ITH – British Icons – The Interview {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

6 Mar 2018

If you were to peek through the windows of the BOTB HQ office you’d see everyone wearing top hats, eating crumpets and drinking tea. Well, maybe just the latter, but we’d all be having a stiff upper lip and not showing any emotion AT ALL. Maybe. Yes you’ve guessed it (or read the title) – this week’s In the Headlights promotion is British Icons, and to help up pick our four cars we enlisted the help of the terribly spiffing Conor McNicholas - ex-Top Gear editor and motoring journalist. And he’s done rather well – there’s a hot hatch, a bonafide supercar, a beautiful coupe and a performance SUV, truly something for everyone. As ever, I’ll be chucking my Size 12’s in and saying what I think of them too, but only because I’m an awful bore and can’t keep my mouth shut.

Mulgari Mini Icon 02

Conor McNicholas: Anything that strives to deliver an improvement on the standard Mini is alright by me, I'm not a fan. It's never been a Mini in any true sense of the word, it's simply a Mini-themed car. Like an Irish-themed pub. A bit of an abomination, then. Apparently over half of people who buy a Mini do so without ever having taken one for a test-drive. Make of that what you will. Maybe that's why they never reject it for its crashing ride which is utterly impractical in the speed-bump infected city which is where most of the cars live. It's one of the few motors that consistently ends up with finger prints on the roof-lining as passengers brace themselves against the pot-holes.

Still, this one looks like it's been nicely tickled under the bonnet to get the best out of a promising BMW lump and they've taken the cutesy exterior and given it the mean treatment. The result is something like a very angry rabbit.

Tim Oldland: He’s right you know, the Mini isn’t very mini. But that has never bothered me, it’s just a brand these days and it’s infuriating that over half don’t test drive as they don’t know just how brilliant they are to drive! The Mini JCW is a pocket rocket that is enormous fun, so by adding more personal visual touches, along with a steroid injection up to 280bhp and some other choice mechanical mods you end up with a hilariously fun little hot hatch that is wonderfully bespoke. I’m a big fan in case you didn’t guess…

F-type 2.0 300

CMN: I like Ian Callum, Head of Design at Jaguar. I haven't always agreed with everything he's done but I like his boldness. The F-Type is a problem, though. Surely he looks out of his studio window every day at his F-Type in the carpark and thinks, "How am I ever going to top that?" It's just sublime. It's the coupé God had in mind when he invested the term coupé.

But does a 2.0 litre four-pot have a place under that bonnet, a bonnet surely best suited to a V6 or V8? Well, given it's 300hp and delivers 0-62mph in 5.7 sec it's not doing too bad. It's further proof that smaller engines can now start to deliver the performance of bigger one, a fact that I'm sure thrills none of us. You can reflect on this as you ponder the global future of the V8, and then probably go off and buy a Cayman instead anyway.

TO: I must say I almost choked on my cereal when the press release for a 4-cylinder F-Type came through – I mean that beautiful snarling coupe with 6 or 8 cylinders works perfectly, but with four? Surely not? But hey you know what, those boffins in Gaydon actually know what they’re doing! Yep, it may be a 4-pot but it packs a 300hp punch and the engine is lighter than the V6, so performance isn’t too far off the standard V6. The biggest surprise is what the exhaust geeks have managed to do with the sound of a 4-pot lump – it snarls, bangs and pops like an old Group B rally car! To you, Jaguar engineers – I doff my cap. Jaguar has nailed it.

Lotus Evora GT410 Sport

CMN: The Evora was a strange thing when it turned up (out-weirded only by the 2006 Europa S, a vehicle so odd it used to get sympathy cards from kit cars), but confident refinements to the exterior have eventually brought out a true classic that's now, for my money, the pick of the range. Yes, the Lotus DNA is in titchy F1 cars you could balance on your finger, but I was brought up on James Bond's Esprit and I always hanker after a bigger Lotus.

This GT410 has enough carbon fibre to win you the 'mine's got more carbon than yours' pub bragging rights and with all the lightweight option it weighs about as much as a Sumatran dwarf butterfly on a 'nil by mouth' diet. There are more terrifying ways to hit 190mph but I can't think of many of them.

TO: Lightweight? Check. Powerful? Check. Beautiful? Check. Clichéd go-kart-like handling? Check once again. Yep, this Evora GT410 Sport has got it all. The Evora was always a bit of an oddball choice, but with the later changes made to the cabin so you didn’t need a degree in yoga and origami just get in or out it became a more viable option to the Porsche Cayman or 911. Now they’ve honed, tweaked and fettled the Evora into a GT car that can also thrill and excite like only a Lotus can on the twisties.

Range Rover Sport SVR

CMN: Whoomp. That was my abiding thought after a week with the SVR. Whatever situation you were in, be it tight corner, open straight or open field, you could drop your right foot and a whole skip-load of whoomp was delivered instantly. There are very few cars where I've ever wondered whether it was actually over-powered but this was one. Nonsense, obviously, it's impossible for a car to be over-powered, but it was still such a generous and immediate level of whoomp that it always concentrated the mind. 

I'll confess, I always preferred the tank-like lines of the first-generation Sport but I still wouldn't kick one of these out of bed. When faced with the Zombie Apocalypse, this should probably be your car of choice.

TO: I haven’t driven the facelifted RR Sport SVR (HINT HINT Land Rover Press) but I did spend a week in the previous model, much like Conor. On paper the SVR makes absolutely no sense – too big, too heavy, too thirsty. But the way that this massive SUV tackles a twisty back road defies belief, holding on through the corners like a car half its size and weight, then absolutely demolishing straights in an aural assault of supercharger whine and 8-cylinder shouting from those four big pipes. It’s so much fun, all the time, everywhere that you’ll struggle to contain the grin that will permanently be spread across your face.


It would be fair to say that Conor McNicholas has had a fascinating and varied media career, writing and editing for luminary titles such as Top Gear Magazine and the NME as well as Mixmag and FHM.

Yet while music looms large it is clear that cars have left an indelible impression - from Matchbox cars in his childhood through to modern-day high jinks in a Lamborghini Huracan.

As for his writing career, it began in the stars. Literally. Working for fledgling Manchester publication Sub, Conor wrote a spoof horoscope under the pen name of Snufkin. Serious jobs came later, as we alluded earlier, and now he is the boss ofa full-service digital engagement agency AllTogetherNow, which he founded in 2014.

Growing up, his family often broke with tradition when it came to their cars of choice.

“There were a succession of company cars generally but a few stood out. I loved my step-dad's glamorous Renault 25, my dad's Capri and my mum's XR2.

“But it was the Matchbox cars which had me transfixed. When I had the white plastic strips for them to shoot down at speed I was in heaven.”

So when did he get seriously into cars? How did the passion become a job?

“I've always been car obsessed, it's in the blood. Reading Autocar used to keep me sane when I was editing NME each week. I met the Editor of Top Gear Magazine at a magazine industry event and we hit it off. He'd talk at me about Bruce Springsteen and I'd talk at him about Aston Martins. Eventually I got offered the Top Gear job.”

Given he bowed out at the top of motoring mag excellence, is there still a motoring job out there which he’d love?

“I loved doing the car column for FHM. I'd love to go back and do that again. But's it's hard when the magazine's dead. RIP.

“There were plenty of highlights. Too many to mention in any respect, but to give you a snapshot of some of the best there were Land Rovers over Moroccan sand dunes next to the Atlantic, Maseratis through the Italian lakes, Aston speed boats on the Cote d'Azur…

“One particular highlight was driving a Lotus Carlton on the way from Monaco to Geneva. I never thought I'd drive that car. The clutch almost destroyed my knee-joint by the end of it.”

So given he’s no doubt driven everything with four wheels, or at least had the chance to get behind the wheel, what’s sitting on his drive?

“I still have my Alfa 147 2.0 T Spark hot hatch,” he grins. “It puts a smile on my face every time I drive it. The less said of my recent Mitsubishi ASX the better.”

As ever, we’ll be hoping that a man of his ilk passed his driving test first time….

First time. Natch. I couldn't tell you what I learned in, but my first car was Molly, the beige Mini. She got killed one night in a hit-and-run outside my door by a grey Audi. I came out in the morning and the arse was sticking out and the back wheels were at 45 degrees. Police never caught the driver.”

Choosing his ultimate car is tricky, but if BOTB were to pull up to Conor’s house with the car of his dreams, what would that car be?

“I once had a Lamborghini Huracan for a week - matte black with a cream leather interior. I have never loved a car so much. It brought complete joy to everyone who came near it. I always said if I won the lottery I'd get one again. Perhaps in lime green this time, just for the sheer hell of it.”




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