There is no formal definition of a practical classic, but it is generally agreed that such a car is a saloon built between the late Fifties and early Seventies, which is cheap, easy to get parts for, has a large enthusiast following and is probably British. A pretty accurate description, in fact, of a Morris Minor, although there are plenty of other candidates. And, far from eating money, they can make sensible buys.
Depreciation is not an issue. A pounds 2,000 Morris Minor after two years, provided it has not deteriorated very much, is still worth pounds 2,000. When buying a classic, the trick is to choose the latest model you can in the best possible condition. Leave anything requiring work to the enthusiasts. If there is rust, walk away. The best bargains are recently restored vehicles. These will have absorbed more time and money than they are really worth, which means a buyer pays a fraction of the cost for an as-new old car. Ask to see all the bills and any photographic evidence of the restoration.
The really great thing about Minors is that they can be up-rated so that the brakes are better, there are five gears and the seats are more comfortable. Not everyone approves of such tinkering, but for anyone transferring from a modern vehicle it lessens the shock and makes a classic even more usable.
It was difficult to resist several of the examples on offer when I visited East Sussex Minors. Among the saloons was a desirable three-door. One of the last built, it was registered in 1970 and had just one previous owner. At 30,000 miles it was barely run in. I could not think of a better way to spend pounds 3,295. At the Blandford Motor Company in Uxbridge there was an interesting selection of cars. The company calls itself a "specialist in exceptional value for money starter classics" and most of its vehicles fitted that description. I was particularly interested in a 1969 Austin 1100. This is effectively a four-door mini, making it a practical proposition around town: a one-owner example with 26,000 mileage and pounds 1,875 asking price.
Some of the best cars come from private enthusiasts. I looked at a Rover 3500 advertised in a classic car magazine. The seller had spent a fortune over the years, with several recent overhauls of the bodywork and engine - and with the bills to prove it. At the heart of this Rover saloon was a V8 engine, which is still used in modified form in TVRs and Range Rovers among others, so it can easily keep up with today's traffic. Stylish and quick, the tiny boot is the only drawback. The cost of pounds 3,000 seemed brilliant value, but there were some niggling doubts. New cars handle better, are more economical, safer and more comfortable. However, there is one thing you just cannot buy. And that is something called character.
East Sussex Minors 01580 200203; Blandford Motor Company 01895 813925; John Brown 01763 852200