Ask PetrolBlog: Sam bangs the drums

PetrolBlog has been contacted by a reader looking for advice on what car to buy next. After 21 months of existence, this is a first for PetrolBlog, although depending on how the advice goes down, it could quite easily be the last time it happens. Still, if it’s good enough for Honest John, it’s good enough for MajorGav. I’ll have to buy a hat.

But in the meantime, here’s the brief received from the reader.

Sam Jones is 27 and is currently driving around in what he describes as “a clapped out Peugeot 405 diesel estate“. In the past, Sam has owned a Peugeot 205 XS and it was indeed FailCar’s wonderful 205 GTi that brought him to the site in the first place.

Sam goes on to say that he’s “looking to relive the hot hatch life“, but has a “miserable budget of £1,500“. Well the good news for Sam is that at PetrolBlog, we don’t see £1,500 as a miserable budget. In fact, there are some rather tempting motors to be bought for that budget. There’s further good news in that insurance isn’t a problem for Sam as he has six years no claims discount to use. The car will need to be used daily, be fun to drive and, as Sam is a keen drummer, have the ability to swallow a set of drums. One final thing, Sam isn’t a badge hunter, so just about everything is up for grabs.

So without further ado, here’s PetrolBlog’s top ten cars for Sam.

BMW E30 Touring

BMW E30 Touring 320iAdmittedly, the first car on the list isn’t a hot hatch. OK, so it isn’t even a hatchback. But the first car that sprung to mind after reading Sam’s email was the evergreen BMW E30 Touring. It’s rare you’ll come across a petrolhead who doesn’t have a soft spot for the E30 Touring. And for good reason too. The E30 3-series is fast becoming a collectable BMW and prices are beginning to rise, but the Touring variant is lagging behind. That means that a budget of £1,500 will go a long way, giving Sam plenty of cars to choose from. With a near 50/50 weight distribution, rear wheel drive and the practicality of an estate car, it’s hard to see how Sam could go wrong.

Pick of the crop would have to be the 325i, with its straight-six engine developing 168bhp. Alternatively, the 320i with 127bhp is no slouch and will deliver better fuel economy.

We found this rather lovely 320i, in desirable Schwartz Black with just 120k miles on the clock. Buy it now for just £1,099. Nice.

Honda Civic Aerodeck VTi

Honda Civic Aerodeck VTiYes, yes, I know. It’s not a hatchback. Again. But seriously, the Civic Aerodeck VTi deserves your full attention. In hatchback guise, the Civic VTi is one of the ultimate sleepers. But in Aerodeck (read: estate) guise, it’s practically invisible. The wonderful 1.8 litre VTEC engine delivers 167bhp and the handling is pretty sharp for a front wheel drive car. Being the top of the range Civic, it will be loaded with electrical toys and, if properly maintained, will be incredibly reliable. What’s more, it will probably have been owned by an elderly gentleman in Worthing, so it will have led a pampered and relatively easy life. And like the E30 Touring, there will be plenty of room for the drums.

We found this silver VTi with just 102k miles on the clock and only three owners from new. Just £1,200. Bargain!

Proton Satria GTi

Proton Satria GTiFinally, a hatchback! When the Satria GTi was launched in 1999, it was very well received by the motoring press. In fact, evo magazine awarded it four stars and Tiff Needell himself was said to be rather impressed following a test on Top Gear. The 1.8 litre engine was sourced from the Mitsubishi Lancer and the ride and handling was properly tuned by the Lotus boys in Hethel.

It features some rather nice 6-spoke alloys and a pair of Recaro front seats. If you can forgive the slightly suspect bodykit, cheap interior and square exhaust tailpipes, you have yourself a fantastic and much underrated B-road toy. The Satria GTi’s fun is more down to mechanical grip than outright handling, but it’s a tremendously fun car to chuck about. When new it was let down by a high price and a complete lack of image. But today, prices aren’t a problem and Sam claims he’s not a badge snob. That’s why the Proton Satria GTi makes the shortlist.

Our pick is this 2000 car with just 67k miles on the clock. The cheapest Lotus badge on sale today?

Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec estate

Ford Focus Zetec EstatePetrolBlog believes that the MK1 Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec hatchback is somewhat of a bargain. In truth, it would probably be more than capable of swallowing Sam’s drum set, but why not go the whole hog and go for the ultra discreet estate version? The 1.6 litre engine may only deliver 100bhp, but the car weighs just 1118kg and the MK1 Focus chassis is quite delightful. It’s also quite economical, delivering 40mpg on a combined cycle.

For sure, it is completely lacking in presence and it looks as exciting as a bowl of mushy peas, but that’s half the fun, right?

We’re rather taken by this very clean silver 2001 model for just £1,500.

Ford Puma 1.7

Ford Puma 1.7For many, the Ford Puma is one of the greatest front wheel drive cars of all time. I was fortunate enough to own a 1.7 when new, before ‘upgrading’ to the Racing Puma a few months later. Despite being the choice of Steve McQueen(!), the Puma was unfairly tagged with the ‘hairdresser’s car’ tag when it was new, but this masked the true facts. The 123bhp from the 1.7 litre engine is hardly headline writing stuff, but the Puma’s appeal lies in its superb chassis. The handling is exceptional and cross country, the Puma has the ability to keep up with supposedly much faster machinery.

If it was my money, I’d go for an early car with the Puma-only ‘propellor’ alloys. For maximum McQueen appeal, it would have to be in silver too. Might need to use the passenger seat for the drums though!

That said, this black 1.7 Puma for sale across the border from me in Cornwall looks quite tempting. Just £1,250 with only 69k miles on the clock.

Citroën Xsara VTS

Citroen Xsara VTSSam’s budget could actually stretch to a Peugeot 306 GTi-6, but at this end of the market, the options could be decidedly ropey. Besides, this is PetrolBlog and we champion the underdog, which is why we’re suggesting the pre-facelift Citroën Xsara VTS. It comes with the same 161bhp 2.0 litre 16v engine, but unlike the Pug it has to make do with a 5-speed gearbox. The chassis may not have the same finesse as the 306, but contemporary reviews were positive. What’s more, it was advertised alongside a naked Claudia Schiffer and, during a review for Top Gear, Quentin Willson expressed his distate for it. So, what’s not to like?

There’s further good news in the fact that most Xsara VTSs can be bought for less than £1k. A genuine performance bargain.

It has to be the pre-facelift model, like this 2000 model for just £695.

MG ZS 180

MG ZS 180I test drove one of these a few years back and was genuinely impressed. The 2.5 litre V6 engine had bags of character and the MG boys had done a great job in transforming the stodgy Rover 45 into a great handling saloon car. The huge rear spoiler on the back either gives it a touring car or a Halfords look, depending on your point of view, but I happen to think it’s quite a handsome car. It’s certainly aged quite well.

Despite the 180 badge, the ZS delivers 175bhp and will accelerate to 60mph in just 7.3 seconds. I remember the test drive to be a lot of fun and the only real drawback I could find was a dated and cheap feeling interior. That said, the front seats were very supportive.

With a huge boot and prices well within Sam’s budget, the MG ZS 180 could be an outside choice.

If you can look beyond the colour, this yellow ZS for £1,295 is quite appealing. You have to like yellow though!

Volkswagen Corrado 16v

VW Corrado 16vSam could just about get a VR6 for his budget, but it’s likely to be a little rough around the edges at this price. I absolutely adored my Corrado VR6 and it’s one of the cars I miss the most. The VR6 lump is silky smooth and the handling is delightful. As a drivers’ car, it’s genuinely hard to fault.

But the brilliance of the VR6 masks just how good the original 16v was. Contemporary reviews were full of praise for the 16v and G60, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the VR6 that the Corrado finally won its place amongst the motoring elite. But the 16v is 150kg lighter than the VR6, so although it gives up 48bhp to its more powerful cousin, it’s still a fun car to throw along a B-road and, in my opinion, the nose feels a little lighter.

I have a feeling that values of original and unmodified 16v Corrados is about to rise, so now’s the time to buy one. The rear seats fold down, giving the svelte coupé hatchback levels of practicality.

This Diamond Silver 16v Corrado is tempting at just £1,000. It looks totally original and untouched. Nice.

Renault Clio Sport 172

Renault Clio 172No list of practical budget performance cars would be complete without a mention of a hot Clio. Along with all of the cars on this list, it’s a case of buyer beware when you’re buying a cheap Clio, but they represent a tempting proposition for Sam.

The 172’s 2.0 litre engine produces 167bhp and is as equally at home on a motorway as it is on a B-road. Perfect for Sam to run daily then?

The little Clio is never happier than when it’s being thrashed around a hairpin bend, ideally with one of the rear wheels cocked in the air. Just make sure the timing chain has been done as replacing it isn’t cheap. But that said, it’s hard to argue against a 172, especially when prices are hovering around Sam’s budget.

There are lots to choose from, but this looks tempting in Trophy Blue at just £1,595.

Peugeot 205 XS

Peugeot 205 XSCouldn’t resist this one! A chance for Sam to relive his youth with a tidy Peugeot 205 XS. With the all important white paintwork and original steel wheels, this looks particularly tempting.

The wheels have been newly refurbished and come complete with a set of new Toyo tyres. It also has 205 GTi brakes, Bilstein front dampers, Eibach springs and a re-conditioned gearbox. I think I’m in love.

At the time of writing this blog, the price is just £487.99 with no reserve. It’s going on my watch list…

So that’s that. The first and final time anyone will ask me for advice. The brief was relatively simple – a hot hatch for less than £1,500. So in true PetrolBlog style, the list contains just four hatchbacks, three estate cars, two coupés and one saloon car.

It remains to be seen now, what will Sam end up with. Watch this space…

In the meantime, if you want to Ask MajorGav, get in touch via twitter @MajorGav or via the blog.

Thanks to Carfolio for specifications. Please note that none of the cars featured in this article have been viewed.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. November 27, 2011
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    Excellent advice Major. I particularly like the inclusion of the Civic Aerodeck. I’ve always been very tempted to buy one of those. Pre-MX5 I was strongly considering one as insurance was unusually cheap. Also regarding the Xsara VTS, I can vouch for its drum-swallowing ability as one of my best mates is a drummer and his kit all fit into his own Xsara. For the record, another drummer I know has a Ford Capri, and that swallows a set too…

    If I have to nit-pick, it’s that most E30 owners say that you won’t get any better economy from the 320 than you will for the 325, so unless insurance is an issue it’s always best to go for the extra power of the 325. You would get better economy from the four-cylinder 318, it’s just a pity they only ever offered that with the 8-valve engine in the Touring, rather than the 318is “baby M3” 16v engine.

    • November 27, 2011

      Cheers Antony.

      When I was running the Accord earlier in the year, I did a bit of research into the Civic Aerodeck. I really rather fancy getting one next year. Quite a sleeper.

      Interesting point re the 320’s fuel economy – I stand corrected. Always believed there was a slight benefit over the 325. Would always opt for the 325, given the choice. But there appears to be a more plentiful supply of good 320s, so there are more to choose from. Either way though, cracking car!

    • November 27, 2011
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      Suspect there are more 320s about because people naturally err towards the 325i and aren’t as willing to let them go, these days! I also suspect a great many 325s might have been cannibalised for circuit racing too, as there are a few BMW series in the UK ruled by 325s. It’s one reason I’m quite tempted to buy an E36 BMW 318ti Sport Compact at some point, since the 750 Motor Club runs a Compact series and they’re way too nice to all hit the circuits.

      Actually, the 318ti could be another suggestion for this list. I’ve driven four different E36 Compacts and in many ways prefer them to the E36 saloon/coupe/Touring. The driving position is a little better for a start, and I like the E30/E36 hybrid interior.

      • November 27, 2011

        Mmmm – 318ti. Lovely! 😉

  2. November 27, 2011

    Great article, hopefully more of the same! Amazing what you can get for £1500, isn’t it?

    As I noticed a few estates which set to pose as hot hatch troublers, might I suggest the Volvo V40 T4? Early examples fall around the £1,500 mark, and for that you get practicality; safety; and almost every concievable luxury you could need. Oh, and 200BHP…

    Also, what about a Fiat Punto GT? Finding a good one is the hardest part, but these are also listed on eBay at a fairly cheap price.

    I’ve also seen a few Alfa Romeo Gtv’s as well for not alot of money.

    Anyways, I am boring everyone to sleep, so I will finish!

    Renault Clio 172’s are now down to £1500? Where’s my chequebook?!

    • November 27, 2011

      There’s really no need to spend any more! It’s also three times my self imposed £500 Bangernomics budget! 😉

      I actually had a short list of 20 and you’ll be pleased to know that the Punto GT was on the original list. I’m glad you’ve proposed it!

      Sam made a point of saying he didn’t want an Alfa, otherwise that would have been included too!

      As for the 172 – they are out there, but you need to be patient! 😉

    • November 27, 2011
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      I’d forgotten the S40 T4 existed. I’ve a soft spot for those, even with the rather odd steel-alike alloy wheels the first batch came on. Definitely another Lolvo aided by BTCC appearances, albeit saloon-shaped.

  3. November 27, 2011
    Aaron Marsh

    Nice addition of the Corrado there. Whilst the rear seat (back) does go down, I wouldn’t call it a practical car. Personally I’d be looking at a nice Mk3 Golf GTI. They can be had for that money in decent nick. The VR6 is in budget but it’s not a b-road blaster really.

    • November 27, 2011

      Yep, lots of choice when it comes to the MK3 Golf GTI. £1,500 would probably get Sam a mint and low mileage car too.

      As for the Corrado being practical – heck, when you’re a petrolhead, you’ll convince yourself of anything! 😉

  4. November 28, 2011

    All good cars Major, its amazing what you can pick up for that price if you are not in a hurry! The skill is not rushing in i suppose, i found myself wanting to buy every one as i read down there!

    • November 28, 2011

      You’ve hit the nail on the head there. The key is not rushing into anything. There are some gems out there! 😉

  5. December 5, 2011

    I keep eyeing up the 172- reckon that would be next on my list to tear apart and make into a track hack. Would have to do it quickly though after purchase, otherwise I will get too attached and just end up restoring the bloody thing.

  6. January 12, 2012

    I would add a Golf Mk3 VR6 to the list, possibly in place of the Corrado… more room for drums!

    Great cars and a real bargain now, just hard to find a standard 3 door model 🙁

    • January 12, 2012

      I’d agree with you. It was something that Aaron suggested too.

      As you say, I only wish there were more unmodified cars out there. In the right colour and in good condition, they look superb.

  7. January 13, 2012
    Robin Brown

    Only just found this. Excellent work. I knew there’d be a Puma (best in black for my money) in there somewhere but some excellent leftfield shouts.

    • January 13, 2012

      Ha! Cheers Robin. The only car I ever bought new was a black Ford Puma. I was mortified when I picked up the first stone chip!


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