Eighties classics

We review three legends which were big news in Auto Express’s debut year

What do Rubik’s Cubes, Auto Express and these three cars have in common? They all arrived in the Eighties.

We first went on sale in 1988 – the same year as the Alfa Romeo SZ, BMW’s Z1 and the VW Corrado hit the headlines. And, in common with the famous colourful toy, the trio are seen as classics today. Let’s take a closer look at our contemporaries...

Alfa Romeo SZ
First spied in 1988
Produced: 1989-1991
Prices: £15,000-£28,000

Had Professor Rubik designed a sports car, this is what it would look like! The outlandish SZ is still an amazing sight, so imagine the stir it created in 1988. That’s the year in which our spy photographers first caught a glimpse of the stunning coupé. Designed by Alfa Romeo and built by Zagato, the SZ has peerless road presence. Only 34 examples were originally sold to British customers, but there are now around 65 in the UK.

That’s because some fans have imported models from the Continent rather than wait for one to become available here. And this is no problem, as all SZs are red and left-hand drive. Indeed, the only difference is that the speedometer in non-UK cars was orig­inally calibrated in kilometres.

Prices are the same no matter where an SZ comes from, and start at £15,000. However, for that you can expect an example which needs work. Spend at least £18,000 to get a tidy model, but don’t pay more than £24,000 – even for the very best. To find one, we recommend that you join the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (www.aroc-uk.com).

Because the SZ is based on a shortened Alfa 75 platform, maintenance won’t break the bank. But parts are scarce, which can make life difficult. For example, you can no longer get hold of the square headlamps or split-rim alloys. Don’t expect modern build quality, either, as panel gaps and the standard of welding reflect the car’s hand-built origins.

Power is provided by the Italian manufacturer’s legendary 210bhp 3.0-litre V6 engine, so the SZ sounds great – and it goes very well, too. Its rear-wheel-drive handling is entertaining, although the car has a reputation for being tail-happy in the wet.

Without modern traction or stability control systems to rely on, the Alfa commands respect, especially as its plastic panels are impossible to find and hard to repair. Prices have barely dropped in recent years so, if you get a good one, the SZ could prove that it’s possible to beat depreciation with­out resorting to an old Porsche 911.

Volkswagen Corrado
First revealed in 1988
Produced: 1988-1995
Prices: £500-£7,000

Regarded as one of VW’s best-ever drivers’ cars, the Corrado is based on the Golf MkII, and combines decent performance with sporty styling. Its electrically adjustable rear spoiler is a neat detail, and can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button.

While the cabin is sombre and the back seats aren’t exactly spacious, there’s a practical hatchback and use­ful boot. Standard equipment on early exam­ples is pretty basic, though, so aim for a post-1989 model, by which time VW had become more generous. Engine options in­clude 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol powerplants, although the supercharged G60 and hot VR6 are the most expensive variants today.

It was 1989 when the 160bhp G60 was introduced, but right-hand-drive versions – manufactured only in 1991 and 1992 – are more desirable. The supercharger will need attention every 60,000 miles or so, and the 0-60mph sprint takes a modest 8.9 seconds.

By far the most desirable version of the Corrado is the naturally aspirated 190bhp 2.8-litre VR6. This can cover 0-60mph in 7.2 seconds. It arrived in 1992, and the cheapest examples now start from around £3,000. However, for a tidy original model with reasonable mileage you’ll need to pay double that figure. Watch the dipstick, though, as the VR6 can drink oil.

The most collectable variants are the 500 end-of-the-line Storm editions – these get special badging, full leather upholstery and smart BBS alloys. If the sky-high insurance of the VR6 (it’s in Group 18/19) or heavy fuel consumption of the G60 (22mpg) are outside your budget, consider a post-1992 2.0-litre model. It’s a good all-rounder and spare parts are readily avail­able. Source one that hasn’t been abused or modified, and you’ve got yourself a surefire classic.

First driven in 1988
Produced: 1987-1991
Prices: £12,000-£20,000

As soon as it left the design studio, the Z1 was assured of classic status thanks to its futuristic looks and innovative doors. They magically slide down into the sills at the touch of a button and still provide the sporty two-seater with a unique selling point 20 years after we first tested it!

However, its manual hood is fiddly by modern standards and the plastic body panels – once a key part of its appeal – are expensive to fix. At the time, BMW claimed you could swap all the exterior panels in only two hours. But the job isn’t that simple, and a skilled technician can take a couple of days to change the lot. A variety of plastics were used for the body, and the firm de­veloped a special Varioflex paint to cover them. So watch out for body repairs, because fixing damage is a specialist task.

Only 8,000 of these quirky BMWs were built, and 6,500 of them were sold in Germany, so finding second-hand examples in this country isn’t exactly straightforward. As with the Alfa, the Z1 is left-hand drive only and shares underpinnings with a four-door saloon – in this case, the E30-generation 325i.

Its shorter platform is stiffened and features a multilink Z axle at the back, but don’t expect the most thrilling driving experience. The 170bhp 2.5-litre engine is modest by today’s standards, and the 0-62mph sprint takes a leisurely 7.9 seconds.

As for the interior, pay particularly close attention to the leather upholstery on the lovely bucket seats, gearlever gaiter and centre armrest, as it ages badly. Check the plastic rear windscreen, too, as it can go milky over time and may even crack.

Despite all that, sound examples of the Z1 are highly collectable. With novel doors and a convertible roof, every trip brings a sense of occasion. Solid resale values boost its credentials as a classic with investment pot­ential, because whatever happens over the next 20 years, the Z1 will remain one of the most desirable BMWs ever built.

Extra Info

Join the club – and try a classic!
DRIVING Eighties legends such as the Ferrari 308, our BMW Z1 or a Fiat X/19 isn’t easy – unless you’re a member of the Classic Car Club (www.classiccarclub.co.uk). Members pay from £3,750 to enjoy the fleet. When you consider the cost of buying and running one of these models, it can be a viable way to experience some of the most famous cars money car buy.

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