Thursday, 30 April 2015

Vauxhall Royale

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

On paper, in a modern context, the Royale doesn't sound that exciting. Its 2.8-litre straight-six can only muster a leisurely 140bhp. It has a three-speed auto 'box, 0-60mph takes almost twelve seconds, it tops out at 118mph. Is it even worth the bother...?

Well, you only have to look at it to see that the answer to that question is 'Yes, of course it is, you silly ass'. Cars aren't just about the numbers, they're about passion, soul, character - and there are few cars that enjoy as rich a stew of those ingredients as this. Take, for instance, that gobsmacking interior. It's an ocean of velour and fake wood; a miasma of brown tones, a vintage tracksuit of softness. It's as close to being in a Cadillac as you're likely to find yourself in Luton.
The exterior offers the oh-so of-the-period fastback profile combined with such retro treats as chrome bumper trim, faux vents on the B-pillars (so you can pretend to people in the pub that it's a mid-engined exotic), and an endearing mismatch of fonts on the tail, as was the style in the early 1980s (see also: Ford Granada 2.8i Ghia X - five badges, five fonts...).

The Royale doesn't need to be quick. It's a louche and lascivious boulevard cruiser, an everyman grand tourer - it rumbles and throbs in low-speed high street fly-bys, allowing passers-by to smell the Hai Karate and enjoy the static thrills of your polyester threads. If ever there was a car that evoked the spirit of medallions in open-chested shirts, this is it. And I mean that in an entirely positive way.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sunflower 901

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Well, that's a bold livery. But don't go thinking that it's some cheesy stunt by a London florist - these are the colours worn by this car in period as it slithered across frozen lakes and bounced through forests.
What we're looking at here is a Porsche 901; that is, a very early 911, built in the first year of production. You may be aware of the old story - Porsche unveiled their replacement for the 356 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September '63, under the name 901. Peugeot objected, claiming that they had the rights to use three-digit numbers with a zero in the middle (fifty years later, incidentally, they're still yet to create a Peugeot 901...), so Porsche changed the name to 911. However, a number of 901s had already been built - officially these were only used for testing and exhibitions, although several have now found their way into private hands. And this particular car, one of the first 232 built under the controversial name, was sold new to the Swedish racing driver Anders Josephson, who raced it frequently until 1969. It could often be seen ice-racing in this lurid floral livery and, as you can see, it's now fitted out with a modern rollcage, bucket seat and harness, electrical cutout & extinguisher system, ready for contemporary competition. After all, it'd be a shame to mothball an old warhorse like this, wouldn't it? Racing cars are built to race...

Spotted at Salon Privé 2013 - click here for more photos.

Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR is an astoundingly brutal thing. It arose from a Mercedes-AMG project to build a hardcore race car for the 1997 FIA GT Championship – something that had about as much in common with the road-going CLK as a dog or a lampshade. It was a race car first and a road car second, with the latter only being introduced to satisfy homologation criteria.

The racer was developed in quite an unorthodox way – the engineers procured a McLaren F1 as a test mule, removing the BMW V12 and replacing it with their own LS600 6.0-litre engine. By attaching experimental bodywork to the F1, with the odd CLK design cue pasted on for a chuckle, they were able to test their ideas using a solid competitor benchmark. They then set about developing a carbon-fibre and aluminium honeycomb monocoque to house the fiery running gear.

The model enjoyed sporadic success across the 1997 season – a slow start owing to brake issues, but later in the year a 1-2 finish at the Nürburgring and a further five wins – but it was only used for two rounds in ’98 before being superseded by the CLK LM. FIA GT was then cancelled for 1999…

…however, Mercedes were still obliged to deliver the twenty-five road cars they’d promised. Twenty coupes were constructed before AMG spec-ops division HWA started working on a roadster version – just for the hell of it, really. Of the full production run (of 26 in the end, they built six drop-tops), just two were built in right-hand drive - one coupe, one roadster - both for Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, and it’s the latter you’re looking at here. The interior is lined with sumptuous magenta leather that belies the ferocity of the race car underpinnings, with its engine opened out to 6.9-litres to unleash 604bhp. It accelerates from 0-60mph in 3.8 seconds and goes on to 199mph. You can spot the dials, grille and lights from a production CLK, but nothing else at all; it was a bespoke supercar, and today it’s one of the rarest and most sought-after Mercedes of all. Looks like a bloody spaceship too, doesn’t it?

Spotted at Mercedes-Benz World - more photos here.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

XK120 Supersonic

Words & photos: Daniel Bevis

This sublime 1954 Jaguar works on a number of levels. For those with little knowledge of cars, they'll see it simply as something beautiful, in a sort of retro-futuristic Jetsons sense. Those with a little motoring savvy may glimpse it from afar and assume it's a Ghia-bodied Fiat 8V Supersonic. Jaguar aficionados with a fondness for the XK120 seem fairly evenly split between rapturous admiration and astonished horror. You see, this is a really quite unusual Jaguar.

One of a very small number of XK120 chassis that were sent to specialised coachbuilders, just three of these cars were bodied by Carrozzeria Ghia, using the torpedo-like 'Supersonic' design first seen on a 1953 Alfa Romeo 1900 and subsequently a number of Fiat 8Vs. While Ghia dealt with the coachwork, the engine was sent to Conrero who replaced the twin SU carbs with triple Webers, adding a little extra bite to match the silky, refined bark of the freshly-hammered curves.
This blue example was one of two ordered by a Monsieur Malpelli, a Lyonnaise businessman, via Jaguar's French importer in Royal Elysées, Paris. The other car, finished in red, caused no small amount of consternation at Jaguar when it appeared under the Parisian registration number '69 BJ 75', which they saw as having inappropriate sexual overtones - they insisted it be changed. Of course, anyone with any sense would counter this with a wry grin and say 'Why, Jaguar, whatever do you mean...?'

These concerns of overt sexuality were probably misplaced if the prudish Jag bosses were only focusing on the number plates. I mean, look at the thing - with those sumptuous curves, slinky hips, pert haunches and glistening lips, has there ever been a sexier Jaguar?

Spotted at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed - click here for more photos

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Gundam 1200R

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Severn Valley Motorsport are a force to be reckoned with in the world of Nissan GT-R tuning. They're among the most respected outfits in the world for tweaking these technologically astounding beasts, and their achievements just keep getting more and more eye-watering. Take this angry blue monster, for example...
Named after a Japanese anime series about giant robots, Gundam is a keen showcase of just how extreme SVM can make an R35. It features unique cams, valvetrain and exhaust, sodding great pistons, turbos that are both vast and bespoke, a weapons-grade gearbox, carbon-steel brakes, KW coilovers, and all manner of other treats - you can see the full spec here. The upshot of all of this is a top speed of 238mph, which is frankly absurd. As you can see, there are stickers in the side windows proudly proclaiming that it's the world's fastest R35 GT-R.
Although, actually, one of Gundam's sister cars, Mad Medusa, has since cracked 239mph. SVM are just unstoppable. Who knows how big a hole they'll rip in the space-time continuum next?

Spotted at the 2014 Players Classic - click here for more photos.