Every auction season, car lovers on a budget salivate at the prizes sold in Scottsdale and other high-profile sales. Maybe a Shelby Cobra or impeccably restored Camaro COPO stings the most, but whatever happens there seems to reinforce the idea that the collector car market is reserved for near-unobtainable six- and seven-figure classics.
But you you can ignore those televised auctions, because you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a collector. If you’re a tinkerer, you can buy any number of classic muscle cars available at low prices and get to work. For the rest of us, buying the right car and treating it to some upgrades could be enough to make it collectible in the future. To see how far someone might go on a budget, we looked up cars with collector potential selling for less than $20,000 in 2017. Here are 10 that can provide years of fun, and might even make you some money in the future.
10. 1995 Mazda Miata M Edition
The Mazda Miata marked its 25th anniversary in 2014, and we have now seen four generations of the classic roadster since its debut in 1989. But after all these years, the original may still be the best; it’s certainly the most collectible. For a model with potential, look at a Miata M Edition from the mid-1990s in merlot mica. These limited-run (3,500) models appeared just before the second-gen Miata’s debut. We spotted a low-mileage example on Cars.com for $16,000 in spring 2017.
9. 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8
When the Dodge Challenger returned to production after a 25-year hiatus, it launched in a limited edition run of 6,400 SRT8 models on the U.S. market for the 2008 model year. This Challenger featured the 6.1-liter (370 cubic inch) Hemi V8 with five-speed automatic transmission. As the model that marked the return of an iconic nameplate, each SRT8 came with a numbered plaque that bodes well for future classic status. Several were on sale for less than $20,000 in mid-2017.
8. 1991 BMW M5
You may not be able to land a first-generation BMW M3 or M5 in our price range, but you can still get your hands on second-gen M5 for less than $20,000. This “E34” model ran from 1989 through 1995 and featured a 3.6-liter engine producing 310 horsepower. It came standard with a five-speed manual transmission. BMW made about 12,000 units of the E34 M5 in its Garching plant, and well-kept models should hold or increase their value in the coming years.
7. 2008 Honda S2000
The Honda S2000 first appeared to celebrate the automaker’s 50th anniversary in 1999, and the stylish roadster continued its run until 2009. Like the Miata, it offered reliability along with fun in a roofless package. Unlike Miata, Honda only sold about 50,000 of these in America and your neighbor doesn’t have one. You will find great deals on first and second generation models, and there are several low-mileage examples available below $20,000.
6. 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Anyone who ever rented a Chevy Cobalt coupe knew the feeling of danger lurking around every corner. However, with the years passed and recalls completed, we agree with Jalopnik’s take that the SS model is well worth a second look. The Cobalt SS put out as much as 260-horsepower (as 2008 to 2010 models), and featured a heavily modified suspension, a five-speed manual transmission, and a top speed of over 160 miles per hour. These models turn up for less than $15,000 in 2017, and one day may be the apple of some collector’s eye. Tip: Stock up on interior trim parts. They’re incredibly brittle.
5. 2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder
Though forgotten by most people these days, Toyota sold a mid-engine, two-seat MR2 Spyder between 2000 and 2005 in America. It got great reviews — Car and Driver actually called it a “Miata fighter” in 2000 — and sold in low volumes before disappearing from the U.S. market. With that combination of high performance and minimal production numbers, this car has a shot at gaining collector status. Look for a low-mileage 2000 edition.
4. 2008 Shelby GT500
Out in Ford performance country, Shelby made a comeback in 2007 with the GT500 model. It used a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 engine capable of 500 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. In 2008, Mustang fans got an updated version with a few new color options to go with the massive power output. This GT500 is one of the fastest Mustangs Ford ever produced and likely to be a classic down the road.
3. 1993 Mazda RX-7
If you want to keep your Miata as a weekly driver, turn to the much rarer Mazda RX-7 as a collectible model. Looking at Mazda’s performance history, this car’s top trims were among the fastest ever produced by the brand. Meanwhile, RX-7’s style and rotary engine have aged beautifully since the ’90s. Those on a strict budget should look at the final generation (launched in 1991) for the best value. Several units from ’93 were available for between $15,000 and $20,000 at the time of writing.
2. 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Big changes arrived with the fifth-generation Corvette in 1997, and by 2001 Chevy was ready to release the Z06, which was the fastest variant to date. This ‘Vette produced 385 horsepower and an equal torque quotient using the upgraded V8 engine. (An extra 40 horses came with the Z06 power plant.) Flash forward to 2017 and this model remains hard to find at a price point below $20,000, but some examples are out there if you look hard enough.
1. 2003 Audi RS6
In any era, 450 horsepower seems like a lot for your family sedan, but when the 2003 Audi RS6 quattro arrived in America it really stood out from the pack. Paddle shifters, dynamic ride control, and Brembo brakes rounded out the impressive package a turbocharged RS6 offered. Later, it became even more ferocious with a V10 under the hood, but for budget collectors the first edition is the car to buy. Only 1,200 made it to America for its lone model year, and high-mileage models start at $13,000.