Top five car bargains for the brave

Porsche 928 — $20,000 - $35,000 *
When the 928 debuted in 1977 it was a big deal for Porsche. It was the first of its kind to be powered by a front-mounted V8, instead of the brand's standard rear-mounted boxer layout. Because of this, many people saw the 928 as 'not the real deal' compared to the famed 911.

The car was launched with a 4.5-litre V8 but over time the engine grew in size, firstly to 4.7 litres, then 5.0 litres and finally 5.4 litres in the highly-sought-after GTS model. Despite its criticism, the 928 is a very capable sports car, in fact — it was supercar-rivaling in its time.

Nowadays you can pick up a bottom-end 928 for as low as $20k depending on condition. While these cars are known to have a relatively tough drivetrain, they need to be serviced regularly, and thoroughly. When looking for a 928 of your own, check that the car has had a strong service history and that all the interior switches and buttons work. These cars are known for their temperamental electrical system that can cost big bucks to replace.

Mercedes-Benz 560SEL — $8,000 - $15,000 *
The Mercedes-Benz 560SEL set the benchmark in luxury when it was released. The car is large and spacious, and made out of the finest materials from the time, so it's no wonder it cost well above the $150k mark upon its launch in 1986. The 560SEL was designed for high-rollers, who were most likely positioned in the car's magnificent rear seat, while being hauled about town by their chauffer.

So how come you can own one for under $10,000 now? Well, simply put, if you ever have to take your SEL into the dealer with a failed suspension system, be prepared to take out a second mortgage on your house.

Some of the higher-end Benzes from the 80s had what's known as hydropneumatic suspension, which in layman's terms means over-engineered and highly-complex hydraulic suspension. When it breaks, it's not uncommon for it to cost more to fix than to just buy a whole new car.

 

Mazda RX-7 FB — $8,000 - $15,000 *
In the late 1970s, affordable sports cars were becoming few and far between. So when the first generation RX-7 landed, it was instantly met with enthusiasm. It was quick-handling, agile and had an adequately powerful 1.1-litre rotary engine.

The later model, FD RX-7, has become somewhat of an icon, so prices for those are skyrocketing. But the wave of popularity has yet to hit the earlier model RX-7s, making them a great budget alternative.

The reliability of the rotary engine is an age-old debate, with strong arguments on either side. One thing everyone can agree on is that rotary-powered cars require a lot of attention, and need to be looked after to get the most out of them. That's fine right? Yes, but it's important to make sure that the previous owner had the same mentality. Rotary engines are designed to burn oil, so if the motor oil is not topped up regularly, the engine can overheat and wear out its apex seals, which will inevitably lead to a full-rebuild sometime down the track.

 

Alfa Romeo 156 — $5,000 - $8,000 *
You knew there had to be an Alfa in this list right? The 156 started its five-year tenure in 2001. It was brought out in a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 2.5-litre V6 guise, which both offered smooth and fun performance. It's unmistakably Alfa, with its Italian styling, sharp-handling and a tendency to run into electrical issues.

If you're in the market for a 156, thoroughly check that all the electrical switches, window motors and central locking mechanisms are in working order. These cars are known to have gearbox faults, so that is worth looking in to as well. In today's money, you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000, depending on condition and spec.


BMW Z3 — $10,000 - $16,000 *

The Z3 was first released with a four-cylinder that critics claimed was a bit dull, and the car's relatively sloppy handling characteristics also had the experts turning their noses up at it. Luckily, this was fixed in the late 90s when BMW replaced the four-pot with a much-perkier 2.0-litre six-cylinder engine.

The Z3 had some tough competition, with the MX-5 craze in full-swing, and a just-released Honda S2000 joining the fight. But looking back, the Z3 might have deserved to do better. It's a fair-dinkum sports car, and considering you can pick one up for well under $20k, the Z3 represents great value. It's worth spending a bit extra for a well-sorted one, as genuine BMW parts are sure to cost a pretty penny. Common issues to look out for include faulty wiring harnesses, broken or worn suspension bushes and severe oil leaks.