Furry Dice – Starter Classics

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GrahamHowardDSC03430 (Large)Following last month’s column, over the next few months we’ll look at a few suggestions for starter classics – some obvious choices and some that might surprise.



Mini (1959 to 2000)

Launched in 1959 badged as either Austin 7 or Morris Mini Minor, the Mini is a definite contender for the car of the 20th century, Rewriting the rule book, the Mini is probably THE automotive icon of the 1960s and was the first car to combine a transverse engine and front wheel drive.

DSCF3155 (Custom)-1600Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, who also created the Morris Minor and the Austin/Morris 1100/1300 range), the 10ft marvel offered decent interior space for 4 – the original “quart into a pint pot” car – a theme which was to become a mainstay of BMC/BL cars to come such as the Maxi and 1800/2200 ‘Landcrab’ range. Thanks to its compact dimensions and ‘wheel at each corner’ design, it was a hoot to drive and had an illustrious career in various forms of motorsports.Mini cutaway-1600

As often is the case in the motor industry, examples of the Mini were bought by rivals so they could inspect in minute detail and take them to pieces to examine the engineering. Ford certainly did so and came to the conclusion that BMC could not possibly be making any profit on the sale of new Minis at the list price.

MiniCooperS-1600Come the 1960s it was the car to be seen in; it became popular with celebrities such as Peter Sellers, Twiggy, Lulu and Marc Bolan – and a number of coachbuilders such a Radford and Wood & Pickett came up with hand-crafted luxury versions for wealthy and discerning clientele. None of these, however, successfully managed to rid the Mini of a rather uncomfortable driving position with its oddly angled steering wheel – a problem that would also affect the Metro.

One of the best known highlights in the Mini’s life must be the 1969 film “The Italian Job” which starred Michael Caine, Benny Hill and Noel Coward along with red, white and blue Minis outwitting the Mafia and the Italian police to steal gold bullion.

Available in a 2 door saloon or a 3 door estate (called Traveller for Morris versions and Countryman for Austin models), it was also offered with engines of 850, 1000, 1100 and the flagship 1275. Sporty Cooper versions are highly sought after and fetch huge sums of money – especially 1960’s Cooper S models.

An additional body style was introduced in 1961, moving the Mini upmarket. These were the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf which featured a longer body thanks to an enlarged boot which gave a more traditional saloon car look. These also had a different frontal design to reflect the traditions of the Wolseley and Riley marques. Around 59,000 of these were production before being discontinued in 1969 with the demise of both these company names.Wolseley_Hornet_ca_1968-1600

1969 also saw the Mini’s most substantial and arguably most controversial update. While 850 and 1000 models continued, the new Clubman, Clubman estate and 1275GT models were launched with a revised squarer front end and in the case of the Clubman an 1098cc engine from various other Austin and Morris models. These also featured new instrument binnacles positioned directly in front of the driver, rather than all previous versions which had been centrally mounted in the dashboard. The Clubman featured a two-dial layout whereas the 1275GT had a three-dial version adding a rev counter. The Clubman in particular was conceived as a replacement to the former Riley and Wolseley models.Mini-Estates-1600

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s various limited edition models were produced, many named after areas of London. There were also limited edition models to celebrate milestones such as 25, 30, 35 and 40 years of production.

Additionally available for short periods were the Moke, a fully-open Mini originally intended as a four wheel drive, twin engine utility vehicle for military use which never came to fruition – however single engine front wheel drive versions were available between 1964 and 1968 in the UK (although continuing to 1989 for Portuguese produced models) and the Cabriolet available from 1991 to 1996. 1991 and 1992 models were coachbuilt by Lamm in Germany who produced 75 examples; later examples were built by Rover (with input from Karmann and Tickford) but a list price of well over double that of a basic Mini saloon meant that it’s thought that less than 300 examples were ever built.

1989 also saw the introduction of the performance ERA model, named after the company that engineered and built it. In addition to a unique body kit and a luxurious interior, under the bonnet was a turbocharged 1275cc engine as found in the MG Metro Turbo. The ERA was made available through main dealers and 435 were sold over the two years of production.

As with the Minor, there are all manner of upgrades that can be carried out to make any Mini more powerful and more comfortable to live with on a daily basis.


Pros: Well-known; cute; good parts supply; good availability; easy to work on; good club network

Cons: Small; very rust prone; not especially comfortable; beware of many fake copies of special models


Production: 5.38 million

Current pricing: From under £1,000 for a project requiring a lot of work; very rare Cooper models can now fetch over £30,000; reasonable examples available from £2,000

Morris Minor (1948 to 1971)

The ubiquitous Morris Minor was one of the best selling cars of its era and is instantly recognised by almost everybody, even today. The Minor received a number of updates over the years with increasing engine power – ending up with 1098cc (despite still being called Minor 1000) – and various styling tweaks, making later ones the most driveable today. The Minor is a easy and fun car to drive; easily capable of seating 4. And being mechanically fairly straightforward, most problems are fairly cheap and easy to resolve.P1050352 (Custom)-1600

Originally intended to be powered by an all-new flat four engine, this never came to fruition and the earliest MM Series “lowlight” models (so called because their headlamps were at a lower level, alongside the radiator grille, unlike later models where they were mounted higher on the wings) were powered by the venerable 918cc engine from the Morris 8 with a modest 27bhp. The Series II was introduced in 1952 and maintained the “split-screen” windscreen with a small pillar in the middle between two flat sheets of glass. This was powered by a smaller but more powerful 803cc A-Series engine from Austin developing 30bhp, following their merger into the British Motor Corporation. The Series II also saw the launch of the Traveller estate version.DSC03334 (Custom)-1600

The next major update in the Minor story came in 1956 with the introduction of the Minor 1000 which, as the name suggests, was powered by a 948cc engine producing 37bhp. The 1000 lost the split windscreen, utilising a single curved screen.DSC00019 (Custom)-1600

From 1962 until the end of Minor production, the engine was enlarged to 1100 with 48bhp although the name remained Minor 1000.

The saloon was available from launch as a 2 door saloon; a 4 door saloon was launched in 1950 but it’s the convertible “Tourer” (1948-1969) and estate “Traveller” (1954-1971) that are more sought after today.

DSC04076 (Custom)-1600In 1961 the Minor was the first British car to reach sales of 1 million and this milestone was celebrated with a limited edition of the Minor 1000 called, appropriately, the Minor Million which featured badging with three extra 0’s on the end. These featured, among other embellishments, cream leather upholstery and lilac paint finish. Only 350 of these were produced but a much higher proportion of them remain in existence than for other models.DSC04040 (Custom)-1600

There are many upgrades available from various specialists to make the Minor more usable as an everyday car such as uprated brakes, enlarged engines (1.3 and 1.7/1.8 from the Morris Marina are popular choices) and electrical mod-cons.

P1060577 (Custom)-1600

Pros: Well-known; cute; good parts supply; good availability; saloon/estate/convertible body styles; easy to drive and work on; good club network; many specialists

Cons: Not the most exclusive of classic cars


Production: 1.35 million

Remaining: Around 20,000

Current pricing: From under £1,000 for a project requiring a lot of work to over £15,000 for an immaculate Tourer; plenty of reasonable examples available for between £2,000 and £5,000






Mercedes SL (R107 model – 1971 to 1989 & R129 model – 1989 to 2002)

Driving around in a Mercedes SL is something special. The “R107” model was the one featured in such American TV shows as Hart to Hart and Dallas, the SL has an image of style and class; especially when seen with the roof folded down.P1060728 (Custom)-1600

The SL pedigree dates back to 1954 and SL means “Sport Leicht” – or Sport Lightweight. The first SL models, the 300 SL and 190 SL are now incredibly desirable and fetch vast sums of money (into SEVEN figures!); then came the Pagoda model until 1971.R129-Rear-1600

Despite appearances – and indeed the name, these are rather more tourers/cruisers than out and out sports cars, even models with larger V8 engines.

These are, however, one model that might make you reconsider the Mercedes reputation for quality and engineering. The R107 model in particular can rust so dreadfully in places where it’s difficult to spot that it can render even an apparently nice example beyond economic repair. Some SL specialists offer a special insurance againsR129-1600t this eventuality.

The R129 model, introduced in 1989, was stylistically a huge advance on the previous model – so much so that it still didn’t look outdated when replaced in 2002. It also brought with it a raft of modern technological updates and vastly improved passive safety feature, most notably a roll-bar that remains retracted behind the rear seat that will pop up in case of a roll-over accident to minimise the risk of head injuries to occupants.R129-SLShop-1600

With a complex car like the SL, it’s always advisable to take specialist advice on what to look for; particularly regarding the car’s electrics and rust situation.


Pros: Surprisingly wide choice available; generally reliable and solid; powerful enough to be usable on today’s roads; big range of engine options from 2.8 up to 7.3 litre

Cons: Not without issues, some of which can be expensive; R107 especially prone to terminal corrosion which can be hard to spot; some fragile electrics; some engines rather better than others


Production: 300,000 (R107) & 213,000 (R129)

Remaining: Around 17,000

Current pricing:

R107: From around £8,000 to £50,000

R129: From around £5,000 to £50,000

Jaguar XJ (1968 to 2003) (various derivatives also available as Daimler models)

Grace, Pace and Space has always been Jaguar’s motto; nothing sums this up better than the beautiful XJ saloon – a rare beast indeed in its ability to combine a wonderful ride quality with impeccable roadholding and handling.

XJ-SeriesI-1600Launched in 1968 as the epitome of affordable luxury with the sort of use of leather and wood that only the British can do well, early versions came with six cylinder engines of 2.8 litres or the more loved 4.2. The famous 5.3 litre V12 from the E-Type was introduced in 1972 and this really gave the XJ a serious turn of speed. The Series II was introduced in 1973, and in 1975 this became available with an 3.4 litre engine to supplement the 4.2 and 5.3. This engine line-up remained the same until the Series III – launched in 1979 – was replaced by the XJ40 model in 1986. The Series II V12 however remained in limited production until 1992.

DaimlerSeriesIICoupe-1600From 1973 to 1975 a mere 10,000 two door coupé models of the Series II were produced, using either the 4.2 or 5.3 engines. These had frameless windows on the doors and are now much sought after – and most people would consider them rather better looking than the subsequent XJ-S coupé.

The XJ40 model was launched in 1986 with 2.9 and 3.6 litre 6 cylinder engines (replaced in 1990 by vastly improved 3.2 and 4.0 litre versions). Reputedly the XJ40’s engine bay had specifically been designed not to allow use of the Rover V8 engine (as this would have been a serious threat to Jaguar’s own engine production), which meant there had to be some substantial re-engineering to enable the V12, now enlarged to 6.0 litre, to be fitted and launched in 1992.XJ40-1600

Stylistically the XJ40 was evolutionary rather than revolutionary; it still looked like an XJ, just a more modern one. Sadly the XJ40 was a rather fragile vehicle and was beset with various quality and reliability issues (in much the same way as the early Series II & III had been under British Leyland – only perhaps worse) – however after the Jaguar brand was sold to Ford in 1989, money was available for an improvement in engineering and build quality and later models were vastly improved.

XJ-X300-1600The XJ40 was replaced by the X300 in 1994 and then by the similar X308 in 1997, which remained in production until the aluminium-bodied X350 arrived in 2003. The X300/308 were again evolutionary in their styling, but managed rather more classically elegant lines, with the large rectangular headlamps seen on most XJ40 models replaced by 4 round ones, evoking the Series I, II & III. However they also brought with them vastly improved quality and up-to-date technology. The X300 was available with 6 cylinder 3.2 and 4.0 engines from the XJ40 as well as the 6.0 V12. This model also saw the introduction of the XJR, which added a supercharger to the 4.0 litre giving 326bhp, which was enough for sub-6 seconds acceleration to 60mph. The later X308 models saw the demise of the 6 cylinder engines which were replaced by V8 engines of similar capacity but greater power output.

However no matter which model, an XJ is a guarantee of supreme comfort and a fantastic driving experience.


Pros: A lot of car for the money; ultimate luxury, elegance, refinement and driving experience no matter what age; surprisingly affordable to buy; more recent models (X300, X308) quite reliable; V12 option; XJ-C rare and utterly stunning styling; powerful enough to be usable on today’s roads

Cons: Running costs; issues over reliability; more recent X308 V8 engines a slight retrograde step in terms of reliability compared to earlier X300 straight 6



Series I: 98,000

Series II: 77,500

Series II Coupé: 10,400

Series III: 132,952

XJ40: 208,000

X300: 92,000

X308: 126,000

Current pricing: Anything from under £500 for an unloved 90’s example to £25,000 – or a little more for an immaculate Series II Coupé



As with any pre-owned car, make sure you research your chosen model and if you’re not mechanically proficient, enlist the services of a knowledgeable friend or pay for a vehicle inspection through, for example, the AA or RAC.

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