Journal: These Are The Best Classic Cars For Students

These Are The Best Classic Cars For Students

Michael Banovsky By Michael Banovsky
August 31, 2016
56 comments

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.

Citroën 2CV

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.

Porsche 924

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.

Volkswagen Scirocco

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.

Mazda Miata

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,
vintageandprestige.wallgodev.co.uk autocar.co.uk,
autoevolution.comwheelsage.org

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Nick MaherJean PaulBrett67Brett Melanconflame Recent comment authors
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Nick Maher
Nick Maher

I had a Volvo 340 during my student years. It subscribed nicely to the ‘driving a slow car fast’ argument, rear drive, engine up front but gearbox in the back, heavy as hell but could still do donuts.
I secretely loved that car.

Jean Paul
Jean Paul

You forgot the MK1 and MK2 VW Golf GTi…

Brett67
Brett67

I may not be a student anymore (well I am a student of life) but I agree with the first car on the list, the FIAT Spider. These cars are much more durable than people think and the mechanics are not overly complicated. Parts are easy sourced from companies like AutoRicambi.us out of Texas. Recently, Auto Ricambi pulled a neglected Spider out a field in Texas and replaced parts from off the shelf inventory and then proceeded to drive the car over 7,000 miles in about two weeks for the Lemons Rally. The car performed amazing and proved what fans… Read more »

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Brett67
Brett67

Oh, I meant to point out that this Spider had not been on the road since 1994!

flame
flame

BMW E36 Compact 323ti !
Thats the car u want as a student 😉

Robbe-
Robbe-

I’m a mechanical engineering student and I drive a ’96 Miata. Those are indeed good cars for students, BUT they are not as cheap as you might think. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty, to keep things affordable. And for insurance, it’s officially my father’s car, and I’m mentioned as ‘occasional driver’, which also benefits me. In Belgium that’s possible, I don’t know about other countries. That’s another method on how I keep it from sucking my bank account dry. But it’s undeniably a fun car that makes it all worth it. Also, it doesn’t consume… Read more »

Nicholas Komaludin
Nicholas Komaludin

I bought a 60k km 91′ 318i E30 last year, with the intention to have less problem to daily commute it to school. Nonetheless it still have troubles along the way (leaking power steering, dead fuel pump, worn-out rubbers, stuck window, and few more i dont remember). But it becomes the topic i can bring out when chatting with friends. The car also becomes something like my identity (“you know, that guy with the old bmw”). I had a few occasion with friends riding my car together and i like it when they are interested with the car’s odd features,… Read more »

Chris Turner

Alfa Romeo 155 would be the ultimate student car right now… when I was a student I had a Peugeot 205 GTi… but try find one of those now…. 155 is uber cool… if you like driving…. otherwise get yourself a BMW like everyone else who ‘thinks ‘ they are cool…

Detex
Detex

OG Saab 900 of one of the older V4 cars, great college cars! It is what I drove!

Enrico Brancher

Where’s the mini?

Leroy Brown
Leroy Brown

Glad to see some love for the 75. I picked one myself because I’m one of the few that have started to realize how cool and (still) under the radar they are. I picked the Twin Spark because it is absurdly cheap these days and is the better balanced all-around car. The engine also dates back to the 60’s or earlier and has a racing heritage (and a wonderful sound). And boy, does it drive!!

Jason G
Jason G

Had a Milano Verde in college, exactly like the one pictured. It never let me down, but it did confuse a lot of local mechanics with inboard brakes, etc. such an amazing car to drive and hear

Benjamin Bouton

I personally got a 98 Mazda MX-3 with the 1.6L (not the V6) 🙂

Jack White
Jack White

Here in the UK the list would be as follows, Golf mk2 gti, Peugeot 106 rallye, Renault Clio 172 (I think you can see a trend here) Morris Minor, Triumph Dolomite Sprint. Beetle, MX5, e36 (excluding m3 and 330 due to insurance). None of this 7-10k bollocks a student won’t pay that for a car when they have festivals to go to. I’d say most students would spend 3-5k for something reliable and fun. I’m in a group of young retro owners, none own a v12 jag. wonder why.

Jack White
Jack White

This list definitly doesn’t work here in the UK for the most part. Insurance alone would shoot these dreams down for a student who’s only had license a year or two.

Nathan Van Egmond
Nathan Van Egmond

I feel a Saab 900 has to be on the list! My first car was a 1987 Saab 900 Turbo SPG, was my dream car as a teenager. Plenty of space in the trunk and fun on the twists! Plus, plenty of opportunity to learn about mechanics and troubleshooting… I still have mine, and I’ve owned about 9 other 900’s…I guess its developped into an obsession 🙂

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David Palacios
David Palacios

After reading this article I got my dad to get me an ’81 Scirocco as my first car. Guigario designed cars are my favorite so getting one was a real treat. I’m 17 and I plan on keeping the car forever 🙂

Christopher Cook
Christopher Cook

Stay with a Japanese car, but it may also depend on which country you live in.

Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt

Where’s the 850R? Either a wagon or sedan.
Alfa? The student probably has a loan, hoow could he afford to keep that or the Jag running.
A JAG, same thing
DUMB DUMB
Another thoughtlESS list!

Jasiek Uberna
Jasiek Uberna

What about Mercedes-Benz W124? They’re comfortable, cheap to run, extremely reliable and the examples before face lifting don’t even rust that much. I recently bought one and fell for it completely

Nathan Van Egmond
Nathan Van Egmond

Agreed for all those reasons, I picked a super high mileage w124 diesel recently and have fallen for its simplicity and elegance.

Wes Flack
Wes Flack

My college years included a 924, a Mk1 Scirocco S (so much prettier than the Mk2), and a 240Z. Though not classics back when I was an undergrad, they were all great cars, at least until I discovered E30s, which slay. E30 is still undervalued, and the best of the ultimate driving machines.

DJDC
DJDC

“Why not drive tastefully to college?”

A more Pretencilicious utterance has never been said.

PSL3vy
PSL3vy

I was surprised by the omission of the Alfa GTV-6. I’m hoping to get one in the next few years.

Thijmen Kuik
Thijmen Kuik

VW bug? I mean if you’re going to put the 2cv on here put the bug here as well. They’re about the same price and really reliable

odequesne
odequesne

I just bought a classic mini rover 1.3 liter, was it a mistake? I drove it home from the dealership (5hours on magnificent french roads) and im absolutely in love (even if the floor panel is eaten by rust and that ill have to change it in a very few weeks)

geelongvic
geelongvic

Michael, I am already on record with what I think about your selection, and believe that here in the salt belt that newer used Japanese cars are optimal choices for the student. If a sport car is still desired, consider a MR2 for your list. A newer RX8 or even a Porsche Boxster should be considered. Boxsters are galvanized, and if you plan an immediate expense of about $2,000.00 for a new clutch, LN intermediate shaft bearing, and main crankshaft seal to the purchase price, then you will have a great headache free sports car for the long haul for… Read more »

Pedro Macedo
Pedro Macedo

Glad to see the E30 on the list, it’s a great choice. Dirt cheap to buy if you get a 316/316i/318i, which aren’t slow at all, even by today’s standards (my 316i completely smokes my company car, a brand-new Peugeot 208 1.6 HDi with 75hp). Reliable and affordable to maintain, with readily available parts thanks to the E30’s cult following. Definitely practical, with a spacious interior and large trunk. Really fun to drive. The aesthetics may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve yet to hear someone call it “ugly”. Simple, clean lines with a few subtle curves that… Read more »

Taras Briazgunov
Taras Briazgunov

1. Why Scirocco and not Corrado?
2. In some countries Fiat 124 Spider is not that expensive in maintainance. Especially in Eastern Europe, because some spare parts from Lada fit, Lada is basically a Fiat 124 Sedan.

Kirk Robinson
Kirk Robinson

Am student. Own Fiat Spider. Can confirm, is good. Rust is a serious problem, save until you can get one that is rust free (or as close as you can find). Just like any car, in the long run it will be cheaper. All of the bad reliability claims are true, but in the four years of owning my car, every single unexpected issue I have had has been a ground wire or fuse that had a corroded connection, and every single time I have been able to fix it with a screwdriver or a 10mm and some sandpaper. If… Read more »

geelongvic
geelongvic

Understand that I love Italian cars and have always felt that everyone should own and drive an Italian car at least once in their lives because of their driving joy. However in the SALT BELT of the US ( the midwest and the northeast), I have personally seen, years ago, a college girlfriend’s 124 Spider dissolve away into rust dust within two years. I did the mechanical work on her car which was relatively easy and enjoyable, but the rust issues made that car rapidly terminal. So sad an outcome to a very enjoyable car. Personally, nothing was more enjoyable… Read more »

Heriyat Sagdiyev
Heriyat Sagdiyev

Buick Electra: So you want to be the biggest dork on campus?

Jaguar XJ12: You want your kid’s credit rating destroyed via bankruptcy before they work a single day at a real job?

Hahahahaha

Geoff Ombao
Geoff Ombao

Funny, got rid of one car recently, and have been considering a 924S. But as a student, I’m concerned about the ability to use one as a daily driver. Neat cars, tough.

Dominic van Elswijk
Dominic van Elswijk

A 924s is still quite expensive to buy and maintain, so you need to keep that in the back of your head. The 2.0, Which I own, is a realy nice, cheaper option. But if you have decent technical skills i’d say go for it. And join a forum of owners so you can ask people questions about any problems you Might have with it. Whatever choice you make, you will have a great time with it I’m sure!

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

Bicycle.

Honda or equivalent.

Pick up truck.

Witawas Srisaan
Witawas Srisaan

When I went to college in the late 80’s, I drove an Alfetta GT. My wife drove an Alfetta Sedan. They were cheap and fun. We even used them to deliver food to make some side money. There were some minor annoyances but never once we had to tow either of them. Alfa 75s/Milanos are like Alfetta sedans during my younger years–cheap, fun, and full of characters.

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

All these comments on how bad some of the choices are for a student. My only experience is with Volkswagen (questionable reliability) and the Volvo 240. That’s the winner of the whole group! So solid and reliable and with a little help from IPD and Yohifab you can make them really fun to drive.

geelongvic
geelongvic

Student cars for students, most likely cash poor ( unless helped by the Bank of Dad), lets get real with this list. Realistically stay away from anything on your list that is French, German,, and (God forbid) Italian. With all these European choices on your list, all will result in varying degrees of repair dysfunction and economic catastrophe. With the Fiat 124 Spider you are recommending the equivalent of economic suicide for the student seeking a carefree daily driver. Even the rotary tip seals and end seals of the rotary engine RX7 disqualify the Mazda as a realistic student car… Read more »

Heriyat Sagdiyev
Heriyat Sagdiyev

You forgot to say stay away from British, by far the one you should stay farthest away from. Even more so than Italian. At least the Italian car, you can manage to fix with a Haynes manual and a bit of patience…

Marco de la Peña
Marco de la Peña

So yeah good luck finding Scirocco parts.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers

If you don’t need air conditioning: Air-cooled VW.
Cheap to run. Cheap to maintain (if you do it yourself). Old hippies will share stories about the shenanigans they got up to with their VW. Paint it yellow and stick an autobot symbol on. You can drive the correct Bumblebee!

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

So lets take an objective look at this list of potential cars for students ; 1) FIAT 124 – A gorgeous pile of garbage that rusts faster than you can drive it with all the reliability of a poorly maintained Yugo that’ll continually live up to the nickname .. Fix It Again Tony .. or to put it bluntly . F___ Italian Automotive Trash .. is the reality of the 124 2) Citroen 2CV – Cute as a bug . About as safe and stable as a black widow spider . And not fit for any student regardless of the… Read more »

Dominic van Elswijk
Dominic van Elswijk

I don’t know about the other cars, but I have to correct you on the 924. First of all, its not fast. I own the 2.0 version, Which is the cheapest version and very much fit for a student as myself. It handles great due to 50/50 weight distribution. It is pretty reliable because it got a modified audi engine in the front, and because its audi and Vw parts it is not expensive to fix and most of the work can be done by yourself. So there you go, 924 is definitely a solid choice for a good looking… Read more »

David Zu Elfe
David Zu Elfe

To no4: First car was a 924, and so were second and now third (I am 23 now). It’s not really fast (I wish it was faster – a lot), it is reliable if maintained properly, it is cheap to repair (I mean there is probably no part for more than a grand if you want to keep it running) and it is as safe as the mid-70s were. The 2.0N/A is a great buy, only the turbos or S-models are more pricy because of all the genuine parts. Certainly not for everyone but indeed an option. Not the US-models… Read more »

Marco de la Peña
Marco de la Peña

What are you thoughts on an actual Classic student cars? I’m a student car guy so any good recommendation on RELIABLE classic cars shoud be welcome.

HitTheApex
HitTheApex

Well put, sir, although a first generation RX7 will hurt in the areas of engine maintenance, from redoing seals and finding a mechanic who is actually handy on rotaries to fuel economy and the extra, but not bank-account-breaking cost of an extra oiling or so here and there.

Jack White
Jack White

completely agree, here in the UK the E30 (though expensive), 2CV, scirocco (mk2 because there are no mk1’s about to be honest) and the mx5 are the only ones sort of viable.
The RX7… go find one, then afford the rust repairs and rebuild the engine, by the time its on the road you won’t be a student any more, same goes for the Fiat, the w115…. just lol, not everyone is funded by daddies coffers. The rest are an insurance nightmare.

Martin Philippo
Martin Philippo

and there I was, thinking that students usually are poor and short of money.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

…. ahhh … another voice of reason and reality . Molto grazie

HitTheApex
HitTheApex

Pfft! They are? That must be news to some here. Haha!

Good point!

Ellias Karwashan
Ellias Karwashan

The Fiat 124 would be an awesome buy for anyone. A nice example one is still fairly affordable and there are plenty out there that need work. The bumper deletes are pretty easy to do and can really improve the look while giving a nice custom look and with the new one coming out, the value could go up for the older ones.

Hmm…Hemmings, here I come!

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Cheap to buy . Expensive as ___ to maintain and repair . The rust alone ‘ll break the bank so fast it’ll spin your head faster than that no longer functioning tac on the dash . And then theres the whole issue of parts and availability … not to mention a 2nd car for all those days when the 124’s not working or in the shop … which will be more often than not .

Heriyat Sagdiyev
Heriyat Sagdiyev

They are not expensive to repair, and are simple to repair as a Beetle if you have a shop manual. Guitar Slinger, as usual, has NFI what he is talking about. Total blowhard.