Our ‘bargain’ formula makes as much sense now as it did in 2005. We revisit our choices from back then and pick tasty used cars for the same money today
15 December 2018

In March 2005 Autocar set out its manifesto for the £100-per-week second-hand performance hero.

For that sum, which equates to a purchase loan budget of £25,000 borrowed over five years, our writers and testers explained you could buy your very own mid-engined supercar, a modern-day muscle car, one of the most beautiful automotive shapes of the past few decades, a V8 super-saloon – or whatever else tempted you.

Eleven of the era’s most appealing but affordable performance cars were laid out in detail, with an underlying message that there had never been a better time to throw caution to the wind and buy a dream performance car. 

Thirteen years later we’re revisiting the idea. In the years that have elapsed the values of those 11 cars have fallen, stayed more or less the same and even, as in a number of instances, risen dramatically. But in every case a more modern alternative has since fallen into the £100-per-week bracket. This time around we’ll look at how the values of each of the cars have shifted in 13 years and suggest a newer model that might now be a smarter purchase. 

Our Verdict

Mini Countryman

Mini’s modern-day Maxi is back for another swing at the hatchback mainstream, but is the Countryman good enough this time?

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The message, as it was then, is that you needn’t continue dreaming about owning a desirable performance car. Check out our guide at the end of the feature for some loan options that might just draw such a purchase into realistic range.

Ferrari 348

Autocar’s David Vivian had it right when he wrote that the 348 “may not be the greatest baby Ferrari ever built, but you’ll wake up in a better mood with one on your drive”. And had you heeded his advice and bought one, you might even have turned a profit. 

While it was possible to buy a 348 with a £25,000 budget 13 years ago, you will now need at least £40k. The market seems to be forgetting how unloved the 348 once was, but with effortlessly pretty styling and a soaring, normally aspirated V8, perhaps its reputation was unwarranted. But have we seen the end of bargain-basement Ferraris? Not entirely. Mondials and 400s can still be found under £30k, but whether you’d want one is another matter.

One we found: 1993 348TS, 71,000 miles, £41,500

Today’s alternative: Audi R8 V8

No, it isn’t a Ferrari. It isn’t even Italian. The Audi R8 does have an atmospheric V8 in its middle, however, and, just like the 348, its manual gearbox has an open gate, so there are at least some important similarities between the two. The truth is you’ll need to spend upwards of £50,000 on a 360 Modena to bag yourself a modern 348 successor, which is why on this occasion we’re leaving Maranello behind and moving on to Ingolstadt. 

That’s no bad thing, though, because a looked-after early R8 will be no less enjoyable to drive than any comparable Ferrari. Original R8s are yet to drop to £25,000 but they can be found for around £30,000, which doesn’t seem like a huge sum for what is a brilliant junior supercar. The 4.2-litre V8 is very durable, although it does have a thirst for oil. 

One we found: 2007 R8 4.2, 94,000 miles, £30,995

BMW M5 (E39)

In 2005 former Autocar tester Chris Harris wrote: “I think about the [E39] M5 all the time.” That BMW was, and very possibly still is, the yardstick by which Harris judged every new car he tested. “Not in direct seats-and-space terms,” he went on, “but in monetary value.” 

The E39 M5 is one of the few cars featured in that original piece that has since come down in value, which means his point is truer now than it ever was. They can be picked up today for less than £10,000, although for a little over £15,000 – still a long way short of our budget – you will find very tidy cars with well-documented histories. With a whisker under 400bhp from a normally aspirated V8, a manual gearbox and only two-wheel drive, the E39 is still the M5 of choice. 

One we found: 2000 M5, 91,000 miles, £17,750

Today’s alternative: BMW M5 (F10)

For as long as it exists the F10 M5 will live in the shadow of the earlier E39. Some will tell you the twin-turbocharged M5, which was replaced just this year, was actually the low point of BMW’s super-saloon dynasty, but very few cars have ever combined crushing straight-line performance with effortless long-distance comfort like the F10. 

What the F10 lacks is the control and agility of those earlier M5s, making the F10 feel more like a grand tourer than a four-door sports car. Since it was introduced in 2011 values have fallen a long way indeed, so much so that you can buy one today for just 30% of its original list price. Our £25,000 budget will afford a 2012 car with around 50,000 miles behind it and a whole heap of very fast, very oversteery miles ahead of it. 

One we found: 2012 M5, 55,000 miles, £24,000

Chevrolet Corvette (C5)

“The appeal of the Corvette is obvious,” wrote David Vivian. “It has got the muscle to scare the quickest – and usually much more expensive – European performance cars in a straight line and the ability to cut it in corners.” That still applies, and you’ll find a C5 today for less than £20,000. 

One we found: 2001 Corvette, 89,000 miles, £16,995

Today’s alternative: Chevrolet Corvette (C6)

The C6 isn’t as pretty as the C5 but it is more powerful and a lot more modern inside. Once you’ve wound that rumbling 6.0 V8 through the gears you’ll be done with turbos forever.

One we found: 2009 Corvette, 15,000 miles, £28,950

TVR Tamora

TVRs may never shake their reputation for poor reliability, but as Steve Sutcliffe pointed out, the Tamora “was one of the more reliable cars to emanate from Blackpool”. In the 13 years since he wrote those words values have hardly budged, and £25,000 is still the entry point for TVR’s pretty roadster.  

One we found: 2002 Tamora, 39,500 miles, £25,500

Today’s alternative: TVR Tuscan

The Tamora hasn’t shed much value since 2005, but the more powerful Tuscan has drifted into range since then. The head-turning sports car starts at £17,000 today, but with £25k you’ll find a low-mileage car with immaculate history. The faint of heart need not apply.

One we found: 2003 Tuscan, 36,000 miles, £26,500

Maserati 3200 GT

“It’s genuinely hard to imagine a more adventurous place in which to invest £100 a week than a 3200 GT.” Steve Sutcliffe didn’t pull any punches when describing the Maserati, but with cars out there now at less than £15,000, the Maserati is less risky than it once was. 

One we found: 1999 3200 GT, 65,000 miles, £14,950

Today’s alternative: Maserati GranTurismo

Fully two generations newer than the 3200 GT, the very beautiful GranTurismo is a far easier car to recommend. As a sports car it couldn’t hope to compete with the Porsche 911, but a normally aspirated V8 and knockout styling are hard to resist, especially at £20,000. 

One we found: 2007 GranTurismo, 75,000 miles, £20,000

Noble M12 GTO

With the earliest cars now starting at £35,000, the Noble M12 GTO has sadly crept out of our £100-per-week budget since that original article in 2005. As David Vivian noted, you really had to be into the hand-built sports car subject matter to go off in search of an M12 GTO. This was not a car the typical Porsche 911 driver would have traded into come the end of a finance agreement, after all. In terms of delivering raw driving thrills in a sophisticated and well-judged manner, though, the Noble was more akin to the bona fide supercars of its day: as quick and as exciting as a Ferrari 360, but at a much more realistic price. 

The Leicestershire company is very different these days, though. It now sells the M600 supercar, a handful of which are built each year, at £250,000 apiece. 

One we found: 2002 M12 GTO, 33,000 miles, £37,950

Today’s alternative: Lotus Exige (S2)

There is no modern equivalent of the M12 GTO, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a laser-focused British sports car with two seats and an engine sited between the cockpit and rear axle. Simply cast your gaze away from Leicestershire and look instead to Norfolk. 

The second-generation Lotus Exige doesn’t offer anything like the straight-line thump of the twin-turbo Noble, but 189bhp working on less than 1000kg still makes for a very rapid car. Nonetheless, it isn’t outright performance that characterises the Exige but handling precision and response. The Exige is known to have absorbent suspension in spite of its hardcore persona, and in that it shares something with every Noble built. You’ll find S2 Exiges today at a little over £20k, but our £25,000 budget will stretch to a newer car with fewer miles. 

Vauxhall Monaro

Apart from being “one of the great performance car bargains of the moment”, according to Steve Sutcliffe, the Vauxhall Monaro was, and still is, infused with an honest, straightforward character that you can’t help but be drawn to. Fast, fun, simple and dependable, and all available today for £10,000. 

One we found: 2006 Monaro, 42,000 miles, £10,500

Today’s alternative: Vauxhall VXR8

The VXR8 is a saloon rather than a coupé, but the newer model offers a bundle more power than the Monaro and its cabin is more sophisticated. It’s also every bit as fun to drive, in that time-honoured muscle car way. You’ll find one today for as little as £15,000.

One we found: 2007 VXR8, 84,000 miles, £14,995

Aston Martin DB7

“You can drive the most beautiful supercar of the late 20th century for the same money as a Peugeot 607,” wrote Andrew Frankel. Now starting at £18k, the DB7 is even more affordable. 

One we found: 1997 DB7, 34,000 miles, £17,750

Today’s alternative: Aston Martin DB9

The car that made the DB7 feel old-hat can’t be had for £100 a week today, but for £30k you’ll find a sub-50,000-mile DB9. A snip for that gorgeous V12. 

One we found: 2005 DB9, 44,000 miles, £29,995

Nissan GT-R V-Spec (R34)

As was pointed out by David Vivian 13 years ago: “There’s no shortage of iconic Japanese hardware to choose from with £30k at your disposal.” You could buy a used Honda NSX or a brand new Subaru Impreza, he noted, but Japan’s most irresistible car at the time, reckoned Vivian, was the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R.

Much of what he wrote about that car could be said of today’s GT-R: “It has one of the most technically sophisticated and absurdly talented four-wheel drive chassis ever to cling to a twisty road,” for instance, or it “simply loves being driven hard.” While R34s could be snapped up for £28,000 back in 2005, you will need at least £40,000 today. The ultra-rare V-Spec model that was the subject of that original piece, meanwhile, will set you back upwards of £50,000. 

One we found: 1999 GT-R V-Spec, 70,000 miles, £57,995

Today’s alternative: Nissan GT-R (R35)

Despite now being more than a decade old, the R35 Nissan GT-R hasn’t quite slipped below £30,000. In fact, the cheapest 2009 cars still command £32,000. To buy one today for £100 per week you’ll therefore need to make up the shortfall with cash or trade in your existing car – but it’ll be worth it. 

Even the earliest R35s feel astonishingly fast today both in a straight line and through corners, and since the car has evolved gradually over the past 10 years or so, only the keenest observers will know it isn’t a more recent model. Despite Nissan claiming at the time that the GT-R would be untunable, the R35 spawned a tuning industry across several continents. There are, therefore, plenty of modified examples on sale, so only consider a car that’s been uprated by a reputable company. 

One we found: 2009 GT-R, 67,000 miles, £31,995

Porsche 911 Carrera (993)

“As the last of the air-cooled 911s, [the 993] was the ultimate evolution of the original 911 concept that created the world’s most fabled and enduring sports car legend,” wrote Andrew Frankel back in 2005. Today it’s strange to think there once was a time that a 993 could be bought for £25,000. In that article we reckoned such a car would be worth £20,000 five years down the road, which probably wasn’t an unreasonable estimate.

What we did not foresee was that in the years that would follow 993 values would rise like a hot air balloon with its burner stuck at full blast, so in 2018 you’ll need at least £35,000 to put one on your driveway. If you did follow our advice and buy a 993 back in 2005, however, you’ll be quids in today. 

One we found: 1997 911 Carrera 4, 99,000 miles, £36,000

Today’s alternative: Porsche 911 Carrera (997)

Those earlier 911S may well be out of reach now, but for £100 per week you’ll have your pick of its modern alternatives. In some ways the 997 was an echo of the 993, for it too heralded some 911 ‘lasts’; it was the last 911 to have hydraulic power steering and the last one to be truly compact, the way 911s used to be. For those reasons and more besides, the 997 is reckoned to be a high point in the five decade-long saga of Porsche’s rear-engined sports car. 

Today you’ll need to tread carefully because the normally-aspirated flat-six isn’t as durable as it might be, although neither intermediate shaft bearing failure nor cylinder bore scoring are as common as legend would have you believe. At £25,000 you’ll even find plenty of low-mileage cars.

One we found: 2007 911 Carrera, 67,000 miles, £24,950

Lotus Esprit V8

“Even Tolstoy would have baulked at the prospect of writing Esprit: potential problems and what to look out for.” So said Chris Harris, who went on to admit he had a soft spot for Lotus’s V8 sports car. “The Esprit just does it for me,” he confessed. 

One we found: 1996 Esprit V8, 44,000 miles, £36,995

Today’s alternative: Lotus Evora

The Evora certainly wasn’t a like-for-like replacement for the Esprit, but with much more cabin space than an Elise and modern-day conveniences such as sat-nav, it was another Lotus you could conceivably use more than once a week. Prices start at a shade under £30,000.

One we found: 2010 Evora, 37,000 miles, £28,500

The financial angle

The values of the 11 second-hand cars highlighted in that original feature of 2005 ranged from £22,500 for the Maserati 3200 GT up to £30,950 for the Aston Martin DB7. The average value was something like £25,000. 

Where did that £100 per week figure come from? That was the approximate cost of borrowing £25,000 as an unsecured loan and paying it back over five years. In fact, the original feature offered six loan options with weekly repayments ranging from £111 to £117. 

For most of the cars in the original piece a £25,000 loan would have been sufficient by itself, although clearly the DB7 at £30,950 would’ve remained a little out of reach. As pointed out 13 years ago, however (and the same applies to this day), you could have made up the shortfall with your savings or by trading in your existing car (just as long as you had, or your car was worth, at least £5950 in the case of the DB7). 

With interest rates lower today than they were in 2005 the £100 per week philosophy is actually even more sound, because it’s now possible to find a loan on those same terms that’ll cost as little as £103 in repayments each week. 

Read more

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Supercar pace for less than £10k: used buying guide​

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Comments
9

15 December 2018
I remember the DB7 being described as 'belly-achingly beautiful'.

It wasn't then. And my goodness time has been viscous to it since...

15 December 2018

In your opinion ; )

15 December 2018
eseaton wrote:

I remember the DB7 being described as 'belly-achingly beautiful'. It wasn't then. And my goodness time has been viscous to it since...

I thought it was beautiful back then, but it’s dated badly in my opinion. 

15 December 2018

Lotus is a magnificent car marred by below par reliability. Pity, otherwise it could give Porsche a lesson or two.

15 December 2018
The 348 was and is truly awful. I bought a new 993 in 1994 and the salesman was desperately trying to get me to buy a six month old 348 he had in the showroom. A generous discount was offered on the already reduced sticker price.Come the 993s first annual, the 348 was still sitting there.

15 December 2018

Bad advice Autocar. It happens a lot, I’d go as far as say don’t buy one that hasn’t had the very expensive fix - engine out job for a £50 bearing upgrade.

As part of a bigger business I ran a Service and Repair shop for two years. We saw three in that time, one lunched itself when the car was started to move it onto an inspection ramp. We were not a Porsche specialist, and it was the only ones we saw. A good used engine and fitting will set you back around £9000 as a minimum. Remember Boxsters had the same issue. BEWARE.

16 December 2018

Audi R8 of the early era crack their chassis around the front suspension mounds, where later ones had extra plates fitted to strengthen them.   Once broken insurance companies write off the car, which is a strike against your insurance for something you have no control over.   Your only option is to get the work done by an independent garage either to fix it, or put those plates in to avoid this.

 

M5 V10 engines are famous for exploding!   Hoovie's garage just showed one where they're having to do $5,000 of preventative maintenance alone, before fixing all the car's faults.   Famous BMW reliability.

 

This is shockingly bad advice to be recommending cars which could easily wipe out your investment in them!

 

16 December 2018

When you make up your List it would be a good idea to check on the Cost of Warranties for your Selection's as I'm sure it would greatly increase the Cost of ownership for most of your selection's.     

Mick J N

20 December 2018

Thank you very much. Incredible car. Very pleased. I used this car to travel to Vegas. More about this on the site. Respect to the author.

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