Toy Cars

I was having a long email exchange with Reader Chaz from Britishland, and we were talking about Ferraris and guns and what have you, and on the subject of cars, I actually surprised myself by saying this:

For a toy car, I would certainly choose a Caterham over any Ferrari made today, and not just because of the price, either.

Here’s the subject car under discussion:


…and I have to confess I was very influenced by this episode of Harry’s Garage, where at about the 13-minute mark Harry Metcalfe talks about how the increasing performance and sophistication of modern cars is making them heavier and less fun to drive — “too much power” (harking back to something I’ve said often with regard to Dodge Whatevers with 500hp engines), complexity following from stupid shit like emission controls and electrification, too many driver options (such as “sport mode”, “memory seats”) and so on.

Increasingly, in my sunset years, I want simplicity in a car:  get in, turn the thing on, and drive off.  (It’s one reason why I love driving New Wife’s Fiat 500 Sputum:  stick shift, nothing to touch in the car — yes, it has a Sport mode button, but on a non-turbo 1400cc engine, it is to laugh and I’ve never used it — and driving it is an absolute pleasure.  Forty-odd miles to the gallon doesn’t hurt, either.)

If I were in the market for a truck, I’d get a base model Toyota Tacoma with a stick shift.  As I’m planning to keep the Tiguan forever, the car issue is moot — but if it was totaled or otherwise became unroadworthy, I’d probably pick a base model VW Jetta with a stick shift.

Or a Caterham with a 2-liter Ford Duratec engine, if the insurance gods were feeling really generous.


  1. My oldest son is a pistonhead and put me wise to the availability of rental Caterham 7s for 200 pounds for a day right at Gatwick airport, where my direct flights from Canada land. Seems cheap to me.

    In October I drove a Fiat 500 1.2 from Florence to Civitavecchia. Tremendous fun except I did not know it has a newfangled auto-brake device for getting going from stop whilst facing uphill. I stalled the damn thing 3 times madly clutching and braking at the same.

    One who cannot start a manual car from a stop uphill ought not to be driving it. Bah.

    1. £200 a day?????? They must be smoking some seriously strong weed Over There.

      AND your wife would have to carry yer luggage on her lap…

      1. I know, but my personal demand curve crosses their supply curve at a price actually higher than they propose to charge. I’ve lusted after that thing since I first saw a picture of one.

        Wife is OK with it because we often overnight in Horely after a flight from Canada, so we’ll check in to a guest house called the Turret, dump the luggage, pick up the car and tootle about in a two seater praying for it not to rain.

        Gonna drive to Hindhead to see the aged auntie, then to London to see the ne’er do well cousins for a pint or two, then let my wife drive us safely back to Horely.

        All assuming the egregious BoJo lets us in this May. I hate covid politicos.

  2. In my yoot, I had a BMW 2002. Installed my own “sport mode”– Weber carburetor and header. Actually drove it a time or two in the hills of San Francisco. Stopped up hill? Transfer braking from foot pedal to parking brake handle between the seats.

  3. Number one son has a Jetta with a stick, and it is fun to drive. We’ve even been able to do some basic maintenance on it like changing the plugs, and he’s improving it with some modifications. Not sure I want to know about them.

    1. Gas struts, GTI rims, bigger brakes if they fit, anti sway bars, Borla exhaust with a bigger throat catalytic converter, or something from Techtonics, a bigger throttle body from some Audi, and finally whatever crate motor approximating a GLI or GTI engine. Been there, done that. The Frankenstein’s monster of a test bed sits in my driveway at this very moment.
      He might want some sort of modest aero kit. Emphasis on modest. No sense in being flashy, that’s for the Porsches.

  4. Fast motoring, no switches to adjust, total operator control or lack of it:
    That’s why I keep the MV AGUSTA F4-1000R I have – it’s just me and the road!

  5. Just from the maintenance aspect I would rather have any Lotus 7 kit car over a Ferrari.

    I have a buddy who has been working in Dubai making stupid good money. He bought a used 10 year old Belinetta for a cheap price. It needed the 50k major service, tires, brakes, and a clutch. That cost almost what he paid for the car.

  6. I’ve long held for years that if I ever started doing project cars, the first one would be a Lotus 7 kit. Someone already has the KAR 120C plates though.

  7. They make great Autocross cars. Often posting Fastest time of the day. Faster and with less drama than a GT3 RS — and at a quarter the cost.

    The downside is that if you drive one on the street, nobody can see you beside them so be very careful on multi lane roads. … and don’t try to drive under trucks.

    1. In 1963, they held a sportscar race in Palmer AK on the streets of the town.
      The winner was a recently completed Lotus S7, defeating a fairly good assortment of “heavier” iron.

  8. My youngest brother bought a 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP coupe new and has been lording it over me ever since. He’s too fat to drive it (I might be too), but he won’t sell it. Only has 8800 miles on the clock. I got to drive it once and it was just about as much fun as my my MiniCooper. Absolutely zero utility, but a hoot to drive.

    1. I’m saving my nickels and dimes for a Mazda Miata with a Simpson body kit. As Kim said, utility has nothing to do with it.

  9. I cut it off at electronically controlled fuel injection, turbo boost management, and traction control is nice as well. Starting up reliably on a cold morning is the ultimate.

    Traction control is not a must, but it is nice when you have a lot of torque or “violent onset boost” situations.

    I’ve done both without it — still doable, but it’s nice to be able to plant the accelerator in the rain when you need to get into a tight spot in traffic.

    I guess though most of those who subscribe to the ultimate simplicity above would not have turbochargers in play.

    I do not want any of the new connected cars. Nothing against Tesla, but that computer is on the net, and if it is on the net, there is probably a way to control it. Just last week, an attacker claimed 20 were his — but not yet at the “steer the car” or “accelerate the car” or “brake the car” level — but just wait!

    Finally, KimDT, I will bet the nannies are more active than you think in the Fiat. I drove one several years ago, was a load of fun BUT it has all the nannies just like everything else (government required). You’d be surprised how much wheel spin the little thing would be capable of if it wasn’t for the nannies, and that’s far before you get to the Arbath (a 4 banger turbocharged to the edge of warranty, planted in that tiny frame). The standard Fiat 500 didn’t feel safe on the freeway in California when trucks were around. They buffeted it around pretty badly at the 65mph mark (me running 65mph and being passed, or me accelerating higher and doing the passing — the turbulence was unsettling).

    1. Just imagine negotiating the freeways of L.A. in a ’59 Austin Seven (Mini) with 850cc’s –
      Or, driving from the Rose Bowl to the harbor in a Mini Moke, and return.
      Been There, Done That, and the looks you would get.

  10. The only newer Ferrari that I would consider would be a FF or GTQ4 always had a weakness for a shooting brake…. thinking back there are three cars that have always put a big grin on my face while driving them …. A bug eye sprite which taught me that is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow…. my old 1972 Porsche 911e sunroof coupe …. and my wife’s toy a Ford Focus SVT coupe….. my current toy is a BMW 330ci with the zhp package the last analogue BMW…

      1. Mine is a 2006 the coupes were made from 2003 to 2006 produced around 3000 with the zhp package, they also made a 4door sedan…. the zhp is said by some to be the best drivers car ever made by BMW…. also has been descibed as a street car you can drive on the track, while the M3 is a track car you can drive on the street.

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