Motoring: Don't let buying power go to your head: A turbocharged bargain might give you a kick, says James Ruppert, but it could also hit you where it hurts, in the wallet

If 'GTi' was the most fashionable bootlid badge of the Eighties, 'turbo' was the most macho. 'Turbo' meant muscle- power, with speed-record performance. On the used market, a turbocharged car promised more fun than any other car. More mechanical upsets, too.

Longevity and reliability were not a turbo's strong points. It was - and still is - possible to make a big, turbo-powered mistake. Turbochargers have, however, been improved in recent years, so provided you shop carefully, a turbo can be a sensible as well as a macho motoring option.

The trouble with turbochargers is that they are at once a beautifully simple and a remarkably crude solution to extracting the maximum power from an engine. Basically, the turbocharger consists of two turbines, one on either end of a shaft. Exhaust gases coming out of the engine sets one turbine spinning; the shaft turns, and the other turbine forces more fuel and air into the engine, boosting its power.

The Achilles' heel is the 'wastegate' control system, which regulates the boost pressure to prevent the engine from destroying itself. A mucky wastegate or dodgy electrics could make it lose control. Then there is the engine itself, which operates at much higher temperatures than normal. Such stresses can lead to premature failure.

But the real trouble with turbos is the drivers who fail to look after them, who skip the shorter service intervals (turbos usually need an oil change every 5,000 miles), who fail to let the turbo cool down after a run, and generally hammer the car at every opportunity. As a result, costly turbocharger failure becomes a certainty.

To avoid being landed with the bill, make sure there is a full, main-agent service history, and contact the garage concerned to verify it. Before looking at the turbo, check the ancillary parts that have to take the strain. Wheels, tyres and brakes are vital to the performance characteristics and will cost a fortune to replace. Also, an eager turbo-user may have skidded into the scenery, so check the bodywork for poor-quality repairs.

You'll find out about the turbocharger on the test drive, especially when it kicks in: a dashboard warning light comes on and you feel a nudge in the back. More important, though, after a 10-mile run, leave the engine running and accelerate hard: black smoke from the exhaust means serious turbocharger trouble.

When it comes to choosing a used turbo, you soon realise that not every manufacturer understood the concept, or could cope with the technology, and many unsuitable bangers have been 'blown' to no useful effect. When properly installed, however, they make great sense.

Diesels are a case in point. Turbocharging, a technology borrowed from diesel truck engines, makes overtaking in diesel cars less of a risk, and makes them as civilised as petrol-engined versions. Citroen, for example, applied turbocharging with great effect to the BX17.

The turbocharger is also largely responsible for the 'pocket rocket' category, by turning little cars with little engines into mini-supercars. Renault has always had faith in turbochargers, and its 5GT Turbo is electrifying.

Turbocharged sports saloons are numerous, but few are as well balanced as those of the pioneers, Saab, the company which proved that turbo need not equal trauma. A 900 promises, and delivers, reliability and performance. And in the super-league, Porsche has blazed the trail with its classic 911 Turbo since the mid- Seventies, while Lotus joined the club with the Esprit Turbo, which despite its humble four-cylinder engine challenges Ferrari's finest V12s for sheer brute performance.

To track down a turbo was hardly difficult, but I kept to the specialists and main agents to reduce my chance of buying a blown one. It seemed only right to look at Saabs first. At the Swedish Car Centre, I warmed to the practicality offered by a 900S five-door, which, with the later 16- valve engine, promised plenty of performance. Mileage was 49,000, there had been one owner, and the nicest surprise of all was that the advertised price had dropped by pounds 1,000 to pounds 7,995.

Saab saloons used to dominate the rally scene, but now you can pretend to be a participant behind the wheel of the all- conquering Subaru Legacy. I found one of these outwardly ordinary but dynamically impressive cars at Phoenix Garage, in Surrey. It boasted not only turbo power, but also four-wheel drive. This 1992 car had covered 49,000 miles with one owner, and at no small expense Phoenix had invested in a new cam belt and clutch. It came with a full AA condition report, warranty, history and every available extra, including air-conditioning. All for pounds 11,995.

For final proof of how far turbos have come from their truck origins, I popped into Weybridge Automobiles to look at some Bentleys. There were two '87 model Turbo Rs in preparation for the showroom: you could choose between a 38,000-miler at pounds 36,950 and a 60,000-miler at pounds 34,950.

From the ridiculously large to the sublimely small . . . it was time to find a Renault 5. Autotek, near Guildford, had two new arrivals. Both showed why these otherwise flimsy cars should be bought only if they have been fastidiously looked after by a careful owner who can produce a full service history. So the choice was between a 1986 example with 38,000 miles at pounds 2,995 in stiletto white, or a 1990 35,000-miler at pounds 4,895 in metallic grey.

The antithesis of such hot roller-skates is, of course, the supercars. Porsche 911 Turbos, after becoming blue-chip investments, then crashing, are on the up again, and increasingly rare. If I fancied a trip to Scotland, Glenvarigill had a 1985 example for pounds 22,950. Otherwise, at AFN in Reading, a 1991 model cost pounds 49,950.

Closer to home is a marque that offers similar excitement at a fraction of the cost. The London Lotus Centre had a brace of Esprit SEs for between pounds 20,000 and pounds 30,000, as well as the smaller open- topped Elan, prices starting at pounds 16,950.

At Kent Sports Cars, a Lotus specialist, I could choose from an early 1982 example at pounds 9,950 right up to the restyled 1990 SE at pounds 19,950. That turbo had done 34,000 miles, and had red paintwork, sand-coloured leather, air-conditioning and a sunroof. I had to hunt around for the less- than-obvious turbo badge; but a car with as much machismo as this doesn't need a badge to prove it.

(Photograph omitted)

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?