People play fast and loose — or should that be slow and garaged? — with the term ‘classic car’. Some believe they should solely be huge, opulent traditional cars. Others, including select insurance brokers, will give you a classic car policy if your motor is just 15 years old. And, while we don’t have anything against 2004 (apart from maybe the introduction of the Smart Forfour) we wouldn’t count any car from this side of the millennium classic just yet.
Here at Gentleman’s Journal, we’d draw a line at 25 years old; leaving us with a wealth of great cars released before 1994 to sift through. And, from one of Porsche’s lightest limited editions to a king-making development from Volkswagen, here are the modern classics that we’d recommend you tuck away under a tarpaulin in your garage for a not-so-rainy day…
The Jaguar XJS is the spiritual successor to the E-Type
Let’s start with something suitably classic. The Jaguar XJS was first dreamt up around 1965, intended to be a spiritual successor to the hugely popular E-Type. And, while it may not have filled those sizeable tyre tracks, the British sports tourer has built up its own fervent following. Comfortable and luxurious, the first XJS was sold in 1975 — but we’d recommend finding a model from the early 90s, when Jaguar introduced a substantially revised coupé body.
And why will this second-wave British sportster be a future classic? For one, its design; noticeable for the flying buttresses that sweep from the rear roofline and chrome finishing. But also the engine — later models saw the V12 engine updated from 5.3 litres to 6.0 litres. This, paired with an electronically controlled 4-speed gearbox, elevated the car from a E-Type wannabe to an icon in its own right.
The Mercedes R129 SL500 is a boxy bastion of 90s style
From a British classic to a German import. This Mercedes, the boxily slick R129, is the carmaker’s fourth generation of the SL — and began production in 1989. With a shorter wheelbase and updated suspension over its predecessor and established classic, the R107, the R129 was at the vanguard of Mercedes’ push for a more technical, electrical future.
Seek out a mint condition Merc, such as this Azurite Blue example. Boasting the classic 90s contrast of beige leather, and shining bright with diamond-cut alloy wheels, the modern touches include Xenon headlights, an immobiliser and a centre console that makes it look like a fighter jet in comparison to other grand tourers of the time. And it’s a convertible to boot — what more could you want?
The VW Golf GTI Mk2 is a sure-fire way to fire you up
Now we’re talking. Back in 1983, Volkswagen allegedly spent over £500 million developing the Golf Mk2, so it’s no surprise that its efforts resulted in a future classic. After the Mk1, the car grew in wheelbase, but retained the styling of the original despite these increased dimensions. There were certain changes throughout the nine-year production run — including the large bumpers introduced in 1989 — but forget about any cosmetic tweaks on the base model. It’s the GTI you should be seeking out.
With a 1.8-litre engine, this GTI is less of a classic for the way it looks — although we’re keen on the utilitarian chic — than for the way it drives. Low-down torque and excellent drivability have sped this hot hatch into the annals of future classics. And, if you grab one of the models with a Digifant engine management system, we’d wager you won’t find a funner set of four wheels all year.
The Ford Escort RS Turbo is a masterclass in fun motoring
If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of Ford’s Escort RS Turbo, you’ll know why most surviving examples fetch northwards of £40,000, 30 years on. Altered suspension settings, a lowered compression ration for that enviable engine and a viscous-coupling, limited-slip differential to help eliminate torque steer. It’s a masterclass in good, old-fashioned and, most importantly, fun motoring.
This is a classic to be driven. Even Ford knew it back in the mid-80s, when it upped production numbers from the originally planned 5,000 to 8,604. And you’ll be lucky if you manage to scoop one up — Silverstone Auctions put one under the hammer for over £60,000 a couple of years ago, and the rest are being snapped up fast (literally, old models can still clock top speeds of up to 128mph…).
The Porsche 968 Club Sport is lurid and lightweight
Introduced to the world in 1991, Porsche’s 968 was always destined to be a classic. But, rather than wait 25 years to roll onto the wishlists of collectors, the German carmaker busied itself created niche special editions and spins on the sportster; ensuring there would be more to collect when the 968’s second time in the sun inevitably came.
Late 1992, then, saw the 968 Club Sport tear onto the scene. Mechanically, the car is identical; it shares the same engine and the same six speed gearbox. But the reduction in ride height and weight makes this a whole lot more exciting to drive. And, if you classic car enthusiasts need something else to prick your ears, there were only ever 1,923 made — and even less in our favourite, lurid Speed Yellow hue. Get searching.
The Saab 900I Cabriolet shouldn't be cool. And yet...
A firm favourite in the Gentleman’s Journal offices — not to mention around the world — the Saab 900 enjoyed two decades of production; from 1978 to 1998. That may mean that there are plenty still on the roads, and that they don’t command too much money should you want to splash out on a throw back, but their ubiquity has done nothing to detract us — and it shouldn’t you, either.
Just look at that deeply curved front windscreen, calling attention to the Scandinavian carmaker’s aircraft legacy. Or the similarly curved dashboard, enabling easy reach of all controls and innovative front-lit gauges. It’s a humble, charming car full of practical touches that have, quite by chance, become the aesthetic quirks that make this model so sought-after. A classic, make no mistake.
Looking for a lesser-known classic? Why not scoop up a modern-age Maybach?