25th March 2024

A touch of class – Luxury on a budget

Champagne tastes but a lemonade budget is a common affliction among classic car fans. Who doesn’t want a touch of luxury and decadence in their driving life? Usually, reality comes along to scupper these dreams of avarice, but there is a way to enjoy the good life without destroying your home life – welcome to the world of luxury cars on a budget. 

There’s a whole spread of indulgent vehicles to pick from, but you do need to go in with your eyes open rather than your wallet. Forget trying to pick up a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow on a shoestring for instance as that land yacht sailed a long time ago. Canny low-budget luxury buyers need to think laterally to spot the next prime property ready for gentrification. 

In the case of Rolls-Royce, that most gracious of luxury makes, the next in line is the Silver Spirit and its long wheelbase Spur sibling. Good ones are rising fast in values, but you can still find perfectly usable, well cared for Spirits for £10,000. The two things to bear in mind here are the bodywork, of which there are several acres, and the complex hydraulics. If both of these check out and have enjoyed regular upkeep, the rest is straightforward to maintain as long as the leather- and wood-lined cabin is not flaking apart. 

Driving a solid Silver Spirit imparts a sense of serenity that few cars can get close to, but if the price of entry to this oasis of calm is too high, how about a German take on the theme? You could take a punt on a Volkswagen Phaeton, though this comes with all of the same pitfalls as a Bentley Continental GT unless you choose the diesel version. Then again, why go to all the trouble of picking a low-ball luxury car and not have the full petrol-powered extravaganza? If you’re going to do excess, do it right. That means looking at an Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, or a Mercedes S-Class. 

Taking the ubiquitous S-Class first, it’s best to skip back past the fourth generation W220 that landed in 1998 and look instead to the previous iterations of this seminal saloon. The gargantuan 1991 S-Class is great value and has bank vault build, though you will look like a tin pot dictator stepping out of one at the supermarket. Still, that’s all part of the fun with these cars. For a classier arrival, the earlier W126 generation of S-Class is a lesson in restrained elegance, comfort and quiet. You can even have it with a relatively frugal 3.0-litre six-cylinder motor if the thirst of the V8s worries you. Prices stretch from £5,000 to £15,000 for cars you can impress with. 

Audi’s answer to the S-Class was the 200, but it didn’t really hit the spot. That took until the first A8 appeared in 1994 with its aluminium frame and smoothly handsome looks. The more potent V8 models boast all-wheel drive, or there’s the more economy-minded 2.8 V6 model with front-drive. All have sumptuous cabins and lashings of space for passengers. A good A8 will cost between £2,500 and £8,000, the latter for the S8 performance model.  

BMW makes up the third member of the German luxury triumvirate with its 7 Series. Don’t dismiss the early 2000s E65 model styled by Chris Bangle. It’s a defiantly different look but has comfort as its guiding light and, if the electrics all work, is a luxury car with few rivals in period. With prices from £3,000 for sound examples, it’s very tempting, but we’d still err more towards the previous E38 model that ran from 1994 to 2001. Effortlessly classy and cool, this 7 Series is the pinnacle of its line and you don’t even need the all-singing 750i with V12 engine to enjoy it as its best. A 735i or 740i V8 model will waft you to from and work or the local coffee meet in a restful manner, but even the base 728i feels like you’ve won the Lottery. All this from £3,000 has to be a steal. 

Now, we couldn’t talk about affordable luxury cars without bringing Jaguar into the equation. The XJ has always stood for good value, even when it was new, and it often earned the title of best saloon in the world for its ethereal ride quality and comfort. Find one that’s been properly serviced and not allowed to go baggy in the suspension or headlining and you have the basis of a very wallet-friendly slice of the good life. The original Series 1 to 3 cars are climbing in value, as is the XJ40 that was underappreciated for too long, so we reckon the X300 and X350 generations with, respectively, straight-six and V8 engines are the ones to check out. They can have a lust for rust, so make sure every square inch is clean and solid, and the cabins have not succumbed to the grubbiness that can afflict Jags. If that all checks out, as little as £2,000 will see you cruising along. 

The same rules apply to the Lexus LS400 that offers a Japanese interpretation of the Mercedes S-Class. For something very different, a Range Rover brings supreme off-road ability as well as a lavish lifestyle from £2,000, but beware ruinous reliability and running costs with the best 4x4xfar. For those hankering after a more old world take on luxury, the Austin A120 or A135 Sheerline is an imposing limo to pitch up in. The mechanical side is rugged, but the body and interior can suffer, so reckon on spending at least £7,500 for a sound one. However, few will know what the Sheerline is and it has just as much presence as a Bentley R-type for a fraction of the cost, which is exactly what low-cost luxury is all about. 

Which one would you pick? Let us know in the comments below!

A true bang for your buck bargain package here! However 1 car stands out as the real classy bargain here. The illustrious names and spectacular tech for their day can mean real nightmares with complicated problems and running costs today. This is especially the reason for Rolls being such a bargain! The real bargain, (now going up in value) is the W126 series S class Mercedes. advanced enough to drive and handle like a modern car with ABS and advanced crash protection it was regarded as a better car than contemporary Rolls. Running costs and parts are modest compared to the rest of the group so long as you search out a well cared for example

Justski, 28/03/2024

X350, as it’s aluminium, can have a v6 petrol, and ULEZ compliant. What else do you want!

Jerryt, 28/03/2024