Lotus Esprit Turbo, Ferrari 308GTSi QV, De Lorean DMC-12, Alpine A310, Porsche 911SC Targa, Jaguar XJ-S 5.3HE, BMW M535i E12, Audi Ur-Quattro and Bentley Mulsanne Turbo - Giant Test 1982 cars

   
Lotus Esprit Turbo, Ferrari 308GTSi QV, De Lorean DMC-12, Alpine A310, Porsche 911SC Targa, Jaguar XJ-S 5.3HE, BMW M535i E12, Audi Ur-Quattro and Bentley Mulsanne Turbo 2015 / 2016 Drive-My

80s performance bargains - where were you in 1982? 1982 and all that. Bargain performance from the year of our birth: Lotus Esprit Turbo, Ferrari 308GTSi QV, De Lorean DMC-12, Alpine A310, Porsche 911SC Targa, Jaguar XJ-S 5.3HE, BMW M535i E12, Audi Quattro and Bentley Mulsanne. Who says there weren’t any great cars in the ’80s? With a strict budget, the team heads for the hills in the best performance cars that were on sale in the year of Drive-My birth. Martin Buckley is your (slightly biased) referee. Photography Tony Baker/James Mann.


It is sobering to consider that die nine cars featured here are now three decades old. It seems only the day before yesterday they were die latest and greatest, the last word in speed, luxury and driver appeal, lifting diem above the general rabble of miserable 1982 offerings.

I don’t remember this as a vintage year of uplifting events, what with the beginning of the Falklands War, record unemployment in the UK and the collapse of Laker Airways. In fact, the launch of a new classic-car magazine with a distinctive winged logo was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise gloomy horizon.

This cross-section was settled upon by giving full reign to the personal prejudices of current DRIVE-MY staff, rather than following any rigid criteria other than that they had to be available today for £25,000 or less. So please forgive us if your 1982 favourite is conspicuously absent. In any event, it’s a pretty fair representation of what you could buy if you wanted more than mere transport in die year of the deeply underwhelming new Ford Sierra.

We’ve split them into two-seaters, four-seaters and 2+2s, yet only the turbocharged Bentley, Lotus and Audi seem to embrace the spirit of the decade that was to unfold. The BMW, Jaguar and Ferrari are ’70s hangovers (and none the worse for it), while the Porsche 911 is a ’60s car that simply refuses to die. The Alpine? An engaging oddity. Where that leaves the De Lorean we’re not sure, but here it is in all of its brushed stainless-steel glory as a reminder that even bad cars can be quite interesting. We assembled at a favourite spot in Wales and set out to find the truth about the cream of 1982. We enjoyed it. We hope you do, too.


 

Lotus Esprit Turbo-Ferrari 308GTSi QV-De Lorean DMC-12

2 seaters 

Lotus Esprit Turbo 

Ferrari 308GTSi QV 

De Lorean DMC-12


In the early 1980s, the mid-engined configuration was still considered the only way to really make a car handle. This did rather dictate seating capacity, however: driver and one passenger in front of the engine, in a low-slung, wedge-profiled coupe, usually with flip-up headlamps. As far as the Lotus Esprit Turbo and Ferrari 308GTS are concerned, the compromises of this layout are handsomely repaid in driver satisfaction. Back in 1982 these cars, the perfect schoolboy pin-up machines of the time, represented just about the ultimate for those seeking pure responses in a road car that could deliver high cornering g-forces and top speeds of knocking-on 150mph.

Pininfarina’s 308 is, for us, one of the last of the truly pretty Ferraris, although it looks purer in fixed-head GTB form than as a GTS with the effete removable roof. The shape had been around since 1975 and the 1982 quattrovalvole version, with its four valves per cylinder and 240bhp, reclaimed most of the power that had been lost in the shamefully underendowed 1981-1982 Ferrari GTBi/GTSi, the first injected 308s. As the Ferrari 328GTB and GTS, the basic outline would stay current until 1988, with the removable-roof car always handsomely outselling the GTB.

The Lotus Esprit was also familiar by 1982. In fact, the Esprit in Turbo form had already been around for two years. The Giugiaro-styled shape is sharper-edged and prettier in normally aspirated S1 form (with less lily-gilding ‘Turbo’ addenda) but it still turns heads as a machine with obvious ‘supercar’ credentials.

Shame it doesn’t sound like one. With its four-cylinder, 2.2-litre burble and flapping wastegate overrun hiss it doesn’t make supercar noises from within or without, but makes up for it by being amazingly smooth and progressive in its refined but thrusting delivery and lack of turbo lag. This car’s gear linkage has been rose-jointed and it never lost its way in the gate, but didn’t have the solid metallic precision that makes you want to change gear just for the hell of it.

There’s every reason to want to shift gears in the Ferrari. Closely stacked ratios in a satisfying open-gated gearshift probably make the acceleration feel more exciting than it really is, but on the other hand 0-60mph in a fraction over 6 secs is not hanging about even now, and subjectively the Ferrari feels quicker, more urgent somehow, than the Esprit Turbo. The 24-valve, quad-camshaft 3-litre V8 delivers clean and enthusiastic pull from not much above pottering speed through to over 7000rpm, with really biting thrust from 5000rpm onwards. The Ferrari also probably feels faster because it’s noisier, whereas the Lotus is surprisingly relaxed once it’s cruising in fifth.

On balance, the Brit is not such a nice place to be in as the Italian car. The instrument pod wobbles over bumps and there are too many reminders of the humble parts bins Lotus tended to plunder, whereas the Ferrari appears more cultivated and bespoke from behind the wheel and doesn’t suffer from the Esprit’s too closely bunched pedals or its thick A-pillars.

A Lotus that did not handle would be unthinkable and the Esprit is hugely capable and impressive, with prodigious grip, communicative manual steering (that occasionally feels a bit heavy in slow, tight corners, but self-centres strongly) and a total lack of drama in the way it deals with all comers and surfaces - although the front did occasionally feel slightly vague as it went light and then settled again over crests. That’s a function, I’m told, of the current rubber, which is not the original Goodyear NCTs.

Ferrari steering, also unassisted of course, feels dead and rather hefty at low speeds, but is lively and deliciously accurate under way and in all other respects the car is delightful in any situation you are likely encounter driving it quickly, and reasonably well, on the road.

What roll there might be is difficult to detect from within and, like the Lotus, its steering only loads up in tight, slow bends. You can’t unsettle the car’s grip by backing off abruptly, while pouring on the power as you exit a curve just makes the back wheels bite harder. None of this seems to be achieved at the cost of the ride, which just gets better the faster you go, but in this respect it can’t quite match the more accomplished Lotus.

But hang on a moment, there are three cars here. Why would anyone wish to forgo the delights of the Ferrari and the Lotus for a De Lorean, a car that is, arguably, not much more than a bit of old nonsense?

Well, as an attention-grabber the DMC-12 seems to be unrivalled at gathering crowds and comments. For those of us who crave the attention of others, that is worth quite a lot. It is also most definitely ‘fun’. James Mann voted the De Lorean the car he’d most want to take home - “for the kids”. Certainly it’s a car that anyone under the age of 15 seems to love. Technically and historically, it is a car that links Lotus and Alpine, sharing its Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 with the latter’s A310 in a chassis that Colin Chapman was paid $17m to design as John Z De Lorean’s high-minded ambitions for his ‘ethical sports car’ became more and more compromised by technical and financial limitations and time constraints.

THE 308 IS DELIGHTFUL IN ANY SITUATION YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER IF DRIVING IT QUICKLY

The gullwing doors and (not very practical) stainless-steel finish are among the few major features of the original concept that survived. Inside, you sit low and semi-prone in great swathes of black leather that conjure all kinds of unpalatable memories of the 1980s. Its ambience screams ‘Lotus at the golf club’. Driving the car leaves you slightly underwhelmed and it’s hard to summon up any lasting impressions except that the notchy gearchange is not that of a sports car and neither is the engine, with its just-about- adequate power but pedestrian note and delivery. I dare say the De Lorean might be persuaded to swap ends but, despite having its engine hung behind the rear wheels, it isn’t inherently pendulous or in any way malign in its handling.

If nothing else, the De Lorean was the car the team was most curious to drive because it’s a vehicle not often seen outside car shows and collections. It was rarely without a pilot and we all sort of knew it was going to be rubbish on some level, but I’m not exactly sure why because I can’t ever remember reading a formal appraisal of the car. In fact, the general consensus on the DMC-12 was: “Not as bad as I expected!” But that’s not to say it was especially good, either.


James Page - Lotus Esprit Turbo

“I have to confess straight away that I have an ever-so-slight obsession with Lotus. So the Esprit was a natural choice. It may not have the glamour of the Ferrari or the dependability of the Audi, but just look at what else it has in its arsenal. For a start, Giugiaro's wedge design looks crisp and purposeful - to my eyes, at least. The supreme handling you can take as a given, and the forced induction means that straight-line performance is there in spades.

“Okay, you'd be unwise to rely on it for any long-distance touring, but keep the turbo spinning and few can keep up on a quick Sunday-morning blast. You certainly have to admit that it's a lot of performance for the money - you could comfortably buy two top Esprits for the price of an average 308.

"One day values will surely start to rise, as they seem to for every car I covet, but for now the Esprit is the underdog supercar: as a package, it's far more than the sum of its relatively humble parts. I can even forgive interior doorhandles that will be familiar to those of us who have owned anything made by British Leyland in the 1970s!'


FACTFILE Lotus Esprit Turbo

Sold/number built 1981-1987/1658

Engine 2174cc four twin Dell'Orto carbs

Max power 210bhp @ 6250rpm

Max torque 200lb ft @ 4500rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension front wishbones rear lower wishbones, upper links; coil springs, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs, vented at front

Weight 2653lb (1205kg)

0-60mph 5.6 secs

Top speed 149mph

Mpg 20

Price new £17,259

Price now from £8000


OR YOU COULD HAVE MORGAN PLUS 8

Not exactly in the same dynamic league as the Esprit, but the combination of Rover V8 power and archaic Morgan chassis will put a smile on your face. Tough to find for under £25k now.

Thanks to owner Andy Jenkins; Club Lotus, The Lotus Forums

Clockwise, from left: '80s signature cross-spokes; padded leather abounds in cosy cabin; 100bhp per litre from turbo 'four'.

Its easy to see why the De Lorean was the obvious choice as the Back to the Future time machine: it still looks as if it has.

From top: plenty of space in roomy cabin, but no Flux Capacitor; turbine-style alloys; mid-mounted PRV Douvrin V6 works hard.


 Julian Balme - De Lorean DMC-12

"Nobody looks at the Esprit and asks where the skis have gone. Likewise, no one enquires of a 308 owner why he isn't sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a moustache. Yet with the De Lorean, the Martymacfuture references simply detract from what is actually a good car, and the biggest surprise of the whole group.

“If they were more common at track days than village fetes we'd all want one - but don't expect to be able fill the tank without being engaged in conversation. My first fuel stop resulted in me having to take the photo of a woman I’d never met before, standing by one of the open gullwing doors.

“There's no denying its dramatic presence and, with the pedigree of Italian styling and arguably Britain's greatest motor-engineering resource, it's a tragedy it wasn't built better. The gearbox is great; the engine, while not exotic, betters the others for reliability and longevity; and the handling far outweighs expectations. It keeps out the elements better than the Ferrari and feels more stable than the Lotus on greasy mountain roads. If it had twice the power and was assembled in Stuttgart, it would win hands down."


FACTFILE De Lorean DMC-12

Sold/number built 1981-1982/8583

Engine 2849cc V6, fuel injection

Max power 130bhp @ 5500rpm (US spec)

Max torque 160lb ft  @ 2750rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front wishbones, anti-roll bar rear trailing arms, transverse links; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes vented front, solid rear discs, servo

Weight 2712lb (1230kg)

0-60mph 10.2 secs

Top speed 121mph

Mpg 19

Price new £25,650

Price now from £17,500


OR YOU COULD HAVE CHEVY CORVETTE

The C3 Corvette's production values are about parallel with those of the DMC-12 and its looks are equally head-turning, for half the price.

Thanks to Great Escape Classic Car Hire, where you can hire this De Lorean.


James Mann Ferrari 308GTSi QV

"It's hard to believe that the familiar lines of the 308 are nearly 40 years old, but this stunning piece of PIninfarina design was the shape of things to come in 1975, and echoes of its styling would surface for decades to follow. "The first GTBs were glassf ibre - light, but costly to produce so steel followed in 1977, along with the targa-style GTS. The mid-mounted, transverse, dry-sump V8 was later reworked with a wet sump and fuel injection to please the bunny huggers, with a resultant drop of over 35bhp. Power was restored to a very respectable 240bhp with the addition of a four-valve head, as in this 1982 car. The 308 has been much maligned over the years as a 'poor man's’ Ferrari, but only by those who’ve never driven one.

“The cabin is generous, with great visibility and comfy leather sports seats, albeit with an offset driving position. That Ferrari yowl kicks in at 4500rpm and really delivers, along with progressive steering, prompt throttle response and a wonderfully forgiving chassis. It isn't just the best car here, or the best 'affordable' Ferrari: it's one of the best sports car at any price!”


FACTFILE Ferrari 308GTSi QV

Sold/number built 1981-1985/4785

Engine dohc-per-bank 2921 cc V8, fuel injection

Max power 240bhp @ 7000rpm

Max torque 231 lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs, with servo

Weight 2331 lb (1062kg)

0-60mph 6.1 secs

Top speed 148mph

Mpg 18

Price new £22,699

Price now from £22,500


OR YOU COULD HAVE MERCEDES 500SL R107

If Italian style isn't your thing, how about German efficiency in the shape of the V8, 227bhp Mercedes-Benz SL R107? What it lacks in brio it makes up for in image.

Thanks to Verdi Ferrari, which is selling this 308GTSi for £24,500 


The 308's shape is very familiar, but still gorgeous - apart from the DMC-12, it drew more admiring glances than any other car in our convoy.

Clockwise, from left: distinctive five-spokes; stylish cabin, if not most comfortable; qv head restored V8's output.


 

Jaguar XJ-S 5.3 HE V12-Alpine A310 V6 Porsche 911SC Targa

2+2 seaters

Jaguar XJ-S 5.3 HE V12

Alpine A310 V6

Porsche 911SC Targa


Early cars oval lights are pricey so many V12s have had a US-spec twin-lamp conversion; this Antelope 1984 HE, though, is delightfully original. Even in relatively tame SC targa form, the Porsche 911 proves itself annoyingly good, time and time again. For some of us (me), it’s a car we almost steel ourselves against liking, lest it appears too much of a default choice - like supporting Manchester United when you live in Surrey. To my mind the whole 911 ‘thing’ chimes in with that overwhelming feeling I get when people start twittering on about a new television series that you ‘must see’; my immediate response is to not get involved. Thus, over the years, I have consciously avoided 911s because I know I’d probably love them and become a real Porsche anorak.

IN 30 YEARS THE XJ-S SEEMS TO HAVE ALMOST GROWN INTO ITS SQUAT, ASSERTIVE LOOKS

Clockwise, from left: five-spoke alloys for HE; plush cabin has surprisingly tight headroom; home mechanics beware!

And yet they are so good, so complete. Martin Port was looking wistful for his late-lamented 912, while Mick Walsh emerged from the Glacier Blue 1983 targa convinced that it was “the best car here” - and in many ways he was right. Physically, the genius of the 911 is that it’s a neat, manageable size, and once inside you feel as if you are wearing it, with the ends of the front wings nicely visible between the descending bonnet line. It was not designed to be hard to hop in and out of, or see out of. Aside from the rather dour selection of injection-moulded black plastics that make up the cabin, it is beautifully made. On the move it is a car bereft of extraneous flab. The gruff ring of the flat-six suggests strength and stamina as it smoothly revs out to 6000rpm and delivers great bounding shoves of wholesome accelerative force or low-speed tractability to choice. Yes, wholesome, that’s the word. Something about the 911 is good for you, like eating your greens or going to bed early.

Unlike those activities it is fun, but the sort of fun you could live with day in, day out. The 911 has no structural rattles, its engine never falters. In its braking and steering it is fabulously biddable, a perfect machine that answers everything in the affirmative, as long as you don’t transgress its high limits. I certainly never made its lightly laden front end plough on or its tail swing, but just delighted in a car that rocketed me out of any corner I threw at it with mighty traction.

Most of us loved die XJ-S, too, but in a different way and there was clearly a feeling abroad among the DRIVE-MY team that Jaguar’s mid-’70s GT was deserving of some rehabilitation.

By the time our magazine first hit the shelves the HE version had evolved, boasting much more efficient May cylinder heads. With higher gearing to farther help economy and some wood to appease American buyers, the XJ-S was at last the car it should have been in 1975, although it was still one that was lauded more for its fabulous refinement than its aesthetics. Thirty years on, however, it seems to have almost grown into its shape, a squat and assertive-looking coupe that is not the ‘big’ car you recall. Inside it feels positively cosy and surprisingly low, with an imposing view along the bonnet and rear seats that are slightly more useful than they look; Walsh was spotted trying them out for size.

The Jaguar’s V12 is like a big electric motor, somehow more akin to the pre-war American V12 s in silky sophistication, its total smoothness, than a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. Some confessed themselves disappointed that it didn’t make a more strident noise, but a throaty XJ-S would be missing the point. This car is about high-speed, long-distance refinement, and it was Jaguar’s belief that the engine must not intrude.

The V12 HE’s higher gearing slightly takes the fierceness out of the initial acceleration, but when the weight is moving the Jaguar’s 295bhp becomes fully in evidence. Clements found the auto ’box on this car a bit noisy in first, but was mightily impressed with the kickdown urge for joining motorways. Elliott confessed that the Jaguar was his kind of car, but that he “couldn’t live with the steering”, such was its lightness and apparent disconnection from the action. After his Jensen it’s probably just not thirsty enough for him, truth be known: Clements reported 20mpg in the XJ-S cruising up from Surrey.

Once you get past that over-light sensation, you learn that the Jaguar is quite a wieldy car. It makes quick progress so effortless that driving it fast is satisfying but undramatic. Jaguar’s focus for the XJ-S was ride and suppression of road noise, and in both of these areas the car is The more I looked at the Alpine, the more I liked the groovy, chisel-fronted style of its plastic bodywork, first seen in 1971 on its four-cylinder predecessor. It is bolted to a backbone chassis and, with the whole thing weighing in at around a tonne, the performance from a mere 150bhp is delightful. The V6 version - with the all-alloy 2,7-Iitre engine - was first seen in 1977 and made the Alpine into a 141 mph 911 rival, although it was not officially sold in the UK.

SOMETHING OF THE 911 IS GOOD FOR YOU, LIKE EATING YOUR GREENS OR GOING TO BED EARLY

Things didn’t start well for me in the Alpine because I struggled to get in: a box-section next to the pedals gets in the way and the seat was too far forward. Plus I’m a shade on the portly side at the moment (cue sniggers from Clements as he looks on from his glasshouse). Once inside, the futuristic-looking seats are soft and the facia, although brittle and rudimentary in style, tells you everything you need to know. The rear seats rather stretch the credulity of the ‘2+2’ tag, but would no doubt suffice for small children.

I was unprepared for how well this car went. Once the full length of the throttle travel was discovered, it seemed to have acceleration not that far behind the 911, delivered with a lusty, offbeat growl that was as inspiring as the similarly powered De Lorean’s was limp and unappealing. This V6 is not a sports car engine but its willingness to spin hard to its redline, pulling strongly and smoothly all the way, was as impressive as its ability to lug around in third and fourth from 1200rpm or cruise peacefully in top. Alpine sorted the handling on the 310 simply by putting huge tyres on the rear (they’re even bigger on this car) and it seems to have worked. It scuttles around curves in a flat, neat and nifty way that suggests something much smaller with light, quick steering. The gearchange does not reach the same standard - it felt vague and slightly rubbery at times - but I never failed to find the gear I wanted and Walsh was a fan of the flailing clap-hands windscreen wipers with their curious out-of-synch action; very French.

I was not alone in being rather taken with the A310. As Elliott said: “If I lived around here, that’s the car I’d choose.” I know what he means.


Martin Port PORSCHE 911SC TARGA

"Anyone who knows my motoring history will remember my Porsche ownership - albeit lacking a couple of cylinders compared to the 911. So I had no qualms about picking the Porsche 911SC. With prices of earlier 911s going — astronomical, SCs and turbos make so much sense in today’s market place and, truth be told, the difference in aesthetics and handling of this iconic car really isn’t that dramatic: the SC still feels firmly rooted in the 1960s.

"The overwhelming feeling you get from any 911 is one of reliability and a get-in- and-go attitude. With superb power delivery, stunning looks and reassuring handling, this is everything you could need from a 2+2. There’s even room for bags in the front, kids in the back, plus acceptable fuel economy and, above all, a thoroughly enjoyable drive.

"It’s easy to be overconfident. In a straight line, traction is surefooted and gearchanges smooth despite the long throw, but give it too much in a corner (or lift off!) and the unfamiliar can find themselves coming unstuck. Keep that in check, though, and you'll have the best sports 2+2 out there - plus with regular maintenance it should prove hard to kill.”


FACTFILE Porsche 911SC Targa

Sold/number built 1978-1983/108,081

Engine 2993cc flat-six, Bosch fuel injection

Max power 204bhp @ 5900rpm

Max torque 197lb ft @ 4300rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front struts, lower wishbones rear semi-trailing arms; torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering ZF rack and pinion

Brakes ventilated discs

Weight 2557lb (1160kg)

0-60mph 6.2 secs

Top speed 146mph

Mpg 23

Price new £16,732

Price now from £10,000


OR YOU COULD HAVE FORD CAPRI 2.8i

The image doesn't exactly match that of the 911, but for half the price of a rough Porsche you can buy a top-notch Ford Capri that will easily keep up with it. In a straight line, at least.

Thanks to Paul Stephens, where this car is for sole priced at £18,995 and Porsche 911 Club

The 911 has it all: pace, sublime steering and handling, practicality and superb quality. No wonder many chose it as the car they would take home.


James Elliott JAGUAR XJ-S 5.3 HE

“There are three reasons why I chose to champion the underdog: 1) My dad had a couple of XJ-Ss-always 4-litres-and they were excellent, even from the cramped back seat; 2) I am an Interceptor owner, and anyone who has driven Jensen and Jaguar back to back will know that they share a personality - the latter feels like a development of the former; 3) Price. While most of these cars are rising in value, only the BMW can be bought anywhere near as cheaply as the XJ-S. Just a couple of grand could sort you a usable car awash with luxury, leather and comfort, a sleek, road-hugging shape and a glorious (until you have to work on it) V12, one of the smoothest methods of mighty power delivery devised by Midlands man.

"Can it win against this lot? Of course not. But just because I am championing a lost cause, that doesn't mean we shouldn’t take the opportunity to raise awareness of the most undervalued Youngtimer in the world.

"Clements had the privilege of bringing the Jag to Wales and on arrival he was waxing lyrical, promising that none would get close to the XJ-S for a transcontinental blast.”


FACTFILE Jaguar XJ-S 5.3 HE

Sold/number built 1981-1991/60,857 (all 5.3 coupes)

Engine 5344cc V12, Bosch fuel injection

Max power 295bhp @ 5500rpm

Max torque 318lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission three-speed automatic, RWD

Suspension: front wishbones rear lower wishbones, upper driveshaft links; coils and telescopies (twin to rear), a-r bar f/r

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Brakes ventilated discs, with servo

 Weight 3902lb (1770kg)

0-60mph 7.7 secs

Top speed 140mph

Mpg 20

Price new £18,209

Price now from £2000


OR YOU COULD HAVE FERRARI MONDIAL 8

It's hard to think of a car more abused by aficionados. Gawky 2+2 shape won plenty of brickbats and few bouquets, but there's a sublime V8 and it's a Ferrari - the cheapest you can buy Ferrari Mondial 3.2 QV.

Thanks to owner Murry Hillborne; Hurst Park and Jaguar XJ-S Club


David Evans ALPINE A310 V6

"There's something about the A310 for me-and not just because, as one wag put it: 'It's French and weird! It might just be that brilliant blue paint as it sings in the sun (not that there was much on offer in the Black Mountains). This car wasn't meant to be blue, but its buyer went to Dieppe to see it being built and didn’t fancy the brown that was all the rage in 1979.

"Once you're in - apparently there's a knack - there's plenty to keep Renault parts-bin spotters busy. Those quirky R17 seats are more supportive than they look and that chunky sports wheel is lovely - not that you need to grip it tightly, such is the sublime, super-quick steering. Some found the rear-engined chassis a touch skittish, though it never felt anything other than planted to me - even on soaking-wet tarmac.

"It's never going to match the Porsche on paper, but the Alpine is about 200kg lighter so doesn't feel far off. It's sweeter to drive, too, with a slick gearchange that you click with rather than wrestle. And you'd never guess it's a demure Douvrin motor behind you, with that fruity exhaust rasp plus the spits and pops on the overrun."


FACTFILE Alpine A310 V6

Sold/number built 1976-1984/9276

Engine 2664cc V6, twin- 6 single-choke Solex carbs

Max power 150bhp @ 6000rpm

Max torque 150lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission four-speed manual, RWD

Suspension double wishbones, coils, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes vented front, solid rear discs, servo

Weight 2161lb (980kg)

0-60mph 7.2 secs

Top speed 141mph

Mpg 26

Price new FFr 39,000

Price now from £12,000


OR YOU COULD HAVE PORSCHE 928

Controversial 1977 Porsche 928 Series-1 Car of The Year is now a bargain super-GT that's ageing nice Buy carefully, though, because there are lots of rough ones about.

Thanks to Paul and Cynthia Fraser-Sage, Alpine Autos


 

BMW M535i E12, Audi Ur-Quattro and Bentley Mulsanne Turbo

4 seaters

BMW M535i E12

Audi Ur-Quattro

Bentley Mulsanne Turbo


The Audi Quattro, here in its original ‘Ur’ form with left-hand drive and no anti-lock brakes, was the car many people seemed to feel they should have as a sensible combination of turbo excitement and four-wheel-drive ruggedness. Somehow on a sleeting, windy day in January on a Welsh mountain you feel as if it’s the car you need on your side. And yet there were elements of disquiet that mainly centred on the dreary interior with its creaky, clunky facia that jarred with the jazzy seat and door trim.

“You could be sitting in a Polo,” said Walsh, who had driven the car (which is part of Audi UK’s historic collection) from London. Its boxy lines and bulging arches still look tough, but the presentation inside and under the bonnet show that Audi had not yet learned the BMW trick of making sure that great engineering really looked like great engineering. The five-cylinder engine, hanging way out beyond the front wheels, sounds great but looks very routine.

THE FREE-REVVING 'SIX' TURNS THE HUMBLE 5 SERIES INTO A POOR MAN'S FOUR-DOOR CSL'

Clockwise, from left: return of the cross-spoke; funky script in instrument pod and excellent seats; single-cam 'six' is sweet.

Putting aesthetics aside, the Audi Quattro could hardly fail to score top marks for its chassis behaviour. With its 200bhp distributed through all four wheels, it whips through any curve you throw at it with total disdain, never taking up more than its fair share of the highway, always calm and collected and ready to process the next crest, hairpin or unusual camber with an unruffled sense of total control that was something new to most people in 1982. Really great power steering keeps you involved, informed and feeling brave even in the rain, but you need to keep the engine in its power band with the turbo spooling to make things interesting. This means making full use of the five-speed ’box - which I felt was not the nicest part of the quattro, with its rubbery action and generally unrefined feel - but used thus the throaty urge is certainly there. The off-a-pot growl was the Audi signature tune of the ’80s but my still reasonably well-tuned memory banks tell me that the last 20v cars were the nicest of the original quattros.

The sad irony of the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo is that it would have been double the price, new, of any of the other four-seaters in circa 1982, and yet today this car is worth substantially less than either a nice BMW or even an average Audi.

That is if you can find one. The Mulsanne Turbo was listed to 1985 and only 498 were built before the Turbo R usurped it as buyers looking for real performance in jumbo form began to demand more accomplished cornering. Thus die Mulsanne will go down history as the really quick Bentley with the rubbish handling.

That’s not the whole story, though. This generation of post-Shadow Crewe limousines is looking better every year (the Turbo Rs had sporty wheels and round lights, but the Mulsanne looks wonderfully patrician on its standard hubcaps) and getting cheaper.

Our drivers approached the red Bentley with a mixture of amusement and trepidation, but were mostly won over by the sheer grandeur of the cabin - which no other car came anywhere near - and not only the sense of occasion it imparted, but also the sense of wellbeing on the move. Elliott loved the Bentley but marked it down for its steering; Walsh loved the slim steering wheel and solid-hewn doorhandles - and it is this tactile trivia that in so many ways lifts the Bentley above conventional cars.

It would be easy to be rude about the way the horizon tilts when you show the Mulsanne a tight curve, or sneer at its sometimes singlefigure thirst, but when you level the throttle (which is beautifully smooth) on a straight road the Turbo squats on its haunches and hustles itself along with an alacrity that is unexpected in something so big and angular. There’s a rustle from the engine, a bit more road noise, but somehow all that happens is that the landscape rushes towards you more quickly.

That sense of calm is rather broken by the need to go around comers, an activity that is in some ways more of a problem for passengers than the driver; at least he has the steering wheel to hold on to. It all looks more alarming than it is really (lots of understeer and roll), but if you ‘get’ the Mulsanne Turbo you will appreciate that there’s more to life than go-kart handling. To be honest, if you could have stumped up the 60-odd grand this car cost in 1982 then you could probably have afforded to buy yourself a 911 if you really wanted a toy to play racing driver.

In a way, the five-seater, 140mph BMW M535i E12 does the job of both those cars. If we discount the limited-edition M1 then the BMW M535i E12 was the first Motorsport Edition model generally available to BMW customers. It was a leery hot rod in the tradition of the 2002 turbo, created by the simple expedient of fitting Munich’s largest M30 3.5-litre straight-six into its neat, mid-sized E12 5 Series bodyshell, which weighed 140lb less than the E24 6 Series coupe that was its usual home. It came only with a dog-leg Getrag gearbox (with direct rather than overdriven fifth) and 195/70 tyres on E24 BMW 635CSi type alloys, but the main distinguishing features visually were the deep front spoiler and, in the case of this car, M-Sport stripes on the flanks.

This is the facelifted version of the first-generation BMW E12 5 Series. It is a handsome and unassuming car, with a nice tall glass area, a shark-nose frontal treatment and a boxy tail that gives a big boot. It’s a pleasant thing to sit in, full of light, and what struck me about the M535 was its beautifully sculpted and almost futuristic-looking facia, made from pleasing materials and offering the absolute latest in ergonomic thought in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Nobody did this better than BMW in those days, and nobody built a better six-cylinder engine either. Free-revving, flexible and beautifully smooth, it turns the humble 5 Series into a poor man’s four-door CSL. Let rip in that low first gear and it will fire you up the road in a series of wild fishtails, then keep on accelerating hard in second, third and fourth to well over 100mph, nudging the 140 mark in fifth. There is a chunky precision to the evenly matched steering, gearbox and braking efforts that leaves you with a satisfying aftertaste. And if you like oversteer this is your car, a machine that can deliver proper lurid low-speed tail-out action - “but only if you want it”, as Clements pointed out. In short, the M535 seems to be the very essence of everything you expect from a fast, old BMW - and there’s an awful lot to like about that.


Values then and now: every loser wins

Most of the cars we tested are insured today for pretty much what they would have cost you new in March 1982, but that is not to say there hasn't been a period of depreciation in between.

You could buy an example (though not necessarily as nice as the ones we had) of the Ferrari, Alpine, Porsche, BMW and Audi for within a couple of grand of their new prices.

That goes for the De Lorean, too, but that needs to take into account the ridiculously high price of the car when it was on sale, weighing in at more than £25,000. That made it comfortably the second most expensive car of our group in 1982 - £12k more expensive than the BMW and around £10k more than the Audi or the Porsche - which brings us on to the biggest losers.

A few of the Drive-My test cars are significantly cheaper now than new, most notably the Esprit Turbo - you could probably snag one for half the £17,259 it would have cost you in 1982 - and the Jaguar XJ-S: £18,209 then, yet you could pick up a runner today for £1500 and a tip-top car will struggle to get much past £5-8000.

But as surely as paparazzi follow A-listers, any classic car mag article including a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo will stand back, take a deep breath, then fulminate on rampant depreciation that makes even Alfa prices look stable.

In 1982, a Mulsanne Turbo, plaything of the long-in-the-tooth playboy who could afford to actually run it, would have set you back £58,613. According to a terrifically scientific thingy we found on the internet via a Google search, that would be the equivalent of £177,011 today. We do know that, in 1982, the average house price in the UK was less than £25,000 and a gallon (a gallon, not a litre) of petrol was £1.59.

So how much did our owner pay for his masterpiece of solipsistic excess? £2000. OK, so it cost him that again to get it up and running, but by the end of the day Buckley was desperately trying to prise it from his grasp. And no one could blame him: in terms of bangs for bucks it was the clear winner, ahead of the next two biggest losers. And that suggests that the more powerful the car - and the bigger the costs that come with it-the greater the depreciation. It brings a whole new meaning to 'power to wait!


Alastair Clements BMW M535i E12

"OK, hands up, I am cheating a bit here: European BMW M535i E12 production ended mid-way through 1981, but it's a pretty safe bet that the £14k price-tag meant there were still a few on the forecourts at the beginning of 1982 (and they were still being built for the South African market until 1984). I make no apologies for bending the rules, because we had to have a BMW in a test of 1980s performance greats. And this is the original, the first 'true' M-car because it's a saloon, an attainable dream car that you could use every day, rather than a limited-run supercar like its BMW M1 E26 predecessor.

“The spoilers and stripes have dated a little, but 30 years on the E12 otherwise stands up superbly: the corduroy Recaros are great (if a touch high-set); the 218bhp 'six' sounds wonderful and, because the car is so light, delivers strong performance; the dog-leg Getrag 'box is a joy; and the grippy chassis with a tail-happy bias is delightfully responsive. I can even get my kids in the back. The fact that I could buy two minters for the price of an average 308 - and keep up with it - makes this the obvious choice."


FACTFILE BMW M535i E12

Sold/number built 1980-1981/1410

Engine 3453cc straight-six, fuel injection

Max power 218bhp @ 5200rpm

Max torque 224lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, RWD

Suspension: front MacPherson strut rear semi-trailing arm; anti-roll bar f/r

Steering power-assisted recirculating ball

Brakes vented discs, with servo

Weight 2971lb (1350kg)

0-60mph 7.1 secs

Top speed 139mph

Mpg 20.2

Price new £13,745

Price now from £6000


OR YOU COULD HAVE... BUICK REGAL GN

Named after a NASCAR series, the Regal Grand National of 1982 looked mean and, when fitted with the Regal Sport's 175bhp 3.8-litre turbo V6, was the muscle car reborn.

Thanks to Steve House; BMW Car Club E12 Tony's BMW E12 M535i Register


Martin Buckley BENTLEY MULSANNE

"The Mulsanne Turbo comes from a time when I actually cared about new cars. It appeals now because it has the big rectangular headlights and standard stainless wheeltrims of the non-turbo car-to me, the Turbo R with its alloys and circular lights looked vaguely absurd - and it generally isn't trying to be some kind of giant boy- racer machine. If I owned the Mulsanne, I'd probably go as far as taking the ‘Turbo’ badges off: it seems an inappropriate word to plaster on a Bentley.

“I hated almost everything about the 1980s and, while the Turbo R makes me think of city people in chalk-stripes being complete bastards, there is something gentler about the Mulsanne Turbo with its soggy suspension. To expect something this big and heavy to go around a corner like an MX-5 seems unreasonable somehow.

"And, while I understand that it isn’t for everyone, I'm even finding that I like this Silver Spirit/Mulsanne shape better and better as the years go by - at least it's not a German pastiche made in a factory modelled on the Tellytubbies house!'


FACTFILE Bentley Mulsanne Turbo

Sold/number built 1982-1985/498

Engine 6750cc V8, Solex 4A1 carburettor and Garret turbocharger

 Max power 298bhp @ 3800rpm

Max torque 450lb ft @ 2450rpm

Transmission three-speed automatic, RWD

Suspension: front wishbones rear semi- trailing arms: coils, telescopies (selflevelling rear), anti-roll bar f/r

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Brakes discs, with servo

Weight 4926lb (2234kg)

0-60mph 7 secs

Top speed 135mph

Mpg 14

Price new £61,744

Price now from £8000


OR YOUCOULD HAVE FERRARI 400i

Still an affordable way into a Ferrari, this four-seater V12 is also one of the most underrated of all Prancing Horses. Just remember that cheap to buy does not mean cheap to run.

 Audi drivers cheered as the snow fell, because the quattro excels in such conditions with its huge four-wheel-drive grip and remarkable poise

Thanks to owner John Hall; Flying Spares


Mick Walsh AUDI UR-QUATTRO

"When I joined Drive-My in 1982, my driving experience was limited to old sports cars and a few hire cars. Many of those featured here were the first serious performance cars I drove. I’ll never forget an effortless charge to 140mph in an XJ-S at night but, more than any other, the quattro means the most today.

“Former editor in chief Mike McCarthy is an Audi man and I remember the buzz when the test cars arrived. The understated styling disguised the innovative engineering underneath, and that glorious five-cylinder bark more than made up for the bland cabin. This Steel Blue 1981 car has that same dramatic performance, inspiring steering and amazing poise in the trickiest conditions.

“I recall chatting to Phil Hill about the quattro - the 1961 F1 champ’s first experience of four-wheel drive - and he reported that it matched a Porsche 928 around Hockenheim, even in the dry. But aside from its amazing point-to-point ability, the Audi brings back a nostalgic flood including driving my MGB to Northumberland to see Mikkola and Mouton in Kielder at night. The quattro has epic motor sport DNA: a true thoroughbred."


FACTFILE Audi Ur-Quattro

Sold/number built 1980-1991/11,452 (all)

Engine 2144cc five-in-line Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and KKK turbocharger

Max power 200bhp @ 5500rpm

Max torque 210lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission five-speed manual, 4WD Suspension MacPherson struts, anti-roll barf/r

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Brakes vented front, solid rear discs, servo

Weight 2844lb (1290kg)

0-60mph 6.5 secs

Top speed 138mph

Mpg 19.9

Price new £14,500 (1981)

Price now £15,000


1982: dawn of the hot-hatch revolution

The perfect recipe for a hot hatch is simple: take your basic runabout and drop in a powerful engine. Easy. At about the time that Volkswagen launched the Mk3 Golf GTI, however, the entire breed had started to put on weight and move further away from that groundbreaking ethos. More turned out to be less.

It's therefore easy to forget the impact of the first generation of hot hatches. Technically, Renault started the ball rolling with its 1976 5 Alpine (sold as the Gordini in the UK, below right), but VW made all the headlines a matter of months later with the injected version of its Mkl Golf (above right). It produced just 108bhp, but that was plenty in a car that weighed a shade over 800kg. It was fun, practical and dealt a hammer-blow to the compromised and archaic two-seaters that were still being churned out by the likes of MG and Triumph.

Other makers were initially a little slow to respond, and it wasn't until the '80s that the hot hatch started to become omnipresent. Talbot kept things ticking over nicely by getting Lotus to drop its 2.2-litre 'four' into the Sunbeam, but soon they were all at it. Some followed VW's fuel-injected lead, such as Peugeot with the 205GTI; others stuck with carbs, such as Ford with the Fiesta XR2. Renault exploited the lessons learned in motor sport with the mid-engined 5 Turbo, which was followed by the more mainstream GT Turbo. Even Austin Rover had a go, with 1982's MG Metro (right).

On the right road, these cars were capable of embarrassing machinery costing three or four times as much. Finding one that hasn't been crashed or modded can be a challenge but, if you do, you'll mine a rich seam of fast, frugal fun.

Right: "That's right, Sir, the value will be halved the minute you drive out of the showroom"

Above: champions make their final arguments as the jurors get ready to cast their votes


 The verdict

2-seaters Ferrari 308GTSi QV

2+2s Porsche 911SC Targa

4-seaters BMW M535i E12

With many deciding, after a day on the Welsh hills, that the cars they had opted to champion weren’t as good as they thought, a secret ballot seemed the only fair way to decide this test. While Clements got the beers in, James Page distributed voting forms and we adjourned to a quiet corner of die bar to deliberate. As the votes trickled in, it became obvious that, in one class, there was a clear winner. Yes, it’s the most expensive; yes, it’s a cliche, but the Ferrari is also bloody good: it got top marks from all but two jurors, despite a passionate plea from Page on behalf of the Lotus, a deserving runner-up.

BMW M535i E12 vs. Ferrari 308 and Porsche 911

The 911 also put in a dominant performance (Porsche-hater Balme a notable exception) from the Alpine and Jaguar, but the four-seaters were closer to call. The Bentley was always going to lose out in the twisty Black Mountains, but the Bavarians were neck and neck, with Munich just pipping Ingolstadt by a single point.

Read 3716 times Last modified on Friday, 24 February 2017 14:12

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