Buying a modern classic
A classy older model is a way to revel in upscale motoring while keeping bills small. Here's our guide to the bestHad enough of buying new-ish cars that drop in value too fast? Want to drive something lifted a touch away from the ordinary, maybe with a posh badge on its nose? You’ll be needing a modern classic then.
Let’s slip a definition in here, to see how it fits. For us, a modern classic is, as yet, too new to cut it as a full-on throughbred – like, say, a Jaguar E-type.
But it’s got to be something that has a fair enthusiast following behind it. It need not be expensive – though it may once have been – but it has to be exceptional. We’re talking cars that are at least 10 years old, well into their teens, or maybe even their twenties.
Why buy one?
First, you beat the depreciation trap. This – the rate at which new cars lose value as they become old – is usually the biggest single cost in motoring. It may outstrip the cost of fuel, servicing, repairs, spares and insurance, added together.
Second, you save on running costs, big-time. Servicing is cheaper because you’ll pay less at local, specialist garages. Or, if using a big dealer is handier, most offer a low-cost rate because your car is old. Insurance, too, can prove a bargain if you can keep to a low annual limit – say 5000 miles. That’s the key to a classic-car policy, which could easily cost just half that for a newer car. Insurers know that older, cared-for cars are driven carefully and looked after, and offer rock-bottom rates for those reasons.
There are some drawbacks – it’s hard to find a classic policy that extends cover to driving on business, for instance – and you may not earn a no-claims discount, even if you have a trouble-free year. But the savings on offer often outweigh such minus points.
Where can I buy?
The ads on motors.co.uk are a happy hunting ground, turning up many good examples of top-notch older cars. Some are advertised by their owners, but others are put there by dealers who specialise in that make and model. If you go with a dealer, you may (sometimes, but not always) spend a little more than you would if you bought privately. But the payback is that you’ll receive some form of warranty, while the dealer may have several examples of the car you want on his sales lot, too.
What should I buy?
Whatever you like – within reason. That said, simple, tough cars that once sold by the tens of thousands are better than costly, exotic sports cars – unless you’ve plenty put aside for running costs.
Here are three we’d recommend for their evergreen appeal and easy, no-fuss take on ownership:
for a sound car with a year’s MoT test: £1000
for the best: £4000
This was Mercedes’ first mid-size saloon, sold between 1984 and 1993. Like all Mercs of its generation it was built tough and heavy, which means thousands are still around, and many in surprising shape for their age. It’s smooth and steady to drive, although the 2.3- and 2.5-litre sports models are quick and eager. Of the others, the 2.0-litre petrol model is the best all-rounder. Go for one with an automatic gearbox , because manual ones are notchy and slow to use. There are no trim levels as such – just the one model plus a huge list of options. So what you’ll find inside varies greatly.
Engines are good for 200,000 miles or more if the oil has been changed every 6000 miles, on the button. The running gear lasts amazingly, so the car’s biggest enemy is rust. Danger spots include the wheel arches and at the base of the rear window, so that’s where we’d check first.
for a sound car with a year’s MoT test: £1000
for the best: £6000
Pick between the original 900, produced between 1979 and 1993, and the second-generation cars, made from 1993 until 1997. The first is now gaining cult status and prices are picking up. Available as a coupe, hatchback or a convertible, the original 900 is packed with character, with its superbly comfortable seats, aircraft-style dash and wonderful, upright windscreen. The newer 900 isn’t as well regarded, not least because it uses the same platform and running gear as a Vauxhall Cavalier, but it is tough, good looking and very practical, thanks to its cavernous hatchback.
Both versions are tough and will tolerate huge mileages if servicing is kept up. But the original 900 demands time and care when buying, always remembering that even the youngest ones are now over 15 years old. Gearboxes usually fail before engines, as do turbochargers (if fitted). The most desirable and high-priced 900s are the convertibles, which are handsome and practical.
for a sound car with a year’s MoT test: £2000
for the best: £14,000
Unlike the others here, you can still pop into a dealer and order a brand-new, factory-built MX-5. This appealing two-seat drop-top has a huge fan-base and models of all ages sell easily, although it’s the oldest, dating from 1990 (pictured), that have the die-hard following. With its pop-up headlamps, it’s the most individual.If you’re more concerned with comfort and want one that’ll serve you day in, day out, then one of the second-generation cars, built from 1998, may be a better bet, however.
Depending on age or model, you’ll get a 1.6, 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engine and trim that varies from cloth seats and wind-up windows to leather chairs, air conditioning and full electrics. Mazda reliability is legendary and engines and drive-trains give little both if looked after. Rust, however can take hold, and the deck between the seats and the boot is the first place to look. Alloy wheels on older cars can corrode badly enough to need replacing, too.
To view and buy Mercedes-Benz 190Es on motors.co.uk, click on this link
To view and buy Saab 900s on motors.co.uk, click on this link
To view and buy Mazda MX-5s on motors.co.uk, click on this link