Team GRR: First car, best car, dream car – Axon's Automotive Anorak

01st May 2020
Gary Axon

To help relieve the boredom during the COVID-19, I recently asked each of my GRR colleagues the following questions:

  1. What was your first car?
  2. What is your favourite and best car that you've owned so far?
  3. What would be your dream car (new or old) if you were given £50,000 (and not a penny more) to spend on it?

To give you a flavour of the varied tastes and ages of the GRR team, here are their verbatim individual responses to my three questions, for those members of the team that replied and/or thought their motoring stories weren’t too cringe worthy. So, if you’ll forgive the indulgence, the results make for interesting reading.

So, in surname alphabetical order, and in their own words, here is the GRR team’s motoring history to date.


Gary Axon – Content Consultant, curator and GRR contributor

First Car: Being unfortunate enough to be born on Christmas Day (of all days!) I have always lost out when it comes to birthday presents, cards and so on. To help address this, for my 12th birthday as a car-crazy kid, my parents bought me a very old (and knackered) 1963 Fiat 500 with suicide doors for about a Fiver, which was my birthday present, with socks and some car books being my Christmas gifts. I learned to drive in that 500, ragging the tiny Fiat around my parent’s back garden (which wasn’t that big), and eventually hitting one of my Mum’s beloved apple trees, which effectively wrote the 500 off.

Desperate to pass my test and get out on real roads, I bought my own first ‘proper’ car before my 17th birthday with money I’d been carefully saving for some time. Wanting either a (very used) Saab 96 V4, NSU Ro80 or Fiat 124 Coupe (all of which fell into insurance groupings too high and expensive for a learner driver aged 17), I actually bought a Honda S800 Coupe from 1970. Although the Honda was a serious two-seater sports car with a high-revving performance engine, the insurance authorities hadn’t twigged at the time that this was a proper bit of kit (faster than my friends’ tarted-up Minis and Capris), so the S800 only attracted the lowest ‘Group 1’ insurance rating, making it affordable to cover.

That metallic grey S800 was my first of three (two of which ended up at the scrapper, due to extreme rust causing costly MOT failures I couldn’t afford). These were followed by a bright orange Honda Z600 Coupe with the optional black side stripes, which I loved more than the S800, as the Z had a back seat (albeit a rather cramped one, but hey, when you’re young and agile…). I can’t find any pictures of any of my S800s, but here’s a photo of the Z600 Coupe.

Best Car: As I’ve owned more than 60 cars over the years (with an unlucky 13 cars at the same time at one point!), choosing a favorite is a very tough task. Naming the worst car I’ve owned (by some margin) is easy, as it was a rusty (and revolting) 1972 VW-Porsche 914 that disappointed at every level. Selecting my best car though, that’s considerably more difficult.

Based on looks alone, it would have to be my 1974 Fiat 130 Coupe (a work of art, but not so good dynamically), and I have very fond memories of my classic black Saab 99 Turbo ‘Combi Coupe’, my many Citroën’s (including an early ripple bonnet 2CV that was stolen from a lock-up, never to be seen again, plus a troublesome DS, fun-loving Mehari, zany Ami 6 Berline and very original 1957 H-van). I also enjoyed a rare RHD Panhard 24CT coupe, a part-share in a tired 1934 Aston Martin 1.5-Litre Le Mans, an Innocenti De Tomaso Mini ‘hot hatch’, a Caterham Seven and a funky Smart Roadster Coupe. Then there was my glorious Alfa Romeo Junior Z (oh why did I ever sell it!) and Alpine A110 Berlinette 1300 (an impatient purchase out of frustration while I was trying to find the ‘60s French sports car I really wanted; a Matra-Bonnet Djet!).

The Alpine was entertaining (and unknown and affordable in Britain back then), but overrated compared to the technically more advanced mid-engined Djet, and owning a three-seater Matra Murena as my everyday car at the time, I favoured Matra. After a pre-internet six-year search, I eventually found a Djet for sale (in Lyon), bought it, restored it and still own it today, now one of four known examples in the UK.

Having bought mostly (LHD) French and Italian cars over the years, ironically the best car I have owned is British! It’s my 1951 Bristol 401, my first of two handcrafted models from the Filton-based ex-aircraft maker, the other being my first (and so far only) V8; a 1972 Bristol 411 S3, an exquisite gentleman’s express, but with a 7mpg thirst! The 401 by comparison is acceptably frugal, as well as being beautifully made, cleverly engineered, delightful to drive and amazing to look at. What a car…

£50,000 Dream Car: I could be a little cheeky here and either split the generous (but sadly fictitious) £50,000 ‘dream car’ fund across three desirable (to me at least) cars, two of which I’ve previously owned, or spend it all on just one car.

If I were to spread the £50k across a trio of cars, my selection would look like this. For driving pleasure, I’d choose an Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato (a sweeter ‘short tail’ 1,300cc example like the one I used to own and regret selling), which will set me back around £28,000. The remaining £25k would be split between a Citroën Mehari (a four-seater at c.£12,000) with the remaining £10-grand being squandered on one of three possible late-1970s/early-‘80s small sporting machines, with a tricky toss-up between a SEAT 1430 Sport Coupe ‘Boca Negra’, a nice ‘70s Alfasud Ti, or a Daihatsu-engined Innocenti De Tomaso Turbo. As it stands today, the SEAT would be my choice from this trio, but this may well have changed by the time you read this.

If I have to spend the £50,000 all on one car only though, as much as I’d love a either a pre-war Amilcar CGSS, a Citroën 2CV Sahara 4x4, or a long-tail CD-Peugeot LM 67, I’d struggle to find any of these for the £50k budget. So, I’ll plumb for an immaculate Citroën SM in top condition as I’ve admired these quirky, over-engineered V6 GT coupes since I was a kid, and having later driven quite a few, I can attest to the SM being the most astonishing and modern car to drive, never mind those seductive looks; a cocktail of French chic and Italian mechanical brio. An immaculate SM for around £45,000 will leave me a spare £5,000 or so for a (basic) engine rebuild, which it will inevitably need at some stage, plus a few litres of fuel to head over to France, which the Citroën has a healthy thirst for.


Will Bibb – Distribution Manager

First Car: The car I learned to drive in was the wonderful Volkswagen Up! Agile and fun in a way that belies its meagre 1.0-litre engine, the Up! gave a trackday Mazda MX-5 a good run for its money, sweeping through the forests along the A5 en route to Anglesey!

The first car I bought myself though is my Porsche Cayman S (987) which is my current daily driver. One of the best value-for-money sportscars on the market at the moment with one of the best soundtracks to start your morning. Manual six-speed and a roaring 3.4-litre flat-six: what could possibly be better?

Best Car: My Citroën 2CV represents a continuation of my ‘less is more’ philosophy when it comes to cars. More fun around a roundabout than any other car I’ve ever driven! Still haven’t flipped it… Still trying to! This particular 2CV took me to Mongolia twice, once as a Mongol Rally entrant, the second as a part of my expedition to Tokyo… Both times ended in similar fashion somewhere in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

£50,000 Dream Car: Given £50k I’d probably want to go racing. Although I recently saw a 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage for sale for about £27k, which is ridiculous so… I also had my eye on a 200bhp Caterham Seven for about £20k that’d be the track toy… It’s not my dream garage but for £50k that’s what would be on my list this week.


Henry Biggs – Head of Media Content

First Car: A Lancia Beta 2000ie Coupe. I bought this because a Beta coupe was the first of my dad’s cars that I remember from childhood. I had also worked out that as a 19-year-old, buying a car that classified for classic insurance rates saved me from 1.0-litre Corsa territory. It was bright red and had a few Volumex styling bits on it so it looked the business. Obviously I did the first car things to it; loud exhaust, tiny steering wheel, etc. It was a terrific car but suffered from uni-student maintenance budgets and was eventually scrapped. I still miss it.

Best Car: It’s a tie here I am afraid. There was the 1968 Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto I owned for several years when living in London. It was wonderful city car, lovely and loud and nippy as it had received a 2.0-litre engine transplant at some point in its life. I would drive it all year round with the hood down and of course made several trips to the Goodwood Revival in it. I had to sell it (for twice what I paid for it but a lot less than it’s worth now) when I moved to Sydney for a few years which is where the other car comes in.

I owned a 1965 Ford Mustang with a 302 and a four-speed in Sydney, a car I had wanted since childhood, I think because of its ubiquity in glamorous American movies and TV shows. Driving it did in fact feel like you were in a movie, the noise and the attention it got. But it was dreadful in every other way and is possibly also the worst car I owned. The battery would drain itself in less than a week if not trickle charged constantly, the brakes locked up if breathed on, the steering was by appointment only and vinyl seats in Sydney summers are unmentionable. The final straw was when the pedal box disintegrated on a camping trip and it was trucked home.

Which brings me to the joint best, a 1988 Range Rover Classic. It was a one owner car with a five-speed manual and a later 4.2-litre V8. And I absolutely loved it. It was quick enough, made a proper V8 rumble, was faultlessly reliable, fun to drive in the city thanks to the driving position, great for trips away and the flat floor in the back was perfect for the dog. Wish I had brought it back with me now.

£50,000 Dream Car: I think if I was spending that much on a car, I’d want it to be exactly what I want so I would have something made for me. There are two routes I would go.

First would be to find a 105-series Alfa Romeo GTV in scruffy condition and give it to Alfaholics to see how much magic they could work for whatever I had left out of the total. More go, more woah, better handling and lots of lovely Nord twin-cam noise. I suppose I could also do this with an Alfa Spider for the wind in the hair experience.

Or, to go really off the wall, I would find a manual Range Rover Classic and persuade someone to install a salvage Aston Martin V12 into it (they fit apparently). But that’s not all. There are kits available in Australia to turn a four-door RRC into a ute, I wouldn’t go quite that far but I would use parts of the kit to turn the car into a two-door convertible with a roll cage that mimics the roofline of the original so that it wouldn’t look too odd with the canvas on. The perfect South Coast beach car.   


Dan Farmiloe – Video Producer

First Car: So far I’ve only owned two cars, my first one being a Hyundai i10 from 2009.

Best Car: My second car has also been the best I’ve owned so far; a Škoda Fabia that replaced my Hyundai in 2016.

£50,000 Dream Car: This would have to be a new(-ish) Alpine A110, obviously!


Steve Marshall – Senior Video Producer

First Car: My first car was a 2003 Toyota Corolla 1.6-litre. I only passed my test when I was 22, so a latecomer. It was a great little car actually. Never had a problem with it and now I’ve got a bit of experience I can look back and realise it was quite peppy! My first drive in it was the afternoon after I passed my test – from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to my Dad’s house in central Kensington. The London potion of the drive was quite an acute learning experience!

Best Car: My favourite car is my current car, a Toyota GT86. Pointy at the front, slidy at the rear. I enjoy every drive in it. It’s my first ‘performance’ car so I guess I’m bound to love it.

£50,000 Dream Car: If I had £50k… I’d probably have to indulge and buy a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – just because.


Ben Miles – Digital Content Manager

First Car: An S-reg Seat Ibiza. It had a sticking clutch that came up in stages after you pulled your foot away. It also had a cassette tape player. I slaughtered it to the gods of being a 17-year-old driver in a crash involved a Vauxhall Astra van (no one was hurt but my pride).

Best Car: My 1999 BMW 328Ci could come in both of these categories, its drive is as smooth as silk and it’s completely loaded with features that you’d expect to pay for on a modern Bimmer (auto wipers anyone?). But it’s also got a cracked boot floor...

£50,000 Dream Car: There’s no escaping the fact that this would be, if I have to stick to £50k, an Audi RS6. I’m not picky about which, but let’s be honest the C6 with a 5.0-litre Lamborghini-derived V10 is incredibly enticing.


Laura Thomson – GRR Staff Writer

First Car: UJA was a faded red, five-door, second-generation Vauxhall Corsa – the dream of any collegian back in 2013. Liberated from an older couple living on the south side of Portsdown Hill, UJA quickly earned her stripes in the form of scratches, scuffed wheels and a student stench.

After three years, three jobs, and countless road-trips, UJA ungraciously became my brother’s when he phoned me on holiday to say he’d added himself to my insurance, crashed the car and erased my hard-earned no claims bonus. Before you ask, no, I’m still not over it.

Best Car: My second, and current, car is an E21 BMW 323i Baur Cabriolet of dubious provenance. But given that it’s approaching 40 years old, and still starts on first twist of the key, I’m not too bothered about how accurate the odometer is.

An elusive Baur edition, and powered by a 323i straight-six, it will one day be a collectible – at least that’s what I keep telling myself. Regardless, it’s a tail-happy, hilarious car to drive and despite the poor fuel economy, noisy soft-top and tendency to rust, it’s hands-down my favourite car that I’ve owned (the Corsa wasn’t much competition).

£50,000 Dream Car (or Bike): I would negate a car and spend it on a classic motorcycle or two – probably a Ducati 916 (the most beautiful bike ever built) and a BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar. Or maybe a late-’20s Brough Superior SS100 – the kind that Laurence of Arabia could be found strolling through the Dorset countryside aboard. Although, I’d be dreaming if I could find one for a mere £50,000.
If it had to be a car, then I would cast my eyes over an Alfa Romeo Montreal – I interviewed an owner at a Breakfast Club meeting and have been enthralled by the fastback style and shuttered eyelids ever since. Or a Series 1 Land Rover, maybe…


Seán Ward – Road Test Editor

First Car: Marge the Mazda MX-5. Specifically, a NB (second generation) MX-5 1.8 S Sport. Yes, it failed its first MOT with me because the sill had corroded, and yes it failed the year after that because the other sill had corroded… And yes, it failed two years after that because the chassis had corroded… But is still hasn’t cost that much to run or maintain, and it’s rear-wheel-drive and fun! What a first car. Five years of joy and still going strong.

Best Car: Marge the Mazda MX-5! I’ve driven hundreds and hundreds of cars, but still only owned one. But that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

£50,000 Dream Car: An Aston Martin V8 Vantage. The 2004-2017 model. The dream is a DBS but they’re still above £50k. Vantage is about £22k at the lowest right now, so I’d get one for £35-40 ish and keep the rest of the cash for maintenance/issues… You could get a DB9 for the same money, but I’d rather go for the Vantage.

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