You've heard it all before. The prices of classic cars are ridiculous these days; the ship's sailed on so many desirable old motors; your chances of finding something interesting and old for anything approaching sensible money is basically naught, and high values are barring the next generation of enthusiasts from owning their own classics.
At this point in several discussions recently, I've had to raise a tentative hand and butt in with a "Well, that's not entirely true..." Because while big-ticket classics like older 911s, BMW M-cars and fast Fords have all rocketed to levels that put them well out of reach for most of us - let alone the cash-strapped youth - that doesn't mean the entire classic car market is now priced beyond reason. Happily, there are still some tidy older motors out there that you or I can buy and run for reasonable sums - and indeed, that young people can afford for less than the cost of a five-year-old Fiesta.
The way I see it, there are two ways of doing it. The first is to find the cars that the market's forgotten about; either because there are too many of them around, or because demand simply isn't that great.
One example of this right now is the Mk2 Volkswagen Scirocco. You can pick up an early GT or GTX in decent nick for about two or three grand, putting it well within reach, while even a late Scala - the most desirable of the bunch - won't set you back more than about five, as evinced by this example, which looks like it's covered a tenth of the miles it really has. While these old 'Roccos aren't particularly quick, they're handsome, economical and mechanically durable, making them excellent usable classics. Sportier versions are also blessed with a sprinkling of the handling magic of the contemporary Golf GTI, too.
Next up, the BMW E30 3-Series. Hardly a car you could describe as having been forgotten about by the market, I'll grant you, but that generally goes for the two-doors; the four-door saloon is still relatively cheap, and I can't think why, because it's getting more attractive by the day. What's more, like the Scirocco, it's a genuinely usable option and should prove robust and easy to fix. This 325i SE with cross-spokes, velour, an auto 'box, low mileage, a whopping history and a rust-free body (apparently) at £4995 sounds like a cracker, and if that's too rich for your blood, spend a little less on one with a few more miles. An old Beemer should stay the course.
And how about this Mazda 323 Turbo 4x4 for a rarity? I can't think of many turbocharged hot hatches from the 1980s that can be had in such good nick for £4500. This one isn't totally standard but what has been done to it is tasteful; what's more, the mileage is low, and there's a long MOT. A recent clutch, head gasket and water pump mean some of the big jobs have been taken care of, too. It's smart, it's quick, and nobody will know what the hell it is. Perfect.
So that's one way of doing it. The other, of course, is to buy a car that isn't quite a bona fide classic yet, but is about to become one, and ride the wave of price inflation. This is an especially good way of doing things if cash is tight; for example, I've lost count of the number of two-door six-pot E36s I've seen going for around £1000 in recent years that I've been tempted to buy and stash away somewhere.
Another car that's bound to ping up in price in the months to come is the Mk1 Mazda MX-5. Go for a clean, early 1.6-litre example for maximum future-classic cred; they're the ones most journos reckoned were the sweetest when new so they'll attract a smidge of extra mythos as time goes on. This one should do the trick, and while it's more than you'd have paid for one five years ago, it's still not mega money - especially given how solid and clean it is. It's also a rare, period-perfect colour and relatively unmolested, which will stand it in good stead as prices do inevitably inflate.
Too obvious? How's about something from out of left-field, like an Alfa Romeo 164? These were once peanuts, of course, but are now experiencing a quite staggering burst of the bumps, and I can see them following 75s and GTVs into genuine classic status. Remember this Cloverleaf we found earlier this year for £13k? Granted, this 12v V6 isn't as quick or as special, but it's only £4500, which seems much more reasonable. You still get that famous Busso engine note, not to mention Enrico Fumia's glorious razor-sharp lines, as well as a whopping stash of paperwork and some cracking period-correct Zender alloys. Hard to imagine this going anywhere but up so it makes sense to get in while it's still - reasonably - inexpensive.
There we have it, then, folks. Five cracking neo-classics, and not one of them costing more than £5k. Proof positive that while sky-high prices have pushed many classics out of reach, there are still some great cars out there to be had for affordable money, and lots for the next generation of enthusiasts to get their teeth into. You just need to know where to look.