Here at Garage Dreams, we are all about classic cars.
More specifically, we are all about preserving the history of classic cars. Our goal is to try and ensure that the great vehicles of yesteryear live on in the hearts and minds of the motoring public (especially as we enter an era of increasingly bland, boring cars).
As such, we seek to answer our readers’ questions about classic motoring.
One of the most common questions we get asked is “what is the best classic car for daily use?”.
Readers want to know what classic cars they can buy that are going to provide a high level of usability and durability (by classic standards). If you’re going to daily a classic, then you want to make sure it actually does what you need it to do.
In a recent article we discussed if you can and should daily drive a classic car. If you haven’t read that article yet, then we suggest you do so here.
In that piece we go into more detail on the pros and cons of daily use of classic cars.
Ultimately, our opinion is that if your budget and storage space can stretch to it, you are probably better off getting a more modern, “mundane” car for day to day driving (something like a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord etc) and then having a fun classic for the weekend and occasional use. This is what we do ourselves.
The advantage of this approach is that you get to enjoy the superior reliability, safety and creature comforts of a modern car, along with the fun of a nice classic that you won’t have to put too many miles on.
However, if you just want one vehicle that you can daily drive, then in this article we cover some of the best options.
Please note that our editorial team is based in Japan and New Zealand; we therefore are focusing more on Japanese and European classics (which tend to have decent availability in our local markets) as opposed to American cars, which tend to be harder to find outside of the USA.
In fact, we would greatly appreciate any suggestions by our American readers as to what a good “domestic” daily driver classic is. Feel free to leave a comment with your pick of the best American classic daily drivers. If we can get some good suggestions, then we will look to add them in to this article.
Please also note that we are primarily looking at “modern” classics (post 1990) as this is the era of car that interests us and our readers the most, based off our web analytics and comments. However, we have looked at some older cars too.
Now, let’s get started with our list of the best classic cars for daily use.
Best Sports Car – MX-5/Miata
No discussion of classic cars could be complete without reference to the Mazda MX-5/Miata/Eunos.
In fact, many claim that “Miata is always the answer”.
If you don’t need more than two seats in your daily driver, then we reckon a Miata/MX-5 must be your first port of call. Those who say that Miata is always the answer really do have a good point, there isn’t much out there that comes close.
The MX-5/Miata is one of the most successful sports cars of all time in terms of units sold, and has built up a loyal following across the world due to its legendary combination of drivability, reliability and availability.
Excluding the current generation, you’ve also got three great generations of car to pick from (NA, NB and NC) all with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. The first generation, NA, is the true classic but there are good arguments for looking at the later generations as well.
Regardless of which generation and specific model you buy, you are going to get yourself into one of the greatest sports cars of all time. Not the fastest, not the most luxurious, but certainly one of the best in terms of total package.
- Miata is always the answer
- Fairly economical on fuel
- Generally reliable; easy enough to work on (especially earlier models)
- High degree of parts availability
- Nothing beats taking the roof off and enjoying the wind in your hair on a warm summer’s evening.
- Good for younger drivers as MX-5/Miatas are fun to drive but not too powerful.
- Mod potential if you want to go faster
- Lack of space; only two seats and small boot. Not ideal for dog owners, small families, NBA league players etc.
- Poor safety features, especially on earlier models that may lack airbags and other things we take for granted these days.
- Earlier models are not the most powerful; perhaps not the best choice for freeway driving.
View our Mazda MX-5/Miata buyer’s guide here for more information on the various generations of this car and how to find and purchase a great example. This guide covers every generation of the MX-5/Miata.
As we said above, if space isn’t a concern (or the lack of safety gear) then you’d be hard pressed to find a better car for the money than Mazda’s most enduring sports car.
Best Hot Hatchback – Golf GTI
If you’re looking for a daily driver classic car that is both practical and fun, then you’d be hard pressed to go past the genesis of hot hatchbacks, the Golf GTI.
Now spanning into eight generations, the Golf GTI nameplate is synonymous with hot hatchbacks.
At Garage Dreams we think that the current “sweet spot” for Golf GTIs is probably the MK5.
MK1 & 2 GTIs are too old and climbing in price (they are superb cars in their own right, but getting a bit long in the tooth).
MK3 & 4 GTIs are definitely entering “modern classic” territory but were generally not that well regarded in their time.
MK6 is seen by many to be an awkward generation; considered by some to be an inferior drive to the MK5, and much less reliable than the MK7 that replaced it.
However, MK5 is a good option because it was – in some respects – the “rebirth” of the Golf GTI after the disappointment of the MK4.
MK5 Golf GTIs have many of the modern conveniences that you would want and expect for daily use, but also are great to drive and have a fairly strong reputation for reliability as well as good aftermarket and third party parts support.
The MK5 was also the first Golf GTI available with the DSG gearbox, which is a good option if you want the convenience of an automatic with the ability to manually shift when you want to “let your hair down’ and have some fun.
While we like all generations of the Golf GTI (some more than others of course) we do believe that the MK5 is hard to beat as far as modern daily driver goes.
- Solid performance in terms of straight line speed and handling
- Excellent practicality; the Golf GTI truly is a “do it all” kind of car
- Good safety by modern classic standards
- Decent reliability and parts support
- DSG provides a good alternative to manual if you want the convenience of automatic for cruising and around-town driving
- Probably one of the best all-rounders in the game
- Some interesting special models available in certain markets, e.g. 30th anniversary and Pirelli editions
- Fairly economical on gas
- Not the fastest/most exciting hot hatch
- Can be expensive to fix when it goes wrong due to higher level of complexity
- Might not be old enough for some to consider it a classic
Click here to read our full MK5 Golf GTI buyer’s guide and history. This guide will help you to find a great example of this popular car.
Best Sedan – Lexus LS400/Toyota Celsior
Looking for the best comfortable cruiser classic for daily use and don’t mind too much about poor fuel economy (“gas mileage” to our American friends)?
If so, then the Lexus LS400 is one of your best bets.
Although there were many comfortable cruising sedans to come from Japan in the 1990s (such as the Nissan Cima, Mazda Sentia, Honda Legend etc) the Lexus LS400 – also sold in other markets as the Toyota Celsior – has to be your best bet.
This car was a game changer when it was new, and still holds up incredibly well today.
The Lexus LS400 was the vehicle that really brought Lexus on to the scene in the United States (although, to be fair, it was also the first Lexus vehicle).
It was the genesis of a generation of Lexus buyers, and cemented the “L” badge as something to be desired.
Even the rapper Notorious BIG boasted in one of his rhymes of “The Lexus LS, four and a half” of which he was so proud (nobody thought to remind him at the time that the Lexus LS400 actually came with Toyota’s four litre 1UZ-FE … allowances have to be made for artistic licence).
The LS400 is famed for generally being an extremely reliable and well-built vehicle, and also luxuriously comfortable – even by today’s standards.
When Cadillac engineers disassembled a 1990 Lexus LS400, they came to the shocking conclusion that they simply could not build such a well-engineered and produced vehicle at any cost (much less a competitive price point). That is to say that the Lexus LS400 was so good, competitors couldn’t even replicate it if they wanted to.
If your idea of a great daily driver classic car is a comfortable, quick (in a straight line) sedan that can easily seat four adults in luxury, then the LS400 is your best bet. There are few classic cars we would rather munch away at motorway miles in.
The LS430 and LS460 that came afterwards are great cars in their own right – and more modern of course – but somehow failed to capture the magic of the LS400.
- Legendary Lexus reliability – it’s not uncommon to see these with absolute Star Trek mileages
- The 1UZ-FE is one of the greatest V8 engines ever produced
- Still fairly quick in a straight line
- Sounds good
- Comfortable and luxurious
- Relatively safe compared to classics of the era
- Practical and spacious; a great road trip vehicle
- Thirsty on gas – this could be an issue if you do a lot of miles, especially in stop-start. This car was built for 90s oil and gas prices!
- If things do go wrong, then expect large bills as these were complicated vehicles
- Not the most exciting drive in terms of dynamics/handling
We are currently working on a buyer’s guide for the Lexus LS400, so stay tuned for that.
Best Wagon/Family Car – Volvo 850R
We firmly believe that very little is cooler than a fast wagon. In a world of bland SUVs, wagons stand out as the thinking man’s choice for family transportation. Any wagon is automatically cooler than an SUV, and doubly so if the wagon is fast.
And what is the ultimate fast wagon?
In our opinion (from a classic car perspective) that award has to go to the Volvo 850R.
While there are much faster wagons out there like Audi’s RS lineup, the Volvo “box on wheels” is a legendary, timeless design and is the quintessential station wagon.
If the 850R was good enough for James May to drive across Africa in a Top Gear special, then it’s good enough for us:
The 850R combines usable performance, insane levels of practicality (it is genuinely amazing just how much you can fit in one of these) along with solid safety for its age and that understated, never-gets-old Scandinavian design.
How can you say no to a wagon that took part in touring car championships and won races?
In fact, it is this writer’s dream classic – but finding one down here in New Zealand is much easier said than done.
If you can’t find an 850R, there were also the 850 T5 and 850 T5-R to look out for as well.
- Practical and spacious – there was even a seven seater option for larger families, and other nice features like built-in booster seats
- Decent straight line speed (especially in manual guise)
- Volvo safety – at least compared to vehicles of a similar age
- IT’S A FAST WAGON WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?
- Getting fairly long in the tooth now
- Relatively rare cars; you may find it hard to locate a good example
- Not the best handling cars in the world
- Can be expensive to fix when they go wrong
- Not particularly economical
Go here to check out our Volvo 850 T5/T5-R/850R buyer’s guide and history for more information on this legendary vehicle.
Conclusion – What Is The Best Classic Car For Daily Use?
Picking a classic car for daily drive usage isn’t the easiest process.
No matter what you pick, you are going to have to compromise in some regards.
However, in this article we have covered four great options for classic cars that are usable every day.
There are, of course, dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of other suggestions we could have made, but we hope you find the options in this article a useful starting point to start your buying journey. We are totally aware that there are all manners of BMWs, Mercedes, Hondas and more that you could buy and use every day, but we had to start somewhere.
We have tried to pick cars that are available in most markets, as opposed to JDM cars for example that are practically impossible to find in the United States (an example of a great JDM daily classic would be the Accord Euro R; a Honda Accord body with Recaro seats and a high-revving VTEC engine).
If you have any suggestions you’d like to make, then feel free to leave a comment below. We are always open to updating and modifying this list over time, as there are so many great options out there for classics with solid potential for regular use.
We always welcome any feedback, both positive and negative, and do our best to respond promptly.