The world of classic cars is an odd one. Some people, who call themselves Passion Investors, spend small fortunes on cars, mostly Astons, irrespective of how good they actually are. Others deliberately champion the odd and awful. Like Maxis.
In the vast, yawning chasm inbetween lie a number of excellent classics that for some reason are permanently overlooked. Why this happens owes something to the power of branding, marketing and all the other dark arts of people in power suits.
Any list of overlooked classics will be incomplete, but here are my favourite 8. Feel free to comment and add your own.
1. Renault Alpine GTA
France has made a lot of brilliant cars, but it’s probably fair to say that the land of cheese and white flags probably isn’t your first port of call for Porsche-bating supercars. Alpine has made a lot of brilliant sports cars, most of which have a strong following, but somehow the GTA is perennially overlooked. Its confused nomenclature doesn’t help – is it a Renault or an Alpine? – nor do the slightly anonymous looks. But the GTA is brilliant, a proper supercar bargain. And sadly, it probably always will be.
2. Lotus Excel
In the 1970s Lotus came up with not one but two answers to a question nobody ever asked: The Eclat and Elite were GT cars with hysterical 2 litre engines and all the dependability of a London Midlands train timetable. The Excel was essentially an Eclat with the edges knocked off – properly engineered using a lot of Toyota parts. The Lotus engine was still in place, but by the 80s the firm had finally got around to making and engineering it properly. The Excel is a brilliant sports car with everything going for it, including ridiculously low prices.
3. Reliant Scimitar GTE
Everyone seems to agree that the Scimitar is great and they’d like one. Except nobody buys one. This may be because the Scimitar shared showroom space with the terminally put-upon Robin/Rialto or because Tamworth is not exactly Modena. Or you can blame Princess Anne, who had several. This toxic mix conspires to keep the Scimitar perennially overlooked, which is a shame because it looks great, it drives well, it’s practical and quite a lot of them had brown dashboards.
4. Porsche 924/944
Porsche has been trying to emerge from the shadow of the 911 for decades, only recently with some success. The 924 and 944 were part of an 80s drive to achieve this. The model’s status in the classic car pantheon perhaps owes something to the fact it wasn’t really meant to be a Porsche (it started life as a VW) and early cars used a van engine. This ignores the car’s inherent greatness: 50:50 weight distribution, decent performance even from the naturally aspirated versions and an image refreshingly free of bright redness and banking bonuses. When you can buy a Porsche-badged sports car for under £1000 is there really anything not to like?
You have to feel sorry for Jensen. When they were casting around for a volume model to keep the factory busy following the demise of the Austin Healey they came into the orbit of motoring’s very own Child Catcher, Colin Chapman. Just as John DeLorean would 10 years later. Jensen had created what was essentially a pretty good, albeit rather lumpy-looking sports car, designed to compete in the lucrative US market. Charming Colin offered his 2 litre engine, which on the face of it made a lot of sense – a British sports car with a race-proven engine. Bingo. No, not Bingo. The highly stressed engine was catastrophically unreliable due to the usual Chapman-esque lack of testing and Jensen ended up with crippling warranty claims that caused the failure of the firm. The last-gasp Scimitar-bating GT was lovely but arrived too late to make any impact. Most Jensen-Healeys are now well-sorted cars and make superb classics for less than the price of a MGB.
6. Jaguar S-Type
Of course I don’t mean the awful bulbous 90s Lincoln. In the 60s production of Jaguar’s new saloon, the XJ6, was drifting further into the future so the company needed new models to keep the market entertained. The solution was a plethora of models like the S-Type that borrowed bits from the new car – such as the style of the front end or the independent rear suspension – and dumped them onto the Mk2 body. These hybrids, while perhaps lacking the homogenous beauty of the Mk2, are arguably much better cars with better handling, ride and performance. They’re also bargains right now – often quarter of the price of an equivalent Mk2.
7. AC 3000 ME
The Cobra, like the 911, casts a long shadow and the tiny Thames Ditton firm struggled to follow it up. Designed and developed with Ford cash, rumours of AC’s new car were met with huge enthusiasm in the early 70s. But by the time the AC 3000 ME eventually reached the market many years later it was yesterday’s news. Its looks were out of kilter with competitors and the performance from the Essex V6 was disappointing compared to the Cobra. It was also too expensive. None of this matters now, of course, because the AC 3000 ME is a rare, good-looking and well-sorted car that is arguably much better to drive than a proper Cobra.
8. Citroen CX
Citroen is the nerdy, weird kid of motoring. Sometimes the things this oddball does are cool and interesting. But because it’s always going on in a dusty corner of the motoring lab, we don’t always notice. So we like and revere the DS, but we ignore the CX, a car that is arguably prettier and better. The CX Turbo even turns the whacky up to 11. There are very few CXs left but there can be few executive cars of the 70s and 80s more deserving of a wider audience.
Our classic hire fleet inevitably has to follow commercial necessities, so we don’t have any of the above on hire. But I’d love to: so show them some love and give us an excuse to add one or more. Find out more at http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.