Do you remember about five years ago when Big Ben rang in 2020 and, beyond the New Year euphoria, we were all worried about the impending financial uncertainties for the economy ahead? There were bleak forecasts for jobs, trade and retail performance, and for many it felt like we could be about to enter a period of belt-tightening like we did following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. It wasn’t a definite outcome for what was about to happen – some thought we’d do very well, but there was at least some uncertainty about the times ahead.
Then Coronavirus (COVID-19) happened and, along with it, the last scintilla of doubt that we were in for some serious economic headwinds once the worst of the pandemic had passed. With Governments across the globe spending trillions in order to keep systems working, while industry and commerce shut down, the threat of mass unemployment is beginning to look like a reality. Add to that a serious mistrust of the public transport system as long as this pandemic is with us, and you can already see why used car sales are rising – and why demand for sub-£1000 motors is also on the up.
A few weeks back, I bemoaned a lack of any new car purchases in my life during this tumultuous year on Twitter, and that rapidly sparked a search to see what the state of play was in the sub-£1000 car market, where I like to hunt. On a first scan, things were looking pretty grim for an enthusiast buyer like me. It seemed that anything vaguely modern classic in shape had shifted gear, and vaulted right out of my price range, leaving a remarkably unappealing choice of cars to pick through.
I haven’t bought a car since December 2019. Time to address that – anyone selling anything that looks right for me or know of anything going?
Share your cars, links or ideas here. Shoot.
— Keith Adams (@Keith_Adams___) August 5, 2020
Where were the nicely-specced Saabs or Rovers that I usually gravitated towards? Where were the large cars with non-premium badges? Or the big, petrol saloons and estates? Picking through countless knackered Jaguar S-Types didn’t (and still doesn’t) appeal, nor does one of a billion diesel-powered Audi A4s, Peugeot 307s or Vauxhall Astras. ‘Am I getting too old for this lark,’ I wondered to myself?
Anyway, within a few days of posting this plea for interesting car ideas, I bumped into my old mucker Tom Barnard at the SMMT Electric Car Day, and caught up with him about the state of play in the Bangernomics end of the market. Clearly, Scrappage has taken lots of interesting cars from us in the late-2000s, but there’s still hope if you think more laterally, he told me. Then I asked him how he was getting on with with the Ford Focus ST170 which he’d recently bought to feature in the now-defunct Retro Cars magazine…
Anyway, to cut a long story short, a deal is done (we don’t haggle, he says a price and I think it’s a good one) and, a few weeks later, I’m down at his place picking up a very tidy 53-plate Ford Focus ST170, after my son delivered me there in another recent purchase (that’s neither Bangernomics, nor likely to appear here as it has four rings on the grille). Looking over the car, it looks absolutely fine, completely stock with a new set of Michelin Cross Climate tyres on it – and I’d say a session with a clay bar and wax polish away from being an absolute minter. It fires up and works, there are no lights on the dash, and I’m happy to take it away after bumping elbows and bank-apping him the amount we agreed upon (yeah, it’s 2020, so no wads of cash nor shaking of hands).
Driving back, son in tow, it soon hit me like a hammer blow that Ford really did understand what made a good driver’s car with the Focus. The controls are brim-full of feel and the weights are absolutely spot on. The gearchange is pleasure itself, with a beautiful short throw and one of the easiest (and positive) actions I’ve come across since my last Focus owned back in 2014. The driving position is spot on, visibility is great and, even before I’m out of Tom’s village, I’m smiling at the cleverness of my latest purchase. ‘I own a Ford Focus ST,’ I chuckle to myself. ‘I’m one of those guys now…’
By the time I get home, I’m convinced that it’s a perfect car for our times. It’s small, drives really well, revs to almost 7500rpm, attacks corners like a true hot hatch and didn’t cost me much money. Although it’s expensive to tax and fuel, this can be measured positively against the typical monthly PCP payment on a brand new family SUV. Will it work as a winter hack remains to be seen, but the signs are good. After posting pictures of the car on Twitter, a former owner got in touch and filled me in on some of the history that Tom didn’t have, while agreeing to post me the spare key, which he found. Let’s see how it goes.
As for Bangernomics and the state of the used car market right now, there are some brilliant cars to choose from if you’re prepared to look beyond what you’d normally consider. Equally, if you live in the country and don’t need to go to the city (where ULEZ is now a way of life), why not take a punt on a diesel? These are getting cheaper by the day as they’re increasingly being demonised in the media. Yes, they’re not good for particulates but, out of the city, at least fewer – or no – people will breathe them… And if you keep them well-serviced they need not be that dirty anyway.
The reality is that people are going to need cheap wheels going forwards, but please don’t think that just because you do, you need to be a second-class citizen. There are great cars to be had out there and, if you find yourself financially straitened, do not worry about the car. You’ll find a good one for very little money, thanks to the rampant consumerism of the past few years, and the way that lots of perfectly usable cars have become near-worthless on the back of cheap and easy new car finance.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising people for financing new cars. Oh no, not at all. If they’re in secure employment and choose a car that’s easily afforded within their monthly finances, then why not? But for those who are not – and there’s no shame in that – there’s another way. My Focus shows just how good – and relevant – Bangernomics motoring can be right now. Fingers crossed…
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