Tips and advice

Classic cars to buy in 2021

We take a look at some of the best classic cars to buy in 2021

Classic cars to buy - header image

Choosing the best classic car to buy involves more research than buying a brand-new one. The principle of ‘buy low, sell high’ applies, as there’s potential to make a profit when it’s time to sell if you make the right choice. Fortunately, there are plenty of interesting, fun and usable classic car choices to buy in 2021. The market is forever changing, so prices can fluctuate and climb permanently.

While there are some bargains to be found on this list, some other mainstream cars from decades like the 1980s and 1990s will now set you back a six-figure sum - much more than they were originally worth from new. This has led us into even more modern waters for this year's list, as 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.

Top 10 best sports cars 2021

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

Porsche 968 Boxster - n/s static

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 £7,000. 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 £11k, 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)

MK2 Volkswagen Scirocco - O/S static

The Mk2 Volkswagen Scirocco is something of a hidden gem. As the price of old Golf GTIs continue to 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 £6,000. 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.

Honda Insight

MK1 Honda Insight - front

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 £7,000 for a good one and you’re unlikely to lose much when you come to sell it.

Alfa Romeo GTV

1999 Alfa Romeo GTV - front

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 will buy 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.

MINI (R50/R53)

2001 Mini Cooper S - front O/S tracking

BMW PressGroup

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.

BMW 5-Series e39

BMW e39 M5 - O/S side tracking

If refinement is what you seek from a classic car, then a BMW 5-Series should tick all the right boxes. We’ve opted for the e39 generation on this list as prices are generally low due to the number of examples still on the road. Naturally, M5s command a vast premium over the rest. 

As many of these cars served as fleet vehicles when new, there are a lot of high-mileage examples on the market that are a bit worse for wear but as the heavily used examples succumb to wear and tear, the lesser-used ones will very soon start to gain a lot more attention from enthusiasts and collectors.

e39s are still rather easy to find at the moment and the options are plentiful - a choice of straight-six or V8 petrol engines are available or, alternatively, four or six-cylinder diesels. The 525i is a particularly good option, as it offers plenty of equipment and a smooth six-cylinder petrol engine that is less thirsty than the V8 but still offers plenty of enjoyment. Clean, low-mileage examples of the e39 525i can be found for around £5,000, with other e39s costing even less.

Lexus LS400

1997 Lexus LS400 - front N/S static

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 £3,000 for an LS400, with excellent examples for little more than £7,000 in most cases.

Mazda RX-7 (FB)

Mazda RX-7 (FB) - O/S tracking

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 £8,000.

Citroen XM

Classic Citroen XM golf course advert - credit: Media Citroen International

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

MK1 Land Rover Freelander driving through muddy river

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 very low at around £1,000 but triple that and you can find a very tidy one, which may also sidestep some common Freelander maladies, such as 4x4 system issues and tired engines.

Fiat Panda

MK1 Fiat Panda 4x4 driving through mud

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 4x4 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.

Looking to get just as much fun out of a modern car? Check out our list of the best hot hatchbacks.

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