Blue MG F on the road

MG F

BUYER’S GUIDE

MG F review

MX-5 too obvious but Lotus Elise too extreme? The overlooked MG F could be the bargain modern classic roadster of choice…

What Is It?

A mid-engined ‘90s sportscar with a Rover K-Series engine and celebrated British sporting badge on its nose? No, not the Lotus Elise but the MG F, this much underrated modern classic restoring the brand’s reputation for building affordable open top sportscars after the Mazda MX-5 successfully rebooted the genre for a new generation with its clever homage to ‘60s European roadsters … like the MGB.

Having been jolted into action MG wisely realised it couldn’t do the same, the F arriving in 1995 on cleverly repurposed mainstream underpinnings with a mid-mounted K-Series engine and sleek styling from a team including JLR’s current design guru (and Mr. Range Rover) Gerry McGovern.

Now as back in the day, the MG F feels somewhat lost in the no man’s land between the accessible fun of the MX-5 and hardcore appeal of the Elise, though it retains a strong fanbase for its combination of comfort, handling and affordability.

Corrosive Areas

Sills

Door edges

Wheel arches

Checklist

  • MG F first launched in 1995, two years ahead of the Lotus Elise with which it shares its K-Series engine and mid-engined layout
  • First models used the regular 1.8-litre K-Series with 120PS (85kW), soon joined by a 145PS (107kW) 1.8i VVC option – these are faster but need commitment revs to unlock it, peak horsepower not coming until 7,000rpm
  • Repurposed Metro subframes and Hydragas suspension are a distinctive MG F feature and mean great ride comfort but spheres can leak and rusty subframes are considered a deal-breaker so check before buying
  • Facelifed cars from 1999 onwards are often referred to as MkII models and have various detail upgrades, including a different centre console on the interior and revised wheel options, with bigger 16-inch rims for the VVC
  • MkII also saw the introduction of a new 1.6-litre base model, while towards the end of production a CVT auto and limited edition 160PS (118kW) Trophy version were also added
  • Trophy 160 upgrades included improved breathing for both intake and exhaust, stiffer suspension with a 20mm drop in ride height, AP Racing brake calipers with bigger discs, optional forged 16-inch wheels, front and rear spoilers, two-tone colour-coded interior trim, an aluminium gearknob and more – these now command a healthy premium
  • MG F relaunched as the MG TF in 2002 with heavily revised styling, stiffer body, coil-sprung suspension and various other upgrades – it’s a sharper car but less comfortable than the original
  • Production ran until 2005, restarting briefly in 2007 with British assembly of Chinese-manufactured knock-down kits branded as the LE500 – these have a following of their own but many prefer the British-built originality of the F and TF
  • K-Series engine is generally tough and those that haven’t been damaged by well-documented head gasket issues and overheating should have had necessary upgrades by now
  • Issues to be aware of include plastic dowels between head and block that can cause misalignment if the engine has overheated and should be replaced as a matter of course when replacing the head gasket; also beware rattling cam bolts and VVC units; coil packs on pre-facelift cars also vulnerable to water ingress through bonnet vents
  • Usual checks for cross contamination of oil and coolant especially important – if possible check the oil filler cap, which is under an inspection flap that requires a socket set to access
  • Make sure oil pressure and coolant rise evenly and settle consistently as engine warms up
  • Gearbox considered bombproof, but check linkages for play and clutch and handbrake cables while you’re at it
  • Low ride height or overly firm suspension on a regular MG F suggests leaking Hydragas spheres, which can be regassed in some cases by specialists but may need replacement – if left damage can occur to suspension mounts
  • Bodywork generally resists corrosion well, but many cars may show faded or otherwise worn paint and there are rust traps where the sills join the rear arches if drain holes are blocked; side vents and rear numberplate surrounds also corrode and rusty subframes, engine mounts and front box sections can be terminal
  • Electrically assisted power steering can fail but this may just be an easy fix with a fuse or ECU unit under the dash; early VVCs had non-assisted steering so this may also explain a heavier than expected wheel

How does it drive?

If the mid-engined layout is a departure from the string-backed driving glove vibe of older MGs, the foundations of adapted Metro subframes and the Hydragas suspension they carry is rather more in keeping with the parts sharing traditions. The soft set-up they provide might not sound especially sporting but, in fact, are something of a unique selling point for the MG F, given it rides with both poise and refinement that stands apart from rivals like the MX-5, Toyota MR2 or more hardcore Lotus Elise.

The K-Series engine it shares with the latter is a cracker as well, with a revvy character and, in VVC form, enough pace to keep you entertained. True, you sit a little high and, where fitted, the electrically assisted power steering isn’t the last word in communication. But the MG F’s natural balance, confidence inspiring grip and sense of fun are all very appealing.

And if you want this but with a more focused vibe you can hold out for the sharper Trophy version, or go for the later TF with its stiffer and conventionally coil sprung suspension.  

 What’s good?

As the pool of MX-5s that haven’t succumbed to rust, modding or thrashing gets smaller and more expensive and Elise values are going inexorably skyward the MG F remains a very affordable choice, and an increasingly attractive one. Decent build quality and rust resistance also count in its favour, likewise the fact most will have led gentler lives than some of the more obviously sporting alternatives.

Size, weight and performance are all perfectly in tune with the kind of weekend B-road blasts you might want a car like this for and it’s affordable enough to tuck away in the garage for sunny days without tying up too much cash.

And while the vibe and looks may be very different from more traditional MG roadsters, it’s still an unmistakeably British sportscar, and one very much in tune with our roads and tastes. All backed up with a strong fanbase, parts supply and knowledgeable community of owners and specialists to keep them running.

What’s bad?

Thanks to its famously small coolant capacity the K-Series engine has a bit of a rep for overheating, warped heads and blown head gaskets, but this is a known quantity these days. Most cars should by now have had sturdier replacement parts fitted and so long as you’re diligent with the maintenance and checks on fluid levels there’s less need to worry.

Hydragas suspension units can cause bother as the rubber spheres crack and leak (check for suspiciously low ride height or unexpectedly stiff feeling ride) but specialists can repair or replace, or even swap out for coil springs if you’re really worried. Or go for a later TF, which ditched the Hydragas completely.

The mid-mounted engine means great handling balance but isn’t as friendly for DIY maintenance as an MX-5 or older MGs, and regular jobs like belt changes and even oil top-ups can be more of a faff than you might like.

Cheapness is a double-edged sword as well, and means some cars will have been run on a shoestring with minimal care. But there are enough that have been looked after properly, so you can afford to be picky.

Which model to choose?

All MG Fs use versions of the K-Series engine and have essentially the same character so it’s a question of how much performance you want. 1.6s are perhaps a little less appealing and, unless you need a two-pedal car, the CVT auto is probably best avoided. The standard 120PS (85kW) 1.8i is a nice balance of power and performance, while the VVC models are usefully quicker and a little feistier if you don’t mind revving the engine out to get its best. The Trophy is faster still, looks more aggressive and has stiffer suspension and upgraded brakes but comes at a premium, so of the first-generation cars we’d probably go for a nice VVC and save the change for upkeep.

If you don’t mind the stiffer suspension or more modern looks the TF is another option, and one with a slightly different character, the same but more so for the reborn Nanjing era models. But, coming full circle, an original 1.8i with or without VVC according to tastes and preferred driving style is probably the most faithful, affordable and appealing way to enjoy an MG F.

Specifications – MG F 1.8i VVC

Engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

145PS (107kW) @ 7,000rpm

Torque

174Nm (128lb ft) @ 4,500rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,070kg

0-62mph

7.0 seconds

Top speed

130mph

Production dates

1995-2005 (includes UK-built MG TF)

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White Audi Quattro driving

Audi Quattro

BUYER’S GUIDE

Audi Quattro review

The ‘80s icon and rallying hero is a modern classic on the rise and as charismatic as it is impressive to drive…

What Is It?

If every interesting car needs a back story the Audi Quattro has one spanning several fascinating chapters, be that the original sign-off from Ferdinand Piech to the game-changing introduction of four-wheel drive to rallying (and famous wins off the back of it for Michelle Mouton, Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl) or the mainstreaming of turbocharging into modern performance cars.

The Quattro is arguably the car that carries Audi’s modern reputation as well, the classic Vorsprung Durch Technik ideals never better expressed while the combination of understated style and a high quality are still key brand selling points.

Iconic looks, a charismatic and powerful engine, innovative engineering and a rock-solid motorsport heritage? The Quattro has it all.

Corrosive Areas

Sills

Door edges

Wheel arches

Checklist

  • Whatever else hangs over the Quattro, parts availability will be your biggest concern as an ownership proposition; while the reality may not be as bad as assumed it remains an issue for any restoration
  • Body panels, interior parts and random electronic bits may all fall under the dreaded ‘no longer available’ heading, but between the in-house Audi Tradition and respected independent specialists support is out there
  • Quattro gained many and various updates over its long life but the main evolutionary steps concern the switch from original ‘WR’ 2.1-litre to 2.3-litre MB and its 20-valve RR derivative – you’ll often see these codes in adverts as a quick reference for what you’re looking at
  • Iconic digital dash is pure ‘80s chic and was introduced for the 1984 model year, graphics changing from original green to orange
  • Other changes to consider include a 1985 facelift and interior update and the shift from manual locking centre and rear differentials to more sophisticated Torsen centre diff in 1988
  • Group B homologation Sport Quattro chopped 24cm out of the wheelbase and increased power on the street version to over 300PS – rarity puts these into the league of serious exotica
  • Cars built before the 1985 introduction of galvanised bodies need to be checked thoroughly for rust but, given vintage, even later ones need a thorough inspection
  • Engines can rack up big mileages with proper care but look out for smoky turbos or cracked exhaust manifolds, the latter often caused by failing engine mounts
  • Quattro powertrain can throw up issues, notably the pneumatic manual diff locks on earlier cars and leaking rear differentials
  • Check brake accumulator is working properly

How does it drive?

Where modern performance cars have become more homogenous in their driving manners, the Quattro hails from an era when the big German marques all had much more distinct characters. And while the Audi may lack the refinement of a Mercedes or sporting edge of a BMW its uniquely tech-driven approach stands as something genuinely different, not least for its basis in turbocharging and four-wheel drive.

These dominate the driving experience more than, say, steering feel or finely honed control weights, contemporary reviewers criticising the slow gearshift, nose-heavy balance and steering but wowed by the Porsche-beating performance, overall quality, all-weather traction and lusty turbocharged grunt.

The classic warbly five-cylinder soundtrack and all its associations with the Quattro’s rallying heroics helps make it a real experience as well.

 What’s good?

Just as the German brands differed in their driving manners, they all went their own way aesthetically as well, Mercedes transitioning from its chrome-laden chintz to hard-edged ‘80s look while BMW riffed on its timelessly elegant three-box silhouette.

Against both Audi’s square-cut, box-arched brutalism is something different altogether and aging well, there being literally nothing else out there quite like a Quattro in looks. That translates to the driving manners as well and, like so many cars with rallying blood, the Audi’s abilities translate brilliantly to the road.

It’s also a decently practical car, comfortably capable of carrying four grown-ups. Iconic is a much over-used word but, in this context, more than worthy.

What’s bad?

Impressive and clever as it is, the Quattro is perhaps not as sharp or naturally satisfying as some of its contemporaries, blunt styling matched with some less satisfying driving manners. But that’s balanced against its other qualities, and it remains a beguiling modern classic.

Less favourable is the difficulty of keeping them sweet, a level of mechanical complexity compounded by years of poor parts supply. As values rise and servicing that need becomes more cost effective the situation for surviving cars has improved.

But if you’re buying as a fixer-upper make sure you do so accepting that a restoration could hit the buffers if you can’t find what you need.

Which model to choose?

Short version would, inevitably, be ‘the best you can find’ given the core characteristics are shared by all the various evolutions that appeared over the Quattro’s life.

Earlier cars have a slightly daintier and more dated look and lack popular features like the famous digital dash but may have the slightly harder edge in driving terms, even with the marginally more modest power output of the 2.1-litre engine.

For the more aggressive looks, the improved interior and the significantly improved performance it’s hard to ignore the later 20-valve cars, though, these arguably ‘peak Quattro’ for those attracted by the looks and character.

Specifications – Audi Quattro 20V

Engine

2.3-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol

Power

220PS (162kW) @ 5,900rpm

Torque

309Nm (227lb ft) @ 1,950rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,395kg

0-62mph

6.3 seconds

Top speed

144mph

Production dates

1980-1991

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Porsche 911 996 front exterior

Porsche 911 (996)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Porsche 911 (996) Review

Every 911 generation has its day and that moment may be coming at last for the unfairly maligned 996…

What Is It?

The moment the Porsche 911’s evolutionary curve suddenly steepened, and a dramatic departure from what went before in terms of both looks and engineering. Smoother, longer, wider and sleeker, it didn’t help the doubters that the 993 it replaced is, to many, the perfect intersection of 911 tradition and modernity.

A shared face with the baby Boxster, those ‘melted’ headlights, the frameless doors and more were certainly a shock to the system, the water-cooled engine likewise. But it’s still a Porsche 911. And while it’s taken the best part of quarter of a century for the shock to wear off the 996’s time may finally have come, with the window of opportunity to bag a good one while still relatively affordable narrowing by the day.

Corrosive Areas

Inner door catch body mounts

Rear inner wings and arches

Front edge of sills

Checklist

  • 996 Carrera 2 revealed at the 1997 Frankfurt show with an all-new platform and 3.4-litre, 300PS (221kW) liquid-cooled flat-six
  • Early cars with orange indicator lenses and cable-throttles (rather than by-wire) now desirable among discerning 996 buyers
  • All-wheel-drive Carrera 4 launched in 1998, with cabriolet following soon after
  • GT3 introduced in 1999 for 2000 model year with high-revving, motorsport derived ‘Mezger’ 3.6-litre engine and fixed rear wing
  • Found a suspiciously cheap GT3? It’s probably a Carrera with the optional Aerokit…
  • Second-generation GT3 from 2003, distinguished by flat-topped rear wing; more extreme RS obvious for blue or red on white graphics and colour-matched wheels
  • Turbo launched in 2000 with wide body, deployable spoiler, all-wheel drive, manual or Tiptronic transmission and coupe or cabriolet bodies
  • Original Turbo had 420PS (309kW), optional performance kit took this to 450PS (331kW)
  • Turbocharged GT2 based on Turbo but with rear-wheel drive and no driver aids; first batch produced in 2001 with 462PS (340kW) followed by another in 2003 with 483PS (355kW) and thumping 640Nm (472lb ft); both rare
  • PCCB ceramic brakes standard on GT2, optional on the Turbo and obvious by the yellow calipers; desirable for pose value but expensive to replace and many hard drivers prefer stock brakes
  • Wide-ranging update introduced in 2001 for 2002 model year with new lights, sharper front bumper and an increase to 3.6 litres on Carrera models; glass-hatched Targa introduced
  • M030 sports suspension excites many purists, though some consider it excessively harsh for road use
  • Galvanised body resists rust so any obvious corrosion could be a sign of crash damage – check for under carpets in nose compartment for tell-tale signs of repairs to front chassis members and for overspray on window seals
  • Door catch mounts on body one known rust spot, ditto dirt traps behind plastic rear arch liners and leading edges of sills exposed to stone chips from front tyres
  • Bumper mounted radiators and air-con condensers vulnerable to stone damage and corrosion if clogged with leaves and other debris, as is common
  • Rear Main Seal (or RMS) on crankshaft an oft-discussed weakness but if not leaking excessively (or already replaced) can be left until other engine-out jobs like clutch replacement
  • Weak Intermediate Shaft (IMS) bearing another much talked about issue and can wreck engine if not caught but specialists know the warning signs and most cars will by now have upgraded replacements – check history for proof
  • Crumbling cylinder liners on 3.4s and bore score on 3.6s the final known engine issue – it’s less common than thought but if not already done a pre-purchase borescope inspection can set mind at ease
  • Many cars will have been through a succession of short-term owners, who may or may not have kept up with maintenance – whatever the quantity of names on the V5, a fully documented service history with respected specialists is worth its weight in gold
  • Tiptronic autos cheaper to buy on account of being less popular so could be a bargain, though the rest of the running costs won’t be any less and they’re sluggish compared with modern PDKs
  • Handling should be crisp and precise – if it’s not then worn suspension bushings or parts like ‘coffin arm’ lower links may need replacing; this otherwise straightforward job can be made more difficult if bolts and fixings have rusted and seized

How does it drive?

The looks and engineering may have been a huge step but the 996 is still, unmistakeably, a 911 to drive. Feel to the surprisingly large steering wheel is light but a lesson in perfectly weighted assistance and feedback, Porsche’s signature attention to detail apparent in the harmonised response in pedals and shifter alike.

Best appreciated in ‘basic’ rear-wheel-drive manual Carrera form, the 996 is refreshingly delicate and light on its feet compared to newer 911s while still modern in feel but with that traditional light-nosed balance. As always the secret is to manage corner entry speed in the first instance, wait for the front axle to bite and then enjoy the rear digging in as you introduce the throttle.

All-wheel-drive Carrera 4s have greater wet weather traction, Turbos more of everything (a lot more) and each their fans but the extra horsepower and rubber arguably just put more distance between you and the fundamental joy of a well-sorted Carrera 2.

 What’s good?

See above for starters! The 996’s break from 911s of old may have dismayed traditionalists but as a liveable modern classic it’s a perfect blend of practicality, usability and fun, with welcome extra space inside and more conventional controls.

Refined on a cruise, entertaining on a blast and with that ever-present flat-six howl behind you it’s a Porsche you can enjoy with a clean conscience, the vast and knowledgeable community of specialists geared up to support you every step of the way whether you want to keep it stock or enjoy the interchangeability of parts and tuning potential to spice things up.

All things relative it’s still reasonably affordable as well, and while supplies of good ones are drying up and driving prices with them, the ongoing desirability of its 997 successor should – hopefully – keep a ceiling on values.

What’s bad?

The looks get better with age and the driving experience is brilliant but there’s no escaping the 996 will always be the ugly duckling of the 911 lineage. That swoopy ‘90s interior hasn’t dated so well either, and the quality of some of the fixtures and fittings is undeniably cheaper than what came before and followed.

Affordability is a double-edged sword as well, and while desirability is increasing many cars will have been through the hands of multiple owners more interested in ticking the Porsche ownership box than proper maintenance. You’ll have to wade through a lot of Tiptronics, Targas and cabrios to find the kind of 996 you’d really want to own as well, and accept the promise of a ‘cheap’ 911 becomes more fleeting as you hone your selection.

Some well-documented mechanical foibles like the intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing and scored cylinder bores will always cast a shadow over the 996 as well, even if most surviving cars will, by now, have had them addressed.

Which model to choose?

Money no object it would have to be a GT3 or GT3 RS for the thrilling blend of howling race engine, sharper handling and track-based cred, or a GT2 for rarity and the sheer intimidation factor. Turbos, meanwhile, offer a very different flavour of performance that appeals for the still formidable thrust, all-weather usability and more in the way of creature comforts and luxury. Though it comes at extra cost and complexity.

Carrera 4s have their fans, the Turbo-bodied C4S with its signature full-width rear lights especially popular. Cabrios, Targas and Tiptronics offer an affordable entry point to 911 ownership, though running costs will be the same so it may prove a false economy. Leading, inexorably, to the purest and most desirable 996 of the lot – a base-spec Carrera 2 with a manual gearbox.

Our money? It would be on one of the earliest 3.4s, with the original orange indicators and cable throttle, though any rear-driven stickshift coupe would do nicely.   

Specifications – 996 Carrera 2 Coupe

Engine

3.4-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power

300PS (221kW) @ 6,800rpm

Torque

350Nm (258lb ft) @ 4,600rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,320kg

0-62mph

5.2 seconds

Top speed

174mph

Production dates

1998-2005 (all variants)

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Fiat 124 Sport Spider front exterior

Fiat 124 Sport Spider

BUYER’S GUIDE

Fiat 124 Sport Spider Review

More sophisticated than contemporary British rivals, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider is a more stylish way to live the ‘60s roadster dream…

What Is It?

British roadsters from the likes of MG, Triumph and others may have been hugely popular in their day but the Italians were arguably doing it with more style and rather more modern and sophisticated engineering. Take the Fiat 124 Sport Spider, launched the same year as the Alfa Romeo Spider and, from the start, packing a feisty twin-cam engine, five-speed gearbox and disc brakes all round.

While it shared underpinnings with the 124 saloon, the timeless quality of the crisp Pininfarina lines ensured a long lifespan stretching nearly 20 years from its 1966 unveiling and all the way into the mid-1980s. Engines grew from the 1.4 original up to 2.0 litres for the later ones, carburettors were replaced with fuel-injection and later gained turbo- and supercharging for some models. 

Corrosive Areas

Sills

Front crossmember

Front suspension turrets

Checklist

  • 124 Sport Spider (often just shortened to ‘124 Spider’) enjoyed a long life over four main evolutions, often referred to as AS, BS1, CS and CSA
  • Styled by Pininfarina’s Tom Tjaarda, the coachbuilder eventually took over production from Fiat in the early 1980s, meaning later cars were rebadged as the Pininfarina Spider or Spider Europa
  • First cars used a 1.4-litre twin-cam engine, the five-speed gearbox using a torque-tube mounted propshaft to drive the coil-sprung live axle at the rear
  • Torque tubes were found to crack and dropped for the BS1 second-generation, reverting to a more conventional ‘open’ propshaft
  • 1970 model year updates included a new honeycomb style grille, a 1.6-litre engine option and bonnet bulges to clear its twin carburettors – some aficionados considering this the sweet spot of the range
  • 1972 update introduces new 1600 and 1800 single-carb engines from the Fiat 132, power dropping slightly
  • European sales paused in 1975; US-market 2.0-litre engine introduced in 1978 but ride height raised for crash regs and power output strangled by emissions regulations – these modifications can be difficult to reverse so cars of this era are less desirable than later fuel-injected Spider 2000s
  • Fuel-injection introduced in 1980 and restores power output to where it was; semi-official US market retrofit Turbo model introduced, followed by a small number of supercharged examples
  • Fiat twin-cam one of the first mainstream engines to use rubber timing belts – if there’s no evidence of these having been recently changed budget to do this job immediately upon purchase and stick to the service intervals for future replacement
  • Engines generally tough when looked after properly and well-understood; check for usual signs of overheating or head gasket failure
  • Low sump is vulnerable to grounding so check for serious oil leaks and obvious signs of serious damage
  • Rust can strike anywhere – if you can see it in obvious spots on the outside it could be a sign of worse underneath or within
  • Serious structural corrosion can present as poor vertical alignment on door shuts
  • Sill covers can be unbolted to check for corrosion beneath
  • Front suspension turrets another known corrosion weakspot and difficult and expensive to repair; while there check state of bolt-on lower crossmember, which can come loose
  • Loose connections can play havoc with electrics – dim headlights are common but other issues may require a methodical check of all connections and grounds

How does it drive?

Very much as you’d expect of a ‘60s Italian car, the revvy twin-cam at the Fiat 124’s heart was originally developed under former Ferrari man Aurelio Lampredi and as enthusiastic and characterful as you’d hope. Even the original 1.4-litre version was doing around 90PS (66kW), the first of the 1.6s taking that to 110PS (81kW) and all but the sluggish automatics driving the coil-sprung live-axle at the back via a five-speed gearbox.

These early cars are popular with the purists, later models somewhat less enthusiastic until the arrival of fuel-injection in 1980. Fundamentally, though, the 124 is small, light and fun to drive with performance, braking and handling that still make sense on modern roads. Little wonder it was one of the major inspirations for the first-generation MX-5, much of the Spider’s spirit reimagined in the iconic Mazda. A debt repaid some years later when Mazda supplied MX-5 foundations for a reborn – if sadly short-lived – modern day 124 Spider.

 What’s good?

The 124 Spider might not look much like a Lada but both were spun off the same Fiat foundations, taking them in rather different directions but, by degree of separation, loosely including it in one of the most produced car platforms in history.

That’s about where the similarities end, the Spider’s shorter wheelbase and timelessly elegant Pininfarina bodywork adding up to beautifully crisp proportions that barely changed over its long life. So elegant, in fact, even the addition of American impact bumpers didn’t ruin the looks the way they did with many other European imports of the day.

That long life means plenty of expertise supporting restorations or upkeep, albeit much of it Stateside where the vast majority of production ended up. OK, the badge may not be the most exotic. But the provenance of its engine and styling more than make up for it, life in the shadows of its sexier Alfa Romeo contemporary meaning the Spider was for a time somewhat under-appreciated.

What’s bad?

It’s an Italian car of a certain age, so the script pretty much writes itself. And if the rust doesn’t drive you to despair the flaky wiring might just. Given its popularity in the States the usual advice might be to source your car from a dry state in the hope of finding one relatively free of rot, but legend has it the cars were often shipped across the Atlantic in the open air and then undersealed on arrival, trapping sea salt underneath with predictable results.

Then there’s the fact many US market cars were strangled by anti-smog rules until fuel-injection arrived, making them slower than earlier cars or European-market models. Speaking of which all Spiders are left-hand drive as well, which may or may not be an issue for you. Some have been converted into right-hand drive but, frankly, it seems more trouble than it’s worth.  

Which model to choose?

In the way of things purists will inevitably chase the purest expression of any given model, which in the 124 Spider’s case means the cleaner, more delicate looking ‘60s cars with the original 1.4-litre engine or significantly feistier twin-carb 1.6-litre from the second series.

Look out for the distinctive bulges on the bonnet, post-1972 1.6 and 1.8-litre cars still appealing but slightly less zesty. With European sales ending in 1975 (before resuming in 1981) anything from this period will likely be an American import and potentially strangled by smog-restricted engines, even on the 2.0-litre cars.

If you’re heading in that direction better to hold out for a post-1980 Spider 2000 with fuel-injection, the curiosity value of the run-out Turbo or supercharged models there for the real superfans while the 124 Rally is a properly exotic homologation special.  

Specifications – 1969 Spider 1600

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

110PS (81kW) @ 6,400rpm

Torque

137Nm (101lb ft) @ 3,800rpm

Transmission

 Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 950kg

0-62mph

c. 10sec

Top speed

c. 114mph

Production dates

1966 – 1985 (all models, including Pininfarina-built versions)

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Lotus Elan front three quarters exterior

Lotus Elan

BUYER’S GUIDE

Lotus Elan Review

As beautiful to drive as it is to look at, the Elan is the perfect road-going expression of Lotus’s engineering ethos and racing success…

What Is It?

Dinky, lightweight and packed with clever engineering, the Elan is arguably peak Chapman-era Lotus and one of the great British sportscars of the 1960s. A pragmatic twist on the bold but fragile Elite, the Elan put a steel backbone into the fibreglass body and combined it with cleverly repurposed mainstream parts to create a car that was beautiful, incredibly light, fabulous to drive and both affordable to buy and profitable for its maker – a trick Lotus repeated with the Elise some three decades later.

With its pop-up headlights, peppy twin-cam four-cylinder engine, all-independent suspension and cute looks the Elan also set a template for Mazda to reimagine for itself into the MX-5, which has since gone on to become the world’s biggest selling sportscar. Proof, if required, that Lotus nailed the formula decades before.  

Corrosive Areas

Backbone chassis

Suspension towers

Gearbox, engine and diff mounts

Checklist

  • Elan – or Lotus Type 26 – revealed in late 1962 with sales starting in 1963; small initial batch of 1.5-litre cars soon replaced and/or updated with 1.6-litre engine to become Elan 1600
  • Earlier Elans were also sold in kit form for owners to complete assembly at home
  • Series 2 launched in 1964; joined in 1965 by a new Fixed Head Coupe variant with the Lotus model number Type 36
  • Special Equipment upgrade also introduced with power upgrade to 86kW (117PS), servo-assisted brakes and close ratio gearbox
  • Series 3 launched in 1966, changes include electric windows necessitating obvious frames on open cars that remain in place when windows drop, more luxurious teak dash and much improved hood also introduced
  • Elan +2 launched as a more luxurious and spacious option, all things relative; distinctive long and low look is significantly different from the ‘regular’ Elan
  • Series 4 launched in 1968, look for bonnet bulge to clear US market Stromberg carburettors and wider, squared-off rear arches to clear wider tyres and rocker switches on dashboard; Drop Head Coupe now known as Type 45
  • Sprint arrives in 1970 with more powerful 94kW (128PS) ‘Big Valve’ engine and option of Golf Leaf inspired two-tone liveries
  • Sprint liveries iconic but if you’re paying the premium for the real thing make sure it’s not an earlier car in Golf Leaf colours – look for S4 body and correct ‘Big Valve’ stamping on cam cover for starters
  • Front suspension and steering system adapted from Triumph parts; check they have been lubricated and maintained as required
  • Rear suspension uses ‘Chapman Stut’ independent layout using clever combination of repurposed Ford parts and bespoke components
  • ‘Rotoflex’ rubber bushings used on driveshafts in place of conventional constant velocity joints and require relatively frequent replacement – check for any sense of transmission ‘wind’ on acceleration; some cars may have had these replaced with CV joints at some point
  • Ford-based engine is generally sound when looked after properly, though a rebuild if required won’t be cheap
  • Most UK cars used Weber carburettors though Strombergs used for US-spec models and head is not cross-compatible; Strombergs also used for a period on later S4s before Lotus reverted to Webers
  • Cooling system can be a weak point so check for signs of overheating – rock the water pump on its mountings for signs of play
  • Gearboxes generally tough but check for usual signs of wear and unpleasant noises; a tiny number of late cars came with five-speed gearboxes
  • Vacuum operated pop-up lights can cause bother so make sure they raise and lower smoothly and in unison – some owners replace the system with electric lifters
  • Relative ease of replacing steel backbone chassis and even entire GRP body runs risk of ‘Trigger’s Broom’ history but if you want a car to enjoy as intended is a pragmatic way to refresh an otherwise tired Elan
  • Galvanised replacement chassis backbones available from Lotus (look for LR stamping) while Spydercars offers a popular alternative with detail improvements to improve access to engine and running gear for servicing

How does it drive?

By all accounts as well as you would imagine by looking at the specifications. With a kerb weight of less than 700kg, power of around 115PS (depending on the model), sharp rack and pinion steering, all-independent suspension, disc brakes all round and a feisty twin-cam powering the rear wheels via a slick-shifting four-speed manual the Elan isn’t fast by the numbers. But it’s an absolute delight to drive, the quick steering alive through the skinny-rimmed wheel, the power to weight ratio giving gutsy performance at the speeds that matter and the lithe suspension built to make the best of tight and twisty British B-roads.

Enough to make contemporaries like the much-loved MG B feel rather agricultural in comparison, the Elan combines classic looks with modern driving manners that are still relevant today.

 What’s good?

All of the above is clearly a strong start, but the Elan fascinates even at a standstill. You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the cleverness that went into its construction, and how it reimagines for the road the mindset that took Lotus to so many race victories at the time it was on sale. And, indeed, was developed by the same people.

The fibreglass body meanwhile swerves the corrosion issues plaguing most other cars of this vintage, and while the steel frame underneath can obviously corrode it’s also relatively easily swapped for brand new replacements from both Lotus and respected specialists like Spydercars.

Repurposed components from mainstream cars of the era also make it cost-effective to run and relatively easy to find parts for and there’s a large and passionate community of owners and specialists supporting them.

What’s bad?

Well, you wouldn’t want to crash one for starters, the notorious fragility of Chapman’s racing cars is one of the less appealing carry-overs into the Elan’s minimalist construction. If not exactly hand built there was, shall we say, a slight lack of consistency in the way some were put together as well, and niggles with electrics and the like can cause frustration and be hard to rectify.

From home-built projects to modified cars hot-rodded with replacement engines or other tweaks it can be difficult to find examples that haven’t been messed about with at some point in their lives as well, and originality can be hard to prove. Clever and lightweight as it is that (literal) whiff of kit car from the glass fibre construction may put off some still snooty about Lotus’s ‘garagiste’ background.  

Which model to choose?

Setting aside the more spacious but perhaps less graceful +2 variant, the classic Elan evolved through four main generations and then into its final Sprint version which was especially popular in its classic Gold Leaf livery. Each have their merits, the earlier cars celebrated for their purity and, in drophead form, cleaner in their looks for their frameless windows.

The extra power of the SE spec cars and later Sprint has obvious appeal, but unless you’re a real speed freak probably isn’t the decisive factor it might be in contemporary rivals. Many consider the S3 to be the moment the Elan ironed out some of the wrinkles but was still true to its original purpose, and if you’re looking for an open one the much-improved soft-top on this generation is easier to live with.

Ultimately the best advice is to pick a couple of key attributes you really favour and then find the best example you can afford.

Specifications

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

86kW (117PS) @ 6,000rpm (SE trim)

Torque

147Nm (108lb ft) @ 6,000rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 690kg

0-62mph

7.0 seconds

Top speed

115mph

Production dates

1963-1974 (all series)

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Morris Minor front three quarters exterior

Morris Minor

BUYER’S GUIDE

Morris Minor Review

This post-war British icon is a deservedly popular and still affordable first classic…

What Is It?

While the second world war still raged car manufacturers quietly looked ahead to more peaceful times and, sometimes covertly, developed the cars they hoped would get the world moving once hostilities ended. In France models like the Renault 4CV and Citroën 2CV emerged from the rubble to become post-war icons, the Volkswagen meanwhile transcending its Nazi-sponsored roots (with a little help from the British army) to become one of the most successful cars of all time.

And back in wartime Britain a car of similar significance was quietly taking shape under the inspiration of Alec Issigonis. Like its contemporaries it was modern in its engineering, affordable to build and buy and simple to run. It too had a distinctive look, in this case inspired by ‘40s American trends and emerged to great acclaim in 1948 before going on to be the first million-selling British car. It is, of course, the Morris Minor.

Corrosive Areas

Headlight surrounds, door bottoms

Front crossmember

Rear suspension spring carriers

Checklist

  • Originally intended to be powered by a flat-four engine, the production MM series Morris Minor eventually launched in 1948 with a version of the pre-war Minor’s side-valve in-line engine
  • Unhappy with the look of the car, Issigonis enacted a last-minute change adding around 100mm or four inches of width with what was effectively a production line cut-and-shut job – on the very earliest cars supplied with the originally scaled bumper this required an obvious extension to its centre section
  • Original cars have grille-mounted headlights; on export models these were moved to the wings in a look quickly rolled out across the rest of the range to establish the familiar Morris Minor ‘face’
  • Series II car arrived in 1952, born of merger with Austin and creation of BMC; various upgrades enacted, including replacement of original engine with the more modern 803cc Austin A-series motor
  • 1954 updates included a switch to the more familiar horizontally slatted grille, new tail lights and a revised dash with central speedo
  • Series III launched in 1956 slashing nearly 20 seconds off the 0-60mph time thanks to a bigger 948cc engine and revised gearing, the larger rear window and one-piece windscreen other obvious changes
  • Series V/Minor 1000 launched in 1962 with 1,048cc engine – look for orange indicators, the semaphore style ones ditched the previous year
  • Originally launched as a two-door saloon or two-door open top Tourer, four-door saloon and part-wood bodied Travellers followed along with pick-up and van variants
  • If buying a convertible look out for cars converted from two-door saloons – some are of decent quality, others may be little more than bodges
  • Unitary construction modern for the time but contains many and various rust traps in the form of double-skinned areas and hollow box sections – check chassis rails, internal crossmembers, front cross members, floor, rear suspension mounts and more
  • External panels also rust but are more easily replaced, with decent availability of parts
  • Signature wooden frame on Travellers is structural so check the condition carefully
  • Kingpin style independent front suspension demands regular lubrication to avoid wearing prematurely – look for evidence of regular maintenance and, if possible, check for play in front wheels with car raised off the ground
  • Early side-valve engines in MM cars lack power and require more specialist upkeep; A-series motors more dependable, well-understood and have decent support in terms of parts and knowledge
  • A-series motors generally robust but look for the usual stuff like significant oil leaks (especially from crankshaft seals), ‘mayo’ under the oil filler cap suggestive of failing head gasket and excessive smoke indicating worn valves; bottom ends can also go but rebuilds aren’t too difficult
  • Gearboxes improved over the various series; non-synchronised first gear can crunch and even worn transmissions can keep going but look for more serious issues like jumping out of gear

How does it drive?

If you’re buying a classic for red-blooded thrills at the wheel it’s fair to say you may need to look elsewhere, all versions of Minor trade on various degrees of ‘slow and steady’, ranging from very slow for the earlier cars. But that’s fine, and hot-rodded examples aside nobody ever bought a Morris Minor for its performance.

That’s not to say it’s not good to drive, Issigonis demonstrated his knack for building fine-handling cars with the later Mini of course. And for a 1940s-era British car the Minor’s unitary body, independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering were all a big step up from what people were used to.

So, a good Minor should be relatively easy and satisfying for a modern-day driver, with relatively crisp controls and no great allowances required beyond the fact that older cars will feel very slow on bigger roads. That’s fine, but if you intend to use your Minor it’s probably worth going for a later 1000 to stand a chance of keeping up with the traffic flow.

What’s good?

Projecting human traits like ‘charisma’ onto mechanical objects like cars is always a dangerous game but, on the flipside, the characters of the people that build them inevitably find some expression there. Accepting that premise the Morris Minor is a very friendly car, both in its looks and for the positive post-war outlook of what it represented as the country rebuilt and entered the Swinging Sixties.

Its long-standing popularity as a starter classic means that, while perhaps a predictable choice, it’s also a well-supported car, with lots of clubs, specialists and knowledgeable owners to help you choose and then run one, its simplicity making it relatively easy to run as a DIY classic.

It’s also a car you can share with friends and family, whichever body shape you choose, so days out can be a more sociable affair than they might be in a sporty two-seater.

What’s bad?

Popularity can be a double-edged sword, and after decades of use as a cheap classic many cars in the market will have accumulated years’ worth of DIY fixes, repairs of varying quality, modifications and more. So, if you crave originality or just want a car that you know isn’t hiding horrors under the skin you may have to look harder than you might imagine. Or pay the premium.

Like any car of its era corrosion will inevitably be the most important thing to look for, rusty structures sometimes leading to literally saggy bodywork evident in wonky shutlines or ill-fitting panels. As always, it’s not the rust you can see that will be the problem and while expertise and parts for making good is available the work required will often exceed the car’s total value, which brings us full circle and explains why many will have been bodged over the years.

Which model to choose?

An early MM version has obvious appeal for its purity of purpose and expression of the original idea. And if that’s important to you has certain appeal. But it’s a more committed and expensive purchase, as well as being more complex to run, and slow enough to make it a bit of a liability on modern roads.

Going the other way, if, like many owners, you’re buying a Minor on the basis it’s an easy first classic there’s no shame in opting for a later car. The ‘60s Minor 1000 came towards the end of the model’s life but combined the lovable looks with performance you can live with day-to-day. For that reason, it looks a solid bet for all but the real fans chasing split screens and semaphore indicators.

Body style will be a personal preference, saloons having the classic look, convertibles a sense of fun and Travellers the charm and practicality.

Specifications – Morris Minor 1000

Engine

1.0-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

48PS (35kW) @ 5,100rpm

Torque

81Nm (60lb ft) @ 2,500rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

755kg (two-door saloon)

0-62mph

c. 25 seconds

Top speed

c. 77mph

Production dates

1948-1971 (all models)

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MGC front three quarters exterior

MGC

BUYER’S GUIDE

MGC Review

Hated by the contemporary motoring press but a favourite of the now King Charles, the MGC’s moment may yet come…

What Is It?

With the Austin Healey 3000’s 1950s underpinnings showing their age the MGC was developed to create a more contemporary ‘big-six’ sportscar out of the more modern unitary foundations of the popular MGB.

Like many British cars of the era internal politics behind the scenes sadly meant the C never quite lived up to the promise, with production only running for three years after barely 9,000 were made. Much of the blame for this has been laid on the use of the heavy, iron-blocked C Series six-cylinder engine over various lighter motors that had been proposed during development, and the lack of preparation for the press cars driven by the first crop of journalists.

Their assessment that the leaden engine, heavy steering and unfavourable handling lacked the sparkle of the four-cylinder basically doomed the C from the start, though in later years enthusiasts and specialists have since unlocked its potential.

Corrosive Areas

Front wing to scuttle seams

Sills

Inner wings and floorpan

Checklist

  • At a glance the MGC looks very similar to the four-cylinder MGB – giveaways include the transverse bulge in the (aluminium) bonnet for the radiator and a smaller offset teardrop-shaped one over the lead carburettor
  • Under the skin the MGC uses a different front suspension layout, with longitudinal torsion bars running under the floor pan to the inner wings through triangular box section chassis members – check these carefully for corrosion
  • Many of the rot-prone panels unique to the MGC are hard – or impossible – to get hold of, so inspect the underside and inner arches especially carefully
  • Multi-layer sills corrode from the inside out and, by the time you can see the rust, major work will likely be required
  • Same goes for the seams between the front wings and windscreen scuttle, edges for doors and bootlid, scuttles, boot floor … the list goes on
  • 9-litre six-cylinder is thankfully tough, proven and under stressed so shouldn’t be cause for too much concern if looked after properly and the usual checks for the condition of oil and coolant indicate a clean bill of health
  • All-synchro manual gearbox can be a little baulky to use, but shouldn’t make any nasty noises – check the overdrive on third and fourth works if present; automatics should go on forever
  • Saggy headlinings aside, interiors can be revived relatively easily, so don’t be put off by a shabby cabin if the structure is sound
  • University Motors – or UM – cars with Downton engine upgrades are desirable, but easy to replicate; not a problem if done honestly and properly but if you’re seeking a true original do your due diligence to be sure of originality
  • Fat-arched Sebring racers offer a tempting vision for conversion into something fruitier and more muscular if that’s your wish

How does it drive?

While the MGC was the most powerful car the brand had yet built more was made of the extra 98kg the iron-blocked six put over the nose, and the less favourable weight distribution compared with the B. A situation not helped by the fact that the first press cars were apparently supplied with under-inflated tyres that accentuated a reputation for nose-heavy, understeery handling which has stuck with the MGC ever since.

While carrying nearly 200kg more weight overall than an equivalent MGB and, diplomatically, more planted as a result, modern tyres and some sympathetic suspension modifications like poly bushes and rear end reinforcement from a Panhard Rod, Watt’s Linkage or an anti-roll bar can apparently work wonders, while engine mods can unleash the untapped potential under the bonnet.

None of these changes need mess with the spirit of the car, which, on reflection, successfully realised the dream of a gruntier, more mature take on the MGB with longer cruising legs.   

What’s good?

Not much compared with a B, if you follow the herd. But history is coming round to the MGC, and the very fact it’s a lot rarer than its much more commonplace relative adds some novelty value even if most casual viewers won’t notice the subtle external differences of the bulges in the bonnet to make space for the radiator and forward of the twin carbs.

It may be heavy but that six-cylinder is built tough, responds well to period authentic tuning modifications and has a more sophisticated sound and character than the more familiar 1.8-litre four-cylinder. Under-appreciation has also meant values compared with big Healeys and other six-cylinder equivalents have looked relatively reasonable.

And while the motoring press at the time may not have liked it the then Prince Charles certainly did, keeping his Seychelles Blue MGC GT for three decades before handing it on to Prince William as a birthday present.

What’s bad?

Most people won’t be able to tell it apart from a B, and those that can will probably delight in telling you it’s not as good anyway. So, defending your choice to the classic car know-it-alls at the local car meet or pub car park may get tiresome.

Like any car of its era rust is inevitably going to be a concern with any prospective purchase, a situation not helped by the fact that while the MGC looks the same as a B from the outside it uses different panels underneath and not all of these are as widely available (if at all) when it comes to restoration.

In its way corrosion has a nasty habit of progressing from the inside out as well, so a car that presents well superficially could be hiding all manner of horrors within.  

Which model to choose?

Given a short production run and smaller numbers choice is pretty much limited to roadster or GT, and between manual and automatic gearboxes. Transmission-wise the automatic fits the MGC’s stated aim of being a more grown-up cruiser, but most keen drivers will seek out manuals, those with the optional overdrive on third and fourth especially desirable.

Body style will be down to personal taste, the appeal of summer lanes with the roof down obviously a big part of the MG dream while the GT’s coupe bodywork is perhaps the more stylish and definitely gives you more options and space for long trips away.

You’ll pay handsomely for the privilege and need to be sure you’re looking at an original but if you can score one of the limited number of cars bought at the end of production by London dealer University Motors and sold with a range of Downton engine tuning packages you’ll have a properly desirable and spicy MG on your hands.

Specifications

Engine

2.9-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power

152PS (112kW) @ 5,250rpm

Torque

236Nm (170lb ft) @ 3,400rpm

Transmission

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

Kerb weight

1,109kg (roadster), 1,177kg (GT)

0-62mph

c. 10 seconds

Top speed

c. 120mph

Production dates

1967-1969

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Dino 246 GT

Dino 206 GT/246 GT

BUYER’S GUIDE

Dino 206 GT/246 GT Review

“Almost a Ferrari” according to the brochure but, in fact, a template for Maranello’s mid-engined cars to this day, and still one of its most beautiful…

What Is It?

The junior Ferrari named after Ferrari Junior, the 206 GT was originally sold under the Dino branding alongside Fiats of the same name, the collaboration brought about by the need to homologate a small V6 for Formula 2 racing.

For all the apparent caution about having the old man’s badge on the nose the 206 GT was, cylinder count aside, a true Ferrari from the start, with a racing engine at its heart and various brand ‘firsts’, including being the first mid-engined road car, the first with electronic ignition and more besides.

Even by Pininfarina’s standards the seductively curvy bodywork is arguably the sexiest seen on any Ferrari, the metal flowing like a satin sheet thrown over a three-quarter scale prototype racing car, the delicately curved front arches, buttressed rear bodywork and Kamm tail all celebrated in the current 296 GTB.

Whatever it lacks in ‘proper’ Ferrari firepower the Dino more than makes up for in sheer style and effervescence, and values have rocketed as a result.

Corrosive Areas

Chassis tub (246 GT and GTS)

Wheelarches

Rear panels

Checklist

  • Dino name came from Enzo Ferrari’s son, who was working on a vee-engine at the time of his premature death in 1956 and became associated with a sub-brand of small, lightweight prototypes with V6 engines
  • The Dino brand was also used by Fiat in its own series of cars to ensure the V6 could be produced in sufficient scale to meet homologation rules for Formula 2
  • Teased in a series of Pininfarina design studies and prototypes, a roadgoing Dino was eventually shown in 1967 – while the looks were clearly inspired by the race cars the engine was turned 90 degrees to a transverse arrangement with the gearbox mounted below and behind the crankcase
  • Dino 206 GT road car finally went into production in 1968 with a 2.0-litre engine and all-aluminium bodywork
  • After a nine-month production run of only 152 cars the 206 was replaced by the 2.4-litre 246 GT
  • This featured a bigger 2.4-litre, iron-blocked engine, steel bodywork (though doors, bootlid and other panels were aluminium on some cars) and a 60mm wheelbase stretch
  • Easiest visual ‘tell’ for a 246 GT compared to the 206 is flush-fitting fuel filler under a flap on the left buttress – the earlier car has an exposed cap instead
  • 246 GT production is typically divided into L, M and E series
  • L series cars all left-hand drive and identifiable by their centre lock wheels with knock-off hub caps – later cars used more conventional five-stud mounts for the Cromodora alloy wheels
  • Other differences are detail, with minor mechanical updates for the engine, gearbox and external trimmings
  • GTS ‘targa’ option added in 1972; later cars gained popular option of wider Campagnola wheels and Daytona-style seats, often referred to as ‘chairs and flares’ from the wider rear bodywork
  • High-revving V6 is carb-fuelled but the first Ferrari road car with electronic ignition – this can be troublesome, wiring likewise fragile and susceptible to throwing up issues
  • Cooling system can be problematic, so make sure the temperature holds steady once the car is warmed up
  • Chain-driven cams mean engine is fundamentally robust, but it’s still demanding of regular oil changes and proper upkeep – make sure there’s evidence of this in any prospective purchase
  • Gearshift can be stiff when cold, especially from first to second – if this persists or there are any graunches when warm this could point to worn synchros and an expensive rebuild
  • Steel frame and body on 246s can rust from the inside out, so insist on a thorough, expert inspection and documentation of any restoration – most cars will have had correctional work at some point so make sure it’s been done by a credible specialist and not bodged

How does it drive?

Assuming you can squeeze yourself in, the Dino is the original when it comes to mid-engined Ferraris, with an uncluttered footwell, sparse dash, functional materials and – of course – that gated five-speed manual sprouting from the floor. Imagine a Lotus Elise, just a lot more exotic and valuable…

Like any old-school Ferrari the fluids need to warm through before you can engage gear or shift to second without veins bulging on your forearm. Once it’s up to temperature, though, the race-car style dog-leg arrangement makes more sense, with second to third a single swipe and cross-gate shifts to fourth and fifth a click-clack away.

For a small and light car the controls will be surprisingly physical for a modern driver, but once underway the consensus is it lightens up to become a true delight. An MX-5 would leave it for dead these days but if ever there’s a car to prove performance is about quality not quantity the Dino is it, the V6 spinning freely and making full use of even its modest stable of horses and the pace perhaps more usable and appropriate to what you can enjoy on the road than any more modern mid-engined Ferrari.

 What’s good?

The very delicacy of the Dino’s tiny size and modest power output may have been a matter of concern at one stage, but these days appreciation of the stunning looks, the technical intrigue of the mechanical underpinnings and the usable performance are all highly prized among those motivated by more than just horsepower. Because this is a car at least as interesting historically as it is gorgeous.

With a kerbweight of around a tonne, the purity of response of a carb-fed racing engine, a slick synchromesh gearbox and undiluted feedback from all the controls the Dino is also as good to drive as it is to look at. And that’s saying something, given this is perhaps one of the best looking classics of any era.

What’s bad?

The days of Dinos being the unappreciated and affordable ‘starter Ferrari’ have long gone. So, having fallen into the league of collectable classics the usual caveats apply of making doubly sure of the history and condition of any cars you’re looking at, and following your head rather than your heart.

Practically speaking the Dino is very much on the teeny side as well, and a very snug fit for anyone of, shall we say, a modern physique. This may or may not be a problem for you but if you want a car for racking up miles there may be better choices.

There’s also no escaping the fact this is an Italian car of a certain vintage, and while mechanically relatively simple any work will come with the inevitable ‘Ferrari tax’ in terms of costs, especially if that involves sorting out any structural corrosion.

Which model to choose?

While the original 2.0-litre 206 GT is down on power compared with the later 2.4-litre 246 GT the significant weight advantage of its all-aluminium construction and marginally revvier nature of the engine arguably make up for it. This also makes it considerably more exotic, its rarity – most sources agree on there being just 152 built – sealing the deal as the one for the real purists to chase. With a premium to match.

On that basis there’s no shame seeking a relatively more numerous 246, the GTS with its removable roof panel a tempting wind in the hair option while the GTB has the purity of the coupe design on its side.

The centre-lock wheels of the earlier series cars look cool but beyond that the differences are really in the finer details, so really it comes down to condition, price and colour with the usual advice being to buy the best you can afford on the basis a cheap one will likely be a false economy.

Specifications

Engine

2.0-litre V6 petrol/2.4-litre V6, petrol

Power

180PS (132kW) @ 8,000rpm/195PS (143kW) @ 7,600rpm

Torque

187Nm (138lb ft) @ 6,500rpm/226Nm (166lb ft) @ 5,500rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

900kg (dry)/1,080kg (dry)

0-62mph

N/A

Top speed

146mph

Production dates

1968-1969 (206 GT)/1969-1974 (246 GT and GTS)

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Aston Martin DB2 front three quarter exterior

Aston Martin DB2 (and DB2/4)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Aston Martin DB2 (and DB2/4) review

With its powerful six-cylinder engine and beautiful aluminium body the DB2 set the template for the legendary DB cars that followed…

What Is It?

While the iconic DB5 perhaps represents peak post-war Aston Martin the opening chapter for this most celebrated family of sporting coupes started in 1949 with the original DB2.

Based on the frame of the previous 2-litre, the secret to the DB2’s success (and that of the cars that followed) was the switch to a powerful twin-cam straight-six, originally co-designed by none other than W.O. Bentley and acquired by David Brown as part of the purchase of Lagonda.

Raced at the 1949 Le Mans, Aston Martin’s signature combination of luxury and sporting pedigree was assured by the time the production car was unveiled in New York in 1950. With its coil-sprung suspension, power-assisted brakes and lightweight aluminium bodywork over a spaceframe chassis the DB2 was every inch the modern sporting coupe, and was developed into the larger and more practical DB2/4.

Corrosive Areas

Spaceframe chassis

Mounting points to aluminium bodywork

Front suspension

Checklist

  • Aluminium body obviously won’t rust, but the steel frame beneath can while electrolytic corrosion where the two meet will be expensive to fix – insist on evidence of any restoration work to spaceframe and check thoroughly
  • Interior trimmings and upholstery can be repaired by suitably skilled specialists but parts, fixtures and fittings may be difficult if not impossible to source
  • Independent front suspension requires regular lubrication and upkeep – if this hasn’t been done repairs can be very expensive
  • Gearboxes are generally tough and demand a level of physicality to operate, but beware any whines, clonks or other worrying noises
  • Matching numbers originality will matter in a car like this, so make sure you do your homework on any prospective purchase you are confident the history adds up
  • Most cars will have been through one or more restoration, so make sure this is properly documented and the work has been carried out by a respected specialist
  • The small number of cars means most will be known within the market, so if restoration work has been done you should be able to cross reference with the specialist who did it
  • Engines are generally understressed and tough, assuming they’ve been looked after properly and serviced as required
  • Head gaskets and liners require expert installation, so check who’s been working on the car and pay particular attention for any signs of failure
  • Vantage engine upgrade comprised different carbs, revised inlet cam and higher compression pistons for welcome extra power
  • If originality matters check history to see if the car was sold in Vantage trim, or if the upgrade was applied later in its life

How does it drive?

While it started out with a smaller and less powerful engine than the later DB models the DB2 was developed from the outset to be as competitive in racing and rallies as it was on the road, this need underpinning a definite sporting style to the driving experience. For the time the easy 100mph-plus performance, coil-sprung suspension (independent at the front), power brakes and part-synchro four-speed manual gearbox were all commendably modern and, approached with due deference to its vintage, a DB2 is a rewarding and suitably sporty car to drive.

Like any car of its age it benefits from smooth and measured inputs to the controls, all of which will have a level of physicality to them. The strong engine, great balance and predictable handling will all be a delight for any keen driver, and the fact it’s the original DB holds strong appeal.

 What’s good?

Looks and status are, of course, part of the deal with any Aston Martin and the DB2’s smooth lines certainly deliver on both. While superficially similar to the later Touring-bodied DB4s, ‘5s and ‘6s the DB2 is clearly a car of the ‘50s and not ‘60s, the ‘humpback’ body of the Sports Saloon creating an unmistakeable silhouette later refined on the more practical 2+2 DB2/4.

Convertible Drophead Coupes meanwhile have a timeless elegance, trading the hardtop’s sporting cred for a more gentrified touring ambience. Both have their fans. Representing as it does the first iteration of Aston Martin’s iconic DB series of cars and backed up by that fascinating origin story, true fans will appreciate its status and, with all the Bond-infused baggage heaped on the later and more recognised DB5, it might even be the ‘cooler’ choice among serious aficionados.

along the way.

What’s bad?

We’re in proper big league collectors’ classic territory here, the vintage and scarcity (just 411 DB2s were built, with 761 DB2/4s) ensure a level of exclusivity. The nature of the car also means it’s a vehicle demanding of specialist and expensive care to maintain that value, and a DB2 is never going to be a cheap car to buy, restore or maintain.

With the pool of available cars so small it’s likely that most will have been through at least one restoration by now, and as always the quality of the work and expertise of the people doing it will be crucial to its ongoing value. While there will never be any such thing as a cheap DB2 the cost of having one brought up to standard will likely make buying on price a false economy.

Which model to choose?

Sports Saloon or Drophead Coupe will be a choice based on personal taste but, for the sporting provenance, we’d err to the former, especially if you have any desire to compete in any of the many historic events the DB2 will be eligible for.

Early cars with the three-piece grille and ‘washboard’ wing vents have a rarity value given just 49 were built to this spec, and exclusivity will doubtless add value for originalists. Whisper it but the later grille perhaps looks ‘more Aston Martin’ if that’s what you’re going for.

Cars with the uprated ‘Vantage’ spec engines will be usefully quicker, the later DB2/4 much more practical thanks to its hatchback-style boot access and 2+2 seating. A year into production this got a more powerful 2.9-litre engine, which carried through into the MkII version but, as ever, you trade increased power against the additional weight of the more luxurious trimmings.

Specifications

Engine

2.6-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power

105PS (77kW) @ 5,000rpm

Torque

170Nm (125lb ft) @ 3,000rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 1,200kg

0-62mph

c. 11 seconds

Top speed

100mph-plus

Production dates

1950-1953 (DB2), 1953-1957 (DB2/4)

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Porsche Boxster 987 front exterior

Porsche Boxster (987)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Porsche Boxster (987) review

Sharper looks, more power and stronger engines make the second-generation Boxster a modern-classic Porsche for switched-on buyers…

What Is It?

Inspired by Porsche’s 1948 356 ‘No. 1’ Roadster and the 1950s 550 and 718 racing cars, the original 986-generation Boxster launched in 1996 and was an instant hit for its combination of 911 engineering, mid-engined handling and relative affordability.

The 987 that replaced it in 2004 is the car we’re looking at here and, arguably, the sweet spot in the Boxster story, given it stayed true to the formula but updated it with more performance, improved driveability and some major reliability issues addressed. Purists will also appreciate it’s the last Boxster with more natural feeling hydraulically assisted steering, the 981 and four-cylinder 718s that followed it perhaps lacking that final per cent of connection.

Alongside new tech like PASM adjustable dampers and ceramic brakes – not to mention some very appealing limited editions – the 987 generation also saw the introduction of Porsche’s double-clutch PDK transmission, and with it an automatic option able to do justice to the car’s fabulous handling and performance.

Checklist

  • There are three main engine generations to consider: launch models featuring improved versions of the 2.7 and 3.2-litre motors from the previous 986 Boxster and Boxster S; these were updated in 2006 with the 3.2 going to 3.4 and the introduction of VarioCam Plus for a small increase in power in both; the bigger change came in the 2009 model year with the new 2.9 and 3.4-litre direct-injection engines and PDK gearbox
  • A five-speed manual gearbox featured on early Boxsters but most were sold with the optional six-speed that was standard on the S
  • Pre-PDK the automatic option was the more traditional Tiptronic S; given it adds quite a bit of weight and blunts the edge of the power delivery it’s probably the least appealing 987 configuration, but if you want a two-pedal car that relative lack of desirability could play in your favour in price terms
  • Bearing failure for the RMS (Rear Main Seal) and IMS (Intermediate Shaft) are well-documented worries on Porsches of this era; while potentially something to consider on early 987s in reality it’s much less of a worry given any post-2006 cars will have the updates introduced to cure the issues and later direct-injection cars aren’t affected
  • Also much discussed, bore score is less common than many would have you believe but if present can manifest as low oil, a rattle at tickover, smoke or excessive soot on the exhaust tips – if you have any doubts Porsche specialists will be able to perform an endoscope inspection of the cylinders for full peace of mind
  • The radiator and air conditioning condensers are in a vulnerable position in the lower front bumper; corrosion can appear behind leaf mulch and other debris if not cleared out regularly while stone chips can also cause leaks – check the air con works properly as it’s an expensive fix
  • Check roof drain holes aren’t blocked and there’s no dampness behind the seats or on the carpets – water build-up can result in expensive electrical issues
  • Broken springs aren’t unusual so check the car sits level and there are no bangs or rattles from the suspension while on the test drive
  • Bushing and suspension joints can also wear – a Boxster should drive with the precision you’d expect of a Porsche so sloppiness or clonks could hint at worn parts
  • Alignment is also important for handling and tyre wear – check the inside edges of the rubber if possible
  • Corrosion shouldn’t be an issue but high-mileage cars will likely have had front end resprays to repair stone chip damage, while any hint of rust on panels could suggest accident damage and a poor repair
  • Kerbed wheels aren’t just ugly and indicative of a hard life – if left unrepaired they can lead to corrosion and deeper damage

How does it drive?

As brilliantly as you would hope. While the 911’s inherent handling quirks are uniquely rewarding in the right hands the Boxster is a fundamentally better-balanced car, with all the expected Porsche traits like lovely steering feel, strong brakes and brilliantly harmonised controls.

All the engines share the same character as well, natural smoothness and that gorgeous flat-six howl key to the experience. In traditional naturally-aspirated style they need revs to perform their best, with a decisive shift around 4,000rpm beyond which they really take off and pull hard all the way to the redline. S models are faster and more flexible from low revs, and some consider standard Boxsters to be a little underpowered. It’s more down to taste, though, and others prefer the revviness of the smaller engines and invitation to work them a little harder for the same thrills.

Adjustable PASM suspension was a popular upgrade and offers a stiffer setting for track or really pressing on but any Boxster should handle sharply. The smaller wheels are less fashionable but better for ride quality.

 What’s good?

Given you’re getting 911 engineering at a much more affordable price the Boxster has always felt a bit of a steal, the lack of rear seats compensated for by dual luggage compartments and surprising practicality. So, you won’t have to pack light for that extended European road trip.

Excellent refinement means the boring motorway miles will fly by in comfort as well, the ability to drop the roof and let rip once you’re at the more interesting roads meaning it’s really all the sportscar you need. The 987 feels brilliantly engineered as well, with the high-quality vibe you’d hope for from a Porsche. As accommodating of less confident drivers as it is rewarding for experienced ones, the Boxster also has a huge bandwidth of ability that makes it just as viable as a daily as it is a weekend plaything.

All are good but by the time you get to post-2009 S models with 300PS-plus, 0-62mph in about five seconds and a top speed of 170mph you have to question just how much more performance you need to get your pulse racing.  

What’s bad?

While many of the potentially scary mechanical problems afflicting other Porsches of this era were addressed for the 987 you need to buy a Boxster with realistic expectations for upkeep. These are, after all, precision instruments that flourish with the proper care but can throw up issues if neglected. So, when buying scrutinise both condition and history with due care and attention, and if neither add up move on to the next one.

There are plenty to choose from, so you can afford to be fussy. Common issues to be aware of include faulty air conditioning due to blocked or damaged condensers (their position in the front bumper leaves them vulnerable), which is an expensive fix. Tyres and suspension need staying on top of if the car is to perform as it should, but not all owners will have bothered and rattly bushings and broken springs aren’t unusual.

Blocked hood drains can cause expensive electrical issues and clutch changes (beware noisy gearboxes or stiff shifting) are costly but do provide opportunity to check and replace the RMS and the IMS bearing if it’s a pre-2006 car where either could yet be an issue.

Which model to choose?

While there are no bad choices in the 987 Boxster range we’d probably avoid Tiptronic autos, on the basis they feel somewhat sluggish and the performance takes a big hit. Good news? If you want an automatic car the later PDK is excellent, with smooth, fast shifts and no apologies necessary for choosing a two-pedal Porsche.

Saying that, a manual would always be the first choice, given it really dials you into the car and is a delight to use. Over-long gearing is the only real issue here. While pre-2009 cars are great the later direct-injection models are faster, revvier and more robust. A base spec Boxster 2.9 manual would be lovely, a 3.4 S both faster and more flexible.

The ultimate? That has to be the rare-groove Boxster Spyder launched in 2010. Its ‘shower cap’ roof is a limitation but, stripped of 80kg, with power boosted to 320PS (235kW), a standard limited-slip diff and that chop top styling it’s a truly special thing and, arguably, one of the best street cars Porsche has built in living memory. 911 GT3s included. Don’t worry if you can’t stretch to one though – a well-specced S may be less exotic but is pretty much as fun to drive.

Specifications – 987 Boxster S gen two

Engine

3.4-litre six-cylinder, petrol

Power

310PS (228kW) @7,200rpm

Torque

360Nm (265lb ft) @4,750rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,355kg DIN

0-62mph

5.3 seconds (PDK 5.2 seconds)

Top speed

170mph (PDK 169mph)

Production dates

2004-2011 (entire production run)

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