Which Car? 'Should I order an old Cappuccino?'

Alex Houseman, 34, a business consultant from Cambridgeshire, wants a small soft-top to run round the fens in. It does not have to be new, and he is taken by the idea of a second-hand Suzuki Cappuccino which he remembers with affection. No MG Midgets etc, but he likes the idea of an MGF or MG TF provided he does not go over his £10,000 budget.

Mr Houseman is right not to want an old British sports car. If you want to know why the mass production British sports car industry largely disappeared look no further than 1960s and 1970s MGs, Triumphs and Austin Healeys. Rust came as standard, mechanical reliability was marginal and Mr Lucas's hit and miss electricals led to him being dubbed the Prince of Darkness in the United States.

That explains why we do not export cars there any more. To run a classic car you need a classic car mindset, which means adjusting your driving style and able to cope with unexpected expenditure.

Owners' clubs can put together convincing arguments for upgrading their old Brits to new millennium motoring standards. Older cars are sluggish, do not handle as nicely and can need much more attention than modern sportsters. Classic cars are not for everyone, especially Mr Houseman. Unfortunately he cannot afford the MG TF. A surprisingly good car, the earliest examples with what are high mileages (30,000) still retail for more than £10,000. The obvious choice would be to go for the ubiquitous Mazda MX5 because there are lots around, they are reliable and they are cheap.

A car for the head

Despite the MX5's obvious appeal, Mr Houseman ought to seriously consider the MG TF's predecessor in the similar shape of the MGF. There are lots around, depreciation has eaten into values and despite a history of niggles, essentially this is the most reliable MG in years. It is also one of the most exciting. And because MGFs are run by affluent, committed and careful drivers rather than immature, sound system obsessed kids, they ought to be in good nick.

If you always promised yourself a less than traditional British sports car, now is the time to buy an MGF. The stroke of genius was to put it behind the driver; effectively creating a pocket-sized Ferrari.

The basic 1.8I had a 120bhp version of the well-proven K series engine with a decent acceleration, getting to 60mph in under 9 seconds. You can buy these from under £5,000. But the majority of buyers opted for the more responsive VVC (Variable Valve Control) model. On average £8,000 to £9,000 buys a 1998/99 in first-class condition. Cars built in the first year could have odd panel gaps, leaky hoods and rattles from the interior, although mechanically there is not much to worry about.

A car for the heart

I am more than happy to let Mr Houseman have his wish when it comes to the Suzuki Cappuccino. I drove one of the first in the country more than a decade ago when it was an unofficial grey import direct from Japan. I would like to think my enthusiastic review in Car magazine at the time had something to with Suzuki officially importing it soon after.

It is still a sensational little roadster with perky and purposeful styling. Under the bonnet is a tiny, turbocharged, three-cylinder engine. The Cappuccino is a fun car with a fun name and a clever roof.

These days it is also very rare. A few thousand were sold officially through Suzuki dealers and imported by specialist companies. The massive Autotrader website turned up zero for sale. It was the same in the Exchange & Mart, but there is a great UK-based owners' club called Score, the Suzuki Cappuccino Owner's Register for Enthusiasts. It is worth joining for £25 a year.

Go to their website www.suzuki-cappuccino.com and find like-minded individuals who have Cappuccinos for sale. The going rate seems to be about £5,000 for the best examples.

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