What makes a classic car? It’s an impossible question, a question as hard as any sooth-saying might ever be, and for those who guess best, there will always be rewards. Take the Land Rover Defender. It is, in its Series Land Rover forms, a classic car. It certainly has age on its side, and, famously, a bootful of character too. 

But I was surprised to hear that modern North American Spec Defenders are going for huge sums of money stateside – and not because they’re in any way special – they’re just quite scarce, and in the land of wallowy, humdrum SUVs, a Defender is an entirely different thing. In general terms, the posher the badge and the more rare the car, the more you’re likely to have an intersection that will lead to long-term value.

A scarce 1960s Ferrari is far more valuable than an MGB GT, or a Jaguar Mk II 3.8, no matter how lovely a unit you might have.  Anybody who drives on SA’s roads in an automotively conscious manner will have noticed the sheer number of old Mercedes-Benz W123s. There are a few reasons for that. Mercedes has never, before or since, built as many units of one model. It is an absurdly well-engineered car, capable of simply spectacular mileage if looked after and, dare I say, it was indeed bought by the kind of folks who were likely to care for it just so.

It was, after all, the 1980s E-Class. The same is not true of BMWs of the same age, which were probably bought by more sporting minded folk who hammered them good and hard, as BMWs have long urged one to do. A classic BMW is a far rarer thing. In the case of the current 435i Gran Coupé I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it’s a guaranteed future classic – and a valuable one at that – because of a few crucial factors.

Lithe and taut,
it is superbly

Firstly, and most immediately, it is an especially pretty car. From any angle, it is lithe and taut and superbly defined. In 35i spec it’s also scarce, coming with the recently upgraded 3l turbocharged straight six good for 225kW and 400Nm. And, in Gran Coupé form, it’s rarer still, a coupé with four doors, a looker that’ll transport the kids as well. No, you don’t see many of these, and, frankly, more’s the mystery.

Because 435i GC has been a pretty immaculate all-rounder, existing in a cleverly very packaged space that will suit pretty much all requirements excepting those that require off-roading or gravel travel, at which, of course, the 435i is entirely hopeless. It will, for example, do the school run. We got three kids in just fine and the car turned the heads of many a jealous dad at the school gates. 

As a result of being a hatchback, it’s got an enormous boot, quite capable of taking the whole family away for the weekend, if at a squeeze. It’s also immensely practical in daily use. You can spec live traffic information, which will adjust your route home if it receives warning of poor traffic conditions. That completely changes how you use sat-nav – not for when you’re lost, in fact, but for when you’re going home.

You just get the system to establish the traffic situation and advise you around it. It’s superb. Finally, it’s an absolutely stonking car to drive. Every day of your life you’ll get a kick out of the way this thing goes, stops and turns. It’s quick, properly quick, and it’s firmer and more planted in the corners than its already rather competent 3-Series siblings. Steering and chassis balance is really just deliciously good.

On a fast, winding road, this is a car that would worry some much smarter name plates. So, perhaps an investment for the long term? Certainly, if you can find one. It does, at least, have the benefit of being an investment in the right now too.

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