‘For a last drive before a total ban on internal combustion, which car would I choose?’

The end of the petrol era has got Meaden shortlisting this century’s greats

Dickie Meaden opinion

Shortly prior to the turn of the millennium, we – that’s to say the core team of evo staffers and some of our frontline contributors – gathered at Goodwood House for a Car of the Century feature. It appeared on the cover of our November 1999 issue (evo 013). 

Based around the cheery notion of the world ending as we segued into the 2000s, we posed the following question to ourselves and our readers: ‘If you knew the world was going to end on December 31, 1999, which one car would you want for your last tankful of petrol?’

And so, with predictions the Y2K Bug would leave households surviving on the contents of their specially stocked Millennium Cupboards (Meaden Towers’ stash comprised baked beans, Pot Noodles and 25 gallons of gin and tonic), we each pondered which car we would want to take for our final apocalyptic drive into oblivion.

> ‘It was as if Jesus himself had blessed Porsche with a new suspension system’

The last thing we wanted was a worthy or predictable list of greatest this or fastest that, so instead the cars we featured were intensely personal and highly eclectic. I certainly can’t imagine finding a Bugatti Type 51 rubbing tyre shoulders with an Impreza 22B, Ferrari F40, McLaren F1 and Light Car Company Rocket in any other magazine story, yet here they were, along with a Countach, Daytona, C-type Jag, 2.7 RS 911 (you wouldn’t expect an evo test without a 911, surely?) and another old Bugatti.

What did I choose? A Ferrari 250 SWB once raced at Goodwood in period by Sir Stirling Moss for the great privateer team owner Rob Walker. Looking back, it seems a bit of an esoteric choice, even by my standards, though there’s little to question about a front-engined V12 Ferrari in terms of breeding or provenance. I loved the Moss connection, and it was this, combined with the SWB representing a lost era and genre of car – the true road-racer – that had me in its thrall.     

Little did we know that 22 years after Y2K we would be planning for a different kind of extinction event: the death of the internal combustion-engined car. For those who don’t have a love for cars, our obsessive preoccupation with the demise of a noisy, smelly, century-old propulsion system must seem odd in the extreme. Even as I type, it does make me wonder exactly what it is we love about internal combustion, and why I continue to get the same fizz of excitement and anticipation whenever I turn the key or press the starter and fire an engine into life. The novelty really should have worn off by now.

Were we to repeat the Car of the Century exercise, only this time predicting our last drive before a total ban on internal combustion, what would I choose? Even limiting the choice to petrol-engined road cars that have been launched in this century the number of compelling contenders is colossal. Given the context, there’s justification for placing engine over everything, though it must be said this is not a very evo way of picking any car. Better, I think, to consider cars that combine an incredible engine with an equally extraordinary all-round driving experience.

T.50

For me this means the Carrera GT jumps to the forefront of my mind. The Lexus LFA, numerous Lamborghinis and umpteen Ferraris also vie for the top slot, but if you’re saying goodbye to the internal combustion engine then, inevitably, you’re also bidding farewell to the manual transmission.

Given Porsche’s celebrated supercar has one of the finest powertrains of all time, and falls neatly into our post-2000 timeframe, it’s extremely hard to beat. You could also include a Pagani Zonda F, but just as I fell in love with the significance of that Moss-driven 250 SWB in late 1999, so in 2022 the Carrera GT’s backstory and Porsche’s impeccable racing pedigree seals the deal for me. I’d be curious to know your pick.

What makes this such a strange and unsettling period in the history of the automobile is that even as we’re accepting the end of the ICE age, we know there are new ultra-purist, petrol-powered cars that promise to take internal combustion to new heights. Singer’s remarkable DLS and Gordon Murray Automotive’s T.50 and T.33 are perfect examples. Few of us are likely to experience them first-hand, but their very existence somehow provides a glimmer of hope. 

And if the petrol supplies should be turned off? Well, any of us who have been lucky enough to experience the union of a spine-tingling petrol engine and sweet manual transmission know the magic lives long in the memory. EVs will get better (and better), but they will never offer a substitute for the alchemy to which we are addicted. Perhaps that’s why we’re so loathed to let go.

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