The days of icy roads and closed garage doors loom ever closer, but we know that doesn’t stop any car nut from dreaming of sunny days with sweet rides. We ran the numbers and gathered 11 coupes, trucks, and sedans that are hottest in the market right now—and the most affordable. Though we set the price ceiling at $20K for this list, all 11 of these rides—ranging from a nostalgic ’90s coupe to some retro ’60s pickups—fall under $13,000 (based on median condition #3 (good) values).
“This tells me that the growth in interest we are seeing for affordable or ‘bargain’ cars has a price ceiling around $10K,” says Hagerty information analyst James Hewitt. “Since the Hagerty Vehicle Rating is driven by much more than value increases, this isn’t just cheap cars getting big percentage increases.”
How do we measure cars’ hotness in the market? By using a data-driven 0–100 rating that essentially determines how each vehicle is performing in the current market. A 50-point rating indicates that a vehicle is keeping pace with the market overall. Ratings above 50 indicate above-average appreciation, and vehicles below 50 are lagging behind the market. The cars in this list earned their HVR ratings through a relatively high number of vehicles being insured and quoted through Hagerty, paired with solid auction activity and private sales results. The HVR rating does not guarantee future collectability, however endearing a vehicle may be.
Here, in ascending order, are the hottest cars (and trucks) you can nab for well under $20K. Go crazy.
Before luxury meant scented cabins and infotainment screens to rival your MacBook, premium badges got you solid build quality, understated styling, and all-day cruising comfort. Mid-’90s S-Classes carry a premium badge and are a lot of car for less than 10 grand. These saloons boast an entire family of powerplants—inline-sixes, V-8s, and V-12s—plus TurboDiesel variants of the inline-sixes. Pick your remarkably affordable, comfortable poison.
Earlier this year we noticed that ’90s nostalgia was attracting disproportionate numbers of Millenials to the 300ZX—quote activity for these coupes was, back in March, double that of the Millennial quote activity across the rest of the market. They’re getting pulled up by previous growth for other ’90s Japanese high-tire sports cars like the Supra, NSX, and FD RX-7. We’ve seen some turbo versions sell for huge money this year,” Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton says. The 300ZX is no ugly duckling, either. “It’s good-looking, fast, relatively reliable, and has a cool interior.”
First-gen Broncos were red hot back in early 2018, and median #3 values for those ’66–77 models currently sits at $32,300. Yikes. Newer Broncos have only benefited from the 4x4 craze, but this middle Bronco generation remains accessible at $9800. The third-gen Bronco’s HVR plateaued March through June 2019 but has since corrected slight dips into the mid-’80s and is trending upwards once more.
Though current Hagerty Price Guide updates gave ’61–66 F-Series an artificial bump, values for most F-Series in the Hagerty Price Guide are up over the past year. “Like most vintage trucks,” Newton says, “it’s a cool classic look for much cheaper than the equivalent car, in many cases. Plus, they’re easy to work on and upgrade.” Even between engine and bed options, there are dozens of configurations to choose from on these stylish pickups.
Like the mid-’90s Fleetwood that’s also on this list, the ’90–97 Lincoln Town Car proves that not everyone in the car market is looking for spine-tingling thrills. We’ve seen a substantial change in the number of these cars being quoted, and most callers probably received pleasant surprises. With median #3 condition values hovering around 3 grand, these rear-wheel-drive loungers certainly won’t break the bank—in fact, they probably couldn’t scare anyone off if they tried.
Except for the screaming 2.3-liter four-cylinder variants, which have been flat the past year, 190E values have all been upward bound. Base and 2.6 models are still very cheap, however, so even changes of $1K–$2K represent a large percentage bump. These cars are infamous for their five-link rear suspension systems, developed at extravagant cost to Mercedes-Benz. The results are quite luxe, though—think S-Class ride quality in a much smaller platform.
“Obviously, Mercedes-Benz couldn’t keep spending like that,” John Wiley says of the 190-series’ almost $2 billion R&D budget, “and the result was the W210.”
Hagerty Price Guide increases are the biggest driver for the high HVR of these late-’90s E-Classes. However, given their low #3 median values, they are similarly prone (compared to their 190-series brethren) to high percentage changes based on, at the end of the day, cheap prices. These turn-of-the-century E-Classes are disproportionately popular among older buyers (Boomers and pre-Boomers), so perhaps these sedans are spending quiet winters at vacation homes or making weekend hauls to the mountains. Rusting, after all, is a remarkably quiet activity…
Across all generations, Miatas boast some of the highest quote activity among all the cars we track. “They’re such great—and cheap—all-around cars, whether you want something or casual fun or you’re a serious track-day fiend,” Newton says. “On top of that, they’ve got a super enthusiastic and friendly fan base.” These NA Miatas hold the exact same HVR rating as last month—which would sound boring, if the rating were any lower. First-gen Miatas seem to never go out of style… and we ain’t mad about it.
For the ’93–96 generation, Cadillac actually switched the Fleetwood from a front-wheel-drive platform (’85–92) back to the original rear-wheel-drive configuration, this time on the D-body platform. The 1994-and-newer model years have the LT1 V-8, and the sizable horsepower bump (260 hp, up from 185 hp) in the full-size sedan is, apparently, catching some eyes—in the last 12 months, we’ve seen a 17-percent rise in the number of policies added. Across the past two Hagerty Price Guides, mid-’90s Fleetwood values rose 48 percent. Clearly, these Fleetwoods have their own appeal… maybe similar to a giant, well-worn couch after a Christmas feast.
The sister vehicle to Chevy’s Blazer, the GMC Jimmy rides the popularity wave of the Blazer and Bronco. “I just don’t think you can lose with short-wheelbase, full-size trucks,” says valuation specialist Greg Ingold. And for those who want in the 4x4 party but need to stand out from the crowd, there’s always the Jimmy Casa Grande camper-truck…
Topping the list of hottest vehicles under $20K is the ’73–79 Ford F-Series. Almost every F-Series in the Hagerty Price Guide was up significantly over the past year, but the ’73–79 model stood out. Values for trucks from each year in the ’73–79 bracket increased significantly, including all engines and body styles. “They’re good-looking, useable, and relatively comfortable for old trucks,” Newton says. And, with a median #3 condition value of $11,200, they’re still cheap.
Did one of these 11 affordable rides catch your eye? Let us know your favorite in the comments section below.