Last year, almost eight million used cars were bought (and sold) in this country, more than three times the number of new cars. There’s more choice out there than ever in the classifieds, from Bangernomics bargains to rarefied supercar royalty.
Sitting somewhere in the middle is an increasingly popular breed of used car: the modern classic. Typically aged between about 10 and 30 years old, these are cars that were good in their day and seem to get better with age. Most are becoming rare, too, given that so many were bought by Joe Public as daily transport and not looked after as a potential future classic. Yet thankfully, they were built to modern standards, so if you can find a decent example, it should keep going for decades to come.
The appeal among enthusiasts for such cars isn’t just one of nostalgia. It’s just as much about the joy of an analogue driving experience as cars become ever more digitised. These cars also help build communities among likeminded owners and provide a great hobby. You’re not just buying a used car. You’re also buying a lifestyle.
There is a plethora of middle-aged motors that only recently were most commonly found languishing in scrapyards or being broken for parts but are now entering the limelight and starting to soar in value. If you’re quick, you could get one on your drive and enjoy it for years to come.
Our top picks, covering the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, are testament to the huge variety of classics on offer.
Ferrari 328 GTB 1985-1989
The term ‘entry level’ means far less for Ferrari than it does for, say, Honda. Even the cheapest model in Maranello’s current line-up costs from £166,000, and it’s hardly the coward’s option.
But back in 1985, the stunning 328 GTB’s modest 270bhp and 153mph top speed left it a world away from the fire-breathing 288 GTO and thumping 512 TR. That doesn’t matter today, of course, because this is a Pininfarina-penned, old-school Ferrari, and who wouldn’t want one of those?
Despite its relatively lazy state of tune, the 328 GTB’s naturally aspirated 3.2-litre V8 emits a throaty growl, and improvements over its 308 GTB forebear – including quicker steering, electronic ignition and a hydraulic clutch – make it one of the most usable classic Ferraris.
Prices are strong, but if the older 246 Dino and BB are any indicator, 328 GTB values will rocket within the next few years, so this could be your last chance to own one of Ferrari’s finest.
Porsche 944 1982-1991
Before the SUV came the MPV, and before that we had ‘cars’ like this. Essentially a panel van with benches welded into the rear and windows added, the Hiace is a quirky, likeable people carrier that has more cachet than most and avoids the ‘scene tax’ of Volkswagen vans. It’s rare, though, so consider an imported left-hooker.
Renault Espace 1984-1991
If you had bet 30 years ago on the Espace becoming an appreciating asset, you would be laughing now. This pointy MPV set the benchmark for affordable family transport with a light fibreglass body mounted on a stiff monocoque and has truly come of age. Expect to pay at least £2000 for a runner – if you can find one.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate 1985-1996
We named the W124 the best used car in the world in 2008, and that would still be true today if values hadn’t risen substantially in the 12 intervening years. A starting price of around £3500 means this swank tank is nudging true classic status, but its characteristic indestructibility sets it up for continued daily service.
Saab 9-5 Estate 1998-2010
Get past the ‘tarted-up Vauxhall Vectra’ jibes and the original 9-5 is an affordable and appealing route into Saab ownership. Spacious, good looking and available with a storming 247bhp 2.3-litre engine, its continued popularity serves as a reminder of why the Swedish brand is so sorely missed in enthusiast circles.