Mini Cooper S

Mini Hatch (R50/R52/R53)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Mini Hatch (R50/R52/R53) review

The first of the ‘modern Minis’ has matured into an appealing contemporary classic in its own right…

What Is It?

Replacing an icon is never easy, as the Mini Metro’s valiant attempt to reinvent the Mini proved. While the latter soldiered on through the late ‘90s it was clear something had to be done and, amid the tumultuous, end-of-days calamity that was Rover’s dissolution, BMW took its vision for the brand and ran with it. Trading heavily on past glories in terms of the look and overall character, the new Mini was not back-to-basics transport like its predecessor, BMW instead trusting its instincts to create a trendy, sporty and expensively engineered hatchback for upwardly mobile buyers.

Quietly revolutionary in its own way, the first of the modern Minis brought this premium mindset to the small car sector in fine style. And under the retro styling was a thoroughly modern car, the investment in things like sophisticated multi-link rear suspension meaning it handled with real sophistication. Against the fussiness of the current one, this first-generation modern Mini looks better than ever, too.  

Corrosive Areas

Lower door edges

Rear subframes

Number plate recess on rear hatch

Checklist

  • All petrol models use versions of the same 1.6-litre ‘Tritec’ engine developed with Chrysler, the One D using a diesel engine supplied by Toyota
  • Oil leaks on the petrol engine aren’t unusual and may be down to seals for the crank position sensor, oil pump or even oil pan; given replacing any of these is a big job due to limited engine access many owners accept regular top-ups as a price worth paying
  • Plastic dipsticks on earlier cars can snap off inside the engine; metal replacements are a sensible precautionary solution if not already fitted
  • Some engine work requires major front-end disassembly and can cost a lot in labour; clutch changes are one example so consider it a win if there’s evidence of this being done recently
  • The 100,000-mile ‘supercharger service’ on the Cooper S is another expensive milestone, but the extent of the work means it’s also a chance to replace the auxiliary belt, water pump and other inaccessible parts as a precautionary measure – check the history to see if this has been done
  • The distinctive whine from the power steering pump is a characteristic but they can fail and it’s an expensive fix so check for excessive noise or inconsistent feel
  • The standard gearbox was a five-speed manual or a sluggish CVT for the automatic, while the Cooper S had a six-speed manual or more conventional six-speed automatic option
  • The facelift for the 2005 model year (introduced in 2004) didn’t change the looks dramatically but saw significant improvements under the skin, the less reliable Rover-supplied five-speed manual replaced with a sturdier Getrag one while changes to the Cooper S increased power
  • The switch from a two-spoke steering wheel to a three-spoke one is an easy ‘tell’ if you’re browsing adverts for 2004 cars and uncertain as to whether it’s an updated one or not
  • Updated cars also address some of the common issues with central locking solenoids and sluggish electric window regulators some earlier cars can suffer from, though at the age they’re now reaching these should be checked anyway
  • Stiff suspension and bumpy roads can chew through suspension components or, in some cases, even result in distortion to the strut towers and top mounts in the body – check for pulling to one side or misaligned bolts
  • Rust isn’t unknown, with lower door edges, rear subframes and bodywork around the petrol tank vulnerable

How does it drive?

While the styling paid respectful homage to the original Mini it also drove like one, too. Looks and the fundamental mechanical layout were about the only things it really had in common, mind, the R50 Mini (convertible versions are known as R52s, the Cooper S the R53) using a much more modern chassis with an expensive multi-link rear axle for more sophisticated handling than most hot-hatch rivals with their simple twist-beams.

Stiff suspension, weighty but precise steering and well-balanced controls encourage you to push the Mini hard, just as the original did all those years ago. And it responds in kind, with a modern interpretation of the go-kart handling mantra the brand lives by to this day. This character is there across the board, too, meaning even the entry-level One is fun to drive while the Cooper and Cooper S deliver increasingly meaningful performance.  

 What’s good?

The modern Mini wasn’t just good to drive – it also felt genuinely premium, and a very different proposition from other hatchbacks in the market. This wasn’t a basic model dressed up with a few nice bits, after all, but a properly posh car. Just smaller. Those looks have aged really well, too, the clean design and exaggerated Mini stance arguably the most convincing of all three modern Mini generations. It carries over to the interior as well, with the classic central speedo reinvented for the modern age and a row of properly tactile rocker switches beneath it.

Original buyers had to dig deeper into their pockets than perhaps they might have first expected but, equipped with the necessary upgrade packs, the Mini felt properly luxurious as well. This meant it was just as good for long, motorway drives as it was around town or being razzed along the lanes – something you’d never have claimed of the original.

What’s bad?

Style, and that handling, came at the price of practicality, and the modern Mini is pretty tight inside for any more than two occupants. If you need a bit more space and usability there are better hot hatch options available, for sure. And while the sporty suspension set-up was a hit, and suited the character of the car, its combination with stiff-walled run-flat tyres meant ride quality could be pretty brutal on rougher roads and put quite a bit of stress through the suspension components and shell.

As the car has aged reliability quirks and some expensive servicing intervals (especially on the Cooper S) mean running a modern Mini can get quite expensive as well, the car’s sophistication inevitably making it a pricier car to run than its simpler rivals.

Which model to choose?

Given they all drive well it’s a question of what kind of journeys you’ll be doing and the kind of character you’re after. Diesel may not be fashionable these days but the One D has comparable performance to the regular One but also excellent long-distance refinement and economy. Pared back to its fundamentals the One with its 90PS (66kW) engine demonstrates just how good the basic car is and, given it’s not actually that much slower than the regular Cooper, has an understated appeal. Just make sure the original buyer paid for the desirable Salt and Pepper packs to equip it with the creature comforts you’d expect.

With its supercharger whine, 170PS (125kW) output and more up-for-it character we can’t help but be seduced by the Cooper S, though. This is a proper hot-hatch and a potent little thing, the more so if you get a post-2004 Chilli Pack one with the optional limited-slip differential or can find one with the John Cooper Works package and significantly upgraded performance.

Specifications – Mini Cooper S (R53, 2005 model year)

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, supercharged

Power

170PS (125kW) @ 6,000rpm

Torque

220Nm (162lb ft) @ 4,000rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual/six-speed auto, front-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,215kg

0-62mph

7.2 seconds

Top speed

138mph

Production dates

2001-2006 (entire production)

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MGA buyer's guide

MGA

BUYER’S GUIDE

MGA review

One of the prettiest of all the ‘60s British sportscars, the MGA is a stone-cold classic and still fun to drive to this day…

What Is It?

Though it still ran on a separate chassis, the MGA was a huge step forward for MG when it launched in 1955. The enclosed bodywork inspired by an aerodynamically styled TD race car that ran at Le Mans four years earlier. By broadening the chassis rails and dropping the floor beneath them the MGA was a much more resolved design, though, the sweeping curves of the low-slung body reminiscent of the contemporary Austin Healeys but with a lightness of touch that still looks good.

The pushrod B-Series engine may have been relatively old tech but with aluminium panels, rack and pinion steering and a stiff frame the MGA felt more modern than many contemporaries, and is still fun to drive on modern roads. A mere fraction of the 100,000-plus total production were actually sold on home soil, the MGA a key player in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s British sportscar export boom. Its MGB successor picked up where the A left off, but the earlier car is arguably still the more attractive.  

Corrosive Areas

Chassis rails and sills

A- and B-pillars

Front wings

Checklist

  • The MGA launched as a bare-bones roadster, the steel-roofed Coupe that followed in 1956 adding luxuries like wind-down side windows and a more plushily trimmed interior
  • Original 1.5-litre B-Series pushrod engine replaced by a 1,588cc 1600 version in 1959, this in turn succeeded by the 1961 1600 MkII with a 1,622cc engine, all fuelled by twin SU carburettors
  • Competition inspired Twin Cam version based on the 1,588cc block arrived in 1958 and was significantly faster and more powerful, though temperamental and prone to failures; later versions with lower compression and reduced power were relatively more reliable
  • MGA 1500 had drum brakes all round, which are adequate for the performance if nothing more; 1600 introduced disc brakes up front while Twin Cams and De-Luxe versions of the 1600 feature disc brakes all round with centre-lock wheels
  • Rear lights are the easiest tell-tale of what version MGA you’re looking at, with 1500s using a single combined unit on the trailing edge of the rear wing and 1600s introducing a separate indicator above this; 1600 MkIIs use a horizontally mounted Mini light cluster moved inboard and under the boot shut line and a different grille with more upright vertical strakes
  • Regular B-Series engines are generally tough and proven, and long-lasting with proper care; make the usual checks for coolant in the oil and signs of overheating; a small dribble of oil from the back of the engine is normal but anything more significant is a concern
  • Engine transplants are not unusual, and larger and more powerful MGB motors are a straightforward swap
  • While Twin Cams can be made more reliable they still require considerably more upkeep and specialist maintenance; rebuilds when things do go wrong can be very costly
  • Four-speed gearbox generally tough, though synchro on second gear can graunch – rebuilds possible but retrofit five-speed transmissions from Ford Sierras or Mazda MX-5s are also a popular upgrade and improve motorway running
  • Front suspension requires regular lubrication to prevent premature wear to components
  • Rack and pinion steering should be sharp and precise – any knocking or looseness is likely down to worn ball joints or other suspension parts
  • MGA is built on a steel chassis with a steel shell, though door skins, bonnet and boot lid are aluminium and the floor panel is wood
  • Rust is an issue inside and outside the structure, with the sills especially vulnerable along with the chassis rails running inboard of them; front wings also go inside and out, along seams and around headlights; also check rear wings, rear chassis crossmember and boot floor
  • Panel gaps are a good indication of chassis alignment and the quality of any previous restoration work; front bumper should be flush within its recess in the valance, door gaps should be consistent and everything should line up
  • Coupes generally considered less valuable than roadsters, but are more difficult and expensive to restore

How does it drive?

Sportscar buyers in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were spoiled for choice when it came to cute-looking and relatively affordable British-built roadsters, the MGA perhaps sharper to drive than the contemporary alternatives from Triumph and Austin Healey by virtue of its body stiffness and rack and pinion steering. That stands it in good stead for modern-day drivers as well, given it feels nimbler and more precise than many of its era.

The regular B-series engine may not have been anything fancy but is proven and gutsy in its power delivery, and there’s plenty of knowledge for further tuning or even the option to fit a more powerful engine from an MGB if you crave extra performance. With this, the later front disc brake set-up and perhaps even a retrofit five-speed gearbox from a Ford Sierra or Mazda MX-5 you have perhaps the perfect combination of late-‘50s looks with more modern driving manners.  

 What’s good?

The looks are an obvious draw for the MGA, the simple, unadorned lines and classic proportions never bettered in the day. If not blisteringly fast the MGA is quick enough to entertain, and perfectly encapsulates the fun of driving with the roof down along a classic British B-road. In earlier versions with the screens removed you’ll be getting plenty of that wind in the hair ambience as well, while later ones feel a little more luxurious all things relative thanks to luxuries like wind-up side windows.

Meanwhile the appealing simplicity of the design is matched with a corresponding lack of fuss in the mechanical parts, more exotic Twin Cam aside. Assuming you’ve got one with sound bodywork the rest of the upkeep should be well within the wit of a keen amateur mechanic, while the interchangeability of parts and vast knowledge base among enthusiasts and specialists means plenty of help is available if you get stuck along the way.

What’s bad?

Like any car of its era the MGA is vulnerable to corrosion, and if it takes hold sorting it properly can be a complicated, time consuming and ultimately expensive job. This is further complicated by issues like electrolytic corrosion where aluminium panels meet steel structure, the potential for wooden floors to rot out and the added complications of a separate chassis to worry about.

While the vast majority of MGAs were sold overseas, and many lived in drier climates where corrosion will have been less of a concern, they’re all of an age now where it needs to be kept on top of, and most will have been through at least one restoration over the years. The quality of that work will be key to whether you end up with a dream come true or living nightmare.

If provenance matters the ease of engine swaps, mechanical upgrades and conversion from left- to right-hand drive also makes original cars rare beasts indeed. Convertible roofs are meanwhile famously basic and fiddly, so if you want to drive in all weathers or store it outside you may be better off with a coupe. They’re getting expensive as well, while Twin Cams can prove ruinous to make good if someone has bodged the engine rebuild.

Which model to choose?

The more exotic nature of the Twin Cam and its feistier performance have obvious appeal for both the mechanically curious and those wanting the most exciting MGA driving experience. But this comes at a significant cost in terms of purchase price and ongoing care, so is probably best reserved for the more committed MG fan. The more innocent delights of the regular pushrod-engined cars are no less appealing. A sunny day on your favourite twisty road with the MGA’s handling and feelgood looks will be equally enjoyable.

In terms of which one to get the answer will, inevitably, be ‘the best one you can find and afford’ with structural integrity probably the most important consideration. Beyond that the early 1500s have a purity of style and purpose that feels very appealing, though they can be very basic. Going the other way the later 1600 MkIIs have a bit more power and more relaxed nature thanks in part to their extra torque and longer gearing. We’d probably split the difference and go for one of the earlier 1600s with the old style rear lights but the extra flexibility of the slightly bigger engine.

Specifications – MG MGA 1600

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

79PS (58kW) @ 5,500rpm

Torque

118Nm (87lb ft) @ 3,800rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

927kg

0-62mph

c. 14.2 seconds

Top speed

c. 101mph

Production dates

1955-1962 (total production run for all models)

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Ford Capri

Ford Capri

BUYER’S GUIDE

Ford Capri review

Why Ford’s “The car you always promised yourself” advertising line for the Capri is as true now as it ever was…

What Is It?

Having perfected the formula for the affordable, blue-collar performance coupe with the all-American Mustang, Ford repeated the trick for European buyers with the Capri. Launched in 1969, it followed the same formula of glamorous styling underpinned by engines and other mechanical bits repurposed from the wider Ford family to keep costs down.

With nearly two million sales over almost two decades it was an absolute hit, capturing the imagination of aspiring owners through iconic on-screen appearances and success on the race track, where its giant-killing performances against much more glamorous machinery suited its raffish image down to the ground.

Over three generations the Capri stayed true to the same basic format, grunty V6 engines doing the business for the top models but supported by a range of more affordable four-cylinder variants for those keen to share the fun on a more real-world budget.

Corrosive Areas

A-pillars, front scuttle and bulkhead

Front suspension turrets

Sills

Checklist

  • Mk1 Capris are obvious for their raised trim line along the side and the two fake air intakes ahead of the rear wheel; post 1971 facelift cars can be identified by their bigger rear lights
  • Homologation RS2600 and RS3100 are rare and highly collectable; plenty of standard cars were dressed up with the same quad-headlight look both in period and subsequently and can offer similar thrills for a lot less money if you’re not so fussed about matching numbers originality
  • Vinyl roofs, louvred rear windows, rear spoilers and more were all among the popular trim upgrades available in the many and various Capri special editions
  • Launched in 1974, the Mk2 loses the fake rear vents and gains a hatchback tailgate; engines range from 1.3 Crossflows to 1.6 and 2.0 Pintos, along with various sizes of V6 engine
  • The Capri used both ‘Essex’ and ‘Cologne’ vee engines in various configurations, the former more commonly powering the many and various 3.0-litre V6 variants over all three generations before being phased out in 1982 in favour of the fuel-injected 2.8-litre Cologne
  • Most Capris are four-speed manuals, though a three-speed automatic was popular with buyers of the more luxury focused Ghia models and some later 2.8s got five-speed transmissions
  • Ford offered two stages of ‘X-Pack’ packages for 3.0-litre versions of the Mk2 and Mk3, some as fully finished cars or as retrofit options; parts included uprated suspension, widebody arch extensions, Bilstein dampers and, in top Series X trim, a triple-carb conversion for more power
  • Original X-Pack cars will be valuable; again standard ones may have been retrospectively modified and are more accessible if you want the look for less money
  • Four-cylinder engines are standard Ford units and generally tough and dependable, though look for the usual signs of overheating, smoke, emulsified oil and obvious rattles
  • Both V6s are generally tough and dependable, though can suffer from warped cylinder heads and blown gaskets; plastic timing gears can fail and are often upgraded with sturdier steel replacements, which are noisier but tougher
  • Interior trim can be very difficult to get hold of so even a rough car with well-preserved cabin could have value
  • Rust can occur anywhere but is most critical in structural areas like suspension turrets, A-pillars, front bulkhead, sills, rear suspension mounts and boot floor

How does it drive?

Exactly as you’d expect, which is to say entirely in keeping with its down-to-earth, no-nonsense image. Ford’s knack for making sure even its cheaper models handle well was further improved for the Capri, the low-slung driving position and long bonnet making it feel sporty before you even turn a wheel.

Independent McPherson strut suspension up front and a leaf-sprung live axle out the back are nothing fancy but the sharp steering, precise gear shift and natural balance are all there to be enjoyed. Ford developed all manner of go-faster upgrades for suspension, brakes and powertrain for the faster models to make sense of the extra power of the V6 models.

With upwards of 140PS (103kW) depending on the model, these are obviously the ones people go for today, the fruity growl of the engine and power to get the rear end swinging all add to the fun. The smaller 1.3 and 1.6-litre engines are perhaps a little weedy to make serious progress but 2.0-litre models can entertain if a V6 is out of reach.

 What’s good?

Iconic looks, inherent mechanical simplicity, fun driving manners and space in the back to seat a couple of extra passengers make a Capri an excellent weekend classic to enjoy with all the family. By the time you get to the V6 models you’ve got enough performance to keep pace with more modern cars as well, while the enduring popularity means a wide community of fellow owners for sharing knowledge and a guarantee of strong residual values for a well-maintained example.

While navigating the many and various generations, special editions and model year updates can appear intimidating, that does mean you get a huge range of cars and styles to choose from, whether you crave-vinyl roofed ‘70s nostalgia, pared-back motorsport manners with the RS models or prefer the unadorned simplicity of the standard models.

Mechanically Capris are pretty simple and tough as well, given the proven Ford engines and other components. As such running one needn’t break the bank, or be beyond the wit of a driveway maintenance with a few basic tools and a bit of DIY nous.

What’s bad?

It will come as little surprise to hear that rust is going to be your main consideration when looking at a Capri to buy. This can appear anywhere on the body and will be obvious enough but, as ever, it’s what’s going on under the skin that can really cause issues, and all three generations are vulnerable to serious structural rot.

Common areas to look at include the front suspension turrets in the inner wings, the front scuttle and A-pillars (and bulkhead beneath them) along with the inevitable sills and floorpan. Rear suspension mounts can also go, likewise fuel tanks and boot floors.

While tatty bodywork can be repaired, perhaps of greater concern is the lack of interior trim parts, meaning a rough car with a good interior may yet be worth saving for that reason alone. Covetable models like RS variants, 3.0 S and others are also collectable but given the ease of engine swaps and other upgrades you need to perform due diligence to ensure it’s original and not a conversion if you’re paying the premium.

Which model to choose?

Launched in 1969, the Mk1 has the daintiest looks with the small, Escort donated rear lights and single headlights while a 1971 facelift saw bigger lenses all round and a revised engine line-up. Regular V6s are appealing, the V4s have curiosity value and the RS2600 and 3100 are proper collectable rarities.

The 1974 Mk2 stripped off some of the chintzier styling elements like the fake rear vents and the combination of the cleaned-up styling and hatchback rear tailgate are welcome modernising touches but the post-1978 Mk3 is perhaps the best looking thanks to the more aggressive quad-headlight front end and sharper detailing.

Of these the 2.8 Injection is probably the most coveted, especially in Special trim with the five-speed gearbox, Recaro seats and standard limited-slip differential. With around 160PS (118kW) these have enough grunt to make sense of the junior muscle car looks and will always put a smile on your face. This all comes at a price, though, and if we were on a budget a 2.0-litre would just about cut it.

Specifications – Ford Capri 2.8 Injection Special

Engine

2,792cc V6 petrol

Power

160PS (118kW) @ 5,700rpm

Torque

221Nm (163lb ft) @ 4,300rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,170kg

0-62mph

8.3 seconds

Top speed

131mph

Production dates

1981-1986 (1969-1986 for full production)

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Jaguar E-type Series II

Jaguar E-type (Series 2)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Jaguar E-type (Series II) review

With the Series 1 grabbing the glory could the Series 2 be a more accessible way of living the E-type dream..?

What Is It?

The original Series 1 Jaguar E-type stunned the automotive world when it arrived in 1961, and rightly became one of the decade’s defining sportscars. An updated 4.2-litre engine, easier all-synchro gearbox and introduction of the more spacious 2+2 all helped improve its offering as the years went on but, by 1968, looming changes to safety rules in the vital US export market meant Jaguar needed to invest in some more significant updates.

Previewed by the so-called Series 1½ changes in 1967, the full Series 2 went on sale in 1968 with various new features like full, wraparound bumpers, revised headlights stripped of their signature aerodynamic fairings and larger, repositioned rear lights.

Good news? While purists will always prefer the Series 1, and pay a premium for them, it’s still essentially the same car underneath and drives just as nicely, meaning a Series 2 could potentially make E-type ownership feel just that bit more attainable.

Corrosive Areas

Bonnet seams

Front bulkhead, sills and floorpan

Rear arches

Checklist

  • The most obvious Series 2 modifications include the repositioned headlights and removal of the clear fairings that covered them on earlier cars, and replacement of interior toggle switches with more conventional rockers; these were introduced on late Series 1 cars, meaning these are commonly referred to as Series 1½ models
  • Full Series 2 cars arrived in 1968 with further modifications, including a much larger ‘mouth’ on the bonnet to accommodate optional air conditioning, bigger sidelight/indicator units now mounted under the new full-width bumper and a similar arrangement at the rear with larger tail lights
  • Series 2 also added the option of steel wheels, power steering and air conditioning to boost appeal in the US market, where the car was sold as the XK-E
  • American-spec XK-Es also had a less powerful, emissions-compliant engine, with two Stromberg carburettors in place of the regular triple-SU set-up
  • The XK engine is well-proven and long-lasting with correct maintenance; check for the usual signs of head gasket failure like emulsified oil on the inside of the filler cap or contaminated coolant, rattling timing chains and persistent smoke or hesitancy once warmed through
  • Consistent oil pressure is a good sign, a rising temperature or fan not starting once warm a bad one
  • Worn diaphragms in the triple SU carburettors can result in lumpiness and requires expert help; retrofitted fuel injection can improve driveability
  • Check for smooth clutch engagement and bite – replacement is a big job requiring engine removal so can be costly
  • Inboard rear brakes can get contaminated by oil from the differential – servicing them is a big job so make sure the car pulls up cleanly
  • Structural corrosion is an ever-present concern, especially in floorpans, sills, rear arches and engine cradles – most cars will have had some degree of restoration by now but make sure this has been done properly and documented by a known specialist
  • Jaguar supports the E-type with parts (up to and including replacement engine blocks) and archive information like verification of the original build date, colour and options

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images courtesy of Bonhams|Cars

How does it drive?

As the E-type matured so did its buyers, and the rawness and uncompromising sportiness of the early cars was steadily refined into a more luxurious package with more creature comforts. Thanks to its technological head start the E-type was still competitive by the time the Series 2 arrived, given the monocoque construction, all-independent suspension, disc brakes and sharp rack and pinion steering. That makes it a very driveable car on present-day roads, the trademark Jaguar ride quality combined with sharp steering and all scored by the glorious six-cylinder bark of the XK engine.

True, the Series 2 piled on a few pounds but the 4.2-litre version is more muscular and flexible than the 3.8 of early Series 1s and performance is plenty strong and charismatic enough. American market cars – sold as XK-Es – are down on power thanks to the emissions-compliant twin-carb arrangement while power steering (where fitted) on these cars may dull the experience a bit. But restoring power and driveability will be well within the scope of the many specialists who know the E-type inside out.  

 What’s good?

While the familiar Open Two-Seater and Fixed Head Coupe formats carried over with the Series 2 modifications, the 2+2 received some more significant change. The windscreen took on a sleeker rake to make it look less awkward than the original. It may be the least fashionable E-type configuration but if the extra practicality of a 2+2 appeals then a Series 2 is therefore a more appealing option, all things relative.

The purists may mutter into their beards about the ‘uglier’ bumpers and addition of emasculating options like power steering and air conditioning to make the E-type more appealing to American buyers but, as a car to enjoy rather than stash away as an investment, the Series 2’s more civilised features could make it easier to enjoy on a summer’s day.

More macho E-type fans may consider mastery of the earlier cars’ ‘Moss’ gearbox a badge of honour but, in truth, if you’re out for a Sunday cruise the slightly more easy-going nature of a Series 2 is probably going to be nicer. And the fact it’s less collectable means you can enjoy it without stressing too much about a few miles on the clock denting its ongoing value.  

What’s bad?

As a relatively overlooked chapter of the E-type story, Series 2 cars may have had less attention lavished on them over the years, the relative lack of value meaning greater risk they’ve survived on make do and mend rather than full restorations. This could be bad news because the same issues of expensive bodywork repairs can lurk within, and they’ll cost just as much to fix as they would on a more valuable Series 1 but without return on investment.

As with any classic car purchase it’s about making a call on whether apparent savings on a cheaper purchase price stack up in the long-run when you factor in restoration or upkeep, the general rule being this rarely works out in your favour.

It’s also worth considering a significant proportion of Series 2 production went overseas, and while US XK-Es from ‘dry’ states may appeal in terms of relative lack of corrosion they will obviously be left-hand drive and likely running significantly less powerful twin-carb engines.

Which model to choose?

Spared the hype of Series 1 snobbery and the endless debates about the relative values of flat-floor cars, synchro gearboxes versus Moss transmissions and the decision between revvy 3.8 or torquey 4.2 the choices for Series 2 cars are a lot simpler, and basically come down to which bodystyle you want.

As already mentioned, the 2+2 looks a bit sleeker so may enter the equation but most people will be chasing a roadster or regular coupe, the latter generally considered better looking and better to drive. Imported cars may be cheaper to buy and perhaps more plentiful but you’ll end up driving from the ‘wrong’ side while some of the chintzier spec options may not to be European tastes.

Power steering and automatic gearboxes where fitted aren’t really conducive to a proper E-type experience, either. Narrowing it down that leaves a right-hand drive, triple-carburettor manual in the bodystyle of your choosing and the best condition you can afford.  

Specifications – Jaguar E-type Series 2 4.2 Fixed Head Coupe

Engine

4.2-litre six-cylinder, petrol

Power

265PS (195kW) @ 5,400rpm

Torque

384Nm (283 lb ft) @ 4,000rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 1,265kg (dry)

0-62mph

c. 7.3 sec (varies according rear axle ratio)

Top speed

c. 150mph (varies according rear axle ratio)

Production dates

1968-1971

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Rover SD1

BUYER’S GUIDE

Rover SD1 Review

Equally adept as an executive express or saloon car champion, the Rover SD1 still makes good on its sleek and sporty looks…

What Is It?

Depending on who you speak to the Rover SD1 is either a pinnacle of retro British cool and a canny blend of sleek styling and V8 muscle. Or one of the grand follies of the ‘70s domestic car industry and, given its astronomical development costs, sometimes woeful build quality and relatively modest sales, one of the architects of its downfall. Possibly both, indeed.

Either way, the SD1 – an abbreviation of the internal Specialist Division 1 designation under which it was developed – has come to symbolise the ‘80s era in which it really made its name. Against its contemporary exec saloon rivals it still stands out for its Ferrari Daytona inspired, five-door fastback styling and performance credentials sealed on both the racetrack and the nation’s motorways, where in classic ‘jam sandwich’ police livery it became an iconic sight on British roads. As a modern classic its stature is growing, too.

Corrosive Areas

Inner and outer wings

Front and rear valances

Door lower edges

Checklist

  • Launched in 1976 as the V8-powered 3500, Rover SD1 production is neatly divided into Mark 1 and Mark 2 phases, with the latter coming in 1982
  • Mark 1s can be identified by their recessed headlights, chrome bumpers (on most models) and smaller instrument binnacle
  • Mark 2s feature flush-fitting lights, wraparound bumpers, a front chin spoiler, a broader engine range and a bigger instrument binnacle stretching across the shelf-like dash to the centre of the car
  • The classic 3.5-litre Rover V8 in its various forms is the engine best associated with the SD1, though the arrival of 2300 and 2600 six-cylinders in 1977 added more choice, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 2.4-litre diesel and uprated Vitesse V8 coming with the 1982 facelift
  • At the time Mark 1s were being built poor industrial relations and a general lack of quality control can make them more challenging to restore now, given increased vulnerability to corrosion and the cheaper interior fittings
  • Rust remains an issue on all versions, though, and any potential purchase should be checked thoroughly if there’s no documented evidence of a proper restoration
  • Key areas to check include the bonnet and bootlid, front and rear valances, inner and outer wheelarches, front scuttle and windscreen surround, door bottoms, front strut towers, rear trailing arm mounts and – if fitted – the sunroof surround and drainage channels
  • Four- and six-cylinder engines are considered generally tough, though the six-cylinder can suffer from blocked oil feed to the camshaft that can ultimately lead to expensive failure – check for unusual rattles or other noises and make sure you factor a belt change into your equations for the first service
  • Proven V8 engine is well understood and can last well with proper care and regular oil changes; check for signs of overheating; electronic fuel injection can throw up issues
  • Manual gearboxes are generally tough but check for any rumbles or graunches; Borg Warner automatics can be fragile so if fitted make sure it shifts smoothly

How does it drive?

With its McPherson strut front suspension and live rear axle the SD1 is mechanically less exotic than the sleek lines would suggest, though in typical style the Rover engineers knew how to get the best out of what they had and the handling was always considered one of the car’s selling points. This was validated by success in touring car racing, especially once in the hands of TWR, and the big Rovers were regular front runners in domestic and European championships, not to mention crowd pleasers in Goodwood’s Gordon Spice Trophy.

Launched in 1982, the Vitesse model really proved the SD1’s credentials, the uprated engine delivering around 190PS (140kW) and putting it to the road through uprated suspension, a limited-slip differential and matched with more powerful, police-specification brakes and lovely cross-spoke style alloy wheels. The driving style is suitably beefy, with a compelling blend of luxurious appointments, predictable handling and sufficient performance to keep tabs with modern hot hatches.

 What’s good?

Looks that may for a time have been considered a bit chintzy have matured nicely, and the SD1’s distinctive fastback lines remain a pleasingly distinctive proposition with plenty of retro charm. It’s a big car with plenty of room for passengers, so a sociable classic to enjoy with family and friends alike.

Mechanically it’s also relatively simple and uses proven, well-understood engines that should be within the capabilities of a competent DIY mechanic to keep sweet. Performance is also pretty strong for a car of this vintage and a well-sorted and presented example will always be in demand, so remains a safe place to have your money.

What’s bad?

Famously poor build quality, especially for the earlier versions, means finding a good one will be even more challenging than it would be for other cars of the era. Paint, sealing and general fit and finish were all below par for a supposed luxury model but you’d have to hope that by now natural selection will have weeded out the rotters.

Interiors for Mark 1 cars were also pretty cheaply made, with poor quality materials and durability. Spares can be hard to find, so a car of either generation with a good interior is a solid basis for a restoration. Rust will always be an issue with a car of this vintage as well, so check every inch inside and out. Damp carpets are a warning sign of what may lie beneath but really you should be looking and feeling everywhere for signs of rot.

Which model to choose?

The V8 models have obvious appeal for their combination of smoothness, performance and obvious charisma, power steadily increasing up to the Vitesse models and, ultimately, the sought-after ‘twin plenum’ homologation cars built late into the SD1’s life. With just 500 reportedly made to qualify the updated car for racing these are now real rarities, and command accordingly chunky prices.

Going the other way, the six-cylinder cars shouldn’t be overlooked. The 2600 in particular is not far off the regular 3500 V8 in terms of performance and potentially a good bit cheaper to buy.

Given the SD1’s sporty looks and reputation it’s hard to overlook the Vitesse, though. The chunkier styling and extra performance all add to the experience if you can stretch to it, while the more luxurious Vanden Plas EFi derived from it is also much prized and rarer still.

Specifications – Rover SD1 Vitesse

Engine

3.5-litre V8, petrol

Power

192PS (142kW) @ 5,250rpm

Torque

285Nm (210lb ft) @ 4,000rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual/three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,500kg

0-62mph

7.3 seconds

Top speed

131mph

Production dates

1982-1987 (total production 1976-1987)

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Porsche 911 G

BUYER’S GUIDE

Porsche 911 (G-Series) Review

The ‘impact’ bumper-era 911 may not have the romance of the ‘60s cars but still offers a cracking Porsche experience…

What Is It?

In its more than half century of existence the Porsche 911 has been in a constant state of evolution, ranging from the detail to the drastic. The arrival of the impact bumper G-Series in 1974 is arguably one of the more significant generational shifts, and though it too went through many iterations it lasted in fundamentally the same basic form until 1989.

Purists will point out the G-Series was just the first and, officially, the letter changed with each model year evolution but, for most people, this has become the catch-all designation by which all impact bumper cars are now known. For many years overlooked in comparison with the prettier ‘60s cars, appreciation of impact bumper 911s has grown, and with it values.

Sadly these are no longer the bargain they once were, though all things relative they remain a relatively accessible route into classic 911 ownership and feel considerably more modern and easier to live with than the earlier cars. While the G-Series provided the foundations for the legendary Turbo, spawned Targa and Convertible variants and limited-edition specials like the flat nose and Speedster the classic coupe in its Carrera, SC and later 3.2 are our main focus here.

Corrosive Areas

Front luggage compartment floor

Sills and inner arches, especially on ‘kidney bowl’ reinforcement panels

Sunroof drain holes and roof pillars

Checklist

  • Early cars used 2.7-litre engines as a carry-over, a naturally-aspirated version of the Turbo’s 3.0-litre motor arriving on the Carrera for the 1976 model year
  • From the 1978 model year the 3.0-litre SC engine became standard fit, the aluminium crankcase considered sturdier though power was down due to emissions regulations
  • The 3.2 introduced for the 1984 model year is another generation on and less likely to suffer obvious oil leaks
  • Early cars may have a four-speed gearbox but the five-speed ‘915’ gearbox was an option many buyers took up; the shift is less positive than the later G50 and requires an experienced hand to operate smoothly but a well set-up one should be satisfying to use; crunches or seriously baulky shifts may indicate a rebuild is necessary
  • Not sure if the 3.2 you’re looking has a 915 or G50 gearbox? The easy tell is the position of the reverse indent, which is up and to the left of first on the G50 and down and back from fifth on a 915
  • Engines should start first turn, idle smoothly, pick up keenly and show a steady oil pressure with revs once warm; smoke or hesitancy are warning signs of issues and, once removed for a rebuild, work can quickly escalate in complexity and cost depending on what is found
  • Timing chain tensioners on earlier engines can fail; more durable hydraulic ones from later 3.2 engines are a common upgrade
  • Rusty heat exchangers on the exhaust system are an expensive fix
  • Bodywork corrosion is the biggest worry on an old 911, even post-1975 models with the galvanised shell
  • Check every inch, preferably with the car on a ramp if you can; failing that remove mats from the front luggage compartment and inspect the condition of the floor, front crossmember, battery tray and then work your way back looking carefully at sills, inner wings, roof pillars, sunroof drains (where fitted), under the carpets and back into the rear arches
  • The so-called ‘kidney bowl’ reinforcements at the rear edge of the sills and within the B-pillars are notorious rust spot that require serious surgery to sort properly – beware any sign of bodged repairs in this area
  • Most cars will have had work done at some stage in their lives; in previous years when they weren’t as valuable this may have been more of the ‘quick fix’ variety so beware patchwork quilt repairs and instead hold out for one where you have evidence of a proper restoration by a respected specialist

How does it drive?

The word ‘unique’ is much over-used but, truly, nothing else drives like a 911 and a well-sorted impact bumper Carrera offers a fantastic balance of usable performance to be enjoyed as much on a long cruise as on a twisty back road or mountain pass. The small on-road footprint, the upright windscreen and excellent all-round visibility make it easy to place and very exploitable, there being surprising muscularity to the controls for what is a relatively light car.

Quirks like the offset driving position, floor-hinged pedals and wide-hipped stance soon become charming rather than strange, while the breathy bark of that air-cooled flat-six is a fundamental part of the magic. In standard form you’re looking at around 200PS (147kW) depending on the model and which engine it has, which sounds modest but translates to perfectly usable and enjoyable performance on the road thanks to the broad power band.

The much-hyped tail-heavy handling is less of an issue in these cars, especially when you get into the slow-in, fast-out groove the car naturally encourages through its very obvious feedback at the wheel. A good one is, quite simply, a joy to drive.

 What’s good?

Half a century on, the shock of the impact bumper look has subsided and appreciation of how neatly Porsche integrated this legislative requirement into the 911 shape has grown. The interchangeability of Porsche parts is, meanwhile, a blessing and a curse, meaning many G-Series cars have been ‘backdated’ to look like older ones, hot-rodded or otherwise modified.

This is all part of the scene but an original, wingless SC or 3.2 Carrera on Fuchs wheels has an elegant, late ‘70s simplicity about it many now covet. And with usable rear seats for the kids, good long-distance refinement and that iconic shape an impact bumper 911 makes for a very usable classic, more than capable of regular driving on modern roads.

There’s obviously a huge scene supporting these cars, and many talented and skilled specialists around to restore them and keep them running properly. Once you’ve had your fun a good one will always be in demand and easy to sell on to the next enthusiast seeking to live the air-cooled 911 dream, too.

What’s bad?

Given the impact bumper cars were, for a long time, considered the cheap route into classic 911 ownership and have now been on the road many decades many will have suffered from ‘make do and mend’ upkeep the inherent strength and build quality of the base car will have permitted. But these are still high-performance, precision instruments and any shortcuts by previous owners can bite you expensively on the backside if you’re suckered into a car that flatters to deceive.

Engines are inherently strong but big jobs and rebuilds quickly escalate in cost and complexity if you’re unlucky. But that’s nothing against the cost of sorting out a rusty car, of which there are sadly many lurking ready to tempt the unwary. Nothing comes cheaply with a 911 and a bad car could quickly land you multiple five-figure bills if you’re doing a proper job of it. Choose carefully, seek expert advice where possible and scrutinise every last bit of the history for a sense of what you’re getting into.

Which model to choose?

For years a forgotten model word is now out about the early mechanical fuel injection 2.7 Carreras, which basically ran the engine from the legendary 2.7 RS. These are now sought-after and valuable, the 3.0-litre ‘Carrera 3’ that replaced it in 1975 also highly regarded. The range was updated with a new 3.0-litre engine for the SC in 1978, emissions regs meaning it was actually down on power, though this was steadily addressed and balance restored by the early 1980s.

The big change came in 1984 with the introduction of the bigger, torquier 3.2-litre engine and, in 1987, the sturdier ‘G50’ gearbox. If you want a more modern feeling car these late versions have obvious appeal, though appreciation of the SC’s lighter, revvier nature has grown among purists and, if it was our money, an early ‘80s one with the 204PS (150kW) 3.0-litre engine, no wing and on Fuchs wheels would be top of the wishlist.

Targas and convertibles remain popular but, while they can be a bit more affordable to buy, they’ll be no cheaper to restore or run so the coupe remains the more desirable bodystyle.

Specifications – 1981 Porsche 911 SC 3.0

Engine

3.0-litre six-cylinder, petrol

Power

204PS (150kW) @ 5,900rpm

Torque

267Nm (197lb ft) @ 4,300rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,160kg

0-62mph

6.8 seconds

Top speed

146mph

Production dates

1978-1984 (entire G-Series production 1974-1989)

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Mazda MX-5 (NB)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Mazda MX-5 (NB) Review

As first-generation MX-5s get collectable and more expensive attention is turning to its successor as a source of cheap thrills…

What Is It?

After nine years on sale, the first-generation – or NA – MX-5 was in need of an update to stay relevant, its NB successor building on the same foundations with a modernised and more substantial feel. Out went the iconic pop-up lights, Mazda compensating for the less distinctive look with a stiffer shell for sharper handling, more luxurious interior for improved refinement and – on later versions – more powerful engines and a six-speed gearbox.

While it’s true the real MX-5 enthusiasts still covet the NA for its cuter looks and originality, the NB is just as fun to drive, considerably more civilised to live with and much more plentiful and affordable to buy.  

Corrosive Areas

Front chassis legs

Sills

Rear arches

Checklist

  • With the same basic engine, transmission, suspension and brakes the NB MX-5 shares the original’s reputation for mechanical simplicity, toughness and ease of maintenance, making it an attractive choice for the DIY enthusiast
  • The 1.6 and 1.8 engines are fundamentally the same as the previous version, though breathing was improved with a new 4-2-1 exhaust manifold and, on the 1.8, a variable-length intake system known as VICS
  • As with the Mk1 make sure you check the obvious things, like levels for coolant and oil, signs of emulsification in the latter on the inside of the oil filler cap and obvious leaks; cambelts need replacing every five years so factor this into your first service if there’s no evidence of it being done recently
  • The NB was significantly updated in 2001 with an obvious facelift – look for the triple-lens headlights, bigger air intake and foglights (or blanks) on the outer edges of the front bumper as the obvious signifiers; you may hear these cars referred to in some circles as NB2 or Mk2.5 cars
  • The post-2001 1.8 gained variable intake valve timing branded as S-VT and increasing power from 140PS (103kW) to 146PS (107kW), torque climbing from 162Nm (119lb ft) to 168Nm (124lb ft); while the six-speed gearbox only fractionally improved acceleration and top speed figures it means improved flexibility and high-speed refinement
  • Rust is the biggest killer of NB MX-5s, so should be top of your list of things to look out for; sills and rear wheelarches are common spots and many cars will have had some manner of repair or patching done here so check for the quality of the work and have a proper poke around, especially where the sills join the rear arches
  • Visible rust is one thing and an indicator of what may lurk deeper within, so, if possible, get the car on a ramp and remove the undertray for a good sense of whether the front chassis legs are sound or not – these are double skinned and can rust from the inside out so check thoroughly as rot can often be terminal
  • While it’s up on the ramp check the condition of the floorpan and sills; the powerframe linking the gearbox and differential, the subframes and the suspension arms will likely have surface rust on them but look carefully at inner wings, suspension mounts and for any damage to the chassis rails from speed bumps or poor jacking
  • Feel around the interior for wet carpets or other signs of a leaking roof or blocked drain holes

How does it drive?

One of the original MX-5’s literal weaknesses was its rather flexy body, the scuttle shake over bumpy surfaces detracting from its otherwise perfect handling. For the NB Mazda stuck with the same overall powertrain and structure (the dimensions are pretty much identical) but stiffened things up with some carefully targeted reinforcement in areas like the A-pillars, transmission tunnel, floorpan and sills.

It’s a little heavier like-for-like as a result, but only to the tune of 50kg or so. As such it maintains that delicate balance and sense of agility, but feels more substantial without the wobbles and rattles you sometimes get in the NA.

Post-2001 1.8s with the updated engine, variable valve timing and six-speed gearbox therefore feel a significant step on in capability, without corrupting the MX-5 character we all love. Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip diff on Sport models were another welcome addition for UK buyers.

 What’s good?

While the interior is actually fundamentally similar the NB is testament to what a difference a few squishy bits of interior trim and fancier switchgear can make to the overall ambience of a car. Little things like the glass rear screen on the hood (Mazda being Mazda the engineers achieved this AND a weight-saving over the previous arrangement) help with daily refinement and, as the car evolved, specifications got steadily more luxurious. Moving the spare wheel and battery from inside the boot to under it also helps practicality, and the sense of it being a more grown-up, higher-quality vehicle.

The revviness of that later 1.8 combined with the six-speed gearbox and limited-slip diff also make the NB feel a much more modern, grown-up proposition without messing with the MX-5’s natural playfulness.

For buyers the fact they’re younger and, perhaps, a tad less desirable than the NA means these second-generation cars are much more affordable to buy as well.

What’s bad?

Unfortunately not all of Mazda’s upgrades to the body were as welcome as others, the double-skinned front chassis legs turning out to become a notorious rust trap where terminal corrosion can take hold and wreak unseen havoc on an otherwise solid looking car.

This, and the existing problem areas like the sills and rear arches, mean many otherwise appealing NBs have been lost because the values are such it doesn’t make economic sense to repair them properly. And a lot of that is down to the fact that, best will in the world and for all the objective improvements, the NB will always live in the shadow of its cuter predecessor.

Which model to choose?

Given the earlier NBs are closer in spirit to the previous-generation MX-5 but lack some of the charm it can feel harder to make a case for them. In terms of engine while the 1.6 was more appealing in the previous car the small weight increase means the 1.8 is probably the more desirable option here. The more so when combined with the Bilstein dampers, limited-slip diff and six-speed gearbox combination seen in some limited editions like the Icon and 10th Anniversary, and then the post-2001 Sport model.

You can see where this is going and, for the clear ground it puts between itself and the first-gen MX-5, we’d probably hold out for a later 1.8i Sport with the variable valve timing if possible, though there are bargains to be had and if a genuinely rust-free example of a five-speed car or earlier version came into view we’d be seriously tempted. 

Specifications – Mazda MX-5 1.8i Sport (2001-2005)

Engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

146PS (107kW) @ 7,000rpm

Torque

168Nm (124lb ft) @ 5,000rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,100kg

0-62mph

8.4 seconds

Top speed

129mph

Production dates

1998-2005 (total production)

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Volvo 240

BUYER’S GUIDE

Volvo 240 Review

Once derided as dull and a bit worthy, the Volvo 240’s unmistakeable looks and distinctive Swedish character are once again being celebrated…

What Is It?

Whether or not virtue signalling was a thing back then, if you wanted to broadcast your right-on credentials in the ‘70s and ‘80s a Volvo 240 estate was the vehicle of choice, preferably with a back window decorated with Greenpeace and ‘Nuclear power? No thanks!’ stickers. Bolstered by Volvo’s dedication to safety, the 240 offered bombproof build quality and understated luxury with a Scandinavian twist, and with it a clear statement you were opting out of the hierarchical, status driven mindset of other premium brands. Something Volvo has successfully reimagined for the modern day, as it happens.

BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar buyers may have sniggered at the blocky, anti-fashion looks and decidedly non-sporting character of the 240 but owners loved it, and it thrived for nearly two decades in fundamentally the same form. For all its supposed fuddy-duddy image the 240 also had its more glamorous derivatives, including a two-door, six-cylinder 260 models, a stylish Bertone-styled coupe and, in some markets, turbocharged performance models inspired by Volvo’s dalliances in touring car racing and rallying.

Corrosive Areas

Front wings, inner and outer

Sills and floorpan

Boot floor and spare wheel well

Checklist

  • To the uninitiated, Volvo’s model nomenclature seems somewhat bewildering, though there is logic to it – based around the 200-series the second digit signifies cylinder count and the third the number of doors, so 242, 244 and 245 would, respectively, be four-cylinder coupe, saloon and estate while 260s are the six-cylinder versions
  • Trim levels are then signified by the letters that follow, generally progressing through DL, GL, GLE and GLT for most of the car’s life
  • Naming was simplified towards the end, when all were simply called 240s – this has since been informally adopted as a catch-all designation for all the 200-series
  • Apart from the earliest cars most 200-series cars use Volvo’s ‘red block’ overhead cam four-cylinder engine in either 2.1 or 2.3-litre form, with fuelling by carburettor or fuel injection according to the trim line; turbocharged cars were available in some markets and provided the basis for racing and rallying versions
  • All versions of this engine are considered tough and long-lasting when cared for properly, though the usual checks for contaminated oil or coolant should be performed and any top-end rattles should be investigated
  • The ‘PRV’ V6 was offered as the more premium choice in the 260 range and uprated to 2.8 litres in 1980 – these later engines are somewhat prone to top-end oil starvation and premature cam wear
  • The 260 was phased out as a standalone model in the early ‘80s, though V6 six-cylinder versions were still offered within the range after this
  • A VW-supplied six-cylinder diesel engine was offered in some markets and considered refined for its type, if not especially fast
  • Transmissions ranged from four-speed manuals with overdrive (later updated to a five-speed) or three-speed automatics, replaced later by a four-speed unit
  • All transmissions are generally tough, though manuals can leak from the rear seal and can be damaged if the oil level drops; if testing an automatic make sure it shifts smoothly and doesn’t slip out of gear or hunt for ratios; 240s are – or were – popular tow cars as well so if fitted with a towbar pay extra attention to the transmission and rear suspension for additional wear
  • Early 200-series cars had round headlights recessed into square housings either side of the grille and reminiscent of the somewhat ungainly Volvo Experimental Safety Car that inspired it; these were replaced in a 1978 facelift with the flush-fitting square lights most now associate with the model
  • Volvo applied constant detail updates to the range over the course of its life, with bigger rear lights, revised trim line-ups and, in 1981, a new dash design with larger instrument binnacle
  • Rear-facing, boot-mounted additional seats were a popular option for the estate, Volvo reinforcing the floor area where equipped to protect occupants from rear-end collisions
  • While better protected from rust than many contemporaries (post-1988 cars gained more galvanised panels) the 200-series has known weak-spots, including the front wings, inner and outer arches, lower windscreen surround and scuttle and the three-part sills; spare wheel wells can also retain water and rot out

How does it drive?

If you crave excitement at the wheel it’s probably safe to say you won’t find it in a Volvo of this vintage. Which isn’t to say it’s without charm, the proven combination of rack and pinion steering, independent McPherson strut front suspension and a live axle at the back all built with simplicity, longevity and toughness in mind.

As proven in the day, with the right tweaks the 200-series could even cut it as a competition car and there’s a small but passionate modding scene based around crazy turbo upgrades, engine swaps and drift car conversions if that’s your bag. Back in the real world a 240 is probably best enjoyed at a more relaxed pace, where the understressed engines, reassuringly substantial construction and thoughtful ergonomics make it a lovely place to spend time.

Where sold, the GT models (later sold as GLTs) did make a tacit nod to more spirited drivers, with beefed up suspension and other handling upgrades.

 What’s good?

Well, if the idea of driving an older car appeals but the lack of safety relative to the more modern ones around you doesn’t the 240 is still a sensible bet on that score! Joking aside, this car was built at the height of Volvo’s powers as a safety pioneer and that single-minded focus has the added benefit of ensuring the 200-series was built to last.

The years have been kind to the styling as well, and what once looked heavy-handed and wilfully eccentric now has functional as well as aesthetic appeal. Dare we say it, the Volvo finally got cool! It is, of course, a very practical classic as well, with tons of space for carrying family and kit while also being relatively simple and easy to work on if you fancy getting busy with the spanners yourself.

What’s bad?

While Volvo did a better job than most of its contemporaries in terms of build quality and rust proofing there’s no escaping corrosion is going to be the biggest potential expense. Common spots to take particular care over include the lower edges of the doors, which can retain water and rot from the inside if the internal drains aren’t kept clear.

This will be obvious enough, likewise bubbles round the tailgate and on the front wings. Of perhaps more concern are areas like the three-piece sills where corrosion can lurk unseen before it gets too late and the front scuttle if there’s any leakage around the lower windscreen surround. Sorting these if it’s been left too long will end up costing a lot.

Which model to choose?

Once you’ve got your head around Volvo’s somewhat confusing naming conventions (see ‘Checklist’ for more) you’ll realise the choice is less baffling than it might first appear, and most of the cars you’ll be looking at will in fact be powered by either the 2.1-litre petrol or the slightly more powerful 2.3 with the differences between them probably not significant enough to lose sleep over. True, late fuel-injected 2.3s have a little more urge and the GLT’s slightly more focused set-up may appeal but, in truth, there are better choices if that’s your priority.

Coupes and saloons have curiosity value of their own but, inevitably, most will consider the estate the definitive body style, even if by the end they only accounted for about a third of production. Given the modernised lines suit the square shape a bit better, you should get the five-speed manual (or four-speed auto) and a few other creature comforts we’d probably err to a car from the mid-‘80s onwards, though really it’s down to personal taste and choosing the best one you can afford.

Specifications – Volvo 240GL Estate (1986)

 

Engine

2.3-litre four-cylinder, petrol (carburettor fuelled)

Power

110PS (81kW) @ 5,000rpm

Torque

187Nm (139lb ft) @ 2,500rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual/four-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 1,300kg

0-62mph

13 seconds

Top speed

106mph

Production dates

1976-1993 (total production)

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Saab 900 exterior

Saab 900

BUYER’S GUIDE

Saab 900 Review

Quirky in both both looks and engineering, the Saab 900’s jet fighter-inspired styling and turbocharged engines are as appealing now as in its ’80s heyday…

What Is It?

The automotive landscape is a less interesting place for Saab’s departure from it, though the cars live on and, of them, the iconic 900 is maturing into a definitive modern classic. Evolved from the 99 and launched at the end of the 1970s, the 900 matured into an ‘80s icon thanks to its early adoption of turbocharged engines and determinedly single-minded looks heavily influenced by a long-standing overlap between Saab’s automotive products and its aerospace engineering.

This found its perfect expression in an advert by Tony Scott indulgently comparing the 900 Turbo to the Saab Viggen fighter jet, this stylised celebration of speed and technology later finding its full expression in the original Top Gun he went on to direct shortly after.

Back in the real world the stereotype of Saabs being the choice of architects and other free-thinking creative types was a perfect match for the brand image, the 900 shared the Scandi cool of fellow Swedes Volvo but with a more dynamic and performance-orientated twist, thanks to the focus on aerodynamics and forced induction.

Corrosive Areas

Bodywork behind plastic cladding

Boot floor

Front valance/crossmember

Checklist

  • The 900 was based on the 99 and inherited many traditional Saab quirks, such as the inclined ‘back to front’ longitudinal engine driving the front wheels, double wishbone suspension with unusual multi-linkage beam rear axle, handbrake operating on the front wheels and early adoption of turbocharging
  • The 2.0-litre engine at the heart of all 900s (expanded to 2.1-litres in some models) traces its roots to a Triumph design and was available in eight- and 16-valve forms with fuelling by carburettors or fuel-injection and in naturally-aspirated and turbocharged form with or without intercooling; turbos are referred to both ‘Low Pressure Turbo’ and ‘Full Pressure Turbo’ depending on trim – you’ll often see these abbreviated to LPT and FPT
  • Identifying which engine variant you’re looking at isn’t always obvious, though the early naming convention of GL for single-carburettor, GLS for twin-carb, GLI for injection and Turbo is relatively straightforward; later LPT models used an ‘S’ designation to differentiate from the full, Turbo-badged FPT models
  • The original ‘B’ engine was replaced by the much improved ‘H’ engine in 1980, though confusingly both carry the B prefix to their official designations; a naturally aspirated 2.1-litre version was added later
  • While the turbo installation and badging will be obvious enough, one quick signifier you’re looking at an FPT model is the boost needle above the fuel gauge that LPT versions missed out on
  • More powerful FPT and 16-valve turbocharged cars are prized but given even an LPT or early eight-valve version had around 145PS (106kW) from new performance is strong on all forced-induction 900s
  • While the definitive bodystyle is the three-door hatchback the 900 was also available in five-door form, as well as two- and four-door saloons and, later, a four-seat convertible
  • The 900 received frequent and detail updates throughout its life, including a new grille and bigger rear lights in 1980 and a more far-reaching facelift in 1987 with the introduction of fully integrated bumpers and various technical changes, including a conventional rather than front-wheel handbrake
  • Aero models arrived in the mid-1980s, the wind-tunnel honed bodykit actually making a meaningful difference as well as looking cool; limited edition Carlsson models with uprated 185PS (136kW) output are rare and beaten only by the Ruby edition run-out version for desirability
  • Engines are considered very tough and capable of racking up huge mileages when properly cared for, though look out for the usual signs of overheating, blown gaskets and unusual rattles; blue smoke may indicate a failing turbo
  • Automatic Boost Control – APC – was added to the Turbo in 1982 and adjusts boost according to fuel quality to prevent knock; it can fail and cause running issues in later life, though
  • The unusual transmission arrangement of a transaxle gearbox integrated into the front of the engine is considered a weak-spot, manuals coming with four-or five speeds while automatics should be a bit sturdier
  • Interiors are generally tough and long-lasting but beware sagging headlinings

How does it drive?

Saabs are as quirky to drive as they are to look at, thanks to both the unusual mechanical arrangement and the distinctive, aircraft inspired ergonomics. Overall there’s a sense of confidence-inspiring solidity, informed by the typically safety-focused Swedish ideals.

But thanks to Saab’s long traditions in rallying and a more performance-orientated mindset there’s also an emphasis on sharp handling, the sophisticated front suspension meaning better than expected steering response and predictable balance.

True, the general vibe is fairly described as nose-heavy and less exciting than the BMW 3 Series you might also have considered at the time, but that’s more than compensated for by the distinctively boosty rush of power on the turbocharged models, especially the more powerful 16-valve versions.

 What’s good?

Saab’s independent thinking has always had huge appeal to both the aesthetically and technically curious driver. And the 900 rewards that engagement from the moment you open the door, drop into the driver’s seat, appreciate the visor-like sweep of the windscreen, the carefully considered ergonomics that prioritise controls according to those you use most and quirks like the ignition barrel in the centre console behind the gear lever.

Some might consider the styling somewhat odd, and it’s true the long front overhang can look ungainly from some angles. But few cars have made three-spoke alloys look good, and the more the years go by the better and more distinctive the 900 looks.

They’re also built tough and, looked after properly, can go on for ever. The huge boot and excellent long distance comfort and refinement also make them very usable, and as appreciation grows and numbers dwindle the good examples are likely to get increasingly sought after.

What’s bad?

While superficially similar on the outside, once you start delving into the intricacies of the different engine, trim and model year differences the 900 range quickly gets very confusing. And that’s just the turbocharged ones. Refining your search is one thing, but finding one will likely then prove nearly as big a challenge, given how few there seem to be around these days.

As such it’s probably best to narrow your search down to a few key must-haves but accept choice may be limited and you’ll just have to go with the best you can find. Mechanical toughness is a blessing and a curse as well, given many will have limped on with minimal care to the point that restoring them to proper condition will now be an expensive and complex business.

The desirable models like the 16-valve turbos and rarities like the Carlsson and Ruby special editions are also getting very expensive now.

Which model to choose?

While the naturally-aspirated cars shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand there’s little doubt a turbocharged 900 of some form or another is probably the way to go if you want the full Saab experience. In terms of bodystyle the convertibles have a following but it’s fair to say the five-door hatch and saloon versions are less desirable than the three-door most consider the definitive shape for the car.

Narrow that down to the super desirable Aero models with their wind-tunnel honed bodykits and iconic three-spoke alloys and you’ll quickly find your choices limited and prices rising.

The heart says one of these – or at least a 16-valve ‘Full Pressure Turbo’ – would be top of the wishlist. But your money may go further if you’re willing to broaden the search to less overt Low Pressure Turbo or eight-valve models, given they still have plenty of performance and the necessary character to put a smile on your face.

Specifications – Saab 900 Turbo 16S (1987)

 

Engine

2.0-litre four-cylinder, petrol

Power

175PS (129kW) @ 5,300rpm

Torque

273Nm (201lb ft) @ 3,000rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Kerb weight

from 1,265kg

0-62mph

8.7 seconds

Top speed

130mph

Production dates

1978-1993 (total production)

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Rolls-Royce Phantom VII range

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII

BUYER’S GUIDE

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII Review

The Phantom set the tone for Rolls-Royce’s modern era and remains the perfect blend of technology and tradition…

What Is It?

It’s testament to the strength of the British automotive industry that, through various twists, turns and sometimes shared destinies, it can support two luxury brands of the standing of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. And that their respective current owners have been able to carve out two very different identities for each in recent years, with distinct interpretations of shared traditions of wood and cream leathered luxury.

For its part Rolls-Royce has, under BMW ownership, been allowed to return to its regal position as the very pinnacle of four-wheeled luxury and status, the seventh-generation Phantom we’re looking at here launched in 2003 and represented the first of the Goodwood-built era that has come to symbolise its recent rebirth.

Even 20 years on a Phantom isn’t exactly the bargain modern classic, and nor is it a casual purchase for running as a daily. But the experience from behind that legendary Spirit of Ecstasy emblem is second to none. Here’s how to live the dream.

Checklist

  • Phantom production started in 2003, underwent an update in 2009 and was then more significantly revised from 2012 for the ‘Series 2’ models
  • Fundamentally they’re all the same in looks and engineering, though Series 2 versions get some subtle visual changes, the most obvious being the switch from circular secondary lights to rectangular LED ones
  • The other big change for the Series 2 was a switch from the previous six-speed automatic gearbox to an eight-speed transmission for improved flexibility and refinement
  • Other versions include the Extended Wheelbase launched in 2005, the Drophead Coupe of 2007 and Coupe of 2008
  • While BMW-based, the V12 engine is enlarged to the iconic ‘six and three-quarter litre’ capacity of old and packs 460PS (338kW)
  • As you’d hope these are well-engineered engines, but not without their issues
  • Check for leaking cam cover gaskets and oil on the block; the pipe from the water pump that runs up the ‘vee’ of the cylinder banks can also fail and Rolls-Royce dealers will charge a small fortune to fix it – specialists can achieve the same for a (relatively) more reasonable cost
  • The engine should be silky smooth at all times – if it’s not check for failing fuel injectors, which are a known weak spot on earlier engines
  • There was a recall for the brake servo in 2010 affecting a total of 689 cars built between 2003 and 2009 – this should have been addressed but check the history of any car from this era to make sure it has been
  • The Phantom runs two batteries – ensure both are in good condition, especially on cars that may not have had regular use
  • Check the air suspension is sitting level and operating as it should – bellows can leak, with resulting strain on pumps; third-party specialists can address at more reasonable cost than dealers
  • It goes without saying that paint, panels and trim on the Phantom are of exquisite quality and should present in top condition. If not, repairs to the appropriate standard are not going to come cheaply
  • While still very expensive to buy, some Phantoms may have led surprisingly hard lives as premium rentals for weddings, proms and other special events, so check the ownership record and state of the interior carefully, and be wary of any offered for what look like relatively cheap prices

How does it drive?

Many Rolls-Royce owners will, of course, prefer to enjoy the lounge-like luxury of the rear seats and entrust the driving to a member of staff rather than take the wheel themselves. Which is fine. But you’ll be missing out if you don’t have a go driving it yourself on occasion! True, the Phantom is an intimidatingly large vehicle and not for the faint of heart in busy traffic. But it’s also a very calming place to be, your isolation from the hustle and bustle outside and very obvious elevation over all around meaning you should be able to make progress without having to fight your corner too hard.

The V12 engine provides appropriately effortless performance despite the considerable weight, the ‘power reserve’ gauge in place of a more typical rev counter a subtle reminder that a Rolls-Royce’s performance is more about sensations than statistics.

The simplicity of the classically styled, slim-rimmed steering wheel is another subtle nudge as to how this car should be driven, the relatively low gearing and well-oiled lack of resistance to inputs encouraging an elegant, drive with your fingertips style that’s all about wafting rather than racing. Genuinely there’s nothing else quite like it.

 What’s good?

While there is a degree of parts sharing with the contemporary BMW 7 Series the Phantom is sufficiently elevated over this and other ‘regular’ luxury saloons like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as to feel in a different league entirely. A Bentley may come close, but still feels a little ‘new money’ in comparison, the Phantom was also a cut above the more closely 7 Series-derived Ghost that followed. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for the ‘real Rolls-Royce experience’ the Phantom remains the absolute pinnacle.

This will obviously be dependent on the tastes and budget of the original buyer, but some of the options for materials, personalisation and special finishes are truly exquisite as well, so if you’re willing to put in the legwork you may well find a car benefitting from another level of luxury.

Then there’s the experience of travelling in a Phantom as well. The famous magic carpet ride quality, the refinement and the sense of occasion all meaning there’s no such thing as an ordinary journey in a car like this.

What’s bad?

The Phantom’s sheer size is obviously a practical issue, this combined with a degree of emotional baggage meaning it’s hardly the kind of car you leave parked on a suburban driveway without raising a few eyebrows. This is luxury at its most ostentatious, with little option for cruising about under the radar if you’re not in the mood to be centre of attention. We’re still some way off Phantoms falling into the slightly spivvy image Silver Shadows gained back in the day but, whisper it, the fashion for prom night rentals and some of the blingier appearances in popular culture hint at a direction of travel that may yet end up in a similar place.

In the parallel universe of long gravel driveways and country houses a tastefully appointed Phantom will, however, always look right at home. At a more practical level it’s safe to say nothing comes cheaply with Rolls-Royce ownership, and while the Phantom is an inherently well-engineered car, you need to face the fact running costs are going to be consummate with the original six-figure purchase price. 

Which model to choose?

If you’re only ever going to let Parker take the wheel while you relax in the back quaffing champagne there is the Extended Wheelbase option, the 250mm stretch freeing up even more room for relaxation. That’s hardly lacking in the regular version, mind, and turns what’s already a big lump of car into something borderline unwieldy.

Given that for all the scope for endless customisation the fundamentals remained pretty consistent throughout the Phantom’s long life the only real decision is whether you hold out for a Series 2 for its eight-speed gearbox and updated interior. The changes to the latter mean more modern infotainment but, fair to say, the Phantom still feels defiantly old-school on this score and if you crave big screens and fancy graphics it’s not the car for you.

From the outside few casual observers are going to notice the difference between the round or oblong headlights and your status will be assured whichever version you choose, meaning holding out for nicest example with a solid history, colour and spec in line with your personal tastes will always be the best bet.

Specifications – Rolls-Royce Phantom VII Series 1

 

Engine

6.75-litre V12 petrol

Power

460PS (338kW) @ 5,350rpm

Torque

720Nm (531lb ft) @ 3,500rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 2,485kg

0-62mph

5.9 seconds

Top speed

149mph

Production dates

2003-2017 (total production, both series)

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