Used buying guide: 10 powerful, big-engined cars

Used buying guide: 10 powerful, big-engined cars



The Vauxhall VXR8 is a super-saloon with a rock-hard edge

Throw practical out the window and ponder some (mostly) V8 extravagance for your next used car

If you love cars, the future doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun - it really does seem as though they want to take all our enjoyment away. It might be fairly academic, but full control of an autocar by its driver is what this magazine was founded on.

So here’s a selection of oversized, inappropriate automotive hounds to keep you entertained for all eternity – and each comes with a mighty engine, big wheels and a huge personality. 

*Vauxhall VXR8 6.0 2008, 100,000 miles, £13,995*

This is essentially a Monaro but with a few more doors. Underneath it all we have a rear-wheel-drive Holden V8 with a Griffin on the grille, turning it into a super-saloon with a rock-hard edge. Perfect for the family in hurry who want to make an impact.

It’s not for everyone, though, and this is reflected in the market, as early VXR8s can struggle to sell – which explains some tempting prices. You might prefer the 6.2-litre engine from 2008 or the supercharged one from 2009. Not much happened after that, apart from a facelift in 2010, which marks the second major price point for what is, in effect, an M5 with an Aussie accent. Beware tired track-day cars with worn out suspension and brakes.

*Ural 4320 1985, 10,500 miles, £10,000*

If the future seems bleak then you could go off-grid and live life on your own terms, a bit like Santa does at the North Pole. This 6x6 Ural would certainly be good enough for Mr Claus (guaranteed present deliveries whatever the weather), and it would be huge fun trying to fit it into your life.

They still make these magnificent oil-burning beasts in Russia, officially designated a 4320 and unofficially referred to as a ‘Monster’. These are in general circulation but you will need to go to one of the specialist army surplus dealers like Tanks-Alot. Apart from starting a small war, the obvious thing to do would be a mobile home conversion. Heaven knows where you would buy spare parts from, but you could probably get a farrier to knock something up for you.

*Land Rover Defender 90 50th Anniversary 1999, 100,000 miles, £27,500*

Yes, we all know there’s a brand-new model which we can spec to an improbable six-figure sum. What it doesn’t have is the old-fashioned workhorse aura or, most importantly, a petrol V8. Sure, the old ones are rubbish to drive, but no one ever bought a Series or Defender for the road manners or in-car infotainment.

So here is the last of the brutes, but you could get V8s back in the 90 and 110 days, which will still be great, especially if dented and a bit grotty. The V8 came back from time to time as aftermarket creations or official special editions. Those ones have a resaleability, which could appeal to some. Rot is not a killer, just the prelude to a costly rebuild. Bore-worn engines are telegraphed by lots of blue smoke.

*Bentley Continental 6.8R 1995, 98,000 miles, £30,000*

So you’ve decided to treat yourself to something special. Trouble with a Bentley, and in particular a Continental, is that they’re no longer that exclusive. As good as the reworked Volkswagen Group version is, it’s a cliché luxury coupé which really isn’t very classy. So let’s go back to the first Bentley for a generation with its own unique bodywork.

If you want a two-door car with real presence, here it is. Available from 1991 to 2003, get the latest and tidiest example you can. The potential buying checklist is as big as Santa’s bulging sack. If there’s anything less than a full service history, strap yourself in for an expensive ride. Sorting out rotten sills and arches is the tip of any bodywork expense. Knocking suspension and noisy tappets are just a couple of sounds you don’t want to hear.

*Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 2007, 28,000 miles, £19,950*

Never mind the 911, the best-selling real-world sports car is the Mustang. The new one is great, of course, and right-hand drive, but still a bit pricey. A 2.3 Ecoboost is now below £20k, but those who just want to pose can buy a classic 1960s hardtop with a V8 for that sort of money. What most need is that chunky, macho ’60s style, eight cylinders and some modern creature comforts. I don’t think the latest car looks the part, so it has to be the fifth generation from 2005. I’d go for a recent import in tidy condition, and it’s heartening to find that you can also get proper Shelby versions, which makes it even more special. 

*Ultima Sports Car 2012, 11,550 miles, £59,995*

Fancy a supercar for life? There are so many to choose from, but you’ll need a six-figure budget to play the game properly. Except there are alternatives which will turn heads – and they’re made in Blighty. The Ultima even has a cast-iron McLaren connection for extra cred. It could be bought as a kit or turn-key, but best to find one that was factory built.

The Ultima has a Chevy V8 and most have all the RAC-spec roll cage and six-point racing harness kit. Nevertheless, some are road legal rather than just a track-day warrior. Buy from an enthusiast owner or specialist and rest assured that the mileage will be fairly low, so the condition should be high. Strong engines, but the rose jointed suspension and cross-drilled brakes are pricey to replace.

*TVR Tuscan S 2002, 22,000 miles, £35,990*

If you want a preposterous sports car with a big engine and bonkers styling and can’t be bothered to wait any longer for a new TVR, then go and buy one of the old ones to keep. There are lots to choose from and prices have certainly hardened over the past few years. The original Tuscan was always a site to behold and still stops the traffic to this day. It does seem that the ones on sale with a full history and recent engine rebuilds are among the very best. Don’t ever buy one without some sort of expert involvement or a reassuring warranty. Indeed, some of the engine rebuilds have five years’ cover. Here’s a supersonic car which is more than worth the risk.

*Jaguar XJR-S 1993, 78,000 miles, £17,995*

It is essential to have a V12 of some description in your all-time garage, and it’s hard to overlook what staggering value Jaguars continue to be. The XJS has matured into the sort of classic gentleman’s coupé the like of which will never be revived.

You have to be careful, though. They can be bought for a few grand but with all the serious structural rust and multi-cylinder complication to make your life a misery. Instead, up your budget and buy from a specialist with some warranty responsibility and bag yourself a later HE, a 1991 Series 3 or, even better, the Jaguar Sport-related XJR-S. There’s also the opportunity to go topless, and some would say the convertible XJS is even more of a stunner. The premium for such louche rooflessness is just a few grand.

*Alpina B3 3.3 Convertible 2001, 80,000 miles, £9995*

A convertible really does make the world seem like a much more positive and wonderful place. Never mind summer, they’re perfect even in winter, and what makes it even better is a rare soft-top, especially a good-value one like an Alpina B3. An Alpina is so much more than ‘just a BMW’. There’s a limited-edition plaque on the dash for starters, and the E46 B3 is probably one of the best-looking 3 Series anyway. An M3 might be a bit quicker but an Alpina feels more refined and special, with some nice touches. The best bit is the BMW six-pot engine with added magic, which includes lightened pistons, a revised crankshaft and friction-optimised valve gear. Switchtronic suits it, but you need a decent history and it must be immaculate to make sense as a lifelong investment.

*Audi RS6 Avant 5.0 2008, 111,000 miles, £15,999*

Rather than a stupid SUV, which isn’t necessarily slow but is certainly pointlessly bulky, take a moment to consider the shooting brake. Some may know them better as estates, but I think the really high-performance premium ones should all adopt the old moniker. Certainly putting a V10 in a practical car, rather than supercar, should be applauded and, most importantly, enjoyed. This won’t be happening any more, so make the most of the 2008 to 2012 twin-turbo model, a relatively short run until the return of the ‘humdrum’ V8. There’s plenty to look out for, not least because of the extensive plumbing involved. Coolant pipes corrode and the complicated hydraulic suspension can play up and leak of all sorts of fluids. Servicing is regular and expensive – and that’s the price to pay for that ruthlessly capable load-lugging.

*Transient transport treats that'll be binned sooner rather than later*

Not enough for you? Want something really different? Then try these alternative forms of ‘motion devices'…

*Electric scooters: *Hip and happening at the moment in a European city near you – just not in the UK, where they’re currently illegal. Seat has one that will do 20 miles.

*Quadricycles:* Big in France where teens can drive them, but also 16-year-olds can over here with a CBT scooter test. Filmsy and pointless but motorcycle-like economy.

*Flying cars: *They were the future once and the PAL-V seems closest to reality. Meanwhile, Frank Stephenson is designing the Lilium, a vertical take-off and landing electric aeroplane.

*Drones: *Obviously you’ll crash your kid’s toy drone, but there are human-scale ones now. Drone Taxis seem to be a thing. Being tested in Dubai and China.


*Special edition marks 55 years of the Ford Mustang*

*Ford could expand Mustang line-up further in future*

*Electric Ford Mustang Mach-E is Tesla Model Y rival*

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