Southern Group of Motoring Writers (SGMW) Heritage Day at Beaulieu National Motor Museum
By Shahzad Sheikh
Oh Lord – let this be my Groundhog Day! No less than NINE iconic cars driven at the annual Southern Group of Motoring Writers (SGMW) Heritage Day at Beaulieu National Motor Museum.
And some I never got around too: Classic Mini, Citroen Traction Avant, Vauxhall Viscount, Classic Ford Transit van, Citroen BX GTI, plus a couple of hot BMW M cars, the Bullitt edition new Ford Mustang, and yet still more.
Put the day on repeat and I’ll have my wicked way with them all! And whilst you’re at it, dear God, hit pause on the rain for a while.
Still, deluge or dry, nothing was going to deter me from extracting the most out of an event I’d been anticipating ever since I was privileged enough to be granted membership of this exclusive motoring journalists’ organisation. This is the third year of this extraordinary gathering in which manufacturers bring a selection of their finest metal, new and old, for our sampling, delectation and review.
I spent the day not quite believing it was happening – wondering where the catch was. I’ve still got bruises on my left arm where I kept pinching myself.
People often say we car journalists have an amazing job, it’s true I love what I do, but ‘best day ever’ occurrences aren’t as frequent as you may imagine. Yesterday however lists right up there with driving an F1 car, testing a Lamborgini Countach at age 21, and jumping dunes in a Nasser Al-Attiyah’s Works X-Raid Mini Rally car, to name a few.
So what nine cars did I test? Check out the video above and if you want to jump ahead to the car you’re most interested in, here’s the timeline, and below that brief info and impressions of each car:
- Vauxhall Firenza 00:53
- Ford Capri 06:59
- Honda NSX 14:11
- Honda Civic Type-R 15:28
- Peugeot 205 GTI 20:59
- Suzuki Jimny 28:05
- Toyota Supra 29:01
- Citroen CX Turbo 30:28
- Toyota MR2 38:08
Vauxhall Firenza Droop Snoot
From the mid 70s, this looks like a mini-muscle car, it may only have a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, but that produces 131bhp and makes this the first Vauxhall (Opel) to accelerate to 60mph in under 10 seconds – in 7.5 in fact. And to drive it felt pretty rapid. The first Vauxhall also to get a five-speed box, gave the engine room to stretch its legs too. Responsive, planted, a little noisy, but a joy to peddle. And how good does it look? It’s just a shame that so few were made, which makes this a rare treat indeed.
Moving from one European wannabe American to another – the Capri which was essentially the European Mustang. It’s a ‘car you always promised yourself’ says the blurb. Funny that, because I did. I was saving up for an 80s version with a 2.8 motor, but got lured away by a Toyota Celica Supra which I loved. But finally having my Capri moment, made me think I should had bought one. Still can, but prices have sky-rocketed. This well-maintained 1.6 version, might not have been quick, and desperately needed a fifth gear, but it was solid and smooth, with a surprising amount of refinement. Comfortable and sweet to drive too. Damn wish I had bought a Capri.
I’ve driven the Honda NSX twice before, once about 15 years, but it was a disappointing automatic, and then a far more enlightening manual about 12 years ago. But you should always grab a chance to drive this legendary machine, especially now, because in retrospect you can see just how far ahead of its time this car was. Driving it hard, in the rain, trying to get the rev needle into the stratosphere but still running out of road, illustrates just how easily Honda would have beat all the other supercar makers of the time at their own game. It’s precise yet exciting, adrenaline-pumping yet docile to drive and remains one of the best styled Japanese cars ever.
Honda Civic Type-R
But if the NSX is wonderful, the Civic Type-R is shock and awe! I’ve always struggled with its fussy and overdone styling, but after returning from this drive, I didn’t care what it looked like. And anyway, this one was covered in racing livery making it especially epic. It’s thunderingly quick all the time, unlike previous Type-Rs where you had to eek out the performance by hitting those high revs.
And it’s solid, by that I mean it was the most rigid car of anything I drove, as the whole vehicle was hewn from one piece of adamantium. This made it feel incredibly planted and stable. It was sharp and exciting. It’s doesn’t scream so much anymore as booms, and the ride is still possibly the most jarring aspect, but then it does translate so much feedback to your bottom. Regardless, less than 10-minutes in this car, and I was converted. I’d have one in a heartbeat (because it’s practical too).
Peugeot 205 GTI
From the a modern hot hatchback icon, straight into a classic one. You’d think it would be a total let down. But once I got it out on to the open road and some nice fast twisty bits, I forgot about the squeaks and rattles, the apparent flimsiness, and the rubbery gearchange. Like the Honda it boomed its intent, and danced to the tune you played on the steering wheel. It has to be noted that Peugeot restored this car and replaced the engine with the Mi-16 unit out of the 405, having to install a taller bonnet from a diesel version to accommodate the motor. Otherwise this car was immaculate, characterful and achingly desirable. And another tick off the bucket list!
It’s the car that’s whipped up an unprecedented storm of love for the small Japanese car maker. And up close you can see why. It’s adorable. It’s like a shrunk down Mercedes G-Wagon, in fact you can buy kits that make it looks exactly like one – a very popular modification in the Middle East. It’s got personality and style, and you just know it will do the business off-road, as long as you’re not looking for power. And don’t go looking for a b-road basher here either. it’s tall with long-travel suspension, not the most aerodynamic either, so there’s some waywardness at speed. But it’s great at lower speeds and you can see the appeal of driving this trendy thing around town.
From a cheeky little toy to a deadly weapon. The Supra is part long-legged GT car, part brutish musclecar, especially in these wet and slippery conditions where it was happy to get squirmy. It looks fantastic in the metal, and is solid to experience. Planted, fearsome and fast, it can dispatch ground quickly and efficiently, yet you can easily imagine it getting more power and going a little bonkers in pursuit of an audition to return to the Fast and Furious franchise – wonder if it’s in the next movie already? You sit low and reclined, the raked windscreen makes you feel you’re travelling at Warp 9 whilst standing still, but the too obviously BMW interior is difficult to get past. You really want to feel like you’re sitting in a Toyota to do this nameplate justice and not in a Frankensupra.
Post-DS and pre-XM was the rounded but streamlined CX model. Driving a Citroen from this era is to behold elements of eccentricity that just don’t make it through the customer clinic filters of modern automotive R&D. A toggle button indicator that’s a reach to the top of the instrument binnacle and won’t cancel; a bizarre steering wheel with a single spoke stretching out towards you and making you feel like you’re stuck in the opening prologue sequence of Star Wars, A New Hope; and a hydropneumatic suspension that means you have to wait a few minutes after starting up for the CX to get up off its haunches like an elephant arising. And yet this daily driver proves to be smooth and easy to pilot, refined and remarkably well held together, astonishingly eager to demonstrate its turbo-tastic credentials. All the while it’s also a practical people and load hauler. What a thing!
I reviewed the last generation and loved its tenacious handling, eager delivery and simple usability – you could flip or raise the manual hood with just one hand. And I didn’t mind at all that it looked like a Porsche Boxster. In fact each generation of MR2 seems to have been an understudy to another car – the second gen was a mini Ferrari and the original – this car – seemed to be very much modelled on the Fiat X1/9, the first car to bring mid-engined motoring to the masses. But Toyota did it better, made it more reliable and solid, and kept it as stimulating and entertaining as you’d expect. Plus pop-up lights – God how I miss pop-up lights! There’s a quirky instrument pod, a suggestively erect gear shifter, and a cosy cabin in which you sit upright like in a Kei car rather than a sporty thing, but a sports car it is once you get going. And still so good to drive, I’d consider having one – if I was a little shorter (the steering encroaches quite a bit on my knee space).
So to sum up, I’m reserving next year’s Groundhog Day already!