Don’t Follow the Herd When Choosing Your Next Classic Car

by James Mills
6 March 2024 4 min read
Don’t Follow the Herd When Choosing Your Next Classic Car

From time to time I like to play a game of Classic Car Snakes and Ladders. Clearly, I need to get out more. However, the gist of it is simple. Think of a car you’d like to own but has shot up in value, and then put to good use the countless years of soaking up anorak levels of automobilia and see if you can think of an alternative that will do the same job for a fraction of the price.

Let’s roll the dice and give it a go. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

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I’ve coveted the Lotus Elise since collecting the first press car, turning out of the HQ and onto Potash Lane, carving across Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex and arriving back to a reception at the Auto Express office on Blackfriars Bridge. “What’s it like?” came the obvious question, to which it was difficult to articulate an answer, because the Elise brought so much to the enthusiast that it was hard to know where to start in praising the sub-£19,000 mid-engined sports car.

Lotus Elise handling was tricky at the limit

Years later, those early Elise’s were terrific value. Around £10,000 would buy you a concours example. But that couldn’t last, and rightly so. The driving experience on the road – and let’s make a distinction between public roads and race tracks here – is almost priceless. The Hagerty Price Guide lists a concours, 1996 S1 Elise as averaging £33,100. Even a tatty example commands £9000.

So the ship has well and truly sailed. Perhaps you’re kicking yourself for not getting in there at the right time, or selling yours years ago? Don’t be downhearted. For one, hanging out with Lotus owners would soon become depressing, what with all the talk about things going wrong with their cars. For another, there’s a mid-engined sports car that’s almost as spellbinding, but costs £7000. And that’s not for a snotter, but the very best you’ll find…

Toyota MR2 Mk III_Hagerty UK 2021 Bull Market list

We’ve eulogised about the third-generation Toyota MR2 in the past. Heck, we even gave fair warning that every enthusiast should own one at some point in their life, tipping it as one to watch in the 2021 Hagerty UK Bull Market List. If you haven’t heard, it’s a gem of a drive, with rare brilliance to its steering, handling and ride but a few more creature comforts than an Elise.

Another mid-engined sports car that is very much having a moment is the Lamborghini Countach. Barely a day goes by when a Countach isn’t popping up on the feeds of social media movers and shakers like Harry Metcalfe or Simon Kidston. In its earliest LP400 “periscopo” guise, the Gandini poster car has become a million-pound machine. Yet in 1974, there was another Italian thoroughbred that was every bit capable of turning heads wherever it went – the Maserati Bora.

Those who have driven them say the Bora is a delight to hustle, as accommodating as it is agile, especially the later 4.9-litre version of the V8. With that Kamm tail, its purity of line is a feast for the eyes, and rarity is on its side – its 560-odd production run was a quarter of the Countach’s never-ending innings. Yet best of all, a concours example is £228,000. Compared with the most valuable Countach, the Bora leaves you with a chunk of change for many more of the finer things in life.

The next pairing is a curveball, but that’s what makes this fun. When Land Rover’s Graham Bannock presented his research into the emergence of plush four-wheel drive vehicles in America – cars like the International Scout, Jeep Wagoneer, and Ford Bronco – it led to the creation of one of the most enduring product lines ever to leave a car factory: the Range Rover.

When advertised for sale now, those early Suffix A, two-door Rangies will usually be described as “highly sought after” and “most desirable” but you’ll pay a hefty £75,000 for the very best. By contrast – and no sniggering at the back, please – there’s another 4×4 that is every inch a collectable, one that will start conversations wherever it goes and is welcomed in all social circles: the Fiat Panda 4×4.

As chic as they are tough, an early Panda 4×4 could get you on the lawn of the finest concours, given its 1980s creds and the fact its designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, said the Panda was his greatest creation. Yet even the best of the best is around £12,000, and the running costs will be a fraction of the Range Rover.

By now you get the idea of Classic Car Snakes and Ladders. It’s choosing a Jaguar Sovereign over a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, a Peugot 106 Rallye instead of a Renault Clio Williams, or how about a Mercedes-Benz 190SL roadster over the 300SL roadster? There’s one more pairing I’ll throw out there, and then you can come at me with your suggestions.

Fans of the World Rally Championship have long had the hots for Lancia’s left-hand-drive rocketship, the Delta Integrale, especially the later HF Evoluzione II. And rightly so, but as someone who remembers these being sub-£20,000 cars, it’s sobering to see them nudging six figures these days for a cracking example. Let’s not forget, then, that in 1992, 1993, and 1994, it was Toyota’s Celica GT-Four that took three WRC driver’s titles and two manufacturer’s trophies…

So come on, no matter how fanciful, let’s hear your suggestions for Classic Car Snakes and Ladders.

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  • Luc Adriaenssen says:

    Great! My 1989 Range, automatic with AC is in the list and here in EU extremely rare.
    Silver grey with beige interior, as new condition.

  • Roger Blaxall says:

    Re the Maserati Bora – peddle or pedal…?

  • Roger Blaxall says:

    Friend in Scarisbrick near Southport, Lancashire has recently bought an E reg Silver Shadow in white which is NOT being consigned to wedding car duties; it’s his daily driver and quite magnificent

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