In our CO2 emissions obsessed world, turbo engines are rapidly becoming the norm. Naturally aspirated diesels have long since gone extinct and atmospheric petrol motors can’t be far behind.
It wasn’t always this way. Two or three decades ago a car with a ‘turbo’ badge was something special, something fast, furious and often completely bonkers.
There have been faster, more powerful turbo’d cars than the ones we present here, but they were all utterly nutty and absolutely thrilling.
1973 BMW 2002 Turbo
The 2002 Turbo wasn’t the first turbocharged production car – that was the ’65 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa – but it was the first from a European manufacturer, a bespoilered, wide-arched, graphics-wearing homologation special. It’s engine was the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, fuel-injected unit from the 2002tii, to which was added a honking-great KKK blower.
The result was 170bhp and 180lb/ft, modest numbers by modern standards but revelatory back then. Especially as it all arrived in one big lump. Add in a less than ideal chassis set-up and the 2002 Turbo was not an easy car to drive fast. Legend has it several were written off on the press launch – even for seasoned journalists, it was a brand new experience.
Naturally, the 2002 Turbo became an instant classic but time, abuse and crashes have accounted for many of the 1,672 built. If you can find one now, it’s a cast-iron investment.
1984 Ford Escort RS Turbo
There had been turbocharged hot hatchbacks before the Escort RS Turbo – the Renault 5 Gordini Turbo arrived in ’82 – but it was the first to really catch on, especially in the UK. Only available in white and with a distinctive bodykit, five-spoke wheels, graphics and gorgeous Recaro seats, it could have been tailor-made for the working class lads making good out of the Eighties boom that bought it in their thousands.
There were problems. The handling wasn’t brilliant – despite the limited slip diff – and the engine wasn’t entirely reliable. But it was ridiculously easy to tune with not much more than a socket set and a screwdriver. In fact, you could argue the RST instigated the UK tuning scene as we now know it, becoming the first darling of the Max Power crowd.
Good, standard RS Turbos are rare cars now and becoming highly collectible. Last year, a showroom-fresh Series 1 car with just 5,000 miles on the clock sold at auction for a staggering £60,000 (the white car pictured here). Such is the power of nostalgia.
1990 Vector W8
Conceived by Gerry Weigart, the W8 was an attempt to build an all-American supercar that could go toe-to-with the best cars from Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini. It didn’t quite work out like that.
The W8 was undoubtedly high-tech. The chassis consisted of an aluminium monocoque bonded and riveted to an aluminium honeycomb floor, with a body of carbonfibre and kevlar. Power came from a mid-mounted, 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 wearing a brace of turbos and producing 650bhp and 649lb/ft of torque. Which is still a lot.
Vector quoted a top speed of over 220mph for the W8, making it the fastest car in the world. But Weigert admitted that none of the 17 cars built could realistically break 200. Still, it looked like a B-2 stealth bomber and had switchgear lifted from an F-16 fighter jet.
1994 Audi RS2 Avant
Without the RS2, the supercar-quick family car probably wouldn’t exist as A Thing. Here was a perfectly ordinary Audi 80 estate with a 2.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo engine – not too far removed from that in the Quattro Group B rally car – producing 311bhp. With a six-speed manual gearbox and four-wheel-drive, the RS2 could slingshot from 0-62mph in just 4.8secs and go on to 163mph. These are still impressive numbers.
It was discreet, too, only identifiable to those who really knew their stuff. But even to the untrained eye, it was clearly something not to be messed with. As many a Porsche and Ferrari driver found out back in the day.
But most importantly, it was still a family-size estate, which meant the kids and the dog could come along for the ride. It started an entire genre and, as it’s a rare car now, the RS2 is highly prized.
2015 Mercedes-AMG A45
That the wizards at Mercedes-AMG have managed to wring 381bhp out of the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine in the A45 isn’t that remarkable. What is remarkable, is that the A45 has a 381bhp, 2.0, 4cyl turbo engine and is perfectly usable day-to-day.
A decade or so ago, Mitsubishi produced a 400bhp Evo. Between the turbo lag and a clutch more sensitive than a shark’s nose, it was almost unusable. No such worries with the A45, though. The engine isn’t entirely lag-free, but gets going from relatively low down in the rev range, and the dual-clutch gearbox resolves any problems with getting that power to the road.
And it remains a perfectly sensible family hatchback. A family hatchback with 381bhp. That does 0-62mph in 4.2secs. Which is quicker than a BMW M5.
By Graham King