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When I was child growing up in the 80s, there were two cars I loved above all else: the Porsche 911 and the Saab 900. My love affair with Porsche has never faltered but the same could not be said for Saab.

Why did I fall in love with Saabs?

Saabs were different and so were their owners. If they were born a few decades later you would call them Hipsters today.

Saab owners had Ikea furniture before Ikea was a thing.

They were using Apple Macs when no one used Macs.

Saab owners listened to their Fleetwood Mac vinyl on a Harman Kardon hi-fi turntable when everyone had switched to CDs because “it just sounds better”.

The strange thing is maybe the 900 shouldn’t have worked at all.

Its engine was a Triumph-designed slanted 4-pot and was put in the car backwards, longitudinally mounted driving the front wheels. The handbrake locked the front wheels, interesting for hill starts, not so much for handbrake turns.

In an aviation design cue the windscreen and dash were curved towards the driver, because as every Saab owner will tell you, “They also make fighter planes”.

All the driver would need to view on the dash was kept just below eye level; thought was put into where every switch, gauge, even the radio was placed.

The 84 900 Turbo 16-valve model would whisk impeccably dressed architects round the construction sites of London as Fleet Street stock brokers battled to keep their 911 from hugging a tree.

When the original 900’s successor arrived in ‘94 under GM’s management, it had sadly been reduced to a reskinned Vauxhall Vectra. The engine was conventionally mounted and it had the soggy handling of a wet jam donut. Over the following years, Saab’s quirkiness would slowly evaporate perhaps driving away some of their original customer base.

And after years of mismanagement, Saab would eventually file for bankruptcy in 2011. This isn’t the end of the Saab story, but I’m unsure how much future there is in trying to sell a 13 year-old model on even older GM parts to a customer base with eye for good design.

Which is a shame because for a good while there, Saab made a car that was truly different and defied convention.

So what do those quirky Saab owners drive now? Well according to one study of former owners, it’s most likely a Honda or a Volkswagen, so much for being different.

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I’m a big fan of vehicle restoration shows. Many are made across the pond with audacious big budget builds of exceptional cars.

However here’s why I think our very own Wheeler Dealers are the best in the business.

Real cars

It isn’t a show about cars you can only dream of. With some exceptions the majority of the cars featured can be bought and owned by everyone.

And the passion for the cars shines through in Mike and Ed regardless if it’s a £400 Capri or a £45,000 Corvette.

Explanations

The audience isn’t spared the details, each stage of the buy and build is given a clear commentary.

Swapping out the old points ignition for an electronic distributor, Ed tells you why. Bleeding the brakes, Ed tells you how.

Searching for the same car? Mike tells you the issues to be aware of with the model and where to find them.

No drama

Have you ever seen Ed swear? Does Mike storm around the workshop ranting about costs or how long a job is taking?

No, they’re professionals so there’s no nonsense and no reality TV attempts to inject artificial tension and unrealistic deadlines.

I do wonder though if there is an outtake real of Ed swearing, I mean some of those cars deserved a bit of profanity.

The small businesses

For every other car there’s a man in a shed or a little engineering firm that can do a unique repair or improvement at a reasonable price. These specialists and enthusiasts keep old cars alive, hats off to those heroes.

The dynamic duo

Ed’s expertise to fix almost any car or Mike’s charismatic ability to drive a hard bargain alone wouldn’t make a show. But with their powers combined we’ve had 12 years and over 100 cars put back to their best.

So hold out your hand and tune into Wheeler Dealers new episodes, Monday at 9pm on Discovery.

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Sometimes I look at Minis and i’m like
“What the hell bro!?”

I recently drove my sister’s new 1.2 Corsa and although my expectations were low, I was shocked at how lackluster its performance was. Apparently it has 83 HP, quite where this was hiding in the rev range I wasn’t sure, but it was notably sluggish unless being completely thrashed.

I had driven its ancestor, the venerable 1.2 Nova with a meager 55 HP, many years earlier and this was a nippy car. How could this modern Corsa feel so slow? Kerb weight. While the Nova barely tipped the scales at a measly 750 kg, the new Corsa was over 1,100 kg.

Increased safety provisions, interior comforts, and electrical devices have piled the pounds on cars over the years. This is no bad thing, but goes a long way to explain why some cars feel no quicker and don’t deliver substantially better fuel economy than their 80s equivalents.

Here’s the Captain’s list of popular cars that have chubbier descendants.

Volkswagen Golf


Then 750 kg ? 805 kg
Now 1,205 kg - 1,395 kg

Launched in 1974, the Golf would go on to set the standard for hatch backs for 40 years. In 1976, the Gti version would spawn a generation of competing “Hot Hatches” throughout the 80s. Sadly, increased weight in the later 8-valve Gti Mk3/4 models meant they were slower than the originals. With the Mk5, the Gti returned to form and no longer offered modest engines undeserving of the Gti badge.

BMW 3 Series


Then 1,010 kg – 1,180 kg
Now 1,490 kg – 1,725 kg

We first saw the 3 series in 1975 and since then it has gone on to become the benchmark of all other executive saloons. The 3 came with some excellent engines for the time; silky smooth 6-cylinder offerings with Bosch fuel injection. However, despite the continued performance increases of the range topping models, by the 90s the 1.6-litre 4-cylinder models were feeling decidedly lethargic.

Porsche 911


Then 1,030 kg - 1,080 kg
Now 1,380 kg – 1,675 kg

The Porsche ran from 1964 to 1998 with air-cooled engines so you can forgive some weight gain for the water and cooling systems in the later models. Over the years, the displacement of those engines has also increased from 2 litres in the original to 4 litres in the latest GT3 RS. Regardless of weight gains, performance for these cars has increased with every incarnation over the last. Although die hard Porsche fans maintain the 993 was the last true 911.

The Mini


Then 610 kg - 645 kg
Now 1,145 kg - 1,215 kg

My, how the Mini has grown! First launched in 1959, the Mini kept its proportions largely unchanged for 41 years until the release of the new “Mini” in 2000. The new Mini might have lost some of the small charm of the original but it hasn’t stopped them becoming a popular brand with substantial sales. Even though the new model is considerably heavier, new engines made sure it was never slower than the original.

Fiat 500


Then 470 kg - 525 kg
Now 1,070 kg – 1,150 kg

The original Fiat 500 was launched in 1957 and brought transport to the Italian masses. Its 2-cylinder air-cooled engine in the rear had just 13 bhp. When its successor was launched in 2007, its engine had moved to the front in a more traditional water-cooled arrangement, although it still offered a 2-cylinder version, albeit with a much more healthy 85 bhp.

Honda Civic


Then 615 kg – 795 kg
Now 1,240 kg – 1,425 kg

The Honda Civic conquered international markets for the Japanese brand and was released in America at an opportune time: the 1973 oil crisis. From its humble beginnings the Civic has gone from strength to strength and this year, the 306 bhp Type R version set a FWD record-setting 7:50 lap time on the Nurburgring, beating many famous sports cars such as the Lamborghini Gallardo.

Ford Fiesta


Then 730 kg – 775 kg
Now 1,040 kg – 1,100 kg

The Fiesta has been a super mini success on our roads since 1976, consistently appearing in best selling lists year on year. The original base 1-litre model produced a paltry 39 bhp while today’s 1-litre ecoboost is no slouch, producing 3 times that at 123 bhp.

Do you prefer lighter cars of old or do they feel flimsy compared to today’s chunkier offerings?

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Kia is really turning up the wick when it comes to their performance offerings. Just two years ago they didn’t have a single performance car in their entire line-up – then out of nowhere, Kia Europe threw the Pro_Cee’d GT (I’ll just call it the PCGT from now on) at our faces and shocked the automotive world.

They didn’t shock the automotive world by simply releasing the PCGT. They shocked people because it was actually a good car that very easily went toe-to-toe with the MK7 Golf GTi. For Kia’s first effort, it was excellent.

So excellent, in fact, that I was one of the first people in the United Kingdom to order a car in January of 2014.

The car itself has been a delight – supple road manners yet it knows how to hang on in a corner like a champ, with an engine that’ll push 300Nm (35Nm more than the brochure states) and respond well to throttle inputs. The looks, too, pretty much place it as the best looking small car you can buy right now.

Though, it wasn’t perfect (since nothing ever is), and there were some glaring foibles that stopped it from being the best in the price bracket. Coming to a stop from rather high speeds often sends the brakes into screaming agony – hell, you can even hear the disks creak and moan from inside the cabin as the pedal travel increases in a less than reassuring manner.

The steering wheel also had a few foibles – it looked good and felt good in the hand, but the gloss black insert is never clean due to its placement, and the red over-stitched GT symbol quickly goes slightly brown after your sweaty hands have rubbed over it a few hundred times, making it look dirty.

pcgt

The big thing, however, was the exhaust note. The car has a wonderful rasp from the outside that’s very befitting of a hot-hatchback, but inside the cabin you can barely hear anything. Warm up the engine and you can get some of the boom forcing its way through the firewall, but the aural excitement is a little lacking.

Kia, instead of just face-lifting the PCGT and calling it a night have made some very significant changes to the car that should make it much better to drive and even more uncomfortably close to the Golf GTI.

First is the interior. Gone is the old wheel replaced with a very chunky flat-bottomed job with much thicker grips at 10 and 2. The red stitched GT badge has also been abandoned and replaced with a subtle and classy aluminium decal. Other changes inside include a few extra lashings of chrome trim around the reshaped centre vents and window switches, and the CD player has been abolished altogether. Finally, the gloss black starter button is now machined aluminium.

pcgt interior

The brakes have also been given a tweak. The rear disks were fine, but the fronts were the ones that started to fade badly (expected, given its FWD) – so Kia have increased their size by a whopping 20mm to a total of 320mm, reducing breaking distances by 1.6m to 35m and allowing for better heat displacement.

The GT button on the steering wheel now adds some more functionality rather than simply switching the central instrument binnacle to show the Turbo and Torque gauges. When pressed, the GT button now pumps in, via the speakers, the note from the engine directly into the cabin. This can only be a good thing, as something is better than nothing at all – but hopefully it won’t end up a burbling mess like the Peugeot 308 GT.

A new turbocharger system has been added to the car. It’s still the same 1.6L Gamma Engine as the present model, but a higher pressure means better throttle response below 3000rpm, rather than an increase in overall power.

Lastly, the suspension and chassis will be getting improvements to make it handle better, eschewing its all-rounder suspension for something leaning more toward sport. To do that, they’re using the Australian tune that Kia Australia applied to their own PCGTs, and then tweaking it a little more for good measure.

Kia is serious with this car, and it’s amazing to see such a large company listen so carefully to customer complaints and acting upon them, despite the car being nowhere near its most popular model.

One thing that will be getting a few people hyped up is the new Optima. Okay, so a FWD family car isn’t exactly the pinnacle of excitement, but as the previous generation Ford Mondeo and current generation Mazda 6 have taught us, big FWD cars can be a hell of a lot of fun with a little poke and prod from some keen engineers.

Well, scour the internet for a while and you’ll find leaked images of the new European Optima sporting a rear diffuser (akin to the North American SX Turbo), twin oval tailpipes and the same GT badging present on the PCGT.

Rumoured to have the 2.0L engine from the SX Turbo pushing 250hp if not more, the Optima GT should be a fast car. Throw in the fact that Kia Europe appears to be deadly serious with its sporting intentions, you can expect a raft of brake, chassis and suspension tweaks over the American SX Turbo to make the Optima GT a fun thing to chuck around a corner - double-so for the Estate (Wagon) version that’ll drop next year.

sportspace

With the Kia GT premium saloon (rumoured to come with the Turbo V6 from the new Hyundai Genesis) green-lit for production and expected to land as a 2017MY car, Kia don’t want to do their lesser GT models half-heartedly. The PCGT was already a massive leap in the right direction, and it’s clearly going to get better from there.

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