The six best used cars we found this week
Six cars, six budgets, six continents: TG’s used car round-up goes on tour
£1k: Africa, and the Mercedes W123
The Mercedes W123 is – or at least was – the wheels of Africa. And Africa, being the generally mechanically unforgiving continent that it is, could be the ultimate litmus test of longevity and reliability.
So if a car has survived for not just years, but decades, it’s safe to say it’s passed the metaphorical litmus test, as well as any number of metaphorical and entirely literal tests over the course of 40 years.
But of course it would – the W123 was the car that proved Mercedes engineering was in a different league to other manufacturers, with the longevity and ease of repair of your average hammer.
And we found this one in South Africa for less than a thousand pounds, with at least some of its original bits, red paint that almost matches on every panel and absolutely zero service history.Advertisement - Page continues below
£2k: Australia, and the Ford Falcon
Fun fact: the German word ‘Kummerspeck’ means the weight gained by emotional overeating. Not sure how rough life has been in Germany to warrant such a specific word, but the happier side of the equation is that it literally translates to ‘grief bacon’, or thereabouts. Which is tremendous.
Fact which is perhaps less fun: a Ford Falcon was actually one particular Top Gear writer’s first car. It was the EF generation from the mid-Nineties, in white, with a 210bhp, 263lb ft straight six, five-speed manual and an open diff. You can guess how often it went in a straight line.
It’s not the last word in style, amenities, ergonomics or sophistication. And it’s absolutely not the last word in handling, but had the kind of roll oversteer that could very easily ensure your next words might be your last. But it is one and a half tonnes of absolute, unfettered and unvarnished hilarity of the oversteeriest variety.
£5k: Asia, and the Suzuki Cervo SR-Four 4WD
Perhaps needless to say, the early Nineties were a truly special time for the Japanese car industry. Money, optimism and ingenuity seemed endless. Demand for cars seemed boundless. And despite the increasing complexity, the engineering was pretty much faultless.
Yes, the reliability of Japanese cars is such a trope now that the mind almost automatically rebels against it, thinking of all the 2.6-litre Astrons that spontaneously converted themselves to two-strokes, the dreaded ‘crankwalk’ of the 4G63 or the 13B’s apex seals. But find us another country that could manage something like the Suzuki Cervo SR-Four 4WD without just building an IED.
For the record, that’s a turbocharged and intercooled, 16-valve, DOHC four-cylinder engine, displacing just 658cc and connected to a five-speed manual gearbox... which is connected to a full-time AWD system. And all of this is bolted underneath a bona fide kei car, which offers four-up seating, lashings of sound deadening and expensive mica paints and a full complement of driver amenities. And then the whole thing a) actually works, and b) weighs just 670kg.
Oh, as for the power? Well, the non-turbo Cervo made 60bhp, while the turbo version was good for... 63bhp, officially. Which was the agreed limit for power. Riiiight...Advertisement - Page continues below
£10k: South America, and the IKA Torino
So, if you’re familiar with your Argentinian muscle cars, you’ll already know all about the IKA Torino, its roots in the Rambler American, and its combination of a straight-six up front, four-speed ZF manual in the middle and two driven wheels at the rear. You’ll also know that Fangio had one.
But for those who might not be au fait with Patagonian performance cars, we should point out that the Torino was a purely Argentine creation – engines and all. Yes, the engineering came from American Motors and the styling from Italian design house Pininfarina, but this was the car built in Argentina, by Argentines, for the Argentinian market. And there’s a commensurate amount of pride for such an achievement – especially when one managed to do 334 laps of the Nordschleife during the Nurburgring 84 Hour. Yes, that’s eighty-four hours, and 334 laps was actually two more than the Torino’s closest competitor – a factory-backed Lancia Fulvia 1.6 HF. After penalties, however, the Lancia won with an adjusted 322 laps, while the Torino languished in fourth with an adjusted 315. So, why the penalties? Well, it was too loud, apparently.
But the relegation hardly mattered – the Torino proved Argentina was among the world’s best in more than polo, tango, football and picking up Sloane Rangers; it could build cars to match the finest in the business, too. And these days, the Torino remains a race-proven machine with Pininfarina styling, American muscle and undeniable cult appeal.
£15k: Europe, and the Lancia Fulvia
When it comes to Lancia Fulvia pricing, it’s safe to say the cat is out of the bag, the horse has bolted and the cows have come home. Some might even venture that the rest of the barnyard animals have also performed whichever action is necessary to fulfil their own particular idiom, but that might be a discussion for another time.
There’s only a scant few Fulvias left in this price bracket – as well as some below that may as well just have CAVEAT EMPTOR and a price on the listing – but it is still possible to bag a good Fulvia coupe (generally the 1.3 Rallye) for this sort of money.
And should you manage to exchange your 15 grand for a good Fulvia coupe, you’ll have bought the kind of classic car that just begs to be a daily driver. Consider the ease with which the Fulvia fits down any laneway and in any parking space, its forward-thinking and world-beating engineering and the style that improves any street it drives down or parks on. And then consider how happy you’d be to lock that away in a garage.
£20k: North America, and the Dodge Power Wagon
What is the most American-sounding phrase in the world? Texas-style barbecue brisket? Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you?
Well, we have one idea: Dodge Power Wagon. There is no misinterpreting the intent – or origin – of a work truck with a name like that. Will it handle corners like a Lotus? Of course not. Will it ride like a Rolls? Not in this lifetime. But it’ll just keep on trucking, powering through whatever you throw at it and over just about whichever obstacle you point it at.
How much of a genuine need there was for a 5.9-litre V8-powered leviathan with the ground clearance of your average giraffe and the pulling power of Chris Hemsworth after a double brandy is debatable, but it’s hard to think of a job site or weekend jolly across the whole of North America (yes, you too Canada – we remember you’re part of it) where a Power Wagon would feel... well, powerless.
Image: Worldwide Vintage Autos