Cool Cars We Bought for $5K Apiece: What’re they worth now?

Cameron Neveu

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.

1991 Pontiac Firebird

Cameron Neveu

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

DW Burnett

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.

1984 Alfa Romeo Spider

Evan Klein

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.


1954 Chevrolet Bel Air

Cameron Neveu

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

Jose Rosado

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.

1969 MGB GT

Cameron Neveu

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.

1964 Dodge Dart 270

Stefan Lombard

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?




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    Scooped a 1960 Thunderbird out of a guy’s garage in June of ’22 for $4100. Might be worth $4100.50 now.

    The cheapest one on Classic Trader is $20,000. It has a six-cylinder. Yours must be in pretty pitiful condition.

    2005 orange mazdaspeed mx5 with 85000 miles for $5k. New tires, brakes and a timing belt later. I’m hoping I’m even but either way having a lot of fun driving in the weekends.

    I believe I know where you got that car, Orange was not a standard Mazda color, and there are not many of those in the wild. If it is the car I am thinking of it was really well maintained, if not someone who really knew their Miata history painted that car Orange and if that is the case it was probably really well taken care of.


    I still miss mine, and wish I’d never gotten rid of it. You are going to have a blast with that car!!

    The 1984 Alfa Romeo was interesting. I recently purchased a 1996 Spider, 916 and the price was cheap compared with others found on eBay. It’s fun to drive but that only happens once a week. Yes, you can say i’m an Alfisti. It’s my 5th Alfa.

    I just got lucky and picked up a 1986 Spider Veloce with just 58,000 miles, no rust, and a perfect top for $4,200. Runs great, just needed the clutch disk replaced as it was frozen to the flywheel.

    The crazy used car market helps everything. My 2002 F150 that I paid $3000 for in March 2020 has a blue book estimate of $5000 right now. While it’s not quite classic it’s too useful to sell even though my knuckles have healed from replacing the cylinder heads.

    “The #3 (Good) value for Cam’s rattle-canned coupe would still be just $7700 today.”
    I think that should be “$2,700” for the MGB GT??

    You must factor in inflation on all of these purchases. In the case of the Firebird, you broke even

    I play that game, even now. Just prior to the Great Stay (at home) I relieved a gentleman of a car he lost storage for. A 1988 Saab 900T drop top. Some appearance marks and a bit of orange here and there, but a strong runner with a virgin top, nice interior and 160 rounds. 2900 seemed fair at the time. I think it a solid investment.

    why do you keep calling the cars classics when they are not ? they are collectible , maybe antique , but not classics . i expect better from people who are supposed to know something about cars .

    People who know about cars know that a classic is widely regarded as one that is 25 years or older. There’s all fit that. They might vary in degrees of collectibility, but they are all classics.

    I love that ’54 Chevy Bel Air. Nice lines and just the right amount of patina. That one is a keeper.

    Nice Car If it was theonly Car available Iwould be Happy to drive it everyday everywhee excellent Choice

    No disrespect to the fun of owning any of those vehicles, but allowing for inflation and insurance costs, each one representa a loss of money. The old story, buy what you want and can afford for fun, not to make money.

    I keep spreadsheets of every dollar spent on the vehicles that I cycle through, including even oil changes, bulbs, etc. Except I don’t include fuel and insurance, because I figure if I wasn’t paying insurance and using fuel on this one it’d be paid for on something else. So I’m okay with ignoring insurance. I don’t disagree with adjusting for inflation, but I also don’t mind ignoring it. According to my inflation calculator app, the ’54 model still wouldn’t be a loss, since $3700 in 2019 adjusts to $4418 in 2023.

    Looks to me like the “front line” of orphans sitting near the front of any local scrap yard… and there aren’t many of them left. You guts are just way too optimistic. And I really like the Hagerty mag, online and have the insurance, too.

    I bought a ’63 Buick Riviera in 2003 for $3,000. Body (rare factory red), engine, and drive train were in excellent condition, but needed interior work (new carpet and reupholstering of the seats). Sold it in 2007 for $7,000. I’m guessing it is worth much more today.

    Bought my 73 AMX 401 w/ Pierre Cardin in ’89 for $4,000 cndn. Recently appraised at $30,000 or $46,000 w/ a good paint job.

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