The Best Classic Cars For Under £2,000
I blame the bankers. And why not. Their mistakes caused the financial crisis that continues to haunt us. And which means our savings are just gathering dust rather than interest. So really, if you love cars, there's no excuse for not ploughing what you have into one of these bargain classics.
At Great Driving Days we love a bargain banger so we've put together a list of our favourite classics for under £2,000. At that price you can have fun without breaking the bank. A lot of fun.
Our golden rule with classics at this level is buy to enjoy, don't buy to keep. Sooner or later a cheap classic will end up with a big bill to keep it going. At this end of the market the key is to buy well and be prepared to bail out when the costs start to mount up. None of these cars is likely to appreciate significantly in the next five years, so don't make the mistake of spending money in the hope of recouping it later.
The beauty of the 'Buy to Enjoy' philosophy is that you aren't weighed down by worries about racking up mileage, salty roads, concours judges or owners club one-up-manship. Just buy it and drive it.
Any list is, by definition, limited. And reflects what we like. There will be many cars we've missed. Tell us about them in the comments - always ready to be enlightened.
1. Alfa Spider & GTV 916
The Alfa 916 - better know as the coupe GTV and convertible Spider - has all the ingredients of a highly desirable classic: the badge, the looks, the engines. And yet these cars are - particularly the coupe - virtually worthless. You can buy a decent coupe for under £1,000 and a reasonable convertible for £1,500.
The reason is reputation: 90s Alfas are renowned for unreliability and expensive parts. Neither of which should really put you off, because the reputation is bigger than the reality. The 916 is not the last word in quality or reliability, but a good one is as good as any 90s car. And parts? They're readily available because there are so many being broken.
Your budget will only cover the 2 litre Twin Spark models, but don't be disheartened - it's a lively, responsive engine whose light weight plays to the strengths of the Alfa's chassis. The 916 drives really nicely for a front wheel drive Alfa and the interior, particularly on the later 'Phase 2' cars, is a lovely place to be.
There are plenty about so choose a car that has been clearly loved and regularly serviced, particularly cambelt changes.
2. Ford Mondeo ST24 & ST200
The Mk1 and closely related Mk2 Mondeos were arguably the best front wheel drive saloon cars of their generation. Add V6 power - particularly an engine originally designed by Porsche - and you have a fantastic combination.
The ST24 was Ford's original attempt at a sporty Mondeo, with firmer suspension and 170 bhp from its 2.5 v6 engine. The later ST200 eeked the power out to 202 bhp, thanks to some Cosworth tweaks. Both are great but the 200 is the one to aim for - it is, after all, the only car that Clarkson, Hammond and May all agree they like.
And with good reason. Because the V6 engine really delivers on the promise of the Mondeo's chassis. It's reasonably quick - around 7 seconds 0-60 - but it's as a nimble B-road machine with long-legged cruising abilities that the STs really shine. Stiffer suspension, more direct steering and that V6 soundtrack - all in a car capable of transporting a family of four plus luggage.
And all for well under £2,000. ST200 prices are starting to shift but there are plenty about and a good one is easily bought for £1,500. You'll pay even less for a ST24 - under £1,000 is quite realistic.
Mondeos do rot. A lot. But buy well and enjoy one of the best cars Ford has ever built.
It's the last proper MG sports car. It's British. It's a convertible. It drives quite well. All of which should mean MGF values are mirroring those of early MX5s and heading north.
But they're not. And there are plenty of reasons for that. In particular, the F was not so much built as thrown together. There's the words 'head gasket' to contend with and there are an awful lot about, most of them in pretty dismal condition. Because the MGF rusts. A lot. And that's all before you secretly admit that the MX5 looks and drives better.
Don't let those admittedly significant problems put you off. Be content in the knowledge that they're enough to put most people off, which means more choice and lower prices for you. Because buy wisely and a good MGF will reward you. There are well cared for cars out there which have generally had the main problems - ie that troublesome head gasket - sorted long ago.
Find a good MGF and you'll soon warm to its rough-diamond charms. It may not handle quite as well as a MX5, but it's a more relaxed cruiser. The interior may be low rent but it's more stylish than the Mazda and there's also the cache of driving a mid-engined car with all the heritage of the MG badge.
You can pick up reasonable MGFs for £1,000 or really good cars for £2,000. Look at several before buying - there is a huge range of specs and special editions. The VVC is the quick one but don't bother holding out for one if the right car comes up - standard cars are perfectly fine.
4. Jaguar XJ6
According to tradition, old Jags are like pyramid selling - a very dangerous place to put your money. They're big, complicated cars that weren't very well built when they were new.
So why have we put a XJ on this list? Because they're bargains. We're talking about the mid to late 90s X300 and X308 models with, respectively, the 6 cylinder and 8 cylinder engines. And because every car fan, at some point in their life, needs a Jag.
I'll confess that I was never a Jaguar man. Until I drove one. No car delivers the same level of dishevelled glamour for under £2,000 like an old Jag. Think Withnail and I, Arthur Daley or The Sweeney. Simply jump in, lean back, fire up a Woodbine and smack it into Drive.
The XJ was built during Ford's ownership of Jaguar, which should mean better quality and reliability. While better than the XJ40 that preceded it, the later cars don't quite deliver BMW-esque standards. Again, let that put other people off - let it mean cheap prices and plenty of choice for you.
There are plenty of XJs about in a huge range of specs. The X300 6 cylinder cars (up to 1997) are more reliable, the later 8 cylinder cars more luxurious and modern. Pay attention to rust - a big killer on these cars - and check the electrics: there are a lot of them and they don't always all work at the same time.
£2,000 will give you the pick of the cars so you could budget to pay less and use some to improve the car. The other upside of Jaguar ownership is that there is excellent owners club support - good for parts and advice - and a good network of independent specialists.
5. VW Golf GTI
The original Golf GTI, of course, defined the hot hatch genre. The Mk2 moved the game on being more grown up and, in almost every way, even better. And then VW dropped the ball. The Mk3 GTI was lardy and slow. And awful.
So you would expect the Mk4 to reclaim the crown. Well it didn't. With the new car VW chose to make it look exactly the same as every other Golf in the range and saddled it with a lukewarm 150 bhp 1.8 engine, albeit turbocharged.
So why is it on this list?
Because, shock horror, it's not a bad car. It's certainly not quick and it's hardly the game-changer of its namesake, but it drives and handles nicely and gets you from A to B unruffled and unstressed. Which isn't something to sniff at.
It's also cheap, because like all sporty VWs it's at the bottom of its value curve. There are a lot about, most people prefer the earlier or later cars and it's not actually very quick (did I mention that?).
But who cares? Because it's a well built VW, it looks good, it's a GTI and it'll go on and on and on. And, just like Jaguars, at some point in every car fan's life, there's a GTI waiting to be bought.
We've chosen all of these cars because there are a lot about - which makes it a buyer's market. Shop around and buy the best you can, even if it's in Inverness.
Here are some tips to help you get the best car for your £2,000.
1. Check the seller out - how long have they owned the car, why are they selling, what work have they done to the car
2. Check the service history - a thick, comprehensive history file should be your 'must have.' Check it carefully to ensure it's not just bulked up with every new battery and tyre change receipt
3. Do your research - each of these cars have common weaknesses. Read up about them and go armed with a top 10 checklist when you view cars
4. Hold out for what you want - once you've decided to buy a car, don't rush into it. Take time to find exactly the right car for you
5. Check the MOT history - the online DVLA database is a goldmine of information about the car's history and condition. Check it before you view
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days. 01527 893733