Jeremy Taylor on the £67,000 sports car of the moment, how it's improved (or has it?) upon the E-Type, and what Gordon Bennett's got to do with it. Plus an alternative: the £22,000 Peugot RCZ
Fast cars, women and super-yachts: it’s no surprise that J Gordon Bennett Jnr (1841-1914) earned himself a place in the English language, his truncated name becoming an expression of amazement.
The high-society newspaper proprietor threw outrageous parties and famously ended his relationship with the socialite Caroline May by peeing into her father’s piano.
But for all the womanising, drunken antics of his youth, Bennett always maintained a lifelong interest in racing cars. And that love of combustion engines later earned his name a nobler place in motoring history books – and ensured that he is celebrated in Ireland to this day.
The Gordon Bennett Cup, started in France in 1900, was a precursor of modern-day Formula One, with wealthy racing enthusiasts competing on public roads around Europe.
As with Eurovision, the country hosting the event was that from which the previous year’s winner had sprung. However, when a British car won in 1902, the scheme went awry, since racing was banned on the mainland’s public roads.
Bennett’s solution was to transfer the race to Ireland, where a special law was passed to allow the race. According to legend, as a mark of respect for their hosts, the British entrants painted their cars the colour of shamrock (now known as British Racing Green).
On the race’s centenary, as a mark of respect to Gordon B, the Irish Tourist Board turned the old route into a well-signposted attraction that now pulls in thousands of visitors every year.
So today you can drive the 104-mile ‘track’ yourself, south of Dublin through the counties of Kildare, Carlow and Laois. It’s ideal for a weekend break, sailing from Holyhead to Dublin with Irish Ferries.
If you could choose the perfect car in which to enjoy Bennett’s circuit, you might opt for the Jaguar F-Type. Paintwork in British Racing Green is a £1,250 option, but whatever the colour, this sensational convertible is the ‘must-have’ sports car of the moment.
My £67,520 V6 S model is the middle of a three-version range, which starts at £58,520 and tops out at £79,985 for a hugely powerful V8.
I believe the 375bhp supercharged S will be more than enough for most people. It’s also guaranteed to beat the 49.2mph averaged by the winner of the 1903 race!
What makes the F-Type special is the heritage that you are buying into. Before the F, there was the E-Type – a car so good it has the added moniker of ‘iconic’ in most articles. Jaguar is careful not to link the two too closely but comparisons are obvious.
Having owned a 1963 E-Type, I can tell you there have been obvious welcome improvements during the past 50 years. I can’t say the F-Type is more beautiful or eye-catching, but at least this Jaguar is equipped with electrical wizardry that allows you to blast around an Irish corner without departing into a hedge.
The stability is largely due to the S resting on adaptive suspension. It does what it says on the tin and keeps the Jaguar beautifully poised. Steering is precise and forgiving, which simply inspires confidence in a car capable of 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds.
Eight-speed automatic transmission is standard but there’s a sport option, which also allows you to flick up and down through the gearbox by pushing the stick fore and aft. (Gear-change paddles mounted on the steering column are an idea borrowed from Formula One but serve little purpose.)
In fact, I kept the car locked in automatic mode for the Gordon Bennett Route and enjoyed it just as much as a manual. The F-Type is a grand tourer that doesn’t feel enormous, like the sibling XKR model, or a BMW 6 Series. It’s more like an expensive Mazda MX-5 with attitude. High praise indeed.
Also, while Jaguar’s design director Ian Callum has done sterling work on the outside, I’m not so convinced by the cabin. Some of the buttons on the centre console lack the exclusivity you might expect at this price. The seats are rock hard and the boot tiny.
Still, with the canvas hood down and the exhausts roaring, the F-Type is irresistible. Just the sort of motor car an outrageous chap like J Gordon Bennett would have enjoyed to the max.
The Jaguar F-Type won the World Car Design of the Year title when it launched in 2013, but Peugeot deserved a bravery medal for its eye-catching RCZ sports coupe.
Unless you can afford to dabble in the premium sector, finding a design-led car that doesn’t bust your budget is seriously challenging. So who would have thought that the French manufacturer, best known for well-meaning hatchbacks and SUVs, could come up with something quite so radical?
The RCZ certainly looks the part, and those striking lines are equal to the best-selling Volkswagen Scirocco and Audi TT. Inside, the cabin feels classy and expensive, while the new 270bhp R version is an absolute flying machine. (You can opt for a frugal diesel version, too.)
While RCZ buyers probably aren’t too worried about practicalities, there is a decent-sized boot and a pair of back seats for extra storage. (But forget about squeezing the grandchildren in the rear, because it’s as tight as a gnat’s crotchet.)
If the RCZ has an Achilles heel it’s that it doesn’t feel comfortable on potholed British roads. It tends to crash over the bumps, and the steering lacks the dynamic feel of an Audi TT.
Still, with prices starting at £22,000 for a 1.6 petrol, it offers plenty of thrills for the money. The 2.0 HDi diesel at £26,000 is probably the best all-rounder.