Looking through the classic car classifieds of late one thing has become very much apparent, in the grand scheme of things we do not have much real choice on these isles. We have mini’s and beetles up to the eyeballs but when looking for more obscure and maybe less appreciated classics, sort of in the direction of cars like the quirky Renault Fuego it’s obvious you will be waiting a long long time to find anything. Our salty roads and our constant need for the new has obviously claimed the lives of many oddities and even popular cars over time. Nothing lasts forever. But when we travel to our neighbors from time to time, you see there a car is made to last, rusty 500’s and 2cv’s litter the streets with plenty of other ancient machinery for company, these cars are part of the family in many cases often being placed down between generations. Sure the sun does help but an overall different attitude to the privilege of car ownership overseas is very much apparent, and if your willing to drive a left hooker there’s plenty of interesting buys out there to be had, often for unbelievable money.
On a recent trip to berlin with some uni mates I found the holy grail for foreign cars, Europe’s autotrader but only about million times better and more interesting, its called autoscout and it’s blooming brilliant. While every country has its own site, autoscout24.com is the best from an anglais point of view. If you have a good day to spend I would seriously recommend setting the registration boxes to before 1990 and have a good peruse of all of what the continent has to offer. But for people with actual jobs and commitments iv decided to create a sampler of sorts divided into country of origin to get those mouths watering and to free those moths from your wallets.
Well as our closest neighbor its obviously the easiest place to consider importing a car, and while we often don’t get along with our gallic cousins they’ve had more than just a few iconic moments. France loved the motor car from day one and at the end of the 1800’s they were the main producer of the motorcar, its a love affair that’s never stopped since and for many in the classic car fraternity their cars bring a much needed joie de vivre to the diverse world of motoring.
Well where to begin with Andre-Gustav Citroen’s great empire, you could have a ground breaking Traction Avant, Goddess like Ds, cool Gs or you could even make a killing bringing in Hy vans to sell to chic coffee merchants. But I feel the best Citroen for sake of rarity and oddity on these isles has to be the 2cv based Mehari. A recreational fun utilitarian beach car in the same vain as the later kubelwagen ‘things’ and fiat 500 Jollys, but in my opinion the Citroen is much much cooler. The simplicity of mechanics and its abs body onto ladder chassis build should ensure this car will run and run and run, not one for the daily grind mind but one for a fun trip into the country now and then I don’t think the car can be beat. When looking in the uk your most likely to find kit car copies which can often be a little ropey to say the least, all imported cars (if you can find any) seem to command ridiculous money for something that is most definitely a fair weather cruiser. Its definitely better to search abroad, and if you do most cars tend to be found where there’s sun and/or sand so your best bet for picking a good car up is in the south of France or other places around the Mediterranean. Here is a nice one i found earlier for around 4000£ (08/04/2015).
Panhard like citroen were always an innovative bunch, and also like Citroen shared a love for the quirky and the air-cooled flat two engine (this probably explains why they were absorbed by citroen in the early sixties). Now there’s been many interesting panhard’s in their 77 years of car production but I believe the companies swansong is the best buy. A beautiful car especially in short wheelbase ct form which followed panhards tradition of perfect aerodynamics and lightness, and because of this despite only being powered by a 50hp 850 twin the s model could reportedly reach 100mph. A real fingerpointing car, that will confuse and delight all as you drive around, this has got to be one of my all time favorite looking cars. Its quirky but also perfectly proportioned, if I could afford one I would snap one up without a seconds hesitation. Finding a 24 at the time of writing proved difficult but here’s a slightly ropey one with some potential at around 8k (2015);
Renault Twingo mk1
Now this was a difficult choice, I really wanted to fit my third and final french fancy with a quirky Matra Murena but decided to go for something a little less quirky, I then thought about a sporty Peugeot saloon such as the 604 gti or 305 gtx but at the last minute I decided I should pick a car with no connection to Citroen and also one that’s a bit more modern and usable. Ever since I was a young boy on holiday in Normandy in the mid nineties iv been in love with the original twingo, I love its cheekiness with the Dauphine esque lights, I love its ping pong ball hazard button and I love it’s gormless smile. Its always been a shame we never got it, the second album lost all the charm of the original for me,but I am a little excited by the new rear engined one at least. The original car has got real classic credentials in the driving stakes as well as the styling ones, as the twingo was in fact a clever ploy by Renault to keep the ageing 5 going long after the campus was looking a little long in the tooth compared to the Clio. Over the continent its plain to see this is a popular car even today meaning finding one shouldn’t be difficult, so if you do hunt one down id say buy the best one you can see, making sure at least the fabric roof (if applicable) is in good condition. If you like the style but want to avoid the older mechanicals, cars after 1996 offer all the fun but with a more modern clio motor which was eventually available as a 16v. This ones a steal at around 700 (2015).
From Supermini to Supercar the Italians sure do know how to make style and performance look effortless, just watch out for the arrugginito. Although sometimes lacking in quality an Italian car is often an addictive thing that even though you know you probably shouldn’t you still do and once the bug has bitten its hard to go back to anything else.
Innocenti were a brand most famous for the ultra popular lambretta scooters that the mods cruis around on, but alongside the bikes they also built bmc and later leyland cars under license in Milan. Often unhappy with the British designs Innocenti would sometimes bring in some Italian flair to shaken up the cars abit, the best reinterpretation in my opinion is what they did when they got there hands on the healey sprite. Innocenti’s design is barely recognisable from the spridget, looking a car worth over 3 times that of the bottom of the rung brit sportscar that we know and love. Not content with only improving the spider, in 1966 a smart notchback coupe was launched which is the ultimate in cool if you ask me. The fact the Innocenti is built on basic british mechanicals means that unlike many cars featured in this buffet, parts and modifications should be easy to come by due to the popularity of the spridget models. While the Innocenti will never be the fastest car out there, its difficult to think of a way of being more stylish on the road. Heres a spider for around 7k (2015)
Autobianchis tale started in 1955 as a joint venture between Bianchi, Fiat and Pirelli,it wasnt long before Autobianchi became used as a sort of laboratory for future Fiat cars. You see Fiat were worried about making mistakes so decided their smaller subsidy could be used to test platforms and markets for future fiats with the theory being that if a car flopped it’s not their reputation on the line and not a huge loss. The a112 was Fiats great front wheel drive experiment, you see front wheel drive became really popular in the 60’s and most small fiats at the time were rear engined rear wheel drive which was becoming old hat. So a car was needed to test the water, to see if fiat could introduce another small front wheel drive car to the market succesfully. Of course when the auto bianchi was well received by the public, much of the car was put into the extremely popular and uglier 127. The a112 was loved thanks to its terrific handling and clever packaging, this really is a great alternative to our beloved mini and if a cooper baiter is what you want a firebreathing 70hp abarth version was available. Here is a nice early standard model for a shade under 4000 (2015)
Lancia Fulvia Berlina
While writing my first entry on the world of car importing I decided to keep a cool low sub 10-kish budget enforced, meaning alot of Italian metal is out of reach. I also tried to think of motors which are often not seen on our shores, as part of the responsibility and fun of classic car ownership is to show the public something new and or different, something against the norm. Thinking long and hard about this I came to the Fulvia , now the coupe is a car which is an extremely popular import over here and its easy to see why, the car is achingly gorgeous but i think the day for its more practical saloon brother is now. Despite being quite a blocky car I actually think the saloon is in fact even more beautiful than the coupe in a more understated way, and that functional but elegant interior would make me never ever want to leave. A brilliantly over engineered car that pushed lancia front wheel drive, its supposed to be a brilliant handler with the coupe being quite successful as a classic rally car. This car is available for used Mondeo money and is a real classic you could enjoy and take the whole family out in, imagine the faces on a school run?
Often serious but always trying to prove they do in fact have a sense of humor, the Germans invented the car way back when but to them its never been perfect. An industrious nation that’s made plenty of cars, often well built but also often boring, never the less many greats have come through.
Glas Goggomobil Coupe
Back in the postwar fifties, an extremely embarrassed Germany was forced to make their once famed plane manufacturers stop making fighter’s and for these large factories to survive these companies had to find a new outlet and quickly. Ernst Heinkel and Wilhelm Messerschmitt had the same idea and created two of the most popular bubble cars ever, this new category of car soon became a common site on our roads due to low funds and the Suez crisis. Now even in Europe these cars are incredibly rare, I mean who at the time would preserve a four wheeled two stroke with the advent of cars like the Renault 4 and the mini, so survival rate is low and for a nice Messer now your looking at atleast 25k. One of the less well remembered car companies from that era was Glas, a sewing machine company that graduated to microcar and then eventually proper car production with the gorgeous Glas Gt. A car so beautiful it got bmw jelous ans they promptly bought the company and rebadged the gt. Now I’ts the microcar’s i’m interested in though, and one of my favorites of all time is the Goggomobil coupe. The coupe is a curious machine, its a typical bubble car in performance and it has the typical two stroke rear engine layout, but in style and aspiration its trying to be something a bit more prestigious and beautiful. While never a car to set your pants on fire even in ts400 guise, it should still be a fun experience none the less and one that you can hide away over winter in even the tiniest of garages or sheds. Ever since i saw my first one in the flesh iv been in love with this car, it’s a breath of fresh air in a world which is sometimes a little to obsessed with pristine Porsche’s and old Jags. I think you could have a real lot of fun with a car like this, and it should turn alot more heads than a modern Ferrari or Lamborghini and for all the right reasons, and who knows you could even have a go at putting a more modern motorcycle engine in the back and make a real killer.
Bmw 2000C and CS
The early Bmw ‘new-class’ cars in my opinion are the most beautiful cars BMW ever made, and none were prettier than the karmann coupe bodied 2000. Available in both 100hp single carb c and 120 twin carb cs variations of the classic m10 engine, the car should have no real trouble keeping up with modern traffic even though most of the enjoyment would probably be had cruising and watching for the reflections in shop windows. In the uk due to rarity coupes easily command over 20,000 pounds but if your willing to look abroad you can pick up cars for half that if your willing to look around, and ones that have usefully been driven regularly instead of ones that have been hidden away gathering faults. Here’s a pristine one from belguim for 11k!
Now i’m sure you’ve seen that over the past 5 years early Porsche 911 values have sky rocketed to ridiculous heights, and its impossible to really get your hands on the original sweet look before the big bumpers and whale tails prevailed. Well its impossible with the flat 6 engine , but if its just the look your after and are willing to have a more humdrum 4 cylinder engine, then there’s plenty of early Porsche fun to be had from the 912. The 912 is a peculiar animal , it outsold the 911 originally and was more a follow on to the 356 than a full on supercar. It also belongs to an exclusive club of cars that died only to re-appear on the market years later, when it returned after a 6 year absence in 1972 for the us market as the 912e. A real usable car, with good solid Porsche build but one that shouldn’t cost as much as a similar 911 to run and maintain, also don’t misconstrue this as a posh beetle, the engine is all Porsche spec.
Netherlands and Sweden
Northern Europe and Scandinavia has often been an underrated automotive player, but when safety,reliability and innovation comes into it no one can beat them. Sometimes the cars can be misjudged to be dull, which is odd due to how idiosyncratic the cars can be.
Saab Sonett 2 or 3
Saab have always been a weird company in the world of cars, but they do not come any weirder than the Sonett series of ‘sports cars’. They have all the great early Saab quirks, there’s a freewheeling clutch and a none self centering steering wheel which will make driving humorous to say the least. The Sonett 2 was available with the 2 stroke engine, but the real cars you want are ones the popular ford v4 engines, no car is fast but they are extremely light with GRP bodywork so they handle brilliantly. They 2 is perhaps the best looking of the saabs but the three is more readily available and look cool in a strange kind of way, the cars are ridiculously good value and would surely command a good price if brought to the uk. This later 3rd series car is mint at a shade under 8 grand (2015).
Want a car that can go as fast backwards as it can going forwards? , of course you do, who wouldn’t? , well thanks to the Variomatic transmission that is just what you can do in a Daf. Now that’s not the real reason why the Daf cars makes the list, the real reason is how many of these cars there are across the Netherlands that can be picked up on the cheap. As a simple cheap classic its hard for me to think of something so easy to buy and run which is also as bizarre and interesting. on my travels to Amsterdam I saw hundreds littered across the streets, it was apparent to me that these cars are very long lived and popular. The early cars look awkward and rely on a 750 air-cooled twin, the later cars used the popular Renault 5 unit making the cars a better bet. The last cars survived as volvo’s and even the replacement the Volvo 300 series was designed and engineered by Daf. A definite daily possibility here for 1800£ (2015)
One for any Simon Templar impersonators, a car with a few British connections it seems as the early bodies were produced by Jensen and a p1800 was even used as a muel by Aston Martin for a new 2.5 litre engine. A real design classic the car is painstakingly cool and was a huge departure for Volvo, who have always put safety and dependability first, this car was the first real show of flair from the Swedish company. The p1800 had a twelve year production run, with the car ending as a nice gte rivaling sporting estate, typical volvo aye? In the uk cars are getting very expensive, but across the border there’s still a few cheapish cars about but you are going to have to be quick to snap one up, due to my love of a shooting brake I had to find a good cheap es
Never the biggest name in cars, often relying on the Italians, Germans and even ourselves to produce cars with varying results of success. Never the less the Spaniards have passion and there are cars out there which do need celebrating.
I don’t think there has ever really been a company as unlucky as Authi of pamplona , not only were they stuck making BL cars under license but the factory was also devastated by a fire in 1974 and when they finally toiled to finnish repairing the factory in 1976 British Leyland had to stop all of their foreign interests meaning the now new factory was sold of to seat. But their loss is your gain, the mini market is one of the fastest growing ones on our shores, people are going absolutely bloomin crackers over the little marvel at the moment. Rare or interesting models are going for real silly money and the Authi is definitely an oddity and one that due to the constant troubles for the Spanish automaker that is very rare. If Innocenti mini values are anything to go by, I think the Authi has real investment potential, and even if not at least its an interesting talking point at one of the many mini events in the calendar.
I could have bored you with further cars, such as the Fiat Seats or the brutally ugly Santana defender, but in reality there is no real reason to buy those cars over the actual cars which are available, so ill leave with you this road legal 100cc golf kart , The Biscuter