If you’re a car guy/lass, it’s almost certain you’re a compiler and lover of lists. Okay, a lot of those lists will probably fall into the category of “things I need to fix before it will move again”. Or “performance parts I’ll buy as soon as humanly possible, by the way how much for a semi-used kidney”. But still, we petrolheads love a list. And we love arguing over them.
Well, I’ve decided to fuel this particular fire. I was contemplating one of those “perfect garage” lists the other day, and it was the usual fare. The writer had picked an utterly unachievable combination of mad supercars, unattainable hypercars, stratospherically-priced classics and exotic one-offs. Just seven cars and I think the whole list was worth north or £100 million.
This got me thinking. We’ve all made these ‘dream garage’ lists, and they’re hopelessly unrealistic. But what if I had a more sensible amount of money to spend? What if I took the price of a normal family home in the UK, or a standard supercar, (which would give me about £200,000 to spend) and tried to buy something for every occasion? I decided on 9 categories and set some rules: no clunkers or rot-boxes allowed, they have to be useable at least once a week (no trailer/garage queens) and I only allowed myself one brand new motor across the nine categories.
Can it be done? Can I build my perfect petrolhead garage for less than £200,000 without resorting to absolute sheds? It’s still a lot of money, but it’s a lot more realistic than a budget running into the tens of millions. So I hit the internet and looked for reasonably priced examples of awesome cars that ticked all my boxes.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t confident. I have rather expensive tastes. However, I was pleasantly surprised at just what’s out there is you really look…
(Prices correct as of November 2016)
1. All purpose family wagon/winter weapon
Subaru Forrester STI (£8,000)
AWD, 2.5 turbocharged 4cyl boxer, 265bhp
Ah, the Forester STI. One of those cars that should be on every petrolhead’s radar, but no-one ever seems to mention. I don’t understand this. It’s got a reputation for bomb-proof reliability, is super-quick over pretty much any terrain you’ll realistically face in Blighty, and you can can throw a truckload of IKEA boxes in the back while carrying two adults and some sprogs in comfort. As a general all-rounder and winter weapon (something every perfect garage needs), it makes one heck of a case for itself.
While prices for a good condition original Impreza STI are beginning to climb rapidly, the Forester’s values are almost at bottoming-out point. Eight grand will get you a nice one, but I’ve seen them as low as five – if you don’t mind your ride being a bit bumped about and smelling faintly of ancient labrador.
With my sensible hat on, the Forester makes a genuine case for being “the only car you need”. For the price of a base-spec Fiat 500. That’s something you’d struggle to say about anything else.
2. Continental cruiser/luxo-barge
2001 Audi S8 (£5,000)
AWD, V8, 360bhp, 5.5secs 0-60
Ronin has a lot to answer for. Ever since Frankenheimer’s 1998 masterpiece burst onto our screens, the S8 has been firmly lodged in the mind’s of petrolhead’s as something that can “really shovel it”.
If you want to carry four adults and their luggage in huge comfort and at great speed across a continent, there are dozens of options. But how many rock a dirty great V8, four-wheel drive, all the toys you could want and a price tag under £10K (as low as £3K for a rotter, £5K for an average one)? For the price of a bog-standard Dacia Sandero you can get a luxurious, 360bhp, sub-six second limo that still looks great, will probably outlast the moon and can outrun Russian mobsters. And you never know when you’ll need that…
3. End of the world go-anywhere motor
Land Rover Defender 90 TD5 (£10,000)
AWD, front-engined, 2.5TD, 85bhp
Really? You expected something else here? Let me make something clear before I begin: I am not a particularly big fan of the Defender. They’re not terribly well made, the internal packaging is ridiculous, they have atrocious road-manners, they’re slow and you have to open the driver’s window to turn the steering wheel without banging your elbow on the window. They’ve been in production for 60 years and it shows.
However. If you want to go anywhere, and I do mean anywhere, nothing this side of a Dakar truck comes close. It’ll climb mountains, ford serious rivers, scramble over ruts, muck, mud and rocks and do it all with no perceivable effort. It fulfils its brief incredibly well. It’s a go-anywhere, anytime vehicle that performs superbly even when laden with hay, animals, trailers, tools, petrol cans, snorkels, roof-racks and anything else your farm/end of the world scenario may require.
Without a doubt, every perfect garage needs a go-anywhere motor. And when it comes to go-anywhere motors, the Defender is genesis. Don’t look anywhere else.
4. Open-top champion
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (£38,000)
RWD, 4.3 V8, 380bhp, 4.9secs 0-60, 175mph
Look at it. Just look at it. I’m not sure a prettier, more perfectly proportioned sports car has every come out of Aston’s Gaydon HQ. That stubby back-end, beautiful snout and squat haunches. It’s perfect.
At least, it’s perfect as a coupe. I am not roadster man. Not at all. Too much compromise in the way of handling, chassis stiffness and weight. Add in the image (I can barely comb hair let alone cut it) and they’re just not my thing.
But the Vantage is the exception. What a thing. The chop-top doesn’t ruin the gorgeous styling and, of course, gives your lugs much better access to that sonorous V8. I love a V8, and Aston’s is an utter peach – plenty of torque, crackles, pops and bangs on the overrun and a great, bassy, hairy-chested soundtrack under load. It’s perfect. Okay, so it’s “only” got 380bhp, but in reality that’s more than you’ll ever need on British roads. Enough to have a great time, not enough to give you a coronary if you slightly misjudge your corner entry.
Sure, the handling isn’t as good as the coupe, let alone the likes of a Lamborghini or Ferrari drop-top. Yet that really doesn’t matter. This is a car for brisk B-road blasts, epic country drives and boulevard cruises. To criticise it for not being a track-day weapon is to miss the point entirely.
Even image isn’t an issue for the Vantage. It’s butch enough to feel unhairdresser-y and, after all, it’s an Aston. That badge carries a lot of cache and goodwill. For the price of a nicely specced 3-series, you can be driving a timeless, V8 powered slice of luxury sports-roadster heaven. And it’s pretty much bottomed out now, so as long as you don’t daily it you should avoid any serious depreciation.
Get your spec right (for the record, that means a manual in silver with black leather interior) and it’s just… perfect.
5. Euro sports car
Porsche Cayman 987S (£12,000)
RWD, mid-engined, 3.4 flat-6, 295bhp, 5.4secs 0-60, 171mph
Naturally aspirated with divinely balanced handling and enough power to make a B-road blast exhilirating but not lethal, I can’t think of a more perfect example of a Euro sports car than the Porsche Cayman 987S.
The Cayman has legendarily good handling, smart looks and, considering a decent one can be had for twelve grand, plenty of bang for your buck.
Recently, Porsche has gone turbo on all its models, so this little beauty is also set to keep rising in value. Sadly, it’s almost certainly one of the last naturally-aspirated Porsches there will ever be. Heck, it’s probably one of the last true NA sports cars, full stop.
Some cars just get everything right. When it comes to that fine old European tradition of beautiful, powerful coupes with razor-sharp handling, the Cayman just nails it.
6. Brute force Yank
1968 Ford Mustang 5.0 (302cu) V8 Fastback (£30,000)
RWD, 4.9 V8, 230bhp, 310ft-lb
Steve McQueen drove one. It’s not the most powerful car ever, but it looks and sounds utterly incredible. It’s one of the coolest cars ever made. It has a stonking great V8 that sounds like Brian Blessed gargling gravel in a canyon. I don’t need to explain this. Next.
7. Japanese street-fighter
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 (£15,000)
AWD, 2.6 twin-turbo straight-6, 276bhp, 271ft-lb, 5.0secs 0-60, 155mph
I’m going to (possibly) be controversial here. I think this is, by far, the best looking of the modern day (i.e. late-80s onwards) Japanese sports cars. It’s certainly the best looking GT-R – modern and clearly sporting in intent, but without all the wings, daft bodykits and general “Grrrr, look at me I’m a JDM car” attitude of the R34 and R35. I love this car.
It’s still quick by modern standards. Even the latest batch of 300bhp+ mega-hatches would struggle to keep up with a well-driven R33 down a country lane.
Frankly, it’s the epitome of a JDM special. It has more electronic aids, bells and whistles than you could ever possibly need, the claimed power output is completely made up (it makes quite a bit more), depending on spec it has some lovely, subtle bodykits and they’re an increasing rare sight.
You can still find cared-for, unmodified (or gently fettled) R33’s for about fifteen grand. Which is silly cheap. That’s less than half the price of a Focus RS or Golf R for a rarer, cooler and quicker car. Grab one now before the prices go mental.
8. Childhood hero
1986 Audi Quattro (£25,000)
AWD, 2.1 turbocharged straight-5, 197bhp, 6.7secs 0-60, 138mph
This was ground zero for me. The car that started it all. Walking to school with my mom at the age of six, we used to pass one of these every day. It was a deep metallic grey and I loved it immediately. The stance, the blistered arches, that long flat acre of bonnet. It captivated me.
At that time, my old man was rocking a British racing green Vauxhall Viva with horrible vinyl seats and most of the cars on the road were orangey-beige BL rot-boxes. So it’s maybe not a surprise that this Teutonic Titan captured my imagination and started a life-long obsession with anything automotive.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that, as I got older, I realised that the Audi Quattro really is a very cool car indeed. The Group B days are looked back on fondly by many petrolheads of a certain age, and the Quattro was a major reason for that.
Fine, so the road-going version bore little resemblance to the rally monster (unless you managed to lay your hands on the Quattro Sport, which was an entirely mad thing). That didn’t matter. This had four wheel drive, was seriously rapid for the time, had real motorsport chops and just looked damn cool.
The six year old me wanted one of these so badly it hurt. Mom got me a die-cast model of one eventually, which I cherished for many years. My chance to buy the real thing came in 2001 when my local Audi garage had a mint, Midnight Blue example on sale for just £9,000. It was stunning. And, let’s face it, £9,000 for one of these is pocket change now. But as a newly married man with a house to renovate, it may as well have been a million.
Now, you can’t get a decent Quattro for less than £25,000, a sum I simply couldn’t justify dropping on a weekend car. So it will remain just out of reach. I’ve never even driven one.
Maybe that’s a good thing. It couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations of six-year-old me. And if it didn’t, well, it’d break my heart.
9. New car wildcard
Ariel Nomad (£30,000)
RWD, 2.4, 4-cyl, 235bhp, 221ft-lb, 670Kg, 3.4secs 0-60, 125mph
It’s a Tamiya Hornet R/C car, made life size. A snorting, bucking, leaning, lightweight, rear-wheel drive nutcase with supercar-worrying acceleration that will pretty much go anywhere.
If that sales pitch doesn’t sell the Nomad to you, then you’ve not got an ounce of petrol in your veins. Goodness only knows what Ariel were thinking. Deciding to manufacture a giant R/C car has to go down as one of the bravest, maddest decisions a car-maker has ever taken. And I love them for it.
I mean, this is, to all intents and purposes, some scaffolding with a seat in it. And it will out-accelerate pretty much everything else on the road, including some seriously expensive Italian metal. Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the fast-lane BMW and Audi bullies as you disappear into the distance in your mad little kart?
What the Nomad does so effectively is it distills the idea of a car down to the very essence of what most petrolheads want – a beautifully engineered deliverer of joy. My immediate reaction when I saw it for the first time was “I need one of those in my life, right now”. I don’t care who you are, this thing cannot fail to bring a smile to your face.
The Ariel Nomad. Hilarious. Bonkers. Brilliant. Quite possibly the ultimate big boy’s toy.
For those that have been totting this up, that makes a total of £173,000 for nine superb, appreciating, proper pertrolhead cars. That’s less than the price of a one-bed flat in London or a well-specced Bentley Continental V8. Which kind of makes me wonder why anyone buys a bog-standard supercar when there are so many amazing, collectible cars around at a fraction of the price.
But of course, I’m a petrolhead. And my perfect garage wouldn’t be complete without one supercar. The kind of thing that graced our walls as kids. That makes you catch your breath when you see or hear it. A car that you could happily just look at for the rest of your life. Preferably one from Maranello. In red.
There really was only one option:
10. Poster icon
Ferrari F40 (£800,000) (1987-1992)
RWD, mid-engined, 2.9 V8, twin-turbo, 478bhp, 424ft-lb, 1369Kg, 4.1secs 0-62, 201mph
Oh my. What a noise. If you’ve never heard the F40 at full chat, V8 howling and turbos hissing, you really are letting the best in life pass you buy. This is pure petrolhead nirvana. To my ears, nothing even comes close.
Yes, the contemporary Porsche 959 is a technical tour-de-force and probably a saner drive in real life. But this is a Ferrari. No. Actually, this is THE Ferrari.
The home of the prancing horse may have called their most recent hypercar ‘La’, but this is the one for me. The ultimate expression of all a fast car can and should be. This is the car that not only embodies Ferrari, but supercars as a breed. Untamed, a bit mad and properly dangerous for the amateur driver. It will only ever be as good as the fleshy meat-sack in the driver’s seat.
The F40 offers you no driver’s aids. No comfort blanket in the form of electronic nannies and safety nets. Just a 2.9 litre V8 with twin turbochargers pushing a mighty 478bhp (apparently a rather conservative figure, rumours abound that it actually put out 500bhp+ from the factory) through it’s fat rear tyres.
Visually, it’s utterly epic. This thing looks brutally fast even when it’s parked. And it’s no sleek, glossy show-car for the Cars-and-Coffee brigade. No, this is a beast dedicated to one thing: maximum attack and track domination. There’s no fat, no gimmicks and no baubles, just what is, to my eyes at least, the most perfect driver’s car ever made.
The Ferrari F40 is it for me. It’s my Eleanor.
Of course, the mad thing is that, even with the tour de force that is the F40 in my perfect garage, it still all clocks in at £973,000. So that’s 10 awesome, rare, collectible and appreciating cars for (much) less than a McLaren P1 would cost you now. Or a slightly shonky terraced house in central London. I know which I’d go for…