Costin Amigo

Costin Amigo 1970s British classic sports car

Frank Costin – creator of the Amigo – was an automotive pioneer. That said, he learned a lot of what he knew from the aircraft industry. He had been a top aeronautical engineer in his time. In the Fifties, Costin shifted his skill-set to motor racing. Lotus and Vanwall benefitted directly. Indirectly, the ripples of his expertise spread far wider. When Frank Costin met Jem Marsh, they founded sports car maker MarCos. The marque had a unique take on English eccentricity. That was fully in keeping with Costin’s character. An out and out maverick, he did things his way. That certainly extended to his cars’ construction. Costin liked wood. The chassis in Marcos’ first sports cars were made from laminated marine plywood.

In time, Marcos moved to more orthodox chassis. That was probably partly as a result of Marsh’s input. Costin, though, was still a believer. He sought backing to build a car of his own. Enter the Costin Amigo! Its monocoque frame was forged from, yes, plywood – albeit with strengthening pine strips bonded on. The chassis’ light weight was echoed by a glassfibre body. The latter was sublimely smooth – both of shape and finish. Visually and aerodynamically, it cut straight to the chase.

The Amigo’s engine, drive-train and suspension were sourced from the Vauxhall VX4/90. Indeed, the Amigo was built close by Vauxhall’s Luton HQ. Fittingly – given Costin’s former employment – it was at an airfield. And the Amigo’s performance was jet-plane impressive. Top speed was 137mph. Handling was high-calibre. Design-wise, only the spartan interior let the side down a tad. It certainly contributed to the Amigo’s woefully low sales. A scant eight units were shifted. To be fair to the Amigo, had Frank Costin been more of a marketing man, it might have helped. To be fair to Frank Costin – engineering was all he knew. Anyway – the Costin Amigo story was richer than that of many cars that sold a thousand times more. Not that the bank manager would have seen it that way!

Ford Escort RS

For many motorists, the Ford Escort RS was a must-have. Especially when sporting ‘go faster’ stripes, it ticked all the right boy racer boxes. RWD – plus light bodywork – were just the ticket … sometimes literally! Starring in Seventies TV show The Professionals bolstered the Escort’s hard-hitting image. As well as doing its sales figures no harm at all!

The RS, though, was more than a rocketship roadster. It doubled up as a top-flight rally car. The Mexico model marked Ford’s win in the London to Mexico Rally. The smaller RS1800 version was still ultra-competitive. With its twin-cam motor – and all round disc brakes – many an owner took to the stages. On the road, too, it did not disappoint. An X-Pack of optional extras saw to that. Between its nose and the tarmac, the RS2000 sported a ‘droopsnoot’ – a polyurethane spoiler/air dam. It cut drag, according to Ford.

Technologically, then, the Escort impressed. Certainly, its suspension was on solid ground. A set of MacPherson struts sorted the front. A live axle – on leaf springs – looked after the rear. The Escort’s monocoque steel shell could be strengthened. Its in-line four engine produced 86bhp. Top speed was 103mph. Later versions upped both stats. The gearbox was 4-speed manual. As ’70s interiors went, the Escort’s was slick. An array of dials, bucket seats and a sports steering-wheel all helped with harum-scarum high-speed shenanigans. Which – if you had bought a Ford Escort RS – was what you wanted!

Aston Martin Lagonda

There was little doubt which car was the star of the ’76 Earls Court Show. The Aston Martin Lagonda fired up a furore of excitement around its stand. 170 orders were placed, there and then. Aston – still reeling from recent travails – were on cloud nine. Then the problems set in! The Lagonda sported futuristic looks – designed by William Towns. His cutting edge styling included not just the exterior lines, but the cabin area, too. A digital dash – and touch-sensitive controls – seemed straight out of Star Trek. But, this was ’70s Britain – not ’90s Silicon Valley. Technical gremlins surfaced from the get-go. As a result, the Lagonda’s launch was delayed three years. By the time it was finally released, its price tag had risen to £32,000. Aston thanked their lucky stars that it was still in demand!

In terms of traditional engineering, the Lagonda was fine. Its chassis was an updated version of a tried and tested set-up. Suspension, too, had been seen before. Following a few tweaks to sort an increase in weight, ride and handling were spot-on. Press reviews were upbeat. The Lagonda’s engine, especially, was praised. Its 5.3-litre V8 – with quad-cam layout – made 340bhp. Top speed was 140mph. That was impressive – for a saloon car weighing nearly two tons. Transmission was 3-speed auto.

Ultimately, the Lagonda was all about leisure. Avant-garde though it was, it also harked back to a more luxurious past. On its launch, then – in ’79 – Lord and Lady Tavistock were first in line. Air conditioning – and electric seats – came as standard. Coachbuilders Tickford turned out three stretched Lagondas – complete with colour TVs. But, for all of its state of the art buzz – and genteel pretensions – the Lagonda did not sell well. By the end of its run – in 1990 – a scant 645 cars had been built. It had signally failed to back up the hype – commercially-speaking, anyway. The high-tech teething troubles had not helped. In that regard, however, it paved the way for cars to come. At the time, though, Aston Martin’s Lagonda bit off more of the future than it could comfortably chew!

Lotus Elan Sprint

The Elan was launched in ’62. Lotus – based at Hethel, in Norfolk, England – instantly joined the ranks of quality sports car manufacturers. Petite though it was, it packed plenty of muscle. Beneath its lightweight glass-fibre skin, both engine and chassis were rock-solid. Acceleration was searing, handling supple, the ride comfortable. In short, Lotus had hit the automotive jackpot!

The Elan’s power was produced by a twin-cam in-line four. The Ford motor made 105bhp. Top speed for the Elan was 115mph. It was fitted with a 4-speed ‘box – also sourced from Ford. That all sat within a taut and tidy Lotus chassis. The frame was steel backbone. Suspension featured coils and wishbones up front – with Chapman struts and lower wishbones at the rear. Triumph provided the steering rack. Steel wheels were centre-locking. All four were stopped by Girling disc brakes.

Lotus’ Elan Sprint arrived in ’71. As its name suggested, it took the standard Elan’s performance up a gear. Key to that was the Sprint’s big-valve cylinder head. It had been expertly fettled by Tony Rudd. He and his team upped the output by 25% – to 126bhp. The new motor was more oil-tight, too – and quieter. It was attached to a set of Weber carburettors. The Sprint marked a turning-point. From then on, Lotus began to move more up-market. In so doing, it slid ever further from its kit-car roots. The Elan remained in production for ten or so years. During that time, it helped turn Lotus into a serious player in the sports car business!

Caterham 7

The Caterham 7 began life as the Lotus 7. Colin Chapman – boss of the latter marque – claimed to have built the prototype in a weekend, in ’57. Lotus manufactured the Seven for fifteen years. It was marketed through Caterham Cars – run by Graham Nearns. In ’73, Lotus stopped making the 7. The rights for it passed to Caterham. They set about building a plastic-bodied Series 4 Seven. Encountering issues with the new material, however, Nearns and his team went back to the aluminium-bodied Series 3 model.

Caterham were committed to the ‘pure driving experience’. Key to that was light weight – always a top priority for Chapman, too. To that end, the 7’s nose cone and wings were glass-fibre. As said, the light aluminium body was already in situ. Beneath, sat a tubular steel chassis. The 7’s rear axles had been sourced from Ford and Morris – though Caterham would later install a De Dion-based set-up. Caterham kept faith with Lotus’ Twin Cam motor. The 126bhp engine was spot-on … until stocks ran out. Ford duly did the engine honours. Tuning options came in the form of GT, Sprint and Supersprint. Subsequently, more power was provided by a Cosworth BDA motor. And still more, by a Vauxhall 2.0-litre – producing 175bhp. From ’91 onwards, Caterhams came with Rover K-Series engines. There was a choice of 1.4 and 1.4 Supersport – or, 1.6 and 1.6 Supersport – units.

The top-of-the-range Seven was the JPE – Jonathan Palmer Evolution – version. Named after the F1 driver who helped develop it, the JPE encapsulated the Caterham creed. Technically a roadster, its race-spec 250bhp engine catapulted it to 150mph. It hit 60 in less than 3.5s. The JPE 7 could out-drag a Ferrari F40 – right up to 100mph. Which made it the fastest-accelerating car in the world, at the time. With no windscreen – and wings made from carbon-fibre – the JPE 7 had ‘track-tool’ written all over it. So, the Caterham 7 was – as Colin Chapman had ensured – a one-stop shop for automotive exhilaration!

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