Ten of the best used cars you can buy for less than £40k
Sorry, did you say genuine supercars for hot hatch money? Thanks, depreciation!
Forty thousand. It’s a large number, regardless of whether you’re talking about leagues under the sea, Warhammer, reasons to never watch a Kevin James movie or the fact that the book was actually called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and you skimmed right past that. But what we’re driving at is that 40,000 pounds is a sizeable chunk of change.
After all, you can buy a brand-new Ariel Nomad for less than 40 grand, and it’s pretty much what the concept of fun would look like if it were fashioned out of steel and rubber. So if that’s our baseline, we’re going to have to pull some pretty special cars out of the woodwork. No pressure, then.Advertisement - Page continues below
If you’re going to give up a car that’s as super as the Nomad, you might as well do it for a supercar, no? Of course, it’s not going to be as interesting as the Nomad. Then again, anything short of setting off fireworks on a rollercoaster is going to seem dull by comparison. That said, it will be decidedly more waterproof than the Nomad, and surely much safer than our rollercoaster idea.
It’ll also have Audi’s perennial 4.2-litre V8 in a mid-engined layout, rear-biased all-wheel-drive and – if you play your cards right – a six-speed manual gearbox to play with. It’ll also be more reliable than most everything else that’s coming up on this list – barring the inevitable 911, of course – and that’s not something to be sneezed at. More than once have we discarded a piece of beautiful Italian engineering – both four and two-wheeled – because it had its own ideas about when and how it should work.
And if you’re entirely unconcerned with such humdrum ideas as reliability – and quite concerned that Top Gear appears to be – don’t fret. Normal service is about to resume.
Being Top Gear, you’d rightly expect that if we came across something lightweight, powerful and off the beaten path, we’d be falling over ourselves to recommend it. And so it goes with the Noble M12, a car that barely tops a metric tonne, boasts between 310 and 450bhp – depending on spec, price and strength of your self-preservation instinct – and comes from a company that’s as far away from supercar royalty as your average Top Gear writer is from actual royalty.
The M12 is a bit of an interesting one, even without its left-field provenance and lightweight construction. There’s an absurdly comfy ride and a rather leggy V6 turbo powerplant, as well as air conditioning and good headroom, even for those who get accused of ‘looming’ over people. That said, the M12 isn’t what you’d call a relaxing grand tourer. It is what you might call a track-ready sports car, and what we would tend to call a bit of a berserker, capable of a 1m 25s around the Top Gear test track. When you consider that his Stigness did that back in the early 2000s, on early 2000s tyres and with less than 400bhp, it’s still a properly quick time two decades later.Advertisement - Page continues below
Porsche 911 Turbo
And we come crashing back to reality with the most renowned, most recommended and most obvious choice that 40 grand can get you – a 911 Turbo.
Now, to get the one you really want – the 997 Turbo – for less than 40 grand will involve some haggling, but the step up from the 996 era goes beyond fried-egg headlights and bargain-basement interiors. There’s variable-geometry turbochargers for 60bhp more at the top end and about 100 per cent more always-on shove than the old 996. There’s more than 40kg less to lug around, too, thanks to aluminium panels in place of steel.
OK, so it’s a step up from the car it replaced. But we reckon it’s a step up from the car that replaced it, too.
To be entirely frank, the 997 was the last time a 911 was the right size – every 911 afterwards, as wonderful as they might be, lost that irreplaceable and overlooked stroke of genius that made the 911 a genuine daily-drivable supercar: its diminutive dimensions. After all, even with the Turbo-spec wide track and flared wheel arches, it was still no wider than an E90 3 Series and no longer than a Prius. It’s a doddle to drive like a regular car, because it’s the size of a regular car and has the visibility of... you guessed it.
Oh, and a vicious turn of speed, ready to keep even the best in the business honest. In case you were wondering, it’s quicker around the Top Gear test track than the Noble M12, too. Really, the 911 Turbo is like DiCaprio – the most obvious choice, yes, but with unfailing, unimpeachable talent to back it up, too.
But who needs such boring concepts like dependability and daily-driving suitability when you can get a fibreglass car from Blackpool that’ll constantly keep you on your toes?
The Tamora is, in grand TVR tradition, as reliable as astrology and as well-constructed as an argument in favour of it. But should you iron out the kinks... well, Ray Davies will probably be upset. But if you fix the foibles on the Tamora’s bespoke Speed Six engine, you’ll find one of the most approachable and useable TVRs ever made. No, really – long-travel throttle meant power oversteer was something you had to ask for before it was delivered, and power steering made the Tamora – to borrow Andy Enright’s wonderful summation – “marginally less uncontrollable”. Even if it is the most approachable TVR, it is still a TVR, so safety nets like airbags, traction control and ABS are off the table. And off the floor. And out of the house.
If you want something that will save you from yourself, if you want something watertight, if you want something that works, get the 997 Turbo. If you want something truly unique, broadly unknown and basically unrivalled in terms of sheer involvement, get the TVR.
It’s come to our attention that we’ve already featured British and German cars for four out of the ten entries in this list. And – small spoiler alert – that proportion is probably going to get even more Anglo-Germanic as we go along. Almost like they’re massive car-building nations, or something.
Anywho, it’s likely high time to break up this Queen Victoria-esque love-in and feature something a little more... American. And that clearly has to start with America’s greatest gift to the car world: the muscle car.
But, being the avowed contrarians that we are, we’ve decided to go for a muscle car that a) isn’t powered by a heroically large, pushrod-actuated and naturally aspirated engine, and b) can actually handle. Yes, it’s with supercharged induction, overhead cams and something called ‘decent suspension’ that the Roush muscles its way to the front of the pack. The factory-fresh GT500 of the era made more power, but squandered it by failing to get that power down through Ben-Hur-spec underpinnings. The Roush, on the other hand, tied it all together like a nice rug in a room.
You read it right, folks – a bona fide Ferrari, with a V12, for less than £40,000. It’ll even work, too.
The 456 never seems to grace any ‘Ferrari’s greatest hits’ articles, likely because it has the least desirable feature ever fitted to a Ferrari: rear seats. Four-seat Ferraris may as well be given the kiss of death on their way out of the factory, judging by the precipitous depreciation and unfavourable legacies.
But, as you might have guessed, their loss is your gain. Depreciation and underappreciation mean that V12-powered grand tourers, from the biggest name in the business, are available to those with a £40,000 budget.
Of course, you’ll need to know what you’re doing to get one that hasn’t been over-stressed or under-maintained, but they are there. And it goes without saying – or maybe doesn’t, if we’re saying it – that maintenance costs reflect its new-car price, not the £40k you spent.
But it’s worth mentioning that the 456 was, at Luca di Montezemolo’s insistence, a reliable and practical Ferrari, if also one that had a then-brand-new V12 hooked up to a six-speed manual transaxle. Y’know, typically reliable stuff.Advertisement - Page continues below
Jaguar Mark II 3.8
OK, yes, we are going back to British, so feel free to accuse us of parochialism or jingoism or favouritism or halitosis or whatever it is that gets it all out of your system. Because to have 40 grand and not consider one of the all-time great saloon cars, just because there are too many British entries? Well, that’s like putting together a list of all-time great rock bands and leaving Floyd and Zeppelin off for the same reason.
And yes, they can fetch quite a bit more than our hypothetical £40,000 budget, but they can also be had for £5,000 – if you’re willing to do some small restoration work and track down an engine. The fact is that without really trying, we found genuine 3.8-litre cars for less than 40 grand. And that’s likely because while the 3.8 is the most desirable of the Mark II, it’s also the most common of the 1959-1967 model run. Add in all the run-out Mark IIs made up to the last year, 1969, and it’s still only 1,000 units behind the 3.4-engined cars.
So what do you get for your money? Well, in a nutshell, the greatest sports saloon of the 1960s. The fastest by some margin, too, favoured by racers, jet-setters, getaway drivers and the plod that chased them. Of course, that was ever so long ago. By today’s standards, the Jag’s as slow as a season of House of Cards, just much more worthwhile to experience.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Say what you like about the inexorable march of classic car values, but the original Alfa Romeo Spider remains a perfectly proportioned and classically beautiful roadster, regardless of what inflated price tag is set against it. As of writing, £40,000 will see you clear with an exemplary example. Sure, it hurts when you can remember when £10,000 used to be more than enough, but it’ll hurt less than when they’re £50,000, no?
The one you’re after here is the early, ‘boat-tailed’ Alfa Romeo Spider from 1965 to 1969, as opposed to the squared-off Kamm-tailed Spiders that kept going all the way through to 1993. That means the best, most graceful looks, powered by Alfa’s brilliant twin-cam engine in its purest guise – just as Giuseppe Busso intended. Aluminium head and block, hemi heads, forged crankshaft, double overhead camshafts – all from an engine that debuted in the early 1950s. There’s more than a few reasons we get misty-eyed for old Alfas; the Spider is a perfect introduction – or perhaps the start of a slippery slope – for why you should too.Advertisement - Page continues below
Lotus Esprit Turbo
Yes, yes. Lotus Esprit, silly car chase from campy Bond film. Got it. But we actually grew up after the Cold War, thanks all the same.
So does that mean we’re going to talk about various Lotus computer games or similar to drive home the fact that we’re young enough to have been far too young for South Park when it first came out? Nah. We have Lotus supercars to talk about instead.
Not that 2.2 litres, four cylinders and the gearbox from a French saloon car really scream supercar at first blush. But that’s the true genius of Lotus: doing more with less, over and over again, until the resultant car is far more than the sum of its parts. And, in the case of the Esprit, then fettling and finessing those parts until you have something that can trade blows with a contemporary Ferrari.
If it were our 40 grand, we’d go for the full Radwood-spec Esprit: an early Eighties model, with Giugiaro’s squared-off lines complemented (or completely ruined) by the decidedly unsubtle aero appurtenances. And the coup de grace, of course, being lurid turbo badging.
With that said £40,000 can get you almost any Esprit Turbo you feel like – including one that wasn’t a Giugiaro design, and didn’t have links to submersibles and Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow. British car designer Peter Stevens had the unenviable job of following Giugiaro’s archetypal angular supercar shape, but responded with an incredible job that apparently even Giorgetto was pleased with. Then again, this is the same man that penned the McLaren F1, Jag XJR-15 and the 555 Subaru rally cars, so he’s not without talent. And if you feel so inclined, you can even plump for Julian Thomson’s update of Steven’s redesign of Giugiaro’s original. Simple.
Well butter our bread and put vinegar sauce on our pulled pork, it’s another American car! It might also be eerily close to lunchtime, but we don’t think we’ve given that game away in any shape or form.
Moving on. The Z06, as we’ve mentioned pretty recently around these parts, is something of a giant-killer. Not to rely too much on lap times around the Top Gear test track, but this slab of American muscle, riding on cart springs, was faster than the contemporaneous Ferrari F430. Oof.
Of course, it’s as cultured as an MMA fight and about as friendly to those who don’t know what they’re doing, but there’s no denying that a Z06 is every bit as pulse-raising as setting foot in the cage yourself. And if you’re looking to play it safe with your 40 grand, may we suggest a nice new Volvo?