10 affordable classic convertibles for summer

On the Road 6 min read

There’s an old saying among car collectors: “When the top goes down, the price goes up.” Don’t believe it. It isn’t always true. Summer is here, and buying a classic convertible to cruise around in the sunshine doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are many fun and affordable vintage drop-tops available for less than $20,000.  

Our list of favorites includes dream machines from all over the world, including two-seat sports cars, muscle cars, and a classic American SUV. Each is at least 20 years old and can be purchased in very good condition on a tight budget. Some are even available for less than $10,000.

So put that top down, feel the sun on your face, and the warm breeze in your hair. Make this summer the summer you’ll never forget.

1. 1974 – 1975 Chevy Corvette

Most classic Corvette convertibles cost far beyond $20,000, but there are still a few that don’t. Some of the most affordable were built in 1974 and 1975. Chevy discontinued the convertible Corvette after 1975 and wouldn’t reintroduce it until 1986, and the demand for these models is growing.

These cars offer classic Corvette styling and cool retro interiors with air conditioning. Under the hood is a carbureted, 350-cubic-inch, small-block V8 engine, which Chevy used for decades. It isn’t very powerful by today’s standard, but it’s reliable, simple to repair, and parts are cheap and easy to find. They were available with either a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic transmission.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is about $16,000. 

2. 1973 – 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL

For an entire generation of car enthusiasts, no other car says wealth like a Mercedes-Benz 450 SL from the 1970s. These two-seat, V8-powered convertibles were all over Beverly Hills in the era, as well as our TV screens. This was the car driven by Bobby Ewing on “Dallas” and Mrs. Hart on “Hart to Hart.” If you were young, beautiful, and flush in the mid-1970s, this was your ride.

Known for their robust construction, the Mercedes 450 SL are heavy for their small size and feature both a folding soft top and a removable hardtop. Under the hood is a fuel-injected, 4.5-liter, overhead-cam V8 mated to a three-speed automatic transmission. Models built after 1973 have larger, less attractive bumpers to meet new federal regulations.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is between $12,800 and $18,100.

3. 1986 – 1993 Ford Mustang GT

Early Mustang convertibles are just too expensive for this list, so we find ourselves in the 1980s, when hair was big and the 5.0-liter, V8-powered Mustang GT ruled the road. These third-generation Mustangs are fast becoming classics and the values of well-preserved, low mileage examples are on the rise.

These were quick, lightweight machines with over 200 horsepower. In 1986, Ford added fuel injection to the Mustang’s legendary eight-cylinder engine, and the following year the GT model was redesigned with aggressive ground effects, large fog lights, and unique taillights. In 1990 airbags were added for additional safety. A five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions were offered.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is between $7,300 and $8,900.

4. 1966 – 1993 Alfa Romeo Spider

Henry Ford once said, “When I see an Alfa Romeo go by, I tip my hat.” Alfas are special cars, and the Alfa Romeo Spider, sold in the United States from 1966 to 1993, is its best-known model thanks to its appearance in “The Graduate” in 1967. Designed by Pininfarina, all Alfa Spiders were two-seat roadsters powered by the brand’s legendary double-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine backed by a five-speed manual transmission. Horsepower ranged from 110 to 210.

The roadster debuted as the Duetto, which lasted until 1968, and was sold in many trim levels over the decades including Veloce and Quadrifoglio. There was even a Graduate model. Meant to recapture some nostalgia from the 1960s, it was sold from 1985 to 1990. Although the earliest cars are well beyond our $20,000 budget, examples built from 1970 to 1993 are extremely affordable.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is between $10,600 and $18,100 depending on the year and model.

5. 1971 – 1980 International Harvester Scout II

Classic SUVs are red hot in the collector car market and the values of vintage Ford Broncos, Chevy Blazers, and Jeep Grand Wagoneers are skyrocketing. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and the values of second-generation International Harvester Scouts are also climbing. But these two-door SUVs, which feature removable hardtops, remain far more affordable than the others.

This is good news for classic convertible shoppers on a budget, as Scouts deliver as much old-school, rugged SUV vibe as the others at a fraction of the price. These trucks were offered with six-cylinder or the more desirable V8 engines and with two- or four-wheel drive. In 1976, International Harvester also offered diesel power, but the V8, four-wheel drive models are the most sought after and they cost a bit more.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition, V8-powered, four-wheel drive examples is between $18,400 and $21,400 depending on the year and configuration.

6. 1990 – 1998 Mazda Miata

Designed in the spirit of the small British roadsters of the 1950s and 1960s, the original first generation of the Mazda Miata caused a sensation when it hit the streets back in 1990. Everyone, from millionaires to college co-eds, had to have one and the small, affordable, two-seat convertible became an instant classic.

These cars are practically indestructible, but still buy the lowest mileage example you can find. Also hold out for a Miata with air conditioning—it was an option in the early days, as were power windows and locks. The Mazda’s soft top operates manually and can be lowered or raised from the driver’s seat. Cars with the optional hardtop demand a premium and models built after 1994 have a larger 1.8-liter engine with a bit more power.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is about $6,000.

7. 1968 – 1971 MG B Mk II

If you’re looking for the true British roadster experience, check out the MG B Mk II sold from 1968 to 1971. These little roadsters are more refined than the Mk I series but their beauty hadn’t yet been marred by the big ugly rubber bumpers that would come later.

MG stands for Miller Garages, and the company sold a lot of these little two-seat drop-tops in the United States. However, many rusted to dust, so always check for rot and walk away from cars inflicted. Under the hood is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine with two one-barrel carburetors and a bit over 90 horsepower, so don’t expect much speed. Essentially all were equipped with manual transmissions. 

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is about $9,000.

8. 1967 – 1969 Pontiac Firebird

Early Chevy Camaro convertibles are just too expensive for this list, but you can get the very same experience for less money with a Pontiac Firebird. The Camaro and the Firebird are essentially the same car. Both used the same chassis, suspension, and brakes, and they’re exactly the same size. The two cars even used interchangeable doors, decklids, and roofs.

Like the Camaro, the first generation of the Pontiac Firebird was built from 1967 to 1969 and it was offered as a convertible all three years. The 1969 model looks slightly different, but remains essentially the same. Under the hood of a base Firebird convertible was Pontiac’s 326-cubic-inch V8 making either 250 or 285 horsepower, depending on the size of its carburetor, and in 1969 Pontiac enlarged the engine to 350 cubic inches. Manual and automatic transmissions were offered.  

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples ranges from $15,600 to $18,500.

9. 1973 – 1979 Volkswagen Beetle

Designed by Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Ferdinand Porsche) in the late 1930s, the Volkswagen Beetle would remain in production until 2003, and the rear-engine, air-cooled four-seater would become one of the world’s best-selling cars ever with nearly 22 million produced. Throughout most of its time being sold in the U.S., which ended in 1979, the Beetle was offered in coupe and convertible body styles.

We recommend Beetle convertibles sold between 1970 and 1979, because they benefit from improvements made to the car over the years including larger engines, more comfortable interiors, and better suspension and brakes. Just remember these icons have 50 horsepower or less, so don’t expect much performance.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is between $10,700 and $15,800.

10. 1989 – 1990 Jaguar XJ-S

The spiritual and literal successor to the legendary Jaguar E-Type, the XJ-S was sold from 1976 to 1996 and became Jaguar’s longest-running model ever. In 1989, Jaguar finally introduced a full convertible version of the XJ-S and today collectors are starting to appreciate these V12-powered drop-tops.

Although the XJ-S coupe has a small back seat, the convertibles are two-seaters. These cars are powered by Jaguar’s legendary 5.3-liter, fuel-injected V12, rated at 262 horsepower. It was one of the sexiest and most powerful engines available at the time. The XJ-S convertible remained available through 1996, however, the model received an unflattering facelift in 1991 and we prefer the simpler original design.

According to the Hagerty Valuation Tool®, the average price of “Good” condition examples is $16,500.

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