© John Bradshaw/Classic & Sports Car
© Tony Baker/Classic & Sports Car
© Aston Martin/Newspress
© Alfa Romeo/Newspress
© James Mann/Classic & Sports Car
© James Mann/Classic & Sports Car
© Olgun Kordal/Classic & Sports Car
Get away in style – for less
With lockdown easing and the possibility of holidays on the cards, what better than a classic GT for those long-awaited road trips?
Time in one of these is infinitely more enjoyable than being sat in the departure lounge at an airport or being crammed onto a small plane.
Each of our 20 picks offers gorgeous looks, easy power and a sense of the exotic. The essential template is the same – big engine up front, two doors and 2+2 seating, with a choice of rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.
All of our suggestions can be bought for less than £35,000 – some for a lot less than that. Which is your favourite?
1. Mercedes-Benz 126-series SEC
Mercedes’ SEC was among the most expensive cars in the world in the ’80s – but you get the sense such lofty price-tags were warranted thanks to the depth of engineering, high-quality interior (which comes with its own butler for the seatbelts) and smooth but torque-rich V8 engines.
Though you can buy an SEC for as little as £10,000 for a runner, restoration is not cheap, and it’s best to go in at the top end.
We found an apparently very handsome 1988 two-tone 500SEC for sale in Berkshire for £17,995 with 107k miles. If the SEC was good enough for a host of F1 drivers back in the day, it’s more than suitable for us mere mortals today.
2. Porsche 928 S4
The Porsche 928, the only sports car to have ever won the European Car of the Year (way back in 1977), really came into its own in S4 form.
The GT and GTS models have accelerated in value hugely, especially for manuals, but an S4 automatic is a gorgeous way to travel.
From the spaceship interior to the gloriously curvy exterior, the 928 has style in abundance – and there’s similar heft to the car’s performance from its 5.0-litre V8. We found a lovely-looking 104,000-mile example in Staffordshire for a whisker under £23,000.
3. Nissan 300ZX Z32 Twin Turbo
The Nissan 300ZX Z32 Twin Turbo was among Japan’s ‘Big Three’ way back in 1989, breaking cover with the Honda NSX and Mazda MX-5.
While those two have become icons, the 300ZX has largely been forgotten, despite the fact that on its launch it was deemed so good, Toyota had to restart its Supra MkIV development programme from scratch.
The Nissan’s reputation has been a little tarnished by distasteful modification efforts over the years, but with so few good examples available, prices are on the rise.
We found a genuine UK Twin Turbo with a fresh repaint and 100,000 miles for sale for just under £11,000 in Oxfordshire.
4. BMW 635CSi
The BMW 635CSi really is a comeback car. For years the BMW E24 6 Series was just another old GT, languishing in the sub-£5k doldrums and wheeled out for destruction by villains on TV (in shows such as EastEnders).
Now the few that remain are highly coveted – as they should be, for Paul Bracq’s elegant design just gets better and better with age. The 635CSi might not have the ultimate allure of the M635CSi, which uses a variant of the M1 supercar’s engine, but it’s still a potent machine that’s perfect for long-distance driving.
We spotted a 94k-mile 1988 example for £21,750 for sale in Yorkshire.
5. Lotus Excel SE
The Lotus Excel SE really is an underrated gem. While the Esprit and Elise are understandably revered for their handling prowess, ownership isn’t easy if you’re not as, let’s put it delicately, lithe-looking as the cars themselves.
The Excel brings Hethel’s famous ride and handling nous to a much more usable setting. It’s a shape that’s also coming in to its own – and the red 1992 SE we found in Kent with 61k miles on the clock seems to represent excellent value for money for a little under £17k.
6. Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO
The Mitsubishi 3000GT or GTO might be the butt of many jokes for some more hardcore performance motoring journalists, but it’s one of the most effective grand tourers from the ’90s cohort of Japanese GTs.
Blistering performance from its twin-turbo six-cylinder engine is transmitted to the road via a clever four-wheel-drive system, and aided by the kind of active aerodynamics now seen on modern hypercars.
Its styling might be over the top for some, but it makes for a great all-weather GT, if not the supercar its outlandish styling promises.
It’s also one of the cheapest ways into the ’80s/’90s GT club – we found a 1992 auto GTO in York with just over 40k miles on the clock for a little under £6000.
7. Alpine GTA
The Alpine GTA was Renault’s answer to the 944, and despite rakish good looks and eager performance from its turbocharged V6, it wasn’t a sales success.
We feel that it’s definitely worth a look. It might not be quite as luxurious as others on this list, but there’s plenty of gallic flair on offer here.
We could only find a modified example for sale in the UK, but spread your net wider to Europe (and budget for any extra Brexit-related fees) and there’s more choice, and left-hand drive makes more sense if you hope to do a lot of European touring. We were particularly taken with a 1986 2.5 V6 Turbo in blue on 112,000km (69,593 miles) for €28,900 (£24,044) in Austria.
8. Maserati Ghibli II GT
The Maserati Ghibli II GT represented the end of a bodyshape that started with the much (and largely unfairly) maligned Biturbo. The Ghibli II was a much different car, even if the DNA was similar.
Still brutal in appearance, but smoothed slightly with the help of Countach designer Marcello Gandini, these cars have appreciated rapidly in the wake of growing admiration for Italian brutalist styling in the vein of the Lancia Delta Integrale and Alfa Romeo SZ. Performance was strong too, with UK-market cars boasting 286bhp from a twin-turbo V6.
These are rare. We found the penultimate RHD car made for sale in Cheshire at £24,950, now with 84k miles on the clock.
9. Subaru SVX
The Subaru SVX is an oddball car. With a 3.3-litre flat-six and edgy Giugiaro styling, it really stands alone in the pantheon of ’90s GTs.
It arrived on sale just in time for an economic recession, so this is a very rare car, but one well worth giving a try.
We love the Alcantara-trimmed cabin and curious mix of spaceship interior design and wood panelling – there really isn’t anything else quite like the SVX.
Scarcity means that we could only find projects for sale in the UK, with a 1994 example in Essex on 60k miles that’s said to be running, but in need of a few bits for an MoT, for £2795.
10. Aston Martin DB7
The Aston Martin DB7 reinvigorated the brand back in the 1990s with its svelte Ian Callum styling. With prices for the V12 model rapidly escalating over the past year or so, our budget will get you one of the best first-series straight-six cars.
These early models have a charm of their own, and are endowed with plenty of poke – a supercharger-fed 335bhp certainly raises the heart rate.
We found a 1998 automatic example with just over 46k miles on the clock in Norfolk for a shade under £30k – with V12 models climbing out of sight, that’s still remarkable value.
11. Toyota Supra MkIV
The Toyota Supra MkIV might have become an icon of the modifying scene in the ’90s and ’00s, but it’s easy to forget that this winged machine was designed to fight the Porsche 928 and Nissan 300ZX. With 325bhp from its sequentially turbocharged straight-six, it was certainly quick enough.
British buyers didn’t quite take to that enormous spoiler at the time, and very few were sold here. Everything’s changed now – much like a similarly bewinged previous modification scene hero, the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, only the most original cars are in demand.
We found a 1994 example for sale with 100k miles and an asking price of £34,995.
12. Alfa Romeo GTV 916 V6
The Alfa Romeo GTV 916 V6 might be classed as a sports car by some, but the big soulful Busso V6 up front and its abundant torque make it best suited for a long-distance GT duties; the four-cylinder Twin Spark is the purer sports car.
Aftermarket modifications can make the V6 handle almost as well, however. It might be a little cramped inside for some, but it’s hard not to look back on a GTV 916 and forgive it just about everything.
Prices are currently all over the place, but fixing a scruffy example will cost you far more in the long run than buying the best up front. We found a superb-looking V6 in Maidenhead for £12,995 – it had 69,500 miles on its odometer and was in red with tan leather.
13. Audi S2 Coupé
The Audi S2 Coupé had its work cut out for it from the start. How do you follow an icon like the quattro?
Audi’s answer was to use a turbocharged 2.2-litre five-pot inherited from the old car, clothed in a swoopy Audi 80-derived body.
At the time the S2 was criticised for lack of steering feel and a somewhat laidback nature, but these are attributes that make it a great cruising companion now; it’s got a wonderfully comfortable interior, too.
It was never truly popular in its day, which means there are few survivors left now – we found a 1995 example for sale in Norwich for £19,000.
14. Bristol Blenheim
The Bristol Blenheim stands alone on this list – it’s very much a car you have to ‘get’ to appreciate.
The fundamentals are quintessential GT, though: big-hearted V8 up front driving power to the rear wheels, with a fine, comfortable interior.
This car isn’t for everyone, but if it’s your particular brew very little will suffice afterwards. We found a 1998 example showing 90k miles for sale in Wiltshire, priced just shy of £30,000.
15. Venturi Atlantique 300
The Venturi Atlantique 300 is another car that blurs the line between sports car and GT – but it’s difficult to care too much when you take in just how good looking it is.
Its 281bhp punch is delivered by a turbocharged V6 that’s whisked along in a super-light body.
This is one of the rarest cars on our list, and one of the most engaging to drive. We found a 1998 example with 101,000 miles in Yorkshire for £22,950.
16. Bentley Continental R
The Bentley Continental R was a dynamic shot in the arm for the company, just when the economic crisis at the start of the 1990s really bit home at Crewe.
It was a showstopper on launch, and helped bring money rolling into the factory, either for the car itself or as the basis for outlandish one-offs for overseas royal families.
They’re truly exquisite to drive, with effortless heave from the turbocharged 6.75-litre V8. And it has one of the finest cabins you’ll ever experience.
For our £35k budget you’re looking at a higher-mileage car, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because these graceful machines really benefit from regular use.
We found a 1992 example on 64,000 miles for sale in Hampshire for £34,995.
17. Fiat Coupé 20v Turbo
The Fiat Coupé 20v Turbo might not be the first car that comes to mind when you think of GT, but the deep thrum from its turbocharged five-cylinder engine makes for great cruising capability, while the Viscodrive limited-slip diff up front provides excellent, predictable handling in all weathers.
However, the big delight here is the style, both inside and out. The exterior blends sharp futuristic ideas with gorgeous nods to history – who can’t love the aluminium fuel cap? The interior is roomy and stylish, too – we particularly love the body-coloured wraparound trim pieces.
While searching for one for sale, we found a 1999 example with 54,000 miles in Clapham for £7000.
18. Volkswagen Corrado VR6
The Volkswagen Corrado VR6 might seem like an odd choice for a GT – after all, its interior is nowhere near as plush as some on this list.
However, the easy torque and engaging handling make the Corrado an interesting take on the GT genre, and its distinctive looks only add to the charm.
It’s also a car on the move, price-wise – while we found several 150k-mile examples around the £8000 mark, a 30,000-miler in Leicestershire was for sale at £20k for just a day before it was apparently snapped up.
19. Ferrari Mondial
The Ferrari Mondial might not be heralded as one of the greatest Maranello machines, but to dismiss it is to do both you and the car a disservice.
It might not offer the same dynamic pleasures as Ferrari’s mid-engined cars, nor the V12 grandeur of its big front-engined GTs, but the Mondial delivers true exoticism through its engine and its rakish looks.
Not the most-loved Ferrari, it’s still a great GT car and available at a decent price. We found a 1984 QV on 38,700 miles for £27,500 in Lancashire.
20. Jaguar XJ-S/XJS
The Jaguar XJ-S (or XJS as it was known from 1991) is the quintessential GT car for many – it has a long bonnet, silky-smooth engines, and enough wood and leather inside to embarrass a golf clubhouse.
Though the design is among the oldest of our 20, it still has the get up and go to show the youngsters a thing or two.
During our window shopping, we spotted a 6.0-litre V12 from 1994 in Kingfisher Blue with sensible and respectful drivetrain modifications for just under £13,500 in Bournemouth – surely a glorious way to travel.