The best first cars for enthusiasts

3. Fiat Panda 100HP

Picture a Fiat Panda driver and you’ll probably think of a jolly pensioner on their way to pick up the week’s milk and bread. But your nan’s shopping cart this is not.

In true hot hatch tradition, Fiat transplanted the 1.4-litre dual-overhead-cam from the then-new Grande Punto into its tiddly city car and eked an extra 5bhp out of it, for a total output of 99bhp.

That gives it a surprising turn of pace in real-world conditions because the car weighs a scant 975kg and it has a six-speed gearbox to keep the revs up. 

Its cheeky character is backed by the reworked styling, with an expansive Audi-style front grille, flared arches at each corner, and a dinky spoiler at the back. 

These were remarkably good value for money on the second-hand market for years but have recently achieved cult status so values are climbing. Expect to pay anywhere between £1000 and £6000, with restoration candidates on the lower end and low-mileage collectors’ cars on the higher.

Insurance is rated at group 11, making it one of the most affordable sporty cars to run as a first-timer.

But heed this warning: you need to buy one very carefully, as the number of bespoke parts on the 100HP can make it a nightmare when things go wrong. The rear beam axle, for example, is liable to rust and snap around the springs. It wasn’t used on any other car, and Fiat didn’t build very many 100HPs, so finding a replacement is tricky.

Likewise, you’ll want to be protective of the bodywork. The bumpers are made from recycled plastic so can be tricky to repair – some body shops will outright refuse to attempt a fix – and replacements cost around £400 each on the second-hand market.

But get a good ’un and you’ll own one of the most charismatic small cars of the past 20 years, which you can fully exploit without risking your licence or safety.

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