You can build a great car collection for $30,000

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1988 Ferrari Mondail 3.2 Mecum

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of a “better” way to collect automobiles. While we’re reticent to state any form of collecting is incorrect, the backbone of our love for cars is the experience they can provide, particularly behind the wheel. Because of that desire to drive, we’re curious if it wouldn’t be better to buy a whole stable of less expensive, yet still collectible, cars rather than one single more expensive car. In this case, would our theoretical $30,000 bank account be better depleted buying a decent Ferrari Mondial or a stable full of five wildly different driving experiences?

Think you have the perfect five-car lineup of your own? Feel free to chime in with your thoughts below.

The average purchase price of a 1988 Ferrari 3.2 Mondial in #3 (Good) condition is $26,400, and we rounded up to $30,000 to give us a good starting point for comparison. The Mondial is a reasonable entry-level model from a highly sought-after marque, and although it has been slowly increasing over the years, it has remained within the realm of possibility for many collectors.

But would your value-per-dollar improve with five less expensive models? We think it might.

Based on average #3-condition values for the following cars, we’ve assembled an interesting and engaging group of cars that would be a hit at most car shows, offer entry into larger groups of enthusiasts, and gain access to more driving events. With two sports cars, one hot hatch, a family truckster, and a top-down weekend cruiser, this collection has something for everyone:

  1. 1988 Porsche 924S: $7700
  2. 1981 Mazda RX7: $4100
  3. 1987 Maserati Biturbo Spyder: $6400
  4. 1973 Ford LTD Country Squire: $6700
  5. 1987 Volkswagen GTI 8V: $4500  

Total: $29,400

We came in just below our arbitrary $30K cap, and with a little haggling and searching, you might even get this set for a bit less.

So why did we choose these cars?

1988 Porsche 924S

1987 Porsche 924S front 3/4
1987 Porsche 924S Mecum

Much like the Mondial, the 924S fills the role of a bargain-basement car from a prestige marque. These have long been favorites among front-engine Porsche fans—they provide all of the performance of its 944 sibling, thanks to a shared engine, in a more classically styled package. The 944’s box flares are great, but the 924’s slab-sided look is much more reminiscent of the car’s 1970s origins (and it’s more aerodynamic).

These cars are incredibly simple to work on, using Volkswagen Golf coil spring suspension bits up front and VW Super Beetle torsion bar bits in back. The 2.5-liter canted-over inline-four has all the same timing belt issues as the 944, so make sure you get one with a recently swapped water pump and timing/balance belt service.

At $7700, this is the most expensive car on our five-car list, but it’s worth the cost of entry. These are incredibly balanced driving cars with enough power to get out of the way. They’re stylish and have comfortable interiors. Plus, you get the added benefit of being able to tell people you drive a Porsche.

1981 Mazda RX-7

Mazda Savanna RX-7
Mazda Savanna RX-7 Mazda

You might imagine that the RX-7 would fill much of the same niche as the Porsche 924 listed above, and you’d be right. Both are sporty front-engine/rear-drive coupes, both are incredibly balanced, and both are incredibly slow by modern standards. Also like the 924, this car is old enough to be a classic, but modern enough that you could easily drive it with regularity. That said, the RX-7 is significantly lighter than the Porsche, and that legendary rotary engine is much more complacent sitting in the upper half of the rev range.

The carbureted 12a rotary engine produces around 100 horsepower. It wasn’t the most sought after rotary engine of the lot, but it does OK in this Series II “FB” RX-7. You aren’t going to set the world on its ear with this engine, but it revs to the moon and sounds like heaven.

Earlier Series I models featured a smaller bumper treatment, but it looked a bit more disjointed on both ends of the car. For the facelift, Mazda did a better job of integrating these larger crash bumpers into the bodywork, making this one of our favorite RX-7 models.

1987 Maserati Biturbo Spyder

1984 Maserati Biturbo Spyder
1984 Maserati Biturbo Spyder FCA

For a fraction of the price of that Ferrari Mondial, you can have a finicky Italian from cross-town ersatz rivals Maserati, and this one has a top that goes down as well as a pair of performance-enhancing turbochargers. It isn’t exactly a sports car, and it is more useful for weekend jaunts in the countryside or for a run to a tasting session at your favorite NorCal winery. Like the Ferrari or Porsche, an added benefit to Biturbo ownership is the ability to say, “I drive a Maserati.” Or to say nothing at all and let people see that trident logo.

The Biturbo has received a lot of flak on the internet for being unreliable, and at least some of it is unjustified. Like many other luxury sports cars of its era that depreciated quickly, the Maserati retained a high maintenance cost while its values dropped. Often non-enthusiast owners would purchase these cars for their cache, then defer the expensive maintenance needed to keep them running well. If you find one with good records and commit to fulfilling the needs of this Italian beast, it should be alright. As with any vintage car, it’ll treat you as well as you treat it.

1973 Ford LTD Country Squire

1973 Ford LTD Country Squire
1973 Ford LTD Country Squire Ford

This pick may seem to be coming out of left field, but bear with us. At $6700, it is the second-most expensive piece on this list, but it may well be the biggest value per smile because you can share this car with your entire family. This would be an incredible car for a weekend trip to the beach, a highway cruise to the nearest theme park, or a jaunt into the woods for a camping trip. The big V-8 engine isn’t going to do your wallet any favors on fuel costs, but you can pack a load of people and gear into this classically styled big wagon. Who says you need an SUV?

The Country Squire is a big car that can be had for relatively little money, and maintenance costs and replacement parts are inexpensive enough that you don’t have to worry much about racking up the miles. Not to mention, these cars come with simplicity standard, making DIY repairs all the more easy. Have kids? It doesn’t get much more wholesome Americana than teaching them how to change the oil on a big bruiser wagon like this.

1987 Volkswagen GTI 8v

1987 Volkswagen GTI 8V Advertisement
1987 Volkswagen GTI 8V Volkswagen

For something completely different, why not look to the MKII Volkswagen GTI for a fun around-town runabout? The eight-valve GTI is perhaps the best hot hatchback of this era because it has a bit more low-down torque than the 16v version’s higher revs, but it retains all of the suspension magic. The 8v was perceived in its day as the lesser-than option, and because of that perception the market has remained depressed on this model for years. That may be changing, as good examples are ever harder to come by.

The MKII is the sweet spot of the GTI progression; it’s a perfect Goldilocks balance between the MKI’s lightweight agility and the MKIII’s more compromised compliance. With 105 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque, the GTI was a reasonably quick and sporty hatch, weighing just over 2000 pounds. With most of the weight over the front axle, it drives a lot like you’d expect it to. Even with a bit softer suspension and more weight, the MKII GTI retained the MKI’s ability to lift the inside rear wheel under hard cornering forces.

The Collection

So, there you have it—a five-car collection that can be purchased for about the same price as a decent Ferrari Mondial. Which would you rather have: the single Italian oddball or a full stable of cool collector cars? It can be argued that this collection would carry more cache than that least-respected of Ferraris. One thing is for certain, with five cars in the garage, you’ll have plenty of options to match whatever trip you’re about to take. And, what’s more, if these are all well taken care of, this collection would be unlikely to depreciate.

As 1970s and ’80s collector cars are blossoming, most of these are on an upward swing right now. Porsches, early VWs, and Japanese sports cars are all on the rise. Admittedly, the Maserati will likely never be worth much more than its current value, and the Country Squire is so inexpensive that there isn’t much of an investment there to lose. Get ’em while the getting is good.

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