Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Datsun 1600 SSS

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The venerable Datsun 510 has been enjoying something of a renaissance recently. You may well have seen Nissan’s sensationally retro-futuristic IDx concept that broke cover at the 2014 Tokyo Motor Show – this owed an unashamed debt to the iconic three-box styling of the old Datsun, and the Nismo variant proudly wore the race colours that the BRE 510s rocked back in the early seventies.
The reason that the model is so celebrated in the US and Japan these days is pretty much the same as Britain’s fondness for the MkI Ford Cortina, or France’s for the Renault 8: it was a simple, inexpensive, utilitarian device in road form, and was transformed into a fire-snorting, conquering hero for the race track and rally stage. Today, the appeal of a lightweight retro Datsun with crisp, simple styling and rear-wheel drive is hard to ignore.

This particular example is owned by Aziz Tejpar, a UK businessman who also happens to own the iconic LAR 801P MkII Escort, and you see it bouncing through the dust at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed. It was originally built for Rauno Aaltonen, and remained in Finland right up until a few weeks before the FoS, when Tejpar had it imported. He's not afraid to use it either - it was made for rally abuse, and that's exactly what it's experiencing here; in fact, that's his daughter you can see at the wheel, getting the thing nice and dusty. Splendid.

More from the 2015 FoS here.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Monte Cosworth

Words & pictures - Daniel Bevis

The Escort RS Cosworth was a rather fabulous idea that emerged in 1992. The car it's based on, the mkV Escort was, it has to be said, a somewhat unlovable thing (and I speak from experience - I had this RS2000 and it was... not great) - cheaply made, uninspiring, a bit of a wet blanket. But of course, that wasn't really the base car for the RS Cosworth...
Ford wanted to build a Group A car for WRC rallying, and decided to effectively drape a mkV Escort shell over a chopped-about Sierra Cosworth floorpan; the chassis and mechanicals were proven entities, and the ensuing halo effect would cast a cheery glow over the new Escort range. Winner on all levels.
The car featured four-wheel drive, a 2.0-litre turbocharged YB (offering 217bhp, with near-infinite tuning potential) and, of course, there was that whaletail. Combined with the boisterous box arches, it looked magnificent.

The version you see here is rather special. It's one of a limited run of Monte Carlo edition Cosworths; 200 were built - 70 RHD - and they came with OZ Racing wheels, a bigger turbo, and 227bhp. Although this one has gone a step further... peer closely and you'll see copious use of carbon-fibre in the aero addenda, a ground-hugging stance bolstered by sticky R888s, and a sodding great intercooler peeking out from behind the bumper.
Is that numberplate a realistic representation of just how far the underbonnet tuning has gone? Well, it wouldn't be unheard of... the story goes that this was originally a development car for Collins Performance, and featured a T4 turbo, RS500 manifold, water injection, traction control, AP 4-pot brakes, Bilstein suspension, Ford Motorsport 909 gearbox with dogleg first, Quaife diffs, the works. Since then it's received 8-pot Brembos, a beefier gearbox, and all manner of performance developments. A formidable machine, and something of a scene legend.

Spotted at MATP 2014 - click here for more.

Monday, 19 October 2015

'57 Frankenstein Bel Air

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The misspelling of 'Frankenstein' on the sides of this 1957 Chevy is no doubt deliberate - a Bel Air gasser, built to evoke the spirit of 1960s drag racing excess, it keenly highlights the bullish, in-your-face nature of the outrageous sub-genre. And if you've got a problem with that, you'd better take it up with owner Simon Devos on the strip.
Built up from a nearly-dead shell, badly twisted and with no floors, it's had a thorough rebuild to get everything straight and solid. With the base firmed up, it received a 460ci Ford V8, 12-bolt rear, coilovers and long ladders, and all sorts of ingenious ingredients to justify its name: a Transit front beam on Land Rover leafs, a Landie steering box with Zephyr steering column... a real mixed bag which all coalesces to form something utterly brilliant.
And yes, Frankenstein was the creator, not the monster. But that sort of pedantry will get you nowhere on the quarter-mile.

Spotted at the 2015 Goodwood Revival - more photos here.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Mazda MX-5 1.5 & 2.0

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

I used to have an original NA MX-5, the one with the pop-up lights, and it was utterly brilliant. Clive, it was called, and it took my wife and I all over the place – always with a scampering sense of playful eagerness, always ready for a fresh adventure. The gearbox was a marvel, the chassis was sublime, the exhaust note sounded reassuringly vintage, it was all just perfect.
Over the years, the MX-5 has grown and mutated through its various generations – the ignominy of fixed headlights on the NB (necessary, I know, but still a shame), the conceptual dilution of folding metal roofs and paddle-shift transmission in the muscularly-arched NC… and now this. The all-new MX-5, the ND. But, hmm… it hasn’t grown at all this time. In fact, it’s shrunk quite a lot.

Somebody at Mazda has evidently experienced some manner of epiphany, and they’ve told everyone else at the firm about it. And everyone else has agreed. ‘The original MX-5 was one of the most popular cars of all time,’ the thought process went, ‘so why don’t we make the new one more like that one?’ And so they did. The fresh new Five is every bit as astounding as that classic original; it weighs about the same, the 1.5-litre engine produces a similar peak power figure, and it’s basically just a lovely drivetrain with a couple of seats bolted to it. History repeats itself in fine style.
And how is it to drive? Well, sparkling, really. Just gorgeous. It rewards your inputs exactly like a classic MX-5 would, the peachy gearchange making every shift a delight, the throttle perfectly weighted, the damping ideally suited to energetic B-road blasts. It can’t not put a smile on your face, it’s wonderful.
The fun part is that Mazda are also offering a 2.0-litre variant. Now, the 1.5 is about as close as it’s possible to get to buying a new old MX-5, if you see what I mean. The spirit is the same, it feels classic, yet refined; taut and precise but also rather whimsical. The 2.0, however, is an absolute animal. It’s quite a fun test to drive the lesser-engined car first, then follow the same route in its bigger brother and play spot-the-difference: you find that you’re going around 15-20mph faster at any given time and, while the 1.5 encourages you to keep the throttle pinned at all times, you'll note that you’re actually having to rein the 2.0 in a bit. (And don’t even think of turning off the traction control. You’ll make a mess of those beautiful heated leather seats.)

This may be the first time I’ve ever preferred a less powerful car to its brawnier sibling. And yet… wait, did I? I really couldn’t be sure – poise and tactility versus brute force and animal thrills, it’s a tough balance. Having tried both, I had to butter up Mazda to yoink the keys to another 1.5, just to reassess for a couple of hours. And then try another 2.0, just to be sure. And then… well, you can imagine how long this went on for. Suffice to say, I still haven’t reached a satisfactory conclusion. My tip-top consumer advice would be to, er, buy both.

Whichever one you go for, you’ll get a perky little roadster that’s studded with cheery detail – the hidden boot-release button that makes you feel like James Bond, the one-handed manual roof, the body-coloured swathes on the inside of the doors, the refreshingly simple dash. But above all, much like the classic MX-5, you get to enjoy those three all-important touchpoints: the fabulous gearbox, the addictive exhaust note, and the hilarious sense of eagerness. It’s basically a motorised puppy. Just like an MX-5 should be.

More photos here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Alpina 1600

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The nineteen-sixties were turbulent but exciting times for BMW. The late-fifties had seen much financial strife, with the gorgeous 507 roadster proving too expensive to be profitable, the Isetta-based microcars selling badly, and the motorcycle market imploding. BMW’s board of directors even proposed a merger with Daimler-Benz in 1959 – imagine! – but this was vehemently opposed by dealers and shareholders. What the company needed was a shot in the arm, a new direction. And that came in the form of the Neue Klasse. Debuting at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show, the fresh new BMW 1500 demonstrated a solid set of values that have carried on through the model range ever since; it had disc brakes and all-round independent suspension, offering the latest technological developments in a well-equipped car that, while selling at a premium price, wasn’t absurdly out of the reach of the man on the street.
The 1500 morphed into the slippery 2000C/CS coupes and the iconic ’02 series, and so BMW’s 1950s personality-split between big luxury cars and economical micros was smoothly merged into one logical 1960s whole. The car you see here is a 1600, although most observers would probably guess at it being a 1602 or 2002. That's a decent guess. The 1602 started life as a 1600-2, you can see how the thing evolved.

This rakish example bears all the hallmarks of being a bit of a handful. The wide arches (not the later bolt-on 2002 Turbo items that so many go for, you'll notice, but proper blistered box arches) struggle to house a set of broad Alpina rims, and that sense of purpose continues into the cabin, with its rollcage and harnesses sharing space with a colour-coded helmet. There's satin black paint to eliminate glare, the obligatory race numbers, and the obvious fact that it's come over from Germany - as this was spotted in the Goodwood Revival car park (more photos here), it's easy to imagine this high-octane jaunt across Western Europe being an amusingly noisy and rambunctious affair. Given the right conditions, there may be no better car for such a journey.