Here’s our tried-and-tested cure for the dreaded ‘seven-year itch.’ These seven machines are the ones that kept us up nights – both before and after driving them. These are the ones we work till dawn for, the ones we wake up at dawn to shoot, the ones we fight jet lag for, the perks of the job – okay, you get the picture. So, for guaranteed marital bliss, pick one of our seven wonders …
Aston Martin GT4
Well, we couldn’t list our favourite seven without choosing at least one racecar. And this isn’t just an ordinary racer either, this is a thoroughbred! It even gets its own ‘Emotion Control Unit.’ That’s how Aston refer to its key, which is an exquisite sculpted piece of glass. So, while this GT4 loses all the leather and alcantara that cloaks the cabin of its road going brethren, it retains it special key, which is inserted into the carbon fibre centre console to fire up an untamed, unrestricted racing version of the 4.7 litre V8 that powers the V8 Vantage. The cabin is littered with the trelliswork of a race-spec roll cage that gives it a very purposeful air. The racing buckets hug you in places that shouldn’t be legal – granted, though, they do their job of holding you in place perfectly to withstand the cornering g-forces generated by the slick tyres. The experience provided by the Aston Martin GT4, belonging to the racing school at the Yas Marina Grand Prix circuit, in Abu Dhabi is that of the V8 Vantage heightened to a raw, almost primal, level. It provides a pure, focussed driving experience without any fuss or distractions. Its sole purpose in life is to lap a racing circuit in the fastest way possible – your comfort through the process is secondary. And sometimes that’s just what’s necessary to focus on the task at hand – in this case, the act of driving. There’s nothing like belting yourself into a racing bucket to put the driving experience front and centre. And that’s what it’s about at the end of the day, isn’t it?
Tuned Porsche 911 (997) GTS
How do you improve the best sports car in the world? Well, you start by introducing a special edition, and calling it the ‘GTS.’ Then, you increase power, give it a wider track, add centre-locking wheel nuts, and a few more niceties of similar vein – and viola, there you have it! But some people are just hard to please, so they insist on custom RUF suspension, a Tubi exhaust, a short-shift kit for the 6-speed manual gearbox, and, of course, a bigger rear wing. Well, what you’re left with is one of the most rewarding cars that you’ll ever have the pleasure of driving. This particular car was four-wheel drive, and while we would prefer rear-wheel drive, it was sheer perfection on wheels. The 911 is legendary as a sports car that you can drive everyday, and, despite the race-ready RUF suspension, that’s a challenge that we would absolutely relish in a car like this. What seals the deal, though, is the hydraulically assisted steering (versus electric in the current model) and a proper manual gearbox. The short-shift kit meant that the gear lever seemed to slide from one ratio to the other almost by telepathy. The steering used the same forces to convey your tiniest hand movements to the road, and the power from the naturally aspirated 3.8 litre flat-six engine was delivered virtually before you could even ask for it – plus, it was matched by a menacing wail from the Tubi tubes behind. Exciting, engaging, enrapturing, enthralling – there simply aren’t enough adjectives (especially those beginning with ‘e’).
There’s no other machine on this list that’s met with a complete look of bewilderment as you drive down the road. But that surprise quickly turns to intrigue, and then amusement. The Morgan 3 Wheeler is, quite simply, a smile machine – that’s just the effect that it has on people, as they whip out their phone cameras to capture an image with which they can spread the joy later on (presumably). But the best part of the Mogran 3-Wheeler is the fact that it’s a laugh on three-wheels from the driver’s seat as well. The two bicycle tyres in front, the single rear tyre, hidden from view in the back, and the 2.0 litre V-twin sitting in front of the bonnet combine to cobble together a driving experience unlike any other in the automotive world. But again, it’s not purely for its novelty that its here – it’s here because it’s damn good fun! The large steering wheel, short-throw five-speed gear lever, floor-hinged pedals, and tube of a cabin that’s open to the elements all combine to heighten the driving experience more than a supercar that has six times the power. It’s a simple, age-old recipe, yes – but it requires the courage of a small, niche British manufacturer to see the light of day at a time when such individuality and spirit is hard to come by. So, it’s here because we’d like to salute that spirit – of those who painstakingly build it by hand, and those who actually put it in their garage as well.
So much has been written about the GT86 in the past year-and-some that there really isn’t much to add in regards to the mechanics of this particular model. The real reason that it’s here, though, is because it’s a beacon of hope in a world where cars are driven more by flawless microprocessors, rather than the flawed lump of blood and guts behind the wheel. It’s a ray of light, and it comes from the unlikeliest of manufacturers. It shows that cars can be simple and fun once again. They needn’t be wildly expensive and preposterously powerful to be entertaining and engaging – that’s what the Mazda Miata did in the early 90’s. And, more importantly, the GT86 will have the same effect – it’ll spawn a whole generation of similar machines that will focus on driver involvement and enjoyment, rather than bragging rights. Look no further than the piece in this issue on the next Nissan Z car – there’s talk of it being less like the 370Z that it succeeds, and more like the GT86 that’s already seen so much success. So, while we may not be in a position to buy and own a Toyota GT86 – and, believe me, all of us here at autoX would give an arm or a leg, or both, to own a GT86 – we’re just happy in the knowledge that Toyota has sparked a new wave of machines that are affordable driver’s cars. To recap, the GT86 ticks all the right boxes: hydraulic steering, manual gearbox, rear wheel drive – spot the trend?
Ferrari 458 Italia
Okay, now we’re getting serious. We all remember the first time that we drove a Ferrari. And then we all remember the first time we drove a Ferrari 458 – because the 458 is one of those rare occasions when everything comes together in a perfect potion of automotive seduction. Its Pininfarina lines, its absolutely exquisite cabin, the way it makes you feel, the three exhaust pipes that hark back to the F40, and the sound made by the naturally aspirated 4.5 litre V8 is all the stuff of dreams. But the thing with the 458 is that not only would it look perfect on your bedroom wall (and inspire some naughty dreams I’m sure), but the driving experience just matches the way it looks. The steering is quick and immediate – in a way that has to be experienced to be believed – the power is intoxicating, and the way it goes around corners is enough to rip your face off. The entire driving experience is transformed into an event that you’ll remember for a long-long time to come. The 458 is the polar opposite of the GT-86 – this is the stuff that the most wild, unattainable, supercar fantasies are made of! And you need this breed of car just as much as the other – the 458 is just the car to inspire young boys to doodle the next generation of supercars on the pages of their school notebooks. It casts a legacy that both celebrates the past, and inspires the future.
Amatte black Aventador, which looked like something that the Dark Knight ought to have in his garage (or Batcave), was central to our 6th anniversary issue celebrations at the Dubai Autodrome last year. And it was quite a telling experience. This Lamborghini flagship is just an intimidating machine to behold – not only does it look like a stealth fighter with a heat-seeking missile trained on you, but it also harnesses 700 horses within its engine compartment. To get into the driver’s seat, you have to slide the scissor doors up and away. To awaken the 6.5 litre V12 from its slumber, you have to lift a red flap concealing the start-stop button. But the theatrics end there. Once on the move, the German sensibilities – of parent company Audi – supersede the inherent Italian flair to ensure that the Aventador is as timid as a lamb on the track. Well, momentarily anyway – until you hit a button marked Corsa (Race) that is. If you’re foolish enough to do that, the Aventador attempts to eject you from the drivers seat every time you so much as pull the paddle to shift up a gear. So, this is very much a supercar that has a split personality – the Germanic side is sensible, relatively speaking, and will allow you to take liberties with it on the move, while the Latin side will strike you down if you do. Truth be told, the Quattro-inspired four-wheel drive system simply provides so much grip that it’s virtually impossible to end up going backwards through the Armco. And that’s what separates this Lambo from the likes of the Countach and the Diablo – this one actually works.
Novitec Rosso Ferrari F430
If a Ferrari is the Holy Grail of motoring, and you add twin superchargers – is that blasphemy, or can it be likened to transforming a church into a cathedral?” That’s the question we asked when we first drove Samir Thapar’s Novitec Rosso F430, which produces in excess of 700 horsepower. Well, since the car appears at the top of this list, I guess you have your answer. Truth be told, though, we went into this test believing that it was actually blasphemous, but one tap of the throttle baptized us into believing that it is actually possible to improve on perfection – all you need is more power! But, really, it’s two things that stand out about this tuned Ferrari. The first is that all the work was done – absolutely meticulously I might add – right here at Race Tech in Bangalore. The second is the manner in which this Ferrari transforms the scenery into a blur and forms instant tunnel vision – it beggars belief. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before – or are likely to experience again. It’s simply raw, savage, instant power. You get wheelspin in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, all the way up to 120km/h – and that’s in ‘Sport.’ Imagine what it would be like in ‘Race.’ You can literally feel the F1 heritage of this Ferrari through the seat of your pants – and courtesy of the stainless-steel Novitec custom exhaust, it sounds better than any race car this side of Formula 1. Frankly, it’s no surprise that our two favourite cars have 700 horses, and above. Clearly, we’re slaves to horsepower. It just confirms what we knew all along – power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.