These Are The Best Classic Cars For Students
Going away to school? Can’t bear to drive something “modern”? Well, the good news is that there’s more than 100 years of automotive history to rely upon when deciding on an ideal vehicle. Driving a classic car isn’t for everyone, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience for those of us who choose to. Why not drive tastefully to college?
Of course, here we’re using the nicest photos that we can find of these cars, but prepare to dedicate some of your Netflix-and-chill time to regular maintenance and the occasional roadside breakdown. Safety standards, traction control, airbags, and the like were also not a consideration for classics, so obviously common sense is needed to assess if an older vehicle is right for whatever situation you’re in.
I recommend you check out the fantastic comments and advice when we asked readers to share which vehicle(s) they thought would be well-suited to a student lifestyle.
Fiat 124 Sport Spider / Pininfarina Spider
via Patrick Frawley
The 124 Sport Spider is a great pick for a few reasons—besides being both Italian and a convertible, it was on sale for nearly 20 years, a fact that helps for finding vehicles, parts, and the correct advice to keep it running. There were a number of 4-cylinder engines from mild to wild; 1438-cc is where the car began, with a 2-litre supercharged ‘Volumex’ as the top-of-the range sendoff later in production.
Raced and rallied in period, there’s plenty of inspiration out there for how to make yours unique, or even to bring it back to stock if the example you find needs some TLC.
The 2CV is a fantastic choice if you live in a region of the world where they’re relatively plentiful, namely Europe. Outside Europe, the surviving cars tend to be kept alive as more of a hobby and less of a means of regular transportation. In Europe, there are many specialists, replacement parts suppliers, and garages that have experience working on the car. In
After owning a 1985 Charleston, I can say: put nice tires (O.E. Michelins if possible) on it, make sure the mechanicals are good, buy some grease to keep the chassis happy, and get driving…
Mazda RX-7 (first generation)
via Patrick Frawley
In seven years, Mazda made more than 450,000 of its rotary engine-powered sports coupé, and thankfully more than a fair number have survived. Prized for their longevity and overall performance when properly maintained, the car has been used in road racing, rallying, drag racing…and has been homologated for Group B.
When running in good condition, it’ll give the same speed as a classic Italian sports car, albeit delivered in a smooth, responsive way—just mind the 7,000 rpm ‘buzzer’ to warn you of over-revving. (Potentially frequent rebuilds are mitigated somewhat by the small size and easy-to-work on nature of the engine itself.)
Tinkerers may delight in the car’s need for attention, and those who do are rewarded with a slice of late-’70s Japanese ingenuity.
via Jorris van den Berg
Far more rare than the Mazda RX-7 above, the 924 benefits from being simple in construction and components; the entry-level, front-engine, rear-drive car was still a Porsche, albeit built to a price. Both Volkswagen and Porsche had intended to release different versions of the car, a deal VW reneged on in favor of the Scirocco.
There were turbocharged and racing models developed by Porsche through the car’s model run, and years spent being used in amateur racing have earned the car a pretty strong amount of aftermarket support. It’s one of the more “posh” options here, but finding a good example for little money is still possible.
via Patrick Frawley
After ditching Porsche at the dining room table, Volkswagen gave itself a few more years to figure out what to do with its plans for a personal coupe, and settled on a very rational course: develop a front-drive coupe that will share a powertrain with an upcoming hatchback (Golf), and introduce it first to ensure that the bugs are worked out.
It worked, the Scirocco was a big hit, and did benefit the Golf’s launch. Of the vehicles here, it’s one of the slowest, but makes up for it with its crisp Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned lines and honest mechanicals. The largest engine offered in the first series? 1.7-litres. From 1981-1992, the car was revised—this is the version that will most likely fit both a student’s budget and requirements.
That said, please don’t let us catch the word “stance” in your browser history.
Again, there’s little to be added here where others haven’t yet. We once ran the headline, “The iconic Mazda Miata singlehandedly revived the affordable roadster,” and beyond some issues with rust, there is little reason to doubt the car’s capabilities.
Shockingly reliable, capable, upgradable, and fun-to-drive, it’d be silly to avoid considering the MX-5 as a great entry-level sports car—driving one can even lead to a career change.
1988 Jaguar XJ-S V12
via Tom Hale
“I had a 1988 Jaguar XJ-S V12 coupe as my first car in high school. Once I got the mechanicals sorted it was a very reliable car, and I still have it 80k miles of ownership later. It’s like a sibling!” said Tom Hale, and it sounds like the perfect example of the sort of qualified endorsement that’s needed.
“Once I got the mechanicals sorted…” is something to be aware of as well—there are V8 conversions, dodgy repairs, and less-than-pristine examples sprinkled throughout online listings, so take your time to get the right car for your situation. Some Chevrolet V8 conversions are said to make the car run exceptionally better once it’s sorted, but it’s what we’d consider a ‘last resort’ sort of thing.
Why an XJ-S? You drive a lot. It’s a grand tourer that ticks another important box: it’d been made for 20 years, from 1976 until the mid-’90s. In that time, much changed through the range: initial versions were V12s and, rarely, with a manual transmission, hitting zero-to-60 mph off the showroom floor in less than 8 seconds, with a favorable-for-the-Cannonball Run 140-mph-plus top speed. A six-cylinder became available from 1983, and the aftermarket began to innovate where Jaguar didn’t: convertibles, wagons, and very quick TWR-engineered versions were also available.
1984 Buick Electra
via Sam Lazarakos
While I can’t vouch for Sam’s points, or the car itself, the 1977-84 Buick Electra does cut a Disco Slim profile in coupe form, and as a wagon can’t be faulted for its practical approach. It’s the last time the Electra was rear-drive, so figure your choice of Buick and Oldsmobile V6 and V8 engines (yes, even that terrible diesel), and the knowledge that you’re probably never more than a 10-minute drive from someone who can help you fix it.
Sam says it best; the car was a, “…gas guzzler so I couldn’t get in any trouble, slow, and built like a tank”. Nursing older American iron back to health is a great way to spend your high school or college years, no?
BMW 3-Series (E30)
via Jorge Toribio
What’s there to say about BMW’s “E30” 3-Series specifically and generally that could add to its appeal? Petrolicious has featured a non-M3 in one of our films, a 1991 318IS. Delia Wolfe’s example is stunning, and speaks to the possibilities for finding the exact BMW to fit your needs. Like the other vehicles here, it was built for a pretty long period of time (10 years) and in great numbers (2.3 million)—keeping it running on a shoestring budget is perhaps not ideal but definitely doable.
Mercedes-Benz W115 220d
via Tim Coorevits
Want to buy your way into a Paul Bracq-designed Mercedes-Benz? Point your web browser toward the W114-W115 siblings, the latter with six cylinders, the former, confusingly, with four. It was mentioned by commenter Tim Coorevits as being, “Cheap, strong, and safely slow,” and he’s not wrong. Actually, of the vehicles here—provided you’re capable of some basic repairs—this car is perhaps the most durable.
Perfect for The Hangover-aping road trips, or Uber duty—the highest-mileage Mercedes-Benz is a W115 with 4.6 million kilometers (~2,858,000 miles).
Alfa Romeo 75/Milano
via Witawas Srisaan
Recommended by Witawas Srisaan, the 75/Milano was recently written about buy friend-of-Petrolicious Christer Lundem, who has extensive experience with these vehicles. As he writes, “Dorian and I can’t fathom why these cars are not more popular. It may look like a brick, but drives like a ballerina. This is a mountain-carving brick that can be bought for pennies.”
A glowing endorsement, yes, but one that’s rightfully deserved. “My advice? Go buy one before more people realize what great cars these 75s are. Its lineage is from motorsport, and you can bring the family along for the ride,” Lundem says.
A rear-wheel-drive Volvo (240, 740, 940, etc.)
Don’t take it from us, there has got to be a small fleet of them running around every campus in the Western world. They’ve always been there, haven’t they? Tough, durable, and sporting Lego-like interchangeable parts, these cars are finally getting their due as a long-lived alternative to a newer vehicle.
If you had to bet on something on this list surviving a global catastrophe, run toward the closest Volvo. For nearly 20 years, the Swedes pumped out 240 after 240. From 1975 until 1998, Volvo had a range of rear-drive vehicles differing in engines, body styles, export version, and trim level…but that are still somewhat related, anchored around the updated “red block” B-Series 4-cylinder engines.
Tune one for performance or grocery duty, it matters not: when running well, they’re durable and pretty inexpensive to keep in good order—regular maintenance is your friend, as are owner’s forums that can help steer newbies away from less desirable variants.
Image Sources: Afshin Behnia, Franck Couvreur, Jeremy Heslup,
Rémi Dargegen, Tomislav Mišić, Christer Lundem, pinimg.com,