You don’t have to be rich to get into the collector car hobby, and even those on a tight budget have an almost dizzying amount of choices. Lots of driver-quality #3 (Good) condition classics are out there for under five figures. Some are getting more expensive, however, and not all the cars on this list may be cheap forever.
The Hagerty Vehicle Rating is based on a 0–100 scale. A 50-point rating indicates that a vehicle is keeping pace with the market overall. Ratings above 50 indicate above-average appreciation, while vehicles below a 50-point rating are lagging behind the market. The rating is data driven and takes into account the number of vehicles insured and quoted through Hagerty, along with auction activity and private sales results. The HVR is not an indicator of future collectability.
The Jeep CJ-7 was more agile on the trail than the CJ-6 it replaced, and it was intended to be a more civilized and luxurious version of the CJ-5, so it strikes a good balance of capable utilitarian runabout and reasonably comfortable truck. Given the big growth in the vintage truck market over the past couple of years, it should come as no surprise that interest is growing around the most famous off-roaders of them all. All the metrics that make up the Hagerty Vehicle Rating are up for the CJ-7, and its overall rating has risen four points in two months.
While they don’t have as devoted a following as the equivalent 3 Series BMWs, the C-Class Mercedes-Benzes of the 1990s have seen a jump in buyer interest and more are being added to insurance policies. Prices have remained remarkably low but show signs of picking up, and they can’t really get much cheaper than they currently are. Yes, there’s really no such thing as a “cheap Mercedes,” but the point of entry is temptingly low and, unlike later Benzes, the W202 is a car that you can still do some basic wrenching on yourself if so inclined.
Oldsmobile introduced a completely new and thoroughly more modern version of its full-size 88 in 1961. Being on the expensive end when new, 1961–64 Olds 88s are also fairly well equipped and surprisingly streetable today. They offer sharp ’60s styling and big V-8s that are unencumbered by later pollution controls. Despite that, they haven’t gotten much attention until a recent surge in buyer interest, which makes the 88 a standout in an otherwise relatively flat market for domestic cars of this era.
Pontiacs of all types have been getting quite a bit of love on the market lately, and the handsome full-size Catalina isn’t being ignored. Cars with factory high-horsepower engines unfortunately stretch past our 10 grand threshold, but on average their prices are still in four-figure territory for good drivers, making it a lot of car for the money, both literally and figuratively.
It’s easy to overlook the fifth-generation “Big Bird” Thunderbirds, as four-seat Thunderbird prices haven’t been doing much of anything lately, but the 1967–71 cars have been experiencing a surge in buyer interest and more being added to insurance policies.
With a big-block 429 engine as well as sharp styling and rear suicide doors on the sedan model (à la Lincoln Continental), the fifth-gen Thunderbird is another one that offers a lot of car and a lot of style for the money.
We’ve touched on the first-gen RX-7 before, but its Hagerty Vehicle Rating is still on the rise. This is largely thanks to prices that continue to increase, but these little rotary-powered two-seaters are still comfortably on the affordable side of the spectrum, unlike the now-expensive Datsun 240Z that also turned the sports car world on its ear just a decade before. There are plenty of ratty examples out there, but a solid driver-quality RX-7 with a few miles on it that has been owned by someone who understands the rotary engine idiosyncrasies will offer a lot of mostly trouble-free-fun per dollar.
Because Mercedes-Benzes in the ’80s were built like tanks, there are still plenty of them on the road to choose from. The W124 was the first car to be officially referred to as the E-Class, and was the platform that Porsche used to build the famous 500E. That car is way out of our budget here, of course, but the normal W124s are definitely still attainable and can outperform some of the “sportier” cars of the day, like the Porsche 944 and Chevy Camaro. The W124 helped pioneer a lot of automotive features that we take for granted today, like 4Matic all-wheel drive, five-link rear suspension, and an oxygen sensor fitted to the exhaust. With coupes, sedans, turbo-diesel wagons, and a rare five-speed manual available, there’s also a lot of variety.