Chris Burgess lives with his partner, Jacky, and her 10-year-old son, Callum. The family car is a 2000 X-plate Ford Focus. Chris also has a 1984 TVR 350i from his carefree single days. It is not the most practical second car (with only the two seats), so it has to go. He fancies something with character, preferably convertible, that seats more than two.

An automatic gearbox might be useful, because Jacky's mum cannot drive manuals and may use it when she visits. Chris has a budget of about £5,000 once he has turned the TVR into cash.

Almost as scary as his TVR, the Nissan Figaro has caught Chris's eye. He worried me by mentioning that. You could not get a more contrasting vehicle to the TVR. It is more feminine, with lots of pretty details, but underneath it is a very old Nissan Micra. I'd argue that it would be on the tight side, especially as Callum, at 10, is probably getting taller by the day.

Indeed, Chris has suggested that he would not mind a larger vehicle. Quite rightly, he has considered a Saab 900 and has then gone to extremes by also thinking along the lines of an old Range Rover or Discovery converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Chris is familiar with LPG because the family already have a 1986 Ford Transit-based camper van that runs on the economical fuel.

Compared with running a TVR, which Chris tells me has cost more than £2,000 in repairs in the past year, I think almost any vehicle would make sense. But, as the family already have the camper van, I don't think they need another big lorry such as a Land Rover. Chris's second car will not be covering a huge mileage, so fuel economy should not be such an issue.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

I can't recommend a Nissan Figaro, especially for a family to sit in - they will just look ridiculous. Much better to go down the more traditional route of a drop-top Golf. It's within his budget, so Chris will be spoilt for choice. A 1995 to 1997 Mark 3 Volkswagen Golf Avantgarde (or an even later model), with around 70,000 miles or more on the clock starts at just £3,500; this would buy a car from a dealer, fully prepared and with a warranty, too.

Not everyone likes the more anodyne styling of these later convertibles, compared with the finely chiselled beauty of the original. The fact is that these next-generation models were larger and safer. In an ideal world, though, Chris should go for the latest-possible model and that would mean a Mark 3, with Mark 4 body styling, which does look prettier and starts at £3,999. A 1.6SE will have an electric hood, twin airbags, alloy wheels and, ideally, a four-speed automatic gearbox, which was an option and a popular one, too.

Generally, these are reliable and well looked after. Finding an immaculate Mark 3, or a Mark 3 with pretty body panels, should be easy, but hurry before the summer comes.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I really can't argue with Chris's choice of a Saab 900 as a posh and, most important, a spacious convertible. The early Nineties Mercedes E-class and Audi convertible would be obvious other choices.

When it comes to price, availability and value, I think the Saab would be the better buy. Shopping on price alone, I did find a 1996 turbo automatic, which might be a bit too quick, but at a £2,495 is certainly worth considering. Raising the budget to £3,995 gives a choice of very tidy 1997 models with lowish miles and full Saab service histories. If Chris is prepared to go to the top of his budget at £5,000, then the much-improved 9-3 is within budget, although the mileages may be higher.

The 9-3 looks similar to the 900, but is dynamically more assured. Here Chris will have plenty of style for when he is driving down the front at Southend, where the family live, plus there are good safety features. Both the 900 and 9-3 excel at being comfortable, four-seat cruisers. As with all Saabs, though, it is worth tracking down a few specialists who can supply low-priced parts.

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