I was reading a great article written by a fellow collector car journalist (who I know and respect greatly) about a vintage twelve-cylinder Ferrari. By the end of the profile, it was clear that the writer felt the car simply wasn’t as fun to drive as its reputation had people believe.
It got me thinking…I feel the same way about plenty of other collector vehicles. So many classics are “good” or “pretty”, but just simply not really inspiring or engaging. Here are five cars that are perfect examples of collector cars that should be great to drive (based on reputation, looks, conventional wisdom), but in reality are only slightly more fun than having your throat swabbed for strep:
Big, opulent… and more expensive than a year’s worth of Tara Reid’s bar tabs, Rolls-Royces have always been an acceptable choice of royalty, executives and rock stars. Hell, Keith Moon put his into a swimming pool, so if Moon-The-Loon owned one, they must be fun!?!?
Actually, they’re not.
All Rollers from a period spanning a quarter-century drive like a 1977 Buick with Jabba The Hut in the back seat and Mama Cass in the trunk. Steering is vague, sloppy and too slow. Overwhelmed by the weight, the suspension wallows and the brakes are inadequate. And after taking away the R-R logos and the radiator mascot, you’re left with a vehicle that has fewer usable luxury amenities than contemporary German luxo-cruisers.
1967-1969 Chevrolet Camaros
I can hear the hate email filling-up my inbox right now. The first-generation Camaros are sweet-looking cars (especially the redesigned 1969.) You can’t help but smile when you see a good Hugger Orange RS/SS Camaro with black-and-white hound’s-tooth interior. At one time I even owned a ’68 V8 Camaro.
Unfortunately, unless the owner does significant modifications, first-generation (as well as all second-gen F-body cars, for that matter) are really a let-down to drive. To be fair, the Camaro’s problems aren’t any different from those found on all other GM products (and most from Ford and Chrysler). Given the Camaro’s Trans Am series success and pony car performance image, one expects more.
Cars with power steering provide zero feedback with skittishly-quick ratios, while the manual-steering boxes are slow and heavy. Brakes, either by optional discs or standard drums, are controlled with a numb, spongy pedal. Muncie manual transmissions require long throws that are less precise than Stevie Wonder’s skeet-shooting skills.
The first-gen Camaro’s lack of fun factor becomes most apparent in twisties, certainly if one has driven some of the contemporary European sports and grand touring cars. Third-generation Corvettes are almost as bad, but at least the smaller bodies provide a heightened sense of speed and capability. The F-body’s size combined with its disconnected controls, bouncy suspension and front weight bias, mean it is best in the hands of stoplight bandits and other go-straight-fast types.
A painfully gorgeous coupe – even when sitting next to the E-Type model it replaced, sadly the XJS is also painful to drive. With a luscious V12 and meaty tires, the XJS should have been a great GT car.
It isn’t. There is less sensation via the steering wheel than profits in British Leyland bank accounts. Ergonomics were penned by a sadist, as it is one of the few cars ever made where a six-footer can simultaneously hit their head on the roof, knees on the wheel and dashboard, elbows on the door, and seatback on rear obstructions.
Actually, the best part of an XJS is that it is so unreliable…so shoddily designed, that most journeys are cut short by some type of major electrical problem.
Mercedes 450/500/560 SL
Despite being an icon of the yuppies, the 1973-1989 Mercedes SL range just wasn’t (and still isn’t) that fun to pilot. Yes, I’m fully aware that Mercedes wanted this generation to be fabulous touring cars (not sports cars), but uncomfortable seats (not fully remedied until after the new millennium), a cramped cabin, ponderous steering and brakes, and Bosch fuel injection that either runs rich at idle or lean at high RPMs mean that the SL is a serious let-down for drivers.
Take a V8 and throw it in a British roadster? Sounds like a no-lose recipe, especially when the ingredients are a comfortable, nimble TR7 convertible and the bulletproof all-aluminum Rover (originally Buick) 215-ci unit. Too bad the car turned out as less than the sum of its parts.
Collectors and enthusiasts call the relatively rare TR8 a “poor-man’s Cobra”, but as a former owner of both a TR7 and a TR8, I can assure everyone that the TR8 meets expectations like a QB taken in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks.
The TR7’s Lotus-like handling make it a really fun car to drive hard. After quality improved and a full convertible came into production, all it needed was more power and better brakes to take America by storm.
The TR8 seemed to accomplish this in theory (although initial TR8 prototypes were actually coupes). The aluminum 215 V8 not only weighed slightly less than the 7’s iron two-liter four cylinder, but also had a reputation for being able to produce tons of power when properly tuned. However, when the TR8 hit the shores, the extra cylinders delivered only an additional 47 hp (to 133 SAE Net hp). As delivered, the TR8 actually managed to weigh more than the TR7, courtesy of the parts associated with the new standard power steering and vacuum-assisted braking systems.
On the road the TR8’s power steering feels a universe away from the responsive feel of the unassisted unit in the TR7. Even worse, TR8 power brakes are mushy as leftover Caesar salad, yet do nothing to reduce stopping distances. Finally, the changes in clutch and transmission parts and configuration to accommodate the additional torque make it harder to find gears.
Triumph might have wanted to give us the best of Britain and America in one package, but the instead the TR8 seems nothing more than a TR7 put through a 1960’s Big-Three sensation filter.