A YEAR OF THE MON­KEY

Has for­tune favoured our bar­gain clas­sics in their 12 months with us?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Living With Classics -

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.

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