CAR magazine may now be one of the UK’s major motoring enthusiasts’ monthlies, but it has an interesting back story. It was founded in 1962, and has always tried to keep to standard of honesty and frankness that was at odds with the rest of the rather loyal industry comments we could get easily. Who could forget the Volvo as “a domestic appliance”, the Hans Lehmann Scoop shots that other publications completely shunned, the fulsome recognition of Citroen and Peugeot’s relatively modest saloons over grander names or the criticism of 1970s Japanese products for everyday failings, such as roadholding and comfort, although not reliability or value for money?
One feature amongst several, such as the thorough comparative tests known as the Giant Test, named opinion columns and a monthly summary of tests of new products that have spread to other magazines, that is still there in 2022 is the pithy, provocative summary of all new cars offered in the UK, under the title of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, sometimes referred to as the GBU. At this time, though not now, cars were divided into “Interesting” or “Boring“. Cue endless arguments. Let’s try to pick some highlights from June 1977, the year of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Peugeot 305, Porsche 928 and the intermediate Ford Thunderbird.
That the Alfa Romeo Alfetta was judged an “all time great” may not surprise. No it wasn’t perfect, but I could go with that. And the Austin Maxi in “Interesting“? That was a surprise, but the Maxi did have many good points hidden under the dreary appearance and by the weak points. By CAR’s criteria of being better than most, and technically interesting, you can see their point.
Perhaps most telling were the Honda Civic – “Is it really Japanese?” – and the Accord – “Meets Europe’s best on their terms”
Working through the Interesting saloons, the Mercedes-Benz S Class (W-116) gets an expected high rating, as do some others that some in the British press preferred to overlook or at best clearly found hard to quantify, such as the Renault 4 (by now 16 years old) and the Simca 1100. The only Vauxhalls to get into Interesting were the Opel based Chevette and Cavalier, and the Golf was clearly flagged – “Very hard to fault now” – as was the Passat – “Gets better by the month.”
But the Austin Allegro and AMC Pacer sat side by side in Boring
Still in Boring but with a more optimistic summary was the Cadillac Seville. “Now quite decent” CAR said, which is more flattering than the BMW 1502 – “The past lingering on“. The East European cars got a bashing – the Lada was “Dreary“, the Skoda should be “sent back to Czechoslovakia” and the Moshvitch summed up as “Aaagh!“.
But CAR’s ire was perhaps reserved for Datsun – the 100F11 Cherry, 120Y Sunny, 140J Violet, 160/180B Bluebird, the 200 and 260C all got tough verdicts, the Toyota Carina was “ZZZZZZZZ” and the 1000 “Another nasty nip”
Mazda and Colt (Mitsubishi) fair a bit better and the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, freshly revised that year, gets only a lukewarm verdict – “Improved but no pace setter” – that no other British magazine would have given.
But was the worst reserved for the Morris Marina – “Embarrassment” – and the Reliant Robin – “it’s not car!“?
The dated Triumph Dolomite got called out as such, as did the older Vauxhalls and the VW Beetle. The Vanden Plas 1500, the dressed up Allegro, was fairly ridiculed. And CAR gave Volvos their typical harsh review – not much to drive or ride in, and the other benefits were available elsewhere.
The Interesting Coupes are more cheery – the Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV were named as “Sheer motoring pleasure, “BMW 633 drivers should be beware” of the the Jaguar XJ4.2C. LJKS’s preference for Bristol was noted, and Fiat coupes show well too.
The Lancia Beta variants fare well, as do the Opel Manta and Vauxhall Cavalier coupes. And the Triumph TR7, though it was identified as being almost a compact saloon. The Renault 17 was “Competent“, although the similar 15 was classed as “Acceptable but hardly exciting” but tellingly the VW Scirocco was “Delightful”
And the Boring Coupes? Aside from the Renault 15, these were the dated old British sportscars, the Rolls-Royce Corniche and Camargue and underwhelming Japanese coupes. And the Ford Capri and Triumph Stag.
Elsewhere in this edition, CAR scooped the Opel Senator, the Peugeot 305, the facelifted VW Passat (B1) and the second generation Ford Granada, as well what turned out to be a red herring new Ford Escort based n a stretched Fiesta. Still, you can’t be right all the time, and that’s five more scoops in a month than Autocar had all year.
There was also an analysis of the failed Volvo-SAAB merger, a Giant Test between the Renault 14TL, Mazda 323 and VW Golf – won by the Renault on comfort, equipment and refinement against a less powerful and noisier Golf hampered by exchange rates and a well equipped Mazda hampered by a dated layout. There was also LJK Setright driving an Aston V8, and a long term review of a Morris Marina estate, which fared better than you might expect on someone’s personal (not corporate) tab, and reliably too.
All for your 40p, or £2.64 adjusted and about half the magazine’s price now. But I’m still reading it.
(A note on car prices – the GBU included the UK list price. £1000 in 1977 is now £6611. The Cortina started at £2365, or £15600, not that far off Fiesta money now.)