Cool Cars We Bought for $5K Apiece: What’re they worth now?
Cheap classics are a rare breed today. Inflation and a hot collector car market have seriously cut down on choices for enthusiasts with four-figure budgets. But that was the case in 2019, too, when cheap classics were also a rare breed; it led to an entertaining little experiment that played out in the pages of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine.
To prove that a fun car could still be had for under $5K, seven Hagerty staffers fired up their computers, set their Craigslist/Facebook filters to $5000, then went shopping. One of us cheated a bit, one had the stones to buy an Italian car, and another wore jorts (now framed in the Hagerty editorial office). These were all running, driving classics bought in order to prove that there were still good, affordable old cars out there. Read the full story here.
Now that it’s been a few years, we thought it would be fun to check in and see, price-wise, where those cars are now.
Bought For: $3050
Condition #4 value in 2019: $4050
Condition #4 value in 2023: $4800
The bird’s buyer, Brad Phillips, rationalized this pick because he wanted “a perfect ‘first car’ for a budding collector or enthusiast.” So it was no big surprise that he found his $5K ride with a recent high school grad selling his first car. Luckily, the kid was a Pontiac freak and took good care of his deep-beaked third-gen coupe. Since most high schoolers can’t swing a WS6 Trans Am, though, Brad’s ’91 was a base V-6 model with the automatic. The most yawn-worthy specs, but at least it had the Sport Appearance package (emphasis on Appearance) with fog lights and side skirts.
Domestic favorites like the third gen (1982–92) Firebird are lagging behind their ever-more-expensive import peers, but the pandemic boom did at least see Brad’s bird net a few hundred bucks, and median condition #2 (Excellent) values for the third-gen Firebird are up 31 percent since the end of 2019.
1987 Honda Prelude Si
Bought for: $5500
Condition #4 value in 2019: $2000
Condition #4 value in 2023: $7200
Our buyer, Larry Webster, found his red Honda Prelude Si in rural Ohio. He cheated with 500 extra dollars plonked down, but the Facebook find yielded a clean car with documented maintenance and 109K miles. Not bad for the kind of 32-year-old Honda that most people drive hard, often, and not very carefully.
Japanese classics of the 1980s were already hot in 2019 and they’ve only gotten more expensive since. We don’t currently carry Larry’s ’87 in the Hagerty Price Guide, just the 1988–91 cars, but a look at those is still shocking. The condition #4 (Fair) value in late 2019 for an ’88 Prelude Si was $2000. Now it’s $7200. The #2 values have jumped 96 percent. Wow.
Bought for: $4300
Condition #4 value in 2019: $7700
Condition #4 value in 2023: $9900
It takes a special kind of courage to buy an old Alfa Romeo off Craigslist. After Alfa left the U.S. market in 1995, the reputation for rust, dodgy electrics, and finicky powertrains kept old Spiders and GTV6s temptingly cheap relative to their style and capabilities.
Cheap Italian cars have produced more regret than Jose Cuervo, but our buyer, Evan Klein, looks like he did pretty well. He took the plunge on a silver ’84 Spider with a salvage title and 103,000 miles. Bold move, but the Spider was owned by an Italian and boasted no rust(!), a new muffler, a re-cored radiator, and leather seats from a later Quadrifoglio. It’s gotten a little more valuable since 2019, too, as #4 values have jumped more than two grand over the last three and a half years.
Bought for: $4750
Condition #4 value in 2019: $3700
Condition #4 value in 2023: $4800
The Tri-Five (1955–57) Chevrolet was a groundbreaking automobile and is the quintessential 1950s American car. But our buyer, David Zenlea, couldn’t afford the fins on his Bel Air, not with a $5K budget. So, he went for a ’54 sedan. Powered by the good-old Blue Flame straight-six with three on the tree, very green and a little bit rusty, it’s the oldest car in the group.
Surprisingly, it’s also one of the more notable gainers, with #4 values jumping over a grand since 2019, and #2 values for 1953–54 Bel Air sedans are up an average of 24 percent since then.
1990 Volvo 760 Turbo Wagon
Bought for: $1225
Condition #4 value in 2019: N/A
Condition #4 value in 2023: N/A
When shopping for cheap wheels on a shoestring budget, you can do a lot worse than an old Volvo. Our buyer, Rob Sass, sprung for an upscale 760 Turbo wagon with 275K miles (“barely broken in!” Volvo folks will half-jokingly tell you) owned by a 92-year-old retired dentist. The top invoice on a stack of receipts was for $5200, and the car boasted a new top end, turbocharger, front suspension, brakes, wheel bearings, water pump, and hoses. Rob essentially got an entire mechanically restored turbo wagon for the cost of a brake job on a new Volvo. Well done.
We currently don’t carry the 700-series Volvos in our price guide, and they don’t have the same following as the venerable 200-series bricks, but if we look at a 240 DL wagon from the same year Rob’s was built, the #4 value leapt from $1800 in late 2019 to $4100 today.
Bought for: $2700
Condition #4 value in 2019: $3200
Condition #4 value in 2023: $4000
Buyer Cameron Neveu had his heart set on a cheap British sports car and found a lovely white ’66 Sprite in Northern Ohio that he just had to have. Alas, it was sold just before Cam made the trek down from Michigan. The MGB GT he wound up with is just about the opposite of the Sprite—sprayed matte black and sanded through in spots for a faux-patina finish. “Looks like it survived the Great Chicago Fire,” said editor-at-large Aaron Robinson. Mechanically, though, the car was solid and ran “like a watch.” And the beauty of MGBs is that the parts supply is vast enough and the community big enough that you can fix anything on these entry-level classics.
The British sports car market has for the most part been sleepy but stable the last few years. Bs have gotten more expensive since 2019, but what hasn’t? The #3 (Good) value for Cam’s rattle-canned coupe would still be just $7700 today.
Bought for: $3999
Condition #4 value in 2019: $5800
Condition #4 value in 2023: $4400
A garageless guy in the Pacific Northwest, buyer Stefan Lombard was confident he could find something cool, cheap, and close by. He did. Little JDM Kei cars are common in this corner of America, but he even scoped out a 1988 T-top Fiero. The Kei cars didn’t fit his needs, however, and the Fiero was “almost too nice,” so he wound up with a nifty Dodge Dart 270 sedan. Slant-six, push-button automatic, original purchase documents, one owner, and “just one spot of rust that went beyond the surface.”
If you’re into patina (and you kind of have to be with a $5K budget), this Dodge had just the right amount. But it seems that ’64 Dart four-doors aren’t on many people’s hot lists. It’s the only car out of the group to drop in value.
What have you scooped up on the cheap lately? Are there any $5000 classics in your future?