Classic cars are extremely popular in the UK as they offer a multitude of benefits. Simply owning one provides you with endless hours of exciting and nostalgic driving, opening up the world of car clubs and meets. Restoring one is a mix of frustration and satisfaction, installing your own heart and soul into the machine.
My first car was a 1978 MGB GT so I’m well aware buying and restoring a classic is a daunting task if you’ve never attempted it before. The obvious classic starter car would be one in which parts are cheap and widely available. A small engine and a structurally simple design would also help you financially and give you an easier insight into how these older cars are put together. I’ve listed five cars below that are perfect for someone looking to buy or restore their first classic.
One of the best examples of a classic British car is the Triumph Spitfire – I could’ve listed the MG Midget, as they are quite similar, although the Spitfire offers a slightly different look. Even today, it’s effortlessly stylish and sporty. A solid Triumph will cost around £2,500.
The launch of the MGB GT coupe in 1965 really turned heads in the auto world. It offered style and functionality without losing any of its flash appearance. With its 1800 cc engine, it offers a little more than the Spitfire and produces a satisfying rumble from the exhaust. A solid one will start at around £2500, with better examples touching £4000. Parts for these are cheap and widely available, particularly if you join the owners club.
Everyone loves the Mini – since celebrities like Elton John, John Lennon and Twiggy all boosted its popularity in 60s, the Mini is considered a classless design masterpiece. Its success in the rally world only gave it wings with the John Cooper tuned rocket Mini.
Mini’s make good starter projects thanks to their extremely basic design, although its components can be a little fiddly because they are crammed in tight. Pricewise Mini’s vary depending upon the decade. Regardless of condition, an early example from the 60s will cost you a lot more than a mid-late 70s car.
Another classless car is the popular Beetle. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche the Beetle was Germany’s Mini, a car even loved by Adolf Hitler. Its air-cooled engine is renowned for its ruggedness and simplicity – they are very easy to work on. Parts for these are very accessible and cheap, making the Bug a perfect classic starter.
VW Golf GTI
This hot hatch is one of the most successful cars of all time. The Golf GTI was a much sought after car, combining speed, comfort, economy and practicality all into one little box. It’s superior speed and handling attracted car thieves and its insurance premiums rocketed. Some may not consider the GTI as a classic, but I think the original 70s Mk I is a large chunk of automotive history that inspired many of the performance cars we see today.
One of the main aspects to consider is selecting an example suited to your skills. One thing to look for is rust/rot. Always pull back carpets and check under the sills and wheel arches. Look for oil stains when the car is moved, or any other stains on the owner’s drive that suggests the car is leaking fluids. Let the car warm up and check the exhaust fumes for colour – blue suggests an oil leak or even a cracked block or head gasket failure. White smoke suggests a water leak somewhere. If there is white gunk under the oil cap, you know for sure water is the problem.
Go online and join forums. You’ll find a thread touching on any concerns you may have. The main thing is to enjoy your car, make friends along the way, and get on the open road.