Keith’s Blog: The 12 Cars of Christmas — Part Two

Last week I picked the first six cars I’d like to find under the Christmas tree. There’s no linear order to these selections. These are just cars I like — and that represent a specific point of view in the world of collector cars.

Last week’s six were the Mazda Miata (Best First Sports Car), Ferrari 308 GT4 (Best First Ferrari), 1974 VW Thing (Most Ridiculous Four-Seater), 1967-68 Ford Mustang (Best Affordable Pony Car), Hyundai or Kia (Best Modern Econobox), Mercedes 240/300D (Car You Can’t Kill).

Here are this week’s selections:

Most Fun You Can Have on Four Wheels: The first -gen Lotus Elise (1996-2000) accelerates faster than a scared cat and clings to the road like a gecko on a Hawaiian resort ceiling. With a Toyota-based engine, they are dead reliable – a 15,000-mile service — often at Ferrari dealer — can be done for under $300. The only challenge is getting in and out of one. With the top down, it helps if you have a background as a gymnast or a contortionist. Top up, best bet is to run across the parking lot and cannonball in through an open window.

Good ones  — with the original clamshell nose and no track days) — and under 20,000 miles are just $30,000.

The Elegant Cruiser: An early 1961-64 bull-nose Volvo P1800/1800S is all about style. This is not a high-performance machine, but it lopes along easily at 80 mph. Avoid the injected cars, or anything with rust or missing chrome. $25,000 to $30,000 is the right amount for a presentable, non-concours machine.

Cheap German Fun: There’s no better Porsche bargain than a first-generation (1996-2004) Porsche Boxster. The difference in price between a 6-speed Boxster S and lesser variants isn’t much, so go for the S. Maintenance history is more important than the year. Find a creampuff in a good color, and pay up to $15,000. There are a lot of them for sale at lower prices. But with a Porsche, when you pay less at first, you always pay more later.

Complicated But Worth It: Vintage (1956-1974) Alfas are remarkable cars, but they are not suited for a beginning collector. They have complicated engines that require a specialist to keep in fine tune. That said, a 1964-1974 GTV is about the finest affordable GT car you will ever drive. Just make sure an expert sets the car up right and maintains it. A decent one is $40,000, and a great one will break $60,000. My personal favorites are the carbureted (1967 and earlier) cars, but a well-set-up Spica injection system will surprise you with its responsiveness.

Elegant and Almost Free: The 1976-1988 BMW 633/635csi models are among the most beautiful production cars. Fanatics say go for the cars with 5-speeds and the sleek euro bumpers. Who are they kidding? These are cruisers — not sports cars. American-spec with an automatic will let you show up at the opera in style.

Interiors are crazily expensive to put right, so get a perfect one and pay up. A good ownership history trumps everything. Deferred maintenance will put you in the automotive poorhouse. A handsome car with no needs will stretch to break $25,000.

The Bad Boy Ferrari: The F40 should be your “money-is-no-object” Ferrari. With its outrageous NASCAR-style rear wing and complete lack of electronic nanny-aides, the F40 was the last supercar Ferrari where your destiny was really in your hands. And what about that crazy see-through engine cover, with cooling vents that look like the dorsal spine on a sturgeon?

Which F40 to buy is a tough decision. The cars with no miles simply can’t be driven without an expensive service; turbo seals dry up and go bad when the cars sit. But cars that have miles, especially track miles, may have been driven by boy racers who regard the redline as a suggestion. Here, you are buying the seller as much as the car. If he keeps the F40 next to his Lear in the hangar, and takes it out on Cavallino Cruises, you’re on the right track.  $1,250,000 to $1,500,000 will put you in the ballpark for a car you’d want to own.

And that wraps up this year’s list. From the Miata to the F40, there is surely something here you’d like Santa to leave in your garage.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

Posted in Keith Martin


  1. Interesting selection- I have owned 9 of the 12
    1. Never owned an F40, but years ago I had a 275 GTB/4 and a 275 GTB/2. Obviously I wish I still had them😞
    2. Never owned an Elise, but years ago I had an Elite and a Europa-both of which I had to remove my legs to enter and exit.
    3. Never owned a Benz diesel-you are correct: They will outlive us.

Comments are closed.