7 under-the-radar classics lurking below $20K

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If you’ve been paying any attention to recent auction sales, it would be pretty hard to convince you that the automotive hobby hasn’t turned into a rich person’s game, and the 99 percent have been priced out entirely.

But that’s not true at all. Hundreds of vintage car models have flown, and will continue to fly, under the radar of big-time collectors while still providing all the fun and entertainment you’ve longed for since the first time you saw Bullitt.

Finding these cars means expanding your horizons a bit. No, you’re not going to find a Mustang/Camaro/’Cuda for $3500. But there are tons of interesting vehicles out there that provide an equal dose of amusement for a tenth what you’d pay for household-name vintage metal.

We’ve tried to provide a list of vehicles that hits every segment: Classic American, vintage European, 1970s-era Japanese, hard-working trucks, and SUVs. All of these suggestions are readily available, and have their pros and cons, but we tried to keep the price of entry under $20,000. That sounds like a lot of cash, and it is, but we’ve also provided some examples that are way under that price cap.

1975 Dodge Dart Hang 10

Dodge Dart Sport Hang Ten front three-quarter
Dodge

Hagerty Price Guide #3 (Good) condition value: $7400

Who says you can’t buy an A-body for reasonable money? While the heavy-hitters roam the aisles at the big-name auctions for ’Cudas and Challengers, the rest of us can shop the Dart/Duster twins.

Not 30 miles from where we sit, this 1975 Dodge Dart Hang 10 came up for sale on Facebook Marketplace. The surf-inspired Hang 10 debuted in the dead of winter at the Chicago Auto Show in 1973 on the Dart Sport. The show car proved popular enough that Dodge offered Special Trim Option A63 midway through the 1974 model year.

All of the Hang 10s were painted Eggshell White, and featured unique tape stripes on the exterior, culminating in a stylized surfer at the end of the side stripes, ripping a curl over the Dart Sport’s rear quarter panel.

1975 Dodge Dart Facebook Marketplace listing
Facebook Marketplace

While the exterior was cool, and predicted the “Spirit of ’76” editions to come in the 1976 model year, the interior was the key. First, it featured the 1973 Dart Sport’s “convertriple” fold-down rear seat, which allowed you to stow objects over six-and-a-half feet long. If that wasn’t enough to grab your attention, the upholstery certainly would: White with red and blue stripes over a bright orange carpet.

The example we found on Marketplace was on offer for $13K and featured what appears to be a later Magnum V-8. The photos show no rust, which is a surprise in Massachusetts. At the time of this writing, the post is still up.

1975 Lotus Elite Type 75

Lotus Elite Type 75 front three-quarter
Lotus

HPG #3 (Good) condition value: $9100

If you’re a regular reader of Rob Siegel’s column here at Hagerty, you know he checked out a Lotus Elite in New Hampshire a few weeks ago. He decided to pass, but ever since, I’ve been digging around to see what these odd, wildly 1970s GTs sell for these days.

This one popped up in the great Facebook group Obscure Cars for Sale, which caters to people like me who have no intention of owning something that you see coming and going in everyday traffic.

The Elite Type 75 was manufactured between 1974 and 1982, replacing the Elan Plus 2, offering a driver and three passengers a sporting drive in relative comfort thanks to its shooting brake (read: wagon) body style. In 1980, the Elite Type 75 gave way to the Type 83, essentially the same design with a galvanized frame and a Getrag 265 gearbox. Lotus also offered the Eclat S1, which was the Elite with an abbreviated fastback silhouette.

1975 Lotus Elise Facebook Marketplace listing
Facebook Marketplace

The Elite was the first Lotus to use the all-aluminum, dual overhead-cam Type 907 four-cylinder, which allowed the GT a top speed of 125 mph.

At the time of its launch, the Elite Type 75 was the world’s most expensive four-cylinder-powered car. Today you can buy one for the cost of a well-used Corolla. This example was on offer for $5500 in San Diego, California, appeared to have no rust, and featured what appears to be a super clean interior. That’s key when buying a vehicle like this, because there’s little-to-no aftermarket for interior components.

The seller described the car as a “project,” but really only pointed out that the car needed “brake work and a valve job,” noting that it hadn’t run in 10 years. He said this fiberglass GT deserved a “body off restoration.” Maybe for San Diego—left to our own devices, we’d drive it as it sits, and never run the risk of seeing another one coming in the opposite direction.

1988 Mazda 929

1988 Mazda 929 front three-quarter
Mazda

HPG #3 condition value: N/A

Pretty much any superlative Japanese car from the late 1980s is creeping up in price. And so are the luxurious Mercedes-Benz beaters from the early days of Lexus and Infiniti. Even a J30 Maxima is going to cost you today.

But then there’s this 1988 Mazda 929, which was recently on offer via Bring a Trailer, with a closing date of January 26. With just 44,000 miles on the odometer, this luxury sedan appeared to be in exquisite condition. Finished in Canal Blue over blue cloth interior, Mazda’s short-lived luxury entry features a 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 158 hp.

1988 Mazda 929 front three-quarter
Bring a Trailer/originalblackplate

The exterior is really the last perfect representation of the creased style of Japanese cars from the 1980s. It would only be a few short years before the edges were melted off of every car from every manufacturer. This one still features sharp lines, chrome, and an upright greenhouse with plenty of glass for uninterrupted visibility.

The interior is key—a blend of 1980s Japanese technology overlayed with the faux woodgrain of a Cadillac. This example looks like it’s in impeccable condition inside and out, and it sold for a cool $10,000. Not bad.

1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7

Mercury Cougar XR-7 side profile
Mercury

HPG #3 condition value: N/A

Unmodified Fox-body Mustangs are finally starting to edge toward the stratosphere. For decades, these run-of-the-mill pony cars offered serious performance for those of modest means, but those days are quickly coming to an end … Unless you widen your scope to include all the other cars that were based on this chassis. The 1983 through ’88 Mercury Cougar was the middle child, situated between the shorty Mustang and the long-wheelbase Lincoln Mark VII, and it is available at fire-sale prices compared to its stablemates.

This example sold at Hemmings Auctions in April of 2021. It had the hallmarks of a vehicle that should set the pace for values of cars in this class: One owner, ultra-low 37,000 miles, detailed ownership history, in time capsule condition.

1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7
Hemmings Auctions

While even the XR-7 grade Cougar lacked the high output 5.0-liter V-8 of the other performance Fox-bodies, it’s hard to argue with this one-year-only monochrome exterior preserved in such a great condition. Power windows and a power driver’s seat were added to this Cougar before it left the factory, but automatic headlights didn’t make the cut, making this example a happy medium between a zero-option Mustang and a fully-dressed Mark VII.

At the close of the auction, this stunningly kept Cougar only managed to reach $8250, including bidder’s fees. You couldn’t buy a worn-out Altima for that kind of dough.

1969 Opel GT

Opel GT with Aero GT
Opel

HPG #3 condition value: $12,400

Choose any Opel product, really. 1900, GT, Manta … They’re hard to find, and most of the time they’re pretty ratty, but occasionally, these handsome, unique little cars come up for sale priced beautifully.

Not three months ago, I was on the way to Stafford Springs for the annual Ty-Rods swap meet, when this Opel GT caught my eye in the dark, parked on the lawn of a house about two miles away from mine. I made a mental note to check it out on the way home.

1969 Opel GT front three-quarter
Craig Fitzgerald

Stunning. This 1969 GT had a claimed 26,000 original miles. The interior was showroom fresh and even contained the original AM radio. It featured its original wheels and center caps, a current registration and a current Massachusetts safety inspection sticker.

It looked like it may have been repainted at one point in its life, and the exhaust was hanging a bit low, but for just $4000, I’ve been kicking myself for the last 90 days for not buying it on the spot.

1968 Mercury Monterey

1968 Mercury Monterey Ad rear three-quarter
Mercury

HPG #3 condition value (hardtop): $11,400

In general terms, if you’re looking for an American car that isn’t going to cost a fortune, look to the full-size cars from the middle of a brand’s lineup. Buick. Plymouth. Mercury.

Full-size cars usually don’t pull any kind of money. And the mid-tier entry-luxury brands have neither the popularity of the more egalitarian brands like Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet, nor do they have the cachet of cars from Lincoln, Imperial, or Cadillac.

1968 Mercury Monterey Facebook Marketplace listing
Facebook Marketplace

This 1968 Mercury Monterey is a perfect example. It shows 54,000 miles, exhibits very little in the way of body issues, and the interior looks mint. There’s a ding on the front quarter, and there might be a little corrosion on the passenger-side rear quarter, but the body looks solid, and the presence of its original woodgrain appliques suggests that this car might be wearing its original paint.

At $15,000, it’s probably way overpriced. In the real world, this car might find a buyer for $10,000 tops, but even at the asking price, you’d be hard-pressed to find another 54,000-mile, original paint two door in a unique trim from 1968 for that kind of dough.

1970 Jeep Wagoneer

1970 Jeep Wagoneer front three-quarter
Jeep

HPG #3 condition value: $18,400

A 1986 Grand Wagoneer sells at auction for $145,000 and everybody is convinced the world is coming to an end. Meanwhile, if you can look at the same exact vehicle from about 15 years before, you can find examples under $20K without issue.

The 1980s SJ phenomenon is inexplicable. There isn’t another vehicle in the history of collector cars that simultaneously sits atop the value chart and represents the worst years of production. A smogged 360-cubic-inch two-barrel was good for about 145 horsepower, and when the 1986 Grand Wagoneer was new, it was notorious for often being the last American vehicle that well-heeled shoppers ever purchased, thanks to its grim build quality and 11-mpg fuel economy.

Jeep Wagoneer side view doors open
Bring a Trailer/nilla

Late 1960s and early 1970s Kaiser Wagoneers rode on the same platform but instead of being some pseudo-luxury vehicle, they were purpose-built to get you, your family, and your gear to the mountains with a minimum of fuss.

Unlike the 1963 to 1966 Wagoneers, all 1968 to 1971 Wagoneers were equipped with four-wheel drive, and like the V-6-powered CJ and Commando, the Wagoneer was powered by a Buick engine, the 350-cubic-inch V-8 known as “Dauntless” in Jeep marketing speak. (The V-6 was also called “Dauntless,” for reasons we can’t explain). The Buick 350 offered more torque at lower rpm than the AMC V-8 offered in earlier years.

This super-clean example sold on Bring a Trailer in November of 2021 for $19,220. If you can’t live without the woodgrain shelf paper, there’s a body shop nearby that can stick it on for you. We promise.

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