18 May 2017

5 classic cars you can buy for under $5,000

Some people have a spare five figures in the bank for that old Corvette or Porsche they’ve always wanted, but not everyone. Some of us have rent, kids’ tuition, dreaded student loans, or all three to worry about, with little left to spare. For car people, though, living on a tight budget makes finding a fun weekend car tough. The good news is that even though the classic car market has appreciated significantly over the past few years, there are still plenty of exciting, usable classics out there for the price of a 10-year-old Honda Civic. Following are some great options.

1975-81 Triumph TR7
Average condition #3 value - $4,200
Period ads touted the “bold, slashing wedge” shape of the TR7 as “the shape of things to come.” But whatever things they meant never came, because the TR7 was the last sports car produced by Triumph. The TR7 was absolutely a car of its time, from its doorstop-like wedge styling and tartan seats to the parts bin engineering and horrid quality control of British Leyland in the late ‘70s. Years of being the butt of jokes and making numerous “worst cars” lists have kept them cheap and often neglected, but “the shape of things to come” actually hasn’t aged that badly and folks are warming to it. Prices have even climbed a bit in the past year, but the TR7 is still one of the most affordable classic British sports cars and their average value still isn’t far from its original $4,995 sticker over 40 years ago.

1990-94 Volkwagen Corrado
Average condition #3 value - $4,500
Marketed as a sports car even though it’s a front-drive hot-hatch, the Corrado is largely forgotten here in the States. Dedicated VW enthusiasts seem to be the only folks aware of them. Volkswagen sold about 17,000 of them in the U.S. and they were fairly expensive compared to the similarly fun Golf GTI. Prices stretched past $20K by the end of production. For the early ‘90s, though, they were pretty darn quick. The earlier 1.8-liter supercharged cars made 158hp and 166 lb-ft of torque, good enough for 0-60 in 7.5 seconds and a 140mph top speed. The more desirable 2.8-liter VR6-powered cars got a bump to 178hp and 177 lb-ft, dropping the 0-60 time to 6.5 seconds. The Corrado also came with high-tech goodies like a power rear spoiler and electronic traction control.

Hagerty Price Guide values for the Corrado have increased slightly recently. Average prices for later VR6 models also creep past our $5,000 budget, but most Corrados remain cheap and stand out in a sea of Golfs. The downsides are that parts for a rare model like this can be hard to find, power features like the rear spoiler and sunroof tend to fail, and superchargers on 1.8-liter cars can break prematurely.

1979-85 Mazda RX-7
Average condition #3 value - $4,100
Mazda put a ton of time, money, and energy into Wankel rotary technology in the 1960s and ‘70s. Models ranged from the gorgeous and fairly exotic Cosmo coupe to RX-series sedans and even a rotary version of the B-series pickup truck. It’s the little RX-7, though, that’s most identified with the rotary engine. Despite their novel powertrain, the first generation RX-7 was fairly simple and quite reliable aside from the usual rotary issues like apex seal failure and burning oil. They were affordable, handsome, quick, and well-built when new, and that is still their appeal today. Top-notch collector-grade examples can be pricey these days, but a solid driver can be bought for Mazda Miata money (which has a standard four-cylinder engine).

1984-93 Mercedes-Benz 190
Average condition #3 value - $3,900
Back before German build quality was a marketing slogan, Mercedes put their cars together like tanks and many enjoyed Volvo-like levels of longevity. While the 190 was the entry-level Benz back in its day, it’s still a rock-solid car, and diesel models in particular seem to run forever. If gas prices ever go back up, you can even convert one to a grease car to run on vegetable oil, if that’s your thing. Aside from the desirable 16-valve models, Mercedes 190s can be dirt cheap. For under $5,000, you can have a European luxury sedan and tell people that you drive a Mercedes, if that’s your thing.

1983-86 Ford Mustang 5.0
Average condition #3 value - $4,500
“Foxy” body Mustangs have appreciated recently, with prices surging for later examples as well as special models like the GT and SVO. Earlier 5.0-liter LXs, though, have remained remarkably cheap even though they have the same engine as the GT. Prices may climb as interest in the Fox-body generation as a whole grows, but for now the 1983-86 cars are still a great value.

42 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Steve Green No. Monterey County, CA May 24, 2017 at 15:37
    All kinds of Ramblers should be added to this list, as well. (Classics, Americans, Ambassadors, Javelins, AMX's, Gremlins, Pacers, etc.). Us AMC / Rambler collectors really enjoy our cars; they're unique and (by and large) as well built as any other old classic car. (I have '59 and '60 Americans, myself).
  • 2
    jerry snaper FL May 24, 2017 at 16:36
    No one seems to recognize the Edsel's as the classics they are!
  • 3
    Stan Part Stuart Fl May 24, 2017 at 17:09
    The TR-7 isn't worth anything 'cuz it's a POS, always was, always will be... Hope this helps!
  • 4
    Harry Knutt Ontario May 24, 2017 at 17:18
    The Chrysler Cordoba LS 1980 -1982 should also be added
  • 5
    David Reynolds Los Angeles May 24, 2017 at 17:21
    82' to 86' Trans Ams should be here as well.
  • 6
    Jim Orlando May 24, 2017 at 17:23
    Get a TR7, throw in the Buick Aluminum V8 that British Leyland put in the TR8, and you're on your way! (Very quickly)
  • 7
    Guido Goombaluccio Palermo May 24, 2017 at 17:30
    One of the greatest cars made was the Yugo! In a few years these will fetch $100,000+. (As did Seinfeld's VW Bug!)
  • 8
    Harbormate Grand Marais, Michigan May 24, 2017 at 17:41
    Apparently the key word here is "cars" because there are plenty of pickups from the era this list represents that are in this price range and, as domestics, can be affordably maintained and upgraded. Their values are ascending and they'll also haul an occasional load of yard mulch or dorm furniture!
  • 9
    Lee Pratt Bay City, MI May 24, 2017 at 17:52
    What's your thought on the '99 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder? Why can't I find a boot for the top when down?
  • 10
    Dan Thomson Kearney Ont May 24, 2017 at 17:59
    You guys on crack??? The falcon was the platform for the mustang and in 62/63 Ford was looking for a pony car. The Shelby race stripe was on Carroll Shelbys "Grocery Getter" before it was on the Cobra.Check out the other horse called the Cayuse (1963). Jay Lenno's first car was a Falcon and Chip Foose did some artwork and signed my glove box. Anybody who has one knows how great it is to convert their grandmothers everyday falcon to a street screamer.
  • 11
    ROBERT Worth, Texas May 24, 2017 at 18:18
    I had an 79 RX-7. Great car- fun to drive. No problems. I still don't why I sold it. Wish I had it back!
  • 12
    Kent Groth FL May 24, 2017 at 18:19
    How about a 92/93 Mercedes 400E? A real hot rod for less than $5000!
  • 13
    Greg the Leg Newcastle CA May 24, 2017 at 18:42
    None of the cars listed strike me as "classics" based on date of manufacture. The shows we go to are "classic car shows" and they generwally say 1970 and older. Do I need to readjust my thinking? A VW Corrado? Really??
  • 14
    Dave Ellenbecker East Texas May 24, 2017 at 18:45
    The looked over Opel GT is a good choice for a sports car.
  • 15
    Victor Sharp Jonesboro, Ar. May 24, 2017 at 19:12
    I own a 79 days in 280 zx, first year of the zx, which includes fuel injection. They offered 3 Speedos, 130 mph, 160 mph, and 180 mph, mine has the 130, but at 130 the tach. is at 4500 red line is 6500. It is a 2 seater with air. I have 2 83 280 zx 2+2's, an 85 300 zx, 2 seater with factory t-tops with the factory covers, air and a 5 speed, it registers 145, in 3rd gear at 3 grand, it's doing 120. Driving around town, grabbing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gear rubber I get 25 miles to the gallon, I get 450 miles on a tank of gas. I have a 75 mercury marquis, 4 door, with air, a big block 400, it has 53 k miles, New michelien tires.
  • 16
    Jim in Texas Austin TX May 24, 2017 at 19:23
    Do some better research. The TR8 was the last sports car produced by Triumph. It was everything that the TR7 was (and wasn't) but came with, IIRC, a 215-CI V-8 sourced from Rover by way of Buick design. Those 215 V-8s happen to be prized by American hotrodders building old-school rods like T-buckets, highboys, and '32s because they are so small and light-weight and produce very respectable power for their displacement.
  • 17
    mitchell wnorowski oldsmar, fl May 24, 2017 at 19:55
    w124 and r129 mercedes including rust free convertibles in Florida !
  • 18
    T. Brown Ligonier, Pa May 24, 2017 at 20:08
    Also the Cadillac Allante as well. I have an 87 w/ 60k on it. For a 54k car brand new and most now worth 4-10k on average, I believe that there will be second look in the near future at a lot of these "classics"
  • 19
    Sal DeGiorgio TN May 24, 2017 at 20:33
    Just my opinion but, I just put five cars in the old car category. Yeah, their old but I can't see many collectors breaking down doors to get one. The Mustang 5.0 may be desirable for the engine alone but for little else.
  • 20
    Jim Dal Bon northern California May 24, 2017 at 21:42
    Clearly the gm G bodies are on the way up.
  • 21
    Mitch NOVA May 24, 2017 at 22:51
    In terms of value and fun quotient, skip the Triumph, Mazda and Benz and head straight for the Stang and the VW. The latter 2 are finicky and the Baby Benz is just playing dull
  • 22
    Steve Clark Shenandoah Valley,Virginia May 24, 2017 at 23:19
    My restored 1980 Toyota SR5 pickup was $5400 new, NADA puts it in the $4500-$7400 range. It has bucket seats,5 speed, AM/FM/cassette,sliding rear window,disc brakes,oil,temp,amp gauges including tachometer plus oil,alt.warning lights,climate controlled AC, double wall fenders in bed all this was factory for the SR5..Toyota called it a sport truck.
  • 23
    Denise Fond du Lac, Wi May 24, 2017 at 23:43
    How about early '70s Monte Carlos and El Caminos? Great deals out there on under-valued muscle. Personally, I don't consider any of the cars mentioned in this article overly desireable with all the great truly vintage metal out there at reasonable prices.
  • 24
    chuck raschke New York May 25, 2017 at 17:19
    I have always been an Olds guy and think the 80-85 full size RWD Olds has been a great bargain, preferably the 98 Regency model. To each their own, they are all good!
  • 25
    Kenny K. Philippines May 25, 2017 at 07:59
    I doubt an Edsel is less then $5000? Hence..the title of the article.
  • 26
    THOMAS CARBONE FL May 25, 2017 at 09:27
    I had the 69 AMX. a True "SLEEPER" at the time with it's 390 cu in (6.4 L) 4-bbl V8 315 hp and curb weight of 3000 lbs. I'd buy that vehicle in a NY minute for twice the 5k. I doubt any AMX would sell for under 5K as mine was stock and the least expensive one built in 68-9. A stick without the BB,SS,GO packages offered.
  • 27
    Michael Joseph LaVigne Moosic,Pa May 25, 2017 at 10:37
    I don't know why the chrome bumper MGB's are not listed
  • 28
    William Buffalo NY May 25, 2017 at 10:53
    Yes...there are a lot of older collectable cars out there cheap...my take on this article is that these listed are out there near mint for under $5K...c'mon...show ready Montes and El Caminos for this price...let me know where so I can buy it first. 80s GM B/G bodies and Ford Vics should make list tho.
  • 29
    Gurdon Hornor NJ May 25, 2017 at 23:32
    2nd gen Corvairs. Really neat cars, plenty of parts, inexpensive to run, nifty to drive and good conversation starters!
  • 30
    Chris Roshong Massillon, Ohio May 25, 2017 at 11:44
    How about the Fiat 124 convertibles from 1966 to 1985? About 200K were made with most for the US market. With Corvette like styling & safety features such as standard 4 wheel disc brakes & DOHC 4 cylinder engine designed by Ferrari, they are blast to drive.
  • 31
    Richard Dafforn Saline, MI May 25, 2017 at 11:48
    Any year Pontiac Fiero is now considered collectible (84-88). Many can be had for less than $5K. The GT fastbacks will turn a head or two and even if in need of some paint and minor mechanical work, can be kept around $5K.
  • 32
    Guy Ogan West Texas May 25, 2017 at 00:30
    There are still Studebakers out in farmer's fields available for far less than $5K. Yes, their engines (even their 259ci & 289ci OHV V-8s may not be able to "run with the current crop" of cars like the Hellcats and Demons, but they can be upgraded with better brakes, power steering and a more potent power-plant to make a unique vehicle you won't see pull up next to you at every traffic light.
  • 33
    Jim Foster Elida Ohio May 26, 2017 at 18:08
    In 1980 I bought a TR7 and when I drove it home it broke down on me and stayed more broke down more then it ran. It nickle & dimed me for 3 long years!
  • 34
    Tom Henderson Henderson MONTANA May 27, 2017 at 16:43
    I love my thing
  • 35
    Patric Parker Georgia May 30, 2017 at 16:59
    There is a picture of a MGA in the side bar but not included in the article. Is it an oversight?
  • 36
    Graham Needham MA May 30, 2017 at 20:07
    The TR7 is a great car with a rotten engine. Yes, you can put a TR8 engine in a TR7. But with a little more trouble you can install a Buick V6 (eg from a Regal). John's Cars in Texas makes a kit for the conversion. I've owned TR7s and a TR8 but my TR7 V6 was the best car I ever owned.
  • 37
    Fiero Nut Orangeville, ON May 31, 2017 at 21:34
    I love my 86 Fiero GT. It's unique, and gets just enough attention to stroke my ego. They are slowly increasing in value now, as the fleet declines, and parts are harder to come by. It will soon gain it's rightful place as a classic. Shhh. daily drivers can still be found under $5,000.
  • 38
    Michael Concord, CA June 8, 2017 at 03:12
    I don't consider any of those cars classics. Seems the word "classic" is getting bastardized some.
  • 39
    Charlie Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania June 18, 2017 at 10:03
    There are lots of cars that can be had at a reasonable price. Many have been listed. I personally have a 1969 Javelin. They are getting harder to find in good condition however. And, it's hard to get parts. I would like to add to Robert from Texas. I had a 1984 RX7GSL. It was one of the most fun cars to drive and was very reliable. I bought it in 1985 and kept it for 135,000ish miles. AND, I too wish I still had it. Love my Javelin too. It was my dad's restoration project in the early 80s. Now my son and I enjoy it and share it at local events.
  • 40
    John B. Spring, Tx June 22, 2017 at 08:59
    I bought a Triumph TR7 convertible new from the dealer in 1980 and still have it to this day, 110,000 miles and 37 years later. Despite their terrible reputations, mine has been solid - there were a few gems built and I expect those left on the road today fall into this category. Parts availability is hit & miss but have been able to keep mine on the road throughout. The Al head needs to be re-torqued every 5000 miles lest it warp, and seek a southern car with no rust, good to go.
  • 41
    Doug Parkville, MD June 22, 2017 at 23:44
    Two and a half years ago I bought a Honda CRX (small engine) for $3700 in great shape. I don't see many out there, but they are one of the few cars that are fun to drive fast or slow. No problems thus far and everyone loves it. As for the gentlemen that mentioned the Opel G T, I owned one for 5 years. It handled well but that was the extent of its fun. It was slow and always breaking down. There was an inside joke that you could always tell the Opel GT driver because of his huge right arm. That is because it took all your strength to push the headlight linkage on and off!
  • 42
    Kevin Ft. Lauderdale, FL July 9, 2017 at 01:05
    I'm63, so a tail-ender of the Baby Boomers, and I've had a lot of cool '60s-'90's cars such as (2) Shelby GT-350's, a 65 289HiPo Mustang GT Fastback, (4) Jensen-Healeys, an MG Midget, a TR-6, a 63 Galaxie stock car, a '72 Vega, a 94 Jag XJS convertible, and have driven lots more working for auctions-but the best have been the GT-350's and my current '94 Porsche 968 convertible. The Porsche is an order of magnitude better than any of the British roadsters, with perfect 50-50 balance, 238 hp, 0-60 in 6 seconds flat, and it corners like it's on rails. And with 50-50 balance, it's better than any 911. I have to think the 944 S2, 944 Turbo, and 968's are about the best of the small block 90's car out there, and they are AS FAST and CORNER and BRAKE BETTER than the Shelbys at about 1/10 or less of the price. 968 convertibles are starting to climb in value, but 944 and 968 coupes can still be had for under $10,000. And 968's are rarer than almost any other Porsche.

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