I'm a firm believer that you don't have to spend big bucks to have fun in a car. In fact, cars can be more fun if you haven't spent silly amounts of money on them. Over the last few days I've been making the most of the snow by grabbing any opportunity to find an empty car park and enjoy losing grip in my old Focus. While I'm sure skillfully sliding £50,000 worth of rear-wheel-drive sports car around a car park would make you giggle like a schoolgirl, you'd be very worried about sliding gracefully into a bollard or kerb.

So, while this post isn't necessarily about having fun in the snow, I thought I'd gather together five cars you can pick up for around £1500 for pure and simple motoring pleasure. Sticking to the theme of fun on a budget - none are particularly expensive to insure or will break the bank when it comes to MOT time.

Ford Puma

Pumas are dirt cheap at the moment, with a great deal of choice at half our set budget. The issue's finding one without crusty rear arches. I set my Twitter followers a challenge earlier today of finding me one without bubbling arches (it's harder than you'd think) and @callummaclean91 suggested this tidy looking 1.7 for £800. While there are cheaper ones out there it's worth paying an extra few quid for one that's been looked after, and this one's got low mileage and plenty of MOT.

1.7s like this one have the fun factor by the bucket load. Based on the Fiesta but fitted with a 125 bhp Zetec S engine the Puma will provide many smiles per mile without costing a fortune, achieving 38 mpg (if you resist the temptation to drive it like a go kart).

As with all cars at this price it's a good idea to check the history - making sure the cam belt has been changed every five years or 80,000 miles. Personally I don't think full service history is essential on cars this cheap, but check the oil and if the tyres are showing uneven tyre wear it could be a sign of expensive suspension problems.
Mazda MX-5

If you're willing to ignore the hairdresser jibes, it's impossible to have more fun on a budget than a Mazda MX-5. What's not to like about a rear-wheel-drive two-seater convertible combined with Japanese reliability?

This is the perfect time of year to buy one with plenty of choice of  UK spec facelift 1.8s available for our budget. Although this one is over our budget (I couldn't resist), everything about it seems so right and, if you turned up at the garage on a snowy day like today with £1500 cash, I don't think you'd be laughed away.
Suzuki Ignis Sport

Introduced in 2003 as a way of entering Suzuki into the Junior World Rally Championship, the 1.5 Ignis is the ideal back-to-basics B-road tool.

They're far from perfect but they're cheap and fun, which is good enough for me. Admittedly finding one for less than £1500 isn't easy but there are a few out there.

I'd stretch the budget by a mere £95 and go for this one. The silver paint tones down the body kit and is less in your face than some of the garish red or yellow ones out there.
MG ZS 180

Yes, they're a little chavvy and some people wouldn't touch an MG with a bargepole, but the idea of what is essentially a Rover 45 with a stiffer suspension, a bodykit and a 2.5 KV6 engine appeals to me.

There are plenty around within our budget - I've even seen a few at less than £600 recently. I'd get the best that you could afford and try to avoid any that may have been thrashed (nasty modifications such as Lexus lights are a good indication of a boy racer owner).

I prefer the saloon to the hatchback (the boot is massive), and British Racing Green is essential in my view, which is why I'd go for this one - not to mention the low mileage and long MOT.
Suzuki Grand Vitara

My list wouldn't be complete without at least one cheap 4x4 for exploring the unsurfaced rights of way that the UK has to offer. While I was tempted to suggest an old Freelander (I had one and loved it), realistically a Grand Vitara is a much better option.

I'd be after a three-door with the 1.6 petrol engine - it won't be fast but it's not a bad little engine and the safest bet at our price range. This one would do nicely.
What would you go for?

The chances are we'd all spend £1500 in different ways. I like reliable cars which is why my list sways away from classics and has more than its fair share of Japanese metal. What would you buy? Comment below or tweet me @TheAndrewBrady. Here's what people on Twitter are saying:
Currently I drive a 2003 Ford Focus 1.6 Ghia. It's an excellent car for what I want, but I hate it. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just really bloody boring. Every time I look at it I fall asleep a little.

I've been contemplating replacing it for about nine months now (I've owned it for just over a year). As a student I need to be sensible - I'd love an old Jaguar but the running costs would cripple me. To justify swapping the reliable and efficient Focus, I need something equally reliable and efficient. Just reliable and efficient in an interesting way.

So naturally, I started looking at old Rovers. Stop rolling on the floor laughing. I stumbled across a 2003 45 Impression S 2.0 diesel at a local garage. The Impression S bit means it comes with lovely leather seats that make it a really nice place to sit, while the 2.0 L-Series is known to be bulletproof. I had the same engine in my Freelander and it was great. I've also heard reports of it returning 60 mpg in the 45 (downhill with the wind behind you and a little internet forum exaggeration thrown in for good measure, possibly) - but it should definitely be more efficient than my Focus.

To cut to the chase - I test drove it and the clutch was on its way out. It also had zero history and nothing more than the word of the previous owner that the cam belt had been changed. The seller was also adamant that supply for these is strong so wouldn't budge on price, and he offered £750 for my Focus, which was disappointing.

I'm not one to be put off easily so sat in their car park and did a search on AutoTrader for other 45s for sale locally. There was a 2005 that sounded perfect, apart from the 1.6 K-series engine. Everything else about it was great (ok, it didn't have leather either, which I REALLY wanted), but I glossed over these minor issues and went for a look anyway.

On the plus side, the 45 had an even smaller mileage than advertised and looked absolutely gorgeous thanks to its bluey purple paintwork and facelifted exterior. It was also cheaper than advertised online, showing £1000 in the window. If you follow the prices of these, you'll know £1000 for a facelifted 45 with FSH and mileage that suggests a lifetime spent inside a garage is a bit of a bargain.

You know what they say about being too good to be true? Yeah, that. We opened the bonnet, and yeah, sludge in the expansion tank. Not to be deterred - a failed head gasket is the norm when looking at second hand K-series Rovers - I asked for a test drive.


Young Darren tried his best to get it out but a flat battery and a Honda Civic parked in front of it meant it wasn't going to happen. A few minutes later the car was jump started and I was turning on to the dual carriageway on a test drive. Yes - turning on to a dual carriageway, in thick fog, in a Rover with head gasket failure so no heat going to the steamed up windows.

What followed was the scariest test drive of my life, which I won't go into for legal reasons. The nice chap offered me £700 for my Focus (although I think he'd have been open to the idea of a swap, if I'd been naive enough - he knew the 45 was borked).

When I got back I returned to the office (well, portakabin) to give the keys back and tell them "thanks, but no thanks". I was told to sit down and look through the paperwork while they argued with a poor Eastern European couple who were trying to buy a car from them. "No, you can't pay a deposit now and collect the car next week, we need the cash payment and the £50 admin fee NOW!" 

I hate buying secondhand cars. I suddenly appreciate my Focus a lot more now.
“Click, click, click”. As I walk through the foggy campus of Keele University, I can hear the noise of Christopher Matthews’s crutches coming towards me.

“Alright cripple?”, I shout. Not because I’m someone who likes to shout abuse at random disabled people, you understand. Chris is a very good friend of mine, someone I’ve known since we started secondary school, and he describes himself as a cripple.

He was born in October 1991, with a condition known at Peters anomaly plus. Peters anomaly is a condition where the sufferer has cloudy corneas meaning they have very little eyesight. The plus bit is more a minus actually, meaning he also has brittle bones. Not a great combination.

“I’ve broken myself 12 times now, not including operations.”

Chris seems very proud of this fact. He starts from his feet, moving up his body and listing every part of his body he’s broken.

“I’ve broken my right big toe, my right ankle twice, my left femur, my right femur four times, my left humerus, my right humerus twice and my right radius.”

I was present one time he broke his right femur.

“It was in year eight,” Chris recalls. “We were in a drama lesson, which is quite ironic because it was quite dramatic. It should have been a simple break but I spun around, fell over and landed on my knee. Instead of my leg breaking normally, it bent and nearly punctured the skin.”

The hospital didn’t want to operate because of Chris’s brittle bones. He was in hospital on traction for four months before being allowed out of hospital on crutches.

“The leg still had quite a bend in it, so I was on crutches for seven years after that,” Chris says rolling his eyes.

A lot can happen in seven years. Chris’s parents had fought hard to get him into a ‘normal’ school, moving to Ellesmere in Shropshire as the local Lakelands School was considered to be fairly disability friendly. This is when I first met him.

“It's slightly scary to think I might not be a university now because I'd have been labelled as disabled and gone to a disabled school. I wouldn't have been happy.”

Chris is an intelligent lad, who always smiles and likes a joke. His intelligence meant he found school to be a doddle, and other pupils were fairly accepting of him. The school put on assemblies and made everyone wear blindfolds to find out what it’s like to be Chris.

“It took a while for people to get used to the blindness. I had an operation when I was six years old but I'm blind for life. I can see the same detail in roughly two metres that the average person can see in 60. It works out to be about three percent of an average person's sight.”

Chris went on to sixth form where he was given a bit more freedom than school and, like any normal teenager, he discovered drink and girls. He remembers one college party particularly well. “There was a girl I wanted to dance with. I’d had a few too many ciders so left my crutches with a friend and I was off to find her. I didn’t have much luck but I didn’t break anything or get a slap, so I’ll live.”

He flew through his A-levels – managing two years at sixth form without breaking a single bone - and ended up at university studying maths and accounting (with a little bit of Japanese thrown in).

It was when he was in his first year at university that his broken leg couldn’t stand the pressure and broke in three places during a spasm in Chris’s sleep.

He was rushed to hospital, something which Chris is getting used to now, where he spent several months before they decided to operate.

Not to be beaten, Chris started his first year at university again.

“I was on my way to recovery and in November last year I ended up breaking my left femur. That was impressive. My crutch slipped in the rain on the way to a lecture and I did a roly poly and landed on a parked car. They decided to operate on that one the next day – thank God!”

He missed another two months of university but passed his first year. He is now in his second year, and making plans for the future.

“When I graduate I'd quite like to go to Japan for a couple of years. I'd like to think I'd find someone who'd like to go with me and help out a little bit. I'd like an accountancy job out there, or something to do with finance. They get paid so much out there. I'll probably go out there for a couple of years and then might come back here for an accountancy job.”

But how does his disability hinder him at university? We take a walk through the campus so he can show me the students union. I say a walk – from his student halls there’s a long hill down to the SU. He whizzes off in his wheelchair slaloming around bemused students and deliberately aiming at parked cars to make me panic, as I start a light jog in a bid to keep up. It’s one hell of a sight, and all too easy to forget that he can’t actually see where he’s going.

It’s obvious that it’s a route he knows well and he tells me he has done it many times, merry on alcohol like any good student after a night at the SU.

“My friends push me back up the hill. I’m surprised we haven’t had an almighty crash after a few too many vodka and cokes.”

He might describe himself as a cripple but it’s obvious Chris doesn’t let it stop him doing what he wants with his life. As he says with a smile, “I refuse to let my disabilities stop me from going to the pub – I’m too stubborn.” I think we can all find a little inspiration in that.
Chris... my crippled friend.
The Oswestry Advertizer picked up on my winning of the Sir William Lyons Award and ran a great story about it this week. Many thanks to Emily at the 'Tizer!