“What’s your favourite car of the 1990s?” That’s the question Club PetrolBlog members were asked via email last week. The aim: to identify the best cars of the 1990s, according to PetrolBlog’s most loyal fans.
The email was inspired by Giles Chapman’s new book Cars We Loved in the 1990s. The book got a brief mention in the blog post on the Citroën ZX 16v. Everyone who responded to the email will be entered into a prize draw to win a copy. It’s a perk of being a member of Club PetrolBlog. You can join today.
Without further ado, here are the best cars of the 1990s, as chosen by the Club PetrolBlog jury. ‘Best’ is probably a bit of a stretch, because the members were asked to name their ‘favourite’ car. But, you know, headlines and SEO. Hello Google robots.
“I’m aware that you have a soft spot for obscure but undervalued hot hatches of French origin, but I need to explain why the best car of the 1990s was the Fiat Tipo 2.0 16v Sedicivalvole.
“I’m sure you’ll appreciate the value behind the rarity, obscurity and exclusivity – even in the 1990s they were a rare sight. But with the Tipo it was all about the engine. Specifically, the engine sound. The 1,995cc engine was delightful, and related to the turbocharged unit fitted to the famous Lancia Delta Integrale and powerful Thema Turbo of the same era.
“Installed in the Tipo, naturally aspirated, the experience was a truly spine-tingling combination of factory-specified induction sound and raspy exhaust notes, tempered by a counter-rotating balancer shaft that meant revving the car through the power band was a joy. All the better to soak up the addictive, intoxicating noise. No amount of tweaking with aftermarket induction or exhaust kits could improve on what came with the car as standard.
“Early cars came only as a five-door, and were factory rated at 148bhp. Not a massive amount of power by today’s standards, but the performance figures stacked up against the competition. I prefer the earlier cars, because the later three-door shape (pictured) was slightly down-tuned and lost some of the connection with that tuneful motor on account of improved build and a less aggressive set up.
“The Tipo was generally overlooked across the range, and even enthusiastic reviews of the 16v version didn’t translate into big sales, but the exclusivity was always part of the appeal for me. The way that Fiat only subtly marked out the potential of the car, by some modest side skirts, unique front grille, polished alloys, lightly tinted tail lights and a bold red ‘SEDICIVALVOLE’ boot handle meant that the Tipo was something of a Q-car. Those who attempted to modify and improve their cars didn’t seem to get that the discretion was all part of the package. They never improved on the factory standard.
“There was more to the Tipo than the engine. It didn’t get the praise heaped on the French competition, but the chassis was very well sorted, offering a good combination of decent ride, sharp turn-in and general handling balance that could be exploited by an enthusiastic driver in between bursts on that twin cam engine. Earlier cars had a truly lovely leather bound, three-spoke Momo steering wheel, with a small red leather section in the spoke at ‘six o’clock’, that created a light whiff of Ferrari in the cabin.
“Build quality wasn’t the best, and it was taken as read that some of the dashboard lights, dials and other electrical services would not be completely present and correct. But who doesn’t like a flawed hero? At least, from bitter experience in the past, metal treatment meant that corrosion was not an issue, to affect the boxy but characterful lines of the car. Time, wear, accident damage and expensive maintenance has reduced the number of survivors into double digits, and cars in good shape are sought after and fetch decent prices.
“I’ve had plenty of cars since selling my last Tipo in 2001, but to this day it remains my benchmark for driver enjoyment, and no four-cylinder car I have driven before or since has come close to possessing such a strong, vocal power unit. I keep looking for another. When I find a completely original car, I plan to snap it up at any cost and relive those days, hoping that they’ll be as good as I remember.”
“I would have selected the Volvo S70/V70/C70 range, but I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who just happens to mention the car he owns in everything he writes. They are brilliant though. Just Saying. So I’ll pick the Lexus LS400.
“This car changed the landscape of the golf course car park in the 1990s. This is impressive when you consider the brand didn’t exist just a few years earlier. Superb as it was, the 1987 Toyota Camry 2.0-litre GLI would have not have sparked excitement at the 19th hole bar in the same way the LS400 did at the beginning of the decade.
“This new car, to quote Partridge, was indeed ‘A Japanese Mercedes’. Coogan’s creation had a point. It even resembled the W126 S-Class: the car that was often hailed as ‘The World’s Best Motorcar’. Toyota somehow managed to go one better at seemingly the first attempt. It had put a lot of practice in to achieve this – around 450 prototypes and 1.7 million miles of testing – but Toyota achieved a mechanical hole-in-one.
“The LS400 deserves a place in automotive history. It is an example of typically precise engineering, and also a example of a time when Japanese manufacturers grew in confidence by taking on new vehicle segments they had previously kept away from with the use of technical innovation and world-beating build quality.
“It is telling that fellow Japanese rivals like Xedos and Infiniti struggled, and nowadays people call their children Lexus. The name, like the car, will be around for a long time.”
“Excellent question. I was going to consult my Daily Express World Car Guides 1995-97 to help decide, but they are hidden somewhere in the loft. I’m also too embarrassed to associate with anything with the Daily Express these days.
“Having owned four, I should probably pick the Mazda MX-5. But I think it’s important to remember the Alfa Romeo 156. The Alfa Centro Stile, under the direction of Walter De Silva, made a masterpiece that’s aging beautifully now and it literally saved the brand in period.
“It was a commercial success, the likes of which Alfa has yet to see again, and it went on enjoying a good competition career as well. Keyboard experts will now moan about front-wheel drive, but the 156 looked so good and went so well nobody cared which were the drive wheels, and rightfully so.”
“My car of the 1990s? As easy as it would be to say something incredibly exciting like an Alpine A610 or some such, I think my choice would be a phase 2 Renault 19 16v, in that dark metallic green. Yes, I know that’s a phase 1 – ed.
“Why? Back in 1995 I worked for a Volkswagen dealer (yes, I too am feeling old). I owned a Renault 11 TXE, but my colleague owned a 19 16v which I used to drool over it as I munched on my lunchtime sandwiches. I never managed to get one, as a bout of sensibleness saw the Renault 11 replaced by a Citroën AX diesel. Oh well.”
“I couldn’t drive in the 1990s. This means I don’t know how the Vauxhall Carlton handled or if it was a nightmare to own. But it’s the car that we had (twice) that I was fondest of. I remember sitting up front, watching the fields of Lincolnshire fly by on the way to Pizza Hut for a meal out including the ice cream factory.
“Pretending to be asleep in the back when we arrived home after spending Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s house. Being carried back in the house. Granny directing us from the back seat when Mum and I went with her to Ireland to see the places she grew up and meet distant cousins. It was my favourite family car of the 1990s.”
“Working on the basis that someone has to go waaaaay left-field. And after quite a lot of narrowing down a very long list, I’m going to nominate the Isuzu Vehicross.”
“I’ll say my Ford Mondeo. I’ve written a blog on it. It was a game-changer for Ford. It’s also been largely forgotten.”
“I’ve never really been around or seen cars from the 1990s, as I was born in 2001. However, I have seen many a photo on the internet and in magazines. I do love French cars of the 1990s, but I’m not sure why.
“My favourite car of the 1990s that I personally owned was a Peugeot 306 GTi-6. It was one of the greatest cars. I still regret the day I sold it.”
“My favourite car of the 1990s? It has to be the Renault Clio Williams.”
“You need to ask?!”
Many thanks to the Club PetrolBlog members who entered the competition and submitted their entry for the best cars of the 1990s. The names will be drawn out of a Renault Safrane glovebox during the next rubbish YouTube video.
Click here to join Club PetrolBlog and support independent blogging. You know it makes sense.