Being an enthusiast for all things automotive is not a prerequisite for appreciating iconic cars from motoring history.
Nameplates such as E-Type, Interceptor and DeLorean are as instantly recognisable as their unmistakable silhouettes, stylistically transcending the domain of car culture into general societal recognition.
Proof, if it were ever needed, that cars aren’t simply devices to transport us from A to B.
For some, today’s roadscape, populated by a plethora of amorphous, diesel-powered, airbagged-to-the-eyeballs, aerocars, represents joyless transportation. And though they might hanker after the dream cars of yesteryear, budgets and practicalities dissuade them from taking the plunge into the deep end of classic car ownership.
Enter Great Escape Cars, a classic car hire business that provides a wide range of over 70 special automobiles which can be enjoyed for periods of time to suits all needs and wallets. All the fun for a mere fraction of the cost of buying the car yourself.
Together with Tim Hutton’s AutoTweetUp social media movement, five classics were made available in North Yorkshire, for a group of avid anoraks to enjoy over scenic routes known as the Dales Dash.
Opportunities to drive beautiful Jaguars like the Mk 2 and E-Type, brutes such as the Jensen Interceptor, traditional British roadsters in the form of the MGB and the utter bizarreness that is the DeLorean DMC-12, seldom present themselves, so to be able to drive all five in a single day is unique.
Drivers were paired up sharing duties behind the wheel over five separate stages around Harrogate, Ripon and surrounding villages. I crossed the Dales my artist friend and fellow car enthusiast with James Mayle, swapping seats as close to the halfway point on each leg as we could decipher from the navigation packs for the rally stages.
Each of the cars provided a very different experience, all of which had fascinating nuances to make the lust for them develop even more than it did before.
Rather than review each of the cars in a road test sense, instead I’ll share my brief impressions of them, listing them in reverse order of personal preference.
1982 DeLorean DMC-12
Undoubtedly one of the most distinctive cars ever produced, quite remarkable because the styling itself is a series of straight lines. Of course, the DeLorean reached permanent iconic status from its starring role in the Back to the Future franchise, the Northern Irish-built, French-engined coupe becoming an unlikely time travelling machine.
It’s the detailing that makes it look sensational though, with brushed steel body panels clothing a fibre-glass structure being the most immediately arresting feature.
The DeLorean reeks of its late 1970s conception, with a chunky disco-era font for the logo, tail-lights and rear panel mimicking early video game blocky graphics and somewhat ill-fitting gull-wing doors, it’s impossible not to notice it.
Inside, although well equipped, the plastics don’t feel like they’d have done the car justice when new in terms of quality and it lacks the drama of the exterior too.
No other car I’ve ever driven created so much reaction from those who see it. Bikers gave it the thumbs up; a young lad on a push bike pedalled his legs off so desperate was he to get a good look at it. One pro-look cyclist (sporting an aero helmet and more lycra than a velodrome changing room) seemed less enthused shouting ‘F*** off’ as we drove past.
This may have been more to do with both the DeLorean’s girth coupled with it being left hand drive only – it proved a difficult car to negotiate around the wending and narrow roads of the Yorkshire Dales. Visibility is fine if you look forwards but the rear view mirrors are pathetically small and the rear screen is louvered, covering the rear-mounted V6, further reducing rearward vision.
For all the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo six-cylinder only delivers 150bhp in European specification, it sounded suitably snorty with a satisfying pop emitting from the twin exhausts on the overrun.
The DeLorean was maligned for not being much of a sports car when launched, in spite of Lotus’ Colin Chapman’s involvement in the chassis development. The stiff and jolting ride was all the more surprising because of the relatively high profiled tyres on the 15” alloys. The brakes too were disappointing, predominantly because the pedal needs depressing for 90% of its travel before anything happens. And why anyone would have opted for the obtrusive manual gearbox over the DMC-12’s standard fit autobox is a mystery too.
But the steering, although lacking a little sharpness, was direct and delivered a reasonable amount of information about what the wheels were up to and the car accelerated with surprisingly brisk alacrity too.
Sadly, the DeLorean felt a little fragile, perhaps a legacy of its somewhat shoddy construction back in 1982. Bodywork fit is so uneven you could push a flux capacitor into the panel gaps.
However, it has an undeniable appeal and that spell behind the wheel was an ambitioned fulfilled. Sometimes though, after meeting your heroes, you were happier imagining how they might have been, rather than how they actually were.
1965 Jaguar 3.4-Litre Mk 2
The Mk 2 is one of Jaguar’s most sought after classics, harking back to police dramas of the 1960s where coppers and villains almost drove the wheels off the things, as well as the more sedate piloting endorsed by John Thaw’s Morse.
Here, my respect for those stunt drivers harrying Mk 2s around for the benefit of television audiences was heightened because the small Jaguar isn’t the easiest of sporting saloons to get to grips with.
Snicking between the gears isn’t the simplest of tasks, first and reverse sitting worryingly adjacent to one another, while the clutch pedal on this example needed to be almost fully released before the biting point appeared. Fortunately the 3.4-litre straight six under the bonnet was a torquey beast minimising the requirement to swap cogs too frequently.
Pleasantly the brakes felt effective (a warning message on the rear bumper reminding tailgating drivers this Jag was fitted with modern disc brakes) allowing you to build up speed with confidence, safe in the knowledge you could quickly wind it off again when you needed to.
Although the Mk 2 was a little rolly poly through twisting bends, it nevertheless hung on well, the rear end still happy to induce a little slip angle when provoked by the brave. And you have to be brave because the enormous steering wheel, with its thin rim, would feel more at home on the ocean wave and requires significant twizzling to get the Jaguar to change direction.
The Mk 2’s most captivating feature remains those alluring lines that grace the entire bodywork, making it instantly recognisable. The curves are beautifully feminine , detailed with delicate and tasteful decoration that prevent the saloon from looking too heavy, despite its obvious heft. Those rear wheel spats make the rear haunches appear more hunkered down than they really were, evidence of stance being of critical importance back in the 1960s.
Space efficiency wasn’t the Mk 2’s strongest suit either, although five could sit in the beautiful leather and walnut-lined cabin in snug conditions.
An elegant Jaguar saloon, free from the stuffy image that blights others.
1964 MGB 1800
Ask many under 30s what MGs are and the typical response revolves around faster, bodykitted Rovers in gaudier colours or their more recent, Chinese-derived offerings.
Whilst MG always had a history of making-over rather humdrum machinery from Morris and later Austin saloons and hatchbacks, it was their sports car range that built their reputation.
The MGB was nearing the end of its life when I was wide-eyed infant school pupil, enthusing over anything with four wheels. It’d became a pale reflection of its former self, all raised ride height and chunky black rubber bumperiness, offering an aged driving experience that Escort XR3s and Golf GTIs could out-excite.
Consequently, it was with the least enthusiasm of the quintet that I approached this early example of a B roadster, powered by a twin carburettor 1.8-litre four cylinder, as used in seemingly half the BMC range of the day.
Never prejudge cars is the lesson. The little MGB was fantastic!
Despite being almost 50 years old, it had the sort of pace that could keep up with modern traffic, delivered with a snarly exhaust note. Combined with that wind in your hair feeling, the MG felt excitedly quick: 60 felt more like 160 as it blasted along those village back roads.
Although it’s a small car, the MGB’s steering nevertheless felt weighty through the wooden-rimmed wheel but allowed for accurate pointing of the roadster and precise cornering, helping to maximise the fluid handling on offer. Despite a relative lack of grunt, the B was still willing to kick its tail out when provoked.
The short and slender gear lever was a delight to use, slipping effortlessly between the four ratios, with next to no resistance to slow down the zesty progress the MG made.
The cabin itself was comfortably spacious for two, although the full-size spare in the boot somewhat limits carrying capacity as a truly practical tourer. Unless you tend to travel sans luggage, or you don’t mind it getting wet on the external rack.
I’ve always preferred the look and userfriendliness of the fastback GT version but this early MGB was a genuinely fun and delightful roadster, despite its humble origins.
1974 Jensen Interceptor III
Although launched in the mid-1960s, the Jensen Interceptor seems as synonymous with the decade that followed as big hair, bushy moustaches, medallions nestled in a mat of chest hair, flares and platforms.
It’s a brutish cruiser of a car, with ample space for four and their luggage in a luxurious and well-appointed interior. Leather, air conditioning and button banks for the electric controls hint at modernity. The chunky, shiny plastics, thin steering wheel and a multi-coloured band around the ventilation controls looking like a pocket Simon give the game away.
But it’s mechanically where the Mk III Interceptor seems especially out of date. We live in an era where eight-speed automatics are mated to hyper-efficient lawnmower-capacity engines, blown by turbochargers the size of a left testicle.
To enjoy the Jensen, you have to forget all that. Splash on the Hai Karate, slide onto the creamy leather armchair and fire up 7212ccs of Chrysler V8 muscle. On every exhaust stroke of the eight pistons, Thor himself bellows from the exhaust pipes. What was the horizon seconds before becomes your current position, such is the ferocity of its acceleration.
All the more remarkable because the Interceptor III transmits its power to the rear wheels via a three-speed Torqueflite automatic box, one reluctant to kick down. Not that it needs to drop a ratio too often, there’s enough urge at your right foot’s disposal to start off in third without much complaint.
The upright styling and glazed rear canopy confirm this is a more practical grand tourer than an out and out sportster, facts backed up by the soft, somewhat wallowy suspension and light, overly-power assisted steering. The steering’s so light, it requires a degree of faith to believe that directional input at the wheel will actually result in a change of angle of the front tyres. Fast? Definitely. Sporty? No, more of a land yacht.
Captivatingly charming, the Jensen Interceptor is Jason King in automotive form.
1970 Jaguar E-Type Series 2 4.2-Litre
The E-Type Jaguar was an immediate sensation when it was launched at the 1961 Geneva motor show. Enzo Ferrari, a man not renowned for public declarations of praise, commented that it was the most beautiful car ever made. Half a century on, few would argue the same statement didn’t remain true.
For many, the Series 2 epitomises E-Type beauty, the bumpers and grille still slimline, but with the supplementary lighting units mounted under the chromed vestigial strips. Everything about the Jaguar suggests lightness and a delicacy of form.
Although it’s long, with the roof down the whole footprint of the E-Type can be surveyed from the driver’s seat: the tops of the headlamps’ chrome bezels and the rear over riders are within sight and ease the positioning of the Jaguar, a useful boon in the absence of wing mirrors.
Slipping into the snug cabin is an almost X-rated experience, such is the sensuousness of the voluptuousness body around you. Compared to the trad-Brit Mk 2, the E-Type’s interior is not one rich in polished woodwork, instead reflecting the black plastic fashion of the era.
Tip forward the enormous front canopy to unveil the silken yet throaty 4.2-litre straight six that propels the E-Type rapidly into the distance, even from urban speeds in fourth gear. That exhaust note is both addictive and curious, no doubt influenced by the pipework being as straight as possible, exiting in an upward direction from the centre of the tail.
Not only does the E-Type look beautiful, the driving experience is equally gratifying. Okay, the brakes feel a little wooden and its difficult to modulate the pedal which feels more like an on-off switch, but Jaguar’s engineers did an amazing job of bestowing the car with both satisfying feel with a lightness to the controls.
Steering is sharp with no hint of understeer (oversteer dialis in controllably if you get a little throttle-happy) and the short throw gear lever slots neatly between the four ratios. The most remarkable feature is despite its composure at speed and over winding roads, the ride quality is supremely comfortable yet pitch and dive are conspicuous by their absence.
It may be over five decades old but the Jaguar E-Type is wonderfully swift and special car to see and be seen in.
If those five icons of automotive wonderment have whetted your appetite for nostalgic motoring, then drop Great Escape’s Graham Eason a line. If Carlsberg did classic car hire…