12 cars for under £12,000 that are suitable for Journees d'Automne
I blame my friend Kat Hughes for this. At the recent Journees d'Automne she suggested that a few of the British entrants should club together to buy a suitable car to take on the event, an MGB or similar. Her thought makes a lot of sense to me as normally I take the Daytona which is ideal for two parts of the event - the getting there and the Sunday drive, but entirely unsuited to the third part of the track day. It's not nearly nimble enough for the tight and twisty Circuit des Ecuyers and even if it wasn't, it is a too valuable (both fiscally and sentimentally) to be risked on the circuit.
Kat was also probably thinking about the car that had brought her there, a rally prepared Mini Cooper. This was perfect for the track and Sunday drive but was unbearably loud (needing ear defenders) on the long journey from the UK to the Champagne region.
Now this idea got my petrol head brain in overdrive and was the perfect excuse to spend far to much time looking through the classifieds ads for classic cars online (not that I don't do that anyway). I set myself a budget of £12,000 for no other reason than it seemed like a sensible amount of money to put into a car like this and when it occurred to me that it might make an interesting article , was a more challenging budget than the £20,000 I had first thought about.
I needed to set some more criteria though so I based these on our requirements for doing the Journees d'Automne namely;
- A car model introduced no later than 1974 (the organisers make exceptions for interesting cars that are newer but I doubt any of those could be found for £12k)
- Able to complete the 700 round trip with luggage for two and probably a few spares. This also means coping with french autoroutes and their 130kph speed limits without deafening the occupants. I have called this GT ness
- Be capable of turning a few laps on the circuit and allow the driver to have fun while doing it their sportiness. I have ranked on the basis the car is stock and not modified.
- The final somewhat unwritten rule of the event be stylish, as after all this is a French event that includes the likes of Bugatti Type 35's so you don't want to look too out of place.
In actual fact Kat's first suggestion of an MGB is almost certainly the best one. Reasonable examples of the chrome bumper MGB GT are within budget and there are a huge number of tuning options available to make them great fun on the track. However they are also the most predictable choice so I wanted to see what else was out there? This proved quite challenging as most sporty cars from the that era now command prices well above £12k even for rough examples and while I was not looking for concours winners they needed to be usable and not one that needed 200 hours of welding to make road worthy. I also required at least two examples to be available within budget as it was no use picking a car where there there was one suspiciously cheap one and the rest £20k or more. I did go backwards and forwards on this and some cars made my list and where then taken out. In the end I came up with a list that I think is varied and interesting, let me know what you think in the poll at the bottom and the comments. Cars are ranked from 1 to 12 (with 12 being the best) according to their GT ness, sportiness, style and ease of finding one for sale for £12k or less. The list is presented in a somewhat random order
Renault Caravelle/ Floride
Going to a French event there had to be a French car on the list, but France is perhaps not as well known for affordable sports cars as the UK and Italy are. In the fifties however Renault produced the Floride or Caravelle as it was known in the US and UK. Based on the Dauphine saloon it was seen as a rival to Volkswagen's Karmann Ghia. It is the least sporty offering on this list and I'm not sure it is a great motorway car either but it is stylish (especially as a convertible) and as Alpine used the same base to create the A108 and A110 I'm sure there is scope to improve it's track credentials. I managed to find both coupe and convertible versions in budget.
GT 1, Sport 1, Style 8, Value 4, Total 14
I'll be honest I was surprised at this one as I did not expect the Rootes Group's MGB rival to be available for £12k but there were a number of reasonable examples advertised for less than this. For the criteria here, the final series V versions with the larger 1725cc engines are probably the ones to go for. Performance is still not likely to set the world on fire but it should be enough to meet the parameters. You could always turn the Alpine into a Sunbeam Tiger clone and fit a Ford 302 V8 although not for our budget.
The Alpine also has the distinction of being the first Bond movie car as Sean Connery uses one to escape the baddies driving a hearse! in Doctor No.
The lack of power rather undermines the GT credentials, but an Alpine should be fun on track and looks good but the fact the best examples are over £12k leaves it with a lowly ranking.
GT 2, Sport 3, Style 11, Value 1 Total 17
Chevrolet Corvair (2nd generation)
Now I suspect a few eyebrows are being raised at this one but bear with me. The Corvair was Chevrolet's attempt to make a smaller car to compete with the burgeoning number of imports into the States and came with a rear mounted aircooled flat six engine (remind you of a certain German sports car?) The first generation was rather scuppered by Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at any speed which criticised the Corvairs handling - although it was subsequently revealed that it was no worse than most other cars on sale at the time.
To make up for this for the second generation Chevrolet went all out and fitted fully independent suspension and coil springs all round making for an excellent handling car that in the land of the V8 probably needed a bit more power. Still 110bhp on the base and 140bhp on the Corsa versions was plenty for Europe and there was even a turbocharged 180bhp version (probably not for our budget).
I managed to find a couple of Corvairs on sale in Europe within budget and rather more in the US classifieds, but obviously those incur the additional cost of bringing them back to the old world and probably push them over £12k. I think these are pretty cool and would make for a very distinctive car at any European event and if you want something American they are a lot more affordable than a V8 Mustang or Camaro.
Overall it would make a good choice for the event unfortunately while it would be perfectly fine in the GT and Sport categories other cars on this list are probably better.
GT 5, Sport 4, Style 12, Value 3, Total 24
Fiat 124 Sport Coupe
Most people are aware of the Fiat 124 saloon that went on to become the Lada, and the stylish 124 Spider that was turned into a rally weapon by Abarth. Less well known is that Fiat also made a series of Coupe's based on the 124 as rivals to the Alfa GTV. On paper these are perfect for the scenario with twin cam power plants but I find the styling just a little bit boxy for my liking.
This and the less trendy Fiat badge probably explain why examples of these can easily be had within budget unlike the oh so cool Alfa.
The feisty twin cam engine and five speed gearbox allow the Fiat to score well on GT and Sportiness, and there are plenty available for £12k, but the slightly boxy styling lets the otherwise deserving Italian down from an overall win.
GT 7, Sport 9, Style 6, Value 11, Total 33
Take the oh so cool Jensen brand famous for the mighty Interceptor, and mix it with the race heritage of the Healey brand and you should have a winner. Somehow though the Jensen Healey has not really taken off when it comes to collect-ability. Perhaps it is to do with the choice of power-plant, the twin cam 907 Lotus unit which was used in the Jensen before Lotus fitted it to their own cars and was rather troublesome when new.
I think however it is the somewhat bland styling not helped by most being fitted with large unsightly bumpers for US regulations that is more likely the reason. There were quite a number available for under £12k although most needed some work on them, as a result the Jensen Healey scores well on and sportiness but I just can't get on with the looks and a fairly raw roadster may make for a tiring GT car.
GT 3, Sport 7, Style 1, Value 9 Total 19
I admit I'm pushing the envelope here as the second generation of Lotus Elite was introduced in March 1974 right on the very edge of the age cut off, but it is an interesting proposition.
Designed to replace the Elan +2 the new Elite adopted a fast back configuration with the very en vogue at the time wedge look. It was powered by the same 907 Twin cam used in the Jensen Healey. The styling was very divisive (and I'm not really a fan) but this does serve to keep prices low makings even the very best examples of the Elite available for £12k. Unfortunately there are not that many around and a lot of the examples for sale needed some kind of work reducing the value score. Potential reliability concerns bring down its rank on GT ness but as a Lotus you will always expect it to handle well pushing it near to the top of sportiness.
GT 6, Sport 11, Style 2, Value 6 Total 25
The iconic Volvo P1800 sports car that shot to fame in the sixties in the TV series The Saint has always been a popular car. This has served to keep prices up and currently out of our £12k budget for even the roughest examples. However towards the end of production Volvo added a shooting break estate variant the P1800ES. In the eyes of the author this is a better looking and more interesting car than the original, which makes it a little surprising that there were a number of examples when I was researching available just in budget. They were not perfect but certainly usable and worthy of inclusion here. Being right at the top of the £12k budget, and probably over, the cool Volvo scores low marks for value, and as standard it is probably is not the last word in sportiness but makes up for it in the GT and style stakes.
GT 9, Sport 2, Style 10, Value 2 Total 23
Lancia Beta Coupe
Confession time; when I first conceived this article, the car I thought of was the Lancia Fulvia. The little coupe feted for its style and handling (despite being front wheel drive) is a icon for it's rallying exploits. Trouble it that comes at a price and the vast majority of Fulvia's available were considerably more than £12k. I did find some below but my suspicion was that these were not the best examples which led me to think about the Fulvia's replacement; the Beta coupe.
There are certain other advantages to the Beta in this scenario anyway as it came with bigger engines courtesy of Lancia new owners at the time Fiat. A 2.0 twin cam Beta is probably a better choice on the motorway than a 1.3 litre Fulvia and Lancia went to a lot of trouble to make the Beta handle well too with the twin cam leaned over 20 degrees to lower the centre of gravity. It's still a good looking car too albeit a slightly predictable three box coupe shape.
Now any mention of the Lancia Beta inevitably is followed by the R word - rust. Yes the Beta has a reputation for rusting faster than Usain Bolt can run 100m. However as the newest examples are over 30 years old now a really good example it likely to have had any rust issues taken care of. The reputation also serves to keep the price down with the best examples only just about troubling the £12k limit. General this is a high scoring car but it looks a little to ordinary (as well as familiar for someone that grew up in the eighties) in this company which brings the style score down.
GT 8, Sport 10, Style 3, Value 10 Total 31
The Triumph Stag is the car that should have had it all. A stylish (by Michelotti) open top GT in the Mercedes SL mould powered by a lovely sounding overhead cam V8 is many an car enthusiasts dream. The Stag also has James Bond credentials as one is briefly used by Bond in Diamonds are Forever. However when new the Stag dream all rather fell apart with reliability problems stemming from that V8 engine which tended to overheat easily
Today however thanks to a large support network of specialists these issues have largely been understood and solved. which has led to growing interest in the Stag. When I researched this article prices were all over the places with reasonable sounding Stag's well within budget but other similar sounding examples asking twice as much. This uncertainty keeps the value score low and while I'm sure it will be more than capable of turning a few track laps others on this list would probably be more fun so it doesn't score than highly on sportiness This is also not helped by many of the cheaper Stags being automatics. However I doubt there is a better car on this list for the GT category and I think it is a great looking car.
GT 12, Sport 6, Style 9 Value 5 Total 32
Triumph GT6 Mk III
The second entry on this list from Triumph is the smaller GT6. It is based on the open Spitfire and uses the 2.0 litre six cylinder engine from the Triumph Vitesse. It was considered very much an MGB rival in period although thanks to the six cylinder power unit could out perform the B. Early versions have become sought after but the final Mk III version with the revised Stag like rear end can be brought within the £12k budget. It's a stylish car (once again the work of Michelotti) with sporting credentials but the small cockpit brings down the GT score. It is definitely a solid all-rounder but for me not top of the class.
GT 4, Sport 8, Style 7, Value 8, Total 26
Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5A
Reliant is most famous for its three wheelers as used by Del Boy, however they also made a line of sportscars named after swords the most successful of which was the Scimitar. Although early Scimitars were conventional coupes by far the most popular version version is the shooting break known as the GTE. This has a long life and evolved in several forms but the versions most suitable for our article is the SE5A.
The Scimitar used the the 3.0 litre Essex V6 engine from Ford with imbues the Scimitar with pretty good performance and has plenty of room for your kit for the weekend away, and while it may not be the most beautiful car here it has a quirky appeal. Strangely the classic car world seems to have passed these by value wise and the GTE is definitely the easiest car here to find for under £12k. In fact you would probably have enough change left over to spend on some mods to make it a serious track weapon, although stock there are more sporty cars here. Overall this is a real contender
GT 11, Sport 5, Style 4, Value 12 Total 32
Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT
If the Lotus Elite is stretching the age criteria then the Alfetta GT has it at breaking point. Launched in 1974 the Alfetta GT did not come to the UK until 1975 and it would be another two years before the more popular 2.0 GTV arrived. The restyled GTV6, with the lovely Busso V6, is definitely out as it was not launched until the 1980's. However any affordable classics list has to include an Alfa and the chances of finding one of the preceding 105 series cars in budget is slim.
The Alfetta carried over the 105's twin cam engines but almost everything else was new including a fastback body courtesy of Giugiaro and a transaxle mounted gearbox. The GT came with a 1.8 litre twin cam good for 122bhp which should be more than enough to get you down the French autoroute. With it's transaxle layout the Alfetta is noted for its handling which should make it a very good drive on the circuit. Value wise is interesting as there a very few of the early GT available and rather more of the more powerful but visually similar GTV. These can be found for less than £12k although be warned when searching the temptation to spend that bit extra on a newer GTV6 will be strong.
As the newest design here the Alfa is near the top of the class in most categories but that newness counts against it on the style front as like the Beta, it looks a bit too familiar to my eyes.
GT 10, Sport 12, Style 5, Value 7 Total 34
The nearly cars
Before I get to the conclusion a quick run through of the cars that didn't quite make it. I've already talked about the Lancia Fulvia but I also looked at the larger Lancia Flavia. You might just find one of these for £12K but it will probably be a lower powered one. Similarly only the less powerful four cylinder versions of the Ford Capri Mk1 are available for budget. one of my more surprising finds was an early Mustang for sale in the UK for £9k, however rather than the V8 you might expect it only had the wheezing six, and who wants a Mustang without a V8? There were a few other American land yachts in budget but I doubt they would be much fun on a track once the brakes gave up after half a lap and the fuels bills would probably ruin the weekend too. At the other end of the spectrum the Austin Healey Sprite is just too small to have the GT credentials for the road trip. I also considered the Lotus Eclat which is more aesthetically pleasing than the Elite but these just failed the eligibility criteria as they were introduced early in 1975.
Within the four categories I think there is a clear winner in the style category. Of all the cars here the Chevrolet Corvair is the one most likely to attract attention in the Journees d'Automne paddock or probably any other event in Europe for that matter.
When it comes to the road trip I think it is a toss up between the Scimitar GTE and the Stag, with their big engines probably making for a more relaxing journey. Of these the more luxurious Stag is probably the winner especially if the car comes with a hardtop.
Choosing the sportiest car for the track is tough as lots of these car can make a good case for themselves. I suspect the Lotus has the best chassis, But I suspect the Alfetta will not be far behind and as a package might make a better case for itself?
The Value category is the most interesting as I've considered how good an example you will get for £12k and availability. The Scimitar has to win here as it looks like you can buy a decent one for half of the £12k and spend the change on upgrades and improvements.
On a count up of the overall scores it is the Alfa that takes first place which is a bit of a problem for me as I don't think it is a car that I would want to take to Journees d'Automne. While it meets the eligibility criteria (just) it feels too new. Next on the list is the Fiat but while it scores very well overall is let down by the boxy styling for me. The same goes for the Reliant although I suspect the Reliant would stand out more at a European event rather than a UK one.
That leaves the Stag. It may not be the sportiest car here and there are question marks over value (and reliability) a long weekend away in France seems to me what the car was designed for, and it is narrowly my choice.
What do you think?