I've always run cheap nearly-dead old sheds, because that's all I can afford basically, I make no bones about it. But last year I gave the wallet a fright and spent £450 on a very tatty, faded VW Golf L (non-turbo) diesel, thinking "what the hell have I blown nearly five hundred quid on..."
At the time, I worked as a Valeter in a garage, and it came in as a part-ex, and it looked the archetypal shed. Moss on the windows, filthy interior full of six year old parking tickets and red-pink badly oxidised paint. However, unusually, it was a one owner car (the proverbial old chap) with a full, documented, mostly VW main dealer history, so what he spent on money for servicing, made up for the lack of general attention of the car.
£450 bought the car with 12 months MOT, and once taxed, bought that up to the £560 mark, way out of my usual £3-400 motoring, and I looked at this tatty piece of crap and thought that it would break down at the first opportunity. I couldn't look at it properly without getting a cold sweat...
Those fears were misguided. The Golf non-turbo diesel, if correctly maintained, is your friend. A vigorous seven hour valeting marathon bought the car up well, and I managed to salvage most (but not all...) of the paint, and the car was now a deep-ish shiny red.
And apart from new glow plugs at Christmas, and a cheap part worn tyre, that's all I've had to do to it, seriously. This has been the second best car I've ever had, out of a total of 31 cars owned (second only to a much sadly missed Pug 405 Style diesel) but this Golf is super economical at (roughly) 45 MPG on a run, cheap to insure from my experience and a very comfy drive (the seats look as if they're made from concrete, but they are actually very comfy, if basic: it is the only car I've never had backache from).
It has well-balanced power steering, an admittedly not rapid, but willing engine that gives great MPG and pulls well, and a decent gearbox with a smooth clutch: it just swallows miles. I've done everything from heavy motorway driving to pootling down to the chippy, all with no complaint.
The only issue I have ever had with the car are the brakes, which feel very weedy despite new discs at the front fitted three months before I bought the car, but this is apparently a affliction that affected many an old school VW Group car from the 80's/90's, even when new (the MK2 "Breadvan" Polo is another VW with legendarily soggy brakes from what I've heard) so braking needs to be planned, and driving up somebody's bumper is definitely not advised.
I would heartily recommend one of these to anyone. Golf Mk3 values are on the absolute floor now, and the odd Mk3 Diesel L/CL spec like mine can occasionally be found for sale still. They are a undiscovered bargain, and in five years time you know that there either won't be any left, or they will be silly money, so buy now!
My main problem at the moment is finding something to replace it, as I don't have the money and time to coax mine through another MOT. Goodbye old chap...