Essay : Top 10 AROnline classics for cheap running
We love Bangernomics at AROnline and in the interests of running cars on a shopestring, we choose 10 great and unusual cars to run on a shoestring using the principles we hold so dearly.
We know that fuel prices are going up, and tax is being squeezed, but you could beat the system with any of these cars. But just because a car costs under a grand, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be interesting, classic, reasonably dependable, and easy to fix if the worst should happen.
Economical classics… without breaking the bank
Respected car journalist, and one-time salesman, James Ruppert was really on to something when he came up with the concept of Bangernomics back in the 1980s. It was a simple – yet potent – almost anti-establishment approach to running cars. Basically, it involves buying cheap, spending the minimum amount possible, not growing too attached, and realising that a good time to sell is just before big expenditure is needed.
It’s amazing to see that after all these years, Bangernomics is just as relevant as it ever was. In fact, probably more so. It’s a good time to buy a new car, but for those who aren’t in a position to do so, especially younger drivers, this simply isn’t an option. University students have ever increasing fees to think about, while the rest of the 17-25 age group has to battle rising youth unemployment, increasing living costs, and frozen salaries.
But that’s not to say that driving isn’t an option. Oh no. Cars are cheaper to buy in real terms than they ever have been, and with a budget of around a grand, the world potentially is your oyster. However, young drivers have the additional worries of hugely expensive insurance premiums, and high fuel prices. So, your average Bangernomics fodder of excommunicated repmobiles or dilapidated executives (Mondeos, Saab 9000s, Rover 600s) simply aren’t an option.
So the ideal young person’s Bangernomics wagon is going to be plucked from a rather select bunch of cars. Economical hatchbacks tend to knackered by the time they hit that magic £1000 barrier – so what you need is something modestly-engined, low-powered, and generally unfashionably classical.
Luckily, this is AROnline, and we do cars like this spades, and rejoice about it. So, here are 10 cars that won’t drink fuel like it’s going out of fashion, won’t scare your insurance broker off the map, and should at least stand out in your local car park.
Beigeness, vinyl burns, and annoying rust are optional at no extra cost.
1 Austin Metro
£300-2000 // For: cheap to run, great to drive Against: cramped and prone to collapse
The Austin Metro was considered the saviour of the British motor industry when it went on sale in 1980. At its unveiling to the dealer network on a ship in the North Sea, grown men were reduced to tears by the emotion of it all – finally they had a car, they need no longer apologise for, and buyers would actually want. More than 30 years on, the Metro is perceived rather differently, with a rather matronly image, and reputation for rot and grot. But truth be told, the Metro is no rustier than its opposition, and it possesses more charm than the lot of them
Think of it as a grown-up Mini, and you’re not far from the truth. Its A-Series engine is simple to work on, and any back-street garage you care to mention will be more than capable fixing any problem the Metro throws at you. But given its ease of DIY, it’s hard to think of a reason to go down that road anyway. On the road, you’ll revel in its direct steering and torquey engine, and marvel at how easy it is to see out of. Downsides? Rust, a cramped praying mantis-style driving position, and a feeling of vulnerability. But that’s about it. And it’s getting rare now, too…
2 Ford Fiesta Mk1/Mk2
£400-2500 // For: easy to work on, a known quantity Against: rattly engines and rust
Even more so than the Metro, the Ford Fiesta is one of those cars that littered the streets in 1980s Britain, but which has now all-but disappeared. Can you remember when you last saw one? But like Metro, the cooking versions really don’t seem to have attracted any classic interest, despite having loads going for them. Considering it was Ford’s first European FWD supermini, the Fiesta truly was an inspired piece of design, and eminently practical too.
Today, though, it’s lacking the warm charm (read, idiosyncracies) of the Metro, which actually makes it a brilliant Bangernomics choice. Why? Well, if you can’t love it, you won’t go and do anything irrational – like commissioning a full restoration on it. Still, buy with confidence, and enjoy steering feedback that modern cars can only dream of.
3 Austin Allegro
£300-3000 // For: comfortable, quirky, a great icebreaker Against: dog slow in 1.0 and 1.1 form
The good thing about the Allegro is that there’s an example for just about everyone. It was in production for a decade, and the engine range spanned 1.0-1.7-litres. You have the option of two- and four-doors as well as a useful and quirky looking estate. The Allegro is also comfortable, reasonably roomy, economical and a bona fide classic, which any understanding insurer will cover without fleecing you. The Allegro also drives far better than the cliché merchants will kid on about, and is amazingly resistant to rust.
And as for that BL baggage – you’re likely only to hear whingeing from Top Gear fans and anyone over 45. In short, the Allegro is about as rational (as long as you are conversant with the wants and needs of Hydragas), and interesting starter classic as you’re ever likely to want. And usually they sell for buttons…
4 Triumph Dolomite 1300
£600-1500 // For: wood-trimmed interior, looks like a Sprint Against: heavy to drive
The Dolomite 1300 is seen as a little bit sedate these days, but if the idea of a sit-up-and-beg drive in a wood-trimmed interior appeals to you, then this is possibly the car for you. Running a Dolomite is a little more hands-on than some of the choices here due to an inherent tendency for failing to proceed at random moments, but the good news is that the post-1976 RWD cars are a piece of cake to work on, and parts are both plentiful and cheap.
Easy not to love, though, as cheap examples invariably look shabby, and unless you’re switched on by the 1960s UK rat-look, you’re going to enjoy neglecting yours. In short, a great car – and the perfect Bangernomics classic.
5 Rover 211
£300-1500 // For: it looks modern, and won’t embarrass you Against: dull in this line-up
The 2oo is very much the sensible choice in this Top 10, and the car that will look the least out of place on today’s roads. The 200 was always a very capable car, and even today, the little hatch feels surprisingly grown-up to drive, with a good driving position, well-damped ride, and airy interior. Of course, in 8V 1.1-litre form, the K-Series engine is hardly known for power, but it’s quiet, economical, and less likely to blow its head gasket than the larger variants.
And factors such as these come ahead of outright performance. But having said that, unlike all of the other cars here, it will sit happily all day long on the motorway, and you won’t be tired out by the experience. Finally, there are loads in the scrapyard (for cheap parts), and it’s new enough to be served by your local motor factor too (if you’re feeling flush).
6 Vauxhall Chevette
£350-1000 // For: looks cool and handles well Against: cramped, rattly and some parts hard to find
Okay, so the Chevette is a rusty old thing, and its engine, lifted straight out of the Viva, is hardly the model of refinement, but find a nice one (and they are out there), and you’ll be rewarded with a nice, simple, straightforward drive. In most ways, the RWD Chevette is a better option than an equivalent Ford Escort Mk2 1300, and considerably cheaper to buy, thanks to Uncle Henry’s recent jump in values on the back of the bobble hat brigade.
It’s well engineered, firm riding, grippy and an accurate steer. And also lacking in charisma. But we love ‘em, rust and parts scarcity aside.
7 Maestro Clubman D
£500-1000 // For: cheap diesel motoring, practical Against: flimsy, noisy, rusty
Despite being unfashionable, drab to look at, slow and unrefined, the Maestro Clubman Diesel also has a refreshing honesty about it that makes it rather loveable. Think of it as Rover’s Lada Riva, and you’ll not be a million miles away, as the old LC10 is just like any other Spen King designed car – simple and fixable at the side of the road. Yes, the Maestro rusts, but it tends to be mainly round the edges, and that’s easily sorted with a tin of underseal and Isopon P38. As for that imploding interior – think of it as an ideal upgrade opportunity.
Plus points are a bullet-proof engine, an easy 60mpg, and a huge interior – and it’s so undesirable to the average man in the street, you can proudly claim you own one as a two-fingered salute to modern-day consumerism…
8 Ford Escort Mk3 1300
£700-2000 // For: sharp looking, way cooler than a Maestro Against: bony ride, CVH rattles, rust
The Ford Escort Mk3 is one of the few ‘classic’ Fords that remains affordable for a nice example. Which is surprising when one remembers how well received it was at launch back in 1980. Even today (and just like the Fiesta Mk1), the Escort ‘Erica’ looks sharp and beautifully detailed – and far more grown-up than just about all of its contemporaries.
In typical Ford fashion, the Escort was available in a myriad of trim variations, and engine capacities, but for first time drivers, the 1.1- and 1.3-litre cars are by far the most insurance-friendly. They’re also nicely economical even if they’re affected by the CVH/Valencia death-rattle. Hardly loveable, but certainly likeable.
9 Triumph Acclaim
£400-1200 // For: Swiss-watch reliable, refined drivetrain Against: cramped and ugly
The Acclaim might have proved that British assembly line workers were just as capable of screwing together a well-engineered car as their Japanese counterpart, but it did upset Triumph enthusiasts when it was launched at the 1981 Motor Fair in London. But less brand-aware buyers loved the Acclaim, enjoying its beautifully-engineered Honda drivetrain, sprightly performance, and promised reliability. It also paved the way for well over a decade of Honda co-operation that, had it continued to this day, could have produced genuinely world-beating cars.
But as it is, the Acclaim is a lovely 6/8th scale medium-sized saloon that offers potential owners little trouble, and far less rust than its replacement, the Rover 213/216. The classic boys seem to like it too, now, judging by Club Triumph’s acceptance of the Acclaim at its events. And rightly so…
10 Morris Marina 1300 Coupe
£500-2000 // For: looks good, with shared MG/Triumph parts Against: A bit dull to drive, unrefined
That A-Series engine certainly gets around, doesn’t it? In the Marina, it’s longitudinally mounted and drives the rear wheels, just like an MG Midget, and that makes it a cinch to get hold of engine/transmission parts, should things go wrong. Not that the Marina should go wrong, nearly as much as its critics will say it does. It’s here because it looks good (in a bargain-basement Capri kind of way), is cheap to buy, and thanks to that all important A-Series, is cheap to run. Far less rust-resistant than the Allegro, and less comfortable too. But a Marina is capable enough, and won’t get you into trouble in 1275cc form.
Will you get up early in the morning to drive your Marina? No. Will you feel guilty about forgetting to wash it for weeks on end? No. Will you find it useful? Yes. And will you be reminded of simpler times? Yes… Just watch out for falling pianos.