11 modern classics at the NEC Classic Motor Show

Around 70,000 classic car enthusiasts flocked to Birmingham’s NEC this weekend for the annual Classic Motor Show. Five halls were packed with clubs, trade stands and autojumble – making it one of the biggest events on the classic car calendar.

You may expect a show such as this to be packed with MGBs and judgmental enthusiasts, but we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of modern classics on display (and in some cases, for sale).

Some were controversial, prompting lots of ‘that’s not a classic’ muttering, but they all proved to be talking points. We picked 11 of our favourites.

1: Toyota MR2

It’s not in dispute whether the original first-generation Toyota MR2 is a classic car. Launched in 1984, not many are left, mainly thanks to its lively mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive handling and a tendency to rust if not well cared-for. But the Mk2 Toyota MR2 is currently going through a transition period from affordable sports car to classic in its own right. Prices are very much on the up, as ropey examples are starting to disappear and people are more keen to pay for a good one. We spotted this example on a trade stand with a sign in the window asking a fairly optimistic £7,950. It’s the desirable T-bar model, with removable glass roof sections. There’s no denying it’s in excellent condition, showing 70,000 miles on the clock, but is it nearly £8,000-worth?

2: Renault 5

It’d be a challenge to argue that the original Renault 5, launched in 1972, isn’t a classic car. But the second-generation model, produced from 1984 to 1996, is still seen by some as being nothing more than a cheap shopping trolley.

We found two on display at the NEC Classic Motor Show this weekend: both up for sale. One, a very low-mileage example with little more than 200 miles on the clock. We first saw this auctioned last year when it made £3,400, but now it’s being advertised with a chunky mark-up at £6,995.

A wiser buy, perhaps, would be this 1994 example, also up for sale at the NEC Classic Motor Show. Not quite as box-fresh, perhaps, with 50,000 miles on the clock, but it’s clearly a well-cared-for example.

3: Volkswagen Scirocco

The original Volkswagen Scirocco, launched in 1973, was a sporty front-wheel-drive coupe launched to rival the Ford Capri. Early examples are now very rare, but the second-generation model, pictured here and in production until 1992, is still fairly easy to find in the classifieds. Volkswagen ‘scene tax’ means they’re not particularly cheap, but are they a classic? We love this 1987 car on display in the NEC, finished in wonderfully 80s white.

4: Vauxhall Nova

Originally launched as a supermini to rival the Austin Metro and Ford Fiesta, the Vauxhall Nova went on to become a favourite of UK boy racers in the 1990s. Many were modified, often badly, and they often led a hard life.

As Nova owners of the past – chavs and nans alike – have moved onto newer models such as the Corsa, the Nova is definitely going through a transition period into a proper classic car.

Although we were sad to see a shortage of standard cooking-spec Novas at the show (just us?), this delightful Nova Sport caught our eye. Built as a homologation special to allow Vauxhall to go rallying (and driven by Colin McRae to win the Scottish Rally Championship in 1988), only 502 Nova Sports are believed to have been made.

5: Rover 216 Cabriolet

The second-generation Rover 200, codenamed the ‘R8’, was originally intended to replace the Maestro in Rover’s line-up when it was launched as a hatchback model in 1989. It was designed in collaboration with Honda, sharing many features with the Concerto, and was the first model launched under the newly-privatised Rover Group. In 1992, Rover made the brave move of launching a cabriolet version. It wasn’t particularly well-received – with reviewers at the time complaining of its mediocre performance. It just didn’t drive as well as some buyers would expect – chopping its roof off meant it didn’t handle as well as the coupe or hatchback, while performance from the K-series petrol engine was lacking. It wasn’t a huge sales success, but it sold in large enough numbers for you to be able to find one today – and prices are still at rock bottom. We found this superb example at the Classic Motor Show – with just 32,000 miles on the clock and a life spent in a garage, it’s no wonder it looks almost mint.

6: Audi S2

Audi’s ‘S’ badge was made famous in the 1980s, thanks to the success of the firm’s Quattro S1 rally car – in the hands of drivers including Walter Rohl. But Audi didn’t attribute the desirable S badge to a road car until 1990, when the S2 Coupe was launched.

Like all of Audi’s S-cars, the S2 featured the desirable Quattro all-wheel-drive system. It was powered by turbocharged 2.2-litre petrol engine, initially producing 220hp. This was tweaked in 1993, boosting power to 230hp.

Despite being such a significant car for Audi, the S2 is yet to attract as much demand as the more powerful BMW M3. It’s a shame it’s often overlooked, we reckon, as this blue example on display at the NEC looks simply stunning.

7: Ford Escort XR3i

The fifth-generation Ford Escort, launched in 1990, is much less desirable than earlier models. Not only was it not as handsome as any of its predecessors, it also wasn’t as well made or as entertaining to drive. The same is true of the sporty XR3i model. Although the earlier XR3i was a genuine hot hatch, the sporty version of the Mk5 engine was lukewarm at best. Even in fairly potent 130hp guise, its Zetec engine took 8.5 seconds to accelerate the flabby Escort to 62mph. And the cabriolet version was best described as ‘floppy’. Like all Escorts (particularly of that age), the XR3i liked to rust. But without the fanbase to keep them on the road, they’re getting rarer. If you can find one, its dowdy image means the fifth-generation Escort XR3i is largely defeating Ford tax, and you can own a controversial fast(ish) Ford for just a couple of grand. You have to admit, there’s something rather charming about this white 1993 example on the XR Owners Club stand at the NEC. 

8: Volvo 850R

The owner of this Volvo 850R says that, as a teenager, he was a huge fan of the British Touring Car Championship. His parents owned Volvos and and he longed for a sporty 850R – and who could blame him?

With a five-cylinder 2.3-litre engine producing 253hp, the 850R family estate car from 1996 could hit 60mph in 7.8 seconds. Some would be questioning the classic status of an old Volvo estate, but as an iconic car of the 1990s, we think it’s definitely deserving of a place at the NEC Classic Motor Show.

9: Renault 19 16v

The sporty Renault 19 16v never really achieved full ‘hot hatch’ status, despite being highly praised by motoring journalists when it was launched in 1990. Its 1.8-litre engine produced a respectable 135hp, meaning it could accelerate to 62mph in 7.9 seconds. That’s commendable – and it also looked relatively discreet at a time of outrageous bodykits. They’re now getting very rare, but still very affordable if you can find one. Amazingly, you can pick up a project for less than a grand – although we doubt this extremely tidy example on the Renault Owners’ Club stand could be bought for so little.

10: E36 BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is pretty much a guaranteed classic car – the latest model to gain classic status is the E30, built between 1982 and 1993. But is its successor, the E36 as pictured here, a classic?

Values have been at rock-bottom for a number of years. You can pick up a ropey one for around £500, but many have been abused or driven hard. Six-cylinder models are more desirable, but this example we found for sale at the NEC is in remarkable condition.

It’s a fairly basic BMW 318i SE with an automatic transmission, owned by a family on the Isle of Man since new. It’s covered an exceptionally low 11,000 miles and has been ‘fastidiously’ maintained, says the dealer. Would its incredible condition tempt you to pay the £6,500 asking price?

11: Range Rover P38

The original Range Rover Classic is currently rocketing in value – with tidy examples making upwards of £50,000. It was on sale largely unchanged for 25 years, meaning Land Rover was faced with quite a challenge when it came to replacing it in 1994.

When its successor, codenamed P38, was launched under Rover Group ownership, Range Rover fans were almost unanimously disappointed. It lost its distinctive looks, with many liking it to a minicab, and in the following years it gained a reputation for unreliability.

They’re not the most desirable Range Rovers, then. This example, a 2.5-litre diesel finished in white with a cloth interior and a manual gearbox would have cost £32,850 in 1995. Surprisingly, it appears to have found a loving owner as it’s in exceptional condition – but will the P38 follow the original Range Rover in becoming a classic car?

Which of these modern classics would you like to have taken home from the NEC Classic Motor Show? Let us know in the comments below, and check out our show gallery on MSN Cars here.