23 December 2013

Five of the most controversial cars ever

Some cars are released to near universal acclaim and remain perpetually desirable to nearly everyone. These aren’t those cars. These are the cars that start altercations, even among friends. They’re the Marmite cars-- the ones you either love or loathe. They’re some of the most polarizing cars ever produced in Britain:

  1. 1968-69 MGC: The poor “C” had the unenviable task of trying to replace the beloved Austin-Healey 3000 in BMC’s range. Utilizing a big straight-six that also displaced nearly three litres, it gained a reputation of being a rather nose-heavy understeerer wholly unlike the nimble MGB. Supporters point out the fact that with modern tyres at the right pressure, handling is much improved and GTs in particular with overdrive make lovely long-distance tourers capable of a genuine 120 mph. Think of the “C” as a sort of cut-rate DB4 and you’ll get it.
  2. 1975-81 Triumph TR7: Like the MGC, the TR7 had to replace a much-loved traditional British sports car, the Triumph TR6. Although a comfortable, roomy, modern car of unitary construction, the Triumph faithful loathed the TR7 on introduction. Many saw it as a retrograde step, with a four-cylinder instead of a six, carburettors in place of petrol injection, and a solid axle instead of the TR6’s independent rear suspension. And then there was Harris Mann’s extraordinarily controversial styling job.  Legendarily first rendered on the back of a napkin in a pub, it took the wedge-theme of cars like the Austin Ambassador and Lotus Esprit to an extreme. Most agree that it fares better as a convertible, shedding the rather chopped-off roofline of the coupé, and a growing number of people think that the car is getting somewhat better with the passage of time. 
  3. 1963-66 Jensen CV8: The glass fibre CV8 was Jensen’s first dalliance with American Chrysler V-8 power that lasted through the Interceptor range until 1976. Unlike the Interceptor, which was styled by Touring of Italy, the CV8 was an in-house job. The angled, stacked dual-head lamps are a particularly controversial element of the CV8. Some people love the car’s face and some people, well, not so much. The CV8 does go like the clappers and the glass fibre body can’t rot which may explain why so many of the 500 built are still around. 
  4. 1976-90 Aston Martin Lagonda: The Lagonda was a total break from anything that Aston Martin have done before or since. Designed to be the ultimate executive saloon, the Lagonda employed such advanced features as a totally electronic dash, either using LED read outs or CRT screens and membrane “touch” switches, none of which worked particularly well. But it was the arresting William Towns-designed body that made the car controversial. With the exception of the wheel arches and tyres, there was nary a curve to be found anywhere on this origami-swan of a car that was a fixture at places as diverse as the London Playboy Club and every OPEC meeting. 
  5. 1959-64 Daimler Dart: More gets made of the Dart’s controversial looks than is probably warranted simply because of Sir William Lyons’ outspoken loathing of the car when Jaguar bought Daimler. The American-style fins, chrome-plated grille flashes and exaggerated front bumper overriders gave the car the look of an angry catfish. Darts look far better without the front bumpers and grille flashes of the early cars, which is incidentally how I ran mine. Aside from the love-it-or-hate-it looks, the Dart was quite brilliant with a sweet 2.5-litre William Turner-designed hemi V-8, light weight and four wheel disc brakes. Only the heavy and vague steering is a chore. The sublime exhaust note makes up for any shortcomings. Ex-Metropolitan Police Darts are rare and quite cool. They were used to nick café racers in the early 1960s and most have automatic gearboxes.   

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