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Friday 3rd February
Top Gear Advice

Six used cars for less than £3k we’ve found this week

We celebrate the 190E’s 40th birthday by inviting the cars it went up against. Well, kind of

Alfa Romeo 155
  1. Mercedes 190E

    Mercedes 190E

    Given that it’s celebrating a rather significant anniversary, it feels only right to include the venerable 190 Einspritzen. But, for the £3,000 we’ve given ourselves, you’ll really be looking at the 2.0-litre, which left the factory 30 to 40 years ago with a mighty 118 horsepower. 

    Even before you factor in how many of those horses were knackered by father time and mother nature, by modern standards, the 190E 2.0 is not a fast car. In fact, by 2005 standards, this is still not a fast car. The upmarket 2.6-litre straight six doesn’t even qualify, with 160bhp and a nought to 60 time in excess of nine seconds. 

    But you don’t need speed to appreciate the 190E – what you need is time. 

    Although, if you want to swap in the C63’s 6.2 V8, we’re on board with that idea

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  2. BMW E36 Compact

    BMW E36 Compact

    Our first thought was, logically enough, to follow the 190 E with its compatriot and long-time rival, the E30 3 Series. But there’s something of a fly in the ointment – or indeed albatross in the propeller – is that E30s seem to be outside our £3,000 price limit these days. Not even for a 325i – we’d have taken a 320. But alas, we’d be better off taking John Wick’s dog than any E30 offered within our (apparently meagre) budget. 

    So we come to the E36 Compact. Yes, specifically the Compact – it used the same sort of trailing arm suspension as the E30, so you can have just as many unexpected crossed-arm moments for less than half the price! 

    No, we still don’t know what BMW was trying to achieve here

  3. Audi 80

    Audi 80

    Of course, Audi should really be a part of this conversation too. 

    Sure, there was little in the way of direct competition between the three, given Merc’s rallying aspirations were put to bed (and soundly tucked in) by Audi’s original Quattro, but the set doesn’t feel complete without adding an Audi 80. 

    As you might expect, our budget means things like ‘four-wheel drive’, ‘five-cylinder turbo engine’ and ‘even passing relation to the rally car’ will have to fall by the wayside a touch. But on the plus side, you do get a drop-top Audi with a 2.6-litre V6...

    Do people even remember the Audi 80?

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  4. Porsche 924

    Porsche 924

    Getting that hallowed triumvirate – or at least the ‘nodding acquaintance with something that resembles hallowed’ version of it, our minds immediately turned to more low-hanging fruit from famous family trees. 

    And, in the case of the 924 we came across, more than its fair share of marks and bruises. Also possibly blight. But a 924 it is, with a manual gearbox and every excuse to treat it as a blank canvas to create your own 924 exactly as you see fit. By which, of course, we mean that most of the cabin bits look to be pretty much junk – the fabric’s rattier than a New York sewer and there’s more cracked plastic than a toddler’s play room. 

    But does that not give you a chance to strip it all out and create the lightweight 924 RS that might have been? Well, yes, but we’d go full hipster with a Safari version. Or for a grand more, you could just buy a clean 924. 

    Remember, kids: even with projects, buy the cleanest donor car you can afford

  5. Alfa Romeo 155

    Alfa Romeo 155

    But it’s not just the Germans who’ve plied racing success into road car sales, of course – the sight of Gabriele Tarquini’s 155 TS up on two wheels (or indeed four-wheels-up) is burned into the minds of an entire generation of gearheads, be they racing fans or not. 

    So of course we’re going to have to dig out a 155 that bears a passing resemblance to the Touring Car, even if it’s about as fast-paced as 2001: A Space Odyssey. But then this is an Alfa, and – without finding bold new heights of being an Alfa apologist – even the regular road cars seemed to crackle with the same sort of energy. Even if trying to use an Alfa as, y’know, a car, can often be a case of, “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”

    But ours only broke four or five times. And the battery always discharged. But apart from that it worked fine!

  6. Volvo 850 Estate

    Volvo 850 Estate

    Well come on, you had to know this was coming.  If we’re talking 155s and 190Es, we were going to arrive at the 850 Estate. 

    And, being the generally clever clog that you are, you’ve likely already surmised that we’re not finding T5-Rs or 850Rs in budget. It’s not 2012, as much as we wouldn’t mind a few days back there for old time’s sake. 

    The closest we found was a 2.3 T5, non-R manual estate for £3,950; whether you could get that price down to £3,000 is a case of time, motivation and how practised you are at saying, “C’mon, ’old out yer ’and.” But if not, well... it’s hardly a big problem. After all, even the racing 850 Estate barely cracked the top five in the BTCC, even with input from Tom Walkinshaw. So to get a big, comfy Volvo estate and then not be particularly fast? It’s in the genes...

    The older we get, the more this makes sense

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