Best everyday classic cars
Many older cars are not just second-hand — they are classics. Some production cars from the late 70s to the 90s have an enduring nostalgia quality as they brought sports engineering into the reach of ordinary buyers. Some cars from that era have become icons as they were built to last and keep on running, and some are just fun to drive.
Here are some of the classic cars that you could think of buying to use as your everyday driving car.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Saab 900 turbo
Land Rover Series
Honda Civic Type R
One of the most influential cars of the 20th century and topping the list of best everyday classic cars is the VW Beetle. The Beetle came into civilian production in 1949. Designed from the outset to drive on the new German Autobahn system, the Beetle had a top speed of 62 mph, which quickly improved through the 1960s.
Over 21 million were produced, and thanks to the car’s simple engineering and sturdy design, many are still going. Volkswagen has now entered a partnership to allow classic Beetle owners to refit their cars with an electric motor. The 36.5 kWh battery delivers a range of 120 miles and a top speed of 93 mph.
Volkswagen Golf GTi
The classic VW Golf hatch has been on the market for nearly fifty years and is still going strong. Some VW engineers converted the sporty Golf GTi family car from the 80s into a sports model as an in-house project. With a 1.6-litre fuel-injected engine, disc brakes, anti-roll bars and stiffer suspension, the GTi skyrocketed in popularity among car buyers and started the trend for souped-up small cars.
Initially, based on the Volvo Experimental Safety Car, the 240 and 260 came into production in 1974. Dubbed the “brick” and called a “mobile armchair”, the 240 was the very model of a conservative, safe, reliable, well-engineered car.
While some early models suffered badly from rust around the wheel arches, later versions have much-improved corrosion protection. It was initially released as two models with six 240 and 140 bhp V6 engine variants. In 1984, the range was “trimmed”, and all the variations were badged as the 240.
Mercedes has been offering E-Class executive saloons as their mid-range series since 1953. Initially, the ‘E’ stood for “Einspritzmotor” (fuel injection) and was a suffix on the model number. When fuel injection came fitted on every Mercedes model by 1993, the letter was added to the beginning of the model number, marking the official birth of the E-Class.
Mercedes-Benz has sold over 15 million E-Class cars, making it their best-selling range and one of the best everyday classic cars. Its large size, great reliability, comfort and power have seen it serve in diverse capacities, including taxis, police vehicles, and ambulances.
The Mazda MX-5 roadster is the best-selling two-seater ever. With the Toyota MR-2, the MX-5 took the place of the 60s British roadster, like the MGB. Thanks to Japanese construction and reliability, it retained its position through the end of the 20th century. Still in production, older MX-5s are readily available and not too expensive.
Some may suffer from rust, but it's not a frequent issue, and the running gear is reliable. The MX-5 has benefited from development over its lifetime, but it has not increased in complexity or size and remains a great open-top two-seater.
The BMW 3 Series was a popular choice for an up-market executive saloon in the early 80s, and it remains one of the best everyday classic cars today. The E30 had a wide choice of engines, transmissions and styles. It's seen many great improvements in handling and driving position, which helped it become the car of choice for wealthy younger drivers.
The early 80s model had problems with rust, but this improved in the 1987 update. Its superior engineering means that if you can find one that hasn't rusted, it's still a solid everyday classic car.
Saab 900 Turbo
The Saab 900 Turbo was one of the first turbocharged cars to hit the mainstream. With 145 bhp, 50% more than the regular 900, this was a comfortable mid-range car with power approaching that of a sports car. Improvements in the mid-80s gave the vehicle's performance less lag, and the ergonomics and interior quality made it popular for long trips.
Nearly a million Saab 900s were made over two generations and twenty years, a quarter of which were Turbos.
Known as the "People's Porsche", the 924 was a popular two-door sports car in the 80s due to its relatively low price. The entry-level Porsche is well-loved for its build quality, looks, handling and economy.
Its performance is 'Porsche-quality', with engines ranging from the initial 2.0-litre 123 bhp to the 174 bhp Series 2 with turbo cooling. Look out for cooling issues and oil leaks, but the 924 remains a fun car to drive at a low price.
Land Rover Series
The Land Rover Series I, II and III are not what most people consider classic cars or even everyday cars unless you work on the land. But they are reliable, fun to drive (if not for long distances) and have a lot of character.
The Land Rover has aluminium alloy panels on a steel bulkhead and door frames. While there can be corrosion where the alloy touches steel, the panels won't rust, even if they are gashed to the paintwork. Diesel engines are rare today and have always been noisy, but petrol engines are readily available for parts.
Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R had a reputation for being a cheap and unremarkable family car, but as it developed, so did the car's quality and style. The coupe version was released in 1994 with a 1.5-litre engine and LSi trim, but the one to look out for is the sixth-generation VTi, featuring Honda's 160 bhp VTEC engine under the hood. Under 5,000 rpm, it feels like any other small family car, but if you put your foot down, it can reach 60 mph in just over eight seconds. If you are buying one, look out for high insurance premiums and some tyre wear and worn seat trims, but otherwise, this is a solid family car that can also go very fast.
Considerations when buying classic cars
Condition: As ever, the first thing you should look at when buying any car is what state it's in. Then think about how much it will cost you to repair or restore? Modern classic cars can be 30-50 years old, and if they are well kept, they can be sweet and reliable. That's why they have continued to become classics. But even a car with a good reputation for engineering and corrosion resistance can have been carelessly stored or had used, so check the mileage, bodywork and mechanics as you would when buying any used car.
Reliability: Some cars you buy because they are just lovely, and keeping them running is part of the experience of owning them. If you're looking to buy a classic to use every day, you want to be sure that you have a car that will not let you down unexpectedly or cost too much time and money in the garage. Cars that have reached the status of modern classics tend to be reliable, but that can have come as a result of a long development period. Earlier models may also have issues that you need to know about while searching.
Availability: Cars that were everywhere in the 80s or 90s can still be found in the 20s because of the sheer numbers in which they were produced. Other cars that only produced lower numbers can still be available because they are indestructible. A widely-available car will cost less both in buying the car and in finding parts if you should need them. A car produced in more limited numbers may cost you more for its rarity and investment value.
Cost: Modern classic cars — ones from the 80s and 90s — are generally available for much less than what you can expect from older collectables. You should look out for maintenance costs as the vehicle ages. Insurance premiums get higher as they begin to increase in value and enter the collectable car market. You also need to factor in running costs and regular maintenance into your budget if you're considering buying a classic car. While parts might be readily available for some of these cars, you might have to search the second-hand market for replacement auto parts.