HAPPY BIRTHDAY IT’S BEEN A YEAR OF CARS CLOCKING UP ANNIVERSARIES
So far, 2016 has been notable for three things; Donald Trump, celebrity deaths and cars clocking up big anniversaries. The Porsche Boxster, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Toyota Corolla, Lotus Elise, Nissan GT-R, Chevrolet Camaro ... the list goes on, and they’re all blowing out candles this year.
From BMW (the entire company) celebrating its centenary to the Mercedes-Benz SLK turning the big 2-0, we’d be bankrupting ourselves on movie money and JB Hi Fi vouchers about now if we were related to this lot.
So enough of the 2016 anniversaries. To celebrate the arrival of spring (and before the usual “Car of the Year” nonsense begins), let’s look forward to 2017 and a few of the cars that’ll be eating at Denny’s free of charge next year.
Subaru Impreza (25)
Possum Bourne driving during Rally New Zealand in 2001. Photo / NZME. file
Right, so in 1992 Subaru announced the Impreza as the replacement for the Leone. It arrived in either four-door sedan or five-door hatchback variants and featured Subaru’s flat-four Boxer engine.
Then some other stuff happened, yadda-yadda-yadda and then… ta-da. The WRX and WRX STi were born.
Things got interesting for Subaru’s mid-sizer as it set about accumulating World Rally Championship wins at the hands of amazing rallyists such as Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg and of course, our own Possum Bourne.
The car struck a chord with enthusiast drivers too; a perfect case of “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” marketing that didn’t involve Aussie tin-tops.
Now five generations old, the Impreza and WRX are technically stand-alone models; the former a suburban hatchback, the latter still breathing fire in a more restrained but no less enthusiastic way.
The Global Financial Crisis effectively put an end to Subaru’s factory motorsport efforts and signalled a change of direction for the Impreza in terms of how it was pitched to the public (“Rallying? No sir, you’re mistaken I’m sorry.”).
But we’re confident there will still be plenty of gravel-spitting glory on display as Subaru celebrates a quarter century of the Impreza next year.
BMW 7-Series (Happy 40th birthday!)
The BMW 7-Series turns 40 next year
The German luxury sedan that isn’t an S-Class turns 40 years old next year. It was kind of like a big 5-Series for most of its early life, albeit with a plusher interior. By the time the second (E32) generation arrived in 1986 though, it was starting to become a sort of mobile development laboratory for many of the company’s latest innovations.
The second-gen 7-Series debuted the option of an in-car telephone and (crucially) fax machine, double-glazed windows and even a system that automatically increased the spring pressure on the windscreen wipers to keep them pressed firmly against the rain-lashed windscreen when tearing along to that business meeting in Cologne at de-restricted Autobahn speeds.
The range-topping E32-era 750iL was the first production car to offer High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, while the third generation 7-Series — unveiled in 1994 — offered well-heeled customers integrated satellite navigation as standard. The model had become a high tech test-bed with wood-capped trim.
In fact, you could never argue that 7-Series owners are conservative Luddites who prefer things the way they were; the controversially-designed E65 model from 2002 — which gave the world a new-fangled, then-difficult to use system called iDrive — is still the best-selling 7-Series of all time.
Lada Niva (40)
The Lada Niva
Wait a sec; the Lada Niva? Didn’t that die a rusty death in a farmer’s field somewhere a couple of decades ago? Well that’s the New Zealand experience. But overseas, the plucky Niva (the name translates as “field” in Russian) has continued on in various guises.
What started life as a Fiat-based “family off-roader” for the Russian market is these days the Chevrolet Niva, produced by a company called GM-AvtoVAZ (a joint-venture between GM and Lada’s parent company).
It also no longer looks much like the high-riding, agriculturally specified, compact three-door that became familiar to Kiwis in the early 1990s after the New Zealand Dairy Board accepted a few boatloads of Niva 4x4s in lieu of payment for milk products from the Russians. But it remains a worthy underdog of a nameplate, and one worth celebrating.
There’s a saying that suggests life begins at 40, and there are probably still a few well-kept Cossack-grade Nivas puttering about the country’s backroads.
Sadly we can’t imagine too many will have made it this far to celebrate next year’s milestone.
Technically, the earliest Ferrari dates from 1940, but we will concede — while pushing our spectacles back up our nose and taking a quick puff of Ventolin — that the company was only recognised as an automotive manufacturer in 1947.
Despite its near-perfect record of delivering unforgettable performance machinery to a slavishly devoted chequebook-waving audience, the company has certainly had its ups and downs. It has survived financial uncertainty; attempted buy-outs and restructurings.
Thanks to Ferrari’s “carpet bomb” approach to marketing its merch, the brand might seem ubiquitous these days, but the cars remain very special indeed; after 70 years only around 130,000 have been built. Most mainstream manufacturers — even the premium European ones — produce more than twice that each year. In true Ferrari style, rumour has it the carmaker will be releasing several anniversary models to coincide with next year’s birthday celebrations ... with existing customers having first option to purchase.
Still, snobbish exclusivity aside, whether you’re privileged enough to drive one at the weekends, or the closest you’ve come to owning one is that 1:18 scale die cast that sits on your desk, the brand remains an exotic touchstone. Even if you’re not into cars, you’ll still recognise a Ferrari at 20 paces ... especially if it’s red. After 70 years, Ferrari still represents everything that is sexy, crass, overblown and unobtainable about true performance cars. Buon compleanno, Ferrari.