Hello John, all,
I thought I'd just add my 2c, since there are a lot of comments.
Background: I bought my first lathe a few years ago. I'm in my mid 30s and hadn't used one since school. Most lathes, as you mention, are made over in the east. I've heard stories of Warco and similar arriving with issues, and a UK price tag.
I asked myself the following few questions when reviewing lathe options.
What is your budget?
I scooped a S7 in very good condition for £950. I spent a couple of months looking for the right machine, in a commutable location.
Bear in mind that the lathe cost is just the tip. I've spent probably ~8k in total on all my engnieering stuff in the last few years. Several vanity purchased, like Moore and Wright tool chests, which are insanely expensive, but I wanted one. As a minimum you probably want:
Micrometers / Calipers (imp way cheaper than metric if that's your preference) <£30 each 2nd hand, boxed and in great condition,
Lathe tooling - Either carbide and tips, or HSS and a grinder. Not sure of your preference here. £100 should cover you well.
Lamp - £15 from Ikea / similar
Hand tools - Hacksaws, small vice, files etc. £50+.
The biggest expenses however were things like 3 & 4 jaw chucks £50-£500, vertical milling attachments £120ish,
Change gears, not too costly individually, but a set is ~£80ish. (I bought new, from Myford/RDG.)
If you want to do screwcutting (some love it, others avoid like the plague) maybe a lathe with a screwcutting gearbox would be better. They are noticeably more.
Then there's the glossy extras like Digital Read Outs, (DROs, etc). I haven't bothered yet.
To summarise: when I was deciding on my lathe, I picked a very good one for £950. The other option was a fully kitted out setup for ~£3k. could have probably got it for £2.5k-£2.7k if I haggled. In hindsight, the £3k option would have been cheaper, and been a better setup, but I didnt have all the funds, and didnt want to go all in, incase I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.
In summary, the lathe cost is just the start and probably ~1/2 the total cost to get into the hobby, unless you get a full kit from someone as a bundle.
Are you looking for a lathe or a lathe restoration project?
I didn't know enough about lathes to take on a restoration project. I just wanted to spin some metal and start making some models. There is loads of information about for most types of lathes, if you are looking for a project. If you are looking for a project, factor in the replacement parts / extras / materials for the project too. Also, it could take you >6 months depending on how much of a perfectionist you are and time avail. I'm still working, so time was my biggest restraint.
Space and Functionality?
You say you need a small lathe, and I totally get that. Just make sure you factor in the types of things you want to make. something like a Stuart 10V can be made on a tiny lathe. the flywheel or the Standard (A piece) are probably the biggest diameters you need to hold, and they could be done with a ~2" radius / gap from centre to bed height.
You do however mention the spindle Bore.
Personally, I find centre height clearance (swing) is more limiting than bore. Unless you're working on something very specific where you need the bore diameter, a hacksaw can solve 99% of bore issues. A lot of bar I have wont fit through the bore on my lathe, but I'm rarely (never) working on anything that long & thick with an end feature. I just lop off a 2"-3" length, and use that.
Power / Motor:
Personally for me, the bigger motors were a little worrying. Thats a lot of torque if something goes wrong. Additionally, you can step down the gearing on a geared lathe to improve torque. Generally you need more torque for larger diameters, so less relevant with a smaller lathe.
Transportation / portability:
I wouldn't recommend it, but I moved a S7 with cabinet in a fiesta. Through the wales countryside, and then on a ferry over to Ireland. (Long story, very stressful, and a bit of a cramped journey, but it worked fine!) All together they are weighty enough, but everything is removable, so you can break them down into very manageable parts. (Motor, cabinet, top-slide, tailstock etc, are all removable very easily on a lot of lathes, without much / any recalibration after reassembly.) Also, you probably wont move it much once you have it. So a little extra effort on the purchase / delivery, MAY be worth it depending on your desires. If you're getting it delivered, you will only be doing the move from the pavement to the workshop anyway. I did the fully manual, maximum effort option of travel, collection etc.
Warranty / Guarantee etc:
A 2nd hand lathe warranty ends the moment you load it into your vehicle / gets shipped. Some people want the convenience of a contact number if they have problems, need spare parts, etc. Factor this in when you're looking. Quite ironically, some lathes with warranties have more setup issues than a good 2nd hand one. Conversely, some second hand ones are a basket case. If you're going 2nd hand, definitely view it, no matter how good it looks. Shake it, turn it on, listen for rattles, move the slides etc. (There's a full checklist of things to do to evaluate a lathe, but that's too long for this post. If you are going that route, I'll share with you the tips I was given, when I was looking!)
Lastly, get something that is right for you. Lots of people have opinions, and some love their brand of machine. I know I do.
Also, as others have eluded to, most lathes will be able to out-perform their operator. Even a pretty crap lathe can turn out accurate parts when used correctly, but decent equipment can make the job a bit easier.
Get something that fits your space, lifestyle, level of competence, free time, urgency to use it, and the types of project you want to undertake.
My personal direction would be, if you're going for a project, get a decent 2nd hand one, and make it your own. They are generally more customisable and will have plenty of life in them. Mine is >65-70 years old, and will probably out-last me and I'm (only) in my 30s!
Best of luck, and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to give me a shout! I'm not the most experienced, but I can tell you my thought processes when I bought mine.