I’ve been loaned a car I’ve always hankered after since I was knee-high to a grasshopper… a bright red Renault Fuego. Yes, I know this is austin-rover.co.uk and the only coupe the the company was responsible for when this Fuego rolled off the production line, was nothing more than a glint in Roy Axe’s eyes…
But you know how it is – they tell you that you should never meet your heroes, because it is bound to end in disappointment. Perhaps so, but that’s a cliche, and I don’t like such things – otherwise, why would I drive a Rover 75? I’m under 35, don’t you know.
So, the Fuego. I remember being so impressed the first time I saw one on the TV – it was black and shiny, and as the car danced across the desert to the tune of Vangelis, one couldn’t help notice the sexy details – mad looking alloy wheels, a wraparound rear window (just like a Porsche 924!), and that all important Eighties French car touch: yellow foglamps. Yumm. Strangely enough, it proved to be one of those cars that impressed everyone for about five minutes – and within a year of bursting onto the market, it had slipped back into motoring anonymity.
Despite that, my view on the car was coloured by how impressed I was when I first saw it, aged ten.
Back to reality…
When I first clapped eyes on this car, I was very disappointed – what looked so sexy in contemporary advertising managed to look rather like an amorphous blob in real life. And an under-wheeled one at that. I mean – look at it… 13-inch wheels for goodness sake. Still, if it looked more anodyne that I remembered, the proof in the pudding would be in the driving, surely?
Well, I must admit I couldn’t fault the thing. It rides and handles really well, in that safe predictable front wheel drive way so many cars of that era managed to do. Steering was heavy, at parking speed, but lightened up just enough to become manageable on my B-road thrash home. The brakes were good – firm and progressive – and the damping was seriously impressive for such an old car on its original shock absorbers… Okay, the 1647cc is a little weaker than desirable and left me wishing it had a turbo for some extra fun – but it wasn’t underpowered; standing up to the motorway thrash perfectly well.
One must also remember, it’s styled by the same man who brought us the Citroen SM. And that’s reason enough to love it…
So, an impressive steer? Well actually, no… So what was wrong with it, then? After a little deliberation, I realised that this car had absolutely no soul, and although the driving experience was largely positive, it was also completely forgettable. But think about that for a while – how can an inanimate object made from steel, plastic and glass manage to have character? Is it just romantic tosh dreamed up by us motoring hacks, desperate for an excuse to criticise an otherwise worthy car?
I don’t think so, but I guess if you don’t really get cars, you would never understand the concept of a characterful car… and you’d probably not be reading this, opting instead to only think about cars when you need to refill your Passat with diesel.
Still, I’m sure the rest of us petrolheads know what I mean.
And perhaps that is why I don’t get MGBs, finding them throbby, archaic and dull – I haven’t tuned into their character. Perhaps I need to run one side by side with the Fuego to fully understand.