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Now, we’re not bankers, but when it comes to deciding whether to stick our cash in a low-rate savings account or buy a tidy classic, we know which we’d choose.
On the one hand, you get to drive a beautiful car – a life-affirming experience that should be reason enough to take the plunge. On the other, your new hobby might just make you some money.
Admittedly, you need to do a lot of homework – not to mention a thorough inspection – before you pile your spare change into an ageing automobile.
All the same, there’s plenty of evidence that classics can make great investments: recent research by AXA Art has shown that the value of a decent MGA has risen by 47% in a decade – which probably trumps your pension.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out 20 classics that we think are ripe for appreciation. The best bit? Even if values don’t rocket, you’ll be able to enjoy them on the road.
Target price: £5,000 – £10,000
Born of a collaboration between Volkswagen and Porsche, the 924 was to be a range-topper for the former and an entry-level sports car for the latter. The VW version never arrived, but the Porsche model did, breaking cover in 1975.
Reviews at the time were mixed, with many critical of its middling performance, but it sold well, with some 150,000 built by 1988.
Today, the driving merits of this once unpopular Porsche are finally being recognised. While the ship’s already sailed for its 944 cousin, now could be just the time to pick up a 924.
Prices are climbing steadily, particularly for the more powerful Turbo or S models – although as you’d expect, these are more expensive to buy, too.
The S is probably the one to go for, on account of its 944-derived 2.5-litre engine. Find a tidy example for less than £10k and you could be on to a winner.
Peugeot 205 GTI
Target price: £10,000 – £16,000
A long-time favourite for ragging around supermarket car parks, Peugeot’s 205 GTI was the definitive late-’80s / early-’90s hot hatch.
Launched in 1984 with a fuel-injected 1.6-litre engine good for 104bhp, it combined snappy handling with a lightweight build to set the bar for compact performance.
Alas, sales suffered in the ’90s thanks to its joyriding reputation and the 1.6 went out of production in 1992.
As with the Porsche, 205 values are already on the up – and are showing no signs of slowing. In fact, at the top end of the spectrum, pristine examples are fetching prices in the £30k range – but you don't need to pay that for a tidy runner.
Less than £10k will still get you a 1.6 or 1.9 that goes well, while low-mileage, good-condition machines can be found below the £15k mark. Enjoy and maintain one sensibly and you could be sitting pretty in a few years.
Target price: £7000 – £12,000
The successor to the legendary E-type, the XJ-S was every bit the luxury cruiser: generally powered by a smooth and capable V12, Jaguar’s understated but stylish grand tourer was equally at home consuming motorway miles as it was putting its power to use on country roads.
Built between 1975 and 1996, values have only recently started to climb as the market wakes up to the worth of this capable and reliable model.
Find a well-serviced late-’80s or ’90s V12 example without any clunks, run a compression test and hope prices go the way of the E-type.
Target price: £14,000 – £20,000
Volvo might not initially strike you as a marque likely to garner high investment returns, but then the P1800 was no ordinary Volvo: an attractive and evocative ’60s sports car, it shot to fame as Roger Moore’s steed in The Saint.
The ES shooting-brake version followed in 1972 and is a more affordable option these days than its predecessor, although still reasonably pricey.
While not quite as pretty as the P1800, the distinctive 1800ES still has a certain charm; think of it as the car The Saint would have driven once he’d had a family.
It should be reliable, too: the P1800 was originally built by Jensen, but Volvo took over production in 1963 to ensure its esteemed reputation was maintained.
That said, you can still expect it to have been extensively driven if you buy at the bottom end of the price range; we’d probably take the safer option and spend more on a low-mileage example.
Ford Capri 2.8i Special
Target price: £10,000 – £15,000
Long regarded as a poor man’s Aston Martin V8, values for Ford’s British-built muscle car have rocketed in recent years.
Looking back, the punchy coupé was surely always destined to be an icon: conceived as a Mustang for the European market, it borrowed parts from the Cortina, put plenty of power through the rear wheels and had fastback styling to boot.
Capri prices look to be levelling off after a pronounced climb in recent years, but particularly desirable variants such as the 280 Brooklands and the sporty four-speed 2.8i Special are likely to keep rising.
You’ll struggle to find a Brooklands for less than £20,000 but the 2.8i Special, complete with 2.8-litre Cologne V6 engine, is still affordable – and great fun too.
Mazda MX-5 Mk1
Target price: £3000 – £6000
It might seem an obvious choice, but Mazda’s legendary MX-5 remains a sound investment even as its true worth becomes widely known.
A Japanese improvement on the front-engine, rear-wheel drive, lightweight sports cars that Britain had been turning out since the ’50s, the reimagined roadster was unveiled in 1989 and soon proved a success.
Offering bags of fun and more reliable than its European cousins had ever been, the compact classic became the best-selling two-seater convertible of all time.
Affordably sporty, early MX-5s carried 1.6-litre or 1.8-litre engines and were immensely fun to drive. Later motors were more reliable, but there’s decent availability of spares if anything needs a fix.
There are so many of them out there that you could easily pick one up for under a grand if you wanted to.
If, however, you’re looking for a car that rises in value as well as giving you enjoyment then we’d suggest you invest in a good-condition, rust-free example for up to around the £6k mark.
Lotus Elise S1
Target price: £12,000 – £16,000
Launched in 1996, the Elise remains as evocative, sporty and desirable today as it was 20 years ago.
With an aluminium chassis clad in hand-finished glassfibre, the lightweight roadster was endless fun to drive and handled like a dream, in true Lotus fashion.
Things got more powerful over the years, with the ’99 111S model carrying a 143bhp Rover engine, but a low-mileage 118bhp Series 1 model is no bad bet.
Cheap ones are increasingly hard to come by, but find a tidy example below £16k and, well kept, you're likely to more than make your money back on it.
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6
Target price: £2000 – £7000
Something of an everyday saloon, the 190 might not initially look like the best candidate for investment – particularly given the countless varieties that left the factory. There are, though, certain variants of this understated German cruiser worth investigating.
Chief among them are the 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 models – but prices for these are already prohibitively high.
Instead, we’d opt for a 190E 2.6, which carries a fuel-injected 2.6-litre motor good for 160bhp.
A sound drive that people are increasingly interested in, tidy ones are still available for less than £5k if you shop around – and, as values for its rarer cousins continue to climb, you can bet 2.6 prices will be pulled up with them.
Triumph Stag Mk1
Target price: £12,000 – £18,000
Every bit the ’70s sports car, the Stag launched in 1970 as a 2+2 GT with a body styled by Michelotti and a 3-litre V8 under the hood.
Alas, though, while the Stag might have been good enough for Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, its engine was famously troublesome, suffering cracked gaskets and poor cooling.
Now, though, the tourer’s shaking off its sketchy reputation.
All of its reliability problems are fixable these days, and indeed by this stage in their life many Stags will already have been thoroughly sorted. Besides, later models were generally much more reliable than legend would have it, anyway.
Although only 26,000 or so were built, many have survived intact and there’s no shortage on the market.
Finding a good one may be harder, but choose carefully and you’ll have a classic that will give you years of enjoyment, even if its price doesn’t climb quite so much as some on this list.
Target price: £3000 – £5000
Launched in 1984, Toyota’s boxy sports car was an instant classic, combining an affordable price tag with accessible power, not to mention all-’80s styling.
Independent front and rear suspension – together with disc brakes on every corner – meant it handled beautifully, too, which did plenty to make up for the functional interior and absence of boot space.
With those iconic pop-up headlights, the MR2 was all-but-certain to gain a devoted following – and rust-free examples of the 125bhp AW11 model are already on the up.
Find a tidy one for less than £5k, drive it nicely and you should be set.
Volkswagen Golf MkI GTI
Target price: £9000 – £13,000
Arguably the definitive hot hatch, the Golf GTI has become a synonym for diminutive machines with agile handling, zippy performance and boxy body kits.
Launched in 1975 with a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-pot motor good for 110bhp, the featherweight (872kg) rollerskate could blast from 0 to 60mph in nine seconds – but it was most fun when chucked through corners.
First-generation GTIs remain a barrel of laughs today, their sharp handling and rev-happy motors offering more feel than you’ll find in almost any modern hatchback.
Remarkably, despite the fame of the name, stellar examples can still be found for less than £10,000.
That 1.6-litre engine was pretty hardy – unless thrashed – but many of the 460,000 Mk1 machines built have perished due to the dreaded rot, which means prices for well-maintained cars will only rise in value.
Ford Escort RS2000
Target price: £18,000 – £25,000
Forget gold: fast Fords are rapidly becoming the property to hold if you want to make a buck. That they’re generally also immense fun to drive is a happy bonus.
Any saloon with a Cosworth engine is ripe for a price rise – and many have already shot up, particularly the homologation specials – but it’s still possible to pick up a MkII Escort in nippy 2-litre RS2000 guise for less than £20k. Not entry-level money, sure, but still accessible.
A punchy two-door saloon with plenty of performance, some 10,000 RS2000s were made – which explains why you can still bag a decent one for £18k today. In contrast, just 109 of the less-powerful RS1800 models made it into being and they’ll set you back £50k or more.
Not the rarest, then, but the RS2000 is still a rally-bred legend in its own right and one that’s almost certain to follow the fast Ford trend – provided you pick one that’s original and carries proper RS parts.
Alfa Romeo Spider Series 2
Target price: £18,000 – £25,000
A stunning successor to the Giulia and Giulietta before it, Alfa’s drop-top Spider launched in 1966 and, like Game of Thrones, would enjoy a long and complex life over the course of several series.
Regardless of the model, all Spiders offer an addictive mix of sharp-but-subtle Italian style (the first three iterations were penned by Pininfarina), zippy performance from the all-alloy twin-cam motor and a cracking chassis that handles like a dream.
Cost varies across the models, but our pick of the mix would be a Series 2 Spider in 2000 Veloce guise. It pairs the classic looks of the earlier models with accessible 132bhp performance from the 2-litre motor – all without breaking the bank.
Being Italian, they can be a little capricious, mind. Rust is a major issue and the engine needs regular servicing, while any repairs can soon become expensive.
All the same, buy smart, drop the top and you’ve an investment classic that you can enjoy all summer long.
Fiat 124 Spider
Target price: £8000 – 15,000
Another Italian Spider, this one is still resolutely in bargain territory: never officially available in the UK, the two-door 124 packs a small-but-sweet 1.4-litre motor that delivers zing to match the sparky drop-top body.
Launched in 1966, the sporty, Pininfarina-bodied 2+2 hasn’t yet enjoyed its moment in the spotlight – which means it’s both an affordable entry point into Mediterranean classics and one that’s arguably undervalued.
With understated style and zest to the engine, any standard 124 Spider should deliver good bang for buck.
Only ever sold as left-hand drive, it’ll have to be an import – but trickier is tracking down a 124 that’s been well maintained since the ’60s. Check the engine thoroughly and do your best to locate a rust-free example (which might have to come from the USA, where most were exported to) – but don’t shy away from a mild restoration, either.
Good ones are out there – and if you find one, you’ll have a reliable roadster that’ll serve you well and might just bring a healthy return.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Target price: £15,000 – 25,000
Launched in 1985, the punchy performance saloon was equal parts affordable, practical and rapid, thanks to a Cosworth motor good for 204bhp and a 1200kg kerbweight. Built to qualify the model for competition, it proved an instant success for the American marque – and with good reason.
Less expensive than the limited-run RS500 (the rarest and therefore yours for £55k or more), the ‘standard’ Sierra RS Cosworth is also on the rise.
You can still pick up a good RS Cosworth for £16k if you look hard enough – although if you’d bought one five years ago you really would be quids-in now. Just make sure it’s not a fake…
MGB GT V8
Target price: £12,000 – 18,000
Built by British Leyland at its lowest ebb, this muscular ’70s coupé saw a beefy American V8 bolted into the previously underpowered sports car – and the result was something little short of spectacular.
As balanced as the standard MGB, the combination of a low kerbweight and bags of torque from the thrumming 3.5-litre motor saw the GT transformed into the proper sports car BL should have been building for years. Think 0-60 in 8.6secs and 125mph at the top end.
Alas, despite the blistering thrills offered by that uprated power plant, the V8 iteration was blighted by the torrid reputation of the badge on its nose and the upgrade simply came too late in the day to make it a runaway success.
Which is great news for buyers today: just on the cusp of appreciation after decades in the wilderness, the GT remains affordable despite its relative rarity (fewer than 2600 were built).
Decent examples can be found for just north of £10k, with excellent chrome bumper numbers asking closer to £20k. Prices are unlikely to rocket, but a 0.4% rise in value according to Hagerty last year suggests the numbers are creeping up.
Bentley Turbo R
Target price: £10,000 – 15,000
Refined luxury, stately understatement and astonishing pace: Bentley’s V8 cruiser is a picture of ’80s motorway muscle and iconic to boot.
A stoic yet stylish four-door that can do the 0-60 dash in 7 seconds yet still cruise through Knightsbridge without screaming new money, the Turbo R is arguably the ultimate blend of furious pace and classy comfort. Ideal for those looking to sit in, rather than on, an investment.
Despite its comprehensive package of mod-cons and mighty speed, though, and even with a spike in values over the last decade, the Turbo R is still an affordable thing – albeit one that's sure to continue climbing.
Maintenance bills can be hefty indeed, especially if you suffer electrical problems or turbo woes, so it pays to give any prospective purchase a thorough twice-over and aim for one with a full service history.
Do your homework and it’s possible to pick up a good one for £12k, which should leave you all set.
Mercedes-Benz SL500 (R129)
Target price: £8000 – 15,000
Mercedes revamped the SL class in 1989 with fresh styling and plenty of tech, shipping the R129 in a range of specs over the ensuing 12 years.
Top of the line was the 6-litre V12 cruiser, while the AMG models were naturally the sportiest of the lot – but for the best blend of performance and appreciation potential, we’d opt for an SL500.
Launched in 1989 as the 500 SL with a punchy 326bhp 5-litre V8 engine that could go and go, the autobahn attacker became the SL500 in 1994, retaining the engine, high-spec cabin and attractive shell, with just a few tweaks.
Naturally, the complex electrics can cause havoc if they go haywire, but a well-kept example with a good service history should offer a smooth gearbox and a V8 – whether M119 or later M113 variant – that’s sturdy and relaxed, but lively when it needs to be.
Get a good one for less than £10k and you’ll have plenty to enjoy, as well as a potential nest-egg for the next few decades: values are already a good deal higher than they were five years ago.
BMW E34 M5
Target price: £10,000 – 15,000
A true Q-car, the M5 was the performance saloon to have at the turn of the ’90s.
With sharp yet understated styling, that little ‘M’ badge is pretty much all that marks it out as a sleeper but that naturally aspirated 3.5-litre motor under the hood is good for 315bhp and can do 0-60 in a fearsome 6.3 secs.
Add a manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive and upgraded suspension into the mix – not to mention the even more powerful 340bhp engine that arrived for 1992 – and you have a true super saloon to play with.
The question, then, is not why you should buy one of the blistering race-bred Beemers, but why you shouldn’t.
The answer? If there is one, it’s maintenance: get unlucky with engine issues, rust, leaking dampers or something else and you face huge bills to get it back on the road.
So don’t be tempted by cheap deals. Inspect and drive a range of E34s to get a feel for what’s out there. If you find a stellar one with a good service history around the £10k mark, you should be set – then it’s just a case of waiting until it goes the way of the E28 before it.
Toyota Supra Mk4 Turbo
Target price: £12,000 – 18,000
Another two-door offering that does plenty for Toyota’s sporting reputation, the Supra – in twin-turbo, Mk4 guise – remains an impeccable blend of sculpted styling, Japanese reliability and punchy performance.
Built between 1993 and 2002, the slippery sports car still cuts a dash with its aerodynamic lines and one-piece wing, while its sequential turbos mean the 3-litre straight-six can deliver a thumping 326bhp, paired with fantastic balance.
Always wanted one? Now’s the time to buy: as the new Supra hits the streets and nostalgia washes over everyone who had a Mk4 on their bedroom wall, the upward price trajectory is only going to accelerate.
Strangely, just a few hundred were built for – and bought in – Britain, which means original, UK-supplied examples are rarer and more sought-after. But don’t worry: a well-maintained JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) import will offer just as much fun.
Naturally, the sporty six-speed manual cars are the most desirable, with prices for the best going above £20k, but you can still find plenty of good turbocharged ones for £15k.
Images: Tony Baker, James Mann, Julian Mackie, Malcolm Griffiths, Daimler AG, Haymarket Automotive