Top 30 Cars - Last 30 years09 December 2020
We’re fortunate at LeasingOptions to have a large number of motoring enthusiast, but none more so than our trusted motoring expert, Craig Pickles.
To celebrate LeasingOptions 30th birthday, Craig has compiled his top 30 cars over the last 30 years.
- 996 GT3/GT2 - last of the true analogue 911's, still using the air-cooled bottom end with water-cooled cylinder heads, very limited driver aids, track-focused, drivers’ car. The GT2 was/is a complete animal of a 911, whereas the GT3 was a semi-daily track car.
- BMW E36 M3 Evo - the 3.2 engine mated to the M sport E36 chassis is pure heaven to drive, it inspires confidence and the engine pulls forever with exceptional midrange torque, and the induction noise makes grown men quiver with excitement. The E46 M3 CSL nearly got in the list but the asking prices are making them collector's items not track toys.
- MK2 Golf GTI 16v - big bumper model obviously and in oak green, it’s the one, the true 90' hot-hatch, blast down a B road and have some fun, then go and pick your Nan up from the shops in a civilised manner, if we can choose non-UK Spec then a Golf GTI G60 in Royal Blue Metallic.
- Audi R8 - V8 or V10 not fussed, brought the supercar to the masses, with everyday drivability, based closed on the Lamborghini Gallardo but easier to manage around town.
- Mercedes CLK GTR - the Le Mans homologated GT Sports car for the road... a bit too hardcore, OK - The Mercedes AMG GT, has to be in Hell Green, a true sports car in the 2000s with its strict emissions and safety standards a feat of engineering.
- Lancia Delta Integrale Evo 2, don't be put off by the Lancia name, these cars dominated the WRC in the early 1990s and many a cruise in the 2000's Max Power era generation, standard in yellow for me please, or burgundy with a Martini stripe.
- Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale, this was the panicle of Ferrari in the late '90's early 2000s replacing the much loved but dated wedge shape of the F355 the 360 caught a few drivers out with its ability to park you in a hedge backwards going round a corner by its tip toey driving feel. The Stradale was the next level. A race car for the road fully dialled in suspension and a hand-painted 'il Tricolore' stripe just finishes it off.
- Fiat / Abarth 500, Fiat fully capitalised on the retro nostalgia train with this one, and did it well when they introduced the city-friendly Fiat 500, but letting Abarth have its wicked way with the 500, was a true stroke of genius creating one of the best hot hatches in modern times.
- Lamborghini Diablo - impossible driving position in RHD with weirdly offset pedals and steering wheel, and you can't see anything out the back due to that stupid spoiler, but it is just iconic and the poster car of the '90s especially in white on a Miami beachfront, I so nearly went with the Murciélago, but the Diablo was the last "true" Lambo.
- Alfa Romeo 156 GTA - another impossible and hard choice, up to the last minute it was the Alfa 155 Q4, but that's just an Integrale in a fancy dress, then I was torn between the 156 and 147 GTA's, but the 156 just pipped it for me after thinking about the BTCC and WTCC from this era and how good they looked, yeah the 147 drove better.
- Honda NSX - This was the Japanese supercar to take on the Germans and Italians, and boy did it compete mainly down to the work the late Ayrton Senna put into developing and tweaking the chassis in final testing before production started, the 3.0 V6 with VTEC was revolutionary 30 years ago, and reliable compared to other supercars.
- Toyota Supra MKIV - Its iconic status came later to the masses after a certain franchise featured it in the first movie but it was slowly gaining modern classic status from is launch, the 3.0ltr straight six 2JZE was a tuner's dream a sub 10sec car, and the 2+2 sports GT which could handle too or should we say drift?
- Nissan Skyline - R 32/33/34 ok I'm cheating here but how can you separate these cars, yeah the 33 got a bit podgy with the mid 90's safety and emissions standards, but the RB26 powering these cars likes a tune and an exhaust to release its true potential, the 4 wheel drive in the GT-R versions makes them a great drivers car who loves a track day.
- Mitsubishi Evolution 5/6 - Once again I cheated a little on this one, but the 6 is a facelift of the 5 (I can hear the purists cursing me now). The battles the Evos and Subaru Imprezas had on the WRC stages in the late '90s and early 2000s are legendary and to honour the championship wins by Tommi Makinen, Mitsubishi launched the now highly sort after Tommi Makinen Edition. The Evo gets in my list over an Impreza purely on its driving nature, I preferred it but they're both worthy.
- Mazda MX-5, after the demise of any British 2 seater roadster for sale when the MG BGT stopped production and subsequently the Italian manufactures followed suit stopping production of their 2 seater sports cars, Mazda saw the gap in the market and took a risk, in developing and releasing the MX-5 it ultimately saved the company and became the 2 seater roadster benchmark that even today everything is still compared against, and each iteration of the MX-5 just gets better too.
- Ford Escort RS Cosworth - Yet another homologation special for World Rally turned in to a road car and boy did Ford Motorsport deliver with that rear wing. Would it be too much, to ask for a Monte Carlo Edition in Mallard Green? In today's standards the 225bp and 5.7 0-60 time doesn't sound a lot, but it’s how the power is delivered and how this thing corners which makes it so special
- Lotus Elise - The good old British squashed frog, the MK1 and MK2 Elise brought the affordable drivers car back, and at the time the modest price tag and simple mechanics (do we mention the K Series engine??) This has now given the early Elise cult status for its handling and fun on the open road.
- McLaren F1 - Was this the greatest sports car, the supercar of the 1990s? It was cool enough for Mr Bean (well Rowan Atkinson to own, and crash) with a top speed of 241 mph it became the fastest production car, its iconic 3 seat layout with the central driving position, has never been recreated until the recently announced T50 from Gordon Murray Automotive, the original designer of the F1. The McLaren F1 saw success in all form of GT Racing, including wins at Le Mans.
- Aston Martin V12 Vanquish - After ford took ownership of Aston Martin in the 90's this was the first modern Aston, with a powerful V12 upfront and an improved chassis, featuring alloy and carbon fibre panels, it was a true driver’s car and very capable grand tourer too.
- Bentley Arnage T - Something this long, this luxurious and heavy shouldn't move this fast or handle this well. The Bentley Arnage was a real step forward in design and driver focus vehicles, instead of being chauffeured around the owners could now drive and enjoy their Bentleys.
- Renault Twingo RenaultSport 133 Cup, - Packing a 1.6 engine and 133hp this little pocket rocket, could be classed as one of the last true hot hatches without the need of forced induction, with the addition of aggressive camshafts a revised inlet and exhaust manifolds. The lightweight body on the Cup gives the Twingo RS pace and sureness around the corners, whilst the 17" alloys help to conceal the confidence-inspiring brakes.
- Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 - The true French hot-hatch from the hot hatch era, it got all the right and wrong attention, but handled and went like a true hot hatch should, the lift-off oversteer caught a few out, it brought the battle of hot hatch supremacy to the Germans and the VW Golf, no one knows who won that battle.
- Citroen C6 - This large French executive saloon, which was good enough for Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy as their presidential cars, needs to make the list. It follows a long line of models which continue from the iconic DS, which itself spurred a whole sub-brand of its own. The C6 spilt the masses with its design, but the concave rear window got people talking, just like all large Citroens, it featured hydractive suspension giving a comfortable ride, able to soak all manner of bumps and potholes whilst waffling along.
- Clio V6 - A wide arched, mid-engined, 3.0 V6 Renault based somewhat loosely on the second generation Renault Clio, it was utterly bonkers and brilliant at the same time, it is moderately reminiscent to the Renault 5 Turbos of the '80s built by Alpine near Dieppe, who later built the Phase 2 Clio V6, taking over from TWR.
- Peugeot 306 GTI 6 - True mid to late '90s and early 2000's hot hatch, following and building on the success of the 205 GTI the 306 GTI 6, came equipped with a high revving 2.0litre 16v engine, producing 167bhp mated to a close-ratio 6-speed gearbox, it’s a fun and rewarding car to drive with a poised but playful chassis.
Rest of the World / Notable Mentions
- Seat Leon Cupra R - This is the car the MK4 Golf GTI should have been, mating the 225BHP engine from the Audi TT to a front-wheel-drive hatchback platform creating the ultimate hot hatch, where would the Golf GTI be now if this car or at least its engine was installed in the GTI back in 1998.
- Land Rover Defender - The Defender, replaced the Series 3 Land Rover in the late '80s and ran to 2016 without many changes is body style, this go anywhere, do anything utilitarian machine, will be missed from the showroom floors but has technologies advanced over the past 30 years, the new defender is even more capable, but is it as utilitarian?
- Nissan S14/a - S Chassis cars from Nissan have a long history but the PlayStation and Grand Tourismo generation got to know the S14 from the games, and jumped on its cheapness in the mid-2000s. With the explosion of drifting in the UK at the same time, prices for a decent car has skyrocketed, the SR20 power unit is capable of receiving a modest level tune, but the gearboxes are its weak spot, the S14a is a mid-life facelift to the S14 giving aggressive looks, both models are drivers cars and get grand tourers, they can drift too.
- Skoda Octavia vRS Estate MK2 - Strange one for the best cars of 30 years? This is what a hot VW Golf estate should have been, just like the Leon Cupra R should have been the Golf GTI. The Octavia vRS estate looks a lot better compared to the MK5 Golf and performs a whole lot better too.
- Volvo 850/V70 T5R - The 850 and bigger 940 Volvo estates are loved by antique dealers up and down the country, the boxiness allows the carrying of some large items, but don't be fooled when it comes to the T5R variants, these things shift and handle well, so well did they perform it became the Police car of choice for the motorway divisions.