If you're anything like us, not being able to actually drive a car very much has rather doubled down on the romance of car ownership. Sitting on the M25 doesn't endear you to motoring in the 21st century; sitting on the sofa, being cruelly denied the open road most certainly does. Where to take those wistful looks out of the window? The classifieds, naturally.
We've been doing this a lot. Firstly because we're paid to, but also because now we can't help it. And because we're past masters at combining leisure time with work time at PH, we've taken the ongoing inter-office arguments off whatsapp, and delivered them direct to you for consideration - partly because there's the sneaking suspicion that a half motivated PHer would do it better (see another very recent Six of the Best for examples of this) but also because we like to see the weakest selection get flamed for its patent silliness.
We'll kick off with a simple one: sports cars. So that means two doors and rear-wheel drive for this round, with a budget of £30,000. Beyond those parameters, it's free rein: manual or auto, forced induction or not, old or relatively new.
Couldn't be easier. There will, most certainly, be lighter, more athletic, less cumbersome sports cars in this selection. I doubt very much, however, that there will be any that are quite so irrepressibly charming.
That's the key to the W204 C63 experience: you can't help but fall head over heels in love with it. Objective ability can go hang when it comes to actually putting your money on the line, even if this was the most complete AMG to date: you want something to raise a smile. And whether stationary, sauntering or quite obscenely sideways, the C63 will certainly do that.
Of course, the storied M156 V8 dominates the experience; the fact that it doesn't overwhelm it proves what a sorted package the C63 is. This particular one appeals as a late, low-mileage car, with the smaller (and less blingy) 18-inch wheels. Coming in under budget means spare cash for the aftermarket LSD that should have been standard, and the rest on enough V-Power to brim Lake Baikal - we're gonna need it. MB
I've been waiting 17 years for my lottery numbers to come in. When they eventually do, the first car I'll be buying is a Lotus of some description; preferably an Elise Cup 250 or a Series 2 Exige S like this little beauty.
Having been lucky enough to achieve a childhood dream and own a Series 2 Elise 111S, I've experienced the highs of having a brightly coloured Lotus sat on the driveway. Consider my appetite whetted. Slung low, peering out over the front clamshell at the road ahead with the sense of occasion that few cars could possibly match, there's nothing else this side of £30k I'd rather have. The lows? Looking through my rose-tinted glasses, there aren't any.
I even know which direction I'd head post pick-up: straight to north Wales with the supercharger whining behind me. It would be rude not to pay a trip to Anglesey while I'm there too. Once the lockdown is finally gone for good. Dreams, eh? BL
Of course this is the trap. The obvious choice; way too on the nose for originality or bonus points. Ask your nan about rear-drive two-door sports cars and she'd probably say, "well, Cayman, probably". But that doesn't make it wrong. Oh no. In fact, if anything, it reinforces just how right and proper the default Porsche option really is. It's like buying a VW Golf GTI. Yes, there were more intriguing options available, but none were quite as good across the board as old faithful.
Even that comparison needlessly does the Cayman down, because it's just so exquisitely lovely to drive - not least because the engine is in the right place. Obviously, you don't need reminding of that fact. Or this next one - but I'm going to point it out anyway: just look at the amount of sports car you get for a tenner under £30k.
Yes, the 275hp 2.7-litre flat-six appears only modestly powerful in 2020, but the NA unit remains a flat-out peach, and, alongside the six-speed manual, suits the 981 down to the ground. Assuming you just want to enjoy yourself from time to time and retain a driving licence, the entry-level Cayman is all you'll ever need. And, oh look - you can have one with a full service history and 15k on the clock. 'Nuff said, nana. JJ
The car I really, really wanted, but couldn't afford when I bought my M135i four years ago. Understated (as M cars go), modern, well specced, usable; I could definitely live with this as a daily driver and yet still have fun when I wanted. This example isn't the cheapest, but it is the right colour, has full BMW history, not many miles and all the toys you'd need. Including, I should mention, a sunroof, which in this weather would be very welcome indeed.
Sure, a Caterham or Lotus probably fits the 'sports car' bill a little better, but at least I can still put a baby seat in the back (along with more than one bag of shopping) and keep up on track. Well, I'd give it a go; not sure how the baby would feel about it.
Certainly it feels like the sort of car which is liable to get you in trouble with the wife. Occasionally I look up from the classifieds with half a mind to float the idea of delaying the long-promised house move by another year so I can indulge the craving. Then I think better of it. Which is probably why I've ended up with a 550i instead. SL
Okay, so I had one of these. Or rather I had the slightly older Supersport, which is essentially what the 270R is. Or rather I borrowed a Supersport for six months on a long term basis. Or - even more precisely - I fell in love with one after about a millisecond and kept hold of it for as long as was professionally possible. I think the loan eventually ran for about nine months. Long enough to gestate a human child.
The analogy is appropriate, because owning a Seven is much like having a baby. You wait an eternity for the thing (the Supersport was no press fleet constituent; Caterham very kindly built it for me) and when it arrives, it ruins your life. Or rather it ruins your relationship with your significant other, because everything is now about the car/baby and the new car/baby doesn't fit into your previous existence. You have to make allowances. It is occasionally cantankerous. It wants looking after. You can't leave it just anywhere. And when you wear shorts, it burns your leg.
The frequent upside to both baby and car is that it is also supremely, wonderfully, glowingly awesome. In magazine long-termer land, you typically share your car around. I snaffled mine back to Surrey and never brought it into the office ever. It was too good, too weekend filling, too very much mine. The mrs hated it, of course, but she was easy to replace. The car wasn't. So with a spare £30k - take it from me - there's no better automotive investment. NC
Here's a smart way to spend your £30k, and get fifty quid back: a well-kept Aston Martin Vantage, with a naturally-aspirated V8 and manual gearbox. Also known as all the sports car you'd ever need. Pretty? No, not pretty - gorgeous, timeless; savage and svelte in equal measure, Bond-like, even, and as distant from every other contender on this list as Eva Green is from a toilet brush.
I have no doubt the Vantage will continue to earn respect and affection forever more. It's on a DB5 trajectory; making everything which has followed it look fussy and ostentatious. All things being relative, this is old money to the new money; class above crass.
With 385hp produced by its 4.3-litre V8, the Vantage is quick enough, but not so much that every open stretch of road has you peering into the rear view for fear of blue lights and impending points. To drive an old V8 Vantage quickly is to experience performance at the Goldilocks pace, just fast enough to entertain and excite, with a fine chassis balance, a thumping V8 soundtrack and - in the case of this car - tactile six-speed to change gear with. Blissful, beautiful stuff. SS
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