3 Apr 2013

Old cars vs new cars. Which would you buy?

I find myself in the lucky position of owning two cars at the moment.  A 1986 Porsche 924S and a 2004 Audi S4.  On the surface the Audi should be the car I dive in whenever I need to go somewhere.

After all it's powered by Audi's awesome 4.2 litre V8 which has 340bhp and sounds like a NASCAR when the revs hits 5500rpm.  It's got a better interior than most new Mercedes and BMWs, it's got the most supportive, electrically adjustable seats and a BOSE stereo that has such crisp, deep bass that it could shatter the double glazed windows in an S Class from 50 yards.  It's also got a manual gearbox and variable assist steering so is involving to drive on the go and easy to sweep into a parking space in the supermarket.

Yet, most of the time I don't.  And neither does my wife.  We prefer to take the Porsche.  You sit low, legs out front.  The steering wheel doesn't adjust and sits in your lap, making it difficult to get into.  The windscreen is inches from your nose.  It doesn't have traction control or ABS and the power steering is minimal.  It's got a manual gearshift that requires firm inputs because the gearbox is in the rear.   It's small, it's light and it's got 48:52 weight distribution. It's immense fun to drive.  The steering is direct, the brakes far better than a 26 year old car's brakes have any right to be, and the handling is supreme.  The previous owner kept it well maintained so it has no rust and no mechanical problems.  It has a ferocious heater if required and it doesn't leak.

The Porsche doesn't need ABS or traction control.  It has tons of grip and when the tail is about to let go it taps you on the shoulder and says, "Excuse me sir, do you mind if we have a little fun?"

I've owned a £1,000 1989 Mercedes 300TE estate and I've driven a £100,000 CLS Shooting Brake.  The CLS was great, but it was not £99,000 better than the old W124.  The 300TE started first time every time, could spin it's rear wheels out of a corner when pressed hard, had great brakes, an immense amount of room, had 7 seats, was 100% reliable over 6 months, cost hardly anything to run and brought a smile to my face every time I got in it.  It had character.  It also had a terrible stereo and 25mpg fuel economy.

The old Golf GTi (Mk1 and 2) had bags of character.  The new Golf GTi has great statistics but hardly any character.  You can pick up a Mk2 Golf up in great condition for £2,000.  The new Golf GTi costs £25,000, has no handbrake and a Stop/Start system.

Some old cars are worse than their current equivalents.  The old Jaguar XJ was a heavy old brute with a  slow changing automatic gearbox and no interior space.  The new XJ has bags of room and bags of character.  The first Ford Mondeos were OK but nothing special and are now £500 bangers just counting down the days 'til they end up on the scrapheap.  Their modern equivalents are fine handling cars with a reasonable amount of character.

Modern cars get traction control, power steering, adaptive cruise control, automatic gearboxes, TV screens in the dash, warranties, throttle by wire, Stop/Start technology, airbags, crash protection, quiet engines, engine noises piped into the cabin, plastic engine covers, massive depreciation and not as good as you might imagine reliability.  Premium German brands suffer pretty awful reliability.

A well maintained older car can be reliable, gives you raw engine sounds, has seats, steering, an engine, brakes, heater and all the other things needed for comfortable travel, a bit of fun if needed and depreciates at a snails pace compared to a new car.

This isn't a new car bashing article.  I'd just like to make you think about whether a new Range Rover that costs £100,000, and loses £60,000 in value over 3 years, is a more sensible proposition than a mint condition £10,000 Range Rover Classic, which has a comfortable interior, electric windows, air conditioning and will be just as reliable if it's been maintained over the years.  A decent sound system will set you back a few hundred pounds and you can buy a TomTom satnav for £100.  And they'll both return about 20mpg.

Across the range of new cars lie equivalent older models that, if maintained well and were designed properly in the first place, do just as good a job for a fraction of the budget.

You could buy a £60,000 BMW X5 full of gadgets you don't need or you could buy a late 90s Subaru Legacy Outback for £2,000 which won't depreciate much more, has the most wonderful ride, will be incredibly reliable (if you choose the right one) and goes better off road than the X5.

How about a £25,000 Toyota GT86?  Or take your pick from a BMW Z4, Porsche Boxster, Honda S2000 or Audi TT.  £5,000 will buy you a sorted one of any of these.

There are down sides to older cars.  You'll come off worse in a crash, they're less kind to the environment (when running, it could be argued it's more environmentally friendly keeping an old car on the road than building a new one) and it is possible to buy a complete dog.

Most modern cars are wonderful.  But a lot of older cars are wonderful too, are much cheaper - and can cost a lot less to maintain, tax and insure.

Which would you buy?  Old or new?