Your first date, your kid’s first steps, your first you-know-what... Isn’t it time you added your first dream car to that bank of treasured memories?
8 April 2018

There will never be a perfect time to buy your first sports car, or your first future classic.

Be it school fees, a house purchase or your second daughter’s wedding – or even your daughter’s second wedding – there will always be at least one financial obligation to discourage you. If we accept that this is the fact of the matter, however, it must follow that now is as good as any time to buy your first Aston Martin, or your first V12. If not now, then when?

We’ll look at 19 different ‘firsts’ and steer you around the pitfalls and towards the light. Your first Bond car. Your first getaway car. Even your first TVR.

The only thing that each of the 19 categories has in common is a strict theoretical budget. Not so strict that it becomes completely impossible to buy, say, your first handbuilt British sports car, but strict enough that we don’t immediately descend into the realm of pure fantasy. Read on – your first Italian supercar may be within much closer reach than you think.

Aston Martin 

The V8 Vantage is the best-selling Aston Martin of all time. Having first gone on sale in 2005, and with so many having been sold across a 12-year lifespan (all things being relative), you can buy one todayfor just £27,000. The question is: should you?

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Given how pretty the Vantage is, and how brilliant it is to drive, the obvious answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Like all handbuilt cars, however, particularly first-of-the-line handbuilt cars, the Vantage is not without its issues. They’re generally tough and reliable, but they are affected by niggles, often electrical, particularly if the battery is allowed to run f lat. Budget for a steady stream of three- or four-figure bills on topof the purchase price to put these gremlins right.

Mid-engined sports car 

For your first mid-engined sports car, look no further than the original Porsche Cayman. Both the entry- level 2.7-litre model and the 3.4-litre Cayman S start at around £12,000. The bigger engine, with 295bhp, should be the more desirable of the two, but it is notoriously troublesome. It can suffer from scored bores and intermediate shaft bearing failure, both of which can cost thousands to put right. The smaller 2.7, which is still potent enough with 241bhp, is much more dependable. The Cayman itself, meanwhile, is one of the sweetest, most enjoyable sports cars of the last couple of decades.

Rolls-Royce:

Only a few years ago, the cheapest way into a Rolls-Royce was a late 1970s-vintage Silver Shadow II. You could pick one up for around £10,000 four or five years ago, but today they’re double that. Now, your £10,000 budget will only stretch to the supposedly less desirable Silver Spirit, the 1980s model with set square styling.

Keep a slush fund for maintenance and watch as values slowly begin to creep up, just as the Silver Shadow’s have done.

Unusual engine:

An unusual engine is one that has an uncommon number of cylinders or a peculiar cylinder layout, not one that runs on spinach. Engines don’t get any more unusual than Wankel rotaries and, in the modern era, it’s only Mazda that has persisted with the rotary design, most recently with the RX-8. The key to buying one on a budget is to spend £1500 or so on the car itself, setting aside the same again for the near-inevitable engine rebuild. Even at £3000 all in, the RX-8 looks like very good value.

Elsewhere, the Volkswagen Corrado VR6’s motor is about as odd as conventional piston engines get: two banks of three cylinders in what is essentially a very narrow angle V6. You’ll need to spend £6000 or so to pick up a tidy car today, but it won’t lose value over the coming years. VW persisted with unusual cylinder arrangements right up to the W8-engined Passat, which was retired after three years on sale in 2005.

They’re rare now, but Passat W8s can be picked up for as little as £4000. 

Getaway car:

In the 1998 film Ronin, Robert de Niro’s character chases down an E34 BMW M5 through the busy streets of Paris in a Peugeot 406, of all things. It’s reckoned to be the finest movie car chase of all time and, if nothing else, it’ll leave you pining for an early 1990s M5 (even though, in some scenes, the car was a mere 535i). Values are on the up; you’ll pay £30,000 today.

Future classic:

Predicting which cars will achieve classic status ten or 20 years from now is a dark art and anybody who claims to know which models are dead certs should be treated with the same scepticism as a palm reader. Still, we can have a stab at it. Given that the original Series 1 Lotus Elise is steadily gaining value now, it’s a reasonable bet that the later Series 2 will do the same somewhere down the line. They start at around £12,000. Elsewhere, any two-door Subaru Impreza is a pretty sure bet. Be it an imported Type R or a P1, the rare coupé models will only become increasingly sought after.

BMW M-car:

It’s a very happy coincidence that the cheapest, most affordable M-car you can buy today also happens to be one of the very best. Having dropped as low as £5000 a few years ago, E46 M3 prices have now begun to creep back up again. Find the right car and you’ll probably watch its value rise over the coming years.

The third M3 in the dynasty is often described as the best of the lot. Apart from looking fantastic, it has a glorious straight six engine, sweetly balanced rear-wheel-drive handling and a still-attractive cabin. Early cars with 100,000 miles or more on the clock start at around £8000. Lower-mileage cars come into the frame at £12,000. Like all high-performance cars, though, you should be more concerned about condition and how well an M3 has been maintained than how many miles it’s covered.

Generally, the E46 is very dependable, but it is known to suffer from cracked boot floors. BMW repaired this issue under warranty on cars younger than 10 years old, so check the paperwork to see if this job has been done.

If it hasn’t, it’s worth checking the floor of the car thoroughly, ideally with the help of a specialist, before committing to a purchase.

TVR:

You would have to be certifiable to put your own money into a TVR. They’re fragile, temperamental, ruinously expensive to fix and, before too long, your engine will blow up. So goes TVR’s reputation. Some of it may be deserved – there is no smoke without fire or, more to the point, a con-rod through the engine block – but mostly it’s hokum. Indeed, there are plenty of TVR owners throughout the UK who have a huge amount of trouble-free fun in their Cerberas and Tuscans every weekend.

The cheapest way into a modern-ish TVR is a Chimaera, the 1990s and early 2000s roadster with the Rover V8. Some TVR specialists recommend avoiding the very early cars and choosing a post-1997 model instead. They start at around £10,000. Failed head gaskets and camshaft wear are the main engine issues. The big thing to look out for, though, is chassis corrosion. You could be looking at a monstrous repair bill, so the best advice is to get any prospective purchase checked over by a specialist.

Built from 1999 to 2006, the Tuscan is perhaps the most popular modern TVR these days. Famously, it used the company’s own straight six engine. Troublesome in its day, the Speed Six has continued to be developed by specialists to a point of real durability. It isn’t difficult to find a used car with a rebuilt engine, but you should expect to pay £30,000.

Bond car:

For all that James Bond is associated with Aston Martin, it must also be acknowledged that at various points he has also driven an AMC Hornet, a Ford Mondeo and a BMW Z3. The super-spy’s taste in cars hasn’t always been as impeccable as his chat-up lines. Of the Bond cars you might actually want to own, and could one day afford to buy, though, the Aston Martin Vanquish stands out.

Driven by Pierce Brosnan’s 007 in Die Another Day, the Vanquish looks more handsome with every passing year and its V12 is a masterpiece. Prices start at £80,000. Avoid the semi-automatic ’box.

Italian supercar:

Automotive firsts don’t get much more poignant than your first Italian supercar; it’s proper bedroom wall poster territory. Since its launch in 1999, the Ferrari 360 has been the entry point for many buyers. Along with the rest of the performance car market, values have stabilised in recent years, or even risen, so whereas you might have picked up a higher- mileage car for less than £50,000 back in 2013, you’re looking at a figure starting with a ‘six’ today.

The pay-off, of course, is that you could put your money into one now and not lose any of it, just as long as you’re mindful of how many miles you’re putting on the car and you keep on top of the maintenance. Running a V8 Ferrari berlinetta clearly won’t be cheap – annual servicing is around £500 a year, or twice that every third year when the belts need replacing – but, with nodepreciation to worry about, you’re starting off from a winning position.

There aren’t too many common faults to be aware of. The aluminium bodywork won’t rust but can corrode, which might necessitate corrective work and a respray. Knocking from the suspension, meanwhile, willbe due to knackered ball joints; the full set can cost £1000 to replace. Existing owners recommend a £2000-£3000 annual budget for maintenance. Manual 360s are better to drive – the semi-auto ’box feels dimwitted these days – and really clean cars command about £70,000.

Ferrari Mondials and 348s can be found for under £50,000, but neither one is the ideal first Italian supercar. A better bet is the Lamborghini Gallardo, which is priced broadly in line with the Ferrari 360. It feels more modern than the Ferrari and its V10 engine is a thing of joy.

V8:

The most ubiquitous of all the vee-engines, there’s a V8 to suit all tastes and wallets. You need only spend £3000 or so to bag your first bent-eight. At that sort of budget, you’ll be looking at old four-door smokers – Jaguar XJs, BMW 540is, Audi A8s and so on. At £3000, these cars aren’t far off being disposable; run for six months until something goes majorly wrong, sell for scrap, repeat.

Bump the budget up to £6000 and all manner of once very prestigious SUVs fall within reach. Think Porsche Cayenne S, BMW X5 and Range Rover Vogue. V8 sports car? You’ll need to spend £8000 or so, but you won’t be wanting for options. The Mercedes SL500, BMW 645Ci and Jaguar XK8 are all in budget. Not all V8s were born equal, though. Spend £15,000 or so and you’ll land a true great. At that price, the E92 BMW M3 and B7 Audi RS4 come into the frame. Both have high-revving V8s that are worth the asking price alone. 

V10:

The cheapest V10 car for sale today is the E60 BMW M5, closely followed by its two-door sibling, the M6. The saloon starts from as little as £13,000. The best advice? Do not proceed without a cast-iron warranty.

V12:

The V12 is undoubtedly the most regal of all the engine configurations. Buying a V12 is one thing, running one is another thing altogether. You’ll pick up a late 1990s BMW 750i for around £6000, but your fuel costs will match that figure every 12 months. Maintenance and repair bills will be befitting of a 12-cylinder luxury car too.

If you prefer your V12s with more of a sporting f lavour, the Aston Martin DB7 might be to your liking. Starting at £30,000, the V12-engined Vantage model is hugely desirable but can suffer from corrosion and timing chain tensioner failure, which can be terminal.

Nürburgring lap record holder:

The car industry’s Nürburgring lap record obsession – or, more specifically, the juvenile squabble that ensues when one car maker claims a new record and another cries foul play – is one of its more tedious pantomimes. On some level, though, Nordschleife lap records are still unutterably cool. Cool in the sense that on a particular day, under a huge amount of pressure, an impossibly talented driver hustled a car around what is a fearsomely challenging circuit faster than any other car of the same type had ever gone before. That should be applauded. It’s the childish schoolyard nonsense that surrounds these lap times that is decidedly uncool.

Most Nürburgring lap record holders are, of course, new cars, which means second-hand bargains are out of the question. But you don’t need to spend a fortune to put a bona fide ’Ring champion on your driveway. The latest Honda Civic Type R is the front-wheel-drive production car record holder, having set a time of 7min 43.8sec. You can pick up a six-month-old example for £28,000.

In the saloon car sector, you can bag yourself an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio for around £53,000. The class-leading four-door Alfa set a time of 7min 32sec around the Green Hell. At this point, somebody from Jaguar will hurriedly point out that the XE SV Project 8 has since bettered the Alfa’s time by more than ten seconds. To which we say: yes, it did. But you’re only making 300 of them and they cost three times as much as the Quadrifoglio.

Performance estates:

There are few cars that shed value more quickly than a very fast estate. For the savvy used car buyer, it’s a brilliant opportunity. Starting at around £10,000, the original Audi RS6 is very affordable and, with 444bhp, it’s massively quick too.

Big-name-designer car:

You might not be able to afford an Aston Martin Vanquish but, while you work your way towards one, you could be driving around in a car that was designed by the very same bloke. Ian Callum’s design credits include the Vanquish, DB9 and Vantage, as well as the Jaguar F-Type and C-X75 concept car. His is a very distinguished CV. The Callum car you can afford, though, is the Ford Puma. You’ll struggle to spend much more than £1000 on a Puma these days – putting to one side the very special Racing Puma – and, 20 years on from the car’s launch, there aren’t many well-cared-for examples left.

Frank Stephenson, meanwhile, is perhaps best known for his work at Ferrari and Maserati. He designed the F430 and the brilliantly subtle 612 Scaglietti for the Prancing Horse, as well as the Enzo-derived MC12 supercar for Maserati. His later work includes the McLaren MP4-12C. Stephenson, like Callum, is one of car design’s biggest names. Happily, however, those of us on a very tight budget can nick ourselves a Stephenson design in the form of the original BMW-era Mini. Unlike the Puma, these Minis are in plentiful supply and for £2000 you’ll find a Cooper with plenty of life left in it. 

Handbuilt British sports car:

McLaren, Aston Martin and Caterham all build their cars by hand, but you’ll find more skilled craftsmanship in a Morgan. It isn’t true that Morgan chassis are made of wood, contrary to popular belief. In fact, their chassis are made from very conventional steel. It’s the frame that supports the body that is made from ash, every inch of it worked and shaped using time-honoured methods.

Prices start at around £20,000 for a 4/4, but if you want a V8 model – which, surely, you do – you’ll pay around twice that for a Plus 8.

Porsche Motorsport 911:

The Porsche 911 GT3, no matter the vintage, will always be held in the very highest regard among car enthusiasts. They are so in demand, in fact, that values are only going one way. The cheapest GT3 out there now is also the very first of the line: the original 996 GT3, introduced in 1999.

You’ll pay £60,000 or so. For that you’ll be buying not only a brilliant track-focused sports car with one of the great engines – the Mezger flat six – but also a slice of motoring folklore, honed by Porsche Motorsport division. It is the genesis of the most iconic motoring dynasty of them all.

Car with fancy doors:

Be they scissor or gullwing, nothing trumps a car with doors that open upwards for kerbside theatre. The cheapest way into a car with look-at-me doors is the McLaren MP4-12C, which has just dipped below £100,000.

TRY THIS...

Salvage cars:

Fancy saving around 25% on your next car? Buying salvage sounds risky but can yield a bargain. One way is to buy via auctions.asm-autos. co.uk, an online auction site featuring countrywide stock. There’s an annual registration fee and you can inspect before bidding (vital). Cars are categorised according to damage. Become expert in the crumpling characteristics of one or two models before bidding. Cut-price Minis are plentiful and often non-starting Mazda RX-8s are super-cheap. RB

Ariel Atom:

Once you get buy-in from your other half, the rest is easy. You order from the factory, and collect there too. When I bought my car, it was a non-supercharged model without no screen. I subsequently went back for supercharger, screen and uprated brakes. Glad I did. In nearly four years, it was perfectly reliable, and I sold it for exactly what I paid. Best fast-car deal I’ve ever done. SC

Lotus Esprit:

My first and only mid- engined supercar’s singular achievement was never to complete a journey – not one – without something going wrong. I thought buying it ruined me until I tried to run it. Thinking of how little I got when I sold it back to the same sod I’d bought it from still makes me cringe 30 years later. AF

Read more 

Ferrari 488 review 

BMW M3 review 

Ariel Atom review 

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Comments
8

8 April 2018

If you can really get the 3 yearly big service with all belts changed on a Ferrari 360 for only £1k then I'd call that a bargain. I paid over half that on a Hyundai Santa Fe belt change and service.


8 April 2018
Leslie Brook wrote:

If you can really get the 3 yearly big service with all belts changed on a Ferrari 360 for only £1k then I'd call that a bargain. I paid over half that on a Hyundai Santa Fe belt change and service.

I paid a lot more than that and that was 6 years ago. My 360 cost me over 11k to run in 18 months of ownership, I bought it cheap and paid the price. Thankfully prices had just begun to rise when I got mine and I got most of my money back at resale. Fantastic car to own and drive but I'd never do it again.

8 April 2018

 Had an E46 for seven glorious months did 7000 miles in it never missed a beat, a truly memorable experience.

Peter Cavellini.

8 April 2018

In the past I've purchased several Alfa Romeo and Lotus "dream cars" which turned out to be total nightmares. I suppose that I learnt a lot and didn't spend a great deal of money (I had access to good workshop facilities and plenty of spare time), but the fact remains that I spent more time working on these cars than I did driving them. You have to consider that many cars are built to survive the warranty period and perhaps enjoy a 10 year economic life, and it's wise to look beyond the low purchase price of some of these classics. They are usually cheap for a reason!

8 April 2018

... surely Jaguar/Daimler and Mercedes worth a mention?

Wide cars in a world of narrow.

9 April 2018
Having owned a Ferrari some time ago,after reading a Steve Cropley article that 'a man who has the chance to buy a Ferrari and doesn't, should be shot'. I would advise anyone to tread with care. Even having paid a Marque specialist to give it the once over, it ended up costing some £8k ( that was at 1996 prices) over my three years of ownership and that didn't include servicing. I saw the light years ago, so now have a Mk1 MR2, bought for a snip and costs peanuts to run, watch for rust though.

9 April 2018

What about the stunning looking Ian callum designed volvo C70, in 5 pot turbo charged T5 they also meet the unusual engine category and can be had very cheaply.

First mid engine, MR2's have been forgotten, are cheap, in plentiful supply and farely reliable without massive bills same with MG f/tf or if its the porsche name you want what about a boxter, available older and cheaper than the cayman.

9 April 2018

I am fortunate enough to have bought an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage recently. What an amazing, beautiful, powerful thing! Yes, I know that the fuel and maintenance costs will be very high, but I won't suffer the big cost of motoring: depreciation. It makes me smile every time I get in it, and that, surely, is what a car enthusiast wants.

I did try a Cayman, but it left me cold. Getting in it didn't give me any sense of occasion. It just shows you that the better car isn't necessarily the most fun.

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