One of the questions we get asked a lot at Great Escape Cars is: have you got this or that classic car? With 50 hire cars the questions come much less often nowadays, but still they come. Usually the requests are for cars that are too obscure or expensive to be economically viable, sometimes they are for cars that I have had on hire but for one reason or another no longer have. Sometimes the decision to sell or keep can seem illogical to customers: why have an Austin Allegro, for example, and not an Aston Martin DB6? So here, for your delectation, is a list of the cars I have lost, even if not quite all were loved. And why.
1. VW Golf GTI Mk1
Surely, you might think, the Golf GTI is a bonafide classic, the creme de la creme of hot hatches, an object of lust for anyone over the age of 30. Sadly not. In 2009 I bought a Mk1 GTI in Mars Red, restored it at considerable expense (which is another story) to mint condition and sold it in 2012 after precisely one hire. What happened? Well, quite simply, nobody wanted to hire it, even at £160 for a weekend, the cheapest price we can offer with insurance. Lots of people said they wanted to hire it, but hire it they didn’t. Whether or not a Mk1 GTI would hire now, I’m not really sure, although our Capri and Quattro are now popular. Perhaps the biggest disappoint was that I didn’t actually like driving it: compared to my Alfasud it felt anemic and characterless with an absurdly high roof and screen that made it feel like a prototype MPV.
2. Aston Martin DB6
Over the years I’ve had two DB6s on the fleet – one was written off by an incompetent fool and the other proved about as dependable as a chocolate fire guard. The DB6 does look amazing and it has great steering. In all other respects it’s not actually very good. With an E Type, if you factor out how it looks and the fact it’s An E Type, you’re still left with quite a nice car. With a DB6 you aren’t. None of which particularly mattered to customers. What did matter was the expectations vs reality conundrum. They could put up with the DB6 not being that great to drive because after all they were driving a DB6. What they couldn’t get over was that for the price I had to charge to let them out in a DB6 the ventilation still wasn’t very good, sometimes bits fell off and overall it did what a 50 year old car does. Namely, break down. When a DB6 breaks down frankly nothing else is going to cut the mustard. I began to realise that hiring out Astons was probably going to kill me. So I stopped.
3. Porsche 928
Few cars stick in my memory quite like my 1986 Porsche 928. Despite undertaking endless research before buying one I still managed to end up with a car that suffered from all of the typical maladies associated with these bargain GTs. In a few short months of ownership the car cost more to repair than I paid for it and I sold it at a loss. It is true that the 928 is built like a tank and it is quick and eye-catching. But, and here is where the bubble gets burst, it’s not particularly great to drive and it is a ticking time bomb of repairs and expense. Any old car is going to cost money but a 928 is a complicated old car with a premium badge: even if you can find a specialist who’ll muster the enthusiasm to fix it you’re looking at the thick end of £90/hr for the pleasure. I’ve owned a lot of cars, not many of them without problems, but the 928 is the only one I’d recommend you never, ever buy.
4. Rover SD1 Vitesse
I have fond memories of the Rover SD1. Not my Rover SD1, you understand, but of The Rover SD1. Back in the 80s it was the car that people genuinely aspired to, and the Vitesse version was a proper Q-car for the masses. My dad had a Fiat Strada but I went to school in a neighbour’s SD1 Vanden Plas. It had leather seats and rear headrests and everything. So I had high hopes for the Rover Vitesse I bought a few years ago. One of the last 150 built it would surely benefit from a decade honing the production of this much-maligned Solihull express. But no. The panel gaps should have carried an audible warning like the London Underground and the interior was not so much assembled as thrown together. I’ve seen orgami that’s more substantial. The Rover looked amazing, sounded brilliant and was fairly practical. But it wasn’t much cop to drive, had a horrible driving position and disintegrated at will. It had to go.
5. Triumph Stag
We still have a Stag on hire in the Peak District, which I am glad about as they are genuinely great cars to hire. But I’m also quite glad we don’t run one at our Midlands site any more. Because when it comes to Stags, owning is a long, long way from hiring. At the risk of inciting the ire of all happy Stag owners, I feel I have to be honest. The Stag may be a lovely looking thing, it may drive nicely with sweet steering and a lovely burble, but as a designed and engineered motor car it leaves a lot to be desired. Our Stag hire car suffered every malady in the Stag Old Wives Tales Handbook: overheating, fuel pump failure, starter motor failure (several times), head gasket failure (on a rebuilt engine) and the piece de resistance: a hood mechanism designed by Hades himself. The hood works fine if you’re using the car for a day or a weekend. Over prolonged use it is prone to damage and collapse. Stag aficionados will argue that this is due to misuse. No, it’s down to just using it. I came to believe that the hood on our Stag was actually possessed, or certainly that it hated me, and when you reach that stage with any car, it’s time for it to go.
It is perhaps indicative of the sheer horror that is hiring out a DeLorean that until I was reminded of it, after posting this article, I had completely forgotten about ever hiring a DeLorean. Without doubt, the DeLorean was the worst car I have ever hired out: more painful to recall than the 928, more frustrating and life-shortening than a DB6.
And life shortening it very nearly was. The DeLorean DMC-12 by any measure looks amazing. No other car I’ve hired has quite the same impact as John Z’s wacky coupe. What puts it on this list isn’t the obvious stuff: it’s horrible to drive (it is), you can’t see out of it (you can’t), you can’t get out of it (ditto) or the sort of gearchange that makes stirring porridge seem precise and firm. No, it was none of these things. I grew to hate the DeLorean because it was madly, insanely, stupidly dangerous. The first time one of the front wheels nearly fell off on the motorway I thought it was merely bad luck. Even after I’d spent 3 hrs trying to winch it onto a trailer at 1am after said falling off I still maintained it was one of those things. The second time it happened, in exactly the same circumstances, I realised that something more serious might be at work here.
And, as it turns out, it was. The car’s front suspension was so badly designed that over time it collapsed. Sure, you can retro fix it, but is that really, honestly, frankly enough? After all, a car company that can release a car for sale with such a fundamental weaknesses probably hasn’t designed and built the rest of it much better. I called my DeLorean foray a day.
There are many other cars that I’ve worked through over the years, many I’ve burnished from my memory, others that will never leave me. But in many of these cases, it was the actual car in question that was the problem, rather than anything fundamental about the model. There was the shoddy blue 60s Spitfire that has somehow found a home at another hire company, the Mk2 Jaguar that burned a hole in my pocket (you know who you are) and the green Austin Healey with the on/off brakes. Only the five cars above are ones I would never, or perhaps probably never, hire again.