Alfa Romeo Spider vs. Triumph TR6, Chevrolet Corvette C3, Lotus Seven S4, MGB, VW Porsche 914-4, Fiat 124 Spider, Morgan 4/4, TVR 3000S, Jensen-Healey

Photography by Tony Baker

1970s Best buys 10 great sports cars to snap up this spring from just £5000. Seventies scorchers. We sample the 10 best 1970s sports cars for under £20k. Seventies sportsters  From MGB to Porsche 914, and Lotus Seven to Corvette, which of our £20k open-tops is the best classic today? Despite the wild surge in recent years, there’s still a wealth of affordable 1970s soft-top sports cars to be had. Ross Alkureishi puts 10 of the best £5- 20,000 options to the test. Photography Tony Baker.


Market activity over the past decade has taken most 1960s soft-top machinery out of the reach of many of us, and logic suggested that prices for convertibles from the 1970s would be the next to hyperinflate. But C&SC is here as a portent of joy, to tell you the frenzy has passed, tsunami-like, on to the following decade and with just an acceptably mild strengthening of values.

To prove it, we’ve gathered 10 examples showing that it’s still possible to get your topdown sports-car kicks for less than £20,000. If you’re seeking some serious blue-sky action this summer, then it’s time to get your groove on and head back to the funk-tastic ’70s, as we don white coat and clipboard to see which one is pick of the classic pops. Let me be your guide…


 

Alfa Romeo Spider

T‘Think Spider, think Alfa!’ should have run the advertising campaign, so integrally linked is the manufacturer with the moniker. And yet for the non-Alfisti the sheer number of them can be bewildering: Giulia, Giulietta, Duetto, rear-wheel-drive, front drive – aaaaargh.

Here we’re focusing on the 105/115-series S2 variants that arrived in 1970 – identifiable by their truncated tail – and which sit sandwiched between the even more classically beautiful ‘boat tail’ Duetto and 1983-onwards bespoilered and sill-skirted S3 and smoothed-over S4.

Like all Alfa Spiders – save for the leaden six-cylinder 2600 of 1962 – it adheres to a familiar formula of fizzing twin-cam engine, here with a five-speed gearbox and all-round disc brakes, and handling as delicate as those looks. Early cabins have a purity of purpose, with dished wood-rim steering wheel and angled gearstick complementing the elegant chromerimmed Jaeger instruments.

Up front the 2-litre unit superseded the 1779cc engine in 1971 – although a 1300 Junior version remained available until ’1978 – and kicked out a healthy 131bhp.

“In good usable condition with an MoT, you’ll pay between £8000 and £10,000,” says Stuart Taylor, AROC’s 105 Giulia Registrar. “A frontrunner, though, will be closer to £20k.”


Thanks to Alfa Romeo OC (www.aroc-uk.com)


TECHNICAL DATA FILE Alfa Romeo Spider

Sold/number built 1971-’1982/38,379

Engine all-alloy, dohc 1962cc ‘four’, twin carbs; 131bhp @ 5500rpm; 134lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, transverse arms, oblique beam rear live axle, trailing links; coil springs, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering worm and roller

Brakes discs, with servo

Weight 2293lb (1040kg)

0-60mph 8.8 secs

Top speed 118mph

Price now £8-20,000


Alfa Romeo Spider

Stylish Alfa melds Latin brio with practicality; gorgeous cockpit, with gauges angled towards driver; dual servos on right-hooker twin-cams.


STAR FEATURE AESTHETICS

Elegant, achingly pretty looks just about have the edge over the sporty drive


Alkureishi says…

Tony Carty’s Alfa Red car is the sultry seductress of our group, putting to shame more angular contemporaries. With its sophisticated mechanical set-up it’s no ‘all show and no go’ dolly-bird. The soft-top can be lowered with one hand, and the boot is surprisingly spacious – ideal for touring. The interior is wonderfully evocative of the era, but confirm that it suits you. The driving position is ultra legs akimbo, exacerbated to the point of Italian comedy by the floor-mounted clutch pedal’s high biting point – fine for the 5ft 11in owner, not quite so for 6ft 3in yours truly.

The engine begs to be revved hard and rewards with a rasping note, while that canted gearlever snicks through the well-defined gate with limited resistance. Stopping power is smart, although the pedal lacks feel.

The ride is well-damped dealing equally well with urban or country work, and its fifth cog ensures long legs. While the Alfa does city posing with aplomb, it excels on B-roads; it’s no hardcore bomber à la TVR or Triumph, but a smooth, punchy siren.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 7

Acceleration 7

Braking 6

Tactility 7

TOTAL 27

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 7

Ease of maintenance/

parts availability 7

Practicality 7

Hood erection 9

TOTAL 30

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 3

Insurance 3

Investment value 3

TOTAL 13


 

Triumph TR6

It’s the ultimate manufacturer’s quandary: how to keep your ageing output looking fashion fresh when the purse strings are tight. And, as a lesson in subterfuge, Triumph’s morphing of TR5 into 6 remains at the top of the tree.

This ‘new’ model was actually no more than a remarkably clever ‘top and tail’ refresh of the TR5 design, by German coachbuilder Karmann. Hey, presto! One modern British sports car ready for sale; never mind that underneath, the mechanicals remained identical to its predecessor and, in fact, most underpinnings harked back not just to it, but to the TR4 of 1961.

So did the great motoring public unleash a backlash of unprecedented proportions on this cynical refresh? Well, no. Over seven years Triumph shifted a stunning 94,619 units, outselling the combined total of both predecessors.

That’s because the appetite for a traditional British beefcake remained. And with a fuel-injected 150bhp – alas just 104bhp in twin-carb form, for the USA – the TR6 still provided a healthy dose of old school thrills ’n’ spills.

“You’re looking at the high 20s for a really nice one,” says Dan Allen of Revington TR. “But they range from £15,000 to £30,000. The TR5 sits typically £20,000 higher, although that gap narrows for usable cars.”


Thanks to TR Register (tr-register.co.uk); Clayton Classics (claytonclassics.co.uk)


TECHNICAL DATA FILE Triumph TR6

Sold/number built 1969-’76/94,619

Engine all-iron, ohv 2498cc straight-six, Lucas injection; 150bhp @ 5500rpm; 164lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission four-speed manual o/d, RWD

Suspension independent at front by wishbones, telescopics, anti-roll bar rear semi-trailing arms, lever-arms; coil springs f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs/ drums, with servo

Weight 2473lb (1122kg)

0-60mph 8.2 secs

Top speed 119mph

Price now £15-30,000


Triumph TR6

From top: non-original dash, wheel and seats, but it’s all top quality; feisty injected ‘six’ gives fine performance; it can be a bit of a handful in the wet.


STAR FEATURE TOP VALUE

Offers everything its more expensive TR5 sibling does, but for significantly less outlay.


Alkureishi says…

If you’re ever in doubt of your masculinity, then time spent behind the wheel of a TR6 is reaffirming. It’s just such a thrilling experience that it’ll outdo any pharmacological aid. It’s less pretty than a 5, but that arguably adds to the testosterone overload.

This example is for sale at Clayton Classics. Its straight-six is a gruff and throaty wonder, with the short-throw gearbox at all times a faithful partner to it. Manoeuvring the small Moto-Lita steering wheel is hard graft, as is utilising the heavy clutch, but you never bemoan either because the package is just so bloomin’ satisfying.

The ride can jar over poor road surfaces but there’s plenty of grip and it’s easy to get the back end out – especially here on a damp circuit – but due to its somewhat unpredictable nature, reining it in takes a bit of practice and crossed fingers. The cabin is narrow but there’s room for a couple of bags in the boot. A real workout to manhandle in corners, it definitely remains a car for the man’s man.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 5

Acceleration 8

Braking 6

Tactility 6

TOTAL 25

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 6

Ease of maintenance/

parts availability 8

Practicality 5

Hood erection 6

TOTAL 25

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 4

Insurance 4

Investment value 3

TOTAL 15


 

Chevrolet Corvette C3

The sharp-edged C2 Corvette entered Larry Shinoda’s design cocoon in 1967 and emerged the following year transformed beyond all recognition. It looked as though Mr S had deftly taken a Coke bottle and inserted it under the glassfibre skin of the earlier car. Its cabin features heavily raked seats, which provides a relaxed almost horizontal vibe, a profusion of black plastics and gauges set so far forward that they almost appear to be in a different State.

Underneath all of this new jazz, though, was proof that it hadn’t made the full caterpillar to butterfly journey; it had the same ladder chassis providing the basis for the body and the same transverse-leaf independent rear suspension.

There was, however, an all-new compact 350cu in V8, which in 300bhp form provided the base unit. Big-blocks were still available at a premium and customers could spec cars to their heart’s delight. That it remained in production – in ever-more-strangled output – until ’84 showed just how of its time was Shinoda’s styling.

“They range between £15 and £30k,” advises Tom Falconer of Claremont. “That’s with the base engine – more for a big-block. There’s no disparity between chrome and federal bumpers, but unlike in the States – where you have to drive with the roof up, aircon on in the summer – a Convertible is worth more than a Coupe here.”


Thanks to Classic CC (corvetteclub.org.uk)


TECHNICAL DATA FILE Chevrolet Corvette C3

Sold/number built 1968-’1983/514,295

Engine all-iron, ohv 5735cc V8, Holley carburettor; 300bhp @ 4800rpm; 380lb ft @ 3200rpm

Transmission three-speed auto, RWD

Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, coils rear transverse leaf spring, trailing arms, transverse links; telescopics, anti-roll bar f/r

 Steering recirculating ball

Brakes drums, with servo

Weight 3245lb (1472kg)

 0-60mph 7.7 secs

 Top speed 128mph

 Price now £15-30,000


Chevrolet Corvette C3

Gorgeous metallic blue really suits the Corvette; well-specced cabin boasts a dash crammed with dials; small-block sits well back in chassis so it handles OK.


STAR FEATURE FLEXIBILITY

It’s all about cubic inches; V8 kicks out an asphalt-battering 380lb ft


Alkureishi says…

Brian McCance’s C3 Stingray gatecrashes our roadster party with all the subtlety of a drunken heavy metal star at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Lowering the hood is a six-stage multi-lever task, but it’s quick and easy to do.

It’s in a different time zone when it comes to power – even if it’s somewhat blunted by a hefty 1472kg kerb weight. The V8 rumbles into life and settles to a deep burble, but provoke it with a prod of the throttle and even in the dry it’s possible to spin the substantial rear boots. The sharp drum brakes are the best here, though.

Power-assisted steering rather blunts matters through corners, but lends it an easy manoeuvrability at low speeds – it’s so easy to drive. The three-speed automatic is silky smooth and forget clipping apexes. Instead, fire it straight over the rumble strips, wait for the tyres to bite and thunder through.

Don’t buy one expecting practicality, though, because there’s no boot; the most you’ll get on the rear shelf is a toiletries bag and a couple of pairs of underpants.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 5

Acceleration 8

Braking 9

Tactility 3

TOTAL 25

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 3

Ease of maintenance/

parts availability 8

Practicality 3

Hood erection 7

TOTAL 21

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 3

Running costs 3

Insurance 3

Investment value 2

TOTAL 11


 

Lotus Seven S4

T‘Three is the magic number,’ goes the song but that’s wrong, for there’s no doubt at all that it’s Seven. It feels as if there’s always been one, first in Lotus Series 1-4 flavours and later – and indeed, still – in multiple Caterham variations.

Despite running gear and material upgrades, the same basic package hasn’t changed in that time: namely, that lightweight body, a lively engine and addictively delicious handling. Except, of course, for the Series 4.

For three years only, Lotus tried something a little bit different. In came an Alan Barrett-styled all-glassfibre body, replacing the S3’s stressed alloy panels with a more angular beach-buggy aesthetic and a new longer chassis allowing for improved space in the cockpit.

Power came from Ford 1300 and 1600 crossflow units or, best of all, from the Europa’s ‘Big Valve’ 115bhp Lotus Twin Cam. Despite this, the makeover wasn’t a resounding success. After taking on the rights, and constructing the last 38 remaining examples of the S4, Caterham quickly reverted to the timeless S3 style – albeit keeping the lusty twink up front.

“The S4 with Ford crossflow starts at £10k and goes up to £16,000 but, in Lotus Twin Cam form, those will be £4000 higher,” says Andrew Henson of AH Classic Car Sales. “The S4 is about £10k cheaper than the S3.”


Thanks to AH Cars (www.ah-classic-cars.co.uk)


TECHNICALL DATA FILE Lotus Seven S4

Sold/number built 1970-’1973/650

Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 1558cc ‘four’, twin Weber carbs; 115bhp @ 6500rpm; 113lb ft @ 5500rpm

Transmission four-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones, anti-roll bar rear live axle, leading and trailing links, wishbones; coilovers f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs front, drums rear

Weight 1310lb (594kg)

0-60mph 7.5 secs

Top speed 116mph

Price now £10-20,000


Lotus Seven S4

From top: deft, instantly responsive Seven is in its element on a track, with super-quick steering; cabin tight; addictively snorty Lotus Twin Cam.


STAR FEATURE HANDLING

Simple and light, the Seven offers sublime, unparalleled driving feel – exquisite on track


Alkureishi says…

This svelte Seven S4 is currently for sale at AH Classic Car Sales and zips in like a featherweight boxer at a Sumo wrestling convention. Here in top ‘Big Valve’ Twin Cam spec, there’s a claimed 125bhp to play with. Lotus later owned up to an honest 115bhp, but that’s still serious grunt with which to propel just 594kg.

The cockpit is super-tight, in reality anyone over 5ft 8in won’t fit – so shoehorning in isn’t pretty – but it’s worth it, because nothing connects you with the road like a Seven. Shifts on the superlative close-ratio Ford ‘rocketbox’ barely impede your seamless throttle-down experience. The rorty intake of the twin Webers constantly gees you on as you revel in the outstanding chassis balance and steering feedback, to nip another tenth of a second off your lap time.

The roof is a mere sop to weatherproofing – but a hardtop was available – and, as the closest thing to a race car for the road, you do feel vulnerable in modern traffic, but there, as here on track, it still thrills like no other.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 9

Acceleration 9

Braking 7

Tactility 9

TOTAL 34

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 6

Ease of maintenance/

parts availability 5

Practicality 1

Hood erection 3

TOTAL 15

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 3

Insurance 4

Investment value 2

TOTAL 13


 

MGB

Following a gorgeous sibling is never easy, but after the sassy MGA had to come the more conservative B. It was the first monocoque MG, but that was about as far as the BMC purse strings stretched in terms of innovation.

Various engines – including several vees – were considered before the bean-counting decision was made to dust off the venerable B-series. By then in 1798cc, 78bhp Austin 1800 form, its final outing was to last an incredible 18 years.

Mechanical improvements occurred at a snail’s pace, but were enough to keep the faithful buying the B. Even though the fitment of polyurethane impact bumpers to meet US safety legislation caused an outcry in MG circles, the new convertible would shift 128,653 in the subsequent six years – an almost equal average cars-per-year ratio to the chrome-bumper model.

The simplicity of its design proved to be one of its enduring facets, and one that drew people to its ownership flame. Today, factor in first class parts – old MGBs never die, they get re-shelled in a Heritage body – specialist and club support, and its appeal remains as strong as ever.

“Prices range from £5000 for a runner requiring tidying to £25,000-plus for a freshly restored car,” explains Jonathan Kimber of the MGOC. “Nominally, there’s a £1500-2000 difference between chrome and rubber bumper examples.”


Thanks to MGOC (mgownersclub.co.uk)


TECHNICAL DATA FILE MGB

Sold/number built 1962-’1980/513,276

Engine all-iron, ohv 1798cc ‘four’, twin SU carbs; 94bhp @ 5500rpm; 107lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission four-speed manual (optional o/d), RWD

Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; Armstrong lever-arm dampers f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs front, drums rear

Weight 2030lb (921kg)

0-60mph 12.1 secs

Top speed 108mph

Price now £5-25,000


MGB

From top: much-maligned ‘rubber’ bumpers don’t seem so bad these days; spacious, comfy cabin; unburstable B-series isn’t a revver, but it’s torquey.


STAR FEATURE AFFORDABILITY

The B remains the bargain entry point to classic drop-top performance


Alkureishi says…

If the MGB were a geyser, it would be called Old Faithful. Slipping into the roomy cabin of Clive Morgan’s immaculate 7000-mile roadster, with seats as comfortable as your sitting-room sofa, lends an instant feeling of having returned home.

Whipping the roof off is easy enough but reattaching it when the weather does its worse is a faff compared to several others here. You wonder why more owners don’t go full Basil Fawlty during summer downpours. Boot space is reasonable, too.

The reliable B-series engine is nice and flexible, capable of responding equally well to lazy revving that makes use of its torque or being worked harder for a more sporting experience.

You can hustle it through corners and it’ll respond with progressive, nicely weighted steering. And, while it doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly, it’s always a pleasure behind the wheel.

Sheer ubiquity ensures low prices, while the level of support available and the simplicity of its novice-friendly mechanicals are green-eyed-monster factors for owners of more highly strung machinery.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 6

Acceleration 5

Braking 6

Tactility 7

TOTAL 24

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 9

Ease of maintenance/parts availability 10

Practicality 7

Hood erection 5

TOTAL 31

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 5

Running costs 5

Insurance 5

Investment value 2

TOTAL 17


 

VW Porsche 914-4

VW and Porsche, two companies joined for ever in a symbiotic relationship; it’s positive for one set of owners, but brings negative connotations for others trying to outrun the association. With the joint 914 project, Porsche sought a replacement for its four-cylinder 912. Released in 1969, the diminutive Porkerwagen featured a 1679cc VW 411 boxer engine with Bosch electronic injection placed amidships, a five-speed gearbox and all-independent suspension.

This Porsche for the Volk created an instant furore: was it a VW, Porsche, or both? Dealers in the brand-savvy States certainly knew, selling it purely as the latter – complete with additional Porsche script on the rear panel.

Power rose 5bhp with the 1.8-litre carburettor unit in ’1972, before it reverted to injection in the final 100bhp 2-litre model. Just for those already not confused enough, the 914-6 was powered by the 911T’s flat-six; it was dropped after three years following low sales due to its high price. Unloved for many a year, and just like Ferrari’s Dino 308GT4, in recent times the 914-4 has gained significantly greater acceptance in the Porsche world. “The 1.7- and 1.8-litre will range from £7k to £18k – and at the bottom end will need a lot of work,” says Kevin Clarke, Porsche Club GB’s 914 register secretary. “And later 2-litre cars are slightly higher at £9k to £20k.”


Thanks to Porsche Club GB (porscheclubgb.com)


VW Porsche 914-4

From top: functional cabin, with clear VDO gauges and Porsche crest on wheel; flat-four now sports twin carburettors; clean lines have aged well.


TECHNICL DATA FILE VW Porsche 914-4

Sold/number built 1969-’1975/118,929

Engine magnesium crankcase, alloy-heads, ohv 1971cc flat-four, injection; 91bhp @ 4100rpm; 109lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD Suspension: front independent, by MacPherson struts, torsion bars rear semi-trailing arms; coil springs, telescopics, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs

Weight 2145lb (973kg)

 0-60mph 10.3 secs

Top speed 119mph

Price now £7-20,000


STAR FEATURE QUIRKINESS

Push-me/pull-you looks, allied to air-cooled thrum, make the 914 the left-field choice


Alkureishi says…

Like many 914-4s, Kate and Brian Maynard’s example has been converted to run on twin carburettors, and that adds a soupçon more intake pleasure to this already intriguing little targa top. That lid whips off easily – but is a two-man job – and stores neatly in the boot, with storage space below as well as under the bonnet.

Drop into the low cabin, and the upright seats afford excellent support.

The 914’s lack of bonnet definition initially makes you feel as if you’ve put your jumper on the wrong way round. If you flick on the lights, the pop-ups instantly resolve that issue.

The air-cooled hum is pleasantly different and hardens nicely at the top of the rev range; that’s where you’ll spend most of your time because there’s not much available oomph below 3000rpm. The 901 gearbox is a disappointment, though, with a vague gate and long throw – both of which partly negate your engine work. But get it into an S-bend and the combination of quick steering response and firmly planted cornering manners reveal it to be a delectable, snake-hipped handler.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 8

Acceleration 6

Braking 7

Tactility 8

TOTAL 29

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 6

Ease of maintenance/parts availability 6

Practicality 7

Hood erection 9

TOTAL 28

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 2

Running costs 3

Insurance 3

Investment value 5

TOTAL 13


 

Fiat 124 Spider

Lively four-cylinder twin-cam engine, elegant Pininfarina styling, disc brakes all round and a five-speed gearbox, all in a gorgeous Italian convertible package: does that sound familiar?

If you’re doing a double take, then apologies for the automotive dose of Groundhog Day. Despite producing so many Spiders, Alfa didn’t have the sole rights to the type. Fiat, also had arachnid previous – 1100/1200 and 850 – and its 124 Spider arrived the same year as Alfa’s Duetto, looking the more modern of the two.

Based on the more workmanlike but still pretty 124 Coupé, it had the same sophisticated twin-cam powerplant designed by ex-Ferrari engine mastermind Aurelio Lampredi. Initially in 88bhp, 1.4-litre form, this grew to 1.6 litres, 1.8 and the final 2-litre version in 1979.

The biggest turning point for the model, though, was the incorporation of massive federal impact bumpers in 1975. The Spider was never sold new in the UK, so all cars here are imports and left-hand drive; although specialists such as DTR European Sports Cars converted 40-50 using donor parts from right-hooker Coupés.

“There’s a lot of eBay tat out there for £6000- 7000,” says Paul de Turris of DTR. “For a good chrome-bumper car, you’re looking at £20-30k, with values dropping considerably for impactbumper carburettor models.”


Thanks to David Slaney


TECHNICAL DATA FILE Fiat 124 Spider

Sold/number built 1966-’1985/198,034

Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 1608cc ‘four’, Weber carburettor; 104bhp @ 6000rpm; 94lb ft @ 4200rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, trailing links, Panhard rod; coil springs, telescopics f/r

Steering worm and roller

Brakes discs with servo

Weight 2190lb (994kg)

0-60mph 11.9 secs

Top speed 112mph

Price now £8-35,000


Fiat 124 Spider

From top: Tom Tjaarda styling has hints of Ferrari 275GTS; Fiat handles well on tight course; stylish cabin with lovely sports wheel; jewel of an engine.


STAR FEATURE TWIN-CAM

Sweet-revving motor isn’t the most powerful here, but it makes a lovely noise.


Alkureishi says…

The Alfa Romeo is a brazen Italian temptress that tosses all its wares in your face immediately, leaving nothing to the imagination; the 124 Spider on the other hand is more demure in revealing its charms.

The pre-’1975 chrome-bumper cars are most desirable and the 1.8-litre the sweetest engine. That said, an earlier 1608cc example such as this has a lot less body reinforcement so it’s lighter and purer in feel – you manoeuvre the wide-rimmed wooden steering wheel with your fingertips.

On the road the engine zips through the rev range smoothly, eliciting an intoxicating rasp and boasting a surprising level of low-down torque. The Fiat corners tighter than its fellow Italian. Inside, the cabin isn’t anywhere near as compromised – or appealing, it must be said. It stops just as well, too, while it also features a smart, easy to retract hood and a reasonably sized boot for touring. So who’s it to be: Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren?


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 7

Acceleration 6

Braking 7

Tactility 7

TOTAL 27

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 7

Ease of maintenance/parts availability 8

Practicality 7

Hood erection 8

TOTAL 30

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 4

Insurance 4

Investment value 3

TOTAL 15


 

Morgan 4/4

In life, everything changes except a Morgan. Its first 4-4 – four cylinders, four wheels – arrived in 1936. Underneath sat the now classic layout of a Z-section chassis, sliding-pillar independent front suspension, a live rear axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, mid-mounted gearbox plus worm-and- peg steering. An ash frame was bolted to the chassis and clothed in steel panels – replaced by aluminium in 1945 – with a four-seater tourer arriving in ’1946. And that is basically your lot.

Easy to sneer at, isn’t it? But there’s so much more to owning a Morgan. It’s a way of life: top always down, couple of bags strapped to the back and off for a long continental tour. Then there’s the sense of community, plus a rich vein of humour running through all club engagements – you don’t take yourself too seriously with a Mog – and high residual values.

The 4/4 slipped out of production in 1950 – replaced by the peppier Plus 4 – but returned five years later, and with the famous cowled grille, as an affordable route into Morgan ownership.

Running gear may change with the times – the ’70s was an all-Ford affair, with assorted Kent crossflows – but the essentials remain constant. “They never sell below £10,000 and for that it’d require a lot of work, but a top ’70s example could fetch £17,000,” says Sarah Hutton of Brands Hatch Morgans (www.morgan-cars.com).


Thanks to www.beaulieugarage.co.uk


TECHNICAL DATA FILE Morgan 4/4

Sold/number built 1968-’1982/3480 (Series VI, 1600)

Engine all-iron, ohv 1599cc Ford Kent ‘four’, Weber carburettor; 84bhp @ 5500rpm; 103lb ft @ 3600rpm

Transmission four-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front independent, by sliding pillars, telescopic dampers rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, lever-arms

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs, with servo

Weight 1620lb (735kg)

0-60mph 9.6 secs

Top speed 104mph

Price now £10-17,000


Morgan 4/4

From top: in its element on a flat, bendy road; classy cockpit, with timber and leather upholstery; eager crossflow gives strong performance in light 4/4.


STAR FEATURE CHARACTER

Pipe and slippers image masks weekend blaster persona.


Alkureishi says…

I know I shouldn’t, but I do love a Morgan; they provide such no-frills, weekend blastery and never fail to put a smile on your face. This two-tone Cream over Russet Brown example, with lovely tan leather upholstery, is currently for sale at Beaulieu Garage, and looks simply glorious.

Storage space is at best minimal, and manipulating the hood and sidescreens a time-consuming exercise, but there’s plenty of room behind the three-spoke Moto-Lita wheel, and for long legs in the footwell. The 1.6-litre Ford Kent engine fires lustily, engage first, off with the flyaway handbrake, adopt gung-ho arm over the door driving position and we’re all set. The view down the long louvred bonnet is epic and, shorn of its usual Ford clothing, the engine sings sweetly with each throttle depression. Yes, the stiff front suspension and live rear axle aren’t the height of sophistication – or even close – but you can instantly see why this car has inspired, and continues to inspire, so many. Next stop, Tuscany?


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 6

Acceleration 7

Braking 5

Tactility 6

TOTAL 24

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 7

Ease of maintenance/parts availability 7

Practicality 6

Hood erection 5

TOTAL 25

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 4

Insurance 5

Investment value 3

TOTAL 16


 

TVR 3000S

Up until 1978, a convertible remained an alien life form for the gentlemen in Blackpool. Based on a one-off special for TVR boss Martin Lilley, the 3000S changed that. The M-series arrived in 1972, initially with one body style and a 1600 Ford Kent ‘four’, a 2500 Triumph straight-six (for the USA) or a 3000 (Ford Essex V6).

The Taimar (fancy name for 3000M, with opening hatch) was launched in ’76, bringing a hitherto unseen element of practicality. But the ragtop S propelled the firm in an all-new direction. Underneath sat the same rigid backbone chassis, designed by technical director Michael Byland, as on the fastback 2500, M and Taimar models – the 1600 having ceased production.

The glassfibre body was significantly lower, with new doors and a revised rear end incorporating the ‘luxury’ of a bootlid. Power came just from the Essex. It was mated to a Capri closeratio ’box, with TR6 brakes and diff completing the package. Like the other variants, a handful were equipped with a Broadspeed Turbo taking power from 142bhp to a heady 230bhp.

“A presentable example that needs work will be £14-18k with a concours car fetching £20kplus,” says Ralph Dodds of the TVR Car Club.

“And add at least £5k to each of those for a genuine Turbo. There are less than 60 left in the UK and almost all of them are known to the Club.”


Thanks to TVR Car Club (tvrcc.com)


TECHNICAL DATA FILE TVR 3000S

Sold/number built 1978-’1979/258

Engine all-iron, ohv 2994cc Ford Essex V6, Weber carburettor; 142bhp @ 5000rpm; 174lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission four-speed manual, RWD

Suspension independent all round, by double wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes disc front, drums rear

Weight 2421lb (1098kg)

0-60mph 7.5 secs

Top speed 120mph

Price now £14,000-20,000


TVR 3000S

From top: vulnerable pipes play a great tune and, yes, those are sidescreens; nicely appointed cabin with a fully stacked dash; effortless Essex V6 grunt.


STAR FEATURE SOUNDTRACK

Acceleration is punchy, but the raucous V6 noise it makes is pure TVR


Alkureishi says…

Subtlety is overrated, and the animalistic 3000S makes the most addictive noise of our gathered drop and targa tops – that’s clear even before slotting myself into the low, beautifully finished cabin.

The bucket seats initially feel hard, but they are comfortable and the high transmission tunnel puts the short, stubby gearlever at elbow height. The engine erupts into life and a throttle blip elicits a wicked growl from the twin exhaust tailpipes – my kind of car.

Selecting first has the gearlever almost disappear as it tilts forward into the gate, but after a couple of mistaken grasps of the upright handbrake all is well. The Essex V6 has exceptional lowspeed torque, and pulls mightily. It’s happy to burble along at low revs in top gear, but is at its best eliciting its infectious snap, crackle and pop. Adhesion is superb, the steering precise and it corners with little body roll, but that’s all mere foreplay to getting it back onto the straight and narrow and putting your foot down.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 8

Acceleration 9

Braking 7

Tactility 8

TOTAL 32

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 7

Ease of maintenance/parts availability 8

Practicality 6

Hood erection 6

TOTAL 27

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 4

Insurance 3

Investment value 4

TOTAL 15


 

Jensen-Healey

This much-maligned roadster arrived in 1972, with big things expected. Its recipe of powerful, torquey four-pot, spacious interior and refined but sporting ride should have come good.

San Francisco importer Kjell Qvale had taken the company reins two years earlier and forged ahead with replacing his best-seller, the Big Healey. In came Donald Healey to design it – and supply kudos with his name – while William Towns worked his magic on the styling.

Mechanically, it was a bit of a mongrel – Vauxhall Viva/Magnum front suspension, steering and rear axle, initially a Rootes four-speed ’box and Lotus 907 twin-cam – but then that wasn’t necessarily a barrier to success. What did for the firm was the decision to take the then-untried Lotus engine without warranty insurance.

With claims flooding in for engines that’d gone pop, the car’s reputation suffered. Owner Peter Thomson was in charge of quality engineering at Jensen at the time. “It killed us,” he recalls. “We actually managed to get it pretty right in the end – just in time for Lotus to use it – but the damage had been done by then.”

Today, says JOC Jensen-Healey Registrar Helen Newby, you’ll pay £8-10,000 for a good one: “Prices are starting to rise as people realise they’re rare cars, and vary from £4500 for a basic runner to £16,500 for a concours example.”


Thanks to Jensen Owners’ Club (www.joc.org.uk)


TECHNICAL DATA FILE Jensen-Healey

Sold/number built 1972-’1976/10,502

Engine all-alloy, dohc 1973cc ‘four’, twin Dell’Orto/Stromberg carbs; 142bhp @ 6500rpm; 130lb ft @ 5000rpm

Transmission four/five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front independent, by wishbones rear live axle, trailing and semi-trailing links; coils, telescopics f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs/drums, with servo

Weight 2337lb (1060kg)

0-60mph 7.8 secs

Top speed 122mph

Price now £4500-16,500


Jensen-Healey

From top: other than federal bumpers, J-H has aged well; roomy cabin is great for touring; lively twink makes it almost as quick as the heavier TVR.


STAR FEATURE EXCLUSIVITY

You’ll seldom see another one on the road, which is a real shame.


Alkureishi says…

Allay your fears, and forget the negative period press; this is a sorted little sports car. Aesthetically, it’s a touch plain Jane and the oversized American rubber impact bumpers – tossed onto this last of the line UK example – don’t do it any favours.

Get behind the wheel, though, and it all gels together quite nicely. The Twin Cam Lotus ‘four’ – once the source of all ills – is a little lumpy at idle, but pulls strongly with a sporting bark under heavy load. It gets a touch uncouth north of 6000rpm, so best to engage the services of the efficient Getrag five-speed gearbox before then.

It has a gargantuan boot, but a bit of an unwieldy hood mechanism. On the road it’s comfy, with softly sprung suspension – on target for its key US market – that soaks up all manner of ills. Here that means considerable lean through corners, but there’s more grip than you realise. The steering feels sharp, and pushed in harder it’ll understeer. Yet while a TR6 always feels like a boisterous bulldog threatening to drag you off your feet, the Jensen- Healey remains benign and friendly like a Labrador.


The scores

SPORTS PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Handling 6

Acceleration 7

Braking 6

Tactility 5

TOTAL 24

EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE (out of 40)

Everyday usability 7

Ease of maintenance/parts availability 6

Practicality 7

Hood erection 5

TOTAL 25

MONEY MATTERS (out of 20)

Value for money 4

Running costs 4

Insurance 4

Investment value 3

TOTAL 15


 

The verdict

Of course, the car that I enjoyed driving the most won, while the one I owned and still have fond memories of – the Fiat – came second. While you do your best to be objective, personal preference can’t help but sway matters and that’s ultimately what influences, and directs, our classic choices.

Each of these convertibles offers a quite different driving experience, flavoured with its own foibles and ownership realities. On the day, the brutal noise of the TVR allied to its dynamics had me from the off.

On another day my choice could, and would, have been different. What is true, is that you won’t be disappointed with any of them.


THE FINAL SCORES

TVR 3000S 74

FIAT 124 SPIDER 72

MGB 72

ALFA ROMEO SPIDER 70

PORSCHE 914-4 70

TRIUMPH TR6 65

MORGAN 4/4 65

JENSEN-HEALEY 64

LOTUS SEVEN 62

CHEVROLET CORVETTE 57

AND THE WINNER IS… TVR 3000S


 

Alfa Romeo Spider vs. Triumph TR6, Chevrolet Corvette C3, Lotus Seven S4, MGB, VW Porsche 914-4, Fiat 124 Spider, Morgan 4/4, TVR 3000S, Jensen-Healey

Alfa Romeo Spider vs. Triumph TR6, Chevrolet Corvette C3, Lotus Seven S4, MGB, VW Porsche 914-4, Fiat 124 Spider, Morgan 4/4, TVR 3000S, Jensen-Healey


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