The performance car class of 1982 – the Elliott verdict

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Author: James ElliottPublished:

Those with a copy of the new C&SC will have seen that for our main feature we revisited 1982, one of those traditionally ridiculed and reviled years in motoring when, legend would have it, there wasn’t a decent performance car to be had in the world barring a few pieces of super-exotica that are as unattainable now as they were then.

Well, legend be damned, it took us barely five minutes to come up with a list of 20-odd flyers (and one that looks like it should fly, but doesn't) that not only debunk the myth, but can be had for anywhere between £1000 and £25,000 today. So many, in fact, that we had to narrow them down to nine.

For me one of the most fascinating things about 1982 was that it was at a major crossroads in motor manufacture. Rather like 1952 and then 1962 (approximately), you got a convergence of streams, cars that are very definitely just highly developed versions of by-then very old-tech, battling it out alongside cars that are the first toe in the water of a brave new world.

Confession time. That seachange in motor manufacture in the early 1980s, when pretty much every car overnight became sophisticated, specced up and largely reliable is also when pretty much every car overnight became anodyne to me, offering the same detached driving experience that Merc had already been peddling for a couple of decades.

That’s not to say that there weren’t loads of cars I adored then, or a good few that I make exception for since, but the very era we are dealing with is the beginning of the end of me, the days when modern cars ceased to have any interest for me. A bit like my musical taste: for the most part it all ended in 1982.

So what did I think of our nine cars? Well, Martin Buckley has done a fine job of writing it up for the magazine, but my views and his cross over on GTs and not much else, so here are brief summaries of my experiences with the class of 1982.

DeLorean

There was a lot to like about this. It was comfortable, sumptuous even, and felt sporting and the change was great, but it was slooooooow. In this company at least. And that’s the DeLorean’s problem: not half as bad as snobs would have it, but it can’t compete with genuinely quick cars or its own hype. If we had been testing this car in isolation the outcome would have been a lot more favourable.

Lotus Esprit Turbo

I felt sure when we went down to our favourite driving roads in Wales with one of these that it would seal the deal and I would end up buying an Esprit. It didn’t. Principally because, with an unctuous gearchange and stupidly massive power (even without the boost on full), this was the car I felt most likely to kill myself in. Self-preservation is a marvelous barometer of desire.

Ferrari 308 GTS

I came back from driving this raving at the rest of the team that we motoring hacks criminally take this car for granted. It is probably down to our familiarity with them, but 308s are a wonderfully sweet car to drive hard, superbly predictable and much more practical than you would imagine. Nothing was more fun to slide through damp corners.

Alpine A310

The biggest revelation for me. As a Lotus owner, I should have known that I would adore it, but I could not have conceived quite how much. A few came back saying it was skittish and loose, even scary, but they just weren’t trying hard enough. Like a Lotus Elan, the more you pushed it, the better it got. Told the owner that it was like a big Mini Marcos, I don’t think he realised how supreme a compliment that was intended to be.

Porsche 911 SC

I drove this after everything else and, still ebullient on exiting it, described it to the others as “like discovering fire”. It is so good, so competent, so much fun to drive that even an old anti like me comes home and starts browsing the classifieds. I had to be crowbarred out of it. The worry is that I used to dislike all 911s. Then I fell in love with the 1960s cars. And now a 1980s one has me wrapped around its little finger. There’s an inevitability about the way this is going isn’t there?

Jaguar XJ-S V12 HE

Even though I “championed” this car, I didn’t really enjoy it in Wales. That’s mainly because, thanks to the logistics of getting all the cars to shoot, I drove it on the twisty snow-covered peaks of Wales and Clements got to have the sublime motorway journey down there on which it covered itself in glory. These are the best value GTs in the world by a long chalk. And you all know that really.

Bentley Mulsanne Turbo

Been toying with the idea of one of these for years, so was fascinated by how I would feel about it. Disappointed, as it turns out. Like the XJ-S it was way out of its natural habitat and comfort zone. You have to gasp at the power and revel in it its hilarious addictiveness, but, however wonderful the Bentley is, there are two things that will always drag it down: three tons of weight transfer makes any car a barge in its handling, way-too-light steering makes anything a non-driver’s car. Give me an empty autobahn and the Mulsanne, but otherwise no thanks.

BMW M535i

Look up “zingy” in a dictionary and this is what you should find. That six is as punchy and compelling, as electric as an on-song E-type.  What a huge fun machine to drive. Not to my taste style-wise, perhaps, but wow it lifts the spirits, wakes up that little red devil of conscience who then sits on your shoulder egging you on. It is so nimble and light on its feet that I lost my nerve a long way before it lost traction – other’s told me that it was thoroughly predictable when it did so – but I was beaming from ear to ear after a blast in this one.

Audi Quattro

More than any car on our test, this epitomised the shock of the new. Or rather the lack of shock of it. To drive, it is untouchable, if a bit too dull and efficient for me in its brilliance, but to be in it is like the AGM of the national blandness association held in a mausoleum. Lancia and BMW both made their 1980s performance cars (Integrale and M3) as exciting to be in as they were to drive. Audi trailblazed, but only did half the job. A groundbreaking and important car that is a joyous treat to drive, but it is pure machine, it will never tug my heartstrings as other, less capable, more flawed, yet more personality filled cars will.

So:

The one I enjoyed driving most: Alpine

The one I want to take on track: BMW

The one I would want in my garage forever just to use as and when: Ferrari

The (only) one that has the potential be the only car I ever need: Porsche

The one I would actually go out and buy tomorrow if I had the money: Alpine

Comments

plastic penguin

There is another, less exotic, car you could add: The Lotus Talbot. Not a great reputation for reliability but very fast for the size of engine. Ah, the engine: A little brittle at best, but a fun car nonetheless.

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