When student Harry Dewhurst was looking for a cheap, stylish car, he didn’t expect to end up driving a 35-year-old vehicle once dubbed “the worst British car ever made.”
The 21-year-old from Brighton on the south coast of England grew up with the classic Jaguars and Ferraris driven by this father. But when it came to getting his own car, he decided to join the growing ranks of “Youngtimer” drivers, the mostly 20- and 30-somethings who are learning to love the “ugly” family cars of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
They are the new generation of retro-motoring fans, many of whom were not even born when their cars first hit the road but are now snapping up old Ford Fiestas, Fiat Pandas, Citroen 2CVs and even three-decade-old Skodas and Ladas.
These Youngtimer classics offer affordable drives that stands out.
While modern hatchbacks – even well-used examples – can still cost a hefty sum to buy and insure, an early ‘80s hatchback can be bought, insured and run for a year for less than £5,000 ($7,755).
There are special classic-car insurance rates, cars more than 40 years old are tax-free on UK roads, and parts are cheap and readily available.
The UK’s 500-plus classic car clubs have over 250,000 members, and there are dedicated fan websites, dealers and specialists.
One of the most unlikely stars of this scene is the much-maligned Austin Allegro, the small family car built between 1973 and 1982 in Britain.
Dubbed “the worst British car ever made” in a 2008 poll by The Sun, the Allegro and its contemporary rival the Morris Marina once inspired Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson to declare: “Deciding which one is worse – Allegro or Marina – is like deciding which leg you’d rather have amputated.”
But now the “ugly duckling” Allegro has finally won itself a fan club. It’s celebrated as a ‘70s British design classic and a practical daily driver.
Clubs like Allegro Club International have hundreds of members across the UK, many of them young enthusiasts like Dewhurst.
“My dad has always been into classic cars, Jaguars, Ferraris, that sort of thing. But there was no way I could afford one of those. I needed something cheap. So when I saw a black Allegro on eBay for less than a grand, I just couldn’t resist it,” he says.
“Then my friends bet me that I couldn’t drive it from Brighton to the north of Scotland for a party we were going to. So I bought it and it got us there. Eventually.
“I know some people say they are the ugliest cars ever made but there’s just something quirky and cool about them. They are so cheap to buy and run, they are an absolute blast to drive and you can work on them yourself,” he says.
Nostalgia has a big part to play in the upsurge in interest in the cars of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Popular TV dramas like Life on Mars, music videos, commercials and movies reference ‘70s classics like the Ford Granada or Capri, the Citroen 2CV or the VW Camper Van.
Specialist dealer Roger Chinery has been running Affordable Classics in Essex for 25 years.
“If you were a kid in the late ‘70s or ‘80s, you want a Ford Capri, Escort or Fiesta, the first car you saw your dad or your granddad drive home,” says Chinery.
“The classic-car market is always changing. Right now, it’s very focused on the cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s, these are what younger drivers want. And it makes sense — at the top end, the prices for old Ferraris and Porsches have gone through the roof.”
This new wave of interest, driven by sites like eBay, has also sent prices for the best examples of once-commonplace cars soaring.
Rare rally-editions of old family cars like the Ford Escort Mk1 can now sell from £25,000 to £65,000 ($38,000 to $100,000).
At the cheaper end of the scale, a good-condition Allegro with a road safety certificate can be had for around £1,500 ($2,300) or less while good examples of a solid design classic like the Mk1 VW Golf will cost in the region of £4,000 ($6,200).
Most classics are mechanically simple when compared to modern cars. They’re cheap to run and easy to maintain — you can even do a bit of DIY work on them and the Internet makes it easy to find suppliers and parts.
Classic-car ownership makes a lot of sense for drivers on a budget looking for something affordable and different. Buy a 1979 Citroen 2CV and you can bet you will be the only kid on your block with one.
Just one word of warning: If you are tempted to buy an old Fiat, Ford or Mini but you don’t know too much about cars, make sure to bring along somebody who does and get a mechanic to look over the car. It’ll be worth it.
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