With budgets growing increasingly tight, it can be difficult to justify the purchase of a car solely for fun.
That doesn’t mean you should entirely stifle your automotive ambitions, however. There are plenty of options when it comes to interesting, affordable and usable cars.
After all, just because a car’s rewarding to drive doesn’t mean it can’t be practical and mildly sensible for less than £1000.
Sure, you’re still going to need to budget for insurance and running costs, but pick wisely and you should still be able to keep your overall outlay low.
Here’s our top recommendations for fun £1000 cars.
Ford Puma (97-02)
You might not be convinced by the Puma’s styling but you’ll be sold on it once you’ve taken it out for a proper drive. Go for a 1.7-litre version and you’ll be rewarded with an eager, capable car that can sprint from 0-60mph in 9.2sec.
Look for examples with decent service history as the Ford’s engine, which was codeveloped with Yamaha, is very finickity about the oil used and requires a cambelt change every five years or 80,000 miles. Alternatively, you could consider the Citroën Xsara VTS.
Porsche 924 (77-88)
A lot of people give the junior Porsche a hard time but, if you can live with the “That’s not a Porsche” comments you’re in for a treat. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in the early models produces 123bhp, helping the 924 get from 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds, and is durable and easy to work on.
Parts are generally inexpensive, so don’t discount an example needing a little work, but do look for any signs of corrosion, damage or general neglect. Make sure the car in question starts easily when hot too, as the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system can develop problems here. If you look hard enough you might find a serviceable example of the more potent 924S or 944; we’d rather a presentable early 924 than a tired 924S or 944, however.
BMW 3-series (1991-1999)
The E36 generation of 3-series is a popular choice for those seeking an engaging used car. It offers decent handling, an enjoyable rear-wheel drive layout, a range of decent engines and stout build quality. There are plenty of new and used parts around, and comprehensive aftermarket support too, so maintaining and uprating it to suit your tastes is easy.
For £1000 you’ll be able to pick up a decent 318iS, with a lively four-cylinder engine, or a clean six-cylinder 325i or 328i. Besides the usual wear and tear, look carefully for any signs of corrosion. You can get the 3-series in cabriolet, coupé, saloon and estate forms too, so there's something for most.
Fiat Coupé (95-00)
With sharp Chris Bangle-penned styling and the option of a warbling five-cylinder engine, there’s a lot to like about the Fiat Coupé. Despite what you might expect they’re a reliable choice too. For £1000 you’re best off opting for the naturally aspirated 16v or 20v model, that latter of which is capable of 0-62mph in as little as 8.4sec.
You can find turbo models for under £1k, but they may require a lot of titivation and could trash your budget – so buy with open eyes. Don’t overlook the four-cylinder turbo models either, they can be just as fun. If you’re struggling to find a Fiat Coupé, have a look for the similar Alfa GTV instead.
Jaguar XJ (94-03)
Want a luxury car with a bit of a punch? A Jaguar XJ, preferably with the 4.0-litre straight-six engine, should fit the bill nicely. After all, there are definite bargains to be had out there. Earlier in the year we bought one for £500, flogged it senseless, got 141mph out of it and then dispatched it to go around the Nürburgring - which it did.