To paraphrase John Motson, these Real World Dream Barn entries are getting better and better and better. After Lem Bingley kickstarted 2013 with his superb line-up, it's now time for PetrolBlog resident guest blogger, Tom Richards to throw a small kitten amongst the pigeons. His selection is good, very good.
Tom also makes a mighty fine case for each entry.
Before I start, I’d like to include a short prologue, a snippet of self-justification, if you will.
In the draft stage of writing this, I got to the end of my list and realised I had no original Range Rover, no fast Fords from the ’90s, no old Lancias or Alfa Romeos. Not even a Saab.
Now I think about it, there is also no mention of sub-£30,000 Porsche 911s, E30, E36 or E46 BMW M3s, Mazda MX-5s, Renault 21s or Shatchbacks. Hell, there’s not even a Mercedes W123. For PetrolBlog readers, I understand that these are serious crimes. Crimes that our revered editor can punish by holding back my BlogNob allowance.
However, there is at least one pair of gullwing doors in here, at least one automotive cliché, and even a brand new car – unheard of in the history of PetrolBlog. So I hope you’ll forgive me.
Suzuki Swift Sport
The name ‘hot hatch’ covers all manner of sins. They’re generally taxed more, a symptom of greater emissions from improved performance. They make it easier to accrue speeding fines than the every-day models upon which they are based. Some have what might reasonably be termed ‘antisocial’ looks – the previous-generation Ford Focus looks particularly ‘in your face’ if painted in a proper colour like ‘Tangerine Scream’ orange. Or acid trip green.
I made that last one up.
But in modern-day Britain, where there are some 31 million cars on the road, it could be argued that there isn’t room for a 260bhp, licence-threatening monster of a hatch. Which is why my first ‘Dream Barn’ entry is the previous Suzuki Swift Sport.
The abilities of this rather wonderful machine are already well-documented here. I’d have one in red and probably drive everywhere in one gear lower than strictly necessary. And with a perfectly adequate 125bhp on call from an appropriately rorty 1.6-litre petrol engine, I’d sit well below the radar of environmental activists, the fuzz and those with torque steer issues. Image © Suzuki.
The Mk1 Honda Insight has already appeared on PetrolBlog’s pages many times, whether in passing mentions from one MajorGav, or featuring in others’ Real World Dream Barn submissions.
I have a weird thing for this car. The looks are best described as ‘odd’. The decision to place the hybrid’s battery pack in the boot brings its limited practicality into question. And it’s not exactly the quickest car on the planet.
Yet, I’ve come tantalisingly close to buying an Insight twice in the last 12 months. Fun, in a skinny-tyred sort of way. Inexplicably, the looks sort of appeal, wheel spats and all. The promise of, whisper it, mpg figures in the 90s, if driven with due care and diligence…
Better than that, though – it’s so remarkably rare that you’d probably go months before seeing another one on the road. Image © Honda.
Mazda AZ-1 Autozam
I realise that this is the third car on my list and I’m yet to deviate from Japanese produce. But the Mazda AZ-1 Autozam is a car so fantastically wonderful that it’s here, in all its gullwing-doored glory.
It’s not just the doors I find so appealing, though. It’s a kei car, so it would probably be remarkably good fun on some of Britain’s poxier roads, while the 657cc turbocharged Suzuki-sourced engine would probably be a right hoot. Its power output of 63bhp arrived at a faintly ludicrous 6,500 rpm, after all.
Then, in true PetrolBlog fashion, it also has an unfussy five-speed manual transmission and steel wheels (sportier Mazdaspeed versions got alloys). And if you buy one in white and squint, it almost looks like a Ford RS200. Image © Taiyso, Wikipedia.
From small, revvy and Japanese to big, luxurious and British. How could anyone leave Jaguar’s flagship luxury cruiser out of their Real World Dream Barn?
Actually, I almost did. I needed a luxury car on this list, I knew that. And I found myself torn between this and the 3.5-litre V6 petrol-only Honda Legend. Unfortunately for the Honda, however, the art deco dashboard and an air conditioning system linked to the sat nav weren’t enough to secure its place here.
Instead, I’m plumping for the aluminium bodywork, wooden fascia and leather-coated everything from the last generation XJ. For the comfort. For the sense of occasion. For the big cat bolted to the front of the car.
And for the fact that I’ve already got a brace of Honda models on this list. Image © Jaguar.
Continuing down the aluminium route, the Audi A2 was always a dead cert for this list. I currently drive a Fiat Panda – which I love – but I do enough miles in the thing that replacing it is always something at the back of my mind.
And I’d seriously consider the A2, genuinely. I see the appeal of more recent Audis, sure, but the aluminium spaceframe of one of the company’s most innovative models ever does it for me every time. The looks are pure, uncluttered, while the cabin design is equally simple and sturdy.
Most of all, I love the confidence that Audi had in the product when they designed it. You can’t lift the bonnet without a bit of serious faffing which, ultimately, leads to its total removal. Instead, Audi’s then-new 1.4- and 1.6-litre engines were deemed reliable enough that the average punter would only have to top up the essential fluids, easily accessible through the flap of a grille.
Sturdy, economical, good value, and – when all is said and done – pretty good fun to drive too. Everything a PetrolBlog car should be. Image © Audi.
1967 Ford Mustang Fastback
As justification for picking this car, I’m not sure I need to say much more than, “Because it’s a Ford Mustang.”
A Ford Mustang with a big, lazy V8 and more road presence than Godzilla loudly going about its business in downtown Tokyo (the dinosaur, not Nissan’s hero car).
It just about slips under £30,000 too, if you look around. Image shows ’68 Bullitt Fastback, © Ford/David Newhardt/Mustang - Forty Years.
Another trip down memory lane for my Dream Barn, and on to the only estate on my list. Although, technically, the Volvo P1800es is a shooting brake.
Just look at it, would you? It’s jaw-droppingly pretty. Like a Reliant Scimitar, but with more curves, more interesting lines... If you’re not sure what I’m getting at, look no further than the fascinating kink where the delicate B-pillar meets the bodywork. It jars with virtually every other line on the car and it serves no real purpose that I can think of, yet it just… works. Perfectly.
The P1800 coupé is an absolutely gorgeous car, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something strangely alluring about the idea of a wagon version. You could drive an absolute stunner for millions of miles (Google “P1800 million miles”), and your dog could come too. Image © Volvo.
The last-generation Quattroporte – the one that the Italian manufacturer has just stopped making – goes like stink and has one of the world’s great V8 engines.
At least, that’s what all the reviews say. I wouldn’t know, as, like most cars on this list, I’ve not driven one. But I’ve seen the Quattroporte. I’ve heard the Quattroporte. And it’s all good. I love the blend of relatively subtle, understated looks and an exhaust note that can scare animals, children and full-grown adults.
If you ever see a Quattroporte sitting still, you stop and look for a moment. If you ever hear one bumbling through a town centre at 15mph, you fall in love.
And if you ever hear one accelerating, that love turns into full-blown infatuation, as it rasps, bellows and burrows its way under your skin and into your heart, and makes nearby toddlers cry. Image © Maserati.
The Honda NSX was the first production car to feature an all-aluminium monocoque. The engineers aimed to make it more reliable than any other supercar the world had ever seen. The cabin was designed for visibility, based on the cockpit of the F-16 fighter jet.
People often make the argument that supercars must be silly, impractical, ruinously expensive and liable to blow a gasket at any minute. Allegedly, they have to make too much noise, burn up their clutch after just a handful of warranty-voiding, red-blooded 0-60mph runs, then leave oil all over your driveway.
With the NSX, Honda showed that there is a better way. Famous reliability, a (relatively) economical 3.0-litre V6 VTEC engine, a cabin out of which you can see things, and looks which don’t immediately scream, “Look at me!”
And if you still think supercars should be silly and unreliable and awful, I’d point you in the direction of the Audi R8, which does all of the above, incredibly successfully, but will, to these eyes, forever play second fiddle to the Honda that did it all first. Image © Honda.
Fiat Panda 4x4 0.9 TwinAir
A brand new car. On PetrolBlog. But before you accuse me of being completely barmy and insist I never visit this site ever again, hear me out.
I love the previous-gen Panda. Slightly boxy styling, super-skinny tyres wrapped around some of the smallest steel wheels on the market, four of the dinkiest doors you’ll ever see and a 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine that, while not particularly powerful, at least gives the impression that it’s up for anything.
Throw in a zingy 0.9-litre TwinAir engine, introduce a dash of curious styling and fit a four-wheel drive system, and you’re on to an instant winner, to my eyes. I know everyone’s fawning all over the Dacia Duster at the moment – and rightly so, it’s a great car for the cash – but my money’s on the Panda 4x4. It’s not big, it’s not particularly clever, but it absolutely doesn’t matter. It’s a brand new car, sure, but it instantly embodies everything that PetrolBlog stands for.
I’ll have one in dark green, please. Image © Fiat.
Read more from Tom Richards on PetrolBlog here or follow him on twitter @teorichards.