Road test exotica is all very well, but there’s nothing like buying – and selling – your own car. Autocar’s writers share their recent dealings
Shiny new test cars are all well and good, but they don’t offer a lot of opportunity for Sunday afternoon tinkering, nor are they brilliant for loading to the brim with rubbish or dirty dogs when required.
These, then, are our prides and joy: the new and used cars we’ve added to our own driveways and garages this year:
Skoda Superb iV Estate Mike Duff – bought
I’m rarely accused of being fashionable, but a Karmic coincidence meant I took delivery of a new plug-in hybrid Skoda Superb on the very day that the government’s plan to bring forward the ban on new ICE cars was formally announced.
For a self-confessed PHEV sceptic, this purchase was a decision of head rather than heart, and one influenced in large part by the current incentives promoting the uptake of electrified vehicles. The Superb iV isn’t electric enough to get the government’s £3000 grant, but its sub-50g/km CO2 emissions mean that, as I registered it before March, I can legitimately claim 100% of its cost as a first-year tax writedown. Rock ’n’ roll, huh?
In conjunction with a generous discount through a broker, that means, providing I keep the Superb for the long haul, I get a new car that will cost less than the three-year-old Mercedes E-Class diesel wagon I was otherwise considering. With around 30 miles of electric range, it should stay ahead of emissions standards and ULEZ zones for a few years.
The government is closing the tax window for PHEVs (only pure EVs will be eligible from next April), and that’s causing a rush for cars. A sixmonth wait for factory orders meant my choice was limited to the three unassigned iV SE L estates already in the UK. I went for black. And I fully intend to plug it in sometimes, too.
BMW 520i Felix Page – sold
Keen readers might recall the sub-£1000 E39 BMW 5 Series that I bagged back in the hazy days of summer. My initial enthusiasm for the car didn’t fade over its first few weeks under my stewardship, and a couple of long runs were dispatched with barely a cough from its 120,000-mile six-pot motor.
It had a fresh MOT, but I chucked some new tyres on to be safe – what a transformation – and hastily topped up the oil when a lifter started clattering. The car then continued to disappoint my more sceptical friends and relations who were just waiting to laugh at me when it all went wrong.
As a move to a one-car flat approached, I faced facts and prepared the 5er for sale. A thorough wash and some decent pictures were well worth the hour spent, with the car moving on a fortnight later and landing me a (tiny) profit. Bangernomics in action.
Austin Allegro 1500 Richard Bremner – sold
My online salvage auction habit led to the bold purchase of this 1978 Austin Allegro. Bold not because of its minority appeal but because this otherwise tidy example apparently had a non-working clutch. The fix, however, was potentially simple: the release arm sticks if the car is unused.
What arrived on a flatbed was indeed tidy and idled sweetly, but the release arm wasn’t seized. Further burrowings eventually led to power unit removal and separation of the gearbox to reveal a cog, a mauled lock-washer and a big nut huddled beneath the oil pump. Sourcing the lock washer was challenging, but the job is now done and the Allegro has been sold on to an enthusiast for a modest profit.
That windfall, however, was soon blown on a pretty 1966 Simca 1000 Coupé, its Bertone design shaped by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro. It has issues, but they’re gradually being licked. The Coupé was never sold in Britain, and this one is apparently the only runner here.
Vauxhall Astra Estate Jim Holder – bought
Told to leave their Indonesian home and head for the UK at 48 hours’ notice as the coronavirus crisis ramped up, my brother, sister-in-law and their three kids piled all they could into their suitcases and headed for the airport and back to the UK.
Trouble was, the hire car firms were working – correctly – in the belief that anyone mad enough to be looking for a large family car at an airport during a pandemic probably didn’t have a choice, and they set about charging accordingly.
The brief was therefore simple: no frills, no flashes, not a care in the world about badges, they just needed something to keep the bills down and get them around.
That meant it had to be an estate or an MPV, but it quickly became clear that the latter were enjoying something of a watershed for low-cost transport for delivery drivers. Perhaps that’s when the alarm bells should have started ringing.
I reckoned on a 10-year-old Honda Civic or Toyota Auris wagon, but as I called around used car dealers about a week from being allowed to sell again, I started to get the message: public transport be damned, everyone was suddenly looking for good, low-cost transport.
I had to set the bar lower. Ford Focus estates were selling before my eyes, but Vauxhall Astras seemed in more plentiful supply. I thought I knew how to haggle, but dealers weren’t budging. And the cars were sold by the time I called back.
So it was we settled on a grey, diesel-powered Vauxhall Astra, 60,000 miles on the clock and a respectable £4500. Three happy months of motoring for my brother’s family followed.
The idea was that they would hand back the key on their return and I would sell it. Had I done so, I might even have sold it for close to what I paid. But do you know what? I’ve still got the key. Fault-free, the Astra now provides effective under-the-radar family duties for us, and I can’t bring myself to move it on.
Ford Fiesta, Mark Tisshaw – bought
It was supposed to be so easy. The Tisshaw household Mini Cooper was coming to the end of everything in May – extended warranty, extended servicing, HP payments – so we thought that was the time to swap it for something else. The only criterion was for that something to be small, itself quite a wide definition.
We did the obligatory tour of various dealer forecourts in Reading one late winter’s Sunday afternoon in February, slightly perplexed at how not one dealer seemed overly bothered about trying to sell us a car, even with subsequent phone calls and email follow-ups. I’ve never used the ‘do you know who I am?’ line, and nor would I, but it was a tempting prospect at times, such was the frustration at trying to get a salesperson to realise we were serious paying customers.
Apart from one stellar performer: Think Ford in Wokingham. More friendly and accommodating service you couldn’t wish for, and the contest between a Fiesta, Fiesta Active and Puma began. We went for a Puma First Edition, which was due by the end of April.
And then you-know-what happened. Ford’s production line in Romania ground to a halt, like almost all other car factories in Europe, and the Puma was delayed, so the deadline to commit to extending the Mini’s extras for another 12 months loomed ever closer.
In stock at Ford sat a rather lovely Fiesta ST-Line. It had everything we really wanted, to the point that we wondered why we had gone for a Puma anyway. At about £80 per month cheaper, 0% APR, better to drive and more suited to the low miles it is likely to do, the Fiesta should have been the chosen one for us all along. Still, there’s nothing like a global pandemic to focus the mind.
We were also one of the first to buy a car after Think Ford opened postlockdown. They had done a great job on the Covid-secure front and, best of all, honoured the Mini trade-in price they had pledged to give us in April. Great service and a great car.
Peugeot 205 GTi Andrew Frankel – sold
To be honest, I should have sold it years ago. I loved my Miami Blue limited-edition Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9 but rarely used it, as less than 1000 miles per year for the eight years I owned it attests. Eventually the guilt I felt seeing it sitting in the shed outweighed the pleasure of the very few journeys I got to do in it. My job being what it is, if I have a journey to do, it almost always has to be in something else. The GTi had to go.
I didn’t want to go through all the nonsense of tyre-kickers and time-wasters, so I put it up for online auction with Collecting Cars. Two people really wanted it, so it sold quickly and easily for healthy money. I then delivered it to its new owner at a Silverstone track day who in return let me have a go in his Manthey Racing-modified Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Which was nice. So it has gone to a total petrolhead who will use it the way it’s meant to be used. Will I miss it? Probably not, but only because I tend not to look back. I’m far happier that it has gone to a cracking home.
Fiat 500 Tom Morgan – bought
Picking my fiancee’s new commuter proved tricky for two reasons. First, it had to be small enough to fit in our diminutive garage, lest the neighbours complain about our copious use of parking spaces. Second, I was determined it would be at least somewhat interesting, my name having shamefully never appeared on a V5 before.
Toyota Aygos and the like were judged too boring, a Mini, ironically, too large. The lack of no-claims bonus ruled out anything hotter. Then this Electronica Blue Fiat 500 S appeared nearby and within budget.
The bodykit and alloys help it stand out, while the digital instruments and optional sat-nav make it feel more current than it is. The entry-grade engine has only 69bhp, but everything mechanical has so far proved infallible, which means the money saved on maintenance can be funnelled into my ‘future fun car’ fund instead.
Ford S-Max Damien Smith – sold
We finally said goodbye to our beloved 2009 Ford S-Max diesel this year. It had taken one hell of a battering from our four kids, and with 100,000 miles chalked up we chose to trade it in while it still held on to some semblance of value to another prospective owner. The independent dealer gave us £1500 for it, and with seven seats no longer an essential requirement, we picked out a 2016 Mercedes-Benz C350e hybrid. The Merc is, of course, vastly more refined, but still we miss our old warhorse. An inanimate, unlovely tool of functionality it may have been, but it was also part of our family.
The other side of the garage
James Ruppert: In 1972, I emptied my piggy bank for a hand-built EG Bates five-speed racing bike. Some 48 years later, I was still using it, but it deserved a makeover. After watching a wheel rebuild how-to video online, I decided it was easier to get a proper bike shop to replace the wonky spokes for a few quid. It also needed a deep clean, but my daughter did that for free. Now I basically have a new bike again.
Kris Culmer: My substitute for driving during lockdown was a Logitech G920 for my Xbox, bought with a month’s petrol budget. The aluminium wheel with leather and steel shifters feels great, and dual motors give surprisingly realistic feedback. The only alteration I made was removing a stop that makes the brake non-linear, as I couldn’t achieve 100% pressure. Racing all manner of cars against my friend while we talked on the phone made for some semblance of socialising, and I’m still enjoying sim racing six months later.
Colin Goodwin: My workshop, in which seven years ago I built my kit aeroplane that some of you will remember reading about, was a mess. Junk all over the place, workbench covered in rubbish and terrible tool scatter. In an OCD frenzy that included ordering some racking on eBay and making up some shelving, I have transformed the aforementioned mess into a tidy and presentable workshop that will pass muster with my old friend James May, who is hyper-critical of untidy sheds. All I need now is a new project. A bike, I think, rather than an aeroplane.