As a general rule - if you are buying a car, any car, for a grand, there's a reason for it.

One reason is that it's old. If it's a Fiat Coupe, it's at least ten and possibly fifteen years old.

Another reason is related to the age: that it's in need of maintenance which may exceed the value of the car.

At ten to fifteen years old, if you do not have a verified history of maintenance, you cannot assume that there is any amount of health in car. If it's a powerful and easily tuned car such as a Coupe, you can also assume that it's been at the very least thrashed, and at worst, modified without any consideration for doing the job properly.

On any car, you will require the following:

  • Tax and MOT
  • Insurance

These are expensive for a Coupe (group 19 or 20), and if you are young, have poor accident history, and/or live in a deprecated area, will range from silly to ridiculous. It is common for the insurance to exceed the purchase price... These are not optional.

You can expect - at this price point - to need immediate mechanical attention:

  • Tyres
  • Exhaust
  • Wheel bearings
  • Suspension parts (shocks, wishbones, track rod ends, drop links etc.)
  • Brake discs and pads
  • Bodywork

Depending on history, the following. Probably not immediately, but possibly, and within a couple of years almost certainly (unless the documentation suggests it's been very recently done and by a reputable mechanic).

  • Auxiliary belts (inspect yearly, change two-yearly)
  • Cambelt (change every five years or 50k miles)
  • Clutch (may last anything from 50k to 100k, depending on power and driving style)
  • Oil coolant pipework (corrodes over about ten years, fails catastrophically and kills the engine in *seconds*, and can only rarely be changed without the associated cooler also requiring change also)
  • Radiator (lasts about ten years)
  • Turbo (once the bearings die - for example, if used without a catalyst - it will burn oil and produce copious smoke. It will require replacement or reconditioning.)
  • Catalyst (many have removed the catalyst in a quest for more power. This is both illegal, so you'll need to replace it, and breaks the turbo unless attention has been paid to the turbo at the same time.)
  • Aircon (lots of exciting places for the aircon system, if fitted, to fail; not only the compressor, clutch electrics, and condensor parts, but the in-car bits: ecu and thermal sensors - and of course its drive belts.)

You also need to be aware of previous repairs. If the cambelt has previously broken, the cylinder head will likely have been written off and replaced. No problem with that, but the big end bearings often seem to be damaged at the same time and should ideally be changed as part of the repair.

Something else to consider is the general condition of the engine. You should see at least two bar oil pressure hot on a 20vt engine at idle. If it doesn't hold that pressure, be cautious (16v engines are happy with lower pressure, down to about 1.5 bar, but a good one will still idle hot a 2.5 bar). If the pressure is not at the top of the gauge above 2000 rpm, avoid... places where oil pressure can be lost are worn bearings (crank main and big end, balance shaft, turbo), possibly the piston spray points on 20vt, and of course the oil pump/relief valve. None of these are cheap to fix. Watch for the pressure with the engine off, too - with the ignition on and the engine off, you should see an oil pressure warning light, and an indicate 0 bar pressure. If you don't, there's something wrong with the wiring and/or the sensors. Note that there are two separate sensors for gauge and warning lamp.

Also, remember that the electrics have been out there for a long time. Make sure everything works. There's a maze of wiring and control boxes for things like the windows, central locking, heating etc, and a fuse box which is vulnerable to corrosion in the event that the windscreen has been replaced and badly fitted, as some aftermarket replacements.

When new, the car was fitted with an undertray. Many have removed this, for better access for oil changes, but this may be a false economy; without it, there is no protection for the belts from road detritus... it being fastened on with tie-wraps is not an issue as the captive nuts have died the death, but it should be there. (The 16 and 20 have different undertrays and are not interchangeable).

This is not to say that you cannot get and enjoy a car for fifteen hundred notes. But you will almost certainly have to spend at least as much again to make it work properly and be reliable. Your best bet is to buy from a reputable specialist, or from a forum member with good history. Only buy an eight hundred quid special if you know exactly what you are doing and what your likely expenses might be.


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