Dreaming of Summer: 7 Convertibles for Less than $30K


As the seasons change and rain clouds make way for fresh foliage and flowers, it’s easy to start daydreaming about open-air motoring. If you, like us, have been perusing the classifieds for a reasonably priced and fun convertible, these selections might broaden your horizon. Each can be had in #3 (Good) condition for less than $30,000, and offer a mix of performance, cruising capability, classic looks, or a blend of all three. Hopefully, there’s something here that gets your gears turning and conjuring up thoughts of top-down oceanside drives or aimless canyon exploration.

2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP

2007 Pontiac Solstice production front three-quarter

#3 (Good) Value: $11,600

GM’s Kappa convertibles, sold in the U.S. as the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice, were initially offered with a naturally aspirated, 177hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It wasn’t long, however, before Red Line and GXP trims, respectively, gave the twins GM’s first direct-injection engine, the 260hp 2.0L turbocharged LNF. GM even offered a tune and a 3-bar MAP sensor to manage more boost and net 290hp. The rare hardtop Solstice is a pricey collectible, but the convertible remains an affordable option. The car’s frequent criticism was its lack of luggage space. However, it does bring a solid chassis, sporty handling, and room for some serious rubber under those curvy fenders.

1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GS-T


#3 (Good) Value: $12,400

The Eagle Talon, Plymouth Laser, and Mitsubishi Eclipse offered buyers three flavors of stylish, affordable sport compact as part of the partnership known as Diamond Star Motors (DSM), named for the combined brand logos of Mitsubishi and Chrysler. Unfortunately for Plymouth fans, the Laser never made it into the second generation of the cars, which lasted from 1994-1998, and arguably had the best design. In more bad news for fans of Mopar brands, the Eagle, while available with the same powertrains as the Mitsubishi, was not offered as a convertible. The sole DSM drop-top is the Eclipse, and the GS-T is the most potent, packing a 210hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4G63 engine.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette

Yellow Chevrolet Corvette Convertible

#3 (Good) Value: $22,000

C6 Corvettes are a lot of car for the money, especially the later models that ditched the 400hp, cathedral-port LS2 for the bump in displacement and better breathing of the LS3. The Grand Sport trim, with its wider bodywork, dry-sump oiling system, and track-tuned suspension, is barely out of range for this list, unless you’re in the market for an automatic. For those that insist on three pedals, the standard Corvette convertible comes in well under our price cap, and that gets you a Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual trans, and a 430hp LS3 V-8 for a fabulous top-down soundtrack.

1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

1971 karman ghia convertible rear three quarter

#3 (Good) Value: $22,900

Despite sharing its underpinnings and powertrain with the VW Beetle, the Type 14 Karmann Ghia managed to look special thanks to its hand-finished body and concept car styling. Marking the end of an era, the 1971 models were the last to use thinner, more elegant bumpers. Enjoy the simple, easy-to-service Beetle drivetrain and ample aftermarket to keep this curvy cruiser running in tip-top shape for very little money.

1957 Ford Thunderbird

1957 Ford Thunderbird Coral Sand side profile

#3 (Good) Value: $28,700

The final year of the first-generation Thunderbird brought exclusive styling with subtle fins that make Ford’s Jet Age taillights seem even more appropriate. Inside, a new dash pod with round gauges gave the ‘Bird a sportier look to reflect its boost in power over the previous year’s offerings. The 292-cubic inch, two-barrel V-8 base engine in 1957 is even more affordable, but we picked the 245hp four-barrel 312 version for our list. Both the dual-quad 312 and the supercharged 312 demand a lot more money, but a resourceful hot-rodder could tune up any of the Y-block V-8s to be plenty of fun, fun, fun.

1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7

1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 Convertible rear three quarter

#3 (Good) Value: $28,800

In 1967 and 1968, Mercury’s upscale pony car still had obvious Mustang roots. In 1969, things changed. Despite sharing a platform and powertrains with the Mustang, the Cougar looked like a different beast entirely, particularly in convertible form. As opposed to the Mustang’s quad-headlight front end, the Cougar’s hidden headlights were a preview of the 1970 Montego. The Cougar is a rare sight compared to a Mustang and its sweeping lines and muscular haunches make it an underappreciated example of Mercury’s muscle car-era styling. We picked a four-barrel, 351-powered example, which should provide ample power for top-down cruising. Both the 390 and 428 engine options fall outside our price range, but that’s OK, as we’re not drag racing with the top down anyway.

1987 Morgan 4/4

1987 Morgan 4/4 convertible front three quarter
Wiki Commons/Niels de Wit

#3 (Good) Value: $29,800

Speaking of drag racing, aside from the air-cooled VW, this Morgan is the least likely to show up at your local NHRA test-and-tune to go heads up against the local hotshots. That’s just not its scene. Packing 96hp, this minimalist machine is hand-built for the kind of top-down motoring exemplified by Pre-War British roadsters. Morgan just kept making them that way. Narrow, close to the road, and with the wind whipping around you and the engine buzzing, normal speeds will feel like race pace. The Ford Kent 1599cc crossflow engine was produced for decades and was used in several forms of motorsport worldwide, so there’s no shortage of knowledge and parts available.


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    We have a 2005 crossfire. 2nd one. Love this car. My self & your cousin maureen. Is your family from New castle?

    Agree, I have a 2005 Crossfire SRT6 Roadster and enjoy driving it in the summer months. Great handling car, based on the Mercedes AMG suspension and 340HP supercharged engine. These cars can be found for under $20,000.

    I’m surprised that the VW EOS, Audi TT, Mercedes SLK, Alfa romeo, Fiat X1.9 or 2000, triumph spitfire, is not in the list, VW Karmman Ghia? , I had one , You could give me one and I would not want it. 6V electrical system,.

    I would be smiling from ear-to ear driving any one of these cars but my preference would be a c6 LS3 or at the other end of the spectrum the Morgan…

    The one missing from the list is the best kept secret for sale on the market today. A Crossfire roadster!! And you can find an SRT-6 unit out there for under $30k.

    C5 is a better low mile buy than the C6. Tough to get a good C6 at that price. It will have miles and needs.

    Seems to me that the “older” drivers, who learned to drive on a stick, are more likely to want a stick shift car than younger drivers. If you go down to very young drivers, then half of them don’t even know how to drive a stick!

    As an “older” driver (I’ll turn 79 on May 2) who owns an automatic C6, I gave up manual transmissions when my left leg began to fail me. The reason why “sticks” were my early preference was because the automatic transmissions of the 60’s and 70’s were less efficient than manuals. Modern automatics are actually more efficient and you can’t miss a shift at the drag strip with one.
    I’m in the Sacramento area of CA and you can’t buy a 2012 C6 Convertible here for under $35K

    AGREE – I have a 60’s hobby car with a stick I drive for fun on early morning weekends WITHOUT TRAFFIC JAMBS. For the daily grind of traffic I drive an automatic!! Today’s automatics are so good they easily outrun a stick at the track.

    I love driving my C2 stick. However, in heavy traffic it isn’t so much fun. A parade would be worse, given that I avoid both. I do excel on the freeway on ramp. How fun going through the gears.

    I’m also an older driver (76) and I won’t even consider an automatic. That would take the fun out of it! I just like shifting gears!

    Just built and installed a 383 Stroker in my C2 coupe, Tremec 5 speed, 336 rear end, fuel injection. I am 81 and still love driving and working on this car. These cars help keep us going strong. Keep after it Marvin.

    I’m happy for ya. My knees are shot from years of mistreatment. Until 2011 I had a ’69 C3 with a 390hp 427 and an M21 4 speed. The clutch was not assisted by hydraulics and it took a ton of force to operate it. When I bought the C6 in 2015 I had run up the white flag. No more sticks for me. But I do admit that the paddle shifters are not the same experience.

    Indeed. I had a younger coworker (30ish F) in my car recently. (‘02 Accord) and she saw the stick and said ‘woah! I don’t think I’ve ever been in a car with a stick!’

    I went to Europe last fall for the first time and found that all the low-end rental cars were stick shift. We ended up with a 5 Spd Corolla. Stick shift is alive and well in Europe.

    Walk down any street in Europe, peek through the car windows and count the manual transmissions. The vast majority are stick shift. Nothing more satisfying than being on a European highway and being passed by a manual transmission diesel station wagon.

    He’s correct, us mature drivers want a stick. Why would anyone want a sports car with an automatic? I’ve been looking at ‘vettes from ‘95-2006 and can rarely find a stick. Same for a Miata. Why???? Because young folks (under 55) don’t know how to drive a stick.

    And even Class 8 trucks are now being spec’d with automatics so that anyone capable of holding a steering wheel can drive them. Automatics are smarter than the average driver today. Give me a 13 or 18 speed but sadly my Sky Redline is an auto. Shame on me.

    I am a firm believer in manual transmissions. I own several. My big regret is that I could not find a Jag XK8 with a stick, but that’s another story. However, haveing been an OTR driver for many years, and having had some introduction to automatic Big Rigs, I have to say that I really enjoyed cross country driving in my Freightliner Auto Shift. Shifting those trucks for ten hours straight can get tiresome.

    Six years ago I bought a pristine 2008 CLK350 convertible for $15,000. It had about 55,000 miles on it, looks and runs like new. Depreciation is your friend, MB generally loses 50% after five years, another 50% of that after five more. This car sold for $65K new – rock solid German overengineering (never use one part where ten will do), it will lose your license for you in six seconds from a standing start, top goes down (or back up) effortlessly by pressing a decadent toggle switch on the console. The years you want are late 2007 through 2009. Earlier ones may have expensive engine problems, in 2010, the CLK was replaced by the E class, which is a much more complex car and more expensive to maintain. Most of these cars were kept garaged and dealer maintained (buyers of new Mercedes don’t like to get their hands dirty or leave their cars parked on the street) so what is available used is most often well maintained and has been protected from snow, rain, parking lot rash, etc. No troublesome air suspension or other exotic frippery, the C class is a pretty simple car. I’ve owned over 150 cars since I was 17 (I’m now 77) and this is far and away the BEST car I’ve ever owned.

    I also have a CLK 320, beautiful car, higher miles but bought it cheap. CLK’s are fairly reliable.

    I sort of agree, but I would go for the SLK-55 AMG. They certainly fit this price range and that is a ton of engine for a tiny vehicle.

    C5 Corvettes are the best kept secret in all of motoring. Especially the ‘03 and ‘04. The 290 horsepower figure for the Pontiac Solstice GXP is 260 in all my literature. 290 is a stretch. Actually, so is 260.

    @Fred, if one ordered the GM Performance Parts Stage 2 performance kit and had the dealer install upon purchase, the accompanying literature does state 290 horsepower. This dealer installed option was also covered by the GM OEM warranty.

    Correct!! After tune, my Sky has more hp and torque than either C4 Corvette I have owned (84 Z51 – 215 hp, ‘90 245 hp). And the Sky weighs a couple hundred pounds less. I have had the Sky to 162 mph indicated on a closed public road. Not bad for a 2.0L 4 cylinder that was still under factory warranty. Cosworth Vega taken to new heights!!!

    I understand that you can’t include every affordable convertible here but at least one mustang should have been mentioned, from fox bodies, sn95 series or the 05 to 10 s197,s.

    Agreed Jim,
    From a foreign Mustang owners perspective observing US classic car culture there seems to be a genuine bias against the Mustang due to I am guessing its huge success as an iconic automotive brand over 60 years now (17Apr 2024 last week) and over 10 million cars sold (in 2018 it hit 10mil).Its the last muscle coupe left and its still selling.

    Likewise, no BMW? Mine is a 2012,128i, end of the E series. Classic 3L straight 6. Low pressure fuel pump and injectors, with port injection to keep the intake valves carbon free.

    I was expecting to see a Mustang, as it’s possible to even get a fairly late model under $30j. Maybe it was omitted because there are so many different Mustang options available below $30k.

    290 number was for the GMPP tune that GM offered for these cars. You could not get them new with it. Dealers had to do it. Mine dynoed 290hp at rear wheels and 367 lb-ft of torque. I have seen 26 psi on boost gauge. You do have to use premium gas with the tune.

    I’ve got a ’69 Mustang convertible in standard trim. I bought it in 1998 for $3,500. I’ve restored it and it has won 33 awards at regional shows. I classify it as a #2 car and your valuation tool tells me my little 302/C4 Meadowlark Yellow baby is worth $34,200 now. Am I paying you guys too much for my agreed value policy? BTW, in ’69, including Shelbys, Ford only built 14,739 Mustang convertibles. Mine is usually the only one on the show field. It’s not as though the woods is full of them as you intimate in your article.

    My son bought a ’64 Midget last year for about $7k. HE has pulled it out and started driving it again in the past week. Does my heart good to see a 24 year old driving a car like that!

    Are with you on the 2002-2005 Thunderbird purchase… they are presently a good buy but, can’t say for how much longer.They are now becoming more and more a classic collectible. As for the 1957 312 CID TBird, good luck finding one for under $35,000. If less, it will most likely require plenty of work.

    I think you missed the 72 Cutlass or 72 Skylark, with a column shift and 350 Engines a good example can be had for $ 30k and you can actually fit 6 people in them, Ice Cream Run Anyone?

    The AP1 Honda S2000 fits very well into this catagory. Scarcity of unmolested examples is noted, but typical Honda high build quality suggests that high(er) mileage cars don’t need to be shunned.

    So true my 2000 2000 has around a 140k on it an runs like new. Can’t top a honda. I own three different ones.

    Good like finding a Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible in good condition. It’s hard enough to find an unmodified one let alone a convertible. I had an Eclipse GSX coupe and loved that car. They make nothing like the sporty coupes o the 90’s anymore.

    There are lots of convertible under $30,000 so the list would be a long one. One that comes to mind is the Chrysler Crossfire. It has German engineering and manufacturing. If you like the looks, it is a bargain.

    By the way Hagerty, why do I always get the message that I am posting too quickly. Doesn’t matter how long I wait, I always have to try several times.


    Why go Crossfire 6 cyl. when you can have the SLK-55 AMG with a V8 that is right in its comfort range?

    Don’t forget the late 80’s – early 90’s 944/968 Cabriolets – plenty are still around for under 30K, most were well taken care of by their fussy original owners. Lots of fun for the $. Few faults other than having to change the timing belt at 30K miles. And I would echo the earlier gentleman’s notes on the CLK series MB’s (1998-2008) – there are many still around to choose from that have plenty of life left in them. Finally, a list like this wouldn’t be complete without the most successful sports car of all time – the Miata – available in many revisions and versions to suit any budget. Don’t knock the Miata experience until you try it- I used to be a sceptic as well! (Unless you are over 6’2″- then it’s uncomfortable). Now Miata is the first car in my fleet I consider when I want to just go out, throw the top down (in 10 seconds!) and get lost on back roads.

    I have owned and raced numerous air and water cooled 911s and hands down they’re great cars.
    I recently purchased an 04 Mazda Speed with 27,000 miles and drove it from Indiana to NY in torrential rain on Route 80 while consistently driving 70-80 mph. The car was a blast to drive and held the road without hydroplaning. I’m sure the fresh tires contributed to the safety of the car. I also own a 1992 Alfa Spider that I’ve refurbished and that to is also a blast to drive.

    Put a sc In a 1st generation Miata and you have a faster,better handling car then many on the list for 3x the $

    enjoy driving my economical classic black 1993 968. My only complaint is that at my age it’s getting difficult to get in and out. What idiot put the hand brake between the driver’s seat and the driver’s door? It catches the leg of my shorts every time!

    1996 – 2002 BMW Z3, a beautiful sporty convertible that is fun to drive, has more creature comforts than a miata, and is terrific buy!

    I bought a 69 Cougar in that same color, new, out of the Army. 390 and all options were performance. No power steering no power brakes. Probably a mistake in hindsight. I put radials on it and enjoyed blowing Beep beep roadrunners off of the twisty roads. Gave it to my brother after 5 years, He had the engine blue printed and more. Took it out and lifted the front end off the road. But only once. Was never the same. 🙂

    Pretty fantastic tale of picking the front end with a stock head FE in a cougar.

    I have an over 1,000 legit dyno proven horsepower turbo LSx 387 with a tremec, and even with drag radials in a lightweight Fairmont I can barely get both tires up at the track. It hooks and goes well into single digits.

    Maybe he had the slapper bars adjusted to act like zero spring rate and stood it on the bumper. Still doubt it.

    I I had a 67 XR7 with a 289 in high school and college. Great car, paid $300 for it and sold it for $400 5 years later. s much as I wished I had it today, it would no doubt be a rust bucket form northern winters and salt…

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