Winter Salt Warriors: which classics can survive the gritted roads?
Classic cars are great. For making a motoring statement, few experiences beat driving in an old car that turns heads and gets other people talking. Other road users smile, they treat you nicely, and the world seems like a more pleasant place to be.
But driving them in winter isn’t ideal – old cars rust, and tired electricals can leave them less than functional. But it doesn’t have to be that way: choose the right car, and you can enjoy it all-year round
Here are seven pre-2000s classics that won’t let you down, if bought well.
1. Saab 900 (1978-1994)
Let’s be honest here, if you’re looking for a winter classic, then where better to source it than from the land of the midnight sun. Swedish cars aren’t renowned for being tough and surefooted to drive, and that’s why they litter our list.
Of the lot, the Saab 900 is by far the coolest – it has quirky styling, a commanding position, build quality all but the most solid Mercedes-Benzes can only dream of, and turbo power for those who like a little excitement.
They have a few rust hot spots (sills, driveshaft tunnels for example), but otherwise, can shrug off all that the British winter can throw at them. If you can resist a turbo, they’re cheap as chips, too.
2. Mercedes-Benz W124 (1984-1995)
Like the Saab 900, these Mercedes-Benzes are impressively built, boasting entrenched solidity missing from new cars. Unlike the Saab, the W124 has a wide-ranging appeal, comes with the option of a number of four-, five- and six-cylinder engines, and is available in saloon, coupe, estate and cabriolet forms.
As a cheap winter hack, you’re best looking for a saloon or estate, and grab one that isn’t rusty. Tinworm is these cars’ one Achilles Heel – so check the front wings, sunroof surround, sills and floors. Otherwise buy with confidence.
3. Audi 80/90 (1986-1995)
The B3-Generation Audi 80 and 90’s classic appeal is about to take off. Put their reluctance to join the value-rising bandwagon down to aerodynamic styling that still looks modern, and a slight lack of image compared with their German rivals, and poor parts availability.
But they’re picking up kudos on the back of the Volkswagen ‘scene’, as well as the halo effect of the Quattro models. They’re great as winter hacks: galvanised bodies resist rust impressively, front- and four-wheel drive models all have great winter grip, and inbuilt reliability makes them dependable.
If you want classic winter motoring on the cheap, you can’t do much better.
4. Volvo 240/260 (1974-1993)
The Volvo 240 and 260’s appeal as an all-year classic is obvious. It’s large, simple, doesn’t rust, has a great heater, and has great reliability. Despite being rear-wheel drive, it’s well set-up to drive in poor conditions, and is also renowned for being a great tow car.
Until the mid-2010s, you could pick one up very cheaply indeed, but values are rising now, as interest in the classic alternative continues to rise. They’re not quite as indestructible as they look – just watch for corrosion around the front suspension pick-ups and the inner sills.
5. Ford Sierra XR4x4 (1985-1993)
We’ve chosen this one for the way it drives rather than the way it’s made. Points in the Sierra XR4x4’s favour are the all-weather grip you get from its excellent all-wheel drive system, and the security that its optional anti-lock braking system gives you.
Rather like the Audi 80 and 90 above, classic status has taken a while to reach the Sierra, on account of its modernistic styling – but it’s made it there now, and owning one will leave you ending up in many ‘my dad had one of those’ conversations at petrol stations.
‘Ford Tax’-imposed rapidly rising values mean most will soon be wrapped up in cotton wool, so if you’re going to do it, then now’s the time.
6. Volkswagen Golf Mk2 (1983-1991)
If you can avoid a costly GTI, then you’ll be pleased to know that the gateway to classic Golf ownership is still extremely attainable. All Golfs are pleasingly resistant to rust, and as long as you have a good battery on it, will start at the drop of a hat, whatever the weather has in store.
Unlike most of its contemporary rivals, the Golf has huge universal appeal, and seems to come with a Mercedes/Saab-like air of indestructability. Again, that makes these perfectly sensible all-year round classic cars that you can depend upon.
7. Saab 9000 (1984-1998)
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Rather like the Saab 900 that heads this list, the 9000 was pretty much designed from the outset to be driven in winter. Its steering and brakes are perfectly set up to work in low-grip conditions, while rugged build quality means that they shrug off cold weather ridiculously easily.
Heated seats and great demisting are other strong points, too. If you steer away from desirable and super-quick Aero and Carlsson models, the Saab 9000 remains a great value buy. They only seem to have one weakness – rust. Check the front and rear wheelarches and inner sills.