PH 2020 | Fleet round-up

Boy, did the idea of running a car you like make sense this year. Here's some of what kept PH sane…

By PH Staff / Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Porsche 911 Carrera (Nic C)

Many cars graced the allocated parking space this year, but none hung around for very long. With two notable exceptions. The first was the Porsche 911 Carrera I got stuck with during the original lockdown, a period which already seems impossibly distant. The car was with me for a couple of months, and was indisputably good company. I suspect like most enthusiasts, I made the mistake of regarding the entry-level Carrera as little more than window dressing for Porsche’s website. But the 992 generation of 911 is so prodigiously capable across the board that the starter model offers virtually everything you could want from a premium end sports car.

It was also a timely reminder of Porsche’s remarkable gravitational pull when it comes to attracting buyers. Even when I wasn’t driving it – which obviously accounted for a fair portion of its stay – the Aventurine Green Metallic Carrera exuded rightness. Had I actually paid £90,891 for it, I’m inclined to say that I would have felt tickled pink – and constantly reassuring you about the soundness of your buying decision is a Porsche speciality.

I was reminded of that gooey feeling when the Carrera’s eventual follow-up turned up just the other other week. That’s right, PH has once again dipped its toes in oily waters; an Oxide Grey metallic BMW M340d Touring is ours for at least some of 2021. Why, I hear you ask? Well, we’ll get into that next month, but for one thing it rather seemed like we should while we still could. Faced with declining demand, BMW is starting to close the book on high performance oil burners, and its peerless 340hp straight-six is an undeniably lovely way to kick off the long goodbye. Also it comes packaged in an xDrive-equipped 3 Series wagon, precisely the sort of Swiss Army fast car that we keep encouraging everyone to buy. Time to put our fake money where our big mouths are. NC

BMW M135i (Matt B)

Wages and rents being what they are, this was another year when I couldn’t buy my own car. Which isn't to say that I didn't think about it; depending on my mood and whether or not my girlfriend wanted to be involved, it swung from Toyota MR2 to SEAT Leon Cupra ST, Renaultsport Clio 200 to making an offer on her dad’s Boxster S. Frankly I’m still desperate to return to the ownership fray, but the economics just don’t add up. Although I’ve been saying for years.

Alas the closest I came to ownership was our long-term loan of a BMW M135i xDrive. At about the worst possible time: March to September 2020 was not the time for covering miles and learning about a car. Eventually a few miles were accrued, and some impressions formed; despite provoking the ire of many an enthusiast, the M135i was a more than decent attempt at BMW’s first all-wheel drive hot hatch. I liked the interior a great deal, it was more than quick enough and – if the journey is especially long and moderately paced – it would do 50mpg. Which is incredible, really, given an old six-cylinder car wouldn’t see which way it went down a road. 

Do I miss it? Not at all. Which sounds harsh, given the obvious privilege of being offered one, but it never delivered an experience befitting its price tag. And, to be clear, I think that stands true for rivals like the AMG A35 and Audi S3 as well: they don’t engage and excite like hot hatches, nor do they cosset and charm like range-toppers. 

All is not lost for BMW in hot hatches, though, as the 128ti has been generally well received (abroad, at any rate) and removing weight and complexity typically works well in hot hatches. Alternatively, perhaps 2021 will be the year I finally get a car of my own – those F20 M135is are £10k now… MB

Renaultsport Clio 182 (Sam S)

It’s fair to say the Clio has seen quite a lot of action this year. Partly that was due to the restrictions of the pandemic, which meant that the usual press car loans were kept to a minimum. But much of it was to do with the way the car itself performed, with the new polyurethane bushes fitted in the spring having a transformative effect on the 182’s handling. Everything from steering response to the front-end damping felt better; I only wish I had made the change earlier.

On summer evenings after work, when lockdown restrictions had eased but road traffic remained relatively light, I often found myself grabbing for the Clio’s keys and heading out of the city. Plenty of times I found myself back on the same stretch of tarmac, a bumpy, cambered and technical B-road near Oxted, where the Bilstein B14 coilovers made the car feel like a proper tarmac rally hatch. After drives in heavier, electrically assisted new cars, it was effectively a palette cleanser.

The increase in free time provided by lockdowns also enabled me to do those little jobs that would otherwise have been low on the priority list. Sourcing an OEM Elf sticker for the car’s rear window, painting the front grille and fitting a quick release steering wheel boss were three small but enormously satisfying achievements for 2020. Despite the pandemic’s best efforts in reducing my spend on beer and takeaways, I never saved as much money as I’d hoped to justify forking out over £700 on a second Recaro Pole Position seat for the cabin. But at least I got to take the Clio away on a small staycation to Dorset, where it shone.

Next year won’t get off to such a flying start, because it includes the deadline for the dreaded belt replacements, a job that thanks to the small work space afforded by the Clio’s tiny engine bay and the F4R motor’s requirement for special timing tools, will probably cost me over £600 at a specialist. But that’s just part and parcel of 182 ownership – and once the work’s done, I should have myself a Clio that’s as ready to rock and roll as it’s ever been. That feels all the more significant, not only because my now hibernating Racing Blue hatch has clicked over 130k, but because 2021 will be my tenth year of ownership. Blimey. I can’t wait to awaken it from its winter slumber and celebrate. SS

Skoda Octavia vRS (Pete D)

It has been a quiet year for the RacingPete fleet but there have been a few different cars on the driveway. At the beginning of the year, I decided to go back into bangernomics and buy a decent runabout for not much money and see how far I could run it into the ground. The 2009 car of the year – my Ford Fiesta – was fully exchanged for a Skoda Octavia vRS with 135k on the clock. It has been pretty faultless through the year, although it has needed a new CV boot and the rear wiper is currently not on speaking terms with the stalk.

Elsewhere my classic 1995 Subaru Impreza WRX wagon has been mothballed in the garage; partly due to needing a car less, and partly because having a decat exhaust (and moving house) means that I can't find a way to get it through the MOT. I would love a recommendation of a good non decat exhaust to stop this being a pain!

Finally, there have been the comings and goings of the Ford Ka we raced in EnduroKa this year. Its time with me was spent being serviced, and pulled back into shape following various little dings inflicted over the shortened season. Unfortunately its last incident left it beyond repair – a situation made worse by the fact that a donor car which turned up halfway through the year is still parked down the side of the garage, like a mobile storage unit. With any luck it residency will come good next year.

Speaking of which, the wider 2021 plan is to ditch the Octavia and go for a more powerful estate car, get the Subaru back on the road, try and recover a trailer from a field somewhere in Tier 3 – and maybe reunite the Austin Healy Sprite I have stored back with the rest of the fleet. PD

Jaguar S-Type (among other things – Sam L)

For anyone wondering where it's got to, the BMW 550i has been off the road for quite some time. It developed a brake shudder (warped disc), a wheel vibration (flat spot in the alloy) and finally it sprang a nasty leak from the steering rack. All of which has meant it has now been sat in the naughty corner of the yard ever since. The parts are all sat there ready to be fitted, I just haven't had the motivation to do it yet.

We can partly blame 2020 for that. There hasn't been much call for a V8 5 Series with nine months of the year spent working from home. Although that hasn't stopped me adding to the fleet. The first purchase was a 2005 Saab 9-3 Convertible, a £900 impulse buy to relive courting days with my wife. This we did manage to make the most of in the summer, using it as our excuse to get outside whenever we could. The screech of delight emitted by our 18 month old when the roof first came down was honestly worth the price of admission.

Also discovered while aimlessly browsing the classifieds, was a rare one-owner since-import JDM Eunos RS Mk2. I was in front of it the same day and bought on the spot. I spent a lot on it, replacing the front legs, getting the underside rust protected and fitting both a new exhaust and short shifter. I then drove it only a handful of times before putting it back up for sale (unsurprisingly snapped up in the same week).

Finally there was a 3.0-litre V6 Jaguar S-Type, a surprisingly cheap auction purchase where no one else bid. Stately, beige, wallowy and wafty, it was a real treat. Sub-£400 cars really don't get much better – it even came with a private plate. And it was my first Jag, thought certainly not my last on this experience. But I sold that last week to motivate me to fix the 550i! Watch this space… SL

Renaultsport Megane 250 (among other things – Ben L)

Despite its best efforts to the contrary, 2020 was a busy year for me. I kept up the momentum from 2019 by buying cars and – to a lesser extent – having a baby, although admittedly it was the pandemic that prevented me from registering as a proper trader. I said farewell to my Audi TTRS, just before the first lockdown set in. Why did I sell it? Well, it was a bucket list purchase, but truthfully it never quite fit the sports car billing, despite being pretty much everything I expected. It was just good enough for part of me to still miss it.

Moreover, it was not conducive to the arrival of little Lowden, and I needed to free up some cash, so the 2.5-litre five-pot was replaced with a fruity 3.0-litre straight-six, nestled under the bonnet of a much more sensible five-door BMW 130i. This was my attempt to be practical, although in the end I never used the ISOFIX points even once. After lockdown lifted, we joined the SUV brigade and upgraded my wife’s old Ford Fiesta to a Kia Sportage 4 and I have to say, I bloody love it as a family car (much to the amusement of my colleagues).

Having barely covered 1,000 miles in the 130i and no longer needing my own transportation thanks to working from home, clearly it made sense just to sell the BMW and make do with one car between us. But I’d been pining after another Renaultsport Megane since selling my 250 (the second one!), so you can guess what happened next…

Last, but certainly not least, was the PH EnduroKa Ka which was legally owned by me – and is therefore the first car which I've stripped and sent to the breakers yard in the sky following its mauling at Matt Dell's hands. Not without its fair share of successful racing stories to tell, I might add. We’re still debating whether we’ll buy another Ka to race again next year, so watch this space. As for my seventh Renaultsport, I’m completely besotted and have no intention of parting with it any time soon. I want 2021 to about less buying and selling – and, hopefully, considerably more driving. BL

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