LOTUS SEVEN S3/CATERHAM SEVEN
Colin Chapman's simple spaceframe sports car evolved through three generations between 1957 and 1970, culminating in the Lotus Twin Cam-powered Twin Cam SS of 1969/70.
The Series 4 Seven was completely different, with a glassfibre body tub bonded to a new chassis.
As Chapman forced Lotus upmarket the Seven became an irrelevance: dealer Caterham Cars bought the rights in 1973, but made only 38 S4s before reverting to the classic Series 3. Essentially the same car is still in production, though it has changed considerably in the last 30 years. Series 4s, meanwhile, are the least-loved Sevens of all.
After a couple of attempts Ford finally found Le Mans glory when GT40s finished 1/2/3 in 1966. For 1967 Ford built the very different MkIV 'J-car' at Kar Kraft in the US, while former team manager John Wyer and partner John Wilment took over the GT40 factory at Slough to make the GT40-based Mirage. But the original car wouldn't go away.
New rules from '68 allowed bigger engines in 'production' sports cars, so JW Automotive went back to its GT40s – and were rewarded with two more Le Mans wins.
FIAT 124/LADA RIVA
Clean-cut styling, punchy performance and an impressive specification made Fiat's new small saloon the talk of the Geneva show in 1966. Early cars had five-bearing, 1197cc engines with a healthy 60bhp, and a 70bhp 1.4-litre followed in the 1968 Special. The Special T of 1970 had another 10bhp thanks to a twin-cam head, and a further 10bhp from 1972 when the capacity was increased to 1.6 litres. Disc brakes, an all-synchro gearbox and a well-located live axle completed the package.
In the main we Brits couldn't understand 90bhp and the best part of 7000rpm in a family car, so we stuck with our Minor 1000s and HB Vivas, but the Italians loved them and Fiat shifted more than 1.5 million before the 131 replaced it in 1974.
But the 124 design wouldn't stay away: in the mid '60s Fiat had teamed up with the Russians to set up a car factory. The 124-based Lada 1200 was the result, and by 1974 they were being imported into Britain and sold at a knock-down price. Uninspiring engines and slapdash build quality make the Ladas much inferior to the 124s, but they do prove that the basic Fiat design had much to commend it – enough to keep Ladas coming into Britain well into the 1990s, 30 years after the original car was launched.
Originally intended to be badged as a Fiat X1/20 – the next step up from an X1/9 – the Lancia Beta Montecarlo had plenty going for it. Compact, stylish and with the added kudos of a proper mid-engined layout the Montecarlo was Fiats idea of where sports coupés should be going in the 1970s.
US-market cars (badged Scorpion) made do with a paltry 80bhp, but the European spec twin-cam four from the Beta delivered 120bhp – enough to make the Montecarlo's handling and braking a matter of some importance. Sadly, it failed on both counts: the lightly-loaded front wheels locked up early on greasy surfaces, and if that didn't get you the feeble wet-weather roadholding probably would.
Lancia pulled the plug pending a rethink in 1978, but that wasn't the end of the story; the Montecarlo returned to the showrooms a couple of years later in substantially modified form. Externally the crisp Pininfarina lines were largely unchanged, but there was the new Lancia corporate grille (also seen on Betas and Trevis), bigger wheels and glazed rear buttresses for improved rear vision. The servo was deleted to give the brakes more feel, and the suspension tweaked to improve road manners in the wet. It all added up to a much more convincing package.
Yet the Montecarlo still has a reputation for being tricky in the wet – a reputation which, in Series 2 form, it does not deserve.
The fuel crisis of the early '70s hit Jensen hard: production of the Interceptor stopped in 1976 and the company turned into a parts and service operation. The car returned from the grave when production of Series 4 Interceptors began in the early 1990s, but the run was limited – even the car featured in The Saint was a dressed up S3 .
Bertone's idea for a baby sports car was a blinder: take the front-drive Fiat 128 engine and gearbox, mount it amidships in an attractive wedge-shaped body. The resulting X1/9's road manners were marvellous, and it could clearly handle more power: even the 85bhp 1.5-litre used from 1978 didn't tax the chassis much. Bertone always built the bodyshells, and Fiat assembled the car up the road at Lingotto until they cleared the factory and ended X1/9 production in 1981. But Bertone had other ideas, and took over the whole production process: Bertone-badged X1/9s continued to delight drivers until the end finally came with a Grand Finale special edition in 1989.
The Mini we know and love nearly died 30 years ago. Leyland decided it needed an update and in October 1969 they grafted on the ghastly square Clubman nose, dropping in an 1100 engine at the same time to counter the new body's extra weight and bricklike aerodynamics. Clubmans were the poshest Minis of the '70s, the original shape being retained for the poverty models. But by 1980 the gloss had worn off, and everyone decided the only proper Mini was the original. The Clubman and 1275GT were dropped, and a new HL-spec car (later renamed the Mayfair) introduced in their place. The original shape Mini soldiered on mostly unmolested until production finally ended in 2000.
Conceived as a light military vehicle utilising the Mini's 848cc engine and rubber cone suspension, the Moke was dealt a cruel blow by Customs & Excise, who decided it was not a commercial vehicle and slapped Purchase Tax on it. So it was fun, but a bit pricey, and production ground to a halt after four years in October 1968.
It wouldn't die, though, and the tooling went first to Leyland Australia and then to Portugal, where production restarted in 1982. Tim Dutton of kit car fame started importing Portuguese Mokes into the UK in 1984, since when there have been other import attempts, but only of the odd few cars.
The Beetle would qualify as a survivor just for its mammoth production run: a few were built before the war but production really got going in 1945, and Beetle saloons continued to be made in Germany until 1978 (Cabrios continued until 1980). But more were to come: production had started in Brazil as early as 1953, and it continued until 1986 – followed by another run in the 1990s. Meanwhile, production of Beetles had started at Puebla, Mexico in 1965 and you can still buy one new today, complete with a 1.8- litre fuel injected engine.
FIAT 124 SPIDER
Pininfarina styled the 124 Spider and made the bodies: when Fiat finally ended production in 1980 there could be no better manufacturer to take it on. The car was reborn in the US (where most of the Fiat Spiders had gone) as the Pininfarina Azzura and in Europe as the Spidereuropa. The last cars were built in 1985.
Lotus' front-line Formula 1 car from 1970 to 1973 won Grands Prix in the hands of Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Peterson and Emerson Fittipaldi, taking Fittipaldi to the World Championship in 1972. For '74 Colin Chapman planned a 'lighter 72', the Type 76. But it proved such a failure that Ronnie Peterson gave up on it, and went back to the 72 – which remained competitive until the tyres it needed became obsolete at the end of 1974.
ASTON MARTIN LAGONDA
William Towns' design for an Aston Martin DB6 replacement was conceived as both a two-door coupé and a fastbacked four-door saloon, but it was the two-door that went into production, as the DBS, in 1967. One four-door was built, predictably for Aston boss Sir David Brown, and it was registered as a Lagonda – reviving a marque dead since the unloved Rapide had bitten the dust in 1964.
The usual Aston Martin story of crises and changes of ownership then entered the picture, and it wasn't until 1974 that a production version of the four-door appeared – now badged an Aston Martin Lagonda and carrying the two-headlamp front end instead of the David Brown car's DBS-style four-headlamp nose. Only seven cars were built before its razor-edged replacement appeared in 1976.
The Imp-engined Clan Crusader appeared in 1971 but financial troubles saw production end in 1974 after around 350 cars were made. The body moulds were sold to a Turkish businessman, while in the UK Brian Luff made new moulds, which ended up with Peter McCandless in Northern Ireland. McCandless made new Imp-engined Clans and an Alfasud-powered Clan Clover until the company ceased trading in 1987.
The moulds then passed to Clan Club members Dave Excell and Dave Weedon, who are developing the design for use with many different engines.
TVRs sported curvaceous and attractive coupé styling which evolved slowly from the late-50s Grantura to the hatchback Taimar of the late 1970s. A one-off soft-top built for TVR boss Martin Lilley led to a production roadster, the Ford Essex V6-powered 3000S, in 1978. Just over 250 were built before TVR threw away its curves and startled the world with the sharp-edged wedge that was the Tasmin.
As this new car evolved it had its edges softened, but still some customers hankered after the old-style cars – so in 1986 curves came back with the TVR S.
The new model was in truth a very different car, combining lessons learnt with the wedge-shaped cars with throwback styling and a (slightly) more modern Ford Cologne V6. While the wedge-shaped cars petered out the curves continued: with the Chimaera and Griffith, TVR hit the road to the big time.
The MGB was underdeveloped, outdated and irrelevant by the time it was finally allowed to die in 1980. But plenty of MGBs survived, so many in fact that there was a good market in spares – serviced by British Motor Heritage at Faringdon, near Oxford, who had sought out all the old MGB body tooling.
By 1988 complete shells were being made, and the idea of making a whole car was born. Rover Special Projects developed that idea into the RV8 – based around the MGB shell, but with revised wings, bonnet and bumpers and fitted with a 3.9-litre Rover V8 and better-located rear axle. RV8 shells were built at Faringdon at the rate of 15 a week, and a total of around 2000 cars were made, many of them ending up in Japan. Neither fish nor fowl, the RV8 was more than a '70s MGB, but less than a new MG roadster for the '90s – yet prices now are healthy.
The Lotus Elan was the ultimate sports car of the 1960s. Peerless handling and fine roadholding combined with a cossetting ride, and sparkling performance thanks to Lotus' own Twin Cam engine. Sadly it became a victim of Colin Chapman's march upmarket: the last cars were built in 1973.
That was that, until George Robinson of VeganTune realised that there was still a market for the Elan, in a developed form. His car (powered by VeganTune's own VTA engine) became known as the Evante, and a new company, Evante Cars, was formed to make it. Sadly Evante Cars didn't last long, but VeganTune still handles Evante parts and servicing.
RENAULT CLIO WILLIAMS
One step on from the phenomenally successful Clio 16- valve, the Clio Williams was built partly to give Renault a rally contender and partly to cash in on the Williams-Renault F1 connection. At the Geneva Motor Show in 1993 it was announced that just 2500 of the Williams Blue, 2.0-litre cars would be built, each one carrying a number plaque on the dashboard. But Renault realised it was onto a good thing, and instead of killing off the Clio Williams for good after the first run of cars, brought it back in the form of the Clio Williams 2 of 1994 – to howls of protest from owners of the first cars, many of whom had bought them as an investment.
Adding insult to injury Renault resurrected it yet again in 1995, with a Clio Williams 3 – though neither of the two later versions carried that dashboard plaque.
In 1961 Triumph was very pleased with its new TR4, but US dealers believed many of their customers would prefer the outgoing 'sidescreen' TR3A. So Triumph restarted production. The first cars were virtually identical to the TR3A, but later ones had 2138cc engines and TR4-style allsynchro gearboxes. All became known as TR3Bs.
Ford and BMW fought a legendary battle in European Touring Car racing in the early '70s, BMW's works and Alpina-run CSLs taking on the RS2600 and RS3100 Capris. The CSL bowed out as a production model with the advent of the new 6-series coupé in 1976, but the race cars – by this time sporting 3.3-litre engines with four-valve cylinder heads – carried on racing in private hands: the famous Gösser-sponsored CSL was built up from new parts as late as 1979.
AND THE REST
There are plenty more examples of cars that just wouldn't die. The Shelby Cobra was very much a car of the 1960s, developed from AC's gentlemanly Ace into a V8-powered animal that was successful on the track and spawned huge numbers of kit car imitators. The real thing is still available from Shelby American, Inc and AC Cars build something similar in the UK.
Just about the most sought-after Aston Martin is the DB4GT Zagato, of which only 19 were produced between 1961 and 1963. But more than two decades later the car was back, Aston boss Victor Gauntlett authorising specialist Richard Williams to build a run of four more, known as Sanction II cars and continuing the original cars' chassis number sequence. They're almost indistinguishable from the earlier Zagatos.
At the other end of the scale, the closure of Citroën's Levallois factory could have meant the end for the 2CV, but Deux Chevaux enthusiasts were overjoyed to hear that production would continue in Mangualde, Portugal – until they found out that the Portuguese-built tin snails succumbed to rust even more quickly than the French ones .
Published in Classics magazine, October 2001.