick-up of any kind. James Attwood
*BMW M5 (E39):* Predictable, but a brilliant super-saloon from BMW’s millennium purple patch. Understated, comfy, rides beautifully and does big skids. Richard Lane
*Lancia Beta Montecarlo:* So nearly bought a Beta Montecarlo for about £3k years ago, but a crack in the windscreen put me off. Mark Pearson
*Jaguar S-Type R: *An acquired taste, and that’s why I like it. The menace of a de-chromed late model with a supercharged V8 and bargain prices. Lawrence Allan
*BMW 325i (E30):* Five years ago, there was a clean E30 BMW 325i on eBay for £1800. My dad talked me out of buying it, but it would now be worth about £8000. Felix Page
*Audi Coupé:* In the corner of a garage not far from where I live sits a burgundy Audi Coupé that should be – perhaps one day will be – mine. Rachel Burgess
*Ford Puma: *The new Ford Puma I’ve just ordered. Timed that one well, didn’t I? The factory that builds them is now shut. Mark Tisshaw
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