More than once in CCB we’ve discussed how entire generations of modern classics are in danger of being wiped out by scrappage schemes, clean air incentives and similar, but when you start combing through the DVLA figures, it’s clear that many interesting potential classics from the last 20-30 years have already shrunk to tiny numbers.
As an extreme example, you’ll find just 11 Audi 200 Turbos left in roadworthy condition and the lovable MG Metro – once such a common sight – is down to less than 100 examples. All of which seems rather unfair when you consider that 1357 of Volkswagen’s mighty folly the Phaeton are still running around and the Triumph Stag has survived to the tune of over 5500 examples, itself dwarfed by the 23,000-odd MGBs out there.
Here then are our picks of the cars which have survived the years... and those which haven’t.
ALFA ROMEO 156 GTA
The 156 was supposed to be (yet another) car to save Alfa Romeo – or at least that’s what the magazine headlines said. In truth, the car was an excellent product with Walter da Silva’s styling setting it dramatically apart from the Mondeo and 3-Series herd, even if the dealer network and general customer experience saw to it once again that Alfa didn’t challenge either in the fleet market.
Nonetheless, the 156 was a steady seller and once was a common sight on UK roads, helped no doubt by its unusually conventional mechanical layout. For once Alfa went with an entirely familiar drivetrain: a range of market-friendly petrol and diesel engines ranging from the 1.6-liter four-pot to the 2.5-liter V6, with even the basic 1.6 knocking out a handy 118 bhp while the 2.5-liter V6 was good for 189 bhp.
The pinnacle of the range though was the 156 GTA, in which guise the V6 was taken out to 3.2 litres and 247bhp. Despite being front-driven, the GTA handled the power well and had a superbly frantic nature. Yes, it torque steered on a potholed road under full-bore acceleration but it had a turn-in as sharp as a 205 GTI and a lovely balanced feeling you didn’t expect this side of the BMW competition.
All this was backed with a deep front spoiler and 17inch alloys through which the racy red Brembo calipers could be glimpsed, while inside you found tasty Momo leather seats. Yes, the GTA looked the part and backed it up with credible performance: 155mph flat out and 0-60mph in just 6.3 seconds.
Despite its M3-challenging credentials, the GTA was never a strong seller in the UK thanks to its stiff pricing and the challenges of ownership. As the cars aged, Alfa’s lack of interest in supporting its older models became an issue and when the differential exploded, many owners either replaced it with the clever Q2 unit from other models... or threw in the towel. Such despair, of course, happened rather sooner with the clutchless manual Selespeed model...
But the GTA remains a cracking drive and its rarity only adds to the appeal. If you can find one – preferably in the even rarer Sportwagon estate format – it’s one of the few modern classic Alfas to promise investment potential.
Buy one for: £8000-£12,000
BMW M COUPE
We’ll never see the like of this again. Here was BMW, famously conservative maker of sober sports saloons and executive cars, having several Jägermeisters too many and wondering what a hard-topped version of the Z3 roadster would look like. Rather odd, was the answer... but not unappealing, with a hint of Honda S600 crossed with Volvo P1800E. Over in Europe, the Z3 coupe was offered with the 2.8 and 3-liter straight-six engines, but here in the UK we only saw the range-topping version which ran the 321bhp M Power engine borrowed from the contemporary M3.
Combining this with the 1300kg Z3 and the semi-trailing arm rear end of the old E30 3-Series had a predictably savage result. Although the car came with a limited-slip differential, early cars made do without electronic traction control, since the computer processing power available at the time couldn’t cope with the wheelspin which built up so quickly.
This was usefully remedied in 2000, BMW took the opportunity to turn it up to 11 by fitting the updated S54 M Power engine as found in the E46 generation of M3. Good for 325bhp, it propelled the M Coupe to 60mph in just 5.1 seconds, with top speed limited to 155mph. Oh and if the M Coupe wasn’t nuts enough for you, BMW also provided the model in open form as the M Roadster, of which 313 remain. The M Coupe would reappear in Z4 form and although these are more affordable, they do lack the lunatic nature of the Z3M.
Produced from: 1997-2002
Buy one for: £20,000-£35,000
It’s hard to believe it now when every motorway journey has the signature LED lamps of an S5 or Q7 lasering into your boot lid, but there was a time and not so long ago when in prestige terms Audi was a definite third tier to Mercedes and BMW.
Yes, the Audi 200 – bigger brother to the aero ‘C3’ generation Audi 100 – offered much to tempt technically-minded buyers away from the dominant E-Class and 5-Series and in stylish Avant estate form with the 20-valve turbo motor borrowed from the Quattro was a deeply capable machine. But for those not needing the Quattro four-wheel drive and wary of the oddball five-cylinder engine, the Audi was still an expensive oddity with something of an upmarket VW flavour. The fiery five-pot may have won rallies for the Quattro, but what buyers wanted in their executive car was a smooth V8 motor which Mercedes was only too happy to offer.
All of which must have hurt back in Ingolstadt, which is why the autocratic Dr. Pïech gave the order to beat the competition at its own game. The ultimate result of that would be the all-aluminum A8 but the stop-gap was an almost-forgotten car, badged simply Audi V8.
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