Think Small: 5 little vintage vehicles under $20,000


Why is it that so often, little cars equal fun? Here are five classics that fit in that category, all of them under $20,000. Prices are from the Hagerty Price Guide, based on the average value of a vehicle in #3, or Good, condition across the given range of model years. (Want to read more about how we rate a car’s condition? Click here.)

If you want to find the value of a vehicle from a specific model year, look it up using Hagerty’s Valuation Tool. You can even specify trim level and engine choice (if applicable).


1965–74 Saab Sonett ($9918)

Sweden’s idea of a front-wheel-drive sports car was slow—its Ford V-4 engine had 65 horsepower—but not unpleasant to drive. Production of the three models—the Sonett II, Sonett V4, and Sonett III—totaled barely 10,000 vehicles, so they are rare but not unobtainable. 

Saab Sonnett III 1974

1968–73 Opel GT ($12,300)

Yes, it looks like a baby 1968 Chevrolet Corvette, but the Opel GT is a pretty solid little car on its own. Sold by generally clueless Buick dealers, most Opel GTs had a 102-horsepower four-cylinder and a smooth-shifting four-speed manual transmission.

Opel GT

1974 Datsun 260Z ($17,150)

The 1971–73 240Z is a genuine collector’s item, but the 260Z is sort of overlooked. Virtually the same car as the 240Z but with a bigger engine, the 1974 model was introduced by Datzun as the 260Z, one year before the company introduced the 280Z.

The biggest problem with the 260Z was vapor locking in warm weather, but there’s a fix, and any 260Z that has survived this long probably has been equipped with one of the known solutions. No longer must you drive around with the (rear-opening) hood partly open to cool the 2.6-liter inline six-cylinder.

Datsun 260Z

1986–1995 Suzuki Samurai ($9950)

The Samurai was a 2022 Hagerty Bull Market pick, and the itty bitty 4×4 is definitely loads of fun off-road. On the road, not so much. It is the only press vehicle I parked and refused to drive on my 100-mile hilly daily commute: The 1.3-liter, 63-horsepower four-cylinder couldn’t keep up with traffic.

Suzuki Samurai

1984–86 Dodge Omni GLH-T ($9033)

If you don’t mind a steering wheel that makes you feel like a bus driver, you might like the turbocharged Omni. Its drivetrain is a respectable 142-horsepower four-cylinder paired with a slightly balky manual transmission and front-wheel drive. Wider than most small cars, the Omni is a legitimate four-passenger sedan.

Dodge Omni turbo





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    Very nice short list of 5. I was delighted to see that three of the cars(in my estimation) are still somewhat available.
    Sadly, there are some enthusiastic people that expect an overview list to compliment their every desire.
    Being old, and old school, the son of a car dealer, and a compulsive car buyer/lover, I have had most of these cars or similar models, but just one comment off this list:
    A sharp Opel GT, in just the right color, with its lovely tapered front end, was hard to beat as a poor man’s Corvette or Ferrari.
    I’m not much for overpriced retrofits, but how about that car with a modern twin turbo 4 cylinder?

    I had a Sprite in high school. I believe if you weigh more than 160# you are disqualified from driving one.

    Loved mine. I was 5’8″ and 200# then. Be sure to get the pre-1968 seats. The later Midget seats knock out too much of the legroom, even for me. BTW, I am only 170# now.

    I have the 1959 Bugeye Sprite my dad bought new. He is 6’4″ and I am 6’3″. We both fit comfortably in the car. Of course, getting in and out is a bit tricky. Of course, this car isn’t stock anymore, 1275cc, headers, electronic ignition, front discs, really just needs a 5 speed now. Not fast, scary on the hwy with current day vehicles, but still fun.

    Can we get an article of the 20 little vintage vehicles under $5,000? Some of us are dealing with “inflation” or whatever…

    Ahem, I represent Pieces of Garbage local 722, and we will not tolerate this inappropriate characterization of the Dodge Omni as one of our members. Please refrain from future references of this sort.

    All of the Omni Horizons were garbage. Below 32F the handles would break off. The carb on the VW engine would freeze stuck open making for a fun drive and some speed shifts with the imprecise 4 speed. The pickup in the distributor would crack casing intermittent rough running and if it rained the distributor was not well sealed so it would fill with water. Fun J turns with the emergency brake was only way to have fun with the 1.7L VW engine.

    We had an ’82 with the 1.7 and it served us well. Family of four driving from Michigan to Kansas one brutally cold winter. We passed several hundred stranded cars and trucks along I-70. The little Miser just kept on purring.

    There was no Omni 024 in 1990, nor its Charger replacement. The last year for that style was 1987.
    I owned a 1986 Plymouth Turismo, twin to the 024/Charger. For a malaise-era car it was surprisingly reliable. I kept mine to a largely trouble-free 110K, then replaced it with a similarly reliable 1990 Omni. The last I saw of that one it had 195K on it.
    They weren’t the pinnacle of automotive engineering but in general they were comfortable, reliable transportation.

    I had a 79 1.7 TC3 and drove it 82 miles a day for 4 years. Sold it to a friend after I was done and it kept on going. Not fancy but pretty darn reliable.

    No…no…no… There no longer IS any threat of inflation. Remember the legislation (which mandated spending multiple TRILLIONS of dollars on non-essential items) banish it from our ‘hot’ economy?

    Actually, your wait is over, for less-than-$5000 vehicles! Those $90,000 EVs that were pushed onto us will require Battery replacement at some point, and that will present a very low-budget buying opportunity. Of course there is that spontaneous combustion risk, but . . .

    All brave choices. Would add Capri, Vega GT or Cosworth ( driver quality) Renault Fuego if you can find one… Shelby Charger, There are so many cool small cars, overlooked and under appreciated that fall under that price bracket.

    You will have a very hard time finding a Capri survivor for under $10K. I had one of the first 50 Capri’s sold in the USA. It was, of course, the 1600cc engine. Terribly underpowered, but very fun to drive. I drove it through the canyons of SoCal to the chagrin of many muscle cars. Unfortunately, pretty much everything about the car was cheap. The interior cracked and fell apart within 6 years. The rear wing windows would pop loose from their glued on attachment points and fall out. And of course it had Lucas electrics, so it was plagued with shorts. All that said, I would buy one in a heartbeat if I could find one for less than $10K.

    I just saw a red running and driving Saab Sonnet In Lewis county Washington off the I-5 highway exit.Just this last week.

    So did the Opel GT, as I recall. BTW, the earlier Sonett (note spelling) cars had fixed headlights and a swinging front hood. The column shifter on the early cars was MUCH sturdier and more precise than the tinkertoy floor shift in the later cars.

    Saab Sonnet was developed as a Rally car. At the last minute, they decided it was Roo squirrely to handle and so they made a consumer car.

    SAAB Sonett (yes, spelled & pronounced Sonett) was designed as a race car to compete in sports car racing against primarily British cars but the RULES changed by the time it was nearly ready for release … so yes, it was released (mostly in the USA) as a “sports car” and never found a solid position in sports car racing.
    Nothing to do with squirelly handling. BTW, the earliest cars (258 built) with the 2-stroke engines handled the BEST!!!

    I had a ’87 Shelby Charger GLHS for many years and it was a fun car. Good things – Very reliable, parts were generally inexpensive, easy to work on, comfortable, AC, 30 mpg, and surprisingly quick. Bad – I’d imagine the GLHS specific parts are getting hard to find, it rode rough, it is, at it’s core, a cheap car.

    I had a 1986 GLH (T) and agree about the ride. On Michigan roads it sometime felt like riding in a buckboard. However, when you got the speed up into the three digits (I won’t say when or where, LOL), it smoothed right out like the suspension was made for those speeds.

    They said top speed on the GLHS was 135. I wrapped the speedo up past 135 one night on a lonely freeway in MI with two other folks sleeping in the car. It was smooth too, but I was amazed at how loud the wind noise was going that fast. My car also had the Mopar engine controller which added more boost.

    I second that. The day I drove into MI (from OH) on I-75, some 30+ years ago I could have told you, with my eyes closed,that I crossed the state line. But there’s now construction everywhere, post 2022.

    I’ve had several samurai’s they are great little things. First one I had would buzz at 80 down the freeway with no problem. The other ones 75 was pushing it They were fun, simple, and economical

    Also, if I remember right, the torque-steer was downright scary. Only drove a turbo once but that’s what stayed with me.

    Metropolitans have gotten a little expensive. I’ve had several and they were fun little cars. Gutless but fun around town. Not a highway car at all.

    Don’t forget the Toyota Celica GT. We had a 1991 model that ran perfect for 350,000 miles, had tons of fun with it and about 15 years ago sold it. That car probably is still going today. And the Honda Prelude wasn’t too bad either, I would rate both these over the Omni and Samurai – you’d spend way too much time working on those to really enjoy them. And an older small car would be the early 1960’s models F-85 Olds Cutlas. Those were great cars that are always over looked.

    Glad you included the Sonett. I owned a ‘69 V4 back in the day, and it was indeed fun. Surprised you didn’t include the Porsche 986 Boxster, though. I bought my 2002 986S for $11,000 5 years ago, and while they are appreciating, they are still a bargain with an extraordinary fun factor and many examples available.

    Disagree….have owned a 2002 Porsche Boxster S for eight years. It’s a super trouble free vehicle, Outruns our Triumph TR6 (also a great sportswear).

    Also disagree. My 2000 Boxster S that I bought 12 years ago for 11K has been fantastic. What a wonderfully balanced car they are. Mid-engine, smooth shifting 6-speed manual trans, monster brakes & stock seats fit me perfectly (5’10, 150 lbs).

    I tend to agree. I currently have two (MGB & Spitfire) that didn’t make the list, but I had an Opel GT decades ago and would love to find another. Cool car!

    Agree. My GT was a casualty of my divorce, and my ex-to-be totaled the car about a month before the divorce became final. I had it up to 105 once. It was a fun car, but a little disconcerting to be looking up at the tops of the wheels of a semi. It also required 95 octane unleaded fuel, which was available only at Amoco vendors at the time.

    That was my most fun car, rear engine about the size of a singer sewing machine, something like 40 mpg. I had the euro version with recessed headlights, very nifty car. Very prone to rusting, that’s why their rare now.

    Chevy SSR? Did you read the headline? Small, vintage, and under $20k. The truck you recommend is none of those?

    I liked the Cavalier Z24. My brother had a ’95 with the Quad 4/ 5 speed and it was a great car to drive. I had a ’96 Cavalier with the 2.2 Chevy motor and 5 speed and didn’t like it nearly as much. I’m sure a Cobalt would be even better.

    I bought a Z24 new and what a disappointment. An engine that couldn’t breathe above 300 rpm, brakes that couldn’t stop twice above 80mph, and a chassis so flexible that the windshield cracked in 6 months. It was a horrible car and I was happy to part with it after 18 months of ownership and massive depreciation.

    You certainly can find 850 and 1000 Mini’s under $20K, but they tend to be incapable of maintaining a good pace in modern traffic rates, and the original drum brakes are definitely up to the job.
    The only ones that can keep up with modern trafic are the Coopers, specifically the bigger capacity 1070 and 1275 Cooper Ss and if you do find one under $20K it is likely to need a bucket of cash thrown at it.
    Just my 2 cents ……

    Though Japanese car import restrictions were quietly in place by the CDN/U.S. governments in 1983 and 1984 because of trade balance problems with the Japanese, I was able to acquire a 1984 Toyota Celica GTS, which I still own and enjoy. Small is truly fun and glad to see this article recognize that.

    The 1984-85 Toyota Celica GTS liftback with the 5-speed and leather may have been the best car ever made. Light and lively with superb four wheel disc brakes, they were also spacious and easy to get in and out of. The notch-backs also had these attributes, but in a less appealing package. Too bad they rusted so bad, even here in Florida.

    Definitely some truth to the Celica being rust-prone, especially the front shock areas, but mine has never seen the inside of any paint shop or a paint can. But that may be due to the vehicle only having spent 2 winters operating here in road-salt crazed Ontario.

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