The British Motor Show may not have the international prestige with the major manufacturers these days. Mercedes brought only its SLR, which it has to be said one of the sexiest cars it has right now, and BMW didn't show up at all.
Luckily for Britain, it has a burgeoning supercar industry of its own and Ferrari and Maserati brought a large selection of its machines. And Britain has such a strong scene at the moment that the Germans were barely missed.
The controversial 612 Scaglietti made its official UK debut alongside the Maserati Quattroporte, GranSport Coupe and MC-12. The sister brands shared a stand and certainly impressed the crowds in attendance, with Maserati building on its recent progress with a succession of sexy Grand Tourers.
The Enzo-based MC-12 is a thinly veiled marketing exercise, but then most of us would want the results. It is way sexier than the Enzo, even though the mechanicals remain the same, but only a few will be made to homologate the GT car and they will remain rarer than rocking-horse dung.
Porsche bought the 911 Turbo S out for its first public showing, but in truth there's not much different to look at. The evolution model has 30 bhp more than the Turbo, as well as Porsche's slick communications center and ceramic brakes. European Car has already tested this machine on the Nordschleife, and while the four-wheel-drive can provide grip at the expense of involvement, it's the most supremely confident car to come from Stuttgart bar the Porsche Carrera GT.
The biggest stars were homegrown supercars--especially the Noble M14. Having cemented his reputation as a legend with the M12, a raw racer for the road, Lee Noble turned his mind to a more luxurious Grand Tourer with just as much bite.
His latest piece of plastic-bodied, space-framed fun is already a winner: Noble expects 200 sales and 30 placed orders months in advance of any test drive at the show alone.
A top speed of 190 mph and a 0-to-60-mph dash of 4.3 sec. comes from the twin-turbo 3-liter Ford unit--a Mondeo's loss is the world's gain.
A price tag of £74,900 makes this machine particularly worrying competition for the supercar legends, as the M12 GTO-3R has already shaken the tree. It's lighter than most, at 2,420 lb, and knowing Noble it should demolish them on handling.
They also brought the GTC, a 290-bhp open-topped version of the M12. Removable roof panels should make this an attractive proposition for the posing set, and Noble will certainly endeavour to make this car as stiff as the awesome predecessor, but the hard-top.
Caterham brought the R500 Evolution, a 1,034-lb rollerskate with a 250-bhp Rover K-Series engine. Little has changed on this classic design, with its outboard suspension and racecar fell, except for the extensive use of carbon-fiber to strip the last piece of weight from this anorexic motor. It costs a hefty £42,000, but then it goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 sec. and 100 mph in 10.73 sec., and takes corners like nothing else.
For those on a tighter budget, Caterham unveiled a 1.4-liter Rover-engined Seven that develops just 100 bhp but still gets to 60 mph in 6.5 sec. It's not nearly as sexy as the 500R, but it's an affordable hobby car and if you run one of these, you need a different daily driver.
Marcos turned out in force to announce major steps forward under the now autonomous control of Silicon Valley whizzkid Tony Stelliga, including a partnership with motorsport legend Prodrive that includes a facility on its Banbury site and a test track.
Stelliga unveiled his 5.7-liter Corvette-engined V8 GTO. Two versions are offered: an entry-level 350-bhp model with a five-speed manual gearbox and 17-in. alloy wheels, and the TSO R/T (from £44,950) with 400-bhp, six-speed transmission, sportier suspension and 18-in. wheels. The latter, which weighs 2,398 lb, does 0 to 60 mph in 4 sec., gets to 100 mph in 9 sec. and goes on to a top speed of over 185 mph.
Jem Marsh has had no part in this Marcos, and has sold out completely to Stelliga. He was present at the launch, though, and was one of many that weren't totally won over by the two-tone paint job or the distinctly TVR feel, which comes as no surprise as it was penned by former Blackpool designer Damian McTaggart.
Marcos's cars used to be a flamboyant and radical alternative to TVR. They were in the same ballpark, of course, but wearing very different colours. Now there is little to choose visually, and Marcos may have underestimated the brand loyalty and general regard for the Blackpool company by attempting to tread so violently on its toes.
TVR bought the awesome Sagaris that is close to ready, with a transparent GRP wing that makes this a new Batmobile in waiting. This car looks like someone went mad with the vent-effect in Adobe Photoshop, and only this quirky company could carry it off, but customers are clearly salivating at the prospect of hitting 60 mph in 3.6 sec.
Peter Wheeler's crew also bought the new Tuscan 2, which has a new aero package and handling that should satisfy the masses. TVRs are generally too good for everyday drivers, as they are built with zero understeer in mind. Press man Ben Samuelson informed me that a Porsche Boxster felt like a Ford Granada in corners compared to his daily drive, and driving the Tuscan S myself I knew what he meant.
For the Tuscan 2 the company has deliberately dialled in the tiniest fleck of understeer in a bid to "de-mental" the car. It should be a kinder experience for TVR novices, while the true sportscar fans will go for the Tuscan S that has retains its fang-sharp handling. The new car sold three weeks' worth of production each and every day at the show, so it has gone down well.
Morgan brought a selection of retro-looking new cars, including the 3-liter Duratec-engined Roadster, which replaces the Plus Eight. It should have superior balance, make 60 mph in 4.9 sec. and carry on up to 134 mph. There is something quintessentially English about a Morgan and this one costs £29,375 as well, which is an awful lot of character for less than Boxster money.
Running boards, frog-eye headlights and a proud, traditional grill don't really belong in the modern era, but then Morgan has a loyal customer base that is set to bring him 750 sales this yea--and he's coming over here.The Aero 8 has now been fully revised to beat the federal safety tests ready for launch over here in America. It has a 325-bhp BMW 4.4-liter V8, a six-speed gearbox, ABS, a limited slip diff' and a variety of other goodies. The US allocation is already gone for the first year, so get in quick if you want one of these unique motors.
Farboud finally bought a complete GTS to the show and it looks like this dream is about to take the final step. Sales should be great, this is a hell of a lot of car for the £78,000 price tag.
Arash Farboud has attracted suspicion from the industry, but it is now definitely here. The 580-bhp twin-turbo machine weighs just 2600lb, and looks stunning, as well as flying to 60 mph in 3.3 sec. and carrying on all the way to 200 mph. Along with the Noble it could yet be one of the superstars of the British industry.
The Ariel Atom was out with a Honda VTEC engine that pumps out 275 bhp with the help of a supercharger. Weighing just 1,100 lb, this Meccano set on wheels is brain twistingly quick and is yet another pocket rocket for the trackday enthusiast that doesn't fancy a Le Mans-styled car. The Ariel is certainly innovative, and this latest incarnation promises to be something else.
Renault gave its Modus MPV two world premieres, one in Madrid the week before the UK show and one at Birmingham itself. It's amazing how many companies do these multiple unveilings, and they seem to get away with it.
It's really a miniature scenic, which is really a miniature Espace. None of them are anything to get excited about.Fiat has pinned its hopes on the new Panda and so far the signs are good. It's a typically tall-sided hatchback of the new breed. But it's stylishly put together, cheap and better built than ever before. At less than £7,000 it's a phenomenal city car, but not much else. A restyled Multipla, Fiat Doblo and the Trepiuno concept joined Citroen's stand.
There was also yet another amphibious vehicle from the folks at Gibbs. It's a cross between a Humm-Vee and a boat, and I thought anything that took a Hummer off the road could only be good news...
This one is aimed at military use, but I will volunteer to test one only if the designer and CEO are strapped to the hull. Motorshows just don't need this.
Lee Noble is fast becoming a heroic figure in the British car industry. The man who produced the development chassis for the McLaren F1 launched his own company in 1999 and last year sold 300 cars, including 70 in the U.S. If all goes to plan, this could increase to around 850 over the next couple of years.
Crucial to this expansion plan is the new M14 supercar, which was launched at the British Motor Show. Priced at £74,950 ($134,206), it takes Noble into new territory and targets the 911 Turbo and 360 Modena. Styled by Lee Noble himself, it's subtler and more sophisticated than the extrovert M12. It still has plenty of impact, but the front end has more than a hint of 360 about it and Noble watchers might worry that the overall effect is a little too supercar-generic.The simply styled interior uses high-grade materials, and there are some nice details, such as a tacho needle that changes from blue to pink to red as the revs rise. It's also pleasingly versatile, with two 150-liter trunks, mounted at the front and rear. The only major criticism concerns the switchgear, which is too obviously sourced from a parts bin. The steering wheel, for example, is pinched from a Ford Focus.The engine is mid-mounted and its plenum chamber is visible beneath the rear screen. A heavily modified version of Ford's 2968cc V6, it boasts 400 bhp and 385 lb-ft of torque. The Noble only weighs 1,150kg, so claims of 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 sec. and 190 mph sound realistic.The M14 goes on sale in the UK in October but it will probably be a year or two before it reaches the U.S. It represents a bold step for such a small company but Lee Noble is used to proving the doubters wrong.
Noble M12 GTC
The M14 was not the only new Noble to be unveiled in Birmingham. The M12GTC is the production version of a car that was first shown at the 2002 show. In essence, this is a convertible version of the M12 supercar and will sell for £44,950 ($80,488). The conversion from hard to open top is achieved via two GRP composite panels, which can be removed and stored behind the seats. For the first time on an M12, the GTC also offers some luggage capacity. This has been achieved by moving the intercooler and swapping the twin turbos for a single unit. As a result, the power output of the 3.0 V6 has dropped by 17% but the peak of 295 bhp should still be sufficient to whisk the GTC from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 sec. and on to 160 mph. This car will be sold in the U.S. alongside the current M12.
TVR Tuscan 2
With the major manufacturers choosing to launch their models elsewhere, it was left to the Britain's specialist manufacturers to generate some interest. TVR launched the Tuscan 2, which looks set to become its biggest selling model over the next 2 or 3 years. Ostensibly a revised version of the Tuscan targa that was originally launched in 2000, the new range also includes a cabriolet version. Priced at £39,750 ($71,177), the convertible costs the same as the revised Targa and will be available as a standard 350-bhp Speed Six or a 400-bhp Tuscan S.The roof mechanism employs a carbon-fiber section that unclips and stores in the surprisingly generous boot. It reveals an interior has been simplified for the new model with a reliance on a digital dashboard and a series of shift lights. TVR continues to manufacturer its own, bespoke switchgear and seats, as well as its own engines and suspension components.The standard Tuscan 2 features a revised suspension set-up that places a greater emphasis on comfort and everyday versatility. It's softer than the outgoing model but it's worth remembering that as with all TVR's, everything is relative. The more focused "S" features a more aggressive set-up.
The second TVR model to be launched in Birmingham was the Typhon. Building on TVR's Le Mans experience, it boasts a carbon fiber body and an aluminum honeycomb chassis construction in the interests of light weight and structural rigidity. Three versions are available - the 4-liter 400-bhp T400R, the 4.2-liter 440-bhp T440R and the supercharged 585-bhp Typhon. The latter, which also features twin intercoolers, pumps out 467lb ft of torque and has a power to weight ratio of 530bhp per metric ton. Expect 0 to 60 mph in under 4 sec., while TVR claims a top speed of 215mph.
The cabin of the Typhon range is finished in carbon fiber and aluminum to create a utilitarian feel, while the seats are a mix of carbon and leather. It's far from cheap--prices range from £74,995 ($134,287) to £84,995 ($152,193) - but TVR is already claiming a two year waiting list. Sadly, there are no plans to introduce it in the U.S.
Porsche 911 Turbo S
Having released pictures of the all-new 911, Porsche has sought to boost the exposure of the existing Turbo model (which will be sold alongside the new Carrera) by introducing the Turbo S. Modifications to the turbos, intercoolers and the engine management system have increased the power output by 30 bhp to 450 bhp, while the torque rises from 412 lb-ft to 457 lb-ft. Porsche's Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), which weigh 50% less than the steel equivalent, are fitted as standard to the S.Both the coupe and cabriolet models are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a Tiptronic S automatic transmission can be specified as an option. Every S model features silver painted 18in alloys, unique leather upholstery and aluminum colored dials. In the UK, the S costs £99,300 in coupe form and £105,030 as a cabriolet. This represents a hefty £8,900 premium over the standard Turbo.
Renault's passion for MPV's continues unabated. Joining the Scenic, Grand Scenic, Espace and Grand Espace in the range is the tiny Modus. A rival to the Opel Meriva and the awful Ford Fusion, it seeks to offer exceptional versatility in a compact package. The rear seat folds to the benefit of passenger or parcel and the rear bench can be configured to accept two or three people. Up front, the instruments are centrally mounted and there's a comprehensive list of options including a full length glass sunroof and various telematic solutions. The petrol engines range from 1.2 to 1.6 liters and there are a pair of 1.5-liter turbodiesels. It's likely to cost from around £10,000 to £13,500 when it goes on sale this summer.