The dream garage
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My friend Adam came up with the dream garage. By some quirk of fate you are wealthy. No fucks given kind of wealthy. You have a garage and it has 10 spaces. What would you put in this dream garage and why?
I’d want at least a couple of vehicles that would be useful. A couple that would be fun and the rest would be kept for my appreciation of some part of their design. I’ve not given any thought to maintenance or depreciation and have assumed that any challenges can be handled with enough money.
BMW M535i (E28)
1986 BMW M535i (E28) (preferably in a dark colour where the original owner opted for the debadged option. In its day it was a car that hid its performance with mediocre looks. Now its still a respectable performer that won’t turn heads. So ideal for nipping to the local supermarket for the weekly grocery shop. Its also mercifully free of computerised user experience.
Mercedes G550 4×4 Squared
Mercedes G550 4×4 Squared (not a US market car though). The Mercedes G-Wagen is a capable off-roader already. But re-engineering it to handle portal differentials from the Mercedes Unimog made it even more capable. The portal differential means that there are is less to catch underneath the car. This allows the vehicle to have a ludicrous ground clearance. You could have got away with a relatively modest diesel engine. But Mercedes wants to sell this to plutocrats and professional footballers. So you get a twin turbo V8 petrol engine and a luxurious interior. If I had the chance I’d have it refitted with a diesel, waterproofed electrics, a heavy duty winch, a truck like exhaust and air snorkel to aid fording water off-road. I figure that if you have a ten car garage, you probably also have a good deal of land to go with it that requires good off-road capability.
Fun is immensely subjective and this makes anything that I put in this use case open to debate.
Mazda Familia GT-Ae
Mazda Familia GT-Ae. In the mid-1980s the FIA shut down Group B rally cars because of some high profile accidents. They replaced them with cars that were much closer to production cars called Group A. Manufacturers like Lancia, Toyota and Mazda saw and opportunity further burnish their reputations through motorsports. Outside of Japan the Familia was known as the 323. The GT version was their entry into Group A. It featured a 1.6 litre engine. It had four valves per cylinder and used turbocharging to force air into the cylinders for more power. It saw some success in world championship rallying when it was introduced in 1985. The GT-Ae was released in Japan three years later. It had a number of enhancements including a rear viscous coupling differential and a little more power.
The GT-Ae is less famous than peers like the Lancia Delta Integrale or the Toyota Celica GT4. But that means its relatively discreet by comparison, the average car buff wouldn’t realise what you had.
I also like the idea of small, lightweight capable hatchback that isn’t festooned with electronics. The Familia GT-Ae is sufficiently rare that it is hard to find material about it on YouTube.
Ford RS 200 was an attempt to claim back honour. The early 1980s saw Ford of Europe humbled by manufacturers like Audi and Peugeot. Ford had historically put a halo around its car line-up through motorsport and warmed up versions of its own road cars. That formula had been up-ended by the arrival of the VW Golf GTi in showrooms across Europe. Worse still, its rally cars, notably the Ford RS 2000 was rendered obsolete by the move to Group B and the Audi Quattro.
Ford eventually addressed this with the RS 200. The formula doesn’t sound that promising. A small dumpy looking coupe, assembled by the Reliant Motor Company. The engine was a warmed over design from the 1960s which had originally been put in a failed project to build the Ford Escort RS1700T. The engine suffered terribly from turbo lag at low revs, which was part of the reason why the Escort RS1700T never got off the ground. But this is only half the story.
Short and dumpy has benefits in handling like the Lancia Stratos. What owners bought was a lightweight Ghia of Turin designed couple, with handling developed by a designer who had cut his teeth in formula one. It had a low driving position and sure footed grip with Ferguson Formula derived four wheel drive.
Yes Reliant cars were made so bad Ford had to have them reassembled. But Reliant did make lightweight composite plastic based cars. The interior had parts predominantly taken from the Fiesta and Sierra product lines. But that lack of luxury, also meant easier to replace parts and less weight than luxury switchgear. An article published by Autocar outlined the potential of the Ford RS200 if Group B rallying had continued.
I wouldn’t want a highly tuned version because I am not a skilled professional driver, but I would like the high travel suspension. Again there is a lack of technology to distract from the driving experience.
Honda S800 coupe
I love small cars. For my sins the best and worst car that I’ve ever owned was a Fiat 126. The engine was terrible, as was the drum brakes and it was tiresome to drive anywhere for anything more than an hour. But it also put a smile on my face more times than any other car that I owned. It handled really well. You could go sideways around corners and still stay in lane. You had a ludicrously low seating position and an exceptionally direct gear change. But the Fiat 126 looks uglier than the previous Fiat 500 and wasn’t well made. But it made me like the idea of small cars. The first car that I chose was the Honda S800. This beat out cars like the Abarth Fiat 500, the various one-off Bialberos and the Alpine A110. I love the way the Honda engineers took motorcycle engineering to formula one and then to a small sports car for the road. And to top it all off they then made it look very pretty. Japanese car companies have continued to make sporty looking kei cars, but the S500 and subsequent S800 were the originals.
Actor Daniel Wu has the version that I want. He built it and it was displayed by Honda at SEMA. Its a mix of gorgeous period details and warmed over specification and flared wheel arches. I’d like it in white in tribute to Honda’s 1960s era racing cars rather than low level gangsters.
The Porsche 911 needs no introduction. I particularly like the 1973 version. The Porsche 911S is the most advanced version of the car, that kept the purity of the original design. You get a moderately powerful fuel injected engine, the alloy wheels by Otto Fuchs KG, a five-speed manual gearbox and seats with head rests which provides a degree of comfort on longer drives. So why 1973? Later the design became adulterated and added to with detail elements like the US safety bumpers. The current models of Porsche 911 look too elongated compared to the 1973 model. So even though my bedroom wall used to have a Keith Harmer airbrushed painting of a wide body late 1970s Porsche 911, I actually preferred the clean lines and smaller stance of the ‘narrow body’ 1973 car.
Toyota 2000 GT coupe
Most westerners know the Toyota 2000GT as the ‘E-type’ like sports car in You Only Live Twice. That’s the Sean Connery Bond film set in Japan with the ninjas and a paper mâché mountain as villains lair. The resemblance to the E-Type Jaguar is no accident. Body stylist Satoru Nozaki was inspired by European grand tourers including the E-Type.
Yamaha did the engineering of the car. They offered it to Nissan first, who turned it down. They then took it to Toyota with low expectations and Toyota said yes. Yamaha took the engine from Toyota’s Crown saloon car and turned it into a sporty 2 litre inline 6 cylinder. When sold they cost more than Porsche and Jaguars of the day. Only a few hundred got made to provide a halo product for the Toyota vehicle range. Toyota reputedly lost money on each vehicle built. It’s just a gorgeous looking car and hence has a place in the dream garage.
During the late 1970s through to 1981, BMW built a stunning looking mid-engined sports cars called the BMW M1. The original idea what the Lamborghini would build them on behalf of BMW for production car racing. Lamborghini did engineering work on the car, but then went bust. James May alleged that BMW had to break into the closed Lamborghini facilities and steal back the M1 body moulds. Given Lamborghini’s reputation for temperamental cars around this time it was probably for the best.
The body was glass fibre reinforced plastic, for light weight. It was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. This gave it a clean, futuristic, aggressive straight-lined design. Giugiaro then did designs in a similar vein for the Lotus Espirit. You can see the heritage of the BMW M1 design in the BMW i8. Giugiaro’s styling alone would get into the dream garage.
The beauty of the BMW M1 was more than skin deep. The body panels were hung on a tubular steel monocoque frame. It had a 3.5 litre straight six cylinder engine. A version of which later appeared in the E28 BMW M5 and the E24 BMW M635CSI.
It had a comfortable but basic interior and air conditioning. What you end up with is all the best qualities of an Italian and German sports car.
Nissan (C110) Skyline GT-R (Kenmeri)
The Nissan Skyline GT-R became famous in the early and mid-1990s. But the Skyline GT-R has heritage that stretches back much further. I chose the 1973 Nissan (C110) Skyline GT-R (Kenmeri) vintage car over later more capable models due to its styling which is why it sits in the ‘art’ section of my dream garage. The slope back, spoiler give it an amazing look. But it also had great technology for its vintage, notably disc brakes all around.
The C110 Skyline GT-R was made for less than 12 months due to the 1973 OPEC oil crisis. It featured an in-line 6 cylinder engine designed by the Prince Motor Company, whom Nissan bought out in 1966. It had four valves per cylinder which was very rare at the time. This engine would also appear in the Nissan Fairlady Z 432R – a faster limited edition version of the Fairlady Z developed for production car racing.
Nissan Autech Zagato Stelvio
Boom-era Japan saw manufacturers like Nissan doing all kinds of interesting things, none more so than the Nissan Autech Zagato Stelvio. This was back when the land of the imperial palace was based on in Tokyo was worth more than the entire state of California. This also explains why Nissan tried to sell a car that cost 18 million yen new. Or more than a Honda NSX.
Autech was Nissan’s equivalent of Mercedes’ AMG at the time. They had to improve on the Nissan Leopard coupe. Fortunately the Nissan Leopard coupe shared its floor pan with the equivalent Nissan Skyline. Autech put in a good effort working on performance, handling and braking.
Autech reached out to an Italian design house to give the car a distinctive yet classy look. Interestingly, they chose Zagato. In the end you ended up with a distinctive Italian car with Japanese build quality – which sounds quite appealing. The interior reminded me a bit of the pre-Fiat Maseratis Biturbo models, particularly in the use of walnut wood veneer and leather.
As well as the boom times of the 1980s property bubble, Japan also had a huge cultural surge. Anime from original manga like Akira and Ghost In The Shell coming out with their own take on cyber punk. I think its partly this time of creativity and cultural relevance that makes the Nissan Autech Zagato Stelvio dream garage material. It definitely looks as if it has come off the screen from the original Ghost In The Shell anime film
A second reason is the way Zagato always seem to go off in their own direction from a styling point of view. Some of it might be ugly but it is highly distinctive. I know what you’re thinking, it weird as hell. And you’d be right, but it has some interesting ideas. Those front arches have the wing mirrors built into them to reduce drag.
The wheels are specially designed to funnel air into the disc brakes for cooling and at the same minimise aerodynamic drag.
The oddness of the car meant that only about 100 or so were produced in the end and hopefully one of them would make their way to my dream garage.
I’ve talked through my ten choices. What would be the ten cars you your dream garage?