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Thursday 18th January 2007


SUB-£10K SUPER-SALOONS

Lardy, rapid and £60k a decade ago. Jonny Smith explains how to get a bargain muscle saloon into your life.

Every week a free local paper flops onto my doormat. I’m rarely interested in who won the local sprout growing competition, or Winnie (78) who had her geraniums kicked by yobs, but it’s always worth flicking through the classifieds en-route to the bin.

Second-hand fat man’s cars (FMCs) always lurk on the ‘for sale’ pages and always encourage irrational buying. Last week I was astounded to see a six-year old BMW M5 for just £13k. Fully loaded, FBMWSH, metallic black and more menacing than the current V10 model.

Hang on a minute! I could get a loan for that. Hell, that’s mid-range Ford Focus money. And then the light bulb appeared above my head and I couldn’t resist rinsing the home broadband.

Cheap, bloated, brilliant

Jaguar XJR
Jaguar XJR
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Audi S8
Audi S8
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BMW M5
BMW M5
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Mercedes S600
Mercedes S600
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Bentley Turbo
Bentley Turbo
Lotus Carlton
Lotus Carlton

Automotive brilliance is out there for under £10k, and there’s no better time to delve into the world of super saloons. Just look at the incentives: a hugely luxurious barge could be all yours for what it cost the original owner to tick two or three options boxes. Don’t be put off by higher mileage cars either. Bigger engines linked to auto transmissions are lazier revving, and they’ve usually been owned by company MD’s -- which means the service books were stamped on the dot.

If you have a family, a large saloon is the perfect excuse to flee from default hatchbacks and castration-worthy MPVs. Your wife couldn’t possibly complain -- you can fit several aisles of Morrisons in the boot of a Mercedes S-class. And I know for a fact that most kids were rather turn up to school in leather stitched Bentley hide than itchy Toyota Picnic Draylon. Plus, your neighbours think you’re an ex-Soviet pimp and won’t let their dog soil near your lawn.

Jaguar XJR -- Brute in a suit

Let’s start with the gloriously undervalued Jaguar XJR. I’m talking about the ‘X308’ model, which started production in 1997 and ended in 2002. Several things make this version of the big cat best.

It was the first Jag to stuff a V8 beneath the bubble bonnet, and with a supercharger bolted on top, the XJR developed a healthy 370bhp. Add to that a five-speed auto transmission nicked from Mercedes AMG, a revised dashboard and you had a true British bruiser. The X308 saloons still look handsome next to today’s factory fresh Jags, plus oodles of the niggling reliability issues have been stamped out.

I owned several 1990 4.0-litre Jag XJ40s and loved them, but their Achilles' heel was always the Ford/Jag parts bin electronic dashboards.

Not so here.

Sifting through the Internet found me this nine-year-old XJR that’s perfectly useable on a daily basis. For under £3,000, the V5 -- not to mention the 370bhp - could be all mine. Most clean examples tend to linger between the £3,500 and £5,000 mark and, if you fancy a supercharged straight-six version, go for a mid-90s ‘X300’ XJR which can be netted for even less.

Audi S8 -- The Ronin

‘I need something very fast. Audi S8. Something that can shove. I'll also need a nitrous system. I’ve got the specs.’ The hallowed words from Larry, the tubby getaway driver in the 1998 John Frankenheimer movie Ronin. Cue four-wheel drifting around Parisian cobbled streets (no easy feat in a Quattro) and punting Citroen XMs into fruit market stalls.

Ronin single-handedly cultivated cult status and respect for Audi’s bloated flagship S8. Suddenly the identity of the 4.2-litre V8 ultimate street sleeper had been exposed, and every supercar owner watched their rear view mirror for the microscopic red ‘S line’ emblems.

Even more discreet than a BMW M5, yet more dynamic and sophisticated thanks to an alloy structural skeleton, Quattro system and sunroof that doubles as a solar panel, the S8 cost £61,000 new.

But not any more.

I found the 1998 R-reg silver car pictured for just £5,985 ono. You can’t tell me you’re not tempted? Originally launched with 340bhp, the 40-valve V8 was then hiked to 360bhp in 1999, delivering 60mph in 6.4 seconds. Reaching the limited 155mph in a sanitised heated leather electronic suite is effortless. This smooth criminal is just as at home collecting the school kids as it is scorching away from a bank job.

BMW M5 -- Munich Monster

Compared to the Bangle-styled cars the ‘E34’ M5 is far more purposeful looking. It’s also a sight easier on the finances. 1995 was the last year of this boxy shape, and the last M5 to sport a straight six heart. Its 3.8-litres made 335bhp and, when running through a six-speed manual, could slash 60mph in under six seconds. This metallic Avus Blue model with ‘Nurburgring’ suspension pack was beyond tempting for £5,750.

That said, if an M-sport car is just too vicious for your palette, why not opt for a later model range-topping 7-Series? The late ‘90s ‘Golden Eye’ era models are known for their immaculate road manners, despite being the size of a bungalow. The 740iL (286bhp V8) and 750iL (326bhp V12) cars can now be yours from just £3,000. Search hard and you’ll find low mileage cars for nearly half the price of a Ford Ka.

Mercedes Benz S600 -- Sssilent slayer

There is little lardier than the mid 90s ‘Lady Di’ S-Class. Despite weighing in at over two tons, the bulky Mercedes (which was put on a diet for subsequent models) will waft to 60mph in just over six seconds. There’s a 394bhp V12 somewhere, but you won’t hear it through the double-glazing.

Amazingly, versions like this 1996 long wheelbase (SEL) can be scooped for around £5,000. Look out for the ‘Business’ edition, so called because it has its own in-cabin office equipment. Electronic reclining and heated rear seats, 12-speaker Bose stereo, electric rear blind and hundreds more extravagances come standard. This is the original Maybach 62, but better and some £232,000 cheaper.

Bentley Turbo R -- Completely different

Nouveau riche? Check. Built by wrinkled Englishmen? Check. How does a 1990 Bentley Turbo R for ten grand sound? I jest not.

Nicking its 6.75-litre Garrett turbo engine from the Mulsanne, the Turbo R was retuned with Bosch fuel injection and had could actually go around corners. The example pictured didn’t even have 100,000 on the clock and your backside could be nestled in the cream leather pilot’s chair for £9995. There is no finer car to perform poetic walking pace rolling burnouts. Period.

Lotus Carlton -- Original bad boy

Bones quiver just looking at the thing. The Lotus Carlton is the original supercar-slaying saloon. Between them, the 3.6 straight-six and two Garrett T25 turbos developed 377bhp and 419lb ft of torque, propelling the Carlton to 13 second standing quarter miles. In the final cog of its ex-Corvette six speed ‘box, the Hethel-tweaked taxi cab could nail 176mph. Only 320 badged as Vauxhalls were ever made. Today, values sway between £12k and £20k. There’s one for sale on the Piston Heads forum now.

What about the thirst?

What you’re all going to say is that these big slabs inhale unleaded at an unholy rate. Well, not entirely -- and probably no more than today’s ridiculous (and pretty pointless) luxo SUVs. Out of town, all of these cars are geared for motorway mile munching and will can often return mpg well into the 20s.

Saying that, there is a better, more wallet- and planet-friendly solution. While I’m no flower licker I do feel the need to do my bit for the environment.

This is where LPG becomes your best friend. Nick Farrow from FES Autogas (see link below), one of the UK’s largest LPG conversion suppliers, explains: "Large engined cars are perfect for LPG conversions. There is rarely any noticeable loss of power or performance, body modifications are minimal and it will still run on petrol at the flick of a switch. Your car can still be serviced by your normal means, plus with the low price of LPG at the hundreds of UK filling stations, you can end up running one for the same price as you would a petrol Mondeo.

"Conversions for cars like these can start at as little as £1,200. It’s worth noting that running a fat cat car on LPG should not weight heavily on your shoulders when it comes to worrying about climate change either. On average there is a reduction of 20.3% CO2 on an LPG vehicle compared to a petrol fed car. So once the conversion has been carried out, every mile is one less run on a fossil fuel with less CO2 produced.’

Pictures from Autotrader