How do you think Autocar writers switch off after a whirlwind week of driving around in new cars?
Not by stamp collecting or pottering around in our gardens, you might be surprised to learn, but typically by driving around in older cars – cars that had long been on our wishlists and that we predicted would become too rare or too expensive to get our hands on in the future.
These, then, are the cars we keep in our own garages, on our driveways and in our secret bunkers that one day will be remembered as among the most important models of their time.
1997 Mercedes-Benz SL 500 – Rachel Burgess
The R129-generation Mercedes-Benz SL is a hand-built, flagship sports car that at the time cost more to buy new than the average house. It manages to pull off the classic car trick of timeless design; it’s more than 30 years since we saw this shape for the first time, but it still looks great.
I’ve got the SL 500 with a big 5.0-litre V8 in unusual Aquamarine; no one wants to see another silver SL. It’s classic but modern enough to be full of clever electronics and hydraulics. Does your car central lock the centre console cubby for security when the roof is down? Thought not.
I’ve already replaced the roof and some locking cylinders, refurbished the wheels, rebuilt the gearbox, replaced the mass airflow sensor and much more. And there’s plenty still to be done. But there’s already the sure sign of a modern classic: it has appreciated in value.
2005 Land Rover Defender 90 – Matt Prior
I own a 2005 Land Rover Defender 90 Td5. What makes it a future classic? That they had been building Land Rovers that looked like this for 57 years before this one and carried on for 11 years afterwards. Some of them are already classics and all of them will be – although in an unusual way.
One-owner, low-mileage cars are fine, but so many Land Rovers have served as agricultural or work vehicles that I suspect originality won’t matter quite so much in the years to come. At least I hope not. I think I’m the ninth owner of this Cat D Td5, which has 196,000 miles on it and is still having more than 10,000 added to the total annually. Not that its value matters; at some point it will get used less and less until it adopts pet status. What could be more classic than that?
The van’s cab-forward seating position and propensity to move around in high winds only serve to enhance its unique driving experience, while the two-wheel-drive version can crack 100mph with nine on board.
Some 43,000 Syncros were built in total, and many are still in service with airport fire crews or Scandinavian forestry workers – which is testament to the model’s toughness and practicality. It’s also very reliable if you maintain it properly. I’ve used mine to move house, it has taken people to weddings, I’ve watched WRC stages from its roof, I’ve cried and laughed in it and I can’t honestly think of another vehicle that so effortlessly suits such a variety of applications.
A future classic? Certainly a practical classic, and one that still encourages adventure.
2003 Ford Focus – Richard Lane
The original Ford Focus RS delivers sensations that are impossible to fake, no matter how good you are at tuning using lines of code.
First, for what was a full-bore and very senior hot hatch at the time, it’s well sized and weighs very little in comparison with, say, the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI. You feel the benefits of this in everything the car does, and at any speed.
You then get that sweet balance of attributes found in so many performance cars of the immediate post-millennium period: fantastic capability and precision against the backdrop of communicative steering and relatively straightforward engineering. It’s not difficult to understand, manipulate, learn and enjoy something this simple in concept.
Then there’s the usability. Any Ford from this era is prone to rot, but the mechanicals are bulletproof and the Quaife limited-slip differential in theory never needs servicing. I’ve driven this car to Belgium, and not only is it comfortable for such trips but it also starts on the button (literally, in the case of the RS).
I’m not sure I would feel so confident with an Escort Cosworth, which arrived only eight years prior, and so the first fast Focus is a truly usable classic.
Finally, those looks. Not since has there been a hot hatch so ludicrously easy on the eye.