Do you ever look at older cars in the classifieds, and internally weep at how expensive some once-affordable retro motors have become? It wasn’t all that long ago that a pre-1989 Porsche 911 would cost £8000, when a two-door Range Rover Classic could be bought without selling some important organs, and a Ford Sapphire Cosworth could be had for a mere few thousand pounds.
These three cars and countless others have rocketed in value as classic cars as a whole become increasingly sought after, but the good news is that there are some incredibly cool retro rides out there that won’t break the bank. If you want one while they’re still cheap, act now, before it’s too late.
With cars of this age you’ll have to keep an eye out for rust and make sure a full service history is included, but buy wisely and you’ll have an appreciated asset that happens to be damn good fun to own and drive.
With a meaty, Porsche-developed four-pot in the front and a transaxle gearbox at the rear giving well-balanced handling, the old 944 is a tempting buy. Some examples of the early ‘Lux’ model can still be had for well below £2000, but not for long. Go for the 190bhp ‘S’ or the 208bhp ‘S2’ version, and you’ll have an entertaining coupe with gorgeous 80s styling that’ll only appreciate in value.
The legendary Audi Quattro was a tough act to follow for its successor - the S2 - and it didn’t really live up to people’s high expectations. As a consequence, values have stayed rather low. More recently, people seem to have been cottoning on to how much of an unsung hero this hot Audi coupe (an Avant version is also available) is, however, so now’s the time to buy.
These are particularly tuneable cars - a simple remap is enough to push the standard 220bhp (230bhp on later models) output of the turbo five-pot close to 300bhp, so it’s no surprise that standard cars are getting hard to come by. Although it’d be tempting to pick one up and start ramping up the power, it’s worth bearing in mind that a stock car is a much better investment in the long run.
With prices starting at £5000 it’s one of the more expensive cars here, but when you consider you’ll need at least four times that for the old Quattro, that seems like a small price to pay.
I used to own a rather temperamental example of the 190E 2.3-16, and made the daft mistake of getting rid of it for not a lot of money after getting fed up with unreliability. Why was this stupid? Because despite the hotter 190E models being wholly overshadowed by the legendary E30 BMW M3, prices are on the up. Values will probably never reach the heights of that Bavarian rival, but these 190s are still a sound investment.
In the earlier 2.3-16 you’ll have 185bhp to play with, rising to 201bhp in the later 2.5-16. These naturally-aspirated engines are brilliant, featuring a Cosworth-developed cylinder head and a burly engine note. It’s still possible to get the 2.3-16 version for under £5000. For now.
If you want a stupendously pretty classic BMW for a small(ish) fee, they don’t come more affordable than the shark-nosed E24 6-series. Values bottomed out at around £2000, but these days, you’ll need closer to £5000 to get a decent, rot-free example. Not overly cheap, but if the car’s predecessor - the even prettier E9 - is anything to go by, E24 prices have a long way to go yet.
What makes the old 900 so special is that it’s the last proper Saab, being developed long before General Motors took over the Swedish company. The next 900 was a shadow of the car it replaced, created using an Opel Vectra chassis and a liberal raiding of the GM parts bin. The older 900, in contrast, is a brilliantly quirky thing. There’s that convex front windscreen, the slant-four engine that’s mounted longitudinally and backwards, and the gearbox that lives below the engine, forming the oil pan.
The most desirable of all 900s is arguably the turbocharged T16 model, which develops a useful 175bhp. Only a few years ago, a mere £1000 was enough to secure yourself a 900 T16, but now, you’ll need more like £3000. Buy one of these insanely cool retro Swedes before the values go up any further.
It’s perhaps stretching the term ‘retro’ a bit by including the E36 M3 here, but it’s a car worth mentioning. For years, the E36 has been the most affordable route into M3 ownership, but that’s set to change. E46 M3 prices are falling below the £5k mark, while good condition E36s are starting to push over it, even the non-limited edition models.
Buy any E36 M3, and you won’t be wanting for pace. The earlier 3.0-litre cars have 286bhp, while the later 3.2-litre Evolution versions churn out 321bhp. Need any more convincing? The M3’s chassis is superb, and the six-pot sounds amazing. Now go forth and buy.
The XR3i may be much cruder than many of its contemporaries, but there’s a lot to like here. That coupe-esque three-door body looks superb, it’s entertaining to drive, and the 1.6-litre CVH four-pot puts out 105bhp - a decent figure when there’s so little weight to shift around. These aren’t as coveted as the more powerful Escort RS Turbos of the era, but good examples of the more humble XR3i are becoming sought after. Around £3000 will buy you one.
The Peugeot 205 GTI could have easily made it onto this list, as prices are rising fast, but they’re still relatively affordable. However, if you want to be a bit different and potentially save a little money on the purchase price, consider the 309 GTI. Built on a stretched version of the smaller car’s celebrated chassis and sharing the later hot 205’s gutsy 1.9-litre engine, you’ll have endless fun with one of these things.
It’s slightly depressing to think that a clean S14 could be had for not much over a grand until recently, but try not to caught up in that. Believe it or not, standard S14s are out there that haven’t yet fallen into the hands of drifters, and it is possible to nab one for under £4000. This won’t last long, so if you want in on the rear-wheel drive SR20DET action, now’s the time.
Any other affordable classics out there you think have investment potential? Let us know in the comments.