Ah, the good old estate car. It’s the kind of vehicle that makes an ideal classic choice thanks to its combination of space and practicality. But with many of the most popular models from the 1960s and 1970s now out of reach, what’s out there for buyers with less than £3000 to spend? By focusing on the modern-classic market, you’ll find a healthy choice of models – some of which can be snapped up from just a few hundred pounds. Here’s a selection of our favourites, as well as some of today’s best buys.
Launched in 1974 and based on the successful 145, Volvo’s new 245 estate featured more powerful overhead-cam engines in place of the old pushrod units, as well as restyled front and rear ends and hefty black bumpers. The transformation was effective, and kept the 245 (later renamed simply the 240 estate) soldiering on for an impressive 19 years. Loved by both antiques dealers and the green welly brigade alike, the archetypal Volvo estate became a legend in its own lifetime; superb original examples are now increasingly sought after, but a budget of £2500 or so should find you a cracker.
When the MkIII Granada/Scorpio models were reskinned and transformed into a new Scorpio-only range in 1994, Britain’s motoring press was in a state of shock. In place of the previous model’s clean lines came a blobby, curvaceous look; but the biggest surprise was the gaping, frog-like ‘mouth’ up front, flanked on each side by oddly-shaped headlamps. Best looking of the new Scorpios was the estate, which featured the same bizarre front grille but at least boasted a smart profile and a cavernous load area; and if you opted for the flagship 2.9-litre 24v version, you got an impressive 204bhp to play with.
Launched in 1994 and running for nine years, Vauxhall’s latest executive estate found itself up against best-selling rivals from Ford and Volvo. Most versions were saddled with four-cylinder petrol or six-cylinder diesel power, but for buyers seeking performance there were a couple of interesting V6 alternatives. The 2.5 V6 was decently quick thanks to its 168bhp output, but it was the 3.0 that really excelled, with its 208bhp resulting in the kind of performance you wouldn’t normally expect from a large estate. Find a decent one now from as little as £1000 and enjoy one of Vauxhall’s most underrated models.
Launched in 1985 and in production for a decade, the W124 is arguably the most respected of all the E-Class generations, particularly in roomy estate guise. It was a major leap forward from its W123 predecessor, particularly when it came to safety and passenger protection. A wide choice of petrol and diesel engines meant there was a W124 to suit all executive estate buyers, and they’re increasingly popular now – which explains why the best, lowest-mileage examples can achieve £10,000. But a budget of one-third of that amount should buy you a solid car with plenty of life left in it yet.
Subaru Impreza MkI
Subaru insisted this was a five-door version of the Impreza rather than an estate, but we say that’s nonsense. Whatever you call it, however, the original Impreza makes a great choice if you’re looking for a compact load carrier that’s reliable and just a bit different from its rivals. Those after the most performance will spend their three grand on a decent Impreza 2000 Turbo, which offered a mighty 208bhp from its flat-four engine, resulting in 137mph flat-out and 0-60 in just 5.8 seconds. But if you don’t need that much power, a normally-aspirated Impreza can be yours from just £1000 or so.
If you fancy an executive estate with an upmarket badge and timeless looks, you’ll struggle to beat the E34-generation 5-series, launched by BMW in 1988 and produced for the next seven years. The E34 was a handsome beast in Touring guise, as well as being superbly well built and suited to high-mileage daily use. Pick a six-cylinder car and you’ll enjoy effortless performance, although the fastest version for sensible money is the 214bhp 530i. Prices of the best examples are rising, but it’s still possible to spend less than £3000 on a load-lugging E34 in excellent condition and with a relatively low mileage.
If you fancy a British-built estate that’s currently among the cheapest of all, it’s worth seeking out the Tourer version of the Rover 400. Using the front end of the regular R8-generation 400 but with an elegant estate rear end grafted on, this was a compact wagon with an upmarket image for its size. Developed by Rover Special Projects, the Tourer remained on sale through to 1998 (three years after the saloon’s demise) and proved popular with buyers who didn’t need the biggest loadspace in its sector. Find one now from just a few hundred pounds and enjoy a real British bargain.
Another British estate that’s well worth seeking out, the ZT-T was an MG-badged version of the Rover 75 Tourer, launched in 2001 and running through to the demise of MG Rover in 2005. With re-tuned suspension, extra power and a sportier image than the model on which it was based, the ZT-T appealed to buyers who demanded a driver’s car with a useful amount of space on board. Low-ish production figures and a short lifespan means the ZT-T is a future rarity, yet it remains very affordable now – with low-mileage petrol and higher-mileage diesel versions readily available for your £3000.
Arriving in 1991 (two years after the hatchback version), the XM was Citroen’s new flagship estate. Here was another big, load-swallowing model with a tempting combination of space, comfort and practicality; and being a big Citroen, it featured a unique suspension set-up. It was, of course, a development of the hydropneumatic self-levelling system for which the company was famous; but where the previous design had resulted in slightly roly-poly handling, the XM went one step further thanks to a sophisticated electronic control system called Hydractive. Even now, few other estates ride and handle as well as this, although the XM’s sheer complexity can deter buyers.
Another Volvo? Yes, and we’re making no apologies. The Swedish firm has been a major producer of estates for many decades, but the arrival of the 850 moved things forward in 1991 thanks to its front-wheel drive layout and sharp driving style. Heck, this was the first estate to compete in Touring Car racing. The road-going 850 was still boxy and roomy (as a Volvo estate should be), but was also a terrific steer – particularly once the range-topping (225bhp) T5 was launched. You’ll struggle to find a T5 now for £3000; but with regular 850 estates starting at less than £1000, what’s not to like?