Last year we opened our garage doors to show you what we drive in our own time. Well, we’ve been busy buying again. Here’s what we’ve acquired in the past 12 months.
Matt Prior - Baja Bug (1961)
The Ariel Nomad is to blame. I drove it, loved it, and three days later my colleague Lewis Kingston and I were sharing posts from a sandrail buggy forum’s ‘For sale’ section. Two clicks away from a rolling buggy chassis (that would have been killer with a turbocharged Subaru engine) was this, a 1600cc 1973 Volkswagen Beetle in ‘Baja Bug’ style.
It was cheap, pink, available, didn’t need much work and, I thought, might just answer my need for a deft, softly sprung car that would be as entertaining on a green lane or field as it would be on the road. It doesn’t.
Dynamically, the Bug is quite possibly the worst car I have ever driven – and I’ve driven a Tata Safari. The ride is appalling, it feels unstable while cornering, and there are clonks and bangs from places that, I suspect, are referenced in the two pages of ‘advisories’ that I should but haven’t looked at from its MOT test. The wiring is a joke and you can see daylight through the dashboard. None of which I care less about. This is a cool car.
I’ve painted it an early 1970s VW van colour I’m fond of and will add race numbers and some stickers for the full Baja Rally look. The wheels and mirrors need to change colour, but I’m going to leave the interior shade alone – although I’ll add black carpets and door cards to tone it down. And I have a roof rack that needs to go back on, after I’ve fixed it. It fell off on an A-road, you see.
It is one of those cars that will probably never be finished, but that doesn’t matter. It is not the air-cooled, rear-engined German car that cliché suggests I should have, but it is the one I could afford. Whatever arrives in future, I suspect I’ll always find a place for it somewhere. Unless Ariel will accept it as a deposit.
Jesse Crosse - Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec R34 (2000)
If you do this job for long enough, sooner or later a particular car comes along and gets under your skin. At the Autocar Handling Day in 1999, the line-up included a Bayside Blue Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec and the sheer shock-and-awe presence of the thing took my breath away. After driving it, I scribbled in the notebook “the sort of handling you expect from a race-prepped car. Turn-in ludicrously sharp. Fantastic grip despite the power” and parked the R34 in my fantasy garage.
The search began early this year and the value of importing direct from Japan soon became obvious. There’s no salt used on the roads there and it’s not hard to find completely rust-free cars, but finding a standard Skyline is much harder than finding a good one. With 330bhp as standard, the RB26DETT 2.6-litre twin-turbo straight six has enormous potential and 600-800bhp is not uncommon in road cars. The V-Spec has the ATTESA E-TS Pro active all-wheel drive system, which controls torque split front to rear and across the back axle. It also has Brembo four-pot calipers on the front and HICAS all-wheel steering, so the whole package is perfect for tuners.
I’d never usually buy a car unseen so I called Newera Imports for help. Based in Japan, the team there has years of experience, knows exactly what things are worth and what to look for in terms of condition and takes the hassle out of the import process.
Trawling through the online sources one day, there it was, listed with USS Auctions in Tokyo with just under 40,000 miles on the clock. The condition was listed as ‘Grade 4.5B’, which is good. Newera had also spotted it and we swung into action.
The auction was a thrill, some early-hours emails and pictures confirmed we’d found ‘the one’, and an hour later, the long-range deal was done. It has some nice options, such as a Nismo exhaust and tail-lights, Nismo instruments and some aftermarket Öhlins dampers, but it’s otherwise standard. How do I feel a few months down the line? Thankful I was able to turn fantasy into reality.
Steve Cropley - Lotus Elise (2000)
It was always a wrong move to sell my first Elise S1. As soon as that car departed my garage after a three-year ownership in the early 2000s, I realised I’d sold much more than a car. A whole bunch of memories and preferences and career connections went with it.
The Elise was nothing more than a rumour when I arrived at Autocar in the early 1990s. I helped with the early scoop stories, the launch stories, the drive stories and the comparisons and I drove the long-termer. The car touched every base with me: it was pretty, simple, light, roomy (apart from the ingress/egress) and steered and gripped in the best Lotus traditions. Yet I sold it.
When a late S1 appeared on the forecourt of Paul Matty Sports Cars earlier this year, a 70,000-miler that drove with a zest that suggested its engine had been chipped, I knew I had to grab it. It came my way for £10k, a bargain when people are paying much more for lesser, older classic sports cars.
The Elise has been easy to own and fun to drive. It feels quick and agile. It looks special, at least to my eyes. In short, it has been one of the wiser purchases of my distinctly chequered car-buying career.
Allan Muir - Triumph Speed Triple (2011)
Some of my colleagues were no doubt picturing a TR6 or Stag when they found out I owned a Triumph, but this one has two wheels rather than four. Purchased last autumn, the Speed Triple was my way back into biking after a gap of several years.
Much as I wanted a new Ducati Multistrada, spending £16k on a weekend toy couldn’t be justified, so the 2011, 12,000-mile Speed was the ideal compromise, being desirable, fun to ride and affordable at £5800.
It’s no tourer – the ride quality is on the harsh side and there’s little wind protection – but there’s nothing better for a Sunday blast. The 1050cc three-pot engine is torquey and characterful, and the sound that comes out of the optional Arrow ‘lowboy’ titanium exhaust on the overrun – like sustained artillery fire – adds to the Speed’s bad-boy image without being too anti-social.
A more comfortable bike will no doubt have to replace the Speed one day, but I’m in no hurry. Why would I spend three times as much money to get that Ducati when owning this British icon gives me so much pleasure already?
Lewis Kingston - Dodge Charger (1968)
I had been looking for a clean, standard Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R for a long, long time. So, completely illogically, what I actually ended up with was a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 that had been sitting for a decade.
There was method to my madness, though. A project was the last thing I wanted, but when I saw the Charger advertised locally, my curiosity was piqued. An inspection revealed it to be straight and honest, but it was predictably in need of a comprehensive recommissioning.
It wasn’t cheap, at £15,000, but with values skyrocketing it represented potentially my last chance to own one. The more I thought about it, the more it appealed. Here was a car that would be tough, reliable, easy to upgrade and immense fun to simply burble around in.
Fortune favours the bold, so I scraped my savings together, borrowed some money and bought it. In the end I spent some £8000 reviving the Charger, but it repaid my hefty investment by going straight through its first MOT test. Cost effective? Perhaps not. Worth it? Totally. It’s a delight to drive, and when you blip the throttle and the horizon tilts in the rear-view mirror, you can’t help but grin.
Mark Tisshaw - Mini Cooper (2014)
Yes, dear reader, your eyes do not deceive you and your memory is not failing. This Mini Cooper does indeed look familiar, and you have most definitely read about it and seen it on these pages before. That’s because this is the very Mini that was my long-term test car between the summers of 2014 and 2015.
I’d bleated on about how wonderful it was for so long in my reports that I thought I should put my money where my mouth is, especially when it fitted my partner and my needs so perfectly. The mileage is now up to almost 20,000, a beat has yet to be missed and there’s still no other small car I’d rather drive around in.
Richard Bremner - Rover 75 (2001)
You might think that with 10 cars in my possession, there’d be no need for another. But a year ago I needed a car that worked, ruling out all 10 classics. I didn’t want to spend much because I like trying to beat the system in James Ruppert Bangernomics style.
So this was a fine excuse to indulge a guilty pleasure and hunt for a Rover 75. I know they look as go-ahead as a quill and came from a brand rotten with corrosive history, but these are good cars, built to BMW standards and still half-competitive today.
Plus they’re cheap and fairly plentiful and can be had with a string of luxuries to divert you from your cheap wheels moment. Which is how I came to buy a 51,000-mile 2001 Rover 75 2.5 V6 Connoisseur SE for £800 from a dealer operating out of a shipping container.
I had the timing belts replaced – a pricey £500 – changed the oil and filters and could have done nothing else if I’d held to the Bangernomics faith. But 6000 trouble-free and sumptuously comfortable miles have seen me improving this car, with sexier factory alloys, a modern sat-nav and a bit of paintwork. It’s been the best value for money I’ve ever bought.
Andrew Frankel - Citroen 2CV (1958)
In our ideal worlds, we’d all like to drive flat out on deserted roads, but we can’t: our cars are too fast, our roads too full. Or so conventional thinking goes.
Think again. The faster the car, the shorter the time spent between leaving one block of traffic and arriving at the next, ergo the more time you spend in traffic. Therefore the slower the car, the less time you spend in traffic. Don’t believe it? You would if you owned a 1950s 2CV.
My 1958 2CV has perfect performance: if you drive it as fast as you can, it just about keeps up with everyday A-road and B-road traffic. So all you need is one gap in that traffic and you’ll have the road to yourself all day. It provides time to appreciate a car of absolute charm.
The 2CV looks so simple, but by 1950s standards, it’s wildly sophisticated. It has independent interconnected suspension (you’ll need a McLaren to find that these days), a flat formation boxer engine to drop the centre of gravity, a fully convertible roof and featherweight seats you can remove in less time than you’ve already taken reading this sentence, so wherever you go, you always have somewhere to sit. And there is nothing superfluous: to save weight, the wiper motor and speedo drive are one and the same, so the faster you go in bad weather, the more you get to see.
The result is a joy without end, a car with hilarious handling, wonderful looks, incredible ride quality and so little performance from its 12bhp 425cc motor that you have no choice but to keep busy all the time, clinging to your hard-fought speed. I’ve bought a lot of cars over the years but, save the Land Rover in which I passed my driving test, only one I know I’ll never sell. If you could drive it, you’d know why, too.
John McIlroy - Mazda 3 (2015)
It may not be immediately obvious, I admit, but the humble metallic grey Mazda 3 you see before you is, in fact, our family’s dream car. Specifically, it is automotive nirvana for Mrs McIlroy, who has held what even she admits is an irrational love of Mazdas ever since her first car, a 323F.
The 3 – a 2.0-litre petrol – is also a tribute to the sort of PCP deal that dominates the market these days. We had a two-year-old Kia that we owned and decided to trade it in. It was enough for a hefty deposit, a chunk of cash back and monthly payments of about £100. God bless 0% APR, I say.
I still couldn’t have stomached it if the Mazda were an iffy choice – but it does some of the basics really well. The gearshift is as sweet as you’ll find on any family car, and the petrol engine is loosening up nicely. I’m not sure I’ll ever love it as much as my better half does, but it’s growing on me.
Ben Summerell-Youde - VW T3 Syncro (1990)
Since I’ve owned the Syncro, which you may remember from its appearance in this feature last year, I’ve been weighing up swapping the engine for either a tidy but expensive flat four Subaru unit or a factory-friendly Volkswagen 1.8T. The 1.8T won in the end because I wanted to keep all things VW, and the in-line four block from the 1998 Passat donor car matches perfectly with the bell housing from a diesel Syncro.
The stock Passat engine had 150bhp, but an ECU remap helps it to push out 200bhp at the flywheel, an impressive number for a four-cylinder, 25-year-old van. Now I’m just waiting for an invitation from Lewis Kingston to do a drag race against his Charger…
Richard Webber - Peugeot 206 GTI (2005)
Typically unswayed by my suggestion of a first-generation Ford Ka, my wife insisted that I find a Peugeot 206 to fill the sub-£2000 hatchback-shaped void in her life. Indifference turned to interest when, among the dreary 1.4s, this gleaming blue, 40,000-mile, 138bhp 2.0-litre GTI appeared.
This particular car is one of those rare hot hatchbacks that was originally bought more for its trim than its vim, and it had led a gentle life at the hands of one mature lady owner. (Ever-discriminating Granny Webber was custodian of several mint Volkswagen Golf GTIs in the same vein.) A deal was struck at £1550 and my wife has been enjoying the strong engine, ‘Sport Pack 3’ bodykit and leather and Alcantara interior opulence since.
A change of cambelt looms, but new rear brakes and a replacement power steering pressure sensor barely broke £40. Being above Hobbit height, I find the driving position indefensibly bad, but this peppy little Peugeot suits my halfling spouse perfectly.
Jim Holder - Renault Zoe (2015)
“An electric car?” The tone may vary, but the opening response is always the same. The voice is intrigued or baffled or indignant. There is no in-between.
It’s a niche choice, I know, but that’s always been the point of electric cars: the limitations are obvious, but if they fit in with your lifestyle, they suddenly make heaps of sense. We have a driveway and garage, and we have two cars, and therefore access to one that can do more than 100 miles before needing to stop for several hours. My wife is self-employed, so there are tax savings, and we live in London, so we can save the Congestion Charge if we ever go into the Big Smoke. Our current petrol Ford C-Max drinks £20 of fuel a week, despite doing only 100 miles (all stop-start from cold).
With lease deals on the Zoe at rock bottom in late summer, we took the plunge based on the sound financial sense. For a £75 deposit and £75 a month (plus a further £80 a month for battery lease), the car is ours for the next two years. We have the value of the 2007 C-Max in the bank, plus no tax and no repairs (hopefully) to worry about. In theory, we’ve swapped an eight-year-old car for a new one, and it is going to be saving us money, too.
But it isn’t just a decision based on sound financial logic. Getting in on the small but significant movement towards electrification feels exciting. Like it or not, it is a crucial part of hitting emissions targets and something we all have to face up to, either in hybrid or full-battery form. The momentum is building and trying it for ourselves, every day, in real life, is an adventure I couldn’t be more excited about.
Rory White - BMW 520i 24v Auto (1994)
Following 10 months of happy Jaguar XJ6 (X300) ownership – brought to an all too abrupt end by a white van – I began thumbing the classifieds for something else. The budget remained tight, so classic insurance was still a must.
After considering and viewing a range of cars all more than 20 years old, including Audi Cabriolets and Mercedes-Benz W124 300CEs, this BMW E34 520i popped up and, £850 later, I was the owner.
I know, I know: it has fake Alpina wheels. But it came with a fresh 12-month MOT certificate and no advisories, just 84,000 miles and near-perfect paintwork and interior. Fingers crossed, it’ll be just as enjoyable as the Jag.