So it’s happened. You’ve finally decided its time to buy a classic car, but you don’t have a lot of money to spend on an American pony car or some bright red wedge of steel from Italy with the letters “GT” on the back. Well, you’re in luck. There are actually several classic cars that are within financial reach of most automotive enthusiast. And most importantly, all of the vehicles on our list have a veritable plethora of replacement parts still available. Happy motoring.
Triumph Spitfire ($2,500 – $4,000)
Built from 1962 clear through to 1980, the Triumph Spitfire is about as iconic as small, two-seater British open top sports cars get. Based upon the Triumph Herald sedan, the Spitfire was, much like all good British cars, an amalgam of sensibility, frugality, and recklessness.
Named for the infamous British World War II fighter plane, the Spitfire was Triumph’s answer to the Austin-Healey Sprite. The first generation called the Mark I was only produced for two years: 1962-64 and had a tiny 1.1-liter inline four-cylinder engine.
The Spitfire we recommend to the burgeoning vintage motoring enthusiast is the Mark IV from the 1970s. While the Mark IV isn’t the most desirable model — far from it, actually — it is, however, the most accessible. Good, inexpensive examples of the breed can be found relatively easily.
Purists will argue that the weight increase (from 1,500 pounds to 1,700) from the Mark III to the Mark IV sullies the 0-60 times. But if you’re really looking for power numbers from a 1.3-liter inline four-cylinder, you’re missing the point and clearly have other problems to sort out.
Fiat 124 Spider ($2,500 – $4,000)
Built from 1966 to 1982, the 124 Spider is the Fiat answer to the British convertible sports car trend. The 124 Spider doesn’t have as an iconic of a name as the Triumph but does have more horsepower: producing anywhere from 103 to 116 horses, depending on the engine. Surprisingly, the 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder is peppier than the 2.0-liter, which is good because there seem to be more 1.8s for sale than 2.0s. Go figure.
Fiat did produce some turbocharged and supercharged versions but if you can find one, you won’t be able to afford it. So let’s not worry about those. Parts are still widely available but often take a couple weeks to get a hold of. Before you buy, consider whether you’re going to do the work on this car yourself. If you’re not, might we suggest you don’t get a Fiat. If you’re lucky enough to find a shop that will even look at a 1970s Fiat, they’ll probably charge you an arm and a leg to do so, which negates the entire purpose of having a cheap classic.
Oh, and a word of warning to taller drivers: you might not fit in the 124 and may want to choose the Triumph instead.
Volvo PV544 ($5,000 – $8,000)
Commonly known as the 544, the PV544 is becoming harder and harder to find as the years roll on. Only 10 years ago these rounded-off Swedish sewing machines were a dime a dozen. Now they’re becoming increasingly more desirable and the prices they fetch are beginning to quickly climb.
Based upon the PV444, the 544 was introduced in 1958 and was one of the first Volvo models to be sold in the US, along side the 122 “Amazon.” Built until 1966 and designed heavily upon the 1942 US Army Staff Car, the 544’s looks were dreadfully outdated in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The 544 was sold with two engines over its short life: the B16 and the B18. The B18 received a “Sport” badge due to its increased power output over the B16. This is the engine we recommend you search out. While B16 models might be cheaper, the replacement parts are few and far between. Parts for the B18-powered 544, however, can still be ordered at the parts counter at your local Volvo dealer, which is pretty neat.
PV544s get looks wherever you go. They are reliable as the day is long. They handle brilliantly on twisty roads. And they get pretty good mileage. If you’re the kind of person who wants a daily-driver classic car, the Volvo PV544 is your best bet on this list.
Ford Torino GT ($2,500 – $7,000)
The one we’re thinking of is the first of the breed: the 1968 and the 1969 model with the fastback that went for miles. The Torino marks a strange mid-point for Ford between the muscle of the 1960s and the emission standard strangulations of the 1970s. At its birth, the Torino was a hulking powerhouse. By the end of its run in 1976, the Torino was an underpowered lump with an automatic transmission and looks to match.
The early Torino an out-and-out muscle car, but has been ignored in the muscle and pony car snatch-up. While some of its contemporaries now sell well above $100,000, the Torino remains in the low thousands. Sure, a Dodge Challenger might be cooler but is it $90,000 cooler? Not by a long shot.
In classic American form, the early Torino was available with several engine options. The motors we suggest you look for are the 302 V8 and the 390 V8. It should go without saying but the mileage on these engines is somewhere in the mid-to-low single digits. Think 4-8 MPG.
Although the Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission makes for easier driving, you’ll really want the four-speed on the floor. Unlike the Volvo mentioned above, the Torino won’t handle in the corners but will provide ample interior space for whatever your imagination can conjure up.
Datsun 240Z ($2,500 – $8,000)
The 240Z was sold from 1970 to 1973 before it was upgraded to the 260Z, which upped the power from 151 in the 240Z to 162 in the 260Z. Many will debate which was best, but for our purposes, we recommend the 240Z. It’s the first Z classic and few cars drive like it.
Originally called the Fairlady Z (named for the 1956 film “My Fair Lady”), the 240Z is powered by a 2.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine, which was mated most commonly to a four-speed manual transmission. There was a three-speed automatic option but few buyers checked it on the order sheet.
The 240Z was a far cry from its powerhouse American contemporaries like the Torino. Light and nimble, the 240Z would make a 0-60 run in around eight second and still achieve 21 MPG.
In spite of its passionate following, good examples of the breed can still be found under the $10,000 mark. The 240Z is infamous for its reliability, which makes it a great accessible classic. Replacement parts and aftermarket upgrades alike are readily available but due to the strong aftermarket, unmolested examples are nearly impossible to find, as 240Z owners love to customize.
We love the 240Z. But unlike the English and Italian offerings on this list, the 240Z probably won’t ever leave you stranded on the side of a remote country road in a cloud of smoke. That, however, is an essential part of the classic motoring experience. For this reason, it loses some points in our book.