Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

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Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

Post by MP5 on Sun 8 May 2011 - 1:48

[Shortly after the intro, screen fades to the Top Gear Italy Studio and applause as the camera pans down to Kara, flanked by a Corvette ZR1, Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, and a Porsche 911 Turbo]

Kara: [As applause dies down] Hello and welcome to another episode of Top Gear Italy, a pokey internet motoring show on YouTube sponsored by Warhawk Military Aviation. In this episode, we take a long hard look at sports cars-- machines designed to bring a smile to a person's face when they put down their foot and scream around a bend, making people feel like Stirling Moss even if their days are spent being another office monkey in a cubicle. [quick-pan to Allison]

Allison: Now for our older viewers, you might remember that not all sports cars came from Italy, all sexy, bright red, and prone to breakdowns. [laughter from audience] In fact, a lot of popular sports cars back in the day came from Great Britain, generally in a particular shade of green that was their answer to Italy's Rosso Corsa, or something else, if they were feeling adventurous; often seen climbing hills in as little time as possible or racing around a circuit, and also breaking down like their Italian brethren if they weren't. [more audience laughter] To further delve into the subject of the quintessential British sports car, I took a trip up to Switzerland's Grimsel Pass, where the road is perfect for sports cars, and I could get a chance to think a little more deeply.

[Jump-cut to an establishing shot of the Grimsel Pass on a warm spring day before finally cutting to a helicopter shot of Allison in a Fiat 124 Spider as she cruises along one of the straights before a jump-cut to in-car camera as Allison downshifts to take a hairpin. The weather is sunny, and Allison's hair is being mussed by the wind, but she does not seem to care.]

Allison: This is why I like these older cars. They were simple, fun, and you could enjoy the weather. I'm driving a Fiat 124 Spider, and I can tell you that it's a smashing example of a classic Italian sports car. Under the Pininfarina coachwork, you have a 1.5 liter Twin-cam 4 cylinder engine, 5-speed manual, and rear-wheel drive, and because it wasn't exactly a Ferrari, it's a relatively affordable car that you could buy for just the sheer pleasure of driving. Now while Italy was pretty good about making cars like these in the 60's and 70's, they were beaten to the punch nearly a decade earlier by certain people living on a little cloud-condemned island called Great Britain.

[Jump cut to archive footage of Colin Chapman as Allison provides voice-over]

Allison [voiceover]: One of these certain people was a bloke named Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, who was known for beating Ferrari and Maserati on the Formula 1 circuit using a combination of light weight and superior handling, a philosophy present on both race and road cars produced by his company, which got its start building lightweight racers based on the Austin Seven.

[Jump-cut to footage of a low-slung aerodynamic coupe in racing trim taking a corner on a track day]

Allison [voiceover]: Then, in 1957, Lotus Cars released their first production vehicle, the Elite. Powered by a 1.2-liter Coventry-Climax Straight-4, it could achieve amazing sports car performance with only 75 brake horsepower to play with thanks to its lightweight fibreglass monocoque construction. Elites were encouraged to be raced, and in its class at the 24 hours of LeMans, Lotus Elites won six times.

[Jump-cut to Allison, who starts walking, her body against the background of the Swiss Alps behind her and a white Lotus Elite is at her side]

Allison: There were, however, a few problems with the Elite. The suspension, for instance, had a tendency to separate from the fibreglass structure of the car. There was a strange vibration at 4000 rpm; the quality control was terrible; the car was built expensively but sold too cheaply to make a proper profit, and "perhaps the greatest mistake of all," the Elite was offered as a kit. A kit!  Lotus spent all that money developing and building the Elite, and they offer it as a kit... [she shoots an aside glance at the Elite] clearly, something had to be done. Thankfully, Lotus did not disappoint.

[Instrumental of Katy Perry's 'Firework' begins to play after jump-cut to shots of the Lotus badge and another badge marked 'S4' and panning shots of a roadster's silhouette. Fade shots of knock-off wheels, wooden dash, 4-speed gear shifter, and so on. Jump cut to various footage of the same model of a small roadster being driven.]

Allison [voiceover]: In 1962, Lotus debuted the Elan, a more reasonable replacement for the unreliable and expensive Elite. It was also the first Lotus road car to combine a steel backbone subframe with a fibreglass body, and weighing in at 1500 pounds, it was a shining example of Colin Chapman's minimal weight and superb handling design philosophy. It was also the most technologically-advanced Lotus car, featuring a 1.6 liter Lotus-Ford Twin Cam engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, and 4-wheel independent suspension. The Elan was a huge hit with consumers, and demand quickly outweighed production. About 17,000 Elans and Elan + 2 coupes (introduced in 1967) were built when production of the Elan +2 was finally ceased in 1975, the original Elan having finished 2 years earlier. In effect, it rescued Lotus from the financial slump suffered with the Elite, and would fund the success of Lotus in racing in the years to follow.

[Jump cut to Allison standing next to a 1972 Elan Sprint roadster. The grin on her face betrays her excitement at the opportunity to take it for a spin. Cut music temporarily]

Allison: And today, I get to drive one.

[Allison enters the Elan and fires up the engine, taking off from the side of the road. 'Firework' launches into its main chorus as she starts driving. Jump cut to stationary camera as Allison rounds a hairpin in the Elan, tires screeching a little as she exits the turn. Jump cut to in-car shot, showing Allison's mouth open in amazement]

Allison: My God! What an amazing machine! Such phenomenal grip! I could do this forever! I want one of these, now!

[Jump cut to helicopter shot of the Elan tearing along the road as Allison approaches another hairpin. Jump cut back into the car as Allison takes the turn, a smile on her face as she steers and changes gear before applying throttle again, eliciting a small 'whoa' as the back comes out a little before settling in line, a nice tire screech punctuating the moment.]

Allison: What a car! I knew the Elan was special, but you don't truly understand it until you've driven one on a road like this, in weather as gorgeous as this. This is real driving. You can spend hundreds of thousands of Euros on a supercar with eleventy-billion horsepower, and you just won't get the kind of driving you get from a lightweight, not-too-powerful open top roadster with superb handling on a road like this. You feel more involved when you drive a car like the Elan, because you have a clutch pedal, a four-speed manual transmission, and steering sharper than a Gintsu knife. In a supercar, you don't get the thrill of speed and the wind in your hair at highway speed because sixty feels pedestrian and slow in a car as big, heavy, and Flappy-paddle gearbox-y as a Lamborghini Murcielago. Lotus certainly got it right back then, and driving this today, it's certainly just as right now.

[Allison gets more aggressive with the throttle as she continues thundering up the Grimsel Pass toawrds the peak, taking racing lines through the corners and going flat-out on the straights, putting the 4-wheel disc brake system to work to slow the car down in time to take the turn before lighting up the throttle at the corner exits. As she exits another hairpin, she lets out an excited yell of triumph]


[Jump cut to black screen with white text "Some Time Later..." Next shot is Allison lying back somewhat languidly on the hood of the Elan with her eyes closed, her hair unkempt, skin sweaty, her breathing taking on a panting rhythm, and a few of the top buttons on her white blouse open, barely showing the lace of the red bra she picked for the day. Her right hand comes into the shot with a lit Camel Turkish Jade betwixt index and middle finger, putting the filter end between her lips as she takes a long drag, quickly burning back the tobbaco product before removing it from her lips. A beat passes before she exhales a small cloud of cigarette smoke, smiling contentedly, her left hand caressing the fibreglass body of the Elan.]

Allison: Ohhhh... That was wonderful. Let's do that again, baby.

[Her eyes slowly open, and she seems to suddenly be aware of the camera that has been focused on her for the past few seconds, and in a flustered hurry, she leaps to her feet off of the hood, hastily buttons up her blouse and smooths out her skirt and brushes her hair out of her face.]

Allison: Ah, right! Well... That, as you can judge from my afterglow-like state of satisfaction, is why classic British sports cars are so great. They give tons of raw motoring pleasure for a not unreasonable amount of money. And this Elan is but one example.

[start cutting to stills and video of cars mentioned]

Allison [voiceover]: During this period in the world of motoring, Jaguar produced the E-type; Triumph gave the world a series of brilliant sports cars, like the Spitfire and the TR3 through TR6; and TVR produced the M Series of sports cars. And of course, no mention of the great era of British sports cars would be complete without the MG MGB-- the car that was the definitive example of the British sports car trend.

[Jump cut to Allison blasting downhill in a British Racing Green 1971 MG MGB Roadster, squealing the tires around a right-hand hairpin turn before accelerating away. Jump cut to in-car camera as Allison continues driving]

Allison: Indeed, the 1960's and 1970's were the true heyday of the lightweight British sports car. If you could afford one--and if you were a middle class person, you generally could--you could buy one wherever good roads are to be had, which is why so many British sports cars were exported to Continental Europe as well as the United States of America. But just as suddenly as they won the hearts of drivers everywhere, they suddenly kind of disappeared. What exactly happened to the iconic British sports car that didn't need a lot of power to be fun? What happened to the smooth, voluptuous lines that defined cars like the Lotus Elan or Jaguar E-type, or the beefy edges of the Triumph TR4?

[Allison applies the brakes as she pulls off the road, stopping the MG next to a car that is best described as wedge-shaped.]

Allison: Quite simple, really-- The 1980's came around.

[Cue montage of 80's cars]

Allison [voiceover]: Indeed, the decade of Cocaine, New Wave music, Parachute pants, and Miami Vice also saw a general theme with the world's sports cars and supercars-- they all took on a very strange wedge-like design that was supposed to be aerodynamic. As a result, the sports cars of the 1980's looked pretty much the same...

[Cut to shot of Allison driving a white/silver 2-seat coupe with wedge-like angles. As she takes the corner, her line is noticeably smooth and balanced compared to the earlier vehicles, which often got their tail out a little cut to in-car shot, then rolling shot as Allison goes along one of the straights]

Allison: Take this, for example. This is a 1987 Lotus Turbo Esprit HC. Like any good Lotus, it gets its performance primarily through light weight and handling. However, in the 1980's, Lotus was more into the business of creating supercars to compete with the likes of Lamborghini's Countach and Ferrari's Testarossa. As a result, their cars were more geared towards the jet-set 'Yuppies' of the era and were more powerful, as well, but also more expensive. No one really held any interest in a lightweight ragtop anymore, and anyone who did were generally older, female, or a hairdresser. The lightweight convertible, it seemed, was a relic of the past, now simply seen as an effeminate and dated form of motoring that had no place in a world of horsepower and scissor doors.

[Cut to archive footage of the British Leyland strikes]

Allison [voiceover]: In the waning years of the 70's and the start of the 1980's, certain events occured that would be problematic for the British sports car. In 1975, British Leyland was refinanced by the government, which meant it was essentially government-owned, which in turn led to a huge mess around 1977, when its workers, led by trade unionist Derek 'Red Robbo' Robinson, went on strike demanding highly socialist cooperation between the workers and company management. This naturally did not sit well with higher-ups, and the end result was thousands of men spending more time picketing than building cars-- and when they did, the quality was generally very poor, leading customers to take their business elsewhere.

[Fade through black-and-white photos and archive footage of Colin Chapman's involvements with F1. Melancholy music plays.]

Allison [voiceover]: And in 1982, Colin Chapman passed away from a fatal heart attack at the age of 54. [fade out melancholy music] A few years later, Lotus would come under the ownership of General Motors. Which gave the world...

[Jump cut to Allison standing next to a somewhat chubby-looking short-wheelbase yellow convertible]

Allison: This. The Lotus Elan. Indeed, with new funding from General Motors, Lotus brought back the Elan name with an entirely new design that ran a turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder engine from the Isuzu Gemini. And unlike the Esprit, this iteration of the Elan puts the engine back up front again. Things are looking good. It seems that they've gone back to the classic formula. But then you open the bonnet and sense that things are slightly amiss.

[Allison goes to pull the release, and the bonnet pops up. She goes to lift the bonnet and props it up with the rod.]

Allison: This is what I am talking about. Notice something different about this engine? It's transverse-mounted. Which means there's no driveshaft. Which means it's front-wheel drive. Oh dear.

[Allison shuts the bonnet and opens the door before seating herself in the cockpit and shutting the door.]

Allison: Inside, the story is typical 90's Isuzu/General Motors buggery. The interior is quite cheap, the vents square, about the only exciting thing in the interior is the 5-speed manual shifter and possibly the jaunty red numbering and lettering on the instrument cluster. Other than that, well, it feels kind of lackluster. Hope it doesn't drive that way.

[Allison turns the key, the 90's Elan coming to life as she gives the engine a few healthy revs before placing the car in gear and taking off. She accelerates vigorously towards one of the many hairpin turns on Grimsel Pass and stays on the gas as she takes the turn. A small squeal from the tires is the result, and the small car stays planted through the turn. Jump cut back to in-car shot as Allison makes a face of interest.]

Allison: Hm. Not bad. But-- it feels lacking. The handling on this car is predictable, perhaps a little too much for my liking. It turns nice, it accelerates well, it drives great in general, and Lotus have shown their work by managing to utterly wipe out any trace of understeer I would expect from a front-wheel-drive car. But it's just not for me, somehow. I don't quite know how to explain it, but it doesn't quite have the-- effervescence, shall we say, of the original Elan. I'd love to have this sort of handling and performance from a hot hatch. But on something that's being called a sports car? Frankly, I'm disappointed.

[Allison continues driving a bit as she continues in voiceover.]

Allison [voiceover]: The Elan was not a great seller, either. It came out during the recession era, and only 3,855 Elans were built and sold. when Bugatti bought Lotus from GM in 1993, they axed the Elan line after a limited edition of 800 'Series 2' new Elans were built. And after that, in 1996, something somewhat preposterous happened-- the Malaysians bought Lotus. And they built a new car.

[Jump cut to another short-wheelbase open-top sports car being driven by Allison. This one has a 'funkier' design with lots of curves and round headlights up front and a strange sort of depression in the middle of the front of the car. Allison smiles as she takes the car around the corner, getting a nice squeal from the tires before she shifts up, accelerating from the corner exit. Jump cut to in-car shot]

Allison: In 1996, Lotus, now owned by Proton, came out with this, the Elise. It's a mid-engined, Rear-wheel-drive two-seat roadster with an extremely lightweight body composed of fibreglass over an aluminum chassis. the 1.8-liter Rover K-Series engine might have only had about 120 brake horsepower, but because it was light, it could go from naught to sixty in 5.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 126 miles per hour. Not impressive, but a hell of a lot of fun, especially on winding roads like these. It corners like a housefly, and you're hard-pressed to find a car this good anywhere else. It's a modern iteration of the British sports car, and it's not half-bad at all.

[Allison takes another corner and continues driving. Jump cut to tracking shot as voiceover comes on to continue]

Allison [voiceover]: And at around €33,000 Euro when it was first released, it seems like a bargain. [car blows by camera] Except it isn't, really.

[Jump cut to in-car shot. The Elise is now parked as Allison explains the car in more detail.]

Allison: You see, for all that money, you actually get very little. There's no radio, no climate control, not much space in the boot save for one or two bags of your weekly shop, no carpeting, barely any padding on these bucket seats, and you get a fiddly hood for a top, which is next to impossible to set up when dry and even more frustrating when the rain is suddenly coming down. And then there's one more little foible of a car like this.

[Jump cut to exterior shot as Allison opens the driver's door as she struggles to extricate herself from the car. She finally does, and her skirt has been pulled up significantly in the process, but she has taken the precaution of wearing bike shorts to avoid flashing her underwear.]

Allison: These raised doorsills make getting out and in a bit of a faff, even if you try the method that Papa Clarkson once demonstrated through the use of his lovely assistants. If memory serves, this sort of thing was not a problem with cars like the original Elan. But obviously, they don't make the Elan Sprint anymore, nor do they make the Triumph TR series. Which leads to the question-- can you really find the true British sports car out there? Does it even exist in any form anymore? Well luckily, the answer to that is yes.

[Cue Jamiroquai's "Black Devil Car" and jump cut to tracking shot as Allison takes a chicane into a left-hand hairpin in a small red convertible. From a distance, it resembles the original Lotus Elan. Jump cut to in-car shot just as Allison finishes taking the corner in a small drift. She grins before speaking.]

Allison: In 1989, the classic light British sports car came back in the form of the Mazda Miata MX-5. Yes, the badge is Japanese, but the car itself is little more than an updated version of classic 60's sports cars like the Lotus Elan. As Papa Clarkson once said, ideas travel. If you order a breakfast in a hotel in Japan consisting of bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, and baked beans, it is still called a Full English Breakfast even if it's being served in Japan. With that analogy, the Miata may have a Japanese badge, but it is very much a full English sports car.

[Jump cut to various Miata-related stock footage from over the years]

Allison [voiceover]: When the Miata was conceptualized in California during the 1980's, its target market was, sure enough, for people who liked driving the old-school MGs, Austins, Triumphs, and Lotus Elans. As a matter of fact, when the Miata was being designed and engineered, Mazda procured two original Lotus Elans for intimate evaluation; to have a reference point for how a proper lightweight sports car should feel. Its lines are even based on the original Elan. By all accounts, it should be an almost exact copy of the cars from the heyday of the light British sports car.

[Jump cut back to Allison as she drives the Miata through a succession of switchbacks.]

Allison: And it almost is. The only real difference is that the Miata is made of steel, with an aluminum hood, whereas cars like the Elan were made of fibreglass. So it's a bit heavier, but that's all right, because the original Miata had engines available in either 1.6L or 1.8L trim after 1994. Most importantly, unlike the British sports cars it derives its heritage from, the Miata was had bulletproof levels of reliability, which meant you could drive it whenever you fancied and not be stuck at the side of the road, swearing at it, which was more than you could say for its ancestors as well as its primary Italian rival, the Alfa Romeo Spider.

[Continue with various shots of Allison driving and drifting round corners as she puts the Miata through its paces vigorously.]

Allison [voiceover]: The first generation alone, priced at around 5000 Euros cheaper than the Series 1 Elise, sold over 400,000 units worldwide, and later versions and special editions would eventually appear with goodies such as a 6-speed manual transmission or a turbocharged engine. It made mincemeat out of the newer Elan in sales, because while the Elan was a more futuristic design, not only did it cost a bit more than the Miata, but the people buying these cars were looking for that nostalgic feeling they got from their old MG's and Triumphs, and found exactly that with the Miata.

[Jump cut back to in-car shot as Allison downshifts to take the next hairpin]

Allison: And indeed, I'm getting that same wonderful pleasure from the Miata that I got with the Elan. In fact, I would say that having driven this and the Elan today, I would not hesitate to say that I'm experiencing a menagé a trois of driving pleasure. Yes, I just said that.

[Allison continues driving vigorously, letting out a whoop of joy as she takes another corner, getting the tail to slide out and then tuck back into line neatly. jump cut to footage of vehicles mentioned in her next voiceover]

Allison [voiceover]: While the light British sports car may have been whittled down to just extreme examples like the Lotus Elise and its cousins, the Ariel Atom, and the Caterham series of cars, others have tried to capture that same spirit. Audi has the TT, BMW; the Zed-Four, Nissan; the 350 and 370-Zed, Honda; the S2000, and even the Americans by way of General Motors had the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, which also had their own turbocharged versions in the form of the GXP and Red Line versions, respectively.

[Jump cut back to Allison driving the Elan Sprint again]
Allison: But no matter what they do, they're just not the same as the original. Even the Miata is limited by its compliance with modern safety technology, but it tries as hard as it can to be like its philosophical ancestor. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some driving to do.

[Last shot is of Allison driving into the sunset, her mic still active as she utters one last line, directed at the Elan Sprint.]

Allison: Baby, I'm takin' you home tonight!

Last edited by MP5 on Sun 8 May 2011 - 20:06; edited 2 times in total


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Re: Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

Post by boomer_gonz on Sun 8 May 2011 - 4:28

Excellent Episode. I must say that was one of the best yet.


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Re: Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

Post by Kiskaloo on Sun 8 May 2011 - 12:48

Well done.

And for reference, here are the color codes Rusty and I use:

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Petrushka - Orange

Michele - #C6AEC7
Alessandro - #736AFF

Allison - #AFC7C7
Jay - #669993


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Re: Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

Post by Alfisti on Mon 9 May 2011 - 7:08

Nice work mate.

Fun fact about the Lotus "backbone" chassis... it was never actually intended to go into production. The Elan was supposed to have a fully fiberglass monocoque chassis like the Elite, but it wasn't read in time to start suspension development and the backbone was created as a stopgap measure. When Lotus inevitably ran out of money for development, the steel backbone stayed as part of the production car.

Oh, and the Elise S1 did have a radio... it wasn't very good mind, but it was there. Wink

But Allison's right, the Elan's hard to beat. Having driven three out of five Loti mentioned (Elan, Elise and Esprit)... I'd take the Elan Very Happy


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Re: Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

Post by rusty-spring on Thu 26 May 2011 - 19:06

Nice read. Smile Excellent work on the pictures. I always seem to lose patience for finding nice angles and such Razz


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Re: Series 01, Episode 06 - Allison and the British Sports Car

Post by MP5 on Thu 26 May 2011 - 20:11

@rusty-spring wrote:Nice read. Smile Excellent work on the pictures. I always seem to lose patience for finding nice angles and such Razz

All hail Google image search. it's a lifesaver.


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