Blog : Super Touring – gone, but not forgotten

Sam Mace

In 1993-'95, the Cavalier performed brilliantly in BTCC, bolstering the car's already excellent image.
In the 1990s, you could cheer on front-line racers driving cars like the ones we all owned…

Are you into Touring Cars? If you answered yes, chances are you hotfooted it to your local newsagents when you heard about last week’s edition of Autosport. It’s not something I’ve bothered with before but, when I found they were producing an issue dedicated to Super Touring, my eyes lit up.

If you don’t know what Super Touring is, allow to explain: it was a class of Touring Car introduced in 1991, designed to give Touring Cars a new injection of life. A British export we can be proud of, Super Touring conquered the international motor sport landscape, even spreading as far as Asia.

It was the era that brought us the now infamous Soper/Cleland clash in 1992 and the first and only estate-based Touring Car, in the shape of the Volvo 850. Super Touring is viewed by many as being the Golden Age of Touring Cars, and I’m inclined to agree with them. The combination of huge works team participation, screaming naturally aspirated engines and some of the greatest names in touring car racing coming together made for some truly exciting racing.

It was when the BTCC had the biggest TV audiences and the drivers were household names. Quite simply, Super Touring was the Rock ‘n’ Roll days for Touring Cars. Like all rock groups, though, it came to it’s eventual end. Super Touring in the UK had it’s farewell gig at Silverstone in 2000. Maybe, though, it was for the best.

Super Touring was expensive. Rob Austin, a privateer competing in the BTCC said: ‘Taking in to account inflation, I reckon if we had one year’s worth of a works budget from the late ’90s we could go racing for over 50 years…’

That was a big factor in why in why Super Touring had to die – the astronomical cost of competing in it. In a flood-lit finale, the last ever Super Touring era BTCC race was held at Silverstone, at night – ironically in the middle of a fuel crisis. From then on, the BTCC was never quite the same again. Don’t get me wrong, watching the BTCC is a great way to while away an otherwise slow, boring Sunday. Doughty Touring Car stalwarts and and ex-Super Touring men Matt Neal and Jason Plato provide some old school fun but, other than that, it’s lost so much of it’s excitement.

It’s just as fast, the cars are just as powerful and the talent is just as raw, but there’s that magic something which made Super Touring era BTCC so great, missing. You could even say that the BTCC itself has become a bit obscure these days – only enthusiasst seem to know about the series, now it has less exposure.

During the 1990s most manufacturers that took part in it would have pictures of their repmobiles, liveried up, going hell-for-leather on a racetrack displayed on their showroom walls. They’d use their Touring Car antics in magazine adverts, milking their involvement in Super Touring for all it was worth. Now no manufacturers are in it, bar Honda and MG Motor UK, the BTCC has very little media presence away from the TV coverage it gets. Although Tesco does some rather nice Jason Plato petrol station sandwiches.

Modern touring cars are great to watch, and watch them I do. There’s rear wheel drive BMWs, three-box saloons and hatchbacks going side by side. It generates nice, close racing eliciting grass cutting, bumper banging and paint trading. Live wires like Rob Austin give the sport some human interest and pit walkabout laughs, but it’s still not thrilling.

Maybe it’s because it feels too regulation-bound and restricted? The man holding the BTCC reigns since 1990, Series Director, Alan Gow has insisted that British Touring Cars will never adopt technology seen in F1, such as KERS-which is some comfort. But the racing doesn’t feel quite as gritty and ‘gloves off’ as it did in the 1990s. It could be as simple as the lack of yowling Ford V6s and howling Volvo five-cylinders, replaced by the generic rasp of today’s NGTC machines.

After putting down that copy of Autosport, I couldn’t help but feel I had read a funeral oration…

Sam Tordoff, BTCC Race 3 Croft, 2013
Is current BTCC stifled by regulations? Sam Frank thinks so…
Keith Adams


  1. I wouldn’t call today’s NGTC cars/racing boring! Yes the super touring era was epic but today’s racing is just as good if not better! 7 different makes in the top 10 at Knockhill yesterday! 36 car grids! Its better having a grid full of indiependants who are in for the racing rather than works team for pr only!

  2. Yes, yesterday’s racing was brilliant! I did actually go away wondering if we will enter another golden age for the BTCC, now the drivers are getting to grips with their NGTC cars…and there’s some serious talent out there at the moment.

  3. Don’t forget the Australian Touring Car Championship:
    Commodore vs. M3 vs. Sierra

    Or the days of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft –> International Touring Car Championship:
    Audi V8 vs. M3 vs. Merc 190, Calibra vs. Mustang vs. Sierra vs. Alfa 155, where -apart from forced induction- virtually anything was allowed: ABS, ASR, active suspension, 4wd, pushing, shoving, dirty tricks.

    The latter was maybe more expensive than the F1 (?), but it had also a BIG, no, a HUGE following.

    Or let’s not forget 80’s Group B rallying!
    Or rallycross.
    All gone.

    These days it’s a shadow (or better: literally a silhouette) of how it used to be. Smothered by rules.

    Here on the continent, those races nowadays are not on Eurosport anymore either. No, it’s tucked away on almost obscure local channels.
    Thank gowd for YouTube, but still.

    I like the “edge of the seat” sundays.
    But, they are gone, sadly enough…
    Like the F1 thrill. Maybe next year again? New engines?
    Please-please? And Vettel in a crappy car, because Webber will be gone to shove him off the track.

    I DO like BTCC, but only if the MG’s and Honda’s are in striking distance of each other. Literally.
    Sadly I can only see that “live-recorded” a week afterwards on the aforementioned Youtube. And even ITV is closing those uploads one by one. Why?

  4. If the cars now are just as fast and the racing just as good then what is the difference? I would suggest it has less exposure as it is not on BBC1/2 etc. It’s hidden away somewhere.
    And why would it have died because it cost so much? F1 is mega money and that hasn’t died out during the recession.

  5. BTCC problem is the lack of exposure, manufacturer support and crap coverage on ITV4. It’s a shame as I use to love the BTCC, and World Rally but now that does not even appear on any channel!

  6. There’s a few reasons that supertouring worked as a media spectacle:

    1: The early coverage was edited highlights narrated by Murray Walker, meaning it was constant action and no processions.

    2: The cars looked like what you could buy. In the playground kids would compare their parents’ cars against those in touring cars (“My dad’s Primera is better than your dad’s slow Mondeo”)

    3: The drivers were characters with a few (Cleland in particular) being simply mental

    4: As mentioned, manufacturers made the best of their success. I remember an Alfa magazine ad being a picture of their then new 156 with a transparent plastic page of stickers you could use to “turn” the road going 156 in to the racing equivalent.

  7. Agree that the cars should resemble or at least be related to what you could buy, in the case of the WRC a dominant carmaker like Citroen for example never really produced proper rally-derived hot variants of the Xsara and C4 while in the BTCC no road-going hot hatch equivalent of the MG6 or Chevrolet Cruze even exists (whether UK or elsewhere) to justify their presence on the grid.

    At least other carmakers used to bother producing performance-orientated cars with a motorsport connection / heritage, instead of being reduced to a mere trim level or token stripes/paint with no upgrade in power as is currently the case nowadays.

    Perhaps Motorsport in general should create a series or change existing regulations to allow near bog-standard Hot Superminis (1600cc Turbo under) and Hot Hatchbacks (2000 Turbo under) to compete, which would allow more carmakers to enter as well as be accessible to the average bloke on the street.

  8. Excellent article Mr Frank.

    Few good points made in the comments:

    – Coverage. BTCC on BBC, even if it was the highlights, as part of Grandstand and with Murray Walker’s enthusiastic commentary. ITV seems content with shoving it onto some obscure digital channel while ITV1 shows repeats of Colombo, Midsummer Murders or Antiques hunt, the only sport that gets the limelight is their occasional football.

    – Cars. Back then they looked like the car your dad might have. Car sillouette was stock, and it was only after the bodykitted Alfa 155 that the standard spoiler was added (killing off the 850 estate). These days, a bodykitted MG6 looks very similar to a bodykitted Civic looks very similar to the bodykitted Focus…
    Also, ‘dads’ are more likely to be driving Qashcows these days than a 2 litre SuperTouring saloon. SUVs I suspect if raced in anger would likely topple over. (Nissan had a good run in BTCC with the underestimated Primera, but didn’t really cash in on it…).

    – Merchandise. As a kid I can remember BTCC Scalextric sets, with the blue and white Mondeo. Codemasters also produced an excellent pair of simulators in Toca and Toca2.

    Another motorsport that seemed to be big in the 90s but has disappeared is truck racing. Again, I assume BBC showed highlights, the green BP racing truck was as famous a livery as the blue and yellow Williams Laguna or the multicoloured Benneton F1.

  9. Remember the days when quite the same cars drove the BTCC, the DTM and Italian turing championship had more or less the same cars….

    the problem of todays production cars is that no car is made as a potential racer…..a 2 litre petrol saloon car i dont think even exsist any more, so the team have to invent racing cars from street broncos, and the NGTC regulation are not so bad …..look at the cars they cme from (and remember that NASCAR cars are all shilouette cars with a similar engine looking all quite the same-but still now are the most popular motosport in the states….with marketing and coverage but they are)

    the problem is in my opinion in the cars producers, they stop making cars and start producing veichles that brings you from point a to b without any joy…..

    today a manual gearbox is becomming a exotic thing and cars like the Lotus Omega / carlton are just in our dreams

    so you cant have a interesting championship with boring car on the streets

  10. I go back to the late 70’s / early 80’s when Triumph Dolly Sprints were mixing it with Datsuns, Capris and Golfs in the old Saloon Car championship as it was then. Andy Middleton springs to mind as being the main Datsun exponent in a 180B IIRC. Plus Andy Rouse, Steve Soper, Win Percy et al.

    Can’t be bothered with the be-spoilered clone cars in the current [modern] series. All the fiddling, weight penalties, reversed grid and other trickery to make artificial excitement just doesn’t hack it for me. Has now become almost as boring as F1 [yawn]. Take off the spoilers & splitters, remove the ABS, traction control and the sequential gearboxes and I might get interested again.

    It will never happen so I will continue going to VSCC, AMOC and 750MC events instead.

  11. I will say that ITV’s coverage of the BTCC is as comprehensive as you can get. OK, it is on ITV4 but that’s not a subscription channel, and they do cover all the support races too.

  12. @Simon

    Good point. There are no 2.0 petrol repmobiles anymore.
    A few years ago they did allow for diesels – Seat ran a couple of Leon TDis.

    I agree that with today’s car market, there seem to be very few cars to get excited about. A car maker’s range seems to be some small hatchbacks at one end, and some ‘crossover’ SUVs at the other.

    My dad always asks why I go the bangernomic route, I ask him to tell me what interesting new car I should get at a reasonable price/finance, we can’t think of any. (Chrysler 300 would be nice, but very pricey as are Jags).

    NASCAR has been silhouette for years, with token stickers on the front that vaguely resemble something from their production range. (Though for 2013 they are allowed a bit more of a production-style nose – which if they follow Ford’s maximum airflow family nose, next year’s Camry and Chevy SS will look more like a philishave than a car)

    Agree with @Comical_Engineer – the modern cars look too alike, bespoilered hatchbacks – the MG6, Focus and Civic look very alike – without the sponsors it would be hard to tell the difference.

    If they went back to standard spec cars, what is to stop MG doing an Alfa Romeo and releasing a bespoilered standard spec car?
    This is TOCAs way of regulating the bodykits.


    The coverage is extensive – live and on all day with all the races. I guess the complaint is that it isn’t that well marketed outside of those who know. (Half the time I forget its on and catch it on ITV4 by accident).
    The heyday was such because – even though they were highlights – it was shown on BBC1.
    ITV1 on a sunday is a mix of murders and antiques, and murders involving or over antiques. Or, given the age of some episodes of Colombo, antique murders.
    If it was Football League it would be on ITV1 and advertising promos blitzed.

  13. MG6, Focus and Civic look alike?
    Do they?
    Include the BMW and those are exactly the cars I can differentiate on screen. The rest is a blur.

    The problem I think is, that they all are silhouettes. Engine, and engine cradle/front suspension-unit are all the same, as is the rear cradle/suspension unit. There’s just a bit of centre-section of a bespoke car welded in between.

    Having said that; I Youtubed the Knockhill reces yesterday and I think in that case, that there’s nothing to complain about old-fashioned action.
    Loved it!
    Funny to see that the normal aggressors were far more clean and the others were unusually aggressive.
    Apart from Gordon Shedden, that is…
    Neal fx could’ve torpedoed Plato, but he backed off. Sportsmanship!

  14. @14 – engines are not all the same
    -The Civic uses a Honda engine (K20 derived from Type R, developed by Neil Brown)
    -WSR also use Neil Brown developed BMW engines in their 1 series
    -Frank Wrathall uses a Toyota engine – although the remaining Toyotas use the stock TOCA “Swindon” units (as does the MG), which were themselves derived from old Vauxhall BTCC engines
    -Rob Austin was using tuned VAG units, but they proved slow and unreliable, and so has switched to the stock TOCA unit.

    Love the BTCC! Sorry, but the racing at Knockhill was ten times more exciting than the F1 on the other channel. And I am a HUGE F1 fan, but even I concede that BTCC is more exciting, and fan friendly. Attending the BTCC is a brilliant day out, and you are even able to meet the drivers in the pit walkabout sessions.

    The boost situation frustrates me though – the Civics obviously have the best engines, but their turbo boost is lower than any others on the grid (in an effort to “equalise” the cars), but you can clearly see on the straights how every other car pulls several car lengths, although the Civic is usually able to recover the lost time in the corners, but never has a chance to pass on the straight!

  15. For me, the key was manufacturer involvement, which elevated it above the saloon car racing you can see most weekends at your local circuit. It may be that the death knell for the Supertouring Series was the progressive merger of manufacturers, so that Volvo didn’t need to compete with Ford, Renault with Nissan, for instance. Also, we no longer have the patriotic car-buying public that turned out to watch Fords and Vauxhalls versus Rovers or Triumphs like they did in the 1970s.

  16. There was a NASCAR team who ran at 7/8ths, which was why they brought in the silhouette and literally line up cars against a cutout outline.

  17. My BTCC favourite moments? (Apart from the Vic Lee stories!) Is the *cough* ballasted *cough* Caviler rear bumpers that fell off if so much a blade of grass touched them!

  18. @7 Nate : There is a championship for production cars! its called the “Production Touring Car Trophy” but I can see car makers wanting to race stock cars, as for the most, it would just show up weakness in the design.

    @5 daveh : I can’t see how a whole day of coverage on a freeview chaneel is crap coverage!!! The show is well advertised and ITV4 is more or less ITV Sport as the only sport shown on ITV1 is big football matches, If it had stayed on the BBC, it might of got moved to BBC3/4 because of other sport/shows

    Also there is manfacturer support! Yes only 2 full works factory teams for MG and Honda ( Kia are thinking about joining the party too) but there is factory help from Ford, BMW and Toyota. And images of the cars are used in advertising (not as much as the 90’s) just look out for a Airwaves advert atm!

  19. More poorly written rubbish from this wannabe Clarkson. Is AROnline hard up for content, or does “Sam Frank” pay you to put his excuses for articles on the site?

    Keith, why does your otherwise excellent site use such terrible articles, which nobody seems to like and very few evidently bother to read.
    It seems to be you stick a picture on a sub-standard article and think it’s good enough for the site.

    Please stop publishing this nonsense from a washed up journo, it does your site no favors at all.


  20. Hi Sean,

    To clarify:

    -I don’t want to be Clarkson. I like his writing style, but I like to stick to my own way of writing.

    -I do not pay Keith to publish any of my articles.

    -I am not a “washed up journo”, as yet I do not even possess a Journalism Qualification (although that will change very soon)

    As a side note, to form such a strong opinion, you must have read the article in it’s entirety-so it can’t have been that bad. And if it was that bad, it would not be on the main site, as simple as that.
    I can only guess there was something you missed.

    Hope this answers all your questions,

  21. And there we go again…

    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. So; good call Keith; let Sir Sean write an excellent article which is better, instead of brain-farting a complaint about what others were so nice to contribute.

  22. Sean,
    Wind your neck in.

    In what way is the article Clarkson-esque? It is not overly opinionated, mocking nor biased towards certain marques.

    Mr Frank is one of the most enthusiastic contributors to this site, his articles are a treat to read.

    It was a nice piece reminiscing about the golden modern era of BTCC. Indeed, similar pieces could be written about WRC and F1 – perhaps you might like to give it a go?

    One of the joys of Keith’s site is that it welcomes guest contributions, and unlike some motoring sites isn’t just a wire for german car manufacturers’ press releases.

  23. Thank you for the kind comments guys 🙂

    A good point about guest contributions, you probably wouldn’t see that in Autocar etc.

    Talking of which Will, when are you likely to get your writing cap on again?

  24. @23 Don’t be a knob. The guy is producing articles and I daresay he’d genuinely appreciate constructive criticism to improve his work, but you’re just being needlessly rude. If you don’t have the ability to constructively criticize then you aren’t really in a position to criticize his writing anyway!

  25. I read all your articles Sam and have been following this site since 2005. Please don’t get put off by ignorant people like Sean who contribute nothing themselves.

    I liked your Touring Car article and your reply to Sean was very appropriate. Hopefully he’ll leave ARONLINE alone and find a site more in tune with his intelligence level……internet sites for dummies springs to mind.

  26. @ David Edney.

    I welcome constructive criticism. You hit the nail on the head.

    @ fizar6

    Thank you, that’s encouraging. I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  27. Wow Sean that’s great! A really well constructed argument, and great use of discourse and rhetorical features.

    Top work!

  28. 5 days in and nobody used the “Like” button yet.
    I wonder why?

    Sean, if that’s your real last name, don’t ever change it!
    It suits you to a T!

  29. Will, I’d love to know what his problem is.

    …maybe all the German car makers set the site up to “humiliate zee Englanders”.

  30. I’ve got 2 memories of the Supertourers that will stay with me till my dying day,

    1. Murray Walker’s exceptional commentary. He made even the most one sided race (which was a rarity) interesting.

    2. Racing home from my friend’s house on a Saturday dinnertime to watch the highlights on Grandstand.

    It might just be me but watching John Cleland in his Cav race Kelvin Burt in his 850 was much better than the Matt Neal/Jason Plato show of today. What made it special? I don’t know. What i do know is i miss it. A lot.

    Even The DTM isn’t the same anymore.

  31. Supertouring was a brilliant adrenaline rush. All the stars aligned there! Going to autosport international every January to see the cars close up was a highlight. Who remembers the the stillborn Andy Rouse proposed race series “Supercar V8s”. Spaceframed saloons, rear wheeldrive with normally aspirated (if my memory serves me right), Nicholson mcLaren V8s. That would have been awsome. Its death nell came when Rouse started negotiating with canny buisnessman Jonathon Palmer about possible Motorsport vision venues. Palmer told Autosport that Rouse wanted a tast of the gate money, and palmer said we just couldn’t do that. A real shame because the prototipe ,a jag i think ,looked epic.

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