Journal: The 10 Best Classic Cars to Drive Daily

The 10 Best Classic Cars to Drive Daily

By Yoav Gilad
September 18, 2014
49 comments

Photography by Otis Blank for Petrolicious

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.

Photography by Turbometal Motorblog for Petrolicious

#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.

Photography by Josh Clason for Petrolicious

#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.

Photography by Afshin Behnia for Petrolicious

#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, just ask the original fanboy.

Images Sources: Volvotips.com, breezemotorsport.com, toyota.com, celebratemx5.comclassiczcars.com

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49 Comments on "The 10 Best Classic Cars to Drive Daily"

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flame
flame

BMW E36 323ti
170+ Hp
best daily youngtimer!

Robbe-
Robbe-

The only reason I don’t daily my MX5 is because I don’t need a car every day, I can do the commuting by bicycle or by foot.
Also, there are many more cars that could have been added to this list.

KoriDS
KoriDS
I speak in the name of the worldwide Citroen DS community (they may pardon me to do that). The DS is a very reliable car and – not in terms of riding quality of course – it is tough as a stone built to las forever. No miracles needed to keep it on the road and has a power steering, power brakes, most of them are equiped with 5-speed gearbox and a reasonable affordable consumption, while the inner space is enermous. If your are one of those luckies who’s deesse has got an A/C, than your car is an ultimate.… Read more »
Marco Cano

The Peugeot 205 deserves a place in this list I think.

Ivo Ferreira
Ivo Ferreira

I would say Range Rover, particularly the ones from the late 80’s/early 90’s

David Boys-Hawley
David Boys-Hawley

It’s very simple.

Just one word.

ALFA

harrdware
harrdware

Porsche 944 series makes more sense as a DD than some of those listed. Hatchback holds a lot, good gas mileage, power, A/C, etc.

While I applaud the W113 Pagoda Mercedes being on the list, they are a bit too pricey nowadays to just lark anywhere. I would instead suggest the next series, W107 – it’s nicknamed the Panzer tank for a reason. Very sold DD, runs on regular gas, gets poor gas mileage though

Gabriel Otrin

Agreed, I happen to daily drive a 944 🙂 No issues at all.

Christopher Cook
Christopher Cook

Early Mitsubishi Evo. great DD

Derek Whitt
Derek Whitt

I agree had an evo1 and it was a great daily. Thirsty due to my club foot.

Luis Enciso
Luis Enciso

Karmann ghia or VW Beetle too.

Pedro Ribeiro
Pedro Ribeiro

BTW, from your list, I’d take the ALFAs anyday. 😉

Pedro Ribeiro
Pedro Ribeiro

I was fortunate enough to have had a BMW M635CSI as a daily driver. The only thing I had to change to make it “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, was a short-shift kit. No reliability issues whatsoever (and this was a poorly maintained Motorsports car). Sad to have had to let it go.
If you’re going for one, check if you can live with the TRX tyre issue. Also, if going with early models (pre 86), I suggest considering an upgrade from a single row timing chain to double row (be warned, it’s an expensive upgrade).

oldSCCAguy yah
oldSCCAguy yah
I have to comment about the Mk.2 (A2?) Golf. I’ve got a weird one. It’s a ’92, and was built in the Mexican factory in Puebla. It was badged as a GTI, but was just the “big bumper” body kit with the upgraded 8v engine from the Cabrio in it. Has drums on the back. IIRC, VW was just trying to reduce all of the existing A2 inventory at the factory before they started building A3s. I actually bought it ‘new’ because my (then) wife was angry about my BMW 2002 died while I was taking our daughter to daycare.… Read more »
Pedro Macedo
Pedro Macedo

Another vote for the BMW E30 from me, after living with it for over a year.
It’s very comfortable, the cabin is spacious, the trunk is huge, and mine being a 4-door makes it especially practical for everyday life.
When you want to have fun with it, just push it harder along a twisty road to let the chassis qualities really shine, or go to an empty parking lot and hoon like a little kid who just got his driver’s license 🙂
Definitely one of the best classic cars to drive daily.

Guillermo Luis Covernton
Guillermo Luis Covernton

I think you have forgotten a great classic, which I use daily and brings together more than many, the features you mentioned. Mazda RX 7 FC 1990

Guillermo Luis Covernton
Guillermo Luis Covernton

I think you have forgotten a great classic, which I use daily and brings together more than many, the features you mentioned

Paolo Esguerra
Paolo Esguerra

Tough to pick just 10! But i would’ve put the AE86 on this list as well. Lightweight, rear wheel drive, decent power, awesome twin cam sound and at the end of the day, it’s just a Corolla so it’ll go on forever! And if it goes wrong you can maintain it for peanuts!

JAlfa
JAlfa

I had my Alfa 105 out for the first time yesterday after freshening it up from a barn find… The engine sound is incredible… It certainly sounds like it’s going 180 when you’re really going 80… LOL and awesome…

CapitaoFalcao
CapitaoFalcao

Any of those look amazing for a road trip but i still think Citroen ax gti should be on that list too. Any person who as driven one knows what I’m talking about.

hek
hek

Glad to see the W113 featuring on the list. I bought a 1966 230 SL in 2004 when I turned 30 – it was my daily driver for 4 years! Rain, hail or shine I drove it everday to work and back and everywhere else I could! Never left me stranded and the pleasure I got from driving it cannot be described!

Auto Reverse

Guys,

I think you almost forgot one of the coolest daily cars ever:
The MG B GT! Easy to drive, confortable enough, sporty…

Marek
Marek

The BMW E30 and Porsche 944 tick all the right boxes – and are more reliable than most of your list. Or are they just too common? The CRX is an interesting choice over the first generation MR2. Choosing just 10 is hard!

And despite how much I desperately love the 105/115 Alfas, you really are stretching all reasonable definitions of reliable daily driver (and my year round daily driver is a 1987 classic).

Zach Fox
Zach Fox

After owning a 2006 330i for a few years and major components wearing out at 50 and 60k miles, I will never own a BMW again. My final straw was at 61k miles the steering wheel squeaking every time it was turned. Had to be taken off, new ball bearings put in and $500 to fix it. Once again at 61k miles! BMW = Broke My Wallet!

Zac Baze
Zac Baze
I see a lot of rage hear for the lack of German cars and currently owning an E30 M3 (which I try to daily drive) I would definitely have to agree with the post’s omission. The question wasn’t about the best to drive, but the best to drive daily. They are great fun to drive but it’s incredibly difficult to find one that has been properly maintained all of it’s life. Even low-milage cars suffer from gasket and random sensor failures from quite simply age, that will put you out of commission, thus making it a not very desirable daily… Read more »
Curt
Curt

Hate to be ‘that guy’ but the car you have pictured as an FJ60 is actually an FJ62. They actually vary pretty significantly as far as daily driving goes. I’d say the 62 is probably the better bet for daily duty since it has fuel injection and an automatic transmission that will let you go over 55 MPH (after a while) compared to the 4spd manual that came on the 60’s.

CB
CB

E30 should be on the list as well.

Sam Webber
Sam Webber
Mr. Sloan, as a BMW enthusiast, I can shed some light onto why the brand isn’t featured on this particular Top-10 list. Though an E34 is reaching a ‘classic car’ status, the rest of your cars aren’t quite there yet. Perhaps those enraged about the lack of BMW’s on this post can read along. I owned a 1983 BMW E21, after ownership of two E28’s, and thought the cars performed great. Great until on a trip from Massachusetts to California my engine started miss firing, resulting in terrible compression, and damaged internals. It was ‘blown.’ After reaching California I purchased… Read more »
Jimmy Pool
Jimmy Pool
Yet Alphas make the list… 🙂 A reasonable man could say any one of the cars listed might fail at a moment’s notice and that perhaps an individual’s record of frequent breakdowns is not so much evidence of the quality of any given marque as it is an indication of his pattern of buying poorly maintained vehicles. I think all of us readers understand these lists are rooted in the whims of the staff rather than in a broader subjective considerations, let alone empirical considerations. That’s what makes it fun. But seriously, a Mini as a daily driver? Maybe if… Read more »
Scott Sloan
Scott Sloan

I beg to differ about German cars having reliability issues. I own five BMWs, an E34, E38, E39, E60 and and E92, so I can speak authoritatively that as long as you properly maintain them according to their prescribed maintenance schedule and do not deviate from it, they will go where you want them to when you want them to. Like any good fraulein, you have to pay attention to them for they do not suffer negligence or neglect well.

Paul
Paul

Appart from the VW and the Honda, it’s all good! 😀

Mauricio
Mauricio

Mazda Miata and Honda but no 2002’s?? Are those two even consider classics yet? I have yet to see them at cars and coffee meets actually getting attention.

Jason Bateman
Jason Bateman

I honestly feel they didn’t mention the 2002 purely because they’ve featured 2002s in the past and it’s come up in quite a number of ‘top 10’ lists.

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani

No Porsche 993? Rage!!!!!!!!!!!!

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson

The Volvo should be a B18 122 or 121. Cheap, good looking and fun to drive, how much more practical do you want? Plus a number of readers seem to be running them.
A 250,000 mile W113 will have quite a large cloud of black smoke following along behind it! I think you would worry everywhere you parked it as well, do you know how much those bits of chrome are? I’ve been there… For an everyday car go for a W111 Saloon with a bit of patina.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

Think the Merc think depends on where you live. In London I agree a W111 makes more sense, but I saw quite a few Pagadas running around LA when I was there. As for the chrome bits being expensive I hope so I have a set of four overrider/ nudge bars off a U.S. 280SL about to go on eBay. 🙂

mike
mike

no such thing as a 242 coupe, there is a 262C which is by definition a coupe. 242 is a 2 door sedan

TJ Martin
TJ Martin
OK .. here’s my opinion on the ten ; Volvo 242 – The P1800E is a much better .. as well as more satisfying to drive [ Honestly … unless one is a not so hip ‘ Hipster ‘ … who in the ___ wants to toddle around in a Swedish 242 bread box on wheels with all the reliability of the Italians and the British ? ] BMC Mini – Not if you’re over 5’8″ and have any desire to make it back from what ever your daily destination might be The Alfa Romeo 110/115’s – Again … not… Read more »
Fernando Bunster
Fernando Bunster

What??? No BMW 635csi? What an outrage. LOL

'68 MGB GT
'68 MGB GT

A Mk2 Golf GTI? Sure it is one of the best GTI’s ever but is it a classic?
Where is the Citroen DS, the BMW 2002, Mk1 BMW M3, the 911, the W112 300se and W116 Merc S-class and the W123 Touring, The Mk1 Range Rover and a 110 Land Rover, I have to protest!!!

Bill
Bill

No 911? This is an outrage!

Michael
Michael
How is there not a 911 on this list ? I have an 84′ Targa & an 85′ Coupé that I switch off on driving each day. My new SUV sits in the driveway. I have MANY friends who drive their 911’s everyday. I am a bit biased but, I think you guys missed one/a few here. I agree 2002 bimmers should have made the list and I don’t even like BMW. An old Series Land Rover like the one you recently featured should have made the list too. Really any classic daily driver should be sporty/ good looking/ easy… Read more »
'68 MGB GT
'68 MGB GT

what is that dutch license plate doing on a californian GTV?

Aaron McKenzie
Aaron McKenzie

The stories on both the red and the green GTV are here: http://www.petrolicious.com/a-tale-of-two-gtvs

eduardo
eduardo

Great cars, but i’ll keep my 80 Ford CORCEL Mk 2.. 😮

Rodrigo Almeida
Rodrigo Almeida

And do you really use it daily indeed? I have a 07 Civic Si and a 78 Puma GTS. No way I’d use my 78′ daily through jams without insurance for classics and risking it all the time.

massimo amodeo
massimo amodeo

Fiat 127/128. Dirty cheap to buy and run, plus will start even with parts missing

Xavier Corral
Xavier Corral

My daily driver duties are split between an 87 Buick Grand National and a 1970 Mustang. The mustang is rock solid mechanically but I’ve yet to see one for a reasonable price that doesn’t need a cowl replacement and floors re-done. These things weren’t meant to last more then a few years and they have the rust to prove it.

Steve
Steve

I’ll stick with my BMW 2002, I can’t believe it didn’t make the list!

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