It's time to reopen the doors to the PetrolBlog Real World Dream Barn and I'm delighted to say that the first selection of 2013 has been sent in by Lem Bingley of GreenMotor. I say ‘sent in’, which suggests that Lem typed it up, put it in an envelope, stuck a stamp on it and dropped it in his nearest postbox. Clearly this isn't 1985, so Lem actually emailed it across in a matter of seconds. Suffice to say it took Lem a little longer to narrow his selection down to a final ten.
I've got a lot of time for Lem's Dream Barn. There's a distinct compactness and lightness to the barn, but that doesn't mean there's no room for a 4x4 and a gloriously eccentric Citroën. Over to you, Lem.
I write a blog called GreenMotor.co.uk because I’m interested in efficient cars. I am quite happy driving a quick or sporty car – I don’t believe green should equal slow and dull – but I much prefer to see performance achieved in the style of Gordon Murray or Lotus rather than through dropping an enormous motor into a two-tonne barge.
As a result my Real World Dream Barn contains a few cars that are noticeably lighter than average. As the old saying goes, the best things come in small packages.
Suzuki SC100 Whizzkid
In the late 1980s I was a penniless engineering student and somehow persuaded myself that Suzuki’s microscopic SC100 was a poor-man’s Porsche 911. Today, I can’t quite see the resemblance except for the rear-mounted engine (of just 970cc capacity and shared with the Bedford Rascal van, of all things). I’ve only ever driven one sensibly, but I understand that on-the-limit handling will tend to keep you very wide awake.
I love these little cars enough that I seriously tried to buy one about ten years ago, but couldn’t find one without a severe dose of tin worm. Today there are only 35 left on the road in the UK – including one pristine example owned by Suzuki PR.
It’s probably just as well I didn’t find a good one as I’m a tad too tall to drive an SC100, at 5 foot 10. Image © Suzuki GB.
The S800 is one of the earliest Honda motor cars and a considerable step up from a scooter. It was built in both coupe and roadster format, but my barn would contain a nice tin-top version.
The roadster edition vaguely resembles a contemporary MG Midget but it is – remarkably – even smaller. Hobbits able to squeeze inside will find a motor redlined at 10,000rpm. Delivering 70bhp from just 791cc it was a pocket rocket in its day, but is distinctly sedate by modern standards. Standstill to 60mph might take more than 13 seconds but I’d be very happy to wait. Image © 2009 Mark van Seeters.
The original Honda Insight was a sort of rolling experiment that Honda decided to build and sell to the public. It’s not very practical for a small hatchback, with just two seats and a boot full of batteries, but it I adore its sleek, futuristic looks and its uncompromising nature.
Structural aluminium kept weight below 840kg, yielding 83.1mpg and 80g/km on official tests. The 995cc petrol engine spits out just 67bhp but is supplemented by a 10kW (13bhp) electric motor, furnishing 62mph in 12 seconds and a maximum speed of 112mph, helped by that arresting teardrop shape. I’d have one in eye-searing Kermit green. Image © Honda.
The appeal of the Caterham 7 eluded me until I drove one, on a track, in a downpour. I got completely soaked but I can’t remember ever laughing so much. It was pure distilled joy to drive – aside from the bucketfuls of muddy puddle thrown into the cockpit by the front wheels. Slithering sideways through corners, adjusting angle with the throttle, felt as natural as taking a stroll.
I drove a Porsche 911 soon afterwards and it was like showjumping a giraffe in comparison. In equally slippery conditions the Porsche cruelly exposed my hopeless fists of ham while the Caterham made me feel like Ayrton Senna. Up until that moment a 964-series 911 had been my ultimate dream motor but I don’t really want one anymore. No, I’d rather have a simple 7 in my Dream Barn. Image © Caterham.
An original Range Rover
I don’t much like Chelsea tractors, but I’d still clear a big welcoming space in my barn for a Mk1 Range Rover, which thankfully shares little with its overweight successors. Like the original Mini, the first Range Rover was designed by engineers rather than stylists, and I think the results speak for themselves.
This was the first car I ever drove off-road, an experience that scared me witless. With no fancy electronics to step in I needed to bring plenty of skill and judgement to every slippery descent. Alas I brought only panic and stupidity. The Range Rover kept me alive and I’ve harboured a deep respect for it ever since. Image © Land Rover.
The original Mini is an engineering marvel – and by original I don’t mean pre-BMW, I mean pre-wind-up-windows. My barn would definitely have to contain one, but I’d plump for the practical pickup rather than the more common saloon.
I used to live next door to an ancient garage where one of the mechanics kept a battered pea-green pickup. One day a welding spark landed in a big tub of grease, water was unwisely thrown at the problem, and the whole workshop went up like a petrol-soaked rag. The mechanic risked his life running back into the blaze to rescue his scorched little pickup, which tells you a lot about the Mini. How many cars would you risk your skin for? Image © Mini.
I’ve driven more than 20 different electric cars, and I’m not nearly as optimistic about them as I used to be. I do still believe they are the future, but I suspect we will one day chuckle at cars like the Nissan Leaf just as we do those ancient automobiles that are clearly a carriage minus the horses. The future demands new forms and new thinking.
Happily, that is exactly what Renault’s Twizy provides. It also happens to be an absolute hoot to drive which is why a Twizy would definitely feature in my Dream Barn – or preferably a small holiday barn of its own, somewhere warm. Image © Lem Bingley.
The blobular Smart ForTwo feels as awkward to drive as it is gawky to look at, but the 2003 Smart Roadster is another story. I haven’t actually driven one but I’d like to. The Roadster might have employed the same mix of plastic panels and exposed steel framework as the ForTwo but better proportions made it look effortless and elegant. OK, that’s a lie – the targa-topped Smart looked distinctly surprised in the manner of a Frogeye Sprite – but in my book that’s a very good thing indeed.
My Dream Barn version is the run-out Finale Edition, sold from April 2006 after Mercedes cruelly canned the sporty Smart. It had a 698cc engine at the back churning out 80bhp, 17-inch alloys, body-coloured bumpers, aircon, and most importantly of all, a starter button on top of the gear lever. Image © Smart.
In 1998 an American friend and I drove 3,000 miles through the mid-west of the United States, from San Diego to Seattle via Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah and Montana. We set out with a one-sheet map of the United States, a pencil, and an exceedingly clapped out Mazda Miata with 120,000 miles on the clock. The car was great fun – particularly on dirt roads – and performed faultlessly. Well, aside from that slight hitch with the cooling system that meant we had to turn the heater on, in Las Vegas, in August, to stop the engine from boiling over. I don’t think my toes have ever been quite so toasty.
As a result of such an unforgettable trip, I have an enduring fondness for the Miata and its MX-5 cousin. I’d find a nice early MX-5 for my Dream Barn, in red, preferably with fewer miles and a reliable fan. Image © Mazda.
I had to check that the exceptional Citroën SM – my current dream car – fell under the £30,000 limit for the Real World Dream Barn. I was relieved to see that very tidy examples currently go for about £25k.
The SM is a quirky confection combining the chassis of a DS with a Maserati V6, clothed in unique aerodynamic bodywork. In other words, the finest of vintage French and Italian engineering, combined. I would love to swan around in one. What could possibly go wrong? Image © Citroën.
Don't forget to follow Lem Bingley on twitter @GreenMotor. And don't forget to get in touch with PetrolBlog with your own Real World Dream Barn.