As readers of Fitzroy Motor will be aware, the evocative phrase “Race Car For The Road” is a particular favourite of auto manufacturer marketing departments. And no class of consumer vehicle sees as much warfare over the right to be the definitive example of that as hot hatchbacks. An archetypal hot hatch is the ultimate everyday performance car, able to handle Silverstone’s Copse as well as Folkestone’s shops. And while auto mags never tire of declaring a new king of hot hatches, there’s one car which has always had a rightful, not to mention unnervingly consistent, claim to the throne: the Honda Civic Type R.
The eternal wisdom of James Brown echoed in my mind as I eased myself into the Levante. In the world of luxury cars, you pay the cost to be the boss. Look at me, a Maserati says; you know what you see. Quite. Designed for the people who want to be a bad mutha while also being a good mother, Maserati’s passenger-friendly foray into the world of SUVs in 2016 set out to square sports car performance with the practicality of a luxury barge; a car to fit all of the original Maserati Brothers (Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto, in case you were wondering), while thrilling them at the same time…
The weather in Hampshire was terrible. Rain, wind, and misery poured from the skies; it seemed like punishment for not being at work on a Thursday morning. But I was feeling pretty good about it all, because in my hands I had the keys to a boxy and muscular off-roader, the Jeep Wrangler Overland. It looked waterproof enough, and the country lanes in the vicinity were ripe for a quick drive. So I did the gentlemanly thing, and hit the gas…
It’s hardly news that Germany and the automobile have a pretty tight relationship. From Bertha Benz’s pioneering first road trip to the relentless industrial output of today, it is a country that doesn’t even have its own word for “petrol-head”, so presumed is an underlying affinity for the car.
My mother, a proud Westphalian with seemingly little interest in the subject, has a strange attachment to her ten year old Volkswagen Touran that belies a purely functional engagement, with a level of pride in possession more commonly associated with the more glamorous offerings of Northern Italy. Whether it’s my mother’s utilitarian beast, a lovingly (even if somewhat dubiously) modified M3, or the ubiquitous bug-eyed E-Class taxi, they all garner the same levels of affection from their petroleum-infused German owners.
Cars are a medium for all kinds of romantic ideas. Sit behind the wheel of an Alfa Spider and you’re suddenly a 1960s Italian stud, all smouldering side-eye as you toy with the limit on a Mediterranean coastal road. Jump into a vintage Bentley in thick English drizzle and you become that honking combo of fighter pilot and Toad of Toad Hall. And as I slide onto the plush leather seats of a slightly dinked Range Rover from a few generations back, for one sweet moment I too can be the yummiest of mummies, furiously elbowing my way through school run back-markers like Max Verstappen…
Three days, two drivers, and one race-striped tearaway – the Fitzroy Motor team get to grips with the 620R, Caterham’s most extreme offering yet…
“So, what next?”
I thought back to my first time in a Caterham – a year ago, roaring through Kentish villages in a Seven 270, my senses straining to keep up. Nothing since then had quite matched it.
“I’ve asked them for something a bit special this time,” I answered. “I’ve asked for the Lego Cat.”
A moment’s thoughtful pause. “Oh dear,” said Phil.
A sunny afternoon in the Eifel. I was on the Nürburgring Nordschliefe, a coil of unforgiving racetrack wrapped around the castle of Nürburg in the Rhineland Palatinate.
Jackie Stewart had christened it the “Green Hell” in far less cosseted times, when race drivers risked their lives on every lap. The name has stuck, perhaps because it describes the psychological as well as physical experience of driving it. A sense of foreboding unspools itself as fast as the pleasure of hurtling through its seductive turns and undulations. You know that somewhere in the serpentine complexity is a set of fangs.
For over a quarter of a century and four generations of development, Mazda and owners of the MX-5 have had to tread carefully. First, Mazda smiled sweetly and self-effacingly as it took the idea of the classic British two-seat roadster and showed fair Albion, and arguably the world, how it should really be done. Then, on delivery of the first ever MX-5 and probably on every occasion since, the new owner has had to turn around to disbelieving friends and say, voice quavering, “…but trust me guys – it’s amazing to drive!”.
Aye, there’s the rub.
There’s something about seeing an Abarth 124 Spider which makes you do a double take. Yes, if you squint, Abarths look like Fiats. But they ain’t. Not really. There’s more there, something more boisterous, pugilistic, testy. You don’t see Abarth’s scorpion badge around much either. The brand is a sort of secret, only known to people who’ve looked at the offerings of the Fiat Chrysler group and then asked where they keep the good stuff. Come right this way, signore. Because from the moment you see one in the flesh, you realise that an Abarth has a kind of purpose, a certain spirit about it. Then you turn the engine on and you hear it. It’s the Spirit of Carlo.
For decades now the BMW M3 has been The People’s Sportscar. From a well-travelled daily driver for a few grand to a six-figure special edition you’ll never have the guts to drive, there is a car out there for you. Indeed, now is an especially good time to be on the hunt, as two of perhaps the finest M3 models are within the same price range – the E46 and the E92, the somewhat stale codenames for the far-from-stale third and fourth generations. Yet while both are held in high esteem, they are rarely compared directly. So what exactly does the M3 canon look like, how do these two fit into it and, of course: which should you buy?