One of the endless fascinations about cars is how they arrange themselves into so many different appealing classifications. Not the obvious stuff like body styles or price strata, but more practical groups: mainstreamers, premium cars, classics, bangers and what I can only think of as orphans.
I’m becoming more and more obsessed with orphans, the decent used cars largely forgotten by the market and thus very enticingly priced because there’s no 'premium' included. They’re perfect examples of cars whose early owners have borne the brunt of the depreciation, leaving greater 'metal' value, and frequently more 'driving' value, than anything sold from a showroom.
The principle of letting your car’s first owners pay the bulk of its depreciation is as old as motoring itself. Even the rise of the hot rod culture in the US was originally predicated on declining car values. “If you help me clean out the barn,” went the old saying, “I’ll let you have the old Model T…”.
What’s different now is the excellent condition of many of today’s low-cost cars. Compared with what we were offered just 10 years ago - let alone half a century - they are built to last, they tolerate mileage extremely well (when did you last seen an engine blowing oil smoke?) and in this age of diagnostics they’re even easy to repair.
You’ll always find someone who differs with this statement, but the truth is that mystery ailments are now unusual. If something goes wrong, the chances are it can be fixed by some sort of modular repair. And lest you protest that replacement modules are always expensive, the truths about this kind of mid-life car are that (a) manufacturers frequently lower spares prices to keep them on the road, (b) resourceful specialists frequently find cheap ways around 'known' problems and (c) the internet is a powerful knowledge resource if you’re willing to invest the time.
With the help of Lewis Kingston (renowned around here for his ability to sniff a desirable bargain) I have compiled an orphan list that currently runs to 25 cars and could probably make 50. There’s something here for everyone.
Supermini Citroën C2, Fiat Punto
Small hatch Chevrolet Cruze
Hot hatch Skoda vRS
Family saloon Mazda 6MPS, Alfa 159, Renault Laguna
Family estate Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Omega, Peugeot 406
Family estate 4x4 Jaguar X-type
Performance saloon Jaguar S-type R
Coupe Laguna Coupé, Alfa Brera, Peugeot 407
Convertible Saab 9-3 convertible
Crossover Subaru Outback
SUV Chevy Captiva, Nissan Murano
Sports car MG TF, Mazda RX-8, Chrysler Crossfire
Luxury saloon Citroën C6, Lexus LS430/460
Every one of these cars has some kind of positive attraction that transcends price. Not one of them is a mere cheap car, as it were. In another life I’m sure I’d move in these circles all the time rather than paying increasingly vast sums for illusory qualities such as 'cool' and 'premiumness'. I’d be happy to leave paying for such things to the company car market, so often profligate, and so much richer than any of us.