The 4.0-litre straight six is the best engine to go for, offering both longevity and a surprising turn of speed. It’s thirsty, but many have been converted to LPG. Diesels are painfully slow. Keep an eye out for rust, while exhaust manifolds and rear leaf springs can crack. Prices start at just under £1000.
3 - Toyota Celica (1999-2006)
Every multi-car garage needs a sporty little number, and the Celica fits the bill nicely. Most have a reasonable 140bhp, but speed demons will be more interested in the 190 and T-Sport models. Their high-revving 189bhp 1.8-litre engine needs working hard, but they’re capable of 0-60mph in 7.4sec. Handling is fun, while equipment levels are high.
Although the Celica has rear seats, they are only really suitable for children. At least the large liftback reveals a decent boot for a coupé. Celicas can suffer from suspension issues, so keep an ear out for clonks and rattles on the test drive. Expect to pay as little as £700.
4 - Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1991-2005)
If there’s one car that has always been at the cutting edge, it’s the S-Class. Clever as it may be, however, it isn’t immune from depreciation. It’s for this reason that you can pick up a 1990s or early 2000s example so cheaply.
You won’t get a minter for this money, nor something with low miles. Instead, focus on condition and what service history the car might have. While you will be able to find plenty of cars in budget, bear in mind that repairs can be costly.
5 - Vauxhall Zafira (1999-2005)
The Zafira was a revelation when it first came out. Offering seven seats in a package the length of an Astra, it meant families could avoid bigger, thirstier MPVs. They don’t handle badly, either.
Early diesels are slow and unrefined, but even the later DTi will seem pretty dated by modern standards. A 1.8 petrol would be a good bet if you’re not doing mega-miles. Condition and service history are far more important than mileage, and you can afford to be picky.
6 - Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet (1994-2002)
You can easily grab something for
some fun in the sun for less than £1000. For that money, the Mk3/Mk4 Golf Cabriolet is a good bet, with plenty of choice out there. Don’t expect this to be a sports car, though.
There may be the option of a 2.0-litre petrol engine, but even that has just 115bhp, while handling is more squidgy than sporty. Keep an eye out for rusty wheelarches and damaged hoods. The 2.0 may not be fast, but it is reliable, assuming the cambelt has been changed. Just £500 will get you one with an MOT.