I love old cars. Even when I don’t need to, I do. What started as economic necessity has become a motoring philosophy, long after the necessity disappeared. Put simply, I live the James Ruppert Bangernomics ideal.
Bangernomics is a simple concept: that by buying wisely you can run an old car, often a quite interesting old car, for much less than the price of a new one. It’s intrinsically tied up with a rejection of status, consumerism and style typified by new cars, but you don’t have to subscribe to one to see the appeal of the other.
Critics of Bangernomics are essentially risk averse. Because buying an old car is perceived as inherently more risky than buying a new one. But it doesn’t have to be. To be a successful Bangernomics disciple you have to treat your car as a disposable object and you accept the risk of breakdown as a consequence of saving money. A lot of it.
I discovered Bangernomics by chance some time after I’d inadvertently adopted the philosophy. When I was made redundant I needed a cheap car, but I wanted one that didn’t make me feel like an automotive hair shirt. After years of executive cosseting, I needed some refinement. Here, from 2009 to 2016, is my life in bangers.
October 2009 to September 2010, 10,000 miles
Paid £1500, sold £1800, spent £2000
Buying a supercharged X300 Jaguar made a lot of sense at the time. An interesting daily driver that could double as a member of my hire fleet. This first dabble into Bangernomics was instructive. The X300 I bought from a friend was cheap and had been cosseted, but old Jaguars often need more care and attention than even deep pockets provides. The Jag, with a mere 5 separate fuse boxes, had a haphazard approach to electrical functioning. When things went wrong it cost a fortune to fix, if you could find the parts. And aside from insane straight-line speed it wasn’t much cop to drive.
Lesson learned – badly built cars are bad old car purchases.
Saab 9-5 3.0 diesel
September 2010 to May 2011, 6,000 miles
Paid £1000, sold for £350. Spent £1100
I like Saabs and the 9-5 estate makes a lot of sense as a cheap old smoker. Solid, well built, insanely engineered in the Saab tradition and plentiful so cheap. After the XJRs sub-20mpg I wanted something a bit more economical but with some poke. So the V6 diesel Saab made a lot of sense. Apparently. My first mistake was to buy unseen from eBay at a time when I thought I understood this medium but really didn’t (buying unseen from eBay is fine, but you need to know what you’re doing). My second was to ignore the warnings about the 3.0 diesel and be blinded to POWER. The car I bought was a battle-scarred dog at the end of its life. I wasted money fitting a replacement gearbox and when it succumbed to the inevitable head gasket failure (the engine’s Achillies heel) it had to go.
Lesson learned – don’t take uncalculated risks when buying a car (like buying unseen), don’t ignore advice and don’t invest serious money in a cheap car
Saab 9-5 3.0 petrol
June 2011 to January 2016, 40,000 miles
Paid £500, sold £300, spent £200
After wasting a fortune on the Jag and Saab I should have been scared off bangers. But I love a bargain and so it wasn’t long before I was looking for another. I loved the 9-5s space, pace and unrivalled comfort so that’s where I started. I wasn’t keen on a 1.9 or 2.2 diesel due to the lack of performance. I decided to avoid the Aero as most were expensive or manuals. Then I chanced upon the V6 Griffin, a rare model featuring a GM-inspired 3 litre. This strong engine had a reputation for durability and, despite 200bhp, the Griffin was overlooked and therefore cheap. I found one at a Saab specialist, asked the right questions before committing and enjoyed 40,000 fault-free miles before it was involved in a low impact head on smash. Even that didn’t kill the super solid Saab – I bought it off the insurer for £95, fitted new panels and ran it for a few thousand more miles before selling it.
Lesson learned – know the car you’re buying, go safely off-piste with an unloved spec on a popular car, research the car and seller
Alfa 166 3.0
December 2014 to January 2016, 20,000 miles
Paid £500, sold £750, spent £150
The Alfa 166 seems to have experienced a recent Renaissance, but back in 2014 they were still cheap. I chanced on this low mileage car cheaply because it was in an inconvenient location for most people, it had no MOT and signs that getting one might be expensive and a seller desperate for cash. My research suggested that the MOT issues were probably easy fixes and the location wasn’t an issue. The 166 is that Holy Grail of Bangernomics – an unloved big car from a risky manufacturer. But dig deeper and it’s a hidden gem – surprisingly well built, proven mechanicals and motor and dynamically brilliant. I loved mine – quick, comfortable and blessed withe superlative Busso engine. After the MOT issues were fixed it just needed tyres and a back box to run for the next 20,000 miles. The fuel consumption and my need for an estate made me sell it, something I still regret.
Lesson learned – take calculated risks with location, sellers and models. Do your research and someone else’s risk is your known, considered decision.
Alfa 156 V6 estate
February 2016 to August 2016, 8,000 miles
Paid £700, sold £730, spent £100
After falling in love with the 166 but needing an estate, the 156 sport wagon was the obvious choice. It is a great looking car and it had to be a V6 after the joys of the 166’s 3 litre. These are rare cars but I found a low mileage car owned by a mechanic who worked for a reputable classic car restorer. Boxes ticked. As a banger this car did its job – reliable and low cost to run. But I never warmed to the 156 – it’s cramped, uncomfortable, not very quick and badly engineered with terrible torsional rigidity. So it had to go.
Lesson learned – check out the seller. If you like big cars with big seats and spec, don’t buy a small car with small seats and a hairshirt spec.
Saab 9-5 3.0 petrol
August 2016 to present
After the Alfa I knew I needed space, pace, an auto box and some decent engineering. Another Saab was the obvious choice. There are a lot of 9-5s for sale but again my criteria was strict – avoid Aero (too expensive and most have been thrashed) and avoid smaller engine cars. It had to be another Griffin. As they’re super rare I was immensely lucky to chance upon a superb example in Carlisle. It hadn’t sold because of its location and unusual Griffin spec, but these were risks I now knew. I chatted a length to the owner, exchanged a lot of emails and it was quickly clear the car had been cosseted by an enthusiast. When someone has just spent £800 on new seat bolsters and foam, you know the car has been cared for. I broke my cardinal rule of never paying more than £1000 and sealed the deal. A couple of weeks in and the car already feels like a keeper – it’s 147,000 miles feel like 70,000 and everything works.
Lesson learned – go off piste, mileage is irrelevant if a car has been well maintained. Vented seats always seal a deal.
After a shaker start, 68,000 miles has cost me £370 in parts plus around £1,800 in workshop time (at retail prices) over 5 years. In comparison, over 2 years my three year old Audi A6 cost me £7,500 in depreciation and repairs. My fuel costs are higher than for most people because I choose to sacrifice some of what I save on V6 cars.
Bangernomics is not for everyone. As my experience shows, it takes time and money to get it right. And not everyone is comfortable driving 15 year old daily drivers. But the upside is you get to drive some interesting cars for peanuts – and you can save a fortune.
If Bangernomics appeal I recommend following @bangernomics on Twitter.