Top five bargain sports cars

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With classic car values reaching stratospheric heights in recent years and the market showing no signs of cooling, we've found ourselves further away than ever before from our dream sports cars. But that needn't be the case – the market place is packed full of bargains just waiting to be snapped up.

Here's Classic & Sports Car's round-up of Britain's top five bargain sports cars.

Mazda MX-5

Few cars have had a comparable impact on the automotive world than the MX-5, which is singlehandedly credited with reviving small sports cars – seemingly an endangered species in the mid-1970s. With hindsight, its success was never in doubt. When Mazda arrived in 1989 it staked its claim on a market sector that had been empty for almost a decade, and its design drew on past British successes – notably the Lotus Elan

Unlike the British sports cars that inspired the project, the MX-5 also had legendary reliability on its side, and at a price to tempt even the thriftiest enthusiast. Fortunately, the same holds true today: vast production numbers means that there are now dozens of these magnificent roadsters for sale.

What should I pay? 

Early 1.6-litre cars can be picked up for as little as £500, but at that price you should expect problems. Budget £1500 for a decent example, but make sure the sills are rock solid. If you want more power, opt for a later 1.8-litre model. Just £4000 should secure one of the best – don't pay more.

Our pick of the classifieds - £1995

BMW E36 M3

When the E30 M3 first came on the scene in 1985, it revolutionised the way we look at performance saloons. It took an aspirational repmobile and turned it into the stuff of dreams. Its successor followed much the same formula, but thankfully values are a long way short of the original version.

Externally, the E36 M3 looks much the same as the saloon on which it's based, unlike the more aggressive styling of the E30. It's subtlety hides a potent heart, though. In 3-litre guise it's a seriously quick machine, with later 3.2-litre Evolutions  upping power even more. 

The E36 M3 represents one of the cheapest routes into owning a 300bhp+ saloon, but it won't stay this way for long. It's only a matter of time before car nuts begin to see beyond its '90s styling and treat it with the same reverence as the E30. 

What should I pay?

As little as £4000 is enough to secure a high-mileage M3 in decent condition, with a few grand more bagging you a great example. The very best can demand almost double that, but it'd have to be a real peach. 

It pays to be less picky with E36s. Four-door examples are worth considerably less than coupés, while 3.0-litre versions offer even greater savings. It may not be the pick of the bunch, but it's a brilliant and underrated engine and something of a sleeper. Budget £5500 and watch it appreciate – but beware costly bills. 

Our pick of the classifieds - £5250

Honda S2000

It won't come as a surprise for you to see another two-seater soft-top in our bargain line-up, but it might when you realise that it's the mighty S2000. It may lack the  retro cache of the competition, but the S2000 has a lot to offer besides. The main attraction is that wonderful 2-litre engine, famed for being able to spin up to a dizzying 9000rpm, as well as its still-contemporary looks. 

The earliest cars quickly gained a reputation for snap oversteer, which undoubtedly put off many, with later cars proving much more stable. In truth, it shouldn't matter unless you're being silly in the wet. 

What should I pay?

The S2000 is one of the biggest surprises on our list – you can buy one for as little as £3000. You'll want to spend a bit more than that to get a well-loved example, of course. Around £6000 should certainly do the job. Fragile hoods were always this car's weak point, so check for wear and tear as well as discoloured rear windows. 

Our pick of the classifieds - £5300

Lotus Elise

Small, lightweight and nimble, the Lotus is a special car indeed. We must have thought so – the Elise was just six years old when it first featured on the cover of Classic & Sports Car. It's safe to say that Mazda opened the door in 1989 and Lotus walked through it: where the MX-5 revived the demand for small roadsters, the Elise took the formula and added a healthy dose of performance. 

The Elise first came on the scene in 1996, instantly carving out a niche that it has occupied ever since. It's true that early cars were tainted by the same head-gasket woes as other Rover K-Series-engined cars, but by now any problems should have long since been fixed. Prices are on the rise for a model well-regarded as one of the best-handling sports cars of all time.

What should I pay?

Don't expect to pick-up an Elise up for peanuts: the market cottoned onto this excellent sports car a long time ago. Prices start at around £6000 and creep northwards depending on mileage, condition and trim levels. If you have £8000 in your back pocket, you'll get a great car. You can also be fairly certain of it holding its value, as long as you look after it.

Our pick of the classifieds - £10,950

Triumph Spitfire

The venerable Spitfire has now been with us for more than 50 years, and has been one of the most popular budget convertible since the first example rolled off the production line in 1962. The reason for its affordability is also the main factor in its enduring success: simplicity. 

The original car was pulled together from Triumph's parts bin to take on the MG Midget, which was meeting the demand for cheap and cheerful motoring not seen since its namesake in the '20s and '30s. That meant basing the Spitfire on the firm's best-selling Herald, the chassis construction of which made it an ideal platform for the new sports car. 

Both the Spitfire and its cousin, the Herald, were made in vast numbers, which means that parts are plentiful and specialist support abundant. From parts suppliers to internet forums, keeping a Spitfire on the road has never been easier.

What should I pay?

It all depends on the model you're after. Early cars will command a premium – expect to pay more than £10,000 for the best – while later models can be had for as little as £1000. By far the most numerous version was the 1500, which shared its engine with the MG Midget 1500. It's torquey, robust and cheap to buy. Budget £1000 for a good runner, or up to £2500 for a tidy, well-loved example. 

Our pick of the classifieds

 Click here to view all Triumphs for sale on Classic & Sports Car

 

 

Comments

PaulJ

I must have an eye for a bargain as I've had 3 out of 5 of these  (no Bimmers or Hondas yet - I'm only 60!).

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