Rover 827Si

Britain has a history of marrying two things that you wouldn't normally expect together. Eggs in vinegar, for example, or Charles and Diana. Other times there are the incredible partnerships, when two very dissonant elements come together to create something far greater than the constituent parts, like putting milk into your tea.

In fact, some of the greatest relationships have been forged from the most curious of bedfellows. One scrawny feeble Englishman and one fat, oafish American, two people seemingly worlds apart, were able to form into the Hollywood success story of Laurel and Hardy, or Flim and Flam as they're known in Poland.

And what we're looking at here is the culmination of such an odd couple, the result of a time when the English and the Japanese were hopping in and out of each other's beds for most of the 1980s.

This wasn't some bastard offspring either. The car proudly sports Daddy's name on its front grille, bearing aloft the sigil of Rover, and while Mummy's name may only show up on a few official documents in certain registry offices, the maternal side hasn't been entirely diluted; especially when it's a family as famous as Honda.

To the uninitiated, two car companies coming together should be no big deal; it's happened dozens of times before in plenty of other countries. However, those previous pairings were full-on commitments, where one company takes the other hand in economic matrimony, buying the fairer half outright like some backwater village family in the 18th century. Peugeot walked down that aisle with Citroen in the Seventies, as did Rolls-Royce with Bentley forty years before them. But with Rover and Honda it was a much more modern affair. Certainly more than a casual fling, but nothing as severe as til-death-do-us-part. What we have here is a common law marriage, with the marital bed sitting somewhere in Morris Motor's factory in Cowley.

It's hard to say who wooed whom in the Rover-Honda dalliance. Rather than teenage passion, this was a more mature liason, with both sides being frank about what assets, and weaknesses, they were bringing to the table.

At the time, Rover certainly could hardly be considered an eligible bachelor, tied up as it was in the complicated knot of British Leyland, itself a heaving mass of automotive firms almost wholly financed by the British government. Rover wasn't pulling its weight within the group, and its flagship product, the Rover SD1, was a poor seller in contrast to its previous luxury saloons. It needed something new, something sleek, something executive to compete with the rapid growth of executive saloons that were flooding the market.

In contrast, Honda were becoming more and more aware that if they didn't expand their product range into the same sector, they'd be doomed forever to be an upstart motorbike manufacturer. While their small sedans, the Civic and Accord, were reasonable sellers domestically, they needed a much larger platform if they ever wanted to enter the lucrative American market.

Which is how, on a probably windy and rainy day in September 1981, Rover made the first call to Honda to suggest, you know, maybe getting together sometime to discuss what the future may bring. And a little over nine months later, the first clay model of Project XX was revealed, the embryonic form of what would later be the Rover 800.

The car enjoyed a relatively happy childhood. Both parents had ideas about what they wanted the car to be, and their visions were mutually beneficial. They wanted something solid, something powerful, something that would rise the corporate ladder and make its mark on the world. The clay models went through increasing revisions to make the car more defined and more present on the road, with a sleek look suited to the Eighties boardroom. To that end, Rover went about stuffing as much walnut dash and leather into the cabin as it could, while Honda set about shoehorning their new 2.5-litre V6 under the bonnet.

All considered, it should have been a knockout. Build quality was good, the trim level was competitive and performance was more than adequate. And with the two parents working in harmony, there was no hint of dysfunction at home either; Rover didn't suffer anywhere near as many strikes and walkouts as other British manufacturers of the time.

What's more, the 800 had a trick up its sleeve that its big saloon contemporaries hadn't even thought about. Ford were conquering the bottom level of the market with their cheap and sturdy Granada, and luxury manufacturers like BMW offered both the E23 and E24 to cover the top end of the saloon and coupe markets. But neither had ventured into the executive hatchback market; a field that even Rover itself didn't consider that profitable.

Neither, really, did Honda, who with great diplomacy admitted that they were far more interested in trying to produce a big coupe for the Americans. Rover had always known that the Japanese would favour a baby with their own name, but always believed that the Honda Legend, the 800's twin, would share the same factory. But it was not to be, and Honda moved their production to Japan to better focus on producing a luxury two-door that would sate the Yank appetite for big cars.

But there were no hard feelings, and when the time came Honda were more than happy to hand over their improved V6 to Rover to take the range to a whole new executive level, boosting capacity from 2.5 to 2.7 litres. Following suit, Rover gave the whole 800 range a more aggressive-looking grille to match the beefier performance, culminating in what we have here; a Rover 827si hatchback.

It could almost be a match made in heaven. Rover's insistence on producing an English sitting room inside a car, coupled with Honda's desire for supreme performance, meant that final product was both sporting and sumptuous; the perfect mix for people who had 20,000 pounds to throw at a car in 1992. Yet despite reasonable sales, it never really got to the heights destined for it, settling for the best of the bargain brands rather than a serious competitor to the top-shelf alternatives. By the time the car was cancelled in 1998, Rover had gone through four ownership changes, none of whom were prepared to invest in a follow-up to the 800's success.

In that way, this 827 stands as one of the last of its line, one of the Last Good Rovers. And while the line may have died out, its owner can still be proud, just like its parents were.

Zastava Yugo Koral 60

It's that time of year when conversations drift towards summer holiday plans, and my office is no different. A colleague of mine was trying to tell me about her road trip plans around southern Europe, but she couldn't explain the destinations.
As she searched for the name of the first country, her eyes rolled up and to the left, and her mouth hung open. It was there on the tip of her tongue, but no amount of umms and ahhhs could pull it into action. "Chorwacja? What is that in English?" she finally asked, with a typical Polish roll of the central 'r'.

It's a constant problem. So many countries with so many languages making so many names for us, the poor tourist, to remember. And while some countries make it easy for the international community, such as France or America, other countries have to suffer the ignominy of having their names stammered, butchered or worse, confused. I deeply pity the poor Netherlanders for the number of times they've been called Deutsch instead of Dutch.  And poor Chorwacja, whose Polish pronunciation to the English ear, has a certain connotation to the first syllable, and an unfortunate one considering how pretty Croatia really is.

Croatia is just one of the Adriatic nations whose name and location is, to many, confusing. Its equally pretty sibling states such as Bosnia and Slovenia create a family as complex as a Shakespearean drama, with a plot equally bloody. The name of this modern tragedy? Yugoslavia.

Of course, Yugoslavia is long gone; but relics remain. In this case, a cobalt blue hatchback adorned with the "Yugo" name, sitting abandoned in a Warsaw car park.

To the untrained eye, a Yugo is just another Eighties car, folded out of steel plate somewhere behind the Iron Curtain and sold cheaply to the masses. And that's a fair assessment to some degree; there's nothing from the outside that would distinguish the car from contemporaries like the Ukrainian ZAZ Tavria or the Lada Samara. The only distinguishing feature is the split-Y logo on the bonnet, which we would hope no-one recognises.

Because "Yugo" carries the unfortunate honours of being both one of the automotive world's most recognised and also most reviled brands. The little car that couldn't, as the reputation goes, which led to the car being classed as one of the worst of all time, by TIME magazine no less. Its reputation is so bad that the word "Yugo" now represents all that is wrong about poverty motoring, and Communist products in general.

But was it all that bad? After a production run of nearly 800,000 units over four decades, the consensus seems to be "yes", with complaints ranging from the minor (loose door handles and rattly trim) to fairly serious (engines exploding, doors falling off).  Which seems odd, considering the car's parentage.

Half Serbian, half Italian, the little Yugo was yet another licensing project whereby an old Fiat was produced by factory behind the Iron Curtain. In this case, the Fiat 127 formed the base of the vehicle  that would enter production at Serbia's Red Flag Factory, or as the rest of the world knows it, Zastava.

The Fiat underpinnings were tried and trusted. A simple 903cc engine was slotted under the bonnet, with a rudimentary 4-speed gearbox sending power to the front wheels. Around it, an Italian-penned body shell offered an unpretentious hatchback design, with no-fuss straight edges and flat surfaces to simplify the production process. To keep things efficient, parts were brought in from all over Yugoslavia, with Slovenian alternators and Croation upholstery all making their way to the Serbian assembly line. The design was signed off for production in 1978, with serial manufacture starting in late 1980.
On paper, the car seems no different from other period hatchbacks; the Ford Fiesta and the British Metro employed the same no-frills principle in a similarly angular bodyshell, and the Citroen Visa even shared the same mechanicals. But Zastava's insistence on simplicity went that little bit further. Most early versions didn't even have a petrol flap, for fear of over-complicating the production process with unnecessary extra curves in the body shell. Other price-cuts included a single front wiper, until you get to the point where the price brochure includes features such as "carpet" - one of the deciding factors when you're buying a new car, obviously.

But the real key to the Yugo's bargain price was the labour. Where American cars cost their manufacturers up to $23 in labour per man hour, Zastava only needed to charge $0.60, such were the wage levels in Yugoslavia at that time. Add that to the already frugal design, and you get a fully-fledged vehicle that can fly off the production line and into the showroom for the bare minimum price, and still turn a profit. This turned out to be both Yugo's strength and its downfall.

Taking full advantage of the Yugo's bargain price was one Malcom Bricklin; an entrepreneur who not only imported foreign cars to the US but also produced his own. Both his own sports car, the Bricklin SV-1, and his imported Fiat X1/9 flew in the face of American consumer tastes of that time, and the Yugo was no exception. But like the X1/9, the Yugo had passed rigorous safety and emissions tests in order to get past America's stringent quality controls; safety tests that had to be watered down because America's own manufacturers couldn't pass them. Safety tests that no other communist manufacturer had even dared to pass, which is why the Skoda 135 or the Lada were never exported to the States. That's a factor worth bearing in mind. If this little car managed to pass those quality controls, it can't have been that bad. It certainly didn't deserve the moniker World's Worst; it shouldn't even be in the Top Ten.

The Yugo also had more to offer than the other Communist brands. While the initial offerings only gasped out 45hp from their sub-litre engines, later models got bigger and better motors, allowing the Yugo to be marketed as models 45, 50, 55 or even 60, depending on the power output. It's a Yugo 60 that we have here, and you can tell that not just by the comedy bonnet vent that feeds the 1.3 litre engine, but by having not one but two windscreen wipers. The Yugoslavians probably believed that with so much extra power under the bonnet, you'd need twice as many blades to blat the rain away from the windscreen at such massively increased speeds.

While hardly blistering, these Yugos offered enough performance to seriously tempt overseas buyers. Combined with a retail price thousands of dollars lower than any domestic sub-compact, the Yugo immediately found itself a niche market, notching up 141,000 sales in the US among price-concious buyers.

But that price proved to be all important. Cheap products lead to cheap buyers, and in the unfortunate hands of owners who considered the car "disposable", Yugos were quickly driven into the ground. With owners skimping on much-needed oil and belt changes, the little cars quickly built up a reputation for terminal engine failure. Couple that with the sort of panel fitment you get when your assembly line are paid 60 cents an hour, and the little car from Serbia rapidly went from forecourt to junkyard, without going through any second-hand market in between. A used Yugo? You couldn't even give it away.

The Yugo name became toxic, in more than one way. As a brand its name was mud, but as a nation state it was tearing itself apart, and by the 1990s the Yugoslavian Wars were in full swing, with the whole world watching the continuing series of civilian bombings and wholesale massacres.

Despite the war, Zastava still kept up production. Desperate to rid the car of its tainted moniker, they dropped the Yugo name and relaunched it as the Zastava Koral, hoping that the successful reputation of their Zastava 101 model would be carried across to its smaller sibling. Along with a new name, new models with new options were released; bigger engines with fuel injection, alloy wheels, air conditioning and even a full cabriolet were all released to the market, as and when the international sanctions allowed them to.

But it wasn't to be. With the reputation in tatters, international exports trickled to nothing, and by 1992 the American market had all dried up. By the time the southern Slavs had worked out the borders of their new post-Yugoslav states (to a greater or lesser degree), people were tired of the flimsy little machine, and were looking for more upmarket and reliable models.

And yet, as the smoke cleared, Zastava found itself in a unique position. With each ex-Yugoslav nation licking its wounds, its populations needed to quickly and cheaply mobilise to rebuild the ravaged economies. Zastava cranked up production, reforging its ties with its sister factories in the new neighbouring states to keep production going. Thanks to that, thousands of Korals continued to roll off the assembly line each year to a grateful and desperate domestic market. So iconic was the soldiering little car, it remained in production all the way up until 2008. And while one may lie dormant and disposed of here in Warsaw, there are still thousands of these little machines still rattling their way along the Adriatic coastline today thanks to the continued efforts of the pan-Slavic production line. So maybe our tragic drama has a happy ending after all.

Ford Granada Mark II

Cast your mind back to childhood summer holidays, and some of us are old enough to remember bucket-and-spade days on the coast of our own country, slurping up ice creams and trying not to get pecked by seagulls. The seaside town I grew up in was one of those places; long sandy beaches, deckchairs in the sun, and the hourly mad dash to the pubs and cafes because it started raining again.

In the Sixties, all that changed. Cheap package holidays sent the working classes off to the Mediterranean, where they could get wrecked on sangria, insult the locals, then come back with a straw donkey and some serious sunburn.

Ford of Europe knew exactly where all this was going, and knew that to market their lastest line-up of cars, they needed to tap in to this new-found Mediterranean flamboyancy. In line with the jet set, the names Cortina and Capri had been chosen to adorn Ford's saloon and sports cars respectively, instilling the range with a fun-in-the-sun flavour and conjuring in the minds of potential buyers the image of drinks by the pool filled with fruit and umbrellas. To continue the theme, the Large Executive Saloon had the name of a Spanish town slapped on its rear end, and was flogged to the masses as the Ford Granada.

The car itself was standard fare, with the straight lines and large cabin space a known formula, proven to have worked on both the Cortina and the Escort, which is no surprise considering the brainpower that had gone into them. The two European Ford corporations of Britain and Germany had collaborated on those projects to make continental cars that could be built and sold in both countries, and the Granada was to follow the same successful recipe. With a steady reliable drivetrain nestled under a roomy yet sensible body, the car won over managers and chiefs on both sides of the Channel, becoming a staple of the highways and putting up a decent fight against other, more luxurious contemporaries.

And as the Seventies exploded, so did the story of Granada, both the town and the car. The former, throttled for years by the oppressiveness of its dictator-general Franco, suddenly boomed as airports opened and hotels sprang up all along the coast. The beaches accepted a trickle, then a stream, and now a torrent of fat Northern Europeans, slathered in suntan lotion and basking their bellies in the sun. And in 1977, the Granada too went through a revolution, and with a new range of fleet-friendly engines and performance upgrades, it became an industry benchmark for affordable performance saloons, with Ford's beast comparing favourably to much more expensive offerings from superior manufacturers like Mercedes. The big men with cigars in both Dagenham and Cologne could slap themselves on the back for their cleverly designed Mark II.

Yet the cleverness of Ford's naming convention somehow became oddly reversed. Despite the engine range running from basic 1.6's to roaring 3-litre V6's, the car picked up a reputation not of poverty, but of the working class. Rather than the car absorbing all the foreign charm of its namesake town, the opposite happened, and the name Granada became permanently associated with fat sweaty Brits, sunburnt and shouting at Spaniards. The affluent masses, with their complete lack of social grace, tarnished the Granada forever.

It's that sort of social cheapness that sullies this Granada here. The single exhaust pipe and prosthetic-limb colouring point to the feeble engine under the bonnet, which is far more likely to be a four-pot from Dagenham than a V6 from Cologne. And yet someone has chosen to adorn both ends not just with "Ford" or "Granada" but with another name, "Berta", stamped boldly in black and white on the numberplate.

This sort of vanity is relatively common further west, where overpaid and egotistic executives purchase personalised plates for their cars, either as a display of wealth or, more cynically, for other more personal shortcomings. So for someone to pay such a price (and it's not cheap in Poland) to do the same thing to a decaying 30-year-old saloon is a particularly delicious joke. Are they desperately trying to catch up with the money that pours into Warsaw year after year, or is it a cruel jibe at the besuited owners of Porsche Cayennes, highlighting others' vanities by playing them at their own game?

Whatever the reason, Granada proved not to be the right name for the car, and for the third edition, released in 1985, the Spanish name was dropped in favour of the more astrological Scorpio; a sign that Ford no longer wanted their cars tainted by the actions of Brits on holiday. But I can't help feeling that, for a big heavy German such as this, Berta, or even Helga, might have been a better name.

Renault 4 GTL

"Another glass, Jean-Jacques?"
"Merci, mais non, I 'ave to get zees onions to ze market for tomorrow morning."
"Oh come now, you 'aff plenty of time," says his friend, reaching across the table and filling the glass. In this way, two farmers let the afternoon pass, reclining on their seats and patting their prodigious bellies.

It all seems charmingly provincial, the old bistro in its rustic setting, a cobbled patio next to a sandy courtyard where old men in waistcoats exchange bon mots with a saucy waitress while holding aloft ruby glasses. It's exactly the image Renault want you to conjure up when you think of the Renault 4, but don't be fooled. France isn't like that.

While you carry in your mind two portly old rogues eyeing up the girls over a glass of wine, don't forget those all-important onions, without which the French economy would collapse, bundled up in hessian bags in the back of the farmer's Renault. That afternoon sun, which dapples gently on the paintwork, is roasting the glass-panelled hatchback, trapping the heat like a greenhouse and drying out the onions and their muddy coating until a pungent stench fills the entire cabin. It would mingle with the cigarette ash spilled on the floor, with the sweat soaked into the driver's seat, with the chicken droppings and vegetable litter compressed into the grooves of the bodywork until the car reeked like a pig sty in August. The underlying notes of poverty are the essence of the Renault 4. It stinks.

The Renault 4 would like you to think that it's a cheeky little people's car, an avant-garde flash of simplicity and quirkiness that lends it an air of jaunty enthusiasm. But it isn't. That sort of flair had already been done by the Renault's rival, the Citroen 2CV for thirteen years already, and post-war parsimony was now giving way to urban chic and a taste for the fanciful. That didn't prevent the French automaker from going ahead with their effort to take over a large section of the poverty car market; a niche that most other manufacturers had given up making new designs for. But Renault had decided more moustachio'd serfs needed to trade in their mules for motors, and so the Renault 4 was launched on a summer's afternoon in 1961.

On one hand, it's easy to highlight why the Renault 4 was a success. A simple engine mounted to a plain chassis allowed a relatively spacious body to be bolted on top, and with all the mechanicals up front and the suspension hidden underneath, meant that the maximum amount of space could be given to the body. Slap a simple barn door on the back instead of any pretence of a boot, and you've made a moveable metal box that can accommodate a cow. Pepper the sides with ovals of glass and you can even kid yourself that this is a car, and not just any car but a city car, a youthful car, a vehicle that embodies the urban spirit of freedom to move around. Of course, if you're also the person who has six crates of live chickens to move around, you might also find it useful, but the Renault 4 was designed as an Everyman's Car.

However, if you felt that the luxuries of a rear quarterlight window and a chrome grille were too much of an extravagance, and you didn't want to get your hubcaps dirty driving down farm tracks, you could lower the price even more and buy a Renault 3, the poverty-spec version of the '4, but in the Sixties even French farmers turned their nose up at such austerity measures. The Renault 4 was cheap enough already, there was no need to drag its new name through the mud by making it look like some sort of van.

Renault were very keen to point out that it wasn't a van by releasing a van version a year later, called the Fourgonette or "little girly van" if we translate the French appropriately. By unbolting the unpretentious body and slapping a massive box on the back instead, you could squeeze in even more agricultural produce, and waft an even more potent stench along the tree-lined roads before eventually arriving at whatever slaughterhouse you were destined for. Unlike the '3, the Fourgonette was an instant success, and helped push the image of the Renault 4 as a capable mover of stuff for the working classes. And with nothing in the way of extras to go wrong, it could almost be considered reliable too, as long as you serviced the engine every six thousand miles and didn't expect to go faster than 65mph.

With this elemental recipe for a mechanical donkey, the Renault 4 slogged on year after year with almost nothing in the way of changes, just like its competitor from Citroen. In some grim battle to keep the average quality of French cars to a minimum, they steadfastly refused to improve anything on their designs, lest they raise the cost of the vehicles to an unacceptable level.

But times change. The stereotypical French village became increasingly under threat as farmers realised they might have to start working for a living. Electricity came to town, standards were raised, and the demand for smoky tin boxes dropped. The cost of manufacturing, both in labour rates and the value of steel, meant that the price of the Renault 4 couldn't stay rock-bottom for ever, and by the time of the 1978 revision its price was comparable to those of contemporary superminis like the Citroen Visa and Renault 5. If one wanted a second family car, or a little car to learn on, the spartan interior of the 4 simply couldn't compare to the plastic and vinyl on offer elsewhere. Even the creation of a GTL edition with a 1.1litre engine couldn't bring it up to Eighties expectations of speed, let alone comfort, while the engine noise was absolutely deafening. What's more, the chrome grille had been removed. How can you sell a car in the Eighties with no chrome grille?

Yet the Gallic inertia towards change, or simply Renault hating the average consumer, meant that the Renault 4 managed to stay in production for an astounding 33 years before finally calling it a day in 1994, but before you breathe in a lungful on non-oniony air, bear in mind that the tooling for more Renault 4's had been dispersed around the globe. For three decades factories in Ireland, Autralia, Mexico and Italy churned out the plain little wagons until eight million of them cluttered up the streets with their nasal whine and cocky posture.

In its time it spawned a number of successors in both the Renault 5 and Renault 6, and made the hatchback style the ultimate small car design. Yet the final models were cobbled together from leftover spares in a factory in Slovenia; a relatively ignoble end for such a popular car. Upon its passing, its position in the French stable was filled by the completely unrelated Renault Twingo, but its place is automotive history is secured as Renault's most produced model ever.

Volvo 480 Turbo

The image of Volvo has always been one of a genteel conservatism. There's no outright snobbery involved in the brand, but those loyal to the Swedish manufacturer do seem to conform to a stereotype that may or may not be flattering. There's no posturing involved like other premium-priced models, no aggressive marketing designed to target a particular consumer. The Scandinavian manufacturer simply let its innocuous boxes appeal to innocuous people, as long as they had money to pay for it.

That's not to suggest that Volvo's are luxury cars; you don't expect leather and wood trimming when you sit in one, but it's definitely not at the lower range of the market, rubbing shoulders with disposable tin like Fords and Opels. They were sedate, safe saloons for accountants, offering a cosy way to move boxes of files and the family Retriever around without any particular sense of urgency. Cardigans were an optional extra from the factory.

Don't be fooled, however, into thinking Volvo's are slow; they're perfectly capable of keeping up with Audi's and BMW's (well, the smaller ones anyway), it's just that the owners have no desire to do so. While the German saloons excel in bullying other road users onto the hard shoulder, Volvo likes to plod along, knowing how much power it has and utterly refusing to use it, because it just wouldn't be sensible. As the Mercedes roars past honking his horn and shaking its fist, the Volvo owner will make a light tutting sound, and shake his head. In motoring terms, they are the embodiment of the word "comfy."

So when you hear that Volvo had produced a sort of, well, err, something along the line of a sports car, then the silence is only broken by the sound of teaspoons clattering onto saucers. "A sporting car?" enquires the husband, lowering his newspaper. "From Volvo? My word, really, this is really quite intolerable. I shall write a letter of complaint at once."

Volvo knew their target market, and what it would and would not accept. Which is why, on an average day in a nondescript ceremony they announced that they had built a Shooting Brake. A what? Hold on.

A long time ago, sporting gentlemen sat themselves on a simple, open wagon with long benches down each side, and let themselves be pulled around the forests and fields until they were in the appropriate place for shooting. With shotguns resting on their laps, knees warm under tartan blankets and flasks of brandy and whisky being passed around, it was all very much the quintessential country scene, and these open wagons, or brakes as they were called, were the lowest sort of rough-and-ready vehicles the moneyed classes were prepared to ride on.

Even if you're off out for some country fun, the prospect of spending hours staring at the back end of a horse loses its appeal. And despite the Eighties yuppy penchant for buying their way into genteel society, the average consumer shied away from actual mud and turf, so a real wooden-sided wagon wasn't exactly what was wanted. Some sort of combination, like a sporting estate car was in order, and if you're looking for an estate car, you look to Volvo.

This wasn't Volvo's first foray into the concept of a sports car; twenty years earlier Volvo had sold the 1800, rightly considered a classic these days. The trouble was timing; they released that car at exactly the same motor show as the Jaguar E-type, and given the choice, very few people went for the Swedish option. Price didn't help either; the 1800 cost more than the Jag in the UK, thanks to export costs, even though Swedish cars at that time were right-hand drive. In a bid to make the car seem more impressive, Volvo played around with the 1800, making a very small run of 8000 Shooting Brakes, called the 1800ES, before shutting down production in 1974.

That 1800ES was very much in the mind of one young designer when the call came from headquarters in 1978 that maybe they should have another go at making something sportier. Codenamed Project E12, Volvo Headquarters in Sweden decided to give their Dutch counterparts a test, and commissioned the team in the ex-DAF factory (which Volvo had bought a few years earlier) to come up with something radically new. The Dutch knew that they had to impress their Swedish overlords, or the whole factory would face closure, despite their ability to churn out the dull little Volvo 340. A sword of Damocles was hanging over them; develop a replacement for the Volvo's small car platform, or face the axe.

With that threat, and the radical brief of making a front-wheel-drive car, the Dutch team set to work, sketching out bold lines, rakish angles, acres of glass and pop-up headlights; all the marks of a serious Eighties roadster with none of the traditional elements that make up a Volvo at all. And a young designer by the name of John de Vries, returned to the old 1800ES as a source of inspiration. The short wheelbase was visually extended with large side panels and stretched windows, with the rear chopped off with a masterstroke of flat glass that opened up as a frameless tailgate. It was an daring design for the conservative manufacturer, but it won high praise from the Swedish top brass, and was put forward into production.

Unlike the cumbersome and wallowing Volvo 200 series, which was the standard brick being churned out by the company, the little 480 was to have a much more rev-happy and sprightly engine, courtesy of Renault. The little 1.7 litre unit was squeezed under the rakishly sloping bonnet alongside a turbo unit, with the whole setup tuned by Porsche engineers for optimum power. Since the back end of the car would now be "dead" because the power was at the front, the rear suspension would be handled by the English mechanics at Lotus. This thoroughly European effort was done to entice the Americans into spending their hard-earned dollars on the finished product, and to that end it was held together with an intricate web of cabling that controlled all sorts of technological gadgetry.

Considering this was Volvo, the electronic toys fitted to the 480 were things to make your life more practical. Alongside the airbags and ABS were useful gizmos like speed-variable wipers that automatically turned on at the rear if you engaged reverse, and door-timed headlights that stayed on for 20 seconds after you got out, to help you put your key in the front door. How thoughtful.

The trouble was, it was all very new territory for the Swedish manufacturer, and from the initial 1986 launch, tweaks and revisions were continuously made to get the car working properly, but the maze of electronics proved frustratingly stubborn. While the car never actually broke down, any number of on-board systems could go on the blink at whim, and even at idle the little 1.7 engine sounded cholic. Topped off with a disappointing exchange rate meant that the sporting Volvo would never get to see the other side of the Atlantic, and without American sales the model was effectively doomed. Even the introduction of a 2.0 engine in 1993 couldn't raise much interest, and two years later the model was cancelled, with only 80,000 units made.

Despite its sloping profile and short wheelbase, it never became a driver's car like it's brand rival, the Volvo 340, which should go some way to explaining why one would be sitting forlornly on steel wheels with rotting wheel arches in a Warsaw back street. Without the performance to match the low nose and sleek lines, this most un-Volvoish of Volvos could never be considered a serious sports car. It was just too serious.

Zaporozhets ZAZ-968

There was a time when the borders of Poland stretched from the Baltic coast as far as the Dnieper river, following its sinuous curves all the way to the Crimean peninsula. In those Golden Times the country, or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as it was known, was one of the largest countries in Europe, and a mighty force to be reckoned with. It embraced a multi-cultural society of Poles, Lithuanians and Ruthenians, defended itself from oppressive invaders, and enjoyed economic prosperity thanks to its exploitation of serfs and peasants. It fostered arts and sciences, maintained a diplomatic neutrality and led to the first constitution in Europe. All in all, it was a generally wonderful place to be. But there was one problem on it's eastern border, one trouble that couldn't be quelled. Cossacks.

Cossacks are a noble warrior tribe, a militarised group of Slavs who don't recognise any authority than their own. Fearsome on horseback and worthy seamen, they proved to be willing mercenaries for any number of East European nations through the ages, and piratical raiders when unemployed. Politically, they fell under the control of the Commonwealth, but little could be done to reign in their terror, especially their attacks on the Ottoman Empire. They would plunder and ravage at whim, always to return to their fortress settlement of Zaporizhia, by the rapids of the river Dnieper.

Officially, they were registered and employed as a battalion of elite soldiers, but by the middle of the 17th century those Cossacks became a menace, and through a series of revolts and incursions they destabilised the entire Commonwealth and sparked off the Deluge, a string of political and military events that would wipe Poland off the map. For the Cossacks, this was their attempt to be recognised not just as an underclass or military unit, but as a separate nation state, which they called the Zaporizhian Sich.

Since those times, Zaporizhia has calmed down somewhat, using its coastal waters to unload shipping cargo rather than captured booty, but the area still maintains a reputation for bucking the trend, for doing things their own way, and that can clearly be seen in the ZAZ-968.

Fast forward two hundred years, and the Communists have taken over the region. Desperate to get the Cossacks off their horses and into cars, they converted an agricultural factory into a production facility and set to work on their new project, the Zaporozhets. Reminiscent of the Fiat 600, the ZAZ-965 was a hunchbacked little lump with many similar features to its Italian doppelganger, most notably the rear-mounted engine. It wasn't exactly a technical revolution, which is no surprise since it came from the far more mundane Moskvitch design office. But the Cossack engineers had more ambitious plans, and from their design centre in Melitopol they created a unique engine for the pint-sized car. The MeMZ V4 750cc engine was unlike anything else in the Soviet automotive arsenal, and its compact structure perfectly suited the tiny engine bay at the back of the ZAZ. It wasn't powerful, but it was air-cooled, and that made significant savings on complexity as well as weight, and allowed the miniscule ZAZ to roll off into the Great Meadows with a herd of 27hp.

The little ZAZ showed that the principle of a Ukranian People's Car was certainly achievable, and the factory worked hard to expand its options. In 1966 it unveiled a bigger saloon platform, the ZAZ-966, which bore an uncanny resemblance to another air-cooled Sixties saloon, the German NSU Prinz. But the Ukrainians couldn't leave it like that. The Cossack attack is fast and light, quick strikes, and even though the 966 wasn't a big car, it's engine needed a lot more power than 750cc could deliver. So MeMZ enlarged it, making it first 900cc and then 1.2litres, gave it an ever-so-slightly different nose, and called it a ZAZ-968.

Released in 1971, this was the car that everyone knew simply as the Zaporozhets, and many alive now still remember the glorious times when their grandfathers owned one of these distinctive machines. Those rear vents quickly earned the car the nick-name "Uszy", or Ears, and they were responsible for sucking the air into that rear-mounted engine, and it's those little quirks that have earned the car such a loved-and-laughed-at reputation.

Because the car was designed to be the ultimate People's Car, simplicity was the byword of design, making the car as ergonomic as possible to fit into the peasant lifestyle of the Ukrainians, and the Soviet Union as a whole. Internal heating was provided by a separate petrol burner with its own tank, so that the engine didn't need to be run to keep the cabin warm. The wheel rims mounted directly to the brake drum, with bolts around the edge, to save on weight and metal. And by making the car was so light, the little engine needed to be revved hard, so the gearbox gate was redesigned with first gear standing out on its own, down and to the right. That way, it would be much easier to shift between second and third gear when negotiating the potted Soviet roads. Handling could be improved by filling the front cargo bay with rocks.

The car was a peasant uprising of a machine. There were never enough cars to satisfy the needs of the Soviet Union, but the ZAZ became the icon of underclass motoring, with its simple design making it perfect for invalid carriage conversions. Its basic setup could be adjusted for those who had lost a limb or two in battle, with both the accelerator and brake hand-operable. And with such a reduced design, it carried the ultimate weapon; price.

The Zaporozhets was such a cheap car that, when exported, it still cost less than the Skoda 105 or the Fiat 126, and workers up and down the country were desperate to get their hands on one. This would never be a status symbol like the big GAZ Volga sedans, but it quickly became a cultural icon, and even contemporary owners of the cars, thirty years afterwards, claim their ownership with pride rather than embarrassment. The general public have more ambivalent feelings towards the car, but most people have at least one story to regale of the time they encountered the strange machine from Zaporizhia. However, like the Cossacks, it's great to talk about the ZAZ, but the idea of having to rely on it instils us with fear. Like their ancestors, the Zaporozhets had a reputation for unreliability, and you never knew when it would turn around and leave you stranded and unsupported, or worse.

For that reason, the ZAZ has left behind a cultural legacy of both scorn and admiration. All of the criticisms, such as a lack of power or poor build quality, are exactly the things that endear the car to its owner, in much the same way as other People's Cars like the Trabant or the Syrena. And just like those two, the more Zaphorozhets tried to improve the car, the less likeable it became. In 1980, power was increased by the clever men at MeMZ, who managed to squeeze 50hp out of the already gasping engine, but at the cost of those distinctive ears that give the ZAZ-968 its charm, and the 968M was a poor replacement.

The looting days of the Zaporizhian invader have long since ended. Just as Zaphorizhia was flooded by the Kakhovka Dam, inundating the Great Meadow with a deluge of its own, so too did air-cooled engines fall out of favour against the unstoppable tide of water-cooled engines. By 1994, the ZAZ-968M was a dusty relic of the late Sixties, and no amount of gimmicks and cheapness could prolong its execution. As it bowed out, its shoes were filled by the smaller, and also-but-slightly-less outdated ZAZ Tavria. And with its demise, a worthy enemy, or charismatic ally, passed into legend.

Bentley Turbo R

There was a time when turbo-something was about as cool as you could get. I had all sorts of plastic toys in my childhood arsenal that offered mega-this and ultra-that, but you could guarantee that anything with turbo slapped on the front was the supreme leader. These days, its presence on the packaging of razor blades and skin creams somewhat cheapens the effect, but back in the Eighties the only way to make something unsurpassable was to turbo it.

But what to do if you're already the maker of the most impeccable, sublime and ultimate machinery out there? Surely you can't just put a garish sticker on the back declaring it to be "turbo" and hope that an Arab will spend 20% more on it, just because he wants to be the coolest sheikh in the Sinai peninsula? Surely?

That was the dilemma facing the men down in Crewe, at Rolls-Royce headquarters, in the late Seventies. Being primarily an aeroplane manufacturer, the company had gone bankrupt and been nationalised in 1971. Desperate to redeem some sense of profitability, the automotive part was spun off as an independent company called Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd, and dragging Bentley with it, soldiered on in dire need of a new model to resuscitate its fortunes.

In 1980 that model came, in the form of the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. An entirely new car, it was rolled out as the ultimate luxury saloon, and fully lived up to the Rolls-Royce reputation. Yet the question of Bentley remained. For decades the marque had existed as the cheap version of whatever Rolls-Royce was making at the time, but the new owners of the firm, Vickers, rolled their sleeves back to their burly forearms and muscled in. No longer was Bentley going to live in the shadow of the Spirit of Ecstasy; it would bulldoze its own path through the luxury car market and make its own statement.

In that manner, the Bentley Mulsanne was released. Each frame lovingly worked from steel by hand, the Silver Spirit clone would share the same 6.75 litre engine as its sibling and its predecessors, with the only appreciable difference being that it wouldn't carry the Parthenon on its nose. Rolls purists may argue at this point that without the famous radiator grille, the car is nothing, but for Bentley it meant everything; most importantly the opportunity to cut loose the ropes that bound it to its bigger sister.

The Mulsanne moniker comes from one of the most famous straights of the Le Mans track, and under that name Bentley set its sights purely on performance, in the manner its founders conceived fifty years previously. With that in mind, the engineers analysed the carburetted engine and weighed up their options. The solution was simple, and it was snail-shaped.

An engine breathes. When you press the happy-pedal, you're not really doing anything with the fuel; you're controlling a little flap that regulates how much air the engine is allowed to suck in to make its explosions happen. In simple old engines, that draft would also suck fuel out of the carburettor, in much the same way as blowing across a beer bottle makes a noise. The more air, the more fuel, and the more noise you get from the engine. That means more power.

But there's a theoretical limit to the amount of air an engine can suck in all by itself, so anything you can do to push more air in will ultimately improve the performance. You could go for a supercharger, an electrical motor driving a fan, like the Lancia Volumex engines, or you can use a turbo charger. Turbos are a pair of fans; one in the exhaust, pushed along by the gases leaving the engine, which in turn drives another fan pushing more air in the other side. More air pushed in makes more gas come out of the exhaust, which makes the fans turn faster, which pushes more air in until you reach epic levels of power, and all of it at no extra cost to engine efficiency.

Or at least that's the theory. The downside is the octopus tentacles of pipework needed to make the whole thing work, and a little thing called turbo lag; the time between pressing the accelerator and the turbo having any effect. Aside from that, a turbo is a cheap way to get superior performance from an engine, as long as the engine is strong enough to cope with it.

The 6.75-litre V8 was more than capable, and in 1982 Bentley fitted its first turbocharger to the Mulsanne, christening the car the Mulsanne Turbo and in that way allowing it to carve out a fearsome new direction for the company. While Rolls-Royce modestly understated the power output of their cars, declaring them to be simply "adequate", the Bentley versions proved downright brutal in their power delivery, forcing up to 50% more out of the engine than Rolls' engineers had done.

This may seem like advertising hogwash, "new TURBO, with 50% more!", but Bentley were so confident that they modified the car extensively to make the Turbo its own model, and in that way 1985 saw the launch of the Bentley Turbo R, a 5000lb monster with 300hp to thunder it along, making the Rolls' 200hp pale in comparison.

If a Rolls-Royce is somewhat akin to driving a palace, the Bentley Turbo R is a fortress, fully armed and ready to fight. That's not to say it's not refined; tapestries and marble statues are guaranteed, and the Bentley is capable of the luxury you would expect from a hand-made saloon, especially one costing more than its Rolls rival. But plant your foot and this monstrous beast transforms into attack mode, squatting down on its stiff suspension and developing a throaty roar that belies its exquisite, classical exterior. Always ready to make a dig at the opposition, Bentley claimed they would need an extra 35hp if they wanted to achieve this performance with the Rolls grille on the front, since the chrome portico caused so many problems with the aerodynamics. In that way, Bentley were better of without it, blending their radiator shroud in with the surrounding paintwork.

Its presence on the market turned Bentley around, with that paltry 5% sales surging up to 40%, and by the Nineties, when this particular model was built, Bentley was on a level pegging with Rolls-Royce in production terms. That's not to say uptake was dramatic; less than 6000 Turbo R's were made before the model was phased out in 1996, but with each one lovingly crafted by old men with flat caps, hand stitching cow hide into sumptuous leather and trimming every available inch of the interior with walnut, you wouldn't want high sales volumes. One of the most reassuring elements is the exclusivity of owning such a machine, and in this case that exclusivity can be yours for just 90,000 zlotys; this one's for sale.

This Bentley may have been the first to sport alloy wheels and a turbo badge, but don’t let those flashy Eighties signs fool you into thinking this is anything other than a thoroughbred. The model went on to greater and better things, but as the car that brought Bentley back from the brink, the Turbo R could be argued as the most important Bentley in eighty years, and wears its badge with pride.