Despite the current economic climate, it’s still just about possible to find modern classic cars under £1000. Here are our favourites
Words: James Howe
The bargain basement end of the car market isn’t what it once was. Budget-friendly options that once populated searches for cars under £1000 have seen their values rise in recent years, often to exceptional levels, while those dropping below the threshold now tend to be forgotten and unloved examples of fairly modern superminis, hatchbacks and ULEZ orphans.
Still, while it’s not really possible to get a good Peugeot 205, MGF or Metro for less than a grand these days, there are still some great bargains to be had if you’re patient or don’t mind getting stuck into a rolling restoration.
Here are some modern classic cars that you should be able to find for under £1000 in useable condition and are well worth adding to your classifieds saved search list.
While the closely related MG ZR and earlier Rover 200 have seen their values strengthen in the last few years, the Rover 25 currently sits in a sweet spot of price versus enthusiast appeal. Essentially a facelift of the original R3 200, the 25 arrived in 1999 and was produced for six years until 2005.
It’s the first-generation, four-light version that is mostly likely to dip under the £1000 mark at time of writing, perhaps in unfashionable 2.0-litre diesel guise or one of the smaller K-series petrol engines. It’s a fun car to drive regardless, with a good level of poise thanks to its light weight and keen chassis.
As with any old cheap car, rust is your enemy: a skim of the MoT history will confirm all you need to know, backed up ideally by an in-person thorough inspection. Head gasket issues can arise with K-series engines so approach with caution if you suspect poor maintenance. Service parts are cheap, however, and the R3 platform is a fairly DIY friendly should you wish to take on a project.
It seems to be a luck-of-the-draw situation with the Nissan Micra in the sub-£1000 market today. The original K10-generation car was once a go-to budget classic, with the later K11 taking its crown before seeing a price rise of its own in the last few years.
Despite their recent ascendancy, both examples of the Micra can be found below £1000 if you stick it out. At time of writing we found a 1992 K11 Micra with just 56,000 miles from new for just £800, which is a real bargain provided rust hasn’t taken hold.
A large part of the Micra’s appeal comes from its reputation for bombproof reliability, a fact backed up by its status as the car of choice for the gruelling Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile race that limits competitors to 1000cc cars.
Away from intercontinental rallying, any Nissan Micra makes for accessible, cheap and easy-to-fix transport. Grab a cheap one while you can – it’s one of the vest best cars under £1000.
The cost of living crisis and expanding ULEZ zones have seen some large, thirsty cars drop in value in recent months. Few have dropped below the £1000 threshold, but at time of writing, an example of the sizeable Volvo 940 had done just that – albeit in need of some mechanical attention.
The Volvo 940 arrived in 1990 as a replacement for the 700 series. It followed a similar recipe to the older car, with an iconic boxy exterior and cavernous boot on the estate version. Power came from a range of 2.0- and 2.3-litre four-cylinder engines, or a choice of two VW-sourced diesels.
A 940 – or any large Volvo for that matter – at this price point is likely to have at least a couple of hundred miles on the odometer, but this shouldn’t put you off. Look for proof of regular servicing and buy on condition rather than miles, as older Volvos tend to live up to their reputation for longevity if cared for properly.
The Mazda MX-5 is the default modern-classic sports car and with good reason: fun to drive, cheap to run and with huge parts and club support, nothing else comes close as an ownership proposition. Once a real bargain, both Mk1 and Mk2 iterations have seen their values climb significantly – but there’s still hope if you are willing to take on a project.
Our search turned up just one example of each within budget, each in need of extensive restoration work; it’s unlikely you’ll find a tidy MX-5 with an MoT at this level. We’d recommend holding out for a Mk1 if you’re planning a DIY project as it’ll be worth more when you’re finished, and to many it represents a purer expression of the modern-day British roadster recipe.
Rust is an infamous MX-5 killer, so be sure to tread with caution or budget accordingly for welding.
Ford Mondeo Mk1
A market leader in the pre-SUV heyday of the family car, the Mk1 Mondeo and its curvier facelifted Mk2 successor have only just graduated from the bargain basement as enthusiasts recognise its importance. Great examples can still be had for well under £3000, but even our £1000 budget will secure a useable if well-loved Mk1.
The original is the best bet in our view, although you’re more likely to find a cheaper example of the post-1996 facelift car. Both are broadly the same underneath, with a range of decent Zetec petrol engines to choose from. A 1.6- or 1.8-litre four-cylinder is most likely at this end of the market. In any case, a good Mondeo remains a comfortable long-distance cruiser with surprisingly accomplished handling on twistier roads, all with traditional family saloon practicality.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for leggier examples of the Mondeo’s coupe cousin, too. Sub-£1000 examples of the Ford Cougar aren’t common but it’s an interesting alternative that’ll still turn heads.
Mercedes C-Class (W202)
Mercedes’ replacement for the 190E was a little underwhelming, lacking its predecessor’s solidity and design flair, but it’s still an solidly engineered take on the compact executive car. A propensity for rust is countered by dependable mechanicals, so buying on condition rather than mileage is essential.
Our search uncovered a couple of high-mileage ULEZ-orphan cars under £1000, with one needing more work than the other but both sporting long MoTs. The search also uncovered a wealth of W203-generation cars – not the most exciting from an enthusiast point of view, but a great car nonetheless.
Jaguars of all ages can be found for under £1000: non-runner XFs, MoT-failure S-Types and even higher-mileage XJ40 and X300s. It’s the relatively unloved X-Type that presents the most choice, however, with the most results of any car on this list popping up on our searches.
Famously loosely based on a Ford Mondeo platform but far removed from that car in practice, the X-Type is a fine small luxury car with an interesting range of engines and specs. Almost all of the cars we found at this level were 2.0-litre diesels, both in saloon and practical estate guise. Even with 100,000-plus on the clock, a £1000 X-Type represents remarkable value.
It’s likely you’ll uncover some small issues along the way if you do decide to take ownership, but the good news is that parts are reasonable and online enthusiast support and advice is very easy to find.