The 10 best & worst classic cars

Classic car magazines are dangerous places, particularly after a couple of glasses of wine and with your Ebay browser open. They’ll have you salivating over long-loved icons with their combination of dramatic photography and enthusiastic prose.

The trouble is that owning a classic car isn’t always quite like that. They can break down and deteriorate. The beautiful vision of loveliness in the article can induce Basil Fawlty style tantrums faster than you can say ‘money pit.’ 

Of course, clever know-it-alls who wouldn’t know fun if it jumped in front of them wearing a clown suit with the word fun on it will tell you that such is the world of classic cars and you only have yourself to blame. No. And maybe. Below is a list of the best and worst classic cars we’ve run. We run our classic hire cars over very high annual mileages so we think this list is a good real world indicator of what to buy and what to avoid. Hopefully it will help you avoid the know-it-all’s pointing finger of blame.

The Best

1. Alfa Romeo Spider

If you’re surprised to see an Alfa at the top of our ‘best classics’ list, don’t be. The Spider is a brilliantly engineered, ultra reliable classic convertible that delivers fun by the bucketload. We have owned most variants of this superb car but it is the late Series 4 that we like best for its combination of comfort and sheer usability. In 70,000 kilometres of hire it has only failed once due to a faulty starter motor and even then it chose to do it just 1 mile from our unit on it return with customers. The only downside of the Spider is parts supply – some items are getting scarce and they can be pricey. But if it doesn’t go wrong then that isn’t such a problem. Wax inject the bodywork and it won’t rust either.

2. MGB

There is a good reason why there are so many MGBs on the road – they endure. The very ubiquity of the MGB is exactly why you should buy one. They are very useable, pretty durable and when it goes wrong you can get everything next day. And there isn’t really much to go wrong. MGBs are so simple that they really don’t need specialist knowledge to fix them and if you’re reasonable competent with spanners you can probably do it at home. Of course the old ‘sporting Morris Oxford’ jibes hold some water but spare your opinion until you drive one. There really is something quite special about a B and those looks, withered by familiarity, really are gorgeous if you take time to consider them anew. 

3. VW Beetle convertible

For some unknown reason the humble Beetle convertible always tends to get overlooked. Perhaps it’s the suggestion of a moustachioed dictator standing in the back that is implied when the roof is rolled back. Forget that. The hardtop Beetle is a budget 911 that handles neatly so chopping the roof and improving the fit and finish – even more – turns it into a perfect weekend getaway car. It has four full seats, a peppy engine, easy gear change and stylish curvy looks. The doors clunk shut, the roof is a feat of watertight engineering and it is very economical. That’s the practical stuff. It also doesn’t go wrong. Karmann made the Beetle to astonishing levels of quality but the basic mechanical engineering is simple and very, very durable. And with excellent club support this is the hidden gem that every would-be classic car-loving family man should be driving.

4. Jaguar E Type straight six

What it sacrifices in terms of reliability it more than compensates for with sheer verve and beauty. The Series 1 and 2 E Type is utterly gorgeous and, if well sorted, is a very easy and reliable classic to own. The venerable XK engine may have been pulled out to 4.2 litres by the end of its life but it’s solid, simple 1950s engineering makes it a reliable and dependable unit. E Types rot and gearboxes can be fragile but stay on top of both and they are perfectly reliable. They will go wrong but when they do parts are easy to get and not particularly expensive. This is a car to use and enjoy, not stick in a garage and stare at. Our pair of E Type coupes are the busiest cars on our fleet with amongst the best reliability records. The later v12 is also much more reliable than reputation suggests but its generally poor quality and parts complexity mean we favour the straight six models, particularly the coupes.

5. Jaguar XJS 

If ever there was a car waiting to be ‘the next big thing’ in classic car circle it is the XJS. Once the ugly duckling of Jaguar’s range the svelte XJS has matured into a highly desirable classic coupe and convertible. The looks that once seemed ungainly and awkward now looks increasingly cohesive and innovative, particularly in full convertible style. We have run a XJS on our fleet for many years and it has been very reliable, despite being the notorious V12 HE fuel injected model. Despite the huge range of electrics and under-bonnet spaghetti the car is mechanically very strong and dependable with just the irritating fly off handbrake causing problems – it is very easy to burn out the pads, which is a complex job to fix. We like the pre-facelift V12 for its hedonism and smoothness but any XJS is worth a punt. Like any classic, just make sure you buy a good one – if you do you’ll enjoy one of the bargains of the classic car world. But not for long we think…

6. Mercedes SL