At the time that the MGB GT was launched it was dubbed ‘The Poor Man’s Aston Martin’ which to be honest is not necessarily a bad tag-line to have. The MGB GT looked great and is actually a fairly practical car. I use the past tense ‘looked’ as when they received the notorious rubber bumper facelift I think they just got hit with the ugly stick/bat/sledgehammer. There are loads of MGB GT around though which means prices are pretty decent for the 1800cc petrol and I reckon that they look like a classic worth twice as much. The V8 is a whole lot of awesome though but sadly original ones are rare and rather expensive.
It’s almost a cliché to have the original Mini in this list but the original (as with the Die Hard films) is the best. The engine is not brilliant, the body rots faster than an egg sandwich and the interior is pretty unrefined and cramped. Annnd… the gearbox was once described by a friend of mine (quite accuratly) as like ‘a broom handle in a dustbin’ BUT, but as soon as you get in one and go round a corner you will see what makes the original Mini so special, it proves that as ever you don’t need a whole lot of power and speed to have fun. As with most classics on this list rust is one to look out for but the Mini even up to the very end of production in 2001 rust like crazy. Prices have rocketed up in recent years though so if you bag a good one it should hold value and possibly even turn a tidy profit.
Morris Minor 1000
The other car that was famously designed by Alex Issigonis. The Morris Minor was one of the biggest selling cars in Britain and was exported around the world. A practical, simple layout means that the Morris Minor is a very easy car to work on. Other variants included pick-ups, vans and the ‘woody’ estate which was partly constructed of…wood. Rear wheel drive and skinny tyres make the Minor an entertaining drive while having barely any power means that you are unlikely to get yourself into any serious trouble. There are plenty available with parts and accessories being easy to find. With many clubs throughout the UK the Minor makes an excellent choice into the entry of classic car ownership.
Mazda MX-5 MKI
A modern classic. The MX-5 has won fans the world over thanks to the basic ingredients of being simple, reliable and crucially it’s a lot of fun to drive. The old formula of small British convertible sports cars with rear-wheel drive was killed off in the 80’s thanks to the advent of the hot-hatch which was faster, more practical and crucially reliable enough to be used everyday. Mazda realised if they could make that classic sports car formula both fun to drive and reliable then they would be on to a winner. They won. In 2011 they even got a Guinness world record for being the world’s most popular roadster. Two things to look out for on the MK-5 are the condition of the roof (£400+ to replace) and the sills can suffer from really bad rust. Remember buying in winter can lead to bargains…
The Germans had the Beetle, the UK had the Minor and France had the 2CV. The first thing that is either going to win or lose your love of the Classic Citroen 2CV will be aesthetics of the thing. It gained many nicknames during its time in production including the ‘tin snail’ ‘Dolly’ and the ‘ugly duckling’ but it has to be said it certainly has some character. I could talk about the power but, well – it doesn’t have any. The suspension is quite comical with epic levels of bodyroll thanks to the original design specification involving something about driving over a field while not breaking any eggs that were on board. As with many simple classics like the Mini prices on the 2CV have shot up in recent years so getting a decent one could prove an interesting investment. Just remember all the rattles, clanks and general dodgy build quality is called ‘character’ now that they are classics.
Sadly SAAB died earlier this year after going into administration without much hope of getting a jump start. In my opinion they died years ago anyway having lost their unique character that came in bucket loads with the old 900. The 900 is a classic shape and benefitted from superb build quality that means it’s not uncommon to see even turbo models with well in excess of 200,000 miles on the clock. While the Saab makes for a decent practical classic it can get a bit of a thirst on so just bear that in mind with the finances. The turbo is a grin-inducing performance beast but be careful over thrashed ones as fixing turbos and gearboxes is very costly.
Triumph Dolomite Sprint
While the concept of a 16v engine might not sound that exciting now back when the Sprint first came out it in 1972 was quite a big deal and made it the first real mass-produced 16v engine. Performance is still pretty brisk on paper by today’s standards with around 130 horsepower and 0-60 in 8.4 seconds. The Triumph Dolomite Sprint was built throughout the 70’s so that means it comes in a range of interesting British Leyland paint schemes to make sure you do not lose it in a supermarket car park. Another side to being built by British Leyland in the 1970’s means that you too will have to continue to build it during ownership. So make sure you are handy with a spanner and perhaps invest in a Haynes Manual and a tow rope.
BMW E30 3-Series
There are some cars that every once in a while are so good that they become a benchmark that will last for years to come and the BMW E30 was just one of those cars. When it arrived, a great combination of looks, prestige and decent build quality made the BMW popular with people that wore braces while the fantastic rear wheel drive chassis also made them popular with people that wore racing harnesses. The 6-cylinder petrol engines are known for the great sound and longevity while the 318is gained a reputation as being the ‘Baby M3’. As the drivetrain is pretty bomb proof the main thing to look out for is rust issues especially around the rear arches and make sure that some wanna-be drifter has not destroyed the rear diff.
While I am in no way a fan of the Beetle (one of the worst cars I have driven) I can see the appeal to someone looking for a classic that combines a quirky image alongside epic simplicity and reliability. The Volkswagen Beetle is easy to work on and with its simple air-cooled engine will just keep on going with a couple of spanners and some WD-40. No wonder it lasted so long with over 21 million being produced it is the longest running and most-manufactured car of a single design platform in the world. Sadly the handling is pretty shocking, the gearbox is rubbish and the steering gets lighter and more wary as you burn the fuel in the tank which sits over the front wheels. The heater is crap and also the screen wash is powered by the air pressure in the spare tyre which means if you get a puncture the spare will probably be flat. Well, I did mention I’m not a huge fan right?
Think of it as the original Cayenne, but less offensive. In modern times Porsche were struggling and needed more money to engineer (not design) the next generation of 911 so that was why we got the Volkswagen Touareg based Cayenne. Back in the 70’s when Porsche were struggling they got hold of the designs to a Coupe that they had been developing to come out as a Volkswagen. So it became the 924, which is like a Porsche but slower. Well at least when it first came out it was, but later models saw an increase in power and turbo versions. The front engine rear wheel drive set up was properly good so it manages to be a very fun car to drive. Most owners can be spotted due to the excessive use of the phrase ‘my Porsche’ and attire including Porsche branded key rings, shirts, baseball caps, shoes, pillow cases… you get the idea. Ignore the ‘poor mans Porsche’ jibes and you have yourself a decent reliable semi-practical classic.