Andy Reid is East Coast editor of TheClassicCars.com Journal, auction columnist for British car magazine, Magneto and a concours judge. Journals.ClassicCars.com
Ever dream of driving a Ferrari Testarossa? Keep dreaming! A sharp surge in prices means that you would have to pay six figures for one in good condition. Like the look of a classic truck? Aging pickups and SUVs as common as the Ford F-series and Bronco now sometimes fetch $50,000 or more. The recent run-up in vintage-vehicle values is good news for anyone who already owns one, but it can leave those hoping to purchase a classic priced out of the market.
Fortunately, compelling collectible cars still are available for affordable prices. Bottom Line Personal asked five vintage car experts which vehicles they would choose in today’s market if they had a budget of $25,000 or a budget of just $10,000…*
For $25,000: 1968-72 Chevrolet Corvette is an affordable icon. These muscular two-seaters with shark-inspired styling will garner attention as you drive down the road—and they have the horsepower (hp) to get you down that road very quickly, even by modern standards. Corvettes of this generation aren’t especially rare, so they remain affordable. You’ll encounter a range of prices, depending on condition, engine size and other factors, but a $25,000 budget should get you plenty of appealing options. Example: A 1968 with the 300-hp eight-cylinder engine currently sells for around $21,000 in good condition.
For $10,000: 1975–80 MG MGB Mark IV is the most affordable way to enjoy the vintage European roadster experience. These are tiny two-door convertibles—there’s nothing above you but sky and very little around you and below you but road. This MG isn’t as distinctively styled as other European roadsters, but that’s not a bad thing if your goal is to enjoy a classic car, not invest in one. You can drive a Mark IV without worrying that every mile you put on its odometer is decreasing the value of a costly asset…and replacement parts are easy to find. Price: Around $6,000 to $7,000 in good condition.
For $25,000: 1968–1973 Datsun 510 is the car that started to change Americans’ opinions about Japanese vehicles. The better-remembered Datsun 240Z often is given credit for that feat, but the 510 reached America first and was a worthy competitor to that era’s BMW performance sedans. Few 510s remain on the roads, so driving one will get you more attention at car shows than you would receive in many vintage cars costing much more. It’s available as a two-door sedan, four-door sedan or wagon. Price: Around $14,000 in good condition…or $22,000 in excellent condition.
For $10,000: 1961–74 Ford Econoline Van is an iconic vehicle that hasn’t yet caught on with collectors. It isn’t fast or fun to drive on twisty roads, but it’s a great option if you’re looking for an affordable vintage vehicle that will get attention and provide some practicality. You even might make some money if you buy an Econoline now—values for vintage station wagons, SUVs and pickup trucks are way up, so it seems reasonable that classic vans could be next. (Some VW vans already are collectible—see right.) Prices are all over the map because the collector’s market hasn’t yet taken shape, but it’s possible to find running, low-rust Econolines for less than $10,000. The best way to get a good price is to keep an eye open for an Econoline van sitting in a carport, knock on the door and make an offer. Unlike people selling online, the owners probably still think of their Econolines as run-down vans, not up-and-coming collectibles.
For $25,000: 1980–1991 Volkswagen Vanagon Camper “Westfalia” replaced the famous “microbus” in VW’s lineup, and it’s considered a classic in its own right. The Vanagon came in a variety of configurations, but the most desirable is the Westfalia, a space-efficient, pop-top camper. It’s the perfect compromise if you can’t decide whether to park a classic car or an RV alongside your daily driver because it’s both. Price: The average value is $23,000 (not from Hagerty’s).
For $10,000: 2000–2006 Audi TT Quattro Coupe 1.8 is a fun-to-drive future classic with timeless styling. Some people consider it too new to be a collector, but it has caught the eye of younger generations—a clue that this Audi will increase in value in the years ahead. Price: Around $9,000 in good condition.
For $25,000: 1937–42 and 46–47 “Flathead” Fords are icons of American motoring that can be purchased for reasonable prices. Ford wasn’t the first automaker to offer a V8 engine when its “Flathead” appeared in 1932, but it was the first to do so in a car that ordinary Americans could afford. By 1937, the reliability issues of Ford’s early V8s had been sorted out…and the styling of most Fords of that era holds up well. World War II interrupted production from 1943 to 1945. Price: Varies by year and model, but a $25,000 budget should provide plenty of options. Example: The 1946 Ford Super Deluxe in good condition averages around $19,000.
For $10,000: 1968–74 Fiat 124 Sport Spider is a handsome two-seat convertible designed by Tom Tjaarda, who also designed several Ferraris and other celebrated sports cars of the era. This Fiat isn’t just pretty to look at, it’s a blast to drive. It isn’t powerful, but it’s lightweight, zippy and responsive—you’ll feel every turn through your fingertips. It’s an engaging driving experience, especially with the top down. Price: Around $10,000 for one in good condition from late in the production run.
For $25,000: 2006–2008 BMW Z4 M Roadster is among the rarest of BMW M cars ever—only around 5,000 were ever built. For those unfamiliar with BMW nomenclature, the “M” after “Z4” identifies this as a high-end, high-performance version, and it is indeed a fast car—0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. The Z4 M also is the last “analog” car, a car that makes the driver the most important component to the car. You need to know how to drive the car well to get the most from it. It’s from the classic M era, and it’s equipped with BMW’s mythic S54 inline six-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. Despite that rarity and performance, it’s among the most affordable BMW M cars—for now. If you don’t snap one up soon, a $25,000 budget won’t be sufficient to get you a good one. Price: Around $22,000 in good condition (not from Hagerty’s).
For $10,000: 1950–79 Volks-wagen Type 1 “Beetle” is the classic that’s easiest to own. Replacement parts are affordable, DIY repairs are feasible, and build quality was excellent for an inexpensive car of its era. Buying a Beetle does mean making some sacrifices—it isn’t fast, roomy, luxurious or rare—more than 21 million were made worldwide through 2003. But a vintage Beetle will earn you waves when you drive around town, and it has a robust collector community. It’s available as either a compact sedan or a convertible. Price: Around $10,000 for ones in good condition from the 1970s or late 1960s. Earlier Beetles might cost more.