In some cases, style is everything. These retro-looking options each pack plenty of old-school charm, but underneath they're all thoroughly modern.
1 - Fiat 500 (2007-current)
As with any modern pastiche of a classic car, the Fiat 500 is some way from the ethos of the original. This new model is no cheap city car — the Panda is the true heir to the original 500 — but it has massive appeal due to the wealth of personalisation options and cutesy good looks.
Sadly, they aren’t as much fun to drive as they are to look at, but the Twinair two-cylinder models have a charismatic engine, and pick the right colour and you’ll never get tired of looking at it. Interiors get tired and many have been pinballed around city centres by young drivers, so care is needed to get a good one.
There are loads about, so be picky. They also hold their value brilliantly, so bargains are unlikely.
2 - Nissan Figaro (1991-1992)
Rather than a homage to a classic design, the Figaro was an attempt to build a 1950s car in the 1990s. Outside, some of the proportions are a bit odd, but the interior is a work of chintzy delight and a lovely place in which to sit.
Such was the Figaro’s appeal that many were imported to the UK from Japan. All were finished in one of four pastel colours, but a lot of those around today have deteriorated. The biggest issue to look out for is rust, which savages the steelwork.
Replacement panels are available, but it’s much better to find a good, fault-free one in the first place and pay about £3500 for it. Avoid any that are damp inside, as restoring the cabin is an expensive business.
3 - MG RV8 (1992-1995)
The RV8 was the quickest way for MG to keep a roadster in the showroom while the MG F was under development. They weren’t cheap, and more than 1500 of the 2000 built were shipped to Japan, but plenty have returned to the UK.
The RV8 is essentially a classic car in a posh frock. It has the same leaf-sprung rear as the 1960s original and the same packaging issues, with a cramped cabin trimmed with non-sporty ruched leather. However, a sub-6.0sec 0-60mph time means they are rapid in a straight line, while an active owners club keeps prices strong.
A healthy car will cost £10k, but the best are £5k north of that. Keep it nice, however, and you’re unlikely to ever sell it for less than you paid.
4 - Volkswagen Beetle (1997-2010)
The ‘new’ Beetle is considered to be the original modern-day retro car. It is entirely typical of the breed, in as much as it looks like it should be a lot more fun than it is.
They’re uninspiring to drive, but they age pretty well, most have been reasonably well looked after and the humdrum Volkswagen Golf undercarriage means that your local spannerman will be able to work on it in his sleep. Expect to pay around £2000 for a tidy example.
5 - Mini Cooper (2001-2006)
One of the best pub facts about the BMW Mini is that it’s not very mini at all. In fact, it has the same wheelbase as the original Range Rover. That said, there’s no arguing with the sales since it was launched in 2001.
The Mini is a bit flat in One spec and expensive bills can await owners of the Cooper S, so the nicely equipped Cooper is the one to buy. Values are strong, but go for one that has been well looked after for about £2500, rather than the cheapest.
6 - Daihatsu Copen (2002-2011)
During its production, the Copen occupied the niche once owned by the MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire, namely that of a sports car that wasn’t particularly sporty. It took 12 seconds to reach 60mph and was a bit of a scruff through corners. But it was fun to drive - if you could fit in the cramped cabin.
That the original 660cc engine loved to be worked certainly helped the Copen to feel a good deal faster than the numbers suggest. Later models got a 1.3-litre motor, making them quicker and more relaxed. That said, they’re still not ideal for a motorway cruise.
Copens are far from the most butch things on four wheels, but as urban, fine-weather playthings, they have plenty to recommend them. Around £3000 gets you the pick of pretty much all that are left. Those hard-worked little lumps need good oil and proper care to stay healthy, though, so insist on evidence of proper servicing.
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