Ford Escort RS Cosworth, MGB GT V8, Austin-Healey 3000, Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126 and Alfa Romeo SZ

2016 / 2017 Drive-My

Five fab drives to snatch before prices move on up. The Big Test We pit Quentin Willson’s top classic buys for 2016 against each other, including the Austin-Healey 3000, MGB GT V8, Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126, Alfa Romeo SZ and Ford Escort RS Cosworth – and the man himself delivers his verdict on each. No bargains left? The Austin-Healey 3000, MGB V8, Alfa SZ, Mercedes 560 SEC and Ford Escort Cosworth show there’s top value out there. Words Quentin Willson, Phil Bell, Russ Smith, Sam Dawson, Adam Towler, Nathan Chadwick. Photography Charlie Magee. ‘These cars are admired because they’re interesting, different and era-defining’ 48 Smart buys in 2016: Ford Escort RS Cosworth, MGB GT V8, Austin-Healey 3000, Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126 (W126 based Coupe S-Class) and Alfa Romeo SZ.

This happens a lot these days. We sit down, analyse live sales data and pick out the classics that we think are behind the market. Then, in the time it takes to rush our revelations into print, the market has caught up. And even in 2016, with a general softening of the market, it’s happening again. The five cars we’ve tipped here have gone up, because only a few months ago these cars all looked on the cheap side.

Ford Escort-RS Cosworth - Mercedes-Benz-560 SEC C126

Our choices have reacted quickly to shifting market sentiment. MGB GT V8s have a Seventies cool, interest in fast Fords has pulled up Escort Cosworths, the vogue for Nineties Mercs has raised SEC prices, Healeys are Brit-Cool and the Alfa is seen as hot and zany. These are rapid shifts caused by fresh perceptions of fashion from different buyers coming into the market. They’re not going up because of investor activity; enthusiasts admire them because they’re interesting, different and each defines a specific era. We still think they’re relative bargains and set to improve in value. Just don’t leave buying any of this lot for too long.



The 1.8-litre MGB GT won me over years ago on a drive around the Lake District in the snow. In a landscape alien to most cosseted classic cars, its modest power and compact dimensions made the mountainous surroundings feel like the Alps, and its combination of tactile steering, front wishbones and a squarely planted rear axle made it drive more like a miniature Jensen Interceptor or Aston Martin DB6 than an aged roadster with an image about as glamorous as The Archers. The fact that the V8 version is ‘just’ a familiar BGT at heart keeps its values rooted in the real world. However, with that compact, woofling V8 up front and the telltale 8 Cyl wording at the base of the Smiths rev counter, it promises to achieve the GT dream, rather than merely aspire to it.

Slide in and the cockpit’s familiarity, if you’re used to MGBs, means it’s easy to accustom yourself to it. Fire up the 3.5-litre Rover V8 and a combination of quietly thudding offbeat and heat-soak washes through the footwells, a world away from snorting fourcylinders and draughty vinyl hoods.

The B-series engine was always torquey for a 1.8-litre fourcylinder, but the V8 is on another plane altogether. Lift the clutch in first gear and although there’s no sudden jolt of twisting force, there is a steady, surprisingly consistent surge. Astons pull away like that. Best of all, this 1973 model has overdrive on third and fourth gears.

In overdriven third it’ll do the A-road waft – yes, waft, in an MGB; its damping was always smooth enough – but flick it out of overdrive and it jerks down instantly into potent, corner-exiting mid-range thrust almost like you’ve flicked a modern paddleshift.

Torque defines the GT V8’s character. Having to change gear less often is just one of the ways in which this manifests itself. Whereas an ordinary MGB feels like an E-type with 20 per cent of its potential knocked off at all times, the V8 suggests it’ll actually be comparable, simply because you don’t feel the need to consciously row it along all the time. Only wind noise upwards of 45mph and tyre slither on wet roads remind you of its humble origins and have you backing off the throttle. That said, the engine doesn’t affect the traditionally pliant MGB handling, unlike the MGC, simply because the all-alloy Rover V8 is actually lighter than the old iron B-series. ‘They do go rusty in the traditional areas,’ says owner Ted Law.

1973 MGB GT V8

‘Under wheelarches and down the sills. Also, certain parts unique to the V8 are now quite rare because MG only made 2600 V8s. It makes sense to buy a restored example rather than a rusty project.’ Rarity – and ease of engine-swaps – makes provenance a crucial issue on a BGT V8, as it might be on some more exotic cars. ‘Check the engine and chassis numbers match,’ warns Law. ‘A Heritage certificate from BMIHT will show what it should have.’

Perhaps the most positive surprise the V8 MG springs is in running it. ‘It costs the same to run as a four-cylinder MGB,’ says Law. ‘Most parts are available through the usual sources – the MG Owners’ Club, Moss, British Motor Heritage and so on – and the Rover V8 is as well-known and easy to live with as a B-series.

Ironically, because the B-series is thirsty for a four-cylinder and the Rover is frugal for a V8, they use the exact-same amount of fuel.’ They’re short on foibles too. ‘It’s no more difficult to look after than the four-cylinder car,’ says Jonathan Kimber, technical adviser with the MG Owners’ Club. ‘That said, the original V8 gearbox is very expensive to rebuild. It’s not an Achilles heel as such, but second gear takes a pounding from all the torque and can wear out.

Depending on how badly the gearbox is damaged, rebuild costs can top £2000, so most restorers replace it with a modern five-speeder. The engine isn’t difficult. Only the installation makes it awkward to change things – exhaust manifolds in particular – but that’s got more to do with the size of your fingers!’

Engine parts are getting scarce now, with cylinder blocks and crankshafts not available new, but a basic reconditioning of a standard 3.5-litre carb-fed Rover V8 is £1500 at Abbey Sportscars – the same as a reconditioned B-series four-cylinder from the MGOC. Long association with the popular (and numerous) 1.8 fourcylinder version has arguably held the GT V8 back a bit. However, see it for what it is – a Pininfarina-tweaked, classically proportioned V8-powered grand tourer, one of just 2600, and the £20k you’ll pay for a tidy example suddenly looks like incredible value.

‘Act swiftly because all the temptingly priced examples of MGB GT V8s will soon be gone’ QUENTIN WILLSON


I’ve always had a soft spot for BL’s V8 MGB. Four have passed through my hands and I remember each with fond affection.

Quick, rumbly and with neat handling, they come in fetching Morris Marina colours with a quaint parts-bin cabin ambience. It would have sold much better if British Leyland had marketed the V8 properly, done a convertible and LHD version for the US and not treated the project with such insane indifference. The alloy Buick 3.5 is the perfect weight for the front end, the overdrive box gives nearly 120mph and you can persuade the rear tyres to smoke.

And apart from the usual MGB rust they’re reliable and handy in modern traffic. I drove the original 1973 Autocar road-test MGB V8 the other day and was surprised at how much it made me smile. Sensible-mileage chromebumper V8s are now around £20k and real minters £32k. And they’ve gone up by 25% since we planned this feature. I see value in the rubber-bumper cars, though; there’s a very original ’76 90k-miler in white for sale in Wales for £15,995. Those black polyurethane appendages are part of the MGB story and we’re warming to them. Do act swiftly because all the temptingly priced examples of the 2591 built will soon be gone.


Engine 3528cc V8, ohv, two SU HIF6 carburettors

Power and torque 137bhp @ 5000rpm; 193lb ft @ 2900rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual with overdrive on third and fourth, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion

Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, lever-arm dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, lever-arm dampers

Brakes Discs front, drums rear

Weight 1101kg (2427lb)

Performance Top speed: 124mph / 0-60mph: 7.7sec

Fuel consumption 22mpg

Cost new £2310

Values now £4500-£32,000

1973 MGB GT V8

A small indicator of the power on offer. Handy overdrive gearbox is pricey to fix. Lightweight V8 is fun and surprisingly frugal.



A glinting three-pointed star. Refined looks, a sumptuous interior with all the toys and a torque converter automatic. This is surely the luxury barge among this particular collection of automotive temptations. Think again. Marque enthusiasts will have spotted precisely what this car is from 50 paces. Those with a penchant for Eighties überperformance will see ‘560 SEC C126’ and feel their heart rate increase. This is a muscle car remixed by Germans.

It’s imposing in the brutal yet restrained way that Mercedes nailed in the Seventies and Eighties, but there are no overblown wings and spoilers to spoil the Bruno Sacco-penned lines. It implies aggression, rather than shouting about it.

There’s nothing particularly vocal about the interior either, but the plush leather hide, solid and silky-shifting instruments and plethora of electronic toys make me feel like the successful plutocrat the car was designed for. It’s a gizmo tour de force.

Ah, force. While general wafting barely troubles the 5.5-litre engine, there lives within it more force than an overly developed Jedi. Slip the gearbox into sport mode, stick the shifter into ‘2’ and I make sure I blink before sinking my sole into the footwell. Flutter your eyelids when this car’s fully lit and you could be in another postcode by the time your retinas have refocused. It’s a full-on kick to the back that Detroit’s muscle car maestros would be proud of.

Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126

Unlike the products of Motor City, however, the 560 SEC handles with much more delicacy than you’d imagine. The wheel twirls with ease and there’s a fair degree of body roll should you get frisky in the corners, but you have far more communication with the front wheels than you might imagine. Now that I’m in tune with the car’s bulk, I can hustle it along with vigour.

Because it’s a Mercedes, the SEC can take this treatment with nonchalant ease. Properly maintained, the engine will carry on for eternity, but make sure you buy a good one in the first place. Worn valve guide seals are betrayed by blue smoke and can cost up to £500 to repair. Check that the timing chain and tensioners have been replaced at 100,000 miles, because it’s difficult to find parts now, and expensive when you do. Misfires are common – this could be down to distributor caps and leads, or air leaks from injector seals.

The bigger concern will be rust. Mud finds its way behind the lower edges of the front wings, rots out the lower corners under the indicators and through the chrome bumper trims. You can expect to pay £40 each for chrome bumper trims from Mercman ( in the unlikely event he has them. Charles Priaulx- Wells of the SEC-Shop (, 07970 553 071) says the chassis turrets also rust.

‘Take a look in the boot underneath the bottom of the rear screen; these areas are prone to leakages and rusting,’ says Charles. ‘If the boot is wet and there’s condensation on the underside of the bootlid, start worrying.’ The rear screens delaminate at the bottom corners where water collects if they’re left for too long. It then drips down inside the boot and rots the rear wheelarches from the inside – it can also turn the boot floor frilly. A replacement boot panel (under the rear screen) costs up to £1400 including parts and labour. ‘Boot and screens seals have trebled in price recently. Secondhand screens are impossible to find and a new one from Mercedes is £700,’ says Charles.

Despite all this, maintaining a good one should be relatively straightforward. Mercedes-Benz is better than most manufacturers for aiding its past repertoire, with most parts still available direct from main dealers.

It’s that slickness of ownership that holds such appeal for the owner of this particular SEC. ‘It’s smooth – really smooth,’ says Jon Skinner. ‘You’d never call it a sports car, but it’s big and comfy. I’ve owned it for a year, and it’s been sitting in a barn for half that time – and it started straight off the bat. Not many cars can do that.’

It really is a car that can do everything. Everyday tractability, cosseting refinement and truly sumptuous comfort – oh and the childlike thrill of burying the throttle in Sport mode. ‘I love the massive torque and oomph it has,’ Jon says with a grin. You will too – so seize one while you still can.


The full-fat SEC Benz has been flatlining for years but now all Eighties and Nineties Mercs are up we’re seeing interest in really good 560s. An ’89 with 18k miles recently sold for £50k – a new benchmark.

You can still find lowish mileage cars for less than £20k and if you don’t mind a Japanese import (it must be RHD with history though) there are still opportunities out there. But given the 560’s standard kit, F1 driver heritage and cool-as-ice sophistication we should all wonder why we’ve ignored them for so long. Good for 155mph and 0-60mph in 6.7 seconds this was one of the truly great cars of its era.

We’re tipping the 560 SEC as the next big V8 Merc like the 6.3 and 6.9 saloons and expect steady moves in 2016. A stint behind the wheel shows you why – this is a superbly refined luxo-missile that pulls and pulls in eerie silence and smooths out every crumple in the tarmac.

Gorgeous cabins, sensuous pillarless lines and unyielding quality mark this out as an enormously special and handsome Mercedes. Our 150k-mile test car still felt taut and at £6k seemed alluringly cheap but seeking out something with half the mileage would be a better bet.

Be wary of monster-mileage 560s as they can hide expensive trouble and buyer resistance will limit their future prospects. With a budget of £20k you could drive home a 60k-miler – a decision you won’t regret.

‘This is a superbly refined luxo-missile that pulls and pulls in eerie silence’ QUENTIN WILLSON


Engine 5547cc, V8, SOHC, Bosch KE-Jetronic fuel injection

Power 295bhp @ 5000rpm, 335lb ft @ 3750rpm

Transmission Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Steering Recirculating ball, hydraulic power assistance

Suspension Front: independent, coil springs, telescopic dampers with twin control arms, upper and lower torsion bars, semi-trailling arms, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, semi-trailing arms, anti-roll bar, coil springs, telescopic dampers (self-levelling)

Brakes Vented discs front and rear, servo assistance, ABS

Weight 1750kg

Performance Top speed: 155mph; 0-60mph: 6.7sec

Fuel consumption 14-20mpg

Cost new £52,185

Values now £3750-£50,000

1987 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC

SEC shares no exterior panels with the saloon. Comfort meets solidity. The 295bhp moves 1750kg briskly.




Folklore has the Austin-Healey pegged as a big, macho brute of a car, one that demands the same characteristics of the driver. As I pace around this 1962 BJ7 it’s hard to reconcile that image. At a whiff over four metres by one point five it takes up very little tarmac compared to the porky machines that we drive today.

It does have a powerful stance, the mass of the car swelling towards the front as if its 3.0-litre motor has taken a huge breath, ready for action. Its shape is described by a few perfectly judged curves, the work of ex-Rootes body engineer Gerry Coker. It nearly didn’t happen – Donald and son Geoff Healey rejected the design and wouldn’t have displayed it at the 1952 Earls Court Show if it weren’t for the intervention of chief engineer Roger Menadue. Roger and Gerry’s legacy is one of the defining shapes of a British motor industry in its pomp, one with the charisma to mesmerise eyes and minds too young to remember its era.

Once I’ve woven my six-foot frame between low roof, 17in steering wheel and leather seat I’m getting the impression of compactness. The Austin-Healey 3000 Sports Convertible (or BJ7) comes with the benefit of a proper fold-down roof with – wait for it – wind-up windows in place of the previous self-build tent and sidescreens. It also offers its gearlever from the top of the transmission tunnel for the first time, allowing a handy 0.75 inches of extra footroom next to a narrower transmission tunnel. It was all part of a package of improvements trying to keep a ten-year-old design relevant. Of course its Fifties character is central to the appeal, so I savour the upright seat and a slim-rimmed wheel close enough to hug, take a careful moment to engage non-synchromesh first gear and allow that big, simple overhead-valve straight-six to heave just 1162kg forwards.

1962 Austin-Healey 3000 MkII

There’s so much pull from 3000-4000rpm that I’ve little need to wring out the engine. With its bassy blare and stiff but precise gearchanges the ’Healey is soon in confident stride. Push hard into corners and its gentle understeer transitions smoothly into neutral attitude or oversteer, helped by Michelin 165 SR15s that relinquish their grip smoothly. Tarmac imperfections send a judderette through the structure, and mid-corner bumps can make the firmly leafsprung live axle wiggle but this labrador of a sports car feels playful rather than unruly.

Rob Fenton put this car on his mortgage when he moved house 31 years ago. ‘I wanted a British sports car, something that was beautiful, fun to drive and a bit of a muscle car. Apart from some body restoration about ten years ago I’ve had to do so little to it. It’s so simple and easy to maintain, and the engineering is incredible – the wheel bearings are the size of dinner plates!

‘The biggest problem is overheating caused by the cooling system silting up, cured by a recored radiator and six-blade fan. Taping the exhaust with insulating wrap reduced the heat in the passenger footwell and after breaking the exhaust twice I’ve learnt to go very slowly over speed bumps.’

With the enduring appeal of the Big Healeys and the ideal combination of early style with civilising improvements it’s surprising how the MkIIs remain such good value while the market has been chasing up Triumph TR5s to the left and Jaguar E-types to the right. Projects start at £14k and smart, usable examples can be found for £30-£40k. Chris Everard of JME Healeys picks out some of the largest potential costs. ‘Hot oil pressure at 2000rpm should be above 35psi, ideally 40-50psi. A full engine rebuild, involving crack testing, a leakdown test and sealing the water galleries runs to £12k, but it should then be good for 70,000 miles, and a gearbox rebuild can be £1100-£2640.

‘When inspecting a car the first thing that my eyes fall to are the door gaps and swage lines. If they’re out, I dig deeper.’ He points out that they were appalling when new, but these days we expect better. If the body needs restoring, budget £14.5k plus materials. An interior retrim is £5500 and restoring the hood frame and replacing the fabric costs £2400-£3000.

The Big Healey’s combination of dashing Fifties style, entertaining dynamics, easy ownership and halo of motor sport heroics make it one of the defining classics. That it’s been largely passed over by market fashion is one of the greatest gifts to us all.

‘2016 could be the year when the ’Healey 3000 goes into its longawaited second orbit’ QUENTIN WILLSON


In 2009 a reasonable Austin-Healey 3000 was £22k and by 2015 they’d doubled to £45k. Sounds a decent jump but actually it’s very tame compared to the mental rises in E-types, XKs, Porsches and Ferraris in the same period.

Somehow the ’Healey got forgotten, overshadowed by sexier classics. But we’ve noticed an upsurge in the last year with the very finest MkIIIs now being advertised at £90k. Decently restored MkIIIs are closer to £50k but we reckon there’s still value in the MkII models. Go for the ’62 BJ7 MKIIa and you’ll get a curved screen, wind-up windows and 2+2 seats. BMC built 43,000 big ’Healeys but only 5000 stayed in Britain and the real gems are the 1961 MkIIs – the tri-carb BN7s – with just 355 built. While everyone’s looking for MkIIIs, go out and find a RHD UK-supplied MkII and you’ll have a rare and collectable ’Healey with lots of future potential. Modern upgrades make them much more driveable, while improvements to dampers, steering and cooling work wonders. Properly sorted they can crack 120mph and the overdrive option means 25mpg.

There’s a revival in affection for the ’Healey’s old-school Britishness that taps into the current surge in nationalism and anti-EU sentiment. We think 2016 could be the year when the ’Healey 3000 goes into its long-awaited second orbit. Move quickly and you still might bag a good MKII in the early forties price range. Be a good buy, that.


Engine 2912cc inline six-cylinder, ohv, two SU HS6 carburettors

Power and torque 130bhp @ 4750rpm; 167lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, lever-arm dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, lever-arm dampers, anti-roll bar

Steering Cam and peg

Brakes Discs front; drums rear

Weight 1162kg

Performance Top speed: 117mph / 0-60mph: 10.3sec

Fuel consumption 19mpg

Cost new £1190 7s 9d

Values now £14-£55k

1962 Austin-Healey 3000 MkII

MkII brought improvements but kept the spirit. Five minutes and you’ll feel like a rally hero. Steel Dust Grey is unique to ’Healey engines.



There is nothing subtle about the Cossie, and with good reason. This is a car born with a purpose above and beyond merely generating profit – it was a machine built to win. In the early Nineties Ford needed a nimbler car to win rallies, and the result was the Escort RS Cosworth – although this car isn’t really an Escort at all. It’s a cut ’n’ shut Sierra RS Cosworth floorplan – its engine mounted longitudinally, not transversely.

Such effort and expense on the part of a major manufacturer is inconceivable today, but these were different times in motor sport. Today, that gives the Escort Cosworth a cachet – it’s part of the last great era of homologation specials, and the Escort is perhaps the brawniest of them all. Therefore, in many ways it’s hard to fathom why the Escort RS Cosworth is appearing in this feature at all. After all, as the ultimate motor sport-led RS Ford, it should surely already be scaling the dizzy financial heights like its predecessor, the Sierra RS500 Cosworth.

Even after all these years, the prospect of driving an Escort Cosworth has me distant and distracted at the breakfast table, the stomach contorting with a flip as the hour approaches. And as I approach the car, that breakfast-churning glee becomes stronger. Finally I’m here, and the huge bodykit makes it look intimidating. But once inside, it feels like a small car, and the upright dashboard with its shallow top clearly date it compared to modern hatchbacks, with their distant windscreens and stout, steeply angled A-pillars.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

The driver sits relatively high and the view out the back is dominated by that biplane wing.

Twist the key and the YB engine starts promptly without much drama. It’s never been the most musical or refined of four-pots, but its tuning potential is the stuff of legend. Chris Brown’s fabulous Auralis Blue example is one of the later small turbo models, built by Ford once the homologation quota had been fulfilled, and though less tuneable than the earlier cars it’s much more responsive for road driving in its standard form.

Performance is brisk, with a lovely seam of turbocharged torque available once the turbo is blowing. But it’s the chassis that rewards the most on a standard car such as this. A quick steering rack exaggerates the sense of agility to the point where it feels as though the car is pivoting almost beneath the driver’s seat. It falls short of being nervous, partly because of the four-wheel-drive system – naturally a full-time set-up, not the on-demand systems favoured by most modern road cars – and the awesome traction it brings, but also because you sense natural balance once in a corner. The Escort Cosworth never did manage to win the world rally championship, and although interest in it as a road car ran at fever pitch, the car crime epidemic was its undoing by the mid-Nineties. Only now is appreciation for the car beginning to spread beyond the die-hard RS community.

Your toughest challenge will be buying one in the first place. Doing your homework is paramount and it’s essential to speak to the RS Owners’ Club. So many were stolen, written off, or broken and then rebuilt from parts, that even today buying a genuine car is a minefield. Dave Lee is the Escort Cosworth registrar at the RS Owners’ Club. ‘Escorts didn’t suffer the same drop in values as Sierras did, but they didn’t go up either when other Cosworths did, until now. The big turbo cars are made a little bit better and don’t seem to rot as much as later cars.

‘Standard or only lightly modified is the way to go now. People who had tuned cars in the past are coming back to them now and buying a small turbo model, and it’s those later cars that tend to be the low-mileage ones.

‘The really good cars change hands often without being advertised. You can still find them for £10,000 but you’re wasting your time, really. Decent ones start at £20,000 privately, and beyond that it’s all about the individual car’s condition. For an exceptional example you can almost name your price. I know of sub-10k-miles cars that have sold for £60,000.’

‘It’s like driving on rails – it’s so surefooted,’ says owner Chris. ‘I get about 25-26mpg, and servicing costs are minimal – usually £100 a year. The only issue is parts supply – some things aren’t available and there’s the “RS tax” on what is.’ With prices rising almost daily, the time to buy this Fast Ford legend is now.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

A simple badge to make Nineties teenagers swoon. Chunky interior gets straight to the point.  Small-turbo engine is easier to use than earlier cars.

‘You’ve got a small window to find a really fresh low-miler at under £30,000’ QUENTIN WILLSON


We’ve always been a bit beastly to the Escort Cossie. Too Essex, too vulgar, we said. But with Eighties RS Turbos and Sierra Cosworths breaking records plus a growing interest in Nineties moderns, prices and perceptions are changing. We saw Escort Cossies at £22k and thought they looked cheap but since then good ones have added another £8k to their values and tiny-milers are now in £50k territory.

But there’s still a slight disconnect in the market and normal used car dealers can still price them on the low side – like Motorhub in Yorkshire who have a factory-spec, unmodified 56,000-mile Auralis Blue example for £22k. With only 7145 built between ’93 and ’98, 140mph and four-wheel drive they’re rare and very quick. The first 2500 were homologation specials and the ’94-on cars are more driveable with less lag from the Garrett T25 Turbo.

Clarkson and I used to hoon around in his and I remember it as riotous, raucous and very loud. But if you’re planning on investing in a keeper I’d go for an unmodified, stock-spec one with no stories, no past damage, long history and as few owners as possible. Tweaking them squeezes out lots more horsepower (and noise) but future interest is going to be around perfect, original examples. You’ll need to be smartish buying one of these too but you’ve got a small window to find a really fresh lowmiler at under £30,000. The very best will be moving up before long.


Engine 1993cc inline four-cylinder, DOHC, Marelli-Weber IAW P8 electronic fuel injection

Power and torque 224bhp @ 6250rpm; 220lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion

Suspension Front: MacPherson struts, track control arms, anti-roll bars. Rear: independent by semi-trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Discs all round

Weight 1320kg

Performance Top speed: 140mph / 0-60mph: 6.1sec

Fuel consumption 26mpg

Cost new £27,000

Values now £15,000-£50,000




It’s often joked that all classic Alfas are red; with the SZ it’s true, apart from the black one Andrea Zagato had built for himself. The other potential downside – from a UK perspective, at least – is that none were built in right-hand drive. So why am I recommending a red (with grey roof) left-hooker? Because unless you object to either of those factors, the SZ is brilliant in so many ways, and looks unlike anything else.

Time has been kind to its brutal, cubist lines. Rather than a monster (it was dubbed Il Mostro at launch), the Sprint Zagato simply looks dramatic today; a shape you cannot take your eyes off. It looks best from the rear three-quarter view and had this magazine’s design team salivating over the photos. The print-outs even garnered an enthusiastic huddle around the office printer from even those on non-motoring magazines. Nothing looks like an 1989 Alfa Romeo SZ, and it’s likely nothing else will in future.

Only 1020 SZs were built, along with about 250 of the convertible RZ model, which even in total makes them rarer than Ferrari F40s. A further addition to their ‘buy now’ collectable status is that from last year the first of them became eligible for personal import to the US under its 25-year rule. Prices quickly jumped by ten per cent, and the best can fetch $100k once over there, so expect some kind of exodus until supply and demand evens out. But such trade can only push prices one way.

Alfa Romeo SZ

Adrian Jardine of SZ specialist Alfa Aid Ltd is the Alfa Club’s SZ registrar, and a great ambassador for the car. It’s his SZ we’re driving today. ‘I’ve owned this one for six months but have had about 15 over the years – I buy one, don’t use it enough, sell it then miss it, and round we go again.

‘Aside from the looks they have such great handling – that’s the car’s unique selling point and is largely down to its 50/50 weight distribution. Its only driving flaw is that it doesn’t stop well for a car with this kind of performance. I usually fit uprated pads to improve bite and reduce fade.

‘They’re generally easy to live with, as long as you buy the right one in the first place. Most have been well looked after but there are a few horror stories out there. Problems can be hidden because there are a variety of composite and glassfibre panels built on to a steel Alfa 75 frame. It’s actually rare to encounter serious rust because most cars have been garaged, but you still need to check areas such as the bulkhead below the windscreen. If it rusts here, water will leak into the fusebox so you must fix it before the electrics go haywire. This is a screen-out job, and the screen will almost certainly break.

‘Also look for bubbles where the alloy roof joins its steel frame, and at the bottom of the C-pillars. Some items like headlamp glasses are getting scarce, but most stuff can still be sourced and we’ve started remanufacturing bonnets and bumpers.’

Anything Zagato is in demand at the moment, and it built the SZ. It’s often wrongly assumed that it designed it too, but those radical lines were actually penned at Fiat Centro Stilo by Robert Opron, best known for that fellow icon of otherness the Citroën SM, with detail work by Antonio Castellana.

But it didn’t hurt to have the famous styling house as part of the car’s name and with its ‘Z’ logo on the sides. It helped justify the premium price Alfa Romeo asked for it back in 1989. And it does so once again – values have risen about 33 per cent in the past two years and, with the US factor, show little sign of let-up.

Alfa Romeo SZ

But the SZ is about a lot more than investment; the driving experience makes this the kind of car you can love owning whichever way its price is going. The power’s not outstanding – this is a cruiser not a bruiser – but there’s more than enough grunt to back up those looks, and it does have that glorious rasping Alfa V6 engine note that I want as a track on my iPod.

The steering is super-smooth, with loads of feedback – why can’t all cars feel as delightful and communicative as this – and a height and reach adjustable wheel deals with any concern about Italian short legs/long arms driving positions. This car feels so easy to drive quickly. It stays poised and confidence-inspiring at speed through damp corners thanks to totally neutral handling and sharp turn-in, and the cabin mixes luxury trim with the seats’ sporting embrace. It’s hard not to love the SZ. And the colour red.


Last September Bonhams sold a delivery-mileage Alfa SZ for only £67,200 and we all thought it was surprisingly reasonable for what was probably the best surviving example of only 1020 SZs ever built. The car was ‘as new’ and had covered a tiny 349km.

Since then interest has galvanised and all SZs are in demand as enthusiasts realise that this is a massively distinctive and underpriced modern. We’ve also taken to those shocking lines and it doesn’t look nearly as ill-tempered as it did in 1989. Alfa needed something sensational to invigorate its ailing brand so gave the SZ – based on the V6 75 floorplan – cubist lines, resin panels, alloy roof and carbon fibre spoiler.

But it went a lot better than it looked and testers pulled 1.4g on corners and reported scary levels of grip. Like any Alfa there are issues – paint micro-blistering, duff electrics, electrolysis with the alloy roof and so on. Pricing is fuzzy at the moment and there are several mid-mileage cars around for £50k, but Joe Macari in London has an ultra-rare RZ convertible version in yellow with 34,000km for £55k.

For the rarest production Alfa ever, that’s strong value. Alfa’s drastic plastic Zagato is finally being seen both as a significant moment in Alfa’s history and one of the bravest car designs ever. With only 682 SZs and 198 RZs known to survive, they’re also really exclusive. They’re well worth coveting.


Engine 2959cc alloy V6, sohc per bank, Bosch ML4.1 Motronic fuel injection

Power 207bhp @ 6200rpm; 181lb ft @ 4500rpm

Transmission Five-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: independent by double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers. Rear: semi-independent by de Dion axle, transverse link, coil springs, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers

Steering Rack-and-pinion, power-assisted

Brakes Vented discs front and rear, servo-assisted

Weight 1280kg (2819lb)

Performance Top speed: 146mph / 0-60mph: 7.0sec

Fuel consumption 20mpg

Cost new £42,573 (1992 UK)

Values now £14,000-£36,500

‘Alfa’s drastic plastic Zagato is finally being seen as one of the bravest car designs ever’ QUENTIN WILLSON

Alfa Romeo SZ

Limited production, and about threequarters are left. Interior ergonomics are good, in a distinctly un-Alfa way. It may only pack 207bhp but it sounds truly glorious.



For me there’s a clear winner here and it’s the Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126, simply because of its stunning range of abilities. This is a no-compromise classic that could drive to Paris in lush comfort, impress onlookers, worry Porsches, haul the family and always start on the first turn of the key.

Quieter, smoother and better built than all our other choices, the SEC is also the best-looking by a hefty margin. I also think that these Eighties Merc coupés have real street presence and, like the W107 SLs (R107 / C107), will gain a strong future following. I love the 560’s epic powerplant – the 295bhp M117 5547cc V8 is one of MB’s best engines and feels wonderfully wicked and profligate.

And how many other classics offer ABS, twin airbags, heated memory electric seats, parking heater, automatic skid control and a rear privacy blind? Exactly. And if the market does start to really plateau in 2016 the SEC hasn’t been hyped and is coming out of the bottom of its price curve so values definitely won’t collapse.

My choice may appear lazy and sybaritic but the C126 SEC is also the only one of our five that could genuinely be pressed into service as a hassle-free, turn-key daily driver. The 560 SEC perfectly sums up the burgeoning appeal of moderns – classics that you don’t have to suffer to own but still radiate all the right non-conformist and classy messages. Mine would be black with black hide. 155mph? Bring it on.

Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126

Thanks to: the owners, Ted Law, Jonathan Kimber, Chris Bentley, Mercman (, Charles Priaulx-Wells (, MG Owners’ Club (, Austin-Healey Club (austinhealey-, JME Healeys (, Alfa Aid (, Alfa Romeo OC, Abbey Sports Cars (

‘These Eighties Merc coupés have real street presence’

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Additional Info
  • Drive: RWD