7 October 2005

Ten Collector Cars to Collect in a Gas Crisis

Don’t get too worried when you see gasoline selling for over $3 per gallon. It doesn’t mean that the sky is falling or that the collector car hobby is coming to an end. There are plenty of classics that you can drive to shows, car club events and relaxing leisurely drives on just a few gallons of gas. Our list happens to be ‘50s era cars, but if you keep an eye out, you’ll most likely find other models.

Naturally, some of the vintage high-miles vehicles are midget-size cars like the Crosley or King Midget. But there are others, like the Nash 600 and Nash-Healey, that provide leg-stretching room and a place to store some luggage. A $60,000 Nash-Healey may seem like a pricey alternative to your Model A, but if gas prices keep climbing, won’t the values of such cars increase too? If so, they will be a good investment. Plus, you’ll save hundreds of dollars in gas each year.

If you’re a collector who tows, you can buy a Crosley or an MG and get rid of your 1-ton “dualie” pickup and 20-foot car hauler. A mini pickup and a small car trailer will suffice – and save you big bucks at the pump. And these cars will also tend to rise in value as gas prices climb.

Cars in the middle, such as the Henry J and the Hudson Jet, give just a little less economy, but room enough to fit inside and sufficient power to actually cruise the highways with modern traffic.

1950 Nash 600: The Nash 600 was a car that bowed in 1941. The model name indicated that it could travel up to 600 miles on one fill-up of its 20-gallon gas tank. It was a full-size car with a 112-in. wheelbase and a 172.6-cid flathead six. It was offered through 1950. If you need a big car to carry the family to shows, try this 30-mpg pioneer.

1951-1954 Henry J: Named after industrialist Henry J. Kaiser (remember “quilted” aluminum foil?), the Henry J was the least bashful Kaiser-Frazer automobile. It came with a Willys-supplied F-head four or six. Kaiser claimed that the 100-in. wheelbase coupe could hold five adults and go 25 miles on a gallon of fuel. In 1953, a Henry J won the Mobilgas Economy run.

1952-1955 Aero Willys: An early-American compact car with scaled-down big-car styling and a 104-in. wheelbase. The first engines offered were the same used in the Henry J. The four-cylinder model was capable of 35 mpg. In 1954, a 226.2-cid L-head six was added. And according to Motor Trend magazine, fuel economy dipped to 17.7 mpg. The line included two-door wagons and two- and four-door sedans. The Eagle and Bermuda hardtops are the snazzy models collectors like best, though.

1953-1954 Hudson Jet: A cool American compact that looked like a shrunken Ford, the Jet rode a 105-in. wheelbase and used a 202-cid L-head six for power. Sales were slow and fancy Jetliner and Family Sedan models were added in 1954 to move the cars out. A twin-carb performance engine was optional. Reportedly, Jets could go 31 mpg. To sell them, Hudson had a “Teacup Test” that showed how far a Jet could travel on the amount of gas that fit in a teacup.

1950–55 MG T-Series: The MG Type TC “Midget” car brought the sports car craze to America after World War II. Most people think of these diminutive Brits as economy cars, but with their dual SU carbs and low rear-end ratios, the stock 1950–53 TD models don’t go as far as you’d think on a full tank. The stock 1954–55 TF does a bit better at around 25 mpg.

1951–54 Nash-Healey: Sports car builder Donald Healey traveled to America to see if GM would supply engines for his Healey. On the QEII, he bumped into George Mason who said Nash would do it if GM didn’t. The result was a fabulous large sports car with Nash running gear and Italian coachwork manufactured in England . With its 125 or 135 hp Nash Ambassador six and three-speed overdrive gearbox, this rarity can get up to 28 mpg. It’s an awesome “economy” car.

1950–56 Nash Rambler: Special Interest Autos called this car “ America ’s first successful postwar compact.” It was immortalized by the rock ‘n’ roll song, “Beep-Beep!” A 172.6-cid 82-hp six cylinder and three-speed manual gearbox were standard. Overdrive was extra. With overdrive, owners reported up to 25 mpg. It’s the most collectible model in the Landau convertible with its roll-up top.

1950–52 Crosley: Businessman and Cincinnati Red Legs owner Powel Crosley had sold refrigerators and radios, so why not cars? He built his first miniature cars in the ‘40s, offering a full range of body styles and an unusual engine. After building military trailers during the war, Crosley got back to making cars in ’46. The postwar design arrived in ’47. Crosley also built a door-less Hot Shot sports car and a racing Super Sport model. A 44-cid 26.5-hp four supplied the power and carried the cars 25 to 32 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

1950–59 King Midget: The 1950 model looked like a midget racer, and the 1951–57 models resembled kiddie ride cars. Starting in 1958, the lines were squared off and the taillights were mounted in small fins. A one-cylinder air-cooled engine supplied power and an automatic transmission linked to a belt-drive system turned the rear wheels. The price was only $550. The 9-hp engine delivered 50–90 mph, but after a few long rides, you’ll be ready for an ATV.

1954–59 Nash Metropolitan: Derived from the Nash NXI show car, the cute little “Metro” was a well-equipped automobile powered by a four-cylinder Austin engine. It was built in England and sold by Nash and Hudson dealers in America (the Hudson version had appropriate badging). Owners reported good fuel economy in the 27–39 mpg range. If you can get by with two seats, the Metropolitan is a highly collected car that you’ll enjoy driving, especially when you drive past the gas station.

So, fret none. The hobby will go on, even if some of us are forced to downsize. Also remember that what goes up must surely come down eventually.

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola , Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.


6 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Brian Savannah, GA February 26, 2014 at 14:31
    How about the '59-'60 Studebaker Lark with a flathead six and 3 speed with Overdrive!!
  • 2
    John Donovan Connecticut February 26, 2014 at 15:39
    I had a 1957 BMW Isetta 300 in college in the early 60's. I use to get 60mph around town (I couldn't go on the highway with its maximum speed of 56 with a tailwind)
  • 3
    jay salser Garland, Texas February 26, 2014 at 18:53
    What happened to Volkswagens? Why no mention more than passing. Far more were produced, then sold in the USA than all of the above combined. They were larger than some of the above cars and got better gas mileage than most of them. There still are more of them in excellent condition. It is not unusual to see more than a hundred-300 at a single showing. They now are commanding better prices than ever and are competing with both American and other Imports.
  • 4
    RJ Michigan February 26, 2014 at 19:53
    Don't forget the Volvo 544 - 36 mpg if you really try hard, but 30 mpg pretty easily, especially with "rubber overdrive" (bigger rear tires).
  • 5
    Kevin Redding, CA February 26, 2014 at 22:22
    Getting nearly 60 MPG, with aircraft technology such as fresh oil being continually forced through the crank main bearings and a supportive international club, why overlook the Subaru 360? From an economic standpoint, the car 1969 Popular Mechanics called "the micro-disaster, unable to compete with American traffic" is the best thing Malcom Bricklin ever did and should be included in an article about frugal collecting.
  • 6
    Will Owen Pasadena, CA February 3, 2016 at 17:20
    The Metropolitans had rear seats, they were just tiny. My brother actually bought two in succession … I drove his first one, with our mom riding shotgun and him in back, on a 60-some mile day trip. You know those rare large cars that seem to shrink around you? The Metro gave the opposite impression: it drove like an under sprung Buick! My ideas of fitting one with a full-spec MG engine were immediately discarded.

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