On any weekday in the early 90s I could normally be found standing by the window with a view of the road in front of the house.
We could hear the school bus coming up the hill and could perfectly time our run to the bus stop to avoid standing in the rain.
There was also another bonus to waiting by the window, Every morning I got to hear my friends father leave for work in his Alfa Romeo.
Petrol has always been expensive in the UK and as such there weren’t a huge amount of V6 cars around. Most cars were four cylinder so I took the opportunity for a spot of aural pleasure every morning listening to what I still regard to be one of the best sounding V6 engines ever made.
The Alfa Romeo 3.0 V6 was a gem. I adored the sound and thankfully Steve was’t a particularly slow driver. I looked forward to these moments every day before running to the bus and taking the damp journey to school.
Alfa Romeo produced the 75 (Milano in the US) until 1992. It was a rear wheel drive sedan that had ever so much character compared to other cars of the time. It came with a 2.0 Twin Spark or my personal favorite the 3.0 V6 (2.5 in the US). Build quality was far from perfect but it simply oozed character and my friend kept his through multiple replacement company car schemes until his boss forced him to take it off the books after many years and a monster service history,
I’d recently got my drivers license and when the 75 came up for sale I jumped at the chance to buy a 188 bhp Italian car. My dreams were soon shattered after receiving a £17,000 quote for third party liability insurance. I took this as meaning the insurance company simply didn’t want my 17 year old inexperienced hands at the helm of such a car and this only made me want one more.
There were a few other memorable cars from these formative years that stand out and were equally hard to insure.
My uncle came to visit us in Wales one weekend and showed up in a modified Vauxhall Cavalier GSi 2000 4×4 16v. Still young at heart I was impressed by anything with such a descriptive badge on the back. This was a car built by GM who were busy cranking out rubbish such as the Chevrolet Celebrity in the US. Not in Europe – Vauxhall/Opel had thankfully operated with a degree of independence since being acquired by GM and we were looking at over 200 bhp, 4wd and a six speed box.
While very different from the Alfa this car was eye opening in that it could actually put it’s power down. Naturally, once chipped my uncle had diminished the life expectancy of the transfer case, gearbox and engine but damn this thing went round corners like nothing else and was capable enough to give me an Alfa like grin.
A few years later I was on the outskirts of London in college. I’d been doing some writing about cars for the newspaper and was introduced to a DJ from Essex one evening. Essex had a reputation that extended the width of the UK for being the home of modified car culture, a reputation that created the name Essex Boys and was associated with fast Fords.
This friend of a friend had been djing for a few years in the evenings and had spent his ‘not particularly hard earned’ money on a 4 door Sierra Cosworth. This wasn’t the later 4×4 version but the lairy rear wheel drive one. The sierra only weighed 2658 lbs and was producing over 200 bhp. I’d never experienced boost like it and will never forget how hard a car could be to keep going straight on a wet road. It was simply exhilarating, it’s paper thin metal structure only adding to the fear. Ford produced the cosworth ending with a far more usable 4×4 version in 1992.
To me these cars were exciting, daring and entertaining for everyone’s inner hooligan. Sadly, crippling insurance premiums, theft and speed cameras killed these cars off and we entered a progressively dull period for sedans.
The Alfa 75 was replaced by the front wheel drive 155, the Cavalier was replaced by the Vectra and the Sierra was replaced by the Mondeo. There were no more scary turbo versions, just 1.6/1.8/2.0 inline 4 and a few asthmatic V6 engines. There was also increased competition from Japan with the Accord and Camry’s starting to become more present on UK roads. Again these were incredibly dull and left anyone who’d driven older cars longing for more.
Fast forward to today and things really aren’t any better. While turbo’s have found their way back into regular cars, they have been tuned to deliver efficiency and excuse the manufacturers from even offering V6 models. All the character that was once available on ‘regular’ manufacutrer models has been engineered out. Non of the newer models are rear wheels drive, awd doesn’t mean excitement and variable vane turbos have all but eliminated lag. Lag was once something to talk about in the pub, it was something that caught you off guard and put a smile on your face and hair on your chest.
The only indication that a modern car even has a turbo is when the traction control light flickers on that dash while the front wheels struggle to grip while attempting to drag it’s 3500b average weight around. Gone are the mechanical noises, gone are rear wheel drive platforms and sadly gone are some of the most characterful cars I’ve driven. I’m just glad I got to experience a few.