With great risk often comes great reward, well sometimes… So here’s the best 10 cars for the brave, or should that be crazy and quite possibly stupid? We’ll let you decide….
The Ford Fiesta ST is one of our favourite cars. In many ways it’s the archetypal hot hatch – it does all the things a hatchback should do, like being practical for the shopping and not using too much fuel and so on, as well as being hilariously fast and having a chassis honed by the gods themselves.
The newly-launched Mk8 Fiesta has already proven itself to be a winner, following in the footsteps of the perennially popular Mk7 which won pretty much every ‘car of the year’ award going. If you buy one of those, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
But maybe life’s too short for guarantees? Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to roll the dice a little? Sure, a new Fiesta ST will come with bulletproof reliability and a warranty, and affordable servicing and a decent resale value, but how boring is that? No-one’s going to lie on their death-bed thinking ‘I’m glad I spent all my money on a Fiesta’. So we’ve had another idea. Why not take the £20,000-ish that the baby Ford costs, and instead spent it on something a bit more hedonistic?
Ok, it could all end in tears, but history is written by the winners and no-one ever changed things by following the easy path. Live a little, buy a cheap Ferrari and smile as it burns to the ground. Life’s too short not to, right?
Here are our best ten cars for the brave – the people who aren’t afraid of sudden engine fires or catastrophic mechanical failure; the people who just want to live in the now in case tomorrow never comes. Life is short…
Would it be a best 10 cars for the brave guide if TVR wasn’t mentioned? TVRs have always been a bit flaky, that’s the whole point. OK, the new Griffith looks set to be modern and reliable and built properly, but we’re sort of hoping it’ll be heinously unreliable because that’s what TVRs are all about. In the 1970s they all smelt of industrial adhesive, in the ’80s they just didn’t work at all, and in the ’90s and through to the new millennium it was as if these cars actually wanted to hurt their drivers. But when they’re working… oh man, are they magnificent. If you’re feeling brave, we’d urge you to consider the Tuscan.
We drove a hot-to-trot Tuscan S last year and had to be given an actual safety briefing beforehand (‘no more then 2,500rpm until the oil temperature reaches 60-degrees; if the water temperature hits 100-degrees, pull over and switch it off; if you get locked inside the car, there’s an ejector lever under the dash’), and frankly we were really nervous that it was going to explode. But holy cow, it was quick – 0-62mph in under four seconds, and no nannying electronics of any kind, just a demented muscle car leaving number-elevens all over the countryside.
It’s an achingly beautiful car too. Yes, it’ll definitely break at some point, but you’ll have a great time looking at it while you wait for the AA man.
It is actually possible to buy a real, actual Ferrari for Fiesta money, although you’ll have to be quick as the market is catching on. There was a time when marque aficionados viewed the 1980s Mondial with suspicion, a sort of ‘Ew, why would you buy that one?’ attitude, which explains why they’re so much more affordable than other Ferraris. To be fair, it’s arguably not pretty in the traditional sense. But right now the question is: why wouldn’t you buy one?
Prices of Mondials start around £25k at the moment, so that’s about the same as a shiny new Fiesta ST plus a few bolt-on mods. And the Mondial offers a lot of the benefits of the Fiesta too – sure, it’s mid-engined, but somehow it also has back seats so you can get your mates or your kids in there. It’s not too huge, so it’s an equally good city car.
Er, okay, we’ve run out of rational reasons, so consider the irrational ones: it’s got a proper alloy V8 with a flat-plane crank so it howls like a banshee, it was designed by Pininfarina and built by Scaglietti, and… well, come on, it’s a Ferrari. That’s the only reason you really need.
People say the Porsche 911 is a widowmaker, but it’s the 928 that’s driven by truly brave people. Why? Because it’s like a game of Russian roulette. The thing’s essentially designed to break – the complex electronics are so absurdly convoluted that there’s always going to be something going wrong with it. You’ll be driving along, happy as Larry, and then suddenly all the dash lights will come on at once. You’ll pull over to check things out and nothing will be wrong, so you’ll start it up and everything will be fine again – and then half a mile down the road, the washer jets will decide to randomly and unstoppably empty the tank, and one of the headlights will pop open, and the passenger seat will recline itself. It’s like driving a clown car. But as clown cars go, it’s pretty bloody impressive.
The late-model GT and GTS is out of budget here, but your new-Fiesta money will buy you a late-1980s S4, which has a 5.0-litre V8 and 316bhp. Or if you’re feeling really brave, you can pick up the earlier 4.7-litre ones for well under £10k, which will leave plenty of money in the kitty to fix it when it breaks. Which it will.
When it’s working though, you’ll have the time of your life. The chassis is fabulous, the interior comfortable enough to leap across continents in a single bound, and that V8 has a lot of heart. Will a 928 actually get you to your destination? Who knows? But it’ll be a lot of fun finding out.
We’ve got a lot of love for the DeLorean around these parts. It could be the fact that it’s inextricably intertwined with the iconic Back to the Future movies, it could be the bizarre story of the roguish John DeLorean and the naughty things he got up to – or perhaps it’s just the way it looks. Yep, actually, that’s it for sure; gullwing doors, bare aluminium bodywork, taillights that look like retro Nike trainers, Lotus-like profile. We’re as much in love with the looks as the concept – and that’s just as well, because frankly, in reality, they’re a bit crap.
Well, maybe that’s unfair, but they’re certainly not as good as they deserve to be. The car was originally intended to have a Wankel rotary engine, although the accountants soon got a bit scared about rotor seal warranty claims and settled on the Cologne V6 instead, like you find in a Ford Capri. Not quite as exotic, and even that idea didn’t pan out… in the end the DeLorean got the PRV V6, an engine which was also fitted to the Talbot Tagora and the Renault Espace. Mmm, fancy. They also neglected to put a big enough alternator on it, so if you turned the lights on at the same time as the radio, the battery would die. Definitely not enough juice for a flux capacitor in there.
Still, it’s unquestionably one of the most beautiful cars ever built. We guess the real bravery involved in ownership of a DeLorean would be this: do you have the tolerance to withstand an endless stream of jokes about whether it can do 88mph or if you’ve been travelling back to the fifties to feel up your mother? Because this will happen to you every single day.
Lotus Esprit Turbo
A lot of boring old farts at car shows will gleefully tell you that Lotus stands for ‘Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious’, patting themselves on the back as if they’re the first person to have thought of this. The most annoying thing is that they’re sort of right, which is why it appears in our best 10 cars for the brave guide. It doesn’t apply at all to models like the Elise (those same bores will make quips about K-Series head gasket failure – ignore them) or anything modern to wear the badge, but it’s an unfortunate fact that older Loti can be a bit hit-and-miss. But much like TVRs, this is all part of the fun!
More often than not, you’ll find that car enthusiasts have some manner of Esprit on their lottery wishlist, because it’s such an all-time classic – the S1 and S2 have that desirable 007 chic, the S3 was available with ‘TURBO’ written on it in massive letters, and the X180 is the one we’re steering you towards today. This is the model built between 1987-93, carrying all of the archaic architecture underneath but wearing a slippery new body to fit in with the dynamism of the go-go ’90s.
The 2.2-litre turbocharged twin-cam hustles this gorgeous little thing to 62mph in a whisper over five seconds (or more like 4.5 in the post-1989 cars), and the poise of the chassis is just lovely. OK, the gearbox is fragile and temperamental and it might explode, but hey – maybe it won’t?
This has to be one of the most confusing cars ever sold. Built between 1981-94, it had a huge number of inexplicably different names – we can’t think of a car that’s harder to search for used examples of. Initially sold as the Biturbo, it variously became the 222, 2.24v, Racing, 420, 425, 430, 422, 4.24v, 4.18v, 228… plus there were all the spec variants, and Spyder versions, and the slightly shorter Karif – all essentially the same car.
They’re fun though – this was the first ever production car to have twin turbos, which boosted a deep-lunged 2.0-litre V6. Our particular favourite is the Racing of 1991, which wasn’t a race car at all, but was in fact a road car with adjustable Konis and a Quaife LSD, along with forged pistons and bigger turbos and 283bhp. But whichever of the many, many variants of Biturbo you choose, they’re all very good.
Well, very good for the 5% of the time that they’re working. These are seriously unreliable cars, anything and everything can go wrong and will cost a fortune to fix, and that’s before you’ve even looked into the woes of crumbling Italian steel. But we don’t need to concern ourselves with any of that. It’s one of the coolest pub boasts there is to say that you drive a twin-turbo Maserati. (Even if you did have to get a lift to the pub with a mate because your Maserati’s broken, again.)
It’s quite cool to tell people that you drive an 8-Series, given that the new one’s just come out after much speculation and it’s a very sought-after thing. But the original 8er from the 1990s? That’s where the smart money is. Possibly.
Or possibly not, as everyone we know who’s owned one of these tends to wince a bit and suck air through their teeth when you ask if they’d recommend it. Every owner has a story about something that’s broken and cost an arm and a leg to fix, and the real kicker is that no two owners will be talking about the same failure. The 8-Series loves to surprise you.
But everyone likes surprises, right? And the E31 8-Series has a lot going for it: BMW spent $1bn developing it, and it’s jam-packed with clever technology, as well as having a super-low drag coefficient and swish pillarless styling. It was also the first ever road car to have a V12 engine mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. Yes, the 840ci was available with a 4.0-litre V8 but there’s no point messing about, is there? If you’re going to dive into this dark hole, you might as well do it properly. The 850ci is the one you want, with the full-fat 5.0-litre V12. You get 322bhp, which should hopefully be just about enough to outrun the oil that it’s always leaking. And you’ll really get to know the guys at the local petrol station. It’s nice to make new friends.
Aston Martin DB7
The DB7 is achingly beautiful, anyone with eyes can see that. But why are they so (relatively) cheap compared to other sports cars and GTs of similar vintage? Perhaps it’s because underneath that gorgeous façade, there’s a whole lot of Jaguar XJ-S, and that’s a car which originally launched over twenty years before the DB7 did.
Nevertheless, it’s a real modern-era Aston Martin that you can buy for around £25k, and that can only be a good thing: it bears such bounteous treasure as a supercharged straight-six (or creamy-smooth V12 if you can stretch to the Vantage model), handling honed by TWR, and the unparalleled boasting power of telling people you drive an Aston.
Alright, it’ll cost a fortune to run, none of the parts are cheap, the brakes will probably bind, there’ll be clonks from the suspension, the dials are in a silly place so you can’t see them past the steering wheel, the back seats are unusable, the clutch is crap, the cooling system’s weak, the body’s prone to rust, the air-con will break and the coil packs will fail… but one day you’ll pull up alongside that new Fiesta you nearly bought, and you’ll see the shape of your DB7 reflected in the side of it, and the smile will split your face in two.
Lancia Thema 8.32
The Lancia Thema, when launched in 1985, was a measured study in bemusement. The forgettable silhouette, questionable reliability and harsh interior plastics added up to every petrolhead’s disappointment: a car that was designed to go reasonably cheaply from A to B, and nothing else. That Pininfarina not only designed it but were happy to publicly put their name to it was jarring, as was Lancia’s positioning of the Thema as a luxury car. People were baffled. Weren’t Lancia the chaps who made beautiful swooping coupes and cheeky saloons with fizzy, rev-hungry engines? Where did this square-jawed wet lettuce amble in from?
Thankfully, Lancia is an Italian manufacturer. This means two important things; firstly, they’re extremely passionate. Secondly, they’re totally unable to leave an idea alone. With the Thema there was a void-like sensation, a feeling that a spark was missing… nobody, however, could really have anticipated what would happen next: they bolted in the engine from the Ferrari 308 QV to create the Thema 8.32.
Of course, throwing a Ferrari motor into an unassuming saloon leads to a lot of problem-solving; the gearbox, suspension and brakes all had to be substantially altered, and Ferrari themselves lacked the space at Maranello to assemble the engines, so the job was handed to Ducati. The 8.32 wore no Ferrari badges aside from a small stamp on the inlet manifold reading ‘Lancia by Ferrari’, and it wasn’t a sales success – only 3,537 were built, with just 9 being officially sold in the UK.
But to those in the know, this is something very special indeed. If you can find one for sale, your Fiesta budget will buy you a car that rusts like a Lancia and drinks like a Ferrari… but the nerdy respect will be off the charts.
There’s a reason why billionaires are always seen being chauffeured around in Rolls-Royces. They are, by most measurable and logical standards, the best cars in the world. That’s why they cost so much money – they’re precision engineered to defy physics, being supremely fast and powerful while also near-silent, and opulently appointed with such care of the craft and attention to detail that any new Rolls-Royce will only be allowed to escape the factory gates if it is literally flawless.
However, the nature of physics is that you can’t escape atrophy – everything begins to break down and degenerate eventually. The Sistine Chapel is peeling, the 1965 Aloxe-Corton in your posh uncle’s wine cellar is turning to vinegar, the Mona Lisa’s falling apart. And old Rolls-Royces, they’re not always as solid and trustworthy as new ones.
This is great, because it means there’s a broad spread of prices to pick from with any given model. The one we’re eyeing up is the Corniche – not the 2000s Volkswagen-era one, but the caddish two-door they built from 1971 right up to ’95. It was based on the Silver Shadow, probably the model most people picture when they think of the Rolls-Royce name as they sold oodles of them (and about 75% of weddings these days use a Silver Shadow for the bride to arrive in); the Corniche, however, was infinitely more stylish by virtue of being a two-door coupé – or convertible, if you’re a bit flash.
Infinite swank, V8 urge, effortless style. Corniche prices range from £15,000 up to about £130,000, so naturally your hot hatch budget isn’t going to buy the best one – but it’s thrilling to live dangerously, is it not? Sure, there are a few pitfalls: the Citroën-licensed hydropneumatics control pretty much everything, so if your clever self-levelling suspension system starts leaking then you’ll also simultaneously lose the brakes. If you buy a pre-1980 Corniche that predates fuel-injection, the carbs will always be going out of balance. If someone bumps into it in Sainsbury’s car park, you won’t be able to find new panels in the local scrappie. And when things break, they’ll be Rolls-Royce money to fix.
But forget all that. You’ll be driving around in a Rolls-Royce. Just like those billionaires you see on TV.
Words Daniel Bevis