At some point in 2019, so we’re told, this wonderful country of ours will cut its ties with the EU.
Whatever your views on Brexit, it’s surely not a matter of opinion that since the referendum back in June 2016, this country has singularly failed to present itself in its best light. At times, it has felt as though Great Britain has forsaken its proud history and recast itself in the role of international laughing stock.
But Britain should not allow itself to be characterised by self-serving politicians any more than it should by narrow-mindedness. For this is a country of Aston Martin, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce, of the Lotus Elise’s bonded aluminium chassis, the TVR Cerbera’s AJP V8 and Ian Callum’s right hand. At this time especially, we should remember that Britain’s contribution to the automotive landscape has been a great one. This, then, is our guide to this country’s best used cars. Every one of the 20 models listed here is affordable – or at least will be after your next promotion – and a small number of them are irresistibly cheap right now.
With every passing year, the first new Mini of the BMW era seems to look better and better. It has helped, of course, that the more recent versions have swollen increasingly as though in severe anaphylactic shock, their proportions becoming gradually less well-balanced with each new iteration. Built in the same Cowley plant as those early Rover 75s, the R53 Mini had a reputation for perky handling, particularly in Cooper guise.
The truth is a 15-year-old Mini Cooper isn’t likely to drive with the same finesse it would have done when it first rolled off the line but, with serviceable cars going for less than £1000, you can surely overlook a baggy damper or two (or simply replace them at £70 a corner). There are so many cars available, you can afford to be picky, so walk away if the engine sounds at all rattly or if there’s a mayonnaise-like build-up around the coolant bottle lid, which could indicate imminent head gasket failure.
One we found: 2004 Mini Cooper, 90,000 miles, £950
Jaguar S-Type V8
The most surprising thing about the Jaguar S-Type when it was unveiled at the British motor show in Birmingham in 1998 was that it somehow managed to be even more wilfully retro than the Rover 75 that was launched at the same show. Jaguar’s recent designs have been far more modern, suggesting even the S-Type’s maker realised its mistake. Nonetheless, the S-Type was good to drive and today you will find a V8 model for less than £2000.
One we found: 2003 Jaguar S-Type V8, 102,000 miles, £1595
MG ZS 180
There must have been a moment in time, probably in a long-since-deserted meeting room in the bowels of Longbridge, when one engineer raised a hand and said he reckoned the company’s 178bhp V6 motor might just fit inside the Rover 45’s engine bay. Presumably, everybody else hurriedly sat up and took notice. The result was a potent small family car – available as a hatchback or a saloon – with a rasping soundtrack and genuinely engaging dynamics.
One we found: 2005 MG ZS 180, 115,000 miles, £800
Nissan Primera GT
Keen students of the automotive industry will be rushing to point out that the Primera GT’s maker is not actually British. Nissan is, alas, Japanese. So the Primera GT really shouldn’t count. It makes the cut, however, because having been manufactured in Sunderland, the Primera GT is British by birth, if not bloodline. With a chassis developed on the Nürburgring and a feisty 2.0-litre engine, the car is better to drive than most would ever imagine.
One we found: 2000 Nissan Primera GT, 113,000 miles, £950
It would be all too easy to disregard the Rover 75 for being so self-consciously nostalgic. With its chrome exterior brightwork and lashings of wood veneer inside the cabin, it seems to yearn for a time when cricket was played over five days rather than 20 overs. If he had been created just a few years later, Victor Meldrew would surely have driven a Rover 75.
But writing the 75 off so haughtily would do a fine executive saloon a real disservice. In its day, a good number of reviewers had it as superior to the more expensive and equally wistful Jaguar S-Type. The earliest 75s were built at Cowley in Oxfordshire but production was shifted to Longbridge in Birmingham in 2000.
Today, it’s possible to find a V6-powered 75 with sensible miles for less than £1000. If properly maintained, the V6 will prove to be more durable than the four-cylinder motors, as well as being smoother and more powerful.
One we found: 2001 Rover 75, 70,000 miles, £990
The XK8 seems to have become Jaguar’s forgotten grand tourer, replaced in the first instance by the prettier and far more modern XK in 2007 and latterly – as well as indirectly, since it’s more of a sports car than a GT – by the F-Type in 2013. With an unstressed 4.0-litre V8 that develops 290bhp and more leather than an out-of-town sofa showroom, a tidy example will still have plenty of effortless high-speed wafting left in it.
These days, £3000 will stretch to a high-mileage, 20-year-old car, while £4000 will afford a newer example with the updated post-2000 V8. If an XK8 feels soggy to drive, it’s mostly likely down to worn suspension bushes, while if it’s going to rust, it will do so first along the sills or up inside the wheel arches. Finally, you should anticipate running costs in line with a V8 grand tourer – any XK8 is going to like a drink.
One we found: 2000 Jaguar XK8, 120,000 miles, £3900
Honda Civic Type R
Built in the picturesque English market town of Swindon, the EP3 Honda Civic Type R just about qualifies as British despite its maker being nothing of the sort. Besides, it would be a pity to dismiss a truly brilliant hot hatch at what is undoubtedly a bargain-bin price simply because the company that makes it is actually Japanese.
You’ll find Type Rs for less than £2000 but, if you don’t spend closer to the £3000, you do risk saddling yourself with an unloved shed of a car. That still isn’t a huge sum of money to pay for a 197bhp hot hatch with a simply divine powertrain and one of the best gearshifts in the business.
You would be well advised to avoid modified cars, unless you know exactly how well it has been reworked. Get the wheel alignment checked and any worn out suspension bushes replaced, because only then will the Type R feel its best.
One we found: 2003 Honda Civic Type R, 118,000 miles, £2795
The original Mini might well be remembered as the most iconic car this country has ever produced. Having been on sale for a staggering 41 years, there are far more models and derivatives than you can possibly count. The thing to remember, though, is that any original Mini in anything like decent condition will be a sought-after classic, and values will hold firm. By the late 1990s, the Rover Mini Cooper had as much as 62bhp.
One we found: 1996 Rover Mini Cooper, 98,000 miles, £3000
Land Rover Discovery 3
Squiffy though the rear-end styling of the latest Land Rover Discovery undeniably is, it does at least serve to remind us how attractive the Discovery 3 – introduced in 2004 – actually was. It had the no-nonsense chunkiness of a Tonka toy but with a hint of modernism thrown in. The truth is you’ll be looking at a car that’s been to the moon and back at this money, but choose wisely and maintain it well and it might just repeat the journey.
One we found: 2006 Land Rover Discovery 3, 140,000 miles, £4950
Vauxhall Astra VXR
Just how British is the Astra VXR? It’s a very debatable point. Vauxhall is a British marque, of course, but it hasn’t been British-owned for a very long time and, although certain Astras were manufactured at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, the VXR was not one of them. In fact, it was built in Germany. It’s a 237bhp hot hatch that can be bought in good condition for as little as £3000, though, so who’s going to argue?
One we found: 2006 Vauxhall Astra VXR, 87,000 miles, £3000
A fighting-fit L322 Range Rover must be one of the most broadly capable sub-£10,000 vehicles on the road. The trouble is, a not-so-healthy L322 will present its owner with bills and running costs so vast, the purchase price will seem like a minor inconvenience. Introduced in the early noughties and only the third all-new Range Rover, the L322 was untouchable in its day. Apart from looking both bang up to date and unmistakably like a Range Rover, it also had a superb cabin, mature on-road manners and off-road ability to burn.
The earliest and leggiest cars can be picked up for just £4000, but you would be well advised to spend at least double that on a car that’s been really well looked after. The L322 does have a reputation for poor reliability, although anecdotal evidence suggests that isn’t what can be frustrating about Range Rover ownership – it’s the sheer cost of keeping these things going.
One we found: 2008 Range Rover V8 Vogue, 138,000 miles, £8540
By the middle of the previous decade, Jaguar’s executives were well aware the brand and its products were in desperate need of a giant leap forward into the modern age. Whereas the S-Type’s cabin was apparently modelled on the Duke of Marlborough’s drawing room, the XF that replaced it in 2007 had a cockpit that was more akin to a West End vodka bar. Those rotating air and heating vents and the rotary gear selector that rose elegantly from the centre console on start-up would have been unthinkable in a Jaguar a few years previously.
The exterior was more modern, too, although with plenty of chrome highlights and an oval grille, you still recognised the XF as a Jaguar. The XFR super-saloon, fitted with a 503bhp supercharged V8, was monstrously impressive, combining speed, dynamic response and luxury the way a true Jaguar should. The earliest examples have slipped to as little as £14,000.
One we found: 2006 Jaguar XFR, 59,000 miles, £13,995
Some cars are a decent bet to achieve classic status in the future and creep up in value – the original Lotus Elise is absolutely guaranteed to do so. Introduced in 1996, the S1 Elise saved the company that built it and reminded a generation of sports car enthusiasts that light weight, not big power, is what makes a great driver’s car. You will not struggle today to find a car that’s been owned by somebody who’s been fastidious with maintenance and servicing.
One we found: 1998 Lotus Elise S1, 66,000 miles, £11,250
Caterham Seven Roadsport
For a car that’s close to unusable for the majority of the year here in Britain, the Caterham Seven holds its value remarkably well. In fact, residual values are so strong, you could buy a brand-new car, have unthinkable amounts of fun in it for a couple of years, sell it and lose only a small percentage of your original investment. Much the same applies to older models, too, and there are plenty to choose from at £15,000.
One we found: 2013 Caterham Seven Roadsport, 18,000 miles, £14,795
Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit
There probably isn’t a more romantic name in the global automotive sector – never mind the British car industry – than Rolls-Royce. The Silver Spirit that ran for two decades from 1980 onwards may not be the most sought-after Roller, but it is the one you can afford with a £15,000 budget. While such a car is unlikely to lose any value in the coming years, you should expect to pay several thousand each year to keep it running.
One we found: 1986 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, 60,000 miles, £15,000
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
The biggest risk associated with buying an Aston Martin V8 Vantage for less than £30,000 these days is the steady stream of bores you will encounter asking why you didn’t spend that money instead on a Porsche 911. The answer to which, of course, is to point at the car and shout: “Just look at it!”
As the latest generation of sports cars – the newest Astons very much among them – become more extravagantly styled, the relatively pared-back and elegant design of the previous Vantage will surely become ever more desirable. Those inch-perfect proportions will look right for the rest of time, too. The Vantage isn’t only pretty, though – with communicative steering, a characterful normally aspirated V8 and agile handling, it’s fantastic to drive, too. Will a 12-year-old Aston prove to be a disaster to live with? Specialists reckon the Vantage is actually very dependable, although only if the car has been serviced and maintained diligently.
One we found: 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, 50,000 miles, £28,000
Bentley Continental GT
In the eyes of many, the Bentley Continental GT has a new-money image problem. For those of us who really couldn’t give a hoot, though, the GT is simply a very fast and very luxurious super-coupé that can be bought for less than £20,000. You needn’t look particularly hard around the cabin to recognise Bentley’s shameless Volkswagen Group parts-sharing strategy, but in such moments the 6.0-litre W12 engine with its pair of turbochargers should provide sufficient distraction.
As long as a GT has been well maintained, it should be very dependable. The engine, transmission and suspension are all reckoned to be tough and durable, but the cost of replacing connectors, electric motors, sensors and consumables can certainly add up. Those early cars will now be approaching the bottom of the depreciation curve, which means two or three years from now you’ll get back most of what you paid.
One we found: 2004 Bentley Continental GT, 77,000 miles, £18,800
If there’s one thing we know to be true about TVRs it’s that they’re expensive to repair when they go wrong, which they do all the time. In fact, it isn’t that TVRs are woefully unreliable, just that they need specialist maintenance to keep them working the way they should. The Cerbera’s AJP V8, for instance, can be a dependable unit, but only if it’s been serviced properly by an expert. Find the right Cerbera and it will be a delight to own.
One we found: 1999 TVR Cerbera, 48,000 miles, £23,000
Was the Lotus Evora really a passable everyday sports car? That depended on your perspective. Anybody trading up from an Exige or an Elise would have found it remarkably civilised, but patchy build quality and tricky cabin ingress/egress still made it more demanding than a Porsche 911. The earliest cars are now a decade old, but they’re still as great to drive as they were in 2009. Clutches can cost as much as £3000 to replace, although the V6 engines are bombproof.
One we found: 2010 Lotus Evora, 39,000 miles, £27,995
Motor vehicles get no more idiosyncratically British than this. The 4/4 designation indicates a four-cylinder engine and, curiously, four wheels. (When the 4/4 nameplate was originally used way back in 1935, the car it was applied to was Morgan’s very first four-wheeler. Until then, Morgans had all favoured three wheels.) You’ll be looking at a car from around 2000 on a £30,000 budget, although assigning a year to a Morgan is about as helpful as assigning gender to a cloud.
One we found: 2000 Morgan 4/4, 24,000 miles, £29,995
Brexit and the British car industry
According to Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes, Britain’s exit from the European customs union and single market will “inevitably add barriers to trade, increase red tape and cost”. Despite working closely with the government to safeguard UK automotive interests, the SMMT sees numerous difficulties arising, from recruiting workers and the cost of new cars going up, to major disruptions to manufacturing.
One in 10 UK automotive workers, says the SMMT, is from the EU. Car makers will struggle to fill vacancies if free movement of labour across European borders is capped, inhibiting growth. New tariffs on imported models could see prices rise by an average of £1500, while border checks will seriously hinder just-in-time manufacturing processes.
All of this, says the SMMT, threatens to damage the UK’s competitiveness in the global automotive sector and will potentially reduce overseas investment. “We urgently need a transitional arrangement which allows business to continue as normal until the UK’s new trade arrangement with the EU has been agreed and implemented,” says Hawes.
Manufacturing in the UK
From artisans who wear brown leather aprons and beat aluminium panels into shape in dimly lit sheds to automated production lines that churn out a new car every 60 seconds, the UK’s automotive sector has all bases covered. According to the SMMT, UK automotive contributes more than £82 billion to this country’s annual turnover and it employs – directly and indirectly – as many as one million people. It accounts for 12% of the UK’s total exported goods.
Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar Land Rover are all in foreign ownership now, while Nissan, Honda and Toyota are all overseas companies, but every one of them and plenty more besides mass produce cars right here. In fact, 30 car manufacturers build as many as 70 models in the UK, with close to two million passenger and commercial vehicles made each year. What’s more, some £3.65bn is invested in research and development annually.