Be a Covid Winner – my simple 5-Step plan.

At the risk of sounding just like every other writer or commentator out there, Covid has certainly made me think about my life. I’m not talking fancy philosophy here – I am taking about filthy lucre. I’m not generally over-prone to envy or jealousy, and I’m proud of what our business has achieved during these crazy times – but I’ve got a sneaky feeling that other people have been just that little bit cleverer than me. Well, quite a lot more, in fact. Covid has certainly produced a new generation of winners, and losers. There are the losers – anyone in travel, entertainment, catering – the obvious candidates. And there are the winners – anyone with a strong on-line delivery business, PPE suppliers, divorce lawyers and, apparently, adult websites (co-incidence?). But then there is a whole stratum of ‘ordinary’ souls, who haven’t done too badly, all things considered.

Your average man or woman in the street is, apparently, holding a big reserve of cash, just waiting for the right moment to spend it – sending (hopefully) our economy back into the black, and putting right all the wrongs of the past 18 months. Instead of spending five grand a year on a rail season ticket, the money’s in the tin. You haven’t needed clothes – other than boosting the pyjama collection. No eating out – even now you can, officially, does your dining companion really want to sit there listening to your teeth chatter? No spending £8 on a glass of wine, just because it is from a fancy sounding vineyard – eight quid still buys the whole bottle at Sainsbury’s. So, I’m here to take a leaf out of some of those winners’ books. I’ve come up with the five best ways to spend some of that hard-won expendable cash – on cars. At our garage. Move over Mr Bezos, I’m coming for you.

We all like to believe that cars are our passion, and to a large extent, money doesn’t matter. But what if you could spend the money, enjoy the result, and then know that what you bought was worth more than you paid, a year or two later? Ah, I hear you say – this isn’t news. In fact, hasn’t that ship already sailed? And got stuck in a canal? Not so fast. Check out some nearly-proper car journalism for some actually useful stuff…

  • E24 635csi

This super-shark coupe is growing in terms of its cult following – popping up in music videos and the like – but values are still, in my opinion, lower than makes sense. The 3.5 litre straight six is about as robust as they come, having evolved for well over a decade and ultimately selling in huge numbers – keeping BMW in business for more than a generation to come. It won’t embarrass you in modern traffic either – its quick enough to not feel boring, and the gearbox is surprisingly not-rubbish for an old-school auto. Looks-wise, this is the car that will just keep giving – the iconic quad light and kidney vibe, shark profile and Hoffmeister C-pillar basically means it ticks all the boxes, and will only ever get more interesting as modern BMW design polarises opinion across the buying public. They’re not costly to run at all, if you start off with a solid car. Parts availability is not too bad, with the added bonus that you might still find complete donor cars that can be snapped up for next to nothing – which is rarely the case with modern classics nowadays. Prices have been nudging up over the past couple of years, so have £20-25 grand at hand to bag a car I’d want to own.

  • E30 3 series

I’ve been raving about the merits of the E30 range for ages, and I’m clearly not alone in my feelings for this utterly iconic design. Forget the M3 for a moment – there’s a lot more to the range than that. It’s not news that a new generation of fans have fallen head over heals for the E30 – they make a great modifier and work brilliantly as a classic drifter too. Finding a well sorted unmodified classic is getting harder, but still possible – and worth the effort. If you can’t find a coupe that fits the bill, don’t ignore the possibility of a saloon – you’ll pay half the price and still look damned cool. They cost next to nothing to run, are great handlers as well as being safe and practical. If modern cars leave you feeling a little uninspired, an E30 can still make a brilliant daily drive, and you’ll lose a lot less in terms of depreciation than any modern car out there. But it’s the convertible that makes me smile the most. It has aged beautifully, and drives unbelievably well for a 30+ year old machine, with very little scuttle shake and near-perfect road manners. This is the one that will probably be the best investment right now – try for a 325i or 320i, but if not, just buy one anyway. As any E30 owner will tell you, you’re whooshed along by the rows of upturned thumbs that will line your route on any journey. Saloons are out there for teen prices, for a cab, have £20,000 in your pocket.

  • E46 M3 + CSL

With hindsight, this is looking like probably the best all round M car ever made, as endorsed by thousands of E46 M3 owners past and present. Owners from ten years ago are now getting in touch to get back into these lovely machines – a common quote would be ‘I’ve regretted it ever since and haven’t driven anything quite as rewarding’. They’re not expensive to own, and they don’t really go wrong. The gen 3 M3 flatters even an average driver – capable wheel-smiths can perform miracles with these cars. The CSL had been in the doldrums for a while, but demand has grown such in the last few months that we have a waiting list again. Of course, many are ahead of the curve, and prices have already started rising due to demand, so, a good time to sell, and the right time to buy. What’s not to like? You’ll want mid to late twenties for a collectable manual, and £60+ for a sensible CSL.

  • E21 3 series

As seen on TV. Chris Harris drove an E21 on a recent episode of Top Gear, revisiting ‘dad’s cars’ and assessing how they feel today. The E21 has clearly lost none of its charm, and of all the cars here, it’s potentially the cheapest one to buy. They’re not quick – even the 323i does feel like it’s from a bygone era, and they’re the hardest to find – but you don’t care. These E21s are from an era where build quality was on almost agricultural levels – hence there still being so many around, and you can actually feel that when you drive one. The E21 shows a confidence in design terms that set BMW up to be the world-beater they became, and that sporty shark nose and cheeky behind – on a basic-ish saloon car, mind – has had many of us wondering why we haven’t seen the beauty in these cars long ago. Maybe you did – in which case you have my permission to be all smug there – but if you want an affordable classic that also marks you out as a seriously cool sort of individual, go and buy an E21. Take twenty grand and you’ll get something very nice, with change – even 10 might get you a good project.

  • E26 M1

I know. This isn’t really fair on the others. But maybe your commute was really expensive. Maybe you’ve saved on pyjamas and walked around in the proud. It was worth it – because there hasn’t been a better time to buy an M1 since 2013. I don’t need to say much about them, because all you have to do is Google ‘BMW M1’ and you’ll say ‘well OK, yes’. It ticks every box. I can tell you with absolute certainty, that the M1 drives way better than any 1980s supercar – this is one car that will never disappoint. The engine sounds and feels more like a V12 than a straight-six, they’re not that uncomfortable (don’t get carried away – you may still get a dead leg) and they don’t fall to bits. Don’t ask me why they’re still affordable – maybe it’s still too off-piste for mainstream supercar collectors, but whatever the reason, the market is at a low, and that just cannot last. Go out armed with £300 grand right now and you may just come back with a reasonable M1. Don’t buy one without getting us to inspect it, but get busy, before the word gets out.

So, I think you’ll find there’s plenty of ways to spend that put-aside cash over with us at Munich Legends, getting you ready for that road-based renaissance you’ve been dreaming about all these months. You never know, if you end up with one of these beauties on your drive, maybe you too will feel like a Covid winner.

Dan Norris, Straight Six Magazine by BMW Car Club GB (May 2021 issue)

Straight Six Magazine May 2021