Tag Archives: Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo 164 Pro-car and Renault Espace F1: There’s hope for you yet, tiny human

14 Nov

Space Dog!

What images are conjured up when I mention the Alfa Romeo 164 and the Renault Espace? Speed? Dynamism? No. The images being conjured up in my head right now are of a scrap yard. Or a car park in Stevenage. Yet just as a common or garden dog has felt the exalted glory of space travel, and Cinderella was transformed from a common or garden scrubber into a princess, would you Adam and Eve that these common or garden cars were permitted to have a nibble at the crust of the highest heights for any automobile: Formula 1.

The Alfa 164 Pro-car. Comical.

Yes, for reasons now obfuscated by the passing of the decades, someone selected the blocky saloon shell of the 164 and the clunky body of a Renault Espace and shoe-horned some state-of-the-art F1 technology into their unassuming shells. In the case of the Alfa, it built the Pro-car, for ‘tis its name, in 1988 when there was talk of there being a race series to accompany Formula 1 races – which was subsequently cancelled, presumably causing much fist-shaking and “why I outtas!” (in Italian) at the Alfa factory. The car’s figures are…..impressive. It had a top speed of 211mph and an output of 620bhp from its V10 engine. The engine was so strong that there was even an option for Ligier to utilise it in their own Formula 1 cars. That’s right – Ligier, or the greatest racing team ever! No? Just me?

The Espace F1. ROFL.

As for the Espace, that was built by Matra and Williams merely as a technical exercise, and presumably for a small amount of comedy value as well. For what could be funnier than watching an MPV hurtle around a track at F1 speeds? Not much! The Espace was also powered by a V10, the self-same V10 as propelled Monsieur Prost to his 1993 F1 title. 0-62mph was dealt with in a mere 2.8 seconds, despite it having the drag co-efficient of a privet hedge, and it could achieve a top speed of 194mph. I have had the pleasure of driving the Espace F1, albeit on the computer game Gran Turismo 2, and let me tell you something for nothing, it goes like stink (hmm actually, given that no car company PRs seem to want me to drive their products, Gran Turismo reviews may be the way forward…..). Well it was fast anyway.

Well, dear Readers, I hope that this article has given you hope. Your lives maybe sad and pointless now, just as was the case for the Alfa 164 and Renault Espace, but maybe some day, some nice engineer will come along, rip out your boring innards and turn you into a bionic murderous space robot. Fingers crossed eh? Fingers crossed.

You now.

You after the revolution.

Pininfarina’s 80th Birthday

18 Jun

Pininfarina, or Carozzeria Pininfarina (it just means coach-builder) to give the company its full title, is 80 years old this year. The Italian design firm have used their pencils and French curves to come up with some of the most uniquely desirable automotive shapes of the 20th Century (and a few of the 21st). However, they’ve got a few skeletons in their closet. So behold, my Top 10 Notable (for better or for worse) Pininfarina Designs.

1. Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider

The achingly pretty Giulietta Spider of the 1950s became one of Alfa’s most iconic cars. Let’s consider the case of Federico Fellini. The great Italian director cast Sandra Milo, Anouk Aimee, Anita Eckberg and Claudia Cardinale in his films. He also drove a Giulietta Spider. Is that enough of an endorsement?

2. Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet

By no means the most revered variant of the 250 (that accolade surely goes to the 250 GTO), Pininfarina did however create one of the prettiest incarnations in the 250 GT Cabriolet. Delicious clean lines, delicious Italian GT car.

3. Peugeot 504 Coupé

Also designed as a cabriolet, I prefer the beautifully purposeful styling of the coupé. It has a suavity and elegance which I find totally irresistible. Merveilleux!

4. Ferrari F40

Creating this car in the same year as they created the Peugeot 405 (go figure), Pininfarina were asked by Signor Ferrari to create something earth-shattering to stamp his marques’ dominance before he died. It was the last car to be commissioned by Enzo Ferrari and proved itself to be quite a swansong.

5. Hyundai Matrix

Well, they couldn’t all be teary-eyed and rose-tinted recollections on Pininfarina’s glory, could they? The other day I passed a Hyundai Matrix in the street and was shocked to see that distinctive squiggle down the side of the car: “Pininfarina”. A boon for Hyundai then, but I personally couldn’t see any redeeming Pininfarina features on the car. The best you could say about it, I suppose, is that it looks European. In a sort of 90s way. Not their best.

6. Peugeot 406 Coupe

In my opinion, though, the Peugeot 406 Coupe was one of their best. A strikingly elegant design, not entirely dissimilar from Pininfarina’s design for the Ferrari 456, it embodied that 1990s French boldness and optimism, along with TGVs and those aerodynamic cycling helmets. Considering the car that it was based on, Pininfarina executed a fantastic design for the 406 Coupe.

7. Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé

I’m not entirely sure how this qualifies as a coupé, other than the fact that the top’s been coupéed off it. But lordy, does it matter? This is the sort of car that is so beautiful it makes you feel like someone’s punched you in the sternum. There is a total rightness to the design, that look of powering swiftly and strongly into the future. May have caused the recession though.

8. Daewoo Lacetti Sedan

OK, clearly whilst simultaneously designing the Ferrari Enzo, Pininfarina had to give their interns something to do. “Go and design some Daewoo” they said, giggling. And so they did. And it looked like this. Pretty woeful stuff really. Only accolade is that, now under the guise of being a Chevrolet, it features as Top Gear’s ‘Reasonably Priced Car’. Replacing the Suzuki Liana. That’s about as prestigious a provenance as it deserves.

9. Maserati Birdcage 75th

I hope that this car will one day translate into how every car looks. Built, by deduction, 5 years ago to honour Pininfarina’s 75th anniversary and the name harking back to Masaerati’s famous ‘Birdcage’ racer of the 1960s, the strikingly futuristic design must have seemed like a very nice birthday present indeed!

10. Hafei Zhongyi

So, shall I end with something nice or nasty? Well, not to discredit Pininfarina, whose brilliant work I thinks speaks for itself (ignoring the fact that I just wrote about it), but sometimes you’ve just got to laugh, like looking back at pictures of some of the less attractive women you’ve dated. I know nothing about this car, or rather van, other than the fact that it’s Chinese and they presumably didn’t give Pininfarina a particularly large design budget. Pininfarina, you’ve made some exquisitely, dazzlingly, spell-bindingly good looking cars. But this isn’t one of them.

My updated 20 car dream garage…..

27 May

The other day whilst at my mum’s house in Brighton, I discovered a little Carficionado relic. Back in 2004, when I’d just finished school and was taking my gap year, I went to India with a friend to work at his dad’s company, which was in Pune. Finding ourselves sidelined and feeling fairly useless, our talk turned to cars and our dream garage. My friend and I each had a 20 car garage (a mite opulent, I think) and we chose what we wanted. I mostly remember being baffled by my friend’s desire for a Bristol which, I hastily pointed out to him, looks like a Vauxhall Carlton welded onto the front of a Ford Capri. However, here’s my list along with what I would actually have now, wizened as I am.

1) Lamborghini Murciélago

Good start really, but it’s a bit large. Think Gallardo is probably a better bet.

What I’d have now: Lamborghini Gallardo

2) Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

I’ve always liked Ferrari’s GT cars. I even liked the 456. So this can stay.

What I’d have now: Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

3) Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

If ever there is a car that, in a moment of madness, I leave my girlfriend for and go and marry in Vegas, this is she. Beautiful!

What I’d have now: Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

4) Ferrari 250LM


I’ve always loved this car, ever since I saw a video of it when I was a lad. I love the way the roofline just suddenly drops off (like an 80s Toyota MR2 but….better) and the way it looks so purposeful. It is purposeful of course, what with it being a proper racing car, and all reports say that it was a bit of a pig to drive, but fantasy is fantasy so I’m sticking with it.

What I’d have now: Ferrari 250LM

5) Bugatti EB110

I don’t really know how the old EB110 worked its way in, but here it is. I suppose it would be a nice bit of curios in my collection. I personally think that the Veyron’s a bit vulgar, so the EB can live, I suppose.

What I’d have now: Bugatti EB110

6) Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

This is such an achingly pretty car. I don’t really go in for that pre-war car bit, but there’s no arguing with this.

What I’d have now: Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

7) Aston Martin DB9

Hmmm, I always thought that the DB9 was very beautiful. But then the Vantage came along and it just looked a little more gainly. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if a DB9 got into bed with me, I wouldn’t kick it out. I’d think it was a bit strange, but I wouldn’t kick it out. And I know one’s a GT car and one’s a sports car, but I’ve always got my 612 so….

What I’d have now: Aston Martin V8 Vantage

8)  Alfa Romeo SZ

Another oddity and one which I shall stick by. It was on a car calendar I had when I was a kid and I loved its angular lines, its cubey body and serious face. And the V6 sounds like a peach.

What I’d have now: Alfa Romeo SZ

9) Subaru Impreza WRX

Oh what a little ruffian I once was. Subaru Impreza indeed. Well, I suppose it would be fun going cross country in it, but it’s not very classy. Although this was back in the era before the Impreza looked like a Kia. Change it!

What I’d have now: Volkswagen Golf GTi

10) Land Rover Defender Tomb Raider Special Edition

Looks menacing and brilliant, but a grown man can’t go around in a “Tomb Raider Special Edition” car. I’ll just buy a black one and stick the bits on myself. Or bugger it, I’ll just get a Discovery.

What I’d have now: Land Rover Discovery 3.0 TDV6

11) Peugeot 106 GTi

Oh I am a card sometimes. This is back when I owned my 106 Quiksilver, aforementioned. But things have moved on, this car’s a bit of a relic, and so I’m afraid it has to go.

What I’d have now: Renault Clio Renaultsport

12) Ferrari Enzo

Very exclusive and very worthy, but a bit too thoroughbred. Think I’ll have that new 458 instead please, thank you.

What I’d have now: Ferrari 458

13) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S

Well, this was very generous of me considering that this was the era in which Porsches had those droopy fried egg headlights (I’m sure Porsche are very obliged to me). But the 4S did the best job of covering it up, which I suppose is why it made the grade. But there’s a new 911 now, so it’s out of here.

What I’d have now: Porsche 911 Sports Classic (so pretty!)

14) Porsche Carrera GT

This must be an amazing car to drive. The feature I like most on it, perversely, is its beechwood gear stick. Love it, although that new Porsche 918 prototype looks pretty good too. Remains to be seen….

What I’d have now: Porsche Carrera GT

15) Jaguar E-Type

Funny story. One day I was walking along, talking on the phone. All of a sudden, I saw a beautiful black E-Type coupe parked up with the owner appearing to show someone round. As I walked on, I suddenly saw that the car had obviously just been in a massive crash and the whole of the passenger-side door was crushed. I was so shocked and despairing that I walked straight into a lamppost, after which I kindly oik was decent enough to shout “Look out for that lamppost mister”. Still, in spite of its beauty, I think it’s a little gauche, so I’ll borrow one of my friend’s favourite cars as a 1960s sportscar replacement, and a very worthy one…..

What I’d have now: Ferrari 250 GT Lusso

16) BMW M3 CSL

I’ve always thought that the M3 (and BMWs in general) were the preserve of – how should I put this – small dicked tossers. Notable exceptions are: old BMW CSL, 2002 Turbo, 1980s 6 Series and a few others. The 2004 era M3 CSL was and is probably owned by tossers, but was apparently very good. So would I get the new M3 as a replacement? Yeah, why not? I might even get it in a noxious colour and make sure I only drive in the fast lane on motorways, right up behind someone’s bumper, flashing my lights at them, and then changing across 4 lanes of traffic in one go when my exit comes up. Bitter? Moi?

What I’d have now: BMW M3 in metallic lime green, or equivalent

17) Audi RS4 Avant

Well, talk about desert island cars. This is it. Space in the back, four wheel drive, 4.2 V8. What more could you want? The RS6 you say? Well perhaps, but that’s a bit uglier, and my next car’s got that covered, so I’ll be sticking with my RS4, although back in 2004, I meant the old RS4, and now I mean the new one. Well, the A4’s just been replaced, but the last RS4.

What I’d have now: Audi RS4 old new one

18) Custom made BMW 5 series Touring with M5 engine [sic]

Artist's Impression

Well blow me down. I predicted the future. Back in 2004, this dream-wagen didn’t exist, so with my imaginary millions of pounds I would have paid someone to make it for me. But now I just have to pay someone to buy their second hand M5 Touring off them. Great!

What I’d have now: BMW M5 Touring

The real thing

19) Honda S2000

Not quite sure how this made it in. For the future trophy wife? Perhaps. Because I need a cabriolet? And something small with great handling? Oh well, sorry then little Honda.

What I’d have now: Lotus Elise

20) 1980s Mercedes 280SL

My family used to have one of these in the 80s and it will soon feature in my “Cars that me or my family used to own and that I now miss” section. Yeah, I miss it, but it’s not quite as beautiful and luxurious as my now ultimate car, a 1960s 280 SL, so I’ll have that instead.

What I’d have now: 1960s Mercedes 280SL (W113) in white, automatic, with red leather seats.