Top ad area, 970 x 250 (could be anything though)

Summer cars perfect for cruising

Simon de Burton
July 5, 2024
5 min

Summertime’s here and the living should be easy, which means it could be time for a sun-soaked road trip in an open-top classic car. The good news is that, while the values of many collector cars have soared during the past decade, there are still plenty to choose from that don’t cost a fortune and which have the potential to offer as much fun for £5,000, as a blue-chip museum piece worth £5m.

The Austin-Healey Sprite is unde­niably one of the cutest British sports cars ever created. Launched in 1958, it was designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company to be small, affordable and fun and was produced by the MG factory in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Its bug-eyed headlamp arrangement earned it the nickname ‘Frogeye’, and the car proved so successful that MG soon began to build its own, sim­ilarly sized convertible called the Midget. Genuine ‘Frogeyes’ now fetch up to £15,000 – but a Tifosi Rana kit effortlessly transforms a far less valuable Midget into a Sprite look-a-like by substituting the front and rear panels for Frogeye-style items. The excellent example pic­tured here – a veteran of numerous European tours – was recently sold by Newcastle-based auctioneer WB & Sons for just £4,300.

Few cars speak of pure joie de vivre quite so loudly as Citroen’s land­mark 2CV. Although originally intended to be a cheap, reliable, go-anywhere car for French farm­ers, the 2CV had become a sym­bol of understated chic by the time it reached the end of its 42-year production run in 1990. It was another 20 years or so before it came to be fully recognised by the collector car community as a ful­ly-fledged classic – with the result that values began to soar from lit­tle more than £1,000 for a decent, roadworthy example to as much as £25,000 today. Recently, the French auction house Artcurial sold a 1989 special edition Charleston model with less than 13,000 miles on the clock for €23,840. With its tiny, 602cc air-cooled engine, bouncy suspension, and ponderous, dash­board-mounted gear change the 2CV is certainly no sports number. However, with the soft top rolled back and a picnic basket in the boot, there are few cars more suited to summer adventures.

The legendary Jeep is the very definition of necessity being the mother of invention. The origi­nal was created in 1940, after the U.S. department of War invited 135 motor manufacturers to tender designs for a light, versatile all-ter­rain vehicle. Only two firms sub­mitted pitches: American Bantam and Willys Overland, with the lat­ter – with a little help from Ford – becoming the main producer of the design that was actually cre­ated by Karl Probst for AB. More than 637,000 Jeeps had been built by the end of the war in 1945, with development and production of the model continuing for decades afterwards. This was the case both in America, with the ‘CJ’ Civilian Jeep, and in other countries – nota­bly France, where the Hotchkiss M201 was built under licence until 1960. Military Jeeps are now hugely popular as fun summer cars, which have no trouble taking their occupants well off the beaten track. Many have been expertly restored to their original wartime specifica­tion – complete with fitted spades, entrenching tools and jerry cans. Prices for good, road-going exam­ples start at around £10,000, with the best regular versions going for around £20,000. Although cer­tain models with interesting war­time provenance are known to sell for considerably more.

Mercedes-Benz 350 SL (R 107 production period 1971-1989) Mercedes-Benz's archive

If one likes the sound of an afforda­ble classic convertible that oozes elegance and drives almost like a modern car, the fabulous SL R107 models produced by Mercedes Benz are worth a look. With more than 230,000 built between 1971 and 1989, they thankfully remain in plentiful supply, and with engine options ranging from a 2.8 litre straight six to a 5.5 litre V8 the SL can be everything from a smooth cruiser to a high-speed mile-muncher. Made during an era which many regard as the heyday of Mercedes build quality, SLs are renowned for the type of solid, rat­tle-free ride that many converti­bles lack, the smoothness of their engines and automatic gearboxes and, when properly maintained, their ability to keep going for hun­dreds of thousands of miles. When buying, look for a car with a match­ing steel hardtop: these are easily fitted and removed, and transform the SL from a summer convertible to a practical coupe for winter driv­ing. Excellent examples can be had for less than £20,000. Although the best, low mileage cars fetch up to £40,000.

Owning a Rolls-Royce or Bentley has likely been on the bucket list of most classic car enthusiasts at one time or another, and it’s difficult to imagine a more stylish model with which to spend a Riviera summer than the Corniche convertible ver­sions. Built from 1971 until 1984 (in the case of the Bentley, which was then renamed Continental) and until 1995 in Rolls-Royce guise, the two variants were almost identical save for their different radiator grilles, each being powered by the legend­ary 6.75-litre, V8 engine. The Rolls-Royce model found fame as Dudley Moore’s car in the erotically charged 1979 film 10, but, with 3,239 exam­ples built as opposed to just 77 Bentley Corniche Convertibles, it’s considerably more common. Good cars start at upwards of £50,000; last year, auction house RM Sotheby’s sold one of the very last Bentley Continental IV convertibles for almost five times as much (it had covered just 15,000 miles from new).

Enzo Ferrari introduced the ‘Dino’ name in 1957 to identify the V6 racing engine designed by his son Alfredo – nickname Dino – who had died the previous year. The name was subsequently used in 1967 to identify the first Ferrari model to be built in large num­bers, and was actually intended to define a separate “budget” marque (although ‘Ferrari Dino’ has become accepted). Just 152 examples of the original, two-litre 206 were built before calls for more power led to the introduction of the 2.4-litre 246 in 1969, with the car becoming available in more summer-friendly, open-top GTS form in 1971. A total of 3,569 cars were built across the two variations, many of which were (perhaps inevitably) red. Fewer than 500 ‘Giallo Fly’ (yellow) cars were also produced but, while red or yellow examples can be bought for less than £400,000, late-model cars in some of the rarest colours can command twice as much. But colour aside, the Dino is undeniably one of the most beautiful automo­biles ever made.