Classic Car Bargains: Get the looks and performance of the priciest classics for a fraction of the price

1963 Shelby Cobra

The Pebble Beach auctions that get under way this weekend are generally not the place for bargain hunters. More than $300 million in automotive merchandise will likely change hands with about five lots capable of bringing more than $10 million, and a staggering 100-plus cars capable of cracking the $ 1 million mark. Just 20 or 30 years ago, a lot of these cars were attainable to people of ordinary means, and more than one long-term owner with a massive capital gain is cashing out in Pebble. So what’s an ordinary mortal whose been priced out of the Ferrari and Cobra market to do? Look at some alternatives that provide 90 percent of the bang for 5 percent of the buck. Here are some of our favorites:

1963 Shelby Cobra/1992 Dodge Viper: Everybody loves a Cobra. Carroll Shelby’s idea of stuffing an American V-8 in a lightweight British sports car was an instant hit. The trouble is, if you didn’t buy one in the early 1980s when they were about $30,000, your chances of acquiring one like RM Auctions’ Lot #130 (which has a pre-sale estimate of up to $1 million) are pretty slim. So, instead of a Cobra replica you’ll always have to make excuses for, why not buy its spiritual successor, the Dodge Viper? V-10 powered, raw and uncompromising, early examples can still be had for less than what Cobras were selling for 30 years ago.

1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 N.A.R.T. Spider/Intermeccanica Italia: The sexy Ferrari that RM is selling this weekend has a pre-sale estimate of up to $17 million. It’s one of 10 and is drop-dead gorgeous. But unknown to most people, it has an American-powered near doppleganger that costs a fraction of the price. Back in the 1960s, Canadian Frank Reisner dreamed of building Ferrari-like GT cars with American V-8 power. His Intermeccanica Italia roadster hit the mark in terms of Ferrari-like style — the bodies were even built in Italy — but in place of a complex and expensive V-12, most had small-block Ford V-8 power, with some tuned by the famous American race shop Holman and Moody. About 400 Italias were built, and they’re not cheap (RM Auctions sold one in 2007 for $44,000).  They cost a fraction of the Ferrari but have most of the looks and performance, if not the pedigree.

1965 Jaguar XKE coupe/1973 Triumph GT6: The Jaguar XKE is generally accepted as one of the prettiest cars of all time. And its great looks don’t come cheap. The first and most desirable series of the beloved XKE or E-Type now regularly brings more than $100,000, which is what the red beauty at Russo and Steele will probably fetch.  But few people know that fellow British sports car company Triumph made a ¾-scale near replica of the E-Type, the Triumph GT6 that was also powered by a smooth and throaty straight six (albeit one that was half the size).  About 10 grand buys a GT6 that many will mistake for a Jag.

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