Currently reading: Concours d’inelegance 2015 - what do Autocar staffers drive?
What do Autocar staff and contributors drive in their spare time? Here's what's been purchased this year

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.

Baja ourcars 0066

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.


Read our review

Car review

The Nissan GT-R is not a cheap car, but it’s better value for money than cars that are seemingly as fast

Back to top

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.

Gtr ourcars 0116

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.