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Lots of people imagine car journalists only ever drive shiny, brand-new cars they don’t own. And, yes, we do get to do quite a lot of that. But if you were to take a look at our garages and driveways, you’d find a wide assortment of cars on which our writers have shelled out their own cash.
Since actually touring all of our contributors’ garages and driveways would take you quite a long time (and, frankly, be a little odd), we have saved you the trouble, gathering some of our cars together at Santa Pod Raceway for our third annual Concours d’Inelegance (check out our previous two events here and here).
In no particular order you’ll find everything from a BMW X5 to a Lancia Fulvia and a Volkswagen Lupo. Read on to learn more abour our cars…
James Ruppert: BMW 320
After the demise of Shed 7 and then nine months with Shed 5, I decided to give up on the idea of having a mile-munching motor. I just wanted to mooch. It had to be more comfy than my Land Rover Series III and less frantically fun than my Mini Cooper.
I spotted this 3 Series beauty in the online classified ads back in the summer of 2016, when I was too busy to get involved. It was £4999. I tried to forget about it and did that very successfully until last December, when it popped up on my classic car radar: same ad, pictures and price.
I think what had put buyers off was the three-speed auto and quite possibly the fantastically 1970s colour that is Kaschmir. The factory air conditioning and Alpina alloy wheels were two more reasons for me to make this my own car. And, yes, it was compact enough to slide easily into my 1970s double garage.
The price dropped to £4500, and then, after I’d seen it, to £3700. However, when I went to collect the car, there was a catch: no UK registration documents. I did get a bit angry. The car had spent time in Italy. It took the best part of five months to sort out the paperwork, but it has been worth the wait. When was the last time you saw a first-generation 3 Series? Me? I just pop outside. The upside is that I get to drive it whenever I want. Starting from cold remains something of a challenge because the Solex carburettor does its best to stop it firing up. Eventually, it splutters into life and we are off.
The automatic gearbox suits it perfectly and pulls it along with 21st century traffic while the air-con wheezes at me – but at least it actually expels cool air. That’s right: this is a really cool car.
My concours winner: BMW X5 (Jesse Crosse)
I feel about 1% responsible for Jesse’s BMW being at Santa Pod for this shoot because I told him to buy an X5 as a tug a few years back. I love the fact that it’s so insanely pretty. I also love the way that Jesse, being Jesse, has cleverly rigged a reversing camera into the onboard telly.
What I have my eye on next:
There’ll be some premium SUV action soon. Mrs R wants to change her reliable BMW X5. We’ve rejected a Mercedes M-Class. She’s not keen on a column gear shift. Now a Porsche Cayenne is on the cards.
Mike Duff: Audi A6 Avant 3.0 TDI quattro
I have a strange affliction: I prefer well-used middle-aged cars to their gleaming modern equivalents. Many factors are at play, with one undoubtedly being the urgings of my Scottish genes to save money. But there’s also something appealing about a car with stories to tell and the honest patina of a hard-lived life that also becomes a useful armour to car-park dings and the sort of hedgerow scrapes easily picked up on the narrow lanes in my part of Oxfordshire.
I’ve owned the A6 for just over three years. It was bought for £6000 – a valuation delivered by We Buy Any Car – from a friend anxious to get rid. It had some minor faults and a galaxy of white stone chips peeking through the black paint thanks to its 145,000 miles. But the fundamentals were backed up by a solid two inches of main dealer service history.
The mileage has recently passed 180,000 and there have been some fairly substantial bills during that period. Routine servicing isn’t cheap and the failure of the crankshaft pulley that drives ancillaries cost £750 to put right. Low-profile rubber and poor-quality British Tarmac have also caused me to fork out for four replacement tyres, and a convincing kangaroo impression on rough roads suggests I’ll need to budget for a new set of dampers soon.
Yet I don’t resent any of it. The A6 has cost around a grand a year in depreciation, gets mid-30s to the gallon and is as relaxing a motorway companion as its more modern sisters. The sat-nav still works, if without the slick precision of Audi’s current MMI, and there’s even very early Bluetooth to connect my phone. I know I could stretch to something more modern and reliable, but I’ve realised that I don’t really want to.
I am strongly tempted by the same-generation A6 Allroad, though…
My concours winner: Honda X-ADV (Steve Cropley)
Steve has always been famous for innovative transport solutions, and the mega-scooter looks like the cleverest of the lot: perfectly suited to both life in the smoke and trips to wider and more open spaces. He was certainly wearing the biggest grin by the time he got to Santa Pod. Maybe I should finally get a bike licence.
Richard Webber: Lancia Fulvia 1.3S
I’d been hunting for a classic, underpowered Italian coupé for some time when I decided to cast my net wider, into mainland Europe. A vision of pale blue, three-box loveliness appeared in the classifieds as a 1974 Lancia Fulvia Coupé 1.3S. Pictured glowing among sun-drenched mountains outside Naples, its pull was too strong for a northern Brit mourning another summer. I agreed to pay the private seller a little over £7k.
Soon after, an indulgent detour around the Amalfi Coast preceded an uncannily pleasant buying experience that ended with espresso, home-made limoncello and hugs.
The car was transported to Amsterdam, from where I drove it onto the Newcastle ferry and then home to Edinburgh. Never has 90.7 metric horsepower been enjoyed so fully, with the exotic 1298cc V4 roaring as its rally-bred chassis clung to the helter skelter backroads of the Borderlands.
John Evans: Vauxhall Astra 1.6 SXi
Last week it was a Fiat Coupé, the week before an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the week before that a Porsche Boxster 986… I want them all, but that’s what happens when you write Autocar’s used car buying guides.
So best stick with my Vauxhall Astra, a 2006-registered 1.6 SXi three-door with 98,000 miles. It’s a marriage of convenience. Its former owner (son number two) bought a nearly new Volkswagen Scirocco in February and vowed to sell the Astra privately. Yeah, right… So to avoid it cluttering the place, I bought it.
It was only after I coughed up £800 for it (increased to £1000 after his mum ticked me off) that I realised it was missing the indicator stalk, the rear brakes were shot, it needed a service and the MOT was up. Total bill: £335. Mothers…
It’s my second Astra. I did 60,000 miles in my first, a 2005-registered 1.8 automatic five-door. It was a Life, hence my kids always telling me to get one. It never put a wheel wrong: rugged, reliable and, when you pressed the Sport button, quick.
I wasn’t surprised, then, when this second Astra turned out to be the same, sort of. Being the 103bhp 1.6-litre model, it lacks the 123bhp 1.8-litre car’s ‘muscle’, although there is a shove in the back at around 3750rpm. The sporty manual gearbox helps. Well, put it this way: fifth feels like fourth. The steering is quicker, although you have to be careful. The other day, I left a roundabout in the wet with a confident flick of the helm – and the tail flew out. At least Mrs Evans won’t be riding in it again.
Back in July, I loaded it with camping gear and went to Ypres. It didn’t miss a beat. It’s still stylish, save for its cloudy headlights, and so cheap to run. I’ll miss it when I get that V8 Vantage. Not…
My concours winner: Mazda CX-5 (Matt Saunders)
A week’s touring in Cornwall in a Mazda CX-5 a few years ago left me sweet on the model. Composed, connected, comfortable – it was everything a tall, portly SUV shouldn’t be. Being the former owner of a Eunos, I swear I could even feel a hint of that little sports car’s snicketty gearchange. Wise choice, Mr Saunders.
Steve Cropley: Honda X-ADV
I know what you’re thinking: this is a feast of cars and I’ve brought a bike to the table instead. Bad business.
I’ve got excuses. First, the only new thing for months at our place is this 750cc Honda off-road/scooter ‘crossover’, called an X-ADV. Second, it’s one of the few motorcycles with a car-like, six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Scooters usually have CVTs but this has four riding modes and can also do manual shifting.
Third, my new Honda’s aluminium parallel twin-cylinder engine is, in effect, half a Honda Jazz’s, which saves Honda the trouble of finding new bore, piston, conrod and valve sizes, new combustion chamber shapes, cam drives and all the rest. And it’s slower-revving and miles torquier than most bikes so it’s easier to use.
Best, it’s the perfect adjunct to an off-the-wall car. It deals with traffic like nothing, other than another bike. You can park anywhere in London for a quid. You never miss meetings. Your other half can go on the back. You’ll get 75mpg. And if you do take to a motorway, there’s plenty of poke to cruise with the traffic-jammers.
Meanwhile at home, your four-wheeled flashmobile (wonderful to drive but not good at traffic) awaits a time when you can enjoy it properly. I’ve always wondered why more car owners don’t spot this advantage of motorcycle ownership. With something like my Honda, it stares you in the face.
My concours winner: Volkswagen Lupo (Jimi Beckwith)
Well impressed with JB’s dropped black Lupo, looking dead classy on its big disc wheels. The base car looks more modern than it is, too, which makes modifying one so worthwhile. JB says his next job is to fit GTI-style twin centre pipes, which will really set it off. Nice project.
What I have my eye on next:
Winter’s coming: what sillier time to be thinking of owning a Mini Moke. Nothing steers better, the lightness makes even 848cc performance seem okay and the 10in wheels look terrific.
Jimi Beckwith: Volkswagen Lupo 1.4 S
In the spirit of the Wörthersee crowd’s passion for tuning, I’ve set about transforming it, with the most notable alterations being the Volvo Libra wheels – aluminium aerodynamic pieces from the C30, S40 and V50 DrivE models from a few years back. They’re shod in Falken rubber, which allowed a small stretch and fitted the wheels while maintaining the dimensions of the 13in steels that the car came with.
The Lupo has been lowered a fair bit. I’ve not measured how much, but it’s at least 5in, on one of the lowest settings of the surprisingly supple-riding KW Variant 1 coilovers I’ve fitted. I’ve had no issues with grinding the bottom of the car on bumps, nor the wheels rubbing. I’ve been very sensible in my insensibility.
The inside is rather shabby, so the big project left to do is a full retrim in cream leather, with cream carpet, making it feel a bit less budget than present. I’ve got a touchscreen infotainment system fitted, though, thanks to my other half’s ingenuity.
See, I find myself at the head of what could be the country’s smallest car tuning company. I’m the self- appointed, self-aggrandising CEO, with my chief engineer being said other half. My brother has taken on electrics: full-LED units for the rear and future iPad integration in the dashboard to replace the touchscreen. My two uncles, upholsterers by trade, are handling the interior upgrades.
Costs so far have been numerous and bitty, so I won’t hazard any guesses as to the total. The largest was a £400 outlay on fixing the rear bumper and a wheel-arch dent. More tweaks are planned and I won’t be counting the costs too closely…
My concours winner: Audi A6 (Mike Duff)
In what was quite a black-heavy year for ‘our cars’, Mike’s A6 Avant caught my eye. The A6 has always to me been the essence of Audi: more spacious than the A4 yet just as neutral in its styling, no hint of ostentation and as crisp as the day it left the factory. Well bought, Mike.
Jesse Crosse: BMW X5 3.0 Sport
Over my dead body: that was my first thought just over two years ago when some mates in the trade suggested a 2005 E53-generation X5 3.0 Sport as a cheap rally service barge, tow vehicle and daily workhorse. “What about mileage?” I asked with a worried frown, as I was looking at a 100k-miler for the £6000-£7000 I wanted to spend.
“Doesn’t matter,” said my pals. “They don’t go wrong.” My first choice, a Land Rover Discovery 4, was still way too expensive and everything else of that age and size was agricultural. I had a quick word with James Ruppert, who also had a petrol X5, and my mind was made up.
At the time I was running a Kia Sportage KX-3, bought new on PCP, but it wasn’t big enough for all the rally gear I carried and I’d decided that PCP wasn’t great value for money. Because I’m happy fixing things if they break, it made sense to go back to something older and cheaper. Repayments were costing £330 a month, so in less than two years, I’d break even on an X5 if nothing went horribly wrong.
I ended up paying £6900, plus £270 having the inevitably kerbed wheels refinished back to factory spec. I managed to find one with the factory removable tow bar and fitted a reversing camera hooked up to the built-in screen for £50 as a DIY job.
Two years on I love it and have no plans to sell (although I still fancy a Disco 4). It’s powerful, refined and fun to drive, it tows 3.5 tonnes and I’ve now warmed to the lovely, timeless design. I get around 28mpg and I’ve spent about £500, including labour, on a couple of oil changes and a new condenser and dryer for the air-con system. Bargain.
My concours winner: BMW 320 (James Ruppert)
The first 3 Series I drove was the E30 generation when it was new, so seeing James’s beautiful E21 was a real treat. It has that genuine patina of a car that’s seen plenty of life while looking like it has plenty of life left in it.
The one that got away:
Ben Summerell-Youde: Volkswagen T3 Syncro
My van isn’t a new addition, having featured on these pages for the past few years, but I did more with it in 2017 than ever before. After a major refurbishment, my Syncro was put to the test on a round-France camping trip, during which it performed reliably.
I had wanted to sneak in a couple of runs up the quarter-mile at Santa Pod. Unfortunately, the clutch went just a few miles into the drive there and left me stranded. The issue was partly a legacy of a recent day of off-roading, because a small gap in the bell housing had allowed all kinds of mud and dirt to foul the clutch.
But it has now been fixed. Roll on next year’s Concours d’Inelegance.
Matt Saunders: Mazda CX-5 2.0 SE Nav
You may remember reading a couple of years ago in this article that I was ready to chop in my trusty (and increasingly rusty) Ford Fiesta for a bigger family workhorse. A Honda CR-V was what I had in mind at the time. Well, look how that turned out…
The Honda is relatively pricey to insure, as it turns out. And so, convinced that we needed something similarly large but ideally with an atmospheric petrol engine because we planned on keeping it for a few years (and I think simple petrol engines wear better than diesels), we ended up buying a three-year-old, 49,000-mile Mazda CX-5 2.0 SE Nav back in August.
The kids have got loads of room it in and belting them in is a doddle. The boot is huge. The back seats fold 40/20/40 (wrong-sided 60/40 seats are a bugbear of mine). And it drives nicely, with hefty, reassuring control weights, a nice snicketty gearchange and a modicum of driver engagement.
Hands up: it is a pretty dull car for a road tester to own, but it’s the right one for me at the moment.
And when anyone gets sniffy about it, I just tell them it’s got an engine from the best-selling sports car on the planet.
My concours winner: Vauxhall Astra (John Evans)
I love it when cars get passed around within the family, which sounds like exactly what has happened with John’s Astra. And much as I’d say his lad did well to get £1000 out of his old man for it, it sounds like a healthy, dependable sort. These are cars that seem to age quickly to begin with but then often stay solid and robust for much longer than you might expect. I remember them handling pretty tidily, too.
What I have my eye on next:
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA. Never driven a hot hatch that sounded better. If a straight, healthy car was waved under my nose at a four-figure price, I’d find it very hard to say no.