Currently reading: James Ruppert: Forget the Focus, why not a Cadillac or 1980s Benz?
With used car prices on the up, people are liking the idea of an old car that’s cheap to run…
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4 mins read
7 September 2021

As you might have noticed, used car prices are on the up. SMMT figures reveal the market has just had its best-ever second quarter (whatever that is), growing 108.6% as more than 2.2 million vehicles changed hands.

The global computer-chip shortage means manufacturers are struggling to supply enough new cars, so more motorists are instead buying used. I’ve been wheeled onto several radio programmes to explain what exactly was going on. And I’ll tell you what: Bangernomics has struck a chord. The public really warm to the idea of an old car that’s going to cost rather less to buy and run. So let’s apply the economic principle to extremely characterful cars, and to make it even more interesting, let’s steer clear of the main channels.

Click here to buy your next used car from Autocar

Occasionally, I really do fancy a Cadillac. How about the BLS, that pretend one from when the brand was reintroduced here in the early 2000s? Using Saab 9-3 underpinnings and offering a Fiat diesel engine, it was a proper European lash-up, and I think that it looked brutishly handsome, especially as a station wagon (to use the appropriate term). I was pleased to find a 2008 diesel with 115,000 miles, leather, electric most things and fresh tyres (but apparently a less than fully charged battery) for £795.

Despite what some enthusiasts will say, I have nothing but love for the little Mazda MX-5. I found a very honest Mk1 example from 1998, making it the last of the popup-headlight icons, with a full year’s MOT and all for just £1495. There were plenty of pictures, so I could see that it was crumbly but certainly not terminally so. It had loads of history, too, including a recent bill for £700. A proper bargain, then, especially in handsome British Racing Green. I must confess I was very tempted.

However, I reckon the smartest buys of all right now are Bangernomic classics. That means almost anything from the 1980s that’s properly solid and costs less than £5000.

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I was pleased to stumble across a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E. A one-owner example, it looked absolutely mint with 75,000 miles. For that reason, £3995 is yet another very attractive figure. It was a manual, when the smart people all reckon an automatic is best, but I could live with that and so could you. Admittedly, it was in left-hand drive, but surely that’s not a deal-breaker? I’ve seen 190s in okay condition go from £595 to £5950 once properly cleaned up.

When sifting through old cars like these, I can’t help wondering: who on earth really needs a new one?

What we almost bought this week

Volkswagen Golf Plus 2.0 TDI GT

The Golf Plus isn’t pretty but is practical, with a higher roof than the usual Golf permitting larger doors for easier access. Raised front seats give a good view ahead, while the rears slide to increase cabin or boot space. Last time we counted, it had 34 cubbyholes. Our find is a 2006 car with 117,000 miles for £1350.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Innocenti Mini, Mileage: 7828

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I’ve been using my adorable Italian Mini quite a bit recently. That hatchback boot can take an awful lot of boxes when I need it to. I exchanged a thumbs up with the driver of a passing Citroën 2CV the other day as we both celebrated motoring at its most fundamental. It gets surprisingly dirty in the garage, so I need to give it a deep clean and tidy up. The engine still overruns when warmed up and the gearbox is more obstructive when at operating temperature. I just regard it all as quirks that I can live and drive with. It’s still an astoundingly amusing car to own.

Reader’s ride

Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina

It was great to hear again from Richard, who has done it once more with this magnificent 1971 Alfa limousine: “I took a chance and bought unseen from a classic car auction. It was imported by McGrath Maserati for their collection, then fettled by Tanc Barratt. I needn’t have worried: it drove the 103 miles home with not one issue. I’ve owned a lot of Alfas from this era and always found them very robust and reliable. I’ve returned to my first love and it’s soon to be joined by a Fiat Barchetta, so it’s Italian left-hand drive all the way for me.”

Readers’ questions

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Question: My son was fined for collecting us at Gatwick airport’s passenger pick-up point. Given there were no ticket machines, he had no idea he had to pay. What’s going on? Sally Clarke, via email

Answer: Your son won’t be the only driver to be caught out by Gatwick’s new parking charge, which is triggered by numberplate-reading cameras. The charge is £5 for 10 minutes, plus £1 for each extra minute that you stay, up to 20 minutes. It must be paid online by midnight the next day. Non-payment triggers a £100 fine. Expect other airports to follow suit as they try to claw back revenue lost during the pandemic. JE

Question: I’ve owned three special-edition Land Rover Defenders from new. I want to sell but can’t be bothered with main dealers. What do you advise? Martin Fitzpatrick, via email

Answer: Special cars such as these should be sold at an auction, where their prices can be fairly established by determined bidders. We suggest one of the various specialist online auctioneers (note that some charge a seller’s fee while some charge the buyer). As you have three, it might be worth asking about making a special event of the sale to maximise interest. JE

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