We’ve done 10 under $10K. So to avoid redundancy, this time around we decided to go for a baker’s dozen without repeating a single vehicle from the previous list.
Based on the recently-released Hagerty Vehicle Rating (a 0–100 measurement of a vehicle’s performance relative to the market), we selected 13 highly-ranked collector vehicles that can be had for less than $10,000. There’s plenty of variety, which means there’s plenty of temptation too. But don’t delay—while these vehicles are still hovering at affordable prices today, they may not remain within reach for long. In fact, some are already near the $10K threshold.
Don’t think you can afford a Mercedes sports car? Think again. A Bruno Sacco design, the attractive SLK roadster appeared in 1996 to compete with cars like the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. A less-expensive topless alternative to the vaunted SL, U.S. models received a supercharged and intercooled 2.3-liter, 192-hp engine, starting with the 1998 model year. The roadster was so well received by the automotive media that initially Mercedes couldn’t keep up with demand. Typically trouble free with proper scheduled maintenance, the SLK offers a lot of Mercedes for the price.
The hardest-charging entry on this list, the 1990–96 300ZX leapt from 1157th in the previous HVR to 77th. Initially introduced in the U.S. as a 1984 Nissan/Datsun 300ZX (the hatch lid had both Datsun and Nissan badges) and known internally as the Z31, the new Z32 that arrived in 1990 was one of the first cars designed with computer software and featured a host of innovations, including optional four-wheel steering in the turbo versions. Like its predecessor, the 300ZX carried a 3.0-liter engine, but the power plant was revised with variable valve timing and dual overhead camshafts, a configuration that produced 222 horsepower in normally aspirated form. The desirable turbo model generated 300 hp, a top speed of 155 mph, and could accelerate from 0–60 mph in less than six seconds. Slinky and sleek, it’s a looker on today’s roads. Fans are, well, fanatical, and it’s easy to see why. The cars are fun to drive and, for now, modestly priced.
The 190, a less-expensive entry-level Mercedes, was another elegantly-simple Bruno Sacco design—the result of Daimler-Mercedes’ $2 billion investment in research and development. It turned out to be money well spent. By the time production ended in 1993, nearly 1.8 million examples had been produced, with a wide assortment of engines for the multitude of markets in which it was sold. Affordable, sturdy, and pleasing to the eye, the 190 is benefiting from a new generation of admirers that is pushing it up the hot list.
Volkswagen’s Golf Mk I sparked a trend for front-wheel drive hatchbacks, but by the time the Mk II rolled out in 1983 all of VW’s competitors offered their own version. That list included Austin, Fiat, Ford, Opel, Peugeot, and Renault in Europe, and Toyota, Nissan, and Subaru in America and Japan. It didn’t seem to matter. The Golf Mk II was a huge success, and 6.3 million were sold before production ended in 1992. Originally marketed in the U.S. as the Rabbit, the VW Golf Mk II was offered in three-door and five-door hatchback versions. Trim levels included letter designations of all sorts (C, CL, GL…), which can be confusing, and the GTI muddied the waters even further—an eight-valve GTI was offered from 1985–87 and again from 1990–92; there was also a 16-valve GTI from 1987–92. There’s so much more to the story, but we’ll spare you the details. Bottom line: Golf Mk IIs are typically durable and parts are plentiful. And given the opportunity, go with the hottest hatch of all, the peppy GTI.
Created with help from Italian designer Pininfarina, the Allante was Cadillac’s attempt to build a two-seat luxury convertible that would challenge the Mercedes SL. Despite offering state-of-the-art features like electronically-controlled suspension damping and four-wheel anti-lock brakes, the Allante’s roughly $57,000 price tag was prohibitive, and sales fell far short of projections. Only 21,400 Allantes were produced in seven model years, with 4670 of those—nearly 25 percent of the total—sold for the stretched-out 1993 model year, when the best version of the Allante featured a 295-hp Northstar DOHC aluminum V-8. By then it was too late, however, and GM pulled the plug just as the car reached its peak.
This one-year-only model, born out of necessity as Datsun scrambled to meet U.S. emissions laws, bridged the gap between the brilliant 240Z and the fuel-injected 280Z. The 260Z was powered by a modified version of the 240Z’s 2.4-liter overhead-cam straight-six engine stroked to a displacement of 2.6 liters, which had slightly less horsepower (140) but produced a top speed of 127 mph. Produced only in 1974, its can be a challenge to find parts, but that isn’t scaring off collectors.
The newest-model pickup on the list, the 1993–95 Lightning has the heart of a muscle car. Conceived by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT), it received a 5.8-liter, 351-cu-in V-8 modified and tuned to produce 240 hp. It’s no wonder Ford referred to the F-150 Lightning as “a Mustang GT with a cargo bed.” With a total three-year production of only 11,563 units, the Lightning also carries an air of exclusivity. Heavy buyer interest (measured by quote activity) sparked a rise into the HVR’s top 50.
It’s well-known among auto enthusiasts that Jeep’s roots stretch to World War II, but Willys also created a new line of light-duty trucks. Initially two-wheel-drive vehicles, four-wheel drive came along soon after and continued through end of production. While engines evolved over the years, cosmetic changes were subtle. Since a rising tide lifts all boats, these trucks have naturally been caught up in the wave of pickup popularity.
The W210 brought a new, sleeker look for Mercedes-Benz, and the cars gained a reputation for a quiet, comfortable ride and excellent handling. Offered in sedan and station wagon versions, the W210 has been known to experience corrosion problems, particularly around the front fenders and door frames, which places a premium on rust-free models. Heavy buyer interest propelled it into a tie for 37th in the latest HVR.
The E30 is the car that spawned a forest of BMW fanatics, and because BMW sold more than 2,000,000 E30s of all types worldwide, there are lots of choices out there. A push in buyer interest has lifted the E30 into the 30th spot (kismet, perhaps) in the HVR. With a reputation for fun, reliability, and affordability, and with an average value of $9800, it may not remain in under-$10K crowd for long.
Wait, classic trucks are hot? Who knew? OK, we did. Sarcasm aside, the 1973–87 GMC C/K Series is one of four pickups—and the second-highest—on the hot list. The C/K Series proved to be the longest-lived series in GMC’s history and is the truck to have for fans of three-box styling. It may have lacked curves, but it had plenty of character and also featured GM’s first in-house built crew cab. Heavy buyer interest pushed it from 124th to 17th in the latest HVR, meaning the secret is out.
Leading the pickup truck conga line is the 1969–75 International Harvester. Restyled by IH Chief of Design Ted Ornas, who was influenced by his first-generation Scout, Internationals of this era have a clean shape with minimal body lines. The 1969–75 models were offered in multiple wheel bases with single and crew cabs and in two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Engines ranged from an AMC-sourced inline-six to IH’s rugged 304-, 345-, and 392-cubic-inch V-8s (392s were replaced by AMC’s 401 in 1974). Three levels of trim were offered during the era—Standard, Deluxe, and the plush Custom—and IH also offered a few limited edition pickups in specific regions, like the Johnny Reb in the Southeast and the SnoStar in the North. Avoid those if you want to stay under $10K.
After 10 years on the market with few changes, Ford gave its Lincoln Town Car a $650 million makeover for 1990. With a more aerodynamic design to increase fuel economy and noticeably missing its signature vinyl roof, the new Town Car retained two of its biggest (literally) selling points: its large interior and roomy trunk. Appropriately enough, the changes proved to be a big success. The Town Car was even named 1990 Motor Trend Car of the Year (although that in itself doesn’t guarantee success). Power came from a 4.9-liter Windsor V-8 generating 150–160 horsepower the first year and a 4.6-liter Ford Modular SOHC V-8 with 210 hp from 1991–97. With an uptick in insurance quoting and insured activity, the Town Car jumped from ninth in the previous HVR to a tie for second this time around. For those of you who are a little light in the wallet, Concours-condition examples can be found for less than $8000.