Car Choice: A classic dilemma

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Alan Wilson wants to know which classic car is best for him. He has the choice of a Ford Cortina 1600E in average condition for £1,200 and a Rover P6 2200 SC which has only covered 45,000 miles at the same price.

Alan Wilson wants to know which classic car is best for him. He has the choice of a Ford Cortina 1600E in average condition for £1,200 and a Rover P6 2200 SC which has only covered 45,000 miles at the same price.

Classic cars are great and there are lots of good reasons for buying one. If registered before 1973 there is no road tax to pay. Limit the mileage and put it in a garage at night and you will also benefit from low-cost classic car insurance.

In addition, older cars are simpler cars and that means when parts break they can be fixed with a spanner and not with a computer. Often you can gets parts more quickly and have them fitted by a proper mechanic at a lower price than on a modern. However, a modern car should not break down.

The downsides with older vehicles are that they are not so comfortable to drive, or as safe, and they can suffer from something called terminal rust. Putting that right can cost a fortune. Alan must make sure that the classic he is going to buy is not hiding a host of problems.

Classic cars have to be used: regular exercise stops them breaking down and Alan should plan how he is going to use the car -- whether as a daily driver, or just on weekends. Is he going to join the classic car community? A classic isn't just for sunny days you know, it can take over your life.

A car for the head

The easy answer to this question is that Alan should buy the Rover. When it was launched, it was the safest and one of the most advanced saloons of its kind. The build quality was good and the materials used among the very best. By contrast, the Ford was always built to a price.

You get what you pay for and although classic cars are very cheap, with the Rover Alan will get a car that is nicer to drive, more comfortable and in the right condition will possibly last longer. In theory, of course, a Ford ought to be cheaper to run with better parts availability, but this is not necessarily the case. There are some enthusiastic clubs, though ( www.ford-cortina-1600E-club.org.uk).

There is no doubting that a 1600E looks very good The E stood for Executive and it was what every ambitious company car driver dreamed of. GT engine, Lotus suspension, wide-rim Rostyle sports wheel and a wooden veneer dashboard. It was no surprise that at the end of 1967 the Cortina was crowned as Britain's bestseller. Practical Classics magazine recently called the 1600E the "ideal practical classic", but exterior panels are becoming hard to find, although the mechanicals are easy to maintain.

A car for the heart

The Rover P6 2200 is a great car. It was launched in October 1973 (so now free road fund licence) and had a slightly bigger engine than the previous 2000 model producing the same power, but it was a much more flexible unit.

Trouble is, this era was the absolute worst for Rover build quality. Alan must rely on subsequent owners who have restored and upgraded the car appropriately. Therefore it should be checked out properly because these models had a unique feature, which was outer panels that simply bolted to a central skeleton.

A rough car can easily be tarted-up with a fresh-looking skin while the structure may be fairly rotten. The engines are very tough and of all the Rover models is the most economical delivering 25mpg.

If Alan does not have the expertise to check a Rover properly then he must join the P6 Rover Owners' Club or the Rover P6 Drivers' Club ( www.p6club.com). There are also a number of very good specialist suppliers, and we think that Alan will enjoy owning a smooth Rover, rather than a more coarse Cortina. If the Rover is in decent condition, it should be the better buy.

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