Hooniverse Asks- What's Your Favorite Bargin Classic?

Some of the most desirable cars are also some of the most difficult to obtain due to astronomical pricing, severely constrained production numbers, or a combination of both. But time wounds all heels and eventually a lot of the cars that were once out of reach financially – or because your demand for one didn’t equal their supply – come into more obtainable orbits.
Cars like BMW’s M5- pretty much any edition, Corvette Z01s, even certain V12 Ferraris, all have augured  into high reaches of the standard family car price range. That makes them at least broach-able subjects when laying out the case for purchase with a spouse or partner with whom the decision must be shared lest you find yourself living in your rationalized purchase.
So let’s set a budget of $30,000 because, well, why not, and start considering all the exotic metal that’s now available at or below that arbitrary line that used to command much, much more. What of those cars – the M3s, Mercedes SL 600s and the like – would you most like to see show up in your driveway?
Image source: [bayaream5s.com]


  1. Classics are cool, and I have had my time thinking about an M5 a while back, but at 30K, I would just take the basement '11 Mustang GT or a Premium WRX. I know, that is a very uninspired answer, but honestly, I would rather have something sporty, reliable and low maintenance than a classic.

  2. My co-worker just bought one – a W124 Mercedes E500. He bought it for $6500 and it's in pretty decent shape. I warned him that maintenance/repairs will kill him, and lo-and-behold last week he was complaining about the fact that plug wires are almost $200/set. And that's at cost because we work for a parts distributor!

    1. That's the problem with going for an exotic or near-exotic. While there are plenty of seeming "bargains" to be had, the money you spend ends up being just a down payment. I know people who were taken in by fairly cheap Porsche 928s – big mistake.

      1. You see a lot of that around SoCal. BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class that look as though they could have been totaled at one point — kind of going crooked down the road. There are usually some cheap-o aftermarket wheels on them, and in the summer the windows are all down and the driver sweating because the complicated air conditioner is broken.
        But by God, that guy is driving a European luxury car.

  3. As for the question, I think I would sink that sort of money into something new or near-new. Maybe a loaded new Mustang V6 or a 2008 Corvette. But an Acura NSX would be a temptation.

  4. $30k is a "Budget" classic?!? That is at or above the average price of a new car. I would consider under $10k to be "budget" territory. That is close to affordable for most folks or a least close enough for a "one day" toy. If I am going to put $30k into something I want to be able to drive it everyday for 250k+ miles with minimal maintenance and somewhat modern conveniences.
    But If I had $30k for a toy, assume I have enough to afford the upkeep. I would go with a Ferrari/Dino 308GT4. All the performance and parts availability of the regular 308 series Ferrari without the Magnum jokes or nuthugger shorts.
    <img src="http://www.100cars.co.uk/images/C034-2%20Ferrari%20308%20GT4.jpg&quot; width="500/">

      1. I sort of like it. To me it falls into the same category as Z3 coupes, MGBGTs, or Saab 900s. Quirky but still cool. They don't look that bad in person, in a wedgey late 1970s sort of way.

        1. I agree, it's a fun, attention-getting shape that I don't find objectionable. And besides, I'd most likely be parking mine next to Camrys and Malibus a lot more often than 512BBs, so it'd usually be the "hot looking one."

      2. Maybe I'm aesthetically challenged, but I don't think the Bertone Dino, taken on it's own merits, is a bad looking car.

      3. As far as Dinos go, I'd rate it behind the original but well ahead of the Magnum PI version.

      4. I think in person they look much better than almost any 80s Ferrari, and many of the 70s models.

      1. The sedans are pretty but the XJ-Cs from '75-'77 may well be the best looking coupes ever made.

        1. Agreed. Spotted a white XJ-C at a British car event this weekend. I was all over it as it must have been 25 years since I'd seen one in the flesh.
          It was totally lost on my son who has an unnatural attraction to the Lotus Evora.

  5. The problem with $30K exotics is that the purchase price is only the beginning.Typically, these aren't fix-it-at-the-nearest-independent-garage cars, with specialized labor and imported low-production spare parts quickly running up the maintenance bill.
    I have a buddy whose Explorer needed a few odds and ends after a quarter-million miles. He still keeps it for hardware store duty, but thought he would be saving money by buying a just-out-of-warranty German luxury car. His repair bills in the first six months exceeded what it would have cost to keep the Ford in top shape for three more years.
    To answer the question, though, I do not consider any $30K car to be a bargain. I'd buy the coolest $15K car I could find, spend the next $5K on another car totally different from the first one (turning the other set of wheels, being a convertible or a truck or a landyacht, having a different cylinder count, etc.), and spend the final $10K on repairs and enhancements to the new additions to the fleet.

  6. A '65-66 Mustang fastback cloned to look like a Shelby. (Not to mis-represent, mind you, but just for owner enjoyment.)
    You should be able to do one for $30K or so, and when people see you on the road, they'll assume it's just like the one they saw on the televised Barrett-Jackson auction that sold for six figures.
    Easy to repair, easy to insure, easy to continually upgrade. And if it gets into a wreck or gets stolen, you haven't ruined the real deal. That's what I call a "bargin."

      1. If I say *poof*, will you be offended? I hope not, I'm just trying toget your comment to appear. Thanks!

        1. Heavens, no offense taken at all…!
          I am still unsure as to why my comments with image links are so ephemeral; as likely to vanish as not.

  7. Or another thought with $30k
    2001 Corvette Z06 $17k (Edmunds TMV = $17,100)
    <img src="http://visionautoworld.tripod.com/2001Z06-1.jpg"width=500&gt;
    1967 Imperial Coupe $6k (there's a Mobile Director one on ebay now with a buy it now of $6250)
    <img src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5254/5514920707_2c4ac9a4ae.jpg"width=500&gt;
    1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 $7k
    <img src="http://images.mustangandfords.com/featuredvehicles/127_0212_09z%2B1969_Mercury_Cougar_XR7%2BDriver_Side_View.jpg&quot; width=500>
    Sports car, Classic Cruiser, and Muscle Car are all covered.

  8. Since I've never spent even 2/3rds of your budget limit on a daily-driver workhorse, I gotta look for something REALLY bargain basement, and one of my all-time favorite exotics currently goes for chump change: Jag XJS coupe.
    <img src="http://cimages.carsforsale.com/245807/B57B0EE3-F59A-47E9-BAAE-F83FDF8CC400_2.jpg&quot; width="500">
    If you were willing to give up on the smoothness of the twelve for something that is less exotic but actually runs with predictable regularity, you can pick up a derelict '70s pre-HE version for stupid money. (But then again, it might be said that any amount spent on a PCH Jaguar is stupid money.) Swap out that sorry drivetrain for a turbo'd Chevy 350 crate motor and 4500 5-speed box. Even stranger, if you really wanted to have fun on the cheap while simultaneously making the purists cringe, you could almost as easily swap in a 6.5L turbodiesel. The idea of a clatter-clatter pussycat with turbo whine just makes me giggle: "Space, Pace and in-yo-face!"

    1. There's a guy in town here that works for a local garage, and he drives a XJS almost identical to the one in your photo. Sun faded red, with almost no clearcoat left, and primer starting to show on the roof and hood, some sort of 80's gold mesh rims, and what sounds like a straightpipe exhaust setup and a perfect tune on the engine.
      It absolutely makes my day everytime I see/hear it driving around.

    2. You haven't exactly succeeded in making me not want a 6.5-turbo-swapped XJS. Black on gold meshes, please.
      Worse yet, I'm pretty sure I could get that, the nicest Blackberry-over-black-leather Volvo 965/V90 remaining, and a beater Toyota truck for half of what this post stipulates.
      Practicality always gets in the way of these things. Damn it all.

  9. Highly Dangerous Shortlist:
    Acura NSX
    Alfa Romeo Milano Verde
    Austin Mini
    BMW E30 M3, E34-E39 M5
    Cadillac CTS (swap in turbo Ecotec and call it the Saturn V*)
    Citroen DS21
    Porsche 993, Boxster, 996
    Rambler Marlin
    Tatra T603
    Stop before I hurt myself.
    *Hat tip to I wish I could remember who

  10. $30k! Wow, I could get like 6-7 really good old Volvos, I'd be set for life! Maybe I'd get 3 and an old Datsun and have spare money for parts.

    1. I've had an excellent hunter green '75 Volvo 164 with perfect leather interior, two very serviceable 240 wagons from the beginning and the end of the product line and both in good running order for long trips, and now have a ridiculously clean '79 280zx coupe with loads of new and performance parts. My total purchase price for all four vehicles was roughly $10,100. Add in about a dozen years of maintenance costs for all four, insurance, and even gas and tolls, and I'm still way under $30k total investment.

  11. With a $30k budget, you could purchase a #1 condition Mercedes Benz W111 Heckflosse or a V8 powered W108 (280SE/SEL 4.5) and have quite a bit of $$ left over.

  12. Any Buick, Pontiac or Oldsmobile from the 60s in comparision to their Chevrolet counterparts

  13. It probably says more about me than I should share on the internet that for $30k, I'd probably buy a whole bunch of crappy old cars than one really nice "bargain classic." Assuming we're starting with a clean slate, I'd probably spend ten grand on a California Melee-ready British roadster (for that money, you can get a really nice Sunbeam Alpine… or a rough-around-the-edges TR4), get a Mercedes W124 wagon for daily driver and light hauling duties, and a BMW Bavaria for a fun sedan. Then I'd get a ratty old Ford pickup for hauling parts around. And I'd still have enough money left over to fill my front yard with derelict Peugeot 404s and 504s!
    I don't have a house with a yard yet, but I can already tell that the neighbors are gonna hate me.

    1. I've found that if you push far enough into odd car territory, the neighbors are more likely to be filled with bemusement than with hatred. The trick is to keep pushing.*
      *Also works for most roadside emergencies.

      1. And have a working pickup at all times and be willing to toss the keys to the neighbors. It's silly how much you can get away with if the neighbors have a way to get that antique chifforobe home when they need it.

      1. The first-generation ones are almost there, they can be considered historically significant (the rebirth of 'traditional' sports cars), just about anyone who has driven one agrees they are an incredibly enjoyable car to drive, and they have got to the bottom of their depreciation curve.
        I'd say give them maybe 5 years or so before the rest of the world realizes the last point, and prices start to pick up.

    1. about to pick up a 95 with 130k miles for 1500. beat up paint, four bald tires, but sound mechanically and a good interior. (its fully loaded, but still a 5-speed. rather have the manual steering rack in it like my 92) going to need a new top. currently dd a 92 with a 96 1.8 tokico sport ultima 5 way adjustables in the front, with the same tokico springs for the rear with some basic koni struts. boss frog double hoop roll bar and a front strut brace. its a blast. no options but ac (i.e. manual steering, windows, 5-speed, no abs)

  14. $30k is a lot of classic car… So I'll start with just one example:
    I'd buy this one for $16.5k (390 V8, black interior, runs and drives and some work already done), freshen it up, fix any problems that can't be seen in the photo, and give it the red/white/blue AMC racing livery paint, just like the legendary Herman Lewis' AMX drag racer:
    <img src="http://www.cars-on-line.com/51200/68amc51282-1.jpg&quot; title="AMX" alt="AMX" width="550">
    <img src="http://images.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2011/02/HermanLewis_700.jpg&quot; title="Herman Lewis AMX drag racer" alt="Herman Lewis AMX drag racer" width="350">
    I'd also have plenty left over for hop-up parts and other niftiness…

  15. $30K would build one hell of a workshop and furnish it with a nice inverter TIG, lathe and a smaller 3-axis CNC mill. And perhaps a paint booth.

  16. I'm liking the Imperial, although my taste runs more to the 1965-66 ones. And then a Sunbeam Alpine for the roadster. And then I'd need a bigger garage….

  17. I tipped Rob to this one, with the general idea being we're talking about either new(ish) cars that have finally depreciated enough, or those exotics that (probably for good reason) never really cost all that much.
    List of dangerously inexpensive cars (to buy):
    E39 M5
    E30 M3
    E46 M3
    C6 Corvette

    1. Pantera and Espadas are not cheap anymore. Really clean ones can run $50-60k easy– kind of stunning if you've been following their prices for a longer period. But a Ferrari 400i/412 or a 308gt4 is still doable at $30k, and something like a Lotus Esprit turbo can be had for even less.

      1. Odd, you've just listed my choices. Every single one of them. Especially the 400i.

        1. How about a Bitter SC then? Like a rarer 400i that is actually oddly cheaper to buy and run than the real thing, as long as you don't mind waiting for parts to ship from Germany.
          Yes, though, there is just something extremely distinguished about a 400i, it can hang in front of a gala with Bentleys more comfortably than most of its brethren can.

          1. What the hell? Throw it on the pile! 😉 Actually, I find the SC a little rough, especially in the front grill and bumper. But I surely wouldn't kick it out of the shop. And the 400i is perhaps the only car I would prefer with the automatic. TH400s are both bulletproof and cheap, so at least one part of my Ferrari would always work.

    2. Take off the Espada, Pantera, and E46, and I call that the Saturday Night Craigslist search list. Add on Cayman and G8 and you're golden.

    1. Make it a gloss-black '68 Sedan de Ville and you've got me. I love the stacked-light cars.

    2. For about 1/2 to 1/3 of the price you could get an Imperial with a nice Mopar big block. Other than the drivetrain, Imperial parts are pretty close to unobtainium though.

      1. Oh yeah, I hear you. I have no problem at all with an Imperial, but it's not a Cadillac. There's something about a classic Caddy that makes me weak at the knees. I've had two of them, and when I wasn't wrenching on them (let's face it, both cars were beaters and truly sucked) I loved the hell out of them. An Imperial is a legendary car, but like a Lincoln, it still isn't a Cadillac.

  18. $30k and bargain do not belong in the same sentence unless you are discussing houses. For that kind of money I could have several of my dream cars and still have cash left over for a nice set of tools!
    All that being said, I would buy two cars with that money: A nice old Mini Cooper and a nice 2 door Datsun PL510. If I had any money left over I would probably seek out a Honda N600. Why? For a classic to be a bargain it needs to be easy to live with. If the next scheduled service is $5,000 (I'm looking at you, Ferrari 308!) is it really much of a bargain? No, it needs to be reasonably reliable, inexpensive to fuel and easy to get parts for and service at home. There is little point in owning a classic that you can't afford to drive.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d5/63AustinCooperS.JPG/800px-63AustinCooperS.JPG&quot; size=300>

          1. The evolved roaches will put oil in the carbs, set the timing and drive these until their rapture… then the evolved octopi inherit them.

  19. I'm tempted to say the new Pontiac GTO, but unrelenting cheepness steers me to one of its contemporaries, the Mazda RX-8. Finding one for four digits isn't even remotely hard, and frees up a lot of the budget for an old Alfa. Or an XR4Ti. Or a Saab 900. Or an E30. Or some combination of the above.

    1. The GTO's not a bad choice, but for 30 large, you'd better be getting a pair. Also, the parts for them are already getting scarce. I can't imagine what it's going to be like to get soft parts for mine in a couple more years.

      1. Oh, I didn't really intend for the full $30k budget to go towards one GTO, although once I got one imported into Canada, I'd still probably be north of $20k.

  20. As many have said, $30,000 isn't bargain classic territory at all. To my mind, it's the top end of the classic car market at all, because when you go significantly above that price you're dealing with a museum object and something that is no longer a really usable car.
    I would argue that the real categories of car guy bargain classics include the following:
    –sub $1000 junker that can be coaxed into driving with near-limitless patience at the U-pull-it
    –$2500-4500 semi-classic that can be driven pretty regularly if the owner knows how to turn a wrench
    –$7000-12,000 (depending on model) reasonably-restored classic for weekend polishing
    –$15,000-30,000 fully restored non-rare classic. Cars from all of the other categories will end up here if the owner is obsessive enough and has the money and time to burn.

    1. Oh, I guess I should answer the question now that I redefined it for myself as $15-30k restored cars. I'm going to say
      Studebaker GT Hawk
      Avanti II
      Citroen SM Regembeau
      Alfa Montreal (too expensive to maintain? How about something like a GTV 2000?)
      Lotus Europa or Elan 2+2 (or Esprit, really)
      Lancia Fulvia, Flavia, or Flaminia, the best I could get for the cash. Wouldn't even rule out the sedans.
      Bitter SC or CD
      Ferrari 400i/412 or 308gt4 (yes, expensive to keep running. But at least more exciting than a 928)
      or just build myself an Ogle SX or Pembleton.

  21. $25K should get you a VERY nice 911SC, leaving you $5K toward the rebuild you're gonna need in a couple of years.

  22. volvo p1800
    datsun 2000 (or 1600 hi-po)
    datsun 510 wagon
    subaru svx
    celica all trac
    impreza rs
    W124 300e megahammer
    z3 m shooting brake

  23. Jeep CJ2A, CJ-5, and yes YJ.
    1980's El Camino
    Early F-150 Lightning (like early 90's)
    Escort Hatchback
    CvCC Civic
    Warlord Grade Toyota Pickup (unlifted/molested)
    Yeah, I know. Something wrong with me.

      1. One day I will grow the stones to buy a high-miles classic from the other side of the country off ebay.

        1. I would just settle for having the cash to buy a high miles classic from my own state that didn't require a total restoration.

    1. You'd be surprised what changing your standards can open up.
      2002 Land Rover Discovery – $4500 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/bra/cto/2379077644.html)
      1996 Jaguar XJ6 – $2550 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/tor/ctd/2396625126.html)
      1992 Ford F-150 (for parts runs and all that) – $800 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/bra/cto/2334637428.html)
      1999 Saab 9-3 – $1500 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/tor/cto/2327889639.html)
      1991 Alfa Romeo 164 – $700 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/tor/ctd/2367152109.html)
      1991 BMW 318i – $2750 for 2 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/yrk/cto/2347850336.html)
      1992 Mazda Miata – $4950 (http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/tor/cto/2337178878.html)
      Total expenditure? $17,750. If I felt like it, I could get the RX-8 I mentioned (plenty of them for under ten grand), or get each of them running, pay gas and insurance for a couple years, find a couple other random beaters…
      Even personally, my combined vehicle and motorcycle purchases (most of which aren't that interesting) amount to $7100 (for 6 cars and 1 bike). One of those is a $500 Jeep YJ that's in the garage right now.

  24. Provided "bargain" only encompasses the buying part and not the maintenance part, I'd have to go with the W140 S-Class. Overengineered and overbuilt more than any Benzes before or since, they are, quite simply, the Dusenbergs of our time. Yet six-cylinder sedans in average condition can be had all day long for well under $10k, while museum-quality V12 coupes seem incapable of cracking $20k. Prices can't get much lower and, if you ask me, people will eventually start to appreciate all the time, money (about $1 billion in development costs) and effort that went into creating these cars, causing their values to shift accordingly.
    <img src="http://img279.imageshack.us/img279/2429/b90f21668mm.jpg&quot; width="500">
    The same can really be said for the Phaeton, and I also have soft spots for the Group A era Japanese rally homologation models (323 GTX, Celica All-Trac Turbo, Galant VR4, etc.).

    1. VW Phaeton is the Bentley for the common man. It was inexpensively priced when introduced, and roundly rejected by connoisseurs and the market. So it's even more of a bargain now. As with the MB and other cars that have been mentioned, its maintenance and repair will not be inconsiderable. However, if you compare your operating costs against the lease of a comparable new car, you'll find enormous economies.

  25. Well if I had 30k I'd save it to pay off my student debt.
    <img src="http://www.autotraderclassics.com/scaler/632/473/images/b/2011/04/14/66213371/0_P1010225.JPG&quot; width="500/">
    I'd stalk for Mopar B-Bodies. Trailer-Queen-Numbers-Matching Dodge Chargers, Roadrunners, Super Bees are 100k, Normal Dodge Coronets/Plymouth Satellites/GTX seem to go from 50k for a Hooniverse-Weekend Edition-worthy condition to 2k for a rusted hulk with no interior. If I had 30k I'd look for a less-desirable Satellite in drivable condition around 5-10k. Above that I'd want it fully functioning and glossy paint. Funny how certain versions of the same car can have such a wildly broad price range.
    There's one for sale for $9000 near (well, sort of…) me! http://ontario.kijiji.ca/c-cars-vehicles-cars-tru

    1. There is a beautiful gold 4-door 69 Satellite that visits 3 doors down on occasion. Total low mileage survivor, complete with hubcaps. I find it hard to even think straight when it's around, and find myself slobbering all over my shirt after if leaves.

  26. Oh man, after reading some more comments, I now have 2 more choices.
    I have seen G8 GXP (slushers) on Craigslist around Austin for right at 30K.
    A much better deal is the Z3 M Clownshoe for $20K with right around 100k miles. That would be my $20,000 choice, to be sure.

    1. Last fall I couldn't find a G8 in my price range… and I wanted a manual too. Same with a Challenger RT manual. Found one local but it was beat to hell.
      I started down the path of a Z4 coupe. Really nice certified pre-owned ones were going for $24k. The only Z3 coupe I found was $10k… and that was a nightmare.
      Someone brought up the GTO. The 5.7s were in the teens, the 6.0s were in the low 20's. I couldn't come around to the red gauges and the stigma of owning a GTO. Vette-lite around here.
      When my divorce was final, my credit score was in the single digits. So $15k Mustang GT, less than 8000 miles so the old man stink of the PO hadn't set in yet.

  27. id actually go get a 1958/9/60 edsel an resore it myself and with e change go buy a minter p71 ford crown victoria as this is the last year they will make them before they turn into (YUCK!) ford tauruses and keep it for a future classic

  28. Get a Corvair. Get a couple three Corvairs. The Vair has got to be the most affordable collector car around. It's hard to spend five figures for one. Even the turbocharged Spyders and Corsas can be had for a four digit sum. You might have to look a little harder if you insist on a folding roof. Run of the mill Monzas in driver condition often sell for less than five grand and if you really want a bargain, look at 1960-64 four door cars.

  29. A professionally done classic Mini w/ Honda K-series swap. They run around $25-30K from superfastminis.com in Georgia. Messing with people at red lights would be 1/2 the fun. It would eventually kill me no doubt, but what a way to go.[youtube 8BvkZmAEjak http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BvkZmAEjak youtube]

  30. I'd love to have a 996 or Boxster S, an LS1 swapped 944, and a Subaru Legacy with the JDM twin turbo engine. A Miata and an FD RX-7 would complete this list. And an E36 M3. I could continue..

  31. BMW 1602 roundie or Neue Klasse sedan… you can get one for quite a bit less than you'd pay for a 2002, they are still attractive, fun, practical cars, but live in the shadow of the 2002 and are not nearly as popular.

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