Mike Humble : Oh So Special

Mike Humble


Lets reverse back down Memory Lane as I share with you some of my all time favourite automotive special editions….

Once, they were all the rage. Some were fully endorsed manufacturer models and others were simply glammed up tat the dealers struggled to sell. Either way you look at them they were everywhere years ago. Dealers stuck with base models in insipid drab colours would hastily apply a double pin stripe along the sides, fit a very average quality wireless and get the local body-shop to take a can-opener to the roof and fit a ‘leak-o-matic’ pop up tinted glass sunroof – hey presto! you have the exciting 1.3 Maestro Moribund.

These clumsy dealer-spesh cars were often nothing more than traffic creators – in other words, to get punters through the showroom doors – for just a few extra pounds per month Sir, we can get you electric windows and power steering. Sometimes they would be created just in time to cash in on feel good fever such as national or world sporting events. Southern based Caffyns group with their Austin Metro ‘Olympic’ back in the `80s is one such example for laughable rubbish.

But stop laughing – the public really went for this in a big big way and all the manufacturers in the volume sector were guilty of run-out specials or genuine limited edition cars. You see, even as recent as lets say – 30 years ago, owning a brand new car was almost as exciting as the birth of your first child to some. Makers and dealers would do nothing to try and spice up even the dullest of vehicles. In this article, I am going to concentrate on some of the better manufacturer related specials.

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts too at the bottom of the page – enjoy!

In no particular order of merit:


Ford Cortina Crusader – 1982

With almost 31,000 examples sold, the 1982 Cortina Crusader is possibly Britain’s best ever selling special edition.

The Crusader was a kind of hybrid MK5 based on the L and GL trim. You could have the four-door saloon or estate body with a choice of three engine options (two on the estate) of 1300 OHV and 1.6 or 2.0 OHC – the latter with a Weber twin-choke carburettor. The only option you could have was automatic transmission but a smaller percentage of 1600 & 2.0 models were built as auto’s from scratch owing to the fact this model was purely a run-out car.

Rumour has it that the Cortina Crusader is the most successful limited edition car ever in the UK – close to 31,000 models were built in 1982, the same year the model gave way to the Sierra. Features included intermittent wipers, special velour trim, wood veneer to dashboard, two tone metallic paint with special coachline and GL/Ghia style four spoke steering wheel.

FOR: Nobody did value and appeal quite like Ford.

AGAINST: By 1982 standards, performance wise, the 1.3 & 1.6 were as flat as Norfolk 


Morris Marina LE Coupe – 1978


To be truthful, the 1978 LE Coupe was one of the better offerings from Leyland Cars. Even though it was still a stodgy old Marina – a 1300 one at that, admit it… doesn’t look bad does it?

Rather like the Cortina above it, the LE Marina was a run-out model born out of necessity. There was a mildly facelifted Marina about to be launched with new engines and a mild refresh to the interior so the LE Coupe was introduced to empty the parts bins of the outgoing models. Only one engine option was offered – a 57bhp 1275cc with manual gearbox and just the one colour scheme – Oyster metallic, a tobacco coloured vinyl roof (some had a roll-back Webasto sunroof) and one of the thickest side stripes known at the time.

Visually, the car looked very similar the 1.8GT thanks to the Cibie ‘Iode-35’ driving lamps, 7″ halogen headlamps, bumper over-riders and 165/13 tyres with sporty plastic wheel trims. A similar vista to the GT on the interior too with the same instrument pack with rev-counter and extra warning lights, fake wood trim and chintzy bri-nylon striped upholstery with rear armrest. Other delights included a twin-tone horn and lamps in the boot as well as under the bonnet – 2050 examples were produced.

FOR: A convincing special edition… proof that Leyland could really polish a turd when they tried.

AGAINST: Such a pity they didn’t go as well as they looked. 

Vauxhall Cavalier Calibre – 1987

Based on the SRi 130, the Cavalier Calibre looked superb at the time in my opinion. Today it looks square, clumsy and over-dressed. But we loved fibreglass tat all those years ago didn’t we?

A car I remember so very well is the Vauxhall Cavalier Calibre. At the time of the launch, I was just a pup on work experience assigned to the sales department of a large Vauxhall dealer. A salesman who lived literally around the corner from us had one of these as his company demonstrator. At the time I marvelled at its chiselled looks, glossy carmine red paintwork and low slung sports suspension. Based on the 2.0 130bhp version of the Cavalier SRI, the brochure waxed lyrical about its Aston Martin Tickford styling, its race bred suspension and exclusive Irmscher produced body kit.

In reality, what you had was an even boxier version of a Cavalier saloon that had a suspension with seemingly no springs fitted whatsoever. Unless the road was billiard table smooth, the Calibre would buck, bounce, lurch and crash over even mild ruts and potholes. It was expensive too at over £13,000 but came well equipped with electric this and powered that – not to mention exclusivity with just 500 cars being produced. All of its ills aside they were snapped up in next to no time and fetch silly money today if in good fettle and well loved.

FOR: Gusty and gutsy performance

AGAINST: In all fairness … quite uncomfortable 

MG Maestro Turbo – 1988/89

Fragile & flawed but flippin fast – The MG Maestro Turbo

Bit of a strange one for me is the Maestro Turbo… my head says no but my heart says go. I remember it well sitting on the stand at the Birmingham Motor Show as much as I do seeing it aloft on a workshop ramp awaiting attention for a cracked gearbox casing under warranty. Fragility was the key word with anything Maestro sadly, despite their roomy cabin, agreeable handling and unquestionable value for money, they never gained any form of respect from the trade or the press. The Maestro Turbo certainly caused a storm however, with its sub seven second sprint to 60mph and 130+mph top speed.

Like the Cavalier Calibre, the Maestro Turbo had a Tickford assembled bodykit styled by Rover to attempt to beef up the plain Jane looks of the podgy Maestro. Those oversized Lucas fog lamps certainly gave the frontal look a bit more ka-pow but viewed from the rear it looked bloated and all a bit… well.. you know… a bit afterthoughtish. Despite the price tag of just over £13,000 the Maestro Turbo totalled a production of just 505 split between white, black, red and British racing green colour schemes.

FOR: Amazing performance

AGAINST: Three or four good prods of the brakes could easily have them on fire. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.