From Mini to Cadillac, Audi to Ferrari and Citroën to Land Rover, six clever cars that are on a roll. ‘Choose one and it’s not just a classic you’ve bought, but a slice of history’ This disparate bunch shaped our motoring world, with innovations from electronic wizardry to self-adjusting suspension. That’s why they’re the intelligent choices to spend your money on. Words Russ Smith. Photography Charlie Magee.
Clever Cars The Big Test L-R: Range Rover, Ferrari Dino, Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Citroën DS21, Morris Mini Minor, Audi Quattro
CLEVER BUYS FOR SMART DRIVERS
Why these innovators are tipped for growth PLUS Their tech secrets revealed by Lotus engineer
Some cars are important beyond their styling and simple four-wheeled existence; they represent the start of a new chapter in the book of motoring. Whether it’s transverse running gear driving the front wheels, a racer-inspired mid-mounted engine, or the dawn of all those luxuries we now take for granted in a base-spec Kia, these are the clever cars that made buyers and the industry see things differently.
So choose one and it’s not just a classic you’ve bought but a slice of history; something that’s permanent and never to be subject to the whims of fashion. That’s why we’ve gathered the odd bunch of cars before me today – they all fit the description of ground-breaker. And they all look clever buys in uncertain times.
1961 Morris Mini Minor
Arriving in 1959, the Morris Mini Minor was born of Sir Alec Issigonis’s stubborn genius. Post-Suez crisis, Europe had a thirst for small, economical cars and BMC was keen to cater to it and drive off the rash of bubble cars that company chairman Leonard Lord found so offensive. Issigonis, back at BMC after five years at Alvis, was told to drop everything and reprise his greatest hit – the Morris Minor – but smaller and with lots of interior space. Remarkably for a blanksheet design, what we came to know as the Mini started rolling off the production lines less than three years later.
As minimalist as a hermit’s cave, the Mini could nevertheless transport four full-sized adults in some degree of comfort, and it looked cute too. Every trick was played to gain space – no inner door or side panels, sliding windows, engine turned sideways, and tiny wheels to reduce the size of inner wheelarches. And in doing so, Issigonis inadvertently created more than his brief demanded. The Mini’s resulting lack of weight and front-driven powertrain, short-travel rubber suspension and a wheel at every corner also proved an ideal recipe for a competition car. The A-series engine was already well-known to tuners, and the first Cooper version soon followed.
Looking back, perhaps the oddest fact is that the Mini wasn’t an instant hit. Ever-conservative Brits proved to be more suspicious than enthusiastic about this radical new creation. It wasn’t until the model gained some publicity in the hands of race and rally drivers and started to be bought by celebs-about-town – who embraced its somehow classless image and ease of parking in London – that sales started to take off. They then continued for a remarkable 41 years, by which time 5,387,862 had been built and the Mini was as much a part of British culture as The Beatles and red phone boxes.
All car enthusiasts have a Mini story, and most of a certain age will surely have owned one at some point. But it still comes as a shock to climb into one of the really early cars like this 1961 Morris-badged car. They sold more of those than the Austin version before Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969; badge loyalty was still a big thing in the Sixties. Its sparseness is a world away from the relatively plush ’1972 Clubman I used to commute in. There’s just a small row of switches below a lightly shrouded centre-mounted speedo/fuel gauge and an austere black two-spoke steering wheel. But as any hermit will tell you, what else do you really need?
‘As minimalist as a hermit’s cave – but as any hermit will tell you, what else do you really need?’
The Mini is of course very light, and that contributes greatly to making them such fun to drive, even with the equally austere 34bhp that was all you got from the early 850 engines. It really isn’t a hindrance to progress until you hit a motorway, so one of the secrets of enjoyable early Mini ownership is plotting scenic routes to avoid those. Then you can get the most out of that clichéd point-and- squirt handling – there really is no better way to describe it.
The brakes really do feel like they’re from a past era and keep you on edge, knowing that emergency stops are not a viable option. Poor parts supply for those early brakes also means you may come across cars that have been converted to later braking systems. It doesn’t hurt values until you get up to museum-piece examples. Other than that, their sheer weight of numbers has allowed a vast industry to keep Mini parts supply at an enviable level, with many specialists to source from. But the early cars are now far from the cheap runabouts they used to be. There’s a massive premium for 1959 cars, which can fetch high-£20k sums. Later MkIs are more affordable, but you still need at least £10k for a really nice one; more than twice that if it wears a Cooper badge.
Owning an early Mini
Shane Spears bought his 1961 Morris Mini Minor eight years ago. ‘The car has only done around 40,000 miles. It’d had one lady owner before me but it’d sat for twenty years and was a box of bits that I had to put back together. The carpets were rotten and it needed a front wing and paint, but the rest is all original. The paint is due to be done again because it’s not the best finish. ‘The brakes are a bit scary on these early cars because they only have single leading shoes on the front. You have to allow yourself a bit more time to stop than in a later Mini. ‘You can get all parts for these early Minis apart from new brake cylinders, but seal kits are available to rebuild what you have. As are Camac tyres – radials that look like the original crossplies, which you can pick up for £60-70 each and they really look the part.
‘I spend an average of £400 a year on running it, but a lot of that is on steady improvements, so with luck it should become less over time.’
1961 Morris Mini Minor
Engine Transverse 848cc inline four-cylinder, ohv, single SU 1.25in HS2 carburettor
Power and torque 34bhp @ 5500rpm; 44lb ft @ 2900rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front and rear: independent by rubber cones and telescopic dampers
Brakes Drums front and rear
Weight 626kg (1380lb)
Top speed: 75mph;
Fuel consumption 39mpg
Cost new £496
Classic Cars Price Guide £6250-£12,500
The significance of the first Minis to the scripture of motoring history is reflected in the heady values of early cars. Absolutely nothing in here to distract from the laugh-a-minute driving experience. Take the scenic route to avoid the A-series’ shortcomings.
1988 Audi Quattro MB
Few would argue that it was too big a leap to say that as well as bringing four-wheel drive to the world’s rally stages and mainstream car market, the Audi Quattro was the car that made Audi. Almost overnight it was no longer just ‘that other German car maker’, and it had something on which to hang its Vorsprung durch Technik – a slogan taken from the factory wall in 1982 for an ad campaign that has since mushroomed into a preciously guarded Audi registered trade mark.
Engineered by Jörg Bensinger and Walter Treser, and clothed in its distinctive and influential blisterarched styling by Brit Martin Smith, the Quattro stole the show at Geneva in March 1980. As intended, it also proved to be an almost instant hit in rallying, the Audi’s vastly better grip taking it – in original narrow-bodied, long-wheelbase form – to ten WRC wins and overall victory in the 1982 World Rally Championship in the hands of Walter Röhrl. The Quattro legend was born and suddenly everyone wanted a taste of four-wheel drive – especially when the going got slippery.
None of this translated into massive sales though, largely because the Quattro was always an expensive performance car, competing for buyers with the Jaguar XJ-S, Lotus Esprit Turbo and even the entry-level Porsche 911. In an 11-year production run, just 11,452 were sold, though the four-wheel drive system soon infiltrated the wider Audi range. Other manufacturers were quick to follow, especially those keen on rallying, and most at least dipped their toes in with something four-wheel drive in their range during the Eighties and Nineties, such was the Quattro’s influence.
‘It’s let down by its quite joggly ride on anything but perfect surfaces, but these were set up for action, not wafting’
From behind the wheel, the big surprise today is just how modern the Quattro still feels. It’s hard to believe it was launched almost 40 years ago, but apart from the lack of a touch-screen in the dashboard, it’s like being in something showroom-fresh – helped by Stephen Hagger’s restored example being good enough to pass for that. Perhaps the only other giveaway is the tweed and charcoal cloth seats. Surely anything competing at this level today would be expected to have leather – which was only an extra-cost option back then – but this is a lot more comfortable, and the digital dash is both period and very à la mode.
The driving position is perfect for me, arms and legs at the right angles, and there’s plenty of feedback coming through the wheel, which writhes in your hands in the manner of a powerful front-wheel drive car. Pushing on, there’s less understeer than legend had led me to expect, though I’m not diving hard into 90-degree left-handers. It just feels totally planted and incredibly solid, like my much-missed early Saab 9-5 Aero. Unlike that, the Audi is let down a bit by its quite joggly ride on anything but perfect surfaces, but these were set up for action, not wafting, so I’ll forgive it that small indiscretion. Grip? That goes without saying, surely?
As for the oddly gruff but beguiling five-cylinder engine, it pulls like crazy once you burst out of the turbo lag zone that greets every fresh press of the pedal, and if anything feels more powerful than the paper figures suggest, helped by that common turbocharger trait of acceleration always seeming to build rather than tail off. In keeping with its modern feel, that engine only becomes intrusive if you have the window down – it’s well insulated from the cabin.
The Quattro came in three distinct versions during its life, usually referred to by the engine codes that distinguish each era. The first ‘WR’ cars had a 10-valve 2144cc engine with the same power and torque figures quoted below right, but with the latter produced 500rpm higher up the rev range. Our test car is an ‘MB’, introduced in 1987 with 2226cc, which gave it the extra grunt. Finally, in 1989 came the ‘RR’, or 20V, with the same 2226cc capacity but, as the name suggests, four valves per cylinder.
That gave an extra 20bhp, though it had also put on another 50kg. It lasted just two years and only 931 were built, so it’s the one that all Quattro addicts want and prices reflect that. Think £45k for the best, but even the early cars have risen to £30k for a nice one, with buyers willing to pay more for anything exceptional. Look hard for hidden rust and make sure everything electrical works.
Owning an Audi Quattro
An area rep for the Quattro Owners Club, Stephen Hagger has owned quite a few Quattros and bought this one in 2010. ‘I found it on eBay as a £3750 non-runner. Rebuilding it took three years and £22,000, but it now has an agreed value of £40k. It has won a few trophies but I’m not really into that – I prefer driving and I take it to the Le Mans 24 Hours every year, and to Spa too. ‘I did all the mechanical work including an engine rebuild but sent it elsewhere for paint. It’s all original – as factory, but getting the parts is the hard thing now. Audi Tradition, which produces reproduction items, no longer sells them to the UK for some reason, so I have to buy stuff from a foreign parts dealer who of course adds his commission on top. But I believe in the mantra “Do it right, do it once” and because of that it now costs nothing to run apart from an annual service, which I carry out myself.’
1988 Audi Quattro MB
Engine 2226cc inline five-cylinder, sohc, KKK turbocharger, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection
Power and torque 197bhp @ 5500rpm; 210lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive, Torsen centre diff
Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Suspension Front and rear: MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, anti-roll bar
Brakes Discs front and rear (ventilated front), servo-assisted, ABS
Weight 1300kg (2866lb)
Performance Top speed: 138mph
Fuel consumption 25mpg
Cost new £29,445
Classic Cars Price Guide £10,000-£30,000
Five-cylinder engine note evokes memories of Eighties rally footage. Wheel delivers lots of feedback. The Quattro is refined and reassuringly composed, but its joggly ride makes poor surfaces a trial. Quattro’s futuristic digital dashboard wasn’t loved.
1971 Range Rover
How far the Range Rover has come from its original concept. Drive a modern one and it’s really nothing more than a tall luxury limo with more gadgets than you could shake a furled umbrella at. They well deserve the commonly applied ‘Chelsea Tractor’ tag, and rarely get to use any of their go-anywhere technology. But nearly 50 years on, it’s hard to argue with the success of the brand, which spawned a whole new niche in the motoring market, with its own arms race in being larger, more brutal looking and more powerful.
Climb up into an original Range Rover like the early ‘Suffix A’ we have to play with today and it’s quite a shock to be reminded where they came from and how far away it is from even a 20-year-old Rangie. These early two-door cars, from the first three years of production, are still very much a reskinned Land Rover on coil springs, quite simple and agricultural, with the multitudinal creaks and clunks that go with that backdrop. We’re much closer to tractor than Chelsea here, and that was always the beauty of them – a practical car for practical people, equally happy negotiating the High Street as tackling a steep, muddy bank.
Settled into the spongy cloth seat the first thing that gets my attention, as a mere car-driving mortal, is the panoramic view out onto the world below. You do see a lot more from up here, helped by the expansive glasshouse. If it ever did break down terminally, you could probably grow tomatoes in here pretty well too.
The familiar roar and burble of Rover’s omnipresent V8 greets a turn of the key – it was 16 years before Land Rover caved to pressure and offered a diesel option – tuned in this application for stump-pulling torque rather than horsepower. It’s very much part of the Range Rover’s commanding character.
The gearbox is less so, in operation at least. The gearchange is as wide between planes as I’ve experienced in any vehicle, including some old and tired commercial ones. Second gear appears to be located somewhere on the passenger side of the cabin – there’s quite a gap between the seats – while third is close to my left knee. Reverse is practically in my back pocket. Leaning has to become part of changing gear, certainly for my short arms. There’s quite a bit of background noise from the drivetrain too, but then soundproofing on Range Rovers wasn’t really taken seriously until the Eighties. You also feel the slack in the system when coming on and off the throttle, accompanied by a bit of vocal chuntering.
There’s more physicality from the steering too, unassisted on early cars and only an option from 1973, so you work that big wheel hard. But like all the other limitations mentioned, it feels like part of the Rangie’s essential character rather than a flaw. The fact is that it does everything very well, though boy does it roll on corners. But that seems inevitable for a tall, heavy vehicle, and it always holds its line and never actually feels like it will topple over, even at some quite acute angles.
When looking at Range Rovers to buy, you’ll come across lots of reference to suffixes, with the Suffix A being the earliest cars, from the 1970 launch until January 1973. It refers to the letter at the end of the chassis number, which was changed every time a batch of spec changes were made. There were seven of them, and some suffixes like ‘D’ only lasted for eight months. But the key thing to know is that suffixes nearer to A mean a car is more collectable, though in the crazy world of classics that also by default means it will be less well equipped.
The best Suffix A cars can fetch £50k, with even average examples commanding sums in the twenties. Later ones are on a sliding scale, but you can knock off around 25% for the Suffix B to D cars, then at least another 10% for later two-doors. Four-door Range Rovers, introduced in 1981, are much more numerous and as yet of little interest to collectors, so are a lot cheaper.
Rust is the big enemy on Range Rovers, at least it is in those panels like the sills, bonnet and tailgate that aren’t aluminium. Also the rear of the chassis is a well known trouble spot. On many you’ll find work has already been there, so check it’s been neatly done and isn’t just a quick MoT bodge.
‘The gearchange is as wide between planes as I’ve experienced in any vehicle; reverse is in my back pocket’
They’re polar opposites on face (or backside) value, but the Range Rover and Dino both created design philosophies that thrive today.
The gearstick feels like a ladle in a cauldron Ubiquitous Rover V8 is tuned for forest-endangering torque.
Owning a Range Rover
Gary Pusey is a trustee of the Dunsfold Collection and a serial Range Rover collector. ‘I bought my pre-production Velar in 2008, just before values went through the roof. It’s one of 20 built for the 1970 press launch. It had been partially restored; I finished the job. ‘The real problem is that early trim parts are virtually unobtainable. Many items were swiftly modified as production got underway – things like seats, tunnel mats and door cards looked sturdy when new but in reality cracked and fell apart in no time, so it’s rare to find an early Range Rover with the correct trim. It’s proved very reliable and has participated in several continental rallies, covering over 15,000 miles in the past few years without major issues. Fuel consumption aside it’s cheap to run and maintain, with annual costs around £500. And it’s a lot of fun!’
1971 Range Rover
Engine 3528cc V8, ohv, two Zenith-Stromberg 175 carburettors
Power and torque 135bhp @ 4750rpm; 205lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual with high/low ratio transfer box, four-wheel drive
Steering Burman ball, worm and nut
Suspension Front: solid axle, coil springs, radius arms, Panhard rod, telescopic dampers; Rear: live axle, coil springs, radius arms, central wishbone, telescopic dampers
Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 1762kg (3880lb)
Performance Top speed: 92mph;
Fuel consumption 15mpg
Cost new £1998
Classic Cars Price Guide £23,000-£50,000
L-R: the Mini had several pseudonyms; DS popularised the high-level indicator; Cadillac featured jet-inspired information displays; Dino’s dainty door latch sits proud of bodywork
The ’58 de Ville was spun off into its own series for 1959.
L-R: Model 62 de Ville continued Caddy tradition of hiding fuel filler; Quattro branded with unmistakable font; Dino borrowed gated gear plate from bigger brothers; Range Rovers used box-section ladder type chassis like Series Land Rover siblings DS’s platform construction meant body panels were unstressed Unidentified knobs were the controls of choice in a DS
1971 Ferrari Dino 246GT
The Ferrari Dino 246GT may not have been the world’s first mid-engined car, but in original 206GT form in 1968 it was Ferrari’s first – even if the company didn’t put its badge on it – and that was like giving the layout an official stamp of approval from the highest authority. It also truly was the shape of things to come in sports cars – you can still see clear echoes of this Dino’s styling in modern Ferraris and others, from the Honda NSX to the Chevrolet Corvette C8.
That’s no surprise really. Pininfarina stylist Leonardo Fioravanti’s beautifully drawn lines are just as captivating now as when the Dino 206GT was launched in 1967. It’s one of those rare cars that doesn’t have a bad angle to view it from, and excels in detail. Here at Longcross the question was posed, ‘What are the “nostril” vents in the front boot for?’ The obvious answer is that it doesn’t matter – they simply look like they should be there.
But being drop-dead gorgeous is only one reason that the Dino was a raging success, to the extent that it morphed into the 246GT just two years later with a larger-capacity and cheaper-to-build iron-block engine, along with mostly steel rather than aluminium body panels. That meant Ferrari could build them more quickly – to meet demand – and 3912 were sold in the next four years.
Those were big numbers for a Ferrari, made more significant when you realise the Dino was more than twice the price of an E-type – which to be fair by then was yesterday’s car – and it ate into Porsche 911 sales, which kept Stuttgart on its toes. The 911’s engine capacity was quickly increased to match the Dino’s 2.4 litres. But styling isn’t the only reason for the Dino’s success either back then or today, when people will pay small fortunes for them. They are also amazing cars to drive. I’ve been fortunate enough to drive Dinos twice before and a grin of expectation is fixed to my face even before I flick the small and exquisite finger-latch to open the driver’s door and drop down into the snug cabin.
Embraced at a deckchair angle by the low-mounted bucket seat, the view out is all about the exaggerated twin humps of the front wings, and the view of the horizon between them. A twist of the key and I’m joined by the intoxicatingly eager note of the V6 engine that I’m practically leaning on. It’s always intrusive but so good you’ll never complain. It’s smooth and it revs freely, causing my grin to move in sync with the rev-counter. But it’s far from the peaky unit you might expect. In fact, it pulls strongly from just 2000rpm and continues to deliver in a remarkably linear fashion all the way up the rev range.
You need to be assertive with the mechanically precise shifts between gears, but not too quick or the gearbox objects. With that all settled, I can get on with enjoying the big benefit of a mid-engined layout – the delights that are fed back to me through the steering wheel. There’s something about the angle I’m sitting at and the way it feels that makes me hold it lightly with my fingertips – the correct way, of course – and I feel every nuance of road surface change and dynamic input. And with so little weight over the wheels it’s all wonderfully light and direct. It changes direction almost by instinct, and grips impressively, at least on today’s dry roads. It flatters my driving skills, and as a bonus has a remarkably smooth and pliant ride.
When I first drove one of these ten years ago much of the talk was around how it was possible to justify the £90,000 that the best of them could fetch at the time. That same sum wouldn’t buy you a project now, because even after a recent easing Dinos are still at three times their 2009 values. And still, as then, twice the price of the 911 2.4S that the Dino is traditionally compared to. The simple fact is that they really are that good.
The other thing to consider is that so many Dinos have been restored since their values rocketed that you now almost have to buy at the top end of the market because that’s where most of them are today. Nuances in value are largely decided by spec, matching-numbers originality and who carried out the almost inevitable restoration work. It’s worth doing your homework on that because the right ones will always sell easily.
‘The V6 I’m practically leaning on isn’t the peaky unit you might expect; it pulls strongly and linearly from 2000rpm’
The iron-block V6 is smooth and tractable Awkward wheel angle doesn’t spoil delectable steering feel. The Dino’s looks are a mere by-product of the drivetrain layout that makes it such an addictive drive.
Owning a Dino 246GT
Paul Michael’s route to Dino ownership was set decades ago, ‘I’ve wanted one since watching The Persuaders in the Seventies. I bought this five years ago and my wife likes it because the boot’s big – you can get two suitcases in. It’s a UK right-hand drive car that’s done around 40,000 miles. I’ve been slowly doing it up and had the bodywork and paint done by 355 Restorations a year ago. The door gaps are now better than Ferrari got them. ‘Rardley Motors looks after the servicing, which comes to about £200 a year, which apart from restoration work is all the car costs to run. It’s really easy for parts too – the door window broke, which had me worried, but I picked up a new one from Ferrari Spares for just £30. I’ve also had period mirrors fitted. Enzo apparently didn’t like them on cars because he felt they spoilt the lines, but there are too many blind spots for me to be happy driving without them.’
1971 Ferrari Dino 246GT
Engine Transverse 2418cc V6, dohc per bank, three Weber 40DCNF/7 twin-choke carburettors
Power and torque 195bhp @ 7600rpm; 167lb ft @ 5500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front and rear: independent by wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic dampers
Brakes Front and rear: ventilated discs, servo-assisted
Weight 1258kg (2770lb)
Performance Top speed: 148mph;
Fuel consumption 19mpg
Cost new £5569
Classic Cars Price Guide £150,000-£300,000
1958 Cadillac Model 62 Coupe de Ville
The Fifties was an age of American excess, and the ’1958 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was the market leader in dishing it out. As General Motors’ premium brand, Cadillac prided itself on introducing the styles, tailfins, luxuries and gadgets that would be everyone else’s must-haves the following year. So in its own particular world – which very much didn’t translate to Britain at the time – the 1958 Cadillac Model 62 Coupe de Ville was a cutting-edge statement. It still makes one hell of a statement today. Even though we have acclimatised to massive cars, 18-and-a-half feet – before the ‘Continental Kit’ spare wheel was added – of chrome and fins rolling up gets all the attention. In fact it borders on being more an event than just another car, and that doesn’t diminish when you open the vast driver’s door and slide inside. The front bench seat has the comfort of a wellaged Chesterfield sofa, the wheel is suitably enormous, and there’s lots more chrome – it’s like being inside a glitterball. In a nice way.
Turn the key and the 6.0-litre V8 growls like a lion waking from a good nap. Slip the column-mounted gear lever into drive, then sit back and waft, because it’s what this car does best – transporting you in supreme comfort along open roads. There may be more than two tonnes to shift, but all that lazy torque makes it feel effortless, and gearchanges from the four-speed auto – when most others had just two or three speeds – are barely discernible. Even without the optional air suspension that was introduced for the 1957/’58 model years, the ride is amazing. Not quite to Citroën DS standards, of course, but still exceptional. The drum brakes aren’t bad either; considering their unenviable task, they’re almost good enough to justify the giant twin-armed pedal having ‘POWER BRAKE’ stamped into the rubber.
You do have to put up with plenty of body roll, though I’d almost be disappointed if it didn’t do that. In any case, it discourages you from trying to take the car outside its comfort zone – a dual meaning there – because it doesn’t like to be cornered too spiritedly and coughs with fuel starvation on long fast corners, though it always feels very predictable handling-wise. Best to stay in cruising to the country club mode.
That’s what Cadillac’s Styling Division, led by Ed Glowacke, had in mind when designing these cars on 1957’s new lower, lighter and stiffer X-frame chassis. Then 1958 saw the introduction of larger tailfins and twin headlamps – the latter a first for a production car on the previous year’s limited-run Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, of which just 400 were built. Other things that were new then and familiar now include standard air-conditioning and optional six-way electric seat controls and electric door locking. Less obvious features were the high-pressure cooling system, to raise the boiling point, and an automatic signal-seeking radio.
Despite all that the 1958 car was far from a raging success. Sales of the Model 62 were actually down by 9.6% from 1957, from 114,468 to 103,457. A recession had something to do with this, but it wasn’t a great year for Cadillac – it caused a rethink that arrived at the even more over-the-top 1959 models with their crazy fins and twin-bullet tail-lights. It has also left this era of Cadillacs slightly behind the curve in the collector stakes. You’ll pay a little less for one compared with earlier and later Caddies, which is good news if you are thinking of buying one. In reality you are getting a car that’s just as good – and just as outlandish – but paying less.
Importing one from America is of course the obvious option, but you may be surprised how many of them are already in the UK – a quick search showed four of them for sale here at the time of writing. They can be found for as little as £20,000, or even less if you don’t mind a bit of work and a large rechroming bill. Top end seems to be reliably around £35k for a Coupe de Ville, more for a convertible and a bit less for anything with four doors.
Beware of those with air suspension, which can be expensive to fix, and listen for a clattery top end to the engine. Interior trim parts are also in short supply. Otherwise they are pretty straightforward, but very big. Could your garage swallow one?
‘You do have to put up with plenty of body roll, though I’d almost be disappointed if it didn’t do that’
6.0-litre V8 has a lazy snarl and oceanic torque Steering best used with a relaxed single thumb-and-forefinger grip.
The Cadillac is a caricature of its era, but there’s plenty of brains behind the brashness
Owning a Fifties Cadillac
Now accompanied by a 1950 Buick and a ’49 Caddy, Glen Monroe bought his ’58 Model 62 Coupe de Ville seven years ago. ‘It was on eBay – it had stood a while since the previous owner went to Australia. I’d always wanted a ’58 – first year of the twin headlamps. I got it in November and it was on the road the following April. ‘In that time I went through everything. No electrics worked and it was pink, so I stripped all that off and painted it white. The next winter I rebuilt the engine and painted the engine bay. I’ve converted the wipers from vacuum to electric, so they actually work now.
‘Doing weddings pays for it so it costs me nothing to run. Costs are minimal anyway – £200 to rebuild the brakes this year, similar the year before for the suspension. I’m not big on car shows, I just enjoy driving it.’
1958 Cadillac Model 62 Coupe de Ville
Engine 5954cc (365ci) V8, ohv, Carter 2862S four-choke carburettor
Power and torque 310bhp @ 4800rpm; 405lb ft @ 3100rpm
Transmission Four-speed Hydra-Matic auto, rear-wheel drive
Steering Ball, nut and sector, power-assisted
Suspension Front: independent with wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers. Rear: live axle, coil springs, trailing arms, telescopic dampers
Brakes Drums front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 2137kg (4705lb)
Top speed: 115mph
Fuel consumption 15mpg
Cost new $5231 (£1868)
Classic Cars Price Guide £20,000-£35,000
1967 Citroën DS21 Pallas
The Citroën DS almost defines the clever car. Nothing before or since has bee launched with so many technological and styling innovations. Engine and gearbox aside, it was a collection of wholly alien concepts that transformed the driving experience. It was described at the time as a ‘bombshell’ and became an instant hit. Some 80,000 orders were taken at the car’s launch at the 1955 Paris Salon, it remained in production for 20 years, and more than 1.45 million were sold.
Drive one today and it still feels astonishing. And different. The hydropneumatic control systems proved too complex and expensive for other mass-marketeers to copy. The suspension system would later be licenced by Rolls-Royce, and inspire the hydrolastics in BMC’s successful Sixties 1100 range, but the restwould remain uniquely Citroën. When you slip behind the wheel of a DS, leave behind all your driving preconceptions and consult your guidebook; they do things differently here. Fire it up, let the suspension rise, then face your first challenge – the wand-like semi-automatic gearbox control that perches above the steering column. Away fromyou for first, towards you for second, to the right for third, then right again for fourth. It seems odd at first, but as with much on a DS it quickly makes sense, and I’m soon caressing my way through the gears with no clutch to worry about. The brake pedal/button needs similar finesse.
Much has been repeated about this rubber dome’s on-off ability to hurl occupants at the dashboard, and that would be the case if you treated it like the stamp-and-pray brakes of a Morris Minor, say. But come from the sensitive, powerful brakes of a modern car and the DS feels quite normal. The world finally caught up.
Only the engine disappoints, sounding a little harsh and very ordinary around all this technology, but the oleopneumatic ride will soon lull you into not caring. Its ability to make the DS feel like it is hovering above the road surface is still unbelievable, all the more so because it came from the raw talent of Paul Magès, who later claimed that if he’d had any formal training as an engineer he would never have been naïve and foolish enough to invent it.
The car’s sci-fi styling came from the joint efforts of André Lefebvre and Flaminio Bertoni, and was genuinely revolutionary as well as spaced-out. At a time when dominant front grilles were very much the face of motoring, they set the radiator’s air intake out of sight below the bumper. Look round any car park now – others caught up eventually. And those high-level rear indicators that are so familiar today – the DS had them 54 years ago.
Buying one today means spending the right money, either in the first place or by sending your car to a specialist to make right. For the full-on experience – which is what they are about – steer clear of the less hydropneumatic, de-specced and temptingly cheaper ID versions. They’re not the same. We’d go for the better performing DS21 or 23, on which you’ll need to spend over £30k on something that will provide a pleasurable ownership experience, and perhaps over £40k for a really special low-miler. Rest assured there is always a ready market for great examples – should you ever be able to bring yourself to part with it. Owners tend not to.
This six-deep line-up of crafty cars must have done wonders for our diversity credentials. Whichever way you cut your classic car cloth, there has to be something here to set you thinking, or remembering good times. It may even represent the perfect one-for-every-occasion classic collection – you’ll have to add your own wildcard to spice up Mondays, we don’t like those.
As discussed up front, each is here for a reason and it’s because they were clever game-changers that are always going to be admired for what they brought to that game. I could happily find a home for all of them – given a lot more space and funds – but especially the Range Rover, which would be perfect for fishing trips. Or the Cadillac, which has the charisma of Elvis but would be a damned sight easier to live with than he was by all accounts. Or the Dino, a car that, whether you were driving it or just opening the garage door for another look, would always bring joy.
But to my own surprise, the car I most wanted to jump in and drive home was the Citroën DS. It not only feels like the most revolutionary car here, but I could never tire of all its novelties, distinctive appearance and peerless ride.
‘Sensitive brakes, high-level indicators – the world has finally caught up with the DS
The DS responds best to well-measured inputs Conventional four-cylinder is the weakest link of this pioneering package. Even today the front-wheel-drive Citroën’s ride is otherworldly
Owning a Citroën DS
This is Nigel Langstaff’s first and only classic. ‘I bought it 20 years ago from a DS specialist in Kent – I’d always loved the look of them. It had previously been owned by Simon Cadell, the actor who played the holiday camp manager in Hi-De-Hi. It broke down on the way home, and in the early years continued to do so about once in every three times I used it.
‘Five years ago I bit the bullet and had it properly restored by Citroën Classics. They found a lot of nasties – there was a lot of rust in the rear of the body – and it was a big job but all worth it. It’s been fine since the rebuild and now costs no more than £1000 a year on average to run.
‘It’s my only day-to-day car now, it even lives on the street – me being able to enjoy the car is far more important than it being a long-term investment.’
1967 Citroën DS21
Engine 2175cc inline four-cylinder, ohv, Weber 28/36 DDE twinchoke carburettor
Power and torque 109bhp @ 5500rpm; 128lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Four-speed semi-automatic, front-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Suspension Front: independent by oleo-pneumatic spheres, transverse wishbones and anti-roll bar. Rear: independent by oleo-pneumatic spheres, trailing arms and anti-roll bar, self-levelling
Brakes Discs front, drums rear, power-assisted
Weight 1330kg (2930lb)
Top speed: 107mph
Fuel consumption 23mpg
Cost new £1898
CC Price Guide £8k-£37.5k
‘The delicacy of design somehow shrinks the car’
As the man who made the Elise work, we asked engineer Richard Rackham about clever cars and what makes them
For the definitive word on clever cars, there’s no one better to ask than someone who has been responsible for a few himself. Richard Rackham was the man behind the Evora and the revolutionary and super-lightweight chassis that made the award-winning Elise a true return to form and original principles for Lotus. That car reminded an industry that insisted on higher power and the increased mass that goes with it of the benefits of light weight, but also pioneered the extruded and bonded aluminium technology now so ubiquitous in small volume vehicle manufacture.
Casting a knowledgeable eye over our line-up for the feature Rackham says, ‘The minimalist focused nature and package of the original Mini was brilliant. A little known fact is that in 1952 Alfa Romeo started Project 13-61. I saw a prototype at the Alfa Romeo museum and it bears an uncanny resemblance to a Mini in size and package, but with a Riley Elf-like boot. It had a two-cylinder transverse engine driving the front wheels. Had it reached production, the Alfa would crucially have predated the Mini by three years. ‘My good friend Julian Thompson, now Director of Design at Jaguar, has owned a Dino since the Eighties, and I am lucky enough to have driven it. What a joy, it is impossible to see or feel anything negative. It is all about the exaggerated twin humps of the front wings, and your view of the horizon between them. The delicacy of design throughout somehow shrinks the car, because interestingly, this ‘small’ Ferrari is in fact as long as a Lotus Excel. It certainly influenced us for the Elise MkI’s design in both form and detail execution of the engineering.
‘My brother in law shipped a blue Range Rover out to Nairobi in the early Seventies and I became a passenger touring the famous Kenyan game parks when visiting. The first thing that got my attention was the panoramic view out. The spacious and luxury feel of the interior was ground-breaking. Then there’s the speed – flat out on dirt roads, leaving a dust cloud in our wake, whilst trouncing a Toyota Landcruiser. Furthermore, the capability when traversing tricky hills in low ratio, or reversing at speed from a charging elephant proved to the young me what a superb all-rounder this vehicle was. The Quattro was a rich man’s toy in the day but an instant hit. My brother-in-law owned one in London, and I have the fondest memories of how brilliantly secure on the road it was compared to Porsche 911s, especially in damp or worse conditions.
‘Julian Thompson had a Fifties Cadillac as his wedding car in the mid-Nineties when I was best man. As Elvis fans, it was a perfect choice. It contains so many features that were new then and familiar now.
‘I once borrowed a friend’s beautiful DS. The brakes are amazing if you can ignore the lack of travel and the resulting modulation challenge. However, as a Lotus man, and relishing the necessity of balancing the efforts and feedback in our vehicles, I found the conflicting experience of floating on a harsh sounding cloud which can be inadvertently brought to an abrupt halt totally alien.’