Everyone gets older, there’s no getting around it (yet). But with age (often) come benefits that are denied our youthful, impulsive selves. A stable job and some savings (or at least a better credit score) can help us afford the things that we lusted after as younger versions of ourselves.
Those ‘ooh, one day’ dreams of our twenties can often be achieved with the flash of a credit card, or a dip into the Rainy Day fund. That Fender guitar you wanted back in the ‘90s, or that football season ticket; they can all be yours. And depending on your personal relationship situation, they can either be entirely justified, swapped for some quid pro quo (Clarice…) deal with your partner, or just bought and to hell with the consequences.
The great thing about getting a mid-life crisis car is that it is entirely justifiable, and even expected. Rather than having to explain why you need a Hugo Boss suit, or a ride-on mower, a mid-life crisis car is a justification in itself. When the question is ‘Why did you buy that?’ and the answer is ‘Because it’s my mid-life crisis car’ then there is no real comeback. And the great thing is that only you can decide when you’re going to be having that crisis - as early as your thirties, or save it for your 50th. Why not have more than one?
So, with the justification sorted, let’s look at some cars…
The thing with mid-life crisis cars is that they need to be something out of the ordinary. If you’ve always driven a BMW, then getting a Z4 isn’t going to raise an eyebrow. If you’ve always driven a BMW and you come home in a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, then THAT is going to twitch some curtains… However, the world of classic cars can be a minefield of expense and/or repairs and if you’re a classic car fan, you know that it comes with a need for a heated garage, a welder and a set of imperial spanners. The classic car deserves its own feature and for the purposes of practicality, we’re going to assume that you’re looking for a car that you can park on the street, or the drive of a semi and not be needing to hoist the engine out every other Saturday.
No, for our purposes, we’re after daily driving cars that you can live with easily, that you can get fixed and serviced locally, that are easy enough to sell on (when your crisis has passed, obviously) and that don’t need you to hang around breakers yards looking for a 1973 Lucas alternator for them… We’re also going to keep the budget at well under ten grand because that’s still in the realm of ‘Hey, I could have bought a Rolex for the same money…’
By coincidence, all of these cars have soft-top and coupe versions (the Porsche Cayman is a Boxster with a £3000 lid) and it’s up to you if you want to feel the wind in your hair.
Audi TT Mk1
The TT was already a classic when it was launched in the late 1990s. With four wheel drive, decent luggage room and a very distinctive look, the Mk1 shape has weathered the years well. There’s a choice of 180 and 220bhp (and a very rare 240bhp Quattro Sport that still fits in to the upper end of our price range). There’s a 3.2L version (with the motor from the Golf VR32) which has a great V6 sound, though the jury is out over whether the extra power is enough to make it shine with the extra weight.
There’s a ready supply of parts and dealers to work on them as well as a very active forum scene. There’s plenty of room in the coupe for golf clubs, luggage, a dog, or even a mountain bike inside, so hey, it’s practical too! And being 4WD, it can be seen as a ’safe and sensible’ choice. Not that we need to justify, though…
Decent examples show up at under two grand, which is almost ‘late night, glass of wine, Autotrader’ range, so be careful with that laptop. It’s well worth looking at a few - the cars are plentiful, so you can afford to shop around. Pick the colour and power you want and get shopping!
BMW’s Z3 roadster is rightly looked on as being a bit too round and wishy-washy looking whereas the Z4 has much sharper, muscular lines. With its huge bonnet, there’s a little of the E-type about the proportions (or perhaps the Ford Capri?) and with it’s front engine and rear wheel drive, it has that ‘Hey, I’m a serious car driver’ look to it. Engines start at a reasonable 2.0L and go up to the 3.0L. If you get the rarer coupe, then it’s 3.0 all the way. The interiors are lovely and modern feeling and it’s a great car to sit in whether for a daily commute or the Grand Tour round Europe (if you pack light, it’s a bit stingy on luggage space.)
The coupe is a bit Marmite and many drivers will prefer the sleek, flatter lines of the drop-top, but we think that it continues that E-type feel, with a bulbous back end behind that enormous bonnet. Prices start under £3K for the convertible and the 3.0 coupes all start around £6,000.
If you’re after a proper bit of soft-top fun, then the MX-5 truly falls into the ‘impulse purchase’ slot, with loads of examples at under a grand. A quick search on Autotrader brings up 40 cars under £1000, so it depends if you’re feeling lucky and frivolous. Just buy a cheap one with a fresh MOT, drive it for a year and sell it on (or trade it on up for your next mid-life crisis car - after all, there might not be a cure!). Or spend a couple of grand and get a summer’s worth of fun out of a car that’ll probably keep much of that value whenever you decide to sell it. (And we’d recommend advertising it after the first warm, sunny Saturday of the spring… it’ll probably be gone by Sunday).
Ooh, now we’re getting in to the realm of ‘drivers’ cars’… There’s no getting round that the Nissan 350Z is a peculiar-looking coupe (and it’s not much better as a soft-top), but did someone say ‘3.5 litre V6’? Yes indeed! With no particular nods to practicality (the boot is full of a humungous cross-strut, though there is room for a couple of bags) and a blunt shape that barges through the air with brute force, the 350Z is a great example of a ‘me, me, me’ machine. With a 3.5L V6 that roars approval when pushed, it’s a car for those who aren’t going to worry about petrol prices. No, the 350Z is a car for drivers that want an excuse to drive through Glen Coe this weekend, or to find out what it’s like to drive the Stelvio Pass in Italy.
There aren’t so many of these around, so make sure you don’t fall in love with the first one you look at and try a few. Due to the power and tweakability of these, they’re more likely to have been driven by Fast Car magazine-reading lads, so make sure you get and unmolested one with decent history. Then get out and drive the tyres off it!
So there’s one question to ask. Do you really want a Porsche? Because it’s going to be no good spending a decent amount of cash on some other car for your mid-life crisis car when you actually wanted a Porsche. It won’t matter how nice your Z4 is if you linger over every Boxster you see.
If your friends look on the Boxster as the ‘poor man’s Porsche’ then quite frankly, they’re wrong. With early Boxsters starting at an astounding three grand, look on them more as an affordable introduction to outstanding motoring. The fact that the Boxster is a convertible is almost irrelevant. It’s a light and powerful sports car with the sublime handling of a mid-engined, rear wheel drive car. Don’t be afraid of high mileage models if the servicing has been comprehensive and correct. These cars have huge (20,000 mile) service intervals and a 100K+ higher mileage example is likely to have had all of the potential problems fixed or replaced.
If you need practical justification, there’s a load of storage space (there are two boots) and the cars are surprisingly easy to drive in a mellow style, but given a north Wales B-road on a sunny day and 4,000 revs in third and you won’t need any more justification to anyone.
by Beate Kubitz at 29 Aug 2017, 00:00 AM