James Ruppert: buy low-tech premium motors while you can

Zero-technology cars. Following the news that in 2022 all cars will effectively be robots and not be controlled by us humans, suddenly there might be a lot of call for those. Well, just from me and you then. I was on a radio programme saying that this is a very bad thing. Instead of me boring you again with driver aid-free cars, let’s buy Bangers with silly performance potential before they get banned. 

It is hard to avoid those great big Mercedes, although best steer clear of those sub-£2000 CLs which all seem to have some sort of issue if the sellers are entirely honest. Ideally look to spend £5000 or more. Safer ground is an E55, which seemed to have been used as a fast family saloon at some point. Paying £2999 for anything from the year 2000 sounds pricey, but it’s not all that much for a 5.4-litre motor which seems to check out as a sound buy with a decent MOT history. The great thing is that these look like big, boring cars, but they are not. Actually, they look really dated now and for £3500 I could buy a 2005 CLS500. It has 158,000 miles, but again, it checks out and looks funky as a big, giant fastback. 

Yes, I have tumbled down a big saloon-shaped black hole. A low-tech one, especially compared to a Mercedes, would be a 1983 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. It will be historic in a few years’ time and at the moment it seems as though it will survive until 2023. Just under £5000 buys a model which has been racking up bills and will continue to do so. Also you wouldn’t want to go quick in that, especially around corners. 

Perhaps the most amusingly inappropriate classified ad diversion was finding so many V12s, especially with Jaguar badges. Okay, so there are no £1500 MOT’d examples in the project area, but a fully functioning, buffed and ready XJS 5.3 is only £6995, and for that you can get a relatively late 1992 on a K. I also saw a 1988 Guy Salmon Jubilee, a dealer limited-edition that is probably pretty rare now. More character than an Aston DB7 and better built and better value. Indeed, below £10,000 I found cabriolets and the early HEs, which appear to be decent buys. 

I certainly didn’t expect to end up on the classic Jaguar lot, but this is the upside of looking for used cars, even with an agenda. Certainly if you’re after a car with an inappropriately large engine to fight back against the dreary dead hand of officialdom, do it in one of those. Plus I would drive it within the legal limits like a little old man. Because I am.

What we almost bought this week

VW Santana GX5: The Santana of 1981 to 1988 was a handsome old thing but never really caught on. The GX5 used a 2.0-litre, five-cylinder engine from the Audi Coupé. This seller wants £725 for his 1982 Y-reg example with just 54,000 miles and a year’s MOT. Beats another chap who wants £12,345 for his tatty, 110,000-mile, barn-find GX5 from 1983.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Volkswagen Golf – mileage, 49,881: Gordon the Golf went in for an overdue service and its first MOT. The great news is that it passed, but it did need a couple of new tyres. I went for top-of-the-line Michelins, which were the most costly part of the garage visit at just over £150. The side note is that the 21 year old needed a set of wheels to get to work and rejected out of hand my motley collection of classics. She wanted mum’s Cayenne. The insurer offered four days cover for £50. Cheaper than hiring a wreck. 

A to Z Bangerpedia

K is for Ford Ka: The Ka is here mainly for the fact that you can routinely buy a decent one for under a grand, so in these difficult times when you need something for the station and supermarket run and don’t want to worry about car park dents or outrageous costs, it’s ideal. 

It isn’t the most economical small car (at 42.2mpg), but officially a non-power steering job would manage 47.9mpg, which is decent enough these days. Rust is the killer so check for it everywhere. Original spec was just split rear seat and radio/cassette. Too basic for you? Then get a Collection or Luxury or choose from the huge number of special editions. 

Readers’ questions

Question: I will be buying my car at the end of its PCP contract but am worried I may exceed my mileage limit and have to pay the finance company a mileage surcharge. What do you advise? Dave Cummings, Chatham

Answer: PCP mileage penalties are a source of great confusion among car buyers. In your case, you have nothing to fear since by buying it you will be saving the finance company the trouble of disposing of a car that, because of its higher mileage, is worth less than the balance owing on it. They’ll be happy to take your settlement cheque and say no more about it, so go ahead and accumulate those miles with a clear conscience. John Evans

Question: I’m torn between buying a used Mazda MX-5 2.0 and an Abarth 124 Spider. Which do you recommend? Kirsty Salter, via email

Answer: Looks and image are among these cars’ biggest differentiators and that’s something only you can wrestle with. Regarding the driving experience, the Abarth probably had the edge until Mazda tweaked the MX-5’s 2.0-litre engine and put some fire in its belly. Find a nearly new one in Sport Nav trim for around £22,000 and it’s the one to have. John Evans