Currently reading: The perfect three-car garages
Own three cars and you’ll be able to cover all motoring bases, especially if you happen to be as well informed about motors as an Autocar writer. Or so you might think…
17 mins read
22 April 2017

Do the three car garage right and you're set for life, with a car for every occasion imaginable. Take a look below to see what some Autocar staffers have.

Andrew Frankel - 1981 Land Rover Series III, 1995 Porsche 968 Sport, 1958 Citroën 2CV AZ

An old Porsche, an even older Land Rover and a positively ancient Citroën. I’m not going to pretend they have anything in common, that some golden thread links them and explains their presence in my shed. On the contrary, it is their differences I celebrate. Besides, do not mistake me for any kind of car collector, even though these are not the only old cars I own. I appear to be an accidental accumulator as the almost-by-chance presence in my life of two of these three attests.

One is the Porsche 968 Sport. I bought it last year because Porsche said I could drive a 918 Spyder in Scotland if I turned up in a Porsche I actually owned. The 968 belonged to a mate who’d bought it from my brother 17 years ago and I knew it was sound. My strategy was to buy it, drive the 918 and sell the 968 with the shirt still on my back. I reckoned without the joy of driving a 968 across Scotland and now can’t bring myself to part with it. I don’t use it enough and the money would be useful, not least because the world is starting to realise that 968 Sports are also genuine ClubSports and their prices have ticked up accordingly.

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The Land Rover has been with me rather longer. In fact, I passed my test in it. My father bought it when his idiot sons were learning to drive because it was the strongest, slowest thing money could buy in 1981. Improbably, it’s the car that taught me about power oversteer, and it’s the car that made me spectacularly popular with my mates because I was always happy to be the designated driver and it has a lot of seats: seven in fact, although I once got 14 into it.

It’s nice to have it for sentimental reasons, but I need it, too. I live quite remotely, and but for the Landie, we’d be cut off for a few days most years. In deep snow, you don’t need electronic trickery. You need ground clearance, light weight and decent tyres. In such conditions, I’d back my Series III against any modern machine on standard rubber. It also carries hay for my sheep, takes them to market and goes to the tip. Not a glamorous life, but I couldn’t do without it.

The 2CV is the only one I went out and bought for no reason other than I wanted one. Ripple-bonnet 425cc 2CVs from the 1950s are as different from the cars from the 1970s and 1980s as those cars are from a modern C3. They are rare and nice ones exceptionally so. So rare, indeed, that I gave up looking and bought an old suicide-door Fiat 500 to satisfy my craving for a super-slow air-cooled twin.

But then two 2CVs came up at once, and the moment Chris Harris bought one, I knew I had to have the other, not least because I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t. I bought it freshly restored from the Wheeler Dealers mob for a ridiculous sum of money and have spent plenty more making it mechanically as I need all my cars to be: on the button and capable of any journey I might want to do.

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It was worth every penny. I am blessed to drive all kinds of cars for my living: old and new, fast and slow, road and track; but for its character and ability to plaster a smile over my face before its wheels have completed their first rotation, it might be the most charming thing I’ve ever sat in. Its value is immaterial for, of them all, it is the one I will never sell. 

Richard Bremner - 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Corsa 140 Coupé, 2001 Rover 75 2.5 V6 Connoisseur SE, 1980 Triumph TR7 FHC

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The cars in this disparate trio are all the result of light obsessions, like so many of the cars we enthusiasts own. And unlike most of the rest of the 10 cars I seem to have accumulated, these remain self-propelling and have MOTs.

I can’t quite explain how I became interested in the Chevrolet Corvair, the rear-engined 1959 American budget car condemned as ‘Unsafe At Any Speed’ by consumer campaigner Ralph Nader. He noticed that the Corvair featured in quite a number of accidents in the early 1960s, as did the VW Beetle, but it was the Chevy that attracted most of the vilification. The issue went to court, Chevrolet owner General Motors foolishly attempting to smear the studiously well-behaved Nader.

GM eventually won but the Corvair’s career was almost over by then. Not that Nader killed it, this pretty Chevy’s nemesis being the hot-selling Ford Mustang. The Corvair scandal did much to improve car safety, and the car itself was the result of another obsession. Chief engineer and eventual GM boss Ed Cole was fascinated by rearengined cars, and when he had the power to put one into production, he did just that. So the ’Vair has a good back story, but it’s also likeable for its styling, especially in this 1965 second-generation form, complete with rear suspension redesigned by Zora Arkus-Duntov, aka Mr Corvette

His work sanitised the handling to a considerable degree. I’ve just done 530 miles over a weekend with some mates in Wales and the Corvair’s 140bhp 2.7-litre air-cooled flat six mostly managed to keep the car in the mirrors of a mate’s 1973 2.7-litre air-cooled Porsche 911 RS. The Corvair remains an underdog – prices are nowhere near the level of other, less stylish 1960s Americans – but that’s part of its appeal.

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The same is true of the Triumph TR7. I’ve always liked the abrupt drama of its turret-top roof, its excellent dashboard and the surprising mix of soft-riding comfort and tidy handling. True, the TR7 noses to earth like an ant-eater when braking and shoots for the moon under acceleration, but it’s an agreeably brisk machine despite these flaws. I drove these new, because I worked for the company that made them, and nostalgia is one reason for acquiring this 1980 example.

Another was its genuine 11,000 miles and irresistibly modest £3300 price. Low-mileage oldies are a big draw for me because the likelihood of the car driving as its maker intended is that bit greater. Its structure will barely have weakened, dampers and bushes should still be resilient, corrosion minimal and the cabin freakishly unworn. All apply to this TR.

The same can’t quite be said of the creased driver’s seat in my daily Rover 75 2.5 V6, despite its modest 63,000 miles. I reckon its previous owner was big, a further clue being the distance the seat travelled when I pressed the first electric preset. Besides leather heated memory seats, this car has climate control, a sumptuous Harman Kardon stereo, an electric sunroof, electric rear sunblind and a Chinese infotainment system that fits the centre console as if it had been there from day one.

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It provides sat-nav with traffic, Bluetooth, DAB radio, web connectivity and an excellent reversing camera. This kit cost me half the price of my £800 Rover, my growing confidence in its dependability prompting this extravagantly modernising update.

The 75’s ride is still up there with the best and its cabin is of noticeably better quality than a Jaguar F-Pace’s. Following a precautionary timing belt change, it has so far provided 12,000 miles of effortlessly trouble-free miles, and in terms of value for money, it’s easily the best car I’ve had, despite its 16 years. 

Matt Prior - 1993 Renault Dodge 50 Series, 1973 Volkswagen Beetle 'Baja Bug', 2005 Land Rover Defender 90 Td5

There is an old cliché that doctors don’t have terribly good health and that teachers have poorly behaved children. If there is an equivalent for motoring writers, you’re looking at it.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: what is that vehicle doing in this company? I’ll bet that old, decrepit thing is totally unsuitable and it spends quite a lot of its time broken.

Only question is, which one are you talking about?

Where to start, then? Let’s go with the most noticeable and least practical, shall we? The 1973 Volkswagen Beetle in Baja Bug specification. I bought it because it was astonishingly cool but it turns out it is astonishingly crap. I don’t know why I’m surprised but it is, no question, the worst-riding and handling car I have ever driven in my life. But, still: it is astonishingly cool.

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I use it solely to provoke twinges of regret at neglecting it as an unfinished project. But it’s roadworthy and every couple of months I do something to it: insert carpets, paint the bodywork, look at it, store something else in it, something like that.

Now and again I take it up the road to remind myself it’s still terrible to drive. I don’t use it enough so am contemplating selling it.

Then there is the Renault Dodge 50 Series. It’s a horsebox and therefore would be able to accommodate an elephant should I ever decide to remove it from the room it inhabits. I bought the Dodge because I’m custodian of a girl who wanted to compete at dressage. She’s since decided that doing her homework might be a better idea so it, too, is surplus to requirements.

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Unlike the Beetle, the Dodge is actually for sale right now, if I get around to advertising it. Despite appearances, it’s remarkably roadworthy, as it darned well ought to be given I’ve just paid for an entire new back axle just because the rear brakes were underperforming by 2% on one side. 

The 50 Series has a bit of a cult following, so should sell. The army used to use a 4x4 version called the RB44, which is seriously cool, but any 50 Series variant is hard-wearing. When I bought this one, the previous owner said not to use first gear or it would break the gear linkage, but these things are so tough I knew she was being ridiculous.

So, anyway, I broke the gear linkage. Then there’s the practical everyday car, the Land Rover Defender. It’s a 2005 90 Td5 bought for all the good reasons you’d imagine. In the first few years I had it, it covered around 15,000 miles a year, although that has tailed off lately in favour of a Seat Ibiza that does double the fuel economy, doesn’t cost £800 every time it rolls into a service centre, and fits in multi-storey car parks. Sensibly, the Defender, too, would go, but the truth is that it has become a pet, is unbelievably good at towing, seats six and is intensely practical, so I suspect it will stay forever.

There are others: two go-karts that both need selling; a 750cc Honda Africa Twin motorcycle I will never sell; and a Honda CG125 scrambler project that I will never finish.

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There are plans, of a fashion, too: lose the lorry and Beetle, make the Defender the fun car and buy an Audi A2 as the interesting daily runner; or sell the lot, get an A2 and buy a Series Land Rover rag-top, or a Land Rover Forward Control, or a Caterham Seven for fun; or lose the lot and buy more motorcycles. As usual, I find the thinking part is almost as interesting as the doing bit.

Steve Cropley - 2003 Citroën Berlingo Multispace, 2015 Mazda MX-5, 2015 Fiat 500 TwinAir

In a way, it’s embarrassing how ordinary our family’s three cars are. In my game, the outsider’s supposition is usually that your backside is always in cars that are either luxurious, advanced, quick or expensive – which pre-supposes that these are the cars you’ll spend your money on.

But not one of our trio conforms to any of these descriptions. We’re talking a Mazda MX-5 and a Fiat 500 Twinair from 2015, and a Citroën Berlingo Multispace that has been cluttering up the place since 2003. Their total trade-in value is barely £20,000 and not one of the chosen cars has a prestige nameplate. Like I say, nothing to crow about there.

Yet it’s the combination of their qualities that make such a complete whole. Our cars fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Every time I contemplate getting rid of one – even for something much more valuable – there’s a logical argument against it. And when you consider the sentimental side (as I always do), such a move becomes near impossible.

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Consider the Berlingo. Many years ago, it was an Autocar long-term test car, and we were able to buy it keenly from Citroën’s fleet. It’s no secret that our household would like to own a Land Rover but the Defender market is now quite crazy. We’d have to spend £10,000 to buy something decent – the Berlingo plus £9000.

For that, we’d have something that is far less comfortable, smaller in cargo-carrying capacity, less capable at picking people up from the railway station, no more reliable than a Defender (you can count the Blinger’s glitches in 14 years and 77,000 miles on one hand). And, by the way, your new wheels would be much more enticing to the burgeoning ranks of rural Defender thieves. Besides, an old friend would have departed for good. It’s not going to happen.

Next, the MX-5, another former Autocar long-termer. I bought it because it became such a character around here, and such a superb yet affordable driving machine that I simply couldn’t face sending it back to Mazda. I had it delivered through a dealership convenient to the office, drove it home one Friday evening, fitted numbers and a timing strut, turned up at Prescott hillclimb the following morning and did tolerably well (third out of 20 in class), running in the streaming rain.

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Since then, the car has been a joy, taking the Steering Committee and myself around the Cotswolds on pleasant errands and pleasure drives with ease and enjoyment. We never get home without exchanges about the comfort, the pleasure of fresh air, the terrific ride quality (given the sweet handling and steering) and the torquey performance.

The Fiat? The Steering Committee loves small cars. She rates the Fiat for the brilliant yet practical way it expresses the lines of the previous, much smaller nuova Cinquecento. “It makes me smile,” she always says: how many cars can you say that about? This is her second 500. She chose a Twinair this time because she’d rather not own a diesel and the twin-pot turbo has surprisingly long legs for the motorway trips she frequently subjects it to.

All this is why we have the cars we have. Which one would we part with? I truly have no idea. There isn’t a decent case for selling any one. 

Will Nightingale - 2009 BMW 318i Touring, 1985 Lotus Esprit, 1990 Peugeot 205 GTI

We should probably start with the bright red wedge taking up most of the photo. It is, of course, a Lotus Esprit. A 1985 Giorgetto Giugiaro-bodied Turbo, to be exact – the one before (putting tin hat on) Peter Stevens messed up the styling a bit. Or to friends and family who don’t know or care about such things: the one Roger Moore drives in For Your Eyes Only. Minus the skis.

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It even moves. Sometimes. Although it hasn’t done so as much as I’d like since I bought it in February. But I have excuses. It has been raining a lot, as it tends to at this time of year. And although I’m well aware that plastic doesn’t rust, washing salt off the paintwork after every trip is a pain. And when I did set aside a couple of hours for a drive during last week’s milder weather, I was greeted by a dead battery, despite the ‘intelligent’ trickle charger it was hooked up to telling me all was well.

As 32-year-old Lotuses go, it’s in very good nick. The body is more than tidy, the interior was fully re-leathered about a year ago and, on the couple of occasions I have been for a spin, I’ve been surprised by how well it steers and handles – certainly compared with Porsche 911s of the era. The ride? Not so great, which is equally surprising, given that’s a strength of most modern Lotuses.

As always, there are things to sort. The first job is to properly balance the carbs to get rid of an annoying flutter when the engine’s hot. I’ve ordered a manometer – not that I have a clue how to use it. Every other car I’ve ever owned has been fuel-injected.

Next, there’s the practical runabout, the BMW 318i Touring. After years of road testing for sister title What Car? and recommending smoother-riding SE trim, I did the obvious thing and bought an M Sport. Well, my wife did really – because she’s the one who drives it 90% of the time. It’s not very fast. At all. Which is one of the reasons she longs for her old Audi TT. But the BMW does have heated seats (important, I’m told), is more practical and has barely put a foot wrong in the two years we’ve owned it. It’ll stay for the foreseeable.

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Last, and definitely least roadworthy, there’s the Peugeot 205 1.9 GTI. It’s my third one of these – the first for 15 years – and certainly the sorriest one I’ve owned. I bought it two years ago before prices became unsustainably silly (one sold for more than £30k not so long ago), with the aim of doing a full restoration. Very obviously, this still hasn’t happened. And the GTI really should be sold to free up garage space for the Lotus.

But I just can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia (a white 1.6 GTI was my very first car) or just wanting a classic that I can drive whenever I please without worrying about putting miles on it and big bills when something goes wrong. Probably a bit of both. But writing this has given me a kick up the backside to get the restoration under way – which means I’ll probably still be dallying this time next year. 

James Ruppert - 1979 BMW 320, 1964 Mini Cooper, 1984 Land Rover Series III

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It has taken 40 years but now I have the perfect three-car garage. Two fit inside and one lives in the wild.

So how did I find the final piece in my personal automotive jigsaw? I blame this magazine. A few years ago, I was asked if I would drive a restored BMW-owned 320 back to where I used to work, the BMW Park Lane showroom. In the west London rush-hour traffic, I realised how small and perfectly formed the original E21-generation 3 Series is. Dwarfed by Corsas, it is purposeful and pretty. That car was also a time machine and made me feel 23 again.

I wasn’t around to sell E21s brand new, but in the early 1980s, 316 autos were the preferred service loan cars. They were underpowered and therefore customer friendly. After a few thousand miles, we flogged them. Happy days.

My E21 is a 1979 320 in ‘trophy wife’ spec: metallic gold (Kashmir), automatic, Alpina alloy wheels and factory air-con. What also pleased me is that it started life in Loughton, Essex. As an east Londoner who in my youth frequently flitted to the well-off parts of Essex, often to meet girls, I probably saw it parked in a carriage drive and thought: ‘Nice.’

Decades later, I spotted it one night on the interweb. I had been planning to simplify my motoring life and just get a comfy, older car. I flirted with stupidly expensive Bristols and unloved Bentleys. However, as the owner of a 1970s house with a double garage, I wanted something that could fit inside. What better than a classy two-door saloon with a big engine and all the kit? I mean, two-door saloons: no one makes those any more, but they should. This is how gentlemen like me would prefer to travel.

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The reason that the 320 hadn’t sold quickly is probably because it wasn’t a 323i. The truth is, a 323i will try to kill you. I know from taking one around a damp roundabout in 1984. 

The automatic ’box is a deal breaker for many, but not for me. It also makes it Mrs Ruppert-friendly. She hates the other geared members of the fleet. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this E21 is the lack of rot. It is remarkably uncrumbly. The downside is a respray by Stevie Wonder about a decade ago. It is bright, but the details let it down. This is, though, a car I want to actually drive rather than fuss over.

It met my classic car tick box of (a) having no rust, (b) having been tucked up in a garage by someone with money to look after it and (c) coming with receipts for new brakes, tyres and sundries.

It meant I had to buy, especially as I got the price to tumble by £1300. However, there was a catch, which became apparent only when I tried to tax the car. Long story, but this glamorous little car had spent some time in Italy. That probably explains the lack of rot, but it caused some re-import consternation at the DVLA. For a while, I could not drive the car I’d bought to drive.

The E21 is, then, the comfortable one and will be sharing 1970s garage space with the fun one, a 1964 Mini Cooper. When I bought it for £200 in 1979, it was a shabby old thing clinging to an MOT.

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What I love about it is that there are bits of my first car (a Mini 850cc) in it, from the bootlid and spare wheel to some switchgear.

The sole purpose of the Cooper is to amuse and entertain, usually while going to the shops to buy milk and bread. It feels super-fast but is actually super-slow and very noisy, with brake discs the size of jam jar lids. Unlike a Caterham, it has real doors and a proper roof, so it is far better.

This brings us to the workhorse. A 1984 Land Rover Series III, one of the very last, Landie addicts tell me. The amount of stuff this car has shifted over the years is quite remarkable: house moves, pallets, three-piece suites, wood, building supplies and, last year, people caught up in a rather serious flood. The driving experience is pre-war; an obstructive gearbox, drum brakes and a wheezy petrol engine mean that momentum and anticipation are the keys to progress.

What have I got then? Analogue cars and unique two-door driving experiences. Every journey is never less than interesting, with no multimedia distractions. Each car predicted the future: front-wheel drive, SUV and the premium brand. FWD, 4WD and RWD. A mix of manual and auto.

I’m now done. No more cars. There’s your perfect fleet. I am contactable only by landline telephone and telex, both installed in my perfect garage. 

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bowsersheepdog 30 April 2017

Three? I could pick thirty, and still be bothered over the cut

Firstly, this piece reminds me of Richard Bremner’s “All the Cars I Never Bought” which was the best thing Autocar ever published.

It’s so tough to choose only three cars for a dream garage, I usually find it difficult to stop at twenty, but here goes with my choice as of today:

Volvo 960 24v Estate (though I’d settle for a V70R Estate)
MG Metro 6R4
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

And since somebody cheated with a +1, I’ll throw in a Unimog 416.

80sXS 26 April 2017

3 car garage

3 car garage would be as follows:

1964 Gordon Keeble
1989 R107 Mercedes 500SL
1989 Aston Martin V8 Vantage X-Pack Coupe

Daily driver... If I had those in the garage I wouldn't really care what my daily driver was. I'd happily drive to work in a Reliant Robin.

Marv 24 April 2017

Interesting article....

The Corvair really caught my eye.
Our drive currently has;
My wife's 65 plate Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2crdi,
my 15 plate Mazda 6 2.2d
and my stepdaughters 66 plate Mini 1.5 One.
Each car serves its primary purpose very well, be it towing our caravan, lugging the kids bike about, long distance commuting or local journeys.
I'm looking to add a weekend car, but struggling to decide between an MR2 roadster, Mk 3 MX-5, 961 Boxter or go to the extreme and go for a self-build Pilgrim AC Cobra replica :-)