Which Car? 'What car can I buy that will not rust?'

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John Hollins, 34, an engineer who lives in south London, wants a classic. He likes the older designs but realises they rust badly and this is an issue for him because he has no garage. He does not want to attract attention in his area and is thinking BMW and Mercedes. He was even offered a 1988 500SEC for £4,000. Should he have bought it?

THE 500SEC is a big, old lump of a car and there is also an equally huge lump of old iron under the bonnet because a 5.0-litre V8 engine powers this coupé. In build quality, this is the zenith of German attention to detail. Any rust will only be surface bubbles, if that.

The Earth, when it comes to end, will be inherited by cockroaches and SECs abandoned by owners who could not afford to run them any more. Fuel consumption is only marginal, especially around built up areas. Luckily. there are good specialists around who make servicing affordable and can source secondhand parts without a problem.

A price of £4,000 is a bargain if there is a full Mercedes service history and few owners. But £4,000 is stupidly costly if it is on its 23rd owner and there is extra chrome trim on the wheel arches, attention-seeking alloy wheels and lowered suspension. So if Mr Hollins wants to keep a low profile in his manor the problem is that the SEC can look like it belongs to an averagely successful drug-dealer. If you do not mind the image issues, then the SEC is the most bulletproof (pun intended) classic John could buy.

But there are alternatives.

A car for the head

If not a Mercedes, then it has to be a BMW. The E30 3 Series was the model that helped establish the company in the heart of the aspirational UK buyer. Launched in 1982, it was refined over the next decade and grew into a coherent family of two-door, four-door, estate and convertible models.

Compared to the present 3 series it looks tiny, but the styling is very pretty and an absolute modern classic. Best of all, that bodywork has also proved to be very resistant to rot and does not mind being parked outside.

There was a range of engines, but the most charismatic were the small six-cylinder units that were smooth, sweet and fast, especially the 325i. A great package in the 1980s and now the yuppie image has faded the 3-series is just another old car.

People are not envious about older BMWs. As a driving experience, though, it is sensational, and later 1980s models have ABS brakes, possibly air- conditioning and leather, so it is a comfy car to own and drive. They are also cheap to buy. Cherished examples are £2,000 to £3,000 at most. It has to be the bargain buy, at present.

A car for the heart

Mr Hollins has this thing about rust. He could dial that out of the classic-car equation by buying one made out of plastic. The most famous and exciting classic cars made from glassfibre are of course Lotus.

Trouble is their reputation is not trouble free, and the acronym Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious is based on fact. Because if the bodywork did not rot, the metal chassis would. Before that happened, the delicate Lotus engine would have self-destructed.

A company called Spyder Engineering came to the rescue. They can supply a galvanised chassis for a Lotus Elan Plus 2. This was a larger and more luxurious version of the original Elan launched in 1967, but never as popular and therefore not as expensive.

The really clever bit is that the Spyder's chassis accommodates a modern Ford Zetec engine. So the Lotus suddenly becomes faster, more reliable and better to drive.

If Mr Hollins was prepared to put some elbow grease into the project it would cost about £10,000. For a new sports car, especially one with a Lotus badge, that is cheap. Contact Spyder on 01733 203986 or go to www.spydercars.com

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