It’s confession time. A while ago I was forced to conclude that, mercifully only so far as cars are concerned, I have a ruthlessly self-destructive streak. I have for instance spent 30 years advising people never to buy the first car that they see, a policy I have, without exception, failed to pursue myself. Resulting catastrophes have been plenty, none more so than the Lotus Esprit S3 regulars may recall me whining about in this space before.
AUG 11th 2017
Thank Frankel it's Friday: Dangerous urges for bad cars
Over time I have learned to manage these urges and even thought I had it all under control. Recently, however, I have come to realise that this disease has merely lain dormant within me and now not only is it back, it’s mutated into something altogether more terrifying.
In the past, I have only ever been attracted to cars that were once wonderful but had decayed over time into the shamefully unreliable wrecks that drew my attention like a moth to a flame. But now I want a car that wasn’t even any good to begin with.
I’ve only latterly become aware of these new symptoms because I already own a perfectly good example of a quite exceptional car – the Porsche 968 Sport – so of course I’m thinking of selling it. And if you can sell a car without even theorising what other car the sum of money it represents might be able to buy, you’re a better man than me. The car I want? A mid-engined Renault Clio V6.
I know, I know, I know: it was me who wrote the road test rubbishing the bloody thing when it was new. I know the car is overweight, I know it’s not that quick, I know its handling has a mind of its own and I know that, down a decent road it wouldn’t see which way a new Golf GTI went. And I find myself not caring a damn about any of it.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Even I’m not stupid enough to want the original 2001 Clio V6, which really was one of the most unpleasant handling cars I’ve ever driven. I can remember trying to make one perform for the camera on a thankfully private facility and the moment you tried to do anything about the car’s headlong understeer, it would just spin before you could say ‘opposite lock’. I’m told they’re not quite so bad now thanks in part to advances in tyre technology but to be honest I’m quite prepared to take an owner’s word for it.
But the Phase 2 car introduced with indecent haste in 2003 is another matter. When a car becomes known for having a handling issue, it’s usual for the manufacturer to revisit the suspension settings in the hope this might settle it down. In the case of the Clio, it needed not only a complete suspension rethink but an extended wheelbase too: extreme measures that were absolutely required. The result was considerably tamer, a little quicker thanks to an extra 25bhp for its 255bhp 3-litre V6 motor, and visually actually quite attractive at least on the outside.
Even so, it still came riddled with faults. The interior was little different to that of a base model Clio shopping car despite that, at £27,000 in 2005, it cost three times the price. There was basically no luggage space, a turning circle of which a 52-seater bus would be none too proud and a terrible driving position. Dynamically the car still wasn’t that quick, its damping still wasn’t that great, its ride was positively poor and its steering offered no great sense of connection to the road. I remember setting off down a difficult road trying to keep up with a well driven original Ford Focus RS and was so far off its pace its driver had already got the first round in by the time I reached the hotel.
So why oh why do I want one now? It is I believe a fairly immutable rule that bad cars don’t turn good over time; they just get old. I’ve never driven a car which I thought was rubbish then but has somehow become brilliant now. It just doesn’t happen. And yet the idea of flipping up the garage door and seeing a short and stubby Clio amuses me. I love the way the car looks and when I fire up the V6 I know I’m going to love the way it sounds. It sounds pathetic, but I just love the idea of the thing, the fact that a manufacturer like Renault can take a perfectly passable hatchback and turn it into an utterly impractical mid-engined two seater.
This time around I’m going to be saved, and on two counts. First I understand the body panels are so scarce and expensive that even minor accident damage can render them Cat’ D write offs and though I’m not in the habit of crashing stuff, that scares me. Second, these cars, which in my mind’s eye have always been fifteen grand, now seem actually to be at least £30,000 for clean low mileage examples with no horror stories in their past. And while these cars are good, they’re not that good. Ok, they’re actually not good at all. Which, I fear is precisely why I want one.
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