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Five of the best starter classic cars

Carlton Boyce / 16 February 2016

If you're buying your first classic car,we've brought together five models which are reliable, easy to repair, and great to drive to help get you started.

Austin Mini
Austin Mini

So, you’ve got a few thousand pounds burning a hole in your metaphorical pocket and you want to buy your first classic car. Well, let me be the first to offer my sincere congratulations! You’re just about to enter a world of fun – well, you are if you buy the right car.

However the classic car scene encompasses a huge range of cars from vintage Austins built in the 1920s, through to 1990s Japanese supercars and navigating your way through the thousands of models on offer can be a bit of a minefield.

So here are my five favourite starter classic cars; the only criterion to be on my list is that they have to be reliable, easy to repair, and great to drive. That most of them are good value too is a little bonus I’ve thrown in for you…


Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 MK1 (the one with the pop-up headlights) was produced between 1989 and 1998 and is available with either a 1.6-litre or 1.8-litre engine. The former is slower but revs better while the latter is a bit coarser but more muscular. 

All come with a simple but effective folding roof, double-wishbone suspension all round and a rear-wheel-drive chassis that shames some sports cars costing six figures.

The only thing you need to watch for is rust but there are plenty of rot-free examples out there for under £1,500. 

Double that sum gets you behind the wheel of an original, UK-supplied car (Japanese market grey-imports were marketed as the Eunos and are worth a bit less than a genuine UK car) with low-miles and a full service history. 

Either way you then just need to get in and drive, enjoying sublime handling in an enviably reliable package.

Pay: £1,500-3,000

Our guide to buying a classic car.

Austin Mini

Austin Mini

The original Mini is a masterpiece of packaging that manages to seat four in comfort while simultaneously out-handling all of its contemporaries, no matter how expensive or overtly sporting. 

It also dominated the social scene throughout the Kingdom and won every racing championship it was eligible to compete in.

Following years of neglect they are now bona fide classics that seem to rise in value by the hour. The range is as broad as it is interesting and you should buy on condition and not worry too much about a specific model or year. 

Rust is, unsurprisingly, the number one killer but if you buy a good example you’ll be able to treasure it for another couple of generations without having to spend too much more on upkeep.

Oh, and when it’s cold you can bring it inside and let it warm itself by the fireside.

Pay: £5,000-15,000

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Morris Minor

Morris Minor

Everyone has a Morris Minor memory, usually involving a sensible grandfather who used one to collect firewood and to take your grandmother shopping. It smelled of old engine oil and vinyl leather – cloth and pipe tobacco and will make you smile whenever you think about it – so why not create similar memories for your grandchildren by buying your own Moggie?

There are plenty out there that have been uprated with more modern engines, gearboxes and braking systems; the Morris Minor is one of the few classic cars for which originality isn’t very important.

You’ll need to watch for rust (and woodworm if you fancy an estate, or Traveller in Morris-speak) but they’re otherwise bomb-proof and can be mended with an adjustable spanner and a screwdriver. 

Pay: £5,000-8,000

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© Wise Old Fox Ltd


In its day, the MGB represented freedom and youth and if you argued that it single-handedly changed the image of Great Britain from staid-and-sensible to swinging-and-sexy I probably wouldn’t argue. 

The MX-5 might be cheaper, faster, handle better and a million times more reliable, but if you’ve got your heart set on a period convertible, then the MGB is the one to choose.

The models are too legion to list here but a manual drop-top with wire wheels and photographic evidence of extensive restoration could persuade me to get my cheque book out. 

After that you can pick and choose from a bewildering array of styling and tuning parts and the subsequent performance is limited only by the depth of your pockets and your willingness to get grease under your fingernails.

Pay: £7,000-12,000

Would you pass your driving test if you had to take it today?



The original Golf GTI redefined performance motoring but even its staunchest fans (and I count myself among that number) would have to admit that it is now a bit crude to drive, suffering from hopeless brakes, vague steering and a level of NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) that is simply unacceptable these days.

However, the Mark 2 Golf, built between 1984 and 1992, is a very different kettle of fish. It’s more refined, more powerful, only marginally heavier and much, much nicer to drive. It’s also woefully undervalued, in stark contrast to the earlier cars.

If you can find a nice, original car that hasn’t been modified then you are all set to enjoy one of the gems of the 1980s. You’ll also be able to tour Europe in confidence and when you get bored with it you might even be able to turn a small profit. Now that’s what classic car ownership should be all about!

Do you own and drive a classic car? Or are you about to take the plunge and buy your first? We’d love to hear your comments and thoughts in the comments section below!

For more tips and inspiration, browse our motoring articles.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.