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Motoring Contributions

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

Introducing the JTurn Fleet

Being a child of 1987, I was at my most impressionable during the mid to late '90s - which probably goes some way to explain why most of the cars I have owned (or wish to own) are from this period. The Sony Playstation game Gran Turismo must also take some blame here, with fond childhood memories of a number of vehicles on that game maturing into adult ownership (or at least designs on ownership).

I love gawping at warehouse-sized, spotless garages on the internet and whenever Jay Leno shows his off on TV. Unfortunately, my modest wages don't stretch to such a collection (or indeed garage) but I still invest a fair amount of time and money maintaining a "fleet" usually comprising of two vehicles. The uninitiated often seem shocked that I should own two vehicles - when even the most ardent petrol head can only use one at a time. To many, the car is a tool that should function reliably and preferably impose as little as possible practically and financially on their lives. I don't really do things that way...

To me (and many others) car ownership is a hobby as much as a necessity. I didn't really need a car when I was at university, but I had one because I liked it. I don't need two cars now - but I love them both and I like having a choice of what to use.

My primary vehicle is a '96 Rev4 Toyota MR2 Turbo, purchased in November 2010 as a replacement for my... '97 Rev5 Toyota MR2. I liked the styling, driving position and mid-engined set up and just wished it was a little faster - luckily Toyota had already thought of this and had a ready-made upgrade. I've been in love with this car, pretty much since the test drive - and though I have chopped and changed 3 other vehicles since then (and considered countless others) it remains my pride and joy.

Despite the image many will associate with this car, I don't drive it particularly quickly or throw it into corners hard. The turbo boost and induction whistle is addictive but a bit laggy - however this just adds to the raw feel of the car and is a hoot to have on tap for overtaking manoeuvres or the odd squirt after roundabouts.

I've no doubt that a more skilled (or braver) driver could corner this car very quickly indeed due to its weight distribution and low centre of gravity. I prefer not to push the limits of adhesion too far, especially since it exhibits a slightly unsettling combination of turn in understeer (due to the light nose) switching rapidly to oversteer on boost - at a rate that outpaces my driving proficiency. The car is benign enough when driven normally - short shifting to 3rd for roundabouts in the wet - and has only stepped out on me a few times (usually when provoked or on rear tyres due a change).

At the moment, my more sensible runabout is a Ford Puma 1.7. I don't like racking up huge mileage on the MR2 (although I have heard this compared to not having sex with your girlfriend so she's more satisfying for her next lover) and it also has limited passenger/load capacity and an expensive taste for Shell V-Power.

In July 2012, after about 4 months of one-car ownership since the departure of my Mk3 Golf GTI 16v, I had an itch for another warm '90s hatch or similar. Having looked at some Peugeots (106 GTI and 306 Cabrio) a mate asked if I knew anyone who would be interested in buying his Puma. I was aware of the car's excellent reputation in the press as a cheap ticket to driving thrills but had never considered it as an option due to the slightly feminine styling and notorious arch rust.

The friend had harboured ambitions of using it for some track days - and as such had fitted it with semi-slick Parada Spec II tyres. I took it for a quick test blast one evening after work and was instantly hooked. Its combination of low weight, buzzy VCT engine and over-specced grip from the Paradas meant I couldn't wait to part with my money and drive it again.

I've had a lot of fun in the Puma and would advise anybody with a closed mind (as I was guilty of) not to knock it before they've tried it. I'm planning on completing the project to get it on track, involving fixing a few niggles and then moving on to some light performance upgrades. This experience may lead to my becoming rather attached to the Puma, it has already rekindled my interest in fast Fords, but the plan is currently to move it on after a year or so to make way for something else, almost inevitably, of '90s vintage.

Vehicle: 1996 Toyota MR2 Rev4 Turbo
Owned Since: November 2010
Purchase Price: £3,150
Mileage Then:72,000
Mileage Now: 87,000
Engine Brief: 2.0L 3S-GTE Twin Entry Turbo
Quoted Power: 242 bhp

Vehicle: 1999 Ford Puma
Owned Since: August 2012
Purchase Price: £1,000
Mileage Then: 120,000
Mileage Now: 124,000
Engine Brief: 1.7L Zetec-S VCT
Quoted Power: 123 bhp

Regular Features
20th January

Just when you think everything is going well...

7th October

Puma passes MOT despite struggle

28th June

MR2 Turbo in France

31st March

Further money "invested"

6th January 2013

'90s reigns as the current JT Fleet is introduced