Here’s 11 cars you should buy while you can still afford to…
Ever wished you’d bought a car when you had the opportunity? It’s easy to forget just how fleeting a particular model can be. One minute it’s flavour of the month and its virtues are being shouted from the rooftops. The next it’s a common sight on every street corner, slowly becoming something of a banger, before painfully shuffling off to be a rarity.
Some cars are guaranteed to become future classics and so have nothing to fear. But some (in fact, most) models must go through a protracted period of being distinctly undesirable before finally coming out the other end and benefiting from soaring values. All of this means that you have to act fast if you want to grab a bargain, certainly if the car in question is getting on in years or much sought after in the cut and thrust world of motorsort.
We’ve picked out 11 cars that are currently easy enough to track down and cheap (ish) to buy, but will soon become rare, sought after and expensive. It’s time to fire up eBay and get shopping!
It’s seems inconceivable that the BMW E36 is now over 20 years old. And that it’s becoming a fairly rare car, certainly not the common piece of street furniture it was a mere five or so years ago. Of course, a big part of this is down to drifting. The E36 happened to be the cheapest rear-wheel drive car going just when drifting exploded into the mainstream, and many of them ended their days stuffed into a wall by a grassroots drifter still finding their feet and cutting their teeth. Good, affordable examples are still out there though, particularly if you’re willing to pay a bit more. Dirt cheap M3s are no more, but you should still be able to find a 2.5 six-pot for under £2,500, or a 2.8 for just over £3,000.
A leftfield choice maybe, but certainly one that’s worth careful consideration. If we’d compiled this list just five or so years ago we’d be spoilt
for choice and any number of turbo models would’ve been up for grabs. But the 944 is now rare and rightly sought after. There are still plenty of options that come in well under budget though, particularly if you’re willing to go for a naturally aspirated 2.5 model instead of the boosted range topper – though even these can be had for £8,000 or so. All models come with amazingly ’80s looks, presence in spades and that Stuttgart shield perched on the low, sloping bonnet. It’s a cheap, old-school Porsche at the end of the day, so make sure you buy the very best you can afford. Look after it carefully. Enjoy the attention you get. And, you never know, you might just make some money when it comes to sell it on. Price: £4,500–£10,000.
Nissan’s ’90s supercar can still be picked up for a few grand. Though you’ll want to budget for repairs and big recommissioning bills if you do opt to take a punt on a forlorn looking example. Prices for these tend to fluctuate wildly depending on whether you’re looking for an auto, a manual, a naturally aspirated car or a turbocharged one. With the most desirable (and therefore expensive) combination being a well looked after V6 turbo with a manual ’box. Finding a good one of these can be tricky nowadays as the mid noughties weren’t kind to the 300ZX, with far too many spending much of the decade being run on a shoestring or up on bricks after going wrong! Look carefully and your patience will be rewarded though, as decent cars are out there and waiting to be found. Just make sure you budget for repairs and servicing. Good manual turbo cars start at £5,000.
GOLF GTI MK3/4
Bear with us here. We know that the Mk3 GTi is considered the poor relation in the Golf family and that the Mk4 is still a common car. But that won’t be the case for long. Let’s start with the Mk3, a car that was roundly slated by the press at launch for being underpowered, uninspiring and more than a little flabby. Time cures most ills though and the Mk3’s rounded lines have aged better than we would’ve thought possible. Best of all, they’re still dirt cheap and fairly easy to find – buy one now while they can still be had for pocket change, stash it away and wait for it to go up in value. The Mk4 was another Golf that didn’t quite set the world alight. But you could get one with the handy 20v turbo, or, if you are feeling particularly flush, the R32 with its 3.2 V6. Both will begin to rise in value in the coming years and could well make for a moderate future investment. Mk3s can be had for between £500 and £1,500, Mk4 GTis for £800-£2,500 and R23s start at £5,000.
SKODA OCTAVIA VRS MK1
There was a time not so long ago when the very notion of a moderately fast, desirable Skoda would’ve been utterly laughable. But the first
gen Octavia VRS changed all that. Strong VW underpinnings and that 20v AUQ turbo engine helped of course, but so too did the bargain pricing, squared off looks and some badass looking WRC cars. Mk1 VRSs are now staggering performance bargains. Slightly leggy examples with over 150k can be had for around a grand, while pristine cars with barely run in engines can be yours for between £2,000 and £2,500. Okay, so 180bhp isn’t much nowadays and it won’t exactly scare modern hot hatches through the bends, but 220bhp can be had with a decent remap and some induction work and the 300bhp barrier can be broken fairly easily by swapping the OE K03 for a larger K04. Cheap, easy to find and very tunable – what’s not to love?
Another car that was once a common sight on our roads but, thanks to their popularity among the drifting fraternity, is now fairly rare, certainly in standard condition. It’s not hard to see why these cars have been popular when it comes to going sideways. They look great, the engines can be made to make decent power, and they tend to slide fairly well out of the box. Of course, if you decide to buy one it doesn’t mean you’re duty bound to use it for drifting (though everything you could ever want to make it even more suitable for that is available aftermarket). And it’s all too easy to forget just how good these wedgy coupes look in their own right, especially when compared to more modern, rounded offerings. Prices tend to vary depending on whether you’re looking at an S13 or an S14, plus heavily modified examples being sold as ‘drift ready’ seem to attract a bit of extra attention. We’d look hard and try to unearth a clean, manual and standard (ish) S13 for between £2,500 and £3,000 and then stash it away.
The little Lupo should need no introduction to most of you. It’s been playing the role of the default ‘starter VW’ for years now and playing it to perfection. The pick of the lineup has always been the excellent GTi model with its buzzy 1.6 16v engine, a unit that might only deliver 123bhp, but one that more than makes up for it in throttle response and drivability. Combine that with fun, chuckable handling and the subtly aggressive looks of that body kit, and it isn’t all that much of a surprise to learn that good Lupo GTis are starting to command strong money. At the risk of sounding a touch cliched, this car truly can be seen as something of a modern successor to the all-conquering legend that was the Mk1 Golf GTi. That alone should be enough to convince you that it’s a wise investment. Price: £2,500–£5,000.
MAZDA MX-5 MK1
Yes, yes, we know that the humble Mazda MX-5 isn’t exactly rare at the moment, but it can’t stay that way for much longer. Think about it. The first of these cars rolled off the line way back in 1989, so the oldest examples are now a whopping 26 years old and their numbers have begun to fall over the last few years. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you act now you can bag yourself one of the defining Japanese sports cars, one that blends good looks with an almost universally praised chassis, and all for less than a return flight to the Far East. Power isn’t exactly the MX-5’s strong suit and that’s the case whether you plump for a 1.6 or a 1.8 model. But then power isn’t the be all and end all and there’s a lot of fun to be had from just revving the hell out of the OE equipment and exploring the limits of that superb chassis. Early 1.6s can still be had for just over a grand, though you might want to pay a little more to get the slightly quicker and more sought after 1.8 (which can be had for £1,800 or so).
The days of classic Imprezas being found for peanuts are probably behind us (though keep your eyes peeled and you may still get lucky). But there are still plenty of cheap examples of the unloved ‘bugeye’ generation to be had for under £2,500. Now these cars weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms when launched
at the start of the last decade. But if you can live with the slightly odd looks you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely capable car, one that’s got all the good stuff that made Imprezas such a force to be reckoned with on the WRC stage. If you’re willing to pay more, your options really do widen, and a budget of £5,000 or so will see you looking at not only the classic shape cars (in turbo guise), but also the newer ‘blobeyes’ and ‘hawkeyes’. All are fine cars with loads of potential, though we can’t help but think a good classic in near standard condition would make for a good investment in a few years time.
FOCUS RS MK1
Now we imposed a vague budget cap of £10,000 when devising this feature, though of course most of the cars have fallen well within that. The Mk1 RS is an exception as though there are a few examples around the 8k mark, the majority still seem to go for slightly over budget – and that’s despite them being well over 10 years old now. Still, there’s a lot to love about the Mk1 RS. They look fantastic and bear more than a passing resemblance to the full-fat WRC cars (perfect if you’ve always fancied pretending to be Mr McRae or Mr Sainz), drive well in a thrashy way, and, as is the case with pretty much all RS-badged Fords, are destined to hold their value. They probably dropped to their lowest price a few years ago and the really ratty cars have more than likely been broken for spares, so that means there are a number of great examples out there just waiting to be snapped up.
RENAULT CLIO 182
The French really do know a thing or two about knocking out a good hot hatch, and if there were an award for the manufacturer of the finest Gallic example then there’s a fair chance it’d go to either Renault or Peugeot. Our 10k budget opens up a whole host of entertaining options including the mighty Clio Williams (most good ones are around the £5,000 mark nowadays) and smattering of Clio 197s, and both make for tempting purchases in their own right. However we’d be tempted to save our money and hunt out a good 182 Cup instead, especially as decent examples can be had for less than £2,500. The 182 is perhaps the last of the truly hardcore Renault hot hatches. It’s fast, raucous, stiff, uncompromising and feels like it’s made from balsa wood – perfect for monstering British B-roads and almost guaranteed to go up in value. Prices from around £1,500 to £3,500.