Thirty years ago, classic car ownership was regarded as a pursuit for a select group of affluent enthusiasts. Yet more than a decade after the crash of the international classic-car markets, buying one has never been such a popular - or affordable - proposition, thanks largely to a deflated market and a growing network of suppliers and maintenance specialists. These days, the notion of what constitutes a classic car has been redefined, with models as recent as 10 years old making the pages of Classic Car magazine. Younger buyers are finding them increasingly affordable, in part because of a spate of contemporary retro-styled cars that have rekindled interest in the originals they mimic. Hong Kong is surprisingly fertile ground for buying cars over 20 years old, with small but active classic-car clubs helping enthusiasts to run and maintain their cars, organising social events and even helping new buyers with their first purchases. The Hong Kong Classic Car Club is the most renowned here ( www.ccchongkong.com ), but there are many others catering to individual marques such as the MG owners' club, Porsche owners' club and the like. So, in a market where taste is a very personal matter, is there a safe formula for buying a classic car - and can you really make money from of it? The honest answer is that there's no such guarantee. Unless you know the specialised vintage-car market or have the acumen to enter into the highly speculative thoroughbred sports-car stakes, then do not expect to make a lot of money overnight. But there is a lot of fun to be had if you have an interest in more mainstream classics (saloons, coupes and convertibles from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, for example) and you might just find that your purchase pays dividends over time, if you buy wisely and are prepared to invest your own effort. For many, the attraction of owning a classic car is driving and being seen to drive something a lot more rare and hopefully more stylish than your neighbour's new Corolla. There are two other distinct advantages to buying an older car for private use rather than buying a new model. The first is the avoidance of the expensive first registration tax. Second, it is worth remembering that cars more than 20 years old attract greatly reduced rates from specialist insurers. This said, older cars in particular can be expensive to renovate and maintain. As a general rule of thumb, you should set aside 25 per cent of the purchase price of your car for an initial restoration and a further 10 per cent a year for maintenance and parts over and above the cost of running a modern car. It is important to remember that classic cars do not suffer from the astronomical depreciation of first-time purchases. The amount you pay depends on several factors, but the cost should reflect the condition of the vehicle, so always check whether there are receipts for regular maintenance, renovation work or new parts. Many classic-car owners in Hong Kong run and maintain cars from the 1970s and 1980s, preferring the style and refinement of older cars for weekend use. With second-hand car prices here - much as in Europe - at an all-time low, there are some bargains to be had and the recent financial downturn has seen many owners become increasingly reluctant to tax, garage and insure their older second cars. In Hong Kong there is a surprising selection of well-specified and relatively low mileage examples of Mercedes, MGs, BMWs and Porsches more than 20 years old still on the road. Examples of interesting and affordable late-1970s classics might be a chromed Mercedes 280CE, Rolls Royce Silver Shadows (in plentiful supply but beware of shabbier examples which will cost you more than the purchase price to put right), Porsche 924-8, and early BMW 3 or 5 series, which can all be picked up for HK$50,000 upwards. Well-cared-for cars easily reach double that figure. Cars of this type may not offer substantial returns on your investment initially but purchasing and refurbishing a good example could furnish you with a stylish daily drive and the opportunity to preserve a near-classic for future use or resale. Using and maintaining one of these for three to five years might allow you not only to recoup your costs but the right example of an interesting marque could show a return of 10 per cent a year if the model becomes desirable as a classic after a generation or so. Contemporary classics such as early Mazda MX5s (opt for early 1800cc examples with leather, without Eunos badge and soft and hardtops) are good buys, as are early Peugeot 205 GTis. MGs of any age are always popular and easy to repair while Jaguar XJ6s are cheap and plentiful but often require expensive servicing, as do earlier Saab 900s - a perennial favourite (gathering interest in the European classics market notably) with good build quality and quirky styling. Follow the golden rules: buy what you like, get the best example you can afford and make sure you get it checked by someone who knows about cars. Budget for an initial restoration then use, maintain and keep your classic for a few years. You might have a lot of fun and make a profit.