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Much as I have always really enjoyed just driving a car – any car really, to any destination, and for any reason, or maybe even for no reason at all – I must confess that I no longer particularly enjoy my commute to work. I perhaps don’t dislike it either, but I’m at best indifferent towards my commute. But it wasn’t always this way. So what’s changed?

One could argue that the congestion which our roads nowadays suffer under, is the main cause for my change of heart about my daily commute. There’s probably some truth in that too, but I’m thoroughly unwilling to believe this is the sole reason. A friend recently suggested that maybe the novelty of driving had finally worn off for me. However, this is clearly pure gibberish, as every time I crawl behind the steering wheel of a classic car, I’m immediately overcome by that all-encompassing utterly childish through-to-the-bone joy, which inevitably has me longing for more, more, more… So on that note, I personally think it has a lot more to do with the cars we drive on our commute – modern cars.

I simply feel that modern cars – even the really nice ones, which on paper at least ought to excite us as car enthusiasts – are just plain soulless. Yes, they are very comfortable, filled to the brim with luxuries no one knew we needed, they’re fast and surefooted, amazingly reliable too, and basically impressively competent in just about every perceivable way. But they’re also almost overly accomplished to the point where they cocoon you from the real driving experience, and thereby become BORING!

B – O – R – I – N – G

At this point, if you dear reader, are to stand any fair fighting chance of relating to my random ramblings, it is only fair that I share with you what I currently drive on my daily commute. Maybe then, you can tell me whether I’ve simply lost my mind, or you might even be able to help me towards a solution, so I can again rediscover my joy for every drive. Currently parked on my driveway is a remarkably well-kept low mileage ’02 BMW 330Ci Sport with a manual box and all the toys. It is in all honesty a lovely piece of kit. It fairly recently took over the duties from a ’99 Volvo C70 T5 with the rare (and unique to the UK market – I think?) GT-package and equally sporting a 5-speed manual box. Again, a lovely piece of kit, and frankly a car which I had wanted to own for a long time, as I feel it’s one of the last truly timeless and classic coupé designs out there, not to mention that fabulous 240hp 5-cylinder engine. I actually haven’t even gotten around to selling the Volvo yet, so if you’re in the market for one, please do drop me a line… The BMW 330Ci was enrolled purely because I figured perhaps RWD was the answer to my prayers. Last but not least, my wife’s ’02 Saab 9-5 Estate with a force-fed petrol engine and a manual gearbox also shares the driveway, and while it’s of course just a big family estate, I honestly feel it’s a whole lot more interesting than the many current and rather ridiculous crossover-things which pollute our roads today. The Saab carries the kids, puts up with trips to the skip and everything else we can throw at it, and still manages to feel just about special enough for me to sometimes sneak the Saab keys out of my wife’s handbag instead of just jumping into my BMW.

You’ll note that our daily cars are not exactly brand-spanking new. In fact, several of my colleagues and friends who aren’t classic-car-crazed, seem to find it somewhat insane that we own nothing that isn’t at least 15 years of age. To them, our dailys are ancient! But to me, the 330Ci, the C70 and the 9-5 still all represent modern cars. As such they just lack the driving involvement – they lack character. I dare not even contemplate how depressed I would feel in a brand new plastic econobox. Previously in life, I have used several BMW 2002’s as dailies, also a small Sunbeam Imp Sport, a nippy little mid-eighties Honda, there’s been a couple of BMW E21 3-series, I have fond memories of my excellent Peugeot 505 GTi, and a small handful of fabulous BMW E30 3-series have also undertaken my daily driving duties. With all of these I recall even the daily commute feeling like a special occasion. It’s that magical sensation which I so need back into my life. Heh, I even have memories of an early-eighties Toyota Starlet 1.0DL (yes, the RWD one.) in many ways putting a bigger smile on my face than my BMW E46 does! Silly, isn’t it?

A small selection of the BMW’s I’ve previously owned as daily drivers.

On the face of it, the solution is of course rather obvious: Keep the Saab for the family, sell both the C70 and the 330Ci, and buy something older for myself to resurrect the fun in driving. But is that a realistic proposition? And if so, which older car should I buy? Back when 02’s, E30’s, Imp, Starlet, Civic and 505 were offering me a deliciously analogue driving experience on every commute, they were also newer cars than they are today. And therein lies a large portion of the challenge. Will the type of car that could offer me driving satisfaction, also be able to offer me the kind of reliability that I require from my daily?

My lilac metallic ’73 Sunbeam Imp Sport – here shown from before I treated her to a full restoration including fresh paint – was probably the most entertaining car I’ve ever used as a regular daily driver.

Old paper pictures of a few of my previous – analogue – daily drivers.

I envy ViaRETRO’s Claus Ebberfeld for cruising around in his mustard yellow Reliant Scimitar as a daily. Such style! So I’ve been to look at a few Scimitars for sale, and I must say I really like them. But reliability is perhaps not their strongest asset. My daytime job which pays the bills requires punctuality at all times of the day and night throughout the year. Rocking up 10 minutes late because the Scimitar wouldn’t start, or maybe it actually started this time, but then it overheated (again), just isn’t going to cut it! Similar worries probably apply to the fairly cheap manual Jaguar XJ-S 3.6 which had me tempted way beyond my ability to cope. A reasonable expectation of reliability must be part of the equation. So how about a Toyota then? Everyone knows that you can’t kill a Toyota, right? Well I’d love to own a first generation MR-2, but even with the Saab Estate on the driveway, I just can’t justify a 2-seater daily when we have two children. So while they’re not strictly two-seaters. that’s a first generation RX-7 and a 924S out of the picture too. How about simply returning to an E30 then? Perhaps a bit unadventurous as I’ve owned several already, but it’s a tried and tested formula for me, and I have genuinely always rated the 6-cylinder E30’s as one of the automotive worlds absolute best all-rounders. Yes, those are big words for a small three-box mass-produced BMW of the eighties, but I stand by it. While it’s clearly not the best in the world at any one thing, they simply do everything so convincing – it’s the complete package, including the reliability and practicality one wants in a daily car. But you try finding an unmolested, rustfree 325i with a manual gearbox and sensible mileage. Sure they’re out there, but prices start at £ 10k + and that’s sadly north of what I can currently invest in a daily. How about a Capri 2.8i then? Oh, they’re now just as expensive as a 325i. And an Alfa Romeo GTV6 is even dearer still. While an Elite 501 is perhaps within my price bracket, it however makes the Scimitar look like the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of bulletproof reliability. Argh… every viable solution ends up being a dead end!

So what say you dear reader? Have I finally lost my marbles, and just made up this whole issue in my head? Are modern cars (a term which to me includes the roughly 15 year old cars on our drive) great for the daily commute? Should I just embrace it? Or do you too suffer on your daily drive just like I do? If so, what is the solution? Bearing in mind that while being older than my current daily, the solution needs to demonstrate not only grin-inducing driving characteristics, but also a high level of reliability, a further ability to deal with year-round use and outdoors parking without dissolving into a pile of rust after the first winter, a reasonably sized rear seat, and naturally a manual gearbox. Oh, and just to make the selection process truly impossible, I’m working on a budget of £ 5k – 6k.
Yes, you can now tell me that I need to wake up from that fantasy dreamworld where such a car might exist…


31 Responses

  1. Michael

    Hi Anders,

    I see you issue and do not have the answer to your question…(even though I like what you have chosen currently as dailies, but if they do not hit the spot…)
    However I cannot help complimenting your previous E30’s. The one in Plantanengrün looks just like mine, except mine is a 2 door (not a coupe, I have learned :-)). Do I spot the Piniengrün interior as well???


  2. Dave Leadbetter

    That photo of the 2.8i Capri… that’s me distracted for the rest of the day.

    I used to have 2.8i Capris as dailies, but they were only 15-ish years old then so much the same as your 330 is now. I’m contractually forced by my employer to drive a new company car (first world problems) but much prefer my other half’s 20 year old E36 318is, or my similar age 318Ti. However, we’re straying to very outside limits of ViaRETRO here…

    Seeing as you need Japanese grade levels of reliability… the previously featured Hino Contessa? What could possibly go wrong?

  3. Jesper Jensen

    I don’t know anything about the prices, but a Lexus perhaps? IS 200, IS 300?

  4. Claus Ebberfeld

    I have a confession, Anders: My 1978 Scimitar GTE is not my daily. I am absolutely sure I told you this before and clearly recall you were repelled by what I chose to use instead – so I think your brain may have rejected the knowledge.

    My commuter is in fact a 2001 (16 years old, just as yours) Audi A2 3L. Yes, the most economical car in the world, which is exactly why I chose it. And it IS a techonogical tour de force, making it destined for a future as a surefire classic. Probably not mine, though, considering the kilometers I put on it. Driving dynamics? It doesn’t have any, nor any pretensions in that direction.

    You didn’t mention your daily distance, but since mine is now up to a 1000 kilometers per week (from formerly 700) the aspect of fuel economy does mean something. Also, all 3L’s are automatics. Given the choice I would (now) always choose an automatic as a commuter. At least on my route.

    However I have this summer quite often (more often than I thought, actually) taken the Scimitar or the Rover on that commute, and it never fails that I think about how much more fun that actually is. The Rover left me stranded once (quite contrary to fun, actually), but that was because I trusted the fuel gauge blindly. Ah, and the Scimitar blew a cooling hose – but as that was not on the way to THAT place of work I think it doesn’t count.

    I guess you could indeed do it every day – especially if there was actually two classics to choose from!

    Before I joined the modern cars (yes, I consider the A2 modern, just as you) I commuted the mentioned 600-700 kilometers per week in a couple of youngtimers: 1985 SAAB 90, 1989 Honda Legend Coupé, 1983 Honda Civic S – never had a problem. On the other hand I don’t really know how much more fun that was, really?

    I think the problem is really not so much the cars at all, but the commute itself. Eventually it will become boring.

    So I have refocused: If I am in a comfortable car, I am comfortable. It is as simple as that. Luckily my classics are also very comfortable, so it is no chore and as I said actually rather enjoyable using them on the dash now and then. I will continue using them as such.

    But I am curious as to the suggestions readers might come up with? I have not given up all hope.

  5. Anders Bilidt

    Michael, I too actually thought both the C70 T5 and the 330Ci Sport would indeed hit the spot. Hence why I bought them in the first place. And sitting here being my keyboard, I really, really want to like them both. In fact, I DO like them both. But when I get behind the wheel of either – well, they’ve still both got several great attributes such as the engine in either one of them, but ultimately they fail to truly excite when I drive them.
    I’m glad you too can appreciate my previously owned E30’s. Yes, the 4-door was indeed Plantanengrün with a Piniengrün cloth interior. It was also a 1-owner car with some 50 or 60,000 km’s on the clock when I bought it! A lovely little car. But then so was the Karminrot 2-door 325e, which I believe still lives somewhere in Denmark. My favourite though, was probably a Lachssilber 320i Touring which I unfortunately totalled.

    Dave, if only I could afford a Capri 2.8i – I’m convinced that would put a smile back on my face.
    Hmmm… a Hino Contessa as a daily?? It would no doubt be intriguing, but I fear sourcing spares could eventually spoil the fun.

    Jesper, I too have actually considered the first generation of Lexus IS. A compact RWD 6-cylinder sports saloon – what’s not to like? They’re also ridiculously cheap here in the UK. But then they’re also of similar age as my C70 and 330Ci, so don’t you think I’ll just end up in the same place as I am now? Admitted, I’ve never driven one, so I can’t really judge. But I suspect an IS will deliver much the same as my two latest dailies…

    Claus, you’re right. I have mentally blocked out that uhmmm… thing you drive to work. It hurts my brain to think about it. So to me, you drive your Scimitar, which is at the end of the day a year-round classic for you. And for that I envy you. ;-)
    As for my monthly mileage, it’s no where near the dizzying heights you achieve. I’ve only got about 19 miles from home to work, and furthermore, it’s not a trip I take five times a week. All my driving combined, I probably average between 500 and 600 miles a month in my daily car.
    Like you Claus, I’m very curious as to which suggestions our readers might come up with…

  6. Dave Leadbetter

    I have actually driven a UK spec Lexus IS200 and quite a decent thing, as in not spectacular, but fine. Not much point swopping a six pot E46 for one though as the Lexus is basically just a slower alternative that otherwise performs the same role. For real #JDM yo drifting you need the 4 pot import with the black top BEAMS engine and a slipper diff. However, it’s still a fairly anonymous saloon and not overly special. They’ll be sought after one day though.

    Our Jag S-Type 3.0 served up a sense of occasion at a bargain price, 240 horses and a six speed auto You could have bought it off me when it expensively disgraced itself, but it actually held together pretty well for the preceding 18 months!

    For me, the very best cars for a daily driver are the generation from the early 90s though. Modern enough to be reliable, quite rust resistant, simple enough to fix at home, strong enough to protect you when you fall off the Snake Pass and on top of all this, still with a chance of good dynamics and a lightness of touch. Enough to go at there.

  7. Michael Patterson

    I suggest that you do something outside the normal range of “b road barnstormers” and go with a series 1 or 2 range rover. Dump the drivetrain and put a LS in it. They are simple and easy to work on, you can get A/C and some comfortable seats. Put some sound deadening in it and gear it a bit more for the highway and still retain the character and style of the vehicle. You can also take it off road when you like, which would be a hoot for any kid. They are up high so you can see out of it as well.

  8. Jesper Jensen

    Yup Anders – Lexus IS is the same age as the ones you have right now – but perhaps? I haven’t got any experience with the Lexus either. If it has to be older. RWD, manual – and exciting – the only thing other than what you’ve already mentioned is an Alfa 75 3-litre. They’ve become a bit expensive, though.

  9. Anders Bilidt

    Dave, I do have the best intentions of NOT falling off the Snake Pass! :-)
    Think I’ll give it a miss on both IS200 and S-type.

    Michael, that’s some proper lateral thinking! Heh… I like it.
    I have no doubt it would be great fun – obviously in a very different way than a Capri 2.8i, but fun none the less. The same recipe could surely also be applied with great success to a Landcruiser HJ60…
    My biggest concern however would be the cost of such a project! I seriously doubt it can be done within my £ 5 – 6 grand limits.

    Jesper, a 3-litre 75 would no doubt be heaps of fun! Not a bad suggestion at all. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that myself, as I’ve actually always really liked the 75’s. I’ve never owned one though. So two questions, would it offer reliability? And will I still be able to find one within my budget?

  10. Dave Leadbetter

    A quick check indicates you’ve probably missed the boat on affordable Alfa 75s, and you wouldn’t want a “project” one of those…

    A decent BMW E28 5 series is still within your budget in the UK and they’re lovely. Or the E34 is probably in it’s last few moments of being under appreciated, unless that’s too modern. Alternatively, could you live with taking a punt on a cheap Porsche 944?

  11. Dave Leadbetter

    Good point Claus. Recently he’s been droning on about how he’s been forced to drive the same old car for 25 years. Well, it must be worn out by now so an LS swap would be the obvious thing.

  12. Andy White

    A bit nearer in spirit, size and smile factor to your Imp is my latest purchase. A 1967 Autobianchi Panoramica. I think she’s going to be perfect for (very short) commutes. ;)

  13. Anders Bilidt

    HaHaHa… admitted Gents, there would no doubt be quite a few raised eyebrows if I were to be cruising around in a LS-swapped anything. – not least my own eyebrows! Still, I’m sure it would be a highly entertaining beast.

    Shame about missing the boat on a good 75. I do like E28’s too, but arguably I’m kind of o/d’ing on BMW’s, so I should really look for something different to introduce a bit of variety into my garage. An early 944 would be fab, but I doubt my 9-year-old daughter would be particularly impressed the first time I tried to squeeze her into the rear seat…

    Andy, a huge congrats on your ‘new’ Panoramica! Such a cute and bubbly little car. But I’m not sure I would dare tempt fate by using it as my only year-round daily car.
    Hmmm… but on the subject of Autobianchi, I’ve always really wanted a Primula Coupé S… :-)

  14. Jesper Jensen

    As I wrote – 75’s have become a bit expensive:>). Don’t know about the prices in England, though. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 3-litre – a Twin Spark is also fine. Better handling – but the 3-litre has way more oomph and much better sound.
    Reliabilitywise I think a 75 is OK but they are getting old now and they have to be maintained properly. I used a 1989 3-litre from 1997 to 2005-6-ish – 116.000 km to 300.000 km – as a daily driver, european vacations, child container and so on. It failed exactly 3 times in that period. Two of the times was my own fault and the third time was a worn out generator. Reliable? I wouldn’t worry:>). That said, there’s always some kind of fault in a 75 but it’s minor faults – nothing that keeps you from driving – and bear in mind that you forget the minor faults when you’re driving the thing:>). At least that’s my experience with a 3-litre.

  15. Claus Ebberfeld

    But now I can’t stop thinking about the little Lexus! Never driven one but I recall their reputation regarding the mechanical side.

    OK, Anders, now something that’s maybe just too obvious – but how about the Mercedes 190, W201? I’ve been looking at som every nice 2,6’es lately, not too expensive. I’ve never seen a manual, but then again – I have not been looking either, as I’d take the automatic anyway. But if they are out there?

  16. Rob

    Very interested to read you article Anders. Actually, I take the view that most “moderns” are boring, however fast they are. The roads / traffic conjestion are major factors in the lack of driving enjoyment for me these days. This situation makes it fairly essential that a “modern” is used as a daily commuter car, it’s very much safer, more comfortable & reliable ( mostly ! )
    I know I would much prefer to drive my R-8 Gordini all the time, it’s not fast, by today’s standards, but it has the “fun factor” in bucket loads. It just needs empty roads !

  17. Anders Bilidt

    Jesper, you have me convinced – an Alfa Romeo 75 V6 would have no doubt worked. However, the current prices unfortunately put it into the same bracket as the Capri 2.8i and the 325i E30. Cars which would have solved my problem, only they have now become too expensive…

    Claus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 2.6-litre W201 with a manual gearbox. It’s an intriguing thought though. I like it!!

    Rob, perhaps I just need to except that I can’t have everything? Enjoy my classics in the summer and on weekends and then put up with the boredom of modern cars on my commute. Is this the only truly realistic solution?

    Gentleman, how about this…
    Would I be utterly insane to sell my ’02 BMW 330Ci Sport for an early 90’s Peugeot 309 GTi?
    And would that be feasible as a all-year daily?

    Thx by the way for all of your input! I do appreciate it…

  18. Claus Ebberfeld

    Hmmm, an early Nineties Peugeot GTI as a commuter car? Well, it’s doesn’t meet your original rear wheel drive criteria, but otherwise – why not?

    But then again: If you think the Peugeot will be reliable enough, I’d think that the same would apply to a lot of even older classics. However I (and I suspect no others) have real data on the reliablity of cars that old.

    And just for the record: The Mercedes 190 2.6 DID indeed come as a manual, but they are quite rare and carry a premium because of that. And there’s also an AMG version…although out of mentioned budget, I’d suspect.

  19. Anders Bilidt

    Well, financially that’s a manual 190E 2.6 out of the question then…

    But Claus, I don’t think I ever had RWD as part of my criteria. It’s very true that I’ve always had quite a preference towards cars that push rather than pull. But then again, I have very fond memories of my ’86 Civic 1.5i GT which I also mentioned in my writing above. So the right FWD car is indeed an option.
    But I sense you don’t quite believe in a 309 GTi is a viable all-year daily?

    How about a mid-eighties Giulietta like the one you used to own Claus? I guess not…

  20. Claus Ebberfeld

    My mistake then, Anders – I was sure I’d read it somewhere.

    But a much bigger question: When does a car qualify as a “viable all-year daily”? I am not saying that an old (but modern!) Peugeot GTI would nok work – only that it would probably not work as well as your somewhat newer BMW. But then again – some people think the BMW is too old to work. So what is good enough? As I told you my 1985 SAAB 90 was brilliant! Manual, by the way…

    A Nuova Giulietta? Hmmm. Mechanically why not? Bodywise, not so much all-year. But mine was too pretty in brown metalizzato. You haven’t really mentioned rust, by the way?

    I think it is ultimately all very much a matter of your own beliefs. It certainly helps if one thinks a bit like Formula One drivers in the Seventies.

  21. Dave Leadbetter

    You’d need a 70s grand prix driver’s attitude to risk to drive any 80s Peugeot as a daily (and I say that having had a couple of 205s). Flimsy is not a sufficient word. It’s all relative but even so…

    Saab 900 or 90 is a good call. In fact, the non-turbo Saab 900 is undervalued in the UK and they seem to attract people who look after them. With your budget Anders, you could buy a breeding pair.

  22. Anders Bilidt

    I hear what you are both saying regarding Peugeots of that era. You’re probably right too if we’re talking 205 or 309. But I have to point out, that I would rate my old 505 GTi from ’84 every bit as reliable, sturdy and well-built as any BMW, Volvo or Saab of the same age.

  23. Dave Leadbetter

    Yes, but the 505 was a 1970s design before they chased the supermini market and went on a cost stripping exercise (ultimately to save the company). That 505 we found at Bicester last time was fabulous.

  24. Anders Bilidt

    I know Dave. And yes, the 505 at Bicester was delicious! So, seeing as I can’t afford an E30 325i, a Capri 2.8i, or a 75 V6, should I perhaps consider revisiting 505-ownership? Would that make me happier than my current 330Ci?

  25. Claus Ebberfeld

    Just to clarify: I am not slaying Peugeots of the era over other cars from other marques of the same era – just saying that compared to your post-millenium BMW they will all be pretty bad :-).

    I always liked the 505 as well, and as I recall it they majored on comfort which is of course just fine for a commuter. Go ahead!

  26. Anders Bilidt

    Hmmm… what’s the going rate for a really-good-but-nowhere-near-concurs Ritmo 130TC at the moment?
    And does anyone here have thoughts on using one as a daily?

  27. Claus Ebberfeld

    Yup, there you have it, Anders: The Manta could very well be the answer! I actually think you would like the more “classic car” feel of a Manta over a 205. And it’s rear wheel drive – winter fun galore…


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