There are many reasons why people get into old cars. Some people like the designs, others see them as investments, and some enthusiasts just like to embrace nostalgia. What if you just want to know what classic car to buy for fun? After all, isn’t that central the point of this hobby? After getting wrapped up in deciding between brands, restoration goals and levels of originality, it helps to take a step back. Here’s what you should look at when weighing your choices, including what you can afford, what you need to do to reach your classic car goals, and what you can do with your car once it’s ready to drive.
What Do You Do with a Classic Car, Anyway?
If you want to know what classic car to buy for fun, you need to ask yourself why you’re buying it. Do you enjoy working on things, and think car restoration would be a fun hobby? Is there a car you owned that you now miss, or a car you always wanted to own growing up? What aspect of car collecting do you want to focus on?
Working on cars can be fun, but it’s easy to get in over your head. For people who want to learn more about fixing vehicles, the best choice is usually something that’s mechanically simple with good club and aftermarket support.
Clubs and car shows are a great way to socialize while engaging in your hobby. You get to hang out with like-minded people, check out interesting cars, and share information that can help you with your build. Sometimes, the best car to choose is the one that works best for the club opportunities in your area.
Unlike a regular race series, vintage racing events target a specific era or model of vehicle. This makes it easy to build a car that stays competitive for years. There are plenty of options, including brass era”races modeled after hill climbs and motoring events from the dawn of the automobile, as well as road racing and drag events that focus on a particular era or style of car. This lets you compete against classic roadsters, sports cars or muscle cars. Like off-roading? There are events for that, too.
While rally racing is usually associated with all wheel drive cars flying over dirt roads, street rallies focus on road driving at legal speeds. Drivers and navigators have to work together to drive across country and city roads, hitting precise section times. This is a great way to “race” a normal vehicle without needing the safety equipment and licensing required for track days.
Events like the Power Tour don’t have the competitiveness of a road rally. Instead, the focus is on enjoying classic cars on the open road. This rolling car show is a great way to enjoy driving your car with like-minded people.
What’s a Good Car for Someone New to the Hobby?
It’s easy to underestimate the work and money it takes to restore a vehicle. If you’re new to this hobby, start small and set your sights low. You don’t have to replicate a build you saw at SEMA or on Youtube. You just need something you can enjoy.
What’s the Easiest Classic Car to Maintain?
There’s a joke among enthusiasts that “Miata” stands for “Miata Is Always The Answer.” This Japanese take on the classic British roadster is reliable and easy to fix. The engines were the same ones Mazda used in their compact cars, the overall design is simple, and there’s a massive amount of aftermarket support. Although these cars first entered production in the late 1980s, there are still plenty of affordable first and second generation convertibles available at low prices. They’re a great choice for track days and weekend drives, and their small size means they’ll fit in most garages with room to spare.
What’s the Most Reliable Classic Car?
Depending on who you ask, the most reliable classic is either a Lexus LS400 or a Mercedes Benz W123 diesel. When Toyota designed the Lexus LS400, they set out to design the best luxury car in the world. Its build quality is so high that several of these cars have covered over a million miles. The Mercedes Benz W123 was built when the company set out to build the best car possible, regardless of cost. Combine this quality with a simple, nearly indestructible diesel engine, and you have a car that will last forever.
Of course, “reliable” doesn’t mean “fun.” These luxury cars have fewer features than the cheapest modern car, and they aren’t engaging to drive. The Lexus has more in common with an old Buick than a Bugatti, while the acceleration of a Mercedes diesel can be measured on a calendar. Reliability may not be as important as you think it is, since you won’t be using your classic car as a daily driver.
What’s the Fastest Car on a Budget?
Aside from a few outliers like the Shelby Cobra 427 and Chevrolet Corvette ZL1, classic cars are slow compared to modern vehicles. If you want to go fast, the key is to find something that can be built to make big power.
If you live in America, the answer is simple: buy something powered by a Chevy small block. Since it entered production in the 1950s, this engine has been used in millions of cars and trucks. Parts availability and aftermarket support is far better than any other powerplant. Performance crate motors are readily available, or you can use a junkyard as a base for a horsepower monster. Either way, it’s hard to beat this motor in horsepower per dollar.
Of course, not everyone likes GM products, or wants to build yet another car powered by this motor. Fortunately, there are plenty of engines that have potential for making power without breaking the bank. Ford small blocks, Chrysler Max Wedge V8s, Toyota straight 6’s, Honda B and K Series four cylinders, Mitsubishi 4G’s and Volkswagen’s turbo and diesel engines all have great aftermarket support and were put in affordable vehicles.
What’s the Cheapest Muscle Car?
In the early 1970s, skyrocketing insurance rates, pollution regulations and gas shortages conspired to end the muscle car era. However, these cars didn’t immediately stop production. Instead, they used detuned engines. The Ford Mustang continued through 1973, the Camaro went nearly unchanged until 1981, and Chrysler B platform cars like the Plymouth Satellite and Dodge Charger were built through the 1970s. Since they don’t have the big power of earlier cars, they cost a fraction of the price. However, the basic car is still the same, making it easy to fit a powerful engine. This gives you the muscle car experience without the high price tag.
Of course, if you’re looking for something in the spirit of a muscle car, you have more options. 90’s pony cars, like the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, can be bought for peanuts. The first HEMI V8-powered MOPARs came out over 15 years ago, so it won’t be long before Chrysler 300s and Dodge Magnum wagons are classic cars. Want a muscle truck? GMC’s Syclone and Typhoon are getting expensive, but the Viper-powered Ram SRT-10 is only a couple years away from classic status.
What’s the Cheapest Classic Car?
An old work truck is a great starting point, because they’re cheap to buy and their simple designs make them easy to fix. While square body Chevy trucks are hot right now, there are plenty of old farm trucks from Detroit’s Big Three automakers that can be bought and fixed for very little money.
Range Rover models offer amazing off-road capability for a low up-front price, but they can be expensive to keep running. Jeeps, Toyotas and Ford Broncos are more reliable, but their prices are rapidly increasing. However, if you want a cheap off-roader, there are still plenty of options. The AMC Eagle wagon comes with a Jeep four wheel drive system, while 90s SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Isuzu Amigo can handle most trail driving.
All 90s Japanese sports cars are going for record prices right now, except the Subaru SVX. Granted, there are good reasons for this: it only makes 200 HP, and the automatic transmission is fragile, limiting performance potential. However, its rarity and odd styling quirks, like its mail slot side windows, make it an attention-getter at car shows. Want a Toyota Supra on a budget? The Lexus SC300 is built on the same platform and has a naturally-aspirated straight 6 engine. This makes it a good starting point for a high performance build.
Classic British roadsters like the MGB and Triumph TR6 are still plentiful, which helps keep the prices down. If you don’t have to have something built in the UK, the Datsun Roadster offers a similar driving experience at a lower cost.
Want something stylish, but can’t afford a Jaguar E-Type? The Volvo P1800 is famous for its reliability, while its rounded body and fins give it a unique look. Roger Moore got to drive the best sports cars available when he was James Bond, but his daily driver was the same P1800 used by his character in “The Saint.”
What’s a Good Car for Racing?
The previously mentioned Miata has plenty of club support. The BMW E30 is also a popular track car, while Toyota MR2s are a cheap way to get a competent mid-engine car. The Nissan 240Z is still the gold standard for drift builds, but prices are putting it out of reach for most beginning racers. Most beginners now start with old pony cars, like the Mustang.
Which Cars will Become Classics?
Are you looking for an investment, or hoping to buy a car you want before it becomes to expensive? While tastes in cars are constantly changing, there’s one consistent trend in the hobby: cars become collectible because they’re memorable. Being “memorable” can mean a lot of things.
- Rare and notable cars will always be valuable. These include everything from Italian exotics to high performance versions of regular cars. A Ferrari is notable for hand-built quality and high performance. An early Golf GTi is desirable because it kicked off the hot hatch craze.
- Many people buy cars they wanted as kids. Today, people who grew up in the tuner scene or watched “Fast and Furious” movies are sending the prices of classic Japanese sports cars skyward.
- Sometimes, you just want to relive your past. Run-of-the-mill family cars hold their value because people want a vehicle they remember from when they were growing up. A Volkswagen Beetle isn’t exciting to drive, but they were so common that almost everyone owned one. This recognition makes them desirable.
- People love terrible cars. Everything from Ford’s Edsel to AMC’s Pacer has become collectible because they can be enjoyed in an ironic way.
- Is it part of popular media? The DeLorean would be a minor classic due to its odd design and troubled history. However, it’s high status among classic cars owes a lot to its role in “Back to the Future.” Likewise, Toyota’s AE86 Corolla was well-known in Japan, but only got the attention of state-side collectors when “Initial D” reached our shores.
- If you can’t buy a certain type of vehicle today, your only option is buying a classic. Station wagons went from being the least desirable body type to one of the most desirable, because they aren’t made anymore. Likewise, interest in SUVs like the Jeep CJ-5 and Toyota Land Cruiser has increased in the past few years, because there are few simple four wheel drive vehicles on the market today. Want a supercar? If it has a manual transmission, you’ll have to pay a big premium. With automakers switching to dual clutch gearboxes, there’s a big demand for cars that let you do the shifting yourself.
Imagine you go to a classic car show 20 years from now. Sure, you will still see the usual variety of sports cars and classics. However, you may see the odd Tesla or Prius owned by someone interested in the early days of electric vehicles. Maybe someone will have a Pontiac Aztek surrounded by “Breaking Bad” memorabilia parked next to a Smart. Along with hot rod and muscle car clubs, you may see featured areas for defunct brands like Saab and Scion. In the end, if it’s fun, it’s worth collecting.