A YEAR OF THE MONKEY
Has fortune favoured our bargain classics in their 12 months with us?
DAVID SIMISTER Cheddar cheese, Christmas crackers, an Alan Partridge-esque sports jacket that noone will own up to owning and the radiator grille from a Rover 25. No, these aren’t prizes from the worst ever round of The Generation Game, but some of the things we’ve picked up in the course of running three bargain basement classics for a year.
Oh, and some hefty bills as well. Naturally we’ll have to blame Nick Larkin for this feature idea. After all, it was he who pointed out that classic cars aren’t all worth squillions and driven by city investment bankers. After a dangerously ambitious pub lunch, we decided to prove that classic motoring can be enjoyed on any budget by buying some interesting wheels for £500 or less.
News editor Murray bought the biggest barge he could find within budget, and somehow ended up with a Mercedes -Benz S-class with a strained-sounding six-cylinder engine. After a lot of haggling I managed to secure a Ford Puma. And Nick? Well, after falling asleep in the back seat of one of our cars, he awoke to discover that he was the proud new owner of a 1.4-litre MG ZR.
Since then we’ve dispatched our cheap-as-chips classics to every corner of the British Isles on CCW assignments, and on the odd occasion even further; the S-class was pressed into action for the Le Mans Classic, the Puma survived Christmas shopping in Brussels and the ZR was headed to Holland in March for the British Cars and Lifestyle show.
The lesson we’ve learned is that the S-class is the one most likely to break down, the Puma will make it but never feels as well-built as Uncle Henry intended and the MG will do everything, but occasionally ends up confused by the concept of central locking.
The S-class is also the one that causes
CCW’s accountants to hide in the toilets whenever an invoice arrives. A new set of Bridgestone tyres, for instance, cost £584 – £84 more than we coughed up for the entire car. But that’s a small price to pay for having a £39,800 slab of Stuttgart luxury for the equivalent of a week’s holiday rent in the Lake District. We’ve also had to mend a worn gear selector bush on the auto transmission and sort the knackered brakes out, but it’s as sumptuous as any Silver Shadow or XJ6 when it comes to gobbling through giant swathes of the motorway network.
In their own ways, the Puma and ZR have been even more impressive. Despite loose trim, occasional electric niggles and a habit of rusting when
no one’s looking, it’s the Puma’s keys that everyone fights over the most, because its zingy little Zetec engine and pin-sharp steering make it addictively good fun to drive.
But the ZR’s even better. Despite an errant BMW driver’s best efforts to ruin it by forcing some front-end cosmetic damage onto the car – and our rather rubbish attempt at temporarily repairing it by fitting a Rover 25 bumper and grille – it has steadfastly refused to break down in the 12 months we’ve had it.
So, we’ve established that you can enjoy a year’s worth of grin-friendly motoring at £500 a pop, but the story doesn’t end here.
The MG picked up a new radiator grille and sailed through its MoT just in time for an appearance at MGLive! ( CCW, 28 June), with only a dicky headlight letting the side down. The S-class, despite an intermittent electrical fault that occasionally illuminates two of its dashboard warning lights, has also managed to make it through the inspection and earn another year’s ticket. But the poor Puma skulked out of the MoT test station with a depressingly long list of faults to sort.
The aim now is to make sure that all three are up and running with a freshly renewed MoT before we pass them on to their new owners.
Fingers crossed, and all that…
Despite its many niggles our Puma managed 51mpg on the North Wales’ roads.
All of our classics visited product editor, Richard Kilpatrick, for TLC, including our Puma. WEEK 41 WEEK 17
WEEK 31 Disaster for our ZR when its front bumper, lights and grille are badly damaged.
WEEK 3 Merc breakdown on a cross-Channel ferry set the tone for our £500 Challenge early on.
WEEK 37 Our ZR – incorrect grille intact – baffled visitors to this year’s Practical Classics resto show.