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S u m m e r s po r t s c a r s pe c i al

Best of British IssUE FIvE

JUNE 2011

w w w. l i f e o n c a r s . b l o g s p o t . c o m

The world loves our small sports cars here’s why

Plus the latest m otoring opinion news,rev iews,and

In this issue 3 Coming soon Who announces that their next model is going to be a carbon copy of something they made in the 1920s which only had three wheels to begin with? Morgan, of course...

I CAN hear you already. Why British sports cars? Because it's summer and because two-seater roadsters, with their engines in the front and their oversteer at the back, is somehow just right for the sunny weather, like fish and chips or seaside holidays or bad cases of sunburn. The world's best selling roadster might be Mazda's utterly brilliant MX-5 but it's generations of Lotus, MG and TVR cars that it's learned the art of the sports car from. The Jaguar XK120, the Triumph Spitfire and the TVR Griffith might be completely different motors but they all have one thing in common - they're fun. Which is what you

want when it's shaping up to a brilliant summer and there's miles of country lanes to play with. This issue takes you right from the begining of the sports car with the Austin 7 - no, really - right up to today's glorious Lotus Elise and to the future, which you can see opposite in the form of the slightly mad Morgan Threewheeler. Sports cars are expensive, not terribly practical and often unreliable, but they are at the root of driving fun and I think there's a place for one in every motoring enthusiast's heart. That'st why, as you'll find out on page 13, I've just bought one.

4 Fire up the... Australian supersaloon with a 6.2 litre V8, the current European Car Of The Year, and a Smart with a very orange paint job. Motoring writer David Simister is your guide

6 Sports car icons The ten two-seater roadsters which did their bit to put Britain on the map when it comes to driving fun and making friends with employees of the AA and RAC

8 One way racers How do you turn a quiet market town in Lancashire into the north west’s answer to Monaco? By holding the Ormskirk Motorfest on its one way system, naturally

Created by EDITOR David Simister DESIGNER David Simister


ADDITIONAL pHOTOGARpHY: All manufacturer images, including the Coming Soon pictures, provided by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders; sports car history pictures courtesy of Brian Snelson, Stephen Fossett, and Writegeist . Read Life On Cars each Wednesday in The Champion newspaper, on the web at and on the radio at

10 Lotus Elise Norfolk’s entry level model is still the best sports car Britain makes, as David Simister discovers on the windy roads of the Lake District

13 My sports car The MGB GT and why it’s the perfect car to cut your sports car teeth on. Just don’t mention it was supposed to be a Mazda MX-5...

16 RIP TVR The Blackpool sports car specialist might be gone but it isn’t forgotten, says lifelong fan David Simister © Life On Cars 2011


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Coming soon Four wheels is so last year... IF you think three-wheelers are best encapsulated by Del Boy's van then you obviously haven't seen what's on the way from Morgan. Daringly styled, proudly patriotic and just a little bit mad, it's hard to tell whether the Morgan Threewheeler is a car at all, because it's missing a wheel and it isn't powered by a car engine. Nor is it every day that a company announces it's putting its very first model back into production - that's like Ford replacing the Focus with the Model T - but then Morgan isn't your average car company. It thrives on doing things differently. Get your head around it having an odd number of wheels and it's business as usual for the proudly British firm, because while the Edwardian

styling is a throwback to the three-wheelers which kick-started the company into business, underneath the skin it's very 21st century, packing its punch from a V-Twin Harley Davidson engine that's been breathed on by American tuners S&S. Like watching The King's Speech on an ipad, it's anachronistic but suprisingly effective. Southport-based Lifes Motors, who act as the region's main dealer for Morgan, reckon it'll be available for sports cars fans to try from July, and with an expected beforetax price of ÂŁ25,000 it's promising to provide offer a completely different way to get your automotive kicks. So are three wheels better than four? We'll let you know when we drive it...

The cars you could be driving next year

If three wheels isn’t your thing, why not try three doors?

Tricks the company learned on the original Hyundai Coupe could see the Velostar becoming a serious contender for your cash. The Velostar, initially at least, is going to be offered with the company's familiar 1.6 GDI petrol engine, which might not offer tyre-smoking levels of performance but should be completely and utterly dependable, while keeping emissions nice and low. There's no word yet on whether there'll be a hotter version of the hatchback model to take on the likes of Volkswagen's Scirocco, though. It also goes without saying that, because it's a Hyundai, the Velostar is going to come backed up with a lengthy warranty, generous equipment levels and a pricetag that's likely to undercut the European opposition.

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Fire up the...

The road test verdict on the motors that matter

...Vauxhall VXR8 I'LL let you into a little secret. The most expensive model Vauxhall offers isn't really a Vauxhall at all.. The ÂŁ49,500 VXR8 has the company's griffin badge on the bonnet, I'll grant you, and it might be sold alongside Corsas and Astras in the company's showrooms in this country, but it is in fact based on the Holden Commodore, a saloon built and designed in Australia. But the bit which dominates this car is the American one - the General Motors LS3 V8. As in the same one Chevrolet puts in the Corvette.


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The upshot is that this car is that this car isn't just fast; it has slingshot speed which is silly, spectacular or downright scary, depending on where you deploy it. Like the Lexus IS-F I tested last year, this a car that becomes licence-losingly quick at the merest prod of the throttle. Yet the two couldn't be more different, because while both are dominated by V8s which pump out well over 400bhp, the VXR8 is all about brashness and bravado com-

V8 supersaloon offering M5 pace for M3 money

pared to the subtlety of the Japanese executive express. While I criticised the IS-F for not being a bit too restrained, the Australian supersaloon shoots in the other direction, and while you're never going to be short of admiring glances the outlandish looks aren't exactly going to blend in at your local golf club. The interior isn't its strongest suit either - the car I drove, for instance, still had the Holden logo on the steering wheel but you'll forget all of that when you start it up.

Think of the sound of every Hollywood car chase, with a few NASCAR racing cars thrown in for a good measure, and you'll get the idea. The reason why this car undercuts its rivals, like the BMW M5, the Audi RS6 and the Jaguar XFR is because it doesn't offer you the same air of quality, but the way I see it is you're paying ÂŁ49,500 for one of the world's best engines, and it comes with a free car attached, albeit it a slightly bonkers one. I challenge you not to love it.

...Smart ForTwo

Midnight Orange special edition rooted in Seventies colour scheme I’VE still got my bets on the next-generation Smart offering buyers the full four seats whenever it arrives, but it still begs the question. Why buy the current model over the Toyota IQ, which already offers just such a layout? Simple, if it's this Midnight Orange edition you're trying. With big alloy wheels, a simple soft top roof and a paint scheme stolen from a Seventies spacehopper, this Smart has a sense of fun! It really is a car for anyone who grew up riding a Raleigh Chopper; like the

bike, it's not the most sensible or practical way of getting from A to B, but you won't care because it stands out wherever you take it. If you remember the completely bonkers Bond Bug from the early 1970s (and if you don't, Google it), you'll know this is the nearest thing you'll get in 2011. It might not have the same surefooted handling through the corners as the IQ - there's a lot of roll thanks to the skinny tyres and the tall stance - but it's got plenty of poke

from its rear-mounted engine, and will easily cruise at motorway speeds on longer journeys. You also get a choice between two 998cc engines - a 71bhp hybrid or an 84bhp turbo unit, depending on whether it's frills or thrills you're after. Sure, for the £9,995 the

Midnight Orange costs you could buy all sorts of sensible superminis with more seats, roomier boots and bigger engines, but that's missing the point. In a world of grey, boring boxes, this is a Belisha beacon which stands out and makes you smile.

Nissan’s clever all-electric let down by steep pricetag THIS is, depending on how you look it, a multiple award-winner that'll start a revolution in motoring or a flop in the making. It's not unfair to say that Nissan's LEAF, winner of both the European and World car of the year awards this year, is the first electric car to get taken seriously by the motoring press. It's also got the Government's blessing, because they'll give you a whopping £5,000 off as part of efforts to wean you away from petrol and diesel. Getting this car right isn't just good for Nissan, then. It's good for saving the ice caps and mending the ozone layer too.Obviously you don't get your characteristic

petrol throb or diesel rattle when you start it up, but the great thing about the noise the Leaf makes is that there isn't any. All you can hear is the roar of the tyres, which you won't notice because you'll be busy wondering why you can't feel the weight of the batteries in the steering or handling. Make no mistake, this is one cleverly-engineered car. Sure, there's the issue of range - 100 miles, if you're asking - but if you only ever do short trips, like lots of people I know, then it's unlikely you'll notice. It's tricky to say how much it costs to fill up - it depends on whether you

...Nissan LEAF have Economy 7 or not but the smart money says it'll cost you about 2p a mile in fuel, compared to around 15p for a small petrol car. But as always there's a price to pay for being ahead of the pack - which is the price. At £23,990, the LEAF isn't rubbing

shoulders with Focuses and Astras, but 3 Series BMWs and Golf GTis, and that's after the Government discount. It's an impressive car but to buy it you'd have to be someone who either has a second car for longer journeys, or just really, really want one. Life On Cars


British sports cars special

Ten British sports cars which changed the world Summer is the perfect time for small sports cars, and for decades it’s been Britain that’s shown the world how to get the front-engined, rear-wheel-drive recipe for the perfect roadster right. David Simister turns back the clock to find ten of the most influential

Jaguar XK120, 1948: Not the first sports car but the one which, after the Second World War, really got the ball rolling. Fast and full of motorsport pedigree, examples today are highly prized.


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Ariel Atom, 2000 (above): proof if it ever it were needed that Britain can still come up with sports car belters in the 21st century. Low weight allied to revvy Honda engines means lots of power and speed.

Austin Healey 100, 1952 (above): The first of the ‘Big Healey’ sports cars which did so much to earn export dollars for the UK. Designed by gifted engineer Donald Healey and made in the thousands thanks to BMC.

Morgan 4/4, 1994 (below): We do still make them like we used to, as the sports car which refuses to die still shows. Alive with feedback, it isn’t hard to see why Morgans still attract waiting lists to this day.

Austin 7, 1922: Not strictly speaking a sports car but did plenty to inspire the men who’d define the genre. Jaguar’s William Lyons and Lotus’ Colin Chapman both cut their teeth with Austin-based specials. Lotus Elise, 1996: Beats the Elan and the Elite onto this list because it paved a revival in the company’s fortunes thanks to clever design and a focus on driving thrills. Turn to page 10 to find out why it’s still a hoot.

MGB, 1962: With 500,000 examples made it’s by far and away Britain’s biggest selling sports car. Simple, sturdy and easy to find and maintain, it’s the easiest way to enter the world of small sports cars. TVR Griffith, 1990 (above): The car that put the Blackpool-based sports car specialists on the map. Beautiful, torquey and fearsomely fast, it used the trusted Rover V8 to wonderful effect in a stunning package.

Triumph Spitfire, 1962: I could have gone for the hard-charging TR series or the svelte Stag but it’s the Spitfire which everybody remembers Triumph for, being small, simple, and plenty fun to be with on the right road.

Caterham 7, 1973: Originally a Lotus design but arguably an icon in its own right thanks to constant improvements from Caterham’s experts. Commonplace at trackdays because they’re so much to fun to drive. Life On Cars


British sports cars special

How to turn a t system into a Get the chance to see British sports car classics in anger at this year’s Motorfest in the centre of Ormskirk


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Image courtesy of Aintr

town’s one way a race circuit

ree Circuit Club

THIS is the route dozens of classic cars will take around the centre of Ormskirk for a special celebration of motoring later this year. A close collaboration between Aintree Circuit Club and West Lancashire Borough Council, the Ormskirk Motorfest wil see the market town turned into a tribute to the world of motorsport for the whole of the 28th of August, with both parade laps of the town centre and a static display in the nearby Coronation park planned. For more information and to see if you can enter your own car in the event contact John Bailie, the event coordinator of Aintree Circuit Club, on 07860255485 or get in touch with him by email on jb@ Life On Cars


British sports cars special

Britain’s got talent Photos by Cornelia Kaufmann

10 Life

On Cars

The Lotus Elise might have been around for years but it’s still the best sports car Britain makes, as David Simister discovers

THE Windermere car ferry is, I reckon, a unique part of Britain’s public transport network. Connecting the two sides of England’s largest lake, the Mallard service is actually a genuine commuting tool that runs throughout the year for Cumbria’s residents, but it’s the only bit of public transport I only ever use for fun. Its every journey is en-route to a good time. Yet today - a chilly spring morning topped by a steely blue sky - my journey across the lake is one tinged with worry and nervousness. Will the Lotus Elise, the low-slung, mid-engined sports car I’ve brought with me, make it up the ramp and onto the shore without beaching its ground-hugging nose? This is one of the things you’ll have to think about if you’re taking in a tour of the Lake District in the latest generation of Lotus’ smallest, friendliest model. Will all your luggage fit in the boot once you’ve rolled up the soft top roof and stowed it there? Will your passenger be able to get in and out easily? Will you wreck the nose of the car as you drive it on and off a ferry? perhaps most worryingly: should have I brought something like an MGF or an MX-5 instead? The 1.6S, at £29,230, is the cheapest car the Norfolk-based company makes and while it makes few concessions to creature comforts - although you do get air con, electric windows and a superb Alpine stereo - it’s a sacrifice worth making. Get it on the right roads and the

Clockwise, from left: From the front the Elise has plenty of sports car styling cues; the Elise at the top of the Kirkstone pass, in the Lake District; once the Elise is topless it’s a blast on a sunny day

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British sports cars special

Above, from left: The Elise looks the part in the stunning Cumbrian countryside; the spartan but practical two-seater interior; the historic Lotus badge; stopping near Shap on the A6. Elise isn’t so much a car as an epic driving experience. Luckily, the great thing about the Lakes is that once you escape the tourist traps in the towns and climb into the fells, there are plenty to choose from. The Kirkstone pass, which links Windermere and Ullswater, is the sort of road where the small, stripped out Lotus starts making sense, because up here on the harsh Cumbrian mountain roads it’s in its element. With so little weight to lug around it darts and fizzes into even the hairiest of hairpin bends, the 1.6 Toyota engine singing and dancing about the car’s cornering capabilities long after

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On Cars

drivers of softer roadsters have had to put the brakes on. You’re stunned not only by how fast the little Lotus goes, but how it goes fast. It’s a car that’ll egg you on into driving endlessly without ever stopping to pause, but it’s worth pulling over anywhere just to take in the styling, which to my mind is the most elegant evolution of the Elise since the original first caught the motor world napping in the Nineties. Order yours in the Ardent Red of the car shown here and you’ll have something with the same colour and proportions as Ferrari’s beautiful 308 GTS, the vents from Ford’s GT40 and the front scoop of the original Lotus

Elite. It’s like having your very own art gallery of classic supercar styling cues, particularly when you’ve rolled up the roof, which while being a slower affair than other soft tops is an easy job to unclip on and off. It’s a shame that if you take your Elise to the supermaket it’ll also suffer some of the traditional supercar drawbacks - getting in and out of it elegantly being the main challenge - but if you’re using it for that you’re not really using it properly. Instead, head for the hills of Cumbria after making a note of the following mountain passes; Hardknott, Honister, Kirkstone, Newlands and Whinlatter. That’s what this franti-

cally fun machine is all about. If I had to use a twoseater sports car every day I’d still plump for the Mazda MX-5 tested by GR8Life last year, because while that roadster makes you smile less than the Lotus it lets you smile more of the time, which is what you’d want if you’re doing dull jobs not really intended for roadsters, like driving to work or popping to the shops. But if you’re looking for a truly special sports car for high days, holidays, and blasts down your favourite B-roads, the Elise is the one to beat. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it’ll get off the Windermere ferry with no problem at all.

Golden oldie

The MGB was for decades the world’s best selling sports car. They still make a great starter classic today, as David Simister discovered with his very own example

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British sports cars special A CHAp in a very clean MK3 Cortina - better known as the star of timetravelling cop show Life On Mars - pulled up alongside me and was the first to ask the question. Was this, the car I was filling up at my local branch of Esso, the MGB he'd read so much about in The Champion? Could the 1972 GT finally be ready, taxed, insured and MOT'd? I could barely contain the smile. Yes, it's finally ready, it's on the road, and I can finally say what I think of it. Maybe it's just the sunny weather that's graced Southport recently, but it's brilliant. As a car it's got a completely different character to the Minis and hot hatches I'm used to; whereas they're permenantly fast-paced and frantic in everything they do, the low-slung B's a lazy, lusty old thing which is does few things better than burbling down the country lanes, taking it easy. It can go fast, but it'd really rather you didn't. Nor is it, as the seaside snaps you see here show, exactly a concours example of MG's biggest hit but the punters at the country pub I pulled into didn't seem to care. For all the not-quite-there cosmetics (which I've got plans for, don't worry), what was being paraded in front of them was a delicately proportioned, traditionalist sports car in a sunny colour scheme. The opentop Astra parked next to it didn't stand a chance.

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Despite the engine being a distant cousin of the one used to power the Minis I’m more familiar with it couldn’t be more different to minature marvel; this beast’s a lusty, lazy performer, better at burbling down the B roads than tearing down them in anger. Even Autocar’s road testers acknowledged when the MGB first arrived in the early Sixties that there isn’t anything this car’s perfect at; it isn’t a paragon of reliability or comfort, nor is it particularly fast or frugal by today’s standards. But if you’re thinking about this qualitatively, then you’re missing the point. Focus instead on the very Seventies paint job, the Smiths instruments, the simplistic yet stylish Webasto sunroof and my own favourite, the Mota Lita wooden steering wheel. This car isn’t so much a sports car as a throwback to the days of Carry On films and rude seaside postcards, and for that I absolutely adore. Every time you fire it up you’re whisked back to the early Seventies. The credit for all this has to go to my dad, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get the B back on the road, doing all sorts of James Mayesque mechanical things which I don't really understand. Naturally, he'd like the favour paying back in pints. I wonder if Adnams will let me open a credit line with them?

Page 13: David Simister’s MGB GT takes in the sun onthe seafront at Southport. Opposite: The optional Webasto sunroof is a nice touch which helps bring back the open-top charm of the MGB roadster. Top: Interior is an idiosyncratic but charming place to be. Bottom: It might have a Seventies paintjob but the MGB is full of Sixties style

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British sports cars special

Rock on! The Blackpool sports car company which towered over all others because it dared to be different

IS it because I was born in Blackpool too? Whatever it is, there's something about the late, great sports car maker that I share my home town with which just made it a motor maker which made you feel good about motoring. I challenge you to name me a TVR that isn't a classic. Was it the thunderous Ford, Rover and later homemade TVR powerplants? Or the sensuous and yet slightly scary styling? Or the lash-

ings of wood 'n' leather on the inside? Nope, I think the reason why TVR was always the best sports car maker of them all is because it was always just a little bit bonkers. Take, for instance, the company's absolute refusal to use such basic things as traction control, ABS or even door handles. I could point you in the direction of the styling department, which - and I'm not making this up would call on the help of the manager's dog from time to time. The sales people

were mad too, because the 4.5 litre Cerbera comfortably outpowered Ferrari's then rival, the F355, but cost half the price. But you didn't mind because it made cars like the Griffith, which to this day has to be one of the bestlooking, fastest and most fearsome cars ever to come out of this country. It's a shame the company went bust a few years back, but Britain's roads are a poorer place without new ones. TVR? The essence of British sports cars.

Life On Cars Magazine, Issue Five  
Life On Cars Magazine, Issue Five  

A celebration of all things cars with Champion and GR8Life motoring correspondent David Simister. In this issue, a summer celebration of Bri...