Steve Cropley: highlights from a year in motoring

Steve Cropley: highlights from a year in motoring



Our man looks back at the people, as well as the cars, that stood out for him in 2021

Don’t let anyone tell you 2021 hasn’t been an action-packed year for cars and car events.

One of my abiding memories of it will always be of the many meetings, shows and organisations that were restored to life and of watching resourceful car people return our world to its axis.

Of course, large parts of the car industry still face extremely daunting difficulties. No one can be happy in an era when car sales are at their lowest ebb for more than half a century. Yet there were good things: Goodwood’s festivals, the British Grand Prix, the Silverstone Classic and many other events came back, cars were launched, electrification boomed (even if it brought into sharper focus the government’s poor efforts at improving the charging network). And Autocar’s unique 126 years of content – all 1.1 million pages of it – was digitised and made open for all to see.

Here’s how an extraordinary year rolled, as seen from my camera…


Our last-ever Mitsubishi? With the lights at its Cirencester HQ going out, the importer set a path to leave the UK. I was nevertheless able to glide about for six weeks in this ugly but otherwise brilliant L200 Barbarian X, a vehicle I know will be much missed, especially in the conditions pictured. Good news for other pick-up sellers Toyota and Ford but still a sorry situation.


Ford’s remarkable CEO, Jim Farley, casually revealed the depth and genuineness of his car enthusiast side by tweeting this picture of an elaborate 1:12-scale Ford GT40 model that he had completed after 32 days of (one suspects strictly part-time) toil. I mean, does Carlos Ghosn ever make model cars? What Farley didn’t mention is that he also drives one of these in real live races.

I learned plenty about the viability and appeal of shared cars with an Ami. Citroën UK brought a few of these beguiling 30mph electric commuters over from France and allowed hacks to drive them, explaining that they could soon be on special car ranks, available at rental prices close to mobile phone charges. Walk up, show your card and drive away. I can’t wait for the day.


Only the colour of this Toyota GR Yaris could be described as anything short of fantastic. You will have read lots on this car’s outrageous dynamics, but this was my first proper go. Concerningly, its ride, engine, steering and even gearshift get dramatically better the faster you go. As it settles into the market, it seems to be becoming a VW Golf VR6 kind of car: driven by practical sorts in preference to the Porsches and Ferraris they also own.

The sole business of GTO Engineering used to be completing the world’s finest Ferrari restorations – while there was a fairly plentiful supply of cars to restore. When the supply ebbed, it started making engines and other key and complex bits, and then it finally turned to cars of its own. I called in for a chat with founder Mark Lyon, who sent me out in this 250 SWB replica made on the premises. It was magnificent in every way the original is but with some rough corners subtly removed.


When do you know you’ve had a lucky life? When you can boast of a road trip across Australia in an Alfasud ti. I drove one single-handedly 900 miles from Adelaide to Sydney back in 1975, in 14 hours. In April, I was asked to write about it for Classic & Sports Car. My Aussie pal Peter Robinson sent a cutting of the original piece, including a pic of 25-year-old me giving it the beans. Funny wheel angles, but it felt great.


Here you see Ford’s Mustang Mach-E at Goodwood, where I tried it for the first time. It’s impressive in most ways and a huge international success, but I will be glad when the steering and chassis people visit it for a second time…


My car of the year is the rear-driven Porsche Taycan, a rarity despite our testers reckoning it to be the best of the lot. A nice no-frills version is £80k, but most insist on more stratospheric models. Of course, £80k is no giveaway, but its value is obvious. It’s quick, wonderfully refined, draws the eye of anyone who likes cars and has the best residuals this side of a diamond tiara.

This remarkable Wells Vertige sports coupé is a lovely thing, so it was a treat spending time with Robin Wells (entrepreneur and body designer) and Robin Hall (consummate engineer who did the rest). I’ve driven it, too, which makes me ever more sure that the 25 per year they plan to build (and sell at £40k-£50k) will attract many more potential buyers than they need.

This beautiful roof panel from the forthcoming Ineos Grenadier 4x4 is one of the most inviting control layouts I’ve ever seen in a car. The company showed it off at a Bicester Heritage event and, as with everything else they’ve done, it was more impressive than expected. Bring on the road test phase!


The new Geely-funded Lotus Emira sports car has effortlessly convinced people that it will be the real deal, which might have been a concern given that it weighs a lot and uses a fair bit of Evora underneath. But the launch at Lotus’s heavily rejuvenated Hethel factory was a delight, despite a biblical downpour. Such is the company’s new confidence that the next hurdle – getting Emiras built to good, modern quality standards – hardly looks like a hurdle at all.

Everyone has a favourite race car, and mine is the Tyrrell six-wheeler I watched Jody Scheckter drive to second place in the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, my first Formula 1 race. It was at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. What a treat to see it again.

My Lotus Elan M100 spent a busy Sunday at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, happily resting when not in action between Simon Durling’s lovely original Alpine A110 and Charles Morgan’s venerable racing Plus Eight. We were slow but, as ever with hillclimbing done for fun, it hardly mattered.


Our own Richard Bremner held a gathering for car-mad mates who included various proud Rover 75 owners – plus two of the most important men in that fine car’s creation, designers Geoff Upex and Richard Woolley. Both have enduring pride in the car, which was and remains a cut above.


Bulldog bites at last. It was weird seeing the original hypercar, William Towns’ 1979 Aston Martin Bulldog concept, on display at this year’s Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court. Back in the day, I drove this car about 400 yards and no farther, because both the driving position and I were so compromised that I couldn’t work the pedals. A new restoration project is happily led by Richard Gauntlett, son of late Aston Martin chief Victor Gauntlett, who commissioned it in the first place.

What will Gordon Murray drive to work? It’s the perennial question, because the famous engineer’s engineer has a very large collection of cars and bikes, all immaculate and all owned because they’re small or light or fascinating in some other way you never thought of. I paid a visit, and instead of his regular Alpine A110, Smart Roadster or Ford Lotus Cortina, he had brought this Alfa Romeo Zagato coupé. Is it restored? More than that: Alfaholics shifted an entire body bulkhead so that Murray, who is very tall, can get comfortable behind the wheel.


It was a bittersweet experience, saying goodbye to a car with such weird beginnings (a mid-engined 2+2 with a rear in which no one can fit) but which turned out to be one of the quickest and best-handling cars ever built. As well as all the test-track honing all Lotus cars get, the Evora’s second secret is its compactness. Having said that, you can easily see where it leaves room for the Emira to be better.

*November *

Who would miss the start of the Brighton run at Hyde Park on the first November Sunday? Not me. Nowadays it’s the culmination of the Royal Automobile Club’s packed London Motor Week, full of art exhibitions, awards, lectures, dinners and the remarkable Regent Street motor show. It’s in my 2022 diary already.

Another lesson in modern mobility: testing the most basic, shortest-range (180- 200 miles) Volkswagen ID 3, I happened upon an excellent Shell Recharge station at Tot Hill on the A34, my route to the south coast. It charged the car’s battery efficiently and dealt my various anxieties a solid blow. It’s becoming clear that councils and governments grubbing about with EV infrastructure will never match the big energy companies taking the whole thing by the scruff of the neck.


Winter draws on. The last thing that sensible people do is to buy new sports cars and paddle it through the salt. So what do we do? We quit our two roadsters (Lotus M100 and Mazda MX-5), cull a few motorbikes and buy a year-old Alpine A110. This one. It will be my pleasure next year to start telling you what ownership feels like. 

*Final word*

In the meantime, please accept our heartfelt greetings for Christmas and a happy new year, together with huge appreciation of your continuing support for our mighty 126-year-old organ. Without you, there would be no paying for frivolous sports cars. Without you, there wouldn’t even be a job. We never forget that. Thank you again from all of us.

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