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Power above absolutely all else: The Vauxhall Monaro VXR500

Many of my posts blather on about the obvious joy to be found in driving a car whose handling limits can be found even before you’ve left your own driveway. There’s something incredibly satisfying about sitting at the bleeding edge of a car’s capabilities without coming close to breaking local speed limits. It’s also immensely rewarding to know that it’s you who has the upper hand. Just like a fair-weather sailing boat, a car like this lets you know when things are getting hairy enough to reef the main and lift off a bit – whereas a supercar or racing yacht will egg you on to go faster until something snaps or you make a silly mistake.

Between the simple pleasures of the low-powered hatchback and the pure hedonism of the supercar, there lives another breed of car with an appeal all of its own. We’re talking about cars which look and feel, to all intents and purposes, like regular family sedans and coupes, but that have such latent firepower lurking beneath the skin that one false move could prove catastrophic. We’re talking Muscle Cars – and this Monaro is a prime example.

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Driving the Kia Pride: The exhilaration of the past

Scientific endeavour has proven that a frog, if slowly heated in a vat of water, won’t notice until it’s too late and he’s boiled alive. I feel that this metaphor also fits for small cars, which may have made vast strides forwards in handling and roadholding prowess, but progress has been very gradual indeed.

If a habitual small car buyer changes his car every three years, the noticeable change between each successive version is incremental at best, and may well not even be detected. But throw the frog straight into a vat of boiling water, or put a Kia Picanto driver behind the wheel of a twenty-six year old Pride, and both reptile and human will immediately leap out, citing intolerable conditions.

Of course, the launch of the Mazda 121 / Ford Festiva / Kia Pride is an epoch ago in terms of car development, so I jumped at the chance to go back in time.

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The Carchive: The ’77 Chevrolet Chevette

The Carchive has its fair share of spangly, high-buck automobiles accounted for amid its dusty, cobwebbed shelves. But it’s the down-to-earth, blue-collar, working guy’s everyday transport that’s, in so many ways, more interesting. These are the cars that litter the streets one week, and are all gone the next. There’s no mourning, no sadness, just out with the old, in with the new. This brochure has out-lived the vast majority of the cars it represents.

Last week we peered at Ford’s economy champion of the 70’s, and now it’s the turn of The General. It’s the rapid-selling Chevy Chevette.

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Overdue reappraisal: The Mitsubishi 3000 GT

“The 3000GT offers a rather detached driving experience and is simply too big and bulky to feel as truly agile and involving as a sportscar should”

The words of Autocar there, in its August ’92 review of Mitsubishi’s heavyweight high-powered projectile. These are words that I first read as an eleven-year old, and came to define my opinion of the car from that day forth. The learned magazine’s three-star (out of five) rating for the the 3000GT was the ultimate in faint praise, labeling it as an also-ran. Nothing special.

From then to now, my opinion of the car wasn’t improved one jot by the countless examples you see which have fallen on hard times – ‘enhanced’ with big, chrome wheels, gaudy body-kits and aftermarket lamp clusters, the work of successive fifth and sixth-hand owners. This is inevitable when once expensive cars lose their value and find their way into the wrong hands. For two and a half decades, the 3000GT had been swept from my radar by a loud chorus of indifference from experts.

So, was the GTO / Dodge Stealth / 3000GT really as off-message as we’re lead to believe?

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What’s the most special special edition?

‘Special edition’ can mean many, many things, and just how special they are tends to depend on whether we’re looking at a supercar or a shopping car. The Bugatti Veyron Vitesse SE, for example, was conceived to give the ultra rich a reason to buy another Veyron that’s somehow more special than the bog-standard version they already have tucked away in the hangar. A little more down to earth, the Mercedes CLS Final Edition is just that – kindly folk would call it a last hurrah, while cynical types would say it’s a last ditch attempt to drum up interest in an obsolescent model.

There are certain special editions that become all-time classics, though, and my favourite comes from just briefly before I was born. Celebrating – or cashing in – on the 1980 Olympics, I bring you the Ford Granada Chasseur.

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The Carchive: 1975 Ford Pinto

What could be more fun than perusing a forty-two year-old brochure for a really excellent, broadly celebrated automobile of class and distinction? Why, reading a forty-two year-old brochure for a car that’s widely panned as an example of automotive mediocrity from the least lamented era of all time, of course.

It’s the Ford Pinto. This is a car that I probably wouldn’t have ever known about were it not for a trip to Florida in 1993, where many, many examples were listed in the Kissimmee Auto Trader for barely any dollars. Twelve-year old me wondered “my, what it this curious Ford of which I have never heard before”? I’ve always had a soft spot for it, in particular because it often joins my beloved Rover 800 in lazily researched lists of ‘the worst cars ever’

And I’ve often wondered whether it really deserved the rep it acquired, what, with the whole bursting into flames thing and that. Hey ho…

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V.I.S.O.R: A Czech military toybox

I bet you’re the same. I can’t just sit and watch the scenery pass me by if I’m on a train in a foreign land, I’m constantly scanning the vista for interesting things as I hurtle past. On the very impressive Railjet between Prague and Vienna, I happened to have my camera on standby, together with a long zoom lens and the ISO set as high as I could possibly get away with. Other passengers were looking at me as if I were a child trapped in the body of a man, with my constant shooting and frequent blurts of “ooh, look at that”. And staggeringly, a few of the frames actually recorded something of note.

So it’s here that I present our first instalment of Vehicles I Saw On Rail. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea where they were. Perhaps you can help me out.

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The Fickle Pheneomenon of Unwarranted Vitriol.

“I’d rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford”, the bumper sticker says. The world of motoring is a maelstrom of blind leanings and biases, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. Many, many years ago, Skoda was the butt of cheap shots from British ‘comedians’, but these all stemmed from the Czech company’s unfortunate position behind the Iron Curtain, where building a car to cutting-edge Western standards simply wasn’t gonna happen. Yet, once the wall came down and Volkswagen took a controlling interest, there was still a considerable time delay – Skoda Jokes didn’t really fade away until the excellent Octavia was deep into production.

There are many cars, and other vehicles besides, which have garnered a sub-optimal image that really isn’t entirely warranted. Obvious contenders include the Pontiac Aztek, which was seemingly damned to ridicule by its looks more than any inherent failing, and the Yugo which was admittedly terrible, but so cheap as to make criticism rather cruel and redundant. There are certain machines, though, that are the target of vitriol so unjust it borders on slander.

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The Carchive: ’74 Ford Econoline vans

The last time we visited the Ford section of The Carchive, it was to take a glimpse at a car that Ford didn’t have the faintest idea how to market. It was the European Ford Fusion, a car that came some way short of appealing to the people it to whom it should. Today’s helping from the venerable vault of vehicles is rather more straightforward.

I do love a vehicle with an earnest name, and Econoline is one of the best – although GMC’s Value Van was pretty good, too. Here’s a slim sales brochure for the ’74 version.

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V.I.S.I.T: 1963 Daimler V8 250

Two Daimler-badged cars were ever offered that offered the exquisite, turbine-like power of Edward Turner’s jewel-like small V8 engine. The first was a befinned,  plastic-bodied atrocity with a guppy mouth and propensity for cracking in early models. It was the Daimler SP250 (nee Dart) – and I rather like it, of course.

The second was eminently more sensible and a good deal classier, too. It was the Daimler V8 250 saloon, and one Saturday morning, as I sat by the river’s edge enjoying coffee, croissants and Arthur C Clarke, I was joined by this pristine red example.

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