News as I write: car dealers can now bolt on trade plates and allow you to take a solo test drive.
In my experience, decent dealers will be prepared to do that anyway, and it’s a great way to make a sale. The psychology is that you actually end up selling it to yourself, and you can be very persuasive. With that in mind, which cars and which dealers should you be bothering in order to get the drive of your life?
The Mazda MX-5 is a ‘must drive before you die’ cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. I can remember every MX-5 I’ve driven through all four generations, and they’re truly wonderful. It was interesting to find a 20th Anniversary car (one of almost countless limited editions) from 2010 with just over 60k miles. It looked in prime condition and the price struck me as eminently reasonable, at £5300. It was only 88 miles away, too.
Land Rovers, especially the proper old ones, still offer an almost unique driving experience – not least because it’s so very lorry-like. Plus, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that prices have started to become relatively sane.
I was rather heartened to discover that a 1960 Series 2 Soft Top with reassuringly faded green paintwork was just £7995. Yes, all patina’d up. A freshly painted 1970 Series 2 Hard Top was just a grand more. Both are with dealers who might be happy to let you tackle a ploughed field.
Every home should have an Alfa Romeo on the drive, and each ought to be lovely to look at and have a characterful engine under its pretty bonnet. That’s why I have a massive soft spot for the Brera coupé, which is such great value. I would go for the 3.2 V6 JTS Q4 SV, and I’ve found one with 75k miles on offer at just £5995. That’s enough to tempt me to travel 175 miles just for the fun of it.
When it comes to fun of the uncompromising variety, it has to be a Caterham. The Seven is all about steering and very little about comfort, or indeed a functioning roof. There are some mad ones and you can pay an awful lot, but you don’t have to. There are a lot of privately advertised cars with fairly marginal mileages. Dealers have equally interesting examples, though, and I want a Prisoner-spec one anyway.