Five Cars for the BHP, Not the MPG


By Chris Pollitt

If you’ve been watching the news, you’ll probably be aware of the massive crash in the oil market. Values of a barrel of crude fell into the minus, reaching an unprecedented -$35 at one point. Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil prices, currently has it at around $17 a barrel, which is still incredibly low. This is, of course, a response to the global pandemic. People are at home, a great deal of industry has to come to a halt. Ergo, no oil is being used. There is seemingly endless supply, but significantly diminished demand. 

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Logically then, this means that fuel will soon be 3p a litre (we know it won’t, but we needed a mechanism by which we could make this work – hold your emails) so we needn’t worry about MPG, and we can instead focus on BHP. This also begs the question of why there was a fuel shortage in the Mad Max world – surely there would be plentiful fuel?

But we digress. Back to the question at hand, which is what cars can we buy that will make light work of those liquified dinosaurs. We’re talking carb-fed, fuel injected or turbocharged, big capacity, flame spittin’ monsters. Let’s have a look at what we can buy. And because we don’t want anyone to be left out, we’ll cover all budgets. 

Up to £2,500 – BMW E38 7 Series

The BMW E38 7 Series is a lot of things, but frugal isn’t one of them, especially in V8 guise. It is, let us not forget, a big car. It tips the scales at a whisker under two tons, and that’s a lot of weight for the engine to shuffle around. As such, the 740 with a 282bhp, 4,398cc V8 will deliver a 22.6mpg combined cycle. But even then, you’re only going to get that figure if you drive like an absolute saint. Which you’re not going to do, because the E38, while massive, is also an absolute delight to drive. It will actively encourage you to press on. A car this big has no right to be as planted, as agile and as fun as an E38 is. It’s otherworldly.

Then of course there is the other motivator to buy the E38; it is absolutely stunning. Buy one like the car pictured, so a Sport on M Parallel alloys, and that’s it, you’ve hit saloon car perfection. It is a design high, not just for BMW, but for cars in a wider sense. It’s perfectly proportioned, it still looks modern and there isn’t a bad angle from which to look at it. Get one bought. 

Up to £5,000 – Jaguar XJS

Ah yes, the low, wide, long, hairy-chested Jaguar XJS. A car that is to fuel what a kebab is to drunk folk. Just by mentioning it, fuel supplies drop. But given fuel will be worthless soon (that’s how it works, right?) it doesn’t matter. All of a sudden, a Jaguar XJS seems like a perfectly sensible proposition. And why not? If it was good enough for Ian Ogilvy’s The Saint then it’s good enough for us. But which one? The 3.6 is out of the question – far too frugal. The 4.0 straight-six is worth a shout, as you could get that down to 11mpg if you press on. For true fuel obliteration though, it has to be the V12. Lean on that, and you’re down to single digits.

Of course, if we’re applying honest reasoning here, we’d say the 4.0 is the right choice. A V12 at under five grand is going to be a ropy to say the least. A 4.0, however, will have more going for it, will be in better condition, has greater parts availability and ultimately will be more reliable. A V12 can’t drink fuel if it’s broken down, can it? 

Up to £10,000 – Subaru Impreza WRX

Believe it or not, the early Subaru Impreza WRX is well cemented in ‘modern classic’ territory. You have to remember, it’s been around since the early ‘90s, and though we may try our best to deny it, the early ‘90s were a long, long time ago. As such, those early cars have transcended their Max Power image of old. Instead, they are now owned by passionate enthusiasts who are looking to enjoy some time in a similar seat to the one Colin McRea often found himself in. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially as the Subaru Impreza WRX is still a formidable machine both on and off-road. The legendary flat-four ‘boxer’ engine complete with intercooled turbocharger is a unit from which many, many horses can be extracted. It’s not uncommon for these distinctive-sounding machines to run over 350bhp.

The trick is to find an example that has managed to live a life without the addition of some crude ‘555’ decals, and has instead been enthusiast owned. Something like this stunning, and rare Impreza RA from ‘93 would fit the bill. It’s Group N specification, it has a full cage, fire extinguisher, race seats and if you really press on, it’ll do 7mpg. Punish that petrol in the noisiest way possible. 

Up to £20,000 – TVR Griffith 

Is it even a list of thirsty cars without a TVR? Probably not, and rightly so. If you want to turn petrol into noise and speed, there are few finer choices than the old Blackpool bullet. And for us, it would have to be a Griffith, a least if we had a £20k cap. The Griffith from the 1990s would get you the most bang for your buck, that’s for sure. You might even be able to get a 5.0 with a bit of haggling, like this Griffith. That’s over 300bhp in a car that weighs a mere 1,060kg. Lunacy, but brilliant, too. Driving a TVR is a raw, loud, visceral experience that will have you hooked. You’ll become an addict of noise and speed, and by proxy, you’ll be on first name terms with all the staff at the local Shell.

Of course, if you can’t stretch to a 5.0, the 4.0, 4.3 or 4.5 models aren’t to be sniffed at. They’re all still derived from the same Rover V8 engine, they all pack a punch and they all sound utter glorious. And with even the smallest V8 keen to deliver no more than 15mpg when being driven properly, you’ll be buying lots of this hypothetical 3p fuel. 

£20,000 and Above – V8 Muscle Car

Finally, we have the American contenders. If you’re looking to burn through petrol, there is no country better at it. After all, thanks to John DeLorean and the invention of the Pontiac GTO, the land of the free gave us the muscle car. Brash, loud, always keen to spin the rear wheels and icons of pop culture thanks to myriad movie car chases, muscle cars are just cool. Take the ‘70 Chevelle SS pictured here. That bad boy is packing a 454 cubic inch (or 7.5 litre in real money) big-block V8 fed by a massive four-barrel carb. No efficient fuel injection. Just a big carb dumping copious amounts of fuel down the bores.

The good thing about a nice muscle car is that invariably, they are a joy to own thanks to being no more complicated than a cheese sandwich. They come from a time when getting more power simply meant things had to be made bigger. You can look after a muscle car with a basic set of tools and some rudimentary mechanical knowledge. But more importantly, muscle cars are effortlessly cool. There is nothing more pleasing than the burble of a big American V8.

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