Magazine

The Best and Worst After 30 Years Behind the Wheel

Our man Kacher reflects on the highs and lows of cars he’s driven

Welcome to my secret dreams and disasters department, wherein I’ve taken the occasion of Automobile’s 30th anniversary to catalog my personal list of best and worst cars I’ve not only driven during the past four decades in this business, but also the ones I’ve owned. In other words, 30 years of automotive euphoria and depression, as seen through a pair of glasses from a 6-foot-8-inch vantage point conceived in Austria.

Driven

Best Regular Sports Car:

Ferrari 550 Maranello

Ferrari 550 Maranello
Not yet Botoxed like the 575M, available exclusively with a click-clack manual transmission, the creamiest $100K-plus slide powered by a 12-cylinder engine, this is the F12 of the ’90s.

Best Coupe/Convertible:

Bentley Continental Supersports

Bentley Continental Supersports
Forget the hideous 2015 Conti GT3-R. The real McCoy is the 2011 Supersports conceived by Paefgen & Eichhorn. Raw power, laser-sharp handling, fast-rewind brakes. Heavy, but what a car!

Best SUV:

Mercedes Benz G wagen

Mercedes-Benz G-wagen
If Putin, Obama, or Assad should ever push the wrong button, this is just about the only vehicle to bring you and your family a crucial step closer to uncontaminated food and water. In style.

Best Full-Size Sedan:

Maserati Quattroporte

Maserati Quattroporte
A decent used one costs peanuts, has more street cred than a new Ghibli, sounds like a forgotten aria by Puccini, handles with the same spiciness as the coupe, and still is a cosseting statement of good taste.

Best Compact Car:

Volkswagen Golf GTI MKVII

Volkswagen Golf GTI MKVII
Yesterday, this was Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX territory. Tomorrow, this turf might belong to the new Ford Focus RS. But right now, nothing beats the Golf GTI. Except, perhaps, the even quicker Golf R.

Best Arcane Compact Car:

Renault Mégane RS MkI

Renault Mégane RS MkI
Not a great looker but the most involving hot hatch of its decade. Drove it on the Nordschleife and loved it, despite scaring myself witless. “Never Lift” was written all over its curved rear window.

Best Arcane SUV:

Monteverdi Safari
Born as the International Harvester Scout, this oddball rarity has been sculpted by a Swiss skin doctor named Peter Monteverdi. The outcome is proper old-school coachbuilding, blending reliability and exclusivity.

Best Arcane Full-Size Sedan:

Iso Fidia
Designed by Giugiaro and engineered by Bizzarrini, the Fidia was the nonconformist’s alternative to the Quattroporte.

Best Arcane Coupe Convertible:

Cord 812 SC Phaeton
Those were the days when function followed form, from the streamlined grille over the concealed headlamps to the jewel instruments and the out-of-this-world materials. It also drives well, sort of.

Best Arcane Sports Car:

Bristol 408

Bristol 408
Panels beaten from thin aluminum, chrome-plated brass, a cabin so beautiful you could lock me in and throw away the key, a very special driving experience lauded by LJK Setright, hero of my youth.

Worst Regular Sports Car:

Shelby Series 1

Shelby Series 1
Even with Carroll himself in the driver’s seat and carte blanche from Nevada state troopers, this was an itchy, twitchy bitch. The pseudo-retro looks were way off the mark, too. One to forget.

Worst Coupe/Convertible:

Toyota Paseo

Toyota Paseo
Why the Paseo? Because it looks boring, drives like an anonymous transportation appliance, and scores a big fat zero on the must-have scale. In other words, a typical yawn-a-mile, mid-’90s Toyota.

Worst Arcane Sports Car:

Vector M12

Vector M12
Jerry Wiegert’s M12 could have been the new Knight Rider. It had the looks, the space-age cockpit, and the stats to dwarf any Ferrari. Shame most of the promising genes were lost in translation.

Worst Compact Car:

Smart Fortwo

Smart Fortwo
Call me ignorant, but unless you are a city slicker, the Fortwo is little more than a high-performance double-seater wheelchair with airbags. Try it in winter, on the autobahn, or through crosswinds. Not.

Worst Full-Size Sedan:

Mitsubishi Debonair AMG

Mitsubishi Debonair AMG
When everything was still solid between Daimler and Mitsubishi, AMG created this yakuza-friendly battleship with wheel spats and spoilers, presumably for a lifetime supply of cheap sake.

Worst Arcane Coupe/Convertible:

BMW 3200 CS

BMW 3200 CS
Design by Bertone, check. Technology by BMW, check. So far, so good. But please don’t drive it. The big coupe feels as ponderous as the sedans—vague steering, poor brakes, and hopeless handling.

Worst SUV:

SsangYong Rodius

SsangYong Rodius
Ken Greenley, former head of RCA design, must have been strapped for cash. How else could you explain the rear end of this semi-hearse that should have been banned from driving in daylight?

 

Worst Arcane SUV:

Laforza 5

Laforza 5.0, aka Rayton Fissore Magnum
Quality is a fickle thing. Just ask the Italian police who were burdened with Magnum cop cars. When U.S. assembly began in 1993, the self-titled Range Rover rival was already dead in the water.

Worst Arcane Compact Car:

Yugo 45L
Slobodan Zastava’s Fiat clones built in the former Yugoslavia were kind of OK, but the 45L was the beginning of the end. Poorly made and engineered, it steered the brand straight to bankruptcy.

Worst Arcane Full-Size Sedan:

Monica 560
Another futile attempt to achieve stardom by fusing a Detroit V-8 with a chic Euro-style wrapping. Great shape, lovely interior. But you could not get parts, and corrosion was Monica’s best friend.

Owned

Worst Sports Car:

2004 Porsche 996 Turbo Cabriolet Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 996 Turbo Cabriolet Tiptronic
The wife wanted a convertible. The wife needed a two-pedal layout. The wife drove the damn thing only twice. The rest of the time, hubby was stuck with the wrong bodystyle and the wrong gearbox.

Best SUV:

2015 Range Rover Sport SDV8

2015 Range Rover Sport SDV8
If your driver’s license is hanging by a thread, try the RR to calm you down and give torque priority over power. The Sport is heavy and does not ride well, but it is an unbeatable rush-hour cocoon.

Best Coupe/Convertible:

2003 BMW M3

2003 BMW M3
The paddle-shift cars were a curse, but the manual six-speeder was as good a man-machine-interface as the slick steering, the bull’s-eye brakes, and the sweet engine. New M4? Thanks, but no thanks.

Best Sports Car:

2010 Nissan GT R

2010 Nissan GT-R
True, it blew its engine after only 9,000 miles, the grinding diff woke up the neighbors in winter, and parts were priced for millionaires. But at the time, it beat everything. I repeat, everything.

Best Compact Car:

1974 BMW 2000tii touring

1974 BMW 2000tii touring
Mine was Reseda Green metallic, had an electric sunroof, and I loved it. In the ’70s, 130 horsepower was no mean feat, and the handling was crisp enough to justify sick bags in the passenger door pocket.

Best Full-Size Sedan:

1991 Mercedes benz 500E

1991 Mercedes-Benz 500E
Shame they didn’t paint them taxi beige, which would have maximized the stealth appeal. Hard to tell apart from a dopey 200D at a glance, this oversexed underdog ate 911s for breakfast.

Worst SUV:

2001 Range Rover 4

2001 Range Rover 4.6 HSE
Joe Lucas, prince of darkness and purveyor of smoke-producing wiring, had cast his spell on our Range Rover, which developed all kinds of electrical eccentricities. Come to think of it, it was also a dog to drive.

Worst Coupe/Convertible:

2003 Mercedes BENZ CLK55 AMG Cabriolet
2003 Mercedes-BENZ CLK55 AMG Cabriolet

Mistake No. 1: At the age of 51, I bought a car designed for geriatrics.

Mistake No. 2: It was a convertible.

Mistake No. 3: With Germany’s thirstiest V-8.

Result: A truly forgettable AMG effort.

Worst Compact Car:

1973 Alfa Romeo Alfasud TI

1973 Alfa Romeo Alfasud TI
Previously owned by my father, this Soylent Green curse started rusting the day I registered it in my name. After less than three years, I traded her in and she went straight to the shredder.

Worst Full-Size Sedan:

1969 Peugeot 404 injection

1969 Peugeot 404 injection
“Timing case cover” became the catchword for our disease-ridden bronze beauty with almond leather seats and a sunroof. Not to mention crankshaft imbalance and vomiting brake hydraulics.

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