OUR PICKS

IT’S BLANK CHEQUE TIME FOLKS, YOUR TOP THREE PERSONAL PICKS PLEASE – GO ON, KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT...

CLIFF CHAMBERS

MAZDA MX-5

Confession time: I’ve owned an NA MX-5 for years. Thing is, I don’t like them because I have one, I have one because I absolutely adore the little buggers. I road-tested the original NA back in 89 and swore then that I’d own one someday. Someday turned out to be late 2013.

I reckon the original, non-power-steer, 1.6-litre is the one to buy for its purity and its looks. I’ve done the tall-guy conversion (remove the sun-visors) and mine also has 16-inch wheels and coil-overs, which were all on it when I bought it and, if you ask me, don’t add a whole lot to the end product. Aint broke, don’t fix yada yada...

The only thing I’d swap it for would be one of the limited edition, BRG NAs with the tan leather interior. Other than that, mitts orf… she’s mine.

NISSAN 200SX S15

Should you be lucky enough to see an S15 in traffic today, I’m willing to bet you’ll say to yourself: Now there’s a stylish motor car. Followed by: Hmm, haven’t seen one of those in a while.

Fact is, the Nissan 200SX in S15 form was a stunning looker and a cracker of a drive. Why don’t you see them now? Probably because the majority of them have been parked backwards in trees by kids who traded out of all-paw WRXs and Evos, into the rear-drive 200SX, only to get a crash (literally) course in oversteer.

The two-litre turbo-mill was a bit hoary when you revved it up, but an aftermarket zorst would probably fix that. And the rest was great with a schnappy six-speed box and a supple platform. Just don’t accidentally buy an auto, okay?

TOYOTA CELICA RA40

This is personal, okay? I know the RA40 is the redheaded stepson of Celicas. And, yes, I know they had the daggy old Corona-spec 18R engine (in Oz anyway). And yes, they have a steering box and not a rack and, yes, they have a crude rear-end and blah blah blah. Save it for Doctor Phil.

Because I want one of these. I can’t see one without thinking Peter Williamson and Bathurst where the RA40 was the first car in the world to carry race-cam. Youtube it, it’ll blow your mind. Oh, and the little Tojo was faster across the mountain than any of the outright-class cars, too.

I know they’ll swallow an 18RG twin-cam and I’ve heard talk of 1J transplants. Yum yum. Even the liftback version is growing on me. Did I mention I want one? Anybody got one they wanna sell me?

CLIFF CHAMBERS

DATSUN 1600

It’s a cliché but for boys (and some girls) who got their licences during the 1970s, owning a Datsun 1600 was very much a rite of passage.

‘Dattos’ were affordable and everywhere. The original colours were awful and so were the tyres. If not watched they went rusty as well but all of that could be fixed by a mate who could weld and use a Little Beaver spray kit. For some extra honk, add a pair of Webers or transplant a two-litre. Maybe even enter your beast in a rally or two.

Times changed and pretty much all of those cheap cars have been modded. The few that survive in original trim now sell for ridiculous money but as a design that this year turns 50 they remain astonishing.

SUBARU LIBERTY RS TURBO

Bit introspective this one because in 1990 I was among the privileged few to drive the very first ‘Type Approval’ Liberty RS to arrive and be astonished by its abilities.

This was a beefy, roomy family car that growled like a caged grizzly. You could take it shopping and barely get a glance then chuck into bumpy bend at the advisory speed plus plenty and come out wearing a big grin. Subaru thought they would sell a thousand a year but as Nissan discovered with its GTR, Australia wasn’t ready for cars with way more talent than their drivers.

Now 30 years later the chances of any RS Libertys surviving in decent shape might seem unlikely, but not so. Finding one takes patience but when you do the money being sought for these incredibly classy cars is pathetic.

HONDA S2000

If I owned an S2000 I would likely call it Susan Boyle – bit dowdy to look at but what a glorious noise. Early ones are just a year away from turning 20 and that alone qualifies them as a ‘classic’. Then there is the amazing engine with 176 non-turbo kilowatts from just two litres and its associated bolt-action gear-shift.

Don’t even look at the tacho. Not yet anyway. The fun doesn’t start until the point at which most engines are giving up and then runs all the way to 9000rpm. Yep, NINE grand in a road car.

Today you can find good ones for $20,000 which might seem pricey until you turn off the music, drop the beautifully finished hood and just drive it.

GUY ALLEN

HONDA S2000

This is tough. In reality there are probably at least half a dozen iconic Japanese cars I’d have in my shed tomorrow, given a modest funding boost. And no, I’m not talking stuff that is made of unobtanium, like the Mazda Cosmos and (increasingly) first-gen Honda NSXs of this world.

Anything with a strong motorcycle connection always gets my attention – you only have to look in my shed to see why – so a Honda S2000 gets an instant vote. I know they tend to be a high-stepping powerplant that doesn’t always win fans, but for someone used to 10,000-plus redlines, that’s not a negative. Quite the opposite. And I just like the overall packaging of the things – early MX-5 with just a hint of roid rage. How much? Everyone seems to have their pet theory on what a good one is worth. However somewhere around $20-30k would pull it up.

TOYOTA CELICA RA25 LIFTBACK

Next is the humble Toyota Celica – that is the early models. My parents owned two of these things new and it was always a mystery why the local importer didn’t see fit to bring in the sexy 1600 GTs rather than the cooking versions. That aside, the next shape RA25 liftback is the one that has long-term appeal. There’s more than a hint of Mustang about them and having the bigger two-litre powerplant is a real bonus. Sadly, there really don’t seem to be many left out there. Did the rust kill them? Prices seem to be all over the place, but you’d hope mid twenties would snag a decent manual.

SUBARU WRX

Last and far from least is an early Subaru Impreza WRX. For a generation the favoured get-away car for the underworld it really helped set up a whole new sub-class of performance car both here and worldwide. Half of them have probably ended up in trees or at the wreckers. Though offering huge bang for your buck, they’re running a complex drive train which can’t be cheap to rebuild and that would have killed off a few well-worn examples. The holy grail would be the first STi, though I suspect we’re talking mega-bucks. Nope, anything in good nick across the GC8B or C range would be fine and, somehow, the quirky hatchback variant has appeal. Finding an unmolested version could take a whole lot of time and patience, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we were talking mid-twenties in exchange for the keys.

ALEX AFFAT

DATSUN 1200 UTE

Well who wouldn’t want a pint-sized oddball Japanese ute? The jury may be out in terms of actual load-lugging usability, but with room for two and a dog in the back, these things are just plain fun for those sunny-day cruises.

Utilising the same drivetrain and wheelbase as the 1200 sedan, coupe and wagon models, parts are plentiful, though many examples have been fiddled with due to the expansive interchangeable parts common to Datsuns of the same vintage.

There’s usually a handful for sale at any given moment, in various stages of restoration or modification. In any case, they’re an extremely affordable project, and thanks to their niche fan-base, should hold their value pretty well!

SERIES 4/5 MAZDA RX-7

Historically, the Series 4/5 FC RX7 has long been the middle child of the lineage whereby most collectors would be drawn to the early Series 1s, 2s or 3s or – at the other end of the spectrum – the most modern Series 6, 7 or 8 FD RX7 (you can probably thank a certain Hollywood franchise for that).

In our eyes however, the FC and its gorgeous 80s wedged charm are no less desirable than its siblings. They were also a technological leap from their predecessor and were able to hold their own against the popular comparison of the time, the Porsche 944.

Mechanical horror stories are plenty in regards to old rotaries, much of which can be avoided with proper maintenance. Look for decent service records.

MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO VI

The Evo VI was one of the high watermarks in the Evo’s … errr, Evolution. Before the later models took on board massive bouts of technological wizardry and became video-game-like cheat cars; the Evo VI was still one of the more visceral analogue driving experiences.

Visually, it’s a striking thing that embodies the height of late 90s WRC warfare, whose battle fronts spilled from the rally stages into the showrooms.

Receiving a larger intercooler, larger oil cooler and pistons from the preceding Evo V, the VI was a more reliable bit of kit with less strain on its formidable turbo 2.0lt. Cars vary wildly in price and condition, so take a focused look at the car’s maintenance history.

GLENN TORRENS

MAZDA MX-5 NA SERIES

The Mazda MX-5 blew minds when it was launched just in time for summer ’89. Light, nimble and pure, it was – and remains – one of the truly great drivers’ cars of all time. Mazda put plenty of heart and soul into its little roadster, giving the 1.6-litre twin-cammer’s exhaust a fruity note (later models had a 1.8-litre) and shaping the door mirrors to reduce wind buffeting in the cabin. No matter how crap your day is, by the time you get to the end of the street in one of these, things aren’t so bad. I paid $7500 for mine and it’ll stay with me forever.

CHRYSLER/MITSUBISHI SIGMA

Regular readers will recall my shed-find 1982 GJ Sigma SE with the ‘big block’ 2.6-litre Astron four-cylinder engine. These old Sigmas may not appeal to today’s dollar-driven ‘collectors’, but I had soo much fun cruising/using mine and I already regret selling it. The Sigma was Australia’s biggest-selling four-cylinder car in the late 1970s. The super-rare Sigma Turbo of 1981 was a ball-tearer and the Peter Wherret special and – in the later series GJ – GSR model provided Aussie driving enthusiasts with a subtle and appealing sports sedan that Holden and Ford couldn’t match. I appreciate ‘grand-dad’ spec cars just as much as the sporty SS/ESP stuff and for five or six grand I’d have another beige one!

NISSAN 200SX (1994-2003)

In the mid-1990s, Subaru was getting all the headlines – sometimes for the wrong reasons – with its rally-developed WRX, its turbocharged 2.0-litre all-wheel drive weapon. Toyota offered its Celica GT4, too (at a very stiff price) but for me, the Nissan 200SX is the keeper. This conventionally styled but pretty coupe (without any of the WRX’s overt spoilers and driving lights) was powered by Nissan’s gorgeous (and tough) turbocharged SR20 2-litre twin-cammer and put the power to the ground through just the rear wheels, giving it that beautiful balance and tactile steering that enthusiast drivers crave. Many have been boosted/butchered/drifted so be careful… I don’t have a spare $20K right now but I’d love a mint unmodified later model (with the sharper nose for 1997) in my garage.

MARK HIGGINS

NISSAN R32 GT-R

What a machine! I reckon the R32 is by far the best of the GT-Rs. Devastatingly fast, agile, light and hugely rewarding to drive. I had a steer of one in the early 90s and was blown away by its sheer velocity. The horizon rushed at you, you didn’t chase it. And it stopped as well as it went, while its electronic and mechanical trickery meant it could attack corners at breathtaking speeds like it was welded to the road. If I could find a good one, I’d have it in a heartbeat.

DATSUN 240Z

It started the Z car revolution that continues almost half a century on and when I first laid eyes on it I thought it a better looker than an E-Type Jag, though I had my suspicions it was a copy of the pommy classic.

A teacher, Mr Edwards, arrived at my school in his gleaming white example and immediately won kudos from every student with an interest in cars, of which there were many. After falling for its looks thanks to Mr Edwards (who on weekends raced a Bolwell Nagari), I had a drive of one and it didn’t disappoint. It had a good turn of grunt thanks to the twin Hitachi-carbed 2.4-litre six in its snout, did a reasonably good job of stopping and wasn’t too bad at scooting through corners. And I loved the sports seats, dash layout with the ancillary gauges having their own housing and the three-spoke steering wheel.

HONDA S2000

Although I could never get totally comfortable in the cramped cabin, I’d still have one.

It’s a classic. I spent a fair bit of time in S2000s when I was at Honda and loved the way it revved and revved, delivering its sizeable grunt in a linear way. And it boasts one of the best ever manual gearboxes made, of any brand. The pedal setup was right for heel-and-toe downshifts and its handling was more go kart than car. And being a Honda it’s as reliable as a Swiss watch.