Classic cars for beginners

On the Road 5 min read

Choosing the best beginner classic car can be difficult. There are literally thousands of different makes and models to choose from. There’s something for everyone, from classic American muscle cars like Ford Mustangs to little Italian and British sports cars. Many people are drawn to classic pickups and SUVs as well.

To help you get started with the purchase of your first classic car, we’ll cover why some classic cars for beginners are popular choices. Plus, we’ve chosen five great starter classic cars for you. These cars are at least 25 years old, and you can purchase them on a tight budget. Some are even available in very good condition for less than $10,000.

What’s the best first classic car to buy?

There’s no single right answer when you’re a first-time classic car buyer. It all comes down to personal preference. You should buy what you like — what’s your taste? Are you most interested in a two-seat sports car, a tire-smoking muscle car, or a classic SUV or pickup? No matter what you decide, here are some tips to keep in mind when buying a classic car.

Stick to your budget

A classic car for a beginner can be a good investment — an appreciating asset — but it’s better not to look at it that way when you’re just entering the hobby. Instead, buy a car you’ll love owning and really want to drive and enjoy, and buy the best example you can afford.

Don’t get too complicated

Usually, good classic cars for beginners are low-maintenance vehicles. Although every classic will need some maintenance and mechanical love at some point — even those that sell for millions of dollars — it’s better to stick to the makes and models that are mechanically less complicated and require less expertise to keep running. Learn more about the most reliable classic cars.

Consider buying American

Classic American cars are considered more reliable and easier to work on than those from Europe or Japan. Parts for American classics may also be easier to find, and they’re generally more affordable. A 1966 Ford Mustang, for instance — even one with a V8 engine — is relatively easy to keep on the road.

Think about the upkeep

Any classic car or truck will need to be touched with a wrench eventually. Some classics will require an expert mechanic who’s a specialist for that make or model of car. This is usually the case with cars from Italy, Germany, or the U.K., with unique engineering and complexities. Others, including most American classics, are so mechanically simple that most local mechanics can repair them with parts from an auto parts store.

1976-1981 Chevrolet Corvette

Some classic Corvettes can cost a small fortune. But many are affordable, with restored examples from the 1960s costing between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on the car’s history, rarity, and engine size. You can find more recent Corvettes for considerably less. Some of the most affordable models were built between 1976 and 1981.

With classic Corvette styling, retro cool interiors, and a V8 engine with air conditioning, these two-seaters are as fun as they are comfortable and are a great classic car for beginners. They are also available with a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic transmission, so you don’t need to know how to drive a stick shift to buy one.

Although they’re not very powerful compared to a new Chevy Corvette, they’re reliable, easily modified for more performance, simple to repair, and parts are cheap and easy to find. The average price for a Corvette in good condition is around $15,000. Learn more about classic car values.

1990-1996 Mazda MX-5 Miata

For the purest two-seat roadster experience, you can’t beat the original Mazda Miata. These little two-seaters are a fun first-time classic car, and they’re as famous for their durability and reliability as they are for their cute styling and spirited performance.

Although built in Japan, the first Miata was fashioned after British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s — cars like the Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite, the MGB, and the Triumph Spitfire. They were a phenomenon, and Mazda built a ton of them, which has helped keep prices down. Under the hood is a four-cylinder engine, and the Miata is available with a five-speed manual or an automatic transmission.

In 1994, Mazda increased the size of the Miata’s engine for more power and re-tuned the suspension, which increased performance. Good condition examples still cost less than $10,000.

1971-1980 International Harvester Scout II

Classic SUVs, like vintage Ford Broncos, Chevy Blazers, and Jeep Grand Wagoneers, have become one of the hottest segments in the collector car market. The value of these trucks, built from the 1960s into the 1980s, has climbed rapidly over the last several years.

The value of the Scout II is also climbing. However, these trucks aren’t as well known as the others, so they remain far more affordable. Prices well below $20,000 are still common. Like the others, the second generation of these rugged two-door SUVs feature removable hardtops, so they’re fun on a sunny day. They also deliver enough old-school off-road vibes to satisfy any urban cowboy.

International Harvester offered these trucks with four-cylinder, six-cylinder, or more desirable V8 engines and with two- or four-wheel drive. And to no one’s surprise, the V8 4×4 models are the most popular, so they cost a bit more. The average price in good condition is around $22,000.

1965-1966 Ford Mustang

Like classic Corvettes, old Mustangs can cost more than a beach house. In fact, the most valuable classic Mustang of all time, the 1968 fastback driven by Steve McQueen in the movie “Bullitt,” sold at auction for more than $3 million.

Ford built a lot of Mustangs in the 1960s, so there are plenty to go around, and most remain affordable as classic cars for beginners. You can buy restored examples from the 1960s for less than $25,000, and many are still priced well below $15,000.

Because Ford introduced the first Mustang in April 1964, some think that was the model’s first year. However, it was actually 1965, and the original design was sold through 1966. Ford offered these cars in three body styles: coupe, fastback, and convertible. Coupes are by far the most affordable. Ford also offered a six-cylinder engine or a V8, as well as a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. Cars with a V8 and manual will demand higher prices.

1985-1991 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

A more modern American muscle car classic is the Camaro IROC-Z from the late 1980s. Like some other cars on our list, they, too, are increasing in value. However, they remain a good entry-level classic car with prices commonly between $8,000 and $20,000, depending on mileage and condition.

These cars were powered by fuel injected V8 engines, and although they don’t perform as well as a new Camaro, they’re quick and fun to drive. Chevy offered a five-speed manual transmission with most engines, but the majority of them were built with a four-speed automatic. Buyers should also know that in 1990, Chevy added a driver’s side airbag to the Camaro for additional safety. Because of this, collectors consider cars from 1989 and earlier to be more desirable.

The Camaro IROC was a mechanical twin to the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. The cars didn’t look too much alike, but they used the same suspensions, engines, transmissions, and other parts, so they performed the same. Because IROCs were more popular than the Trans Am when the cars were new, they remain more popular today and cost a bit more. Therefore, a 1985-1991 Pontiac Trans Am is an even less expensive alternative for anyone looking for a starter classic car.

Whatever starter car you’re looking for, be sure always to keep it protected with Progressive’s classic car insurance.

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