10 cars to soothe a mid-life crisis (for less than 20 grand)

If you were born in the 1960’s or very early in the 1970’s, there’s a good chance you:

a) think your local barista (half your age, of course) is kinda cute, and
b) think he/she just might be into you, too.

Newsflash – your barista IS cute, but those smiles you get every morning are not because he/she is into you. They’re what is widely known amongst non-delusional people as good customer service.

All is not lost, however.

Why not enjoy some summer cruising in the dream ride of your youth (or a modern equivalent) with a partner who loves you in the real world?

Here are 10 cars you could snap up today for less than 20 grand, all of them specially selected to put some cream in your coffee.

1. Alfa Romeo Spider

It’s no coincidence that I have a few convertibles on this list. Or an Italian one, at that. Who doesn’t dream of the wide-open road, a rorty engine in front, nimble steering and a gentle breeze?

OK, the gentle breeze might be wishful thinking, but the Alfa Spider features classic good looks that stand out in any civilised setting, whether it be a country picnic or a night at the theatre.

Be wary of rust and poor maintenance. The good news is that if you get a good one, you may never want to sell.

Looks great in red.

Alfa Spider

2. Mazda MX-5

Panned as a hairdresser’s car by everyone who’s never driven one.

The little MX-5 is the slightly sensible helmsmith’s dream. It has an unrivalled capacity to deliver 100% fun while simultaneously offering rock-solid reliability and very affordable ownership costs.

Looks like a very obvious mid-life crisis in red. Less so in blue.


3. Porsche 944 S2

Find a good one and you’ll be amazed at how modern it feels for a 20+ year-old car. It’s got plenty of low-end torque for great drivability in all conditions, superb balance and great handling. The interior’s not luxurious but features all the conveniences you’d expect for the time. Porsche’s build quality means that there’s a good chance it’ll still be in very good condition, too. Pop-up headlamps are a nostalgic touch.

Make sure to check for a good maintenance history and be prepared to keep it going. 944’s have a great record for being rock-solid reliable, but the parts bill will kill you if it goes pear-shaped.

Looks outstanding in red.


4. RenaultSport Megane

For the mid-lifer who just wants to drive.

This is probably not going to impress your barista, but the RS Megane (along with it’s smaller sibling, the RS Clio) has become a bit of a cult car here in Australia. The RenaultSport range puts the stuff that Renault know from its racing experience into a road car. It’s not a luxurious item, but it’s a fast little four-pot and it sticks to the road like poop to a blanket.

Unfortunately, you won’t get the better-looking new generation for under $20K, but the first generation cars are exceptional value now.

Looks sensational in Blood Orange.

RS Megane BO

5. BMW E30 325i

You can get hold of a BMW M3 for around $20K if you look hard enough but odds are it’ll be so rough that you wouldn’t want to buy it.

Instead, why not pick up an E30’s with its handsome looks and get the perfect weight balance and creamy straight-six to boot? You won’t be screaming down the road like a Banshee but you’ll have plenty of fun and just enough cred amongst those that know what’s what.

For those who want a more modern twist, look for an E46 330 Ci. It’s the full bag of fruit in a sharp looking suit.

The E30 looks great in red. The E46 is more commonly found in more Teutonic tones like silver or dark blue.

BMW 325i

6. Holden Monaro

Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!

Yes, you can get a modern Monaro for under $20K and it doesn’t need to be the wimpy V6, either. Most of the V8’s under $20K have high mileage but look hard and a good example can be found without too much wear and tear.

It’s not aged as well as people might have hoped but the Monaro is still one heck of a performance package and it might just be the last of an iconic Australian breed.

Infrequent in red. Try to dress it up a little more than this, OK?


7. Alfa Romeo GTV6

I had to put another Italian on this list and seeing the classic mid-lifer Ferrari 308 is at least $30K out of bounds, the GTV6 gets the nod.

It’s beautiful to behold and the noise….. oh, the noise. A transaxle gearbox helps with weight-distribution and while it’s not overly endowed with grunt by modern standards, there’s plenty of fun to be had on a winding country road.

Those wanting a more modern alternative might seek out a late 1990’s or early 2000’s GTV V6 or Spider.

A jaw-dropper in red. Get the black interior, much harder wearing and better looking than the tan.

Alfa Romeo GTV6
Alfa Romeo GTV6

8. MG B

“I spent 16 grand on an MG B, what else could she want from me?”

It’s been 30 years since Jon English sang those words but not a lot’s changed. You can spend a lot less on an MG B but a good silver-bumper model will still set you back 16 grand.

Make sure that it comes with a set of spanners and a drip mat.

Looks great in red or British Racing Green.

MG B Roadster 1962-67

9. Honda S2000

Is this the last great Honda sports car?

The S2000 qualifies for being a mid-lifer by virtue of its utter impracticality, being a pure two-seater. It also offers a great drive with superior handling and a high-revving engine. Honda build quality and reliability doesn’t hurt, either. Think of it as an upmarket MX-5.

Looks good in red, but seen more often in silver with a red leather interior.


10. Nissan 350Z

Nissan have won plenty of awards for their V6 engines and five minutes in a modern Z car will tell you why. The 350Z pulls like a train and with sleek modern looks, it’s well equipped to cast a spell. The downside is an interior built to keep the costs down but later models (more $$$) addressed that.

Factor tyre costs into your budget. You’re going to need them.

For a retro option, the Datsun 260Z is available under $20K. It’s got genuine enthusiast cred but the driving experience will show the passage of time in no uncertain terms. If you’re after refinement, go modern.

Looks great in red, blue, black or silver.



I wrote this piece earlier this week as a submission for a new magazine website here in Australia. As of Monday afternoon, they were accepting freelance contributions for motoring content. As of this evening, they’ve cut a deal with another site to share content. Que sera sera.

So I decided to share it here instead. I don’t often do lists, but it’s one of the styles the editor suggested and I had fun doing it.

The fact that I’ve owned a few cars on this list shouldn’t be taken as evidence of a mid-life crisis, even if I’ve been having one for around 5 years now 🙂

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  1. And every car mentioned was colored RED!

    There’s something about a mid-life crisis that says the car has to be red!

    And the obvious, I did notice the MX-6 was offered in blue.

  2. Is it true in Australia like it is here in the U.S. that red cars, especially red sports cars, tend to draw more, shall we say, attention from the police than cars of other colors?

  3. When I just got my drivers license and first car (a 10-year old Toyota) around 1985, my dream cars were an Opel Manta GSi and Ford Capri 2.8. There were BMW and Mercedes but I knew for sure those would be out of reach for sure. I did get a Manta B but it was actually a Vauxhall Cavelier. Not quite the same as a GSi but a fun car anyways. Would be awesome to have a Manta or Capri these days.

    The S2000 and Alfa wouldn’t be bad either.

  4. I certainly have a soft spot for the Alfa ‘vert. It was the last Alfa Romeo available here in the U.S., and they were parked right alongside my first Saab when I drove it off the lot in 1986. Beautiful.

    The Monaro was, of course, imported here as a Pontiac GTO. A long-time colleague has one (blue) with the vanity plate “MONARO”. It’s been modded a few times, most notably the exhaust and the front suspension arrangement. Totally a mid-life crisis car for Dave. Totally.

    The thing that keeps me from any on this list is that I already have mine. It’s Edwardian Grey, it’s Swedish and it has three-spoke wheels. Wait for it — Vive la C900!!