Great starter classic cars

On the Road 5 min read

Starter classic cars are a huge part of the market and they continue to be the cornerstone of the hobby.

As younger enthusiasts enter the market, the world of classic cars continues to grow. Recently, a major classic car auction that takes place every January in Scottsdale, Arizona, had its biggest event ever. The auction sold the largest number of cars in its history with the most money changing hands, over $141M.

Some of those cars were big buck machines bought by seasoned collectors, but many were entry-level classic cars purchased by first-time buyers on tight budgets.

However, 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. Classic pickups and SUVs have also become very popular.

To help you get started with the purchase of your first classic, we’ll cover why some classic cars are better for beginners just entering the hobby. Plus, we’ve chosen five great starter classic cars for you. These cars are least 25-years-old and can be purchased on a tight budget. Some are even available in very good condition for less than ten grand.

What’s a good classic car for a beginner?

First, you should always buy what you like. What’s your taste? Are you hot for a two-seat sports car, a tire-smoking muscle car or a classic SUV or pickup?

It’s also important to stick to your budget. Yes, a classic car 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, a car you really want to drive and enjoy, and buy the best example you can afford.

Usually, good classic cars for a beginners are low maintenance classic cars. 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.

Classic American cars are considered more reliable and easier to work on compared to classics 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 quite easy to keep on the road.

Any classic car or truck will need to be touched with a wrench eventually. Some classics will require an expert mechanic—a specialist for that particular make or model of car. This is usually the case with cars from Italy, Germany or Britain, which have unique engineering and complexities. Others, including most American classics, are so mechanically simple they can usually be repaired by most local mechanics with parts from an auto parts store.

1976-1981 Chevy Corvette

Classic Corvettes can cost a fortune. Even over $1M. But most are affordable, with many restored examples from the 1960s costing between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on the size of its engine and the car’s rarity and history. Many, however, even cost less than that, and 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. They are also available with either a 4-speed manual or a 3-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 2020 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.

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 blast to drive 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 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite, MGB and the Triumph Spitfire. They were a phenomenon when 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 5-speed manual or an automatic transmission.

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

1971-1980 International 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 few years.

The value of the International Scout 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.

These trucks were offered with four-cylinder, six-cylinder or more desirable V8 engines and with two or four-wheel drive. And to no 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—just sold for over $3.5M.

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

Because the first Mustang was introduced in April of 1964, some think that was the model’s first year. However, it was actually 1965, and the original design was sold through 1966. These cars were offered 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 more bucks.

1985-1991 Chevy 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 affordable 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. A 5-speed manual was offered with most engines, but the vast majority of them were built with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Buyers should also know that in 1990, Chevy added a driver’s side airbag to the Camaro for additional safety. Because of this, cars from 1989 and earlier are seen as more desirable by some collectors.

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 perform the same. Because IROCs were more popular than the Trans Am when the cars were new, they remain more popular today and they 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 to always keep it protected with Progressive’s classic car insurance. 

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