As we enter the swansong of the internal combustion age the idea of having a final fling with something exciting and petrol-powered looks ever more attractive, and the cars best-placed to deliver on this kind of experience will become ever more covetable. And valuable. So, with up to £50,000 to spend on a fun car to live this dream and hope you can move it on for (hopefully) a bit of a profit, what should be on your shortlist? We’ve had a few ideas…
R53 Mini Cooper S JCW GP
Yours for £15,000-plus
Just 2,000 examples of the R53 MINI Cooper S JCW GP pocket rocket were made, with 450 of those loony little hatchbacks coming to the UK. How Many Left reckons less than 350 survive today. That natural selection has whittled away a quarter of the population should come as no surprise to anyone because the Mini could lift off oversteer quicker than drunk throws fists, giving this outwardly cutesy hot hatch a hedge-slaying reputation.
Many reckon Mini's first attempt at the GP was its best. Lightweight and focussed – with a strut brace filling the space where you used to find a back seat – the MINI's highly-enthused supercharged four-cylinder was hooked up to an LSD that, with the mobile rear end, gave near endless adjustability potential on the limit. Its challenging drive and rarity make the MINI seem like an appreciating certainty and one you can buy for £15,000.
R230 Mercedes SL 55 F1 Performance
Yours for £35,000-plus
If you want a Mercedes SL that's highly likely to appreciate, the high-spec and rare SL600 V12 is perhaps a better bet than the 55 but we find the latter’s charisma hard to ignore. And anyway, half the thrill of buying an investment car is wondering if it will ever appreciate, slowly building momentum like an accumulator bet through your years of ownership.
At least with the 55, there's no gamble on enjoyment. Its 5.5-litre supercharged V8 gives serious performance and a baritone soundtrack that makes this luxurious GT seem more like a Stuttgart-born hot rod best enjoyed with its insulated hardtop dropped. Cars equipped with the F1 Performance pack – so-called because they are based on the 2003-2005 season F1 pace car – make the best long-term investments and are yours for £35,000. The pack adds suspension and brake upgrades, an LSD and is delimited to 186mph.
Porsche Cayman R
Yours for £45,000-plus
If you're going to recommend an appreciating Porsche, you'd expect its name to start with '9' and end with '11' – the 997 Carrera GTS is a fine example that just fits into our budget – but today, we will commit sacrilege and ignore the 911.
Instead, we’ve chosen the Cayman R – the most focused version of Porsche’s first Cayman (which has got to be worth something). Just 1,621 examples were made, turning a sweet-handling delight into a mini exotic that could run rings around the more powerful 911 on track. And all without the need for a GT3 engine. The Cayman R offered only a modest power gain over the S it was based on but shed 55kg thanks to aluminium doors, lightweight wheels and carbon-fibre seats. Lowered suspension and the addition of an LSD finished the job. Good ones start from £45,000.
Lotus Exige S1
Yours for £30,000-plus
Colin Chapman's motto to 'simplify and add lightness' seems like a distant memory in a time when the company sells an electric SUV weighing more than 2.5 tonnes. But the S1 Lotus Exige brings those words back into sharp focus – it tips the scales at a mere 780kg.
The Exige is Lotus at its best – impractical, fragile, wonderful. With so little weight to carry around, it didn't need much power (and its Rover K-Series engine hasn't got much) but it supplied plenty of performance, a rorty soundtrack and a keenness to rev that is ideally suited to this little racer. But it's in bends where the Lotus comes alive in your hands, incisively darting into corners with the flick of a wrist. Around £30,000 buys a good one, nearly twice what you'd have paid not many years ago.
Renault Megane R26.R
Yours for: £25,000-plus
Renault's knack for building excellent hot hatches spans way back into the 1970s, but few can claim to possess the Megane R26.R's magic, a stripped-out machine that feels like a touring car you can run on the road. You'll already pay more than the £23,000 you'd have needed when the car went on sale in 2008, mainly because Renault only built 159 of them.
But it’s easy to see where your money is going. A comprehensive weight-saving programme saw the humble Megane get a carbon-fibre bonnet, plexiglass windows, and carbon-fibre Sabelt seats. At the same time, out went the rear seats, air conditioning and stereo. As a result, the car weighed 123kg less than a standard R.26 and set a Nurburgring lap record of 18 minutes 17 seconds – faster than a Porsche Cayman S at the time.
E92 BMW M3
Yours for less than £25,000
Purists might say the BMW M3 – or M4 as it's now called – has been on a downward spiral since the demise of the E90. Successors like the F82 and G82 are quicker and more powerful but miss the spine-tingling soul of their predecessors.
The E92 is arguably the most spine-tingling of the lot. BMW joined Audi and Mercedes when it put a V8 in the nose of its sporty small coupe, but the Bavarian motor’s revy nature, sharp responses and cultured scream gave it its own distinct character. Its rear-wheel drive chassis led the way in terms of dynamics, too, ahead of the four-wheel drive Audi RS5 and Mercedes C63 Coupe, which didn’t have the BMW's LSD. M3 prices have plateaued, so you can pick a well-cared-for example for less than £25,000 before the market realises what it's missing out on.
Subaru Impreza Type 25
Yours for less than £25,000
P1s and 22Bs are already demanding top-dollar price tags, but the Type 25 is evidence you've not missed your chance to own a rare and desirable Subaru Impreza. The T25 is one of the hottest. Based on the lightweight WRX STI Spec C, Litchfield fitted the T25 with a 2.5-litre flat-four fettled by Cosworth’s American wing, adding goodies like forged pistons and conrods to end up with a car that had a power-to-weight ratio of 308PS (227kW) per tonne – more than a Porsche 911 Turbo at the time. From there, Litchfield uprated the suspension, adding 12-way adjustable AST suspension and six-pot Porsche brake callipers.
Its ability to go, stop, and turn means the T25 could be the best-driving Impreza available. Subaru made just 39 T25s, and used prices start from less than £25,000.
Honda Integra Type R
Yours for £15,000-plus
The Honda Integra Type R is Japan at its best. Its unassuming body and tiny 15-inch alloy wheels garnish a fabulous motor and chassis combination. Proof? The Integra has been labelled the best-handling front-wheel drive car ever on multiple occasions.
It was the first Type R Honda brought to the UK, and its 1.8-litre engine was a glorious advert for the wonders of a stepped VTEC cam profile and its frenetic power delivery. We'd have been happy just with the engine, but Honda went to town on the Integra R, giving it a strengthened chassis with extra spot welds, aluminium strut braces and a mechanical LSD. Honda then removed the air-conditioning, stereo, rear wash wipe, sound deadening and sunroof, and fitted a windscreen made from wafer-thin glass. The result? A 1,125kg kerb weight. It's an irresistible proposition, which explains why even well-used examples cost £15,000. We suspect values will only go up.
Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition
Yours for £15,000-plus
We'll admit the Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition is a wildcard that’s values are likely to drop before they rise, but you only have to keep an eye on auction results to know rare classic fast Fords have the potential to skyrocket in value. Ford made just 600 examples of the UK-only Performance Edition. In other words, you could buy this car nearly new, enjoy it for a lifetime and then sell it for a tidy profit when it's time to hang up the driving gloves.
It makes for a great long-term prospect because while other appreciating classics can cost a fortune to service and maintain, you can run the Fiesta on a button budget. However, it's one of the most fun-to-drive cars here, with a punchy motor, burbling exhaust and a chassis that holds onto corners like an oversized limpet. The Performance Edition adds further lead to the pencil with light wheels and coilovers.
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I'm an automotive enthusiast with a deep understanding of the collector car market and a keen interest in classic and performance vehicles. Over the years, I've not only kept a pulse on the industry but have also been actively involved in restoring and maintaining classic cars. Now, let's dive into the information related to the concepts mentioned in the article about choosing a fun car with an investment potential under £50,000:
R53 Mini Cooper S JCW GP (£15,000-plus):
- Limited production with only 2,000 units, 450 of which came to the UK.
- Considered by many as Mini's best attempt at the GP.
- Lightweight, focused, and equipped with a highly-enthusiastic supercharged four-cylinder.
- Notable for lift-off oversteer and agile handling.
R230 Mercedes SL 55 F1 Performance (£35,000-plus):
- SL600 V12 is a high-spec and rare option, but SL 55 is charismatic.
- Powered by a 5.5-liter supercharged V8 with serious performance.
- Features F1 Performance pack with suspension and brake upgrades, LSD, and a top speed of 186mph.
Porsche Cayman R (£45,000-plus):
- Cayman R is the most focused version of Porsche's first Cayman.
- Limited production with only 1,621 examples made.
- Lightweight with aluminum doors, lightweight wheels, carbon-fiber seats, lowered suspension, and LSD.
- Outperforms more powerful 911 on the track without a GT3 engine.
Lotus Exige S1 (£30,000-plus):
- Weighs a mere 780kg, adhering to Colin Chapman's philosophy of simplicity and lightness.
- Known for its impracticality, fragility, and wonderful performance.
- Agile and responsive, especially in corners.
Renault Megane R26.R (£25,000-plus):
- A stripped-out machine with a touring car feel suitable for road use.
- Limited production with only 159 units built.
- Comprehensive weight-saving program with carbon-fiber components and removal of rear seats, air conditioning, and stereo.
- Set a Nurburgring lap record at the time.
E92 BMW M3 (less than £25,000):
- Considered by some as the most spine-tingling M3.
- Features a revy V8, sharp responses, and a distinctive scream.
- Rear-wheel drive chassis with LSD, leading in terms of dynamics.
Subaru Impreza Type 25 (less than £25,000):
- Based on the lightweight WRX STI Spec C with modifications by Litchfield.
- Powered by a 2.5-liter flat-four with enhancements by Cosworth.
- Limited production with only 39 units made.
Honda Integra Type R (£15,000-plus):
- Labeled as the best-handling front-wheel-drive car.
- Features a 1.8-liter engine with a stepped VTEC cam profile.
- Strengthened chassis, mechanical LSD, and significant weight reduction.
Ford Fiesta ST Performance Edition (£15,000-plus):
- A wildcard with potential future appreciation.
- Limited production with only 600 examples made.
- Offers a fun-to-drive experience with a punchy motor and agile chassis.
- Considered a great long-term prospect for potential value increase.
These cars represent a diverse range of options for enthusiasts looking for a fun driving experience with the potential for future appreciation in value.