Mention the name Max Bygraves to anyone under fifty and you will inevitably elicit blank stares. In the 1970s when UK television was in its heyday, Max was the doyen of Saturday night TV entertainment. Crooning a ballad, he would then relocate to his armchair, emit the title phrase (which had the public impersonating, ad Infinitum) to begin his raconteur session, replete in chunky knit cardigan. Adored for years, by housewives and knitwear aficionados alike, he most likely encouraged an entire generation into the pleasures of yarn.
Looking out my workplace window recently, you can only imagine my surprise to find the automotive version of the London born troubadour – a twenty year old Daihatsu Sirion. Cardigans are somewhat unfashionable garments nowadays but this story contains a few twists, as cable-knit. Get settled in your comfiest chair, grab (carefully) a hot drink and a biscuit and enter the rarefied world of the cardigan car.
Launched in Japan for 1998, the car had several names. Toyota, longstanding Daihatsu bedfellows, selling them as Duets and Passos. Daihatsu choose Boon but in the main, Storia – Italian for story or history. “A name instilled with expectation that a new small car story begins here,” the Osaka based manufacturer informed the world.
The remaining Mondiale knows the car as the Sirion with the UK receiving six incremental model variants, all powered by a one litre, three cylinder petrol powerhouse making around 60bhp, mated to either a four speed automatic or five slot manual gearbox. Later versions (from 2000-onwards) could be specified with thirteen hundred ccs, which we’ll return to, shortly.
From EL base, we move to the + (the car in question), then E and later Deluxe and finally SL. Sadly the five door hatchback’s owner was not encountered but further inspection revealed the + to have enhanced trim. All models received PAS, twin front airbags, seat belt pre-tension, electrically adjustable door mirrors, engine immobiliser and rare for such a class, headlight levelling. The plus models have added side air bags, air conditioning, central locking and even electric rear windows.
There are side protection beams, a door release system in the event of an accident and a Mercedes supplied braking system to help avoid one. All this equipment garnered the Sirion a three star NCAP rating with road testers of the day praising the equipment levels and cost but criticising the lightweight feel to proceedings and lacklustre performance.
But starting at £7,400 and rising four thousand to the top (for luxuries such as CD player and nicer cloth trim) you were buying into a competitive package at supermini prices for a car the class above. The car measured 3,860mm, whose wheelbase is 2,370mm and a starting weight of 820Kgs, rising a hundred for that bigger mill. Comparative rivals such as Polo, Fiesta and homegrown Jazz sold better though and we must now remove those rose tinted spectacles to investigate the cardigan more closely.
Daihatsu would have those interested believe this was a car for the frugal, more liberal and stylish motorist which happened to hit the ballpark with those of a more mature age. Similar to the Jazz, few under pensionable age warmed to the Sirion. Resembling a mid-life crisis Metro, the looks are distinctive if not exactly loveably persuasive.
Delve deeper – look how much glass there is – Sirion is an easy car to see out of and therefore park – please take note, designers. The DRG is, hand on cardigan shaped heart, droopy – perhaps the (unknown) designer was listening to some of Max’s hit parade topping tunes such as “Meet Me On The Corner”, or perhaps, rather appropriately for such decisive orientation, “Fings A’int What They Used T’Be.” Similar to Mr Bygraves, Sirion is inoffensive, a universe away from a hoody-wearing hoodlum in a Max-Power Polo, for example.
Luxuriating points are an actual front bumper – chromed to boot! This filigree continues onto the doors. Above one’s station? Or just pleasing to see, especially after twenty years (and more) of ever more aggressive intakes and openings? Further nods to difference being the thinner than a knitting needle aerial (a favourite of ne’er do wells) and tongue-in-cheek rear spoiler. V-Max was 90mph, downhill with an assisting wind. To the rear, the chromed registration plate bridge is nice.
But the hopelessly tacky add-on rear fog light does actually offend. What were Daihatsu thinking? The chrome surround is as incongruous as an F-word in a Bygraves ballad. Same goes for the reversing light – could this have not been incorporated into the decent enough looking light cluster?
A score of years have been reasonably compliant with the cherry red hue but those wheels could do with a refurb. Other hues your Sirion could be found in being an acid lemon (fetching), plain white, silver, black, red and a dusty coral pink – ideal cardigan fodder.
But wait – From the turn of the Millennium, Max then not only dropped a stitch, he ditched the cardie altogether for a layer of Nomex and a flappy paddle gear change! The facelift brought about an even droopier headlight arrangement but also the BMW 5 series baiting Rally 2 and 4 variants, the latter deploying four wheel drive. Grille changes and go-faster front fog lamps complimented the new, Rallye look.
The Sirion’s engine bay sported a 1.3 engine it shared with sibling, and infinitely more saleable (in the UK) Yaris. Power tipped the 100bhp envelope meaning this car suddenly dropped its pensioner image into a cardigan-wearing wolf. Whether any budding Colin McRae or Sebastian Loebs got their racing gloves on them is rather doubtful – only around a hundred in total came to ply the Queen’s highways and the special stage with surprising effect.
Rare as a classy cardigan, these eyes have only seen around a dozen Sirion’s ever and a completely new version arrived in 2005. Daihatsu saw fit to leave Blighty just seven years later as sales – akin to cardigans, but unlike Max’s career – dropped off a cliff. To the name: Sirion can also mean breastplate, a Lebanese mountain, along with inspiration for one J.R.R. Tolkien who used it for a river. My attention distracted but a moment, the Sirion+ was gone. Probably to the tune of Max’s “Out of Town.”
 Real name Walter William Bygraves OBE – 1922-2012.
 0-60 times: 520i – 9.2 seconds. Rally 4 – 8.9 seconds.
A six minute, Japanese only video that helps gets the message across. Warning: does contain music that some may find too excitable.