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Orphans in 2005 - Part One

We take a look at a selection of performance vehicles that have been orphaned by their manufacturers...

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • First of two-part series
  • Performance niche vehicles orphaned by their manufacturers
  • Corolla Sportivo Turbo
  • Ford Cougar
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In 2002 we presented a range of performance vehicles that have been orphaned by their manufacturer - cars such as Hyundai S Coupe and the utterly forgotten Alfa Romeo 164 Quadrifoglio. (See Orphaned Performers - Part One).

Well, in recent years we’ve seen a few more performance cars suffer the same fate – once loved, these machines have now been rejected and their retained values are falling like a stone.

These are some of the greatest bargains on the used car market.

Toyota Corolla Sportivo Turbo

It might seem that performance car buyers go crazy for anything that’s turbocharged – but the Toyota Corolla Sportivo is a notable exception...

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Launched in Australia in 2001, the Corolla Sportivo packs a turbocharged version of the base 1.8 litre twin-cam 4-cylinder. Curiously, the Corolla Turbo was released just months before the all-new Corolla series arrived in late 2001 – it was never going to be a long-running model.

Under the bonnet you’ll find a turbocharged 7A-FTE engine, which was a joint venture between Toyota and Tom’s (a reputable Japanese tuning company). The 7A-FTE is an untouched garden-variety Corolla engine with a low-boost turbo system added. This means the standard 9.5:1 static compression ratio remains to help maintain excellent off-boost flexibility and all-round torque.

The turbo conversion comprises an IHI RHF4B turbocharger, a new cast iron exhaust manifold, revised exhaust, bigger injectors, remapped engine management, colder spark plugs and new inlet plumbing (which snakes its way through the engine bay from the standard Corolla airbox location). Boosting to 8 psi, induction-air is chilled by a front-mount air-to-air intercooler. The result is 115kW at 5600 rpm and 237Nm at 3600 rpm – but note that premium unleaded fuel is required to avoid detonation and extract maximum power.

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Interestingly, the Corolla Turbo is also intended to run Caltex Havoline Formula 3 premium motor oil. This is the same oil as used in competition rally by Neal Bates and Coral Taylor (as seen here).

A 5 speed gearbox is standard along with a TRD upgrade clutch and pressure plate. Driving through its front wheels, the 1175kg ‘Rolla can accelerate to 100 km/h in under 9 seconds. It’s no rip-snorter when you look at the performance figures, but its generous mid-range thrust and response makes it a brisk real-world performer.

The basic Corolla chassis is equipped with firmer and lowered springs and exclusive 15 inch alloys wearing 195/50 tyres. The turbo’d Corolla is said to be a decent handler, but it struggles to power-down in tight turns. There is also some criticism of torque-steer and axle tramp. The ABS-controlled ventilated disc/solid disc brakes are upgraded with TRD pads.

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Based on an AE112R-series Corolla liftback, the Sportivo Turbo is identified by its full-width front spoiler, mesh grille, fog lights, side skirts and rear spoiler ‘risers’ (spacers which allow the mainstream Corolla spoiler to be raised 55mm). It’s a stealth machine that was sold only in the Aztec Gold metallic colour.

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Inside, it’s all standard Corolla fare – there are dual airbags and plenty of drab grey trim but you also receive a leather gear knob and steering wheel, sports seats and a single CD sound system. It’s practical rather than flashy.

Selling new for AUD$37,990 (just 5 grand less than a Subaru WRX!), the Corolla Sportivo Turbo was a very slow seller. Only 100 examples were brought to Australia – and even this limited number took months to shift... Today, you can pick up one of these forgotten machines for about 20 grand – and there’s plenty of potential for a bit of aftermarket tweaking around the edges.

So what happened to the go-fast Corolla? Well, it’s alive and well in the current Corolla Sportivo (which is fitted with the Celica’s engine) but there’s no longer a turbo option.

RIP turbo Corolla.

Ford Cougar

The humungous size of Ford Motor Company is obvious when you take a look at the number of countries crossed by the Couger.

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Intended primarily for the US market but designed in Europe, the Ford Cougar failed to strike a chord when it was forced upon Australian buyers. In terms of sales, it was essentially a repeat of the forgotten Ford Taurus...

From mid 1999, local buyers could purchase the US-built Cougar which was touted (by Ford) for its bold styling, agile handling and silky V6.

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The Cougar is powered by a 2.5 litre Duratec V6 with DOHC 4-valve-per-cylinder heads, dual stage intake manifold and EECV management. Peak outputs are 125kW at 6250 rpm and 220Nm at 4250 rpm. Note that 90 percent of peak torque is available from 2000 rpm. It’s a sweet revving engine with impressive tractability and flexibility, but road testers commented that it felt underpowered – another 20kW would’ve made it a competitive package.

Available with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto, the sweet looking V6 coupe can accelerate to 100 km/h in the high 8 second range. Its near-1500kg kerb mass is reluctant to shift off the line but the slippery body profile helps achieve strong top-end acceleration.

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Interestingly, the Cougar is based on a Ford Mondeo V6 platform. It also scores a sophisticated Quadralink IRS with passive rear wheel steering and electronic traction control. Note that Australian-delivered Cougars are fitted with the European suspension settings – these are firmer than the US settings. Handling is said to be nicely balanced but the steering lacks feel.

The Cougar’s biggest drawcard is its styling - its clean and bold lines are distinctly European. Attractive 16 inch wheels fill the guards.

Inside, the 4-seater cabin is well equipped with a trip computer, climate control, 4 airbags, sporty trim and the option for leather. Cargo capacity is a strong point given the Cougar’s 410 litre boot and split folding rear backrests.

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Note that a Tickford-enhanced version of the Cougar appeared in 2000. An on-road improvement was felt through the use of lowered Eibach springs, revised dampers and 17 inch alloys with low profile rubber. A front spoiler and bonnet scoop were also added to give extra appeal. Only 100 examples were built.

Next, in early 2001, a Cougar update brought new bumpers, headlights and restyled alloy wheels. The interior also received subtle changes but there were no alterations under the bonnet.

So why did this attractive and capable all-round coupe fail to take off in Australia?

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Well, debuting at below AUD$40,000 it was competitively priced - but it failed to match the reputation and performance of the Honda Prelude and Toyota Celica. It was essentially a re-run of what happened with the previous-generation Ford Probe. Selling from 1999 to only 2002, the Cougar currently fetches from AUD$15,000 second-hand - significantly cheaper than its Honda and Toyota rivals.

To date, Ford has not since offered a medium-size personal coupe in Australia. It seems the lesson has been learned...

Stick around for Part Two of this series – we’ll look at a zippy little Daihatsu and a severely under-rated medium-size turbo car...

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