Owning a classic car that you can daily drive isn’t that tough. It’s more a question of willingness to sacrifice comfort, but reliable classics do exist. And, let’s get this out of the way, contrary to some popular opinion they’re typically not German. The responses we received and tabulated were anecdotal and personal. But for proof of the above statement, consider that everyone who works here at Petrolicious and has owned a German car has experienced reliability issues. They’re certainly fun and engaging to drive, but bulletproof? Hardly.
But there are factors besides reliability to consider when choosing a daily, such as: how fun is it to drive? How much is it worth? Will I plunge into the depths of despair if someone breathes on it wrong? Most of the following are thus cheap and cheerful—they’re fun, but not too expensive with parts readily available. Without further delay, following are your top ten choices for best classic cars to drive every single day.
#10 Mercedes-Benz W113–Despite being at the bottom of this list the Mercedes-Benz “Pagoda” is probably the most elegant and luxurious car on the list. Not only can you drive this car everyday and not really worry about where you park it, but you could just as easily pull up at the best, fanciest restaurant in town and instantly be recognized for your exquisite taste. Best of all, if taken care of, Pagodas will easily do 250,000 miles without an engine rebuild.
#9 Volvo 242–Some people view these Swedes as stodgy, but ask anyone from New England–or Northern Europe–and they’ll tell you that the 242 Coupe is stylish and reliable no matter the weather. These cars are built like very reliable tanks and with a couple of small tweaks they rapidly shed their suburban-housefrau image.
#8 BMC Mini–Do we need to explain why this car makes such a terrific daily driver? It’s a blast to drive, isn’t astronomically expensive, and everyone loves them. The Mini may not score as high as others in terms of reliability (they tend to “go British” once in a while, as Mr. Sumner Norman put it) but if you’re having a bad day and go drive one, you’ll end up with a smile on your face. What more could anyone ask for?
#7 VW Golf MkI (or II)–Using Auto Union’s expertise in front-wheel drive, water-cooled cars, VW built the Golf as a replacement for the Beetle (which wound up lasting another roughly thirty years). Similarly, the Golf soldiers on now in its seventh generation. In many ways the Golf is similar to the Mini, they’re both design icons (the Golf designed by Mr. Giorgetto Giugiaro) and have a superb package due to a tight engine and transaxle allowing ample passenger room. Also like the Mini, early Golfs are a blast to drive, especially GTIs.#6 Toyota FJ60–The only off-roader on this list, the Toyota FJ60 is the optimal choice for a classic daily if you need all-weather and off-road capability. Not that its predecessor, the FJ40 Land Cruiser, is bad–quite the opposite it’s great! But the FJ60 is a bit more refined making it easier to live with on a daily basis. And the best part is that you don’t sacrifice the FJ40’s mountain goat-like capabilities.
#5 Ford Mustang (1964½-1966)–The original pony car is our choice for a daily-drivable muscle car. It’s true that the first two-and-a-half-years of the Mustang didn’t have much power when compared to some of the cars released only four years later, but it spawned the breed and more importantly, it’s smaller, lighter, and more maneuverable than nearly any of its competitors. And when it comes to style it’s not much of a contest. Best of all, since they built so many, parts and cars are readily available at reasonable prices.
#4 Mazda Miata MX-5–Now twenty-five years old the Miata is the best-selling sports car of all time. It also helped raise the bar of quality by proving that a sports car could be fun, tossable, and engaging without being a temperamental nightmare. It’s cheap, fun, and goes when you ask.
#3 Alfa Romeo 105/115 Series–Yes, yes, they look great. And no they don’t cost too much [yet]. And yes, what we said about suspect German reliability holds equally true for Italian Alfas. But. The sound! Being able to start one every morning, listen to it idle and warm up, then, once the oil is warm, revving it to redline before executing a quick shift or heel-toeing into a turn and hearing that four-cylinder sing is a fantasy most people don’t even know they have. Trust us, you want to hear these cars’ operas every day.
#2 Datsun 240Z–It sports a straight-six mounted up front that makes decent power, rear-wheel drive, great classic GT looks, and helped launch the affordable Japanese sports car genre. This is one of the most significant Japanese cars ever (at least to enthusiasts) and they can still be had relatively affordably. Of course, they’re reliable too and never disappoint in the twisties. Why don’t we all own one yet?
And finally, #1… Honda CRX–Some people still claim that Japanese cars have no soul. Which might be true if you equate soul with proper engineering and reliabilty (were I speaking to you in person I’d be making “air quotes” for the words soul, proper engineering, and reliability). Get in a CRX, wind it up, throw it into a corner and then tell me it has no soul. Not only is it fun to drive, the whole “slow-car-fast” calculus holding true, but it will never break. Ever. As long as you maintain a Honda, you can walk out to it every morning and it will always happily fire up.