Motor Show 1993: Is that old car a bargain or a burden?: James May provides a guide to some of the more popular classic cars that can be picked up for less than pounds 5,000

YOU HAVE probably bought an old car before, but that was because you were skint, although there was a time at the end of the Eighties when you bought an old car because you were rich or, thought it might make you rich. Before the boom there was a sufficient supply of old - but still interesting - machinery that the ordinary old-car buff could buy for reasonable money and tinker with to the total disinterest of everyone else.

Then, the word 'classic' seemed to be reappraised, and cars that would previously have been advertised in the local paper as 'runner or spares' were sitting pretty in the back of specialist car magazines as 'restoration projects' under a quadrupled asking price.

Now that the boom has passed, it is possible to see that it did some good, generating interest in a lot of old cars, especially from the late 1950s, the 1960s and, to a lesser extent the early 1970s.

It is still possible to spend a fortune on a rare old car, but the new breed of classics means that you can become accepted in the retro set for well under pounds 5,000.

A few tips on buying a classic. Decide what you want and then join the owners' club. These clubs are an invaluable source of advice and spares, and you will recoup your membership investment by taking advantage of one of their special insurance deals. If possible, take an expert along when viewing, and finally, be prepared to haggle.

Morris Minor (1956-1970) Saloon pounds 2,000, Convertible pounds 3,000, Traveller pounds 1,800.

Charming interior features include leather upholstery in older examples, a dearth of instruments and a mesmerising winking light on the end of the indicator stalk.

Club: Morris Minor Owners' Club, 127-129 Green Lane, Derby DE1 1RZ.

Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite (1958-1961) pounds 3,500

Lightness and simplicity of design allowed a top speed of over 80mph from just 43bhp.

Club: Austin Healey Club, 4 Saxby Street, Leicester LE2 0ND.

Ford Consul MkII (1956-1962) Saloon pounds 1,700, Convertible pounds 4,000

American-influenced styling embodies American handling characteristics.

Club: Ford Consul MkII , Zypher & Zodiac Club, 16 Berkshire Way, Mitcham, Surrey CR4 1QT.

Armstrong-Siddeley Star Saphire Saloon (1958-1960) pounds 5,000

Slab-sided and dignified, it looks 10 years older than it really is and most people will think it's a Rolls-Royce.

Club: Armstrong-Siddeley Owners' Club, 57 Berberry Close, Bournville, Birmingham B30 1TB.

MGB (1964-1974), MGBGT (1965-1974) pounds 3,000- pounds 5,000 plus

Mechanical simplicity translates into raw and entertaining driving experience.

Club: MG Owners' Club, 2/4 Station Road, Swavesey, Cambs.

Triumph Herald/Vitesse Convertible (1961-1971) pounds 1,800- pounds 3,000

Has four seats and Meccano-style chassis-based construction, so infinitely reparable. Most have been.

Club: Triumph Sports Six Club, Main Street, Lubenham, Market Harborough, Leics LE16 9TF.

Daimler V8 Saloon (1963-1968) pounds 5,000

Quicker than the Jag and much cheaper. You won't get a perfect one for this money and that's probably only the beginning.

Club: Daimler and Lanchester Owners' Club, FREEPOST, The Manor House, Trewyn, Abergavenny, Gwent NP7 5BR.

Lotus Europa 1 (1966-1969) pounds 4,000

Outrageously styled glass fibre body doesn't rust, but sadly the chassis is of plain old steel and probably has. Notoriously troublesome but Tara King had an orange one in the Avengers. Not many left.

Club: Club Lotus, PO Box 8, Dereham, Norfolk NR19 1TF.

Ford Capri MkI 3000GT (1969-1974) pounds 2,750

If the idea of a Capri still seems horribly naff, remember that this was the Vauxhall Calibra of its day, only then we'd never had it before. Club: Ford Capri Club International, Field House, Redditch, Worcs B98 0AN.

Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5 (1968-1975) pounds 3,000

Rust-proof plastic body, sturdy Ford V6, quirky interior and it has four wheels.

Club: Scimitar Drivers' Club International, 12 West Drive, Caldecote, Cambridge CB3 7NY.

Triumph Stag (1970-1977) pounds 5,000

Had something of a reputation for being a lemon owing to problems with the V8, which is wonderful when it works. Hardtop is a safer but cowardly option, and you won't get an immaculate one at this price.

Club: Stag Owners' Club, 16 Denewood Close, Watford, Herts WD1 3SZ.

Jaguar XJ-S (1975-1981) pounds 5,000

Glorious engine, stupendously complex, gets more expensive to run the cheaper it becomes to buy.

Club: Jaguar Drivers' Club, 18 Stuart Street, Luton, Beds LU1 2SL.

Brooks are holding an auction of classic cars at the Motor Show on 28 October. For details, telephone 071 228 8000.

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