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Fancy a classic you can use every day and that has the performance of a modern car, but that feels just about vintage enough to satisfy your thirst for the old?
If the answer is yes, you need an up-and-coming 1990s classic. These cars are hugely useable, easy to run and are modern enough to have useful safety features such as anti-lock brakes.
And best of all, most of them are still at the low end of their appreciation curve – meaning they’re among the most affordable classics out there.
Throw on an untucked paisley shirt and a bad leather jacket as we count down our 19 from the 1990s.
1. Audi S8
Target price: £3-8k
The Stealth Bomber of super saloons burst on to the scene in 1996 and on to movie screens two years later, when it starred in a spectacular car chase in Robert De Niro heist flick Ronin.
But despite its sophisticated aluminium body and 335bhp (later 355bhp) V8 muscle, today it struggles to elbow its way into conversation when the BMW M5’s in town, which is great news for bargain hunters.
Target price: £500-4000
Having turned its back on the affordable sports car market it once dominated and then suffered the ignominy of Mazda’s MX-5 reminding us how great the concept was, MG bounced back with the MGF.
But rather than being an MX-5 clone, the MGF was instead a mid-engined roadster with pliant hydrogas suspension and a choice of 118 or 143bhp K-series power.
They’re dirt-cheap these days and much better to drive than MX-5 fans will have you believe.
3. Ferrari 456GT/GTA
Target price: £45-70k
Meet the most underappreciated Ferrari of the moment. While 550 prices have shot up to £100k, the 456 – the most expensive series production Ferrari of the mid 1990s – will set you back as little as £45k.
But aside from its (relatively) low price, the 436bhp, 186mph, Prancing Horse’s biggest asset is its usability. You can have it with an automatic or gated manual ’box, and its proper back seats make it a much better GT than a Porsche 928 or BMW 850.
4. Fiat Coupé Turbo
Target price: £1-8k
Designed by Chris Bangle, and every bit as controversial as his later, post-Millennium ‘flame-surfaced’ BMWs, the Fiat Coupé is as divisive as they come.
But they’re distinctive, practical and, in Turbo guise, almost Cosworth quick. Prices for the best examples are on the up, but you can still pick up a useable Turbo for £3k, and a naturally aspirated car for half that.
5. Renault Clio Williams
Target price: £6-16k
Williams values have picked up in recent years but it’s still surprisingly cheap in a market where people are trying to sell the awful Ford Fiesta XR2i for as much as £10k.
Fewer than 1200 of these 148bhp rockets were sold in the UK and only half are still around. Don’t be surprised to see the best ones changing hands for £30k+ in years to come.
6. Audi TT
Target price: £1.5-4k
It’s now more than 20 years since Audi unleashed the original TT, but it still looks showroom-fresh. The platform and running gear is shared with VW’s Golf, so they’re easy to run and, in 222bhp, 225 guise, will run rings round an original quattro.
If you prefer your four rings roofless, the TT roadster didn’t go on sale until 2000, so doesn’t quite sneak into this list. But the classy 80-based Audi Cabriolet, once made famous by Princess Di, is another car set for classic status.
7. Porsche Boxster
Target price: £5-9k
Critically acclaimed when new yet somehow criminally underappreciated now, the Boxster is one of the biggest bargains around.
There’s so little difference in price between models you’d be mad to get an early 2.5 slug when the better-equipped Boxster S, with its 249bhp engine and standard six-speed ’box can be picked up for as little as £6k.
8. Ford Puma
Target price: £500-2000
This brilliant Fiesta-based coupé was a huge hit in its day, thanks to Ford’s rediscovered chassis-tuning skills – and a clever CGI TV spot featuring Steve McQueen and a San Francisco backdrop.
Watch for rampant arch rot and forget the sluggish 1.4; the Yamaha-engineered 1.7 is three times the fun and won’t cost you any more.
9. BMW E36 325i
Target price: £800-2500
If you missed out on nabbing a cheap E30 3 Series before prices shot up, here’s the good news: the later E36 3 Series is better in almost every respect, but no-one seems to have remembered.
Even the basic 318i has merit, but we’d go for the 192bhp 325i that can hit 60mph in 7.3 secs and has enough muscle to test the E36’s improved rear suspension.
10. Mercedes-Benz SLK
Target price: £1.5-6k
Does £1500 buy more glamour than this? The junior SL’s party piece is a trick folding hardtop that the real SL didn’t get for another five years.
Not the most involving drive – even in 349bhp AMG form – but as a classy summer cruiser that can also hack the winter months, a basic SLK230 looks great value at a couple of grand.
11. Peugeot 406 coupé
Target price: £500-2000
‘Still want that Ferrari?’ screamed Autocar’s front cover in 1997, and of course we did – but the also-styled-by-Pininfarina 406 coupé was a gorgeous budget alternative to Maranello’s 456.
Nor is the 406 just a pretty face. It’s also great to drive and the V6 versions offer strong performance, yet price-wise the handful remaining are still languishing in banger territory.
12. Nissan 300ZX
Target price: £4-8k
After years in the cruiser wilderness, Nissan’s Z was back with a real bang for 1990. It now looked like a supercar, and went like one too, thanks to a 300bhp twin-turbo V6.
That combination helped it win over the press and buyers, but while its Supra contemporary has already been canonised as a classic, the 300ZX is still criminally cheap. We suspect that won’t last.
13. Honda Integra Type R
Target price: £5-12k
Think a Mini Cooper or 205 GTI is the last word in front-wheel drive fun? You really need to try the Integra Type R.
This little Japanese coupé revs to over 8000prm and puts its 187bhp to the ground through a limited slip differential.
It’s already a cult classic, and prices have risen accordingly, but there’s no doubt they’ve got further to go in years to come.
14. Mercedes-Benz SL
Target price: £4-12k
We’ve already extolled the virtues of the little SLK in our countdown, but its R129 SL big brother definitely deserves a mention.
While the earlier R107 classic SLs will likely bankrupt you if you buy a good one, and the later 2001-on R230 will do the same with repair costs, these ’90s SLs are easier to buy and run, and the styling has aged gracefully.
You still have to buy carefully, but an 300 SL-24 strikes a great balance between muscle and mpg, and looks like a steal at £5k.
15. Toyota Celica GT-Four
Target price: £3-8k
Spare a thought – and some beer money – for the Celica GT Four. This unsung hero of the early ’90s Group A rally years was responsible for two WRC manufacturers’ championships and three drivers’ championships, yet is largely forgotten today.
Which means that while Lancia fans are being lured into paying as much as £50k for an Integrale, you can snap up one of these 225+bhp four-wheel drive weapons for as little as £3k.
16. Alfa Romeo GTV 2.0
Target price: £1200-2500
The V6 versions of this distinctive Pininfarina-designed wedge have started to gain something of a cult following; one earful of that exhaust note is enough to explain why.
But don’t dismiss the humble 148bhp 2.0 Twin Spark models: they’re not short of poke, are less nose-heavy, and are hell of a lot cheaper to buy and run.
17. Jaguar XJR
Target price: £3-6k
Jag’s genteel alternative to BMW’s M5 was the first production cat to feature supercharged power – originally a supercharged straight-six, and then a blown V8.
Rust is one major problem, the image is likely another if you’re below pensionable age, but these elegant, stealthy saloons are too cheap to ignore.
18. Maserati 3200GT
Target price: £11-22k
Memorable for its distinctive boomerang rear lights, the elegant 3200GT was a huge stylistic shift for Maserati after years of the square-rigger Biturbo series.
A 365bhp twin-turbo V8 provides plenty of excitement, but the ace up the Maser’s sleeve is its genuine four-seat cabin: you can’t fit a family in a Jag XKR.
19. Volkswagen Corrado VR6
Target price: £3-7k
The brawny yin to the Integra Type R’s frenzied yang, Volkswagen’s top Corrado featured a 187bhp version of the narrow-angle V6 from the VR6 Golf.
It could sprint to 60mph in 6.4 secs and top 145mph, and is another contender for best front-driver of all time.
The big difference between it and the Integra, though, is that the VW is comfortable enough to tackle the kind of longer trips that’d have you pulling your hair out in the Honda.
Images: Tony Baker, Autocar, Audi