Giving saloons the boot!
I saw her today as I drove to the shops – she was there, outside the newsagents, and I’m in love again. She’s 25 years old and somewhat younger than me, but do you know what? I don’t care. Her red complexion and plain yet distinctive looks are everything to me and, already, I’m wondering what my friends and family will think of her if I ever take her home.
She’s a basic sort of thing and I loved her all those years ago when I first saw one of her sisters – her name is Jetta GTi. I must have been around 13 years old when I entered the premises of Mill Garages to see the MK2 shape VW Jetta and I thought right away that it looked better, almost refreshingly different from the countless Golfs you would see. The base model Jetta and Golf of that era were very spartan and low rent, but the plusher versions, especially in a nice colour, were lovely – well, in my opinion, anyway. I drove a Jetta GTi a few years ago, as a friend said at the time, ‘like a total cock’ and it was simply amazing.
This made me think – the once common as muck four-door saloon is very much second place to a hatchback these days and, although I applaud the practicality of a decent sized hatchback, I still adore a decent saloon. Not that long ago the four-door was king, every road and by-way was littered with Cavaliers, Cortinas, Sapphires, Carltons, Montegos, Volvo 240s and Nissan Bluebirds, to name just a few. My childhood memory reminds me of the long-fading humming noise the boot of my father’s Marina made when he slammed it shut after another journey to Fine Fare.
I blame the ‘Escrot’ Mk3 you know – these small three- or five-door hatchbacks became the norm with that horrible sound of a gruff 1.3-litre CVH engine heaving into life with the aural finesse and refinement of floor boards being lifted. Very soon the plethora of Cortinas and Cavaliers were replaced with Nissan Stanzas and other horrible hatchbacks. Over the years, after owning many, many saloons including two Ladas and a multitude of BL gear including Itals and Montegos, I still admire the comfort of a decent-sized saloon.
Some car makers got it right: take the Sierra Sapphire of 1987. To me, this four-door family car looked better, maybe even classier, than the run of the mill hatchback Sierra. Besides, if Jimmy Nail as Spender drove one then that’s fine by me. I have owned both a Sierra hatchback and the Sapphire and it was the latter which was, by far, the more rigid in structure and much more refined to drive. Large hatchbacks with an empty luggage area turn into a mobile sound room and take much longer to warm up in winter – so what if your uncle’s ladders won’t go in the boot of your car? Who wants to paint and decorate anyway?
Ford did it right a few years earlier with the Orion in 1983, but really came good in 1986 with the launch of the facelifted version based on the Escort Mk4. My favourite was the legendary injection Ghia, sporting those lovely ‘pepper pot’ alloys, driving lamps on the bumper and optional, yet unfathomable, trip computer. I kicked myself for a long time for letting a seriously cheap pristine E-Reg example in silver slip though my fingers some years back – it was only in need of a head rebuild following a broken cam belt. What did I buy instead? An MG Maestro 2.0i which decided to combust spontaneously soon after purchase.
The Orion Ghia injection was the thinking man’s XR3i – the same performance, the same easy-peasy servicing, but without the shell suit and love bite image of the Escort XR3i. Sadly, though, along with the Escort, it badly succumbed to the dreaded Sheffield worm.
Another example of a pretty retro saloon was the Ford Granada, never top of the tree for cosseting luxury but with a certain aggressive charm none the less. How I used to go weak at the knees at the sight and sound of 2.8i Ghia X ‘Grannie’ when given a hand full of sugar lumps – just like Mr Spender, Jack Regan wouldn’t have settled for anything less. This big barge Ford died a sad and disrespectful death in the 1990s in the shape of the vile and offensive Scorpio.
Mind you, in some cases, the hatchback did look better than the saloon, take the Saab 900 for example. This bonkers Swedish supertank looked far better in tailgated form than its oddly-proportioned saloon brother, especially the superb Turbo 16. The 9000 which burst onto the scene in 1985 looked amazing in hatch form too although the later 9000 CDE saloon looked a bit plain to me. Others included the Peugeot 605, a car that never did very well over here but to me looked a pretty car. Turning big French cars around once again, the legend that is the Citroen CX and its baby sister, the GSA, also looked stunning to the eye – GTi Turbo 2 CX anyone?
Conversely, I found the Mk1 Cavalier/Ascona hatchback a better looking machine than the three-box effort, whereas I found the later Mk2 better in saloon guise but, then again, who can remember some of those really rotten saloons from our 80s past?
Once again, we doff our hats to the French for (again, in my opinion) some pretty crappy lumps of horridness. Prime examples include: the Renault 9, Talbot Solara, Renault 21 and, more recently, the Renault 19 Chamade. The Renault 18, though, was a car I did actually like – they were so very comfortable too!
Other saloons offering as much desirability as chewing a teaspoon included the Proton 1.5 MPi, Peugeot 306 sedan and the blindingly dismal Vauxhall Nova 2 door saloon. However, for me, the world’s most boring saloon car ever made is, once again, a Vauxhall: my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer you the Belmont saloon.
This Astra saloon offering from GM was a knee-jerk response to the run away sales of the Orion and also boasted an even larger boot than Volkswagen’s Jetta albeit without the German car’s reliability, build quality, resale value, badge kudos, dealer reputation. I’m actually contracting ME just thinking about the damn thing.
There are some very pretty saloons on the market today. The Mercedes-Benz CLS catches my eye and the new Saab 9-5 is a damn fine looking car even though it’s based on the GM Epsilon II chassis aka: Vauxhall Insignia – I fear, though, that it will never reach the cult status of the dearly missed 900 Turbo 16S.