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Any petrolheads around here?

I’m in the market for a new to me car. And I’m thinking about something fun. Thinking about, not decided upon.

£400 beaters don’t work for me. Zero knowledge of cars in the sense of working on them and, also, I’m in Portugal. The registration tax is such that that simply does not work.

So, some options.

1) A left hand drive westfield or other such copy of the Lotus 7 or even something equivalent. They do exist but they’re rare. e-Bay used to be the place to see those but apparently they don’t do cars any more. So, where’s that market gone?

Simply a fun 2 seater open top. Something with a Fireblade or other bike engine has very little registration tax here. Spain might be a source as well. Something with an old VIN or plate but a newer 3.5 would also be fairly cheap to register here.

2) Portugal has vilely high registration taxes. €20k on a 3 or 4 litre 10 year old big engined car is about right. So, it’s possible that there might be a Portugal registered car or three floating around the UK. They’d be selling at the likely LHD discount because it’s in England. But if still on a P plate that’s a huge discount for me. The bigger the car the bigger that discount is.

3) There’s that story that Range Rovers cost £20k a year to insure in London. I had thought that would mean that they would therefore cost spit. But, obvs, the minimum price is not the London price, but the UK. Still, anyone know if they are real cheap?

Any other ideas?

Must be LHD. Would like something fun. Already have a commute car. So, what next?

I guess a LHD Bentley/RR/Aston etc already on P plates but in UK at LHD prices is unlikely…..

43 thoughts on “Any petrolheads around here?”

  1. Just search autotrader
    Select “More Options” below the blue search box
    Scroll down the left side until you see “Add keywords” and type in “LHD”
    You will get a list of all Left Hand Drive cars available, you can filter by the usual requirements to get something that might be of interest.
    Good luck.

  2. How about something like the Mazda RX-8 those rotary engines really pack a punch for low capacity (so presumably a lower registration cost). Friend of mine had one a while back and it was lots of fun. Not sure about the availability of LHD models.

  3. If you want a 7 get in touch with the 7 club. I’m pretty sure they have a chapter on the Peninsular as well. Remember meeting a couple of Ports at a meet. But the network covers the whole of Europe.

  4. For something very different, there’s a guy in Aranda De Duero restores vintage Yank metal. Had all sorts of interesting things when I met him. Nice Deuce Coup. He also provides a local grua service which was the why. I see from Steetview he’s not in the premises I visited. Been redeveloped. But I could probably find him

  5. Jimintheantipodes

    Tim, for fun why not try something completely different? Take a trial flight in a Rotax912 powered ultralight trike, probably find a group somewhere near you with Google. I have been flying them for years, loads of fun.

  6. I’m boring. I’d suggest a 1.0L Corsa or similar. My primary concern is: must be five doors. My last car was a three-door, and at my time of life (adopts Nanny Ogg voice) I can’t be doing with clambering over the front seats.

    I’ve found with knowledge of what you’re doing, an automatic is more nippy and mountain-goaty than a manual. I’ve trundled up Hardknott Pass with both feet on the pedals passing people struggling to control manuals.

  7. @Bloke in Kent
    Rotary engines should be avoided like the social company of the Spud. Tip seals. Very short life & a rebuild’s an arm & a leg.

  8. @Tim

    Porsche 911

    1989/90 on 964 followed by 94-98 993. Or simpler pre-1990 2.5, 2.7 911s

    If you’re still doing Portugal to East europe consider 4×4 964/993 for better winter driving. Although Portugal may soon be snowy too soon due to Global Warming

    Air cooled 911s hold or go up in price. Avoid post 993 water ccoled 911s

    For expert advise join a forum for whatever you’re considering and read, ask about

    On 911s Adrian Streather is a guru

  9. All depends what you mean by “fun”. Bentley/RR to my mind are not fun cars because they drive like barges. Pleasant, but not fun. If you are after something of that ilk, it might be worth seeing what the Lexus LS600h is taxed at because while it’s a 5.0l V8, it’s also a hybrid, which if the registration is based on official CO2 figures will make it quite reasonable. You’ll quite possibly find one P reg’d already.

    If “fun” is something to hoon around in then the Smart Roadster mentioned ^ is a good shout. Also look out for the Suzuki Swift Sport: it’s got a rev-happy naturally aspirated 1.6 in a car that’s ~1200kg, which means that it makes respectable progress but you can still give it 100% beans without reaching stupid speeds. Plus the most satisfying steering of any car I’ve ever driven — although I’ve never tried a Lotus ‘cos 6’4″ doesn’t fit…

    For something between the hoon-mobile and the barge, try a Peugeot 208GTi. It’s surprisingly quick, refined, and a really quite pleasant place to be, but not as opulent as a £100k+-when-new land yacht and slightly less engaging to drive than the Smart or the Suzuki. Buy a good one, keep up with the maintenance and don’t put silly miles kms on it, and it’ll go up in value too.

  10. Yet Another Chris

    As a lifetime petrol head, ex amateur racer, and in and around the motor trade for over 50 years, I would tend to agree with Noel C. You simply can’t go wrong with a Mazda MX5. It is great fun. It is reliable, cheap to maintain, economical, and safe. The MX5 is fast enough and has brilliant handling. Unless you have excellent driving skills, possibly honed on the track, some of the more extreme alternatives like Caterham Sevens – or the Ariel Atom (built down the road from me in Somerset) – should be avoided unless you want to get into serious trouble. And I mean ‘serious trouble’. These lightweight superfast bits of kit are a real handfull.

  11. Agree wholeheartedly with Noel. First thing that came to mind when you asked. Mazda MX5- good looking open “sports” car, well-built, reliable, economical and lotsa fun.
    Not a car bloke? Don’t go anywhere near a Seven, any sort of Range Rover and certainly stay away from the heavy metal. You can pick up a 25+ year old Bentley Arnage or Turbo R (say) in good nick, lowish mileage, good service history etc etc and it will STILL cost you an absolute arm and several legs to run it. And although they can shift, they weigh in excess of two tons and the fuel gauge needle will go down as quick as the speedo goes up. Do not be tempted.
    I spent most of my working life in the London motor trade. If you find something you fancy, drop me an E and I’ll give you a straight opinion on the model in general, but NOT the actual car you’re looking at.

  12. I keep a relatively new Caterham 7, and I’ve had quite a bit to do with a couple of RX8’s. I would rule out the RX8 immediately, if it hasn’t already been written off by engine wear, it will be written off within in a few weeks.

    I love the Caterham, but I think Tim would be disappointed by the amount of maintenance it demands. I like doing that type of work, but if you don’t it would quickly become a chore. (As an example I de-winterized it at the end of Feb, this weekend alone I have to drain the cooling system, replace the coolant bleed hose, refill the cooling system. Seats out, bebuild the rear suspension, and put in a set of £80 rear brake pads)

    I second the vote for an MX5. Not as much fun as a Seven, but still a lot of fun. Reliable, easy to get in and out, doors with rubber seals, glass windows, a roof if you want one.

  13. Agree with Noel C and YA Chris, get an MX-5.

    If Clarkson, May and Hammond all think it’s brilliant, it probably is.

  14. Yet Another Chris

    PS – avoid the Mazda RX8. Apart from the engine problems, it understeers like wheelbarrow on slow hairpin bends. It’s definitely not fun.

  15. Jimintheantipodes

    If you need something to get you out of a rut, and give you some stories to entertain to entertain some friends, get a LandRover Discovery, Drive it deep into the Australian outback, and have it break down, as it probably will. Hope a (rare) fellow traveller finds you before you perish. Bogan boy make some more advice!

  16. Have a look at
    The Left Hand Drive Place.
    You may find that buying LHD in GB no longer get much of a discount.

    And: MX5 —memories. I bought one 30 years ago, from a mews garage in Paddington, previously owned by an Belgian EU bureaucrat who had taken it to Portugal, then to London where it was less suited. Must have been parked to down in an orange grove, the well behind the seats was full of blossom. Two years old, 16,000km, LHD. I intended to use it for a Grand Tour and sell a few months later on my return. In fact I kept it for three years and several Grand Tours. Written off when hit&run by a stolen BMW while parked outside my London flat. 80,000 km in three years, no trouble, a delight to drive, I paid £8,775 for it, insurance paid out market value £9,050.

  17. As others have said, an MX5 will give you lots of fun, and there are lots of them.

    Bear in mind it’s called a Miata in the USA, so searching for that might bring up some LHD examples. Or perhaps you could even buy one Stateside and have it shipped across…

    There is also a Fiat version- I can’t remember what it’s called- Fiat turbo engine, Mazda everything else.

  18. Whatever you decide on buying before you do, if you don’t know much about cars, go find yourself a garage to look after it for you. I have an English guy here looks after my wheels. Current two in use aren’t too problematic. Renault Kangoo as the utility vehicle but the VW Eos drop-top could be expensive. However a years service just cost me €100 + he gets the IVT done. A service on the early 50s Silver Cloud was only 250. Lot of grease points on that.
    What you can suffer: Amiga’s Astra had a water leak. Initial estimate 1200. Told that it definitely didn’t need a head skim (fuck off), reduced to 350 for a bottom hose. A hose is €5 & I could change one in 20 minutes. Resetting the EMS fault alert I can’t do. Depending on the mill, there’s no reason work on a 7 should be expensive. They’re simple enough. But they attract bandits.
    Concur with Yet Another Chris. If you buy a 7 or similar, be prepared to learn to drive again. The roadholding is unbelievably fantastic. Take a roundabout at 100+. But that’s at the expense of them being extremely unforgiving if you get it wrong.

  19. I would go for a Mazda MX-5 if you don’t mind a bit less performance. Fun little cars, soft top and Japanese build quality.

    Outside of that, you’re either looking at big cost cars like BMWs and Porsches, or you’re looking at things like an older Alfa Spider, and I just wouldn’t wish Alfa reliability on anyone.

    Personally, I like the Toyota GR86 but it’s not a soft top.

  20. Simplify. Add Lightness

    Serial Caterham owner and racer here.
    Fireblade-engined Caterhams are ultra-rare. Good luck finding one. Also probably too quick for the road.
    What you need is a Caterham 160 or 170. It has a Suzuki, 3 cyclinder 660cc turbo-charged engine and qualifies as a Japanese kei car (Caterham’s current owners are Japanese). Power is only 80-84 hp, but the car weighs 420kg. Emissions/km are ultra low, and so the tax should be also.
    The 170 is the current model (160 is the previous). They’re expensive, but do not depreciate hardly at all and have ultra-low running costs. Most (actually nearly all) Caterhams are too fast to drive on the road at anywhere near their dynamic capabilities, but the 160/170 is an absolute hoot. It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slowly.
    Caterhams are more practical than most might image. Look up “Soft Bits For Sevens” for a range of accessories to make the car more practical for a tour.
    You absolutely must do a track day at Portimão or Estoril.
    Link to configurator for Caterham Portugal
    You want the S version not the R. The S comes with the luxurious items like a windscreen.
    If you want something a little more retro looking go for the Caterham Super Seven 600, same engine and mechanicals just more retro styling and different colour options (meh).

    I would avoid any rotary engined vehicle unless you have a bottomless pit of money you want to waste.

    I’m also a serial Porsche owner (yes, I’m seriously afflicted) so if you want some thing classic you could go for a Porsche 912, plenty in LHD as the biggest export market was California. It’s essentially a 911 body/chassis with a variant of the 1.6 litre 4 cylinder engine from the 911’s predecessor the 356. Not fast, but with soft suspension set up, an absolute joy to pootle about in and great for a tour on not so good roads. Also sound investment. Regret selling mine. You want the 1960s 912 (not the VW engine one that was briefly sold in the USA later in the 1970s).

    Mazda MX5 is a good call as is a Lotus Elise.

    For bang for buck, late model Lotus Elans are inexpensive and not that troublesome, but front wheel drive with an Isuzu 1.6 litre engine. Fine for pootling and touring.

    Good luck. Please do let us all know what you buy.

  21. Very good advice about doing a track. Particularly for 7’s, the limits are light years beyond anything else you will have ever driven. But you need to know what they are & what happens when you get near them. You don’t want to be doing that on a public road. You want a nice bit of flat grass to spin off onto. Try not to hit the Armco.

  22. Tim, ebay works on search. Type in lhd in the search bar and choose cars, motorcycles and vehicles as a category. Or in fact, as soon as you’ve typed lhd you’ll probably get “cars” as a clickable suggestion.

  23. For our 7 enthusiast: A notable one a mate built on a Lotus chassis was powered by a reworked Rover V8 with twin turbos. Sub 3 second 0-60s. Beat that! One notable excursion was riding shotgun out of St Moritz through the hairpins up & over the top into Italy one summer’s day. Very quick & effin scary.
    He did have a slight advantage. His father was the guy cut the deal with Ford/ Colin Chapman produced the Lotus Corts back in the 60s.

  24. “left hand drive” gives me this: “0 results found in the Cars, Motorcycles & Vehicles category, so we searched in all categories”

  25. Just a thought. If you’re considering importing, be well worth looking the forums for people’s experiences of importing cars into Portugal. I bought the last Voyager in Belgium & put it on UK plates. Relatively simple process with DVLC. I had the homologation certification doc from Dearborn so just paperwork & an MOT. All done in the 3 weeks. Cost under £100? plus the test,
    I subsequently offed it to an English guy here here in Spain. You can’t transfer a vehicle outside country so we did it on his UK address & he imported into country. Took him more than six months. Main problem was the import inspection was extremely picky. Rejected on a non-homologated TV camera incorporated in the rear matriculation plate frame about the size of a one cent coin was one. But also the pre-inspection paperwork & appointments with trafico needing requesting & wait, 6 weeks wait for first inspection, longer for second, then another appointment with trafico & wait & wait for paperwork & a bill getting near 2 grand. They love their bureaucracy down here. Why I didn’t import 🙂

  26. Took him more than six months.

    That’s why I put the links to Portuguese sellers. Even allowing that import/export through border admin is not entirely new to Tim, it’s still a massive arse to add to the usual potential grief of buying a used car. And there’ll be loads of expat Brits looking for the same sneaky savings.

    Vs just driving up the road.

  27. Another vote for the MX5. The missus has been driving the same one (from new) for over 25 years (only 63,000 miles though) and apart from a bit of rust on one of the wheel arches, it’s still a lovely car.

  28. Just one slight proviso if you decide to get a Caterham (or another of the “7” variants)… As BiS rightly says, they stick to the road “like sh*t to a blanket” – but only on bone-dry roads. In the rain they’re a real handful! I used to race assorted 911 variants and in the dry the “Prodsports” car was normally left for dead by the Lotus/Caterham 7s… In the rain, I considered it a poor race if I hadn’t lapped them all by lap 10! 🙂

  29. Since I’m on my 4th I’m biased towards the Saab 9-3 convertible. I’ve a 2.0 turbo but they did a 2.7 version too. Looks nice, reliable, plenty fast enough, 4 seats.

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