Some cars come ready-minted as classics. We accept them as iconic, era-defining or just plain brilliant.
Running Great Escape Cars has put me in the very fortunate position to have owned or driven a huge number of classics from the 60s through to the 90s. I’ve fallen unexpectedly in love with some. I’ve been unexpectedly and hugely disappointed by others. Here are the ones that have surprised me the most. And not in a good way.
1. VW Golf GTi Mk1
There is no questioning the Golf’s dynamic abilities. It handles brilliantly, it accelerates quite quickly and it fits four plus luggage comfortably. But it is the first of the modern breed of cars that just does everything too well. Whereas the Peugeot 205 GTI is actually exciting and brilliant, the Golf is the irritating Peter Perfect, School Prefect. Its all-round excellence makes it depressingly free of character. Quite frankly, it’s boring.
2. Austin Healey 3000
Oh dear. If ever a car straddled the gulf between dream and reality it’s the original Healey. It does look good, albeit in a sort of generic 60s way, and it sounds good too. But it’s such a truly horrible car to drive. The driving position would best suit a short-armed monkey, the heat soak to your feet is almost unbearable and it handles like a Foden truck. None of these things are good, except to a masochist.
3. Most Aston Martins (except newish ones)
Quite how Aston Martins became the most desirable classic cars on the planet has passed me by. I’ve driven models from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, including DB6, V8 and DB7 and they’re all terrible. The DB6 has great steering but drives like a rolly polly steel girder powered by a hay baling machine, the V8 is dynamically better but essentially a posh Mustang and the DB7 is tointerior styling what Donald Trump is to rational, reasoned debate. I’m all for flawed genius, but classic Astons labour the ‘flawed’ bit a little too much. They all look quite good, and the Lagonda is a superlative piece of bonkers, but the gulf between the adoration and the reality is staggering.
4. Porsche 928
A boring Porsche may sound like an oxymoron, but in the case of the 928 it just Is. It looks slightly mad, it’s got a big V8 and it’s a flipping Porsche. And yet somewhere along the line it all went horribly wrong. In attempting to iron out the 911s flaws, Porsche inadvertently created a car that is bland, characterless and, like the Golf GTI, too competent.
5. Fiat 20v Coupe
Fiat’s 90s dalliance with character and style is generally regarded as a sure fire future classic. It has all the right ingredients – distinctive looks, scintillating performance and, thanks to Fiat’s renowned built-in quality, rarity. And yet there’s something missing. The Coupe Turbo doesn’t feel very quick and it’s not very dynamically engaging. In fact, it’s about as exciting as a Golf GTI. I wanted to love it, I really did. But I didn’t.
There are other contenders here, like the DeLorean and the Rover SD1 Vitesse, but we all sort of know they’re not much cop so to find that’s actually true is hardly surprising. Instead, there have been plenty of cars that have genuinely surprised me, but I’ll save that for another day.