Top 10: Insurance-friendly roadsters for first-time buyers on a budget
If you’re buying your first classic, it’s easy to be tempted by a two-seater sportster. There are so many to choose from, each one bringing something different to the classic roadster party. But assuming you don’t have limitless funds, which models should be on your shortlist?
Here we present ten of our top choices, picked for their combination of value for money, affordable ownership and driver enjoyment. So whether you crave 1970s-style nostalgia or some modern-classic practicality, there should be something here for every first-time roadster buyer.
Launched in Britain in 1990 and remaining on sale for eight years, the MkI MX-5 became a legend in its own lifetime – and is now one of today’s most popular classic roadsters. Well, what’s not to love about a nimble rear-wheel drive two-seater that combines eager performance with fun handling? Both the 1.6- and 1.8-litre versions provide plenty of entertainment value, while also being reliable when maintained well. Values of the very best examples have been known to hit five figures; but original, presentable cars (with no rust issues) can still be snapped up from £2500-5000.
MGF & TF
Fancy a modern-classic MG? The MGF of 1995-2002 is significant for being the brand’s first mid-engined roadster – and it offers great value now. Offering 118-143bhp, the MGF’s healthy performance came from a 1796cc version of Rover’s K-series engine. But after seven years (by which time MG Rover was run by the Phoenix Consortium), the ’F was replaced by the heavily revised TF – complete with new front end styling and coil-sprung suspension instead of the old Hydragas set-up. Prices of each start at less than £1000, but £2000-3000 will buy a decent survivor with a sensibly low mileage.
If you think an MX-5 is too predictable a choice for your first roadster, then check out the Barchetta. Launched in 1995 and in production for a decade, Fiat’s addition to the soft-top market of the ’90s was only ever available with left-hand drive (despite being an official import), but don’t let that put you off – this thing’s still huge fun! Power was via a 1.8-litre 16-valve engine pumping out a healthy 130bhp, complemented by sharp front-drive handling. The Barchetta also looked sensational, with smart detailing throughout. Good examples range from £3000 to £7000, so there’s plenty of choice.
Triumph Spitfire 1500
If you prefer your first roadster to be a bit more ‘period’ than those featured so far, may we suggest you take a look at the Triumph Spitfire 1500 of 1974-80? Visually similar to the earlier MkIV Spittie, the 1500 benefited from extra power thanks to its switch to Triumph’s 1493cc engine. A well-fettled Spitfire should be lively, fun to drive and cheap to run thanks to affordable (and readily available) spare parts. And although values have been rising (with top-condition cars commanding five figures), you can still grab a tidy Spitfire 1500 for £4000-6000. Tempting, isn’t it?
Another ‘period’ offering that makes a great first-time buy thanks to its simple spec, easy maintenance and excellent parts availability is the MGB. But with prices of the earliest MkI versions now hitting £20k-plus, it falls to the controversial black-bumper roadster (introduced for the 1975 model year) to offer the best value. This might not be the prettiest MGB but it is a great buy, with solid and presentable cars available for around £5000-8000. Production of the ’B ceased in late 1980, with this being the last ever MG produced at the marque’s historic Abingdon factory.
If you fancy a minuscule Japanese kei-car as your first two-seater roadster, the Suzuki Cappuccino (available in the UK from 1993 to ’95) is a top choice – as long as you can find a rust-free example. Just 1100 cars were sold in Britain, though others have since arrived as personal imports. So what makes the Cappuccino a great buy? Well, it’s brilliantly entertaining. This 657cc three-cylinder sportster might have developed just 63bhp, but its eager performance and handling are guaranteed to make you smile. Buy a decent example now for £3000-5000 – and then go and have some fun!
Alfa Romeo ‘916’ Spider
With prices of the original Spider roadster being beyond many a first-time buyer’s budget, it falls to the front-wheel drive 916-series model of 1995-2006 to offer the best value – and some serious temptation for fans of modern-classic Italian sportsters. Effectively a roadster version of the same-era GTV coupe, the Spider was available with either four-cylinder Twin Spark or 3.0-litre (later 3.2) V6 power, each engine offering great performance and a superb soundtrack. And you needn’t pay a fortune for the privilege, with MoT’d Spiders available from £1500 or less – although £3000-4000 will secure a smart, low-mileage early car.
Launched in 2003, the short-lived Smart is the newest model featured here – but with just 43,000 built, it surely deserves its ‘future classic’ tag. The Roadster’s on-paper performance figures might not sound exciting (with 80bhp from its 698cc three-cylinder engine), but the behind-the-wheel experience genuinely is. The tiny mid-mounted turbocharged engine revs madly, while the super-taut suspension helps to create one of the best handling and roadholding combinations of its era. Even better news is the value on offer, with £3000-4000 now buying a well presented roadster with a sensibly low mileage and a full service history.
Looking for a roadster that’s well-built, reliable and sensational value for money? Then take a closer look at the Z3, one of the most controversial BMWs of its era thanks to what some critics called its ‘hairdresser’ image. But we think that’s unfair, as even a base-model 1.9-litre Z3 pushed out 118-138bhp depending on its age and spec. The latter output was enough for a top speed of 123mph, with 0-60 in 8.4 seconds. Not too shabby at all, particularly for a car that can be picked up for as little as £2000-4000 in good to excellent condition.
Toyota MR2 MkIII
After the first two generations of MR2 coupe, the MkIII model of 1999 came as something of a shock. Here for the first time was a full roadster, complete with folding fabric hood; the previous MR2’s hardtop and targa-top styles were suddenly a thing of the past, although at least the mid-engined layout was retained. Performance was strong thanks to the MR2’s 1794cc 16-valve twin-cam, pushing out 138bhp. The MR2 MkIII sold well for seven years, and these days it can be picked up from as little as £1500, although £5000-6000 might be needed for a late, low-mileage example.