Best Italian classic cars you can afford
Fancy a surprisingly cheap Italian classic car? We’ve trawled the market to bring you the best modern classics Italy has to offer
Whether you dream of roaring up an Alpine pass in a sports car listening to Matt Munro’s "On Days Like These" a la The Italian Job or you want to pootle around town in a chic supermini, Italy has something for everyone to live out their petrolhead dreams.
These Italian beauties were designed by the likes of Giugiaro, Pininfarina and Bangle but you won’t need to break any auction records to acquire them. Just £100 will get you into one of our cheap Italian classics.
As ever with modern classics it’ll be wiser to spend more to avoid the ropey examples so you can spend more time on the open road enjoying your wonderful exotic car.
We’ve listed 10 of Italy’s best modern classics below with a handy buying guide to make sure you spend your money wisely.
Alfa Romeo GTV/Spider
Years produced: 1995-2006Price range: £700-£8,500Rarity: ★★☆☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★☆Investment: ★★★☆☆
Anyone who doesn’t study the classified adverts or car price guides would think that an Alfa Spider or GTV is an exotic Italian sports car with a matching price tag. But the truth is that you can actually buy a good, usable example for less than £2,000 – for now.
Unlike the older Alfa Romeo GTV and Spiders from the sixties and seventies, these newer cars use a more conventional front-wheel-drive chassis. They are still pretty exciting to drive, though, with sharp steering and engines that like to be revved. The 2.0-litre motor is by far the cheapest to buy and run, and cars with this engine handle sweetly. But the most exciting (and most collectable) versions are powered by Alfa’s 3.0-litre V6, although the extra weight and power do corrupt the handling a little, especially in the less-rigid Spider.
Probe carefully for rust and find a specialist to look after the car, and you’ll be able to enjoy this slice of Italian exotica for the price of a dull hatchback.
Years produced: 1993-2000Price range: £300-£5,000Rarity: ★★★☆☆Maintenance: ★★★☆☆Investment: ★★★☆☆
The slash-sided Coupé was actually based on the humble Tipo hatch, but it had plenty of power, thanks to an engine range that included a 220bhp five-cylinder turbo. Expensive maintenance (a £1,000-plus cambelt change) killed many off when they were unfashionable, and they’re now rare.
Years produced: 1983-1995Price range: £300-£5,000 Rarity: ★★☆☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★★Investment: ★★☆☆☆
Fiat's Uno was a brilliant supermini and an amazing success for the brand in the eighties, scooping up plenty of awards and sales. It was spacious, economical, fun to drive and remarkably reliable, especially compared with the lacklustre models, such as the Metro, that it rivalled at the time.
But while Unos were once as common as lamp posts, the Italian hatchback is a really rare sight now, and a survivor is worth cherishing. The digital dash-equipped Turbo (shown below), plus the base models, are likely to be especially interesting for future generations.
Years produced: 1979-1999Price range: £3,000-£10,000Rarity: ★★★★★Maintenance: ★★★☆☆Investment: ★★★☆☆
Every enthusiast will lust after the iconic, rally homologation special Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione, which is a bona fide classic already.
But for those of us without the £50,000 needed to buy one, there’s an alternative available for less than a fifth of the price; and it’s 90 per cent the same car! Lesser versions of the Delta are still exciting to drive and are rare enough to be interesting, especially the Turbo. Keep the rust at bay and it will never lose value.
Fiat Panda 4x4
Years produced: 1983-1995Price range: £500-£8,500Rarity: ★★★☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★★Investment: ★★★★☆
The humble Panda might have been envisaged as a no-frills city car, but the 4x4 version has become the chic transport of choice in posh ski resorts throughout Europe. Its combination of compact size, easy maintenance and almost unstoppable ability in snow and mud mean the little Fiat is cherished in mountain areas.
The same was true for anyone in Britain who needed proper off-road ability without having to buy and run a big SUV. People in remote areas loved their Panda 4x4s, and Fiat even cashed in on the trend for ‘lifestyle’ SUVs with a posher model called the Sisley. But because these cars were used as intended, they had a hard life; once they became battered and dissolved on salty roads, they were considered almost worthless and many were scrapped.
The car’s usefulness and chic image mean the remaining Panda 4x4s are highly prized. The best cars are shooting up in price as a result, and some are even being lovingly restored.
Alfa Romeo 166
Years produced: 1998-2005Price range: £200-£6,000 Rarity: ★★★★★Maintenance: ★★★☆☆Investment: ★★★☆☆
While the 156 (below) was successfully challenging the Germans in the compact executive sector, Alfa couldn’t pull off the same stunt in the next class up with the 166.
It was certainly distinctive-looking and drove well enough, with a free-revving Twin Spark four-cylinder or two versions of the V6. But diesel power and rear-wheel drive were in vogue back then, and neither of them were on offer with the 166, so it faltered and never sold in large numbers.
Now, the models that have survived offer a cheap way into an individual car with the legendary Alfa V6.
Years produced: 1998-2004Price range: £200-£6,000 Rarity: ★★☆☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★☆Investment: ★☆☆☆☆
It takes a leap of faith to believe that the Multipla will ever become a classic, but prices are so low right now that it’s hardly a risk. The pre-facelift car’s challenging looks meant buyers had to like being the centre of attention; we think it means the Multipla will become something of a novelty.
While you wait for everyone else to realise it’s a classic, you’ll have use of a handy six-seater (that’s two rows of three seats) MPV.
Fiat Cinquecento Sporting
Years produced: 1994-1998Price range: £200-£6,000 Rarity: ★★★☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★★Investment: ★★★★☆
We all have a soft spot for our first car, and for thousands of enthusiasts the cheeky Cinquecento Sporting was an affordable way into a hatchback which could almost be considered ‘hot’. The tiny Fiat looked the part, with lowered suspension, dinky little alloys and a bodykit. It even had red seat belts.
The engine doesn’t sound as though it could match the Sporting promise though, because the 1108cc produced only 54bhp when new. However, the Fiat weighs just 735kg – about half a modern family hatch. That makes it feel pretty lively, with great fuel economy, and it still has affordable insurance.
Buyers wanting to relive their youth now are finding numbers are dwindling fast, because many cars were crashed by inexperienced drivers, badly modified or bodged by young owners trying to run them on a shoestring. So, while a really good Sporting used to be worth way less than four figures, the best will now be £2,500 or more. Buy one before they go up any further.
Alfa Romeo 156
Years produced: 1997-2007Price range: £200-£6,000 Rarity: ★★☆☆☆Maintenance: ★★★★☆Investment: ★★★☆☆
Rather than allow the familiar German prestige brands to clean up in the small executive sector, Alfa Romeo launched a saloon that was described by some journalists at the time as “the most beautiful car in the world”. The 156 wasn’t just pretty; it was better made than any Alfa before and had a range of characterful engines. Even the diesels (borrowed from a Vauxhall Vectra) had some verve injected into them by the Italian engineers.
But time hasn’t been kind to the 156, with rust in the floor pans and sills, eye-watering costs for cambelt changes and electrical gremlins meaning many have been crushed. Some cars have even been bought just for their leather seats, which are bolted into older classics or even turned into sofas and office chairs.
Find one that is rot-free with a petrol engine and a manual box, and it makes a distinctive classic-in-waiting, which could be used everyday without compromise.
Years produced: 1995-2005Price range: £200-£6,000 Rarity: ★★★★☆Maintenance: ★★★★☆Investment: ★★★☆☆
In the mid-nineties, anyone looking for an affordable roadster was spoilt for choice. There was the Mazda MX-5, MGF, BMW Z3 and, later, a Toyota MR2. All were rear-wheel drive and practical enough to use every day, which meant you had to be pretty determined to go your own way to buy a Fiat Barchetta instead.
It looked good, and had Punto mechanicals (with either a 1.7 or 1.8-litre engine and a manual gearbox) but, crucially, was only available with the steering wheel on the left. Unsurprisingly, it sold in tiny numbers in the UK, but that rarity is a bonus now for enthusiasts wanting a distinctive drop-top.
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