© Classic & Sports Car
© Tony Baker/Classic & Sports Car
© Classic & Sports Car
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© Alfa Romeo
© Historics Auctioneers
© Haymarket Automotive
© James Mann/Classic & Sports Car
© Haymarket Automotive
Fast fun for all the family
Rapid family cars have long held a fascination for those who want to have fun but also have practical requirements.
Whether it’s carrying children or hauling kit from A to B, sometimes our car has to do more than just be great to drive – and that goes for our classics, too.
So, in chronological order, here’s our pick of some of the best and less obvious ways to get your classic performance kicks, with room for the family and the shopping, too. Win-win.
1. Chrysler C-300 (1955)
The ingredients for the Chrysler C-300 were perfect to capture the hearts and minds of buyers looking for something with more power and pace than the usual saloon fare.
That ‘300’ in the name referred to the car’s 300bhp, produced by a 5.4-litre V8, and it was enough to see the Chrysler to 127.58mph to make the C-300 a very early form of muscle car.
However, even success in NASCAR racing was not a guarantee of showroom sales and the C-300 remained an elusive sight on the road.
The engine’s power caught the imagination of Briggs Cunningham, though, who used the V8 in his C-4R race cars that went on to compete at Le Mans.
2. Facel Vega Excellence (1958)
It may have been built as a luxury car, but the Facel Vega Excellence was a hot saloon by dint of its Chrysler-sourced V8 engines.
It started with a 5.9-litre V8 and this was then replaced with a 6.3-litre unit. Even with the smaller engine, the Excellence was good for 0-60mph in 11 secs and 120mph all out.
Although the styling of the Excellence did a good job of hiding its four-door shape in a coupé-like silhouette, the pillarless design caused problems with structural strength, which is not what you wanted when applying the full force of 335bhp.
3. Jaguar Mk2 3.8 (1959)
The Jaguar Mk2 has become a shorthand for 1960s fast saloons and a shady sort of glamour, but there’s no doubting the performance of the 3.8 model.
It was good for 125mph at a time when most sports cars could only just wheeze past the ton. Add in 0-60mph in 8.5 secs and the Mk2 rightly became a fearsome machine on track.
Making all of this possible is a 3.8-litre version of the Jaguar’s XK straight-six engine with 220bhp and a healthy 240lb ft of torque.
Customers had the choice of an automatic, but it’s the four-speed manual gearbox with overdrive that keen drivers wanted, and they could head to Coombs to have the car modified for even more power and performance while retaining the subtle looks.
4. Maserati Quattroporte (1963)
There have been six generations of Maserati Quattroporte to date, all with their own appeal.
For us, it’s the ’60s original that ticks all of the right hot-saloon boxes, thanks to it being the fastest saloon in the world when its original 4.1-litre V8 was swapped for the later 4.7-litre unit in 1968, to give a top speed claimed at 158mph. It was also good for 0-60mph in 8.3 secs.
The larger-engined version of the Quattroporte proved a hit with buyers and around 530 were sold in three years compared to a lowly 230 of the earlier 4.1-litre model.
5. Ford Cortina 1600E (1968)
The Cortina 1600E cemented Ford as the everyman car maker with the personal touch.
Here was a pepped-up, four-door saloon using an 88bhp 1600cc Crossflow engine that nailed 0-60mph in less than 12 secs and could just about hit 100mph.
With its extra dials in the dash, it was the definition of sporting ambition for many drivers.
Ford underlined the 1600E’s sporting credentials by borrowing the Cortina-Lotus suspension set-up to give fine handling. The crowning glories were a set of spotlights and RoStyle wheels, making the 1600E the envy of every company car park.
6. Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 (1968)
Erich Waxenberger’s personal hot-rod saloon project was slithering the potent 6.3-litre V8 from the 600 limousine into the more handy 300SEL saloon.
Mercedes’ bigwigs liked the idea and gave this one-off the nod for production – and one of the fastest saloons of its time was born.
Flat out, the 247bhp would carry the SEL to 135mph and, if you could avoid smoking the tyres, see 0-60mph in 6.5 secs.
Luckily, 300SEL 6.3 buyers were also treated to dual-circuit brakes to stop this impressively rapid saloon. Enjoying this kind of performance came at a price – the 300SEL 6.3 cost more than a Ferrari Daytona when new. But that didn’t stop 6526 eager buyers digging deep.
7. Hillman Avenger Tiger (1972)
It might have had a modest 1.5-litre engine, but this Hillman Avenger Tiger had a big enough bite to scare its arch rival, the Ford Escort Mexico.
The engine produced 92.5bhp at a giddy 6100rpm, helped by twin Weber carburettors. This made the Hillman capable of 0-60mph in 8.9 secs and it could carry on to 110mph, which was impressive for a four-door saloon.
Hillman homologated the Avenger Tiger for racing and rallying, where it proved very capable. There were also special 1.8- and 2.0-litre versions for the Avenger-BRM that boasted up to 205bhp. Rarity was guaranteed for the Tiger, because only 648 were made.
8. Triumph Dolomite Sprint (1973)
For a car often thought of as a failure, the Triumph Dolomite Sprint shifted an impressive 22,941 units between 1973 and 1980.
Plenty were lured in by its ability to cover the 0-60mph dash in a brisk 8.7 secs, while 115mph flat out would keep a Ford Escort RS2000 in sight.
Aside from some badges and its eight-spoke alloy wheels, the Sprint was understated to look at. However, open the bonnet and you found a 16-valve engine canted at an angle.
The 1998cc motor made 127bhp, which was more than most rivals and made the Triumph a very worthy alternative to a BMW 2002 or 3 Series.
9. Fiat 131 TC (1978)
The ‘TC’ in this Fiat’s name is the vital clue to its credentials as a hot saloon, because it came with a twin-cam engine and Fiat was sufficiently pleased with this to make sure everyone knew.
The TC used the two-door saloon shell of the 131 which was a bit more portly than most rivals with a weight of 1020kg.
However, the zesty 2.0-litre motor made 115bhp and was keen to rev, which meant it could accelerate from rest to 60mph in 10.1 secs. All out, it could manage 112mph.
While the roadgoing 131 TC was not the last word in outright pace, it benefited from Fiat’s huge presence in rallying. The 131 lifted the manufacturers’ World Rally Championship in 1977, 1978 and 1980.
10. Alfa Romeo 75 V6 (1985)
From the outside, the Alfa Romeo 75 promised little as a boxy four-door saloon, but underneath you could choose from 2.5- and then 3.0-litre V6s.
That much grunt in a small saloon made this Alfa a force to be reckoned with, and the bigger engine endowed it with 0-60mph in 7.5 secs and a 137mph top speed thanks to its 187bhp.
A transaxle transmission was a further advantage for the 75, because it gave almost perfect 50:50 weight distribution for superb handling. Little wonder Alfa used the platform to create its idiosyncratic SZ coupé.
11. Alpina B10 3.5 (1985)
If BMW’s M cars were just a bit too 10-a-penny for you, Alpina offered a route to fast saloon nirvana while retaining all of those BMW virtues buyers loved.
The German tuning firm slotted the 3.5-litre straight-six from its own 3 Series-based B6 into the E28 5 Series shell to create the B10. It delivered 261bhp, or 254bhp with a catalytic convertor, and either was capable of 155mph in 1985 when the model was introduced. It could also reel off 0-60mph in 6.4 secs.
Some of Alpina’s exterior styling was less subtle than the engine swap, but you were unlikely to encounter another as only 77 B10 3.5s on this platform were built.
12. BMW E30 325i (1985)
BMW hit the sweet spot with its 325i when it arrived in 1985 with its fuel-injected 168bhp.
The straight-six M20 motor was already a proven unit and fitted perfectly into the 3 Series range as the top model, unless your pockets could stretch to the exotic M3.
A slick five-speed manual gearbox was the transmission to have, and BMW added to the car’s appeal with the two-door-only Sport on lowered suspension and wearing an attractive bodykit.
Much of the appeal of the 325i lay in its versatility as a two- or four-door saloon, and you could also order it as a Convertible or Touring estate. There was even a 325ix four-wheel-drive version, though this was never sold in the UK, which was good for a claimed 126mph and 0-60mph in 7.4 secs.
13. Vauxhall Senator 3.0 24v (1987)
Vauxhall caused uproar when it launched the Lotus Carlton in 1990, but the car most police forces would use to chase down this tearaway was another Vauxhall: the Senator 3.0 24v.
It packed 204bhp to offer 0-60mph in a very respectable 7.5 secs and, even in fully loaded police trim, could top out at 149mph. The only outside clue to this potency was a set of cross-spoke alloy wheels and tiny badges.
Police Senators had bare-bones interiors, but civvy-spec cars were luxuriously appointed and made the Vauxhall a superb-handling, executive-express alternative to a BMW 535i.
14. Ford Sapphire RS Cosworth (1988)
In a bid to tone down its fast Sierra offering, Ford installed the three-door Cosworth’s 204bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine into the recently launched Sapphire saloon model.
What could have been a dulled-down experience turned out to be every bit as much fun to drive as the original.
If you made the most of the engine and five-speed manual gearbox, 0-60mph whizzed past in 6.5 secs on your way to 151mph.
A four-wheel-drive version of the Sapphire in 1990 addressed the problem of putting all that turbo oomph to the deck. It could even handle a power increase to 220bhp, which improved performance so 0-60 was dismissed in 5.8 secs, though top speed fell to 143mph.
15. Renault 21 Turbo (1988)
Renault had been an early proponent of turbocharging and it used this experience to good effect in the 21 Turbo.
Its forced induction 2.0-litre engine gave a punchy 175bhp at a time when even the pokiest hot hatch could only muster 130bhp. This sort of power in a family saloon was very unusual, as was 0-60mph in 7.3 secs and a 141mph top speed.
The turbo boost would arrive in a big dose, which made wheelspin a daily feature of 21 Turbo owners’ lives, but the entertainment was worth the tyre bill. Renault solved this issue with the Quadra four-wheel-drive Turbo that pitched up in 1990.
16. Rover 800 Vitesse (1988)
It took until the arrival of the V6 provided by Honda for Rover to launch a Vitesse version of the 800. It was only offered in fastback form, with the four-door saloon reserved for the luxury-focused Sterling.
Unfortunately, the V6-powered Vitesse models had no more power than the Sterling, but a five-speed manual was standard, along with stiffened suspension.
It wasn’t until the facelifted 800 range arrived and Rover fitted its 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre did the Vitesse really come good. This version was called the Vitesse Sport and could cover 0-60mph in 7.3 secs and reach 143mph.
17. Audi 90 quattro 20v (1989)
Audi used the 90 badge to denote a more upmarket version of its compact 80 saloon and in 1989 the 90 gained a 20-valve five-cylinder engine with 168bhp, but no turbocharger for that extra shove.
Not quite the fire-breathing saloon many had been hoping for, but four-wheel drive was an option in place of the standard front-drive.
In a straight line, the 90 quattro 20v managed 0-60mph in a so-so 8.4 secs and offered 137mph flat out. Where it came into its own was on twisty roads, where the four-wheel drive gave impressive traction and the torquey engine allowed for easy, rapid progress.
18. Jaguar XJR (1994)
Fitting an Eaton supercharger to its AJ6 4.0-litre straight-six and installing it in the XJ was a stroke of genius by Jaguar.
Instantly, the marque had a serious rival to the BMW M5 that still offered all of the traditional luxury and refinement the British make was famed for. The only difference was the new XJR had 321bhp and could hit 60mph from rest in 5.9 secs on its way to 155mph.
Jaguar followed the X300 XJ with the V8-powered X308 car, which came with a supercharged 370bhp 4.0-litre V8. Even quicker, it could see off 0-60mph in 5.4 secs while providing a fine blend of handling and ride to make it a very different proposition to its rivals.
19. Honda Accord Type-R (1999)
The late 1990s Honda Accord was not an exciting car, right up until the Japanese firm fitted a bespoke 2.2-litre normally aspirated engine with a screaming 209bhp to create the Type R.
Along with its unique bodykit, alloy wheels and sports front seats, the Type R had no sunroof in order to reduce weight, less soundproofing for the same reason, as well as a stiffened four-door body.
The result was a brilliant hot saloon that was even better than its performance figures of 0-60mph in 7.2 secs and 142mph suggested.
Where the Accord Type R scored over rivals from Ford, Vauxhall and even BMW was its deft approach to switchback roads. You had to work the five-speed gearbox a lot to get the best from the 2.2-litre engine, which used VTEC variable valve timing to produce its high power output. When you drove like this, the noise was as intoxicating as the way the Honda devoured corners.
20. Bentley Arnage T (2002)
When it was launched in 2002, the Bentley Arnage T was the most powerful car ever made by the British company.
Its venerable 6.75-litre V8 had twin turbochargers added and peak power was 450bhp, along with a generous 645lb ft of torque. That latter figure helps explain how a 2.5-tonne slab of leather, steel and walnut can sprint from a standstill to 60mph in 5.5 secs. Give it free rein and the Arnage T could hit 170mph.
In 2006, Bentley replaced the Garrett turbos with Mitsubishi items and took the engine to 500bhp and 737lb ft. It also gained a six-speed automatic gearbox in place of the previous five-speeder – 0-60mph was knocked off in 5.2 secs and its top speed rose to 179mph.