Classic cars for every budget
There’s never been a better time to invest in a classic car because, if you buy right, you’re pretty much guaranteed a healthy return on investment. We start with two new cars that are bound to become classics, and continue with six that already are.
Two new sportscars from illustrious British brands have just been launched and we’ve driven both. They have all the hallmarks of future classics.
ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE
Aston has something called the Second Century Plan, which sounds like trick marketing speak but, in reality, is an engineering strategy that has already paid dividends with the wonderful DB11 grand tourer. The Vantage is the second instalment, and arguably the most important (a flagship Vanquish replacement follows later before the whole plan begins a new cycle in 2022). Why important? Well, it’ll be the brand’s best seller, not only because it’s Aston’s entry-level car but also because it happens to be very, very good. Utilising a Mercedes-AMG-sourced V8 engine, plus the German car-maker’s electronic architecture – the two companies have a share agreement that’s great for small-scale Aston with its limited budget – the Vantage is a firecracker sportscar with soul. The tuneful V8 engine sounds unlike any AMG, and it’s striking to look at and exhilarating to drive. I’d bet that, given a few decades of appreciation, the Vantage will be a classic fetching healthy sums at exclusive car auctions.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT
This is the world’s best two-door grand tourer. A bold statement, sure, but after recently driving it across Austria and Italy, and revelling in its composure, comfort and class, the third-generation GT surpasses its talented rivals. A bumper-to-bumper redesign, the new GT introduces a fresh design (those stunning headlamps were inspired by fine-cut crystal), a reworked W12 engine (effectively two V6 powertrains fused together) and an interior that marries a bespoke, hand-made ambience with cutting-edge technology and craftsmanship. Pristine Bentleys are admired on the classic car scene and, considering the sheer talent of the newest GT, it looks set to continue in a similar vein.
01 BUDGET: R80 000
MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS (W123)
Long known as the poster child for Mercedes-Benz’s formidable engineering prowess that saw its zenith in the 1980s and ‘90s, the W123 generation (the equivalent to today’s sleek E-Class sedan) was built to last. It’s therefore no wonder that, all across the world, you’ll still see them plying rough roads as taxis and family vehicles (some are even used on farms).
WHY? Values have started climbing as fewer and fewer good ones are offered for sale on the second hand market. Reliability is second to none, spares are widely available, and you can even repair them yourself if you do a spot of studying beforehand.
WHICH ONE? A 280E is the one to get for its blend of punchy performance and refinement that still feels contemporary, but the unhurried diesel models have a certain charm and can reach mega mileages (think more than 1 million km). If you’re willing to stretch your budget further, investigate the glamorous CE coupé or practical TE station wagon.
02 BUDGET: R120 000
TOYOTA MR2 (GENERATION THREE)
Toyota surprised the motoring world when, at the turn of the millennium, it launched the third generation MR2 to rave reviews. Here was a roadster that combined all that was great about the Japanese brand – reliability, ease of use and renowned aftersales backup – with driving dynamics that electrified its pilot. And the used market has started taking notice, with MR2s steadily fetching ever higher prices.
WHY? The MR2 is the blueprint for a perfect budget roadster. Combining light weight, a punchy but basic (and therefore bulletproof 1.8-litre) petrol engine and an exploitable chassis, it’s the perfect weekend car. Just don’t go too far from home… the MR2 doesn’t have a boot!
WHICH ONE? Toyota made it super simple by offering just one model. Make sure it’s had all its services and that the soft and hard tops are in good nick. Don’t pay much more than R120 000 for a pristine example and you’ll have a fun little car that’s great on the daily commute, but really comes alive when you hit your favourite mountain pass.
03 BUDGET: R250 000
MERCEDES-BENZ SL (R129)
Our second Mercedes-Benz on this list tips the scales towards out-and-out glamour, channelling Hollywood royalty and Sandton power suits. Produced from 1989 to 2001, the R129 generation of the SL remains a surprisingly modern, usable daily driver and can easily function as an only car. (Despite seating just two, there’s loads of space inside and a decent boot.)
WHY? As with the W123, Mercedes-Benz’s spares support is second to none, which is why so many of the German manufacturer’s vehicles are desirable on the second-hand market. That, and their unimpeachable quality. Mainly, though, this generation SL has been overlooked for far too long in favour of its ancestors fetching ridiculous money on the used market. This SL looks set to follow, so get your foot in the door!
WHICH ONE? A 500 SL and its brawny 240 kW V8 engine will do nicely, thank you. The SL saw a number of facelifts throughout it lengthy production run, introducing modern tech and design tweaks. Some of the engines were updated, too, but there isn’t a dud in the SL range. Just make sure to check for rust, especially if the vehicle’s lived at the coast – repairs can be prohibitively expensive.
04 BUDGET: R350 000
AUDI RS4 SEDAN (B7)
Long ruling the roost as the sports sedan of choice, the BMW M3 must surely have gotten the fright of its life when the RS4 was launched. Here was a family sedan that was as comfortable as a normal Audi A4 one minute and a V8-powered monster the next. Alongside the R8 supercar, the RS4 placed the modern-day Audi on the map as an expert in the sportscar genre.
WHY? Thanks to Audi’s vast experience in fourwheel-drive technology, the RS4’s Quattro all-paw system allows the midsize sedan to hit heady cornering speeds. But you’d never be able to tell by just looking at it. Understated to the extreme, the RS4 is a silent killer, and buyers’ interests are starting to be piqued.
WHICH ONE? Again, there is only one, but it’s pretty much perfect. That glorious V8 engine can be controlled like a conductor would an orchestra via the six-speed manual gearbox. Fuel consumption is heavy, so do factor that into your budget, and repairs can be costly if the vehicle has not been impeccably maintained. Ideally look for one with less than 100 000 km on the clock.
05 BUDGET: R600 000
PORSCHE CAYMAN S (981)
The second generation of Porsche’s Cayman two-seater sportscar was launched to rousing acclaim in 2012, solidifying its place in the Porsche line-up and shifting it out of the shadow of the more illustrious 911 range. Boasting an indulgently vocal 3.4-litre engine in a flat-six configuration (and thankfully lacking any form of turbo-charging), the Cayman S is an exquisitely analogue machine that ripples with feel and feedback.
WHY? You simply cannot go wrong with a used Porsche, and especially not this generation of the Cayman. When Porsche replaced it with a turbo-charged version in 2016, critics cried foul. Gone was the soulful wail of the engine and the trigger-happy throttle response. Aside from all the politics, this is a superbly built machine that’s dependable, surprisingly roomy (no, really – the boot in the nose can easily swallow two weekend bags) and comfortable in the best Porsche tradition.
WHICH ONE? The S with a manual transmission should be your first option for its ability to plug its driver directly into the action, but if you must have a self-shifting gearbox, the PDK is very good (and there are more of them around). Most will have a load of costly optional extras fitted, and some even sport additional body-styling accoutrements courtesy of Porsche’s extensive aftermarket catalogue. A note here: The Boxster roadster is practically a Cayman that’s had its roof lopped off, so if you want to air your hair, it’s the one to opt for.
06 BUDGET: R1 000 000+
BMW M3 CSL (E46)
A caveat, if I may: If you want a CSL (Coupé Sport Lightweight), be prepared to put in some serious legwork to find a great example. For a while, values plummeted, and the used-car market sniffed at BMW’s attempt to create a truly special lightweight version of its revered M3. However, that sentiment has passed – as it always would have, considering BMW built only 1 358 examples and imported just 65 to South Africa (rumours suggest half of those are still on the road), guaranteeing exclusivity – and now CSLs have crested seven figures and owners are hanging on tight to their cars. That said, at any one time a few are offered for sale.
WHY? By removing 110kg from a standard M3, tweaking the engine to deliver more power and the suspension to hunker down the car and hug the road, BMW created the most-discussed sportscar of 2004. But the highlight of the CSL is the sound produced by its race-car-inspired 3.2-litre engine. With most of the cabin’s sound-deadening material removed, the scream of the inline-six powertrain enters the occupants’ ears unfiltered.
WHICH ONE? You have a choice of two colours – a silver-grey and black – and that’s about it. The most important consideration is service history, more so than mileage. Make sure a BMW dealer has meticulously maintained the vehicle and inspect the bodywork for signs of an accident. Do that, keep your CSL in good order and its value will keep escalating.
TEXT Terence Steenkamp PHOTOGRAPH Supplied