Hot hatches

Who doesn’t want to rip around empty streets in a high power sports car? Maybe the streets are slightly wet, but everything else is mysteriously dry…just like the movies. Maybe you have a beautiful woman in distress sitting shotgun. Perhaps you are being chased by Johnny Law or a group of thugs…the sounds, the power, the burnouts, the chase music…WAKE UP!

That was a great daydream. Unfortunately, it is Saturday afternoon and you are stuck in the city running errands. The beautiful woman in distress is your better half and she is late for a hair appointment. The people chasing you are your kids needing to be picked up from soccer. No empty roads in sight, just curb-to-curb traffic. Suddenly, a high power sports car doesn’t make sense. You need compact size to swing in and out of parking spots and good fuel economy so that you’re not burning a hole through your pocket while sitting in inevitable traffic.

You need a fun compact car. The high horsepower, high cost, high paint polish are not needed. The beautiful women in distress….. That is your call. What you really need is a solid everyday car. Something compact, economical, cheap on insurance and driveable year ‘round. Just because you need all of those things does not mean you can’t have something FUN TO DRIVE as well! You are in luck: allow me to introduce you to some great candidates.

The Mini is a classic nameplate that BMW bought and did a fantastic job of reproducing; Compact, spritely, well-appointed and maneuverable. This is the British gentleman’s answer to your required pocket rocket. Available in 2-door, wagon, 4-door and convertible formats, the Mini has you covered. Your best bet is the 2-door coupe with manual transmission in “S” guise with either a turbo or supercharger (depending what model year you purchase). The John Cooper Works (pictured) is the factory race car, it is ready for track days or commutes out of the box.

The Fiat 500 follows the same principle as the Mini: fun, small and cute. It tugs at your heart strings, bringing back thoughts of the original Fiat 500. Available as a 2-door, 4-door or convertible, it comes in many unique trims, the best is the ABARTH. This is the performance division of Fiat and the car is especially fun. Great steering and decent performance, but the exhaust note is what will attract your attention! If you haven’t one of these cars sing, you need to stop whatever you’re doing and treat your ears. Best part of the Fiat? The manual shifter comes out of the dash, just like classic British/Italian sports cars!

Here’s another: the Ford Fiesta ST. Ford has really stepped their game up as of late. The new Fiesta ST is a perfect example. This 5-door hatchback comes with a manual transmission, 197-hp turbo 4-banger, and Recaro sports seats. If 197 horsepower doesn’t sound like much to you, consider that this car tips the scales at 2,700 pounds…now you get the picture.

Again, in the great automotive debate between “want” and “need”, It is easy to have a little bit of both. Yes you can have your economy, ability to zip in and out of traffic and daily driveability. But you can also have your power, your turbo/supercharger, aggressive handling and great exhaust sound.

All of these cars are small enough to be used in congested cities with ease, offer great fuel economy, yet they will rip around corners and put a smile on your face when instructed to do so. Maybe the damsel in distress will understand that you need something fun AND practical, maybe not. But does it really matter when you’re behind the wheel of your hot hatch?

Advertisements

007’s Other Rides

I was sitting in our 2007 Aston Martin last night at work. Alone, with the lights appropriately dimmed after a long day at work. I did what anyone who slips into the leather- and wood-wrapped interior of an Aston Martin must do: I pretended to be James Bond. Albeit a slightly heavier set, disheveled James Bond with much less charm, to be honest.

Aston martin is synonymous with James Bond. The franchise has been intertwined (for the most part) for the past 50 years. Both are regal, sophisticated, dangerous and mysterious…and both wear their British heritage on their sleeves. I thought to myself: there must be other Bond cars. Lesser known cars. Unloved Bond cars. Bond can’t drive amazing cars all the time, he needs to show some respect to the taxpayers! Lets show some love to the lesser known Bond cars.

Car: 1962 Sunbeam Alpine

Movie: Dr. No

In the movie Dr. No (same name I called my dad when he would not let me do anything fun), James Bond drove this 1.6-liter 4-cylinder British sports car. Eighty horsepower, 2200 pounds of torque, top speed of 160 kmph, 0-60 mph in 13.4 seconds – respectable numbers. Small and nimble, these cars were successful race cars on both sides of the pond. Apparently, they used it because it was the only British sports car available during filming. Unfortunately, Sunbeam went through some hard times, was bought by Chrysler and saw its brand diluted to sad and offensive cars. RIP Sunbeam.

Car: 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7

Movie: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

This is what James Bond would drive if he were American. Its just as sporty as its Ford Mustang sibling, but more luxurious, mature and refined. Powered by a massive 7-litre, 8-cylinder engine, these cars were great for burnouts, loud noise and sketchy cornering. Imagine having a boat-anchor weight between your front wheels. These were built during the time where engineering a motor meant you needed to make it larger to go faster. If James Bond was American and Corvettes were scarce, this is the car he would drive. Mercury is also no longer with us because Ford went upscale and Lincoln got cheaper… paving the way for Mercury to throw in the towel.

Car: 1974 AMC Hornet

Movie: The Man With The Golden Gun

The 1970’s are widely regarded as the dark ages of the automotive industry. Oil embargo’s, recessions, 5 m.p.h bumpers, pollution control and people starting to notice shoddy quality all contributed to amazing cars getting neutered or snuffed out altogether. American Motors struck the deal with the filming company as part of a product placement program: “James Bond drives an AMC, so should you!” It really turned out to be, ”James Bond Drives an AMC, sucks to be him!” Like I said, these cars were not all bad, just a victim of current affairs. Ultimately, AMC survived another 13 years largely on the laurels of the Jeep brand. Chrysler bought them from Jeep, and folded the AMC.

Car: Citroen 2cv

Movie: For Your Eyes Only

Easily the car with the most character on this list, also my favorite. This was one of the longest production runs of any car 1948-1990. This car has existed in the same escargot form for 42 years and managed to still be relevant. The best part? The 2cv never made more than 29 horsepower. The 2cv has been used all over the world and was especially popular in Africa and South America where its solid build and comfortable handling was suited to rough roads in developing counties. Bonus marks for having a box style 2 cylinder engine that is air cooled. James Bond loves unique engines of all sizes! Citroen is still doing battle in Europe. They are doing quite well in there home market but the European economy has had its impact on everyone.

And there you have it. A brief history of the lesser-known bond cars as explained by a car enthusiast.