Man cannot live by saloon car alone, and so he invented the coupe. The coupe answered a question that nobody really asked – an affordable, 2 door, sporty-looking car. Inevitably, like a lot of quite brilliant things – such as, for example, the internet or mobile phones – the car buying public realised that they’d always wanted this clever but hitherto unnecessary thing and started buying lots of them.
The coupe was born in the 60s, essentially as an everyday, affordable version of the GT cars – Jensen Interceptors, ISO Grifos, Jaguar E Types – that the swinging 60s glitterati were driving. The idea was born across the pond with the Mustang, but in Britain we rather took to the idea of a less practical, more expensive version of the saloon car we used to drive. We bought Capris, Scirrocos and er, Marina Coupes, in vast numbers.
Coupes could be 2 or 3 doors, stepped back or sloping back, but always with four seats as a nod to practicality. Coupe man was typically a 30-something family man and his choice of wheels set him apart from the humdrum saloon driver. A coupe suggested a dapper, Brute-splashed lothario with responsibilities. The optimistic husband who rolled up home in a new coupe could be sure of having at least 3 reasons why it was the perfect choice for his wife and family. None of which, I suspect, could overcome the clear fact that none of these reasons were actually the reason why he bought it.
The 1970s was the heyday of the coupe. Every manufacturer had one. Aside from the ubiquitous Capri, Opel brought out the Manta and Monza, VW had the Scirroco, Datsun had the 120Y (why indeed) and Alfa had the GTV. In general 70s coupes tended to suggest more than they actually delivered, being variously not very quick, ill-handling or a bit ugly (that’ll be the Marina). But nobody really cared, perhaps because in the 70s nothing drove very or performed very well (that”ll be the Marina).
By the 1980s the coupe’s number was pretty much up, thanks to the now-ubiquitous hot hatch. Those pesky manufacturers were to blame again – with the advent of the Golf GTI everyone realised that by adding go-faster stripes they could sell dapper Brute man the same humble hatchback they already made, without having to invest in a unique and expensive coupe body style. Voila. All of which was a bit of a shame really because the coupe started to come of age in the 80s. Finally manufacturers were shoving decent power under the bonnets and tweaking suspension and handling to deliver something close to what the looks actually promised. Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering department breathed on the Capri and created the 280 Brooklands, which was really very good, while Audi gave us the Quattro, which was utterly brilliant. Saab, which didn’t really have a coupe, made the 900 3 door look like a cross between a coupe and a hot hatchback, and quite a good one at that. While the Quattro changed the future of rallying and sports cars, not many people actually bought one so it didn’t do much for the coupe’s lifespan.
The coupe limped on into the 90s but really the game was up. The Germans began building a different sort of coupe, a sort of posh saloon with two fewer doors like the 3-series and CLK, and of course who can forget the inglorious Rover 800 Sterling. But the Capri sort of coupe had disappeared (we can definitely forget the Probe).
In the last 10 years the glimmer of a coupe resurgence has begun. Hyundai launched the, er Coupe, Toyota has brought us the GT86 and of course the Germans got firmly embedded in the Capri-esque coupe ouvre with the A5 and Scirroco. Which is really good news, because the everyday coupe is as wonderful thing – stylish, practical, quick and affordable. 80s hot hatch hoodlums may had disowned the coupe but in their sniffiness they overlooked how distinctive and individual coupes are compared to their warmed up hatchbacks.
All of which may explain the renewed interest in the coupes of the 70s and 80s. At Great Escape Cars we have invested in what we think are three of the best – Audi Quattro, Ford Capri 280 and Saab 900 Turbo S. You can hire them from our Cotswolds or Shropshire sites from just £95 per day. Visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733 for more details.