Baby bangers - the best cheap 1100cc cars

(Editor's note - this was the first page I wrote for the site, and is now looking a bit dated.  Most of the A-series Metros have gone - the K-series from 1990 on is much nicer, but still rots just as readily as its predecessor.  Mk3 Fiestas are now available in large numbers for small money - look for rot around the boot floor and fuel filler (and everywhere else) and don't expect an HCS-engined Fiesta to do much more than 80K without an engine rebuild.  Pug 106, Renault Clio, Vauxhall Corsa and 2nd generation Micra all now available at this price level - comments to come.)

Austin Metro 1.0, 1981-89  Available in 3 or 5 door bodystyle, with a range of trim levels from basic to starkly minimalist.  Lots of them about, good economy and cheap spares, but do they ever rust!  Rot can attack just about anywhere, but sills, floorpans, suspension mounts and rear wheelarches are worst affected.  Build quality variable - later (post 1987) cars seem better screwed together, with nicer interiors.  Mechanically tough, but walk away from cars with smoky or rumbling engines, collapsing suspension or a gearbox noisy enough for you to hear it with the radio turned up (gearboxes always whine a bit though).  Only worth buying if you can find an immaculate example with plenty of history and original unmarked bodywork, or else if you are very poor and desperate.

Ford Fiesta 950 / 1100, 1977-82 (Mk1), 1983-89 (Mk2)  Hugely popular basic transport.  Easy to fix, spares are unfeasibly cheap, millions to choose from.  Basic interior, harsh ride and a bit noisy, but a good one will keep going forever.  Rust is a killer - Ford's paint and rustproofing quality seemed to vary from one car to another, so that there are still plenty of 1977-78 cars on the road, and plenty of mid 1980s versions in scrapyards.  Look out for rotten sills and inner wings (especially around suspension turrets).  Engines become very rattly when worn, but otherwise as tough as they come.  Lots of horrible colours to choose from - all the cheap ones seem to be beige, brown or cream......

Vauxhall Nova 1.0 / 1.2, 1983-90  Another big seller, available in both hatchback and booted saloon versions.  Harsh ride, dated and unpleasant interior, but gorgeously smooth engine compared to most of the competition.  Generally well put together, but earlier ones can rust just about anywhere, and even the later cars can be concealing some nasty problems.  Make sure you lift the boot carpet and look underneath - I have seen holes in the boot floor on an H-reg motor.  Booted version was popular with the elderly, so can turn up with ultra low mileage - not necessarily the bargain it seems, as standing around in a damp garage will have done nothing for the engine, brakes or electrics.  Engines suffer camshaft problems at high mileages - listen for loud rattle on start up, which never quite goes away.

Citroen AX10 / AX11, 1986-96  A firm favourite with Bangernomics, thanks to its combination of light weight and low drag giving 50mpg with better performance than anyone has any right to expect from a small car.  Typically comfortable French ride, but deafeningly noisy at motorway speeds, and front wheels tend to lock up under heavy braking - front end damage is very common on these cars.  Engines are not as tough as the Ford and Austin offerings - they get very rattly if oil changes are neglected, head gaskets can fail (look for oil in the water and vice versa) and ham-fisted home mechanics can easily strip the threads on the spark plug holes (which you will not discover until the car is next serviced, when you find the plugs are held in with Araldite).  Bodywork is made of very thin metal and dents easily, but seems less prone to rust than the competition.  Post 1990 cars built in Spain, have much better interiors, but poorer paint finish.  Lives on in Malaysia, where it is badged as a Proton for the home market only.

Peugeot 205 1.1, 1984-92  Mechanically near identical to the Citroen AX, with slightly more roomy, rounded body and most of the same problems.  Interiors tend to fall apart above 75,000 miles.  Still a fresh, smart looking design even today.

Nissan Micra 1.0L, 1982-92 Nissan's first supermini, with all the advantages and disadvantages of 1980s Japanese motors.  Super-reliable even when neglected, comfortable and light to drive, but bland styling and a bouncy ride.  Equipment level more spartan than you would expect from Nissan - push button AM radio, and non-laminated windscreen.  Can rust badly, and neglected or high mileage engines take to burning oil in a big way.  Parts can be expensive, but then you are less likely to need them.  Not exactly a macho set of wheels, even in this company. 

VW Polo 1050, 1982-90 Another perennial favourite at Bangernomics due to its bank-vault build quality, decent German electrics and almost unburstable mechanicals.  Mark 2 Polos rust very slowly indeed, and there are plenty of early 1980s examples still out there with nothing more than the odd stonechip to spoil their eighteen year old factory paintwork.  Against this, 1050 Polos are dog slow, have heavy brakes, are stodgy to drive and the fuel economy can be poor for a small car (although they all run on unleaded).  Interiors are spartan but everlasting.  Mechanically, the only thing to look out for is major engine wear - easy to spot by unclipping the top off the air filter.  On a worn engine, the filter will be soaked in engine oil, but even then they keep going provided you keep topping up the oil level. And click here for a fix which will usually keep the car going for many more miles.  Parts are very expensive from VW dealers, but there are plenty of independent specialists around who are much cheaper.

Fiat Panda 900 / 1000 1982-92 A masterpiece of modern industrial design, ruined by typical 1980s Italian build quality - quick-rot steel, flimsy interiors, self combusting electrics etc.  Versatile, compact yet spacious, a good Panda will be a faithful friend.  Except in wet weather, when it probably won't start.  The later 1000cc cars are better built, more refined and offer amazing fuel economy for such a box-shaped car.  Engines are unburstable, gearboxes less so.  Look out for oil leaks underneath, as the rubber gaiters on the inner ends of the driveshafts often split, dumping all the gearbox oil onto the road.  Check that all the electrics work, and look for rust everywhere.  For all their faults, Bangernomics is rather fond of Pandas - they have character, which is a rarity in cars these days.   You could still buy a brand new Panda in Italy until late 2003!

Fiat Uno 45 / 55 / 60, 1983-92  Virtually all the comments about the Panda also apply to the Uno, but a more conventional looking supermini.  There are two very different versions of the Uno 45 - the basic 4-speed, with a noisy but willing engine of 1950s design, and the 45S which offers 5 speeds and the much more modern and desirable FIRE 999cc motor.  Uno 60 has the same engine design as the 45S, enlarged a bit.  Uno 55 has yet another engine design, of 1960s origin - designed by Aurelio Lampredi, who also did a lot of work for Ferrari.....  Facelift (post 1989) Unos seem much better put together, but lose the clever, slightly quirky interior of the earlier cars.  A good Uno is probably the most fun to drive of all the cars here, but getting hard to find in rot-free condition.


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