If infinite headroom is your goal, you don’t have to spend big; careworn-but-roadworthy examples of our thrift quartet can be found for less than £1000
PEUGEOT 306 CABRIOLET (1994-2003)
While some manufacturers chased sporting pretentions with bespoke bodyshells and allusions to back catalogues, other makers were constrained by the floor pans and running gear of their existing models. Peugeot was happy to let Pininfarina behead the 306 as part of a long standing arrangement (as per the 205) and let its customers make the most of the good weather rather than enjoy the last word in performance and torsional rigidity.
Where many of its rivals employed a roll hoop, the 306 did without, relying on a reinforced windscreen to protect passengers in the result of a rollover. The net result was a sleeker profile compared to the competing Golfs, Escorts and Rover 200 R8s; only the contemporary Vauxhall Astra and Renault 19/Megane matched the 306 for looks.
Asking prices vary, though the majority of 306 Cabriolets sport the later phase 2 facelift nose, dashboard (applied to the whole of the model range from 1997) and larger engine options. Most 2.0-litre cars can be bought for around £1000; if condition isn’t important, you can get one for far less; run one for peanuts for in the summer months, and break for spares.
Values quoted from The Market have been affected by the appearance of a Dimma-bodykitted phase 1 306 listed for between £13,000 and £14,950. With the Belgian tuning specialist back in business and ‘Max Power’ modding culture on the verge of becoming fashionable again, sellers are trying their hands.
Where Mazda tugged at the heart strings of driving enthusiasts, Rover – with a fraction of Hiroshima’s budget – went radical. The mid-engined MGF wasn’t perhaps the consummate all-rounder the MX-5 NA was, but as standard its K Series engine went harder, its boot was larger and it resisted rust better. MG enthusiasts finally had a sports car to call their own after the ‘B died in 1980; while tuners preferred the 2002-on TF (when coil springs replaced Hydragas spheres) the ‘F was embraced by parts suppliers and clubs nevertheless.
Asking prices on the whole are rising steadily – at least as far as The Market’s data is concerned. Pulled up by the demand for low mileage Trophy 160 LEs (the ‘F’s performance swansong) values hover between £1250 and £3995 for solid, lightly used ‘Fs without issues. Low mileage Trophys can fetch more to the right enthusiast.
Dig deeper online and there are plenty of sub-£500 MGFs available; granted, most of them won’t walk away with a concours prize at the local classic car show, but all you want is a working hood and sound mechanicals, a cheap MGF will oblige.
ALFA SPIDER ‘916’ (1995-2006)
A front-wheel drive successor to an iconic nameplate wasn’t the handicap most people feared – in fact, judging by the awards handed out upon its release, people were too busy staring agog at the new 916 Spider/GTV to care about its heavily reworked Fiat Tipo underpinnings.
Inside its Walter de Silva suit, the ‘916’ Spider was nowhere near as sharp to drive as its GTV equivalent – and the problem was exacerbated the more power you added – but few people cared. In either Twin Spark or V6 form, the Spider was an excellent long distance cruiser; provided a high mileage pre-facelift car has been serviced, a sub £1000 Twin Spark Spider will easily see out the summer. The Market’s data reckons on between £1500 and £12,000 for the right car – blame escalating prices on phase 2 and phase 3 facelifts – and a long career which curtailed production into the Noughties.
MAZDA MX-5 ‘NB’ (1998-2005)
Regulated difference: that’s what kept the MX-5 a best seller. Having firmly established the ‘NA’ as one of the best value sports cars in the business, Mazda prepared its response to the onslaught of small rival roadsters created in the wake of its MX-5. Out went the pop headlights and up went the weight (slightly)to comply with safety requirements; a limited run coupe option was offered in Japan; a special model celebrated 10 years of the MX-5 nameplate; a Mazdaspeed option in Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) specification offered turbocharging with a warranty for the first time to customers.
Ubiquity is the MX-5 NB’s friend. With scores of cars available, cheap cars are still available if you forget notions of immaculate sills and paintwork and go for the most affordable and solid car your budget can stand. For short term fun MX-5s of this generation can still be bought via online auction for under £1000; reckon on the price of solid cars going up as the new MoT restrictions come in.
For the record, decent NBs fetch between £2500 and £4500 according to The Market’s data – low milers, JDM coupes and Mazdaspeed models may well cost more.