Don’t know about you, but I always relish the Christmas break for the thinking and planning time it affords. During it, my mind seems to turn instantly to driving, car buying and maybe a little bit of racing.
Today, with the holiday period just a week away, stopping work is a pleasant prospect; no other period of the year carries such a licence to do nothing while affording time to dream of good times and good weather a few months away. And the cars to make them better.
At this time of the year people expect you to be planning the future. Think how many times over the next few days you’ll be asked about your New Year’s resolutions are. Mind you, if your household is like mine, other inmates may not be filled with delight when your 2015 priorities turn out to be all about cars and driving.
For me, there’s one big decision, and it will control all others. I want to buy the perfect cheap, interesting car – on a budget of £5000 to £7000.
It needs to be something I can gently modify so as to continue my spluttering hillclimb and autosolo career, hopefully double-driving with one or other of my two sons.
No other pursuit I know is as good as low-end motorsport at providing carefree fun, while keeping a bloke in easy contact with the younger members of his family.
I’ve written before about some promising contenders, which range quite widely. A RenaultSport Clio 182 Cup would do it. So would a leggy (BMW) Cooper S. So would a Peugeot 306GTi-6 or super-cheap Citroën Xsara VTS, especially if equipped with a handling kit and a Quaife diff that lowered the overall gearing.
The Honda S2000, Nissan 350Z and Mazda RX-7 all come with decent performance and handling as standard equipment — and all fall within the budget. It’s tough deciding which way to jump, especially when the three of us involved have three different opinions.
This, broadly speaking, is the logical course. But there’s a whole load of enticing but unsuitable cars out there within our paltry budget. Right now, for instance, there’s a seriously appealing 80,000-mile, one-owner Merc E500 from 2003 for sale on Auto Trader priced at £5250 before the haggling starts.
And having stuck our fondly remembered Merc SLS up the Prescott hillclimb course a few times, I know what an exciting challenge it can to drive a wide, powerful car on a such a narrow, demanding track (not so sure about an E500’s capabilities in an autosolo).
There are, of course, cars that offer serious power in a smallish package — but the price for squeezing these opposing virtues into our budget is a quality best described as “legginess”.