20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don’t Want to Pass Up - story fullscreen Fullscreen

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don’t Want to Pass Up

Our pick of 20 Classic cars (10 American Cars + 10 Imports) that can be had for under 20 grand

LISTEN 15:46

Now when people mention classic cars, most people automatically assume that it is an expensive hobby. While that may be true up to some degree, especially with regards to collector cars, i.e cars that were produced in extremely small numbers or Concours-worthy cars, pretty much anybody can get into the hobby of classic cars if you know where to look. 

Overview

Having said that, I would like to say that there is a caveat to all of this. You see there are two sides to this, you could set yourself a certain threshold and get yourself something that’s not in the best shape and then do your own thing restoring it back to its true glory, or you could go the other route and get something that’s been well looked after, to begin with, and has relatively low miles. 

With that in mind, I looked hard and wide and have compiled this list that includes some of the best American as well as import cars out there. Some of the cars on this list are the obvious ones, others I’m assuming you might have never heard of or even considered these cars.

My criteria were simple

  • Cars that cost under $20,000
  • A good supply of cars; with more cars on the road could indicate that spares are more easily available
  • While the period for what Cars would classify as a classic is debatable. But I’m sure that most of you will agree that cars made between 1960 and 1980 do certainly qualify

My hunting ground? hemmings.com  

And with that, let’s dig in

Affordable American Classics

Cadillac El Dorado

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up Exterior
- image 645072
If you thought classic cars was an expensive hobby, think again

The El Dorado name spans twelve generations, with the very first one that came out all the way in 1953. However, I’ll focus my attention on the 9th gen model that was produced between 1971 and 1978. I managed to find a good number of them for under. This generation of the El Dorado saw the car get far boxier than its predecessor, with subsequent facelifts that saw the El Dorado evolve even more. It split away from the Fleetwood line in 1973. That same year, the El Dorado was also chosen as the official pace car of the Indanapolis500.

The ninth-gen El Dorado was available both as a coupe and a convertible. While the cheapest ones are available for under five grand, I’d urge you to spend a little more and get one that’s in decent shape and has some sensible miles on it.

Cadillac El Dorado (1971-78)
Engine: 8.2 liter, 7.0 liter V-8
Horsepower: 190 HP
Torque: 280 pound-feet
Transmission: 3-Speed Automatic
0-60 mph: 9.7 sec
Top Speed: 117

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

C3 Chevrolet Corvette

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up High Resolution Exterior
- image 621206
My list is made up of some obvious ones like the Corvette

Next, we’re taking at one of America’s most loved sports cars, the Corvette, the C3 to in this case. The C3 Vette was made between 1968 and 1982. Designed by Larry Shinoda, the C3 had some big shoes to fill following the immensely successful C2. Several special editions C3s also saw the light of day, with the most recognizable ones being the Astrovette’s, where GM leased three special edition Stingrays to Pete Conrad, Richard F Gordon Jr, and Alan Bean who were part of the Apollo 12 Mission.

You can find a few of these beauties for a bargain. Available both as a coupe or a roadster, the C3 Vette came with a range of engines and gearboxes to choose from a 5.0L LG4 V-8 to a massive 7.4 L LS6 V-8. Transmissions include a coupe of 3/4 speed manuals or automatics. Now the design of the C3 evolved over time and there’s a C3 for everyone. It truly depends on which era of C3 you like. 

C3 Chevrolet Corvette (1968-82)
Engine: 5.0 liter, 7.4 liter V-8
Horsepower: 180 HP - 460 HP
Transmission: 3/4-Speed Manual/Automatic
0-60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top Speed: 123

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Dodge Coronet

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 1050196

We can’t talk classic cars and not bring up Dode can we now? Now while the Charger would be the obvious choice, getting a decent example under 20 grand can prove to be a challenge. But thankfully, you’ve got cars like the Coronet, particularly the fifth-gen model, think the mid-60s which shares a lot with the Charger, a thoroughbred American muscle car. A Superbee or an R/T would be overkill, but even the standard car wasn’t too bad. Fifth-gen Coronet’s came in a range of body styles including a wagon, but the coupe is definitely the way to go. 

They were available with a range of engines, including the revered 426ci. They were quick back then and they’re just as quick today, which is why you often see them tearing up the drag strip with some super quick passes. You can easily get one for under 20k and go racing yourself. The sky is the limit really with the mods you can add, but the 426 is a good base to build upon.

Dodge Coronet (1965-70)
Engine: 7.0 liter
Horsepower: 425 HP
Torque: 490 pound-feet
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec
Top Speed: 144

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Ford Mustang 

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 1022732
And the Mustang

The Mustang is one of the most recognizable and celebrated names in the Muscle car world. It is the longest-running nameplate in the Ford lineup. Believe it or not, a classic stang is not out of reach and can be had for within an affordable price range. While the 64’ fastback is one of the most iconic shapes in automotive history, a 65 to 67 coupe is definitely attainable as there are a fair few that have survived given how successful the first-gen Mustang was. 

Every facelift saw the Mustang receive a lot of visual changes and upgrades and it got considerably bigger over the years. But the same can’t be said about its powertrain. While the original lineup consisted of a modest 2.8 liter, the small block 289 HiPo V-8 was an engine that was legendary. The top speed was rated at 124 mph.

Ford Mustang (1965-67)
Engine: 4.7 liter
Horsepower: 271 HP
Torque: 312 pound-feet
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
0-60 mph: 7.6 sec
Top Speed: 124

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Jeep CJ5

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up High Resolution Exterior
- image 654802

Just like the Mustang, the CJs influence on the world of off-roaders was immense. You’ll be hard-pressed not to find a tonka you for under 20k. With its origins as an early combat vehicle to help with the American war effort in the 40s, the CJ5 was essentially an evolution of that iconic shape. Believe it or not, the CJ5 was in production for the better part of three decades and you’ll be able to get your hands on a decent example from the 70s.

A CJ5 would be an inexpensive way to have fun out in the wilderness and that’s best down with the top down. The early 70s also saw the introduction of more powerful engines, which along with the off-road hardware made them far more competent out on a trail. A 4x4 with a V8 engine, it can’t get any better than that. The 304 (5.0) AMC transformed the modest CJ5 into a beast. It was mated to a three-speed manual transmission along with a two-speed transfer case.

Jeep CJ5 (AMC V-8)
Engine: 5.0 liter
Horsepower: 125 HP - 210 HP
Transmission: 3-Speed Manual
4x4 2-Speed Transfer Case
Top Speed: 70

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Other Noteworthy American Classics

  • Ford Thunderbird
    20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 156585
    Well, that’s exactly what I managed to dig up on hemmings. A list of 20 cars, 10 American and 10 imports, all of which cost under sub 20 grand
  • Oldsmobile Tornado
    20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 11717
    Yes, yes, I totally agree that keeping her going may not be the easiest thing in the world, but wouldn’t it be well worth the effort when you see it sitting out nice and shiny on your drive way

Affordable Import Classics

Alfa Romeo Spider

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 935786
And the Alfa Romeo Spider

The Alfa Romeo spider was a successor to the immensely popular Giulia spider. While the Spider was in series production for over three decades, I’ll focus my attention on the Series 2 produced from 1970 through the ear 80s. 

The Series 2 is built on the already gorgeous Pininfarina design. It has the ideal proportions of a small classic roadster. You had a range of engines to choose from a tiny 1.3-liter to a sprightly 2.0-liter, an engine that was pretty well received in the States. It produces 110 hp and is mated to a five-speed manual. Cars made after 1975 saw the omission of steel bumpers with the rubber-clad ones, owing to the new safety regulations of the day. Well-maintained cars can be found for 20 grand.

Alfa Romeo Spider 2.0
Engine: 2.0-liter
Horsepower: 110 HP
Torque 122 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
0-60 9.8 sec
Top Speed: 106

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Datsun 240Z

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 172355
This Japanese car, i.e the Datsun 240 Z also made it to my list along with an off-roader, can you guess which one?

We don’t necessarily think Japanese while considering classic cars. But I bet you can’t ignore the Datsun 240Z. If you’re a fan of JDM, this is where it all began, with the original Fairlady. This was Japan’s answer to the MGB GT. There was nothing adventurous about the design, but Datsun got the silhouette just right. It was a simple two-door coupe with clean lines. 

Pair that with some powerful engines, competitive pricing, and legendary Japanese reliability, the 240Z set the ball rolling for Nissan. While the most common engine options were a 2.0, a larger 2.4-liter with 148 horsepower engine was also briefly offered. The technically-advanced 240 Z could be had with either a 4/5-speed manual or a 3-speed auto. Finding a good rust-free unmodified example for under 20 grand can prove to be a challenge, but the Z could make for a good project car.

Datsun 240Z
Engine: 2.4-liter
Horsepower: 148 HP
Torque 137 lb-ft
Transmission: 4/5-Speed Manual
0-60 8 sec
Top Speed: 126

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

VW Beetle

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 168067

We can’t talk classic cars without touching upon the Volkswagen Beetle. The bug was one of the most popular cars of the 20th century. The bug was in production until as recently as 2003 when the last batch was made in Mexico. The original people’s car has its origins in the 30s Germany with the great Ferdinand Porsche, involved in its development. However, it wasn’t until after WWII that things really took off. 

Over 21 Million were produced and with such a large number of Beetles on the road, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a decent one for not much money. They were available as both a coupe and cabriolet. There were minor revisions in the early years until the 70s came along. The 67 model year is the sweet spot if you’re looking for a beetle with classic lines and decent mechanicals. VW is where it is today because cars like the Beetle enabled the German giant to develop other popular models like the Golf and Passat through the 70s and 80s.

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Mercedes Benz 450 SL

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 43131
Now sure if you’re looking at a Concours style car or a collectors car, prices could shoot into the stratosphere, but you can get into classic cars for so much less, sub $20k?

The Mercedes SL range is one of the benchmarks in the sportscar world and that applies even today. Starting in the 1950s, it was the car to beat. Known internally as the R107, the 450 SL was manufactured between 1971 and 1989. That’s nearly two decades in series production, which also explains why there are so many of them on the used car market.

Now when you think SL, the 450 SL is not necessarily the model you think of do you? However, the 450 SL can be credited with introducing several designs and safety features. It was also the first time that a V-8 engine was fitted to the SL class. Speaking of that V-8, it features a 4.5 liter V-8 that produces 217 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. Now those are some pretty strong numbers even by modern standards. There’s a good mix of coupes and roadsters to choose from, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t leaning towards the latter.

Mercedes Benz 450 SL
Engine: 4.5-liter
Horsepower: 217 HP
Torque 265 lb-ft
Transmission: 4/5-Speed Manual
0-60 8.8 sec
Top Speed: 130

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II

20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 883367

Now, who wouldn’t want a Spirit of Ecstacy for under 20 grand? Well, that’s what the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II offers. A slice of classic British aristocracy on wheels. There isn’t a more dignified car at this price. This was after all their flagship model of its day. The sedan or saloon as the Brits like to call it was produced for 15 years. It was an important model for RR because it was the very first one to feature a unitary body and chassis construction. 

Earlier models featured a 6.2 liter L410 V8 engine that put out a healthy 200 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. It features a 4-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. The power I suppose in RR talk was adequate, enough to lug around this luxurious palace on wheels. Get one of these and you’ll still stand out in a crowd. You’ll get loads of street-cred as well because this is after all a Rolls Royce, we’re talking about here.

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II
Engine: 6.2-liter
Horsepower: 200 HP
Torque 398 lb-ft
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
0-60 10.8 sec
Top Speed: 121

Find it for sale at: hemmings.com

Other Noteworthy Import Classics

  • Fiat Spider - $12,000
    20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 1057102
    Swipe up to read my entire list of Classic cars that are a bargain to buy.
  • Jaguar MKII - $9500 
    20 Affordable Classic Cars You Don't Want to Pass Up
- image 1027015
    And not so obvious models like the MKII Jag

Final Thoughts

So there you have it then. A list of 20 exciting cars that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to buy. This was just on hemmings.com, I didn’t even look on Autotrader or on Classics.com, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find so much more if you exercise patience to hunt down some pristine examples.

Now as I mentioned earlier, it really depends on how much you’re willing to spend on this hobby. The used car market for classic cars is vast. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The most vital aspect to look at on any used car and this is especially true for classics, is rust. Low mileage is always desirable and finally the cost of insurance. Nail all these aspects and you sure should reap a lot from this hobby. Even better if it’s a car that might go up in value over time.

FAQ

What is the most affordable classic car?
There are several options when it comes to classic cars. Models like the 1965 Ford Mustang, 1969 Chevrolet Corvette, 1966 Dodge Coronet, 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, 1972 Nissan 240Z are cars that can be had for under $20,000.

What is a good first classic car?
By far the Volkswagen Beetle is one of the best first classic cars to buy. 21 million of them were made, which means there are loads of them still on the road and there is a big community to help you out as well. The 1967 model really is the sweet spot for a used bug.

Is it worth buying a classic car?
Classic cars not only invoke feelings of nostalgia but are also a great way to relive the past. If you have always yearned for one on your driveway, th good part is that the community for them is pretty substantial and you should be able to hunt one down for not much money.

Which is the most reliable classic car?
The Volvo P1800 is one of the most reliable classic cars. The Scandinavian design only further helps its case making it even more desirable.

Do classic cars hold value?
Well, that depends on a host of factors. The number of units that were manufactured, availability of donor cars, rarety, and exclusivity though helps determine the value of classic cars. It’s a classic case of demand vs supply, the lesser of these cars in existence the higher its value and chances of values going up even more.

Khris Bharath
Khris Bharath
Khris is a classic car aficionado and adores his Jags and Alfas, although he keeps tabs on everything from super exotics like an old EB 110 to the latest from Lucid. Formula One is very close to his heart, and he diligently makes time to tune in for the Grand Prix on Sundays. Khris also loves his road trips and he prefers a stick shift over an auto any day.  Read full bio
About the author

Related Articles

TopSpeed Exclusive: How Classic.com Generates Pricing For Vintage / Collector Cars In Real Time

10 Awesome Classic Cars That Are Cheap in 2020

Top 10 Classic Cars That Are Dirt Cheap In 2020

Bargain Finds: Classic Cars That You Can Score on the Cheap

You Don’t Have to Be a Millionaire to Score Big at a Car Auction

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: