Whether you are a petrolhead, a movie buff, or just a fan of beautiful scenery, you will probably remember the opening scene of The Italian Job. In this iconic scene a Lamborghini Miura cruises through the twists and turns of the Grand Saint Bernard Pass above the town of Aosta in northwest Italy. Sadly, the car is confronted by the mafia, who prevent it travelling any further by crushing it and pushing it down a ravine. For car enthusiasts, it is a heartbreaking moment.
Despite the Miura’s demise, the idea of driving a beautiful sports car through a mountain pass is attractive to many people. A Miura might not be practical for most of us, or affordable come to that, but the industry and designers have been creating cars to complete this picture for decades. They are called GT cars, or Gran Turismo (Grand Touring). No, Gran Turismo is not only a PlayStation game: it is a genre of motor car, one that has been lusted after by many people for decades.
These days the definition of a GT car is a little more blurred than it once was. Technically, the Miura was not a GT car, but a sportscar. Purists will say that a GT must be a 2+2, which means two proper seats up front and two seats that barely qualify as such in the rear. This makes the Porsche 911 a GT, but, in spite of its superb touring ability and undeniable character on a mountain pass, the 911 is a sports car and not a GT. Like I said, it’s all a little blurry. A GT should be able to travel long distances on highways, back roads, and mountain passes in comfort, and, crucially, it must do so with a sense of style.
In recent years, manufacturers have cottoned onto this whole GT thing and tried to reinvent it. BMW has its 3 Series and 5 Series GT models, but let’s be honest, GT cars they are not. Its Gran Coupé models are closer, but they are not really GT cars, or even coupés. They are more like extended fast-backs, with all the practicality of a grand tourer.
More obvious, perhaps, are models such as the Bentley Continental GT (it’s in the name), which is an absolute pleasure to drive over long distances, and, in spite of its rather hefty weight, defies the laws of physics when you hurl it at a mountain pass.
Maserati has taken an even more obvious route, calling one of its models, wait for it, the GranTurismo. And it is. The Maser has all the elements of a GT: two doors, barely useable rear seats, and a boot that is designed to accommodate a luxurious set of Louis Vuitton weekend luggage. Actually Maserati, like many other car makers, offers its own tailor-made luggage, designed to fit perfectly in the (often limited) available boot space, and even in those rear seats.
The Maserati also has an additional element that should be included in the definition of a GT car — noise. That glorious V8 echoes through any mountain valley in a way that is nothing short of orchestral. Electric cars are never going to be able to do that, not naturally anyway.
Beauty and noise have also been hallmarks of Aston Martin, and, let’s be honest, no James Bond movie would be complete without an Aston charging through the hairpins of a grand mountain location, being chased by a baddie in a German sedan. Its new DB11 also fits the GT paradigm, and it does so in a way that sets the scene for the resurgence of the brand.
Another manufacturer that took the obvious naming route is Mercedes, with its AMG GT. With its classic design of a long bonnet, rearward cabin, and curvaceous backside, it is a design that is likely to be looked back at fondly in decades to come. The only problem is that it has just two seats, which technically makes it less of a GT car than the SLS was, although I know which I would rather drive for a long distance trip from Monte Carlo to San Moritz. That’s another thing: ideally a GT car should be able to accommodate skis, but generally that is not a prerequisite if you live in Saxonwold.
Further blurring of the lines occurs with models such as the Porsche Panamera and the upcoming Sport Turismo derivative. The Panamera is a phenomenally good touring car, and while many of them can only dream of being taken to a nice mountain pass or along the Garden Route, it is mind blowing in the tight twisties. But it has two proper rear seats and a relatively decent boot. And Porsche even calls it a sedan, though it’s more of a hatchback or notchback really. The Sport Turismo will be a Panamera estate, but it could be the one that pushes the definition of a GT car even further.
With all this talk of mountain passes and charging through tight corners, it would be easy to forget another crucial element of a GT car. They were everyday supercars long before the term was coined, and applied to models such as the Audi R8 and McLaren MP4-12C. A true GT car should be at home in the city, providing a level of comfort similar to an executive sedan, but able to unleash its inner-sportscar character faster than Superman can don his underpants.
And it does not have to be a coupé either. It can be a convertible, although again the purists will probably want to take me into a dark alley and point out the error of my ways.
Many car makers have tried to redefine the GT segment in recent years, but the fundamentals remain the same. A GT car must be comfortable, powerful, dynamic, and provide a great soundtrack, but most of all it must be stylish. After all, it’s not simply a grand tourer, it’s a Gran Turismo.
THE LATEST WHEELS
1. MCPERFECTIONMcLaren has been around long enough as a car company to launch the second generation of its MP4-12C model. The new 720S replaces the car that marked the entry into the road-car market for the British brand, and it is a dramatic change. Gone are the smooth curves, replaced by a striking central cockpit, bold lines, and technology — lots of technology. It has wizards working on every corner to make sure the car stays flat and pointed in the right direction, and beneath the engine cover sits a wonderful biturbo V8 engine that will rocket you to 100km/h in just 2.9 seconds. It is also more comfortable, which is useful in South Africa.
2. LEXUS LCLexus is getting its cool on with the launch of its new LC500 coupé in June. It’s likely to be a rare sight, but if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it, you’re sure to be impressed. Its interior is practically a work of art, with swooping lines and bold colours (don’t worry if you prefer black, the colours are optional) and the cabin is all handcrafted. It also boasts a beautiful-sounding V8 engine and the world’s first 10-speed automatic gearbox.
3. LUXURIOUS LUSSOFerrari’s FF was not everyone’s cup of espresso, but it was a proper Prancing Horse with a V12, four seats, and space for the golf clubs in the boot. Now the company has launched its replacement, the GTC4Lusso, in South Africa, and it definitely moves the game on. It still boasts a thoroughbred 12-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, but everything is a little more luxurious and there are more systems to keep this horse galloping in the right direction.
4. MINI MINI
The original Mini is an icon, and in today’s crowded cities its dimensions probably make more sense than ever. But as much as we love the classic Mini, it was cramped, uncomfortable, and had about as much technology and luxury as an old London bus. What if someone changed all that? Well David Brown Automotive in the UK has revealed its Mini Remastered. It looks like an original Mini, but it has been completely reworked, with LED lighting, a luxurious leather interior, and a touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and Apple CarPlay. It even has a start button and a cupholder. It is currently available only in the UK, with pricing starting at £75 000, but boy do we want one.