As the market for 1980s and 1990s classics continues to thrive, there are plenty of interesting classic cars to buy in 2021. The speed at which our market is shifting is illustrated quite perfectly by the number and variety of choices in this list. All are deserving of your consideration if you’re looking for a smart classic car buy in 2021.
The worry that your dream car could move out of reach is still very real. Some mainstream classic cars will now set you back a six-figure sum – much more than they were originally worth. It has led us into even more modern waters for this year’s list, however this is where the genuine bargains can still be found. These are absolutely brilliant cars too: fast and fun, but also eminently usable and less likely to be unreliable.
Older bargains can still be found if you’re happy to think a little bit outside the box. We’ll admit that we’re following our hearts as much as our heads with some of these suggestions but we don’t think you can blame us. After all, you’d buy a newer, cheaper-to-run car if you were buying solely with your head!
Porsche Boxster 986
Some will tell you the only true Porsche has its engine over the rear axle, but just like its spiritual front-engined predecessor, the 924, the mid-engined Boxster that was launched in 1996 isn’t just a proper Porsche but also saved the company from financial ruin. It was a cracking sports car in its own right. These days it’s also a spectacular bargain, with the cheapest examples coming in at under £4,000. Rather than searching quite this low, we’d be tempted to spend a few grand more on a really good one with a long service history from a conscientious seller.
The low price ceiling means even spotless cars are under £10k, and you’ll struggle to find a better sports car for that money. Servicing can be expensive but Boxsters are very usable thanks to luggage areas at the front and the rear, and there really is no substitute for that flat-six engine (the original 2.5, plus later 2.7 and 3.2) and the car’s beautifully balanced handling.
Volkswagen Scirocco (Mk2)
The Mk2 Volkswagen Scirocco is something of a hidden gem. As the price of old Golf GTIs skyrocket, the Scirocco offers much of the same performance and quality but in a sleeker and arguably more eye-catching package. The rarest and best-kept special editions might now command more than £10k but it’s still possible to find examples in good condition for under £5,000. Early cars were offered with 1.5 and 1.6-litre engines but most remaining models use 1.8-litre four-cylinders much like the GTI of the time – particularly those using fuel injection.
The wedge-like styling is pure 1980s, as is the rubbery plastic spoiler fitted to the back of most cars, but despite the cars’ age and the usual maladies that come along with that – usually corrosion and worn components – they’re stout little cars, fun to drive (albeit with poor brakes!) and, thanks to a pair of rear seats and a decent boot, practical too.
A hybrid in a classic cars buying guide? Absolutely – not only is Honda’s first hybrid now comfortably over 20 years old, having been launched in 1999, but given the way the industry has moved since its introduction, it’s as important to automotive culture as any hot hatch or sports car. The space-age styling is an acquired taste but despite its age, the Insight’s tech still works brilliantly, allowing you to achieve more than 70mpg with little effort – modern classics don’t get much cheaper to run.
The car’s reliable too and early battery fears are mostly unfounded; many are still running happily around with their original packs. Budget around £5,000 for a good one and you’re unlikely to lose much when you come to sell it.
Alfa Romeo GTV
1995’s Alfa Romeo GTV offers a compelling combination of attributes. It’s one of the most distinctive shapes of the 1990s for a start, a Pininfarina-penned wedge packed with exquisite details. It was also highly rated when new, often emerging victorious from group tests, and while the model isn’t without a few unique issues, it’s also relatively easy to keep running and doesn’t suffer from rust as much as some of its forebears – or indeed many of its contemporary rivals.
Best of all, it’s affordable, with a couple of grand still enough to secure one and £5,000-plus buying you a seriously nice car, potentially one with Alfa’s sonorous V6 engine under the bonnet. The rear seats and boot are largely useless, so treat it as a 2+2, but quick steering makes it fun to drive and while the V6 sounds great, serious drivers often prefer the lighter (and still fun) 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
We all know the Mini launched in 1959 is a classic but its spiritual replacement, launched under BMW ownership in 2000, is now being warmly embraced by those seeking a fun-to-drive modern classic too. There are plenty of strings to the R50-generation MINI’s bow: it starts cheap, under a grand for a MINI “One” or a Cooper and only a couple of thousand for an early supercharged Cooper S.
We’d naturally advise you to spend more to find one that’s been well looked-after, but the huge variety out there means they’re still affordable and you can really be picky. They’re fab to drive too – even the 90bhp One has a playful chassis with steering that feeds plenty of information to your fingertips, while the retro design of the classy cabin can still bring a smile to your face.
The title of “best car in the world” is somewhat subjective, but in the early 1990s you could have made a pretty strong case for the Lexus LS400 deserving it. Impeccably built, astonishingly quiet, supremely comfortable and surprisingly good to drive, all some reviewers could really find to criticise was the car’s play-it-safe styling and an interior that didn’t quite feel special enough compared to the Mercedes and Jaguar it was competing against. Three decades on you can bet a lot more of it works than those Mercs and Jags though, giving the LS400 enduring appeal.
Even the styling doesn’t seem so bad now; what was once bland now looks pleasingly understated. Running a 4.0-litre petrol V8 has never been cheap though, so 2021 fuel prices go some way to explaining why you can now pay as little as £2,000 for an LS400, and excellent examples for little more than £5,000 in most cases.
Mazda RX-7 (FB)
Want a front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car from the 1980s but not a Porsche 924 or 944? You might be interested in the first-generation Mazda RX-7. While the RX-7 first debuted in 1978 it remained on sale until 1985, and as the best-selling RX-7 it’s also one of the easiest to find despite being the oldest. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the easiest to run, without the complex turbocharging of later models to drive up the cost of repairs. Fuel economy was never great but for an occasional car that’s perhaps not such an issue.
Instead you’ll get more value from the car’s light weight and balanced handling, which make it feel not unlike Mazda’s later MX-5 – albeit wrapped in that attractive coupe body with better practicality. You’ll struggle to find another engine from the era as smooth and revvy as the rotary, either, yet you can still find RX-7s in good working order for as little as £5,000.
You have to admire Citroen’s persistence. By the 1980s it was already becoming clear that buyers of executive cars were being lured in towards German offerings, but as CX sales dwindled in the face of the E-Class and 5 Series, the French brand still pressed ahead with the CX’s replacement, the XM. We’re glad they did, because the large Bertone-penned Citroen is looking rather handsome these days and offers a driving experience you’ll not really find outside of other Citroens themselves.
A computer-controlled version of the brand’s famous hydropneumatic suspension helped the XM stay flat in corners yet deal admirably with bumps, and engine choice was wide. We’d opt for the V6 if you want the full luxury experience but the diesels are usable and surprisingly reliable everyday classics. Prices still begin under £2,000 too.
Land Rover Freelander
Toyota’s RAV4 might have kicked off the “soft-roader” boom in the 1990s but perhaps the best proponent was Land Rover’s first Freelander, which sold over half a million units by the time it was replaced in 2006. Launched in 1997 it took the RAV4’s road-going ability but also mixed in proper off-road ability – it was a Land Rover, after all.
That’s still true today, thanks to a wide range of engines initially on offer (a 1.8 petrol, 2-litre diesel and a 2.5 V6 petrol), plus three- and five-door body styles, so you can choose a Freelander to meet your needs. The chunky styling has aged well too – we can actually see a hint of Freelander in the all-new Defender. Pricing starts at just £1,000 but triple that and you can find a very tidy one, which may also sidestep some common Freelander maladies, such as 4×4 system issues and tired engines.
Plenty of brands make small cars but Fiat has long had the knack of making truly iconic small cars. It was the case for the Nuova 500 of the 1950s, the 126 of the 1970s, and it can equally be applied to the Panda that arrived in 1980. Unlike the 500 and 126, the Panda was front-engined and front-wheel drive but its Giorgetto Giugiaro design, while resolutely utilitarian inside and out, is still more stylish than virtually any small car before or since. Fiat toned it down with a 1986 facelift and these models are most common and also most affordable, with prices starting at only a few grand.
The 4×4 version is special in its own right too – budget for around £5,000 and up for the true mountain goat of classics, usable all year round provided you ensure it’s suitably rustproofed. Maintenance is a doddle on these Fiats too.
For more classic car advice, read our guide detailing the most reliable classic cars you can buy.