The Empty Handed Traveler Whistles His Way Past the Highwayman

Meaningless Retail Prices…

Image: cargurus

Money, the great intractable without which sees few cars sold. DTW is no financial advice institution; we’re more concerned with aspects of vehicle design and culture, but nevertheless understand the need and use of filthy lucre. Which is the jumping off point for today’s peregrinations, where I attempt to illustrate a sliver of what is available at a certain randomly chosen price point.

Suffering yet another debilitating bout of insomnia, my sleep-deprived eyes and frazzled brain arbitrarily chose a price level without deviation — thirty thousand pounds Sterling[1] — a not inconsequential amount for a computer on four wheels. In the UK that sum of money can put you behind the wheel of machinery such as an Audi A3, a Škoda Octavia Estate, an electric Mini or perennial autophile favourite, Mazda’s MX-5. Perhaps then a MG4 or a Suzuki Swace, for those wanting their bolts blessed? 

In order for this highly (un)scientific experiment to work, here comes the tough part — leaving badge snobbery behind. We must also ignore financial deals, haggling prices, warranties or any other real world hardships. The £30k limit is unbending, however. Investigated in the wee small hours, some themes stood out, whereas others should probably remain in the darkness from whence they came. 

Using UK Autotrader’s website set on national search, I garnered over 600 results, so let’s kick off with a bang, a visceral start, with a villain from Blackpool — a TVR Tuscan. A twenty year old example wearing 25k miles — manual transmission, 3.6-litre straight six, 360bhp. Man alive! This could deracinate the undergrowth a highwayman hides behind on its way to 180mph, or simply fail to proceed.

Hmm, not enough for the modern day? How about a 4.0 TFSi Tiptronic Quattro Euro 6 Audi S8? According to the private seller, the car wears a few scuffs but has been recently serviced and comes with new tyres. Probably as well considering this hardly timorous beast has been remapped to produce 680 bhp and 900 Nms. Black bodywork — this is more akin to a cannon brought to a knife fight. Seats four swagmen, mind you.

The power barn stakes may have peaked, but what of looks? Jaguar’s F-Type has now fallen into our bracket; five examples, a couple at dealerships, even one sans roof. At this hour of thieves, one could fall for its evanescent demeanour. The interior puts the F in cramped, however. Also within the Leaping Cat’s purview lay a couple of XF saloons, a solitary i-Pace with sprinklings of E- and F-Pace which could be left in the roadside ditch for all I care.

BMW 2 Series. Image:

To Bavaria then, where the 1, 3 and 5 proliferate, some with high specifications. Prior to this search, I was unaware of the 2 Series coupé. The M240i posits a three litre within its two-door look. The grille’s size borders acceptable, the ambivalent side view a nod to nowhere in particular. The Propeller even sold these as Gran Coupe’s which works better inasmuch a four door coupé can but also too similar to a 4 Series Gran Coupe. Making 322bhp from its 3-litre mill along with Wrench Stage 2+ MPE, which could be a savvy thieves riddle for all I know. 6 Series Gran Coupe’s and Gran Turismo’s share financial bandwidth with the gibbous X6 drinking from the diesel vat. Or in attempts to lure you from the West Midlands, a Z4. These vehicles make me look twice but perhaps more due to the mondaine and highwayman tempting stance she takes.

Perhaps a heavier weapon, sir? The winged B provides a twenty year old Arnage which repudiates anything but the epitome of fiscal (and avoir dupois) security. Too oblique? Then a two years younger Continental without roof. Both are a lot of car for that outlay. 

Image: greencarreports

Leaning over the Blue Oval’s wall, I discovered surprisingly few Focuses, the Kuga and Ranger most proffered. The latter could be renamed Swift Nick (highwayman John Nevison) whereas the Kuga, at this price range, practically brand new. Popular enough to warrant a Vignale edition, the 2.5 petrol develops 225bhp. In order to withstand the drop of yoke, the Mustang, the Highwayman’s pony, is next in line, sporting V8 muscle. Popular in this milieu, I never fail to be seduced by its dandy swagger or the burble of the exhaust.

Looks become more important as we head toward dawn. As, Cs and Es dominate the Stuttgart field but the W222 caught these eyes. A silver, petrol example of Robert Lešnik’s Sonderklasse cut quite the dash whereas a shadowy, derv sipping black version, even with its tasteful wood trim and ‘clown smiley face’ steering wheel, casts a gelid stare. Zuffenhausen neighbours — one could risk a 911 or Boxster of a dozen or more years — tempting? Of course more numerous are the burlier Macan or Cayenne, enough to hand over your money bag? Class acts in production values, naturally but enough to riven one’s heart? Even those diesel drinkers make 400bhp.

Image: Citroën media

Now taking the less frequented route where different rogues lay in wait, the Double Chevron. At this juncture, all but new, minuscule mileage and electrical names. The E-C4’s exterior contains a mass of metal, plastic and glass. Pause indefinitely for judgement then open doors where one finds comfy looking seats of a dawn grey along with oddly shaped accoutrements aplenty. Similitudes occur with the C5X, a huge looking motor car of corporeal spirit. How un-Citroën.

Fellow Stellantis sibling, Peugeot’s wares follow circuitry over cubic inches. The 208, in certain colours appears cute, sporting, aggressive yet approachable. The 2008, especially when travel stained lends itself a look of just completing the Dakar, or perhaps dragged through a hedge, backwards. Interiors are strikingly similar to those of Citroën.

Italy, now and Fiat’s electric 500. For a car that’s (almost) been around as long as Dick Turpin’s ghost, the demure rose gold La Prima by Bocelli version might tempt with its sultry eyes or rebuff with minimal interior decoration. At least the seats remind passengers what brand you’re driving.

Image: carbuzz

Rushing headlong to this article’s noose, such rewards change daily and allow us not to discriminate between products from Wolfsburg, the East, Solihull (or Slovakia) or those wearing the Griffin. Stirring the dust one last time, and obliterating the robber’s identity, a corollary 16 year old DB9. Some exit.

The predatory and precipitous highwayman lives on in the car buying game. It’s up to us to whistle.

[1] Consider a range topping VW ID5 retails at £80,000 with a remarkably similar Škoda Enyaq iV just 10k less…

Data Sources:, several cups of tea, a depressingly accurate timepiece…

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

19 thoughts on “The Empty Handed Traveler Whistles His Way Past the Highwayman”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. I did a quick search here in the Netherlands between € 27.5k and € 30k. Prices of new cars are a lot higher here than in the UK, so I focused on preloved horseless carriages only. Further criteria I added were 6 cylinders or more, at least 160 kW and airconditioning. Quite a few hits, but these were the highlights/oddballs for me:

    BMW E28 535i
    BMW E31 850i
    BMW E60 M5
    Chevrolet C5 Corvette
    Dodge Challenger
    Ford Thunderbird (last generation)
    Jaguar XJ (last generation)
    Maserati Quattroporte V
    Maserati 3200 GT
    Mercedes 560 SEC
    Nissan Skyline GTR
    Saab 9-5 Aero
    TVR Cerbera

    Plenty of choice, but I’ll hang on to my money for now.

  2. Alas, I have to say that 30,000 is the kind of money I´d use to buy three or four cars rather than one. I tend to imagine that despite the fictional budget the running costs aren´t fictional (does that make any sense?). So I tend to imagine in a rather restricted way. For 30 grand I´d land a Peugeot 604, a Lancia Trevi, an 80s or 90s Buick and an XM. I got rid of the XM last year and I am still dreaming about it frequently. That must mean something. Among recent cars maybe I´d consider a Lancia Thesis. Okay, if we´re looking at 21 century cars in Andrew´s price range I´d get a Thesis.

  3. Good morning Andrew. An interesting topic, thank you, and running costs should indeed enter the equation. Coincidentally, yesterday evening I watched this video on YouTube which offers a perspective from the seller’s viewpoint, a used car dealer:

    One of the examples he cites is an old Range Rover he was selling, where the buyer was having to raise finance to buy it. He rightly thought this was madness on the basis that, if the buyer couldn’t buy it outright, then he certainly couldn’t afford to run it and cover the cost of repairs that would inevitably occur on an old, complex and originally very expensive vehicle.

    More generally, he rails against buyers who spend a small amount of money on a old second-hand car and still expect it to remain as faultless in service as a brand new one. The video is worth a look.

    1. I´ve always thought that buying an used car, unless it´s a relatively new car (up to 4- 5 year old), is only for car enthusiasts. We understand that a radiator hose won´t live forever, that if the a/c fails it´ll be in the middle of a heat wave, and, in general, that buying used is not like buying new with a 75% discount. The amount of people who believe this is incredible.

    2. Two things: one, I always buy used, often in the 8-10 year old range, and I see it as paying in instalments when I need to do e.g. timing belts etc. I could afford a new car but (a) I generally dislike feature creep and the lack of control in newer models, and more importantly (b) the waste of tossing the old and perpetually buying new is immoral to me. Look at where that mentality has got us in the last 70 years.

  4. Bearing in mind the significant proportion of annual income that many people spend on cars, it occurs that personal transport finances should be part of the school curriculum. It also occurs that car purchase is such a minefield that the government should issue the same sort of warnings that are issued against internet gambling.

    For many the car is a necessary evil, in order to travel to work and transport offspring, and every penny spent on it is resented. For others, especially young men, it is such an aspirational totem that they will work solely with it as the end goal, and willingly put themselves in debt just to get the right model.

    I agree with Richard that the ‘reasonably new’ sector is less interesting to me than the ‘old but not classic’ sector, where real bargains can be found. Years ago I spent time looking at Bentley Turbo Rs. I had no desire for the cachet of Bentley ownership in itself, but was entranced by the prospect of so much engine, metal, wood, carpet and leather for maybe £5,000. Wise people would point out that the low purchase price is the motor trade’s loss-leader, the money comes from all the things that will go wrong. My attitude for a short time was that just static in the drive, it would have made a comfortable annexe to the home.

    1. Bristow – “Bearing in mind the significant proportion of annual income that many people spend on cars, it occurs that personal transport finances should be part of the school curriculum.”

      But just look at the sort of cars teachers drive!

      It’s 46 years since I left school and one of the things I’ve since learned is not to trust teachers’ advice on ANYTHING, particularly career choice, moral guidance, and the health-giving and character-building benefits of participation in robust sports.

    2. My secondary school chemistry teacher was suddenly too cool for school when he turned up in a Mk1 Ford Capri. Sadly, a growing family meant that it soon gave way to a very drab looking Mk3 Cortina. Conversely, my French teacher traded in his Mk2 Cortina for a new Fiat 126. This didn’t affect his coolness factor as he was rumoured also to have a Triumph Dolomite Sprint in his drive, which never darkened the school car park. As for the rest, it was the expected tin-box tedium, I’m afraid.

      In my Leaving Cert final year, we were joined by an older student who had returned to repeat a number of exams, having flunked them first time round. His dad was a successful businessman, so he was able to drive himself to school in his dad’s weekend car, a Lancia Montecarlo. This was replaced during the year by a Datsun 260Z 2+2. Jammy bugger!

    3. My French teacher had a 2CV with all of 11.5 PS when most other teachers had Beetles.
      At university one of the professors had a Porsche and went to the canteen every day while another had a bicycle and dined at a two star restaurant (and played piano to concerto standard and was a cineast).

    4. I had a school teacher who drove a Matra Rancho, and one who drove a Peugeot 505 with the seat reclined so far that he was barely visible behind the wheel. God knows how much he could see from that position. Still, he was a maths teacher (the kind that understands maths too well to be able to explain it to those who don’t, unfortunately) so maybe he just calculated his way through traffic… Another teacher (whom I only had in class occasionally) spannered old Alfas. Those are the only teacher cars I can remember, which probably means the rest was less inspiring.

    5. My kindergarten teacher had a bright green Alfasud TI. I vividly remember that car even today. It cemented my love for the Sud, I reckon, even at that age.

  5. Andrew – The 2 Series Gran’s Coupe is front wheel drive, on the UKL2 platform, whereas the previous model 2 Series coupe in the illustration shares its RWD platform with the second generation 1 Series. You can have a 2 Series Gran’s Coupe for around that £30K if you can put up with a 1.5 litre triple and doing your own gears. It also has a boot, rather than the useful hatch that grans who can stretch to a 4 Series enjoy.

    The current model 2 Series coupe, straight outta San Luis Potosi, starts around £37K, or about £2K more than a Corolla in the UK, and has a proper 2 litre four, and automatic whether you want it or not. It sits on the same RWD CLAR platform as the 3 and 4 Series, but with a 110mm shorter wheelbase.

    1. Regardless of Dave AR’s advice (though he is obviously correct) the Qauttroporte advert is beautifully photographed, so much better than the majority of the Autotrader fodder, more so when viewed in the wee small hours. I find Autotrader’s appeal is finding out what is out there but being no wheeler dealer, they’ll stay there.

      Thank you Robertas for clearing the BMW 2 issue up. I shall not be delving deeper.

      Very interesting the Nino Vaccarella story, along with the teachers cars. I have no recollection of any of my former teachers motors.

      And a Bentley as a house annexe; what a delightful idea!

    2. Sorry – generally I adore Maseratis but that thing is hideous, what happened to the rear wheel arch??

  6. This Quattroporte was a masterpiece of Marcello Gandini. Built after the deTomaso era with some improvements in terms of reliability. The engine was overdone by Ferrari.

    1. I side with you on this Markus, as long as the particular car isn’t fitted with the awful clock.

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