Hiring out old crocks is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand you get to knock off your dream car bucket list, on the other you discover the reality behind those teenage poster cars. It’s a bit like actually living with a supermodel. I imagine.
Over the last 8 years I’ve had about 100 different classic cars on the fleet. Here are the best and worst, judged on a combination of character and ownership experience.
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The 5 Best
1. Alfa Romeo Spider
Hahaha you’re thinking. An Alfa Romeo is the best car you’ve owned? Er, yes.
Despite underpinnings dating back to the early 60s and the fact it isn’t really an Alfa at all (it was built by Pininfarina, who made real Alfas look well built), our evergreen 1992 Series 4 Alfa is far and away the most reliable car on our fleet.
Over 70,000 kilometres in 8 years it’s broken down just once, due to a starter motor failure.
There may be more desirable classics out there but the Alfa delivers style, a rewarding driving experience and decent reliability. And it hasn’t rusted either.
2. Aston Martin DB6
The two DB6s we’ve run brought me close to a nervous breakdown on a few occasions, thanks to their remarkable ability to break down. But while that’s usually enough to consign a car to my Worst List, it’s hard to be so harsh on a car as beautiful as the Aston. Few cars have the presence and sense of occasion as the Aston, even if it drives like a truck and is as refined as a tractor.
3. Jensen Interceptor
Lets get one thing straight: it’s only my ’74 light blue Interceptor that makes this list. The three others we’ve run – ranging from Series 1 to 3 – are easy candidates for the Worst List. Which goes to show how important finding the right car actually is. The ’74 car has covered as many miles in the last 8 years as it did in the previous 35 but has been – generally – reliable and as good to drive now as it was back then. Stuff has gone wrong, but not as much stuff as you’d expect. And much, much, much less stuff than on the other three cars. Buying a Jensen is a lottery with, it appears, a 25% success rate.
4. Jaguar XJS
I’ve had XJS’ on the fleet pretty much from day one and remain impressed with their durability and reliability. The coupe is a far better ownership proposition than the convertible, which suffers more electrical problems, but both are remarkably good cars. Being from a slightly more advanced era of auto chokes and electronic ignition the XJS is much more like a modern car than the E Type. Interest in the XJS is skyrocketing, which is why we have two on our fleet. If you’re considering buying one, don’t be put off by the scare stories: a poorly maintained XJS will rip your pockets out, so don’t buy a poorly maintained one. A good one won’t.
5. Ford Capri
When we first got a Capri back in 2011 much laughter ensued, along the lines of ‘it’s not a classic’ and ‘why?’. I stuck with it, despite a remarkable absence of hirers. That all changed in 2014 when the car hit its stride. The Capri’s achilles heel is rust, otherwise it’s a simple, dependable and entertaining classic that makes a brilliant and reliable everyday classic.
The 5 Worst
1. DeLorean DMC-12
Just typing the name of John Z’s dream car is enough to put a shiver down my spine. As a child of the 80s I’d always fancied driving one: after all no mass produced car of the last 40 years is quite as jaw-droppingly distinctive as the DeLorean.
Driving the DeLorean, which I realise isn’t really the point of it, was a pretty dismal experience. Visibility is awful, the steering is heavy and wooden and the engine, straight out of a Volvo 260, is as good as you’d expect from that build up. Although it sounds nice. I also felt quite stupid being in it: it’s the automotive equivalent of a streaker screaming ‘look at me’ outside Tescos.
Living with a DeLorean was frankly a nightmare. Bits fell off, and not just switches and trim. The gear lever (several times). The front suspension. The front wheels (several times). The DeLorean is a catastrophically badly designed car that is best enjoyed in a museum.
2. Cobra Replica
Never trust a car that has been built in a shed. From bits of cars made in proper factories many, many years before. That’s my ‘take away’ from 3 years of Cobra replica hiring.
In that time we’ve had two Cobras – the second car since August has been considerably better but not without essentially the same weaknesses as the first.
When you buy a kit you’re buying a car that wasn’t designed in a single process and was built by someone who may or may not have known what they’re doing using components whose quality depended on how much they had to spend on that particular day. The consequences of this are component failures, rapid deterioration due to wear and tear and a lot of head scratching: because kit cars are individual builds you can never be quite sure what part has actually been used.
3. Rover SD1 Vitesse
It looks a bit like a Ferrari Daytona and it goes like stink. Those are the big Rover’s calling cards. That and an unerring lesson of the consequences of poor quality. Our 1987 SD1 looked brilliant and sounded great but it was possibly the most fragile car I’ve ever owned. There are cobbled streets in York narrower than the door gaps and the interior trim had a lifespan counted in hours. The driving position was awful. This is a car that used the Allegro’s Quartic steering wheel and nobody noticed because they were too busy holding bits of falling trim in place. A shame, because it looks great.
4. Porsche 928
The venerable 928 is a staple of those lists of bargain cars that You Must Buy Now Before Prices Rocket. Don’t bother. No really, forget it. I’ve done the research and bought the T shirt so that you never, ever have to.
There is no such thing as a cheap supercar. The 928 may be pretty well built with fairly good reliability but it is aridiculously complicated car. Solving World Hunger is a walk in the park compared to deciphering the 928’s electrics. Which would be all well and good if fixing it was cheap. But that Porsche name means expensive parts and specialists (and don’t bother taking it to a non specialist, no one will touch it).
Even that would be easy to swallow if the 928 was a great drive. Forget the magazine articles, it just isn’t. It’s a big, wide, heavy car whose lardiness makes an otherwise decent chassis and steering pretty much redundant: this is a car for the autobahn not British B roads.
5. Triumph Stag
How easy, you might think, to put the Stag on the Worst List. How very obvious. Yep, correct.
The good old Snag is a cliche because cliches are generally true. We’ve had a few Stags on the fleet over the years, of variable reliability, but none have crowned themselves in glory.
The car’s main problem, well documented elsewhere, is poor design, particularly of the engine. We suffered head gasket failures and ancillary component failures. Any car that requires the power steering system to be partially disassembled in order to remove the battery is never going to fill you with confidence.
Then there’s the hood. Mercedes did a brilliant job of designing the hood for the 1970s SL. Triumph must have seen this described in a magazine, probably in German, and decided they’d use the same basic idea. The result is truly awful, a mechanism so complicated and fragile that you might as well just not bother. It’s not even a proper convertible if you do.
The Stag drives quite nicely with lovely steering and a decent ride, but it’s one of the most frustrating cars I’ve ever had to live with.