They were all unique, innovative, multi-faceted and ace to drive. And each will hold its value.
By Ben Whitworth
1. Audi Ur Quattro
Audi’s Quattro story started here, but the car you want is the later 20V model. The earlier versions were fine machines – grippy and robust, but the 217bhp 20v added grunt and attitude to the equation. An Audi with true performance character. Until the R8 we weren’t sure they would ever replicate such heights again.
2. BMW M5
The E39 M5 marked the 400bhp sweet spot where relentless V8 power, impeccable chassis balance, four-seat luxury and technical mastery were perfectly balanced. Purists decried the move away from the straight six, but this family-toting warp speed express will always be our favourite M5. So robust it’s an investment.
3. Lotus Elise Mk1
The Elise was a distillation of everything Colin Chapman held sacred – and back in 1996, it was everything the company needed to rescue it from financial ruin. Again. Small, light, technically advanced and gorgeous – thank you Julian Thomson – it defined Lotus for a new generation of drivers. Poise and agility beats power and pace? Talk about rules changing…
4. Fiat Coupe 20v Turbo
The Chris Bangle-designed Coupe looked like a slash-backed alien life-form when it landed in 1996, and the rabid 220bhp five-pot turbo had enough grunt to smoke its front wheels to 60mph in 6.5seconds and onto 160mph. A serious Boxster-basher? From Fiat? Oh yes, and it sounded like a scream too. Will break, mind.
5. Ford Racing Puma
Puma was a Fiesta underneath, but handled like a go-kart. If only it had more power, we whinged. Ford replied with the glorious Tickford-fettled Racing Puma. It had 30bhp extra and a £21k tag – we whinged, again. Fewer than 500 sold; so rare then, but hugely desirable now.
6. Nissan Skyline R34
The last iteration to wear the beloved Skyline name, the R34 embodied 41 years of Nissan’s obsession with technically advanced muscle cars engineered to make European exotica look and feel flabby, dull and expensive. Finding a low-mileage GT-R that hasn’t been fiddled with will be tricky. But you will never regret it.
7. Noble M12
One of the UK’s most complete performance cars, the Noble did the impossible and gave Germany and Italy a run for its Euros. A leap of faith brought you blistering pace, telepathic steering, superb handling and a depth of engineering talent rarely seen since. Leaps of faith often end in tears, but the GTO is a stealth supercar. Plastic classic in waiting.
8. Renault Clio V6
The mid-engined V6 Clio was like a schoolboy doodle that drove straight – or rather spun – into showrooms. Tricky dynamics, a short wheelbase and zero steering lock made the MkI a real hedgerow fan, the tweaked MkII less so. ‘The Frog’s bollocks,’ we said.
9. TVR T350
The oft forgotten link between Tamora and Sagaris, the T350 was effectively a coupe version of the Tamora with more eye-catching curves. Typically TVR – violently fast, fragile, demanding of concentration and wallet, life-affirming… The silly money goes on louder TVRs, the clever(er) money on this one.
10. Vauxhall VXR220
The first car to wear Vauxhall’s VXR badge, the blown 220 was such a scintillatingly fast and engaging car that we named it Performance Car of the Year 2003. It was arguably a better car than its Elise twin, but Griffin badge did a fine job of deterring buyers. Until now, perhaps? No?