Buying your first classic car can be a daunting experience. Stories of expensive engine rebuilds, rusty bodywork that takes thousands to correct, and unreliable cars that leave you stranded by the side of the road are enough to put anyone off. That’s why choosing the right car as your first classic is so important. Here are our top five cars that should deliver all the fun of classic motoring while avoiding some of the pitfalls.
The MGB is one of the UK’s most popular classic cars- and for very good reason. They are great fun to drive and easy to maintain, with a plentiful supply of reasonably-priced parts. If you are looking for the social element, then there are two thriving big clubs- the MG Owners’ Club (MGOC) and MG Car Club (MGCC) and loads of local clubs too. Here you’ll not only find like- minded owners, but also lots of advice and support.
The other thing we love about the MGB is the price- there are versions for every budget, from the ‘rubber bumper’ 1798cc roadsters starting at a few thousand pounds to the MGB-GT V8, with its powerful 3528cc engine.
What to watch for: Rust, especially on the sills, door bottoms and around the base of the windscreen.
Fun Fact: Over half a million MG Bs were made from 1962 until 1980.
The values of front-engined Porsches have risen rapidly in recent times, but the 924 still remains an affordable classic. As a first classic car its got a lot going for it- it drives much like a modern car and has Porsche’s legendary build quality, but also has the 1970s/80s styling that is all the rage.
Despite having a small (for Porsche) engine of 1984cc (later 2479cc), the Porsche 924 drives exceptionally well, revving freely and holding the road superbly thanks to an almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution. The car has a huge hatchback and folding rear seats that are just large enough for two adults, making the 924 remarkably practical as a small sports coupe. Support, both from clubs (the Porsche Club of GB- PCGB and The Independent Porsche Enthusiasts’ Club- TIPEC) and from Porsche dealerships is superb- if a little pricey.
What to watch for: Rust, again on the sills. High mileage may not be too much of a problem, but make sure the car has been properly maintained.
Fun Fact: The 924 was originally a joint VW/ Porsche project.
Alfa Romeo Giulia 105/115 Spider
For many, the Alfa Romeo Spider calls to mind Dustin Hoffman in the movie The Graduate. Values of these early Spiders, the ‘Duetto’, have soared in recent years, but later models (we’d suggest the Series III Spider) offer a very similar car for a fraction of the cost and are superb first classics.
The Alfa Romeo Spider (never ‘Spyder’) is a lovely car to drive. The engines are all free-revving and sound amazing, especially with the top down on a sunny day. The suspension and handling are very good, and four-wheel servo-assisted disc brakes more than capable of doing their job. If you want something special, then the parts compatibility with the Alfa Guilia GT means that suspension, engine, exhaust and brake upgrades are widely available.
What to watch for: You’ve guessed it…. Rust in the sills. Also rust in the footwells, scuttle panels, inner wings and around the wheel arches. Check the engine temperature stays about half-way up the gauge when warm and check the oil filler cap for emulsified oil, ‘mayonnaise’- both can be signs of a leaking head gasket.
Fun Fact: The name Duetto was never officially used by Alfa Romeo.
For those who want a more simple life, the Triumph Herald offers a cheap, simple and fun route into classic car ownership. The Herald, built between 1959 and 1971, is a two-door car that was offered as a coupe, a saloon, an estate, a convertible and even a van. The convertible and saloon have a big back seat that comfortably seats two adults, making them a practical and fun family classic.
The Herald also came with a variety of engines- from the 948cc up to 1247cc, but all are simple, cheap to maintain and with excellent spares availability. Also, the entire front of the car hinges up, exposing the engine and front suspension, giving superb access to the home mechanic.
What to watch for: Worn engine thrust bearings mean an engine rebuild. Get someone to push the clutch while you watch the end of the crankshaft- movement could mean trouble.
Fun Fact: The Herald has the smallest turning circle of any four-wheel production car (25 feet).
The VW Beetle is a great starter classic. Like the MGB there’s a lot on the market, giving exceptional choice. And like the Herald, they’re mechanically simple cars. But most of all they are fun classics that will make you and other road users smile when you drive them.
Built between 1938 and 2003, there are loads of different VW Beetle variants, all a rear-mounted air-cooled engine that produces its customary ‘burble’. Spares availability is very good, with a number of large suppliers offering everything from rubber seals to entire engines, all at relatively affordable prices. There’s also a great owners network of clubs, rallies and other events, many with a family focus.
What to watch for: Being air-cooled, overheating can cause problems. Before you buy, get a compression test carried out to check for a ‘cooked’ engine or cracked head. Also rust- especially on the underside in the heater channels. This can be expensive to fix.
Fun Fact: The best-selling car in history, with over 21.5 million manufactured (all with essentially the same body!)
So that’s our list. Whatever you buy, choose something you love and make sure you get someone knowledgeable to check the car before you buy. Happy classic motoring!