Friday, 28 August 2015

Alfaholics GTA-R

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Alfaholics are well known in classic tuning circles as being the lads for the job if you've got a ropey old Alfa that needs spannering into something magical. These guys are seriously good - click here and see all of the sublime Italian poppets they've crafted in the past, and here to see what's currently going through the workshop. What they don't know about Alfa Romeos really isn't worth knowing.

This car, SBP 699E, is one of their better-known builds; it was originally put together ten years ago, although it's so fresh-looking you'd never guess - surprising, given that it's no pampered trailer queen. It may be a poster boy for the company's efforts, but this doesn't manifest itself in polishing and kid gloves - it gets given hell on track on a regular basis, which is just what GTAs were built for.
The donor for the build back in 2005 was a one-owner, 200,000 mile 1967 1300 GT Junior, which was stripped back to first principles and built up into their now-celebrated GTA-R spec. It's been evolving ever since, and currently features a 216bhp Twin Spark twin-cam, bespoke adjustable dampers, 1967 homologation GTA rear arches, a pretty aggressive LSD, custom 7x15" recreation GTA wheels, 300mm discs with 6-pot calipers, Alfaholics' own front geometry kit... they take it to the Nürburgring a lot, where it's usually causing trouble for 996 Carreras and E46 M3s. It's become a legend within classic Alfa circles, and it's showing no sign of slowing down or retiring gracefully. Long may that continue.

Spotted at the London Classic Car Show - click here for more photos.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Two years ago, I fell in love with a Vauxhall Firenza. And not just any Firenza, but the concours-restored droop-snoot HP that resides within the marque's Heritage collection in Luton. Its robust combination of peppy twin-cam thrills, stupendous gearbox, waggy tail, and oh-so-seventies styling entirely won my heart. I've driven many cars since, but nothing's quite matched the utter, utter joy of that drive.

But you know what? This thing comes pretty close.
Returning to Vauxhall recently to grab a few more treats from their dreamy toybox, I found myself enveloped in the tartan splendour of the Chevette HS, and it was an unexpected revelation; some canny character in the late-1970s thought it'd be a good idea to take all of the evocative elements of the Firenza HP and stuff them into an unsuspecting family hatchback. And by jingo, they were on to something.
All of the ingredients are present and correct: the 2,279cc slant-four twink, the feisty rear-wheel drive chassis, the gorgeous dogleg gearbox, the mile-deep silver paintwork, the deep-dish steering wheel... hell, it's even got the same wheels. And to drive? Oh - sublime! The figures may seem humble on paper when you view them in a modern context - 135bhp, 0-60mph in 8.8s, 117mph - but the nerdy tedium of bare figures is an insulting measure by which to judge the Chevette HS. It's all about feel, and emotion, and feedback. And smells - mostly petrol, a little aged cloth, some scorched rubber. A visceral assault on all of the senses. (Yes, even taste, there's quite a lot of unburnt fuel wafting about on the breeze.)

The rally-inspired aero body addenda and retro side-stripes promise much, and the experience delivers with gusto. The Shove-it leaps greyhound-like from a standstill, the rear squirming just slightly before the relatively broad rubber digs in, and the engine's bizarre sound - a fusion of wail, roar, and crashing cymbals - infuses the whole accelerative experience with the feeling that you should be sporting whopping sideburns and a rally jacket. That beautifully old-school steering wheel represents only half of the effort required to turn the car, with the other half coming from the rear wheels; it's not quite as tail-happy as the Firenza, but it's still extremely easy to take every corner at some degree of sideways-ness. This doesn't necessarily have to mark you out as a hooligan either, as it'll happily oversteer at 20mph on a dry roundabout, such is its willingness to please. The larger Cavalier brakes and heavily revised suspension give you the confidence to barrel the thing about with juvenile abandon, before it's time to open the taps again and grrrrrrowl onward to the next corner for some more tyre-smokin' sideways mischief.

What's most charming about the 2300HS is that it doesn't even pretend to be a sensible hatchback. The tartan seat fabric allies it with some other naughty whippersnappers trimmed in similar style - the MkI Golf GTI, the MkIII Capri 3.0S - and it fuses this boy-racer reputation with genuine rally-stage excess. It's utterly bonkers, and thoroughly addictive.
So, as good as the Firenza? Ah, almost... but good enough is more than enough here. A little piece of my heart remains wedged inside the Chevette. (Hanging on for dear life, probably.)

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

007's V8 Vantage

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The most iconic James Bond Aston Martin is, of course, the DB5 - but for some, the real magic lies in the brawny V8 Vantage.
Driven by Timothy Dalton's Bond in 1987's The Living Daylights, the V8 required a little problem-solving for the production team. For starters, there was quite a long waiting list for AM V8s, and they ended up having to buy a handful of used cars to repurpose for the movie. Also, as you might have spotted in the film, Bond's car begins as a drop-top Volante and morphs into a tin-top Vantage - the explanation that we're given is that Q 'winterised' it. Hmm.
But anyway, the key function of any 007 car is to bristle with gadgets. So what did this Aston have? Well, the most obvious additions are the outriggers - extendable skis to stabilise it on snow - and the afterburner for short bursts of bonkers acceleration. There were also missiles behind the spotlamps, lasers in the wheel centres, retractable tyre spikes for traction, a heads-up display for the missile system, a military radio scanner disguised as a Philips cassette player and - naturally - a self-destruct button. Is there any classier way to destroy nineteen-eighties arms dealers...?

Spotted at Aston Martin's Centenary display at Kensington Gardens - click here for more.

Monday, 10 August 2015


Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Using jet turbines to propel cars is a frightening idea. They're hungry for anything combustible, so you just throw whatever fuel you have to hand in there, it makes a noise like a helicopter that's parked itself two inches from your face, then it tears toward the horizon like... well, like a jet engine. You spend the whole time on the brakes, desperately trying to rein the damn thing in. It's madness.

Still, in the interest of experimentation, a number of people have tried it. And this effort, Rover's JET 1 from 1950, was the world's first gas-turbine-powered car, proving that when it came to experimental thinking and Brunel-esque engineering solutions, the plucky British manufacturer really was at the bleeding edge of innovation. And public displays of lunacy.
Post-WWII Britain was in awe of the jet engine, it was the ultimate symbol of modernity, and it made a lot of sense to test its versatility for road use - Rover were proud to boast that a car such as this could run on petrol, diesel or paraffin, and the development of this project carried on right into the mid-1960s, with jet-powered trucks and even a reasonably successful Le Mans entrant in the form of the slinky Rover-BRM.

However, it's hard to escape the fact that such a powertrain returns some fairly shonky mpg figures - try 5mpg for size - and, while life's too short to spend every mile gazing in apprehension at your fuel gauge, you probably would notice the necessity to squirt another bottle of paraffin into the hungry jet every few miles. This, among much complexity and fear of deafened passengers, is why you don't see jet cars everywhere. JET 1, then, exists as a glorious tribute to the engineering nous of the post-war era - a racy open tourer with three seats, two pedals, aircraft gauges, hand-painted number plates, and quite a lot of vents. You can see it on display at the Science Museum in London where, thankfully, they don't switch it on. In a confined space, that'd be really frightening.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Ferrari P4/5

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

An enthusiasm for exotic one-off specials helps to tie Ferrari's contemporary models into a long and distinguished tradition of coachbuilding, exemplary client relations, and just creating beautiful things for the sake of it. If you have the right connections to Maranello, the freedom exists to commission such things, and James Glickenhaus is a man who exploits this relationship to glorious effect. You may have heard of him more recently as the chap behind the SCG 003 (if not, Google it, it's astounding), but this is what he was up to back in 2006: working with Pininfarina to reshape the Enzo in the style of the P Series racers of the 1960s.

Interestingly it was Pininfarina who approached Glickenhaus rather than the other way around, as he's a notable collector of Ferraris and as such is very much in the inner circle - it served to bolster Pininfarina's credentials too and so, four million dollars later, Glickenhaus found himself with a unique and revered Ferrari that instantly became a significant chapter in cavallino rampante history by default. The engine, transmission, suspension and brakes of the Enzo remain, complemented by a wind-tunnel-tested CFRP body that echoes the old 330 P4, 512S and 333 SP. The seats were 3D-modelled to fit Glickenhaus and his son, trimmed in black mesh and red leather chosen by his daughter. Impressively, the P4/5 is 270kg lighter than an Enzo, and it'll accelerate from 0-62mph in three seconds dead, going on to a top whack of 233mph. An exquisite design, then, but one specifically honed to be better, faster, more extreme than even Ferrari themselves envisaged.
When Luca di Montezemolo, then chairman of Ferrari, first saw the P4/5, he wasted no time in proclaiming that it was wholly deserving of being officially badged with the prancing horse, its official name being decided as 'Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina'. That's pretty much the strongest accolade a private collector could wish for.

Spotted at the 2015 FoS - more pics here.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Peugeot Proxima

Words & photos: Daniel Bevis

The Proxima may well be the greatest idea that Peugeot ever had. I mean, consider the facts:
- It looks like the sort of spaceship a sugar-high child would draw
- It's got thundering great turbos hanging out of its exposed guts
- It's surprisingly practical, with opulently-trimmed cabin space for four
- It has solar panels on its tail, pre-empting the 'responsible supercar' trend by decades
- It's impossible not to fall helplessly in love with it at first sight

Unveiled at the 1986 Paris Motor Show, the Proxima showcased all of the clever ideas that were whirling around Peugeot's design office at the time. A fiendishly complex electronic brain ran everything from engine and transmission control to the traction and braking systems, while the bodywork was fashioned from ultra-modern (at the time) carbon-fibre. A polycarbonate flying canopy turned the occupants into a kind of jewelled exhibit, while the wheel-at-each-corner design with zero overhang spoke volumes about its sporting intent.

Power came from a 2.8-litre V6, boosted by those two turbochargers that are so wantonly on display, each with its own air-to-liquid intercooler, giving the Proxima around 600bhp to play with. An on-demand traction system could shuffle power from the rear to the front wheels if situations demanded, while advanced ABS and carbon discs reined in the thrust.
Inside, the driver enjoyed sat-nav (in the mid-eighties!) and a visualisation system made up of five external cameras, and security was taken care of by an electronic key card. Oh, and those photovoltaic cells on the rear deck? They harnessed the sun's energy to power the internal ventilation system.

OK, the solar cells are looking a bit shabby today, but this concept is every bit as eye-catching, jarring, and downright sensational as it was almost three decades ago. If there's ever a car that should have been put into production regardless of any notion of cost or logic or potential sales figures, it's this one. What a wonderfully weird contraption.

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