Currently reading: Buy them before we do: second-hand picks for 17 April
The Mini Cooper S is a classic, and spry (but watch for oil leaks)

Go used car shopping and sooner or later you’ll stumble across a Mini Cooper S. We’re talking the R53-era model of 2002-06, with a supercharged 161bhp 1.6-litre engine. Prices range from £1000 for a runner with some history and multiple previous keepers, through average cars for around £2500, to £4500 and upwards for the best.

Our find is somewhere in between, a one-owner 2005-reg with 72,000 miles for £3250. It has the desirable Chili pack (alarm, manual air-con and xenon lights), a part-leather interior and a panoramic sunroof.

The wag selling it said it had War and Peace history, which had us looking for Tolstoy in the logbook until someone pointed out that he meant there’s lots of it. The last fettle was at 71,000 miles and, according to the seller, it drives perfectly.

Still, there can’t be any harm in looking for oil leaks, a known issue with the Cooper S’s Tritec engine, where the oil exits past the sump and timing chain covers. Tired gaskets are to blame. There’s no temperature gauge so we’d check the coolant level in the expansion bottle and the cylinder head for cracks. The stiff suspension and harsh, run-flat tyres can combine to crack the engine mounts (about £400 to replace).

The supercharger needs fresh oil every now and then and it can also become noisy over time, which may suggest changes have been missed. A whining as the wheel is turned can indicate the steering pump is about to go south. It’s best to replace it without delay. Finally, we’d check the front footwells for damp and that the handbrake doesn’t slip off the ratchet when engaged.

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Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic, £9750: And still we keep seeing temptingly priced 996-series 911s such as this 1999-reg. It has done 116,000 miles but has 16 service stamps. The potentially troublesome IMS bearing was replaced in 2018. It has minor corrosion on its lower sills, apparently.

Alpina D4 convertible, £30,990: The rare D4 has an uprated version of the 3.0-litre diesel found in the BMW 435d. For the record, it has 345bhp and 516lb ft compared with the original unit’s 309bhp and 467lb ft. Our example is a 2015-reg with 23,000 miles.

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Subaru Impreza WRX STI, £20,000: The Volkswagen Golf R rather took the shine off the WRX, but the 296bhp flat-four Scooby is still an endearing prospect – more mechanical and more exciting. It also has more character. Our find is a 2016-reg with 22,500 miles.

Mercedes 500 SEC, £15,995: We’d have preferred a 560 SEC but, at this age, condition is all and this 500 looks good. It’s a 1988-reg with just 72,000 miles and a full service history. The interior is a welcome shade of blue and, thanks be, trimmed in exotic, old-school velour.

Auction watch

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BMW 635 CSI Auto: A 635 still looks the business. This example, a 1987-reg with 107,000 miles, passed under the hammer recently, when it made £5512. It looks bright but it was no spring chicken and, at its advanced age, rust can be a problem. The four-speed auto ’box may be planning its retirement, too. This car had just had new discs all round but we’d have wanted to check that the ABS system worked and also that the engine was quiet from cold. Not that you can power cars up at most auctions. Which is why it’s wise to be around when they’re firing them up for the entry parade.

Future classic

Abarth 695 Biposto, £18,950: Biposto or preposterous? The longer you stare at one, the madder it seems. So what’s the fuss about? Well, it has just two seats, which always hints at some serious tweakery. Accordingly, the reworked 1.4-litre T-Jet engine produces 187bhp, or 45bhp more than the regular 695, and 184lb ft of torque. If you can find one with the optional five-speed dog-ring gearbox, that’ll have 199lb ft. Kerb weight is just 997kg, helping the little Abarth crack 0-62mph in 5.9sec. Akrapovic exhaust, brakes from the Tributo Ferrari… what’s not to like?

Clash of the classifieds

Brief: Find me a car with an ear-busting sound system for £10,000, please.

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Jaguar XJ L 3.0 Portfolio, £9995

Volkswagen Up 1.0 Beats, £9990

Max Adams: The 20-speaker 825W Meridian sound system in my gorgeous 2012 Jaguar XJ L is sure to please the discerning ears of John (who’s a classically trained musician, by the way) because it has all the latest digital signal-processing technology to provide a very rich sound experience. What have you gone for?

Mark Pearson: My ultra-cute 2019 Up has a mere 10 miles on the clock (and a full history!) and, as well as offering all the fine attributes of VW’s most agile and most handsome urban bolide, it’s a Beats model. That means a 300W Beats audio system of exceptional quality with six speakers and a subwoofer, two tweeters in the A-pillars, front door woofers and rear speakers. It’s inspired by the great Dr Dre, as we all are. Fun factor? High. Sound quality? Exceptional.

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MA: Sadly, I don’t think Dr Dre would be seen dead in yours. And 10 miles? Hardly a used example.

MP: Twenty speakers is rather overdoing it, isn’t it? You’ve only got two ears.

MA: You’ve got to overcome background road noise somehow, so the more speakers, the better. Plus, my system splits the sound into three channels (centre, left and right) to give a concert-like experience. That ‘beats’ your Up.

MP: Background noise? Oh, yes, yours is a nasty diesel, isn’t it? I suspect you would need a good sound system to drown that out…

MA: If only there was a mute button on you. Anyway, it’s John’s decision...

Verdict: Elgar in a Jaguar. Bliss…

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