Fiat Coupe

Mini prices have changed a lot in ten years – but this Champion column hasn’t

A LOT can happen in ten years.

Think back to what was happening back in September 2009. Gordon Brown was running the country, Dizzee Rascal was at number one and people were starting to get panicky about swine flu. Oh, and a motoring column popped up in The Champion for the first time, written by someone whose chief transport to our Lord Street offices was a rust-ridden Mini.

I re-read that first column the other day – which covers the tried ‘n’ tested petrolhead game of having a ten-car garage, but a budget of just £10,000 to fill it with – and it surprised just how much some of them have moved on in price. There’s no way, for instance, that you’d be able to pick up a Jaguar XJ6 Series III (even a really ropey one) for under a grand now; these days, you’d be looking at its Nineties equivalent, the X300, and you’d be better be prepared to tackle some rotten sills and tired electrics while you’re at it. The days of Fiat Coupés being readily available for buttons are gone too, and as much as there are still cheap Alfa 156 Sportwagons out there you’ll have a job finding one. Even the Renault 5 that I ran for a few months during this column’s early days has gone up in price – argue all you like about whether it’s a classic car yet, but simple market economics dictates that with the few people wanting one being greater than the number now on sale, you’ll struggle to get one for under a grand now.

But the one that’s more surprising to look back on than any other is the Mini I regularly needed Triple Plus Members’ Club Platinum Premium levels of breakdown cover for – I thought I’d done well selling that admittedly tired Mayfair for £800, but these days that wouldn’t even get you a non-running project. It would’ve been a bizarre thing to think back in 2009, but nowadays the cheapest route into Mini ownership is by picking up one of its flashier, BMW-engineered Noughties successors.

For all the talk of bloated Countryman models and pizza dish-sized speedometers I reckon it’s now a lot of car for the money, and the interesting thing is how big a part the 2001-on model played in the Mini’s 60th anniversary celebrations. I went to the International Mini Meeting in Bristol a few weeks ago and the newer models were absolutely everywhere, and the hostility that I remember from the Mini die-hards of only a few years ago seems to have subdued. It’s worth remembering too that the original Mini’s landmark 5.3m production run is set to be beaten by the BMW-engineered model at some point next year, so it’s not as though the nation hasn’t taken the new car firmly into its bosom.

You’d need the best £3-4k to pick up a decent classic Mini these days but play it smart and you can have a BMW-generation Cooper, with an MoT, for well under £750. I suspect it’d rather better at getting me to work in the mornings, too…

Why the Ford Probe is finally a classic car

I’M NOT sure if Gareth Cheeseman – the egocentric salesman character created by Steve Coogan years ago – reads The Champion,but he’ll be delighted by this week’s revelation if he does. The Ford Probe is a classic car.

Yes, the Ford Probe. Remember it? It was the Nineties’ belated follow-up to the Capri, but for all sorts of reasons it never really caught on in the same way that the automotive star of The Professionals did. After just three years and a little over 15,000 sales it was quietly dropped in the UK, making way for the Mondeo-based Cougar that arrived just a few months later. That was way back in 1997, but 22 years on the Probe seems to get an excitable flurry of likes and retweets every time it pops up online.

In many ways it was entirely the wrong car to follow up the Capri – it was front-wheel-drive, so any cheeky opportunities of getting the tail out on wet roundabouts were dashed from the off, and its TV appearances with the aforementioned Cheeseman on the excellent Coogan’s Run killed its street cred in an instant. It also arrived just as two-door coupés were all the rage, so it had a lot of competition; not just from obvious rivals like Vauxhall’s Calibra, but real eye-grabbers like the Alfa GTV and Fiat Coupé too.

But look at one now, when there are fewer than 500 left on the UK’s roads – making it a far rarer beast than the Capri – and with Nineties nostalgia all the rage, and there’s something really compelling about it. For starters, if you get the 24-valve version you have a silky, 2.5-litre V6 beneath the bonnet, delivering mid-range torque in a way that the turbocharged three-cylinder engines of today just can’t match. For me, the thing I love about the Probe is the way it looks, with those full-width rear lights and concept car profile. And pop-up headlights, of course. Any car with pop-up headlights is, I’ve always thought, automatically cool simply on account of having them. Why can’t we bring them back?

The Probe might have had a silly name, an unfortunate on-screen fan and the misfortune of following a motoring cult hero, but I reckon its time has finally come. I’m just glad that Instagram – rather than Gareth Cheeseman – seems to agree.