As Long As You Look Mahvelous…

Some time back, I was watching some EewwChoob thing about cars that looked good but were absolute rubbish, either to drive or because they were completely unreliable.  I can’t find the video, of course, because Internet Confusion, but here’s a short list of cars that I wish had been made properly — i.e. with today’s machining, fit and electricals — so that one could drive them for a long distance or time without having to have a mechanic/towing service on speed dial, and drive them without impaling yourself on a tree at the very first kink in the road. I’ve left off the Usual Suspects (e.g. the E-type, Ferrari 246 and various Astons, because I’ve looked at them often enough).  Also, because they’re mostly tourers, to be driven for long distances in comfort, I’ve set aside my normal disdain for cabrios and soft-tops.

They’re not in any specific order, pretty much just as they came to me.

Triumph Stag
One of the best-looking touring cars ever made, the Stag was uniformly horrible, not the least because of Both Mr. Free Market and Drummer Knob had a Stag;  as I recall, Knob exchanged his for a Mini-Cooper (!), while Mr. Free Market’s memorable quote was:

“Dear boy, that Stag used so much oil that every time I put my foot down, I shifted BP’s share price two points.”


As Jeremy Clarkson says, it still looks good, even today.  With the Rover (a.k.a. Buick) 3.6-liter engine, it might have been a world-beater except for the fact that it would rust faster than a Lancia.

Jensen Interceptor
One of the best names ever for a car.  The 1972 Jensen MkII is my favorite, with the Chrysler 7.2-liter (443 cubic inch) V8.  Built properly, with today’s machining, finishing and wiring, I’d take one in a heartbeat.

Getting the cabrio would leave off that PITA big rear window, but in either guise the Interceptor just looks fantastic.

Maserati 350 Vignale (1964)
I think Maserati has always made superior tourers (as opposed to sports cars), and this one is no exception.

Alas, like all Italian cars of that era, they suffered from and Terminal Rust Condition, but if you could address those two problems as above, the idea of setting off across Europe or the U.S. behind that wonderful 3.5-liter straight six… oh, man.

Sunbeam Alpine MkI Drophead (1953)
Why would I want to drive this oldster with its silly 2.3-liter 95hp four-banger engine?  Because it’s the car in which Cary Grant seduced Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief, is why.  Also:

Actually, being underpowered was the least of the Alpine’s problems.  It suffered from post-war to such a degree that no two were ever wired the same way, and in some cases they used metals other than copper (Britain still suffering from post-WWII shortages of copper even though other nations e.g. Italy and Germany weren’t), with MTBF* often measured in hours.  The steering was totally shit, and the suspension was given to breaking when going over so much as a driveway entrance.

The saloon version won several rally races, but that was because they were modified beyond recognition.

But the drophead looks mahvelous, hence its inclusion in this post.

Which old cars would you like to see, resto-modded / remanufactured?  (Limit three per comment.)

*Mean Time Between Failures


  1. If my ’74 Fiat 124 Spider had not rusted so much that it had more bondo than metal to keep it looking intact, with American electrics over Magneti Marelli and differential gears not made of pot metal, it would have been a keeper. It was fun to drive with the top down (pretty much always) because putting it up and taking down was a pain in the ass, oh and it leaked like a siv with top up in any rain storm.

    If money were no object, then a modern version of the Sunbeam Tiger with good electrics and a small block 327 engine would be great, though the leak prone tops that were standard from the UK (still are I am told) needs to be adressed.

    Lastly, bring back the Lotus 7 with some updates, but no ABS or any other fool electronic control gadget.

  2. Since you’re African, I’m letting you know that the Chrysler 7.2 liter (or litre) is actually called a 440 Magnum here in the States. Never heard it called a 443, and very rarely a 7.2 since it was built back before the commie metric system took hold over here. The actual displacement of most American engines of the time was probably rounded up (or down, rarely) to please marketing. Thus the 426/427/428/429 series of engines from Dodge, Chevy and Ford.

    The Jensen Interceptor would probably be my choice, if someone held a gun to my head and told me to pick a foreign car. Otherwise I’d pick an early 70’s corvette with, well, any stock engine of the time, manual tranny and A/C.

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with your choices, especially the Stag and Interceptor. I’d probably choose the ’71 – ’73 Mercury Capri. Perhaps your video was something by Uncle Tony at Uncle Tony’s Garage?

    1. I’ve got to say that my ’73 Capri was actually quite reliable. I bought it in ’87 and delivered pizza with it for three years in college without a whole lot of issues.

  4. I agree with Terrapod on the Tiger. I owned a 67 and for the day it was a pretty good looking car in a cobbled together shade tree fashion. It was a very fast car but the heavy (for the size of the car) Ford V8 and solid rear axle made the handling above 20mph a real adventure. The car was built on a budget and the engineering was pretty bad. Way too many “bend this and hit it with a big hammer to make it kind of fit” solutions. The English and American electrical systems definitely didn’t play well together and when I bought the car I had to replace all of the seals in the hydraulic system. The car had a factory removable hard top which didn’t leak quite as much as the canvas. Even today I get a little nostalgic about my old Maxwell Smart car. Put a small block Rover V8 in it and have Toyota do the electrics and you’d have a fun car.

    Another choice for a good looking bad car of the era would be a 65 Corvair. Yeah I owned one of those too – do we detect a pattern here? The Second Generation Corvair was one of the best looking things Chevy built. By 65 Chevy had changed the swing axles to true I.R.S. and the car actually handled well. Unfortunately GM never figured out how to build an air cooled engine. They leaked oil like a British motorcycle and the hot air heaters were pretty much useless. The four carb intake setup was almost impossible to keep in tune and like all mid 60s American cars they rusted when the humidity was above 30%.

    1. I learn to drive in a Corvair, and hence have a soft spot in my head for them. Wouldn’t mind a modern one, except they would probably do to it what Volkswagen did to the Beetle–which is to say take everything cool about it and throw it out, sticking an updated body on the floor plan of a different car.

  5. How about an MGB-GT, prior to the stupid 5-MPH bumpers? The originals were plagued with “British Wiring” (Lucas, the Prince of Darkness) and bad carbs, but they were beautiful to look at, an absolute blast to drive on anything twisty, and held the road nicely.

    My wife’s 1997 Miata, while somewhat underpowered, is about as close as we could get to something that performed like that, but with modern reliability.

    1. When Mazda designed the Miata, they bought two Lotus Elans, shipped them to Japan, and studied them. Extensively.

      And then did a ground-up redesign with Japanese-quality detail design. I retired my 1990 Miata…after 243,000 trouble-free miles. Hopelessly impractical as an only car, but it served as my only car for 13 years. Fiendishly maneuverable, loads of fun.

  6. My father almost bought a Stag brand new back then – I may have the sales brochure somewhere still. Golly a British V8! It was quite a step up from my TR3A that I had. It was less money than the E-Type 2+2 we looked at in 1967 (I think that is when it came out)
    I liked the looks of the MGB GT until it was ruined by safety and emissions regulations, plus it was somewhat practical with its hatch. I had a Mazda Miata which filled the bill for nimble sports car driving. If only the Europeans could have produced something as reliable. (Well, they could, but they don’t, even to this day) I don’t recall ever spending a dime on repairs on my Miata.

  7. What Maserati?
    That pix sure looks like a Ferrari, and the little yellow badge on the nose might be confirmation.

    1. Yes that is a circa 1964 Ferrari California. Not a bad choice, but bring a few million dollars when you go to buy one.

  8. Nice looking set of cars!

    I worked with an architect who was a MG enthusiast. He had several over the years and was going to buy one fairly recently. As him and his wife thought about it, he decided he didn’t want to deal with the repairs and electrical issues that are part of the MG’s “charm” so he bought a Mazda Miata instead. He got the basic look and style of the MG with the reliability of Japanese engineering.


  9. Got too much ‘Murkin farm boy in me to have had much dalliance with Brit or Italian vehicles. A couple of buddies of mine kept thinking they could keep cheap, clapped out, MGs running. They ended up stranded 100 miles from nowhere. One buddy had to limp home on the freeway at idling speed because his MG engine shut down every time he touched the gas pedal.

    I loved the Top Gear episode where they took on the Interceptor.

  10. 40 series land cruiser with diesel engines.

    Land Rover Defender.

    Vista Cruiser station wagon.

  11. British wiring: Everything is neatly laid out, and properly matched. But not waterproof. If it rains, Lucas, the Prince of Darkness holds sway.

    Italian wiring: Components are good, but a madman designed it, and the apparently wiring looms are not a thing. Spaghetti does not belong under the hood.

  12. There’s something else all those older cars had: good front visibility for tall people. These days cars can have massive assemblies behind the rear-view mirror. I’m looking at you Maserati. This is fine if you’re smaller but I sit very high in the cabin and my eye level is the level of the RVM. This means that the assembly blocks a lot of my sight, particularly towards the passenger side.

    1. Thank CAFE standards and wind tunnel results that make all current cars have a squashed rear roof line. The fix for that is a dozen or so microprocessors coupled to a rear view camera and sensors that give all the nice tweets, beeps, boops, dings and steering wheel nudges to enhance your driving experience.
      Nothing better than a windshield against your forehead and no rear vision because of the bunker with vision slits behind you and occasionally trouble shooting a dozen interlocked/networked microprocessors (remember that all software always has three bugs forever) to make us appreciate older cars.

      1. Not to mention that the current shortage of computer chips means a broken one will stay that way for a while.

  13. Can’t believe that no one has pointed out the reason that the English drink warm beer. They have Lucas refrigerators!

  14. I had a 76 Fiat Spyder 1800 with the Fittipaldi package (wheels, steering wheel, and custom color paintjob). When I got the car every wire in it was red and it suffered from a couple of wiring gremlins. My dad helped me re-wire the car. I ran it until 77K miles were I blew the head gasket. A replacement junkyard engine going through two transmissions when I got rid of the car when it had 155k on it. It got 34 mpg no matter how you drove it.

  15. A friend of mine’s father had a TR6 he gave up on and was going to have towed away. I said I’d take it then. He said no. A stupid impass. He insisted if took it I’d have to buy it. I couldn’t get past if you’re having the junk man get it, I’ll do it for free.

    I had plans for the thing. Buick v6 or even a Toyota 22r.

    1. Had a ’70 Hilux that I put an 18RC into, a 5-spd, and front disc-brakes.
      Now, that little pickemup could move, and the noise from the air box was magic at 6K+.

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