Classic car ownership is a rich person’s game, right? Well, that’s what many people think, anyway. But the truth is that you don’t have to be dripping with spare cash to indulge in an interesting old car to tinker with and enjoy at weekends.
In fact, if you’re willing to accept a classic that’s a little more modern than the norm, then an interesting old car can still be yours for less than £3,000. Below are our five suggestions as to the best ones to buy.
All of these modern classics will be frugal, fun, and easy to work on. At 30 years old, if not more, all have well and truly achieved classic status. And most importantly, all make enough of a change from your modern daily driver to make them interesting.
Best classic cars to buy in 2022
Mercedes-Benz 190 (1982-1993)
There’s always an exception to the rule – and the 190 is the exception to the rule that all 1980s cult classics are now out of reach on this sort of budget.
In fact, the 190 (which had the internal designation W201 series) is still relatively affordable, largely because there are still so many of them in such good condition. And there are still so many in such good condition because the 190 hails from an era during which Mercedes over-engineered its cars with abandon, and that means they tend to be incredibly long-lived.
As is often the case with Mercs, autos are better to drive than manuals, while engine sizes of 2.0 litres and upwards manage better at hauling along this relatively heavy car than the weedy 1.8s. But any 190 boasts the same sort of solidity, comfort and dependability that makes it such a brilliant bargain classic.
Price to pay: from £2,000
We found: 1991 190E 1.8 Auto, 96,000 miles, 6 months’ MOT, £3,000
Watch out for: Failed head gaskets, old timing chains on pre-1988 engines, crusty inner wings and boot floors, cracked door cards
Peugeot 205 (1983-1999)
The 205 was the car that made Peugeot, turning it from a maker of worthy but dull saloons into one known for chic little hatchbacks imbued with more than a dash of fun.
The most famous 205s of all are the GTIs, of course. These are well out of reach of the bargain bin now, but standard 205s are still pretty cheap and plentiful. And the best part is that there’s a wide range of different engines to choose from; 1.1s are light, fun and cheap to run, diesels are fantastically frugal, while 1.4-litre examples feel like mini-GTis, especially in coveted XS form.
Every 205 is good to drive and comfortable, though, and all are town-friendly and easy to park, with light steering, diminutive dimensions and excellent visibility. Most importantly, the 205 is still one of the best-looking small cars ever made, and still has the charm that set it apart from its rivals when it was new.
Price to pay: from £1,300
We found: 1994 205 1.6 Mardi Gras, 101,000 miles, 1 owner, 12 months’ MOT, £2,995
Watch out for: Smoky petrol engines, knocking suspension, rust around rear screen, play in the steering rack
Volvo 740 (1984-1992)
Prices of the classic Volvo 240 are now well and truly on the rise, but buyers haven’t cottoned on to its successor, the 740, in quite the same way just yet. It won’t be long before they do, though, so if you want a bargain boxy Volvo, then you’d best get your wallet out now.
Saloons are less desirable than estates, but don’t overlook them – they make excellent family-friendly classics even if they aren’t quite as roomy, and they’re just as comfortable and pleasant to cruise along in.
And of course, as with all Volvos of this era, the 740 is an excellent year-round classic, with heated seats and sure-footed handling. No, it isn’t the most exciting thing to drive, but if you want a classic that’s safe, sensible and dependable, the 740 is a solid bet.
Price to pay: from £1,500
We found: 1988 740 GE, 88,000 miles, 12 months’ MOT, £2,490
Watch out for: Sagging rear suspension on estates, cracked front crossmembers, oil leaks suggesting blocked breathers, rusty floors, leaky heater matrices
Nissan Bluebird (1985-1991)
Don’t laugh – at almost 40 years old, the earliest examples of the venerable Bluebird are well and truly eligible for classic status, and given these cars are legendarily robust and resilient, which is why so many of them found homes as minicabs, they make excellent affordable starter classics.
Yes, the interior is a sea of cheap grey plastic, and yes, the ruler-edged looks are hardly the height of styling panache. But the Bluebird isn’t an unattractive car; what’s more, it’s well equipped for its era, which makes it very usable by modern-day standards, and it’s also pleasant to drive, with easy-going controls and a surprisingly responsive chassis.
It’s a historically important car, too, given it was the first Nissan to be built at the company’s Sunderland plant, and as such became a vanguard for Japanese-branded cars manufactured in the UK. What’s more, while you’ll never make your millions speculating on a Bluebird, prices are on a very gentle upward trajectory. And if you’re looking for an entrant for the next Festival Of The Unexceptional car show, well, there can be few better options.
Price to pay: from £1,500
We found: 1989 Bluebird 1.8 GS, 56,000 miles, full service history, 12 months’ MOT, £1,995
Watch out for: Rusty front and rear arches and corrosion at bottoms of A-pillars, weak handbrakes
Audi 100 C3 (1982-1991)
Take a look at the C3 Audi 100, and imagine what it must have looked like when it arrived in 1982. This was an era during which the third-generation Ford Capri was in its heyday. Vauxhall had just launched the Mk1 Astra and Mercedes was still churning out the W123.
Suddenly, here was Audi with this astonishingly crisp, modern four-door saloon that made everything else look baroque by comparison. It harnessed aerodynamics to deliver the sort of fuel consumption hitherto seen only in an economy model. It looked – and felt – like the future. Its five-cylinder engines were torquey and responsive, while its high-quality interior was the shape of things to come for Audi.
Today, though, while prices of rivals like BMW’s 5-Series and the Mercedes W123 and W124 start to rise, the 100 has been somewhat overlooked. That means you can get a good 100 for an astonishingly reasonable sum. Given how smooth, quiet, comfortable and easy to live with a classic 100 is, that makes it a real bargain
Price to pay: from £2,000
We found: 1989 Audi 100 2.0E, 141,000 miles, six months’ MOT, £2,995
Watch out for: Poor maintenance, fading red paint, rust suggests inadequate repairs or untended stone chips, cracked/chipped light units are costly to replace
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