£10k Con­vert­ibles Alfa S4, Porsche 944 Cabrio, Vaux­hall VX220, TVR S3, MGB, Sun­beam Alpine, BMW 325i and Mor­ris Mi­nor vie for sunny-weather supremacy

What makes for the best con­vert­ible in sum­mer 2017? We test eight con­vert­ibles that can be bought for £10k, for now

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words SAM DAWSON Pho­tog­ra­phy LAWRENCE PAR­SONS/ALEX TAPLEY

If you ever needed an illustration of what great value the world of clas­sic cars still has to offer away from the in­vestors’ favourites, check out this tempt­ing ar­ray of con­vert­ibles, any of which can be bought for £10k or less. That’s base-model Ford Fi­esta money, Bri­tain’s best-sell­ing car. The def­i­ni­tion of a real-world sum.

It’ll buy you a mint ex­am­ple of the very last of the Alfa Romeo 105-series line. It’s a Nineties car chrono­log­i­cally speak­ing, with ev­ery­thing that brings in­clud­ing the con­ve­nience and ef­fi­ciency of elec­tronic fuel in­jec­tion and the peace-of-mind of hot-dip zinc bodyshell gal­vanis­ing. How­ever, be­cause cer­tain de­sign fun­da­men­tals of the Alfa

Romeo Spi­der S4 re­mained un­changed ever since Dustin Hoff­man stepped over the sill of his Duetto al­most 25 years ear­lier, the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence re­mains joy­ously lodged in the Six­ties.

Thank­fully the mid-cen­tury driv­ing po­si­tion was over­hauled by the time the Spi­der’s S4 evo­lu­tion emerged, with a thor­oughly ad­justable seat. It works best with the orig­i­nal dished wheel – this car sports a flat-faced af­ter­mar­ket Nardi item which forces me to stretch a lit­tle fur­ther than I’d like – but you could still cover much more ground com­fort­ably in this S4 than in any ear­lier Spi­der. Nonethe­less, the ba­sic el­e­ments re­main.

The steer­ing is still by un­usu­ally sharp re­cir­cu­lat­ing-ball, the rear wheels are still at­tached to a live axle, and although it’s con­trolled by Ger­man elec­tron­ics you’ll still find the old chain­driven twin-cam un­der the bonnet. The view from the driver’s seat is redo­lent of some of the world’s most de­sir­able clas­sics. You en­ter past chrome fin­ger-pull doorhan­dles and set­tle be­hind a bul­bous pod of big di­als, your vi­sion framed by a chrome-edged wind­screen. That twin-cam gur­gles and rasps, sound­ing com­plex and high-pitched. Odd gear lever an­gle aside, the am­bi­ence of this Alfa is far closer to that of a Fer­rari 330 GTS than you’d think.

It’s as free-revving as a Fer­rari V12 too, spin­ning up to 4000rpm and be­yond with silken ease and feel­ing far more brisk than its on-pa­per ac­cel­er­a­tion fig­ures sug­gest, helped by the sense of ex­po­sure with the roof off. In fifth gear it seems to cruise more com­fort­ably at 80mph than 70, so it man­ages to feel po­tent on a mo­tor­way drive, with that sense that there’s al­ways more to come. It doesn’t re­ally square with the oc­ca­sion­ally voiced opin­ion that the Spi­der isn’t a par­tic­u­larly se­ri­ous sports car.

That crit­i­cism is ban­ished al­to­gether when you aim the Spi­der at a com­plex of bends at high speed. There’s a bit of body roll but it turns in sharply, and will only wag its tail if you push it. Also, be­cause it was de­signed from the be­gin­ning as a road­ster, there’s no un­to­ward scut­tle-shake.

Far from it, in fact. You’ll want to drive with the easy-to-use hood down as of­ten as pos­si­ble in or­der to hear the glo­ri­ous noise com­ing from the ex­haust. No mat­ter what you’re do­ing, it never sounds flat or dull. It bur­bles ex­pen­sively at idle, shrieks and crack­les un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, and when it’s sus­tain­ing 4000rpm it cries out like a Fer­rari 308 flat-plane crank V8.

Maybe the shock­ing Broom Yel­low paint­work helps, but the Spi­der looks, feels and drives like a gen­uine ex­otic, al­beit in the Six­ties dolce vita GT sense.

It makes roof­less-road­ster mo­tor­ing easy too. the hood mech­a­nism can be op­er­ated with one hand, and the tall wind­screen al­lows you to en­joy the sum­mery sense of ex­po­sure with­out the wind re­ar­rang­ing your face. For some­one look­ing for a clas­sic road­ster yet har­bour­ing fears of com­plex hood frames, flap­ping leaky vinyl and a nose-height wind­screen, the Spi­der is ideal and the hood de­sign makes it a re­al­is­tic year-round car with a rapid-re­sponse mech­a­nism when caught in sud­den down­pours.

‘The Alfa never feels like a gut­less flam­boy­ance’

That said, it’s not per­fect in the GT role. The dated aero­dy­nam­ics re­sult in wind noise and wan­der on high-speed straights, and the brakes don’t in­spire con­fi­dence when slow­ing sharply from cruis­ing ve­loc­i­ties, threat­en­ing first to shimmy, then lock and slide. Also, it’s un­der­mined by the too-mod­ern full-width strip­light tail, and chunky van-like door mir­rors.

But be­fore get­ting car­ried away with dreams of twist­ing B-roads, you’ll need to keep an eye out for footwell cor­ro­sion – peel back the floor mats of any prospec­tive pur­chase – weather-dam­aged in­te­ri­ors and hay­wire electrics es­pe­cially the win­dow switches, but there are few very se­ri­ous vices to worry about. The Spi­der S4 is glam­orous, iconic, easy to live with and a proper sports car with feet in both the purist Six­ties and con­ve­nient Nineties camps.

WPorsche 944 S2 Cabri­o­let spokes, is easy to grasp at a max­i­mum-con­trol quar­ter-to-three or ten-to-two, and the slick gearchange on its square tun­nel is a sec­ond-na­ture hand-drop from the wheel’s wide rim.

The ci­vil­ity only reaches the base of the wind­screen though. The 356 Speed­ster in­spi­ra­tion seems clear in the low, Allen-key af­fixed roof and eye­brow-height header rail. Un­fas­ten­ing the roof latches and stor­ing the folded can­vas un­der its pop­pered-down ton­neau isn’t the work of a mo­ment and once it’s off, you’re com­mit­ted to fresh-air thrills un­til you can find a layby.

Turn the ig­ni­tion key and you’re greeted with an un­der­whelm­ing hiss rather than a sporty bark. How­ever, it doesn’t take a par­tic­u­larly long drive for the 944 to shake away its po­lite un­der­state­ment and trans­form it­self into a se­ri­ous sports car. Plant the throt­tle, work your way through the smoothly-oiled gears, and hear that big ‘four’ trans­form into a vo­cal gym­nast, as it urges you to its 5800rpm power peak while shov­ing you firmly into the seat’s em­brace with the wind howl­ing over your head. It’s a sim­i­lar story with the han­dling – at low speeds the pow­eras­sisted 944 feels so in­su­lated and easy to ma­noeu­vre that it prom­ises lit­tle in­volve­ment in the bends. But the seat clamps you in and its re­la­tion­ship with the tyres’ solid grip, plus the 50/50 chas­sis bal­ance, in­volves you in the car’s abil­i­ties in­tensely.

As a re­sult, the 944 isn’t bor­ingly ef­fi­cient but rather ul­tra­com­pli­ant. Ev­ery­thing about the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, from its power delivery and in­tu­itively faith­ful steer­ing, to the ap­pli­ca­tion of the brakes and the way in which the car seem­ingly holds the road harder the more you push it, is vice­less and lin­ear. hy the isn’t more revered even by Porschep­hiles has al­ways been a mys­tery to me. Granted, it shares noth­ing with the 911 other than the gold enamel shield on its nose, but its transaxle plat­form was con­ceived to re­place the 911’s frankly odd rearengined chas­sis, and the 944 with its slant-four in three-litre form rep­re­sents the zenith of the front-en­gined Porsche.

Per­haps it’s the way fa­mil­iar­ity and im­i­ta­tion has dulled the im­pact of its lines. The Ja­panese were arch-pil­fer­ers of its tor­pedo-like form, with the Mazda RX-7, Nis­san 200SX and Toy­ota Cel­ica crib­bing its shape to the point where the source ma­te­rial strug­gled to as­sert its own iden­tity. The is­sue wasn’t helped by Porsche’s own dou­ble-chinned 1988 restyle, and the con­vert­ible’s lines aren’t the most har­mo­nious ei­ther, ditching the coupé’s el­e­gant rear glass and pert spoiler in favour of a bru­tally flat bootlid and awk­wardly-stacked hood. Un­usu­ally it looks bet­ter with the roof up, its hunched pro­file re­call­ing the 356 Speed­ster.

Any vis­ual quib­bles are quickly for­got­ten once you’re en­sconced in­side. The end­lessly ad­justable driv­ing po­si­tion can be made to fit just about any­one snugly in a straight-legged, sporty pos­ture. The sur­pris­ing thing about the 944’s in­te­rior is the way that things that don’t look par­tic­u­larly er­gonomic turn out to be per­fectly judged. The steer­ing wheel, for ex­am­ple, with its four par­al­lel

That said, it’s not per­fect, most of its is­sues stem­ming from its roof­less na­ture. Held on by sim­ple bolts, the hood doesn’t seem par­tic­u­larly se­cure at speed and scut­tle-shake is pro­nounced, most alarm­ingly at high speeds when de­cel­er­at­ing sharply from 80mph, when you least want to feel it. How­ever, the im­pres­sion left most strongly is how far re­moved from the 911 ex­pe­ri­ence the 944 is, and how much bet­ter it is as a re­sult. The whim-obey­ing han­dling and scream­ing twin-cam makes the 944 Cabri­o­let feel like a grown-up Lo­tus Elan, not a lower-rung 911. Best Porsche for £10k? It’s one of the best Porsches re­gard­less.

‘It doesn’t take long for the 944 to shake its po­lite un­der­state­ment’

But you’ll have to act fast - un­til fairly re­cently, ten grand was Turbo-only money so far as 944s were con­cerned. Now if you want a Turbo you’ll need twice that. The 944 S2 Cabri­o­let may be an un­der­rated Porsche, and quite pos­si­bly closer in spirit to the leg­endary 356 Speed­ster than Porsche’s try-hard 911-based Eight­ies trib­ute, but it’s also a transaxle Porsche on the move at last. Buy yours be­fore ev­ery­one else no­tices – but first have a thor­ough look for bashed polyurethane cor­ners, scraped al­loys and sloppy han­dling that might in­di­cate pre­vi­ous track-day use.

The Alfa Spi­der may be a de­sign icon and the Porsche 944 one of the all-time great-han­dling clas­sic sports cars, but what about own­ing an icon

of han­dling for un­der £10k – the price of a tired or thrashed Lo­tus Elise? Thank­fully there’s a so­lu­tion – the Vaux­hall VX220. Its low resid­ual value might be to do with Vaux­hall’s lack of sports-car her­itage. But if you ig­nore the badge on the nose it’s no less a Lo­tus, built at Hethel on the same alu­minium chas­sis as the Elise, with looks that by­pass the 23-trib­ute Elise S1’s retro and aim for rad­i­cal mod­ern su­per­car ter­ri­tory in­stead. Per­haps it’s the an­gu­lar­ity of its body, from the tri­an­gu­lar head­lights to the shoul­der-padded rear via in­sec­toid wheels, but it looks more like a Lam­borgh­ini Gallardo than a typ­i­cal Bri­tish sports car. Open the door, and you must avoid putting any weight on the wide plas­tic sill cover as you step into the bare alu­minium cock­pit. Vaux­hall should have cov­ered it in black-and-yel­low warn­ing tape and topped it off with ‘No Step’. The driv­ing po­si­tion is well-de­vised yet un­ad­justable, which isn’t as big a prob­lem as you might think given that the monas­ti­cally min­i­mal­ist in­te­rior frees up space around the key con­trols, so sit­ting with your knees bent if you’re tall won’t mean you end up graz­ing the cen­tre con­sole. Be­cause there isn’t one.

The only real prob­lem is the hood. It’s not that it’s dif­fi­cult to put on – just click the end-rods into the holes in the header rail and the roll bar and stretch the fab­ric across – but the roof is so low, and the sills so high, that tall driv­ers will find board­ing with the top in place near-im­pos­si­ble. But af­ter am­ply con­tort­ing your­self, hit the starter but­ton and you’re treated to a po­tent crackle fired out by the dou­ble-stacked field-mor­tars that pass for ex­haust pipes.

It barely takes more than a cou­ple of cor­ners and a few twitches of the tiny ar­cade-game steer­ing wheel to re­alise just quite how con­nected and spe­cial this car feels. The unas­sisted steer­ing tugs at your fin­gers as the front tyres ne­go­ti­ate in­di­vid­ual peb­bles, and yet there’s no sense of the car be­ing hy­per­ac­tively ner­vous.

One of the many sub­tle changes to the VX220’S setup com­pared to the Elise’s gave it fat­ter tyres and a 33mm-longer wheel­base, all mea­sures aimed at flat­ter­ing driv­ers who’d come to it straight from an As­tra rather than cus­tomers steeped in Lo­tus lore. The rear end feels un­stick­able, with overly hard cor­ner­ing re­sult­ing in a hint of eas­ily-cor­rected un­der­steer rather than snap-over­steer.

The Vec­tra-sourced driv­e­train ac­tu­ally makes for a bet­ter own­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence than the con­cur­rent Rover-en­gined Elise S1’s. The 2.2-litre four is torquey and un­der­stressed and fea­tures a much nicer gear­box with a pleas­antly me­chan­i­cal-feel­ing flick­wrist ac­tion. Roof off, revs wound up past 4000rpm in fourth gear and ac­com­pa­nied by a mus­cu­lar mid-range roar, the VX220 not only makes 120mph shock­ingly easy, it also man­ages to feel even faster. I last felt this bare cock­pit, con­cen­trated mid-en­gined min­i­mal­ism and warp­ing scenery in an F40. You can get even closer to su­per­car­dom with the two-litre tur­bocharged VXR ver­sion, but this brings ex­tra weak­nesses and com­plex­i­ties, and cru­cially you won’t find one within our £10,000 bud­get.

Ul­ti­mately the nor­mally-as­pi­rated Vaux­hall runs out of heave just as a Fer­rari F40’s tur­bocharg­ers would come on­line, but the VX220 of­fers all the at­tributes of a su­per­car you’d ac­tu­ally be able to use on the road. In­ter­est­ingly, be­cause of the roll-bar and glass screen nestling up be­hind your head, it’s ac­tu­ally quite wellinsu­lated from the wind even at high speeds, feel­ing more like an open sun­roof than a miss­ing up­per struc­ture. You get the sense that the roof comes off pri­mar­ily to aid en­try and exit, rather than en­hance driv­ing thrills. When you have a chas­sis so in­ter­ac­tive and an in­te­rior as fo­cused as this, the fact the roof comes off feels like an afterthought that could eas­ily be for­got­ten com­pletely.

You’d have to think hard be­fore de­cid­ing whether its su­per­carstyle im­prac­ti­cal­i­ties re­ally do have a place in your life. If they do, you’d then need to check for dam­aged body­work, lis­ten for en­gine rat­tles sug­gest­ing it’s been run low on oil, and en­sure early re­calls to fix crack-prone rear wheel­hubs were ad­hered to. But with good cars from as lit­tle as £6k, if it does suit you then it must be one of the most be­guil­ing bar­gains ever to ap­pear in th­ese pages.

‘The VX220 was set up to flat­ter driv­ers who’d come straight from an As­tra’

MGB, TVR S3, Porsche 944 S2, Alfa Spi­der S4, Sun­beam Alpine, Mor­ris Mi­nor, BMW 325i and Vaux­hall VX220 – let battle com­mence!

Un­like fore­bears, the S4 in­te­grated the Alfa grille into the nosecone smoothly Ex­otic in­te­rior in­cludes strangely an­gled gear lever De­spite Nineties build date the en­gine was de­signed in the Six­ties

Oc­cu­pants should en­sure their golf sweaters are tied tightly around their shoul­ders Four-pot sounds un­der­whelm­ing, but comes alive with revs

Prodi­gious han­dling makes the 944 feel like a scaled-up Elan

Styling for As­tra grad­u­ates with Gallardo as­pi­ra­tions Spar­tan cock­pit has a whiff of Fer­rari F40 Never has some­thing from a Vec­tra been so ex­cit­ing

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