The Top 10 cars for a midlife crisis

From a Subaru Impreza to a Porsche 911, there’s no better way to deal with midlife crisis than by buying a totally ridiculous or over-the-top car. Here are 10 of the best - or worst, depending on how you look at it

Burt Reynolds, the man most middle-aged men are trying to be. Photograph from Smokey and the Bandit

Burt Reynolds, the man most middle-aged men are trying to be. Photograph from Smokey and the Bandit

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 18:27

Worryingly, this year I hit the same age as Billy Crystal’s character in City Slickers. Yes, I am now in the same age bracket as the central player in the ultimate midlife-crisis movie.

Getting my angst out of my system by driving cattle across Montana is, to be honest, probably not a viable option for me at the moment, so perhaps I should work out my crisis in the more traditional manner: by buying a ridiculous car. I’m a helpful chap, so I thought the rest of you midlifers might like to join me in a rundown of the 10 best (or worst, depending on your point of view) cars to buy when your waistline starts expanding as fast as your hairline is contracting.

Mercedes-Benz SL
Before you ask, no, you can’t afford either a 1950s 300SL Gullwing or a 1960s “Pagoda Roof” SL. The delicately beautiful Pagoda Roof model will run you at least €60,000 while a Gullwing could easily carry a seven-figure price tag. The mid-1990s offers some succour for those desiring some Riviera swagger on their driveways: a nice SL320 could cost you as little as €5,000 if you shop around. These were among the last built-like-tanks Mercs, so they’re rugged enough to be used every day; but, like all older high-end cars, small niggles can develop into big, expensive problems.

Go for: 1995 SL320, as an SL500 is just too darned thirsty
Watch for: Smoky exhausts, worn leather, knackered soft-tops, dodgy electrics.
Because you want to look like: Cary Grant.
Or try: Jaguar XK cabrio, BMW 6 Series convertible

Subaru Impreza Turbo
If you’re in your late 30s now, you were in your late teens when Colin McRae was at the height of his pomp. He may not have won as many titles as rival Tommi Makinnen, but it was McRae’s sideways-to-victory (or upside-down-to-defeat) style that won the hearts and minds of so many. As did his blue-and-gold Subaru Impreza Turbo. Compact, rugged, reliable and blisteringly fast when the road opened up – no wonder we all fell in love. Who wouldn’t want one, especially now that even late-2000s examples can be had for as little as €3,000. Mind you, at that level, it’s going to be pretty scabby. Budget closer to €16,000 for a nice one in the appropriate blue paint job with the gold Speedline wheels.

Go for: 2005 Impreza Turbo WRX
Watch for: Disintegrating clutches, cheap interiors. Make sure it has a full service history and a background check.
Because you want to look like: Carlos Sainz? Perhaps not . . .
Or try: Mitsubishi Evo X, Ford Focus ST

Volkswagen Amarok
We’ve embraced McDonald’s, Breaking Bad and Gillian Anderson, but one icon of American culture that never seems to have translated is the pickup truck. Yet surely it should have done: rugged, practical and cheap, it should be an ideal fit for the Irish mindset. Expensive to run? Sure, but you’re in your 30s now so you can afford the insurance and diesel, and the big VW Amarok is one of the more affordable flatbeds to run, and it’s comfy and reasonably refined into the bargain. It’s also around €30k cheaper than an equivalent Touareg.

Go for: The automatic option. No need to overexercise those left calf muscles. 
Watch for: Nothing if it’s new; signs of hard-life on a construction site if it’s not. 
Because you want to look like: MacGyver. 
Or try: Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara

Ford Mustang
You’ll be able to buy a brand new Mustang – in right-hand drive even – from next year and thirtysomethings up and down the land are salivating at the prospect. But the one the true midlifer craves is the original – preferably a 1968 GT fastback in Highland Green. Why? Because when we were young ’uns, Bullit was getting a re-release on newfangled DVD, and we could all relive that most epic, loud and continuity error-riddled of Hollywood car chases. A brand new Mustang will probably cost you in the region of €50k when it arrives next year. An original fastback in Steve McQueen spec will set you back similar money but a nice, if less desirable, version could cost you between €10-20k.

Go for: A nice mid-1960s fastback V8 will cost you around €35k, imported from the UK.
Watch for: Rust (everywhere), race or rally mods, drum brakes that can’t cope with V8, poor RHD conversions.
Because you want to look like: Inspector Frank Bullitt, San Francisco Police Department.
Or try: Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro

Ferrari F430 Modena
That pumping Harold Faltermeyer music, the wide-screen Michael Mann visuals and, of course, the Ferraris. Yup, Miami Vice was the eighties TV show (forget the dreadful recent movie remake) that had it all and, quite apart from Don Johnson in pastels and no socks, it had a Ferrari Testarossa (and a Daytona Spyder, but that was a mere replica). To sate those childish Ferrari cravings, go now for a 2005-2010 F430 Modena. Like the Testarossa, it’s mid-engined, Italian, loud and fast, but, unlike its fragile flat-12 grandfather, the V8 F430 is reliable (if cared for properly) and tolerant of ham-fisted driving. The 15l/100km economy means it’s thirsty, but you won’t care as soon as you’ve heard those opening synth chords through the stereo . . .

Go for: As recent a one as you can afford. A 2007-2008 version should set you back about €120,000.
Watch for: Service history. Unless every little box is ticked, walk away.
Because you want to look like: Crockett and/or Tubbs.
Or try: Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8

Mazda MX-5
Ever since it was first launched in 1989, the little Mazda roadster has been at once both the best small sports car around and probably the only really sensible mid-life crisis car. Why? Well, because it’s a Mazda first and a sports car second. That means that even the oldest versions have solidly reliable engines, fully functioning electronics and roofs that still keep the rain out. Well, as long as they’ve been reasonably well looked after. The good thing is that even a new MX-5 is pretty affordable (€32,995 in fact) and if you go for something more recent you can also choose from the desirable Roadster Coupé, which packs a neat, light little hard-shell roof into the same space as the folding soft-top. Because it’s agile and fun to drive, while also being economical and reliable, the MX-5 is the perfect car for the midlifer who wants to stay on good terms with their bank manager.

Go for: €11k would net you a 2008 Roadster Coupé. Go for it.
Watch for: Sticky roof mechanisms, water leaks, uneven tyre wear, boy-racer mods.
Because you want to look like: A hairdresser. Who cares? You’re still having more fun than most.
Or try: Lotus Elise, BMW Z4

Mini Cooper S
Most of us were born in the 1970s, but even then, the legend of the Mini’s Monte successes were still alive and well. And The Italian Job was already on hard rotation on Bank Holiday telly, so it was pretty much impossible to get away from the fact that Minis were all about having fun. That’s why BMW recreated the car in 2000 – because it knew that by then those of us raised on a diet of blowing the bloody doors off would be of car-buying age and would be craving something fun, stylish and just a bit adorable. I’ll leave it up to my wife to describe why the fun-loving midlifer should be driving a Mini Cooper: “It’s like wearing a Wonderbra – you feel better, sharper and more in the groove.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Go for: Post-2006 facelift Cooper S turbo. €15k should get you a nice 2008 model.
Watch for: Rattly cold starts mean a banjaxed timing chain, worn front wishbone bushes, knackered flywheels.
Because you want to look like: Michael Caine, of course.
Or try: Ford Fiesta ST, VW Golf GTI

Traditionally, those craving a Morgan in their mid-life crisis had to plan well in advance. It wasn’t so long ago that you had to order your Morgan eight full years in advance, so that the ash for its frame could be carefully cut and cured, the aluminium for its body gingerly hand-rolled, and the ancient Rover V8 engine could be prised from under the bonnet of a passing Range Rover. Things are a little different now. Morgans now use as much carbon fibre and aerospace tech as they do wood and leather, although the traditions of hand-making are very much still to the fore. More modern BMW and Ford units have replaced the older engines, and they’re much more sophisticated to drive than once they were. For the full-on Morgan thrill, though, why not go for the little open three-wheeler, with its Harley Davidson engine and Sopwith Camel styling?

Go for: Go on, get the three-wheeler. Such fun.
Watch for: Total lack of weather protection (three-wheeler), bespoke pricing (all models).
Because you want to look like: Biggles. Tally ho!
Or try: Caterham 7, Grinnall Scorpion

Here it is, the ultimate bad-boy car. To their makers, BMW M cars may be all about precision high-performance engineering and subtle aesthetics, but to those of us creeping up towards our 40s, they’re George Thorogood & The Destroyers in four-wheeled form: bad to the bone. Whether you’re going for an original E30 (screaming four-pot, sky-high prices, LHD only), one of the six-cylinder cars (best performance balance, but many have been abused) or the just-about-to-be-replaced V8 E92 version (staggering performance, staggering fuel bills), you’ll be getting the finest slice of German motoring expertise around. Yes, you can still get the kids in the back, but you’ll have to provide them with airsick backs because the temptation to get one of these sideways off of every roundabout between here and school is just too much to bear.

Go for: An E46 (2001-2007) with the manual gearbox. €10k gets you a dog, €20k a nice one. 
Watch for: Dodgy electrics, low oil pressure, big end troubles, accident damage, kerned wheels
Because you want to look like: Jo Winklehock on a hot lap.
Or try: Audi RS4, Lexus IS-F

And finally . . . 

Porsche 911
Ah, the ultimate midlife crisis car, the one we all really crave for our 38th birthday. If you’re a man, it’ll be a manual 3.8 S (possibly 4S) in gunmetal grey – the ideal stealth weapon for Sunday morning back-road black ops. If you’re a woman, it’ll be a pearlescent white Carrera Cabrio (maybe Targa) with the DSG (Tiptronic if it’s an older model) that just slots nicely into the parking spaces in BT’s. Either way, the 911 is an ultimate, its position as a midlife crisis car fuelled and driven by the fact that it was probably the only proper flash motor any of us got to see up close as kids. New, you need to budget €140,000, but a good second-hand one (997 versions are the best, 996 are getting on a bit, air-cooled 993 is attracting too much collector money now) can be had for a fraction of that. Handling has been tamed since the scary 80s so you don’t need to rekindle your 20-year-old-self’s reaction times. Just as well.

Go for: Either splurge and get a brand new 991 series car, or budget around €60k for a nice, used 997.
Watch for: Full. Porsche. Service. History. Worthless without one.
Because you want to look like: you’re having a mid-life crisis.
Or try: Mercedes-Benz CLK AMG, Aston Martin V8 Vantage

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