Almost all of the articles I’ve written have been on the supercars we have owned over the years. Both before and alongside these cars, we have also owned a number of other sports cars over the years that have remained anonymous. I thought I would do a bit of a trip down memory lane on the rather eclectic group of other sports cars that at one time or another resided in the garage.
I have owned four Alfas over the years: a 33 1.7 Quadrifoglio Verde, a 75 2.0, a Spider S4, and finally a 1750 Spider Veloce. Of the four, the 33 1.7 QF is the most memorable. While I do remember it as being quite fun to hustle down a country road, as well as starting to disintegrate after about 6 months of ownership, it’s the road trip that I did in the 33 1.7 QF to Berlin to see the fall of the Berlin Wall that has it forever etched in my memory. I drove the 500 miles to get to Berlin as it was all unfolding in one straight shot with five adults all crammed into the little Alfa. The 75 2.0 replaced the 33 1.7 QF after about a year. While the 33 1.7 QF was fun to drive, build quality was absolutely abysmal. It turned out the 75 2.0 wasn’t much better. With the 75 2.0 you got a slightly more powerful engine; it came with a car that was much heavier and a lot less fun to drive.
After the two coupes, the next two Alfas were Spiders. The first was a S4 which I really had fun owning. It has to be the best poor handling car ever made. The S4 Spider is basically a 2,500 lbs front engine, rear wheel drive car that feels like 80% of the cars weight is over the front axle. Driving one on snow is terrifyingly engaging. You know what the S4 is going to do, the question is can you control the slide and keep the nose headed in the right direction. In the summer with the top down, it was a car you could push to its limits without a lot of worry about falling afoul of the law.
The final Alfa, a 1750 Spider Veloce, was both the first and last car I will ever buy sight unseen at auction. It turned out that both the catalogue description and the “specialists” report where about as grounded in the truth as a VW diesel emissions report on a 2015 Golf Tdi. The 1750 immediately became a restoration project. Eighteen months and quite a few Euros later, it turned out to be a decent car to cruise up and down the Portuguese coast in. While the S4 was a better and much more reliable car in every way, the 1750 did have a bit of old school charm but getting the Spica fuel injection system to work properly is definitely a dark art.
I have owned 2 BMWs of note, a M535i and a E39 M5. The M535i was my daily driver for about 2 ½ years and it was a role well suited to the car. For a relatively large car, it handled quite well but I do remember a few trips on the autobahn where it was badly outgunned by a wide range of Porsches. The E39 M5 was a very different story. When it ran, it was a blast to drive and a car you really felt you could lean into and push hard despite its size and weight. The key words in the last sentence however are when it ran. It’s a toss up between the E39 M5 and the Ferrari 456 GT for which is the least reliable car I have ever owned. The E39 M5 drank motor oil at almost the same rate it did petrol, needed a new clutch due to leaky seals, and produced more random warning lights than any other car I have owned. BMW never could figure out the cause of all the problems and they eventually bought the car back from me.
Jaguar XKR Convertibles
The Jaguar XKR Convertible was the first car I bought because I thought it was elegant and I liked the lines. I acquired the car in Germany and drove it down to Portugal where it lived for about a year. As a high-speed cruiser, it worked well. For a Sunday morning blast down the coast, it was completely out of its element. The XKR was a pure Grand Tourer that did not like to be hustled. It was one car that I always thought could have been much more engaging with a 6-speed manual gearbox and a firmer suspension. The XKR was sold when I acquired another car with exactly those attributes, the Ferrari 456GT (Our Ferrari History). In this case I should have kept the Jaguar. We did acquire a second RHD Jaguar XKR a couple of years later. This one would become Karen’s (Mrs. SSO) daily driver for the better part of a decade (Karen’s Jaguar XKR). It was a car Karen loved and I know she is still tempted at times to get another.
Mazda MX-5 (2nd generation)
The MX-5 was one car we acquired with a clear purpose in mind. I had recently moved to the UK and decided it was time to really get comfortable driving a right-hand drive manual on a daily basis. The poor MX-5 was my training victim and I could not have chosen a better car for the job. The 1.8 Liter engine had just enough power to make it fun to drive on the back roads of Surrey plus a forgiving clutch and gearbox made the MX-5 the perfect platform to master left hand shifting on. The MX-5 is a car you really can have fun driving without fear of breaking any of the local velocity limits. Handling was very neutral and feedback excellent, I always felt like I knew what the car was doing. Build quality was excellent and other than an annual service, I never had a single issue with the MX-5. The only negative on the MX-5 is our kids hated the spec and nicknamed the poor MX-5 “Fugly”.
The Gransport was one of those acquisitions that seemed like a really good idea on paper and then quickly became a disappointment the longer we lived with it. Originally intended for use as a daily driver, I found out pretty quickly that it was not really suited for that task. While the Cambiocorsa F1 type transmission worked fairly well on the open road, it was just horrible in traffic. Of the four selectable gearbox/suspension modes, the Gransport only really came alive in “Sport”. The Ferrari sourced F136 engine (shared with the Ferrari F430) was by far the Gransport’s best attribute. Build quality was pretty poor and the interior had a distinct Fiat parts bin feel. The switches tended to be made out of cheap plastic and in a couple of cases I had them pop right off in my hand. This is another car that I have always thought would have been so much better with a 6-speed manual gearbox and if it had been put on a bit of a diet.
TVR Griffith 500
The Griffith is a mad mad thing and I do believe every petrol head should own one once. Conceptually its simple, brilliant, and terrifying. Stick a 340 bhp indestructible 5 liter Rover V8 engine in the nose of a fiberglass car that weighs just a bit over 1,000 kg, connect it to a 5 speed gearbox, don’t complicate things by adding any electronic drivers aids, and then let owners loose in the countryside. If early Porsche 911 Turbos had a reputation for going through hedges backwards, the Griff was not far behind. As a car to drive, if you have the right level of skill and experience, it is an absolute blast. My fondest memory of the Griff is a day we spent on an old airfield constantly pushing its limits. As a car to own, it’s a bit of a disaster. While the basic mechanicals are simple and straight forward, the entire electrical system is a disaster waiting for a place to happen. The battery, ECU, and fuse box all sit in the passenger footwell which just happens to where water accumulates when it leaks through the removable hard top every time it rains. The net result is, as you can imagine, not good. Trips in the Griff had a bad habit of ending with a call to the RAC (UK equalivant of AAA). Build quality was another one of the Griffs weaker points and I did have one of the steering wheel stalks fall off, a windshield wiper launched itself into the abyss on a rainy day, and the door locks would randomly fail resulting in my having to climb over the door to get out of the car. As fun as it was to drive, owning a Griff is an exercise in extreme patience and understanding. This was another of our 1-year cars.
The other sports cars are a rather varied and eclectic group. Some I am still quite fond of, others not so much. Of the group, I can’t say there is one that I currently have an itch to own again. The Mazda MX-5 was brilliant for what it was and the BMW E39 M5 could have been such a great car if it wasn’t a lemon. The TVR Griff is petrolhead heroin, able to offer a near euphoric experience before it crushes your dreams in a puddle of electric failures. The Alfa Romeo Spider S4 has tempted me on occasion but every time I give it serious thought I can’t come up with a single situation when I would rather drive the Spider S4 over one of the other cars currently in the garage. The one Alfa that is tempting is the Giulia Quadrifoglio which I test drove about two years ago (Alfas: 4c & Giulia Quadrifoglio).
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