Not every classic car costs six figures

Classic cars are almost always exclusive and expensive, especially if they’re the desirable types. But even if that applies most of the time, there are instances when it doesn’t. The phrase “classic cars,” after all, is subjective. One person’s definition of a classic car is another person’s definition of junk. Then there’s a group of cars that are considered “classic” in most people’s eyes, even if they don’t fetch a fortune. These are the cars that can be purchased without burning holes in your pockets. If you’re in the market for an affordable classic car, check out this list that we’ve prepared. You might end up finding one that suits your taste and your budget.

Granted, a lot of these affordable classics usually come with maladies that will require you to spend money on restorations. That’s a separate cost that’s harder to predict because it’s going to depend on how much restoration needs to be done. So we’re focusing on desirables that come on the cheap. As far as post-purchase costs are concerned, let’s hope you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for those.

1981 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

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Let’s start with what I still consider to be the sexiest Chevrolet Corvette ever made. The Corvette (C3) is the Corvette that was in the market when I was growing up.

It’s the model that introduced me to the Corvette name, and it’s the one that I’m still attached to. It boggles my mind that you can actually buy a used 1981 Corvette for less than $20,000. ClassicCars.com has more than 50 listings of 1981 Corvettes. You can pick and choose which one suits your budget and which ones are easiest to get a hold of. I understand why the 1981 Corvette hasn’t achieved “high-priced collectible” status.

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There’s too many of them. From 1980 to 1982, the Bowtie sold more than 100,000 units of the Corvette. High supply is the anchor that prevents a specific model from becoming an expensive collectible, and that’s the case with the 1981 Corvette. That’s good news for those who are looking for one these days. In any event, the 1981 Corvette is powered by a naturally aspirated V-8 engine that produces 190 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It takes the coupe 8.4 seconds to hit 60 mph on its way to a top speed of around 137 mph.

1976 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

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Would you believe that there’s a Rolls-Royce out there that you can buy for less than $20,000?

As hard as that is to believe, it’s true. The 1976 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow isn’t the most appealing Rolls in the world, but it’s still a Rolls-Royce. More importantly, it carries the Spirit of Ecstasy ornament on its hood. There has to be something to be said for that. Speaking of its hood, underneath that sits a naturally aspirated four-stroke V-8 engine that produced 247 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot of power for a car that was available in the late 1970s. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 115 mph.

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Unfortunately, the Silver Shadow suffers from the same fate as the third-generation Corvette. There were just too many of them built. In fact, in the 11 years that the Silver Shadow was in production, Rolls sold over 25,000 units of the Silver Shadow and the Silver Shadow II. Like the 1981 Corvette, there’s too many of them on the road. That would explain why you can buy a Silver Shadow in the used car market for as little as $14,000. Can you imagine a Rolls-Royce costing less than a brand new Toyota Yaris?

1962 Ford Thunderbird

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I get it. Not everyone likes the Ford Thunderbird. It’s not the most reliable model in the world and it was prone to some breakdowns during its time. But I like the Thunderbird. I like the way it looks — there’s a certain joy that comes in seeing one on the road — and I like that the 1962 Thunderbird evokes a certain futuristic look.

There’s a time capsule feel to the two-door grand tourer. In terms of power and performance, the ’62 Thunderbird was no slouch.
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It was powered by a massive naturally aspirated 6.4-liter four-stroke V-8 engine that produced 300 horsepower and 427 pound-feet of torque. Yes, it was that powerful. It only took 8.6 seconds for the massive vehicle to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph and it could even crack a top speed of 129 mph. There are models of the ’62 Thunderbird that haven’t aged well, but if you can find the right one that’s still worth a proper restoration, you might only have to spend somewhere in the $10,000 to $25,000 range. Hemmings has over 50 listings of the 1962 ‘Bird. Go have fun with it.

1968 Ford Mustang

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Anytime you can find a well-maintained first-generation Ford Mustang for less than $20,000, you’re going to have to take that seriously. There aren’t that many of them that are still in great condition — those that are in great condition are probably not for sale — but it’s all about trying to find the “right” Mustang that you can afford.

The 1968 Mustang, for example, is a good place to start your search for a first-gen ‘Stang.
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The model wears the muscle car’s classic look and it’s also powered by a variety of engine options, including a 4.7-liter V-8 engine that produced 195 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. In addition to its classic Mustang looks and the tried-and-tested performance capabilities, the 1968 Mustang is the same model year as the Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt. You might not get a chance to own the actual movie car, but you can at least tell your friends that your Mustang was produced in the same year as the iconic movie car. And for as little as $15,000, you can make that happen.

1977 Jeep CJ-5

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This is more of a personal choice on my part because I love the 1977 Jeep CJ-5. The two-door off-road SUV can be purchased for as little as $11,000. For that amount of money, you can buy a vehicle that can easily be restored and modified in several ways.

The CJ-5 is a good platform for customization, and even if you decide to stick with its stock setup, the CJ-5 is cool enough to take you many places.
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It’s obviously lacking in power considering that it’s more than 40 years old, but there is something appealing about going about town in a Jeep that’s powered by a four-stroke inline-six engine that produces just 85 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. There are so many ways you can set up the Jeep CJ-5, and the best part is that you won’t have to pay a fortune for one.

1979 Porsche 924

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It’s not the first Porsche you think of when you’re looking for an affordable classic, but there’s a case to be made that more people should be interested in the Porsche 924.

Not only does it have a story to tell — it was supposed to be a Volkswagen model — but it’s also one of the few Porsche models that featured pop-up headlights.

With having stuck to a streamlined design across its entire lineup, it’s rare to find a Porsche that looks different from its peers. The rear section is still a bit chunky, but there’s some nostalgic appeal to that, too.

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The overall look of the 924 has aged better than most people expected, and while it doesn’t come with the most powerful of engines, there are ways to work around that today. A low-mileage, barely-used 924 is on sale at ClassicCars for less than $20,000, but if you want a little more creativity and opt for a full restoration job, cheaper versions can be had for as low as $5,000.

Toyota MR2

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Of course the Toyota MR2 belongs to this list. The Japanese sports car captured my heart as a youngster and has never given it back. I love everything that the MR2 represented. It was a small mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car that provided those who couldn’t afford to buy expensive sports cars the opportunity to own one without having to burn too many holes in their pockets.

Even better, Toyota gave the first- and second-generation MR2s the kind of aesthetics that doesn’t go out of style.

It’s been more than 20 years since the second-gen MR2 — the third-gen MR2 was and remains ugly — left the world, but, to this day, it still looks sexy as hell.

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I love the first two generations of the model, though I do lean more towards the second-gen MR2 because it looked like an evolved version of its predecessor, and, more importantly, it featured more potent engines, including a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder unit that produced 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque.

Yes, the second-gen Toyota MR2 Turbo is more powerful than the 86. Food for thought. ClassicCars has several MR2s available on its website and you’ll only have to pay in the vicinity of $16,000 to buy one.

Volkswagen Golf Mk2

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At this point, finding a Volkswagen Golf Mk 1 on the cheap is almost an impossible task. Prices of the OG Golf have been steadily increasing in the last few years that even a usable model is going to fetch top dollar.

The Golf Mk 2, on the other hand, can still be scored at a bargain price. This is what you need to look for, especially if trends follow and the second-generation Golf’s price tag shoots up in the future.

For now, you can score a top-condition Golf Mk 2 for around $20,000.

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Slightly worse off models will obviously be on the cheaper side, and that’s where you have to be patient. With a model like the Golf Mk 2, it’s important to buy one that’s still good enough to be restored, and if you can pay less than $15,000 for that, then all the better. The prices of the Golf Mk2 will rise in the near future. That much is a certainty. Strike the iron while you can still afford one.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S

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The 1975 Jaguar XJ-S is arguably one of the sexiest models Jaguar built in the ‘70s. Roll out the stunning two-door fastback coupe today and I guarantee that you’re going to get enough stares to make you sweat.

There’s a timelessness in the design of the 1994 XJS that still resonates more than 40 years after it was launched. The OG XJS wasn’t just a looker, too. It came with a massive 5.3-liter V-12 engine that produced 285 horsepower and 399 pound-feet of torque. For a car of its size, the OG XJ-S still moved like, well, a jaguar. It could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.8 seconds and hit a top speed of 143 mph. The first-generation XJS doesn’t fetch as high a price tag as it probably should, but that’s to your advantage. You can buy one for as low as $2,500, though at that price, you can expect a lot of restoration work to go with the car. Models in better states typically cost around $15,000, which still counts as a bargain.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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