Beetle & Co – Three entry-level classics for under 20,000 euros

VW Beetle

There is a widespread misconception that classic car ownership is an expensive hobby. Certainly, if you are in the premium segment, repairs and maintenance cost a lot. The VW Beetle is just one of numerous examples that debunk this prejudice and provide appropriate entry-level models in every type of budget.

The VW Beetle, the Mazda RX-7 and the Renault 5 come from different eras and regions, were designed for different groups of buyers, but still have something in common, including success for the respective brands and a similar price range today.

VW BEETLE – THE ENDURANCE RUNNER

Bug, Käfer, Coccinelle, Maggiolino, Type 1 – or simply Beetle? The choice of nickname is up to you, there is clearly enough choice, for hardly any other vehicle has as many pet names as the Beetle. When Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to design a “people’s car” in 1934, it was in no way foreseeable what a milestone in automotive history would be.

Even more than 80 years after its development began, the VW Beetle has lost none of its appeal and charm. The former VW Beetle advertising slogan “It runs and runs and runs” still applies today. Due to the long construction period, there are numerous ways to enter the Beetle segment, from the early, coveted and expensive specimen with pretzel windows to the last Mexican models produced.

When making a purchase decision, the paintwork and bodywork should always be checked carefully. Stone chips and other damage sometimes reach right down to the bodywork and provide a dangerous target for rust.

It is also essential to look under the Beetle. Special attention should be paid to the frame head, which is notorious for its rust – replacing this part is expensive and very time-consuming! The engine is the indestructible core of the One.

But there, too, you should take a close look at the running and the tightness so that there are no nasty surprises.

WHY BUY A BEETLE?

With over 21.5 million units produced, the VW Beetle continues to enrich the world’s roadscape – and will continue to do so for some time to come, as an exceptionally large number of examples have been preserved to this day.

Loyal fans organise themselves in clubs, go on outings and meet up at regulars’ tables – driving a classic Beetle is a small statement, similar to the Mini or the Duck.

The spare parts situation for the car is exceptionally good, most parts are available at moderate prices. With a VW Beetle, you can fulfil a dream – at affordable prices. May it run and run and run for many years to come.

MAZDA RX-7 – THE EXTRAVAGANT EXOTIC

If you think the Volkswagen is “too German” or too “mainstream”, look to the Far East. There, too, there are numerous models that have been built over decades in different generations – i.e. most of them were technically mature – but nevertheless always reinvented themselves by changing their appearance.

How about a Mazda RX-7, for example? With its Wankel engine, it brings a certain extravagance, but in terms of looks it adapts to the respective sports car zeitgeist. When the RX-7 was launched in 1978, the era of the Wankel engine was almost over. Gradually, the other manufacturers withdrew from this form of drive, as the main criticisms were that it was too fragile and consumed too much fuel.

It was precisely these adjustments that head of development Kenichi Yamamoto made, significantly improving the image of these engines. The 24-year production period shows that there has been a significant development between the first attempts in the NSU Ro 80 and the late examples of the RX-7 series, which has been built more than 800,000 times.

The Wankel engine in the RX-7 is not only a reliable unit, it also offers one of the car’s great plus points: low weight. Especially in the first two generations, which were already quite light, the weight saving made a big difference in terms of acceleration and top speed.

Just over 100 hp was enough to catapult the one tonne sports car close to the 200 km/h mark. The nippy Japanese car also scored points with its low entry price. Compared to one of its competitors, the Porsche 924, even the basic version was 6,000 marks cheaper.

Today’s prices for good models can also make you wonder: the Wankel Coupé starts at 10,000 euros, and for 20,000 euros you should be able to get a really good example.

RENAULT 5 – THE LITTLE FRIEND

The Beetle is too staid, the RX-7 too daring? Well, how about a little friend? The R 5, introduced in 1972, became a great international success for Renault.

The modern compact car concept with a self-supporting body convinced with its optimal use of space and clear exterior dimensions. In Germany, the basic version Renault 5L with 36 hp was offered at the same price as a VW Beetle 1303 or an Opel Kadett 1100.

The early versions still had the revolver gearstick known from the R 4 and it was not until 1979 that the R 5 could also be ordered with four doors. A little earlier, Renault met the demand for more power. In 1976, the Alpine version of the “little friend” was introduced, with a 1.4 litre engine tuned to 93 hp. The turbo added another 17 hp in 1982.

For those who place more value on “individuality” than on performance, the vehicles from the limited special series, which are hard to find today, are the ultimate. The special series Monte Carlo, Le Car, Campus, Super Campus or Laureate (also as Laureate Turbo) are to be mentioned here.

Renault’s successful model was built without any major changes until 1984, when the visually similar, but completely new R 5 and therefore perhaps also called “Supercinq” rolled into the dealerships. This car, built on the Renault 9 platform, was also available as a diesel and as a convertible (1986-1991) for the first time.

In the meantime, the competition had jumped on the compact car bandwagon and FIAT with the Uno and above all Peugeot with the 205 were heating up Renault’s sales figures. So the second generation had to offer variety, which Renault did, from the entry-level “Campus” to the exclusive and extensively equipped “Exclusiv” or “Baccara” versions.

The continuing success of the R5 meant that it lived longer than planned, with its successor, the Renault Clio, appearing as early as 1990. But the R 5 remained on sale until 1996 and, with the R19, was the last “numbers Renault”.

If you want to buy a good R 5 today, be it the first series or the facelift model called “Supercinq”, you have to look long and hard. The places where the Renault is vulnerable to poor care are not few.

In addition, the R 5 shares the fate of virtually all small cars and everyday objects in that they were not preserved as classics with an eye to a possible future, but were used as workhorses.

Renault R5

Text Jan Fröhlich & Paolo Ollig Photos Mazda Motors, Renault Communication, Volkswagen AG

Author: Lennart Klein

Lennart Klein ist Redakteur beim Classic Trader Magazin. Seine Begeisterung gilt zwei- und vierrädrigen Klassikern gleichermaßen. Traum-Klassiker: Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior & Mercedes-Benz 600.

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