cool old cars on a budget
January 15, 2009 12:34 PM   Subscribe

What American-made automobile classics should I consider for purchase? (Challenge: $2000 budget!).

I have been watching a lot of Barrett-Jackson auto auction coverage lately and am really getting into American muscle cars and the American-made classics of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Obviously those cars sold at auction are in incredible condition after restoration and immense care in ownership. I know my puny budget of $2000 will never be enough to purchase anything close to those cars, but I have to think that I could get something interesting for a couple thousand dollars. I just don't know what make/model to pursue!

I'm not so much looking for websites to peruse cars (such as Craigslist - I've checked that out) but rather I'm interested in some direction - some ideas - for what makes and models to check out and consider. What would you buy given what you know about cars in this category and given the limited budget? Can I get anything cool that actually runs and looks halfway decent?

I look forward to your responses. Thanks!
posted by karizma to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That's a really broad question. When you're watching BJ auctions, which cars appeal most to you? Mostly muscle cars? Do you like quirky? For instance, Ford Falcons are somewhat muscle-y without being a muscle car, so you won't be charged a premium price for one that's a little beaten up.
posted by scarykarrey at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2009

$2k is going to be tight, but I'd look for late '60s to mid '70s Chevelles/Nova/Camaro.. They're pretty compatible, easy to find parts for, and you can drop in a 350 small-block, which are fairly easy to build/overhaul.

Honestly, for $2,000 you're going to have to invest some work in your vehicle. Keep in mind that these cars are heavy and they suck gas like crazy. My cousin's muscle car got around 11mpg if he drove it very very conservatively, which is not why you drive a muscle car in the first place.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:47 PM on January 15, 2009

I heart 65 Dodge Darts. They are super fun to drive.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:51 PM on January 15, 2009

Ford Falcons (60-66) are neat little cars that are easy to work on and parts are easy to come by. As an added bonus, some get great fuel economy. Find one with the 170 CID 6 cylinder with the 3 spd transmission and you're looking at 30mpg on the highway.

2 grand really limits your options but there are still a few options if you look around and are patient. Know your market and parts availability before you buy. Most Ford and Chevy models are safe bets for parts, as are some MoPars.
posted by buggzzee23 at 12:58 PM on January 15, 2009

I've seen faded Corvairs on craigslist in that price range or lower. Also, seconding the Dart and Falcon suggestions. A 70s Pinto-stang could likely be found in your price range too.

Also, the badge-engineered variants of popular muscle cars can be found for next to nothing. A decently maintained Pontiac Ventura II, for instance, is the exact same car, but with less cachet and lower cost than a Chevrolet Nova.

All that said, however, know that buying and maintaining a classic car on a budget will break your heart.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:00 PM on January 15, 2009

Long shot, but if you're interested in a daily driver and are willing to look at something more modern, you can get a 1994 - 1996 Chevy Caprice Police Sedan for $1000 - $3000 at auction. It's got rear-wheel drive and normally comes with the Chevy 350cc LT-1 (also used in the Camaro and Corvette).
posted by zippy at 1:07 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm fond of wagons personally--they are a bit quirky, but have many of the same parts as muscle cars and are typically cheaper. Look at some pics of 65-69 Impala/Biscayne/Belair wagons-I've seen em for 2k. I have a 63 wagon, and it gets WAY more attention than any other hot rod I've owned (and it isn't in that good of shape).

I'll also second looking at the 94-96 caprices, they can be made into impala clones pretty cheaply, just be careful to get the LT1 engine--there was a smaller v8 that isn't worth your time. The buick roadmasters from 94-96 all have the LT1 drivetrain, and can be snagged from old men for cheap (and low miles). they are not as sleek looking as the caprices, but I actually prefer them. they don't attract near the police attention as racier sheetmetal.

If there is one type of car that was always better US made than foreign, it is the land yacht. You'd be amazed how quick and how much fun these big boats are to drive.
posted by midwestguy at 1:23 PM on January 15, 2009

I'd go for a '60s - '70s MOPAR police car; here's a '66 Fury with the 440 engine on Craiglist for $2000, which might not take much to get running. Here's what that car looked like.
posted by nicwolff at 1:28 PM on January 15, 2009

AMC's are interesting (to me anyway) and tend to be much cheaper than the Ford/GM/Mopar stuff. Ramblers aren't that hard to find.

Wagon's can be cheaper. 4 door cars are almost always cheaper than the same model 2 door car.

Lower spec early gen mustangs can sometimes sell in the $2000 - $4000 range. As other mentioned, Ford Falcons tend to be cheap, and parts are readily available because of the shared platform with the Mustangs.

Pickup trucks from that error sometimes go cheap, and parts tend to be easy to find, since the models changes fairly slowly from year to year. Trucks of that vintage don't tend to be very friendly for modern highway speeds though.
posted by alikins at 1:41 PM on January 15, 2009

AMC's are a problem due to the fact that when Chrysler acquired them in the late 80s all of the spare parts (and molds!) were destroyed.

Corvairs get expensive when you get to the good ones. However, you can get a perfectly serviceable (if small-engined and/or high-mileaged) 63 or 64 or so for $2k.

I'd second the MOPAR route. The Dart family are tanks and parts are readily available. Ford Falcons are cool, too, depending on your feelings about the Argentine government's death-squads using them to disappear people in the 80s. ;)

Pontiac made some decent cars in this time period as well. A late-60s Le Mans looks like a GTO and is as serviceable as a Dart.
posted by rhizome at 2:18 PM on January 15, 2009

Any interest in trucks or proto-SUVs? They're often available dirt cheap from previous owners that used them for farm/ranch vehicles, off-roading, hunting, etc. I think that Jeep CJs and Wagoneers, International Scouts and old Ford Broncos all have their charms. I'm also a fan of tiny pickups like Chevy Luvs, Ford Couriers and Dodge Rampages, and car/trucks like the Chevy El Camino and the Ford Ranchero (not all of these are US-manufactured, but they've all got American nameplates).

Also, what MC Lo-Carb said.
posted by box at 2:40 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I mull this over every couple years when I get a little extra cash. Ford Mavericks are old enough to be fairly interesting now. While most were built with L6's, 302ci V8's are bolt-in swaps. They had a long production run and share almost all of their parts with other models in the Ford line. They're not awful-looking cars and - with the right tire/wheel combo - can be pretty good-looking cars.
posted by klarck at 2:51 PM on January 15, 2009

thirding mopar. particularly something with a slant 6–indestructible, easy to modify, not as sexy as the bigger stuff so usually cheap(er). Dart, Duster, Valiant, etc.
posted by generalist at 3:58 PM on January 15, 2009

If your goal is to buy something for under $2k and fix it up, my guess is that you will find that it is hard to recoup your investment. But if you are looking just to drive something interesting, then I think for $2k you are doing the right thing by looking at older cars -- even when they do need repairs it's often something like a $2 hose or a $15 carb rebuild kit. My daily driver is a 64 Rambler wagon which I have owned for about 4 years. I guess interesting is an apt description, and within your budget. (rhizome, thanks for the link -- I learned something.) But they don't appeal to everyone -- it seems like my daughter slinks down in the seat when I drop her off at school.
posted by Killick at 4:32 PM on January 15, 2009

Look for a 65-68 mustang, the first body style. They have the best style for the least money.
posted by atm at 5:37 PM on January 15, 2009

My Dad, who is now stricken with Parkinson's Disease, spent his entire life buying, rebuilding, and selling muscle cars. Of all the Porsches, Ferraris, Mustangs, and Firebirds I recall, my father to this day says he has never regretted anything more than selling his 1964 Dodge Dart GT.
posted by jefficator at 6:16 PM on January 15, 2009

sign up for bring a trailer daily emails, something cool you like might pop up there and give you something to search for.
posted by thilmony at 9:18 PM on January 15, 2009

Seconding Ramblers, especially the 1959-1960 Americans, which look like early '50's Nash cars...which they kind of were, since Nash and Hudson were combined to create American Motors in 1955. The Rambler 6 cylinder engines were pretty simple and relatively indestructible, and could be gotten in flathead and overhead configurations.

Also seconding station wagons, especially the Falcon/Comet wagons up to about 1965. Parts are cheap and easily gotten, and they're really evocative of an era, especially if you, like me, grew up in a station wagon owning family.
posted by motown missile at 12:45 AM on January 16, 2009

Was also going to suggest an AMC Pacer.

Realistically, if your budget is $2000, you are not going to have a car that runs reliably, or if you do, it won't be for very long.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:49 AM on January 16, 2009

A correction and an addition to my earlier answer.

350 cc cu. in Chevy GM LT1 engine.

Also, the Caprice Police Sedan package was the basis for the Chevy Impala, and so had upgraded components over the standard Caprice.

The Caprice Police Sedan was offered 1991 - 1996, with major model changes in 1994.
posted by zippy at 12:00 AM on January 19, 2009

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