Now is a good time to buy an old car. But don't let love, or lust, drive you mad, warn Clifford German and David Bowen
My magnificent seven

I might have bought a Bugatti or a Maserati, or that classic Mercedes rescued from a barn that went for a quarter of a million in the Eighties boom. I didn't, and it is just as well. The rule of thumb "the higher they go the further they fall" applies to most classic car "investments".

Many resale values halved in the recession, and even in the recovery the price graphs published by the leading classic car magazines have been flatter than a punctured tyre. But the classic car movement is alive and well.

Some people buy old cars because of the challenge of coping with ancient technology, some because they like to drive a classic fashion statement, and still others because they live in a time warp, trapped in the decade when these cars were new.

In the past 20 years I have bought seven old cars. I still have six of them. My worst indulgence was a 1948 Triumph Roadster, a Bergerac car. I paid less than pounds 2,000, but I admit it has cost me another pounds 10,000 to restore, and even now it is not an easy vehicle to take out on London roads.

My other cars are old and interesting, cheap to buy and easy to drive. They cost a bit to tax, insure and keep in good repair, but they never depreciate. I insure them for limited mileage at around pounds 100 a year each, and I do not own a modern car.

I started collecting when I bought a 1959 Frogeye Sprite for pounds 495. It was what I had wanted in 1959, but could not afford. I still have it, although my daughter drives it more than I do, and very pretty they both look too. I could get pounds 3,000 for the car.

I have a P4 Rover, nicknamed "Auntie". It is a bit slow off the mark, and thirsty, but it can cruise the motorway all day at 70mph. P4s are the best bargains around, because they are tough, well made and, because so many have survived, they are still dirt-cheap. You can get a very smart one for pounds 2,500 and a presentable one for pounds 1,000 and use them every day.

I bought a 1967 S800 Honda, one of the first Japanese imports. It is rare and pretty. Because it is Japanese it is not fashionable, and is worth about a third of a comparable English sports coupe. I also run a 1969 Riley Elf. It's a jumped-up Mini I suppose. But where else could you get a usable car with leather seats, walnut dash and chrome trim, and all for pounds 1,400?

Classic cars from the Fifties and Sixties can provide genuinely cheap motoring as well as an interesting hobby, so long as you keep your feet on the ground - metaphorically, that is.


A drop-dead gorgeous Jag

It was sitting at the back of a barn in Leicestershire. It had no windows and straw was sticking out of its exhaust pipe. But it was a 1958 Jaguar XK150 and I had fallen in love with it. I handed the man pounds 12,000, and told myself I could do lots of work myself and get it in tip-top nick for a few thousand more. That was eight years ago. It is in tip-top nick. In fact, it is drop-dead gorgeous. But it has cost me pounds 35,000.

Now is a good time to buy a classic car - if you want one. You will neither make, nor lose, a lot of money. The market has done the same as with housing, only more so. Some cars quintupled in price between 1986 and 1990, then their value fell by five times. But before you buy one, be warned by what happened to me.

My starting point was sensible enough. I wanted a 1950s or 1960s car - they look good and the mechanics are simple. I soon discovered that I couldn't afford my dream E-Type Jaguar, but one day I spotted the ad for the XK150 - the E-Type's predecessor - and I was doomed. A grand folly overcame me. When I stared in wonder at the car, I didn't see its hundred shortcomings; all I saw was its potential beauty.

Hence rule one: before you buy a car, bring someone with you who both knows about cars and who is prepared to stop you writing a cheque, with force if necessary.

The Jaguar may be simple, but it is massive. The sheer weight of the components meant that changing the clutch was impossible for one man and a jack.

Rule two: if you want to work on a car, buy a modest one. Apart from the weight, one is always less bothered about making a mess of a relatively inexpensive vehicle.

When I took the car to a Jaguar specialist there was much tut-tutting. The car had been through all sorts of bodge jobs and was seriously misshapen.

Rule three: unless the car has been preserved in aspic (one lady owner from new, or else imported from a rust-free American climate), get one that has been properly restored in the last 10 years.

At last, pounds 18,000 later, I had a beautiful car. Then I discovered the engine was almost worn out - the specialists rebuilt me one for pounds 5,000. Rule four: do not buy an unrestored classic car if you have a partner who can't stop you spending money you don't have.

I haven't used the car very much. It has the suspension of an antediluvian tractor and overheats in traffic jams. I am frequently wolf- whistled at by young men in Brixton, and though I could have picked up any number of middle-aged men, the car has never attracted the (female) passengers I would have liked. Rule five: unless these are your target audience, do not buy a car to increase your sex appeal.