Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Vauxhall Cavalier MkII CD

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The MkII Cavalier stirs up a surprising amount of nostalgic fondness among some people. Take this 2.0-litre CD, for example, which I recently borrowed from Vauxhall’s Heritage fleet. I pulled over on a country lane to take a few photos and, as I was propping open the bonnet, a postman stopped behind me in his van. I thought he’d assumed that I’d broken down – this was a remote spot, the sort of road that you wouldn’t drive down unless you had a reason to do so – and he was being a good Samaritan. So my opener was ‘Thanks, everything’s fine, I’m just taking some photos’. But it turned out that he hadn’t stopped for that reason. He’d stopped because his dad used to have an identical grey 2.0-litre CD, and he’d been overwhelmed by a vast wave of nostalgia. He asked if he could have a look around. I told him to help himself. So he climbed into the back seat, luxuriating in the revelry of memory for a moment, then cracked open the boot and had a good poke around, sat in the front passenger seat and played with the stereo and the heater, then pored reverentially over the engine. It made his day, he seemed genuinely overjoyed.
‘Is it for sale?’ he asked. ‘Sorry,’ I had to admit, ‘it’s not mine.’
‘Hmm,’ he pondered. ‘Well, you could just, y’know, give it to me…’

I’d have loved to, I really would. But, selfishly, I was rather enjoying driving the thing, and I had to be on my merry way. The MkII is a surprisingly entertaining steer, far more so than I’d expected. What looks like a standard travelling salesman-spec block of utilitarian functionality actually turns out to be something of a delight. The 2.0-litre 8v OHV motor could never be described as a firecracker, with its 113bhp pushing along 1,100kgs, but it’s spritely enough, and the three-speed auto ’box, while a little slow-witted, is eager enough to help the thing scamper from a standstill with some degree of gusto. Sure, the handling’s a bit wallowy and the damping’s rather harsh by modern standards, but it’s got an airy glasshouse and nice squodgy seats, and it does have one vital ace up its sleeve: it’s a survivor. It wasn’t that long ago that MkII Cavaliers were everywhere, but when was the last time you saw one on the roads?
Driving this car, you receive a lot of double-takes and raised eyebrows, and it’s all very heartwarming. People miss the Cavalier. Their parents had them. They aspired to them. And now there aren’t many left. So take it from me, there’s a lot of joy to be had here – it’s not the most accomplished motor ever hammered together, but its big heart and cheerful persona more than make up for it. The MkII Cavalier enjoys that most rare and aspirational quality that all manufacturers aim for… people actually like it.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Type 2 Detectives Beetle

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Type 2 Detectives are, as the name suggests, pretty well known for their skills with fettling Type 2 Volkswagens - buses, campers, transporters, you name it, they'll slam it to the ground and make it faster.
And as this menacing Beetle demonstrates, they're pretty handy with a Type 1 as well. Prepared by T2D for Salvage Hunters' Drew Pritchard, it was racing at Goodwood's 73rd Members' Meeting with Touring Car legend Robb Gravett at the wheel. As you can see, the finish is utterly impeccable - just look at the depth of shine on that paintwork - and it sounded just as gnarly as you'd hope for. Look out for a feature in Retro Cars magazine in the near future...

More 73MM photos here.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

SEAT León Cupra 280

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

276bhp. For car fans of a certain age, that’s a very significant figure. As we strove to rise through the ranks of the original iteration of Gran Turismo, the training-wheels Mazda Demio a fading memory, we reached for the automotive stars toward a galaxy of Japanese supernovae. The Honda NSX, the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, the deliciously obscure Subaru Impreza 22B, they were all subject to the gentleman’s agreement of Japanese manufacturers – the actual headline power figure was immaterial: from an official standpoint, they all had 276bhp. It was an important number.

Of course, time marches on and makes fools of us all. 276 is a pedestrian figure today, isn’t it? It’s not as if horsepower is rationed out to those most in need, it’s an abundant commodity. If it can be feasibly shoehorned into a sensible family hatchback, then why not, eh?

No, that’s an awful avenue of thought. Abandon that. Horsepower is brilliant, and we should count ourselves bloody lucky that today’s Golf equivalent can offer the sort of thrust that our teenage selves spent weeks on end saving up the credits to buy virtual facsimiles of. That SEAT’s magnificent León Cupra 280 manages to combine this ethereal grunt with everyday usability, sensible fuel economy, an even idle, and generous service intervals is frankly some kind of modern miracle.

And if your perceptions of front-wheel drive performance are still mired in Saab’s infamous early-noughties assertion that 250bhp was the technical limit before the whole thing imploded under the crushing volatility of its own torque-steer, think again. The Cupra 280 has a magical diff that’s artfully hewn from octarine and stardust, ensuring that you can bury the throttle at any quantity of revs, in any gear, and the damn thing just tears off toward the horizon like a retriever with the scent of fresh partridge in its nostrils. It can send up to 100% of the torque to either front wheel if need be. You don’t need to check that your thumbs are clear of the steering wheel spokes first in case it spins like a Catherine wheel – this is modern FWD performance wrapped up in a veneer of sensibleness. It all just works. It’s not trying to hurt you.

Of course, it’s not totally sensible. How could it be? That mighty, supercars-of-yore bhp figure combines with the otherworldy DSG ’box to hurtle the thing from standstill to 62mph in a befuddling 5.7 seconds. The León’s limited – limited! – to 155mph. It sounds hilarious, it accelerates like a cheetah with a burning tail, and the fancy suspension setup – slightly lowered all round, with a lovely new multi-link effort at the rear – combines with the dinner-plate-sized brakes to create a fabulously eager chassis. Oh, and if you push the ‘Cupra’ button, which firms up the dampers and sharpens the throttle response, the doorcards glow red. It’s a real wolf in hatchback’s clothing. It’s just gorgeous to drive, urging you to push it further and further toward the very bleeding edge of adhesion, that hyper-intelligent turbo forcing ever-more vast gobs of fresh air into the generously fuelled cylinders. It howls, it flies, it… suddenly calms down when you reach a village, allowing you to amble through sensibly and unobtrusively, annoying the local vicar by holding him up at a sedate pace. And when you reach the national speed limit markers, all hell breaks loose once again. Hydrocarbons collide, rubber molecules atomise, lubricated metals enmesh, and SEAT’s absurdly entertaining über-hatch makes a laughable mockery of the very fabric of physics itself.

Yes, I like this car. Rather a lot. If you get the chance, I urge you to try it – I think you’ll like it too.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Vauxhall Cavalier 2000 GLS

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Before I climbed into this car, I knew I'd love it. It could have turned out to be a horrible puddingy sludgefest and I'd have still loved it. You see, my parents had a V-reg Cavalier 2000 GLS when I was a kid; DKG 494V was identical to this in every way, except that theirs was tobacco brown with black seats. But aside from the colour scheme, exactly the same in every respect - the chrome, the Rostyles, the vinyl roof, the two-tone dash, the works. And, as many car-obsessed folk will attest, it's the motors our parents owned that got us interested in cars in the first place.

That brown Cavalier was the family daily-driver for some time, and took us all across France and Spain on holidays as well. One of my clearest memories of the car, in fact, was the exhaust falling off in the Pyrenees, my dad fetching it from the road and putting it on the back seat between my sister and I. 'Don't touch it, it's hot!'
And now, decades later, I find myself promoted to the front seat of a 2000 GLS - Vauxhall's own example in fact, part of their Heritage collection. All those hundreds of miles of country lanes, shopping trips and foreign motorways, spent in the back seat calling out for the radio to be turned up... and now I'm allowed to actually operate the controls myself. Oh, frabjous day!

Thankfully, the rose-tinted glasses are entirely superfluous, as the Cavalier is genuinely fun to drive. I mean, I would say that anyway, because I want to like it so much, but it really is. The 2.0-litre engine offers a modest 100bhp, but the short gearing and light weight mean it's an eager performer (and you can ask my dad about what happens when you fit a shorter-geared Chevette four-speeder), and the fact that it's rear-wheel drive with very little mass at the back end means that you can enourage the tail to be rather playful. The handling is what you'd expect it to be - a bit wallowy and loose; it isn't a sports car, of course - but the GLS's crowning glory is its interior. As the travelling salesmen of the 1980s surely demanded, it's jam-packed with lurid velour, eye-searing carpets and manically dyed plastics. It's not so much a car interior as a fairground ride, and it's one that transported me happily back to my childhood as I cheerfully pottered around the Bedfordshire countryside. What a thoroughly lovely little time machine this is.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Vauxhall Adam Grand Slam

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

If I were a motoring magazine from the 1990s, I'd be saying something like 'Silly name, serious performance'. The exciting truth here is that the sportiest version of Vauxhall's baby Adam, the thrillingly-monikered Grand Slam, is a genuinely capable warm hatch. And not just good-for-this-price-bracket or good-for-this-sector or any other platitude you care to throw at it, but actually good.

OK, so let's get the name out of the way first. The model's called Opel Adam in Europe, named after Adam Opel, the company's founder. This link doesn't work quite so well when you prise off the Opel badges and glue on Vauxhall ones, but that's the modern car market for you. The Adam is available in a number of jazzy trim levels; Jam, Glam, Slam, hence the top of the tree becomes a Grand Slam. (Confusingly, it's also badged as 'Adam S' - best not to dwell on that...)
It's an enticing package for the cash; sure, a base price of £16,995 might seem steep for a car this small - although it's bigger than you might think inside, you can fit actual human grown-ups in the back - but you get a robust list of toys: a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-pot offering 148bhp, six-speed 'box, 18" wheels shod with lo-pro Continentals, really quite good brakes (that have red calipers, which makes them sportier), lowered and stiffened suspension, traction control, a fancy stereo, and a 'VXR Styling Pack', featuring a visible exhaust, which is an Adam first, and spoilers that apparently do create downforce rather than merely reducing lift. Should the whole thing have been badged as an Adam VXR? Hmm, possibly, despite being a warm hatch rather than a hot one. But sometimes the marketing department's hurdles are too high. Still, 200bhp and some different badges wouldn't go amiss, eh? Something to think about...

One option box you need to tick is for the leather Recaro seats. They'll add an eye-watering £1,610 to the price - possibly because they're woven together with hairs plucked from a unicorn's mane, I haven't checked - but they really are superb. This test car also has optional metallic paint and, if you're au fait with the Adam, you'll know that options are central to the car's core purpose. It's infinitely customisable, like an old Mustang; you can even have a Rolls-Royce-style LED starlight headlining if you fancy. Gosh.

The upshot of all this is a quirky little hatchback that's utterly hilarious to drive. You're never making excuses for it, it's a thoroughly capable little thing that devours country lanes like an angered panther. Despite the big wheels and firm suspension, it never crashes or jars, it just holds steady and true as you pounce across the countryside like some kind of laser-guided child's toy. That peppy little motor thrives on revs and spurs you on to do ever naughtier things with it (although it could do with being a bit less quiet), and the confidence inspired by the taught, square chassis and eager brakes means that you just keep pushing on, faster and faster, to optimise your lines and encourage ever-more tyre squeal. It's not a car you'll jump in for extended adventures into the unknown, but rather one that'll reward you on the right road, then inspire you to turn around and try that road again. And again, and again. It makes you feel quite scientific. The steering wheel's nice and chunky and has a decent weight to it, the gearbox is, while not the last word in refinement, pleasingly precise, and those Recaros are just tip-top.
Yes, this is a very good car. I'm a big fan. And not just in a placatory 'Oh yes, it's surprisingly good' way, but with heartfelt honesty: try one, you might like it. I did.