If you’re normal, your first car was likely either your parent’s aging rustbucket, which was only available when you didn’t need it, or it was a tiny, 3-door hatchback with a dodgy radio, worn out seats and a faint whiff of something you never did identify; or a five door version if you were old beyond your years.
But those vehicles, being simple, analogue and a pedestal of your new-found independence, will forever be engrained in your heart. So much so that it twinges at the mere mention of “first car”, whence you’re instantly transported back in time to ____ (insert appropriate year here).
But the cars you drove as a spotty teen were the mere foundations for a segment of the market that, even today, provides some of the most exciting, smile-worthy driving experiences on the road; and at 1% of the cost of a supercar; Hot Hatches.
Or at least it used to be that way.
With changes to the classic car segment, as we’ve explained previously in our Classic Car Investment Guide, a half-decent Peugeot 205 GTi or sub-60k mileage Mk. 2 VW Golf nonchalantly reach €25k and above, pricing most people out of the market. So, what are the alternatives?
Want: 1993/4 Renault Clio Williams
Buy: 2004 Renault Clio RS (182 Trophy)
The 1993 Renault Clio Williams was created purely to allow the French marque to race the Clio, although they produced 3800 in the first iteration despite only needing to produce 2500 for homologation purposes. These sold out so quickly, it resulted in Renault producing three separate series of the Hot Hatch, 12,000 in total. And yet they’re still exceedingly rare; and therefore expensive. Good examples via Classic.com are upwards of €25,000 (~£23,000).
And that’s why we’re choosing the 2003 Renault Clio 182 Trophy instead. Firstly, there’s the 180bhp (182PS) just begging to be unleashed from the 2.0l 16v four-pot under the bonnet. Front wheel drive and torsion-bar rear suspension with significant adjustments from the baseline Clio firm up the handling nicely, whilst twin exhausts, a large rear spoiler, front splitter and unique wheels differentiate it visually.
What’s wonderful about the Clio RS isn’t just that it’s probably the last of its kind, but that it also carries all the joyous DNA of those who have gone before. Great acceleration (0-62mph (0-100km/h) in 6.6sec), glue-like traction, direct, linear handling, compact and light; the Clio RS 182 Trophy weighs 1110kg. What more could you want?
All of this adds up to a quite brilliant little car that’s still some of the most fun you can have on four wheels. And if you don’t believe us, just ask the lovely people over at Evo… or Pistonheads… or Autocar… or…
And if that’s not enough, a mid-range mileage, well-kept version can still be yours for under €10,000 (£8,000). I rest my case.
Want: 1993/4 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Buy: 2002/3 Ford Focus RS
The Ford Escort RS Cosworth that debuted in 1992 and went on to capture our hearts in the WRC Championship, that rear wing alone the cause of many a restless night, is now in the midst of a market frenzy, meaning that a good one is worth anywhere upwards of €50,000 (£45,000). No, I haven’t added an extra “0” by accident. So, you want to drive an RS Ford, but you don’t want to pay BMW M3 money?
Then buy the 2002/3 Ford Focus RS.
The first Ford to carry the RS badge since the legendary homologation special Escort, the Focus as a baseline model was huge for Ford, and rightly so. Uniquely designed, reasonably priced and the creator of a brand new segment, they really did sell faster than any form of hotcake or baked good that you care to mention.
And the Focus RS merely built on this brilliance; in some fashion. More than 70% of the Focus’ components were upgraded for the RS, Ford wanting to ensure that the RS badge was justified. And boy did it.
The original Ford Focus was widely regarded at the time as one of the best handling cars in its segment, and the RS brought with it considerable chassis tweaks and a 212bhp (210 PS) 2.0l Duratec DOHC (Dual OverHead Camshaft) four-cylinder turbocharged engine to test the driver to the limit. In a front-wheel drive car, that was ALOT. 0-60mph (0-100km/h) was gobbled up in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 143mph was possible. Blistering.
To accommodate all of this extra power, it came with an uprated gearbox, a racing clutch, beefed up differentials and a heavily modified suspension. Yet for some people, the power is still considered too much, and the Focus RS has a reputation for being… volatile. The later models are considered better tuned and balanced, as Ford likely baked in lessons learned from earlier customer feedback, but it’s still a point worth considering.
You can, if you’re quick, grab an average one with sub-120k miles (150k kms) for around €12,000 (£10,500), but prices are rapidly appreciating as investors are priced out of the Escort RS Cosworth market. There’s no doubt that the Focus RS is a current, not future, classic. But with all that power on tap, you buy at your own risk.
Want: 1990/91 Peugeot 205 GTi
Buy: 2001 Peugeot 106 S16 (GTi)
Despite the Peugeot 205 GTi’s ten year lifecycle, relatively high volumes and impressive survival rate, the ship has still sailed for anyone not either born to very wealthy (and dead) parents or oil tycoons; because prices for good ones are upwards of €50,000 (£45,000) and I don’t think anyone can justify that, no matter how wonderful they are.
Though the 205 GTi was Peugeot’s first venture into the Hot Hatch segment, the undoubted success prompted them to remain camped firmly in it for decades, and we’re grateful they did. Because they baked all of the things they’d learned into the undervalued, but rapidly appreciating Peugeot 106 GTi.
The Peugeot 106, which debuted in 1991, was straight out of the “a car that makes you smile” recipe book; though it was my first car, so I may be a little biased. The French supermini was undoubtedly light, agile and compact, yet perfect for a drive through winding Cotswold roads; and it was, of course, reasonably priced.
Engine variants came in several guises, up to 1.4 litres in petrol and a 1.5l Diesel. But the GTi brought a 1.6-litre petrol variant to the small engine bay, perched right atop the front axle. It produced 120bhp and was coupled, as is always nice to hear, to a five-speed manual gearbox. With MacPherson strut front suspension and trailing arm rear set-up, the 106 GTi is still one of the best handling cars that the French marque has ever produced. And arguably one of the best handling cars still on our roads.
And I think one of the best looking. It wears its unique front and rear bumpers and splitters well, whilst the standard features of the 106, which are well-proportioned and sleek, sit well amongst the widened wheel-arches and rear spoiler. This is not an ugly car.
A good one, which I’d call anything in well-maintained condition and sub-80k miles (100k kms) can still be found for around €7,000 (£6,000), but you’d better be quick. We’re not the first to talk about the potential of this little gem, and we won’t be the last.
Want: 1992 Nissan Sunny GTI-R
Buy: 2003/4/5 Honda Civic Type R
The Nissan Sunny GTI-R is an oft-forgotten beast of a machine, and exceedingly rare. Another example of a WRC homologation special, it was conceived and produced specifically to smooth Nissan’s progress into rallying. 0-60mph (0-100km/h) in 5.0 seconds; in 1991. I’ll let that sink in.
Whilst up to 15, 000 were made and sold, only around 1,000 reached Europe; and their prices are now astronomical, as is no surprise. So, what’s an alternative?
Well we’ve chosen the 2004 Honda Civic Type R. The Type R reputation needs no explaining, and in recent years Honda have produced some exceptional variants, although we’re not sure if they seem so damn good because the baseline is so bland. But there’s no doubting the charm of the almost-two decades old Civic Type R. It was arguably Honda at their very best.
The “EP3” Civic Type R was the first to be sold in Europe, and the second Civic to wear the Type R badging after the “EK9” variant which was sold exclusively in Japan. And whilst the Japanese variants continued to be more powerful and more generously trimmed, Honda addressed this somewhat in 2003, and it’s this variant that should be targeted.
It’s not the beefiest engine in this list, the 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine pumping out 197hp (200PS) and a 6.4 seconds 0-60mph time, but it was agile, well-built and, as is always the case with Honda, reliable. When looking to buy, be suspicious of pre-warmed engines and budget for a chain change around the 100k mile (125k km) range, just to be on the safe side.
With Hondas, mileage can be less of a worry if there’s regular servicing, and anything less than 150k miles shouldn’t cost you more than €5,500 (£5,000). That’s an awful lot of fun for that kind of money.
Want: 1987/8 VW Golf GTI mk2
Buy: 2001 Seat Ibiza Cupra R
The 1986 VW Golf GTi was the second Golf GTi model from the German marque and is quickly becoming collectable for obvious reasons. Whilst anything with less than 100k miles on the clock is typically silly money, anything around the 150k miles mark will still set you back at least €9,000 (£8,000). And that’s for a rather large, heavy and somewhat under-powered hatchback. There’s another way.
Seat debuted its Mk. 2 Ibiza in 1993, on the same platform as the Mk. 3 VW Golf. And after several variations, including a 1.4l GT variant and a 2.0l GTi model that launched in 1996, it was given a facelift in 1999 and brought into line with the VW Polo; the VW Golf’s latest iteration had added inches to its waist and wheelbase.
And it was post-facelift that things got really interesting for the Seat Ibiza; with the 2001 Cupra R.
The Cupra R is the final swansong of the Mk. 2 Ibiza. As such, Seat found a way to squeeze an extra 24hp (24PS) from the 1.8l turbocharged range-topping engine, then added Brembo brake-disc callipers and revised the suspension setup to accommodate the increased power and torque.
Acceleration figures aren’t as impressive as others, with it’s 0-62mph (0-100km/h) taking 7.2 seconds, but it’s firm ride, punchy engine and well-adjusted seating position allow you to throw the thing into corners; and smile as you do so.
Seat don’t have a huge racing heritage, but remembering that, underneath it all, it’s a VW, but with WRC-learning applied, it’s a definitive future classic; if you can find one. Only 200 were made, and though most are still supposed to be in circulation, it’s a testament to them that they’re so hard to find for sale.
Failing that, a good, sub-80k miles (110k kms) Seat Cupra 1.8T can still be yours for less than €5,500 (£5,000). And it might not be a potential classic, but you won’t care a bit when you’re in it.
Want: 1989 Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v
Buy: 1999 Alfa Romeo 145 Quadrifoglio
We all know about the Lancia Delta Integrale in its various forms; and we all want one. It represents one of the ultimate peaks of the heritage-laden Italian marque whose existence is steadily being quenched by its conglomerate owners. It’s a reminder that, sometimes, David really does beat Goliath. And as such, you’ll need upwards of €35,000 (£33,000) to own one.
Italy, unlike its French counterparts, is not a country known for its Hot Hatches; it does other segments better. But if your heart is aching for a sexy, sporty hatchback with a little Italian flair, look no further than the 1999 Alfa 145 Quadrifoglio (2.0l Twin Spark 16V).
Not only is it most definitely the best looking car in this list (the Focus comes close but, come on, look at it), it’s also an Alfa, so you know it’s going to swagger into corners with more confidence than your mate Dave after a few pints. And what’s more, they’re hugely undervalued still.
Alfa Romeo are not known for their reliability, and I’m not going to say that the 145 is, by some miracle, a Toyota in Italian clothing, and I’m also not going to claim that it’s the fastest car in the list; the 1999 DOHC 16v, VVT “Twin Spark” engine provided 153hp (155PS) and a 0-62mph (0-100km/h) time of 8.4 seconds.
What the 145 Quadrofoglio is, however, is an Alfa Romeo. And a Quadrofoglio at that. Add in the famed Twin Spark engine, the last of a pretty much dead breed – Naturally aspirated? What’s that – and the Chris Bangle design cues and I think that makes for a pretty tasty, if alternative, package.
Oh, and did I mention that you can get a good one, i.e. less than 80k miles (110k kms), for around €3,000 (£3,500)? That ought to do it.
We at CLT aren’t investors, and you should definitely not take our word as gospel, but we are here with out views and opinions (and there are many) and we do want to help. One such example is our recently published Investing in Cars During Turbulent Times piece, which gives some general advice on what to look for.
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